The LiC movie-going weekend finally got out of first gear. Here’s hoping the trend continues for the remainder of the year. I’m tired of the winter movie dead season. There has been some good arthouse stuff and I’ve enjoyed some of the studio product, but mostly it’s been more uninspiring than usual.

This weekend started off with a screening of the upcoming Il Divo, the true story of controversial and complicated Mafia-linked Italian politician Giulio Andreotti. Well played by Toni Servillo (Gomorrah), Andreotti remains enigmatic throughout the film – writer/director Paolo Sorrentino seems content to display his many contradictory facets rather than getting at the root of them – but the morass of politics, religion and crime that are the cornerstones of power in Italy are brought to striking light. This is a very stylish film, fluidly photographed and veering from bursts of pop music to classical, but the style is never overbearing. It’s definitely a good film, and an entertaining one, but I haven’t yet decided if it’s great. Hopefully I’ll figure it out before it opens in New York on April 24th.

Next I finally sat down to have a look at Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in Duplicity. It’s not nearly as smart or sexy or sparkly as it thinks it is and it really was begging to be directed by Steven Soderbergh (writer/director Tony Gilroy originally wrote it with Soderbergh in mind), but like Gilroy’s Michael Clayton before it, it’s clearly aimed at adults and it mostly hits the mark. It gets maximum mileage out of Clive Owen who finally seems to be coming into the handsome and charming mainstream leading man people have been projecting for him at least since Croupier. Paul Giamatti is also fun as you’d expect. The twisty plot doesn’t really hold up under much scrutiny (and is made to seem more complicated by plenty of time shifting as the plan is formed and executed simultaneously with back and forth editing), but the thing that makes it work in the end is that the core of the story turns out to be more than the ins and outs of the somewhat unsatisfying caper itself. What that is doesn’t really come as a surprise, but I don’t want to ruin anything so I’ll say no more. It’s a fun if unremarkable film and recommended for fans of the cast and the genre.

Next up was this week’s new release Observe and Report. I’m told it’s being compared to Taxi Driver, which is a pretty significant insult to the Scorsese classic. The new film directed by Jody Hill and starring Seth Rogen has little on its mind besides some tepid mall culture satire. The biggest laugh in the film is at the expense of the audience who shows up expecting a comedy. It’s a dark and violent film, but empty and unrewarding. Much of the audience I saw it with seemed to get a charge out of it (when they weren’t texting), but I suspect these are the same people who like to watch the early rounds of American Idol as the talentless and delusional are trotted out to make us all feel better about ourselves. Seth Rogen’s bent mall cop provides a similar function.

Redeeming the weekend was Ramin Bahrani’s terrific Goodbye Solo. The whisp of a story (Bahrani as usual is more interested in observing his characters carry on about their daily business than he is in an overarching plot) is carried along almost completely by the engaging performance of first time Senegalese actor Souléymane Sy Savané in the lead role. Playing a cab driver in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he easily transcends the stereotype of the big-hearted foreigner. Instead, his otherness serves to shine a light on things we take for granted about American society. Goodbye Solo is easily the highlight of the weekend and is recommended for those who don’t mind their films heavy on character and light on plot. In the growing Bahrani canon, I’d rank it above Man Push Cart, but below Chop Shop.

That’s all for me this weekend. How about you?

30 Responses to “The Watercooler: 4/13/09”

  1. My weekend consisted of:

    Four more original Star Trek episodes;

    On Saturday night, first a trip to LACMA for a screening of Jeanne Dielman, etc etc 1080 Bruxelles. I missed the first five minutes, which turned out to be somewhat significant, but fortunately there were another 200 or so minutes to go. Fascinating and enveloping as a whole.

    Then, immediately after that, I went to the New Beverly for a screening of the ’80s sci-fi action movie Eliminators, which featured a mad scientist, a Mandroid, a ninja, a lesbian riverboat captain, neanderthals, Roman centurions, and a cute robot. So it was quite a night of movies.

    Then today, I saw a Fritz Lang double feature at the Egyptian, While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Neither in the top of Lang’s body of work, but both very fun and intriguing.

