Jan 29, 2012

On DVD: The Ides Of March

Good, dirty fun. George Clooney is a much better director than Clint Eastwood, but he gets no respect. I don't get it. He makes small, intelligent films with complicated characters. What's not to like? The Ides Of March is a zippy, nasty little movie about the queasy filth that is politics; well directed, elegant and with a splendid cast. Why doesn't Clooney get the love, I don't know. He has the good sense of hiring Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, a stellar cast, all excellent. And he is not even the main character. He plays a Democratic presidential candidate named Mike Morris, but the main role belongs to Morris' strategic advisor, Stephen Meyers, played by Ryan Gosling.
Gosling is very good. He starts out as a brilliant strategist who also happens to believe in his candidate, until his heart is broken by disillusionment and betrayal, of his own doing. He makes the grave mistake of listening to the siren's call of Paul Giamatti, who is the campaign manager of Morris' adversary. Nobody in this movie is pure. Everybody makes mistakes and craves either sex, money or power. But in campaign politics mistakes of a human nature are costly because everything is a front. It's all about appearances. Everything appears to be immaculate, but everything is tainted in some way or another. In order to win, people resort to bad tactics. Integrity is impossible.
Yes, the plot points strain credulity. For those of us who would not touch politics with a ten foot pole it's hard to believe that victories are achieved through extorsion; that Ida Horowitz, a journalist for the NY Times (Tomei, encased in boxy coats, glasses and Uggs, and still sexy), would threaten to run a damaging piece in exchange for information. That a Senator from North Carolina (Jeffrey Wright) would demand to be Secretary of State in exchange for his crucial endorsement, that a simple little meeting of Gosling's with Giamatti would make the entire house of cards collapse, and more fatally, that an intern (Evan Rachel Wood, better than usual) would find a tragic end over the appearance of impropriety. But somehow, these excesses are forgivable because the movie zips along, the cast is fantastic, including Clooney, who'd be my real president in a heartbeat, and because Gosling's dilemma is very compelling. The movie works because it holds steadfast to its own theory: that politics are dirty and ruthless. It does not change its mind and decides to appease anybody's moral conscience or make the audience feel good. Stephen Meyers is an antihero who ends up getting what he wants, by losing everything that is important and not at all in the way he wanted it. Gosling convincingly transforms himself from an enthusiastic believer to a bitter, cynical man bent on revenge.  A smart, brittle film. Very enjoyable.

Jan 28, 2012

The Iron Lady

There is a scene towards the beginning of this misconceived borefest that encapsulates the monster of acting that is Meryl Streep. There is no other reason to watch this muddled film. Streep is a freak. We all know she can do voices and mimic accents like an android, but in this scene, as Margaret Thatcher in old age, she is losing her memory and is confused, but proud, but bewildered, trying to remember; a dozen different feelings passing through her terrified eyes. Her face may be under layers of latex (the make-up deserves an Oscar), and she may mimic old age to perfection, but for a vibrant woman like her to express so truthfully what happens in the mind in the fog of old age, it is killer, killer stuff.  And we have not even seen her  at the height of her powers. Streep provides a technique fest: a different voice when she was younger, a lowered voice when she became leader of the Conservative Party, a perfect accent, the walk, the mannerisms. But she is a monster because within the meticulousness and fierceness of her preparation, she nails the moments of human truth. She nails every scene. No one should complain if she wins every award in the book. She deserves them all. Too bad she is so extraordinary in such a bad movie.
1. I am beyond exhausted with the overarching flashback convention in biopics, when we see the character in old age reminisce here and there about their most memorable moments, as if they were chocolate chips sinking in cookie batter. This plot device drains the story of tension and it muddles the arc of the character, which in this case is even more discombobulated because there seems to be no real backbone to the story. Why couldn't Thatcher's story be told chronologically, from a grocer's daughter to the longest serving Prime Minister of Britain, to doddering old age? At least we'd be excited by the conflicts she had to overcome, by the momentum of looking forward to what's going to happen, not to what already did.
So boring, I want to scream.
2. Harvey Weinstein. There a scene in this movie that is exactly like a scene in his last movie, The King's Speech. Do we really need to see a montage of Thatcher undergoing coaching, changing her hair into her famed blond helmet, as if she were an American Idol contestant? In this school of filmmaking even someone as formidable, fierce and polarizing as Margaret Thatcher gets the audience-pleasing Weinstein shtick. If you have Meryl Streep on board, it's enough to trust her humanizing capabilities and use her to paint a truly interesting portrait of a major political personality. No need to encase her in sugar. But no. There's this syrupy schmaltz about her fantasizing talking to her husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent), who's been dead forever. This unbecoming attempt to humanize her makes this movie into pap. 
3. Hamhandedness. How many scenes must there be of men snickering behind Maggie's back? Her story is not well served by a commonplace attempt to make it into a narrative of feminist triumph. Lots of women hated Thatcher with a passion. There is no need to turn her into a feminist hero. The woman herself, her achievements and mistakes are enough. Feminism becomes a tired cliché; it defeats the purpose.
4. As my friend the Media Mogul bitterly complained, have a point of view! Hate her and her policies, admire her, have an opinion about her turbulent tenure. Screenwriter Abi Morgan has written cloying pap which is completely inappropriate for Thatcher, an unsparingly unsentimental woman.

