Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 April 2006

Big News

Next Weekend I'm Doing This:

Buongiorno, Notte

This morning's cinematic adventure was an Italian film by Marco Bellocchio called Good Morning, Night. It's a very good movie about a terrorist kidnapping/would-be-assassination in 1978 Italy. I'm not sure if the real event is well known: I know next-to-nothing about contemporary Italian politics, and much less about the Italian political situation in the 1970's. Good Morning, Night approaches the story of this kidnapping through the point of view of one of the kidnappers—a female, played by Maya Sansa. She's wonderful in the film and her story expresses a fascinating conflict in the mind of the revolutionary. Good Morning, Night, in fact, is the film about terrorism that Munich wishes it were. It tackles the goals and ideals of the revolutionaries/radicals and weighs them against the cost of human life paid in order to exact political change. It's a fascinating drama with a lot of really excellent performances.

29 April 2006

Hijackings and Fighting Back

United 93 is the must see movie of the weekend. I saw it tonight and I can say that I found it intensely moving, gripping, totally engrossing and very respectful. There are no movie stars. It's unsentimental. And it's harrowing and terrifying and completely fucking awesome.

I'm not going to talk about it anymore tonight. Maybe tomorrow.

27 April 2006

Blog-a-thon: the Fabulous Michelle Pfeiffer

In celebration of the birthday of the ultimate screen siren and one of the most beautiful women in the world, Nathaniel R over at The Film Experience has called for a blog-a-thon. So today, this blog is devoted to Nathaniel's obsession: Michelle Pfeiffer. In honor of the day, I rented two Michelle Pfeiffer movies that I, somehow, had never caught.

The Witches of Eastwick is a wicked, delicious comedy about three women who, unbeknownst to them, possess significant magical powers. One (drunken) evening, the three women (Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher & Susan Sarandon) conjure up the man of their dreams and lo and behold, who arrives in town but the man of their dreams in the person of Jack Nicholson (crazily over-the-top and sporting a bizarre-looking ponytail--it was 1987). Hilarity ensues. Jack seduces each of the women in turn and the four begin to form a sort of insane family. Meanwhile, the townspeople begin to talk, as townspeople do, and they find plenty of grist for their rumor mill in the ménage à quatre in the mansion on the hill. The whole film is strange, to be honest. It possesses a cartoonish mood in which it rather enjoys reveling, but when it tries to shake the mood, it doesn't quite succeed... or maybe director George Miller wasn't trying to shake the mood at all and it is I who am confused. There is a horrifying scene where the witches cause the leader of the gossip queens in town—a psycho-hose-beast religious wacko played by Veronica Cartwright—to vomit up cherry pits. I love the concept behind the scene (just typing it makes me laugh), but the director doesn't have enough of a grasp on the audience for it to work. He hasn't spelled out what's funny and what isn't and so we don't know whether to laugh or cringe. It's okay if it's both, but not okay if he hasn't given us permission to laugh, and I don't think he has.

Pfeiffer is great in The Witches of Eastwick: the perfect innocent who blossoms into a powerful woman and courageous lover before our eyes. Susan Sarandon performs a similar character shift in the film, but with Pfeiffer it feels honest and believable, never cartoonish or ridiculous but totally natural: as though you never noticed that side of her before, but it must have been there all the time.

