My movie marathon continues, and the sweater I began in 2005 is nearly complete — to be fair, I’ve put it down for months at a time, and then pulled out whole sections, but it’s the first one I’ve ever knit. Of course, the proof will be when I put all the pieces together — will it be worth wearing or will it be a Frankenstein’s monster of a sweater? We’ll know soon …
So, as the award season bears down upon us, here’s a roundup of what I’ve been watching this week:
The Lives of Others: Like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, this is one of those movies that I thought I wouldn’t like. In fact, I’ve sent it back to Netflix 3 times after having not been able to get past the opening interrogation scene. I can’t do movies about totalitarianism — they give me nightmares. But I kept reading such terrific things about this movie that finally, this weekend, I stuck it out — It’s marvelous. All the accolades are completely justified — the performances are wonderful and I truly didn’t see where the plot was going. I may very well watch it again tonight now that I know what’s going to happen so I can see how it unfolds. The surprise is that the movie turns out to be about goodness — about the cost of doing the right thing, the cost of trying as hard as one can in impossible circumstances to do the right thing. That the characters are attempting this while buried up to their necks in an evil that they don’t realize is nearly obsolete is all the more heartbreaking.
Margot at the Wedding: Another one I might not have watched had I not had a screener sitting here — Noah Brumbach’s world of lost children and their lost parents in the 70’s always hits a little too close to home for me — but that’s part of the appeal as well. That nearly-forgotten world of self-actualization and bad hair. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jack Black are wonderful as the odd couple with the most genuine connection in the whole movie — another suprise, a movie I liked much more than I thought I would.
Into the Wild: Unwatchable. I got about an hour into this 2.5 hour movie and was so bored I turned it off. If I had to see that character blather on about “the wild” one more time with blissy romantic stars in his eyes I was going to throw up (and this is from a person who fought for the academic legitimacy of wildness and nature during all 5 years of my Phd work). This is the worst sort of Romanticism — it has none of the astringent inquisitiveness that made Krakauer’s book so interesting. Krakauer is someone who has real wilderness skills, and a has been a part of the climbing/outdoors community long enough to see how many starry-eyed untrained goofballs like McCandless are pulled out of rivers and peeled off cliff faces every year because they mistook romantic enthusiasm for skill and preparation. But Sean Penn seems to have cast all that by the wayside in this film.(And the paddling scene really pissed me off — that the PR people are claiming that Emile Hirsh paddled those rapids himself, with no training is absurd — anyone who knows the least bit about whitewater boating can see that a) an untrained boater would have eaten it at the first wave and b) the person in that boat has real skills and knows what he’s doing. I can see a long summer ahead for my search and rescue friends.) At any rate, while I liked the ancillary performances — Catherine Keener is terrific, as is Vince Vaughn as the combine operator (he should play more working guys — he’s got the physique and he’s really good in that milieu). At any rate, I was curious about his one because the book was a sort of seminal text in my academic work and one I would have loved to have taught (the book is much better on how McCandless was influenced/seduced by a particular strain of American literature, with a lot of Tolstoy thrown in for good measure). But I found the movie unwatchable.
Gone Baby Gone: Another terrific surprise — Ben Affleck directs and absolutely nails that strange Boston underbelly. Casey Affleck, who was the bright spot in Jesse James runs away with this movie — he plays that rarity in American popular culture these days, a man. He’s boyish in appearance, but this movie is, like The Lives of Others, deeply concerned with morality — what is right? what is the greater good? how does one live as a good man in a corrupt and evil world? Amy Ryan is also really great as the drug-addict mother of the missing child — it’s a performance in which she never panders to the audience, never tries to redeem her character. Another surprise of a movie —
There’s this week’s movie roundup — there might be nothing on TV thanks to the writers strike, but it’s a really strong year for movies …