Jan 26, 2012

A Better Life

This movie may be the first film to truly broach the subject of immigration in the US as it currently stands, on a cruel impasse of hypocrisy, blatant scapegoating and political inaction.
Directed by Chris Weitz, and starring Demián Bichir, who got an Oscar nomination for his work, it summarizes the enormous and heartrending complexity of the immigration issue through the story of Carlos Galindo, an undocumented gardener in LA.
Galindo is the single father of a teenage son, Luis (well played by José Julián), who was born in the US and is already an entitled American brat; not connected to his roots or sympathetic to newcomers who stand on a street corner begging for a day job, just like his dad when he arrived.
Like many well-intentioned message films, A Better Life is not very original, and does not have a sense of humor. It does show what it must be like to live on the outside looking in, like a zero that no one notices unless they want their hedges trimmed. But for its short running time (hour and a half), it is slow going. Weitz's rhythm is leaden, the writing feels by the numbers, and despite the golden cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe, the cool homie soundtrack and the unobtrusive, elegant score by Alexandre Desplat, the movie seems a bit like an after-school special. The main problem is that Carlos Galindo is a saint, and saintly characters are not very interesting. Bichir works very hard to give Carlos a rounded character. He is a very decent man, but he seems to have no unruly passions, no edges. He lets the kid give him too much lip. He has no time for women. He is cautious, hardworking, and wants to be as much under the radar as possible. He lacks ambition because he is afraid that the migra will come and take away his life. I could imagine all those nasty people who are always screaming "send them back" rolling their eyes at the sight of this angel without wings.
But to judge from the very authentic locations in the film, Carlos lives outside of his own vibrant immigrant society by choice. It is clear that East and South Central LA are lively alternate Latino republics where a lot of people, legal and not, have perfectly rounded lives that include Mexican rodeos and nightclubs. This guy simply chooses not to partake in the fun. Most of the time, he is a bit of a bore.
The plot starts humming when Carlos is enticed by his boss to buy a truck from him so he can have his own business, but he demurs because as an illegal alien, he can't get a driver's licence. After much soul searching and much effort, he buys the truck. And of course he loses it.
I kept waiting for the moment that got Bichir's acting noticed. Bichir has two incredible moments, one when he reacts at the humiliation proffered by a punk in jail; and a speech to his son in which his feelings are so raw and ring so true, you want to smack him upside the head with an Oscar, cause he deserves it.
Only towards the end the movie accrues intensity as we get to see the inhumanity of the mass deportations, the untenable system that brazenly exploits and then penalizes these immigrants. I'm glad Bichir is getting all this attention (he's been utterly cool, dedicating his performance to all the undocumented immigrants), because everybody else in America is hell bent on sweeping this urgent problem under the carpet, or worse, providing idiotic solutions like building walls and deporting 400,000 people a year. The final scene is sure to give massive heart attacks to the Joe Arpaios of America. Send the illegals back, and they will sneak back in, until their services are not wanted anymore.
This doesn't make A Better Life a great movie, but it can serve as a great polemic in high schools and Washington think tanks. To be a better movie, it needs less sanctimony and a director with a bit more punch.

