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

31 December 2006

The First Three Movies I Saw in California

My plane landed in Cali at 8:30a and by 1:20p I was at the movies seeing the new confection from Pedro Almodóvar: Volver. It's a completely fabulous film and a return for Almodóvar to his classic, brilliant formula from the 1980s. Almodóvar is a master of filmmaking and each of his films seems exquisitely crafted and gorgeously shot. Volver is a delicious blend of what he has been doing for the last ten years or so (discussing serious topics and evoking powerful emotional responses) and his earlier work (broad, hilarious comedic storytelling). Volver feels like a mixture of all his work, like the next step in the career of a genius. He returns to telling a story exclusively about women, and the women in Volver are totally fabulous. Penélope Cruz is utterly gorgeous and gives a riveting, certain to be Academy-Award-nominated performance. And the cast also boasts the lovely Lola Dueñas (who I loved so much in Mar Adentro) and Almodóvar's old muse, the brilliant Carmen Maura. The plot seems a little overdone and a bit of a rehash for the director (see What Have I Done to Deserve This? if you don't believe me) but all of this combines for a film that is as funny as it is touching. It's a must see and it's superb.

And I know everyone will jump down my throat and call me a philistine, but I loved Flags of Our Fathers. I love the way the story's told. I love the acting, I love the complexity of Eastwood's political feelings. I thought Adam Beach was absolutely stellar in his role as the Native American soldier on the tour. It's a performance that's quiet and complex and at times brash and wild. Beach has created a character whose motives are never quite explained and who never quite fits in. It's wonderful work. I understand the objections to Eastwood, but I guess I just don't object. I buy into this stuff hook line and sinker and I honestly loved the film. It gets sentimental at the end, and the way Paul Haggis ties up the narrative is a little bit awkward, but the film really worked for me.

As for Richard Eyre's Notes on a Scandal, it's sort of a masterpiece of camp, with campy performances by Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett and melodramatic music by Philip Glass. It's not much of a narrative and it doesn't really reveal much about the characters at all either. It's a sturdy enough thriller, with a closeted lesbian as its center. Both Dench and Blanchett give fierce, excellent performances, but this is All About Eve junior at best, with not nearly enough other women complicating the narrative. (Eve had Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter and Marilyn Monroe to bounce things off of. Scandal has only very brief glimpses of other females.) Eyre's film also paints this lesbian psychotic as the craziest thing in the film. The film isn't explicitly homophobic, but if a lesbian may-december relationship is more disgusting and vile than a heterosexual one, there's a bit of a double standard there. Dench is extraordinary in her role: jumping back and forth from sweetness and vulnerability to horrific malevolence sometimes mid-sentence. But the film has only this going for it and not much else but camp.

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