Jan 26, 2007


I know I am the last person on Earth to have seen Borat, and now that I have finally seen it you will strike from the record everything I've said so far about movies and prizes. Borat rules!
I was afraid to watch Borat because I am not the biggest fan of humor that hinges on making fun of easy targets, or of unsuspecting people. I hate those horrid candid camera deals they show on airplanes. They are not funny to me. But what Borat does is different. 1. It is a fantastic critique of the culture. People like Cohen and Larry David and Stephen Colbert are restoring it to the important place it should have in the culture, where it pushes the envelope of the acceptable and the politically correct and the complacent.
2. The wonderful thing about Sacha Baron Cohen is that Borat, who is a fully rounded character, does not only make you laugh by skewering easy targets. Cohen also happens to be an incredibly gifted, fearless comedian with impeccable timing. It is a joy to watch him perform. I can't think of another current comedian who is so adept at slapstick and physical comedy (and who'd be willing to have a fat, hairy, naked man sit on his face, for a good while). My friend Marta says that it's almost like performance art. I say it is much better and much more meaningful than performance art because the satire hits all the right places. And it is not pretentious.
The lovely thing about Borat is not only that he pushes the envelope, but that he does it so charmingly. Larry David also pushes the envelope in Curb your Enthusiasm, but he is not a likable character. He is an asshole. Borat is an ass, but he is not an asshole. There is something incredibly endearing about his appalling vulgarity and his peculiar sort of innocence and ignorance. And I, for one, am SO glad that someone is finally making huge fun of antisemitism and calling it like it is: stupefyingly moronic, retrograde, and fit only for brainless retards. The way he exposes the absurdity of antisemitism, or also the absurdity of homophobia is magnificent. Still, what made me laugh the hardest was not the most fiercely satirical stuff, (except his rendition of the US national anthem at the rodeo in Virginia and his speech about Bush killing the last lizard and drinking the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq. That was not only hilarious, but courageous and outstanding. On a par with Steven Colbert's speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner).
I laughed deliciously at the silly bits, which are simple and inspired and delightful. Like when he thinks the elevator is actually his hotel room and he starts unpacking. And the piece de resistance, the naked wrestling chase sequence, sounds awful on paper but somehow is extraordinarily funny. He even pays homage to the silent film comedians, and we should all be forever grateful that he knows that comedy doesn't have to be snide and smarmy, and that comedy can be vulgar and over the top and transgressive and extremely smart at the same time.
I love how Borat is an eager student, and he means to impress well. He is thoughtful and polite and good natured, and also blunt and incorrect. There is a scene with some creepy people in a southern dining society that went on a little too long, even if its intention of epater le bourgeois was right on. But the scene at the Pentecostal Church is a marvel of comedic restraint. He just stands there, as flabbergasted as us, the audience, watching these insane people go nuts. When he finally succumbs to the speaking in tongues, they can't even tell he's joking. Brilliant.

Jan 24, 2007

Forgive The Obsession

You must be tired of my Oscar obsession, just as I am, perhaps even more, but this is the time where I put forth my yearly conspiracy theory about the Oscars. Please do not base any foolish office pools on this one. I will not be held responsible, unless you win a sizable pot because of me.
I hate to break it to the lads at Ladbroke's, the British betting firm, who are predicting The Departed will be best picture, according to the BBC (I wonder what they are saying in Vegas).
Here is my paranoid scenario:
Salma Hayek announced the nominations. This is a sign. Maybe because this year there are lots of fiery Latins in the running. Her friend Penelope Cruz is one, her countrymen Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro are two others. But maybe because the Oscar is going to Babel.
Scorsese may finally get his Oscar for direction but not for best picture, which happens very frequently. Babel is the kind of movie that gets Oscars. It's like Crash: unwieldy, bogus and histrionic, and the Academy loves that. The Departed is solid, tight, smart. Smart movies rarely win best picture.
The surefire way to know who takes best picture or who takes the bald man in any important category, is to know who announces the award. The year Crash won it was Jack Nicholson, a famed LA resident. I knew it was Crash the moment I saw Jack. So if they pick Robert De Niro or Di Caprio or someone from New York or Boston or someone Irish or Italian American to call out the nominees for best picture or best director, you will know who's getting it.
I am convinced there are no surprises at the Oscars. I am even willing to think everybody involved already knows the outcome, and they just act surprised when the names are announced.

