Big Fan

I wasn’t. Robert Siegel’s film, a relentlessly-focused study of an obsessive Giants fan, has gotten a lot of love, for its nods to ‘seventies character studies (or at least its writer/director’s and star’s respective desire to emulate those studies) and for its central performance. Patton Oswalt is properly pouty and arrogant and vulnerable. The film follows Paul from Staten Island through some of his pitiful daily rituals (he doesn’t even go in to the games, but sits in the parking lot and watches on tv with his even more pitiful buddy Kevin Corrigan); when Paul and mate spy their hero QB in their neighborhood, they follow him into Manhattan, and into a strip club, and then eventually wheedle up the courage and go see him. And he figures out they’ve been following him, freaks, and beats the crap out of Paul. Cue the next hour’s sluggish commitment to Paul’s commitment.
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Tell Everyone

to skip Tell No One, or at the very least ratchet down the hype and lower–no, more than lower: shove to the floor–your expectations. Imagine a more gallic Ron Howard taking a mediocre thriller, pumping it full of old r&b standards, long shots of hero doctor widower mooning about his allegedly-dead wife, scissoring the timeline so that plot revelations seem startling (when, in any kind of cold expository light, they are pretty damn loony). This is a cheesy late-night cable thriller with a personality disorder, mistakenly assuming it’s a vivid use of thriller filler as fodder for more serious explorations of mood, reveries about love, leisurely paced to please the NPR crowd.

I probably hated this more than it deserved, but… to quote Chris Howell, fuck I hate the middlebrow. At the 1:35 mark I gave up, couldn’t even bring myself to trudge through another 35 minutes of suspense just to get the painfully ludicrous exposition I had already mostly pieced together.

Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle’s much ballyhooed film is a crowd pleasing tale of star crossed lovers searching for connection on the busy streets of Mumbai. Simplistic and sentimental, the dramatic action, which jumps back and forth in time throughout, cribs generously from a variety of sources: Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the musical Annie, Bollywood, Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick, Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (with an odd nod to August Strindberg’s Miss Julie). The story centers on Jamal, a young Muslim boy, and his older brother, Salim, both orphaned after a violent attack by ravaging Hindus (or so I’m left to assume). A third youngster, the lovely and beautiful Latika, joins the brothers and soon the melodramatics kick into high gear. As a young man some fifteen to twenty years down the road, Jamal works his way onto “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” (or “Kaun Banega Crorepati,” which appears to be a cultural phenomenon throughout southeast Asia), and the film is structured around how this young, uneducated “chai wallah” utilizes his “hard knock life” as a tatterdemalion to answer enough questions to potentially win 20 million rupees on national television. Each question triggers a flashback and so forth and so on. I’m doing my best not to give too much away except my mild disappointment in this thick slab of populist entertainment.

One could argue that Slumdog Millionaire chronicles India’s economic ascent during the age of globalization, but the film’s lurid portrait of India is painted in oversaturated hues. The film itself is visually busy—unnecessarily so. Everyone is corrupt, filth and degradation cover all most surfaces, and idealistic young love is a crap shoot at best. One thing that intrigued me is that Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy seem to extol western virtues throughout, celebrating a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality that privileges individual will over the community. Perhaps such notions are also celebrated in India. I’ll be curious to hear what others have to say.

Rachel Getting Married

HTM!!! Imagine Robert Redford’s Ordinary People–hopped up on steroids—colliding into a three-day “One World” music festival (you know: Peter Gabriel, Amadou and Mariam, Beausoleil, Damon Alburn, Jorge Ben, Clube Do Balanço, Manu Chao, Daft Punk, Toots and the Maytals, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, and, yes, TV on the Radio). I’ve grown highly suspect of movies about white people living in seven million dollar Connecticut estates; all this east coast, upper-class, boho bonhomie starts to scratch away at my spleen. No matter how many virtuous, upstanding people of color Jonathan Demme pours into the frame, Rachel Getting Married is still an over-the-top American tragedy about white people in carefully appointed rooms. That being said, Anne Hathaway gives a stunning, transcendent, raw and emotional, career-changing performance. It’s the best acting I’ve seen on the big screen since Daniel Day Lewis drilled for oil. If only Jenny Lumet had toned down the dramaturgical dead ends and shrill histrionics and Demme had exiled the great majority of his buddies and family members to the catering tables (I kept expecting Spalding Gray to return from the dead), the film might have settled in on a potentially lacerating evisceration of family dysfunction . . . but no, this is a world where Robyn Hitchcock sings songs in the backyard during a reception best described as a coalition of rainbows . . . I’ll take Margo at the Wedding, thank you.


