Archive for the 'Weekly Movies' Category

Movies I have seen in the past little while

I haven’t really watched that many movies this past while, it’s been a lot of Olympics this week. We celebrated the gold medal hockey win by making some very tasy lamb curry. (It is from a fine Canadian cookbook!)

  1. The Wolfman (was apparently directed by someone on purpose, okay his name was Joe Johnston, and it turns out he also directed Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, who knew?, 2010): I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie this deeply bad on purpose. If you like bad movies, it’s pretty fun, in that it features Anthony Hopkins wearing a tiger bathrobe, totally phoning it in, delivering shocking revelations like he’s talking about what he had for dinner last night; it also features a severed arm that is STILL ABLE TO SHOOT A GUN. And an arbitrary romance. And Benicio del Toro, English Shakespearean Actor. No seriously, that is his character.
  2. A bunch of more recent John Waters movies: things really go downhill after Serial Mom, huh? Of the later ones, I liked A Dirty Shame the most, and Pecker the least. Pecker is rough, y’all. I still love J-Dub though.
  3. Welcome to the Dollhouse (Todd Solondz, 1995): This kind of hurt to watch, almost. I was never really Dawn Weiner in junior high, but there was a year where it was close, and that felt really important in 8th grade. This came out when I actually was that age, and I never could have dealt with it then, never could have had the distance to find it funny as well as painful. Even now, it’s such a great combination of funny and awful: the way the kidnapping turns from this thing where everyone’s almost sincere about the kidnapping — but then it still kind of turns into a triumph for Missy and it’s back to being so cynical. I don’t know if you can really say anything else about this movie. This says it all:
  4. Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama, 2009): I actually saw this first, but I put it after Welcome to the Dollhouse because it is clearly a worse movie about the perils of adolescent girldom. This one is more in the horror vein, sort of a pinker, poppier Ginger Snaps. It suffers from a bit of Diablo Cody’s patented adorableness, but I liked it better than Juno. It’s one of those things, like Twilight where I love it precisely because it speaks to such a fundamental thing of how I remember being a teenager. This is a different thing than Twilight, which is fully about the danger of one’s own desire; Jennifer’s Body is about toxic friendships. I don’t where this thing comes from, if it’s a teen girl thing, or a white girl thing, or a suburban high school thing, but I sure had a couple of those incredibly intense teen girl friendships where they’re the main person in your life. It’s the old-time “romantic friendship” thing: it’s not necessarily that you want to bone your best friend, it’s more that you just have all this energy to devote to…something that’s not your family, and you’re not ready for that to be a boyfriend yet, so it winds up being your BFF. And that’s scary, and those friendships always kind of implode. I love horror, and I love when things turn real high school fears into something fantastic and hideous. I’ve been listening to “Live Through This” constantly ever since.
  5. A Single Man (Tom Ford, 2009): One word review: disappointing! The press has been so good, and the negative reviews (like at The Awl) complain that the fashion designer director aestheticizes the emotional content of the story too much, which to me, is not really a negative per se. But the problem for me was that the emotional content wasn’t even aestheticized well! You know me, I love a Minnelli, or a Fassbinder. I wrote a whole thesis on Almodóvar. Bringing all the emotion into the mise-en-scene is what melodrama’s all about; there’s a Hollywood tradition to this. But at this point it’s so done that you have to do it well to be effective. The thing where most of the movie’s shot with this yellow-ish gray filter, but then the full spectrum of colour comes in when something nice happens to Colin Firth (who was great despite the general lameness he’s working in) is so bad, and the “I’m a sad man in my meticulous modern house” sequence at the beginning is so laboured. It did get better as it went on and some life was injected (in the form of Julianne Moore and Nicholas Hoult). And the clothes were great: the suits, Nicholas Hoult’s giant awesome sweater, J. Moore’s giant hair; but ultimately it’s not fabulous enough to really transcend its coldness. Tom Ford might be able to make a great movie someday — but this wasn’t it. I keep thinking what an interesting story it is, how great it could have been if Almodóvar or Todd Haynes or someone had made it.
    There are some arresting images though. I’ve woken up with ink all over my bed.

Three Weeks of Movies (January 11-31)

So I have had some stuff to do that I don’t want to jinx by posting about until I have more information. But, movies!

