Mar 31, 2010

City Island

A very likable yet problematic comedy, I enjoyed it immensely as I watched it, despite the fact that it is super contrived. It's charm seems to dissipate the more I think about it. Yet I enjoyed it mostly because some of the actors are excellent. And when actors are excellent in small, intimate films, they get to sink their teeth into their roles and they come up with wonderful, alive moments. I'll pay money to see this happen.
Remember Andy García? What a cutie! Well, this is the best work he's ever done. I had never seen him in a comedy, and he is very sweet, likable, convincing and funny as Vince Rizzo, a corrections officer who has a secret desire to be an actor. The corrections officer part, not so believable, as he seems to work in the best behaved jail in the world; but the wants to be an actor part: totally credible.
He reminded me of a police officer, out of central casting, who was in my acting class (yes, my dears, I am a frustrated thespian), but who had trouble wrapping his mind about the whole concept of playing a part (and learning the lines, and acting).
In any case, García is married to Joyce Rizzo, Juliana Margulies, who is almost unrecognizable as a frustrated Bronx housewife with a short fuse. She is not unrecognizable because she is wearing different hair or outrageous makeup. She is just a totally different character from what she usually plays, and she rocks. They have two kids, a college student, played by García's actual daughter (as is the case with many children who get nepotistic breaks, the daughter is one of the weak links in the film) and a smartass teenager played by a talented young man called Ezra Miller, who looks as if he could be Margulies' own son. Seems to me this kid should have a future in Hollywood.
This family, who lives in City Island, the Bronx, all lie to themselves and scream at each other. The plot is mechanical and contrived, but this movie is worth seeing for the intense commitment the actors bring to their roles. Credit goes to director-writer Raymond De Felitta for harnessing their energy in such a refreshing way.
I'd see this movie if only for one scene with my beloved Alan Arkin, who plays Rizzo's acting teacher and has an incredibly funny and true monologue about Marlon Brando and his bad influence on aspiring actors. I was hoping that there would already be an excerpt in You Tube, because this scene is a classic. There is also a wonderful scene where Rizzo goes to an audition and among the throngs of actors lining up around the block, he sees his own acting teacher, memorizing lines. Real and touching. 
What I find fascinating about this movie is that for every couple of scenes that have authenticity, there are three more that seem fake. For every great casting choice (García, Margulies, Arkin, Miller), there are three that are much weaker. Some of the writing is funny and fresh and some is ridden with clichés. And there are just too many heavy-handed plot twists that, although charming, seem to be pulled out of a hat.
I did not buy at all Emily Mortimer's character, García's acting classmate. Mortimer is one of those gifted actresses that I find increasigly unlikeable (she is fast becoming the British version of Jennifer Jason Leigh; not a good thing in my book). She's the only person in the film who doesn't seem to be aware that she is acting in a comedy. I don't want to give anything away, but I think an American actress pretending to be a plummy Brit would have been more believable and poignant.
All and all, as idiosyncratic and uneven as it is, I kind of liked City Island. 