Jan 24, 2012

Oscars: The Good News And The Bad News

Good news is, The Tree of Life made it to the Best Picture, and so did Terrence Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Also The Artist, which is the best movie this year except for A Separation. I'm rooting for it.
The Descendants is a perfectly decent movie, but for some reason I liked it much more as I watched it than afterwards. Afterwards, it became a little meh. The Artist should win this year, but it's a toss up because these people vote with their ass most of the time. They are entirely capable of giving it to The Help.
Bad news is that a movie that most critics hated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, inexplicably made the list. There is nothing more unpalatable to me that having Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks in the same movie. I can watch them both separately no problem, but together it's overkill. Bridesmaids is the much better choice. The Help utterly sucks. But the Academy members are a bunch of sentimental old farts who want the movie business to be bathed in corn and good intentions. Midnight in Paris is the best stuff Woody Allen has done in years, but I don't think it merits a best movie nomination.  Hugo is simply not good enough to be in this list, despite its good intentions.

Good news is, A Separation, from Iran, the year's best movie, also got an original screenplay nod. This is the movie that absolutely needs to win Best Foreign Film. And if it wins original screenplay too, for which it got a surprising and well deserved nomination, all the better. I'm very happy the academy did not nominate The Skin I Live In from Almodóvar (he's his own country now), because it sucks. 
Bad news is that Footnote, an annoying, overproduced Israeli movie, made the nominations too. Lars Von Trier's Melancholia should be here. Alas, he is now persona non grata. Miss Bala from Mexico stood a chance. But this category never really represents the best of foreign cinema, except in the case of A Separation, which is truly a spectacular film.

Good news is Demián Bichir made to the best actor noms (token Hispanic, maybe?). I have not seen the movie but I hear he is great. He's always been a good actor. Terrible, unbelievable bad news is that Michael Fassbender, who gave the performance of the year in Shame, was not nominated. Somebody read these people the riot act. I would substitute him for Gary Oldman, who barely appears in his own film (sorry, Cathy!). I think this one is between Dujardin and Clooney. And if so, let it be Dujardin.

Good News is that Kenneth Branagh got his nod for playing Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn. Good for Nick Nolte and Jonah Hill. Bad, incomprehensible news is that Viggo Mortensen did not get a nod for his believable, awesome Sigmund Freud in A Dangerous Method. Or Kevin Spacey in Margin Call. This category was rich with fine performances this year, and yet the Academy votes are most predictable. Where is Eddie Redmayne for My Week With Marilyn, Corey Stoller for his Hemingway in Midnight in Paris? Albert Brooks for Drive? Or Robert Forster for The Descendants? Boring.

Good news is they are all good. Good for Rooney Mara, good for Glenn Close, Aunt Meryl, etc. Bad news is that Elizabeth Olsen from Martha Marcy May Marlene should have been nominated, and Carey Mulligan as well for her work on Shame.  Also, terrible, terrible slight not to nominate the outstanding Kristin Wiig of Bridesmaids. She deserves to be here. This one is between Meryl Streep and Viola Davis.

Good news is Melissa McCarthy is in for Bridesmaids, and the rest of the category is solid. Bad news is Vanessa Redgrave, who gives the supporting performance of the year in Coriolanus, is not here (unless she counts for next year). Sissy Spacek was dead on perfect on The Help. Where is she? I'm not hazarding a bet, but Octavia Spencer is a possibility.

Good news is this is a good and worthy group. As far as I'm concerned, the two worthiest contenders are Hazanavicius and Malick, and if either one wins, I'll be ecstatic, edging towards Hazanavicius. Bad news is I'm down on Woody Allen, whose movie is very uneven. Asghar Farhadi, director of A Separation should be here as well.

Good news is go, Emmanuel Lubezki, as far as I'm concerned, absolute front runner for his astounding work in The Tree of Life. Bad news is Manuel Alberto Claro who did the cinematography for Melancholia should be here. I also loved the work of Sean Bobbitt in Shame.

Adapted screenplay I have no good news to report. I have only seen The Descendants and TTSS, and that screenplay seemed to me to be quite problematic. I'm hoping Coriolanus qualifies for next year, because it is one of the best adaptations of Shakespeare to the screen. Why is Jane Eyre not here? That was a solid adaptation. Carnage the film was so much better than Carnage the play. But Polanski is poison.
On Original Screenplay there is plenty of good news: YAY! Annie Mumolo and Kristin Wiig! Bridesmaids got a very well deserved nod, and so, surprisingly for a foreign film, did A Separation. The Artist is brilliant. Bad news is I think Margin Call is a terrible screenplay and Midnight in Paris could be better. Sean Durkin's script for Martha Marcy May Marlene was better than either one of them.