Jan 23, 2007

Oscar Pool 2007

Best picture
Babel Why not Children of Men?
The Departed If this wins, I'll be very happy for our New York pal.
Letters From Iwo Jima Puhleeeeeze... United 93 should be in this slot.
Little Miss Sunshine Great surprise, very long shot.
The Queen My favorite.

It's between Babel and The Queen. I shudder to think.
Best director
Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima Why do people in Hollywood like this guy so much?
Stephen Frears, The Queen Yes!
Paul Greengrass, United 93 This is the one that deserves it. But I bet he won't get squat.
Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Babel As happy as I am for my compadre, I didn't like the movie.
Martin Scorsese, The Departed It's about time. And I hope he wins.

Best actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond Good choice.
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson Glad he got noticed. He is a wonderful actor.
Peter O'Toole, Venus No way....
Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness Can't even bear to see the movie, and I like Will Smith.
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland He's the front runner but Di Caprio may steal his thunder. Go Forest!

Best actress
Penelope Cruz, Volver She was great, but it is highly unlikely. She's the multiculti candidate.
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal I'm so glad they noticed. She kicked ass in this movie. Kicked ass.
Helen Mirren, The Queen My favorite and probable winner, unless the Streep takes it away.
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada The only homegrown talent of the bunch. Could be an upset. She rules.
Kate Winslet, Little Children As much as I love her, why? Why not Maggie Gyllenhaal in Sherrybaby?

Best supporting actress
Adriana Barraza, Babel Well deserved,
but slim chance, unless it's a consolation prize for Babel.
Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal Very, very well deserved, but slim chance, unless it's a consolation prize for Babel.
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine YESSSSSS. I know it's too cute, but this girl truly kicked butt. Rooting for her.
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls This is the probable winner.
Rinko Kikucki, Babel Yes, but no.

Best supporting actor
Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine YESSSSSSSSSSSS! My sentimental favorite. Rooting for him.
Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children He was fantastic in this horrid movie. My runner up.
Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond Cool...
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls I hear he was great, and if so, good for him, for he looks like the front runner.
Mark Wahlberg, The Departed Matt Damon was so much better, I was not impressed.

Best foreign language film
Efter Brylluppet (aka After the Wedding), Denmark Where the fuck is Volver????
Indigenes (aka Days of Glory), Algeria Great movie. Rooting for this one.
El Laberinto del Fauno (aka Pan's Labyrinth), Mexico This is inexplicable to me. Somebody please explain.
Das Leben der Anderen (aka The Lives of Others), Germany I hear this is a very good movie.
Water, Canada Oh, come on!!! Where is Volver?

Best animated feature film Couldn't care less but I hope it's Happy Feet and not a film about cars.
Happy Feet
Monster House 

Best adapted screenplay
Borat Very surprising, considering the Academy always ignores comedies.
Children of Men Why was this movie ignored as best movie?
The Departed Cool, and I think front runner.
Little Children Not cool.
Notes on a Scandal Very cool. Somehow, I'm rooting for Patrick Marber.

Best original screenplay
Babel Oy.
Letters from Iwo Jima Feh.
Little Miss Sunshine Yeah!
The Queen The best of the bunch by far. If it doesn't win, I'll be very upset.
Pan's Labyrinth No entiendo nada.

Best music (score)
Babel I love Gustavo Santaolalla, but lately all the scores with the drippy guitar sound pretty much the same.
The Good German Haven't heard it. Nor seen it.
Notes on a Scandal Go Phillip Glass!
Pan's Labyrinth Classic and overwrought.
The Queen I love Alexandre Desplat. You go, mon ami!

