Summer Movies: Part 2
I went 5-for-5 last week at the movies, and with only one big Hollywood release among them. A quick look...
My favorite third-parter this past month (and there's been four of them!) has to be Ocean's 13, in which the boys deliver the elaborate-scam-goods with style and flash, cleverness and charm, cute humor and cuter smiles. The plot is completely ridiculous, of course—Elliot Gould gets cheated out of his fortune by Al Pacino, and so Clooney, Pitt, Damon, et al, seek revenge by bankrupting his state-of-art casino on opening night—but the internal logic is sound, the laughs come quickly, the pacing brisk and smartly edited, and Las Vegas looks fabulous, like a place you might actually want to visit. A fluffy but altogether satisfying summertime treat.
I thought the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose would be more heartbreaking—her voice is so sad, her story even more so—but that didn't stop me and Tom from liking just about everything here, especially the bravura performance by Marion Cotillard, whom I never got tired of watching, even with all her nearly-clownish mannerisms, her diva-fueled tantrums, her freefall into drug addiction that destroyed her body and mind at an pathetically young age. The music, too, is wonderful (Cotillard lip-syncs throughout), and richly evocative of a seemingly so-long-ago time and place. The jumbled structure irked some critics, but both Tom and I thought it was well-handled by director Olivier Dahan, and added interest rather than incoherance. And then there's that beautifully constructed scene—one of the most memorable and affecting of the year—in which the love of Piaf's life arrives in New York City after flying all night from Paris...
I thought the documentary Crazy Love was excellent, and was totally riveted for the entire 90 minutes of what is essentially a retelling, by the participants, of the twisted, tabloid-y, decades-long relationship between Bronxites Burt Pagach and Linda Riis. But it's possible I would have liked the movie even more if I had gone in cold, with no idea just how crazy this love actually is. So I'm not going to say anything more here, except that all the storytellers are charismatic (though the effects of age can be brutal), and their tale just gets more and more bizarre as they go along.
Although definitely suffering from the repetition that bogs down all junkie stories, Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber's acclaimed 1988 portrait of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, is saved from being simply an artsy Behind the Music by the subject's luscious, impossibly soft singing voice combined with his extreme (though in no way enviable) cool. The movie is also lovely to look at, with Weber matching the vintage material by shooting his then-contemporary footage in grainy black-and-white—mostly studio performances and interviews (lots of Baker, whose dope-ravaged visage made my face hurt, but also his many ex-wives and lovers, as well fellow musicians), but there are also great scenes of Baker goofing around on a Malibu beach with, of all people, Flea and Chris Isaak, as well as a mad road trip ride that ends in a wreck and this classically dyfunctional summation from Baker: "Well, the day wasn't a total loss... we killed a tree!" Let's Get Lost is now enjoying a limited, nationwide rerelease, and if you have any affinity for this sort of cool jazz, it's well worth seeing on big screen.
Golden Door, the story of a family of Italians immigrating to America in the early 20th-century, wasn't entirely what I expected, and that turned out to be a good thing. I had heard that it was beautifully shot, and that's certainly true. And that it provided a carefully-observed historical portrait of rural Old World Italy (an almost Medieval-feeling place of rocky landscapes, superstition, and donkeys); of the frightening, claustrophobic, yet also thrilling passage across the Atlantic; of the chaotic, nearly incomprehensible bureacracy of Ellis Island... all of which it does, and does exceptionally well. What I wasn't prepared for was the movie's sweetness and light, especially the fantastical, Michael Gondry-esque touches of whimsy, but which worked and were welcome and made me like the whole thing even more.