Dec 25, 2007

Sweeney Odd

Again, I wish I hadn't read A.O. Scott's completely exaggerated review. If I hadn't perhaps the fountains of blood would have shocked me. As it was, I expected them. If I hadn't perhaps I, like him, would have nightmares after watching this film. He must be a very sensitive man. With the amount of violence and gore American audiences have for breakfast, lunch and dinner I doubt that anybody except the very impressionable will have trouble going to sleep over this film. There is indeed a lot of blood, but it looks fake (too orange, too bright) and it looks way over the top, and the fact that someone is singing while throats are being slit somehow helps mitigate the horror.
I enjoyed the movie, but mostly because I enjoyed the music and the lyrics. I applaud the decision of bringing this quirky musical to the screen, because it isn't exactly The Sound of Music. But there are certain things that did not work for me at all. Helena Bonham Carter is a fantastic actress and she does a great job here, but she is not right for the role. First, her pleasant voice is extremely thin, and this particular score requires a much more potent voice that will not get drowned by the rich, powerful orchestrations. But the main problem is the concept of the character of Mrs. Lovett. I was 14 years old when I saw Angela Lansbury on Broadway, and as soon as I saw Bonham Carter, Lansbury's performance came back to me as clear as day. She was a vulgar, loud, earthy, feisty cockney harridan, not a dainty Victorian beauty who can't bake a meat pie. She was full of life, and shockingly, of love, and had the film version more of that brashness, her love for Sweeney Todd would have been more surprising and more poignant. As it is, it's conventional and watered down. This is my biggest problem with the film.
Johnny Depp also doesn't have a particularly rousing voice; but his performance is fantastic and he is believable in the role of a haunted man. He is a great movie star and he expresses much with very little, in this case, much pain. It is a thrill to watch him sing. I may be nuts, but in several instances it seemed to me that the lips of the actors singing were out of sync by a hair, which may mean that their voices were added or sweetened later.
Fortunately, there is Alan Rickman as evil Judge Turpin, and his slimy sidekick Beadle Bamford, played by the always magnificent Timothy Spall, and there is Sacha Baron Cohen in a wonderful turn as Signor Pirelli, a rival barber. Alan Rickman could read me the phone book with his buttery, velvety, delicious speaking voice and I would swoon.
All in all, Sweeney Todd is enjoyable but flawed and not in an unimportant way. For me the biggest thrill was to rediscover the dark wit and the power of the original songs.

Walk Hard

It was Chinese food and a double feature as the Enchilada avoided celebrating the birth of Christ today in the time honored NY Jewish fashion.
After Sweeney Todd I saw Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
John C. Reilly can in fact, sing. He can also act. He can also be funny and winning. He is utterly sincere and affecting in this smart parody of the pop star biopics like Ray and Walk the Line, by writer Judd Apatow and writer/director Jake Kasdan. The movie is really a fun send up of the different periods of pop music from the birth of rock and roll to the sexagenarians doing reunion tours that we have today. The costumes are a hoot, the songs are right on target, and the jokes are raunchy, mischievous, crass and also totally on target. The performers are all delightful and the satire is just right.

Dec 20, 2007

Classics: A Star Is Born

A story about the price of fame, "A Star is Born" (William Wellman, 1937) with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March is thoroughly enjoyable. Dorothy Parker is credited as one of the writers, and I'd like to believe that many of the really smart zingers in this film came from her pen. The film is pretty funny until it gets melodramatic and schmaltzy, but the performances by the two stars are gorgeous. There is more sexiness and smartness in this movie than in any of the vulgar crap we see today. However, the movie is some sort of fantasy where a small town girl goes to Hollywood and doesn't even bother taking acting lessons or having a job and she is discovered by a famous drunken movie star on his way down. Fifteen minutes later she is winning her first Oscar. AS IF. Still, the movie condenses pretty briskly the bitter price of fame. And except for a very schmaltzy turn at the end, (she will sacrifice her career so he can come back from the brink, with a twist), it's pretty hard edged.
I am now officially in love with Fredric March. Problem is, he is dead. He is so damn SEXY in this movie. What a fantastic actor. Very nuanced, not a ham. Super charming. Bring him back!!!!
I found these two nice quotes from him:
"Stardom is just an uneasy seat on top of a tricky toboggan. Being a star is merely perching at the head of the downgrade. A competent featured player can last a lifetime. A star, a year or two. There's all that agony of finding suitable stories, keeping in character, maintaining illusion. Then the undignified position of hanging on while your popularity is declining."
"I have earnestly endeavored to perform my own share without fuss or temperament. An actor has no more right to be temperamental than a bank clerk. Possibly a very sane bringing up as a child has helped me to retain my sense of proportion in these matters."

Dec 16, 2007

Lust, Caution

I'm glad I didn't listen to the tepid, unfair reviews for this perfectly satisfying film by Ang Lee, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a beautifully sustained story about a love affair between a radical acting student and a collaborationist minister at the time of the Japanese invasion of China in the 1940s. It is a spy romance sort of thriller. I haven't seen a spy romance since Casablanca, so what's not to like?
I guess the critics were impatient because the much touted graphic sex scenes take a good while to show up. But that good while is wisely spent by Ang Lee lovingly developing his characters, and allowing them to raise the sexual tension, so why the rush? When the sex finally arrives in this film nothing really prepares one for the violence of the passion, since everybody in this movie is unfailingly polite. Sex is notoriously difficult to portray well and many a serious movie has been derailed by a failure to do so. The sex in Lust, Caution works because plenty of groundwork is laid before the characters finally make it to bed. It is emotionally realistic and it is photographed with great sensibility and restraint. It looks sincere. It works. Perhaps the movie should be called Caution, Lust.
The lovers are played by the unflappable Tony Leung and the absolutely gorgeous and amazing Wei Tang, who is a major discovery, as far as I'm concerned. She is stunning as an innocent who fast develops a taste for intrigue and playacting, and takes to deception like a fish to the water. It's a great female character and she shows admirable command in her performance of a performance.
The movie is shot by Rodrigo Prieto, who brings out absolute beauty without calling too much attention to the cinematography. The lighting seems natural; it is subtle and gorgeous and not show-off at all. The movie is a feast for the eyes and it is just lovely to let them wander and take in the richness of the textures in each frame, never crammed with too many tchotchkes, but radiant with beautiful faces and gorgeous, deep colors.
And someone had the endless good taste to hire the great Alexandre Desplat to write the score, which is a perfect melding of haunting Eastern melodies with lush romantic and suspenseful passages. It works beautifully with the film. I'm hoping Oscar nomination for Mr. Desplat.
Ang Lee is a very elegant director. Restrained and romantic, he is patiently enamored of the quiet reactions in the human face. His actors are all wonderful. I can't think of a better way to spend three hours on a dreary, wintry Sunday than to sit back and take Lust, Caution in.

Dec 14, 2007

Review of a Movie that I May See But That I Have Strong Reservations About

Am I the only person in the universe that finds the sight of a computer generated destroyed Brooklyn bridge obscene? Some movie critics seem to think that is it enchanting to see New York City utterly destroyed, and they live here, by the way. I saw the preview for I Am Legend, the new Will Smith blockbuster, and I gasped in terror at the sight of a broken Brooklyn bridge.
First thing that came to mind was: don't be giving people ideas!
Didn't we just have a real Al Qaeda generated disaster 7 years ago that looked like something out of Godzilla? Excuse me, but I don't like the lines between reality and the movies to be that blurred. Luckily, there are flesh eating zombies in this movie, so we can rest assured that blowing up our bridges is an activity that remains safely ensconced in the realm of fantasy. As if.
Even if the movie is smart and entertaining, it is obscene to spend so much money fantastically destroying NY (they also destroyed traffic here for weeks while shooting).
I will admit that every New Yorker has a fantasy of having the city all to ourselves. In his review, A.O Scott describes some scenes where Smith fishes in the Temple of Dendur and golfs in the West Side Highway. Me, I'd raid Bergdorf's first. Then Saks, Barney's, Jeffrey, the Prada store, Sephora, you get the idea. Do I care that I am the only woman left on the face of Earth? Not after that kind of shopping, I don't. Only men could have a post apocalyptic New York scenario and not think of free shopping. DUH!
In fact, the week after 9/11, here downtown, New Yorkers took out their rollerblades and bicycles and realized their dream come true of having the streets to themselves. I can see that, but still, these kinds of spectacles are special effects porn, and not of the healthy kind.

Dec 13, 2007

Show Me The Globe

The official celebrity handicapping season started today with the Golden Globe nominations.
There are like 7 best pictures instead of the regular 5. Many of the nominees deserve their awards and only some are slightly baffling, but the Golden Globes seem relatively decorous this year. The one person I think was forgotten was Frank Langella, but I guess his movie was too small.
Interestingly, Persepolis, which should be the best animated movie of the year, is not competing as animation but as best foreign film. I guess this is so that they can give the prize to Ratatouille and still feel good about themselves. Persepolis is a lovely film but it should compete and win in its category.

Department of Happiness:
• Tilda Swinton for her astounding turn in Michael Clayton. Go Tilda!
• Clooney getting awards is something that never bothers me. Today, he and Don Cheadle won an award for their work against the genocide in Darfur, for which I'm sure he actually cares.
• Cate Blanchett for I'm not There. She kicks ass.
• Ellen Page for Juno
• Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose
Michael Clayton as best movie. Yay!
• Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone
• Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises.
• Julie Christie for Away from Her. I haven't seen the movie, but she deserves an award just for existing.
• Tom Wilkinson for Michael Clayton. So right.
• La Jolie was mighty fine in A Mighty Heart. Good for her.

