Sunday, November 25, 2007

Painted Veil, Messy Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera is about the most boring film I've ever seen. What a waste of talent (Javier Bardem) and scenery (Columbia). I'm not going to waste any more of my life thinking or writing about it, except to say that if you want to see a film much more worthy of the title Love in the Time of Cholera then see The Painted Veil which I, by coincidence, saw the next night on DVD. Over and out.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sister Act

Margot at The Wedding is a complicated film. It does some things exceptionally well, but I'm not sure if, at the end, the film is greater than the sum of its parts. One thing you can't argue , though, is that Nicole Kidman chews up this role and spits it out again. She plays Margot a narcissistic, bi-polar (or boderline personality disordered) writer, the sister to Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh, also superb) who is about to marry Malcolm (Jack Black who plays a lovable loser with humor and awkward dignity). The movie is not so thick on plot; it's just about the very ancient conflicts of two sisters, and what happens when Margot tries to manipulate Pauline into believing that her fiance Malcolm isn't worthy.

Joel Baumbach staked a certain claim in The Squid and the Whale--precocious, mature kids with fucked up parents. Baumach's brand of family dysfunction is emotional incest: adults who are far too dependent on their sons. You find yourself cringing as the parents reveal their messy inner lives to their vulnerable offspring, who are, after all, seeking approval themselves, because that's what kids do.

I loved Margot for its fine detail: Margot wears a nightguard to bed, to keep from grinding, for example; when have you ever seen that in a movie? The dialog is fine, and there's a lot of it. It's a talky movie. There are many lines that will stay with you. For example, when Margot is having a meltdown and her ex husband puts his sweater on her shoulder, she starts crying harder and says "I didn't realize I was cold until you gave me your sweater. . . "

I believe a good movie makes us see ourselves in a different way. But if you say, about Margot, "that's my sister" or "that's my mom" or "that's me" (as I did when she started crying at the gift of slippers saying "when you give me things I don't need I feel as though you don't know me") then you will either really love this movie, or hate it, because mirrors can be cruel teachers.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Before the Director Knows It's 2007

My friend Jane and I saw Before the Devil Knows You're Dead tonight. We both agreed that it was masterful in its way, but definitely had some quirks worth mentioning.

This is Sidney Lumet's new film. He's very accomplished, the director of Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Network, and a bunch of other great films, plus a host of not so notable films. And it should be noted that he's quite old. Watching this movie, you sense that. Old directors tend to do weird things, like have people make calls on pay phones, or throw their cell phones around in disgust ("this damn new technology! these buttons are so small!"), and have their characters pick up airline tickets from a travel agency (when was the last time you did anything other than use the Internet or maybe, just maybe called an airline. . .).

Anyway, he's old, but he's clearly confident. The structure is interesting: it keeps jumping around in time, mostly goes backwards, but not always. In every new sequence we learn more, though, about why these two brothers would hold up their own parents' jewelry store. It's a movie that is fueled by (a highly original) plot, and by some pretty terriffic acting. I actually don't like Philip Seymour Hoffman that much, because his characters are always so damn miserable (except for Magnolia, miserable but compassionate), but let's face it: the guy can act; he can do a slow seethe or a total meltdown with equal passion and subtlety.

And I was telling Jane that for me the movie almost broke a VeryMarkMcCormick cardinal rule: for a movie (or book) to be successful and gripping, you almost always need a sympathetic protagonist. At least a sympathetic main character. All the characters in this movie are hard to like, but there are arguably three protagonists, and in the end, you kinda have to like the Ethan Hawke character, not because he's so hot and there's a great shot of his ass, but because he is truly caught between the epic hatred of his father and his brother.

I read recently (and I cant' find this now--if you read it too, please let me know) that American movies are currently sort of suffering from an excess formalism, which means that even the best independent movies are perfecting the art of cinema, bringing together exquisite cinematography, editing, directing, acting, music, etc, to create these perfect little gems. The article cited the Coen brothers as being the pinnacle of this fomalism. In other words, try as hard as you want, but you can't dislike a Coen bros. movie, because they're so well crafted. This movie is a bit like that. It's hard to find fault in it, but will you be moved, will you care much, at the end? I don't think so, but it's worth seeing nonetheless. Still, will someone please tell Lumet that people don't smoke in their offices anymore, not even in New York.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tell Me You Love Me: Alright Already I DO

I've been watching the finale of Tell Me You Love Me. I'm crying like a baby, and realizing that I needed to circle back and say that my original misgivings about this show--that there was too much artificial sex, that the emotions and the therapy seemed forced--have been ameliorated.

The arc of this show was somewhat brilliant. In the beginning we saw a lot of nudity, a lot of sex. But by the end the rawness was not the flesh, it was the intimacy. While it might be that the three couples' (four if you count May Foster's) storylines did seem to be resolved too conveniently, the show delivered much needed emotional resolution.

I was routing for Katie and Dave, and knew that they would end up having explosive sex, but what I didn't predict was that they would have to grow far apart in order to come back together again, and when they did it would be powerfully, but tentatively, a scene of mutual masturbation that is entirely unique as far as I know.

And I love how Palek left Carolyn to be true to himself and his fear of being a father and screwing up like his Dad did. Plus I loathed Carolyn and liked Palek, and I didn't want them together, but when she miscarried and he comforted her only, finally, by admitting his own need, well it was honest and delicate.

May Foster says something really profound: "Sometimes therapists can shine the light on the dark moments. Our hope is that the light is not so glaring that you want to go back to the dark. . . " The show was brilliant at showing the particular alchemy of the therapist: how their own suffering illuminates others'.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Mark In Real Life: A few more movies

Movies should heighten reality in some way. Obviously movies aren't "real life" and they are best when they either present a different world altogether, or a reflection of this life that is "realistic" but with important twists: of plot, of character, of setting.

In the "altogether different" category, I offer Across the Universe. In the "realistic" category, I offer (funny, I hadn't considered the title): Dan in Real Life. Across the Universe is good. Dan sucks.

Who should see Across the Universe? The range is wide, from Julie Taymor fans to Beatle's fans. I love how the movie musical is getting re-invented and re-popularized. From Chicago to Dreamgirls and now Across the Universe, the movies are singing again in a way--this is important--that kids will love. It's natural that kids who love music videos would adapt to the movie musical if it was done right: with high production values, quick editing, pop stars. Julie Taymor, though, goes a step further and adds a heightened aesthetic and some edgy emotion.

I don't know why, but when a song that that is somehow in our collective consciousness, our cultural DNA, get's re-imagined in a shockingly original way, you just want to cry. Weep I did during the scene where I Wanna Hold Your Hand was presented as a lament by a lesbian cheerleader. As she's singing, voice full of longing, she's walking blithely through a group of in-flight football players. It's magic. It works.

But Dan in Real Life. Oh my god, seldom have I wanted a cocktail more or wanted to run screaming out the theater. It's an entirely predictable story about a guy who falls for his brother's girlfriend. If his damn family hadn't been so postcard perfect I might have fallen for this. I will say that the twenty something hetero couple next to me seemed to be lapping it up like kittens. Bully for them. That's who this movie is for, but if you fall in that category, but sure and check your brain at the door, or maybe smoke a joint before the movie.