I am trying to bring it back, again. This week, the Holocaust, Hollywood, and the moon.
- The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 2008): Eh. It was okay. It’s a really interesting story, and I had high hopes for the complicated intersections of history and memory and erotics that the whole thing ran on — but the whole thing was a bit mawkish and slow. It’s sort of too high-toned melodrama and Oscar baity to be as good as it could have been. Kate Winslet’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong, as is the kid, but the whole thing drags once you get into Ralph Fiennes territory. Daldry spends way too long telegraphing stuff that he then presents as shocking — like, I’m sure this will come as a surprise to you, but Kate Winslet’s sexy concentration camp guard? She can’t read. That’s why she always wants people to read to her! Oh, you got that from the trailer? Uh, then I have nothing for you.
- Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002): It will probably surprise some of you that I actually, uh, hadn’t seen this movie before. It’s kind of weird to see this now, post Synecdoche, NY, because they’re obviously both Kaufman doing variations on a theme. It’s easy to see why this one was more popular, since it’s faster and funnier and chooses to solve the problem of the impossibility of making real art that’s not totally solipsistic through satire, eventually devolving into the kind of cheesy thriller Kaufman’s spent the whole rest of the time mocking, whereas his solution in Synecdoche is to eventually have his hero-alter ego fade away into oblivion, letting someone else take the helm. The ending is always a problem for Kaufman, because tying the mess up in some kind of tidy narrative bow is really the opposite of what he wants to/ tries to do, so his ending is always going to gesture to that impossibility. I’m not trying to knock Adaptation. (I don’t think it’s a better or worse movie, but I do think Spike Jonze is a better director than Kaufman, more kinetic and funny, but Adaptation. is in general a more kinetic and funny movie. Because it’s got an easy meta hook (no, you see, it’s a movie about the making of the movie itself! and Nicolas Cage is actually a really funny guy), it’s a lot easier to swallow the existential horror parts. I don’t think that’s a bad thing though, necessarily. If we have to have existential horror, we should at least get to laugh about it.
- Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009): What a strange, strange little movie. The obvious points of comparison are other intense space isolation films, like 2001 and Alien, but this is much less scary and much, much kinder. The story’s really similar, but the tone is much less ominous, and the ending, much more upbeat about human nature. I can’t really talk about the ending more specifically without giving away the whole game, so I will leave it at saying that it sort of goes in an unexpected direction that feels very natural, but is ultimately short of action. There’s all this menace built up that’s never totally released. As an aside, it’s kind of weird to have watched two movies in the same week where an actor plays two characters who have to interact with each other on a regular basis, actually. They’ve gotten so good at it now that it feels pretty seamless. Anyway, it’s hopefully Sam Rockwell’s chance to shine, since he’s great and kind of chameleon who’s attractive enough to be a leading man. I also want to mention the amazing production design, since I feel like I sound more down on the movie than I actually was when I was watching it. They do a great job of making the moon station look like it was once pristine but it’s all grimy and dirty and lived in and grubby. I also love having the scary HAL computer have a smiley face.