Saturday, March 06, 2010

More Movies Without Melissa

Once again, some flicks I've been taking in on my own lately, mostly from four days I spent keeping half an eye on a bunch of students at a Model United Nations conference in St. Louis the week before last, but some just when I stayed up late after my wife crashed early with a headache.

48 Hrs.: how could I have missed this one for so many years? Not quite as fun as some of the buddy-cop films which followed in its wake, but better than more than a few others. Walter Hill's penchant for abrupt violence that really doesn't square with the film built around those set pieces is on good display (I'm thinking of the pointlessly long fist fight between Murphy and Nolte in particular), but overall, a hell of a fun flick. I'd seen Murphy's infamous "I'm a nigger with a badge!" scene before, but it was good to see the whole thing in context.

The Barbarian Invasions: an engaging drama, but most of its time was spent on the film's least engaging characters. Rémy is a fun character to watch, especially for academics like me, but the real intelligence, drama, and humor of the film is to be found in his son Dominique's manipulation of, and comments upon, issues of life and health and death in Quebec. I would have happily traded twenty minutes of tired, irony-drenched ruminations by Rémy's friends about their sex lives for just five more minutes with the hospital administrator who indignantly insists--just before accepting a bribe--that Canada is "not a third world country."

Barbarians at the Gate: an HBO film from the early 90s, long before the success of The Sopranos and all the rest raised their aspirations. Basically just a smart, well-made, tv movie, but it's certainly a much better filmed tale of Wall Street greed than the atrocious adaptation of The Bonfire of the Vanities (which, in a nice touch, Laurie Johnson, RJ Nabisco bigwig F. Ross Johnson's wife, is seen reading in several scenes). And, of course, watching James Garner chewing the scenery is always a pleasure.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop: another film based, in part, in Quebec, this one strongly recommended by Jacob Levy. And I agree; a good buddy-cop flick, better than 48 Hrs., in fact. But even given buddy-cop conventions, I found myself very curious about how the film's strange mix of in-some-ways-predictable, in-some-ways-surprising, stereotypes played out for home audiences. I mean, the genre is hardly an enlightened one, but I didn't expect a film out of Canada to portray every single woman on screen as either a helpless incompetent, a whiner and a screamer, or as desperately desiring to sleep with one of the two main characters. Maybe Canadians really are Americans after all.

Brokeback Mountain: a very good film; I'm glad I finally saw it. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and everything that was said about Heath Ledger's terrific portrayal of the emotionally stunted, deeply confused Ennis Del Mar is correct. As I seem to recall several people observing at the time, it's not actually that much of a gay movie; there were only a few scenes where the fact that the two star-crossed lovers were men took on truly serious narrative significance. Frustrating that so much hand-wringing was elicited for such a basically straightforward drama.

I'm Not There: I'm sorry, but I call this one a failure. I suppose I can understand what Todd Haynes was trying to do, but I simply couldn't relate to any of the different characters which they come up with as...what do you want to call them? Avatars of Bob Dylan? Whatever. I don't need an ordinary biopic, and I don't mind using his music itself as a frame for the story, but for heaven's sake, put a story on screen...and if you're not, make it stylized and self-referential enough to be interesting in how it tells itself. But this film was neither. I hope Bob Dylan himself doesn't approve of these kind of misbegotten hagiographies; I'll think less of him if he does.

Klute: it's a crime that I've not seen this before: a first-rate thriller and a wonderful study of two finely written and performed characters. Jane Fonda's Bree Daniels isn't particularly sexy, but is rather compelling in her charisma and self-confidence, which works perfectly, making her struggle against falling in love with Donald Sutherland's John Klute that much more believable and forceful. And as for Klute himself--man, what a creation. The perfect smart, loyal, 1971 middle-aged buttoned-down straight man; you can imagine his whole life one of patiently, wisely, watching and waiting, perfectly capable of dealing any situation that came his way. I'd love to image Klute meeting Harry Caul from The Conversation.

Nobody's Fool: a very slight story, really, without nearly enough narrative oomph to make me care all that much about the fate of any of the characters. But the characters themselves...man, what a well-acted bunch. There's not a false note in the whole film. The way that Paul Newman's Sully gets distracted at his old house, has to be reminded that he's supposed to be watching his grandson Will by his miserable boss, takes his grandson home to his estranged son Peter and tries to make it up to him: the whole thing is quiet, and may not add up to much, but every note of it rings tragically true.

The Rookie: not my usual sort of film, but I'm more than willing to check out feel-good films on occasion, the same way I sometimes like movies about animals and little kids. In this case, every step in this inspirational Disney flick was predictable, but some of the steps were worth a look. Long ago, I interviewed for a job in that part of Texas, and drove out there with a friend from Dallas; the scenes with Dennis Quaid practicing his pitch over and over again in an empty field captures the lonely, plain beauty of those stretches of country pretty well.

An Unreasonable Man: hey, I make no apologies (partly because I've made them before)--I like Ralph Nader (more evidence here and here). I recognize that he's often self-righteousness, frequently narrow-minded, that he holds grudges, seems to lack much appreciation for any of the context of the work he and his staffers have done for decades, and that he's probably mainly operating off spite and pride these days. Meaning...what? That his enormous legislation accomplishments should be dismissed? That he isn't fundamentally correct about the relationships between corporations and democratic citizenship? I don't think so. And this film puts all that into balance. Of course, I doubt that most of those who pulled their hair out over Nader back in 2000 would consider the movie to be a "fair" treatment of Nader's impact, but as I saw it, it didn't shy at all away from his monomania, and it gave plenty of air time to those who are convinced that Nader stole the 2000 election from Gore (despite conclusive data to the contrary). The movie's controlling thesis was that Nader is an admirable, "unreasonable," man, and it proves its case well.

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