  1. An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009): So my feeling on this is that Carey Mulligan is delightful, and I walked out with a smile on my face and a skip in my step, since it’s a happy story about Learning Life Lessons and Growing while wearing fabulous 1960s clothes, but it seems a little insubstantial? I guess it didn’t really blow my mind that a teenager having an affair with a much older man who literally picked her up in the street turned out to be not such a great life choice for our hero. I don’t think it’s bad that she emerges more or less unscathed instead of as a ruined woman or whatever, but that combined with the whole glamorous fun times of having a guy take you to Paris and having your first sexual experience be all French cigarettes and Chanel no 5 makes the whole thing seem really awesome and less scarring than it probably should? It’s not so much that I need didactic storytelling here, so much as I think this movie was maybe too light-hearted. I liked the story of a girl, bored and stultified by the pressures of accomplishment and school and normalness, self-consciously making a mistake because it’s more fun and because the Times They Are A’ Changing, but like, pretending that you’re free when you’re letting yourself pretty much be bought, it is not really free. Jenny learns that, and Carey Mulligan’s so full of life that she covers up a lot of the films’ flaws, but it’s all a bit obvious with the life lessons and the Oxford and the so forth.
  2. DiG! (Ondi Timoner, 2004): This is a documentary about relationship (friendship turned to rivalry) between the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, which basically means that I have no idea why I put this on my rental queue, since I don’t really care about either of these bands. But! It turned out to be really interesting. Because the filmmakers spent years filming these guys, you have all this footage of the real stuff that happened. On the one hand you have the well-adjusted Dandy Warhols, who started out indie but signed with a big label and, being moderately talented, eventually found a place for themselves with moderate success. (They never really got big in North America but they’re apparently pretty huge in Europe.) On the other, you’ve got the totally fucked-up BJM, a ’60s revival-type band with like a zillion rotating members, most of whom seemed to be on really a lot of drugs at all times, but who are headed by visionary and asshole Anton Newcombe. It’s totally amazing: you get footage of the two bands partying and performing together in the good old days, and of Anton Newcombe kind of stalking them to try to drum up a kind of rivalry, and of the BJM beating each other up and spoiling their big shot at an industry showcase, and of Anton Newcombe fully kicking an audience member in the head. It’s more or less from the point of view of Courtney Taylor, who narrates the film, and apparently some of the BJM were upset at the way they were portrayed. But I felt like a lot of the choices TImoner makes undermines Taylor. You come away with the sense that the Dandies did kind of sell out, they get really slick and still try to kind of have the Brian Jonestown coolness rub off on them, but you can’t really have it both ways. On the other hand, Anton Newcombe kicked a guy in the head. At some point you have to compromise something to exist in the world. (I was heartened to read on Wikipedia that a lot of the members who left the BJM in the movie had come back after the release, and that they actually played a couple of songs with the Dandy Warhols at Lollapalooza in 2005, so that’s nice.)
  3. Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945): So I decided to watch this after reading this lame, hateful list of “overrated directors”. One of the directors he lists is David Lean, whose movies are supposedly overlong, and apparently none of his movies are really masterpieces. Brief Encounter is one hour and twenty minutes of perfect. They meet in a train station, they fall in love, it can never be, he touches her shoulder. The narrator describes falling in love by saying “I never knew such violent things could happen to ordinary people.” The just-too-overwrought piano of the score. Celia Johnson’s breathless voiceover. Absolutely fucking perfect.
  4. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009): Wow. We saw this Saturday, and I don’t have a lot to say other than complaints about the people down the row from me who couldn’t make even the simplest plot connections without discussing them. Some movies you can maybe murmur to your seatmate without distracting people. The White Ribbon is not one of them, it’s so quiet it’s almost painful. One thing that surprised me, for such a hard, hard movie to watch, is how much people were laughing at the “light” moments (like a father tying up his adolescent son to keep him from masturbating LOL). It’s not that I blame them — it’s not the way I felt uncomfortable watching Inglorious Basterds, which deals with the spectre of Nazis in a completely different way — it’s more that everyone was kind of grasping for any kind of release, the whole thing was so tense. It starts out in black, black silence and then slowly dissolves to an almost impossibly bright white. It almost hurts to look at for a minute. It’s set in a German village in 1913, and it’s basically about this town suffused by cruelty. Mysterious, awful things start to happen. We don’t really get an answer to who’s doing those things, but I think we mostly know the answer from the beginning, no matter how much we try to deny it. It is actually much nicer than any of the other Haneke movies I’ve seen.