Department of Huh?
• Casey Affleck for ...The Coward Richard Ford. I don't get it.
• John Travolta for Hairspray.
• Knightley and McAvoy for Atonement. They are gorgeous and they are fine, but they are not award material. He was award material in the Last King of Scotland.
• Tony Gilroy, the director of Michael Clayton deserves a directing nod much more than Joe Wright, of Atonement, but Atonement is the kind of film the Globes love, big, sweeping, romantic and none too challenging.

Not that I saw it, but:
• Jodie Foster. The same role she always plays, in a useless movie. Why?
• I understand Sarah Polley deserves directorial kudos for Away from Her. It wouldn't have killed the Globes to include her, instead of predictable people like Ridley Scott or Tim Burton.
• El Clinto, this time nominated for writing a song. I don't care if it's a symphony. I'm tired of El Clinto.
• Julia Roberts, really?
• Tom Hanks. I'm sure he's good, but we like some variety with our perenially awarded to death megastars.
• John C. Reilly for Walk Hard. I love him and I'm happy for him.

I don't know about you, but I'm already tired of this and it's just beginning.

I'm Not There, Either

I finally saw I'm Not There, the Todd Haynes Dylan Extravaganza. I can only report that it failed to touch my dear, old, jaded heart in every single possible respect, except for Cate Blanchett's wonder of a performance. The only thing that kept me rooted to my seat was the music. (And Ed Lachman's rich photography).
As I was sitting through this movie, I was thinking that perhaps all of us are entitled to one Bob Dylan movie in our head. If I had my way, mine would be just the songs, no visuals. Somehow, I think that Dylan's music defies visualization. It has the power of verbal narrative, like rich, complex novels that resist screen adaptations; not to mention the power of its chords, that seem to come from the depths of American experience, with the dark, disturbing undertow that most people in this country insist in ignoring. It has a sting that hurts. You would have to be an expert in haunting, spine-tingling enigma, and sharpness and irony to get it right. Maybe the Coen Brothers would nail it somehow. They come from the same place. Minnesota, that is.
The only moment where I found authenticity in this movie, was the one bit of actual footage of Dylan playing the harmonica in concert. I know this is very literal of me, but there he was himself, in all his elfin and stubbornly enigmatic power, and he is more convincing in a few seconds of that than 5 different people trying to inhabit his persona, to mostly cheesy effect.
I tend to worship Christian Bale, but he seemed ridiculous in this one. Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg playing a soured couple to the accompaniment of the Vietnam War seemed like an American telenovela to me, utterly banal. The very talented black kid was very distracting. The guy who plays Dylan giving interviews was trying his darnedest to be a prick, which is what Dylan used to do with great success. But only Cate Blanchett was given the opportunity to react to something. She was the only one with a personal conflict. Namely, Dylan in England answering questions about his honesty and dealing, badly, for the most part, with his fame. At times I forgot she was Cate Blanchett, she was so good. So her storyline provided the only instance where there was drama, instead of a procession of tableaux vivants.
The movie is a pastiche. A pastiche of film references, a pastiche of sentimentality, which is the last thing you'd expect in a movie about Bob Dylan, I would think. My heart sank as Richard Gere rode into a town of full of carnies. My wise friend Don told me that this is a reference to Dylan's own movie disaster Renaldo and Clara, which helped mitigate the circumstances, but only slightly.
The moment I see carnies and circuses on screen, in my mind, I run away.
It is totally fine to come up with a different way to do a biopic. It is totally fine to write a filmed love letter to your hero, it is even admirable to try to be original and think we are all Bob Dylan and Bob Dylan is all of us, or that the peripatetic life of Bob Dylan can be taken to represent something ineffable about American culture. I just didn't quite get what it was from this film. And it is not that I need a conventional plot or a sustained narrative, or a three-act screenplay. It's that either you do the biopic or you don't, but you can't have it both ways. If you want to take actual parts of his life and make them into stories that have little to do with him, there needs to be a huge resonance of meaning, not just dressed up snippets of gossip.
I was baffled by the inconsistencies: such an eloquent songwriter and such an inarticulate rock star. Christian Bale, who is a large, beautiful man, is described time and again as elfin and tiny, (by Julianne Moore, playing Joan Baez) and you can see the actor trying to shrink himself as much as possible. It simply doesn't work. Dylan was famously evasive on purpose, of course, but in the footage I've seen of his interviews, he seems to make sense: ornery, dripping with sarcasm, almost oracular. I gather that Dylan's autobiography is extremely well written, so I understand even less why the filmmakers insist in making him unintelligible, on all counts.
But this is the movie that Todd Haynes had in his head, and this is the movie he did. At least it's not a Broadway show, like The Times They Are A Changing. Or a Victoria's Secret runway show to the tune of Knocking on Heaven's Door. Sheesh.
Dylan is no sacred cow, but each one of us reveres him in our own way. Mine is not with carnies.

Dec 10, 2007


As I read it, I thought Atonement, the novel by Ian McEwan, would make a great movie, for it is a great story; but I thought that it would be daunting, if not impossible, to translate the main gist of the novel to a film format, since it is a novel of memory and guilt and writing, with many fine, gorgeous layers of meaning, and an interesting literary twist at the end. My questions about the film version, directed with much aplomb by Joe Wright, were whether it would capture the sparseness, the elegance and the power of McEwan's tone; whether it would respect the discomfiting darkness in the story, whether the exquisite ironies would pile up and surprise us as they do in the novel. Screenwriter Christopher Hampton has come up with a very faithful adaptation that successfully synthesizes the main themes of the book.
Of course, no amount of visual shorthand can substitute for McEwan's precise powers of observation and his masterful command of language, but the movie acquits itself quite well. It doesn't shy away from the quietly disturbing facts that McEwan brings to bear; for instance, and bless him for it, that innocence is not necessarily synonymous with goodness. Atonement is a love story told through a very complex prism of human emotion, in which the love story almost takes a backseat to the messy rest. McEwan is a very smart writer who likes to disturb people. In this case, a little girl causes terrible damage by telling a lie. She happens to be a budding writer. It is a very literary work, and the movie's challenge is to balance out this darkness with the romantic sprawl of the love story and not to lose sight of the fact that the topic of writing, recollecting or inventing is very important. It's a tall order, but the screenplay resolves it quite neatly.
The music by Dario Marianelli punctuates the writing theme by using a typewriter, very cleverly, as percussion, and this works wonders. Alas, the music gets a little corny later on.
Visually, the movie's style reflects what is recollected in memory, not only because you see the same scene from different points of view, but because in many instances people are shot through mirrors or glass. The lighting of the first part of the movie is clean and delicate and almost gossamer, like the fragile but enduring memory of a summer long ago that you can't shake out of your mind. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is gorgeous.
Keira Knightley does the job and she does it well. She is beautiful and too thin and I wish her character, Celia Tallis, had been explored in more depth. They could have taken time from the wartime sequence which sports an endless tracking shot, (that must have cost half the movie's budget and that I'm sure the director loves), to explore her mind a little more. Endless tracking shots are now achieved with the help of computers. I am far more partial to the tracking shots that were done on camera like Orson Welles' famous one in Touch of Evil. The only part of this movie that taxed my patience was part of the wartime sequence. It is very ambitious and I understand why it looks and feels like it does, but it drags on a little too long. And I can't tell you more about it, because I'd be giving it away.
Romola Garai is very impressive as the adult Briony Tallis. So is the kid that plays her as a child. But the brightest, smartest dreamboat of them all is James McAvoy, who delivers a thoughtful, dashing performance as Robbie the groundskeeper, Celia Tallises' lover. He is fabulous. Atonement feels like a very satisfying, almost old-fashioned, romantic movie but it gives the audience much more than that. It is smart and complex and its many layers of meaning will keep your brain happily engaged for hours.

Dec 4, 2007

2007: A Year of So So Movies

Hello and welcome to the time of year dreamed of and dreaded by all.
Thinking back, the movies of 2007 were not Earth-shatteringly good. I can't think of one movie that blew my socks off. There were a lot of decent movies, but in my view, many of the super well reviewed movies are quite overhyped. I have not seen several worthy contenders, which I will add once I do, but in the meantime, here is my humble estimation of what didn't suck this year. For your consideration, you can link to my reviews.

Absolutely Lovely:

Secret Sunshine (from Korea). The best movie of the year, in my view.
Encounters at The End of The World (Werner Herzog's documentary about the South Pole)
The Host
Michael Clayton
Rescue Dawn
We Own the Night
Blades of Glory
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Absolutely Lovely Documentaries

No End in Sight
Don Rickles: Mr. Warmth
Deep Water

Honest to God Decent Movies:

Gone Baby Gone
3:10 To Yuma
The Darjeeling Limited
Knocked Up
Starting Out in The Evening
The Hoax
A Mighty Heart.
I saw this movie on a plane. Why do they have this movie on a plane?

Overrated but Good:

No Country for Old Men
The Savages
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Interesting Mishmashes:

Eastern Promises
La Vie en Rose
Across the Universe

Pretentious and/or Truculent but not totally Unredeemable.