Best music (song) This category should cease to exist.
I Need to Wake Up - An Inconvenient Truth (performed by Melissa Etheridge)
Listen - Dreamgirls (performed by Beyonce Knowles)
Love You I Do - Dreamgirls (performed by Jennifer Hudson)
Our Town - Cars (performed by James Taylor)
Patience - Dreamgirls (performed by Eddie Murphy, Keith Robinson, Anika Noni Rose)

Best documentary feature Two about the religious nutcases, one about the environment and 2 about Iraq. Give him hell!
Deliver Us From Evil
An Inconvenient Truth
Iraq In Fragments
Jesus Camp
My Country, My Country 

Best visual effects Who cares?
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Superman Returns 

Best cinematography
The Black Dahlia
Children of Men Emmanuel Lubezki needs to win. Front runner and rooting for him.
The Illusionist I actually think Babel's Rodrigo Prieto deserved a nomination.
Pan's Labyrinth Somebody said: Matthew Barney on a bad day.
The Prestige This movie looked great. 

Best art direction Children of Men, for crying out loud!!!!
The Good Shepherd
Pan's Labyrinth
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
The Prestige 

Best film editing
Blood Diamond
Children of Men
The Departed

United 93 This one.

Jan 22, 2007

Three Movies

The History Boys.
I didn't catch it live on Broadway, so I was curious to see the film adaptation of the Alan Bennett play and more curious to see what a Broadway hit looks like these days. Well, The History Boys is one of those very well crafted, relatively satisfying entertainments that makes the audience feel nicely smug about its own cultural knowledge and that is very clever, very smart but ultimately, rather self-congratulatory in an off-putting way. It is also rather irrelevant. There is something about this cultural self-assurance that does not go down lightly, despite the fact that Mr. Bennett writes beautiful lines and classy jokes and revels in cultural allusions. The topic is very noble: do you teach your students the truth (art, beauty, etc.) or do you teach kids to pass exams so they can make it to Oxford and the feral world beyond? It's a question that can be easily answered in 5 minutes.
This is Dead Poets' Society but with actual brains.
I resent young British lads that speak delightful French and quote Thomas Hardy not only at length, but with pride and joy in their hearts. Their teacher, Hector, a great performance by Richard Griffiths,
also encourages them to recite the ending of movies like Brief Encounter, and we're all supposed to be delighted. It is all rather precious. I was far more interested in the horrid school where Judi Dench terrorizes her students in Notes on a Scandal. It seems more real than this privileged Avalon of learning, where everybody also has gay tendencies and they take it very much in stride. As every other British story, this one is about class too, but I felt a bit queasy to see the token Indian guy always presented with a family of 600, the token black guy with a single mother, and there is a token Jew as well, who happens to be gay. One would think that someone as smart as Mr. Bennett could avoid this kind of easy stereotype. The play feels really dated, and not only because it takes place in the eighties (the soundtrack is a predictable mix of 80's tunes that seems to have been assembled by an 80 year old guy with an ear for Muzak). However, one sticks to the story because some of the performances are wonderfully rich, such as Mr. Griffiths', the wonderful Frances de la Tour, Stephen Campbell Moore as the teacher who wants to get them into Oxford, and some of the kids, particularly the Jewish kid, sensitively played by the young and talented Samuel Barnett.
There are wonderful emotional moments, but it all seems very fuddy duddy and fit for another era. I'm sure on stage it must have had a wonderful energy, but I'm glad I didn't spend 100 bucks for such a flimsy play.
Blood Diamonds.
Oy, where to start? The words Ed Zwick should be enough warning. And we did expect the worst. Because of that, we got absolutely everything we expected, but somehow sat through the ordeal without much complaint. Blood Diamond is one of those massive Hollywood Films With a Message that wouldn't know subtlety or originality if it bit it in the ass. Everything is a big, heroic gesture, some of it verges on the ridiculously tacky, like having extremely brutal scenes of war with a pounding music by James Newton Howard on the background. Here are some rebels come to chop off villagers' hands, and rape their wives and kill their babies, where is there room for bloody music at a moment like this? The dialogue is so leaden, so cliched, so awful that you realize the heroism of the actors, particularly Leonardo Di Caprio and Djimon Honsou as they do their utmost to lift it to a credible, dignified level. First scene Honsou actually says something like: "I am your father. I am a poor fisherman. But you are going to school because you are going to be a doctor". Jesus, what freaking school of screenwriting did the writer attend?
However, the story of how diamonds make it to the fingers of fianceés in better-off continents is a very good one and it benefits enormously from the presence of Di Caprio and Honsou in the starring roles. Di Caprio is finally hitting his stride and playing characters that suit him (not Howard Hughes, for instance). He is excellent as a hardened, cynical South African diamond smuggler. Not only is the accent quite great, but his commitment and his intensity and his refusal to compromise to the maudlin are to be commended. He holds your attention every second he's onscreen and he is brilliant. Honsou is also a credible, imposing presence, who brings an urgency and pride to a very thin role as some sort of decent, noble guy, an innocent in hell. The same cannot be said about the unfortunate casting choice of Jennifer Connelly as a supposedly A-type journalist who has been to Afghanistan and to Bosnia but who looks and feels as if she just stepped out of a particularly nasty shopping experience at Macy's. She seems unsure of who she should be, her come ons to Di Caprio feel totally fake and totally inappropriate for a seasoned woman, and she only has one good scene when she expresses her indignant frustration at the horrid state of affairs. I think the role would have been better served by a more brittle actress, or a less stunningly beautiful one. Catherine Keener, for instance; but this is a movie by Ed Zwick, who seems incapable of doing anything that feels genuine. Also, I wanted to kill her hair.
As I sat through the cycles of orchestrated violence and then the calm, sunset walks across Africa, and one of the worst, clichéd endings in the history of movies, I imagined that the diamond industry must have had a fit about this film, but then it wasn't hard to read between the lines the compromise that was surely reached. The movie takes pains to make clear that people should demand their diamonds to be lawfully obtained, and not the result of civil war. But does anybody wonder how even a clean diamond gets here? Do we think that the African miners who extract them all have a beautiful house with a white picket fence and a TV and a car?
My problem with this movie is not only how cheesy and badly written it is, but how not ballsy enough. The road to hell is paved with people like Edward Zwick and his good intentions.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.
The less said about this incoherent, infantile yet visually arresting, Korean movie, the better. This is supposed to be what inspired Quentin Tarantino to make Kill Bill. Need I say more?