Movies, August 10-September 13

  1. Metropolitan (Whit Stillman, 1990): Oh my god, it’s like WASP Woody Allen. The style is very Woody — long talky scenes with people being self-aware but totally not self-reflective — and there are some long shots of people walking down the street straight out of Annie Hall. But the content is something else entirely. It’s a bunch of college kids during debutante ball season, running around trying to be witty and knowing but not really knowing things. “Oh, I don’t read novels,” our hero says after offering an opinion about the heroine of Mansfield Park, “I prefer good literary criticism.” Another character is disappointed in the false advertising in the title of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. It’s worth pointing out for the long analysis of this I’ll probably write someday that the action — mostly set in a claustrophobic New York City — ends in the Hamptons, near the beach, with a freeze frame, just like The 400 Blows. I actually watched this again a week later, I liked it so much. (And Alex obviously had to see it.)
  2. The Hurt Locker (Katherine Bigelow, 2009): I was a bit dizzy when I walked out of this one; I had to hold onto the escalator rail with both hands on the way out. Just really really well-done. I think this may have actually been the first fiction film about this Iraq war that I’ve actually bothered to see (despite having written a paper about filmic representations of the first Iraq war). The aforementioned first Iraq war movies all had a tendency to make the Iraqis themselves pretty much invisible — this distant video-game enemy — presumably because everyone was still operating under the assumption that history was over and wars would all just be fought remotely and no one important would get hurt. That is, um, not how The Hurt Locker rolls and it illustrates how different the two wars are in the popular imagination. It seems like the humanity of the Iraqis is all-too-present in The Hurt Locker, which is part of why the bomb squad we spend the movie has to spend so much time letting out aggression and stuff. Mostly you just walk away from it glad you’re on solid ground and not in the desert though. Intense.
  3. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009): It was so good, and so exciting, and so new, I wish people didn’t harp so hard on the political angle, since as far as I could tell, Blomkamp didn’t really make a political allegory (if he did — I don’t really want to think about what his point would have been). As a science fiction movie with, certainly, a background that was grounded in politics, which gave the story an urgency it would not have otherwise had, it was excellent. I loved that the protagonist was such a consistent dick: this really makes the whole thing more suspenseful, since you actually don’t know what will happen.
  4. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009): I actually wound up seeing this one twice, as well. The first time, I was intensely uncomfortable watching it. I was fully aware of the people in the theatre, laughing along with the movie the way Hitler was laughing at his propaganda, and, I still think that Tarantino meant that segment to be uncomfortable and thought-provoking, watching the whole thing again I’m not sure what his point was with that in particular. I don’t know that he really had one — one of the things with postmodern cinema, something people respond to, is that it doesn’t really ever offer solutions or clear moral resolutions — though people generally want to find these resolutions. Watching it again and being prepared for the painful, uncomfortable tension he wrote into it (which is not a criticism, I think it was very effective), it was easy to notice how gorgeous it was. Like, visually, stunning. The scene where Shoshana’s making herself up so beautiful, more so than anything I can think of that Tarantino’s ever done.
  5. Paper Heart (Nicholas Jasenovec, 2009): Aw! I am one of the people who hasn’t gotten sick of Michael Cera yet, and he was literally playing himself in this, so I think that’s a prerequisite for liking it. Well, it helps to like Charlyne Yi, since the movie’s really about her. The premise is that she’s travelling the country doing a documentary about how she doesn’t believe in love — and then she meets Michael Cera and starts actually falling in love. It might come off a bit precious — there are little puppet shows of real people’s love stories, she writes a song about Michael Cera and how he smells like Christmas — but it’s pretty effective since all the stuff really feels genuinely homemade and personal. Also, because at its core is Yi’s inability to tell him that she loves him when she’s not sure she means it, it feels pretty real to the actual difficult part in relationships? Putting on my real media critic hat, it was interesting that they chose to make a fake documentary about a real relationship and have a lot of the conflict come from the invasive nature of the cameras, etc. Also, the ending with the puppets, where Yi puts herself in the muscular badass hero role (in Brampton!) is awesome.
  6. Female Trouble (John Waters, 1974): Amazing! I love John Waters so hard, I can’t even deal with what a genius he is. So this movie really drives home that his big theme is (and as far as I can tell, always was) celebrity. Dawn Davenport is “a thief, and a shitkicker, and she wants to be famous.” It’s somewhere between Sunset Blvd and I Want To Live! at the end, with the electric chair and the “ready for my close-up” insanity. It’s interesting given the way a lot of people have accused him of being exploitive of his stars that Waters would kind of deal with the adoration/exploitation difficulty so early in his career with the photographers who encourage Dawn in her insanity (and feed her make-up/drugs — which is a delightful metaphor, if unsubtle) and then turn on her when she actually makes people “die for art.” There’s so much to unpack here, I am kind of only hitting the serious theme bits and not the utter hilarity and total confrontational grossness of the whole thing, which I love!

“Weekly” Movies, July 20-August 9

So few movies this summer.