The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Richard Ford
Silent Light

Ni Fu Ni Fa (neither here nor there)

I Refuse to See
Margot at The Wedding. I don't see what's so great about unadulterated nasty smarminess. And I detest J.J.L.
Lions for Lambs. It just sounds deadly.
Mr. Magorium Magic Emporium. Hate the name, hate the Portman.

Review of A Movie I Haven't Seen III

The New York Times reports that Luis Mandoki's documentary on Andrés Manuel López Obrador, "Fraude, Mexico 2006", has been a huge box office success in Mexico and that people are screaming at the screens in frustration for what the documentary clearly, to judge from the title, considers the fraudulent win of the current President, Felipe Calderón.
I have not seen the movie but I understand it is a deeply one sided affair that portrays AMLO as a victim of corporate and government manipulation. Perhaps it is true, but how can you believe a documentary that is financed in part by one of AMLO's friends and that has clear subjective leanings towards its hero?
In the period before the election, Mr. Mandoki made a glowing biographical film about Mr. López Obrador, a populist who promised to end tax breaks for the rich and break up monopolies.The new film, “Fraud, Mexico 2006,” lays out in detail the arguments of leftists who say the combination of a smear campaign and fraud at polling places swung the election to President Calderón. Mr. Mandoki got financial backing for the movie from Federico Arreola, a journalist, entrepreneur and close campaign adviser to Mr. López Obrador.
It would not have killed Mr. Mandoki to balance it out a bit. AMLO is not a little innocent political dove. He gives as good as he gets. It would have been far more interesting if the documentary was more nuanced and showed the disgraceful circus on both sides that is Mexican politics.
What is troubling is that Warner Brothers had enthusiastically decided to support the film, and according to Mandoki, it bowed out due to pressure from Televisa, the long time Mexican media conglomerate. They claimed it was because they decided that a documentary in Mexico would not be profitable. This would be laughable if it weren't so repulsively cynical. After the mass demonstrations AMLO commandeered in Mexico City, where hundreds of thousands of people disrupted life for months on end, how could anyone think that nobody'd be interested in such a film? Mexicans are always starved for the actual truth. They love reading, talking and making jokes about their own reality, and finally a film comes out about it, and the pretext is that it's not profitable.
It is insulting, to say the least.
In what must feel like a delicious dose of schadenfreude to the producers, the film has grossed about a million dollars to date, a huge amount for a documentary in Mexico. Maybe the media conglomerates will learn a little lesson that strongarming and trying to silence a film is not good for business.
As a first successful political documentary in Mexico, it's a good thing, but I'm not surprised that this is what we get: we are still not there yet when it comes to true plurality of opinions.

Dec 3, 2007

The Savages

I love Slums of Beverly Hills, Tamara Jenkins first movie. I think it is one of the most unfairly underrated American comedies, a brilliant little dark comedy of a very disfunctional family, led by Alan Arkin who plays a loser dad and his oddball kids who don't fit in. The comedy is bittersweet (more towards the bitter side) but there is genuine empathy in the family's spunky resilience and in the fact that as screwed up a father as Arkin is, he is trying to do the best by his kids. Everybody is a screamer, everybody has big dreams and big emotions and the cast is a goldmine: Alan Arkin, Natasha Lyonne, the great David Krumholz, Marisa Tomei in a hilarious, moving role as a very disturbed cousin, Rita Moreno and Carl Reiner.
I was expecting to equally love The Savages. But, as well written, smart and committed to show a very dark side of human existence, namely death and decay, it is a movie that holds you at arms' length. The characters do not allow you to get near them, let alone grow fond of them; in the end one feels a chill. I respect Jenkins' integrity and I respect her choice of subject matter. My hat's off to her for wanting to communicate to the American people that old age, illness and death cannot be sugarcoated. And I applaud the bravery in making this a comedy, as opposed to a tearjerker. But making a comedy about having to put your dad in a nursing home proves a very hard thing to do. I find it interesting that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor are among the producers, for it is exactly what makes their satires winning that is absent in this film. Payne's comedies can be very cruel to their characters (think of any of them: Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt and Sideways, even that little jewel of a short in Paris Je T'aime), but there is always a strong current of empathy underlying the satire. You can find Reese Witherspoon's character in Election absolutely hateful, until you see her mom and you understand the strain that is to grow up like that, the horror that is to be like that, and you feel for her. You almost root for her. Nothing of the sort, alas, happens in The Savages. Perhaps it's the choice of characters: two neurotic, competitive playwright siblings; perhaps it's the choice of actors. One tries, but it is impossible to connect to or ultimately care about Laura Linney in particular, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the siblings who have to take care of a father that never took care of them. Linney is shrill and overacted and works very hard to be funny. And Hoffman is so pent up in his feelings, as good as he is, he can't be reached. These two adult kids are both so insufferable, not even their terrible plight helps in making us like them.
However, as their father, the great Phillip Bosco gives an astounding performance as a man in the throes of dementia. It must be very frightening for a mature actor to go to a place like that, and he gives a fearless, giant performance. The mix of rage, impotence, genuine beffudlement, cunning and sadness is the only truly moving thing in the movie. The rest is intermittently funny, certainly very sharply written and observed, very well directed. But the movie is more brittle and belabored than I wish it would be.

Dec 1, 2007

The Stuffed Enchilada Awards

Every time the Film Critics Society of Tejeringo el Chico, or The Golden Chicken Awards, or the National Bores of Review or the Morons' Choice Awards announce their nominations, I writhe in frustration because I don't get it. With any luck, the obviously great performances that cannot possibly be overlooked make it to the list, but the rest is random bullshit. Like for instance, nominating Daniel Craig for best British actor (BAFTAS) but ignoring Clive Owen's much superior performance in Children of Men. Or giving Babel 758 nominations and ignoring Children of Men. Why?
I know this is a frivolous, banal and moronic subject, but I don't care. Here are my nominations and the people who are winning my awards:

And the Stuffed Enchilada goes to:
Best Film not in English

and Indigenes (In my awards there are plenty of ties and nobody complains)

Best Supporting Actress
Abigail Breslin -- Little Miss Sunshine
Carmen Maura -- Volver

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin -- Little Miss Sunshine
James McAvoy -- Last King of Scotland
Michael Sheen -- The Queen

Best Actress
Helen Mirren -- The Queen
Judi Dench -- Notes on a Scandal
Meryl Streep -- The Devil Wears Prada

Best Actor
Clive Owen -- Children of Men
Toby Jones -- Infamous

Best Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki -- Children of Men
Rodrigo Prieto -- Babel

Best Art Direction
Geoffrey Kirkland -- Children of Menand
Brigitte Broch -- Babel

Best Original Screenplay
Paul Greengrass -- United 93
Peter Morgan -- The Queen

Best Adapted Screenplay
Patrick Marber -- Notes on a Scandal
Douglas McGrath -- Infamous
the 83 people who adapted Children of Men

Best Director
Paul Greengrass -- United 93
and Stephen Frears -- The Queen
and Alfonso Cuarón -- Children of Men
and Martin Scorsese -- The Departed

Best Movie
United 93
and The Queen

The Sour Enchilada for Unfairly Praised Movies Award goes to:
Pan's Labyrinth
Little Children

Nov 30, 2007


Diablo Cody is a young woman that was living in Minnesota and doing sex work (whatever that means) when a guy from LA contacted her on her blog and asked her to write a screenplay, which she did. The result four years later is Juno, well directed by Jason Reitman.
This is the kind of "Lana Turner discovered at Schwab's" story that makes my stomach churn with envy, I must confess. In the case of Diablo, and to judge from the very entertaining film, she is actually very talented, so on the one hand the stomach churns violently; on the other, chapeau to her.
Juno is the story of a prickly, sarcastic, but sweet 16 year old high school student who gets pregnant by the very flappable Michael Cera, in yet another one of his quiet, nebbishy performances.
I love Michael Cera and I wish somebody gives him a villainous role soon. It would be wonderful to see him play against type.
Juno is played by the formidable Ellen Page, who I am sure will be the subject of much awarding this season. The film is very funny, quite endearing and it sports very spunky dialogue. It is quite up to date with teenage patois, which tends more towards sophistication than monosyllables. There is plenty of verbal dexterity in this film and the language is quite original.
In a way, Juno is like a fairy tale for bohemians that tries to turn certain stereotypes of the pregnant teenager genre on its toes. For instance, Juno's parents, hilariously and warmly portrayed by JK Simmons and Allison Janney, are actually very sympathetic oddballs, instead of the garden variety uncomprehending sansabelt weirdos that usually populate this genre.
In fact, what I liked best about this movie was the acting. The comedy was just right, the pitch quite perfect. Jason Bateman is great as a repressed rocker married to the very uptight Jennifer Garner, who wants to adopt Juno's bundle of joy, or the "thing" as Juno fondly calls it.
I saw Jason Reitman's Thank You For Smoking and I thought it was leaden and unfunny, but in Juno he displays great finesse, a great sense of light satire and much humanity. He seems much more inspired by this material.
On the surface the movie seems unconventional, but at heart it is sheer fantasy. People make much of the fact that this is a spunky teenage heroine, as opposed to the teenage male mutants we are used to seeing each and every summer. She is an outsider, as is her family, but there is a very conventional core to this film. She wants the kid to grow up in a good home and this being a comedy, I will not ruin it for you if I tell you it has a happy ending that would probably not be as saccharine were the same thing to happen in real life.
Still, it is funny and enjoyable and moving. It reminded me a little bit of Little Miss Sunshine and I feel it tries a bit too hard to show it's indy oddball credentials (some of the cutesy music drove me nuts), but it grows on you, just like Juno's belly, and you end up liking it.

