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

25 June 2006

Movie Sum-up Post

I have seen about ten movies since I last wrote about one in this space. This sucks as a movie blog. I hope no one's here for that because I'm not very good at movie-blogging as it turns out. Nevertheless, I bring you reviews (albeit, short) of the ten films I've seen this year that I haven't written about.

This afternoon: Robert Altman's very musical extravaganza A Prairie Home Companion, which is full of lovely jokes, down-home humor and the brilliant non-sequitor-filled silliness of both Altman films and Garrison Keillor's weekly radio program. There are some really fun segments of the show absent from the film, but one cannot have everything and the movie is a delight from start to finish, featuring really wonderful performances from a whole cast of greats, but especially Meryl Streep & Lily Tomlin and Woody Harrelson & John C. Reilly as two singing duos. My favorite performance in the film is from Marylouise Burke, who plays the lunch lady.

Josef von Sternberg's Morocco starring the totally fabulous Marlene Dietrich in her only Oscar-nominated performance is fairly standard fare as films go... or so I thought for the first half hour or so. The film's plot is standard, but Dietrich herself is a force with which to be reckoned. The much-talked about scene with her performing a cabaret act in a tuxedo and kissing a woman full on the lips is in Morocco and I must confess that it took me completely by surprise and I was instantly in love. The movie is only okay, but Dietrich is incredible. I'm hooked.

Sudden Fear is a later Joan Crawford vehicle starring a past-her-prime Crawford and a supposedly charismatic and charming Jack Palance (!). For me the film failed on all counts, except that it features the compelling-yet-irritating Gloria Grahame (who I grudgingly love). I don't like Joan Crawford; I've decided. I know it's, like, sacrilege, or something. ...And here's the thing: I don't think it's a rational dislike of Crawford. I think I dislike her because Bette Davis so disliked her. As one of my co-workers said, I should start to hate half of old-Hollywood if my loyalty runs so deep: Ms. Davis could've paved a street with the names of people she despised, but I really think that's it. Still it isn't rational. I love Celeste Holm and Ms. Davis loathed her, so... I have no explanation other than I think Ms. Crawford can't act for shit, doesn't particularly have nice legs (a feature with which Sudden Fear seemed obsessed) and isn't particularly pretty--by any yardstick. Sue me in gay court later.

I really liked Jason Reitman's Thank You for Smoking. I thought it was very, very funny in an offbeat, irreverent, punishing sort of way and the script is really clever. The acting is good, for the most part, with some excellent performances from Robert Duvall and Maria Bello, especially. I loved the kid, too: Cameron Bright (from the lackluster Birth). Mostly this is just a funny, funny movie. Three things, though: 1) Katie Holmes looks like a little kid. I cannot believe her in any role. I couldn't believe her as a lawyer in Batman Begins, and I didn't buy her for a second as a reporter in Thank You for Smoking. She looks like she couldn't even buy a pack of smokes if she wanted to. 2) My boy Aaron Eckhart's hair. Couldn't they have hired someone to fix it. It looked awful throughout and he tried, like, three different styles. The last thing 3) is my favorite performance in the film: Adam Brody as Rob Lowe's assistant. He plays the role perfectly, with excellent timing and an excitement I am unused to seeing.

George Cukor's Born Yesterday features the performance that beat both Bette Davis's All About Eve turn as Margo Channing and Gloria Swanson's genius turn as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. I have generally avoided Born Yesterday for this reason (more solidarity with Ms. Davis: see above). But I was mistaken. This one's a crowd pleaser. The script is wonderful and Judy Holliday is absolutely wonderful. I adored her character and fell in love with her. It's a great star turn and worthy of all its accolades.

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Cercle Rouge is the epitome of cool. I liked it even better than Le Samouraï. It's not quite as good as Army of Shadows, but, then, few films are. I find Melville's ideas about the prices men have to pay for the things they do slightly objectionable. I prefer Woody Allen's ideas about men (i.e. I like them to get away with things.) The films are so cool, though, that Melville has to be forgiven. Watch Le Cercle Rouge and your teeth will hurt the movie is so fucking cool. I swear to god.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is a sort-of remake of Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, the film on which Todd Haynes based his gorgeous Far from Heaven. Fassbinder's film is beautiful and ugly, harsh, soft, shocking, horrifying, sad and dificult all at the same time. I became connected to the characters instantly and the emotional work that Fassbinder is doing is undeniable, but his filmmaking skill is so pronounced, his language so stark and stunning and his references to Sirk so clear, that it's hard not to pay attention to the look of the film and let go of the matter of the film. To do so would be to miss so much, though. Ali is a fascinating, subtle tale with much to say about German xenophobia and fear of "the other" in general.

I'm not sure why everyone is so apeshit about Jean-Luc Godard's À Bout de Souffle (Breathless). It's good, sure, and it's cool. Maybe I'm too old. The only thing I really loved about it was the ending, which is really quiet and subtle... I think that's what I don't love about the film: I feel like it isn't doing anything very subtle, or perhaps the legacy it has left has so overwhelmed the context of the film that I can't see the forest for the trees. Maybe it's been copied so frequently and so poorly that even the original lacks luster for me.

Okay... last one:

Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential is stupid. I may have laughed a couple of times. When it is exploring the nature of art and asking us what is good and what isn't, I found the film really interesting, but all of the silliness and its ludicrous cast of characters (every single stereotype imaginable) had no charm for me. I have a lot of bad things to say about this movie: almost nothing good in fact, so I'll shut up now. Suffice to say that I didn't like the film at all. Max Minghella is a cutie, but I hope he sticks to better stuff than this in future. And I so liked Ghost World...

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