Last night's selection was Tequila Sunrise, written and directed by the legendary Robert Towne and starring La Pfeiffer, Mel Gibson (while he was still very hot), Kurt Russell and Raul Julia. It's a talky crime thriller of the kind that were popular in the late 1980's (drug-running, friendship, femmes fatale: you get the idea.) Mel & Kurt are old friends from high school, and have kept in touch for years, but Mel is a retired drug dealer and Kurt was just promoted to head of the narcotics division of the City of Los Angeles. Enter Michelle Pfeiffer: and the entrance is cool, too. We don't see her at first. Mel is busy doing some drug-related business in a hotel and then running away from the cops, but he stops to confirm his reservation at a restaurant and on the other line of the pay phone, we hear the voice of Michelle Pfeiffer. And she's a total pro. There's no way not to totally lust after Mel Gibson in this movie, and he's upstanding and honest and lovable, but Pfeiffer has all of the plum lines. At one point she says to Kurt Russell: "You need some chapstick or lip gloss or something? Because your lips keep getting stuck on your teeth. Or is that your idea of a smile?" Totally badass. Her big scene in Act III of the film is great too, but I won't spoil that, because I think Tequila Sunrise is really worth watching. In addition to Pfeiffer and Gibson looking gorgeous, Conrad Hall's cinematography is great and Towne's script—while it isn't Chinatown—contains some real zingers.

The main problem with the film is that it isn't hardcore enough, really. It's too PG-13 and not enough real punch: a good thriller should scare me a little more than this one did.

For a real Pfeiffer-pfest, rent Married to the Mob or The Fabulous Baker Boys or Dangerous Liaisons or my most recent personal favorite What Lies Beneath. It's all Pfeiffer, all the time.

Michelle Pfeiffer turns forty-eight on Saturday and she will finally be returning to a theatre near you in late July after a four year absence. So spend the day with La Pfeiffer, head over to Blog-a-thon HQ (i.e. Nathaniel's blog) and visit some of the other (30+) blogs participating in today's festivities.

26 April 2006

Not What You'd Expect

No one I've spoken with likes Thank You for Smoking. It got rather uniformly good-but-not-overly-excited reviews, but I expected it to connect with the people in my social circle(s) and it kind of hasn't. This, of course, doesn't mean I won't like it. Comedy is a funny thing (ha ha) and my sense of humor is not exactly mainstream. (I'm thinking of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a movie that apparently no one thought was funny except for me.) Anyhow, I've been having a blasé attitude about the film and now I'm feeling even more disinterested.

And now, all of a sudden and out of the blue, everyone I know is talking about Everything Is Illuminated. Now, I saw the trailer for this film at least fifteen times last year and the more I saw it the sillier the movie looked to me. But everyone apparently saw this movie last week because it keeps popping up in conversations I've had this week. And everyone is saying how much they loved it and how funny it was. It doesn't take much of that for me to start feeling as though I am missing out.
...I added it to the Netflix queue.

I'm still really sick over here. I'm going in to work tomorrow, though. I just can't bear sitting at home all day when I could be earning money. Anyway, I bought some Sudafed at the grocery and I'm feeling like I've started to win in the war against this cold. Oh yeah, and I totally dodged a bullet with the satellite dish people. I felt the urge to call and cancel the service (that I do not watch at all) this evening and whaddya know: I'm paid up through April 27th. So I canceled my service as of right-this-minute and now I don't owe them a damn thing: no monthly payments at all. And they're sending me some boxes to ship them back their equipment. So nice.

Boys' Life is opening in, like, ten seconds, by the way, and I'm starting to feel, um, a tad—shall we say... anxious. It's just normal nervousness, of course. Surprisingly, the show looks really good and the direction is not too bad. Brittney and I titled her one-woman show tonight, too. It's going to be called My Mother's Voice Set Me Free. Isn't that a fun title? I think it has a sense of history to it, as well as a sort of rebellious, leftist feel to it. Tonight we worked on this monologue from Pterodactyls by Nicky Silver and I'm starting to get really excited about the material we've chosen for this. All of the pieces are very different from one another and very few of them are popular, well-worn monologues: most of the pieces are new and interesting and sort of virgin. The only two well-known pieces are Betty's monologue from Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9 and Georgeanne from Alan Ball's Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.

I had something else to tell you...


Oh. It belongs in a longer post: a kind of rumination on my talents (and drawbacks) as a director. Anyway.

Good night, friends.

Ill at Ease

I wish I were not sick, but there it is. My roommate's home sick, too. We're keeping out of one another's way, as usual, and I'm in my room alternately reading and sleeping. I would watch a movie, but I don't think I'd be able to follow it very well. Grr. I'm NEVER sick. Maybe I'll pay some bills.

