Everyone but me seemed to like this one. Of course George Clooney (Ryan Bingham) is magnetic, Vera Farmiga an unappreciated gift to the art, Anna Kendrick lit up the screen, and the screenplay was as crisp as Reitman's directing but I never believed any of the characters. Living for miles, really? Those airport clubs are pathetic little dives, dressed up like the new Raddison. And speaking of the Raddison, George's hotels were as common as pig's tracks. Those bedspreads don't get cleaned you know. And spending your life firing people? I did that for a few years and I'm as callous as any priveleged white guy but it eats your soul. And that backpack lecture? Cut all ties with family and friends and do it because the straps dig into your shoulders? Come on! I did the "you can be a millionaire" schtick for two years and we had to hustle to get people to show up. This guy is selling nihilism and keeps getting bookings?
Reading back over this last paragraph it looks like I was Ryan Bingham, just not as cute. Maybe I'm just jealous because I never signed up for the mileage clubs.
The Hurt Locker begins with a quote about war as drug. The soldiers we follow are a particular kind of warrior. They defuse bombs, the weapon of choice in our current two wars. Current two wars. How accustomed we've become to that phrase. Last month no Americans died in Iraq and more died in Afghanistan that any month since our invasion of that country nearly a decade ago. A measure of how far we have to go as a people is that I have no idea how many non-American lives were lost last month. The best estimate I can find is several thousand civilian deaths occurred in December in Iraq and Afghanistan in December. many more in Pakistan but it seems no one is keeping count.
The big news last month was concern over how much we'd spend at Christmas this year. Our economy has become dependent on how much stuff we acquire. Not how much we create or manufacture or assemble or design. How many Ipods, pairs of jeans, cars, toys, and HD TV's we buy, that's our new measure of economic success.
The Hurt Locker is focused and excruciating. We are introduced to a crew of three and almost immediately lose one (Guy Pearce). He is replaced by Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) an apparently reckless but competent team leader. We later learn he has disarmed nearly a thousand IED's. In case we're unclear about his motives, we see him lighting a cigarette after each job. Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal don't comment on the war, they show us the people in it. Up close and painful.
Where to begin? The longest cartoon ever, yet another loving family of natives pillaged by the marauding white man in his quest for gold, oil, nee unobtainium (are you kidding me - unobtanium?!), the pure heart triumphs over mechanized evil with the aid of the creatures of the forest, love conquers all, hero and villian discard all their sophisticated weaponry to duke it out, robot enhanced-mano y elongated blue dude-mano, cliches on steroids. Movies will never be the same again, really? Movies will always be the same, the testosterone fueled epic will ever triumph over the dialogue heavy struggle for meaning. Only now we'll have to wear those stupid glasses. Call me when Pieces of April comes on.
A sad pointless little film, An Education introduces us to a passel of amoral folk dedicated to having fun. Unlike the wastrels in more classic tales of the idle rich (as told by Fitzgerald or Thackeray) these hedonists practice their meaningless lives at the expense of recently widowed little old ladies, professional educators, and those whose love and sacrifice they callously disregard. The young woman who casts her education aside (she's Oxford bound) does so because she fears boredom. When confronted with the criminal source of her paramour's lavish lifestyle she bolts only to change her mind (literally two minutes later) upon hearing his heartfelt justification - he isn't as clever as she and stealing from others is the only way he can continue to have fun. Had this sordid tale been set in the USA they would have made ideal guests on the Jerry Springer show.
The Road 11.27.09
A few years ago a tropical storm popped up in the Gulf and drifted slowly over Houston. Houston is as flat a piece of land as you're likely to see outside Bonne- or Jackson- ville. Houston sits about sixty miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico at an elevation of sixty feet. For every fifteen hundred steps you take toward Houston from the Gulf you can take one step up. Really, really flat. The landscape is littered with what the drummer form the Atlanta Rhythm Section once described to me as ditches. We call them bayous, cut on the diagonal and pointed toward the coast. They help to drain the annual fifty odd inches of rain that aren't absorbed by the clay like ground of this part of the country. Designed to sluice two inches an hour into the Gulf of Mexico, anything beyond that and the water has nowhere to go but up the sidewalk and into your home.