    I just wish I had made it to some, you know, new movies.

    I did notice, though, that Sita Sings the Blues, which I think some here have seen, is going to play in a couple of weeks in Los Angeles at the Arclight, so I got tickets right away for it.

  2. Jeff, I’m going to be waiting with baited breath for your comments on the new Star Trek movie because you sir will be an authority on all things Trek and any capsule review as good as the Ellminators round-up should be entertaining. I admire your taking in the whole of the ST film cannon. Good luck.

    My weekend consisted of family and Miley Cyrus. First, I saw Bolt, which was better than I expected but didn’t really hold my attention. I admire John Lasseter for holding to his promise to remake Disney animation. Even though this one borrowed a bit too liberally from The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, it was still better than most non-Pixar entries. Even the Cyrus-taint couldn’t ruin it, although the Cyrus tune in the middle nearly did me in.

    The rest of the weekend was all family fun all the time. That’s about it.

  3. I was about as light on movies as Joel, though the one I did see was decidedly less fluffy than Bolt (which I liked I lot last fall). It was Paradise Now, which I’d been meaning to see for a while now. Having seen The War Within some years ago, this didn’t add anything new in terms of story or suspense. I did, however, gain an even greater appreciation of the Palestinian plight. For some reason the writing really made me think of myself in that situation for the first time. Pretty dire stuff.

    Craig, I know it shouldn’t, but it does make me feel a bit better that you didn’t find anything in O & R worth celebrating, especially since I know you enjoyed FFW more than I did. Also, somewhere I read a comment that Rogen was miscast – why not just use McBride again? I hadn’t even thought of that, but yeah, why not just use McBride again? Interesting also that Rogen admits he signed on to the film literally without having read a word of the script.

    It might also interest you to know that Solo from Goodbye Solo (it is actually his real nickname) did have a bit of amateur acting experience prior to the movie. Ironically, he also spent two years working as a flight attendant. Bahrani said they had spent months in different cities looking for cab drivers after his original choice – the real Winston-Salem driver who Solo’s character is based on – decided he didn’t want to be in the movie. Solo (Syvane) walked into the NYC casting office one day and flashed that huge smile – Bahrani grabbed him immediately. Apparently Solo failed his driving test four times and only got a license the day before going down to NC to begin filming. Anyway, he shared all kinds of funny details like that – I’m sure they’ll be in a DVD commentary, and Matt Lucas can probably add a lot of background as well. But the flight attendant thing was pretty bizarre, especially since that had already been written into the story.

    Jeff, I have seen and recommend Sita. It looks great on the big screen, but it’s worth mentioning that Nina Paley released the rights for the film at the end of February (here), so anyone can watch it, download it, and distribute it. But I’m glad I paid a ticket price that might get back to her, and am glad it’s still going to get theatrical screenings.

  4. I saw three 2009 films over the weekend, including what I believe to be the “film of the year.”

    Tulpan **** (Sunday night; Film Forum)
    Sugar *** (Saturday night; Lincoln Plaza Cinemas)
    Of Time and the City ***** (Region 2 BFI DVD)

    Yes, that’s quite right: a ‘five-star’ rating for the Terence Davies masterpiece which is a biographical ode to the artist’s first 27 years in Liverpool, employing deeply emotional footage and priceless remembrances in this ravishing visual poem of a film. I actually missed seeing this by a single day earlier in the year when it played for two weeks at the Film Forum (I was so angry with myself for that) but the arrival of the splendid DVD from this week subsequently allerted me to this film’s mastery.

    It’s the best film of the year, period in my view from a director who may well have eclipsed Loach and Leigh in the Blarney Pantheon of contemporary filmmakers.

    SUGAR was rather pedestrian both as entertainment and as a depiction of immigrant integration. I am amazed that the reviews were as good as they were. This is strictly HBO fodder, and I’m a big baseball fan.

    TULPAN takes its cue from THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL a few years back, as Sergey Dvortsevoy’s first narrative feature is an enrapturing mix of humor, ethnographic drama and a vanishing way of life, among nomad sheepherders.