24 April 2006

Sons and Lovers

If you've never seen a movie at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theatre on Wilshire, you really ought to look into it. Go here for details. The movies are normally around once a week. The prints are the best available (usually newly restored, beautiful-looking things), tickets are a mere $5.00, parking is free, and the film is always accompanied by at least one very good short film as well as interviews and appearances by filmmakers involved in the evening's film. It's such a nice evening. Check it out. The current series is Monday nights at 7:00p. Upcoming films include Judgment at Nuremberg, Doctor Zhivago, The Exorcist, Barry Lyndon, Network, Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown and Mary Poppins.

This evening I saw Jack Cardiff's Sons and Lovers (based on the D.H. Lawrence novel). It was alright: mostly an okay adaptation. Some of the filmmaking is a little silly (closeups in odd places and way-too-sentimental scoring). But the movie has some really good performances too. Dame Wendy Hiller is a bit overdone as the hero's overbearing and controlling mother, but Trevor Howard is just right and heartbreaking as the father. Dean Stockwell (very attractive in his younger days) is fine. The British actress Mary Ure gives an excellent performance as Stockwell's love interest.
It's a film i wouldn't have seen for years if not for the Academy. That's another thing about the Academy's screenings: often I am able to see films I had no other way of seeing: movies not on DVD and unavailable at Hollywood Video.

20 April 2006

Much-Needed Vacation

I am off to Vegas, dear readers. I shall return on Sunday with the dawning of the new week.

I'm like Mary Poppins but with better shoes.

(I need to return sooner rather than later, too. I've got a Boys' Life rehearsal on Sunday and I want to watch Tequila Sunrise & The Witches of Eastwick before the big blogathon on the 29th.)

Anyway. I'm off. Catch y'all later.

19 April 2006

Really Good Theatre

I saw Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi at A Noise Within in Glendale this evening and I can say unequivocally that the show is totally brilliant. You really ought to go see this show. Tickets are a little pricey ($32.00) but the show is well worth the money. It's brilliantly directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and the company is really outstanding. Hilarious throughout, wonderfully satirical and appropriately disgusting. I cannot encourage you enough to go catch this. We should all see good theatre as often as possible, and it's not often possible. Go when you have the chance!

Illegal Immigration

This morning there was a completely asinine article on KPCC about the semantics of the immigration debate in this country. Now, they aired a commentary by Nicole Nelson on the same station on June 6th of last year that covered (more or less) the same topic, and I thought that was a well thought-out and nice bit of opinion, but today's article had me pissed. If you didn't hear it, I don't know what to tell you because I'm having an inept time at the computer this evening and I can't find a link. Anyway, the gist of the article was an exploration of the words we use to describe Mexicans who come to the United States without following proper immigration channels. The phrases they specifically looked at were "illegal alien," "undocumented immigrant," "migrant worker" and various combinations of these.

Now, on the immigration debate, I think I have a sort of typical liberal stance. I have no particular problem with amnesty or some kind of amnesty program. I think any nutjob in the House of Representatives who wants to round people up and separate families is on total crack. I do think we need better border security, but I don't see why we don't welcome people to our country. "This country was built and made strong by immigrants" and all that jazz. But this is neither here nor there, because, the KPCC article wasn't interested in discussing issues but was interested in discussing the semantics of the issues.

I feel like "undocumented immigrant" and "undocumented migrant worker" are both nice, useful phrases that have a liberal bend but are also accurate.

