Monthly archives of “July 2006

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The Frogmen, Lloyd Bacon (1951)

Stick-simple WWII flick with three decent set pieces, the best of which is the defusing of an unexploded Japanese torpedo lodged in the side of a USN ship. Richard Widmark is the uptight new commander of a squad of Navy seals whose former beloved skipper has been killed in action. He gives way a little, they make a little room, and everyone winds up respecting each other and getting the job done. Disappointingly, all the onboard fellatio occurs offscreen.

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The Devil Wears Prada, David Frankel (2006)

Everyone’s already said that Meryl Streep’s great and that the film’s unworthy of her–true on both counts–so I don’t need to say anything further about that.

As a former member of the Manhattan Minion Militia (the zillion-strong force of smart and terrified kids just out of college who move to New York to work as “administrative assistants” and spend 65% of their take-home pay on rent and the rest on PBR, and upon whose backs this nation’s entire culture industry rests), I was much more interested in the Anne Hathaway character. She gets her job way too easily, but that’s a forgiveable MacGuffin. She’s unbelievably simple-minded and irony-free for a 21st-century college graduate, but OK, I can roll with that too. What I do find entirely, weirdly, familiarly believable, though, is that once she gets the hang of her job, she develops a genuine commitment to it that causes her considerable moral confusion. On the one hand, she’s repelled by how seriously she’s begun to take her job; on the other, she’s thrilled by how good she is at it. So what’s more important: what you do, or the way that you do it? That’s the movie’s real question, and it’s one worth taking seriously. In the end, of course, because Hollywood must self-flagellate, the movie’s answer is emphatically “what you do”: Hathaway quits the fashion mag for more Meaningful Pursuits. Personally, I think Bananarama had it right.

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Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, Jill Sprecher (2001)

Strange little movie that feels more like the first draft of Mamet play than a feature film. A bunch of little people in the big city — housekeeper, district attorney, actuary, math professor — experience enormous changes at the last minute to the strains of Chopin, cross paths Altman-style, and have Deep Philosophical Conversations about happiness and fate within minutes of meeting each other for the first time. The kind of movie where someone can’t break a water glass without it turning into a metaphor for Modern Man’s Alienation From Society And Himself, and where people get hit by cars or win the lottery as if these were occurrences as common as breaking a water glass. The pacing and philosophical bent of the movie made it feel to me a little bit like some of Hal Hartley’s early ones, but without the sense of humor. Alan Arkin’s a beautiful genius actor. He finds a million things to do within the confines of a too-limited character. And Clea DuVall, who I’d never heard of or seen before, does a gorgeous little job with a sweet little part. Finally, though, eh.

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Out of the Past, Jacques Tourneur (1947)

Jane Greer’s a gorgeous and trigger-happy gambler’s moll who knows better but can’t help herself: she steals 40 large from her boyfriend and hightails it to Mexico. Robert Mitchum’s the gumshoe, elemental as dirt, romantic as a cloud, coiffed like Yeats, who’s hired by the gambler to bring the girl back but who falls in love with her instead. Kirk Douglas is the perfectly oily prime mover of the movie, too clever by half and desperately in need of psychoanalysis. (Both pouty baby and deadly calculator, he brings to mind Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train.)

Both the opening move here (a guy who’s hiding in plain sight and trying to make an honest living running a gas station after having double-crossed a crook in the past) and to some extent the narrative strategy (retrospective) are similar to Siodmak’s The Killers from the year before. These aspects, both here and in Siodmak’s riff on the Hemingway story, help to enforce the main theme common to both films (and the story): your future’s predetermined by your past, so you may as well amor fati, cowboy, because it’s coming to getcha anyway.

Mitchum is the perfect choice for such a role–better than Lancaster in The Killers, who’s resigned, sure, but flairlessly so–because even when he’s going through all his machinations to escape his fate, everything about him, from his sleepy expression to his droll banter, is telegraphing that he knows full well he’s going to wind up smoked in a ditch. If they ever do a Sartre bio pic, they should get Mitchum to play him.

I find this movie very comforting. No matter how many times you watch it, it always ends the same way.