Monday, December 05, 2005

Good Night and Good Luck - a surprisingly solid film. Shot stylishly with a top-notch ensemble (some of which is sadly underutilized), the film tells the story of the Murrow / McCarthy feud quite ably. I'd seen the documentary (PBS' Edward Murrow: The McCarthy Years.) years ago, and so I felt I already knew this story, and I had to be nudged into seeing this new treatment. I feared it would be starchy and by-the-numbers, and it was a bit, but not as much as I'd feared. I ended up enjoying it even more than my companions who had been so eager to see it. I guess I had also feared it would be filled with references to our current administration, but it wasn't. Instead, it had a fairly noble purpose: to remind us of the potential power of tv journalism. I didn't expect that from Mr. Clooney, even if his father was a journalist, and it earns him even more of my respect. Though I'm sure many would see Murrow's work (as seen in this film) as old-fashioned and too dull, I was impressed by the way the format allowed for full, essayistic thoughts (not mere soundbites), with ample time in the debate (days would pass from episode to episode) for reflection. And what eloquence! What's more, the film owns up to the problems as well, the preachiness. (And I'd add I'm no more interested in a civics lesson from Clooney than I am from Murrow. I will, however, agree that there are some public figures who need it badly.) Better yet, the film features jazz singer Dianne Reeves, who was excellent. I'd never heard her before, but I'll make a point to in the future. The downside of the story is in its subplot involving Ray Wise's character, a network newsman whose fate is written all over his face from the moment we see him. Still, a huge improvement for Clooney the director since his work in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. [For more on the Murrow legacy, I highly recommend Harvest of Shame, which tells of his reporting on migrant worker conditions.]

Sin City - Ugh! Awful, juvenile male fantasy. The big, ugly, often ox-like men fighting to save sexy, sometimes super-tough tough female kittens from even uglier or meaner men in a noir comic book world. Bruce Willis and Josh Hartnett are laughable in the early scenes, though Willis improves. Elijah Wood tries way too hard to shed his "cute" image by playing a disgustingly creepy, silent serial killer/cannibal. I will, though, go along with the consensus that Mickey Rourke is very good here. The look of the film is certainly impressive, but only in a very green-screen way. I hate the fact that Rodriguez (who seemed really nice in interviews, I should mention) dragged Tarantino into the mix. It's the worst influence possible on Tarantino, who had been showing some baby steps toward maturity in his last two feature films. And I hate to think Tarantino could be seduced into the cheap-looking Lucas/Rodriguez school of digital filmmaking.

Walk the Line - Cliche-ridden biopic that's barely worth seeing, mostly for Witherspoon's usual spunk (not quite worth the Oscar everyone wants to give her) and for some of the music history moments. I was intrigued by the songs they chose to portray Cash singing in his early days of touring with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis--for example, a song about R&B inspired by some shoe shine boys. In tiny roles, Sandra Ellis Lafferty and Dan Beene are a breath of fresh air as the Carters. Robert Patrick glowers as the evil father, and Shelby Lynne struggles to emerge from his shadow as Cash's music-loving mother. There's been some debate about the portrayal of Cash's first wife who certainly does come off as a heavy but whose motives seemed finally sympathetic to me. Otherwise, there are moments here that are waiting to tip over into parody, such as a moment where a drunk Cash tries to move a stuck tractor. Worse, the film has Cash popping pills the second anything goes wrong in his relationship with Carter. Not exactly subtle. I love Phoenix but I feared he wasn't quite up to the task at hand, though he acquits himself without embarassment. I don't know how he was able to play this part given his and Cash's tragic histories with their brothers.


The audience choices were announced for Reeling 2005: The 24th Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival, and the narrative feature award went to Un amour à taire (A Love to Hide) by Christian Faure. Apparently it received a standing ovation. It's going to be brought back for a screening in February. The filmmaker apparently works in the tv movie industry in France, and an earlier film of his (also raved about on sites such as IMDb) is on DVD, available through Netflix: Just a Question of Love. Very old school titles for gay films, I must say, but they seems to be striking a chord with viewers.

Armond White recently wrote one of his scathing indictments of every movie currently held in esteem. It's his typical mix of foolishness, blatancy, and insight. Critic Noel Murray answered White's criticisms in an excellent defense of The Squid and the Whale, which I thought White had been most unfair to (and seemingly motivated by rivalry with a certain other NY critic).

Last night we were looking up some of the online trailers for films nominated for the Foreign Film Oscar, and one that jumped out at me is called C.R.A.Z.Y., which looks like a promising queer Quebecois film. France's Joyeux Noel looks interesting as a statement about the European Union (although it's hard to believe it's France's best film this year--maybe the Oscar-friendliest, though). I wouldn't dare to read too much into a trailer, but I will comment that Europeans may find it easier to celebrate pan-Eureopean pride than to embrace the colonial and immigrant populations that pose a greater challenge to their sense of identity. The Chinese film looks like a sword film from Chen Kaige. Curiously, famous Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf directed the Tajikistan entry. Sweden's Zozo has an intense trailer and would seem to have a bit in common with the Palestinian entry, Paradise Now, which has been playing in theaters to strong reviews here in the States. Belgium's Dardennes brothers are included. That's one of the many films on the list I'd love to see. So far the only one I've seen in Romania's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, which I reviewed in October.

A quick book related observation. Oprah seems to be burying the hatchett left and right. First she pretends nothing ever happened between her and Letterman, and now I notice the online round-up of her book choices includes Franzen's The Corrections, though he famously dissed her and was uninvited from the show a few years back.

Song: "Stumble and Fall" by Razorlight



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