I am still out of blog practice, apparently, so you get two weeks of movies in one.
- Hamlet 2 (Andy Fleming, 2008): I’ve read some very positive reviews of this and some very negative ones, so I have to conclude that is kind of a love or hate piece. I definitely fall on the positive side, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved it. I did like it, though I did have a few complaints — mainly relating to the pacing and the Catherine Keener character’s fun-to-boring ratio. I think the movie needed it there to make Steve Coogan’s character’s emasculation super-clear (she is mean, and there is a fertility clinic involved) but I feel like having it in the movie instead of just being background info. is kind of a waste, especially since the class stuff is so much funnier. It’s sort of a twist on the “inspirational teacher” movie, with the twist being that the students don’t need the teacher, he needs them. Plus, the climax of the movie is the performance of Coogan’s masterwork, Hamlet 2, which inolves pop music, Jesus, a time machine, and an Elton John song, so you know I loved it. That aspect — the lauding of an amateur production with the sense of its badness being so great that it is transformed into amazing, which is made crystal clear when they have a character in the audience basically say exactly that — reminded me of Be Kind, Rewind, a connection I probably also made because the lovely Melonie Diaz is in both, bringing a wonderful sense of being game and the smartest person in the room.
- Pleasantville (Gary Ross, 1998): I caught a bunch of this on TV last weekend, and, wow, this movie is way weirder than I remembered. The whole thing where Pleasantville — the idealized black-and-white nuclear family past — starts breaking down and turning to colour when confronted with real feelings about sex and art and books, that part is still great. The love scene with Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen where he takes off her grey makeup and sees the full-colour skin underneath is still absolutely beautiful. But things go bizarrely off the rails once that has happened. The division between “coloreds,” who listen to rock n’ roll and have to sit on a separate balcony in the courthouse in an obvious racial parallel, and generally have access to real authentic feelings, and the normal people is so, so weird. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean either about race or about racism, since the “colored” people in Pleasantville are not actually people of different races, they are glowingly white people like Reese Witherspoon and Joan Allen and Jeff Daniels. (Also, poor Reese apparently learns that sex is good, but whoring isn’t actually fulfilling, so she decides to stay in the ’50s and go to college? And her mom doesn’t seem to notice she’s gone when Tobey Maguire comes back?)
- Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004): I actually had managed to go the four years since this came out without seeing it, and to be honest…I am not sure if I can endorse Anchorman. It has some great moments, like “Afternoon Delight”: …and jazz flute! I also loved the way it captured the ugly 1970s aesthetic. And I have to admit that, more than most of those other “frat pack” comedies, this one was really very self-aware of the inherent sexism of dude humour. In the negative column is the fact that Will Ferrell, he tends to overdo it; shouting something doesn’t necessarily make it funny. Of course, on the other hand, it seemed to be set in the 1970s so that they could get away with lots of “funny” sexual harassment jokes. I kept comparing it to the way Mad Men handles similar issues — there’s the constant reminder that we’re in the past, and that things are different now — but Mad Men obviously has time to explore what that all means in way more detail, and is obviously working in a very different genre. Anyway, I know that a lot of this stuff is funny because it breaks rules, because it’s inappropriate, but I kind of grit my teeth when I think about why certain aspects of it are funny. I just keep coming back to the fact that it retells the story of women’s liberation — from an almost exclusively male perspective. And sure, it’s clear that it’s wrong when Tim Robbins is like “I’m totally for women’s lib” and then pushes Christina Applegate into a bear pit — but it’s also funny. The thing is, if comedy is a social release valve, then what exactly is Anchorman releasing? Because my instincts about that are not particularly generous.
- In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008): I’m not sure how much intelligent commentary I have about In Bruges, but, so good! I didn’t really know that much going in, just “dark comedy” and “Colin Farrell.” But, the great thing is, I forgot that Colin Farrell is a really good actor! There are three great performances here, actually: Farrell’s, Brendan Gleeson’s (who I just realized is Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter movies), and Ralph Fiennes. Farrell and Gleeson are gangsters who go to Bruges to wait for the heat to die down after a hit, and then they meet a dwarf on a movie shoot, and there’s all this hilarious self-aware play around dwarves and art movies and so on. It’s very funny, but there’s also an aspect of tragedy to it. Plus it’s lovely; Bruges seems like a beautiful city, and the cinematography does a commendable job of emphasizing all its old fashioned, fairy tale beauty, which is in marked contrast to all the murder and suicide in In Bruges.