  1. Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2004): I really wish that had sent Welcome to the Dollhouse before this one, since it starts with the funeral of the earlier movie’s main character — and I feel like I would have gotten more out of that one if I’d understood the way the two movies interconnected. As it stands, I liked parts of Palindromes: the device with the different performers playing Aviva is really effective, the way it asks viewers to jump barriers of age, of race, of size, even of gender for a second (though I wonder why Solondz only used the boy actor for one, silent, though beautiful scene) in understanding all those actors as a single person. I’m sort of working through how I feel about Palindromes — I liked the way it used the abortion debate to deal with the way that people aren’t just their opinion on one issue, and you can see how that point would maybe not be embraced in 2004 America or even now. But it’s been days since I’ve seen it and I’m still not sure what his point was about identity. Are we palindromes, the same backward and forward? Is it really impossible to change? But then, like, what does Aviva and Otto’s moment in the garden mean?
  2. Cry-Baby (John Waters, 1990): This is one of those movies I’ll start watching whenever it comes on TV, and it never gets less good. I still laugh every time Baldwin says: “We’ll get married and live in suburbia!” His delivery is so enthusiastic and horrifying, I like his performance the same way I like Vincent Kartheiser in Mad Men — it’s brave to be such an awful character.
    His bunny hop gets me every time. He’s just so gleeful about violently maintaining the social order. (Screencap source.)
  3. (500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009): This has exactly the flaws and exactly the great points you expect it to, which is fine. J G-L (oh my GOD look at the picture he has on wikipedia, it’s like the funny photo I would put on my Facebook profile as a JOKE) and Zooey were both good. J G-L was, honestly, pretty great, but the issue was more with the writing and it’s lean towards preciousness, and the fact that the first time director was basically like “look at all my techniques! Split screens! Montages! LOOK AT THEM!” (Actually he’s made like a million music videos, but that’s a really different medium and every minute maybe doesn’t need to feel so worked-over in a feature length film). Some of them worked — I thought the split screen bit (expectations on one side, reality on the other) was a bit on-the-nose, but fine in terms of the tone and themes of the story — but he didn’t need all of them. He did do a wonderful job of capturing a lot feelings, but I’m just saying he maybe could have done it more subtly. The main thing with this movie is the main thing with all these movies — it wants to have it both ways. This one does a better job than most of making it clear that Tom, our hero, is totally deluding himself the whole way through the relationship, but it still paints a really pretty, far too seductive picture of indie girls and holding hands at Ikea for us to be very cynical about it. Which brings me to the manic pixie dream girl problem — sometimes this works (Annie Hall, which this movie totally wants to be), but mostly it doesn’t (Garden State). Like, it’s fine to have a girl who is pretty and has a complicated personality, but you know, it would still be nice if Summer had, like, any life outside her relationship with Tom.
  4. Les Chansons d’amour (Christophe Honoré, 2007): Oh man, so good! It’s an Umbrellas of Cherbourg-style musical about love and life and death and it’s really beautiful despite the hero being a bit of a dweeb. The Cherbourg comparison is one I think everyone would have reached for even if Chiara Mastroianni (Catherine Deneuve’s daughter) wasn’t in it. She is pretty great though.

    As I wrote on my tumblr right after I watched it: They’re French! They have angst! Angst they express through song! The hero wears a striped sailor sweater and a charming yellow shirt. I loved it so.
    David Edelstein said this about it: “Honoré has proven you can make a movie musical in which style doesn’t upstage content–a movie musical that blossoms from the inside out,” which is a nice way of putting it if a bit insulting to the grand tradition of ridiculousness in movie musicals, but it is remarkably short on spectacle.

Weekly Movies, July 13-19

I am trying to bring it back, again. This week, the Holocaust, Hollywood, and the moon. Continue Reading »

Weekly Movies Returns! For the Oscars!, February 16-22

Hey so I got behind on my movie blogging, and then I got even further behind, and eventually catching up looked like it wasn’t going to happen, so now I’ve decided to just leave the past in the past, which is a shame, because you are totally missing out on my thoughts on many Oscar-nominated movies, as well as Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, which is amazing. I will try to write up some of the “lost months” at some point in the future, since I do have some notes.


