I’ve been slow at posting any reactions to films I’ve seen this year – obviously nothing has deeply motivated me. But, a quick recap:
I see Mud has emerged as the sort-of-hit indie of the season. I like its general feel, and think the kid playing Ellis (along with most of the cast) is pretty good. But I think there’s a lot less there than meets the eye. The story is simultaneously too densely populated and too tightly orchestrated: there are multiples of almost everything – women betraying men, sons struggling with fathers, people resisting life-changes, even (with McConnaughey and Sam Shepard) initially reclusive Boo Radley equivalents – and all strands get resolved too firmly and neatly (above all, I’d have preferred McConnaughey’s fate remaining ambiguous). The script also has a tendency toward redundancy – Ellis keeps having encounters and then recounting them to someone else verbatim. (If he’d lied or held back details occasionally, it would have meant something) There’s a general shit-karma feel to the story – I spent most of the film waiting for things to come crashing down – but the payoff, while loud and sort of flashy, didn’t come to all that much. And the resolution, while posing as uplift, feels like it contains a hint of misogyny (“Guys, pick yourselves up and find another girl… after your no-good bitch betrays you!”)
Oh, and, serious question: if the motel was supposedly under 24 hour watch, how was it Ellis was pretty much able to come and go at will?
The Place Beyond the Pines has some of the same aspect as Mud: artistically ambitious, but in the end not really about enough to justify its bigness. Pines’ canvas is, in time terms, far more broad than Mud’s – it spans decades, not Mud’s few days – and deals with an equally broad, diverse cast of characters. I found myself wondering if the story might have worked better if the last act had come first, and we’d seen in reverse order how the meeting of the two sons came to have such meaning – because, the way it is, the fact that these two would run into one another at school is blindingly obvious, and the story doesn’t go anywhere particularly revelatory from there. I liked the first two segments more – the first if only because Ryan Gosling (and Eva Mendes) made it interesting, and the second because there were some interesting, shades of gray developments (like Liotta and gang shaking down Mendes, only to give all the money to Cooper). I admire Cianfrance’s obvious desire to make a major movie, but wish he’d come up with something more tangible.
I saw 42 because two people told me it was better than the reviews had indicated; those people lied to me. I know, since The Natural, all big moments on a baseball field have to be accompanied by heavenly choirs, but 42 goes beyond that: Robinson being called into Rickey’s office gets the same soundtrack treatment. This is also the kind of movie where every key on-field challenge is met by a clutch hit – pure fantasy in a sport where people who fail 7 of 10 times are the big stars. The story of Jackie Robinson is obviously an important one, but the only decent scenes in the movie are the ones where Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman lets loose (and then rationalizes) his stream of racial taunts. The rest is at strictly Blind Side level.
The surprise about The Great Gatsby is how Gatsby-ish it is. The trailer (and Moulin Rouge) had prepared me for a visual assault accompanied by anachronistic music. There’s only some of the former (less and less as the film goes on) and practically none of the latter – lots more Gershwin and Porter than Jay-Z. And. other than that, Luhrmann actually hews pretty close to Fitzgerald. The question remains, as it did after the Redford/Clayton collaboration, was this novel ever a real candidate for a decent film? Don’t really know; I’m so over-familiar with the material, I almost don’t have a reaction. Well, two small reactions: I hope DiCaprio’s initial appearance, accompanied by fireworks and Rhapsody in Blue, was meant to evoke laughter, because it’s a howl; and, apart from that, DiCaprio is probably the best thing about the movie – he continues his ascent to maybe-respectable grown-up actor.
And that’s been Spring at my local cinema.