Monthly Archives: December 2007

A few movies

What I’ve seen:

The Savages: The writer-director of Slums of Beverly Hills can’t resist a too-cute opening montage of seniors pirouetting a la Busby Berkley against a Barry Goldwater-approved Arizona backdrop; or giving Laura Linney a breakup scene with her boyfriend instigated by a question about her fern (it’s one of those details designed to develop character of which Cameron Crowe is so fond, like the bit of business in Singles involving Bridget Fonda Kyra Sedgwick and a garage door opener). These are the middlebrow equivalents to the highbrow flourishes in Jean Cocteau’s Les enfants terribles, this movie’s obvious influence. I don’t buy Philip Seymour Hoffman’s book on Brecht; it’s a sop, like Woody Allen characters yammering about Rilke like Woody himself hasn’t read him (you can discuss art and politics in American movies without looking smug). But Tamara Janowitz avoids “closure,” and she’s blessed with two of the least sentimental actors around.

Juno: “Jason Bateman’s character is one of the members of Vampire Weekend ten years later,” I wrote somewhere today. Thank You For Smoking‘s Jason Reitman deepens his talent for exacting portraits of trends and mores skewed at least a half-dozen times in the thirty years since The Graduate. He’s a selfless talent too; he honors the intentions of the material being adapted. The first hour is such a meticulous rendering of screenwriter Diablo Cody’s hipster gotcha-every-few-seconds approach that I wanted to run into Love in the Time of Cholera, playing next door. It’s “Papa Don’t Preach” written by Lily Allen. Then Reitman-Cody take their feet off the gas pedal, and allow the natural empathy of actors like Alison Janney and Jennifer Garner (in a lovely, disarming performance that’s one of the year’s best and least acclaimed) to absorb Ellen Page’s tuba blast of a performance. And knobby-kneed Michael Cera (who’s got no scenes with “Arrested Development” costar Bateman) has gotten more mileage out of shades of befuddlement than any actor since Buster Keaton.

This is England: White riot, I wanna riot, white riot, I wanna riot of my own.

The only hint of discord on what’s so far been a lovely vacation is learning that Tim Finney just had a benign tumor extracted. All news is very good, apparently, so we can all breathe a little easier.

I know Tim slightly from ILM, numerous private emails, and the R&B blog assembled by Andy Kellman (which, sadly, seems on sabbatical). His musings on pop and dance music combine the best common sense with un-self-conscious erudition; you sensed his brain humming as he listened. His affective formalism is at its best when he parses the evolution of a singer’s emotional state over the course of a song, as he does here in this post about Jacques Lu Cont’s Thin White Duke mix of the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” that’s much the best thing ever written about it. I wooed him many times to write for Stylus — his sensibilities and the magazine’s would have been a perfect marriage — but he gave me nothing but polite demurrals. Our discussion earlier this year on Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage was an awful tease: I wish we’d done this sort of thing more often.

Maybe his best contributions this year were to this gargantuan thread which, beside fine postings from Al Shipley, Chuck Eddy, and Jess Harvell, is dominated intellectually by Tim in the last third.

Good luck, Tim. Happy holidays.

An addendum to my last post regarding ageing: bitching about “compressed” schedules, i.e. not enough time to listen to every album you want before year-end lists are due. I’ll post the music lists before the end of the year, but, thanks to South Florida’s erratic release schedule, will wait on movies, especially since I’m catching up on a few late arrivals (Juno, The Savages) over the holiday.

Like a bad trip that won’t go away, Ethan Hawke’s teeth in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead haunt my sleep. Forcing his voice through those yellowed, sharp babies produces the best imitation of Tim Roth’s shot-in-the-belly spams in Reservoir Dogs I’ve ever seen. It’s indicative of the movie’s anachronism that it reveres Hawke’s hysterics as realism — realism filtered through the Method. Kelly Masterson’s script too. Hollywood’s always been a sucker for comebacks, so it’s some kind of achievement that an octogenarian like Sidney Lumet can spearhead a project as overwrought as The Hill, Prince of the City, and the worst parts of Network, among many, many others (Hollywood also respects a certain kind of aesthetic consistency, which is why Peter Weir still gets the occasional big assignment).

I’m relieved that, as the various critics groups circle the waters, this bit of awards chum has been comparatively overlooked. All I took away was Lumet’s unexpected detachment from the scenes in which Philip Seymour Hoffman’s skeeze visited a heroin dealer’s expensive downtown loft; for a few minutes we’re thrown into a Tsai Ming Liang film. Hoffman has never employed his bulk to a better effect as he navigates the familiar geography, taking off his watch, tie, and shirt for what we think is a gay tryst. The dealer, by the way, is played by Blaise Hunter, whose boredom serves as counterpoint to the rest of the cast’s grandstanding (his response to Hoffman’s confession that wife Marisa Tomei left him: “Bummer.”). It’s a sign of progress that Lumet shoots him in long shot, without calling attention to his Man Who Fell To Earth wedge haircut and kimono. Or maybe he was repulsed. It’s hard to know when Lumet clearly prefers Albert Finney’s rutting-bison nostril flaring in closeup.