I understand why a phrase like "illegal alien" would be upsetting to people, but when I think about it, the phrase "illegal alien" is just as apt as "undocumented worker." The immigrants we are discussing are here, in actual fact, illegally. So, the phrase is correct, right? The people we are discussing are, in fact, aliens, as well: a strange people in a strange land, to borrow from the Bible. And then I think, "Why do people find this phrase in particular so inflammatory?"
I would venture that the answer is that "illegal alien" sounds bad. After years and years, the phrase "illegal aliens" has come to be synonymous with invaders, criminals, people stealing the jobs of Americans, etc. etc. An illegal alien is somebody we know: somebody we recognize but don't. Illegal aliens are the enemy.
But undocumented immigrants: you don't know those people that well, but they're good to get to know. Let's keep out those illegal aliens, but let's all open our arms to the undocumented migrant workers! This is spin, plain and simple. And it's spin from the left. Illegal aliens, undocumented workers: we're all talking about the same thing. These are the same people who want a better life and want to work hard and who broke this country's laws to come here to do those things. They are illegal aliens and they are undocumented immigrants. And who cares what we call them, what we need to do is stop talking about them as though they were something foreign to us: something we don't understand and people we don't know. These people are in our community. They are a part of it and contribute to our societies. The spin has got to go, though. It's not at issue and this debate is more important than the little buzz-words we coin to make things sound better or worse than they are.

17 April 2006

This Week Started Off Right

I feel great today. Maybe it's the fact that I'LL BE IN LAS VEGAS ON FRIDAY.

Rehearsal went well again tonight. I'm rehearsing the one-woman show tomorrow. I'm seeing Ubu Roi on Wednesday, and then on Thursday night it's off to the city of sin.

I have to skip the screening of Renoir's The River on Wednesday, but it isn't the end of the world, and I've decided to go to see Jack Cardiff's Sons and Lovers next Monday at the Academy anyway. So... that sort of makes up for things.

In other news... nothing.

16 April 2006

Noir, Neo-Noir & More Coming-of-Age

I liked Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol a lot better than I liked The Third Man (which he made a year later in 1949), and I would venture to say the reason is that I think it's a better piece of film noir than The Third Man is. Sure, The Third Man is about murder and intrigue in post-war Europe and all kinds of consulates and things like that, and The Fallen Idol is really the story of a little boy's attachment to a servant, Mr. Baines. But as I complained about before, The Third Man isn't really in black and white: it's a gray film more than anything, if you get my meaning. And though the topic of The Fallen Idol is less typically noir than you'd expect, Reed shoots entire, riveting sequences like a master of German Expressionism. The plot, too, becomes more and more gothic as the film plays on and a true villain emerges in the form of the evil Mrs. Baines.

I saw The Fallen Idol in its limited re-release down at the Rialto theatre yesterday afternoon, and though I thought the sound quality left quite a lot to be desired, the movie is great: exciting, never obvious and definitely thrilling. And because the center of the film is an irritating, unpredictable young man with good intentions to burn, one never knows what will come out of the little tyke's mouth and how much damage he can do.

Then it was off to see Rian Johnson's debut feature Brick, about which I've already raved. I wanted to add one thing, though. I read (was it in the L. A. Times?) a review that called Brick long on style and panache but extremely short on substance. I totally disagree with this, and I don't think I would've liked the picture as much if it had been true. (I do love movies solely because of style, but there aren't too many of them.) At Brick's noir-ish center is a group of young people who don't care one solitary bit about education, but who, in a godless world, are looking for a way to become important, to make their lives matter. Brick is a portrait of often drug-addicted, always self-important youth who establish hierarchies among themselves and move in circles of their own creation. Authority is always in question and re-negotiated on a daily basis through means violent, intellectual and monetary. But the motivating purpose behind these young people, we find by the film's end, is a desire to last longer: immortality through parenthood and/or the creation of a legacy (biological or not.) It's a fabulous film, definitely long on style and panache, but also a fascinating description of America's youth.

This morning's movie was Louis Malle's 1971 Le Souffle a Cœur (Murmur of the Heart). It was alright. Challenging, I suppose, in it's day, but more coming-of-age stuff... and to tell you the truth I'm a little burned out on that. Plus it's all about sex. Sex, sex, sex. Which is interesting, to be sure, but it's Louis Malle, so it's heterosexual sex. Which, I am bound to say, is rarely interesting to me. The film is similar in subject to last year's Ma Mère, and Murmur of the Heart is far superior to that film, though that really isn't saying much at all.