    It’s quietly enveloping.

    Jeff, as a man who spent a number of years being an avid “trekkie” of both the “original series” and the Next Generation (and having seen on syndicated television and video each of the originals too many times to recall) I’d be most interested in hearing which four episodes you did see over the weekend. Thanks.

  5. Sam, I saw Of Time and the City back in January or February, and let’s just say that I didn’t like it quite as much as you did.

    This weekend’s four episodes were “Balance of Terror”, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, “The Galileo Seven”, and “Arena”.

    Daniel, I’m glad Sita‘s rights situation has been taken care of, but I’d much rather watch a movie on a big screen than download anything.

  6. I saw Shall We Kiss on Friday, which was a lovely little French romantic comedy with some drama. As many who’ve seen it remarked only the French could have made a light weight little rom com like this so charming, and even provide it with a little bit of depth. Hollywood would have made it….something else.

    On Saturday I watched Saboteur, which I’d never seen (except the end). It’s not a bad Hitchcock film, and the beginning and middle were really tight and gripping. I found the famous Statue of Liberty wind up to be rather anti-climactic. He improved vastly on the innocent red-herring motif with North by Northwest; plus the latter had Cary Grant. The lead actor in Saboteur wasn’t bad; but for me Cary Grant and James Stewart are really two of Hitchcock’s best leading men ever. I know, it’s unfair to compare. :p

    I saw Saboteur on TCM and it was followed by my all-time fave Hitchcock Shadow of a Doubt, so I watched that again. :D

    And, in addition to watching Craig’s inspired clip for Easter, I ended the day with Easter Parade. There’s nothing I could say about that wonderful movie that hasn’t already been said millions of times. I consider it right up there with Singing in the Rain in the “Best Musical Movies Ever Made or Will Ever Be Made” category.

    That’s it for me. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday.

  7. The best of those four episodes was the Romulan one, BALANCE OF TERROR, methinks, but the other three are fair enough, even if LITTLE GIRLS is a bit silly, if campy. But BALANCE is a gripping and tension-packed piece.

  8. I’ve been on a TV kick, though I did see “Synecdoche, New York” earlier in the week. I found it very good, even great at times, but, while admiring the visual imagery and fantastic writing, I felt emotionally distant from the piece. It might require a second viewing.

    On the TV side, I started watching “Damages” (first season) and absolutely *adore* it. I’m hooked. I’m on episode 5 and looking forward to completing the series. I’d almost forgotten how brilliant Glenn Close is. Next up on the list is the BBC’s “Red Riding” trilogy (at Ryan’s suggestion). I’ve heard excellent things about it. Then finally I’m taking in “The Wire.” I know I’m late jumping on that train, but I feel it’s time to take it on :)

    With these slow movies days, I’m definitely discovering some amazing things in TV land.

  9. Sam I wish I shared your enthusiasm for Time and the City. Suffice it to say I liked Sugar a whole lot better.

    Looking forward tentatively to Tulpan though.

    Jeff, you might not have seen any new movies, but you get bonus points for supporting the LA retrospective movie scene. I used to be a lot better about it and I keep meaning to do it more often but… Well you know how it goes.

    LA has nothing on New York, but it’s a great movie town and I regret I don’t support it better.

    Daniel, I didn’t mind so much that O&R was dark and not funny, but it had so little else to offer (and don’t forget, I only gave FFW like 3 stars). McBride in the role would’ve made for a totally different film though I don’t know if it would’ve been better. It would’ve been easier to laugh at the character I guess, something I had a hard time doing with the likable Rogen.

    Glad you liked SWK Alison. I liked Priceless better last year as far as French romantic comedies go, but this one was good.

    Saboteur is definitely more minor Hitchcock, but as with all his stuff it has its moments of goodness.

    I thought about looking for an Easter Parade clip but then I decided to go with cynical.

    Joel, I think a certain prominent Oscar blogger was raving about Bolt being the best animated film of the year. Maybe I’m overstating his case, but I’m going to go with your opinion on this one. For a second there I thought someone dragged you to the Hannah Montana movie.

