Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Blueberry Nights and Beyond

Movies? I like movies.

Dude, I thought I heard/read that My Blueberry Nights was supposed to be not very good? Well, I'm happy to report that it's actually a great little flick. Sure, it's not as emotionally gutting as In the Mood for Love or as intricate and perplexing as 2046, but as a reminder of the whimsical, romantic melancholy of the rightly beloved-by-all Chungking Express, it's totally satisfying. Norah Jones is an utter blank, but that's clearly part of the point. The three vignettes that she travels through center around a series of losses that escalate in intensity as they simultaneously diminish in personal importance to her character, a tantalizing conceptual framework that helps make up for the way iffy beginning when Jude Law's cafe-owner character explains how he doesn't remember people by their names as much as he remembers them by the food they eat (eye roll) and Ms. Jones does the most 'acting' she's required to do in the whole piece after she discovers that her boyfriend has been cheating on her and she smashes a glass bottle on the sidewalk (big eye roll). As the movie travels across the country from New York to Memphis to Reno and opens up geographically, it also starts to shimmer a little bit, in that lovely Wong Kar-wai way, where the edges of the characters bleed and drip into each other (much like the sexy macro photography of the blueberry pie a la mode behind the opening credit sequence), as odd traits and circumstances and even physical resemblances echo and rhyme from one storyline to the next, and the next. (The bleed even goes meta when Chan Marshall, another husky voiced singer-turned-actress with a great head of hair, shows up as Jude Law's pined-for ex. They've got such great chemistry in their brief scene together, I would without a doubt pay cash money to see the prequel version of that love affair.) David Strathairn gives a typically incredible performance, and Natalie Portman proves once again that she can pretty much do anything as she nails her blowsy Western cardsharp character, complete with a ton of bad turquoise jewelry and even worse frosted hair. The movie's not going to change your life or anything, but it feels really good.

Caught up with The Long Goodbye for the first time in about nine years (thank you, Music Box weekend matinee series!), and while the anti-Altman bias I subconsciously inherited from my favorite college film professor way back when has mostly waned by now, I still do have to take issue with the final "Hooray for Hollywood" musical tag here. The film's formal snarkiness about the noir genre makes its point well, especially given where it falls in the context of both the American New Wave and Altman's emergence as one of the defining directors of that era, but that little twist of the knife at the end strikes me as just a bit too too. That being said, though, I absolutely enjoyed the hell out of the movie this time around. Elliott Gould could not have been more wonderful as the anti-Philip Marlowe, and the casting of Sterling Hayden just gives me chills it's so perfect.

The Visitor was definitely enjoyable, if a bit maudlin. I suppose I'm being kind of harsh, and I suppose, politically, I'm not exactly part of the demographic that needs to have the U.S.'s insane and draconian immigration laws dramatized for me. But I also feel like, anytime you're going to make a movie that revolves around some gorgeous Syrian man who just wants to play his djembe, his gorgeous girlfriend who just wants to sell her hand-beaded jewelry, and his gorgeous mother who just wants to know her gorgeous son is safe and happy in his adopted homeland, there's going to necessarily be a bit of deck-stacking involved in making sure that we, the audience, feel rilly bad about the unpleasant stuff that happens to these attractive and artsy people who are filled to the brim with a lusty embrace of life and all its sensual pleasures that the uptight white people are too square or too repressed to experience. Seriously, I grant that I'm being too harsh here. The movie is filled with a lot of fine and subtle acting and doesn't at all scream this subtext like the sort of issue-of-the-week TV movie that I'm making it out to be, and the story doesn't necessarily need, or could even have sustained, a more complex version of the Tarek character. But...I just get the nagging feeling that there's a way of reading the message here, however well intentioned, that the only "foreigners" worth caring about are the ones who are attractive and emotionally useful in some way to the lives of the white Americans they encounter, while eliding the more complex and perhaps boring truth that the system is deeply fucked, regardless of the personal charisma of the people it has imprisoned and deported. I dunno; how would one make an emotionally affecting film about deportation without (unintentionally?) sainting its racially profiled characters? I think it's also illustrative of how incredibly broken, and wide-ranging in its brokenness, the system is that I can't even get behind a film as generally well-made and enjoyable as this without twisting myself into knots over it.

I also weirdly, and almost accidentally, saw Enchanted this weekend. I laughed out loud a bunch of times--both at stuff like the intentionally funny "Happy Working Song" and the unintentionally funny nuevo-Disney ethos that all happily-ever-afters must now also come certified with a successful transition into entrepreneurship for at least one of the main characters. I'm not a Grey's Anatomy watcher, so I don't really get the whole Patrick Dempsey thing, but he does a completely serviceable job here, no real complaints. But, there's the part of me that thinks that, until further notice, in these kinds of romantic comedies that are primarily vehicles for their lead actresses, these otherwise bland leading men roles should perpetually be played by Mark Ruffalo, just to see how much seething rage and illicit, up-against-the-wall sex appeal he can sneak into the mainstream.

Do yourself a favor and be sure to check out the recent White Denim Daytrotter session. I'm just totally enamored of this young band and have been consistently thrilled by everything I've heard from them so far.

There's a fantastic Q&A with Dan Bejar up on eMusic right now. I pity any of these poor bastards who were honestly expecting straightforwards As to their Qs. The "'Summer Babe.' Just kidding. No, 'Summer Babe'" one liner got one of those rolling thunderclap laughs out of me, where the humor didn't hit me for a few seconds, then I sort of chuckled curtly, then really started cackling out loud, sitting alone at my desk. Big love.

1 comment:

1minutefilmreview said...

We loved Blueberry Nights too, especially the one and only blueberry kiss!