About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Countdown to Oscar!

I am planning to live-blog the Oscars this year, so have a Brillig time of it on Sunday night.

I'd like to talk briefly about one more nominated film that I've snared ahead of the telecast, the French film A Prophet, which is a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. I was a few blocks away from the Angelika for Tobias Buckell's NYRSF reading on Tuesday night March 2, so I headed over and saw the 9:10 show on Aud. #3.

I've been wary of well-reviewed French movies for close to a quarter century now. The first one I can remember was "Le Grand Chemin," a 1987 movie about a boy on his summer vacation, which wasn't exactly bad but which seemed awfully low key to me for so much praise, and which I thought would never have been reviewed as favorably were it in English. So here comes The Prophet, a prize winner at Cannes last year, all kinds of good reviews. I'm thinking I should see it, but then in the back of my mind there's the fact that the director's last movie was something called The Beat That My Heart Skipped, from 2005, and Quintessential Example #89 of the overrated French film.

I am delighted to report that A Prophet, Un Prophete in the native tongue, is a highly praised French film that actually deserves the praise. I have a deserving movie to root for over category favorite White Ribbon, which is grotesquely overpraised.

For writers everywhere reading this post, let it be said that A Prophet is a good example of the fact that you can tell a familiar story and make it work well if you do, in fact, tell the story well. This movie is about a young man who goes to prison, gets taken under the wing of the secret boss powers of the prison, here the Corsican mob, and before you know it he's every bit the kind-hearted warm soul that we see Al Pacino become over the course of The Godfather saga.

Let me also say that I'm a little frustrated, because I know I liked the movie a lot but at the same time can't quite say why with the kind of detail I could use to describe why I enjoyed Inglorious Basterds. I don't know that I found the acting great, and yet I found the lead to be very watchable and likeable even as he's doing not very likeable things. Maybe that's a trait running around the Hollywood water because the same can be said of Christoph Waltz in Inglorious. There aren't specific things I picked up on in the direction of the movie, but yet it's clearly directed with energy. The script doesn't hit any new notes, and if I say "well, it hits them in French!" that's saying exactly what I don't think should ever be said. I will say, certainly, that there's some nice stuff going on with the music. Even if you don't speak French and can't understand a word of the closing credit crawl, it's hard to leave the version of Mack the Knife that's playing over.

So A Prophet is well worth seeing.

Another foreign language nominee Ajami is playing now. I'm not sure if I should try and see it. It's gotten lots of good reviews. But on the other hand, in only its second week at the Kew Gardens Cinemas it's already down to only two shows a day, so clearly there aren't lines forming for it. My sister just sent me an e-mail with a subject header Ajami=bad, though the body of the e-mail was just a message I'd sent earlier. Still, the subject line suggests she did not like it, and I'm more likely to not like a film my sister does than to love something she hates. And other than the Kew Gardens, the film is playing at theatres in Manhattan that aren't so wonderful to visit. Well, I guess we'll see.

I did make my way to the Ziegfeld this week (Wed., Mar. 3), wanting to see Shutter Island on the only large single screen theatre left in Manhattan before Alice in Wonderland (no interest in seeing this at all, do not look for a Brillig review) moved in on Friday. When I'm reading a manuscript, the worst ones are the perfectly mediocre ones that are just good enough you kind of hate to bail out but just bad enough that you never gain momentum. Like, Tim Akers' Horns of Ruin, that's a good manuscript because I was around a third of the way through on Thursday night, and then on Friday I'm deciding I'll read the Friday newspaper on Saturday because Job One will be getting to the end of Tim's book because I'm enjoying and want to find out how it ends and I just need to march onward. That never happens with the mediocre ones. Shutter Island is the film equivalent of a mediocre manuscript. It wasn't so good that it kept me awake, and at the same time it wasn't so bad that I was willing to just give in and have a nice hour's nap. It didn't really look all that good to me from the coming attraction, and the coming attraction was right. Sadly, I was up for the last half hour when the movie was explained, and I realized I hadn't really missed anything even in the parts I'd dozed off in, and maybe I really should have tried dozing more. And the seats at the Ziegfeld aren't the most comfortable, either. Maybe if I'd just gone off and seen it at the cruddy UA Kaufman Astoria Stadium 14, and at least there I'd have had a much more comfortable seat.

Um, when I'm using Shutter Island to review theatre seats, it's time to stop that conversation.

So maybe Ajami, definitely Ghost Writer. Not sure about Brooklyn's Finest. But I consider Oscar day to be a kind of holiday, and it's important to see a movie or two over the next 43 hours to whet my appetite for Sunday's main event.

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