Go See This Movie

Do not miss Brick. It's Rian Johnson's neo-noir debut feature and it's the coolest thing I've seen so far this year. It has just the right amount of irony and more witty dialogue than I could wrap my head around. I was laughing unapologetically in the theatre and so was the rest of the crowd. Brick is just right for gen X-ers who've seen more than a few films, but even if you don't fall into this category, I would bet no small amount of jake that you'll think Brick is almost too cool for its own good. But not.

So awesome. Go see it.

Brick stars Joseph-Gordon Levitt (so good these days—did you catch Mysterious Skin) and Lukas Haas ("The pin. Older. Like, twenty-six.") I shelled out $9.00 and saw it at my local multiplex, so it's not just an art-house thing. Go. Seriously.

15 April 2006

Hope and Glory

John Boorman's 1987 film Hope and Glory is a fabulous movie that I enjoyed from start to finish. It's about a young British boy who is left to his own devices during the summer in World War II when Hitler was carpet bombing England. It's full of whimsical explorations and serious musings about life, patriotism and war. A lot of it is tongue-in-cheek and yet so much of it is grave and powerful. It's really a movie of two minds, but it's a special, child's view of war that is never treacly or irritating (like Life Is Beautiful) and the rewards of the film are great. Boorman is able to capture the essence of family: all the fighting and difficulty though fierce bonds exist and the magic that is present in everyday life, even in difficult circumstances. Hope and Glory is thoroughly charming and boasts some wonderful performances.

This seeing-things-through-the-eyes-of-a-young-boy theme was very prevalent in 1987 when Hope and Glory came out. I was just looking at a list: Empire of the Sun, The Last Emperor, Radio Days, Au Revoir les Enfants and My Life as a Dog all came out that year. I know tons of other stuff came out that year, too: Moonstruck and Full Metal Jacket and RoboCop and The Untouchables and all that, but I think it's worth mentioning that six films about looking at things as children came out in 1987. Some kind of universal consciousness thing.

At any rate, as much as I love those other films, I think Hope and Glory is different from them in significant and interesting ways. I think it finds something rarely seen in cinema: magic in everyday existence and the fleeting nature of happiness (and pain) in a life absolutely chock-full of events worth remembering. Highly recommended.

13 April 2006

From the IMDB

A bit of news for the late evening:
Actor Chad Michael Murray has slammed reports his 18-year-old fiancée is pregnant, insisting the couple are getting married because they are in love. The "One Tree Hill" star announced his engagement to Kenzie Dalton, a high school student, last week. Murray, 24, wed his "One Tree Hill" co-star Sophia Bush last year and the couple separated last September. Bush filed for an annulment in February, on grounds of fraud and their divorce has not been finalized. When asked by People magazine if the rumors of pregnancy were true, Murray says, "Definitely not." Dalton's motherJeannie confirms the couple are "crazy for one another." The pair have not made any final wedding plans, but Murray says he is determined to have a long-lasting relationship this time around. He adds, "[All I want is] to be 80-years-old and to have been married for 50 years and still be so in love."

Does this report really say that Chad Michael Murray's girlfriend is still in high school? This is brilliant.

Thursday Morning Post

Tonight I'm baking cookies. One of my groups of friends is having a big going away party for our friend John who's moving to Seattle for, like, ever. As usual, I've been asked to bake. So... cookies. Big house parties with kegs at them don't need cake and plates and forks and candles and all that.

I asked the roommate to clean his room in preparation for the big sale... he said he'd work on it. I was a little nervous about asking him in the first place. I mean, we never argue or anything like that, but mostly I think that's because I never ask him to do anything. We don't share responsibilities at all, you know?

And after Brittney and I rehearsed last night, we went to Borders. I just can't stay away from shopping. I have no money, mind you but I just felt like buying a book... or two. (And this month the HR manager at work is on vacation during payroll, so we're not getting paid for our overtime until the end of the month. It's a lot of money for me and I kind of needed it, but we didn't really have any say. I guess it's okay.)

