Monday, January 03, 2005

Welcome to the Flip Side

Welcome to the flip side, kibbles and bits! Oh, how it gives me such joy to see "2005" in the time stamp! If you're anything like me, you're breathing easier already.

On that note, a new year's haiku:

A lead smock taken
off your shoulders, post-X ray,
is how oh-five feels.

Right then. So, I don't know if it's a function of my standards getting too high or too low, but, of the handful of movies I saw during my holiday break, none of them really blew me away. But, I was able to take away with me more moments of discrete beauty and isolated pleasure than perhaps I would have expected, given how lackluster the flicks left me feeling on the whole. (Which, incidentally, reminds me of a great Tarantino quote that comes from the complete online transcript of his interview in the April 16, 2004, issue of Entertainment Weekly. He says, "A movie doesn't have to do everything. A movie just has to do a couple of things. If it does those well and gives you a cool experience, a cool night at the movies, an emotion, that's good enough, man. But movies that get it all right are few and far between. It got to a point in the '80s when you didn't even hold a bad ending against a movie, because every movie had a cop-out ending. If you were going to hold bad endings against movies you'd never have liked anything.")

A quick rundown:

* Almodovar's Bad Education has me convinced that there is perhaps no actor, of any nationality or gender, working today that is more gorgeous than Gael Garcia Bernal. (Eat that, Orlando Bloom. How you like me now, Natalie Portman?) The tacky (and obvious) response to my "discrete moments of isolated pleasure" thing is to gush about the first time you see him on screen in drag. We're talking equal opportunity objectification here, people! Unfortunately, the character he plays in the movie is supposed to be a bad actor, so he (Bernal, not the character), I believe, intentionally overplays the tranny femininity in a mincing and decidedly unsexy way to serve the film as a whole. A selfless and artistically valid move, but one that is ultimately squandered considering the flick is pretty hollow for all its formal fireworks and potentially incendiary subject matter. But, then again, I don't like Almodovar all that much to begin with.

However, the one moment that has really stuck with me, emotionally, is when, during the shooting of the film-within-the-film, the director cuts the take, and we see Bernal's actor character openly weeping as techies dismantle the sets and other members of the film crew bustle around him. We learn later a possible reason why the character might have been upset after performing that specific scene, but that layer only adds to the stand-alone beauty of the image. For all of Almodovar's love of movies and intertextual references and whatnot, it seems like the one most breathlessly honest comment on a life lived inside cinema he's put into his whole recent oeuvre.

* I'll withhold judgment on The Life Aquatic until I have a chance to see it again (and again and again), but, yeah, y'know, it's not Rushmore. It's not Tenenbaums. But, so what? It's funny, it's lovely to look at, it's dark and touching, and even a weak Anderson offering is going to kick the living crap out of most of the other first-run stuff on the market at any given moment. So, all things considered, I'm content. Willem Dafoe is unspeakably hilarious, Jeff Goldblum is always going to be one of the most interesting things to watch in any movie he appears in, and Bill Murray's interp on "I'm getting sick of those goddamn dolphins" is pure gold.

* While my former esteem for Steven Soderbergh has been steadily going down the tubes ever since he won his Oscar, Ocean's 12 really isn't as bad as most of the heinous reviews have made it out to be. It's a trifle, but, unfortunately, not in the complimentary way that it was to call Ocean's 11 a trifle. It's very self-satisfied and very Hollywood in-jokey, two qualities that make me want to vomit inside my mouth a little, but any movie that has the good sense to cast both Eddie Izzard and Vincent Cassel is basically OK in my book. Cassel, with his triangular face and mop of curly hair and lithe frame and dangerously sly French attitude is, as always, here a fascinating creature to watch. He more than redeems what very little of actual, human interest he's given to do in the film.

* Yes, A Very Long Engagement is a maudlin mess (this, coming from a girl who loooves Amelie), and, yes, if you're in the mood (such as it is) for WWI, you should just rent Paths of Glory instead, but any chance a person gets to see Dominique Pinon do anything on screen should most definitely be taken. (Is my Francophilia oozing through loud and clear yet?) Hidden behind a shrub of a beard and playing your standard sympathetic uncle/father-figure, he doesn't get much chance to rock the physical comedy that would give Bill Irwin a run for his money (if anybody in the States bothered to notice). But just watch the subtlety of his timing in his banter with the mailman, watch the way he dials down his wildly magnetic natural charisma, refusing to upstage Mlle. Tautou during her scenes of golden emoting.

* Though many of the charms of the Lemony Snicket books (the fetishization of reading and researching and the process of trial-and-error; the helpless, sickening feeling of being almost willfully misunderstood by people in positions of power and authority over you; the tightrope walk the narrative manages in keeping the true tragedy of the orphan situation in balance with the broad comedy and snarky meta-commentary on why we read "unpleasant" stories at all) are flattened by the movie's insistence on chugging from plot point to plot point, the flick is still most certainly worth a look for Jim Carrey's performance. Even though it's been given away time and again in the previews, continually referring to baby Sunny as a monkey? Hilarious. And when Meryl Streep's grammar-loving Aunt Josephine tells him, "you certainly can turn a phrase" and he responds, "I can slap it up and rub it down, too," I very nearly fell out of my chair. (Fans of both the book and the movie should be as amused as I was to find that Count Olaf actually has his own website online. His blog had me cackling aloud.)

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