The good news is there are only 2 nominated songs! I will be happy when there are zero. Of course rooting for Brett McKenzie and his lovely Muppet song, because the bad news is the Rio one sucks.  As for the score, the good news is The Artist should win because it is the score of a movie without words and it is incredibly well done. The bad news is that I hated Alberto Iglesias' score for TTSS. Wrong choice of composer, the music sounded exactly like his last three Almodóvar movies. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross should be here for their effective work for David Fincher.
Let the griping about the Oscars begin!

Jan 16, 2012

My Last 2 Cents on the Golden Globes

There are tables. There is booze. There is schmoozing.  So why does the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which apparently is comprised in its entirety by four Transylvanian munchkins, insist on making the Golden Globes as pompous and boring as the Oscars, but with tables, booze, and schmoozing?
The only thing that shouldn't change is that there are no song and dance numbers.
Ricky Gervais, who was completely defanged last night, is not enough to be "edgy". I mean, Rupert H. Murdoch was there and there was complete silence from Gervais on the subject. Instead, he went for a Kardashian. What a loser.
You have to come up with a more streamlined ceremony, less inept and irrelevant presenters (Adam Levine, who the fuck cares?), more Gervais, and much, much more camera panning through the tables to see who is picking their nose, getting soused or is as bored as the audience at home (I saw several). Forget the treacly, overly solemn special awards. You are not anointing them for popehood, you are giving an actor a trophy. And for the life of you, hire better writers for the presenters, or better yet, let them improv! They should be able to do this in their sleep (not).
And if you are going to be raunchy, then don't do it on NBC. The bleeps were the length of a Cecil B. de Mille movie. Do it without bleeping, or do it elsewhere.

Jan 15, 2012

Live Kvetching the GG's: The Ordeal.

Fantastic opening by Gervais, making fun of the GG's. And Eddie Murphy.
List of Rules: Do not mention Jodie Foster's Beaver.
Star of Coriolanus, Gerard Butler? What about my BF Voldemort?
Best Supporting actor for Film Drama:
Kenneth Branagh, Albert Brooks. Jonah Hill, Viggo (no last name required), Christopher Plummer. GO VIGGO!
Goes to Plummer, the safe and boring choice. He's good in that insufferable movie.
Sweet acceptance speech trying to honor everybody but himself.
Best Actress in a TV series Comedy or Musical:
Laura Dern, Zooey Deschanel, Tina Fey, Laura Linney, Amy Poehler.
WINS: Laura Dern! A most excellent choice. I hear her show is great.
The ridiculous Miss Golden Globe to Andie McDowell's completely uninteresting spawn gets hijacked by a malfunctioning teleprompter. That poor girl must be furious...
TV movie:
Cinema Verite, Downton Abbey, The Hour, Mildred Pierce, Too Big To Fail. The expected winner: D.A. I've only seen one episode and it looks just like Upstairs Downstairs to me, no? Still, anything with Maggie Smith in it, I'm there. And Elizabeth McGovern has always rocked. 
Actress for this category: Romola Garai, Diane Lane, Elizabeth McGovern, Emily Watson, Kate Winslet, cradlerobber and expected winner, wins. Great actress and terrible speech giver. But she learned her lesson from last time and is now doing her homework.
Jeremy Irons, who Mr. Ex Enchilada claims is fast becoming Boris Karloff, is my first original British boyfriend and will be forever. Just listen to that voice.
Thank God Gervais is back. Because the presenters are bo-ring.
TV Actor Drama, Buscemi, Cranston, Grammer, Irons, Lewis:
Kelsey Grammer? WTF? Anybody in that category is a more exciting choice. 
Best TV Series Drama -- I don't give a fuck really, cause I don't have cable. But it's probably Homeland. I knew it. I take it back about Danes' dress. Spectacular from the back.
Best Music Score Movie - The Artist (my fave), W.E, Dragon Tattoo, Hugo,
The Artist! Excellent score. "I'm sorry I'm French!"
Madonna won for song. And she's telling the whole megillah, she's always terrible. A person incapable of not seeming totally self-involved at all times.
Idris Elba for best actor on something on TV or other.  Good.
Actress in a Comedy
Jodie Foster, Carnage; Charlize Theron, Young Adult, Kristen Wiig (getting big whoops) Michelle Williams. Kate Winslet, Carnage.
Michelle Williams, the expected choice. Wiig would have been awesome! Super nice speech.
Peter Dinklage wins for Game of Thrones. Way cool.
This is taking forever. I'm bored.
Animated film: Tintin, Arthur Christmas, Cars 2, Puss'n Boots, Rango. Tintin wins. Spielberg. Expected.
Nicole Kidman is wearing a long bathing suit.
Screenplay for a Movie (go Artist!) Woody Allen! Midnight in Paris. Oh well!
The Bill Macy's are so awesome.
Jessica Lange thanking the writers: yay!
Best moment of the night so far is the look of bored sufferance the older guy seating next to Madonna just gave her. Exactly.
Foreign film: A Separation! Good call. Best film of the year. It's from Iran. Go see it. 
From now, I'm kvetching on twitter because I'm bored, already.

