Soon it will be that time of year when critics and bloggers take stock of the best of the year -- in books, music, film, what have you. Since I don’t think I read any books published this year, and only saw maybe two or three movies released this year -- at a theater, maybe more if we count DVDs -- and bought maybe four CDs released this year, it would be pointless to try to do that kind of summation. Suffice to say: I’m way out of touch with the times. So it makes more sense to close out the year talking about some of the things I did watch and read and listen to, which will be a way of marking what went on in 2008, in my little corner of the world, sorta. But even so, with regard to films, I’ll just comment on the fall, and anything I saw, whether new release, WHC screening, or DVD, is fair game. Here goes....
Burned After Viewing
Burn After Reading, The Coen Brothers first release since they're Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men (2007). Early on, the film struck me as very entertaining, in their typically acid way, but then it came apart in a way also very typical of them. Which is to say: their movies often give me the feeling that they just lost interest, like their own movies don't even deserve their full attention. And I can't say I blame them. It was over quickly after getting ridiculously nasty -- and not in the sustained, unraveling way that their Fargo (1996) did. Fargo is the high water mark for this sort of thing, and is one reason I went into this one with more expectations than they bothered to meet this time. Great cast, yeah. Skewers DC playas in a way that, I guess, got in under the wire before "The Change" hit town. And that might be part of the problem. By the time this thing made it to theaters, "The Change" had already done much to change the context (we had to believe, at least, that Americans have a learning curve). Maybe if there were at least one "likeable" character we could get behind it -- like Frances McDormand in Fargo, where even the hit men were kinda likeable (Steve Buscemi, how bad could it be?) and the idiot who set the whole avalanche in motion, as incarnated by William H. Macy, as comical a nebbish as ever graced film. But then such grace notes require a minimal regard for one's "fellow citizens," which I confess might become increasingly hard for lots of us as our country continues to tank. Anyway, the film is a nice dig in the ribs, but isn't really jocular and doesn't quite get the jugular either. Har har, we got you into the theater, I seemed to hear the jaded Bros shrug as I hit the street.
Au - strail- ya, Au -strail - ya, Au - strail - ya, we love ya, amen.
Another director who got me into the theater this year was Baz Luhrman. I still think Moulin Rouge! (2001) is a work of genius -- an editing tour de force, a consistently inventive and frenetic musical send-up that is also a sincerely felt musical, a pastiche of fast and furious cultural referents, graced with a loony cast -- led by Jim Broadbent -- with Nicole Kidman at her sexiest AND most fun, Ewan McGregor at his most sincere, awww, AND a show-stopping rendition of "Roxanne" that implies that there might've been more to Sting than we ever wanted to believe. Oh, yeah. But that's not the movie I'm supposed to be writing about. Australia's got Nicole again, and her gap-ridden faking of the lyrics of "Over the Rainbow" is the best comic moment in this lengthy, breathy, absurd, and romantic (because absurd) epic. Everyone reviewing the film references Gone With the Wind (1939) and The African Queen (1951), but it also has a scene straight out of Out of Africa (1985). And it's all deliberate as making fin de siècle decadence out of '70s-'90s pop rock culture, but not half as fun. I was hoping for something campier, looser, more theatrical. Instead it's a film that glories in the ridiculous coincidental and providential schtick that is cinematic storytelling. Which means that even while we don't believe a minute of it, we believe in make-believe, and that's what this is, with a vengeance. The vengeance comes in the form of evil deadbeat white dad getting his at the hands of granddad the aborigine shaman. And if that doesn't set things right, how about gorgeous couple Nicole and the ever-crusty and buff Roveh (Hugh Jackman) setting themselves up as doting parental figures for the half caste kid Nullah (Brandon Walters) who, never know, just might go on to be a world leader some day...
Which I guess is a way of saying that one film I saw this fall was a parable of W.'s Washington -- dumb and dumber in the corridors of power -- and the other is a parable of The Change's effect on the interracial social playing fields of our cliché-ridden society. And who says Hollywood isn't relevant?
(to be continued)