Perhaps I'll watch a movie tonight between batches of cookies. I have John Boorman's Hope and Glory at home right now. And I think Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart.

Oh yeah, and a long discussion with a friend about religion last night, too. I'm okay with discussing religion for a while. She was grateful to talk about it with me. But the thing is: I think it's dumb. Having a set of beliefs for your life is great. I totally support that. And having specific practices you do for your own spiritual welfare is great, too. But if you mention god and you mean a specific singular being, you lose me. Ditto any discussion of Heaven and the great get-together in the sky. I mean, I can listen without cringing, and I don't think you're an idiot or anything like that, but I can't follow the conversation in the same way. Because now it's based on something I consider wholly untrue and rather silly.
I think Maddie was a little mad at me about this. I was totally kind about the whole thing and I tried to be very understanding to what she was saying, but I think her feelings were a little hurt, like she thinks I think she's a moron and for that she thinks I'm a jerk.

11 April 2006

News Item

From the Associated Press this morning:
An 82-year-old woman received a $114 ticket for taking too long to cross a street. Mayvis Coyle said she began shuffling with her cane across Foothill Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley when the light was green, but was unable to make it to the other side before it turned red.

She said the motorcycle officer who ticketed her on Feb. 15 told her she was obstructing traffic.

09 April 2006

I Want to Run

I'm feeling antsy. Whenever I have no money I feel antsy. I ranted the other day about feeling like all my time was used up already though it's not even here yet. That's still happening in my head, too. It's all the rehearsal time I've scheduled that does that to me. It's okay: it's good, really, but I feel like I want to spend a day lounging somewhere, or have someone take me somewhere and not worry for a day.

I've said before that I like to take my days slowly on the weekends, and that just hasn't been happening lately. I run all over town during the week and recently I've been doing that on the weekends, too. I went to my friend Wahima's show, For Colored Girls... at the Stella Adler today. It was supposed to start at 3:00p, but it didn't start until 3:40p, so I ducked out at intermission. I felt like a total heel, but I had to be in West Los Angeles by 6:00p and I didn't even get out of the Hollywood & Highland complex until five minutes to five, so I guess it was smart. I would've had to duck out fifteen minutes into Act Two if I had stayed anyway.

Yesterday I finally watched Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Everyone else has already seen this, right? It's basically a four-handed film about an (Ohio?) couple played by Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher, her sister (and his mistress) played by Laura San Giacomo, as well as a handsome stranger played by James Spader, who masturbates to videotapes of women talking about sex. My reaction to the film is that it starts off well: there's an interesting discussion early on about garbage and where it will all eventually go, but quickly becomes a regular ol' family melodrama with not much to add to the discussion about unsatisfying sex and boredom among married heterosexual suburbanites. It was okay, I guess, but not really either erotic or shocking.

And this morning I watched Fred Zinnemann's The Nun's Story with Audrey Hepburn, which is basically two and a half hours of fucking boredom. Peter Finch is good; unfortunately he only graces the picture for about 45 minutes. The rest of it just drags. It's supposed to be about trying to attain perfection through obedience and "one woman's struggle with her own conscience when it conflicts with authority." But the Audrey Hepburn character is completely inscrutable and hardly any decision she makes makes any sense. And, frankly, it's really hard to root for someone whose motives I never remotely understand. There's some kind of tree metaphor throughout, as well, that I just didn't get. The mother superior said one thing that made me sort of grunt in my seat, though, and I'll leave you with this:

"The more we are asked to set an example, the better examples we become." I think about this a lot and I totally agree.

Alright. Off to bed.

08 April 2006

Today Is the Day It Begins

No movie this morning. I cleaned (i.e. threw away junk en masse that I've been keeping for no apparent reason) last night and then I woke up again this morning to clean. My brother was over this morning to show the condo to a friend of his. (He kindly brought me a foam-free hazelnut latté of the venti variety.)