  1. A Woman of Paris (Charlie Chaplin, 1923): So what happened is, several years ago, I had a passing urge to be more of a Chaplin completist, so I went to zip and added a bunch of movies to my queue. Then, I went to grad school, put my account on hold for two years, and then reactivated the account. Now that I really don’t care that much about Chaplin (City Lights is still my favourite but seriously I don’t think I need to know his whole career), zip sent me three Chaplins in a row. Limelight I saw a couple of weeks ago in the “lost months,” and thought was okay. I really wanted to see it because it’s the only time Chaplin and Keaton still worked together, and I thought it would be all poetic and lovely and stuff, but it had too much of Chaplin’s maudlin side to be much fun. This one, well it’s Chaplin’s first “serious dramatic film” as the title card at the beginning explains. UGH, I thought. It’s about a poor village girl (Edna Purviance) who leaves her true love through a misunderstanding and goes to Paris and then starts seeing this rich engaged playboy type (Adolphe Menjou), but then her true love comes to Paris with his mom and he’s an artist and his mom can’t stand her son wanting to marry someone like her, since she’s basically a whore. Blah blah suicide. Let’s put it this way. It was not as bad as you’d think. It’s briskly paced, the roaring twenties party setpieces are goregous, it’s well-acted — clearly Chaplin knew how to put together a film. The biggest problems were that it failed as a moral drama. It made being the mistress of a rich Parisian playboy, something I actually think would be pretty boring, look like a really sweet deal. You get cool clothes and a great apartment, and Menjou seemed like way more fun than the artist dude she really loved. He never really got mad at her; he seemed to find everything she did delightful. All in all, it really seemed like the way to go. But, more importantly, it just seems like Chaplin was wasting his gifts. His silent comedies are really great — combining visual poetry with sentiment, cuteness with social conscience. Honestly, if you’re Charlie Chaplin, why would you make a better-than-average melodrama when you could make a comedy that no one else could even touch?
  2. I Want To Live! (Robert Wise, 1958): I did unreservedly love this though, at least at the time. Susan Hayward won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Barbara Graham, a real woman who sort of drifted around being a petty criminal, then, according to the movie, was unjustly implicated in the murder and robbery of an old lady. There was a whole media circus and her lawyer and this one journalist tried to get her sentence commuted, but in the end, she went to the gas chamber. The movie shows the whole thing and basically portrays her as a fun-loving lady who passed bad cheques, but was wholly innocent of murder. The whole thing rests on Hayward’s portrayal, and she makes Barbara funny and likable and sympathetic — though after the movie Robert Osborne said that Hayward actually believed Graham was guilty. Which, for me, made the way the movie totally sold me on her side of the story more interesting. Other things that were good: contemporary jazz soundtrack, the Academy-Award-nominated-but-awfully-unsubtle cinematography, and the bit at the end where (Pulitzer Prize-winning) journalist Ed Montgomery turns off his hearing aid to drown out the roar of horns honking in apparent celebration of Graham’s death (a bit that Revolutionary Road apparently stole from this).
  3. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008): I finally saw this this week when I realized I’d only seen 2 of the Best Picture nominees this year. Then I realized Doubt didn’t actually get the Best Picture nomination, so I had only seen one (Milk, natch). Anyway, post-Oscar hype (I saw this Thursday), it’s still not a bad movie. If it had been a better year for movies and there was a No Country For Old Men up instead of a bunch of boring middlebrow stuff, I might feel like Slumdog took the award from something greater, but it’s not like Synecdoche, NY or My Winnipeg or Let The Right One In were going to win any more than The Dark Knight or Iron Man was. Of all the nominees, this movie felt the least like it was produced solely to win awards (though its promotion did nothing but position it that way) and the most like it was made for people to watch and enjoy. Its form was pure, pure melodrama, from the children in peril to the last-minute rush to pick up a cell phone — but it still felt fresh. The cinematography and editing were bright and modern, the music is actually relevant to the setting as well as sounding current (MIA was involved!), and most of all, I loved the way the media played a role. The fact that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which gives normal kid Jamal a kind of reality show pseudo-fame, is the centre of the story and the device that brings him and the girl together. Plus, you know, it ends with a dance number.

I kind of feel bad that I’d seen so few of the Oscar movies this year? I still might see The Reader, I guess, but I am really just not particularly interested in all the middlebrowness of it all. After reading the the Film Experience’s Oscar symposium that pretending the Oscars are really supposed to honour the “best” movies of the year is completely insane. It’s never going to be that, it’s always going to be a record of what seemed the biggest and the most movie-ish that year, and I’m kind of okay with that now and I just wish they could get through it in less than three and a half hours. (For the record, though, I loved the totally irrelevant cracked-out Baz Luhrman-stravaganza which I’m guessing will not be well-remembered, but only because it was so insane. They just kept adding in songs! Songs that don’t go together! Some of which are not really from musicals! (“At Last”?) And placing High School Musical 3 in the same context as West Side Story!)

