Archive for the ‘Moviegoing’ Category

Gotham Diary:
Sweep Me to Sleep
9 August 2012

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Today at the DBR: Marilyn Monroe — all that’s missing from The Other Boleyn Girl.

Gotham Diary:
The Awful Truth
6 August 2012

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Today at the DBR: The updated screwball, happy ending of Celeste and Jesse Forever.

Gotham Diary:
11 June 2012

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Today at the DBR: What were they thinking, those two directors (Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod), when they made Bel Ami?

Gotham Diary:
30 May 2012

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Today at the DBR: A few words about John Madden’s delightful new movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Also, what’s this? A Sharper Image catalogue?

Gotham Diary:
26 April 2012

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Today at the DBR: Yesterday afternoon, before babysitting, I went to the movies in Union Square, and saw the flawed but entertaining Darling Companion. Diane Keaton is indeed better than ever.

Gotham Diary:
16 March 2012

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Today at the DBR: Savoring the bittersweet of Friends With Enemies.

Gotham Diary:
“Here’s Your Diploma”
13 December 2011

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Today at the DBR: Movie talk. A few words about My Week With Marilyn, which I saw in the theatre the other day, preceded by even more words about watching Love With the Proper Stranger and Seconds at home

Today’s entry is late because I wanted to report that I’ve had my Remicade infusion and am already feeling the spinach. Nurse Maggie called for the infusion the moment I appeared, and I don’t think that I’ve ever been in and out of the unit in so short a time.

Gotham Diary:
5 December 2011

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Today at the DBR: A passerby’s remark in the East Village that perhaps ought not to have been so surprising; Hugo, which I liked immensely but with semi-immense reservations, one of which induced me to omit the names of cast members when it came to writing up the film. (Points must be made.) Also, a Happy Birthday party for WQXR at Carnegie Hall — perhaps you heard it on the radio.

The Tourist

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Until I read Manohla Dargis’s snarky review of The Tourist in the Times, I had no plans to see the picture, but when I saw that the Orpheum Theatre would be showing it, a block away, at ten o’clock in the morning, I thought, why not? Why not give Ms Dargis a chance to be right for a change — to write a review that I could agree with. The tedium of sitting through a mediocre movie would be more than made up for by the world-historical excitement of seeing the world through a pair of eyes that long ago struck me as overdue for the attentions of an optician. But it was not to be. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s second feature film turned out to be huge fun, and once again I was left wondering why the Times keeps assigning movies that a ten year-old could predict she won’t like to Ms Dargis for review. That’s what bugs me. It isn’t that I never agree with her; never agreeing with her is useful and reliable. To be a little less snarky myself, I was encouraged to see The Tourist because Ms Dargis didn’t like it particularly. What bugs me, though, is that they make her sit through so many unsympathetic movies, and to what end?

The Tourist is a caper film, so I can’t say very much about its plot. It belongs to that sub-genre of caper films that I label “gambit,” in recognition of the very entertaining film of that name. The elusive Elise Ward is being followed through Paris by Scotland Yard, in hopes that she will lead the law (represented by Paul Bettany) to Alexander Pierce, a shadowy banker who is wanted by the British government for a staggering amount of back taxes. He’s wanted by a thug named Shaw (Steven Berkoff) for having stolen the even more staggering taxable sum. At the beginning, Elise is instructed by Alex to take the next train to Venice and to pick up (and make a decoy of) any guy who is more or less his size and build. So that’s what she does, more or less silently but with great panache. The measure of the director’s sense of cinematic humor can be taken when, pausing at the top of a Métro staircase, Elise consults her wristwatch and then confers a pitying smile upon her pursuers. With all the the nonchalance in the world, she descends the empty flight of stairs, but before the lieutenants can reach it a horde of exiting passengers blocks their passage as if on cue. It’s impossibly droll.

(Another instance: assault rifles are fired from a great distance. Nothing seems to happen to the targets, but suddenly the windowpanes turn to snow and three men drop to the ground, removed from the action with a dispatch that undercuts the idea that they were ever as dangerous as they seemed; Mr Henckel von Donnersmarck wants us to know that he would never dream of boring us with yet another gunfight.)