Nov 28, 2007

Frank Langella: Getting Better With Age

There are actors who get worse with time. They become caricatures of themselves. Two examples that come to mind are Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, two great actors who became unbearable to watch in later life. In the case of Frank Langella, the opposite has happened. I don't think he was ever a mediocre actor, but now that he is older, he is a giant. I've seen him onstage twice and my jaw has dropped in amazement both times. Once in a Noel Coward play where he played a flamboyant queen and he was hilarious and powerful and mesmerizing and human; and in Frost/Nixon, where he played Richard Nixon way beyond the easy caricature. He was awesome.
Now he plays a former famous novelist in the very literary movie Starting Out in The Evening. And he is so quiet and restrained and so powerfully internalized, I'm guessing Oscar nomination too, if somebody takes the trouble to watch the small, fine film. It is delightful to see Lili Taylor again, playing his intense New York daughter. She holds her own as usual, with great intensity. As for Lauren Ambrose (formerly of 6 Feet Under), she tries very hard and almost succeeds in portraying an ambitious graduate student who insinuates herself into the life of the famous novelist. She gives a brave performance, but she fidgets, and makes faces and shows every tic in the book, which may not be the best way to go when you are faced with a Totemic force like Frank Langella, who is a study in the emotional power of stillness.
Kudos to my pals, cinematographer Harlan Bosmajian and Manuel Billeter, the camera operator (and dp of my own little short -- gotta do the plug), for making this movie, shot in HD video, look like a film, very beautiful.

Nov 26, 2007

I Take It Back About Casey Affleck

I like Ben Affleck, as my loyal readers already know. I like him as a movie star, for he is handsome, charming and likable and I like him even more as an articulate, intelligent, committed liberal.
And now he has directed a movie, Gone Baby Gone, based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, and he has done a pretty good job of it. I remember reading a review where the complaint was that Affleck peopled his movie with too many unsavory-looking real people from tough Boston neighborhoods. I found it totally refreshing that here is an American commercial film where the much touted prosperity of our country is nowhere in evidence. Affleck takes his sweet time showing almost nothing but poverty, ignorance and crime and I commend him for it. He really does not sugarcoat the sordid underbelly of drug and child abusers, and the movie is actually rather hard to watch. There is not much to be so smug about at home, the movie seems to say.
The story is a sad and sordid affair. Brother Casey stars as Patrick Kenzie, a very young guy who specializes in missing person cases; as he points out, the kind of missing who disappear as their bills mount. But in this case, a little girl has been abducted and Amy Madigan, in a powerful performance as her aunt, hires him and his lover and partner, Michelle Monaghan (who seems too wholesome for the way she makes a living), to help look for the girl. I had major reservations about Casey Affleck in that Jesse James movie. He is kind of an unlikely movie star, with a reedy, thin voice and strange good looks. He looks a bit like a goof, and his performance in that movie lacked focus. In this case, Casey is much more convincing, and quite compelling as a young detective with connections in the hood and unimpeachable morals. Now, why Americans, even intelligent and sensitive ones like Ben Affleck, have this unyielding obsession with moral heroics, I still can't totally fathom, and a lot of the movie concentrates in Kenzie growing into the very challenging role he has been assigned with utter moral certainty. He is sort of a reluctant hero, but his probity is the kind that seems to exist only in movies and the convention seems at odds with the rest of the film. Yet at the core of the film lies an interesting moral dilemma. The mother of the missing child makes Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest seem like Florence Nightingale. Amy Ryan deserves an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Not only she is a coke whore and a drunk but she exhibits the kind of tough, irresponsible, bitter selfishness that only the dispossessed can have. She is fierce and tough and angry and scarred by life and unafraid of meanness, but even she eventually breaks as no sign of the girl turns up. Her pain seems genuine, at least for a moment, but survival makes her craven, not a saint. She is a defiant wreck and the performance is pitch perfect and astounding.
Not to give away the complicated plot, the dilemma centers on what is best for the girl versus what is the right thing to do. The movie stretches credibility by making the dilemma more powerful than it is but it still is a nice twist to what seems like a routine police thriller. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and morality (and this may be a fresh concept in this country) is not as cut and dry as people hold it to be.

Nov 16, 2007

No Country for Old Men

I went in expecting a masterpiece and I went out, as my friend Lisa says, trying to convince myself that I had liked it more than I did.
It seems to me that this movie is another, less successful version of Fargo. There is a man (Josh Brolin, quite good) who gets involved in a crime far out of his league, but who is not as hapless as Jerry Lundergaard (Bill Macy); there is a very evil man (Javier Bardem) who is like the Peter Stormare character (sans sidekick and much more deadly), and there is the decent but completely underwhelmed small town police force (Tommy Lee Jones, incredible, as usual, and his stupid sidekick), there is the Coens' fascination with the local patois, and there is the same indictment against greed and lust for money from the hearts of ordinary, decent people. Except in this case, the violence is far more vile and the few attempts at humor, which worked so wonderfully in Fargo, really don't match the rest of the tone of the film, which seems rather dispassionate and somber. The screenplay is tight and complicated and the movie is extremely suspenseful and entertaining, but somehow I couldn't muster myself to care, and I'm still trying to figure out why. It's yet another Coen brothers mash up of genres, a lovely mix of a modern Western and a crime thriller, but it's not as flawless as Fargo (to me, the gold standard in Coen brothers films). Perhaps it's that Javier Bardem, as wonderful as he is, is a one dimensional cartoon of pure evil. I like the idea of unexplained, non-psychological evil. In movies, and indeed in the press in the US, they tend to use fastidious over-explanations of human evil (child abuse, etc) and here evil shows up one day and it just is, which is fine by me. And I also really like and respect the open ending because they would have disappointed me deeply if they gave it a completely artificial ending. In fact, the ending is the most interesting part of the movie, as it effects the one and only change in Bardem's character and yet we don't quite know how much of a change it was. It is subtle and brilliant, but my main problem with this film is one of tone. The salt-of-the-Earth people who inhabit this Texas wasteland seem too real compared with Bardem and his Prince Valiant hairdo (don't get me wrong, I'd love this man if he wore a mullet) and I was really disturbed by the bad attempts at ineffectual police humor; they just didn't seem to belong to the same movie, which has a harsher, darker, much less playful feel than suits the usual Coen antics.
I guess film reviewers in the States need to get excited about something, and this is certainly a perfect movie to get excited about. The Coens at least are original, sophisticated filmmakers and this is a much better use of their immense talent than futile stuff like The Ladykillers, but it just didn't blow me away. Fargo did.

Nov 9, 2007

No Country for Old Reviewers Who Give Away the Plots

I very much want to see the new Coen Brothers movie No Country for Old Men, but already Anthony Lane was kind enough to describe in writing the entire opening scene. Hell, A.O. Scott put the gist of the plot on the byline of his review! Is it possible to go to a movie without knowing absolutely everything that is going to happen? I know I sound like a broken record, or better yet, an escapee from the psycho ward, but it drives me crazy that people cannot write a review without giving away the plot. We lose the element of surprise. And those of us who love movies, well, we live for the element of surprise! I don't want to know what happens. I want to know if you liked it or not and why. Can you write about the movie in general terms without going into plot specifics? Is this too much to ask? Should I be restrained with a straitjacket?
Usually reviewers leave the filler for the middle, which, when confronted with nothing interesting to say, they just tell you everything that happens in the story. In order to avoid the spoilers, I simply read the first and the last sentence and I get a pretty good idea of whether they liked it or not.
Now Anthony Lane has ruined it for me. He's ruined the beginning for me. I'm still going to see the movie, but I am not reading the reviews. And neither should you. (Unless you read mine, coming soon to this here page).

Oct 27, 2007

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

I enjoyed Sidney Lumet's 44th movie for its moxie and its cantankerousness, but it seems to me a very uneven film.
What is thoroughly enjoyable is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who seems to be the only main character in the film who steadfastly refuses to ham it up. The whole thing is very acty, but he is excellent as a ruthless, cold bastard with major emotional issues. Now, I have, as always, a major issue with the reviewers in this country who have to tell you what the plot is about, thereby giving away its most important surprises. This really drives me nuts. Isn't it enough to say, "it's about a heist gone horribly wrong" and leave it at that. No, they have to spell everything out for you. Please, spare us the details. That way, when the twists come, we will not be expecting them already. But I digress. For the sake of the couple of readers who are presently living in a cave, it will suffice me to say that this film is about a heist gone wrong, and more to the point, about a bunch of utter fuckups. This movie, if anything, is a glorious exploration, well written by Kelly Masterson, of the human capacity for totally fucking up. Everybody in it is a world-class fuckup, or a loser, or deeply corrupt, and I am a sucker for misanthropy.
The other thing I really loved, is that it is an ornery movie. Sidney Lumet, bless him, still believes in the inherent rudeness of New Yorkers, even when the behavior in this town nowadays (at least during shopping hours) seems more suitable, alas, to Des Moines.
In his movie, however, receptionists are still salt of the earth, opinionated broads, and people behind desks ask customers to "pipe down", or "stick their neck" into a hospital room when they inquire for a patient. Service is of one of two types: rude or condescending, whether from a heroin dealer or the police department: nobody cares. Such curdled joie de vivre is exhilarating. As also is the use of great New York character actors. Brian F O'Byrne is hilariously Noo Yawk as one of the criminals, and interesting people like Lee Wilkof, Alice Spivak and Michael Shannon pepper up the screen. There is a wonderful scene between Ethan Hawke and his embittered ex-wife, (Amy Ryan), that just shows the nasty aftermath of a failed marriage. The bile and the hatred are as thick as molasses. Even Hawke's young daughter berates him. Such are the joys of this film. It holds as its central philosophy something that is dear to my heart: the world is a cesspool, stop dreaming.
Much of this movie is darkly funny, and it could almost be a nasty, dark little comedy if it wasn't for the overthetopness of it all. The chewing of the scenery doesn't correspond with the nature of the story. Less emoting may have made it both more chilling and more funny. Hawke is absolutely out of control as Hoffman's baby brother. His mugging is so extreme, it really distracts you from buying into the story, which is already a bit of a stretch to begin with. Marisa Tomei is sadly overused in a seemingly underwritten part. Amy Ryan is very good as a bitter ex-wife, and Albert Finney, well, he is a ham, but, like Mr. Ex-Enchilada used to say, he's a Westphalian Ham, (as opposed to an Oscar Mayer ham).
I found the ending super strained and hard to believe, over the top but without real weight.
Still, I raise my glass to Mr. Lumet, who drums up such raw energy with enviable vigor and zest.


