Recent Disappointments

A Serious Man: My new least favorite Coen Brothers movie. I didn’t make it anywhere close to the great ending. Deciding to hit stop at about 45 minutes in was my favorite thing about it.

Up in the Air: Other than some love for Lambert Field, and Clooney not playing a retard for the first time in a while, I stopped caring the moment the (obviously perceptive) guy ditched the annoying chicky by text message.

: Once the high wears off from being stoned, I frequently wonder why I took the drugs in the first place. Same thing. Yeah, it’s fun to look at, and Cameron ripping off his own movies so blatantly that he could sue is amusing… I walked out of it thinking it was worth the $13 and sitting through the IMAX ads for the National Guard that still make it look like you couldn’t possibly come home missing a limb or your sanity, but driving a tank will be a real hoot.

The Road: Just a gray joyless turd floating in the toilet at Graumann’s Chinese Theater that I desperately wanted to walk out of, but I had a guest. I kept wondering if Viggo was going to pull a tooth out of his mouth at some point, and then toss it away nonchalantly. Take me with you Charlize! I’ll go walk into the snowy forest with you to escape this! I only take solace in the hope that the family who rescued the child cooked and ate him moments after the closing credits rolled.

Here I am at the Road:

The Girlfriend Experience
: Better at getting across the moneyangst of living under the Goldman Sachs presidency than Up in the Air, but oh so very boring. Just to be sure of the guy, I rewatched The Limey. Goodgodlamighty that’s a movie with more editing and acting (and writing and lighting) chops than just about anything I’ve seen in ages.

I’m afraid I was about to come to the shocking conclusion that I just don’t like movies very much. Then I watched Up, and I cried.

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Mark Mauer likes movies cuz the pictures move, and the screen talks like it's people. He once watched Tales from the Gilmli Hostpial three times in a single night, and is amazed DeNiro made good movies throughout the 80s, only to screw it all up in the 90s and beyond. He has met both Udo Kier and Werner Herzog, and he knows an Irishman who can quote at length from the autobiography of Klaus Kinksi.

15 thoughts on “Recent Disappointments”

  1. I’m with you regarding the Coens. If I had been watching this at home, I would have fast-forwarded through much (if only to get to the ending). I’m curious to hear more about your experience with Up in the Air. Was it the crying or simply the character of the young female whipper-snapper that turned you off the film? I really liked this. It is main stream Hollywood at its best. I also saw The Road and it is a long, hard sludge, but I fast-forwarded through that as well (it is visually impressive). Flaming turd may suggest there is more going on in that film than father/son bonding post-apocalypse-style and the gentle plink, plink, plink of a tired piano to soften every dystopian gray edge. I wish I was high at Avatar but I still see why this film is so appealing.

  2. Up in the Air felt or fell flat for me, too. I kind of loved Vera Farmiga, ‘though I saw the reveal coming a mile off, and the job conceit had so much potential — the stuff with JK Simmons was good, and I was caught up every time they sat down to fire someone. But… yeah. Clooney was ticcy, the escapee from Twilight seemed to be acting to the three cameras and the studio audience, and I was just … well, underwhelmed. Didn’t dislike it, but I did keep wondering why so many people so much loved it.

    (And I’ll say–after namedropping Hertz, the film then made up some other rental-car competitors. Okay, I get that–you get a product placement, but you wouldn’t want to deride any real companies. Well, *I* would, but I see why the filmmakers wouldn’t. But then, in the midst of the big emotional payoff, Clooney’s grabbing a rental car and drives off, and the attendant yells something about needing to see his Hertz gold card. Really? Really? Product placement here? I guess you could make a case for the deflating function of that little bid, how it cuts into or maybe even reveals the falsity of that emotional moment, but given that Hertz, and American Airlines, and a few other corporations, get a lot of screen time, even affection, however “satirical” the movie’s portrait of corporate travel… it felt like the movie’s failure. Like the whole film was setting up the ostensible vacuity of Clooney’s life and job and “passions,” but was itself reliant upon such vacuity, whatever scorn it could muster with the firings buried under corn and glib and unconvincing sad-Clooney denouement.)

  3. Jeff – I meant to give you more of a reason why I didn’t like Up In The Air before now. Basically it’s this: After one hour of watching the movie I did not care one bit what would happen to any of the characters I had been watching. Over the next few days, watching in 5 minute intervals, I did eventually finish it.

    It’s something I notice a lot more watching movies on my TV through the computer. When I lose interest, it’s very easy to just walk away. I’ll probably never return to The Men Who Stare At Goats and finish it. I didn’t hate it either, but the least a movie has to do is hold my interest.* And these last couple just did not do that.

    The specific things I didn’t like about it include the wedding bit in Wisconsin or Minnesota, every scene with the little girl exec., and having to listen to an entire three minutes of a live version of Young M.C.’s Bust a Move.