I’ve never been a fan of Angelina Jolie; I’ve seen only one or two of her pictures. But I’m a fan of her performance in The Tourist. She shakes up one part Rita Hayworth, one part Ava Gardner, two parts Christina Hendricks, and pours out the results in a low purring voice that I couldn’t get enough of. She eats up the scenery with a gusto that suggests compensation for all the real food that her diet does not permit, but her relish is brilliantly disguised as understatement. It’s as though Elise has been blasted by a vision, an actual experience of the concentrated glamour that the grand fashion models merely catalyze. Elise has been transformed, and you guess that life for her can only be a disappointment from now on — now that she has resolved to put Alexander Pierce behind her. As the hick whom she decides to exploit on the train tells her, she is the least down-to-earth of people. And yet, as if to make a little joke of her godhead, the director divides our attention between the glory of Angelina Jolie and the roach-like ubiquity of the male gaze that she excites. What a ratty little species we men are! But how she makes us ache to hear one true thing from those resplendent lips.

Johnny Depp, as the hick, plays a regular guy for a change — but of course he doesn’t, not really. Every regular-guy tic is calibrated with precision, and meant to be noticed as such. He gives us Jack Sparrow for grown-ups; he plays his part as if it were the gambit. Mr Bettany makes the perfect foil. In Public Enemy, the manic gangster played by Mr Depp was pursued by Christian Bale’s impersonation of an automaton. Here, the polarity is reversed. Mr Bettany is consumed by the righteous need to nail Alexander Pierce, no matter what the cost (and even though his superior, played by Timothy Dalton, has pulled the plug on the too-expensive investigation). You’re in no doubt that Inspector Acheson would eat one of his limbs if it would bag the renegade banker. Johnny Depp, meanwhile, is relaxed and bemused, at least when he’s not being shot at. As well he should be.

As for Venice, it has never looked more gloriously meretricious, and I do mean this as a compliment. Venice has been abused by a lot of movies, but this one treats it very sweetly. Naturally, there has to be a vaporetto chase in a canal at some point, but this one is not long and it has a few interesting wrinkles. The Hotel Danieli is made to look preposterous. There are no pigeons, and no churchbells. There is no attempt to experience Venice. It is seen as it has always wanted to be seen by outsiders: as a gigantic set. And sets, rather than bits of real Venice, are what we get for the most part. And why not have it serve as the set for two of American cinema’s most sacred monsters? The Tourist is set in a tourist’s idea of Venice. It’s perfect.

No more can be told you until you have seen The Tourist for yourself — which we do not encourage you to rush out and do right now, as that would not be cool. The movie unaccountably reminded Manohla Dargis of Hitchcock (a comparison that’s never flattering to anyone), but to me it was James Bond without the sadism and the self-importance. And the ending was happy to a degree unknown in Ian Fleming’s fantasies. (December 2010)

Out & About:
Friday Movies
Dinner With Schmucks; Eat Pray Love

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

It was my firm intention to watch the DVD of Francis Veber’s Diner des cons before seeing Jay Roach’s Hollywood remake, Dinner With Schmucks. But it didn’t work out. The remake was the only film showing conveniently, so I fit it in. As it turned out, there was no need to compare and contrast, because the two movies have almost nothing in common. Oh, a lot of superficial story points. But nothing fundamental. Diner des cons is a classic mordant European farce, laughing truth to power. Dinner With Schmucks is a classic American folk tale, trumping intelligence with good-heartedness. The French film scolds its elitist snobs for not paying more attention to what they’re doing: they’re the fools in the end. The American film is all about being nice, and not hurting people’s feelings. While Diner des cons gives rein to some pretty unattractive impulses, Dinner With Schmucks suggests that American civics never really outgrows the priorities of kindergarten. It was bad enough that Hollywood producers didn’t understand Diner des cons well enough to know that they would never be able to reproduce it for Anglophone audiences. The actual adaptation is much worse, a deeply shaming infantility.

So much for Dinner With Schmucks as viewed in compare-and-contrast mode. I’d really like to know how many ticket buyers will have seen Mr Veber’s original. Another way of putting this: I’d like to know how many Americans wanted to see this picture even though they hadn’t seen, or known about, Diner des cons. Steve Carrell is a beloved comedian, sans doute, but how many of his fans want to see him with prosthetic teeth and a geeky haircut? He is genuinely unattractive in Dinner With Schmucks — unless, of course, you’re looking at him as a kind of persistent lapdog — but he is also not Jim Carrey, master of disguise. Of course, I’d also like to read somebody’s master’s thesis about Hollywood’s bizarre tennis match with French comedy, a game played by Pourquoi and Pourqois Pas. (Nobody ever wins.)