The movie is gorgeously shot in black and white, with a keen eye on composition, since Anton Corbijn, the director, is a famous still photographer, who has mainly photographed rock bands like U2. His eye for the detail of the unglamorous part of rock bands is refreshing. Control is an engrossing movie, with a haunting central performance by the very talented Sam Riley, strongly supported by an excellent cast that includes the formidable Samantha Morton and Alexandra Maria Lara, last seen as Hitler's secretary in Downfall, and most memorably, the very funny Toby Kebbell, who plays the band's manager.
Ian Curtis's life came to a tragic end when he was impossibly young, and my main problem with this movie, is that to judge from it the way it is portrayed, his problems with epilepsy and women simply do not seem tragic or insurmountable enough to warrant suicide. One gathers he was probably deeply depressive and emotionally disturbed, but not from anything the movie really makes clear, so he comes across as a monumentally self-involved prick. I am all for the de-mythification of legends, but the movie robs its central character of much tragic depth by ignoring his emotional context. You can spell these problems out without turning the film into a tear jerker, which seems what the filmmakers were justifiably trying to avoid. But dramatically it doesn't work and instead of feeling a deep sense of loss, one thinks: what an idiot.
Control made me think of Sid and Nancy, the magnificent film by Alex Cox, about the terrible demise of Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. That film was awash in context, not with cheap psychobabble, but with the background of coming of age in Britain in the Eighties. It is such a riot of anarchy, it manages to exhilarate and appall at the same time. Obviously, the willfully detached lads of Joy Division were not like the unleashed beasts of the Sex Pistols, but Control seems too polished to deal with basic personal stuff that would have given more meaning to Mr. Curtis's untimely death.
It turns out I'm not the only one who feels this way. I am deeply grateful to the fabulous Mimosa, reporting from Paris, who always sends me truly interesting, intelligent and thought-provoking links through the internets.

Oct 25, 2007

We Own The Night

A very satisfying, hardboiled, soulful police drama with the increasingly fantastic Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg (who just doesn't do it for me) and Robert Duvall. Very well written and directed by James Gray, We Own the Night is a police family drama (yep) that is gripping and drips atmosphere. It's about two brothers, the cop, played (barely) by Wahlberg and the black sheep, Phoenix, in an amazing performance, who are the sons of a police bigwig. It is by all appearances a relatively conventional story, but in fact it is far more interesting than it lets on at the beginning. Phoenix is stuck in a sort of Hamletian dilemma. His father and brother want him to become an informant because he manages a disco where the Russian Mob is involved. Like Hamlet, first thing out of his mouth is, and what's it to me? Doesn't want to deal. But circumstances make him take action, unlike Hamlet who kvetches for over three hours and a half and finally has someone else put on a play.
It turns out that the antihero has more mettle and more balls and more principle than his straight- laced, self-important brother cop. In the end, it is a film about family bonds, about the family you are born into and the families you choose later in life, but it is dark and brooding and hard edged and that is why I loved it.
I also loved the music in this film. The Eighties' tunes are all cool and nostalgic, but I'm talking about the music by the Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, which is super moody and minimal and disconcerting and has an Eastern European air without ever sounding like Ochi Chornia. Speaking of Russians, Mr. Gray, being the resident expert because his parents are Russian immigrants, peoples his movie with extraordinarily convincing Russians and also great character actors as hardened NY cops, Danny Hoch, super good as a lightweight, cowardly dealer, and Eva Mendes, who is not only sexy, but damn fine as an actress.
New York in the Eighties (that is Queens and Coney Island -- I love that there is no Manhattan anywhere in this film) feels gritty and has as much character as the characters in the film. Looking at the bleak Coney Island landscapes in winter, I thought, boy is this the most charismatic city for movies, or what. No other city has the character, the pockmarks, the grit, of New York. Gray pays homage to the iconic car chase scene of the French Connection but has the balls to do it during a torrential downpour. It's fantastic.
It kind of gives me hope, having seen Michael Clayton as well, that there are still good films being made in the USA, with solid, bankable actors, good writing and great craftsmanship.

Oct 23, 2007

On DVD: Dreamgirls and Venus

I haven't written in a couple of days because I have some sort of nasty sore throat that is making me feel very bad. I look at the beautiful, unseasonable weather outside my window, and cannot enjoy it because I feel lousy. I look at the news and it all seems to be the same. Iraq is still there, there are fires in California, which always happens, so what else is new?
I resort to my Netflix. I have seen Dreamgirls, and didn't like it. The music is a terrible pastiche of actually great black music. The extraordinarily talented cast (Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson) are all wasted singing bad songs and mouthing even worse dialogue.
The movie looks great but it bored me to tears. And as much as Eddie Murphy rocked, it looks like half of his performance was edited out of the film. A very frustrating movie. Quite terrible, somehow.
I also saw Venus, with Peter O'Toole, written by the great Hanif Kureishi (I confess: I fell in love with him when he came to the Pen writer's conference in NY like two years ago. I fell in love with his bile.)
I was surprised that Venus was so much better than I imagined. Directed with great sensitivity by Roger Michell and stupendously acted by O'Toole and the rest of the cast. It's a movie that sometimes tries to be spunkily comedic like those newfangled cookie cutter British comedies, but because it is written by Kureishi, it is much more poignant and darker and smarter than that.

Oct 21, 2007

Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is a smart, talky movie about icky lawyers. Almost old-fashioned in its penchant for words, it is a tight thriller about a "fixer", played by George Clooney, who is always cleaning up sticky messes for his all-powerful law firm. It soehow feels old fashioned, as it is a proper movie, with proper dialogue and a proper plot, and lots of good material for the actors. In fact, the greatest treat are the actors, a stellar dream cast. The cinematography and the music are great, and everything works like clockwork.
It is a joy to watch Sydney Pollack in the role of the likeable boss of an unlikeable law firm. The man should act more often. The formidable Tom Wilkinson plays a lawyer who apparently has lost his marbles and decides to join the other side in a class action case. Everything he says and does seems like madness, but he is of course, the great seer of truth. It is an incredibly balanced performance in which the crazy shtick never seems like shtick. Tilda Swinton, an actress I've never really liked, gives an unbelievable performance as the chief counsel for a very evil company. She is mesmerizing (and in my view, deserves Oscar). And then there are a bunch of great New York stage actors who shine in their small roles, most memorably Denis O'Hare as a smarmy Connecticut man involved in a hit and run. Cloooooooney is fantastic as the tired, troubled anti-hero of the movie. He's kind of a loser, a sellout, and he's had it. He is very economical with his feelings but you can feel the rot and the disgust and the anger and the shame. It's a quiet but powerful performance. He is a wonderful movie star and a smart actor and we looooove him.
The film is a fantastic first directing gig for Tony Gilroy, writer of the Bourne movies. He seems to possess a natural gift for directing actors, and he gives them wonderful dramatic scenes to sink their teeth into, so that confrontations between Clooney and O'Hare, Clooney and Swinton, and Clooney and Wilkinson are little marvels of dramatic writing, and extremely choice morsels for the actors. It's all very satisfying, with a very complex plot and many characters that keep you very busy thinking, which is good. The movie is an ethical drama about corruption and cover ups, and at the end one wonders if it's going to go the extra mile and just drip with human ickiness.
I will not disclose. Go find out.
I'm surprised it is number 4 at the box office. The opening of it is a fantastic, longish voiceover rant by Tom Wilkinson and if that has not scared the Resident Alien audiences away, maybe there is still hope for mankind. I bet this movie has a loyal female audience and it also caters to guys who like to wrap their minds around interesting plots. During the endless previews, we were shown like 3 chick flicks who all seemed to have been created by the creators of The Devil Wears Prada and each lame comedy seemed more forced, unfunny and embarrasing than the next. You want to give us chick flicks? Put Clooney in a smart, rewarding film like Michael Clayton, and stop thinking we're all a bunch of airheads.
We'll pay to see him and to have his babies (or at least try!).

