This is the time of year when my membership to the Museum of the Moving Image is worth it, when the film distributors with movies they want to have in the mix for awards season get busy with screenings. And as a general rule, if I can make it to a screening I will, it sometimes means seeing movies I wasn't interested in paying for that are screening late in their run, sometimes movies I'm not all that interested in at all, and not as often as I'd wish something I'm hugely enthusiastic to be seeing.
In the "purposely missed in theatres" category, was last weekend's screening of Beasts of the Southern Wild at the Museum. This film has had buzz dating back to Sundance in January, when the Variety review called it a "stunning debut." Hence, I was anticipating it. But when it actually opened, and I read more reviews, I was quite certain of the fact that there was little the movie would have to offer me. Which, essentially, turned out to be true. The lead character is a young child in a rural black island called The Bathtub quite isolated from even though on the US mainland. In that way, it reminds me of a movie called Daughters of the Dust about the gullah off the Carolinas. Which I'm shocked to see came out 20 years ago! Well, I remember it, not for the right reasons but I remember it. And the lead character starts the movie by burning down the trailer she lives in, while the trailer burns down she retreats inside a cardboard box in the burning trailer and starts drawing little whatevers on the inside of it. i.e., the lead character even by standards of young children is kind of a stupid idiot. Thereafter, I decided it would be better to "rest my eyes" than actively engage with the movie. I can report from my half-hearted viewing that the movie is technically well made, in that sense it is a stunning debut. It has a loud blaring soundtrack that I found to be annoying interruption of my efforts to "rest my eyes," which other than the whole basic idea of the thing is the worst part of the movie from those things that the director can control. The director and very young and very precocious lead actress did a Q&A afterward, which was quite interesting. And the director grew up in Sunnyside, not far from the first home of JABberwocky. If the director picks a more engaging subject matter, I'd try another film from him. But this one, it's the last sentence of the lead para that's more relevant than the "stunning debut" at the start of the lead: " emotionally wrenching if somewhat meandering parable likely to register strongest among critics and cineastes." And I don't often like movies that will register strongest among critics and cineastes. Even though I am in some ways both, I often don't like those kinds of movies. Another recent example, the quite dreadful The Master.
Then a few days later, into Manhattan's First & 62nd Clearview Cinemas for The Variety Screening Series presentation of Anna Karenina. Let us count the strikes against this one: Tom Stoppard is a critic's darling of a playwright and screenwriter who rarely writes plays or movies that I like; the director Joe Wright is a little more of a tough call, his Hanna was an interesting action thriller but his adaptation of Atonement was entirely off my alley; the book isn't one I've had any interest in seeing. So this one, if I'm enjoying an apple I can be enjoying it for a long time, and in this case, there was around 45 minutes that I watched the movie while noshing on a stayman. During this time, I could determine that (a) for better or worse, the movie wasn't very good, but at least it was very good in ways completely and distinctly different from Atonement, so certainly Joe Wright isn't just doing the same thing over and over, he's experimenting and daring and putting it out there (b) whatever he was trying to do, he was entirely in control of it, everything in the movie was of a piece and with thought and logic behind it, which also has to be respected (c) that he had no interest in speaking to anyone who hadn't read the book, because after 45 minutes I had very little idea who the main characters were or what their goals or motivations were, or what their relationships were to one another, in fact the entire movie was incoherent, quite gloriously and perhaps intentionally incoherent, but incoherent nonetheless (d) that the casting seemed entirely off, with all of the young faces hiding behind period clothes that always seemed to be worn just a little bit self-consciously hidden behind (for the men) beards that were just a little too fake it was a little bit Bugsy Malone, if you ask me. Those things having been determine, I again made a decision to "rest my eyes" which I did for most of the rest of the film. Star Keira Knightley and director Joe Wright did a Q&A after, and I found them less engaging than the Q&A after Beasts, but it did confirm that there was a mind behind the movie making decisions, not decisions I cared for, but on both instances at least some respect is to be granted.
Finally, Life of Pi, again at the Museum of the Moving Images. This was a pleasant surprise to me. The book isn't one I've been interested in, the director Ang Lee has done things like Brokeback Mountain that I liked a lot and things like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon that I liked not at all. In a nutshell, the story is about a boy who gets stranded on a boat with a tiger for a very very long time. In fact, this was a movie which I saw when I was kind of tired, but where I wanted to fight to keep awake, unlike the others where I was quite happy to tune out. So what did I like: The screenplay takes a nice approach to framing the story, it has a certain artificiality to it, but once you get past that it works. The casting is impeccable, the Pi at many different ages are good, there's an off note to the writer talking to Pi in the framing sequence but that seems intentional, and a closing monologue where we are presented with an alternate version of the story is genuinely exceptional, an acting tour de force where the camera keeps coming in tighter and tighter on an actor quite marvelously in control. It's a rare movie that I might actually suggest seeing in 3D, it's very well done, never obtrusive or in your face but quietly adding to the story in all sorts of ways. In that same vein, it's a movie that's filled with CGI, you don't have a live zebra on the boat with a live tiger, but never once did the CGI have the computer game feel that one can associate with parts of Star Wars Episodes 1-3, or Peter Jackson's King Kong, or the Transfomers movies, or a gazillion other things. You know it can't be real, but you can't see the wires or the fakery or anything, and you end up accepting it entirely. The music, that gets a thumbs up. My one real quibble was with the shipwreck scene, which I felt was full of water and effects and noise and sound and things happening, but which on a storytelling basis of what was happening to whom where was every bit as incoherent as Anna Karenina, and in contrast to James Cameron's Titanic, which is everything in a shipwreck scene that this one isn't. Q&A with the screenwriter. The Life of Pi is a keeper, and well worth seeing when it opens in theatres.
While I did like Life of Pi, I think I would like even more if it had been a movie called Pitanic, about a star-crossed young couple who reach the lifeboats on a doomed luxury liner -- only to find out that the lifeboat also has a tiger on board! Can Jack and Rose survive the tiger long enough to reach The Carpathia? It might be a 4-hour long movie, but what a movie it would be!!
- The Brillig Blogger
- 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.