Fall Movies: Part 6
The Fall Movie Season is now officially over; ending, for the most part, with a whimper. So before we leap into the always-busy Holiday Season, here's the usual quick look back...
Above all else, the riveting, boisterous, poignant, surprisingly joyous documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten made me so grateful that I was a teenager when The Clash were at their peak. My God those were/are good records: The Clash (a friend had the early-release import), Give 'Em Enough Rope, London Calling, Sandinista... so urgent, and genuine, and unafraid, and propulsive. I still remember the way it felt the first time I heard some of these songs, in awe of the energy behind I'm So Bored With USA, for example, or surprised and moved by the sweetness of Stay Free, or, perhaps most of all, I remember the day London Calling came out, and Tod and I hitched into town to get it (though roommates, we both bought copies), returning to our dorm room and blasting the title track probably five times in a row before we could get any deeper into the double-LP. We had the whole school addicted to this record within days.
Anyway, the movie. The structure here is pretty standard Behind-the-Music stuff, combining archival and home-movie footage (love the opening bit of Strummer recording the vocals to White Riot) with talking-head reminiscences from bandmates and friends as well as appreciations from the likes of Flea, John Cusack and Bono. These are mostly shot by campfire light, an homage to Strummer's late-in-life affection for such communal gatherings, which adds a warmth and intimacy to the memories. All the highs and lows are dutifully covered, from his renunciation of his rockabilly and hippie friends right after forming the Clash to the riotous Bonds Times Square shows in 1981 (one of which—old school cred alert!—I was lucky enough to go to at the time) to the dissolution of the band and Strummer's years of depression, lifted toward the end of his life by his music with the Mescaleros. And if you don't get chills during the impromptu "reunion" of Strummer and Mick Jones, performing White Riot at a Save-the-Firehouse Benefit, then, well... you probably never felt, at some point in your life, that this truly was "The Only Bands That Matters."
Occasionally cute and completely harmless, The Martian Child is the story of widowed science fiction writer John Cusack (bullied as a kid, he grew up to be rich and famous with a beautiful house) adopting an emotionally damaged boy who deals with his issues of abuse and abandonment by claiming (believing? is actually?) that he's from Mars, and will be called back as soon as his mission here on Earth is completed. Co loved it, Bo liked it, and I was less convinced: a couple of good laughs and some genuine sweetness didn't quite outweigh the annoying tendency of every character to talk in an earnest whisper all the time, as well as an authorial subplot seemingly thrown in just to try to choke us up even more. Amanda Peet was fun to watch, though. Where's she been?
An interesting idea gone wrong, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes takes a terrific cast—including James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Mandy Moore, Kate Winslet, and Steve Buscemi—puts them into that alternative Musical universe where people burst into song to express their emotions (in this case singing along with old standards like Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart, Engelbert Humperdinck's Man Without Love, and, in the movie's best moment, Tom Jones's Delilah), and then uses fart jokes and nudge-nudge campiness to try to keep our attention. I wish Turturro had trusted his concept, and his actors, and played it straight. Maybe a genuinely sweet love story might have broken out.
Brian DePalma shows impressive restraint in Redacted, relying on none of his usual (and usually irritating) filmmaking tics. The concept is sound: show us the terror, the boredom, the isolation, the confusion, the travesty of the Iraqi War with immediacy and intimacy by potraying the life and horrific crimes of a single squadron entirely through "visual diaries": a soldier's camcorder, Arabic news reports, videos embedded into web pages. Unfortunately the movie is so poorly acted, and the script so annoyingly ham-fisted and expository, that by the time the story's defining act of violence rolls around I felt too detached from it all to even care. I wasn't in Iraq with these guys; I was at the Sunshine, checking my watch.
A twisty story that desperately needed more twistiness, the rewritten (by Harold Pintar) Sleuth was even worse than anticipated by my exceptionally low expectations. Michael Caine and Jude Law are pretty good moment to moment, but there's no consistency to their actions or reactions—no reason, external or internal, why one suddenly gets the upper hand over the other—and the script is all smugness and smarm pretending to be wit and intelligence.