Gapers Block recently informed me that Jonathan Rosenbaum and J.R. Jones are now blogging for the Reader. Filmies rejoice! Just in time for the year-end smackdowns.
Speaking of J.R. Jones, he got it all wrong in his capsule review of The Prestige. I wouldn't ascribe any "elegant contours," other than those belonging to the distractingly young-looking Jessica Biel, to the utterly lightweight Illusionist. Sure, The Prestige's plot might be cluttered, and, as with Nolan's Memento, I'm not altogether convinced it's going to hold up over repeated viewings, especially when you know what the big reveal at the end is, but I was transfixed by every minute of the movie just the same. I've joked here previously about people who go into ecstasies about what a great actor Christian Bale is, as if they've just discovered what the rest of us have known for about half our lifetimes, but fo rizzle? The man absolutely devours everything (and everyone) around him with this performance. It's shocking how good he is. I mean, I'm about as big a fan of Hugh Jackman as one can be without being an X-Men fan-girl, but Bale is just so, so good, he makes Jackman's performance seem flat and dimensionless by comparison. Michael Caine is really the only actor who doesn't get eclipsed by Bale when they share the screen, and, fair play to him, y'know, seeing as how he's Moykle blaady Cayne and all. Dare we even mention the non-splash that Scarlett Johansson makes, outclassed as she is here? I've carped before about the "jittery informality" (to, embarrassingly, quote myself) of this generation of younger actors, but her lack of poise, especially in her scenes on stage as the magician's assistant, just made me really sad. Why do we no longer expect our movie stars to be able to move with any semblance of grace? Her shoulders were all scrunched and her neck was all giraffey when she was trying to make these grand voila! gestures. It was like she had no control at all over the way she was moving her body through space. And she's held up as a paragon of womanly excellence among screen actors? Whatever charms she possesses (and she can be a fine performer--she was truly winning in Lost in Translation) were just not well suited to even this relatively unimportant role. It was made abundantly clear that she was cast in the film as a gambit to bring a certain demographic of moviegoers into the theater. (This is a bad habit I'd like to see Nolan break before it's too late. From the fierce strength and intelligence of Carrie-Anne Moss and Hilary Swank he goes to the whiny schoolgirl prettiness of Katie Holmes and Johansson?) Anyway, the first entrance of David Bowie as Nikola Tesla alone might have been worth the price of admission, and what would a holiday-season blockbuster be without Andy Serkis? Sure, there are some tonal missteps that tend toward the cheesy and on-the-nose, but, for the most part, the movie is deliciously tense without being jump-out-and-give-you-a-heart-attack scary, and as far as plot complications and sleight-of-hand intrigue go, it more than made up for what I wished The Illusionist had been. And, if nothing else, it's worth it to see in Bale an actor really hitting his stride.
Slate does a noble job of looking into the so-called Pitchfork Effect.
Insofar as I can be said to have heroes or role models of any kind, Betty Comden would certainly have to be one, and I was greatly saddened to read that she died last week. Well, yeah, at age 89, so she clearly lived a long, full life. A long life full of wit and music and movies and the theater and Leonard Bernstein. (If memory serves, my dear MLBO'D actually got to meet both Comden and Green before they died, when she was performing in IU's production of On the Town in the spring of 2000.) Elisabeth Vincentelli has more, and some MP3s to sample, over at The Determined Dilettante.