I said Goddamn, kilogram! 2009 is shaping up nicely already. Case in point?
(1966) “Walt Disney with blood.” Trenchcoated
Anna Karina arrives in Atlantic City
(apparently a provincial French town) to track
down boyfriend Richard P… (phone, plane
or car noise constantly blots out the last
name), only to find... And then the bodies
start dropping, amid encounters with the
mysterious, height-challenged M. Typhus,
his nephew David Goodis (a character, not
the Shoot the Piano Player author), Goodis’s
singing Japanese girlfriend Doris Mizoguchi,
characters named “Richard Nixon” and “Robert McNamara,”
while being shadowed by Jean-Pierre Léaud and László Szabó’s
“Paul Widmark,” with a break for a Hegelian bull session in
a bar, punctuated with the real Marianne Faithfull warbling
“As Tears Go By.” Made as a favor to his cash-strapped producer
Georges de Beauregard, and filmed simultaneously with
Two or Three Things I Know About Her,
this ostensible adaptation of a story by
American crime writer Donald Westlake
was Godard’s farewell to his muse/ex-wife
Karina, never filmed more glamorously, as
she changes from one colorfully Mod ensemble
to another, posed against starkly colored
backgrounds and shot (by New Wave legend
Raoul Coutard) in a succession of giant, haunting
close-ups. But it’s simultaneously an extremely
metaphorical and narratively disjunctive
treatment of the notorious disappearance/murder — still unsolved
— of exiled Moroccan leftist Mehdi Ben Barka and Godard’s
own way of suggesting a vast Cold War conspiracy. Dedicated
to “Nick [Ray] and Samuel [Fuller], who taught me about image
and sound” and virtually unseen in this country due to rights
issues, this is Made in U.S.A.’s very first U.S. release in 35mm.
“Godard’s hymn to
vulgar modernism.” –
J. Hoberman. “The many
shots of Anna Karina, with their wide variety of mood — each
a different pose, angle, expression — serve as a catalogue of
remembrances. The close-ups are the most expressive ones
in color that Godard has made to date.” – Richard Brody. “The
chance to see Made in U.S.A. on the big screen again provides
an opportunity to rescue movie art and revive film enthusiasm.”
– Armond White, New York Press. “Godard continually cuts
the ground from under our feet… every narrative element is
analyzed into tiny movements, and then recomposed, somewhat
in the manner of classical Cubism. There are sequences like
mosaics gone mad.” – Richard Roud. Color; Approx. 90 minutes 1:00, 2:50, 4:40, 6:30, 8:20, 10:10
'Tis the season for bad seeds, the misunderstood, the glowering, the downright Smother-ing resentment of "Mom always liked you best." Which is another way of saying that the cinetrix recently caught up with three prestige releases that had eluded her: A Christmas Taleand Rachel Getting Marriedback to back one Saturday, and The WrestlerSunday before noon with my pal Andy. Dysfunctional fun abounded.
Taken together, these films remind us that the return of the prodigal is an irresistible trope. [Milton gave God's fallen favorite Satan the best lines, don't forget.] Mathieu Almaric's Henri returns to Roubaix, Anne Hathaway's Kym leaves rehab for Stamford [a harsh trade, that], and Randy gives up wrestling to dish out deli. These are the showy, scenery-gnawing roles, but what I remember more than a week on are the peripheral parts these big personalities edge out to the margins.
Are there better female faces in film right now than those of Emmanuelle Devos and Chiara Mastrioanni? Devos' Faunia rolls her eyes at the acidic snipes and genteel anti-Semitism of her boyfriend's fucked-up Christian family and continues tucking into her food. Sylvia, on the other hand, saddled with the dutiful daughter[-in-law] role, drags on her omnipresent cigarette on the sidelines until something in the depths of her sad eyes [so like her father Marcello's] at last ignites.
Rosemarie DeWitt's titular Rachel doesn't have a memorable face. That distinction, like so much else, seems to have gone to her undeserving attention-suck of a sister. But its ordinariness barely masks the seething and, let's face it, self-righteous rage roiling underneath. Rachel is furious, and it is fascinating to see how casting herself as a martyred Abel to Kym's Cain has shaped her entire life. She's so used to being overlooked that she's even assembled a wedding party far more interesting than herself, filled with showboats of all stripes, and must adopt the costume and customs of more "colorful" cultures to become the center of attention. Her resentment is unattractive, raw, and magnificent.