    Now, reading Reynolds’ comments, yeah: underwhelmed. My friend John Breinholdt use the exact word talking about this one. I still like Clooney. This just doesn’t compare to Syriana or Michael Clayton.

    *I still see movies that do hold my interest non-stop, even watching at home with all the distractions home brings. Last week I watched The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi by Takeshi Kitano and I don’t think I even paused it. It was great.

  4. sprinkles of profound discontent about A Serious Man on this blog from mark and jeff. me, i liked it a lot. it’s a bit slow-paced, but michael stuhlbarg and his larry gopnik keep it going with their haplessness, guilelessness, meekness, and sweet schlemielhood. i found larry very endearing and very, very funny. the schtick of the brother with a constantly discharging neck gland and a savant addiction to gambling is perfect because it keeps you just this side of entirely grossed out, and since the movie is slow, the tension (of keeping your food down) works perfectly. in fact, all the characters seemed perfectly pitched to me, and the setting, the american suburbs a hair’s breath from the advent of the sexual revolution and the age of aquarius — a stifled but also safe place, cocooned in a bizarre (anachronistic even while it was happening) kind of innocence — also perfect in a coen-bros (i.e. surreal) sort of way.

    the colorless suburb is an unlikely yet, in fact, uncannily fitting place for the placing of a flourishing, tightly-knit, observant, moderately devout jewish community. this community, in which everyone knows everything about everyone else (people everywhere compliment larry on his son’s upcoming bar-mitzvah) is a good counterpoint to the usual movie representations of the suburbs as a place of isolation, alienation, and existential angst.

    one could say that this movie has its abundant share of existential angst, but i prefer to think of the anguish of the characters (very poignant scene between larry and his brother by the empty swimming pool of the dinky motel where they are staying), not in terms of modern alienation, but in terms of, well, pain, the garden variety that hits all of us on the teeth just because we are alive.

    i enjoyed watching this movie from the angle of a religious meditation on pain and acceptance and the unsullied joy that comes to one from seeing a higher purpose, or at least some kind of reason, in the tragedies that befall him/her. when larry and his wife look delightedly at their son’s stoned performance at his bar-mitzvah, and the old, wise rabbi hands him back his radio with a mild comment which i now don’t remember, one feels relief, and solace, and a sense that there is levity in the world even when things go terribly terribly wrong.

  5. Gio! I’m with you. I really enjoyed Serious Man, particularly for the reasons you named in that last paragraph. Sweetly, subtly hopeful and meaningful–despite the parade of troubles rained down upon everyone’s heads (or neck). I was utterly taken by the attempt to interpret, ultimately pointless: yet one still needs to. (This may be a vocationally-overdetermined response.)

  6. me too! i was utterly taken by the attempt to interpret, and understand. and i loved the rabbis’ consistent, peaceful, detached attempts to dissuade larry from interpreting and making sense. it was caricatured, but then it wasn’t, because it’s the coen bros. and yes, one needs to — one needs to go to one rabbi and then another rabbi and then a third rabbi, knock down the door, make oneself raw with trying.

    i already said that i loved larry’s brother, but let me reiterate: the scenes when those two are together are great. the big hulky gross guy would put anyone off, but larry is so sweet, so accepting… it’s not clear whether he even likes his brother, or his wife and kids for that matter, but that’s beside the point, because, you know, he’s a serious man, and he takes life seriously. i love it when he gives the bribing student a painful C, then, tortured, adds a minus. he tries to get by, as best he can, uncomprehendingly, yet with a graciousness that moved me.

  7. I’d like to jump in here and also throw my enthusiastic support for this film. The performances are superb, and the direction is, as always, terrific. I was hooked about one minute in, with the Yiddish prologue. It stands alone as a nice short film, but also sets the moral tone of the film. The world is frightening and absurd and will always exceed our grasp, but there’s a confidence or peace (faith?) one can find in accepting our essential unsatisfiability. The wonderful story of the dentist who finds Hebrew writing on one of his goy patients’ teeth sticks with me the most. Larry asks what the numbers on the goy’s teeth mean, if there’s a message, if the dentist is being asked to help others. His rabbi says something to the effect of: “The goy’s teeth? We don’t know. A sign from Hashem? Don’t know. Helping others? It couldn’t hurt.”

    This film is a serious comedy. I know that doesn’t read very well. A bit of a cliché. But it is so good at building up angst, sadness, despair and then making, with a gentle turn, a quiet, simple statement as when the rabbi’s speaks his final words to Danny, “be a good kid,” and hands him his transistor (which Danny again listens to in class). A tornado is coming? Ish kabibble.

    I want to watch this again.

  8. we’re halfway through a serious man. had to stop for uninteresting reasons. i am confused by the fact that there are as yet no scenes of mauer and the chipmunks and i can’t quite figure out how they’re going to be worked in. it doesn’t seem to me like it would be possible given the tone of the film.

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