Movie Monday! #1
Eyes Wide Shut
1999; Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack; directed by Stanley Kubrick
The sets are great, Tom Cruise has a couple of charming scenes with a prostitute and her roommate, and one segment (the one pictured above) does a pretty compelling imitation of a Federico Fellini movie. Before you get too excited over that soon-to-be-backhanded praise: Nicole Kidman's performance is laughable, the script is nowhere approaching competent ("I need a costume at 2 A.M.? Good thing one of my patients happens to own a fucking costume store, that's the most convenient thing that's ever happened to me") and the moral is both fatalistic and apologetic, which is about the most noxious combination attributes a denouement can have. Some people don't have any trouble masturbating to this movie. If that doesn't describe you, and if you've seen a European movie from the 1960s, you'll sit down hungry and leave the same.
2011; Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon; directed by Jeff Nichols
The next time you're talking to one of those dipwads who tries to work Yasujio Ozu into every conversation and complains that no movies "of substance" are being made any more, take a DVD copy of this movie and put it in their mouth. They won't be able to breathe, and they'll die, and you won't have to listen to them speak ever again, about movies, or anything. There's a distinct possibility that the ending cheapens a lot of the tragedy and emotional progress you thought was being made over the course of the film, but I've come up with an interpretation where that doesn't necessarily have to be the case, and besides, the important part of all this is that you killed that guy from the first sentence. He's dead. He can't judge us anymore.
The Wages of Fear
1953; Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, Folco Lulli; directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Clouzot and screenwriter Georges Arnaud took a big chance by making their protagonists such hateable sacks of garbage, and while that sometimes means that you don't care very much about what happens to them, it also puts them in situations that "good guys" wouldn't be in, in the crosshairs of oversight and betrayal. The first half hour is very slow going and the last ten minutes are predictable enough to drain the tension out of a would-be shocking finale. But you're not watching it for those forty minutes, you're watching it for vicious terrain, explosives, grimaces, the loneliness of the long-distance truckers. You'll get all those things. You won't get anything more, but it's a good meal if you like the taste. This movie invented Sam Peckinpah.
1971; Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda, Charles Cioffi, Roy Scheider; directed by Alan J. Pakula
Jane Fonda's Bree Daniels is an immensely likable character, which is why you'll feel a little bad for wanting the movie's serial killer to either shit or get off the pot, because this is the kind of movie where you feel every minute trudge by. The lack of urgency is unforgivable, and Donald Sutherland has all the charisma of cold oatmeal, which might have been intentional, but that doesn't make him any less unbelievable as a romantic lead. There are some interesting conversations to be had about the way Fonda manages to be sexy without giving cause to leer, and if you're still invested in Bree by the last half hour you'll find the climactic sequence to be as gripping and breathless an example of filmmaking as you've ever seen. But someone should have told Pakula that there's a thin line between methodical and drowsy and that if this film were a person, it would've had its driver's license revoked.
2010; Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, a bunch of other people who should've known better; directed by James Gunn
Unfunny, mean-spirited and smug. Over the course of 96 minutes, one joke, out of many, provides a laugh. This movie has an endless number of horrible aspects that are worthy of scorn, and to mention and discuss everything about it that sucks-the eyebrow-raising number of gay jokes, the plot threads that lead absolutely nowhere, the desperate, pleading physical comedy- would be a massive, unwieldy use of mental energy, so I'll just say that if it's possible for a movie to be worse than Crash, than this is the one. This is the one that pulled it off. I'll have to spend some real time considering what "bad" actually means after seeing Super. James Gunn is going to be limbo champion for a long time to come.
2010; James Franco, Aaron Tveit, John Hamm, David Strathairn; directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
The first half of the movie is used to find its footing-this first while is when Franco's narration can get tiring, and the animation sequences are a little too on-the-nose for their own good. But you've got 75 minutes to spare, the acting is phenomenal, and the story is vital enough on its own merits that one gets the impression that this subject matter would be borderline impossible to bungle. Some things need to be seen, not due to quality or to cultural significance-this movie has both things, but they are wholly tertiary to the drive, which is that there's a reason you can't get some people to shut up about some things, because some things are worth not shutting up about.
Le Cercle Rouge
1970; Alain Delon, Andre Bourvil, Yves Montand, Gian Maria Volonte; directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
You know how earlier I mentioned that fine line between methodical and drowsy filmmaking? Melville didn't always see that line, but when he did he gave us movies like Le Cercle Rouge, and movies like Le Cercle Rouge are the reason his nuts will never go unattended. Characters of substance that are easily definable, daring heists, luscious cool, savory mustaches...this is what noir, neo or otherwise, is all about. This is the genre boiled down to its barest components-ugly men in bad suits doing awful things for money-and stretched out to the point of extravagance, so that even the parts you fall asleep during feel like they deserve an honorary cigarette. Miles Davis didn't do the soundtrack, but this movie is the visual that accompanies every Miles Davis album.