Having recently gotten through a huge project at Behavior, I’m finally getting some evenings and weekends back. Some of that time is spent hanging out and some of it watching movies; I’ve definitely missed being able to watch movies with frequency, and in the past two weeks I’ve finally been able to squeeze in a good number of them. Here are some quick thoughts on some of them.
In one weekend, my girlfriend and I rented a couple of ‘serious’ movies, which I’m finding that I am more and more leery of as time goes by. “Thirteen,” the story of how a thirteen year-old Southern Californian girl goes off the rails one school year reminded me of “Kids.” That is, I found it powerful and sometimes riveting, but in the end, the best thing I could say about it was that it was some of the best cultivated bullshit I’d seen in a long time.
Similarly, “Swimming Pool,” while benefitting from the inclusion of many, many scenes featuring a topless Ludivine Sagnier, nevertheless proves itself to be nothing more than a superficially literary version of a late Saturday night watching soft porn on Cinemax. The clerk at my video store thought it was awesome, which reassured me at least that some people in this world can find exactly the profession they were meant for.
I had low expectations for “21 Grams,” which straight out of the box practically accuses any viewer who hasn’t lost a loved one, had a heart transplant or had soul-crushing doubts about God of not being nearly deep or spiritual enough to be worthy of the cost of a DVD rental. However, I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked this movie and its performances. I even liked the overly complex editing, which some reviewers have found arrogant or self-conscious. For me, its fractured timeline, which revealed practically the entire plot in the first five minutes, allowed the film to put an emphasis on characters and to find the extraordinary in the banal.
Sounds of the Old West
In the past few months I’ve been catching up on Sergio Leone, thanks largely to “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and in doing so I rented “A Fistful of Dollars.” There’s a beauty in all of Leone’s work that I won’t deny, but at times watching even the enormous appeal of a young Clint Eastwood isn’t enough to overcome the vague feeling that it feels like homework. This is a facile complaint which can mostly be accounted for by my dwindling tolerance for movies that sound bad. The clumsy looping/dubbing of Leone’s early works is so poor and irritating as to grate on my nerves. It was truly a kind of endurance test to sit through “Fistful,” but I’m sure that if I had turned the volume all the way down and turned on the subtitles, I would have had very few complaints about this semi-classic.
After the mixed experience I had watching ”Spartan,” I tried to dig back into David Mamet’s career a bit, but I was stopped cold in my tracks by the film adaptation of his play “Lakeboat,” directed by Joe Mantegna. As an account of Mamet’s brief career on a freighter as a young man, this movie would amount to little more than a sluggish and meandering exercise in personal nostalgia and that would be it. But it’s worse than that, thanks to the laboriously laden, trademark Mamet dialogue, which here is at its absolute most pedantic and least appealing. After watching it, I understood a little better why Mamet relies so heavily on narrative charade; without the pretense or hint of sinister conspiracy, his dialogue loses almost all of its life.