I am baking a cake today, as well... and doing laundry... and I need to get keys made to show the house... and I need to pick up my dry cleaning. And I should throw away some more junk too, come to think of it.

...Maybe I can watch a movie in the afternoon at some point.

These weekends with stuff to do are so... well, planned, I guess. In reality, I want to have nothing at all to do for the evenings and then decide what to do at, like, 5:00.

06 April 2006

The World of Apu

Cut out my heart. Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu is the third part of his Apu Trilogy, and I finally watched it this evening. (I watched Part Two on 2/11/06, i.e. a long-ass time ago.) Satyajit Ray is a brilliant man, I've decided. I mean, I guess the world doesn't really need me to add my praise to the loads of adulation he has received as a filmmaker, but this movie (and the trilogy as a whole) is so uncompromising and powerful. I'm too tired to really talk about this, and the movies are kind of draining because they are so effective and heartfelt, but I did finally finish this masterwork and I feel profoundly effected by Ray's storytelling and vision.

The films are in Bengali and have been restored through the efforts of The Merchant and Ivory Foundation as well as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. The picture on the DVD's is still quite grainy and the image sometimes jumps. The movies are totally worth the sub-par picture quality, and I gather getting images even this clear was quite the ordeal for the restoration team. If you haven't seen Part One of this trilogy (Pather Panchali) you ought to add it to your Netflix queue tout suite.

04 April 2006

Three More Foreign Films

Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film this year, is a film made in the Palestinian Territories and is about (surprise, surprise) the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Not that it's not an important topic or anything; I certainly think it is a topic worth exploring, but it wasn't explored well with Munich and it wasn't explored well with Paradise Now. The Palestinian film is a better film in a lot of ways because it takes a single idea (i.e. suicide terrorism) and attacks the issue from as many sides as it can. (Munich tries to attack myriad more issues but fails to deal with any of them.) Paradise Now bit off only a little bit and is able to chew on it well. This is also the problem with the movie: it has nothing to add to what we know about either suicide terrorism or the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The main characters also become unrecognizable halfway through the film and the disconnect that this provided me with was insurmountable. The Palestinian men I met at the beginning of the film were totally different people from the suicide bombers who end the film; for me this makes the film incapable of emotional resonance. And with nothing new to add to the discussion and very little emotional weight, Paradise Now just didn't work for me.

Mikael Håfström's Evil was released in Sweden in 2003. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004 (a shock, really), and though most films with a nomination like that are basically guaranteed a U.S. release (art-house-type movie-goers will spend money to see the movie if it has a Foreign Language nomination), Evil wasn't released in the U.S. until four weeks ago. Last Friday it was finally released in Los Angeles. The movie is about violence and the evil (and good, but mostly evil) that violence can bring. It's a very interesting film if you just think about the violence in the picture. The characters are interesting, the hero is extremely easy to root for and very likable, but the plot is downright ludicrous. A very violent young teenager is sent away to a prep school where the students (not the teachers) keep order and discipline throughout the school. They do this through disproportionately violent means (i.e. making a student's head bleed for saying "ass" at the dinner table.) Our hero (the violent young man, whom we've come to like and trust) is thrust into this environment but simply refuses to be bullied. His life is then made a living Hell by the upperclassmen. Håfström's film would have been a lot better if it didn't ask us to believe in this school as a real place: I mean, if he created a mythical school where this violence could occur. His focus is, after all, the violence inherent in youth interaction, and so why spend so much time displaying the injustice of the adults in the situation—when the situation is clearly fictional? Ludicrous plot aside, I quite liked Evil. I loved the main character (and the actor, Andreas Wilson) and I'm a sucker for coming-of-age stories... and violence. I find explorations of violence in cinema endlessly fascinating (Oldboy, A History of Violence, you get the idea.)