Live Kvetching the Golden Globes 2012: THE DRESSES

7 pm: I don't have cable so watching red carpet on NBC. That's the way I roll.
First out of the gate, Clooney, looking yummy as always. He's not my favorite for best actor, but I like him, I like his politics, I like his movies as a director and you can sue me if you want.
Laura Linney, hate the blue dress. Looks like half an origami lesson.
Cool, NBC has no sound! More evidence we are officially living in a Third World country.
Fixed it. Ricky Gervais wearing a great tuxedo the color of dried blood, which he better spill tonight, given all the hype around him.
Viola Davis: lovely dress, lovely color. Not my favorite for the award (enough with the cryin' already). I want someone to give her a villainess role, for a change.
The Jolie-Pitts. Awesome dress by her. She got pretty cause she got a ridiculous nomination for her movie, which I haven't seen, but which sounds like a barrel of laughs, like collective punishment for our foreign policy sins. Brad looking like the preternatural surfer boy he always looks like. Hair a bit greasy, in my view.
Julianna Margulies looks like a giant grape Jolly Rancher candy, not necessarily a bad thing.
Charlize Theron looking like a cloud of cotton candy, with a big bad pink bow, so that nobody confuses her with the bitch on wheels she plays on Young Adult. She is really good, BTW.
Zooey Deschanel wearing a nice Prada dress and the hair of Connie Stevens circa 1970. Bad application of hair extensions.
Laura Dern looks fabulous in a green sequined dress. Love that lady. Fearless actress. 
Michelle Williams, meh dress. Violet leopard spots, but at least she's not wearing those boring beiges she usually likes. She's good as Marilyn, but I insist Jessica Chastain would have been better casting.
Steve Buscemi! A man no one can hate. J'adore him forever. Still lives in Bklyn. Rock on!
I don't live blog about anyone but huge stars and reputable actors, but Nicole Ritchie just said: "My hair is by Suave Professionals" How tacky is that? ...And I wiped my ass with Charmin?
Elton John and his shaggy rug. Scary. But the boyfriend "furnishes" the cute.
Fabulous green and black sequin and feathers dress on Evan Rachel Wood, a young hammette.
Aw, Octavia Spencer, absolutely lovely. I'm rooting for her. Loved her in that awful movie.
I'm finding it hard to describe Salma Hayek's sequined dress. But it looks like something out of a Las Vegas gambling machine. Her boobs are really distracting.
Madonna's boobs are going to sue her for strangulation. Why is Esther wearing a huge cross? Not very kabbalistic.
Claire Danes has big features, nes't pas? No bra, hence tiny nipple blinking through her unfriendly Calvin Klein dress.
Why do comediennes have the worst taste in dresses? Amy Poehler is wearing what looks like a sequined t shirt. Everytime Tina Fey shows up at one of these things, I tremble.
Diane Lane and Josh Brolin. Lookin' good. He turned out to be a great actor, even with that dad.
Mila Kunis' face looks inordinately round for some reason. Starved as a ballerina she looked stunning.
Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart un peu de creepiness right there from him.
Di Craprio may win. He's good in a terrible film. Acted well despite the worst make up job ever. No arm candy tonite. Where's Tobey?
La Portman and Il Millepied. She nabbed him and I will never forgive her for that.
You may not know who Stephen Mangan is, but I saw him in The Norman Conquests on Broadway and he blew me away. Fantastic actor, currently second banana to Matt LeBlanc. Fame is strange.
Tina Fey, dress not too horrifying this time. Oops. They panned down. I take it back. Mermaid dresses are not my cup of tea. Worse if they have feathers on the bottom.
Emma Stone, she's so cute. The eye makeup threatens to run off and get back to Elvira, though.
OMG! An ad for SCIENTOLOGY! So far this is the most exciting part of the red carpet. Particularly since there is a scene with a prominently displayed Israeli flag. WTF? Creepy cult on prime time!
Glenn Close: Nice black velvet dress. Armani Prive. Totally elegant.
Reese Witherspoon should make better movies because she is good and adorable. Looking very pretty and grown up in a fabulous red dress.
Bryan Cranston looks like a wrinkled version of Ewan McGregor, which is not at all a bad thing.
Oooo Helen Mirren, she's having great work done to her face.
Sofia Vergara. She's hot, no? Despite the mermaid dress. I vote for retiring this tendency to the back of the closet.
Okay, this serious award ceremony is starting.