Oct 17, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

I liked it more than I thought I would.
It is DROLL with a capital D, but at least Wes Anderson has his own style, and that's more that you can say about a lot of other people making movies these days (particularly formulaic indy movies and insufferable shit like mumblecore). Anderson milks the droll deadpan for everything it's got, but I found this movie to have a bit more substance than his last forays into whimsy.
Three brothers go on a spiritual journey in India that doesn't become spiritual because they will it to be, but because life happens to them. It's very sweet, sometimes arch; it elicits knowing smiles, but no more, and I'm sure it does not mean to be a laugh riot. The Wes Anderson quirky tone is firmly in place.
The music is the best thing in the movie. A winning combination of songs by the Kinks and the gorgeous music of the films of Sajyajit Ray, it really lifts it up. It's inspired.
It's rather touching to see Owen Wilson with his head covered in bandages deliver a better performance than that of his brothers Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman. And Angelica Huston is imposing and wonderful as their mom. I found the movie very enjoyable. It made me want to take the Darjeeling Limited, if indeed there is such a lovely train.

Oct 15, 2007

Blade Runner at The Ziegfield

Blade Runner, the Final Cut at the Ziegfield: oh, the joy of a bigass theater and a big screen. The luxury! The Ziegfield also boasts an enterprising usher that greets you with a booming, theatrical voice. Even the popcorn tastes better. Now, it is worth revisiting Blade Runner just because it is so visually stunning. I remember the first time I saw it, I was blown away by the noodle stands in perpetual night and rain, and by the floating geishas. The movie still gets the future right: dark, damp, cluttered and dirty -- it is magnificent. Ridley Scott did have a bit of an obsession with ceiling fans and window shades, and fog coming in through the slats at all times. But the set design and the whole visual concept of the movie are so unique and atmospheric and disturbing, it is gorgeous. Harrison Ford is totally wooden as Deckerd, the Blade Runner. He is more robotic than the replicants, but that may just be the point. How do you trust anyone in a world where robots are so human looking? I'm not a huge fan of science fiction but the premise of this movie is very cool. Sean Young wears huge shoulder pads and Daryl Hannah looks suitably punkish and Rutger Hauer is still very scary and Eddie Olmos wears blue contact lenses. I don't remember the original in much detail, but this cut seems much more atmospheric, the pace more stately, more ruminative. Also, there is an eye gouging a la King Lear that I don't remember from the original. Very violent but effective. And the original end, if I remember correctly, Sean and Harrison escaped into some lush green mountains that had nothing to do with the world he had just witnessed. No longer. The ending is much subtler and better now.

NYFF: Don Rickles: Mr. Warmth

I made the midnight show of the new John Landis documentary Mr. Warmth, about the one and only Don Rickles, who at 81 years old is still busy insulting people and making them howl with laughter, God bless his punim.
The film is a delightful hoot because mostly it has lots of Don Rickles in concert. And the man is priceless. His humor is so ancient that it is almost quaint, the jokes about drunk Irish catholics, and toothy Japanese and Nazi Germans and sleepy Mexicans deserves to be in a museum, but the funny thing is that it works. The man is truly hilarious. The genius is in the delivery. The improvisation, the mercurial comebacks, the sharpest sense of timing... and that face. The face of a puckish pug. The face of a mamzer. And I say this with gushing admiration.
But the movie is also about a world that is lost. Everybody in it (Steve Lawrence, Debbie Reynolds, Bob Newhart and other ancient wonders of the world) waxes poetic about how cool Vegas was when the Mafia ran it. It was a classy joint, not the podunk amusement park it is today. People dressed up, drank and gambled seriously: there was glamour, goddammit.
As someone says in the movie, Don Rickles shows up with his orchestra and a mike and there are no albino tigers and people hanging from ropes and laser beams and firecrackers. And for your money, he is still the best show in town.
Glamour is utterly dead and buried. There is simply no such thing as glamour anymore. Please do not confuse the stars parading borrowed gowns and jewelry for glamour. Do not think because you cover yourself in logos that you bought in Chinatown, you are glamorous. Glamour is something else. And it is gone from the face of Earth, which saddens me to no end. Instead of glamour, we have marketing, which is the death of everything.
Now, to talk about glamour and Don Rickles in the same sentence is strange, but there is a connection. He belongs to a time where you had to dress up to see him, just as he still puts on his tux and his patent leather shoes to entertain you.
I once saw an open mike night at the Laugh Factory in LA and the pathetic losers on stage were not funny, so they started to abuse the audience with really crass, vulgar and witless comments. The difference between Rickles and them is that he is not a bitter loser. He is a talented performer who enjoys commanding a room. He is a performance artist and I love him to death. The doc will show on HBO. See it.

Oct 12, 2007

New York Film Festival: Redacted

As I got ready today to write my review of Redacted, the Brian De Palma Iraq war film shown last night at the New York Film Festival, I came across an interesting piece of news. Apparently, at the press conference there was a huge discrepancy between the director's claims that his own film has been "redacted" by Magnolia Pictures, the distributor; and the producers, who claim this isn't so. In order to explain this funny business, you have to know that the film uses actual photographs of Iraqi war victims, whose faces have been masked with what looks like a sharpie, because there is no clearance to use them for commercial use, which is the category that this movie belongs in. The debate on fair use and clearances is one for the lawyers. Although I must say only in America would executives be so concerned that the families of poor Iraqis blown to pieces are going to sue them for using a picture that has already appeared in the press. And if they are so concerned at respecting their dignity and their privacy, perhaps they should not show them at all, much less with an inkblot covering their faces.
In any case, the more interesting issues raised by this film are those of authenticity.
Redacted is sort of Casualties of War redux, except in Iraq and in the age of video and internet. Every single image in the movie is supposed to be shot by a witness holding a video camera, or by a security camera, or by a news network, or by documentarians. Certainly such immediacy is disturbing and endlessly interesting, since it makes witnesses or voyeurs of us all, as opposed to simply an audience looking for entertainment. HOWEVER, with a capital H, the movie happens to be a fictional dramatization of a true incident that happened in Samarra, where American soldiers raped, killed and burned a 15 year-old girl and massacred her family. So all the supposedly realistic footage is painstakingly designed to look real but it is performed (mostly hammily) by actors. The internet sites are recreated, fake newschannels invented, etc. The stylistic choice supposedly makes the audience confront reality without the safety blanket of "this is only a movie". But unfortunately, it also imposes certain limitations on the plot, which result in contrivances that defy belief. For instance, one of the soldiers is shooting everything he sees in his camcorder so he can submit his film to film school. To this end, he wears a tiny camera that records the rampage on the night in question, and nobody knows. Like we say in Spanish, now tell me a cowboy story. There is no authority around to censor him. It may be true that American kids are running around Iraq with no semblance of a squad leader telling them what they can or cannot do. But if Redacted is to be believed, the soldiers are not only sorely lacking in supervision, but they display an alarming degree of naivete about the danger of their surroundings. They act as if they were at Summer camp half the time, and they seem totally unsupervised. When the shit hits the fan, and the plotting of it is recorded by a security camera that seems to have stereo speakers, it is almost beyond belief that nobody has the power or authority to stop it. One could think this is a perfect metaphor for the kind of moral degradation we are going through as a result of this war, but my point is that it would have worked much better as a metaphor had it not tried so hard to look real, had it been shot in a more conventional way. The paradox is: the more realistic you try to make it, the more fake it looks, because the audience expects everything to be more real. In fictional conventional narratives we are able to forgive and accept certain conventions expecting that we will be rewarded with true insight. Art can achive more genuine results through artifice. (See: Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket or Paths of Glory). But when you try to have it both ways, it doesn't seem to work, or it smacks of exploitation. I'm of the camp that viewers need to know exactly what it is they are watching. I was not a fan of The Blair Witch Project because I don't buy the fake reality, and the same happened to me with Redacted, as well made and undeniably intense as it is. Or perhaps it's De Palma, who has the subtlety of an axe murderer and a tin ear for real reality. Even the way the kids talk to military investigators seems farfetched. I find it hard to believe that two soldiers that are in hot water for committing rape and murder, would be so disrespectful and so blasé. It doesn't help that the guys have nary a shred of real dimensionality to them. There is the decent college kid, the aspiring Latino filmmaker, the tough talking Black sargeant, and the two trailer trash from hell, which Sean Penn did by himself much more convincingly in Casualties of War. The young, talented actors give it their all. Had they been in the hands of someone with more psychological acuity, they would not seem like walking clichés.
So plenty of instances ring false. Which is exactly why the movie fails, for all its brutality, for all its intentions to make Americans confront the evil we have unleashed. Its manipulations are more transparent, and less emotionally effective.
Brian de Palma is a very proficient filmmaker and some of the sequences in this film have incredible tension and power. They are chillingly effective, particularly one where a car runs through a checkpoint, seen from the point of view of the passenger in the car. In fact, part of the film is quite entertaining: most of the soldiers are likeable and they speak the army macho patois with much conviction. We seem to have a tradition in American war movies of goofy camaraderie and potty mouthed repartee that we all come to expect. Though it may be very real, it's a cliché. But then things get ugly, and the plot is blatantly contrived in order to get someone to actually record the evil deeds with a camera. De Palma really goes to town with the violence, although it could have been more disturbing to learn of the incident without actually seeing it, through its consequences. I'm not advocating for prudishness. Redacted is a war film and war should not be sanitized. The entire point of the film seems to be that the war has been pre-sanitized for us by the government and the self-censored media, and had we access to the obscene brutality that goes on every day, as we did during Vietnam, perhaps we'd be more inflamed against the war. Still, the premise that the crime is recorded for posterity with a video camera makes the whole thing rather forced.
In the end, I was not moved nor outraged, but exhausted and underwhelmed.
The photographs of bloodied, maimed civilians at the end of the film are horrifying. That their faces are further desecrated by a black blot makes their tragic anonymity even more obscene. They are the only thing that is actually real in the movie. What is the point in obscuring their faces? Surely they are already unrecognizable, charred, maimed, blown to shreds. Is it only for legal protection? Is it for sensationalism? In either case, it is an appalling, disrespectful use of them. If the purpose is to shock American audiences into recognizing that we are at war, then why obscure the faces? These are human beings, and viewing them like this may provoke shock and outrage, but it does not afford them or us any dignity. It's war porn.