Mar 29, 2010


This is the first Marco Bellocchio film I've ever seen and I really liked it.
It's about one of the mistresses of Benito Mussolini, Ida Dalser, a woman who became obsessed with Mussolini before he rose to power, sold everything she had to help him open his newspaper, Il Popolo d'Italia, and then was dumped by him when he became Il Duce.
Not only was she dumped, she was forcibly put in a mental hospital, so she could not tell everyone that she was married to him and had a legitimate son by him, also named Benito Mussolini. It is a horribly tragic story, since Mussolini's henchmen, no doubt under his orders, decided to first steal custody of the boy from his relatives, to give it to a fascist official and then when he was a young man, interned him in a mental hospital too. Both he and his mother died young and forgotten in insane asylums. Dalser never became political, yet she was singularly obsessed with airing her own personal truth. She was so infatuated not to make the connection that she was in the loony bin because of his direct orders. The poor son was reduced to watching his father intoning megalomaniac speeches in endless newsreels, hearing his voice on the radio, seeing his enormous, ugly marble head everywhere. But he could not say he was the son of Il Duce.
If this is not a harrowing example of "the personal is political" I don't know what is.
The movie is told in an idiosyncratic and operatic way, intercutting actual footage of the First World War and Mussolini, with a powerful operatic score that includes music by Philip Glass.
Dalser, as extraordinarily played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, is one of those women who totally surrender their passion and their wits to cold bastards, like Mussolini (the excellent Filippo Timi, who also plays the son as he gets older). The older Mussolini is played by himself in newsreel footage (that any woman would want to be within striking distance of that horrible, brutish man is beyond me) He had many mistresses, as befits an Italian macho, and four children with his wife, but he was a cold, cruel bastard. The movie does not explain his slide from socialism to fascism. Probably Italians know the story by heart. But what it does show in spades is the acquiescence and complicity of the Catholic Church in the rise of fascism. At the beginning of the movie the young Mussolini is egging God to prove that He exists by striking him down, a sure sign of his dangerous narcissism, also in evidence when he considers himself to become grander than Napoleon. By the end he is great pals with the Vatican. You could not rise to power in Italy by alienating the Catholic Church, which then as today, the only thing it guarded was appearances and the only thing it cared about was power. This is the reason why Mussolini was so cruel to Dalser and his own son. Because of the hypocrisy required by the Church.
A great line in the movie, uttered by a psychiatrist who wants to help Dalser, says:
"The Church is the only mother Fascists still fear." Ain't that the truth. What is more fascist, or more evil than the Catholic Church? Don't get me started. The Catholic Church is responsible for most of the evils in human history. And they are still at it.
This film is also about that central holy construct of Italian culture, motherhood. The theme of the movie is the destruction of the mother. And of the woman. The metaphorical synthesis Bellocchio achieves is neat and powerful. Fascism was an intimate destruction of the most personal. Mussolini destroyed the mother of his own son and his own son. What could be more monstrously inhuman?
We all know of the evils perpetrated by the Italian fascists, but when seen up close, from the actual story of Mussolini, his lover and his child, the cruelty becomes tangible, and terrible.

Mar 25, 2010

I Love These Two

Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes, both rocking in Brooklyn's Finest.
I had forgotten that Wesley Snipes is a damn fine actor. It's good to see him again.

Mar 21, 2010


I don't know why I always go to see the movies of Noah Baumbach. I didn't like The Squid and The Whale, and Margot at the Wedding was utter punishment. They are like being in the company of someone who doesn't really want to be with you, someone unpleasant and superior who keeps pushing you away. Why spend two hours with someone like this?  You get nothing of value in return.
This time, I read David Denby's inexplicably fawning review and I thought maybe something had changed. Greenberg is the least inhuman of Baumbach's movies, I'll give you that, but it ain't much. Generosity of spirit and empathy don't come easy to this guy.
Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), is a 40 year old New York crank and ex-band member, fresh out of a stay in a mental hospital, who moves to the house of his successful brother in LA to do nothing for a while. I loved Ben Stiller in Permanent Midnight, where he showed he can be a very good dramatic actor. Here he seems to be in genuine psychic pain. He looks like he is chewing tacks. He is gaunt and tightly coiled around himself, a monstrously self-involved, world-class neurotic. This is very impressive for the first fifteen minutes, but soon it gets tiresome because Baumbach does not allow him, nor any of the other characters, to show another side to his personality. Greenberg is apparently unredeemable. Baumbach is gifted at writing dialogue for monsters of self-absorption and, in small doses, this has the ring of truth. Greenberg's exchanges with his old bandmate, the wonderful Rhys Ifans, and his old girlfriend, a restrained and sympathetic (for the first time in her career) Jennifer Jason Leigh, are bundles of concentrated egotism, but that's all there is. The way Greenberg treats Florence, his brother's assistant (Greta Gerwig, fresh and charming) is breathtakingly hideous. The sympathetic characters in this movie allow this man to abuse them over and over and they almost become unsympathetic by being such pushovers. I was hoping someone would deck this asshole in the face, or put him in his place, but people suffer him like saints and the fact that he is just out of a mental crisis does not seem to fully justify their masochism. Thus, everybody becomes exasperating. Baumbach is trying to love his characters a little more, just like Greenberg is learning to cope with other people's feelings, but he's got a long way to go. We're making progress, but it feels grudging. There are a couple of very uncomfortable sex scenes between Greenberg and Florence that could have been an opportunity to show a glimmer of unguarded feeling. But they are designed to make us squirm. This insistence on being uncompromisingly unsympathetic feels immature.
Now, I hate mankind as much as anybody (well, maybe a little more), I don't expect movies to be full of rainbows and sprinkles, and I hate "uplifting" movies, but that doesn't mean that I enjoy meanspiritedness. Baumbach is miserly with the amount of slack he is willing to cut his characters. If a filmmaker is so cruel to his own characters, so judgmental, how can we relate to them?
Yet Baumbach's biggest shortcoming is that he is not funny enough. He elicits the kind of laughter that curdles in your throat. It's meant to by dry and sardonic but it feels petty. At the end of the movie a woman behind me said, "this is the next Woody Allen", a totally misguided assessment, for when Woody Allen was Baumbach's age, he was one of the funniest people in the world. His alter ego was also a neurotic monster but he was a total charmer. You could believe that the lovely Diane Keaton/Mariel Hemingway/Mia Farrow would fall in love with a pest like him, because he charmed them with his brilliant humor, and he was totally open to love, a self-hating romantic optimist. Alas, this is not the case with Baumbach. His characters always seem to be recoiling from love as if it was poison. This would be interesting if it was tempered by either wit or tenderness, but these qualities are mostly absent from his films.