As a narrative comedy, Dinner With Schmucks is wholly without merit, even if you haven’t seen the original. It would bruise me to retail the shoddiness of its plot. Such charms as the movie blandishes are borne entirely by its cast. I will not comment on Mr Carrell’s appeal, as I’m not susceptible to it even when the actor plays nice guys. (I don’t think that I will ever be able to forgive and forget the stillborn Dan in Real Life.) I will say, though, that I’m deeply charmed by Paul Rudd’s increasing resemblance, not exclusively facial, to Paul Newman. Anyone who has seen The Oh in Ohio, or even Knocked Up, knows that Mr Rudd can be, well, distant. But he seems to be on a career-smart diet of fundamentally good-natured smart-asses who are the first to see the error of their ways. If it’s typecasting, bring it on. That anyone (okay, me) would want to see Role Models a second time is testament to Paul Rudd’s leading man magic.

Then there is Lucy Punch. I wish that there had been more of Lucy Punch in Dinner With Schmucks. I used to dislike Lucy Punch, but that was only because I disliked Avice Crichton, the opportunistic schemer in one of my favorite movies, Being Julia. By the time that I’d watched Being Julia for the twenty-fifth time, however, I’d come round to liking Ms Punch a lot, and I’m already looking forward to studying her work, so to speak, in Dinner With Schmucks, once the DVD comes out. I am going to come out and say that you really ought to see Dinner With Schmucks on the strength of her supporting role alone. You can shoot me if you don’t like it.

Well, no; you can’t.

Eat Pray Love is said to be a chick flick, but nothing could be further from the truth. Somehow, Ryan Murphy, Julia Roberts, and who knows who else in Hollywood have managed to turn out a kind of movie that MGM could never figure out how to make in the old days and that Warner Brothers lacked the resources to attempt. We will call it the Diva Rapture. Julia Roberts bears a slight resemblance, in her acting, to Joan Crawford, and none at all to Bette Davis, but she carries her new movie with a triumph that they were never allowed. Eat Pray Love, for most of its run time, is a gripping movie about Julia Roberts — and we don’t mean this sarcastically. Forget Elizabeth Gilbert’s story, even if its scenery is honored. Eat Pray Love explores the existentialism of being Julia Roberts, a woman who is both the biggest female movie star going — a role that she has commanded for well over a decade — and yet also a mere human being just like the rest of us, subject to fits of loneliness and uncertainty and self-reproach. She is just like us in the privacy of her own selfhood, but her public aspect partakes of a Bourbon grandeur, not because she’s at all stuck up but precisely because she isn’t. It turns out that watching Julia Roberts contemplate the mysteries of life is genuinely riveting. She’s grave, she’s elegaic, she’s in tears. You don’t want it to stop; you want to go on feeling her pain. The gorgeous backdrops (once she leaves Manhattan), the convivial Italian dinners, the awesome Indian rigors — everything functions as a series of extraordinary lighting arrangements for the beauty of Julia Roberts’s character. To deny the grandeur of the first three-quarters of Eat Pray Love is to be blind.

But then — well, the movie doesn’t entirely crumble into tarballs when Julia is asked to fall in love with Javier Bardem. But it becomes pretty trite. Julia in love is a giddy schoolgirl, more gifted with snappy comebacks than you might expect (not all of them verbal) but hopelessly eager; the majestic restraint of the earlier film is smashed like a piggy-bank full of Krugerrands. It doesn’t help that Mr Bardem brings nothing to his performance that wasn’t on view in his trickster turn in Vicky Cristina Barcelona; this has the effect of making Ms Roberts look a bit like a dope. Eat Pray Love would have been a masterpiece, if only it had ended on the same note as the first installment of Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth. Lets face it: you don’t have to be gay to understand that Diva Rapture requires Renunciation.