Jan 14, 2012


There is a lot of great material in this movie about Lisa Cohen, an Upper West Side teenager (Anna Paquin) who is partly responsible for a horrific bus accident. Margaret is a tough coming of age story in which Lisa, an entitled, over-articulate brat, learns her life lessons the hard way. The screenplay, by writer-director and playwright Kenneth Lonergan, has the intensity of good play. This is not your typical Sunday flick at the multiplex. It's the stuff of great theater: the complexity of moral behavior, the distance between people who are supposed to be close, the discrepancy between morality and legality, the cathartic power of drama. Plus arguments about 9/11, Israel and the Palestinians, and Shakespeare thrown in for good measure.
It's a very ambitious film.
On paper, morality is easy. Everyone knows exactly what to do in case it is required; but in reality, it is too stiff and unyielding for the infinite messiness of life. Lisa's painful passage from her self-aggrandizing adolescence to adulthood, in which she learns that things are not black and white, that there are compromises and decisions to be made, and that no one escapes unsullied, is the best theme in the movie. What is truly moral may not necessarily mean the best outcome. What is truly moral is to seek and accept the truth, and so Lisa discovers that life, to put it mildly, is tough.
The question is, why is this film so unruly? A story about how messy life is does not necessarily have to be a mess. Margaret has an expansive plot with a rich cast of characters. A lot of pleasure is to be gained from the generous inclusion of all the scenes Lonergan can't bring himself to part with, particularly since one gets to watch great actors like Allison Janney, J. Smith-Cameron. Jeannie Berlin, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Jean Reno and Matt Damon. But his lack of restraint eventually bogs down the movie. I kept wishing a ruthless editor would pare it down to the bone.
The audience is willing to suspend disbelief in Mark Ruffalo as a New York City bus driver who wears a cowboy hat on the job, which happens to be the kind of hat that Lisa is searching for, simply because the accident this provokes presents such a terrible moral dilemma. Who is to blame? And what is gained or lost by being truthful? To complicate matters, Lisa is a bit of a monster. She is snide and histrionic, a blatant manipulator, sexy and confused, needy and aloof, talks horribly to her mother (the great J. Smith-Cameron) is too intelligent for her own good; totally clueless, yet dead certain about her own righteousness. In short, a teenager.
Paquin does a heroic job juggling all that crazy, but she ends up giving you a headache, which could have been avoided with less scenes of her in hysterical teenage mode.  She has the audience's automatic sympathy from the start (she's like a female Hamlet). So it is dispiriting when, over two hours later, she has thoroughly worn out her welcome. I have a feeling that Paquin, who is not a teenager, was trying too hard to pass for one. She has their number down to the last grating mannerism, but she fails to achieve a subtle balance between Lisa's abrasiveness and her grace. The directing and editing don't help her.
I suspect Lonergan wanted the movie to feel as big and expansive as life, but as Margaret meandered from scene to scene, I kept thinking that it would make a better play, because the limitations of the stage would force him to pare down the scenes. As good as they are, many of the too talky for a movie, stagy scenes slow down the momentum that leads to Margaret's ultimately moving catharsis. 
It is worth comparing Margaret to the extraordinary Iranian film A Separation, which also deals, in a much more disciplined and polished style, with how a single human decision can tear into the fates of many people. A Separation is a masterpiece; Margaret is a diamond in the rough.