Mar 15, 2010

Tales from the Script

As its name indicates, this is a very scary movie about the perils of being a professional screenwriter. It doesn't look pretty, to judge from the horror stories of writers who have actually been successful and survived in Hollywood. Some of the writers featured in Tales from the Script have written wonderful scripts and others have written dreck; but the system is so screwed, they all complain.
What is most surprising to me is that even after hearing their bitter tales of woe, I felt motivated to continue slogging through my own screenwriting project, which, if you must know, is killing me.
I work in advertising. Creatives in advertising love to complain about too many cooks stirring the pot, too many uninformed people sticking their noses in what they don't know. But in the end we're selling soap for thirty seconds, and anybody in advertising who gets too bent out of shape about their misunderstood creativity 1) is a schmuck and 2) needs to see this film to put things into perspective.
The most disheartening aspect of Tales from the Script is that nowadays the creative process in Hollywood is an exact replica of the creative process in advertising, but on a much grander, exponentially terrifying scale. It is geared to sell product, not so much to tell an interesting, original story. As in advertising, market research (also known as fuck us groups) is the absolute death of imagination, creativity, art, charm, however you want to call it. But at least in advertising you know you are selling diapers and the audience knows that they are being sold crap; when you see a movie, you'd like to believe you are watching an entertaining and enlightening story, not a 2 hour commercial for the sequel, or 2 hours of product placement.
Movies have become so expensive that executives just want to recreate what works. This explains why there are so many movies about comic books, and why movies are franchises, like Dunkin Donuts. Movie executives are no different from corporate marketing people, they operate mainly by fear and groupthink, and they are afraid of taking risks. Hence, the tired, over-chewed formulas and cliches feel as cynical and jaded as the people making these movies. I've always felt there is a huge disconnect between the narrative of fierce individualism that courses through the free enterprise system in America and the actual corporate reality, in which no one has an independent thought, or takes a risk, or takes personal responsibility for their criterion.
The writer Shane Black said something I have always felt about some account executive colleagues or clients: I don't tell my surgeon how to use his scalpel, or my dentist how to do my root canal, but people tell writers what to write and how to write it. And again, let me qualify this by saying, in advertising that's the way the Oreo(TM) crumbles. We have it easy.
The screenwriters in this movie are funny, bitter, jaded, exhausted. They all seem to have been run over by a truck and they lived to tell the tale. The system of not trusting the writer you originally hired and having someone polish or doctor a script seems particularly soul crushing, not to mention the horrendous problems of getting due credit.
My favorite quote from the movie is from Dennis Palumbo, who wrote the lovely comedy My Favorite Year (which I bet nobody would make today), and after enduring much humiliation in Hollywood, decided to become a therapist. He says something like, screenwriters are egomaniacs with a total lack of self-esteem. That has the ring of truth to me.