Oh Jackman!

(Bi)Weekly Movies, November 17-30

So for whatever reasons, my weekly movies posts seem to have permanently morphed themselves into biweekly ones. I can’t promise this’ll change — I want to be writing more, but it doesn’t seem to be coming easily. I keep half-writing posts in my head, promising myself I’ll get them done when I get home from work, and then not actually doing it. It kind of defeats the purpose of having a blog if I make a big thing out of posting. Continue Reading »

Not so weekly movies

This is kind of a programming note. Remember how I used to update my blog regularly? I bet you’re wondering what happened to that.

Well, I was unemployed and kind of depressed (colloquially speaking, not clinically), I went to Texas, and then I got a full time job. The job thing is pretty exciting and it is a good job, but I’m maintaining my don’t write about work on your blog policy, brought to you by my modicum of good sense.

But the thing I will write is, I have basically a totally different schedule than I did before, and I haven’t yet figured out how the whole thing is going to work, in terms of blogging and working and sleeping. It’s not that I don’t have the time, it’s just that the routine’s still getting fine-tuned a bit. Streamlined, let’s say. In other words, things might be a bit weird, like, a long stretch of no posts followed by a bunch of posts all one after the other.

I’ve got a couple of things coming — check back for more Gossip Girl stuff (I missed the Yale episode, and the Dangerous Liasons episode, and Jenny’s downward spiral), a more current weekly movies soon, my conflicted feelings about Privileged, and maybe even my new love of Designing Women. I am also thinking about stealing Ashley’s format for a fall TV roundup type post.

So anyway, I saw a bunch of movies that I never wrote up. Well, I wrote them up, but I never polished the post or added pictures or anything. Some of these are pretty dated, since it’s like a month’s worth or something. This is for…since my last weekly movies til this week. There were some no movie weeks in there, what with pilot season and all. Continue Reading »

