Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lying in Bed with the Laptop but Thinking about the Weekend

Literally the most meta Rambler title you'll ever read, no doubt. Yesenia is in the tub and I'm warming my loins with the MacBook, lying back at an odd angle and typing without even moving my wrists. This is as low impact as it gets (well, almost as low impact as that one time I spoke the Rambler using that dictation software, and it ended up reading like a phrasebook from a Chinese mental hospital).

Have a fairly work-packed two days in front of me - and then the decks will be clear for me to actually spend a full weekend alone with my wife. Time for just her and me has been too short, of late. Every weekend since September there's been a wedding or a party or a house-assist, or something.

Occurs to me that I've seen enough movies in the last few days that I can give some capsule reviews, so let's on to that.

Disney's A Christmas Carol
Undeniably big and flashy, but I'll have to admit there are some sequences that worked really, really well for me. Zemeckis chose to amp up the scares, which I appreciated. Particularly in IMAX 3D, not one to bring kids to. Even a fairly innocuous moment is made that much more intense when it's a mile high and simultaneously an inch from your nose.

The story is such that I don't believe you can ever wring any real drama out of it in terms of a character piece - all the flaws are there in Dickens' original, and the closer you choose to hew to his structure, the less likely modern audiences are to buy into it. Zemeckis doesn't help by adding a couple of his patented silly whiz-bang Rube Goldberg kinetic setpieces. But what's odd is that the quietest moments are the ones that really have an impact - I'll go on record here as stating that the Christmas Past sequences (minus the dance) were deeply affecting. Carrey's portrayal of the ghost as an Irish flame spirit - all whispers, hisses and gentle sputters - is both deeply cool and weirdly moving, almost the exact opposite of his by-the-book Scrooge. In fact, all of his ghost acting (he did all three Christmas Spirits) was really excellent, even though Christmas Yet to Come really just stood and pointed a lot.

Anyway, like all of Zemeckis' CGI extravaganzas, I'm pretty sure this one also won't hold up on DVD, but for pure cinema, I don't think you'll find a more amazing moment this year than the 3D opening credits fly-through of 19th century London. Holy shit.

Synecdoche, New York
A film that I found paired thematically rather well with A Christmas Carol, for somewhat elusive reasons. It's a meditation on a lot of things - the nature of obsession, the fear of death, the unclosed wound of rejection, the elasticity of time and memory, etc. But the overarching theme is the impossibility of art, which Charlie Kaufmann treats as zeno's paradox, here, as Philip Seymour Hoffman, given unlimited funds, an entire lifetime and an army of willing participants finds himself moving further and further away from actually saying a single thing.

Sure, there are the usual Kaufmann cute-for-the-sake-of-cute bits of surrealism - a woman who buys a house that is on fire, and lives in it for decades until she dies from smoke inhalation; the usual complete fear and distrust of women (particularly the fear and mistrust of Catherine Keener, who I think I'm now afraid of in real life) - but there's definitely something of value being said here, a real example of form and content working together to create a deeper meaning.

Do I recommend it? Yes. Would I ever see it again? Hell, no. Bummed me out for two solid days.

Whatever Works
Mostly pointless. The type of film that probably would have worked from Allen's run in the late 70's and early 80's, when he had the proper lightness of touch to pull it off. Allen's big problem is that he thinks he's much smarter than he really is, so whenever he tries to write a character that's supposed to be brilliant, I'm increasingly reminded of a classically trained singer trying to sing torch songs (if you get my meaning). Allen is brilliant at comedy of all kinds, but actual intellectualism and book-learnin' is clearly well beyond him. So his dialogue for Larry David as a former Columbia professor of quantum physics whose penetrating intellect has driven him into suicidal fits of despair just doesn't work at all, largely because the dialogue is the same that he wrote for Max von Sydow's curmudgeon in Hannah and Her Sisters, and Jose Ferrer's curmudgeon in A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, and the umpteen curmudgeons of ever other film he's ever made.

My father said it best, years ago (not about the 'intellectuals' of the Woody Allen canon, but it holds true): just because you're depressed doesn't mean you're smart. Seriously, if Allen wants to keep making films where someone is supposedly brilliant in a rarified field, maybe he should have them actually display brilliance in that field. It's not that fucking hard; hire a consultant.

Aside from that, I didn't really mind Whatever Works, but it felt as antiquated as anything Allen has ever done - more like a throwback to the 60's than even the 70's.



Unknown said...

Wow, I'm a little suprised you liked Synechdoche. I could see a typically caustic Dave dismissmal there... So, good. I thought it was a very cool movie, myself.
Speaking of things that will bum you out for days, wait until you see The Road. I just read the book. Yeesh.

Dave Kopperman said...

I like Kaufmann films in general, because even though he overdoes the surrealism, he's trying to wrestle equally with big, philosophical issues and small personal foibles.

I've probably never made it clear that this is a reason why I eventually got off the Lynch train: while I admire idiosyncratic stylists, I generally like to know there's some deeper meaning that motivates them. Kaufmann, Gondry, Cronenberg, etc., use their films as a means to explore interesting questions, whereas Lynch seems to be exploring film for its own sake. Not a criticism, mind you, just not for me.


Christine said...

"...that one time I spoke the Rambler using that dictation software, and it ended up reading like a phrasebook from a Chinese mental hospital."

Oooh, I like that. I still have an email my sister wrote to me about a decade ago using dictation software. She deliberately left it un-edited, and the parts where she laughs aloud at what the software wrote are priceless.

Dave Kopperman said...

Duh - sorry, I meant to post a link to that entry. Here it be:

Ansley said...

The Road is an overrated pile of merde.. Massively underwhelmed by it considering the hype I've heard from a lot of people whose opinion I really respect.. Shoddy.

Dave Kopperman said...

Yeah, the thread on Walrus made it seem like something I wouldn't be that interested in (not being a fan of literary fiction - and especially when 'serious' authors write science-fiction and get praise that lifetime genre writers are never afforded). The film - well, Viggo could be a sign of dire pretension.


shaunian said...

Ask Jahaneen to give her theories on certain David Lynch films. It'll blow your mind, man.

shaunian said...

The trailer for "The Road" looks like a reel of outtakes from "Children of Men."