On DVD: The Future

I remember reading sundry reviews about this second movie by professional hipster Miranda July, all of them emphatically caveating how you had to endure a lot of twee, mumbling, pointless hipster anomie to finally come to some arty epiphany about the nature of time. Well, Marcel Proust this isn't. I tried, readers, to sit through this thing with an open mind, in the hopes that the epiphany would change my mind about Miranda July, only to stare in disbelief at the interminable sight of two fully competent adults (July and Hamish Linklater) deliberately behaving like childish retards.
The plot: These two live together, each fixated by his laptop. Their cat is very sick so they decide that when it dies, they will go their separate ways because the relationship is not working any more. They quit their jobs and pursue the most deliberately annoying version of carpe diem ever known to man. He volunteers for some kind of environmental organization where he accosts people by wearing a vest and holding a clipboard, and she has an affair with some guy who is, OMG, a normal. This they do by figuring out over the phone if they are actually staring at the same cloud. Of course, they have never spoken to one another before.
This is as much as I could take. If this is what it takes to receive an epiphany, I'd rather live in eternal darkness.
This new kind of pretentiousness, sprung from the precious heart of American hipsterism, makes me pine for the kind that at least has the guts to be pretentious, like Godard's or Jodorowsky's. Because at least those guys are having FUN. They have a blast throwing their intellectual superiority around. They know they know better. But this entitled, milquetoasty, whispery dreck will not even own up to it,  hiding instead behind talking cats, cute haircuts that could only possibly belong on Shirley Temple, and people who are so arty, they are incapable of articulating one sentence without breaking into spastic dance moves or staring wide eyed at their own quirks. They are so very hip that each word of of their mouths feels like it's going through an occluded birth canal. In this world, articulation and wit, charm and intelligence, and most importantly BALLS, or ovaries, if you insist on being politically correct, are out of fashion.
But Miranda July is not alone. This is some sort of aesthetic movement, and it raises some nagging questions: Is the idea behind the hipster/mumblecore aesthetic to present a precious, sensitive America to the world? An America so pure and misunderstood it breeds wallflowers and nerds instead of G.I. Joes? Do these people think that those who resent America and its power will be swayed by this ridiculous pretense of righteous innocence?

Jan 9, 2012

And My Nominees For Best Acting Are:

Best Actor

Michael Fassbender -- Shame
Viggo Mortensen - A Dangerous Method
John C. Reilly - Carnage/Cedar Rapids
Yvan Attal -- Rapt
Eddie Redmayne -- My Week with Marilyn
Jean Dujardin -- The Artist
Ryan Gosling -- The Ides of March

Best Supporting Actor

Kevin Spacey -- Margin Call
Corey Stoller -- Midnight in Paris
Robert Forster - The Descendants
Kenneth Branagh -- My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks -- Drive
Brian Cox - Coriolanus

Best Actress

Carey Mulligan -- Shame
Elizabeth Olsen -- Martha Marcy May Marlene
Kirsten Wiig -- Bridesmaids
Meryl Streep -- The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams -- My Week With Marilyn

Best Supporting Actress

Vanessa Redgrave - Coriolanus
Penelope Ann Miller -- The Artist
Sissy Spacek -- The Help
Octavia Spencer -- The Help
Jessica Chastain -- The Help
Sarah Paulson -- Martha Marcy May Marlene