  10. Dorothy I had the same issue with SNY, though it finally got me near the end. There was a solid hour and a half there though where it was engaging me intellectually, but not emotionally. I finally cracked and it ended up in my Top 10, but I was worried there I was going to be disappointed by it.

    I’ve heard good things about Damages, and I highly recommend The Wire though I’ve only watched through the middle of Season 3 myself.

  11. And Dorothy in addition to what Craig said, just wanted to let you know that the Region 2 DVd of RED RIDING TRILOGY is on it’s way to me now from

    My colleage at WitD, Allan Fish, who praises it to high heaven reviewed it:

  12. Craig: I’m glad to hear we were on the same page with SNY. I wish I’d loved it a bit more, but as of now it wouldn’t have made my top ten. Possibly the honorary mentions because the themes and execution were so fascinating. I will say this, I’m looking forward to more Kaufman directorial efforts. Also, pretty cool that you enjoyed “Damages”! I must say, the show is pretty damn accurate in terms of the life of a junior associate at a Manhattan law firm (except for the murders and stuff…I hope).

    Sam: We might be watching “Red Riding” at the same time then. I hope we both end up loving it as much as the Ryans and Allans of the world. I’m certainly in the mood for more great television.

  13. Clarification, I haven’t seen Damages, but I’ve heard it’s good.

    SNY got many bonus points from me for sheer audacity. Kaufman was really swinging for the fences and even if he didn’t quite make a perfect movie, it’s one to be admired and I’m looking forward to checking it out again.

  14. Dorothy: Damages season one is pretty entertaining and probably works best on DVD in close succession (how I saw it). Season two was good although the producers/writers were working a little too hard to jam the narrative into the flash-forward framing device.

    Still, Glenn Close is really, really scary when she gets angry. She and Ray Liotta should team up to be a nightmare set of parents.

    I love the Wire and I recommend you dedicate yourself to watching an entire season before you pass any judgment on it. Its methodical pacing and massive cast loses a lot of viewers early on, but it rewards you if you’re willing to hang with it.

  15. Oops, forgot to mention that I also watched Rififi over the weekend. Don’t know how I did that – it was fantastic. :D

  16. Ah, Craig, well let me then recommend it to you…big time :)

    And thanks joel, I will adhere to your advice. I’m generally pretty patient with challenging projects, so I will be especially mindful with regards to The Wire. I will make sure to check back in! And so true about Close. She scares me…especially when she smiles.

  17. She’s perfectly suited to her character on Damages. She’s one of those rare actresses who can convey empathy, spite, and sadness in the same look and make all three emotions feel equally sincere. I’m not sure if she’s spent her entire career typecast as varieties of evil witch or if that’s really the limit of screen charisma, but she’s a master.

    I haven’t seen everything she’s done, but her Damages performance reminds me of the twisted loathing of her Dangerous Liasons character.

  18. I love Rififi, Allison. It’ll be even better the second time, just you see. I’ve never seen Shadow of a Doubt–why is that one your favorite?

    Jeff, that’s a capital idea rewatching all the Treks before the movie. I’ve seen every Star Trek film or episode, except some of Enterprise, and am looking forward to the movie. I don’t really have any expectations–Trek is all pretty hit and miss–I just wanna visit that world again. Am I a total dork for still having a Guinan action figure on my bedroom dresser?( Or for talking to her?)

    The Eliminators sounds like some kind of 80’s fever dream. Sounds fun, if bad. Thanks for making me laugh out loud.

    Craig, thanks for taking that Observe and Report bullet for me. Better than a mall cop, you are. I suspect I’d find Duplicity entertaining, and I’m even more eager to see Goodbye Solo.

    Ooh, thanks for the Sita link, Daniel. I’ll be checking that out sometime soon.

    I love musicals but somehow have never seen Easter Parade. Hmm. I don’t really even know anything about that one.

    One of these days I’m actually going to get around to starting The Wire. And reading the complete works of Shakespeare. Both are on my Best Intentions list.