we can’t be the only ones who’ve seen this. it came highly recommended by our friends jane and karen in boulder, not to mention the majority of reliable film critics, but i fear i found it a little disappointing. which is not to say i disliked it. the animation is wonderful, and a refreshing change from the pixar-realism of american animation, or for that matter the magical miyazaki style. however, the narrative was a little flat. the film may just be inheriting the graphic novel’s lack of thematic complexity (i have not read it), but i thought there was no real interesting connection made between the coming of age story and the potted history of the iranian revolution. by which i mean that the two were just there together, and neither illuminated or shaded the other in an interesting way. i appreciated the film (and the graphic novel’s, i presume) resistance to the mapping of personal growth onto a journey of salvation to the west, which is all too common a feature of the genre, but it would have been more interesting if the film paid more attention to questions of gender within the iranian revolution. from the little i know of it, i understand that older women, especially from the non-westernized classes were a large, public part of the revolution. and, of course, class itself is mostly elided here. i don’t wish to suggest that the story of a westernized, (presumably) upper-middle class kid cannot be the central story of a critique of the iranian revolution, but it needed to be situated a little more. why does she go to french school in tehran in the first place? how does her family have contacts in vienna and paris? (and, as sunhee asked, why is the film in french to begin with?) how does her immediate family survive in a time when all their radical friends are disappearing?

anyone else?

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Caught Ken Loach’s latest, which won the 2006 Palm d’Or at Cannes, and was surprisingly disappointed (I like Loach’s work). It’s not that it’s a bad movie necessarily (it is, uncharacteristically, gorgeous to look at), but it is just so earnest and prosaic, pedantic even (obviously, when it comes to the Irish “troubles,” there are absolutely no shades of grey for Mr. Loach). Cillian Murphy, still too pretty for his own good, plays a young medical student preparing to leave his home in County Cork and head to London for residency training. It’s 1920–six years after the Defence of the Realm Act banned any public meeting which threatened British security–and on his last day on the Emerald Isle Murphy participates in a game of pick-up field hockey which is interrupted by the nastiest “Black and Tan” soldier this side of Voldemort. Let’s just say the British are very, very bad and the Irish “freedom fighters” are stubborn angels with dirty faces. Still undeterred (his masculinity threatened by his older brother), Murphy (and the audience) must undergo a second act of extremely distasteful abuse/torture at a train station the following day before Cillian comes to his senses, gives up his education and joins the IRA. There’s lots of fighting and blood and death and betrayal (including the 1921 signing of the Anglo-Irish peace treaty) before Murphy’s character is quickly martyred and the end credits roll. Oh yeah, there’s also a love story involving a red-headed gal named Sinead. Perhaps if I hadn’t recently watched Martin McDonagh’s absurdly comic, hyper-violent short “Six Shooter” (which takes the extreme piss out of Irish narratives like The Wind That Shakes the Barley), I might have been more inclined to buy into Loach’s overtly romanticized history play, but Barley is a film I just can’t recommend.

flag of our fathers

has anyone seen this?

heart in the right place, i guess — heroes schmeroes, PTSD, the banal brutality of war. but why oh why do american directors have to spell everything out so damn explicitly? and why oh why do they feel a need to give us the same damn soundtrack every single time?

i wish i hadn’t seen it.

films that don’t hold up

i remember liking lost in translation a lot when it first came out. i watched most of it again last night on ondemand and discovered that i didn’t really care for it at all, that all it is about really is the pan-desirability of scarlett johansson (i think i’ve now spelled her last name 12 different ways in the last year). it would be a much better film if the female lead were not someone who causes everyone’s chest to hurt when they look at her.

however, i am ready for a 10 disc boxed set of scarlett johannson from various camera angles and distances.