Fall Movies: Part 3
The good movies are coming thick and fast these days, so here's just a quick look at what I've seen in the past couple of weeks.
Christopher Nolan is on a serious roll. His previous three films—Memento, Insomnia and Batman Begins—were all smart, entertaining, richly atmospheric thrillers, and he nails it again
with the terrific Prestige, the story of two rival magicians in Victorian England obsessed with stealing each other tricks, ruining each other's careers, destroying each other's lives. The cast here is excellent, especially Christian Bale; the magic is both creepy and thrilling; the pacing deft, as Nolan slowly peels away secret after secret. The Prestige is the second best film of the fall so far. Not to be missed.
I'm not a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, director, maybe because I often feel like I can't actually see his films, catching myself wishing someone would please turn on some lights. But I must say that Flags of Our Fathers, his epic retelling of the invasion of Iwo Jima, and the story of the men pictured in that famous flag-raising photograph, has to be counted as a huge success. The battle scenes are terrifying, brilliantly capturing the adrenaline of war without glorifying the action. The story of the three flag-raising survivors (led by Adam Beach's star-making performance) as the reluctantly tour the country as "heroes" trying to sell war bonds is by turns maddening, inspiring, amusing, heartbreaking. It's nice when a big Hollywood picture works on as many levels as this one.
If you're thinking to yourself "I don't need to see to Infamous, I saw Capote last year", well... you're thinking wrong. Though both movies cover the exact same period of Truman Capote's life—the four years or so when he wrote In Cold Blood—Infamous is in some ways the better, richer picture (there's far more of his life in New York, for example), and it's definitely much, much funnier, as Toby Jones plays Capote's unbelievably narcissistic fish-out-of-water to perfection. Also a nice touch: the faux interviews with the author's "contemporaries."
I'm glad I read Running With Scissors before seeing the movie... I think knowing the story in advance allowed me to simply sit back and enjoy the film's many well-played individual moments without having to worry so much about a cohesive emotional narrative. I'm also glad I went in with fairly low expectations, knowing that there was no way the film could completely capture Augusten Burroughs's memoir of his horrifying childhood, told with zero self-pity and lots of laugh-out-loud humor. So although it may not be the best movie out there, it's definitely worth seeing if you were a fan of the book, especially for Annette Benning's pitch-perfect portrait of Augusten's self-obssessed mom, and Evan Rachel Wood's take on Natalie Finch, whose self-protective energy and confidence only barely distract us from the incredible sadness roiling just below the surface. Jill Clayburgh and Alec Baldwin are also quite good.
Tense, tragic, frustrating, alive with desperation, Babel definitely puts you though the emotional wringer... but it's a good kind of emotional wringer. Told in the same sort of circular narrative as his last well-executed buzz-kill, 21 grams, this latest from Alejandro González Iñárritu jumps in and out of three somehow interrelated stories—Cate Blanchett gets shot in Morroco, and husband Brad Pitt tries to save her; Gael García Bernal drives his Aunt and her two young charges across the border to a wedding in Mexico, and it's a measure of how great this actor is that, even when he later does something unimaginably stupid, I still empathized on some level with his actions; a deaf Tokyo schoolgirl throws herself at wildly inappropriate men, including a police officer who seems to be investigating her mother's suicide—and, in the end, brings it all home. Beautifully filmed, admirably creative, totally wrenching.
I was hoping to be swept off my feet by Sweet Land, a love story set in 1920s rural Minnesota between a taciturn, hard-working farmer and his German immigrant "mail-order" bride. But although it's a lovely looking film, and Lois Smith is radiant as the courageous Inge Torvik, who arrives in this speck of a town in the middle of nowhere speaking little English, and who refuses to be beaten down by the townspeople's prejudice, the movie ultimately seemed to me to be more about pent-up desire than real emotional love.
Finally, there's Marie Antoinette, which I took Bo and Co to on opening night and which we all agreed was visually sumptuous (the settings, costumes, art direction, camera work, all of it), technically terrific and sometimes cute and/or clever, but OMG how tedious does it get to watch to hours of the idle rich being idle and rich!? Marie eats piles of sweets and gets drink on champagne and gambles away France's fortune and buys dresses and gossips and then, the next day, same thing. When the peasant mob finally storms Versailles for the Queen's head, we were more than ready to let them have it.