    As for myself, Friday night I watched Happy-Go-Lucky, followed by One False Move with a little Buster Keaton’s Blacksmith short as dessert.

    All were great.

    I do not see how anyone could see Poppy in HGL as one-note. What a nuanced and fascinating character study that was. The broad, extroverted silly stuff is what gets all the attention, good and bad, but it’s the quieter moments of pain and introspection, struggle in which Sally Hawkins’ performance really shines. Eddie Marsan was also excellent. I just loved the heck out of this movie, can’t say that enough. I sent it back to Netflix the next day, but I already want to see it again.

    I want to see One False Move again, too, but at least we own that one. This would be a nice companion piece to Shotgun Stories. The violence at the beginning was highly intense and disturbing (because it captures the futile terror and horror of the victims so well), but the violence there and that punctuates other key moments of the film was not gratuitous. It was not so masterfully done as something like A History of Violence, for instance, but the violence reminded me of that: quick, necessary (at least for plot development), brutally efficient. The story was engaging and Bill Paxton especially was well cast as the seemingly happy-go-lucky (like how I tied that in?) sheriff of a small East Arkansas town that’s ‘specting a showdown. The Arkansas connection for me was fun even if the depictions of small town life didn’t resonate quite as much with me as in Shotgun Stories. They are far from caricatures of the slow, friendly Southern rhythms, even when they are played for laughs. Billy Bob was good, too. I liked how quickly the film does away with certain character nuances: you have no doubt from the beginning about whether someone is good or bad, yet the rest of the screenplay still manages to flesh out the characters into more or less whole individuals from their very black-hat, white-hat starting positions. The direction mostly worked; certain scenes stuck out, though, as actors reading lines rather unconvincingly, all the more apparent because most of the scenes are so much more polished (though they still have a raw, indie feel). Anyway, I recommend it.

  19. I do not see how anyone could see Poppy in HGL as one-note. What a nuanced and fascinating character study that was. The broad, extroverted silly stuff is what gets all the attention, good and bad, but it’s the quieter moments of pain and introspection, struggle in which Sally Hawkins’ performance really shines. Eddie Marsan was also excellent. I just loved the heck out of this movie, can’t say that enough. I sent it back to Netflix the next day, but I already want to see it again.

    Brava, jennybee. I was pretty perplexed by the reaction to HGL and particularly Hawkins’ turn as Poppy. It was, as you put it, a beautifully nuanced performance. There is so much going on in her face and her line delivery that cut pretty deep, even in the silliest circumstances. Life is what we make of it. I tend to think that’s what Leigh was going for. It’s a shame she wasn’t nominated. It was a solid and wonderful accomplishment.

  20. We enjoyed the treat over Easter of seeing Gomorrah, Rachel Getting Married, and Synecdoche, NY. And all three now find their way into my 2008 top ten.

    I know that Gomorrah didn’t find that much favor with many here but for me it lived up to the critical hype. The obvious point of comparison was City of God (which I love). It lacked the vibrancy and exhilaration of the earlier film but I found its own lower key documentary-like style just as assured and artfully handled. The servitude, tragedy, and degradation of so many within the Camorra dominated community/society was clearly documented, and I often found the individual human stories within the broader sociological tapestry to be genuinely moving – refreshingly so without recourse to melodrama and sentimentality. Finally, it was good to have the brutality and banality of violence represented without the romanticism and moral relativism it often receives in gangster entertainments.

    I thought the characterizations and family dynamics in RGM were fairly plausible – props to Jenny Lumet – and well performed by all concerned. I liked the choice of the shaky handheld camera and the often grainy film stock. It’s a well established approach to creating unvarnished reality, but worked well here. Although the film showed how a wedding can bring family together in ways that see underlying issues come to a head, it also underscored the power of music and celebratory occasions for taking individuals out of themselves and focusing them on their best feelings towards each other.