Mar 12, 2010


Korean director Joon Ho Bong is a giant filmmaker, as far as I'm concerned. Young, utterly original, intelligent and profound. And tons of fun.
Mother is, like all of his films, a genre bending movie deeply critical of Korean society.
In the talk after the movie at the New York Film Festival, Bong explained that he wrote the film for the astounding actress Hye Ja Kim, who is a Korean national treasure and hence, always plays immaculate, saintly, long suffering mothers. This is a measure of Bong's perversity. For the mother here is a saint, of sorts, the embodiment of ultimate sacrifice, even if the sacrifice is morally doubtful.
For those who loved his film The Host, Mother works in a similar vein, subverting genre and mixing dark hilarity with very human emotions, but it is a much more serious and ambitious film. For one, it doesn't have a giant fish. It has a single mother, who dotes on her retarded teenage son, perhaps a bit too much. A different kind of monster, if you will. There is a hilarious, disturbing scene that reminded me of the mother in Portnoy's Complaint. I also thought of Philip Larkin's "Family. It fucks you up".
You get the picture.
The mother is a herbalist and acupuncturist who works without a license in a small suburban town. Her only son is dim, to say the least, and he gets charged with murdering a schoolgirl. He and his mother go through a harrowing gauntlet of abuse by corrupt and incompetent police. It's easy for them to pin the crime on a retard with a mother who cannot afford justice. She hires a lawyer who is even worse than the police. Bong tells you more about Korean culture in a few bold strokes that you could read in books. For instance, the police are more impressed with the cost of a broken mirror on a Mercedes Benz than with actually punishing the culprits of a hit and run accident in said car. I love details like the mother coming into the lawyer's office to find the secretary flossing at her desk, or a man at a tragic funeral, playing with his cellphone.
The mother is advised to take matters into her hands, becoming a detective herself. Even though I was having a great time during the first half of the movie, before this point in the plot I wondered where exactly it was going. But once she starts investigating, the movie becomes something else. Bong is not afraid to leave the laughs behind (though not completely) and to go into deeper and darker territory. Every single detail accrued up to then becomes a disturbing, complicated revelation, giving the film an almost unbearable richness. I'd have to disclose too many details that would ruin the movie for you, but suffice it to say that the mother is put in a terrible dilemma and she acts like any mother would: with fierce, unbending, protection of her child. This mother is, I venture to say, like all mothers: an avenging angel and a terrible monster. Yet I was with her, in her heroic madness warped by love and devotion, all the way.
I hope this movie gets shown in a theater near you. It is extraordinary.

Mar 9, 2010

On DVD: Defiance

I never thought I would say this, but I actually liked Defiance, the Ed Zwick film about the Bielski brothers from Bielorussia, who hid in the forest during WWII and saved themselves and 1200 Jews from slaughter. They also killed some Nazis and Russian collaborators, which is deeply satisfying to this viewer. To the movie's credit, it does not quite celebrate the Jewish acts of revenge. There are a couple of harrowing scenes in which actual revenge does not seem as easy, palatable or satisfying to those who commit it. One scene depicts that murder, even if justified by revenge, is very hard for an individual. It requires a leap into feral territory, something we never see in most depictions of murder on the screen. In the other scene, the forest Jews capture a German soldier and Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) allows mob mentality to take over. The scene is deeply understandable, though absolutely shocking. The camera focuses on Bielski's face as he allows a lynching in what has otherwise been a successful haven of civilization in the midst of hell. I think this scene should be taught in schools everywhere. Revenge is the opposite of civilization, yet it is necessary. Justice is the civilized form of revenge. Which is why Adolf Eichmann and the Nazis at Nuremberg were given trials (whereas totalitarian murderers like the Nazis, Stalin, Mao etc, give mock trials or no trials at all). And which is why, Liz Cheney, unspeakable spawn of Satan, we need to temper our revenge with justice. Otherwise we revert to beasts. We become like our tormentors.
Defiance is exactly the opposite of the other movie about Jews fighting Nazis, Inglorious Basterds, a cinematic revenge fantasy, puerile and unconcerned with moral implications, which, to be fair, are not its intention. Tarantino's movie is not about history, but about WWII movies. It lives in an airtight compartment of movie imagination (which is why it has the most charming Nazi ever and Hitler and his friends all die in a movie theater). As much as I enjoyed some of its meager panache, in the end Inglorious Basterds left me very discomfited. In reality, nobody got to Hitler in time to prevent all that murder, so what exactly are we celebrating?
I find Defiance much more satisfying. To know that 1200 people were saved, which today have resulted in about 19,000 Jews roaming the Earth, that's a much better feeling.
I expected maudlin and overwrought from Defiance, and some of it is, but it is also extremely powerful and more complicated than the usual Hollywood fare.  It is a mature and complex Hollywood movie and the best thing Ed Zwick has ever done. Extraordinary cinematography from Eduardo Serra, by the way.
At its core, Defiance has two excellent, credible, deeply dignified performances by Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber as the Bielski brothers. They speak English with thick Russian accents and they speak Russian in a way that to my untrained ears sounds pretty authentic. Both of them are even sexier in Russian, if you can believe it.
I am happy to personally welcome Mr. Craig as a honorary Jew (he was also a hot Mossad agent in Munich). He is not only extremely attractive, he is also a damn fine actor, a totally credible leader. He and Schreiber, also a very good actor, who plays his more reckless brother Zus, have wonderful, believable chemistry together, a miraculous occurrence that seldom happens between actors in films today.
Some of the dialogue is a little theatrical (Craig on his horse giving a speech to his people like Henry IV at Agincourt) and I don't understand Zwick's predilection for putting cheesy music in violent battle scenes, but there is more good backbone to this movie than schmaltz, in sharp contrast to his movie about the diamond trade, Blood Diamonds.
Defiance reopened in me the old wound of the memory of the Jews that didn't fight. One could say those Jews fought tooth and nail to survive in the camps, but the shame of having been so gullible and acquiescent still hurts (then again, who could have believed anybody in the modern age could hatch such a massively bestial, inhuman plan?).
This movie made me think of revenge. What to make of my deep feelings of pleasure when I see a Nazi dying on the screen? What to make of the human need and endless capacity for revenge?  All we can do is temper it with as much fairness and justice as we are capable of.
From Wikipedia:
The Sage Hillel, ...when asked to sum up the entire Torah concisely, answered:

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

Talmud, Shabbat 31a, the "Great Principle"

Mar 6, 2010

Shutter Island

I don't quite understand what continues bringing audiences to this awkward movie by Martin Scorsese.
At the beginning I was happy to be in the hands of a master, with his sumptuous camera moves and gorgeous framing, the astonishingly rich photography of Robert Richardson, the perfect production design of Dante Ferretti, and the music, very cinematic and strange, that turns out to be a Kubrickian collection of greatest hits by modern composers like Ligeti, Penderecki, John Cage, John Adams (music supervision by Robbie Robertson, no less). Plus an impressive supporting cast (Ben Kingsley, the magnificent Max Von Sydow, Patricia Clarkson, John Carroll Lynch, Jackie Earle Haley). Yet you sit there for almost three hours amazed at the quality of everything, except nothing seems to work.
My first beef is with Leonardo DiCaprio. He is a good actor who never shirks away from total commitment. He has some very good moments (others, a little strained). Problem is, do I believe he is a federal marshall? No. Why? I'm not really sure. Maybe because of his baby face. Maybe because he lacks a certain gravitas. Put Matt Damon in the role, and I would have no problem believing him as a former soldier and a federal marshall.  I think DiCaprio lacks weight. He looks like he just emerged from a Starbucks in Santa Monica.
The second and bigger issue is the screenplay, which doesn't make any sense.
For a while I thought it was interesting that the US government was running a secret program in an asylum for the criminally insane. I thought the resonance with our government today torturing people was timely, and even more timely the idea that the powers that be are intent on driving citizens crazy (Dick Cheney is a specialist on making everyone feel like we're all insane and living in a parallel universe). However, as others have pointed out, Shutter Island is full of plot threads that don't lead anywhere.
Basically, for the first two acts, you think you are watching a movie about a heroic man, and then the third act turns into a sinister version of Alice down the rabbit hole, which would be very cool if these two things evolved gracefully or coherently. Yet by the tragic end, the audience was chuckling in disbelief at the shoddiness of the resolution, and feeling that our collective chain was yanked. The movie is at turns cheesy, heavy handed and clumsy. There is one incredible lateral dolly shot of American soldiers executing Nazis, that reminded me of Kubrick. There are wonderful little set pieces, but then there are gaudy, cheesy, scenes as well. Scorsese has never been dainty; somehow in his nimble hands, this tendency for overemphasis can be extremely exciting; his movies have tremendous life and energy. But this one feels strained and stilted, like it needs to go outside of its own cinematic head and get a breath of fresh air. All of late Scorsese, except for The Departed, suffers from the same overwrought symptoms. And one worries over the extreme attention to technical and historical cinematic detail at the expense of making sure all the actors are acting in the same movie, same period and same island. The otherwise always reliable actors are left to their own devices, stranded in Shutter Island. My adored Mark Ruffalo is wasted and miscast. And except for Patricia Clarkson, who is never, ever wrong, and a couple of excellent supporting actresses, the main actresses, Emily Mortimer and Michelle Williams seem to be grasping at straws. Some actors rise to the occasion, like Max Von Sydow and Jackie Earle Haley, who is a thing of wonder. Ben Kingsley is good but strangely mannered, and it all feels strangely discombobulated. I've read that Scorsese was deliberately imitating the style of certain paranoid B-movies from the Fifties, but in this case the cheesiness is unaccompanied by either irony or a sense of humor, and the whole thing feels like the air was sucked out of it. Not at all like classic Scorsese.
Mental illness and insane asylums are great for drama but they are extremely hard to pull off. In loony bin movies, one always gets the feeling that they're not getting it right, whatever right is (you know the clichés. There is always someone screaming in the aisles). The idea of someone sane purposefully branded as crazy has been explored in film before, recently most notably by the great One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and I would say not badly by Girl, Interrupted. But if you are going to go down the route of madness, mind games, and mental distorsion, there has to be far more menace, far more terror and far more rigor.