Jan 8, 2012

The Devil Inside

Or The Curse of The Blair Witch Project. Ever since the surprising success of that seminal film, everybody wants to make a cheap horror movie that makes a lot of money. It's a good strategy: you shoot a horror story on a shaky video camera and pretend it's for real. This saves the producers tons of money, but it also helps with the scares and the word of mouth. Paranormal Activity followed a similar model. Things go bump in the night: let's turn on a video camera in the dark and see what happens. It worked. Scared the hell out of millions -- made gazillions at the box office. The Devil Inside attempts to follow the same logic, but it has one fatal flaw: it is perhaps the most egregious example of waste of a really good premise because of utterly terrible writing.
The writers have a good hook: What if during the course of an exorcism the demon transfers to someone else? Awesome idea. Scary as hell. What they have no concept of is drama, structure, or storytelling. What they wrote conspires to undermine the premise from the first second onscreen. Their biggest mistake is to frame the story as an already finished documentary on a case of demonic possession. This bleeds the story from any suspense. Things have already been decided by the main character, Isabella Rossi, (Fernanda Andrade, a pretty zero), before the movie begins.
First scene, we hear a 911 call from a woman announcing a triple murder, with subtitles in case we miss it. Then we hear her say she did it. Then they cut to the police investigation and the videotaping of the crime scene, where they show and tell us what already happened. No one seems to have any reaction to the grisly murders or the religious paraphernalia in the house. Then we see Isabella, who again tells the story of how her mother committed these murders in the course of her own exorcism. Then she says the same thing again to some doctor. It's numbingly boring. Isabella seems to be borderline autistic; she barely registers any cogent thoughts or feelings about her mother. I blame the writers, whose script sounds like it was written on a napkin by cocky but lazy junior high students.
It gets worse. The mother was sent (it is never explained how, or by who) to a mental hospital in Rome. This also happens outside the movie. So Isabella hires a young videographer who seems to suffer from Parkinson's and she DRIVES around in Rome (I thought this was preposterous: an American driving in Rome without the slightest sign of panic). She signs up for an EXORCISM school, that seems to accept, according to Isabella's helpful voiceover, people from all walks of life.
At school, she meets two rogue priests who perform exorcisms without the Church's permission. The two young priests, who have the bearing and the moral authority of two Williamsburg slackers (Max Von Sydow, they're not), actually ask her to come witness an exorcism so she can see if her mom is crazy or possessed. Nobody ever stops her from doing anything. The movie is full of missed opportunities, holes the size of craters, schematic characters with either no conflict or stupid conflicts, and plot threads that are brought up to be forgotten, like for instance, the poor bedeviled mother.
Now, the saddest thing about this movie (besides the fact that it made $34.5 million this weekend) is that buried among the stretches of dead time and inane arguments, there are two or three very good moments. Writer-director William Brent Bell has a wonderful conception of how victims of possession look like, and how they suffer. No green goo and cheesy effects. The possessed are clearly people in torment, and their bodily torture is very realistic and scary. Suzan Crowley, the woman who plays Isabella's mother, is absolutely fantastic in her very thankless role. She is scary, creepy (with the aid of very well done voices), but she manages to be human and convincing and not ridiculously over the top (like say, Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method). The scene where Isabella sees her mother for the first time in 20 years, as badly written as it is, made the audience stop fidgeting, texting, and talking amongst themselves, and I believe it is entirely because of this actress' incredible performance. A scene where a young woman gets exorcised is a long stretch of agony, but very well done, with the aid of an actress who must be a contortionist.  (It's always women who get possessed by demons. Why?) The priests may look like video store clerks but the lack of pomposity and artifice in the exorcisms is effective and refreshing.
The use of video camera effects was a little tiresome, but the use of special effects was judicious and very well applied. The scariest jump in the film is simply a guy who is sitting on a chair and then he's not. Great creepy details, like the eye of Isabella's mother looking at us through the monitor, when she is clearly looking at the ceiling. There is an audacious scene at a baby's baptism that is truly shocking. These things made the audience look back from whatever it was they were doing on the long stretches of pointless stuff not happening.
Credit must also be given to cinematographer Gonzalo Amat (full disclosure: he is a dear friend), who while, too generous by far with the camera's shakiness, he also creates some creepy, interesting images with very cool framing, and milks the lo-fi quality of video to the utmost benefit of the scary scenes.
I would love producers to declare a moratorium on the cheap video look, but to judge from opening weekend box office, we are surely cursed with more of the same for eternity. I hope that when they do the inevitable sequel, they write a better script and apologize to paying audiences for probably one of the worst endings ever to appear on a movie screen.
The Saturday night New York audience I saw the movie with, actually loudly booed the ending. And these were not fans of Ingmar Bergman. People were truly pissed off. I heard a girl say "these writers suck". Perhaps the filmmakers and producers are laughing all the way to the bank, but I would not be surprised if bad word of mouth lowers the numbers next week. On top of shoddy, padded writing, and the lack of a conclusion, an end title urges us to find out "the truth" at some website.
This is getting old.