Sunday, December 18, 2005

MORE:****MOVIE RECOMMENDATIONS***"The Family Stone; A History of Violence; Match Point; Munich.

THE FAMILY STONE: It is a good TV script...with stars attached, which makes it 'finance-able' as a feature. Warm and cuddly. Merry Christmas. I'm a sentimentalist, so I sort of enjoyed it...although the writing was a bit tortured in the beginning working too hard setting up plot and characters. The acting is almost uniformly solid. Claire Danes is lovely, much more appealing the in The Shopgirl (with Steve Martin). Craig T. Nelson is solid. As is Rachel McAdams is a flashier but easier to perform role. And Sarah Jessica Parker...whom I was prepared not to like...I liked a lot. She had the toughest role in the piece...but she makes it work, especially as the piece wears on. The only performance slightly out of kilter: Diane Keaton...ironically too soft and 'straight' (imagine; Diane Keaton, too straight?) as the mother. The character needed more toughness and weight, especially in the beginning, like the performance of Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment. Keaton's wonderful aura of neuroses in all her films works better in comedy than serious drama. Drama takes passion. Her character in this film, albeit comedic, demands dramatic depth to make the ending work. Overall: A little too PC a film to leave a lasting impression.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: Quirky, art-housey, basically slow. But Ed Harris is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. (SIDE NOTE: William Hurt is in the film also. Fine, as usual. BUT: Remember the William Hurt of yesterday? the decade or so ago run he had? The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Body Heat, Broadcast News? He and Meryl Streep ruled the nighttime sky. Brilliant. I miss that Bill Hurt. I'm sure he does, too. 'Ah, well; time and tides waits for no man...')

MATCH POINT: Woody Allen, the writer/director for my money is the genius of America film in the last 40 years, in the sense that he has captured best, more than any other filmamker, the neurotic pro-occupations of the American post-1960's generation. The American culture has definitely made its mark on him; he has left his mark on it. If any director can be considered an auteur, fusing a personal stylistic stamp on form and content to a whole range of work, Woody Allen deserves the term. He is the legatee of Billy Wilder, a softer, kinder, sadder version of Wilder; a generational shift from Billy's culture of heroes, whores with hearts of gold and tongues of steel to Woody's world of victims and pathos, men without resolve and women entwined in sexual affairs without passion, physical engage but frightened of love. All that being said, Match Point, starring Emily Mortimer, Mattew Goode, Scarlett Johansson and Johnathan Rhys-Meyers (all giving fine, okay performances; well, Ms. Johansson a little less than fine but who cares with that body, that skin, those lips...Marylyn Monroe with a little better schooling?) is an above-average film by a great director. Note I left Woody Allen the writer out of the praise equation: I'm afraid Woody Allen's script is not up to the director's talent. It seems to be what Billy Wilder once expressed as the idea of a "trunk script": one of those scripts no one wants to do , so you put it in a trunk until someday the time or occassion is fortuitous. Perhaps I'm wrong; perhaps the script is hot off the press, but the central idea seems old; even pre-60's if you will: a man follows the urging of his lower head to the detriment of his upper head, and this leads to tragic circumstances. It reminds me of the 40's and 50's film noirs (think Body Heat, or, in fact, Wilder's Double Indemnity.) Match Point is a pedestrian story made B+/A- by the equisite directorial taents of Allen (with camera moves, editing, location, photography, and actor instruction all excellent) wedded to a post-modern ending (which I won't give away). The overall effect becomes cynicism without redeption...Wilder without Wilder, if you will. Speaking of cynicism, a final note: why do I get the feeling Allen did this whole film to spend location time with Scarlett Johansson, a more zoftic, bustier version of the above mentioned Monroe and more autobiographically Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton? And didn't I read somewhere they were thinking of doing another film together? Oh well. Genius deserves its perks.

MUNICH: The plot summary from imdb: "During the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, eleven Israeli athletes are taken hostage and murdered by a Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September. In retaliation, the Israeli government recruits a group of Mossad agents to track down end execute those responsible for the attack."...a basically cold-blooded summary for a cold-blooded film. An action movie: 4 Israeli killers seek vengeance (that was the title of the book from which the screenply was written, by the way: Vengeance) on 11 Palestinians for killing 11 Israelis. Add in lots of violence, lots of money spent on shooting, great editing (once again by editor Michael Kahn, Spielberg's long-time loyal, trusted and brilliant editor), a great deal of pseudo-historical, psuedo-philosophical handwringing (why else hire Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame to co-write) and you have a Mafia war without the weird humane passion of Sicilians (although the lead Israeli revenger--played very nicely by the Australian actor, Eric Bana, by the way--does cook alot). Once again Spielberg proves while a great film maker (film as a technical medium) he has problems with ideas. Maybe it's something about being raised in the suburbs...

Oh...the acting...sometimes in a Spielberg movie you forget the actors because they are overwhelmed by the direction: The acting throughout the piece is uniformly fine. They do their job of moving convincingly from frame to frame (Spielberg 'storyboards' his scenes: that is, pre-shooting cartoon drawing of the action, for the uninitiated, before he shoots it). But two actors leap out anyways, in spite of the pre-design: Michael Lonsdale and Mathieu Amalric, as Papa and Son cynics cum information sellers. In their acting performances they encapsulate the whole film. More characters like them in the script could have saved a lot of shooting/viewing time. But it would not have been a Spielberg epic, then, would it?

My take on the Palestine/Israeli mess, in case anyone wants to know: In the 1930's a madman named Hitler led his German nations into madness. Together they madly allowed six million Jews to be annihilated. The rest of the world world did basically nothing...(forget WW II: WW II was about the Allies fighting the Axis to protect their attacked asses, not about saving the Jews.) The Jews that remained after the war became in: insane (wouldn't you after all that slaughter?). They leveraged the guilt-inducing Holocaust into getting the state of Israel, thereby making Palestinians, who had been living on the same land with them for years, as crazy as them. That left two groups of madmen slaughtering each other (how many years has it been now...fifty-seven?)...while the rest of the world again did/does nothing. Historical lesson: Madmen never stop themselves. Madmen think they are perfectly justified in doing what they are doing! That's why they are madmen. They have to be stopped. Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel at the time of the Munich killings, is quoted as saying something to the effect: "Every civilization enery now and then has to compromise on its values"? Oh? A sure sign of madness.
Compromise is a fall from the ideal, not a standard to be striven for, or an excuse for getting your way. Also, for those people post-compromnise, torn between continuing hate and pity, still wanting to kill (killing for whatever reason) and remorse (in whatever form)...(do I sense Spielberg posited on just that divide?)...: hate cannot be assuaged just with self-loathing and guilt. Killing someone and then bemoaning ex-post-facto one's participation in the act (in order to justify the act) does not expiate guilt. Another example: I think of Hollywood multimillionaire liberal producers who pay actors 'scale' (minimum salary) then bewail the circumstances of the working class ('God, don't I feel better now', they seem to be saying). Chest-beating mea culpas, or rational analysis, moral questioing after the fact (unfortunately this film is too full of it) is no substitute for sane judgement before the fact. As my mother used to say: "Ther time to be sorry is before you do it. After the fact, it is bullshit!" And then she spanked me." Back to geo-political history: The world must spank Palestinians and Israel alike. It's the only way they'll ever grow up. Oh, I know: who wants to take on the chore? Responsible adults, that's who. Like a world for whom right and wrong is more important that any guilt it might have from past errors. Like my mother. Otherwise Holocaust II; the Sequel will be right around the corner.


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