Monthly archives of “February 2007

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That Touch of Mink, Delbert Mann (1962)

Hysterically paranoid movie about a girl from Upper Sandusky (Doris Day) and a zillionaire (Cary Grant) who fall for each other, want to sleep with each other, but can’t because she’s terrified of fooling around outside marriage, and he’s so charmed by her piety he can’t bring himself to violate it. Insane! Can our culture ever really have been like this? Some nice double entendres here and there, but basically just so mind-bogglingly absurd that it’s almost impossible to watch.

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Run Silent Run Deep, Robert Wise (1958)

Ah, the Bungo Straits. One of the great sub movies, fuelled by one of the great sub movie themes: conflict between the captain and the XO. Also, dare one say, this is one of the most literary of the sub movies. Before the credits even begin, sub captain Clark Gable is humiliated by being sunk by a Japanese destroyer. He is rescued and returns to Pearl Harbor, but is given a desk job upon his return. He spends his days obsessing about how he might have thwarted the Japanese destroyer that thwarted him. When Burt Lancaster, XO, brings his sub in from patrol, he expects to be made captain. But Gable has badgered the higher-ups into giving him the sub himself. Sound familiar? Same deal with Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford in K19. And here too, Gable drives the crew hard, putting them through drills they can’t see the significance of but which will become crucial soon. The movie is literary insofar as it is really about the anxiety of influence. Lancaster begins by hating Gable, his father figure. But when Gable becomes incapacitated and Lancaster takes over the boat, he winds up – in a remarkable sequence that must have confused thousands of moviegoers if they stopped to think about it for even an instant – exactly reproducing Gable’s strategy in every detail. It’s totally amazing – the dialogue is exactly the same, the shots are exactly the same, and Lancaster winds up sinking the destroyer that sank his “father” by using the techniques the hated “father” taught him to use. Extremely Freudian. I consider this perhaps the most perfect submarine movie ever, because it evokes claustrophobia not only in its cinematography, but in the logic of its plot. Gable has to go back to the Bungo Straits to get the Jap destroyer that sank his first boat, Lancaster has to resist the usurpation of his command, but then Lancaster also has to use Gable’s strategy when the time comes. Everything in the movie seems to proceed on the principles of predestination and fate, a sense that there is only one option. And of course on a submarine, options are few – one cannot choose, for example, to go for a walk.

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Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen (1986)

Such nostalgia. This came out the year I graduated from high school in Hudsonville, Michigan, and moved to Westchester County to attend college. Everything I dreamed of — taxicabs, psychoanalysis, seducing women with poetry, cappuccino, uncompromising dour artists, infinite bookstores, staggering insecurity, silent movies, anxiety, jokes with punchlines involving Dreiser — it was all in here, like a promise, or an omen. It’s almost as embarrassing to admit how much I wanted to live the lives of the characters in this film as it is to admit that I have.

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El Laberinto del Fauno, Guillermo del Toro (2006)

Thanks not a little to the extremely talented and astonishingly dreamy Ivana Baquero, a thirteen-year-old Catalonian answer to Audrey Tatou, and some really effective and creepy special makeup effects, this fairy tale for grownups (kids probably won’t dig the Spanish Civil War setting, or the graphic torture scenes) is engrossing from start to finish. I’m not entirely sure what del Toro is up to here, though. Sometimes it seems like we’re supposed to be reading the movie as a political allegory–given its Fascist villain and its Republican heroes, how can we not?–but then at other times it seems like all the political issues are only supposed to serve as a generic “bad situation” for the young heroine to escape through imagination. In other words, I came out of this feeling sort of like I did coming out of Children of Men: thoroughly entertained, but somewhat unclear about how history is being deployed. Do these movies intend to illuminate the historical moments in which they’re set, or are they using those moments to create an emotional or tonal backdrop? Are these movies about public life or private life? I’m a little troubled by this trend. The more I think about it, the more recent examples I think of. Syriana and Hotel Rwanda are good counterexamples. But, troublingly–and tellingly?–they were boring.

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Terrorist, John Updike (2006)

Didn’t make it past page 100. Half-assed characterization, long rambling self-important disquisitions on The State of American Culture, everything described to within an inch of its life. No, wait, a mile. It’s all so written. Exhausting.