Oct 8, 2007

Werner Herzog In Person

Encounters at the End of The World, a film and conversation with Werner Herzog.
Man, for the grief he gets into on every film he makes, Werner Herzog looks fantastically youthful. He is full of life and vim and many opinions. In his latest, wonderful documentary, Herzog goes to the South Pole and points his boundless curiosity at everything. What seems at first like a classic Discovery Channel documentary about scientists in the South Pole, turns out to be a highly idiosyncratic film. (NOTE: Everybody needs to see Grizzly Man).
Herzog brings his camera and adjusts his interests to whatever happens to cross his way. There seems to be no overarching structure but that of living in the moment and seizing opportunities, finding unexpected things and people in unexpected places, and yet the film is hugely entertaining. Herzog is fascinated by the motley bunch of eccentric explorers and scientists who have seemingly fallen to the bottom of the Earth and who share a desire to leave the world behind. His narration has a wonderful sense of humor and irony. None of that stentorian, heroic voice a la Morgan Freeman, waxing poetic about the wonders of nature. He has great comic timing, the freshness of a child running around with a camera and the sophistication of a mature artist. Herzog knows that the breadth of human experience in the natural world is painful and complex, and he refuses to fall into cliches. His choices are always fascinating. There is a marvelous business with emergency training for snow storms where people run around Antartica with their heads inside buckets (to simulate zero visibility conditions) and he lingers lovingly, bemusedly in the cartoony hilarity of something that would be horribly tragic if it actually came to pass. When he gets to cover the penguins, he asks a taciturn penguin watcher if penguins can go crazy and then happens to find one who apparently does. As he emphatically explained in conversation, he has little patience for people who think the universe is in harmony. He says it is a violent, disturbing place, but still he finds grace and wonder, both in humans and in nature. He is refleshingly wary of tree huggers and animal lovers who whine about global warming but don't care about the death of human languages. He is a true eclectic with a mischievous streak, announcing gleefully to the audience that he staged some of the scenes of the film, albeit with the purpose of getting to a deeper truth. He has a very poetic way with images. Everything with him feeds into a sense of wonder, and that is what he communicates. Fortunately, he is not a sentimentalist and has no patience for manipulative drivel on the order of March of the Penguins (which I find as repulsive as he does in its shameless antropomorphism).

Oct 5, 2007

To Make A Long Story Long

This is my year of sloooooooooooooooooooow movies.
Silent Light, by Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas. Reygadas is our auteur, our artiste, which means his movies are heavily pretentious. I was not a fan of Japon, and because of that, I didn't see Battle in Heaven, but Silent Light did very well at Cannes so I ventured out to the New York Film Festival.
For a while, Reygadas got his reputation by staging sex scenes with very ugly, old or fat people. He must have understood that this kind of novelty quickly wears off, even for masochistic cineastes.
The movie is the story of a love triangle among members of the Mennonite community in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico. Reygadas used all non professional members of the Mennonite community (some of whom he had to cast in Canada and Germany) and the actors are mostly wooden, as most unprofessional non-actors are. I have never understood the predilection of certain filmmakers for non professional actors. In my book, when dealing with dramatic narrative, actors are always better than real people. In this case it makes sense to use real Mennonites, because otherwise you'd have a pretentious version of Witness, and that is something nobody needs.
The movie starts with a sunrise in almost real time, so you know that you are in for excruciating slowness and you adjust your expectations accordingly.
Watching a sunrise in real time in real life is a miraculous experience. Watching it on a screen is a bore, regardless of how beautiful the sky and how chirpy the crickets. This is an important difference between cinema and real life. In cinema we cut to the chase and we can still get to experience the wonder. Call me a philistine, but I fail to see the point of a sunrise in real time in a movie. Nowadays I get less upset at these kinds of artistic overindulgence. After sitting through the 8-hour Bela Tarr extravaganza Satantango, I am almost inured to slow films.
Yet, even with its pretentiousness, I actually found Silent Light very absorbing and quite moving. It was interesting to observe the Mennonites, who are deeply religious, but apparently not as prudish as one would think, in their secluded life in Mexico, where nobody seems to bother them. Reygadas chose beautiful people for his film and he coaxed some authentic emotion here and there from his actors. It is obvious that this film does not pretend to be something realistic, because the authenticity of the peole makles the story seem very artificial, imposed on them. My question is, does the director get off on manipulating people who are not trained for the physical and emotional rigors of acting? This is an aspect of his movies that disturbs me. Am I the only one who smells the faint whiff of exploitation? Abbas Kiarostami also prefers non professional actors but I think he is careful not to cross certain boundaries, and somehow, because of his far superior writing, he gets something much more interestingly human in return (but also very slow).
I liked the movie better before I saw the director in the Q&A session. I objected to two things. 1. He was dressed as if he had just woken up and went to the corner for a bagel. There is nothing more studied than such willful, seemingly careless disregard for the appropriate attire, and I find that obnoxious. 2. He mentioned the word "Bressonian". Pre-ten-tious.
The Man from London, from Hungarian Bela Tarr, the granddaddy of slowness.
This movie is based on a story by Georges Simenon. Again, a relatively conventional, deeply ironic story about a man who steals a briefcase with stolen money, told in the stately sytle of Bela Tarr, in gray and gray, with endless travelling shots; every shot a composition like a painting and almost as motionless, strange locales and quirky characters. Except that this film is entirely humorless, except for the typical little dancing session at the bar between drunks, and kind of pointless. It's hard to feel any kind of emotion for the main characters because the staging is so artificial, the acting so exaggerated. Bela Tarr has a fondness for shooting some of his actors from behind so you only see the nape of the neck for like two hours. Then he stays on a distraught face for more hours. Satantango at 8 hours was less boring and less plodding than this film and it had far more life. You will excuse the sacrilege but Bela Tarr makes me want to take his movies and chop them off to humanly bearable rhythms. I'd bet they'd be even better if they were shorter and faster.
I appreciate the filmmakers that insist in bringing the moving image to a standstill, but for the love of God, I don't quite see why.

Oct 2, 2007

Short Review Of A Longwinded Movie

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Richard Ford is a movie even more pretentious and ponderous than its title, which is a pity because it is based on the fascinating story of the poor schmuck who killed the legendary criminal, thinking the world would thank him for it and got nothing but contempt in return. It's a great subject for a film but it is unfortunately bogged down by a cloak of pretentious, incompetent artiness that squeezes any hint of life out of it. The only person who looks alive in it is Sam Shepard, who plays Frank James. He seems to be the only one who actually belongs in that world.
The incredibly exquisite cinematography is by the masterful Roger Deakins, yet it's a testament to the preciousness of the movie that even the stunning beauty of every single shot begins to rub you the wrong way after the two hour mark. The film plods with no rhyme or reason for the sake of its own poetry. It's a real shame.
This movie would have worked if someone had the cold blood to chop off all the solemn fluff, and if someone had had a clearer idea of how to tell a story. A good cast is wasted, twisting their tongues around the authentic patois of the period, which was mostly unintelligible to me because it was mostly mumbled. Brad Pitt is fine, but no more than serviceable, as Jesse James.
I was happy to see James Carville, aka Serpenthead, play the governor of Missouri. He's a damn fine actor.
I don't get Casey Affleck's performance. Is he queer? Is he just weird for the sake of being weird? Was he born mysterious? He does gets better as the movie inches slowly along but one never gets a clear understanding of his character. After all, the movie is really about him, but the director is too busy being an artist to give his main character emotional coherence. A fine mess.

Oct 1, 2007

Eastern Promises or Oh, Viggo!

