Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Modern Romance, Bad Company, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Candy with Strangers

I haven't seen many Albert Brooks films. I've seen many more Woody Allen movies, though my current opinion of Woody is pretty low. They cover similar turf, but Allen is much more prolific (imdb lists over 40 films he's directed, while Brooks has directed only 7 features). I enjoyed The Muse and Mother, but I wasn't prepared for how great Modern Romance would be. The movie opens as Albert Brooks decides to break up with his girlfriend--beginning with a breakup? I can't remember another movie I've seen that does that. For the first half of the film, in something close to real time, it follows his character through that first rough twenty four hours after he's made this decision in a sequence of sustained brilliant comedy. It becomes slightly more conventional after that, interweaving a humours subplot about Brooks' job (he's a film editor in L.A.) that is arguably unrelated to the main plot but offers welcome comedic diversity. I was impressed with the way the film captures the problems of romance in a world where breaking up or divorcing is as easy as getting together or marrying. The couple in this film have no kids, no joint property, nothing formally committing them to one another--a wonderful freedom that has the potential for great neurosis. This being comedy, it's very exaggerated, but it's also very relevant. Brooks' character borders on the menacing and abusive, prone to jealousy and possessiveness. It gets ugly at times, the kind of dark, painful comedy that I associate with Ben Stiller nowadays.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

My esteem for Jeff Bridges' career has been growing steadily over the years, so when I read that a trio of well-regarded movies he made in his youth had hit DVD, I took note. Bad Company is the first I've checked out, and it's excellent. I saw it labelled as a Western, but I think it's really better described as a historical coming-of-age story. Or perhaps a gangster picture. Highly episodic in structure, the film follows Drew Dixon (Barry Brown) as he flees service in the Civil War to find freedom and solace out West. Along the way he more or less falls in with a gang of outlaws headed up by Bridges as Jake Rumsey. The storyline is somewhat shocking by today's standards, with cruelty towards animals, vulgar sexuality, and some truly nasty violence. At one point, someone says, "Boy, I'd like to get my hands on that son of a bitch who told me to go west." The story cleverly juxtaposes two main characters of different class/moral backgrounds and seems to ask, Which young man has more integrity when times are tough? And they are desperately tough in this late Civil War era (think the worst moments of Cold Mountain). I'm not a huge fan of the gritty 70s Hollywood which is so often celebrated (Chinatown, Godfather, early Scorsese--not really my thing, though I respect them), but this 1972 film made me appreciate the relative freedom and independence of filmmaking of the time. The often-useless Pauline Kael kvetches about the cinematography of the film, but what may have been cliche in its day looks great now. I only wish the sound quality of the DVD were a bit better.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

Watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for the first time, and it was enjoyable. It addresses a kind of Neanderthal male point of view of women and in that respect reminded me of Kiss Me, Kate (which I've not seen but was made the year before with the same lead, Howard Keel) and My Fair Lady, made a decade later. The joke about the Sobbin'/Sabine women is typcial of its sensibility. I had no idea the film was so rambunctious, with knockout athletic dancing and the atmosphere of a Western. I also didn't know the brothers were redheads! (Some natural, some--like the adorable Russ Tamblyn--clearly not.) Jeff Richards was particularly appealling, as was Julie Newmar (then Newmeyer). A macho but enjoyable Hollywood musical.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a broad, silly comedy. I want distraction. In such a mood, I'm willing to turn off my brain to get the yuk factor, but I'd prefer not to. Strangers with Candy probably isn't worth many repeat viewings, but it did make me roar with laughter. There are enough background jokes (check out Stephen Colbert as the teacher's blackboard and bulletin board) and verbal jokes (variations on Megawatti's name) mixed in with the sight gags, off-color humor and, of course, Amy Sedaris' aggressive, unabashed mugging for the camera to keep me distracted. I'm not saying it's brilliant. It's more like stupid sketch comedy done by people much smarter than the SNL team. High praise? Certainly not, but not the kind to damn it with either. One warning, though: I've been imitating Jerri Blank's face for days now. It's involuntary.
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars.


  • Good review for "The Oh in Ohio," upcoming sex comedy with Parker Posey and Paul Rudd

  • Critic Armond White (who seems to be laying off the crazy pills lately) loves Changing Times, the new Techine film I can't wait for. He also says 2006 is shaping up as a banner year for smaller films. I'm not so sure. I see the potential for that to be true, esp. if you live in New York. But Chicago is still waiting for many of the acclaimed films to screen in town. I hope they don't all hit at once, in the busy October/November film season.

  • In other news, DeepDiscountDVD.com is having a sale on Kino DVDs: 50% off. Yowsah! Time for me to buy that Buster Keaton set at last? Some real gems in this sale--including DVDs so new (like Iron Island) that they haven't even been released yet.

  • One of my favorite writers, Michael Bronski, recently wrote about how Leonardo da Vinci's work really is coded, with gay meaning. He also co-interviewed Bernard Baran, finally free after years of wrongful imprisonment.

  • A tidbit: I never knew Otto Preminger had a brother--named Ingo!--let alone that he was a lawyer who defended blacklisted talent.

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