Jan 18, 2007

Pan's Labrynth

I'm not a huge fan of fantasy. In fact, I pretty much hate fantasy, a reason why extravaganzas like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter simply do not interest me. I like my stories firmly rooted in reality, which tends to be messier and more complex than parables and fables and clean fights between good and evil. Sometimes, in the hands of a master like the great Japanese animator Miyazaki, fantasy transcends its limitations and is emotionally and dramatically real. But this doesn't happen in most fantasy movies and it certainly doesn't happen, much to my chagrin, in Guillermo del Toro's Pan Labrynth.
I have been trying to understand why I disconnected from the film pretty soon after it started. I think the main reason is that, as is true in many works of this genre, none of the characters are multidimensional. They all represent something, but they are really no one. It is a credit to some of the talented actors in this film, particularly Maribel Verdú (from Y tu mamá también), that they try with all their might to infuse human verisimilitude to characters that are woefully underwritten.
The premise of the movie is potentially interesting. At the time of the Spanish Civil War, a little girl is brought to the house of a fascist captain in the woods who is still fighting the defeated Republican forces. Her mother has married this awful man and the girl, who is an avid reader of fairy tales, escapes into fantastic stories to deal with her increasingly deteriorating reality. She finds the courage to deal with the situation by inventing a fantastical quest that will have consequences in reality. So far, so good. The problem is that the Spanish Civil War was a very real bloodbath in which the Spaniards went against each other with terrible ferocity, and to this day it has left a national wound that has not really closed. If it becomes the stuff of legend, it loses its place in historical reality, which is where it should remain, in my opinion. It brought to mind that unspeakably offensive movie by Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful (give me a break), where in order to escape reality some guy clowns around in a concentration camp. Pan's Labrynth is not at all as revolting and tasteless as that, but for me, there is no room for fantasy when it comes to the history of human terror.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The intentions of Pan's Labrynth are certainly immaculate: it is supposed to be a powerful message against fascism, against those who obey without questioning, against those who hate books and imagination, against the precision and heartlessness of perfect order. But somehow, it failed to move me. Somehow it managed to make me not care about this child, and I think it was because it was too busy sending AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE. It was thoroughly devoid of wit or a sense of humor. It is a huge problem when filmmakers take themselves and their material so seriously. If they can't crack a joke, if they don't know the wonderful empathetic powers of comic relief, or at least of irony, they lose me at hello.
The fantastical creatures were not particularly engaging, and in fact, the main faun was so utterly cheesy and hammy that I resented every time he made an appearance. I disliked him intensely. This was no Puck or Ariel or any of those bona fide fairies that have a sense of mischief and a sense of humor. This was ponderous fantasy, with a solemn and important theme, and solemnity is utterly boring. Which is puzzling, because I saw Mr. Del Toro in an interview and he struck me as a smart, witty, engaging, articulate man. Sadly, little of that was in evidence in his movie.