Viggo, Viggo, Viggo, Viggo.
Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes my review of Eastern Promises, the new David Cronenberg film.
Okay. Not so fast.
I like David Cronenberg because of his unwavering commitment to exploring the problem of human evil, which he knows is infinite and endless and which he doesn't ever shirk away from. He rather revels in the voluptuousness of violence. Critics have complained about the excessive violence in this movie. It is a bit much, but I think it serves a purpose, as opposed to the retarded violence which is the rule in most Hollywood blockbusters. In Eastern Promises all violence is accomplished with sharp instruments, and it is brutal.
And Cronenberg wants you to look. He wants you to admit there is a place in the human heart where evil and savagery reside. He is fascinated by our dual nature, and has found in Viggo Mortensen a magnificent, precisely calibrated instrument for his investigations.
I have to tell you that I knew everything that was going to happen in the movie because the reviews I read made sure to tell it to me. I feel like suing the bastards. Even so, I was completely transfixed with it. As stories go, Eastern Promises relies a bit too much on some strategically placed coincidences. It seems for instance, that everybody in London is a Russian or has a Russian uncle. But that's nitpicking. Cronenberg is a wonderful storyteller and he has a way with images. He is one of the few current filmmakers whose imagery remains in your memory long after you've seen the film, and not necessarily the most violent imagery. After Dead Ringers, you'll never look at your gynecologist and his instruments the same way again. The same goes for cars and their accidents, with the original Crash, a wonderfully perverse movie. My favorite scene in Eastern Promises involves Vincent Cassel, who plays Kyril, a mean mess of a mob guy, inflating balloons for a birthday party.
Cronenberg used to be more of a meat and potatoes horror guy; now he is making more conventional moral stories. There is a new preoccupation with redemption in his films, and that's where he loses me a little, but I don't fault him for trying not to be so damn dark.
Eastern Promises is very rewarding because it is a good story, if you suspend your disbelief a couple of times, with wonderful actors in it. Viggo Mortensen plays Nikolai, a Russian mob driver, and he is a marvel of powerful understatement. He is even better than in A History of Violence. He drives the boss' son, Vincent Cassel, a chaotic mess of flamboyantly reprehensible behavior. Cassel chomps the scenery with great gusto (and great humanity), and they both play off each other beautifully, like a Russian mob odd couple. Viggo is the smart clean up guy and Vincent is the total fuck up. He is quite a monster, but the filmmakers give him a backstory of closeted gayness and impotence, and I think the impotence would have been enough, but I guess it helps to fuel his self hatred and the disgust of his disapproving, ruthless father, played, with an aura of benevolence by Armin Mueller Stahl.
Naomi Watts shows up as a good girl both attracted and repelled by these evil people (and who wouldn't be attracted to Viggo?) and Sinead Cusack is her mother and everybody is great.
The plot is a little confusing and full of revelations and betrayals that are a little hard to keep track of, but that keep us happily busy. I enjoyed much more its few subtleties than its obvious turns.
But there is a lot there to please: there is Viggo and Vincent and Viggo naked and tattooed, and if you can stomach it, a lot of gruesome, messy life.

Sep 30, 2007

Che boludos, give the Maestro back his laptop!

Thieves stole Francis Ford Coppola's laptop and his backup disk from his home in Buenos Aires.
Truly despicable and truly stupid, it you ask me. Hopefully, Francis (may I call you that, dude?) registered his newest script with the WGA and/or the copyright office of the US. He also has copies of the scripts stored elsewhere for he is not as dumb an ass as the people who robbed him. But he is very upset because his computer had family pictures and many years of work in it. He should not have offered a reward, because that is what these sorry idiots are hoping for, but one can't blame him for trying to recover his work. Nowadays our entire lives are in the computer, and if the contraptions malfunction or are lost it becomes a major issue.
It just seems stupid that thieves would target such a prominent artist, particularly when he bringing some major income to the country for shooting a film there.
It's very bad. I hope he gets his stuff back soon.

Sep 24, 2007

Toots: Review of A Film Few Will See

My friend Cathy alerted me to the existence of a wonderful documentary about the life and times of the legendary Toots Shor, a big Jewish guy who started out as a bouncer of speakeasies in the Prohibition and ended up having the most fabulous "saloon" in town, back in the 40's and 50's when glamour was for real, everybody smoked and had two martini lunches, and going out to nightclubs was fabulous, not the crass bullshit it is today.
It was sad and delightful to see footage of Times Square in those days, before the squalor of the drug addled sixties and seventies set in. Where is our El Morocco, where is our Stork Club? Gone the way of the dodo. Alas. I wish I had seen that New York. What he have today is a sad, pathetic shadow of what used to be.
As many famed, smart New York writers tell us in the film (Nick Pileggi, Pete Hamill, Guy Talese), it was a different time, and Toots was a genius at making connections, both kosher and very non kosher. But he was loyal to his famous friends and feigned ignorance of his mob connections.
The film was made by his granddaughter and it is a touching and lovely and sad portrait, but as sweet and real as New York itself: big hearted, smart and honest. Go see it.
It's playing at the Quad, which is a serious contender for most obnoxious arthouse theater in NY.
The people there make the smug nerds who work at the Film Forum seem like Florence Nightingale.

Sep 20, 2007

But what I really want to do is direct

The reason, darlings, why you have not heard from me lately, is I was ensconced in a grueling, week long, independent film conference from IFP and I just couldn't blog. I was busy listening to "industry" people offering all kinds of contradictory advice to the gazillion aspiring screenwriters and film directors like me, who dream of becoming the next Stanley Kubrick (sans weird antisocial quirks).
I learned a lot of things. Mainly that:
1. Nowadays everybody and their uncle wants to make a movie. And seemingly everybody and their uncle ARE making a movie. This includes yours truly. (Everybody and their cousin are busy making documentaries).
2. It's really about who you know (and if you have to pay money to learn this lesson, as I did, you are a bit of a putz). To the credit of the IFP, the money we paid to learn such obvious pearls of wisdom was quite reasonable. It also got me a free beer.
3. People who want to make films are angry at Hollywood for not caring about social issues. PUHLEEZE do try to get over it. As if.
4. You have to have a film festival strategy. This presents a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, all festivals want to discover the diamond in the rough, the next super original whatever. That sounds great, since everybody and their uncle think they are the next super original whatever (this includes yours truly). But, you can't be sending your puny little film to every festival because then you are a festival whore and nobody will touch you.
7. There is way too much cinematic offer and dwindling demand. This is a serious lesson. More movies get released than people have time to see. I see this as a major problem. Everybody and their uncle seemed unfazed by this predicament.
6. If I hear the phrases follow your dream, be passionate about your vision and do your homework one more time, I will kill someone.

In a nutshell: the main paradox in the quest for the moviemaking holy grail is as follows:
It's About Who You Know, But They Want To Find Someone They Haven't Heard Of.

I wish dear Bertie Russell was on hand so that he could help us wrap our minds around this one.

You can divide everybody and their uncle in two groups:
The pushy ones, who know it's all about who you know; and the ones that hate networking with all the fibers of their being and try as hard as they can to approach someone in the hopes of getting to the stage of "who you know" (which in this case basically means detaching someone from their business card). Sadly, I tend to belong to this last category. But not for long.

Stay tuned.

Adrift in Manhattan

This is a film by my ex-colleague Alfredo De Villa, a man I admire because he's had the cojones and the patience and what it takes to have made already four independent feature films. This last one has Heather Graham, the great Dominic Chianese, William Baldwin and the great, unsung, Elizabeth Peña, among others and it is a story about people who live and love in New York.
The film is opening tomorrow at the lovely Village East Cinemas on 12th st and 2nd Ave.
I hope lots of people show up this weekend and support the film.

Sep 16, 2007

Across the Universe

I was prepared to hate this movie. It has cheese written all over it. A musical with Beatles' songs directed by Julie Taymor, who did a pretty cheesy job with Frida. It is cool to have the lowest expectations and then be pleasantly surprised. I ended up hating it much less than I thought I would.
Then again, some of my movie companions expected to love it and were disappointed.
The movie is very uneven. It has some cool musical numbers and some real duds, but it does one thing wonderfully and that is, it reminds us of the absolute, pure beauty of the songs of the Beatles. To the credit of everyone involved in the music, the songs come through in their all pristine gorgeousness. The cast sings them guilelessly and far from this being some kind of let down, the way the songs are produced actually reflects how beautiful the music is. I wanted to burst out singing the entire movie.
The songs sound refreshed. I wonder if they are as powerful if you buy the soundtrack. Maybe not.
Julie Taymor borrows imagery from a bunch of artists like Joseph Cornell, Bill Viola, Michel Gondry, a bit of the Quay Brothers, you name it. Some visuals show a wonderful imagination, like the For the Benefit of Mr. Kite number with Eddie Izzard, or the use of I Want You for an army enlistment sequence. But the movie sways wildly between very imaginative (though mostly derivative) numbers and super pedestrian, obvious unfortunate choices. A Little Help From my Friends (which, with all due respect is not that great a song) is a major dud, as is Revolution (another not that great a song). But Happiness is a Warm Gun, I Want You, Strawberry Fields, and even Let it Be, predictably but powerfully sung as a gospel number, work really well.
The filmmakers are to be commended for choosing a very apt and broad variety of Beatles' songs that eschews some obvious choices, like Yesterday. The arrangements are for the most part effective and inobtrusive; mercifully, nobody tries to reinvent the wheel. The songs shine in all their lovely purity. Evan Rachel Wood turns out to be a better singer than an actor. This girl is very lovely, but she still has not learned not to strain in front of the camera. She is almost incapable of genuine feeling, yet she has a surprisingly lovely singing voice. The real discovery is Jim Sturgess, who plays Jude. Even though he is meant to resemble Paul McCartney, he comes across as far more passionate and ferocious and delivers a strong, credible performance. There is lots of fun in discovering some surprise performers like Bono and Joe Cocker and Eddie Izzard. The plot is quite basic, the pacing is slow, the writing is super obvious and quite lame, but all is bliss when the songs come alive. Whenever no one's singing, the movie seems to grind to a halt.
Luckily, there is a lot of music. Across the Universe is a light, not very demanding or provocative entertainment. It thoroughly lacks any kind of edge. It seems a work seeped in nostalgia, for a time when people stood up for what they believed in, and didn't take it in the ass from The Man, like we spinelessly do today.