Saturday, October 01, 2005

Notes from Underground

So, while Nick's Flick Picks has been in another two-week hibernation, plenty has been going on above ground. In the Glass Half Full category, Tom DeLay finally got indicted, Lynndie England got sent to prison, Rita din't wreak what Katrina wrought, and residents of New Orleans started making their way back home. As for the Glass Half Empty, many of those same New Orleanians got sent back out again, Rita was bad enough for what it was (and only augurs the gloomy future of global weather), Cindy Sheehan got arrested outside the White House, John Roberts was confirmed as Chief Justice, and reports are running wild that Bush's top contender for the open Rehnquist slot is Lord Voldemort.

In local Trinity news, two weekends ago, as Wesleyan started pulling ahead of us at a home-field soccer match, a loud clutch of Trinity undergrads began taunting Wesleyan athletes, fans, and fellow Trinity students as "fags" and "homos." So, no, that chill you're feeling in the air isn't just the autumn weather. Thankfully, in the Newtonian universe of Equal and Opposite Reactions, this truly disgraceful incident has sparked campus conversation about homophobia, public letters and Campus Conduct indictments from both the Dean's and President's offices, and a rally tonight called "Don't Commit It, Don't Permit It." In an extremely mature and impressive move, one of the targeted Trinity students published an open letter to the campus citing not the homophobic taunters but the silent majority of deniers and tongue-cluckers as the real problem.... Real change happens when compassionate people act on their outrage rather than commiserate about it in private, so tonight's rally and the very public, very concerted response to this flare-up marks a huge change in Trinity's social life, and I'll be thrilled to go.

Meanwhile, at the movies—you knew I was getting there!—September combined still more extremes, including the two best movies I've seen in 2004 as well as the absolute worst (paging Mr. Gilliam). Here's a September recap, in partial compensation for the recent paucity of reviews. Keep checking back over the course of the weekend for updates!

And yes, if you do the math, 18 movies in 30 days means I was in a movie theater 3 out of every 5 days in September. Welcome, all over again, to my world.

The Brothers Grimm F
Ever heard of saving the best for last? Now let's try dispensing with the worst first. It's not that absolutely everything fails in The Brothers Grimm: Heath Ledger saves many of his own scenes with a kooky, Depp-in-Pirates delivery, and occasionally the film coughs up a decent if slightly mean-spirited image, like Monica Bellucci's glassy face shattering into shards. Still, the vortex of suckage is enormous, and it swallows the whole enterprise, even the stuff that works. The hiring and firing of key technical talent during production is plainly visible in the schizophrenic switches in light and palette, which are nothing to write home about even in the individual set-ups. Costume changes seem to happen mid-scene, Lena Headey seems stuffed with sawdust as the Amazonian pseudo-love-interest, and the overall narrative lacks any kind of clarity or motivation. Dozens of millions of dollars down the toilet, ten of which were mine.

The Constant Gardener C
A rather stentorian exercise in stating the obvious, Fernando Meirelles' political epic is also rather less than the sum of its schizoid parts. For a while, it's easy to resent the pasty romance between Fiennes and Weisz while the gears of corporate machination start (read: keep) grinding away at the developing world. At some point, largely due to Weisz's thistly and exciting demystification of her somewhat preciously conceived character, the romantic strain gets a helluva lot more interesting. But around the same time, the multinational plot boils down to the usual suspects of isolated baddies, both believable (Nighy) and intolerable (Huston). Frenetic editing and slick direction dissolve the ligaments of the film's political as well as its emotional arguments. The finale still works pretty well, but it's the film, not just the protagonist, that finds itself feeling a little weary and overspent.

Corpse Bride B
A macabre little delight that manages the durably difficult task of squatting its hero between two romantic options and making them both quite appealing. Deft voice work from Helena Bonham Carter and Emily Watson helps make the worm-ridden Corpse Bride and the moon-faced Victoria such endearing creatures, but the film is already plenty endearing with its cheerfully Guignol mood, its terrific verbal zingers ("Little Miss Living," grouses the Corpse Bride, "with her rosy cheeks and her beating heart!"), and its hilariously elongated character designs—Victoria's mother with her towering, knobby upsweep is a stand-out in all senses. The songs feel a little wispy, and the film eventually feels the same, nailing the coffin shut after only 77 minutes, but it's a merry dose of early-autumn fun so long as it lasts.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose B–
A film that I enjoyed probably more than I had reason to. As I try to articulate in my full-length review, Emily Rose's variable quality in narrative and technical terms has a weird and surely inadvertent way of clearing space for its thematic centerpiece, which is a surprisingly involving standoff between faith and doubt, explored in legal as well as theological contexts that harmonize in darkly fascinating ways. Sure the plot is full of holes, but spiffy actors like Laura Linney and Campbell Scott help to plug a lot of them, and the B-grade thrills of arbitrary auto-crashes and diabolical body-contortions carry their own weight. Both a guilty pleasure and an anatomy of guilt, The Exorcism of Emily Rose has dry runs of pure, risible silliness until it snaps awake at more than reasonable intervals with some real frights and honest questions.

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Blogger Dr. S said...

How was the rally? Do tell!

And, on an entirely less serious note, how was Alessandro Nivola in Junebug? He is, you may not know, Mr. Dr. S., at least when Alexander Payne is out of town. Alas that he's also, for real, Mr. Emily Mortimer. Ah well.

10:39 PM, October 01, 2005  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Alessandro Nivola is Mr. Emily Mortimer??? I had no idea. I did know that he was (a) Mr. Dr. S., and as you know, I fully endorse marriages of that type.

He's very good in Junebug, though he not only plays a recessive and withdrawn character, the movie plot needs him to be absent and frustratingly opaque for most of the run-time... so he's sometimes pegged as a weak link in the cast, though I don't know how fair that is. He's totally sexy in it, too, in case you're asking. ;)

And the rally was good! The President spoke, the university Chaplain spoke, the Dean of Students spoke, the student-body president and other organizers spoke, petitions were signed, feminist and queer groups got more listserv members and newly enrolled participants, and - because it's family weekend - many of the kids who came brought their parents and, in at least one case, their grandparents. Very touching. Not the most over-attended rally I've ever seen, but it was good to see it happen, and I don't know that it was only preaching to the choir. We'll see what happens.

11:07 PM, October 01, 2005  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Oh no.... AN playing a recessive and withdrawn character, who's also sexy? It might not be a good idea for me to see this movie, as that is my type, all over the place, and I might find myself plunged into blind melancholy. Sigh. On the other hand, I totally want to see it, because am a masochist. Or similar.

11:40 PM, October 01, 2005  
Blogger tim r said...

AN is quite funny as a washed-up object of derision in Goal!, Dr S. Not that there's much danger of a pretty shit British soccer movie making it over your way any time soon...

I must say I did think he was kind of the weak link in Junebug, but as Nick says that might have been more to do with the character as written: he just seems miles away, and there was something about AN's smiling detachment that didn't quite work for me on this occasion.

The movie is just lovely though, and worth seeing for any number of other reasons.

11:44 AM, October 02, 2005  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Tim R, you would probably have to know my track record with smilingly detached beautiful men to know why this character is such a dangerous concept for me... but *anyway* I am just plain eager to see the movie, though it will never come to my wee town, alas. Perhaps I will catch it in NYC while I'm there, though that would require ditching the baby who's part of my reason for going there, or driving down for yet another weekend in a row to see it in Columbus--where it might be playing, maybe. Sometimes I really miss having a city nearer.

4:47 PM, October 03, 2005  

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