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

08 May 2007

A Few Flicks

I am not getting much reading done, I must confess. Reading theory is so much harder than reading plays. I get through ten pages or so and I'm tired, even of really interesting stuff like the book I'm reading. But I have been watching movies. My friend Catie even roped me into going to see the new Spidey by offering to buy my ticket for me. Far be it from me to turn down pre-paid invitations to things.

So the new confection from Sam Raimi (i.e. Spider-man 3) is about as good as the second one. Actually I may have liked it a little bit better (the villains are sexier in 3 than in 2—and you know how my criteria roll). Spider-man 3 is hampered by the same things that hampered Spider-man 2, namely the insistence of the filmmaking team on stressing the importance of the moony, idiotic and completely boring relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. I know I've complained about the tendency in Hollywood action movies to want to tell stories that aren't action-related, but I feel it bears repeating. The reason I want to attend a Hollywood action movie is so that I can watch a lot of fun Hollywood action. It is wholly unnecessary to insert into this perfectly good genre a plethora of scenes where we explore character and watch our action heroes stare out of windows and wish for better, less complicated lives. Zzzzzzzz. Let's get to the action! I want violence, speed and wit from my action movies. There is also a truly bizarre sequence in the middle of the film where Peter Parker gets taken over by an alien force and it makes him all emo-looking. He styles himself some bangs and then dances down the street, making his hands into imaginary pistols and winking at a number of tall, gorgeous models who pass by. Then he plays the piano and dances on the tables at a bar. It's one of the wierdest cinematic sequences I've seen in a while. (At least the "Age of Aquarius" number at the end of The 40-Year-Old Virgin operated outside the context of reality.) One more thing, though, before I close on this Spidey discussion. Topher Grace is fantastic! He is great in every single scene: funny, clever, totally natural. He inserts a kind of wicked irony into this campy super-hero universe. He lights up the screen and it all seems tongue-in-cheek. Like he's having a blast. It's a performance that's miles away from the three leads' desperate earnestness.

Two more (French) films:
Jean Renoir's La Règle de Jeu (The Rules of the Game) is a 1939 film about class conflict, at least that's what it seemed to be about for me. It's the film that Woody Allen's A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy clearly gets its inspiration. Evidently, the film was very controversial when it was first released, but it is now widely considered a classic. It follows a couple, both of whom are having various affairs, who invite an entire troupe of others down to their house in the French countryside for a week or so. It's about decadence and decorum and what it means to really be alive (and/or in love—are they the same thing?), and it's excellent.

I also finally saw Alain Resnais's L'Année Dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad), which is an extremely cool mood piece (I guess) about memory and love and power. The film really has no plot, and the characters aren't really clear—who they all are, I mean, is unclear. Their relationships to one another are muddled, and the time frame of the piece is just as confused. Never mind where the film is set (Marienbad is, as far as I can tell, a red herring). The film is a giant mystery. I quite nearly loved it, and I found its wierdness and mysteries fascinating. This is a famous image from the film:
Notice that the figures on the boardwalk cast long shadows toward the viewer, but the topiaries cast no shadows at all. It's so cool! But the film really is meditating on the fluidity of memory and it became, for me, a piece about how our relationships with others (especially those we love or fetishize) are defined (of course) by what we think we know about what the other person has said to us. But when you can't really remember what someone else said or felt, or when the other person denies that he or she said those things or that you felt those things, everything can become so confusing. If you can't remember certain things, who is to say that you are mis-remembering entire sequences of time in your relationship. Anyway, if you like esoteric, you can't get much more so than this film. Definitely worth a look.