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

24 September 2008

Hamlet Dos

I haven't posted about Andrew Fleming's Hamlet 2 because I kinda didn't like it. It is supposed to be a kind of Waiting for Guffman-style parody of high school theatre, I guess, but it never really succeeds.

The movie stars Steve Coogan as a kind of closeted (we all assume) drama teacher who can't seem to get his wife pregnant and appears to have no talents of any kind. Suddenly a whole bunch of kids join his drama class, which has had only two students for many years, and he decides to write an original show for them to perform.

The show is not original at all, it turns out. It is a sequel to William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

The real problem of the movie is that the idea of this fantastic show hangs over the entire film. And Hamlet 2 the play totally delivers. Those are a sublime twenty minutes or so. But, unfortunately, nothing before it is really funny at all, and Coogan overplays his hand. His character is a total fucking nutcase and a complete depressive and he's a little hard to like.

It seems odd to say that I liked the play better than I liked the movie, but, quite seriously, those final twenty minutes where the cast actually performs Hamlet 2, to pop songs sung by the Tucson (or is it Sedona?) Gay Men's Chorus, are brilliant. There is this whole musical number called "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" which is totally inspired. There is a time machine and all kinds of other nonsense, too. It's really quite a great sequence. If only the rest of the film were up to the play.

22 September 2008

The New Coen Brothers' Movie

I really liked Burn after Reading. It's classic Coen Brothers' humor and more than worth the watch. I may even see it again. Joe Morgenstern called the movie a "cheerful trifle" and "forget after seeing," and I understand how people can thing that Burn is rather inconsequential when compared to the Coens' most recent powerhouse of a feature No Country for Old Men, but there is a lot to be said for funny, and Burn is hilarious.

In Coen fashion, it's absolutely ludicrous. The characters are figures of deep ridicule, making inane (and hilarious) decisions, and the whole film is a riff on the real spy movies of the 1960s and 1970s and all of those pseudo-spy movies of the 1990s (and even more recently—I should mention—the unbearable Charlie Wilson's War). Burn never takes itself seriously even when it is pretending to do so. The thing is, it pretends really well, and it is the very pretense which is so funny. We know we aren't supposed to be taking this seriously from the get-go, and so every ridiculous nuanced character trait that these characters have becomes hilarious. I thought it was great.

Oh yeah, the film stars George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich (who is brilliant), Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins and JK Simmons. The best part, though, is Brad Pitt. He is absurd, and his acting is flawless. I am laughing just thinking about his moronic behavior in this movie.

15 September 2008


The Angelina Jolie vehicle Wanted, which stars James McAvoy as well as Morgan Freeman (who, I'm increasingly inclined to believe, does not turn down any role he is offered) is a derivative, inane, piece of junk of a movie.

When I say that Wanted is derivative, I mean, specifically, that Michael Brandt & Derek Haas's script is a complete and total rip-off of the Wachowski Brothers' 1999 feature The Matrix. Nearly all of Wanted's plot points faintly echo the exploits of Neo and Morpheus and Trinity. And it should not surprise you at all that Wanted totally pales in comparison to the film it copies. Its accusatory politics, its moral high ground, and its smug message of carpe diem all seem lifted from 1999. If any of this were interesting I'd tell you, but none of it is. Wanted is totally absurd and laughably bad. And Angelina Jolie is not even in it enough for it to be a vehicle worthy of her abilities.

13 September 2008

New Allen; Same as the Old Allen?

Many have remarked that Interiors—one of my favorite Woody Allen movies—is Allen's Bergman movie. So totally is Interiors a tribute, a loving homage, to Bergman, that it is impossible not to see Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen's newest feature, as a tribute to a man who is clearly one of Allen's new favorite filmmakers.

For Vicky Cristina Barcelona is obviously a loving homage to that master of camp, that brilliant genius of storytelling: Pedro Almodóvar. Allen has adopted a kind of feeling of Almodóvar for his newest film, and the moments when this Almodóvage shine through Allen's script are the film's best.

I liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona quite a bit, but I also feel the same way about it that I felt about Allen's other 2008 feature. The problem, see, is that Allen still has really great stories to tell, he just isn't so great at telling the stories anymore. As such, Vicky Cristina Barcelona knows a lot about human nature, love, relationships, desperation, and passion. In this way it is a smart, even wise, film from an aging, brilliant director. But most of Allen's formal devices don't work well at all. The entirety of the film, for instance, is framed by a narrator telling the film's audience all about the characters and their weaknesses and foibles. The benefits of this are manifold: the exposition is easily, cleverly delivered, and is immediately dispensed with; conflicts are created without dialogue; glances and gestures become immediately much more meaningful. But the narration sacrifices something incredibly important. We know the characters extremely well from the beginning of the film due to the narrator's voice, but he (it's a man's voice) also creates a distance between us and the characters. So we become better than them, smarter than them. We know their weaknesses and so we don't need to discover them. This gives the whole film a cynical, rather glib air, and our affection for the characters suffers for it.

One more thing needs to be said about Vicky Cristina Barcelona, though, and that is that I must tell you that Penélope Cruz is a revelation. I can't remember her sexier or funnier or more fabulous, even in an Almodóvar film. I think that may be because Almodóvar's films usually have several fabulous, sexy, funny women in them, and Allen's movie has only Miss Cruz. As it is, Allen has written Penélope Cruz one of her best roles ever, and easily her best English-speaking role. Cruz is a firestorm: a wicked, fantastic, cruel creature who destroys everything she touches but is incredibly vulnerable and sad. It's a great performance in a film that, the more she is on-screen, seems to exist only to showcase her. Cruz takes over this movie. She is the only thing anyone will be talking about when they leave this movie. It's a tour-de-force, not to be missed, and I hope she gets nominated for an Oscar. She's that great.

04 September 2008

Tel Aviv?

I had this interesting dream last night. In it, I had gone on a bunch of job-interviews before getting accepted to the PhD program. Two of these interviews—for some reason—had happened in Israel (this part of the dream was in the past). In the dream itself, I was talking to a woman who was offering me a job for the U.S. government. It was related to Israel in some way, but I wasn't going to have to move to Tel Aviv or anything. The job they were offering me was in Mobile, Alabama. And they were going to offer me an enormous salary. And I was considering it.

Here's where the dream kinda went off the rails. The woman offering me the job was a kind of older, heavier woman à la Miriam Margolyes, but with a more butch haircut. She had also brought a kind of entourage with her, which included at least one man who looked like Craig T. Nelson—this man might have been her husband, but I'm not sure; she could easily have been a lesbian. At some point, though, all these people, as well as my parents (oh yeah, my parents were there) dressed up like characters in The Rocky Horror Show. Then they danced for me. And then they danced for the camera. By this, I mean, that my point of view in the dream shifted and it was as though I were watching a musical episode of television. I wasn't watching an episode of television, but the staging of the musical number resembled television musicals so much that I immediately recognized it as such. Strangely, I can't remember what song they sang.

Then Craig T. Nelson and my dad got into a huge physical brawl. Both men were wearing fishnets and hideous silver lamé dresses. There was biting involved. And my dad tried to tie Craig T. Nelson's wrists with zipline, but Craig T. Nelson overpowered my dad (he was from the U.S. government, so I assume he was some kind of CIA agent or something).

Craig T. Nelson left my dad on the dining room floor and went to go start up his cessna, which was parked in the backyard. And in order to start his cessna, he had to spell words using tiles from a game of scrabble.

And then I woke up.