    After being dazzled by what I found a brilliant script Synecdoche, NY was slightly disappointing. I suspect with more viewings I’ll stop making the comparison and accept the film on its own terms more. I missed what was deleted or altered in the film translation. And I wonder whether the film suffered a little because Kaufman is a novice director. I thought many of the transitions between scenes (particularly during the first part of the film) weren’t always well paced and risked leaving viewers with too little time to more fully process the density of ideas – parallels, counterpoints, synecdoches etc. The script in this sense was far easier to follow – though admittedly one is self-pacing. Despite feeling a tad letdown, I was engaged and entertained by the story and performances throughout and found the ending, how it realized the sometimes experienced existential melancholy, very moving.

    I second Joel’s praise and recommendation of the brilliant The Wire.

  21. I just wanted to add one more to the praise of Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky.

    Sartre, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Gomorrah. I thought it far surpassed City of God, which for me was heavily disappointing.

  22. I’m fourthing (again) the praise for Hawkins in HGL. It was a great performance and she delivers a complete character, which is getting rarer and rarer these days. HGL reinvigorated my interest in Mike Leigh too.

  23. is this the queue where I line up for praising Sally Hawkins and HGL or is this for Mumenshantz tickets?

    My take on Poppy is that how people react to her says a hell of a lot about them. Take someone with soul cancer like Jeff Wells you is unable to go below her cheery facade and he dismisses her as a Happy Nazi.

    She tried my patience at times, but ended up totally falling in love with her. I think it was the scene in the doctor’s office when she was in excruciating pain and it made her giggle. It didn’t mean she wasn’t in pain, it was just how she dealt with it. That to me says everything you need to know about her character.

    Oh for crapsakes. Giant work shitstorm. I’ll finish this thought in a bit.

  24. Ironically, Mr Negatory Cynicism here wasn’t all that enthused to see HGL back in October and November when the world economy was on its way into the crapper and the election was dominating my mind, but seeing it last month I was in the perfect mood for it, unbeknown to to me.

    I can see how someone might bring a negative attitude to Poppy but I think she’d probably win just about any open-minded person over because she’s a real person, not a caricature.

  25. I kind of wanted to force you to see it Joel, but that’s not how I operate. If it had been jammed down your movie-lovin gob, you might not have liked it anyway.

  26. Now, where was I before I was so rudely interrupted by work…

    Oh yeah, Jennybee on being a dork. It’s a close call Mrs. Bee, but as long as you don’t have a Wesley Crusher poster and as long as it doesn’t have lipstick marks on it, you’re safe from dorkage for the time being.

    I’m glad you liked Gomorrah Sartre. I know one Ryan Adams was also a pretty significant fan….though he doesn’t like Poppy so what does HE know??? :) (I keeeed)

    I’m a bit surprised you liked RGM. Not sure why. Afraid you might get caught up in the liberal family hocus pocus that seemed to trip up so many?

    One of the things that appealed to me about the film was its emotional honesty, as hard as it was to take at times. I like a movie that isn’t afraid to have unlikeable characters and there’s a reason for it…unlike say Observe and Report which just wants you to think it’s edgy.

  27. Oh, no, no. No Wesley. I’m more of a Worf kind of gal (pre-Troi Worf, that is).

    I’m seeing Rachel Getting Married tomorrow, I think. Looking forward to it.

    One of my favorite scenes in Happy-Go-Lucky was the one with the homeless man. There is just so much going on there, all these layers of fear and intimacy and curiosity and compassion and overcoming inhibitions all at once, very subtle and gently played.

  28. That homeless guy scene kind of threw me. It seemed sort of out of the blue, but then I was thinking it was kind of just in her head. It had a dreamy/stagey quality to it anyway.

  29. Sartre I am happy at your reactions to both the Kaufman and RACHEL. I wasn’t a fan of GOMORRAH, but the critical establishment was overwhelmingly positive. No film ever made has 100% support. Even CITY OF GOD, which has something like 134 positive and 11 negative on RT and around 10 “100’s” on MT has found a few less than enthused campers here at LIC. But on that one I am with you all the way. It’s masterful. Beautiful work here as always.

  30. I want to clarify that I liked Gomorrah. Thought it was well done, but I admired it more than it moved me one way or the other. It didn’t show me anything new about crime, though I agree it should be praised for not romanticizing it.

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