Weekly Movies, September 15-21

  1. Brown Sugar (Rick Famuyiwa, 2002): This is one of those movies that the idea of sounds better than the actual thing of. Loosely inspired by Common’s “I Used To Love H.E.R,” it is basically a love story where Sanaa Lathan’s love of hip hop and her love of Taye Diggs are intertwined. Lathan’s character is a music writer and is working on a book; Diggs’ character is a producer who quits his major label job after he’s asked to produce a remake of “The Girl Is Mine” for a black and white rapper duo, called “The Ho Is Mine.” Diggs abandons his shiny suits to start his own label, with Mos Def’s character as his first artist. The whole thing is Diggs and Lathan, childhood friends, realizing they love each other as more than friends, despite the fact that they’re involved with other people. Anyway, the idea is fantastic, and I loved both the lead performances — Diggs is way better than I thought he was based on not really having seen him in much, really charming and funny and like, oozing with charisma, and Lathan has the harder part, needing to seem cool and smart and grounded, and she does a great job — but the dialogue occasionally gets bogged down in the “our love is a commentary on the sad state of hip hop!” stuff. The best bits were the early scenes, where you get a documentary-style section of various hip hop greats talking about when they fell in love with hip hop, and a great flashback scene with, like, Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh. Such cuteness
  2. Evita (Alan Parker, 1996): I have had a weird nostalgic obsession with this movie lately. It came out when I was 13, and I bought the soundtrack and listened to it constantly, to the point that I still know most of the words. Seeing the movie again, there was a lot that I didn’t remember about it. Parker has a tendency toward using the songs as opportunities for montages that doesn’t always work. It’s great when you can contrast Eva’s self-glorifying with all the actual horrible things going on, seeing shots of newspapers being blown-up and riots contrasted with the glamour of Eva’s life, but since the whole thing is songs, it occasionally gets a bit MTV-ish for me. I know this is a “rock opera,” not a traditional musical, so the rules about numbers-as-spectacle don’t really apply, but still. At the time, I thought Antonio Banderas was having the most fun, and I still kind of do. Jonathan Pryce is great in this and Madonna is fine, but I still love Antonio Banderas’s performance the most; everyone else is kind of dour and serious and going for naturalistic, but Antonio’s completely giving it 110%, switching from sarcastic to giddy, his brow constantly furrowed with cynical rage. It’s hilarious and amazing. That sequence is still one of my favourites, not just because of how much I liked the use of the film projector in staging it. His character, Che, isn’t really a character, he’s the narrator, so Parker basically has him skulk around in the background, playing servants or whoever happens to fit the scene. The whole play relies on the counterpoint of Che’s cynicism biting through Evita’s celebrity self-myth-making, so having Madonna — generally known for her ambition and sexuality outstripping her talent, an icon before she’s a singer, though she sounds her absolute best here — play Evita is brilliant in a way that I completely missed when I was 13.
    It’s also strangely appropriate to this year, the election being more about theatre and entertainment than ever; I kept thinking about the Emmies and Sarah Palin and Tina Fey and stuff.
  3. Matilda (Danny DeVito, 1996): I loved this book when I was little. I can’t imagine why I would have adored a book about a smart, bookish girl who proves that small people can be better than big people because they have magic powers in their brains, except, oh wait. Obviously flattering to Roald Dahl’s smart, bookish readers. The other, real reason I loved it was that it had a very dark side; the horrible stuff that could happen was actually horrible, like being locked in “the Chokey,” by the totally unhinged principal of your elementary school. “The Chokey” is this tiny room full of sharp things that poke at you and there’s a dripping pipe and anyway it’s actually really scary, something that the “scary” stuff in kids’ books often weren’t. The movie adaptation was remarkably faithful to the book as I remember it, even keeping the mean principal throwing a little girl by her hair, granted in a cartoonish way. The one choice I question was having Danny DeVito narrate, not because I have a problem with his voice, but he was so good as Matilda’s awful TV-obsessed, used-car salesman father, and the narrator’s voice is obviously the same. He really shouldn’t have decided to do both. While I’m at it, Rhea Perlman is also hilarious as the mom, especially when she tells Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz, who I spent the whole movie thinking was Sarah Paulson) that going to college was a bad move for Matilda, their insanely gifted daughter: “You choose books. I chose looks.” Picture Rhea Perlman with her hair dyed really bad blonde saying that, and you get the comedy. But getting back to DeVito, he did a pretty good job of getting the feel of the book right without making it too dark; the Wormwoods’ house is unambiguously ugly and awful, but in a tacky way; the school has the right mix of awfulness and, uh, watchability. Oh, Matilda!
  4. Trans-Europ-Express (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1966): So Robbe-Grillet is best-known as the writer of Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad and also of several nouveaux romans, including The Erasers, which plays on the detective novel, but isn’t actually a detective novel. Anyway, he also directed a handful of movies. This was his first, and it’s kind of a slightly less complex Charlie Kaufman thing, about a writer (Robbe-Grillet) writing a movie about a drug smuggler, on a train; the smuggler keeps showing up on the train, and the film-within-the-film kind of reflects the confusion of the friends that the writer is working with. “Wait, so what’s up with the prostitute?” “Uh, I dunno.” But then of course she totally becomes a key part of the story.
  5. The Man Who Lies (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1968): We saw these in a double feature, and this was the weirder of the two, and therefore the one I preferred. This is about Jean-Louis Trintignant, who was the smuggler in the first film, a dude who is getting chased by some soldiers and then rolls into a quiet Slovak town, where he tells a lot of lies to a lot of ladies about his friendship with the town’s resistance hero. It’s a weird movie, because you realize by the end of it that most of the film is literally just Trintignant talking; his voice mostly controls what you see, but slowly the visual track starts to break from the soundtrack. The other interesting aspect of the soundtrack, besides that one male voice, is the fact that it’s scored with a series of weird, hard-to-identify sound effects instead of music, creating this great, confusing, otherworldly effect. These kinds of effects accompany scnes like the otherwise silent scenes showing the resistance leader’s wife, sister, and maid, who live in this female-dominated household, playing these odd sexual games. Robbe-Grillet has been accused of gratuitous porniness in the past, because of his clear bondage fetish, but I think the way these scenes were staged was just wonderful. It showed these three women communicating with each other, in a way that is kind of obscure but at the same time very obvious; it made me think about all those French feminist theories of women’s sexuality as being defined by proximity and closeness, and the idea that conventional language isn’t really appropriate to women’s experience. There was a little bit of écriture feminine in there, especially when contrasted with Trintignant’s almost exhausting verbosity.

Weekly Movies, September 8-14

I really thought that I’d be able to get a bunch of reading and writing and movie-watching done, but mostly I have just been being bored and very broke.