Jan 16, 2007

The Golden Globs 2007

I watched a lot of it and it kept going on. I took a break to cook dinner and when I came back to check, Warren Beatty was still blathering on and on. The only fun part was to see people getting increasingly sloshed. Every time the camera swooped on her, Annette Benning was drinking and in excellent cheer (good for her). I missed all the important wins, but didn't miss the best speeches of the night, the divinely hilarious one by Hugh Laurie, the dead serious one by Peter Morton, writer of The Queen, (which except for one, lonely enthusiastic applause, who I assume to have been Alec Baldwin or a Sheen, seems to confirm the cowardice of Hollywood stars when it comes to wearing their politics in public) and the articulate, poignant one by America Ferrera, who had the entire female population of the Globs crying what looked like authentic, salty tears. Meryl Streep was also very cool, making a detailed mention of all the actresses and all the movies with great roles for women this year and mentioning all the small, smart movies that people never get to see in Podunk, and the fact that the wardrobe of her movie was donated to charity. She packed more useful info in her speech than anyone I've ever heard. It is evident that the Brits will always win the battle of wit, because most Americans seem to possess none. The presenters who are meant to be funny like Ben Stiller or Steve Carell were as stiff and about as funny as a casket. For a moment there it seemed that the ridiculous foreign press association was only giving awards to anybody with a British passport, but then I guess they ran out of Brits.
I'm very happy for Forest Whittaker, who is a giant, and for Martin Scorsese, and for Helen Mirren, who deserves it (though I think getting two for two Elizabeths is tacky, though not her fault). But guess what, Hollywood is tacky. Tom Hanks was ultra tacky in his presentation of the Special Award for Warren Beatty, Eddie Murphy was mega tacky when he thanked David Geffen for convincing him to make the movie for less money. Kyra Sedgwick was stupid enough to thank her publicist and her lawyer. People who do that should be banned from award shows and their statuettes confiscated. Poor Ben Stiller came out to present and you could hear the room in a massive break, yakking on top of him. Tacky. Although perhaps he deserves it.
As for the fashions, I think Cate Blanchett is starting to lose it; the worst dress of the night was a tie between Tina Fey and Julia Louis Dreyfuss (does funny necessarily mean you have no taste?).
Cameron Diaz was wearing a beautiful dress, but what's with the goth hair (and the cheek implants)? She looks awful. And it was almost flabbergasting to see formerly stunning Salma Hayek wearing a white satin number that looked like a drapery from Caesar's Palace fell on top of her, with super tacky platform shoes more befitting a disco drag queen, disheveled eyebrows (Frida happened like 10 years ago already) and looking quite matronly. There was an overhead shot at the red carpet of her boobs that was mortifying, to say the least. It made me a little sad, cause I actually admire her and was happy for her Ugly Betty win.
The people who looked stunning, which were many, you figure them out. We're here to bitch.