After watching Paradise Now, last night, I headed to the Laemmle's Playhouse to see the Dardenne Brothers' most recent, Palme-d'Or-winning film, L'Enfant, which is so damn good. It's not quite as good as The Son, in my opinion, but I think that mainly owes to my preferred interest in the subject matter of The Son over L'Enfant. L'Enfant follows the story of Bruno, a young petty thief and new father. His girlfriend Sonia has just given birth (mere days earlier) to their son Jimmy. After spending very little time with the boy, Bruno decides (without the mother's consent, naturally) to sell his child on the black market. This is easily done (Bruno knows the right kind of people), but Bruno hasn't considered the consequences of his actions at all. The title, The Child, we come to realize, refers not only to the little baby in Sonia's arms, but to his father as well. Bruno is an impetuous, unthinking, selfish young man, for whom the word "irresponsible" would be a gross understatement. The Dardennes (who are obviously master filmmakers) leave their camera focused unflinchingly on Bruno and explore his world with sensitivity and amazing emotional power. I highly recommend this film.

02 April 2006

My Weekend Died.

I did see my minimum two movies this weekend: this morning's screening was Saw Wood's Kitty Foyle and yesterday I caught Patrice Chéreau's Son Frère. But most of the weekend was spent plumbing. A shame, too, because there are a lot of movies in the theatre that I want to see right about now. So many. It's a little frustrating, but, I am the one who has chosen this rehearsal schedule (i.e. Sunday-Wednesday) and I am the one who fills the non-rehearsal time with non-cinematic things like doing people's tax returns and attending the theatre.

I saw iWitness at the Taper on Thursday night, by the way. It's really just a World War II A Man for All Seasons, but way less compelling and more boring than anything else. It's nicely directed, but mostly the material just isn't revelatory in any way. Three things about the show, though. First, the floor of the set was made up of this metallic grid on which the actors walked bare-footed for a good deal of the time. I was so uncomfortable with this and so worried for the safety of the performers that at times I couldn't pay attention to the show itself, so rapt with attention was I on the possibility of their feet turning into hamburger. Second, Seamus Dever gives a really wonderful supporting performance. It's award-worthy stuff: wonderfully comic, and always fascinating. I saw (and loved) Dever in a play called Pera Palas at the Boston Court Theatre some months ago. He's also a member of the Antaeus Company. He's really a fabulous actor. Be on the lookout for his work. Third, I'm happy that directors and playwrights are feeling more and more comfortable with the lengthy one-act form. I know we as audiences are trained to prepare ourselves for the intermission, but I think it's fine to announce that there will be no intermission at the beginning and then proceed with the story. We sit at the movies for two hours. We can all stand two hours of uninterrupted theatre. (My real point here is that I'm glad that not all dramatists are feeling the constraints of the two-act form. It's very nice to see some theatre practitioners deviate from it.

Sam Wood's Kitty Foyle was mostly dumb. It's told in flashbacks (almost always a lame storytelling device, in my opinion.) Ginger Rogers is good enough, I guess (she won an Academy Award for it.) The men in the film are both gorgeous, but the central dilemma in the film (which man will she choose: the impoverished, idealist doctor or the fun-loving, wealthy playboy whom she's loved for ten years?) is a boring one. I mean, who cares which man this woman picks, you know? If the film had something to say about men and women's roles in society or was a good romantic comedy or had some semblance of plot, I would be more forgiving, but it's mostly just banality.

Patrice Chéreau's Son Frère (His Brother) is a very well-made meditation on brotherhood, illness and death. I've been thinking about this topic recently because of the Albee I've been reading. Something Albee says in one of his plays is that there's no such thing as death; there's only dying. I own my life and I own my dying, but I'll never own my death, you know what I mean? Son Frère is about a very sick man who places all of the responsibility of his dying on his estranged brother. And the healthy one steps right in and takes responsibility for his brother. It's not a film about sacrificing things for those you love, but more about the price of becoming a caretaker and actually dealing with dying. It's an excellent film, a unique character study and a moving portrait of human frailty.

01 April 2006

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

I hate my life right now.