Sunday, December 16, 2007

Movie Roundup

Other than No Country for Old Men and I'm Not There, we've seen a number of movies in recent weeks. Here are a few that come immediately to mind, in more or less reverse order of viewing, with short-ish comments about each:

Blade Runner (1982) - The so-called final cut. Aimée had never seen any version of Blade Runner; I've seen it several times, largely because I have trouble with it. I keep trying, and failing, to see what it is that others think is so awesome. I don't dislike it by any means, I've just not been able to see what all the fuss is. I still don't, but I'm not sorry I saw it again. Whatever my problems with the movie, there's no question that this new edition of it looks great. Vangelis' score is more intrusive than I had remembered it (Aimée called it cheesy; she's not wrong, though I was less bothered by it than she was). (Classic painful--and painfully expository--acting moment from Harrison Ford: "Memories. Yer talkin' about memories!" Yeah, no kidding.)

Superbad (2007) - not as funny as we expected it to be, but we love Michael Cera and his deadpan delivery is the best thing about the movie. (See this Joseph Kugelmass post, from September: "I'm McLovin It: Sexuality in the Age of Advertising".)

The Band of Outsiders (1964) - Each of us had previously seen only Breathless from Godard. This was my first encounter with the striking Anna Karina. The basic story: two men try to convince a girl (Karina) to help them break into the house she lives in and steal another boarder's cash. Hijinks and much flirting ensue. Why does it seem like the men in French films are always such callous assholes? So the movie sort of meanders, but it has a great sequence midway through, with Karina and the two men in a cafe or diner dancing, finger-snapping and cool, to jazz music (the soundtrack is all jazz, if I recall correctly). I would have been happy to watch this sequence over and over all night, if Aimée had let me.

Miller's Crossing (1990) - after No Country for Old Men, we decided to check out a Coen Brothers movie that neither of us had seen in years. There are people who claim this as the best mob movie there is. I don't see it. It's enjoyable, no question about it, though it seems, to me, more canned than it ought to. A lot of fun performances: one of Aimée's favorite heartthrobs, Gabriel Byrne; the weaselly John Turturro; Jon Polito's passionate speech about "et-thics" in the opening scene; etc.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007) - This is a small, sweet movie that could have been killed by excessive sentimentality or cloyingness, or by its central premise (perpetually alone Lars orders an anatomically correct doll from a porn site and presents it to the community as girlfriend) being played for cheap, Farrelly-like laughs. Happily, neither turns out to be the case. Ryan Gosling's performance as Lars is remarkable. We loved it. I'm pretty sure I was crying like a baby at the end, for a variety of reasons that would be too difficult to articulate here. One related reason: I am almost always moved by shows of genuine communal affection and involvement. The terrible Baltimore Sun reviewer Michael Sragow referred to this movie as "Capra-corny", which says vastly more about him than it does about the film.

Hiroshima mon amour (1959) - Director: Alain Resnais. Screenplay by Marguerite Duras, who I happen to have been reading some of recently. Her stamp is immediately evident, with the sparse, repetitive dialogue, and the emphasis on the characters' erotic histories. Some harsh, disturbing images, early in the film, of the effects of the bomb. The movie is short, but still our attention flagged some by the end. It may not have been the best choice for a baby-sitting assignment.

The New World (2005) - I don't know if it's right to say that Terance Malick is one of my favorite directors. What would I mean by that? I can say that Badlands is my favorite movie, or at least close to it, and that I liked my only viewings of both Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, each of which I would need to see again. The New World is stunning. I'd seen it at the end of its abbreviated theatrical run (a friend and I had had to go out of our way to see it, knowing it was going to be gone soon; it never did play in Baltimore). I remember emerging from the theater, into the harsh daylight and the ugly, modern strip-mall-scape, and feeling disoriented. This second viewing was necessarily somewhat muted by comparison--our television's not tiny, but it's no theater screen--but still a powerful experience. The story of John Smith and Pocahantas has been told and re-told and embellished so many times that it's hard to keep straight what the facts are supposed to be. Here it hardly matters. The focus is more on the tragic impact of the white settlers on the land its people. Aimée was crying at the end, simply at how beautiful the world was.

Idiocracy (2006) - I was really looking forward to this one, but now it seems wrong to list it immediately after the sublime The New World. I love Office Space, Mike Judge's hilarious and disturbingly spot-on comedy about office workers, and Beavis & Butthead, well . . . let's just say it was occasionally smarter than it seemed, and that there was sometimes something brilliant in its stupidity. Unfortunately, a lot of times there wasn't. Enter Idiocracy. I'd heard some good things about it, yet I have no memory of it ever being released to theaters. When we finally had the chance to rent it, the video store clerk told me it was "terrifying" because, he said, it was so true. I'd like to sit down and have a talk with the clerk: In reality, this is a terrible movie, the worst I've seen in a long time. All of its problems stem from its underlying thesis: smart people have stopped having children, while stupid people are reproducing like rabbits. In the opening sequence, when all of this is explained to us, we see a stereotypical upwardly mobile, middle class, professional couple (both thin, of course) delaying and delaying the decision to have children--the time's not right, career, money, fertility issues, and so on. Alongside this, we see a grotesque stereotype of poor people: stupid, fat, completely ignorant about how and why babies even happen, children all over the place. Eventually, over the course of 500 years, then, the smart people increasingly lose pace to the dumb people and, you see, humanity evolves until literally everyone is stupid. Needless to say, there are countless problems with this idea, beginning with the brazen class prejudice that equates "poor" with "stupid", and the extremely flawed understanding of evolution on display. In my view, the movie does not ever recover from this premise, nor could it, since every moment is shot through with its implications. And yet, there are some funny gags and evidence that there could have been a much better movie with similar, marginally smarter materials. The plot? Oh, yeah, there's a plot. Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph are frozen as part of an Army experiment. Naturally, said experiment goes somewhat awry, political funding -wise, and they are forgotten about and not un-frozen until The Great Garbage Avalanche of 2505 (this is admittedly a great touch). They awaken into a world in which everyone is vastly stupider than they are, where people can only speak some annoying combination of Valley-speak, hip hop slang, and grunts. They try to find their way back to their own time. Along the way we encounter various aspects of this future world, some of which reveal some hints at what might have been the better movie I was hoping for: Everyone is required to be bar-coded. All aspects of life are corporatized down to the minutest details. The most popular show on tv involves a man being repeatedly slammed in the nuts. There are some amusing gags surrounding the evolution of language and corporate identities. The Fudruckers hamburger chain (which was built on the site of the closed Army base), evolves over time into Buttfuckers (still a family restaurant). Starbucks specializes in legalized prostitution (the menus are more or less the same, but the items stand for altogether different products). The political arena is about as coarse as can be imagined, if not more so. There is much that could have been satirized about the coarsening of our society and our public discourse, but the satire here is never able to gain any real traction, because the (ridiculous, irresponsible) premise handicaps the movie from the start. With none of the characters native to 2505 able to form anything even resembling a complete thought with any complexity, the satire that could have been essentially dies before it gets started. Disappointing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could not agree with you more about Idiocracy. It was awful and a complete disappointment.