Jan 11, 2007

Children of Men

The previews I saw for Children of Men made it seem really unpalatable. There was a big disconnection between the schmaltzy clunkiness of the preview and the rave reviews that came later. If it had not been for the reviews, I would have missed one of the best movies of the year.
Alfonso Cuarón has many virtues as a director and they are all in evidence in this powerful, spectacular movie. My favorite virtue of his, which was much in evidence in the great Y tu mamá también, is his ability to weave many different moods and tones into a coherent emotional whole. Just as in Y tu mamá también he achieved a lovely melancholy undertone to the picaresque adventures of the two main characters, here he melds an urgent, moving emotional core to what is essentially an action movie. Or perhaps it's the other way around. His refreshing lack of sentimentality is what makes this possible: his movies are emotionally complex. Cuarón seems allergic to melodrama and to sentimentality, and I hope he is never cured. That is what I love about his films, the playfulness and sense of humor, the complexity, not of storytelling but of human emotion, the truthfulness of feeling. A couple of small details, like angelic choral music in a redemptive scene or the name of a ship at the end are as much as he is willing to concede to sentimentality; not much, considering that the fate of mankind is at stake.
Children of Men is an apocalyptic movie about a future that is too close to home. It is apocalyptic, yet not futuristic. That is, the immediate future looks less like the Jetsons and more like a nightmare out of Hyeronimus Bosch. It takes place in 2027, which is just around the corner, and it's not a happy sight. In this world torn apart by conflict and self-destruction, the discourse that we hear today from the likes of Bush and Donald Rumsfeld has come to pass. Illegal immigrants are put in cages and deported, they are sent to detention camps closely reminiscent of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the environment is almost all toxic waste. The premise that the entire world suffers from collective infertility doesn't seem at all farfetched. What makes the movie harrowing is how close we are to being in such a state. It's almost as if the filmmakers are saying "wipe the self-satisfied grin off your face and don't get too comfortable, for we are already there".
This is a movie where there is no detachment. The camera follows the hero like a shadow and it feels as if you are there with him, right next to the explosions, shockingly close to the violence, with the point of view of the naked eye, not of the language of the camera. Yet amidst the incredible chase scenes and the beautifully exploding mayhem, Cuarón and Lubezki are capable of achieving quiet, luminous moments of grace.
I was frantically looking in the credits for whoever was responsible for the production design, which, with the entire art department, deserves a standing ovation and an Oscar (imdb says it's Jim Clay and the great Geoffrey Kirkland). I don't think I remember (except for High and Low by Kurosawa) a film that is more crammed with visual information. Because of the wide angles, the frame is full of details, and it takes a few moments to get used to so much coming from the screen. The context is as much in the foreground as the characters. I heard Cuarón say in an interview that this was his and the great cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki's approach in Y tu mamá también and they use it here as well, albeit on a much grander scale. There are not a lot, if any, traditional set ups of close up, medium shot, and reverse takes in Children of Men. The camera is fully engaged in the world around the characters. As you may have already heard, there are several extended shots in this film that are absolutely mindboggling. The piece de resistance is a climactic nine minute (or so) extended tracking shot without a single cut. However, to their credit, Lubezki and Cuarón so immerse you in the dramatic narrative that you barely notice there is a tour de force in progress. It is a thing of breathtaking power and beauty.
In Clive Owen (long live his mother, as they say in Spain, praise the Lord for making him, a bona fide movie star with tons of talent), Cuarón has found a perfectly reluctant hero and one of the main reasons why the movie works at an emotional level. Owen plays Theo, a jaded ex-activist, embittered and hurt by the loss of his son and who has grown inured to the horrors around him. I will not give you the entire plot of the movie, as Anthony Lane did in his review, because you must see for yourself. But Owen gives a sharp, moving performance of a despondent human being who is slowly wakened from his apathy by having to perform a heroic deed almost against his will. As the world collapses around him, what Theo has that many others don't is basic human decency. It's as simple as that. It is not grandiloquent outrage or a self-righteous belief in freedom and democracy or none of that crap that gets bandied about by the bad guys nowadays as an excuse for their self-interested mayhem. Theo drinks, he smokes, he winces at the grief of others and he wears his task quite uncomfortably on his sleeve. Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis or any of those simplistic, grandiose fools, he ain't.
In the end, what I most admire about Children of Men, besides it's undeniable artistry, and despite some of its commercial inclinations, is its commitment to protest. Cuarón does not shy away from shocking violence, but it is not much different from what you see on CNN any given day: people's limbs torn out by bombs, ethnic strife, a generalized disregard for human life. The movie has a strong, quietly indignant point of view about the state of affairs today, and that is what makes it so relevant, so powerful and so disturbing.

