Fall Movies: Part 4
I saw six movies in seven days last week: enjoyed the first three-in-a-row a lot, didn't enjoy the next three-in-a-row very much at all. Here's my quick take, before the next rush of new releases...
I can't think of a movie I've seen this year that has two more attractive leads than Volver, with Penelope Cruz and Lola Dueñas* as sisters coming to terms with the truth about themselves and their family. But then, just about everything in Pedro Almodóvar's latest is attractive. The settings are beautiful. The photography: beautiful. The entire cast of strong, funny, warm and loving women? Beautiful. I fell in love with these characters, wishing they were part of MY life. They made me laugh, made me cry, gave me hope. So even though the (often amusing) plot involves cancer and murder and abandonment and some unsavory surprises, Volver is, in its own way, the feel-good movie of the fall.
Also funny, moving and hopeful—though, at times, definitely somewhat depressing as well—is the continuation of Michael Apted's epic journey through the lives of a dozen Britons, 49Up. As you probably know, this remarkable project began when Tony, Bruce, Sue, Jackie, Suzy, Paul, Simon, Nick, Andrew, John, Lynn, and Neil were all just 7 years old, kids from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds. Every seven years since, Apted has reinterviewed his subjects, edited in old footage with the new, and the result is a compelling, intimate record of love and heartbreak, careers and family, successes and failures, bitterness and joy. You know: life. I can only hope the series continues through 56 and beyond.
Switching gears, there's no question that Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat made me laugh. In fact, it made me laugh so hard I literally almost fell out of my seat. It made me laugh so hard no sound could even come out, and I could barely breathe. There are times that Cohen as Borat pushes it so far over the line that you can't believe he really has the guts to keep going, and then he does something even more appallingly stupid and/or rude than you ever could have imagined. The scene at dinner in the Southern home (on "Secession Drive", I think it was?) comes to mind... as do most of the bits in New York City. And yet, for all that, I can't help but think he wasted some opportunities (the homeboys late at night in some Atlanta ghetto), and with others, he pushed too far, too fast. For example, after a South Carolina frat boy tells us right at the start of a scene that he wishes there were still slavery in America, well... there's really not anywhere further down we can go.
If the idea of Russell Crowe playing cutesy appeals, then by all means see A Good Year, set mostly on a lovely Provence estate, complete with vineyard. Me? I couldn't shake the feeling that the whole smug movie wasn't a result of Crowe and director Ridley Scott patting each other on the back for three months saying: "look at how rich and charming and handsome and smarmy we are." Most fatal to my enjoyment of this—or any other—romantic comedy, however: in the end, he totally doesn't deserve the girl.
About ten minutes into Harsh Times I realize my mistake, and I'm thinking: why did I want to see this...? Maybe because of Christian Bale? No matter. Two hours of Bale—who, to his credit, never gives up trying to make this into something deeper than it is—and co-star Freddy Rodriguez driving around L.A., calling each other "dog" and "homes" every three seconds, smoking herb and drinking 40s and waving around nines, and basically just being assholes, I was reminded again of that most valuable moviegoing principle: don't go see something just because it's there.
Finally, there's Iraq in Fragments, an unnarrated documentary of what the war (and, not incidently, the years of Saddam Hussein) has done to that country's people. Part one focuses, for no discernable reason, on an 11-year-old Sunni boy in Badghad, and hammers home the point that living in that city today is nearly unbearable. Next we go to the holy city of Najaf and listen to lots of long, predictable speeches from an extreme religious (Shiite) movement led by one Moqtada Sadr, and then watch his followers beat the crap out of alcohol merchants at the market. Last we travel to the rural North, and see Kurds making bricks, playing soccer in the mud and ice, and hear them speak of their country as having become irrevocably divided. Yes, the climate of fear and hatred and despair and betrayal that hangs over all Iraqi civilians is screamingly apparent. But without any sort of background, or larger context, is this news?
* Damon and DiCaprio in Departed? Pitt and García Bernal in Babel? Depp and Knightly in Pirates? I'm open to suggestions.. but I think I'm right.