Monday, May 22, 2006

Eros: Grade B



Directors = Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni

Three short movies, one by each of the directors, on the subject of eros in the original sense of bodily love (as opposed to mere sexuality). Wong’s is easily the best, a story set in China (subtitled) of tailor who makes clothes for a haughty call girl (Gong Li), falls in love with her from his close distance of fitting clothes to her body. The last scene repeats the first, but we only understand it in the last. Beautiful photography and daring camera work. A miniature masterpiece.
The second, by Soderbergh has Alan Arkin as psychiatrist to Robert Downey Jr.’s anxious advertising man of the 1950s. Artful mostly B&W, emphasizing slanting window light through louvered blinds. Well acted, humorous, thought-provoking, but doesn’t have much to do with the theme of eros.
The third piece, by Antonioni, has a young Italian couple (subtitled) each encountering a mysterious woman who lives in a stone tower by the sea. There is a vague narrative, but mostly scenes loosely connected, Fellini-like. The guy flirts with tower-woman, but she inexplicably leaves him on the roof and goes to her bed where she strips and starts masturbating. He, inexplicably, stays on the roof, looking at the scenery. (It would have been a better story if they had each masturbated separately.) The camera returns to her, now inexplicably wearing a thong. Like she put underwear on for a better effect? It could only be a postproduction afterthought, revealing the director’s ambivalence about sexuality. The whole scene should have been cut anyway since the theme is not sex. Finally, the guy finds her and they have sex shown from the waist up, so we can only guess about the thong. Then the guy’s girlfriend and tower-woman twirl around naked on the beach, for no reason, in a very beautiful scene.
An enjoyable disc, despite being only a male POV, but the kind of cinema one likes to talk about afterward; not pornographic or biological, not sex but eros.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mrs. Henderson Presents: Grade D


Mrs Henderson Presents

Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins

Judi Dench certainly can deliver a line! Hoskins is her equal in this nonsense farce. Dench’s character finances a musical review in London during World War II. To boost sales, she and producer Hoskins decide that the performers should be nude. A few breasts therefore appear briefly in public, scandalous, no doubt in 1944, but utterly banal today. That’s the whole story. The ostensible witty repartee is only funny if you recall that nudity was titillating in those days. Dench’s and Hoskin’s fine Shakespearean training save this boring film from complete failure.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Family Stone: Grade B


The Family Stone

Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson

You’ve seen this before: guy brings his girlfriend home to meet the family at Christmas. They don’t like her. June Bug did the same story recently. The Christmas theme, with its built-in saccharine sweetness and subterranean family tensions, lets the writer off the hook for doing anything creative. Diane Keaton as the matriarch does some of the best acting of her career. Rachel McAdams has a silly petulant character, but she plays it extremely well. (She appears as a blonde in the DVD extras and that is so wrong for her). Luke Wilson looks and sounds eerily like his brother Owen, but he actually does some subtle and serious acting here. The sets are overdone, too cute and funky. The movie hinges on the contrivance that for the first half , Sarah Jessica Parker, the hated fiancĂ©, is a two-dimensional caricature that justifies the Stone family’s dislike of her (sort of). Finally she gets drunk and (literally) lets down her hair. See? All she needed was a few beers. It’s a stupid movie, but the quality of the acting earns it above average marks.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Match Point: Grade A


Match Point

Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer. Directed by Woody Allen.

Allen has drawn an amazing performance out of Johansson. One can only guess how hard he worked her but she shows a range that is shocking. Not just another pretty face after all. The other actors give standout performances as well. Woody Allen’s directing is the star of this picture. It’s one of his best. It’s not New York City, not Jewish, not neurotically jokey, not Bergmann, not Hitchcock, and he does not even appear in the picture (as he does in so many of his others). Yet the film is definitely Woody Allenesque, with his usual depiction of the fragile, obsessed and oblivious, claustrophobic lives of the filthy rich. The story is of a marital infidelity, with Scarlett as the starving artist “other woman” against the boring but rich wife Emily Mortimer. Rhys-Meyers plays the indecisive husband extremely well, but his character, unlike Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, is unreflective, making him cartoony, but that trait is necessary for the improbable ending. The triangle story is an old one, so there are many echos, to Dostoyevsky (whose book, Crime and Punishment, appears in the movie in case you didn’t get the analogy), Fatal Instinct, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and even Allen’s own 1989 film, Crimes and Misdemeanors. There is also the characteristic Allenesque touch of magical realism, which stops short of his tradition of having the film make metacomments on film. The meticulous sets make subtle but hilarious ironic comments of their own. The philosophical theme, that much of life is due to chance, seems an afterthought, and is actually contradicted by the story line itself. But despite a shallow and slick veneer, this is a satisfying film of memorable performances.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Brokeback Mountain: Grade A


Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal. Director=Ang Lee

I put off seeing this DVD because despite all the praise it has garnered, why would I want to watch gay cowboys, for heaven’s sake? Nobody should let love slip past, but I just don’t enjoy watching men passionately kissing. But I rented the movie anyway because it is a cultural icon now and I don’t want to get too isolated. I was surprised how good it is. First of all it is visually beautiful. The Wyoming scenery is magnificent and for us westerners who have spent many happy hours in the mountains, that was very attractive. The love story does not develop well however. The two guys get drunk and without a word, suddenly hump each other in a tent. I guess that could happen, but there is no clue prior to that moment that it would. So I just had to suspend my disbelief at that point. After that turn of events however, the story of their forbidden love (they meet in 1963), and the problems it causes over the course of 20 years, is extremely well written, acted, and directed. It becomes a significant human drama, not just a “gay cowboy” story. Heath Ledger is amazing the way he brings so much depth to the character with just a grunt or a gesture. He is destined for greatness. This movie is way better than Crash, which won out for best picture.