Rachel should take a page from Marisa Tomei's book. As stripper Cassidy, she more than holds her own opposite the heartbreaking wreck that is Mickey Rourke's Ram through savvy, matter-of-fact underplaying. [The cinetrix is on record as wanting to come back as a 44-year-old naked Tomei in her next life.] Nearly naked or swaddled in a puffy down parka, she glows in an underwritten part, whereas Evan Rachel Wood as Ram's neglected daughter can only sulk.
The cinetrix must lack the gene for best-of list-making--it's never come easy. Still, when the indieWIRE Critics Poll came a-calling I resolved to sack up and take a whack at evaluating the small fraction of the year's movies I managed to catch. My top 10 and comments follow; the rest of the lists can be found here.
N.B. Any flick with award aspirations and a post-Thanksgiving limited release that doesn't appear here I probably haven't seen yet, and if you ask me later it might well unseat one of the 10. Or not.
1 - Encounters at the End of the World
2 - The Exiles
3 - Happy-Go-Lucky
4 - JCVD
5 - Man on Wire
6 - Momma's Man
7 - My Winnipeg
8 - Reprise
9 - Synecdoche, New York
10 - Trouble the Water
Note: NOT RANKED
For the birthday I observed when I was in graduate school, my only request was that we do something that didn't end with me having to shlep home from Manhattan on the N at the end of the night. So we ended up getting burritos from the place on 9th and drinking old-man drinks at Jackie's 5th Amendment down the street from my place. Jackie's has a great jukebox, and I remember distinctly listening to "Under My Thumb" that evening.
Today's plans are farther ranging and more ambitious: a micro-road trip with the 'Fesser, a self-designed double bill of two recent critical faves, a delicious meal, maybe a nightcap at the Manhattan, then home. And instead of "Under My Thumb," I give you "Wild Horses." Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Just a quick note to share the exciting news that if the cinetrix would like to see, say, Synecdoche, NY, this weekend, she needs to drive two hours north, into the mountains. Rachel Getting Married or A Christmas Tale? Two hours southwest, through the worst commute on the continent. Happy-Go-Lucky is a mere 90-minute jaunt to Chronic Town.
Bolt, however, takes up two screens at the nearest megaplex.
A word of caution to those dwelling in the provinces. Yes, carving out time to go to the opening weekend of the NYFF can be fun and exciting, but if your pals are in the press-screening set, proceed with caution. They'll already have two weeks of early-morning movies and late-night drinking under their belts. So they'll have seen nearly everything already and have developed livers of steel.
Or so was the cinetrix's experience the last weekend of September. A Thursday night spent drinking with Aarons Hillis and Dobbs and Herr "I heart Tulpan"Filmbrain meant Friday morning found the cinetrix rendered useless. So, no 10 a.m. Happy-Go-Lucky with acerbic Mike Leigh press conference for me. Pity.
As it was, I barely made it to that afternoon's film, Gerardo Naranja's Voy a Explotar, a charming Mexi-confection made of equal parts A Little Romance, the oft-cited Pierrot le Fou, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Young Maru, a saucer-eyed lewd infant, falls for her "perfect accomplice," brooding brat Roman, after he "hangs" himself for the school talent show. She vamps in her mirror and confides her feelings via voiceovers and notebooks: "He exists, but I made him up." It is a relationship sanctified under the sign of Saint Stephen [Morrissey] and sealed with a stunt where Roman wields a gun [first act, for those of you scoring at home] and "kidnaps" Maru from school.
Rather than run away straightaway, they spend the second act camped out on the roof of Roman's house, thus proving one of the cinetrix's pet theories that no one ever looks up [see also City of Cranes]. Below-stairs their parents wig out between shots of tequila; up above, the young lovers bicker and booze, nuzzle and argue over their taste in movies and when they will finally make love in the red pup-tent that bathes their puppy-love fumblings in a womb-like glow.
The entire film is washed in a paleta palette of warm and cool colors, which grow increasingly colder once Roman y Maru take their amour fou on the road. Their objective is Mexico City, by way of a country Quinceañera. There Roman gets drunk and starts waving his piece around, signaling the arrival of the third act, their return home, and the inevitable end of the romance, awash in the strains of Delarue. Oh, who am I kidding? I loved every melodramatic minute.