  1. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968): You guys, this movie is amazing. I didn’t really realize, but this is in the grand tradition of paranoid-lady Gothic stories, like Rebecca and Suspicion. Rosemary’s bedroom even has yellow wallpaper. Most of the film is set in the apartment. She even tries to tell her doctor what’s up, and he assumes she’s crazy, so she’s trapped by the people who are supposed to be caring for her. But it’s interesting because her suspicions of her husband are…totally founded. He actually lets the devil rape her. It’s really disturbing the way they do it too, because she has this weird kind-of dream sequence that’s actually real, and then when Rosemary wakes up and finds scratches all over herself, her husband is just like “Yeah, I may have had sex with you while you were asleep, I hope that’s cool, lol.” Horrifying. I love it. Also all the aging-actors playing the coven. It’s kind of interesting when you read it against the usual texts of female hysteria, because this time Mia Farrow’s crazy paranoia is completely justified by the crazy reality of her situation, being then, not crazy at all. There is also an interesting argument to be made that you could place this movie in the context of more specifically political masculine conspiracy movies of the 1960s and 1970s; plus you know, the growing importance of second-wave feminism making marriage and family kind of feel like a conspiracy against women. So, interesting! Genius
  2. Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004): I remain unsure why I decided to watch this this week. I think Rosemary’s Baby reminded me of it. Because look: Other than the leading ladies with short haircuts who live in New York apartments with wallpaper, this movie’s kind of the exact opposite of Rosemary’s Baby, in that it tries to make you believe in something supernatural (in this case reincarnation) in order for you to make a weird, not really complete moral leap to seeing this little boy as more than a little boy, but then it pulls the rug out from under you. I’m not saying the film really makes people accept that this ten-year-old boy is somehow Nicole Kidman’s husband, and it certainly makes that impossible to actually be on board with the whole thing when you see a grown woman kiss a young boy on the mouth. The thing is, it kind of plays with making you think this kid is somehow magically reincarnated, but then it does stuff like the kiss or the scene where Nicole Kidman’s grown-up fiance, Danny Houston, totally attacks the kid and spanks him, to remind you forcefully of his childhood. It’s hard to be totally sure what it’s trying to say, the whole thing is so tense and mannered and upper-crust, but those things all make it really fascinating. Plus it’s gorgeously shot.
  3. Burn After Reading: I feel like I read a comment by someone who said that although the tone is completely different from No Country For Old Men, the way it sees the world is very similar. I think that’s true, and I want to tell you why. Diary of an Anxious Black Woman (whose movie posts I always really like) talks about how cynical and sadistic a film it is, but I would read the film with a different inflection. It’s a film against the grand conspiracy, against the myth — this time it works against the Cold War version of a political world where there’s a Big Brother watching at every turn. That’s why Linda and Chad make the patently ridiculous decision to take their CD full of documents to the Russians. That’s the world it seems to be setting up, but it slowly breaks down, as a few things happen by coincidence (like Linda and Harry meeting) and others turn out to be brought on by the characters themselves (like when Harry realizes the car following him isn’t a shady government agent, just a PI for a divorce firm). The film begins with a familiar kind of zoom, from a map-like view of the country from space, to the CIA headquarters in Langley, and then ends by pulling back out; at the beginning of the film, it seems to be narrowing things down, promising us something important, but by the end it’s clear that we’re pulling back out because we’ve just seen a random, messy sample out of the random, messy world. I’m a big fan of the melodrama, of which the whole point is to give people’s everyday stories grand moral significance. I find films like this so compelling because they are the exact opposite of that. They’re also not really tragic, because tragedies are all about the fates and the restoration of order and the value of catharsis. The Coens certainly don’t give us that. They give us all this fun, kind of sweet, spy farce, but things never resolve into any kind of narrative logic. I have sort of been having an argument with this post on things what things. I like the way she describes it, but her argument that basically “The movie is intended to be fun to watch,” and I don’t really think it completely is. There’s too much that’s unsettling about it — the failure to meet any kind of generic expectations makes the whole thing kind of uncertain, the total shocking sudden brutality of the violence, how indifferent the camera is to the deaths of the characters — for me to think that the Coens want me to just have fun and go with it. But I do think they want me to have fun; I don’t think the “What did we learn?” “…” ending should negate the whole rest of the movie, because the fact is it was fun: the whole cast is pretty much a joy to watch, from McDormand meta-ing that they wouldn’t have her in Hollywood if she doesn’t get a bunch of surgeries; to Brad Pitt’s adorable dancing; to Clooney’s weirdly tan, running-obsessed womanizer; to Tilda Swinton’s performance as the World’s Worst Pediatrician; to Malkovich’s dissolute CIA analyst and self-parody; to Richard Jenkins’ sweetly affecting performance as the gym manager who Frances McDormand just doesn’t see. 1 So, I don’t know. It’s kind of an unanswered question — like if it’s an occasionally fun movie that has no point, why did we just watch it? It kind of gets back either a) the meaning of life or, more answerably and more interestingly b) the meaning of entertainment.

  1. As a side note, how nice was it to see George Clooney with women like Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand, who are actually approximately his age? 

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