Monthly archives of “June 2010

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Away We Go, Sam Mendes (2009)

The husband and wife are absolutely unremarkable people who also happen to be the coolest, smartest, most reasonable, and funniest people you’ve ever met. They’re like your best friends except minus all of the things that are annoying or weird about your best friends. They get pregnant and go on an odyssey to find the best place to raise their child. Along the way they meet a lot of people who are imperfect: Self-defeating people, pretentious people, insecure people, paranoid people, etc. In the end, they decide the best place to raise their child would be to raise it exactly where the wife was raised. This makes sense, because the wife is perfect, and if they raise the kid where she was raised, then chances are the kid will be perfect too, and then their objective will have been realized and they can die perfectly happy. I hope it works out for them, but if it does, I never want to hear from them again. If, alternatively, something happens to make them massively unhappy, I’d be interested in knowing about that.

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Road House, Jean Negulesco (1948)

If I were a programmer at Film Forum or something, I might put together a group of noirs that take place in the sticks, as opposed to the city. Out of the Past, for sure, and also this one. I know there are others; I just can’t think of them right now.

This is a pretty straightforward story of two guys after the same girl. It’s distinguished by its unusual setting, as mentioned, and by Lupino’s gorgeously ravaged voice.

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The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky (2008)

Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream depressed the hell out of me. It was one of those movies you see and you feel like its misery sticks to you for days afterward. The Wrestler isn’t depressing; it’s sad, and quite beautifully so.

Aronofsky’s interesting. Four films so far, all quite different but with a consistent wistful darkness. It will be fun to watch him grow.

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The Assignment, Christian Duguay (1997)

Sometimes you watch a whole movie knowing that it’s like eating a whole bucket of junk food. That’s not so bad. But sometimes you watch a whole movie knowing that it’s like eating a whole bucket of junk food, and then afterward you realize you don’t even like that kind of junk food. That’s not so good.

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State of Play, Kevin Macdonald (2009)

Pretty good! But not great. The movie’s got this baroque D.C. corruption / sex / extortion / murder / bribery scandal plot, but it’s not really about that, it’s about the decline and decay of contemporary journalism. It’s no All the President’s Men, though. Why? Because that movie had the guts to be about a real scandal, rather than a made up one. Russell Crowe digging the dirt to get David Addington put away. That wouldn’t have been as sexy, but it would have been more satisfying.

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The Messenger, Oren Moverman (2009)

This is not a perfect movie. There are a few flabby passages, and a few overly determined scenes. There are some fatal–though not necessarily obvious–inconsistencies in the script. The first-time director sometimes seems unsure of where to put the camera and where to point it. But the imperfections serve to accentuate what a truly superb work this really is. The cast–Samantha Morton in particular, closely followed by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson–is absolutely fantastic. (Samantha Morton, I have to stress this, is amazing. I can’t remember the last time I saw a performance this good.) The script takes serious issues seriously without pandering to us or trying to edify us. The mise-en-scène perfectly captures the comfortable banality of contemporary American spaces–TV rooms, bars, malls, kitchens, cars, etc. And best of all, above all, the movie never hurries to make connections or draw conclusions. Silence is permitted, digression is permitted, reflection is permitted, and so genuine thought is possible.

Given the complexity of the subject matter and Moverman’s lack of experience, it’s all the more amazing that this turned out so well. It could have so easily been a disaster. I see that Moverman is at work on a Kurt Cobain picture. Another project with long odds, for sure, but seeing this makes me think he might be able to pull it off. God knows Van Sant didn’t.

A slightly bizarre afterthought: This reminded me of nothing so much as the sublime You Can Count on Me, another of the very few movies I can think of which seems to depict actual human relationships rather than cartoon versions of same. Screen those two as a double bill and you’ll be walking around with your guts turned inside out for a week.

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Three Novellas, Joseph Roth

We have here “Fallmerayer the Stationmaster” (1933), “The Bust of the Emperor” (1935), and “The Legend of the Holy Drinker” (1939). I suppose the last of these is the most famous (partially because Roth died not long after writing it and partially because it seems to offer autobiographical insights), but my favorite is the middle one, which sums up Roth’s keen sense of the social, political, and cultural dynamics of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire in a single bittersweet parable. All three short pieces are well worth the read.

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Le Doulos, Jean-Pierre Melville (1962)

Bernard Tavernier says Melville wanted more than anything to be the French William Wyler, which makes a great deal of sense, but of course that could never happen, because Melville, however much he admired and even imitated the great bread and butter Hollywood directors like Wyler, had a talon d’Achille: he was the Frenchest Frenchman ever. That’s what makes these gangster pictures of his so weird. All the Hollywood noir tropes are in place–dive bars, brassy molls, trench coats, double crosses, stool pigeons, big cars, cigarettes–but the– what, soul? core? mien? there’s probably a French word for it–of the characters is completely different than that of the characters in an American noir. They all come across as incredibly vulnerable, sensitive artistes playing the roles of tough guys. I mean really, Belmondo? Robert Mitchum could eat him in one bite. (Remember too that this is made in 1962, by which time noir was already being parodied and deconstructed in Hollywood.) Anyway, I’m not complaining that this is a failed noir, since I don’t think it was intended to be a noir at all. It’s a kind of pseudo-nouvelle vague take on noir, maybe. A very curious picture.

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Abrazos Rotos, Pedro Almodóvar (2009)

Even Almodóvar’s lesser movies, of which this is one, are always worth watching. The moves here will be familiar to fans–passion, dissolution, artistic inspiration and ennui, telenovelistic revelations and reversals, improbably beautiful people in fantastic apartments–but there’s a desultory quality to the movie, a sullenness; it feels like Almodóvar is setting out his usual predictably affecting wares, but he’s not terribly excited about it, and doesn’t care if you are, either. I had a similar response to Volver, in 2006. It’s beginning to look like the great era of of Almodóvar’s comedies was the late 80’s, the great era of his melodramas was the early 00’s, and now he’s sort of coasting down the other side with these smaller, more wistful pictures. I hope I’m wrong and that more greatness is coming.

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Marathon Man, John Schlesinger (1976)

God, the 70’s were so WEIRD! This is an incredibly strange movie. Dustin Hoffman’s father was a victim of history (blacklisted during the McCarthy purges). One of his sons (Roy Scheider) has grown up to be a — God, I don’t even know what he’s supposed to be, I think a CIA agent slash bagman for fugitive Nazis living in South America slash mobster. His other son (Hoffman) is a graduate student in history, writing a dissertation about “the role of tyranny in American political history.” Yeah, um, better buy some extra typewriter ribbons, pal.

The plot here is hard to figure exactly, but I do know that it is extremely paranoid. Everyone–students, professors, businessmen, cops, government officials, bankers, and especially dapper elderly Germans–is lying, cheating, stealing, and, sometimes, performing dentistry without anasthetic. Furthermore, Schlesinger’s apocalyptic Manhattan would make Travis Bickle’s look good to Carrie Bradshaw.

It’s all very washed out and depressing, yet I will say this: Movies were perhaps a bit more willing, at that moment in history, to go ahead and be washed out and depressing. Nothing’s any less effed-up now than it was then, yet it’s almost impossible to imagine something this effed up making it into production today. We still have plenty of critique and paranoia at the multiplex, but it’s a lot slicker, more digestible, and easier to look at than it used to be, don’t you think?