(Robert Altman). Bucketloads of excellent acting, the upstairs of the
country house just sumptuous enough (avoiding Merchant-Ivory decor overload
- not that I ever minded, but some folks do), the downstairs convincing
also, and the director displaying everything he knows about directing
movies, which is a lot. I want to see it again - not because I loved
it, but to see if I have the same claustrophobic reaction on a second
viewing. Claustrophobia isn't really the word; just more plot and character
than I wanted to handle in a small amount of time (and I never keep
up with plots anyway). The Stephen Fry and Maggie Smith characters are
perhaps a little too cute.
World (Terry Zwigoff). My expectations were too high. Steve
Buscemi's Award-Winning Performance was just a Steve Buscemi performance.
Nothing wrong with that, but isn't he a little too young for Lifetime
Achievement Awards, even if they are given by the NY Critics Circle?
Ghost World does demolish the contemporary high school experience
neatly and incisively, with originality, in ten minutes; too many films
spend their entire running time trying to do that. The first forty-five
minutes or so - slacker rebel girls on the prowl for Experience (an
approximate description, though nothing quite does it justice) - is
fascinating. Then it settles down into something (comparatively) conventional,
and not so interesting. Girl performances more blank than I thought
they should be. The film quotes/alludes to The World of Henry Orient
(George Roy Hill, 1964), another film in which outsider-teenage-girls-seeking-Experience
is the theme, sort of, but the similarities between the films end there,
so I don't quite see the point. Yet Ghost World should certainly
be seen; it's not like anything else.
difficult to say much about Todd Field's In the Bedroom,
partly because it's so close to perfect, partly because there are plot
twists that shouldn't be given away. Middle-class married couple (Tom
Wilkinson & Sissy Spacek) living in Camden, Maine; their college-age
son (Nick Stahl) is having an affair with a young married woman (Marisa
Tomei) who also has young children. Tomei's estranged husband menaces
and threatens; eventually murders Stahl. That's really the beginning
of the story, not the end. Though there's ultimately much more "action,"
the film is really about the dynamics of family - the guilt, recriminations,
many-layered deceptions that are laid bare by tragedy. I can't think
of a recent film that tells you more about the central characters more
economically and artfully. Wilkinson, Spacek, and Tomei are absolutely
masterful in their roles; it's as though the perfectly Platonic screenplay
and actors had found each other. The last scenes are as suspenseful
as anything in first-rate Hitchcock - not because the director plays
them as suspense, but because we understand the characters so well and
are waiting for the emotional, psychological violence that's about to
happen (the physical violence is the least of it).
reminded of another film that I had high hopes for, Before and After
(Barbet Schroeder, 1996) - also about a family shattered by violence,
and about the resultant guilt and family dynamics (and also set in New
England). It had Meryl Streep, Edward Furlong, and Liam Neeson, among
other excellent actors; it had an experienced director; but somehow
it failed to communicate. That Todd Field could pull off such a delicate
exercise in his first film is miraculous. Spacek, Wilkinson, and Tomei
have been hailed for their performances in this film, and all of that
praise is deserved. They are truly exceptional. Go see this film.
(Stephen Soderbergh). A lot better than I expected. Nothing
like the original, which was barely a movie at all. Andy Garcia very
good as a slick, predatory casino magnate, smoldering and controlling
without quite going over the top. Lovely supporting performances from
Elliott Gould and Carl Reiner. Matt Damon quite solid. I think I was
supposed to believe that the elegant woman played by Julia Roberts was,
at her core, quite common, and I don't believe that about Julia Roberts,
ever. Brad Pitt miscast playing a smart person. George Clooney very
suave, which is all that is really required. I can't believe that Clooney's
character was ever powerful or smart enough to conceive and pull off
this insanely complicated heist, but then nothing about the insanely
complicated heist could ever be believed, anyway. The trick is to keep
it moving, keep it amusing, make sure the audience doesn't really notice
or understand how implausible it all is. I never follow complicated
crime or suspense plots anyway, so I'm a good audience for Ocean's
Eleven. Soderberg is artful without calling attention to himself.
Not great, but far from disappointing.
Life (Richard Linklater). I suspect I had the median reaction:
delighted and fascinated by the technique, annoyed by the continuing
harangues of amateur philosophers, perhaps more annoyed because it was
coming from animated figures. I'm also not certain, after this, Mulholland
Drive, and Vanilla Sky, how much more rumination on illusion
and reality I care to deal with. I loved the music. This film seemed
like Slacker, but with less charm and idiosyncrasy, and more
talk talk talk.
Blonde (Robert Luketic). This is a big, broad cartoon, in places
much stupider than a big, broad cartoon, but Reese Witherspoon is absolutely
wonderful. In many ways this is a more challenging performance than
the one she gave in Election. I was almost shocked at how good
she was. Nearly every other performance in the film is utterly bland.
I would characterize the picture as Clueless meets The Paper
Chase, with much less IQ than either film; but Witherspoon really
(Philip Kaufman). I still haven't forgiven Geoffrey Rush for Shine,
and I've always been bored by the Marquis de Sade, so I guess I'm not
the ideal audience for this film. Let's just say I wasn't disappointed.
No one can complain that Wes Anderson
doesn't "create a world" in The Royal Tenenbaums. The
setting is allegedly New York, but there are no skyscrapers and no people
on the streets; the
houses and neighborhoods we see look more like East Berlin than Manhattan;
the awful taxicabs seem to be from Cuba or Albania. (There are no actual
New York street or place names in the film, either.) The time is today,
but we know that only because of the dates on some family tombstones.
The streetscapes are striking at first; then they're just sad, and there
is more than enough sadness in this film already.
Anderson's previous film, Rushmore, was strong
on tableau, weird excess or neurosis, odd verbal or visual jokes, and
weakened more or less immediately when it really had to present plot,
character, human relations. In interviews Anderson seems relaxed and
self-deprecating, but Rushmore seemed furiously attentive to
itself and annoyingly proud of its eccentricities. Well, it was undeniably
adolescent in nearly every way, fun in places, irritating in more places,
but at least it had some energy.
Royal Tenenbaums is more confident; it's the weird and obnoxious
adult Rushmore, wandering around the party assuming that it's
impressing people, with no notion of how tiresome it's becoming. Scene
by scene, The Royal Tenenbaums is quite accomplished visually
- but, scene by scene, especially early on, it's a series of Kool Kartoons.
Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the
ubiquitous Wilson brothers are given elaborately constructed personae
to fill. Once the clothes, the decor, the house, the weird occupations
and obsessions establish the cartoon premises, there is very little
left for the actors themselves to play; no real characters are written
film features the first Gene Hackman performance I've ever disliked,
but it's not his fault; he's trying to create a character in a situation
where that isn't really possible. Huston is beautiful and authoritative,
Paltrow is beautiful and sullen, Stiller is angry and silly. This is
a very, very underemployed group of actors. And it's a cold film, with
no real human chemistry, a story that winds down into nothing, with
nothing to say.
of Wes Anderson's great virtues is his affection for Pauline Kael. He
was desperate for her to see Rushmore before it opened, and actually
rented a cinema in western Massachusetts just for the two of them, so
that he could take her to see it. By Anderson's own account, she was
polite and noncommittal ("I'm not quite sure what you've got here, Wes...").
The Royal Tenenbaums takes Anderson's talent to the next level.
I think it's pretty much exactly the film he wanted to make. And Kael
would have loathed every minute of it.
©2002 Les Phillips