Thursday, July 30, 2009

How to Be Funny and How to Laugh

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
directed by Alain Resnais
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD at Banjo's

I fell asleep a lot in college, but never faster than when I went to a campus screening of Hiroshima, Mon Amour. To enjoy Last Year at Marienbad to its fullest, imagine the moment when Alain Resnais came across creepy snake charmer Sacha Pitoëff in a pile of French headshots at the casting agency. If one makes the sort of movie in which faces cast themselves, one can build an epic around a single sinister Sacha. Resnais does, but modestly, in a dreamlike, ever-funny fashion. The hotel, eventually, is full of ghosts, and each new tracking shot more unnerving than the last. But Pitoëff keeps the story moving, lurking at the edges, inviting some honest-to-goodness laughter in the most unexpected of places.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kristofferson Paid in Corn Tortillas

Lone Star (1996)
directed by John Sayles
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

I hadn’t seen Lone Star in years, but the movie famously reminds my dad of city council meetings from his years as an attorney in the southeast and southwest regions of the state. Thinking that watching Lone Star would give Elizabeth something to ask him about when we visited San Antonio, I prepared myself to cringe at the long-expired political grandstanding of independent film’s best-known carpetbagger. But Sayles is smart to begin with a murder mystery; the color and life he accrues in patient, watchful takes around his fictional border town add up to something considerably more intelligent than a stir of the superficial melting pot. Like a lot of movies, Lone Star would be worse if it wasn’t so funny, although the line I was waiting for - “Fuck the Alamo” – never came. It’s “Forget the Alamo,” apparently, which raised a good question about why I’d remembered an incorrect and far more aggressive variation, but as a line feels truer to the sympathetic history of South Texas that Sayles has in mind.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Aerosmithsonian Pump Truck

Aerosmith: The Making of Pump (1990)
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

In retrospect, how happy and simple an invention the “flipper” disc seems in the days before mandatory 3-minute FBI and Interpol warnings! Count me in on any conspiracy theory that suggests dual-layered DVDs did nothing but waste more of my movie-watching hours, which are valuable to me even (or especially) when I find myself wrapped up in an Aerosmith documentary financed by Aerosmith’s record label. There is more than a hint of Spinal Tap – a compliment if ever there was one - in the oversized props placed in an otherwise stark, white room from which each member of the band pontificates, in turn, on the art of collaboration and the realities of age. The Making of Pump is, I hope, most famous for Joe Perry’s immortal statement that if he wanted artistic integrity, he’d be playing coffee houses in Cambridge. Being an arena rock band means comprising, and Aerosmith is a diplomatic corps for the ages.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Unstrung Harp

V for Vendetta (2005)
directed by James McTeigue
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Was anyone else surprised at being more than a little moved by this anomaly of a successful Alan Moore adaptation? Hugo Weaving was always my least favorite elf in the Middle Earth mob - his Elrond remains that trilogy’s hammiest, most self-conscious performance – but behind V’s mask, freed by the smug rigidity of his face, Weaving’s voice finds its most lustrous polish in service of altogether old-fashioned speechmaking. Neither is V for Vendetta my favorite book by Alan Moore, but more than just my low expectations were met (though never by Natalie Portman) in what amounted to a melancholy, if morally problematic, broadside from the good fight, never dull.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Charm School

Entourage - Season One (2004)
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Entourage - Season Two (2005)
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Season 1 introduced a fairly thoughtful plotline by juxtaposing Vince and Johnny Drama’s separate arcs of fame. By Season 2 there was no question that Entourage aims precisely as high as Sex and the City for guys. I watched Sex and the City, so I’m probably hooked, because Drama and Turtle are endearing, because I love Los Angeles, and because I like TV with room to spare - that is, low aspirations and dumb. Ari has been the biggest surprise by dint of the show’s best lines, but it probably says something that the tie-in College Humor skit was funny after only six episodes of Entourage. It means we can all be winners, if you want to look at the glass half full.