In closing, we must note that we are looking forward to seeing a lot more of Tuva Novotny. Maybe even

2 August 2010

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

On Saturday afternoon, Kathleen and I went to see The Girl Who Played With Fire the second installment of the Stieg Larsson adaptations. Kathleen was very annoyed by some changes that, in her view, were not only unnecessary but also distracting — perhaps “detracting” is the word. For myself, the movie was pleasant and engaging; Noomi Rapace has one of the truly great screen presences. (Although gifted with generally lovely features and truly amazing cheekbones, she can look plain and used up.) But, perhaps because I don’t think that it could stand on its own — which isn’t so much a fault as an accident of its mode of release — I wasn’t prompted to comment. The Girl Who Played With Fire certainly lacks what was for me the most powerful thing about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, that haunting photograph of the young Harriet Vanger (Julia Sporre) burning like a lighthouse at its center. Rarely has a still image been so evocatively deployed in a movie. (The only thing that comes to mind is the portrait of the missing heroine in Laura.) Niels Arden Oplev’s use of that photograph amounts to a kind of contract: no one with Harriet’s piercingly intelligent gaze could ever be murdered and dumped. But reassurance is missing from the second movie. Even though we know that she has to make it to the third installment, we can’t count on the survival of Lisbeth Salander herself. There is no hope within the movie. And if you know that the third and final installment picks up right where the second one ends, with Lisbeth and her monstrous father, Zala, in the same hospital, it’s difficult to see The Girl Who Played With Fire as having a genuine ending. It’s more a series of interesting episodes. Which is fine! But nothing to write here about.

The itch to see a film that would make me want to say something persisted, and this morning I succumbed to curiosity about Inception. I’m not going to waste much time distinguishing Inception, which I enjoyed, from Avatar, which I wouldn’t see; it’s enough to say that I wasn’t afraid that the new movie would offend me. As, indeed, it did not. But it did bore me, here and there. The ennui got particularly thick during the Alpine shoot-out scenes that I think were to represent an attack upon the subconscious of a godfather. I felt as though I were being forced to stare over someone’s shoulder at a video game. There was nothing in it for me. My interest in the good guys dropped to zero, so much so that I didn’t bother to sort out who was where or doing what. The gunfire was an obvious insurance policy, hedging against the risk that the story’s inventive theory of dreams would lose the young men in the audience. Actually, explicating the mechanics of invading the dreams of others risked losing everyone, because the job was assigned to Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m afraid that it is spectacularly difficult for me to connect Mr DiCaprio’s Cobb with the kind of sustained intellectual effort that mastering the art of “extraction” would require. And he was woefully shown up by the electrically bright Ellen Page, who as Ariadne plays the only character who is even halfway privy to her team leaders dark secrets, and who was able (as an actress) to put us in the picture every time she was obliged to scold Cobb for putting his people at uninformed risk. If Ariadne had been the one to tell us all about “Limbo,” I’m sure that we’d all have been far more terrified of the possibility of winding up there.

It’s a pity that Christopher Nolan doesn’t trust his cinematic virtuosity enough to have made what this movie might have been: a coruscating adventure story without either guns or spiels. He comes close, or at least he did so for me, in the layer of the climactic dream sandwich of dreams that takes place in a swank hotel. While the other characters dream down one level, their wool-suited bodies defenseless, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) remains behind to protect them. I had no idea what Mr Gordon-Levitt was doing throughout this sequence, but I didn’t mind; I was happy to watch him scramble about the corridors (sometimes along the ceiling) and up and down an elevator shaft, satisfied that he seemed to know what he was doing. (Mr Gordon-Levitt would have made a great Cobb, but I’d hate to lose him as Arthur.) The scene in which Cobb and Ariadne stroll through Paris, in a dream in which she re-invents the city while he populates it, is great visual fun, as is the crumbling city-by-the sea that represents the failure of the dream that Cobb shared with his late wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard). But Mr Nolan’s adherence to the action-thriller playbook guarantees that the buds of his visual creativity never fully bloom. It seems churlish to complain about this; what’s wrong with a beautiful action-thriller. Well, nothing, except that, as an action-thriller, Inception is not very inventive.

We learn, at the end of Inception, that Cobb knows that it’s possible to plant an idea in someone’s brain because he has done it before, to his wife. The guilt that he feels flows from having so well convinced her that what seemed to be real life was also just a dream that she lost interest in it and took her life. Thus she bowed to the same Panglossian morality that assures us that people who could live forever would come to regard immortality as a curse. Life may be tough, but if it were any easier, we’d be really miserable. If life were a dream, it would be unlivable. Is this an interesting proposition? Most of us would unhesitatingly agree that mistaking life for a dream is a kind of pathology, an illness to be treated. We’re somatically rooted in a life that does not seem dream-like at all. But what if it were a dream? What if we could live forever? (Living in a dream world for eternity is, of course, the Abrahamic afterlife.) These are not grown-up questions, and making Marion Cotillard look wretched because she has been betrayed by one of them is sad diminishment. I’d have liked it better if she’d just been an all-out bad girl.