Mar 3, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Except for a fantastic opening scene of magnificent, menacing simplicity, a spectacular closing scene and some very sly and delicious Polanskian touches in between, I must say I do not share the enthusiasm that the NY film critics and my friend Joel are bestowing on this latest film by my beloved Roman Polanski.
I enjoyed The Ghost Writer because it is gorgeous to look at (bravo, Pavel Edelman, director of photography). Because Ewan McGregor is gorgeous to look at, and so in a way is Pierce Brosnan. I enjoyed it because it has those little masterful stylistic touches that give me a frisson of pleasure in every Polanski film. Because there's Eli Wallach, 500 years old, still delivering his lines with a twinkle in his eye. And Tom Wilkinson, perfect as always. The wry, European sense of humor, the pristine beauty of the mise en scene. Some beautiful framing. Yes. But the script feels sloppy. It's like watching a Hitchcockian thriller and a political intrigue film that don't quite seem to jell together. There are several huge implausibilities that I had tremendous trouble ignoring. This may be forgiven of lesser talents, but not of Polanski, a director that, in my never humble opinion, is in the pantheon of the Gods of Cinema.
However, kudos to the production team for filming a movie in Germany and making it look convincingly like Massachusetts (something Stanley Kubrick was unable to do with New York in Eyes Wide Shut). I checked the credits because it looked way too authentic. Indeed, plates were filmed in the US and then seamlessly integrated to the film. Well done!
It is impossible not to read some of Polanski's personal backstory into his films. Whether this is right or not, it's a big part of the enjoyment. This film seems to be his little revenge against the US. Something like, "you puritanical hypocrites torture people, you instigate wars under false premises, you lie and you cover up and you lie some more, and you are still giving me shit over something that happened 40 years ago, and for which I was already tried, and punished in a court of law (and forgiven by the victim)".
I strongly recommend the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired for clarification on the very strange, complex and fascinating circumstances of his trial. Regardless of the fact that he acted despicably, he was given a very unfair trial by a crazy judge, which is why he fled. But I digress.
As the critics have pointed out, Polanski is a master of disquiet, paranoia and persecution. The reason why I adore him, is because he knows, like Hitchcock, that evil breathes among us, is within us, blooms unencumbered at all times.
Ewan McGregor plays the ghost writer for a Tony Blairesque character whose first ghost writer is found dead under mysterious circumstances. He starts getting nosy. It's a cover up story, reaching the highest echelons of government, but who cares if the CIA has infiltrated the British government? What else is new?
I'm much more disturbed by a rabbit slowly attaining putrefaction in Catherine Deneuve's apartment in Repulsion, or, in a similar but much more disturbing vein, Polanski himself going crazy in The Tenant. We know the CIA is everywhere. Next!
I also felt that even though the sense of menace was subtle and ever present, the pacing of the movie dragged a little. My biggest problem is that the plot is farfetched, contrived and a little puerile.
But there are many small pleasures. My favorite scene is Ewan McGregor going into the bathroom in a panic because his boss' wife is making the moves on him. He looks into the mirror and says to himself "Bad Idea" before proceeding anyway. Maybe Polanski wishes he had the presence of mind as he led a 13 year-old unescorted girl into Jack Nicholson's jacuzzi in the drug addled 70s?
I love his sense of humor.
Some scenes are just beautiful to look at. A gorgeous tracking shot on a little piece of paper being passed around from hand to hand. A caretaker futilely trying to rake some leaves against the cold Cape Cod wind, like something out of Waiting for Godot. That same man framed by curtains in the only scene in the movie where curtains are closed. Although I adore composer Alexandre Desplat, I felt the music was too overwrought, trying to be Bernard Herrmanesque without quite achieving it. Ewan McGregor's considerable charm kept me entertained. I just didn't buy the plot.