Rightwing Film Geek

From Benedict XVI

just for Theo:

Salam Maria umejaa neema Bwana yu nawe umebarikiwa kuliko wanawake wote na Yesu mzao wa tumbo lako amabaliki wa.
Maria Mtakatifu mama wa Mungu utuombee sisi wakosefu sasa na saa ya kufa kwetu. Amina.

March 12, 2008 Posted by | Humor | Leave a comment

Speaking of mediocre


THE BAND’S VISIT — Eran Kolirin, Israel, 2007, 4

Why on Earth is a sometimes entertaining, but by-the-numbers bit of Cultural Contact Melts The Hearts Of Enemies twaddle scoring a 97 percent at Rotten Tomatoes? Is it just the subject matter — don’t answer that one.

THE BAND’S VISIT starts off well, opening with comic gags that remind me a bit of Elia Suleiman’s DIVINE INTERVENTION, with the deadpan wit (“this event was not that important”), comically misleading framing, stiff formality of movement and the way the Egyptian band is repeatedly lined up in formation like toy soldiers. I was thinking this might be a real clash movie about the elaborate formality of an honor-based culture amid the informal bluntness of Israeli society. I’ve talked to more than one Israeli scholar who’s told me that this gap in communication style has often harmed Arab-Israeli talks quite apart from the gap on the underlying issues. There is some of that for a while, particularly in the first meetings between the band and the bored Israeli villagers — “would you be so kind, in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves / how can I help you.”

But I began to suspect THE BAND’S VISIT would run dry on inspiration when the Egyptian band winds up in the middle of nowhere based on a mispronunciation. They were supposed to go to Petah Tikva, but improvised bus tickets to Bet Hatikvah … ho ho ho. Once you realize what the film’s architecture is (the Egyptians are stranded, they will get to know the Israelis, and vice versa, and hearts will be melted) absolutely everything that follows was completely predictable, including critical praise like “the bridge-making capacities of hospitality and the way music serves as universal language that draws people together … the cause of peace is nurtured in such soulful moments” (come off it, I want to say).

Sure enough, the little lessons come — they find their common humanity by singing “Summertime” and discovering a common interest in Chet Baker (quelle coincidence for me), wordlessly showing how to hit on a chick (actually a pretty funny scene), reminiscing about Omar Sharif (“my life is an Arab movie”), and looking at artifacts of broken families (“we are all alike”) etc. About the only narrative question I really had while sitting through the last hour was whether the liberated Jewish woman (the terrific Ronit Elkabetz) would bed the grieving widower (Sasson Gabai, very strong) or the ladies man (Saleh Bakri).

Like DEFINITELY MAYBE’s succeeding at not being terrible, THE BAND’S VISIT is probably a better film than MEDITERRANEO or THE WAR, but that’s the best you can say about it.

March 12, 2008 Posted by | Eran Kolirin | | Leave a comment

Lost from the 90s


DEFINITELY MAYBE — Adam Brooks, USA, 2008, 3

In the same vein as below, terrible movies can sometimes make bad movies in the same genre look tolerable. What can be said about DEFINITELY MAYBE after Scott Tobias said “Put simply, the film excels most at not being awful.

“EFINITELY MAYBE is not head-thumpingly awful, but it’s also so thoroughly mediocre and predictable throughout that it hardly makes a difference. I was hoping from the trailer to get something like THE PRINCESS BRIDE (or maybe a less-trippy version of the upcoming THE FALL) but it’s played pretty straight up, more like a TV episode than anything else.

Ryan Reynolds has no charisma or charm that I can detect and really cannot play anybody over the age of 20 in body and over 15 in soul. Of course, a girl of age 8 (in body, that is; 30 in soul) has to be the wisest character in the film because, you understand, it starts with sex ed day, and the kids are supposed to ask their parents how they met. Once the characters of the three women the father is telling her about, as the women he dated seriously, have been set up — and you know from the film’s opening scene that the marriage in the flashback storytime tale is gonna end in divorce in the film’s present-tense— well, all you have to do is remember that Hollywood values are those of bohemian anti-traditionalism (now calcified enough to be its own tradition), and it’s obvious.

Still, DEFINITELY MAYBE is notable for two firsts in current movies. First, it’s an exercise in 90s nostalgia. And surprisingly, it’s not nearly as didactic as I’d feared when the plot makes Reynolds a volunteer with Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. BTW, this is one of those movies that takes place over 15 years and nobody ages noticeably. But nostalgia for a decade that I was already an adult when it began? I feel old.

Second and far more interestingly … like all movies now, DEFINITELY MAYBE takes place in the routine-divorce culture. That can’t not affect the romantic comedy genre, and I alluded to one of the ways here last year. But still, never have I seen in a conventional romantic-comedy, a child spend the movie’s last reel trying to get her father back together — not with her mother — but with an old girlfriend whom the child had never met. And not because her mother is dead or abusive or somehow “out of the picture.” Now, we consider divorce so routine (a reason for the one in this movie is never even hinted at, as if there’s no need) that we consider it an acceptable fantasy for a child of divorce to express, not the natural wish about her parents getting together, but a wish about getting a step-parent. If there’s been a conventional romantic-comedy with that rather self-rationalizing-for-adults premise (“it’s what the kids WANT”) — I’m unaware of it.

March 12, 2008 Posted by | Adam Brooks, divorce | , | Leave a comment

Lost from the 80s


LET’S GET LOST — Bruce Weber, USA, 1989, 8

Bad movies can sometimes make good movies in the same genre look even better in retrospect than they might have otherwise. LET’S GET LOST is a documentary about jazz trumpeter/singer Chet Baker whose life seemed to follow the same trajectory as Ray Charles or Johnny Cash. Or rather, the trajectory of RAY or WALK THE LINE …. the early success, the multiple marriages/family crises, the drug addiction, the out-of-favor period, the comeback.

But LET’S GET LOST doesn’t follow that template at all, and really profits by that comparison. Director Bruce Weber does something curious and refreshing with the life story, which is to basically ignore it, though admittedly that means the film works better when you see it the second time, as I just did, or with someone who already knows the basic Chet Baker bio. This late-80s documentary, which I saw at the time and liked fairly well, is apparently making the theatrical rounds of America’s bigger cities (I can’t think why … unless it’s the 20th anniversary of Baker’s death). I wasn’t even looking out for it, but it was a welcome surprise to see it suddenly listed in a commercial theater, rather than a repertory.

Instead of a biopic, Weber made a film that’s less like a documentary and more like a piece of Romantic fiction. LET’S GET LOST, like Coleridge’s Xanadu, feels like the opium haze that Baker’s life apparently was, overripe Romantic decadence as it falls from the tree (Camille Paglia would love this movie). Though it’s never really “difficult” to follow, LOST jumps around in time without too much concern for telling a story. Instead, Weber goes for a reverie feel, for a collection of moods and feelings, with montages from the past drifting in and out as if trying to erase the sense of time itself. Baker doesn’t really “go” from being a hip jazzman to a derelict; it’s more like he’s always both. Continue reading

March 12, 2008 Posted by | Bruce Weber, Chet Baker | Leave a comment