Jan 10, 2007

The world is full of creeps

I attended the premiere of a film. A young woman was one of the stars. In the movie she bares her breasts for half a second. She walks around wearing sexy clothes. She is very attractive.
At the reception, she was swarmed by old, salivating men chatting her up, telling her how wonderful she was. They all looked like they were about to take a bite. I don't know if she realized how creepy it was.
I heard some guy telling her that when he shoots his movie, she can be sure he's going to find a role for her in it.
I thought they made this shit up in the movies.
We, the not so spectacular looking, can only surmise the power that young beauty can wield, particularly in the field of alte cockers. What do you get in exchange for your looks and your youth? A wardrobe? A career? Perks? If you possess them, the beauty and the power, I hope you are smart and make the best of it. I hope you steer clear of icky people and their icky motives.

Jan 5, 2007

Notes on Notes on a Scandal

Who doesn't love British trashy movies? They are the best kind of trash. Literate, gossipy trash, enacted for our enjoyment by gifted actors with plummy accents. Like Damage, remember that one with Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche and the amazing Miranda Richardson? Or The Mother, with a buck naked Daniel Craig? Or even Prick up your Ears, with Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina. There is something utterly delightful at seeing the Brits lose their emotional marbles in lurid little stories. I love it.
Hence, Notes on a Scandal is a highbrow guilty pleasure, based on a novel by Zoe Heller, with a witty screenplay by Patrick Marber (of Closer fame) and well directed by Richard Eyre.
It doesn't quite work for a number of reasons, which I will go into later, but the reason to see it is for Cate Blanchett, who will be Judi Dench when she grows up, and Judi Dench herself, who is our age's Sarah Bernhardt. And then there is Bill Nighy, whom we adore.
I know we are all tired of Dame Judi getting nominated every year. We are tired of the Judi Dench drill. I am even more tired of the Clint Eastwood drill, because Dame Judi is talented, whereas El Clinto is unjustly overrated. However, this is one performance of La Dench that truly deserves a nomination. I'm still rooting for Helen Mirren (Judi would have been equally as splendid as Elizabeth II, if she weren't tired of playing every single Queen of England in every movie, always).
Dench is freaking scary. Her level of actorly proficiency is truly frightening. She is also quite fearless. She uses her scariness and and her fearlessness to chilling effect as Barbara, an embittered spinster teacher in a bad public school in London.
You take one look at Barbara, with her greasy bad perm and her pursed lips and you know bile courses through her veins. It certainly oozes from her mouth and her innermost thoughts. What a delight to listen to such articulate nastiness! One of the problems I have with the movie is that it gives away her badness from the very beginning, which makes it hard to believe that Blanchett, who becomes her victim, would be so naive as not to notice that this woman is a dangerous harpy. However, one forgives a lot because the dialogue is deliciously sardonic, and extremely literate, and since a lot of it is rendered by Dame Judi in a voiceover, you just let yourself listen to the way she inveighs a word like "invent" (as in "he did not invent it") with what would amount to polonium-210 in the physical world.
There are a couple of willful-suspension-of-disbelief moments in this movie which almost ruined it for me. However, as we live mired in Hollywoodland where characters are usually one-dimensional, and female characters are virtually non-existent, it was refreshing to see two complicated characters that were not easily explained. Barbara, as all good sociopaths, has a vulnerable side. Like the Lieutenant of Inishmore, she loves her cats more than her people, yet her loneliness makes her vulnerable to love. Her scariness is a hoot, her intelligence is amazing, but her quiet moments of devotion are why Dame Judi kicks major, incredible butt. La Blanchett, meanwhile, shows her very considerable chops by not even attempting to outperform her colleague, and she turns in a careful, utterly believable and realistic portrayal of a conflicted, bored woman, a woman sheltered by a life of privilege. Because, you must know that this being a British movie, it is about class. And class is what the Brits do superduper-well.
So while the contrivances of the movie take it a bit into the realm of "I'm not quite buying this", the artistry and truthfulness of the performances keep it firmly anchored in reality. Plus, it is thoroughly enjoyable.

Note on Phillip Glass scores: every movie nowadays seems to have one. They all seem to sound the same. It is getting to be almost self-parodic. The score for this movie is gorgeous and it works (the critics disagree with me on this one), but it is distracting, because it is so Phillip Glassiesque.