Monday, October 08, 2007

Jesse James and Of Montreal

The Great Benji Kelnardo (no relation to The Late B.P. Helium) had an assignment for one of his business of film classes to see a movie in its first weekend of release, so I tagged along with him to catch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford on Saturday night. I liked that it was moody and stylish (helped in large part by the stunning Nick Cave/Warren Ellis score), but I don't think it quite accomplishes as much as it thinks it does. It's overly long, and overly ponderous, and doesn't really achieve the kind of stretched taut tension you need in a two-hour-forty-minute movie in order to pull off all those scenes of characters breaking into waves of alternately nervous and hysterical laughter and all those deathly long silences while dust motes float in the air. It just rings a little hollow. (Also, post-Gladiator can we please put a stop on scenes of tough guys walking through windswept wheat fields already? That was, like, almost literally the only thing I liked about Gladiator and the more I see that visual trope used elsewhere, the more it smacks of really uninspired gesturing toward suppressed sensitivity or spirituality or sensuality or whatever. Bleah.) The film's also very clearly supposed to be some kind of commentary on celebrity culture in America, the dance of flattery and cannibalism between outsized public personalities and their worshipful fans, but I'm not sure it's really actually doing anything with that theme, other than congratulating itself for the supposedly ingenious casting of Brad Pitt as Jesse James. As Dana Stevens points out at Slate, "There's one thing Pitt and James don't have in common. Pitt is not, to all appearances, a barking lunatic," which makes it slightly difficult to know where one's sympathies are supposed to lie. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for moral ambiguity, but some sort of coherent worldview has got to be driving this boat, and instead I felt like I was just left drifting while Pitt and Casey Affleck made goo-goo eyes at each other for nearly three hours.

That said, Casey Affleck has a veritable symphony of goo-goo eyes going on in this movie. He's fantastic. Absolutely steals the piece. I think he's turning into our generation's Chris Penn (no small praise, that), the younger brother of the more alpha-mainstream star who skulks around the edges of the industry doing (to steal a few phrases from the eminent Cintra) "red-faced humiliation....The hyper-vulnerable, exposed weakness of the bed-wetter, the fuckup, the sad sack, the hapless loser, the beta male" with subtly beautiful aplomb. The rest of the casting--with the exception of Mary-Louise Parker and Zooey Deschanel being utterly Wasted with a capital What the Fuck--is really quite good as well. Paul Schneider is spot-on with his southern charm and sly wit as a backwoods Casanova surrounded by hapless rubes, and it's great to see Garret Dillahunt getting film work (um, even if it is in other westerns) after his dual roles as Jack McCall and Francis Wolcott on Deadwood. I wish someone would tell me what kind of career Sam Rockwell is supposed to be having; he's wonderful as ever here, if not exactly going above and beyond the call of duty, but it seems like this second-banana role should have been filled by a less-established actor. I think he's great, and charming as hell, and I just keep waiting for him to really break out as a leading man the way he was supposed to after Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. And, as for Pitt...well, I'm not exactly sure what he was doing that earned him the best actor at the Venice Film Festival this year, but it's nice to see him get back to using some of that caged volatility that's gotten buried underneath his family man persona these days. Plus, along with Nicole Kidman, he's got to be one of the great on-screen criers in contemporary cinema. Few actors can do that kind of sudden cloud-burst of emotion coupled with the "gimme a minute" breakdown as well as he does.

Of Montreal continues to impress live. RTW and I caught their Sunday-night show at the Metro, and they just rocked it the fuck out. They've got a hell of an impressive stage setup (this YouTube clip from a recent show in Knoxville [via] should give you the general sense of what they're doing as far as lighting and multiple levels), and there's just no denying the cataclysmic awesomeness of the tunes from Hissing Fauna. Simply put, they just sound more expansive and sophisticated than any of the stuff they played from their earlier albums. They also tried out a few new ones that are supposed to appear on the next full-length, including a funky as hell, self-described "slow jam" that comes off as what Midnite Vultures would probably sound like to me if I actually wanted to have sex with Beck. Given the fact that I've basically decided to take a pass on any kind of fanship or affection for Arcade Fire, I'm glad to have borderline obsessively embraced the one other band this year that's really putting a lot of effort into their stage spectacle and backing it up with songs that show no sign of wearing out their welcome. As ever, pics are up on Flickr.

Speaking of bands I've given up trying to like, I think I'm done with Beirut. Zach Condon just bugs me.

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