The storm slowed just north of the city, intensified and drifted back to stall for ten hours. The meteorologists began talking about the atmosphere's capacity to hold rainfall. The bayous were already sluicing their capacity when this big red splotch parked in the center of the Houston/Galveston radar screen and dumped four inches an hour overnight.
I watched streets flood, then freeways and around three in the morning the water began creeping toward the front steps, all three of them. Halfway up the yard I pushed a railroad spike into the ground to mark the high water point. An hour later the water was lapping at the front and back doors. By now the street in front of our house was nearly three feet deep. It occurred to me only then that come dawn we would join the throng of idiots waving from rooftops, too dumb to leave before and too helpless to save ourselves we would be, like Stella, dependent on the kindness of strangers.
In the nightmare inhabited by the good guys in Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, strangers fall into two categories, predator or prey. Father and Son are making their way to the coast where they hope to - survive? All the plants and animals are dead, victims of the nuclear winter. Canned goods have all but disappeared and the only remaining food source is bipedal. It's a ghastly story and meant to be so.
Another end of the world film in current release is 2012. The difference between the two visions calls to mind the chasm separating our last two vice-presidents. One, a churlish, scheming cynic comfortable with "the dark side," the other a cheery optimist. One gazes at the world with a sneer, the other a smile. The survivors in Roland Emmerich's 2012 make their way to a row of gleaming phallus and launch into the flood with bright hopes for a new tomorrow. The survivors in McCarthy's The Road make their way to a dirty beach only to push ahead through the grime, cold and hunger.
Faced with the choice, would I take the easy way out or struggle to survive? Impossible to know, and unlike the hundreds of millions in the world's darker corners daily confronting that choice, I can speculate, free from all but existential choices.
Despite the deep sense of justice I felt watching Las Vegas crater I had already become innured to this, the mother of all disaster movies. Seeing John Cusack and Amanda Peete repeatedly stay a hairs breadth ahead of a cracking planet quickly grew tiresome. World's end, ho-hum.
Is nature itself evil or is it our nature that is evil? We live in a universe of umimaginable violence. Exploding stars, random world destroying collisions, gamma ray bursts, black holes. Planets with atmospheres of sulfuric acid, planets with no atmosphere, temperatures that freeze oxygen and boil tin. And then there's Earth. Our little Eden of inhabitability where one third of us go hungry and the rest of us poison the air and water with our waste. Reduce all this to one apparently happy couple enjoying each others bodies while their child falls to his death and you have Lars von Trier's latest exploration of the human condition. Not for the faint of heart. Not for the hopeful.
A Serious Man 11.15.09
A friend observed how pleased she was that car manufacturers solved the radio theft problem. Praise God, I responded. Yes, she said, aren't you glad God has begun to address the car alarm problem? If only he would solve that starving children thing so I could watch my shows without having to look at those dreadful images of emaciated children. Some ex-friends shared their version of God's mysterious ways by relating their receipt of a Parmesan grater just when they wished for one. I'm regularly told to have a blessed day or advised how blessed some acquaintance feels. For many, the search for meaning in this life is answered by the Lord God's collection of novellas. For others, the existential dilemma is resolved in the revelations inscribed in some gold plated china. For some, no answer is the answer. The Coen Brothers, lest you didn't get Barton Fink or The Big Lebowski or O Brother or No Country, remind us they belong to the latter group.
Larry Gopnik, a middling professor struggling for tenure, is assaulted by a series of personal disasters. Larry, the serious man, seeks answers from a series of increasingly august rabbis. He is met with meaningless platitudes and absurd parables. His life just falls apart. No reason, no moral.
Listening to NPR this morning I hear the story of a man who died stuck upside down in a cave. They almost had him out and the rope broke. The next story was of two men breaking into the house of a paraplegic, wrapping a t-shirt over his head and stealing his stuff.
The Limits of Control 05.30.09
Densely beautiful and beautifully dense film. Some guy goes from incredible locale to more incredible locale interacting with ever more bizarre characters using a matchbox as medium. Eventually he runs into Bill Murray channeling Dick Cheney. Tilda Swinton, Gael Garcia Bernal, Paz de la Huerta, and John Hurt make cameos as matchbook wielding comrades of Isaach de Bankole, the man with a mission we aren't privy to. A don't miss film because, if for no other reason, it is filmed by a director (Jim Jarmusch) who knows how to frame a shot and frames them in tragically beautiful and beautifully tragic Spain.