Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Ionian Sea is a Glass of Water

Before Midnight (2013)
directed by Richard Linklater
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
seen onscreen at the Manor Theatre

I really did think that this series would be great indefinitely. I told myself that photos like this didn't have anything to do with what I guess I suspected were principally Richard Linklater's movies about age, time, and relationships. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy shared writing credits on Before Sunset, but I imagined a collaboration in which the director tempered the worst impulses and personality traits of his two lead actors. I watched Before Sunset again not too long ago; it remains a wonderful movie.

Before Midnight is completely unbelievable as a film about people who have dated for ten years. Jesse and Celine are just as awkward as they were on the streets of Paris, and Hawke's sex talk is embarrassing. It made sense that their conversations in Before Sunset amounted to an unsteady, optimistic search for common ground between them. But their anecdotes here aren't the sorts of details one would have to reveal on an evening walk after a decade of cohabitation. There should be more shorthand in Before Midnight. Jesse and Celine should say less and mean more. Instead, they sound like two actors who believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that their most facile observations are, in fact, profound.

I don't have a problem with the two of them arguing, and their inability to find a resolution by the end of the night seemed perfectly appropriate. It isn't the structure of the movie that rings false, but the details. Did Jesse's ex-wife need to become an alcoholic to make Jesse sympathetic? Can Jesse and Celine discuss anything other than the most superficial readings of each other's personalities? Celine can't pursue her dreams because of her kids? Jesse can't be a great writer because he doesn't have time to himself?

My favorite scene was the first one. I don't have children, but Jesse's interactions with his son seemed just right. When Celine later reminds Jesse that he doesn't get to be a good father because he already missed most of his son's childhood, I thought back to the moment when the camera in the airport detaches from static shots of Jesse and his son and follows Jesse out to the car--drifting, just like dad. Linklater did a good job filling that bright coast with doom: the knives in the kitchen, the warnings to the kids to not go too far out, the barking dog, the texts about the plane.

After the movie, I wanted to talk about "The Weekend," the episode of Enlightened I like so much. Remember where Amy and Levi end up at the end of the show, with Amy in tears on a park bench while Levi reveals that he never really took her unhappiness to heart? That said something truthful about people in love and their abilities to inflict pain. Last night, on Veep, an adviser about to be fired said that jobs aren't depressing--life is depressing. Life is depressing. All of the perspective that age provides does nothing to fix old mistakes or bring back the people you lose. The shadow at the feet of Jesse and Celine in Before Sunset is how much they missed by being apart for ten years, but Before Midnight makes it seem like no one--not them, not us--missed anything at all.

That might be a point that a movie can make, but it can't be the point that this movie makes after the two movies that preceded it. Not without better writing, anyway.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What Is and What We Would Like to Be

Dick Tracy (1990)
directed by Warren Beatty
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Carnegie Library

Speed Racer (2008)
directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats (at heart, anyway)
on DVD from Carnegie Library

Man of Steel was such a depressing experience that I was glad I'd seen Speed Racer and Dick Tracy only the week before. Otherwise I'd retreat into a summer cycle of A Good Marriage and Days of Being Wild and then you'd really have a hard time drumming up the patience to check in with this ratty blog.

Every time I sit down to watch a movie, I wish I owned a nicer television. My fuzzy right speaker rattles and even A Good Marriage could benefit from a bigger screen. But I should have gone to the theater for Speed Racer--no TV could do it justice. I think its faults would be muted there, or irrelevant. There is a visual flatness to the in-between stages of Speed's story: uninspired green screen exposition, small-stage setups of corruption and graft.

Petty complaints. The best thing about Lost was watching Matthew Fox and Josh Holloway deliver lines about regret. Fox wears a mask for most of Speed Racer, so all you see are those terrific, unmistakable, crooked teeth of his. When he finally removes the disguise, the people he loves aren't there to be happy for him. They still think he's dead, killed years ago in an ugly crash, his once-respected name tarnished forever in the public eye.

"Do you think you made a mistake hiding the truth from them?" asks the man beside him.

"If I did," Fox replies, "it's a mistake I have to live with."

I can't think of when a blockbuster last phrased the high cost of living quite so succinctly. Disaster never lasts long in Speed Racer--there's always a new race to win--but the whole movie is pervaded by the loss of Speed's brother and the last angry words that Speed's father said to his oldest son. The pop and pull of dreamy colors and fantasy Italian race cars in motion only complement the sentiment. All this, they say--rainbows and oceans--but what's done is done.

There was so much to love. When Christina Ricci wears a cute dress on a date with Speed, he tells her how much he likes it, but it isn't an excuse for the camera to ogle an actor in skimpy clothes. The Wachowskis stay on Trixie's face, and then Emile Hirsch's, and then Trixie and Speed kiss. And then the camera leaves them alone.

Dick Tracy is a better movie that makes the critical mistake of killing the woman who complicates the hero's old-fashioned romance. Breathless Mahoney doesn't need to die, and it's cruel of Warren Beatty to do her in. But maybe that's the sort of heartthrob that Beatty always was--an irresponsible, spiteful lothario.

Both Speed Racer and Dick Tracy feature young, rebellious kids, but I like Dick Tracy's better. He likes eating food instead of just candy; you can set your watch by the slices of pie he shares with Dick and Tess at the diner. And what a diner! What a nightlife!  What women!

I knew I'd fall in love with the colors of Dick Tracy after twenty-odd years away from it, but I've learned some new faces in the meantime, like R.G. Armstrong's and Seymour Cassel's. James Caan's Spud Spaldoni is the best-dressed villain in history, so good in half a minute onscreen it's as if he was born for the role. This and Dracula within two years of each other? Pre-teen Kid K never knew he had it so good!

But I know now.