So I saw five movies the weekend before Christmas, and am happy to say I didn't entirely like any of them.
First up was Barbara, a German movie which has been getting excellent reviews. It isn't so excellent. The eponymous lead character is a doctor in East Germany in the early 1980s who has been assigned to work at a new hospital. We see her working at the hospital, getting attached to another doctor in a romantic way, and to a patient or two in an empathic way. The German secret police come by every so often to her apartment and search it up and down, then have a female agent come in to search her up and down. We see her biking all over town, sometimes to have a romantic tryst with a government official. Well made, yes. But sometimes I think critics are hampered in their judgment because they go to a movie with the press kit, or they go to a play and are given a copy of the play. And this is one of those times. Barbara is so suffused with subtlety that it's chock full all over of things that only make sense if you have somebody explaining them to you. I didn't. I couldn't figure out why, at least within the context of the actual movie on the screen, where the movie was set (well, OK, they were speaking German, so it was in Germany, and there were secret police, so it was probably Eastern Germany), or when it was set. I only know it's in the early 1980s because a reviewer told me. I didn't know why Barbara was where she was. I didn't know why the police were on her case, someone I mentioned this to said "it's East Germany, the police were investigating everyone." Point taken, but were they searching every apartment, and giving everyone regular strip searches? I could figure she was sleeping with a government official, but not who or what or where or why, or if that relationship had anything to do with everything else or if it was just happenstance. And the filmmaking itself stumbled over its wonderful gentleness and subtlety to the point of becoming, well, a little bit dull. This was the official German entry into the Academy Award race for Best Foreign Language Film. It didn't make the shortlist from which the nominees will be selected. Nobody's being robbed. This is a classic case of a movie made more for snobbish critics than people who actually go to watch movies.
I saw this at the Angelika Mosaic, a new movie theatre that's part of a major retail development in suburban DC, walkable from the Dunn Loring Metro station. There are all kinds of housing and retail developments that have been going up in the neighborhood over the past five or ten years, turning suburban wasteland into a livable transit-oriented development. The movie theatre is quite nice, but seemed quite quiet on a Friday night.
The next morning I headed out to the Landmark Bethesda Row to see Rust and Bone, a French movie. The director, Jacques Audiard, is something of a US critic's darling. The first film of his I saw was The Beat That My Heart Skipped, which was quite dreadful in my opinion. His next film to get a major release in the US was A Prophet, which got great reviews and was in fact quite quite fantastic. My review is in this post. This also got excellent reviews, albeit with a couple significant dissenters. I was a little wary, but I really did like A Prophet. Not Rust and Bone. It's a boring mess of a movie. It's not well made in my opinion, as an example one of the most prominent scenes in the movie is of Marion Cotillard losing her legs in an accident at a French Sea World thing, and the blocking and shooting of the scene is done so poorly that I couldn't for the life of me explain how the accident happened or how the character's legs were lost. We aren't given much about the character to care about her lost legs. Her boyfriend? We aren't given much reason to care about him, either. The movie just drags on and on, improbability piled on improbability for the sake of -- I don't know what, honestly. A dreary bad mess of movie.
This theatre is down the street from the Bethesda branch of Georgetown Cupcake, which is one of the best cupcake places around. However, it's hard to buy their cupcakes in hot weather and not eat them right away, because the icing is so soft and fluffy that it ends up glopping itself off the top of the cupcake. I found out on this trip that is' hard to buy their cupcakes in cold weather not not eat them right away. Walking around a bit before eating the cupcakes, the good news was that the icing had hardened a bit and didn't glop all over. But the icing had hardened a bit, even the edges of the cupcakes had frozen up some, and the flavor was frozen away.
I didn't have great expectations for my next movie, The Guilt Trip, which was playing at the Regal Bethesda, an '80s style sloped-floor multiplex that is still around and doing a decent business. It wasn't a pleasant surprise, but it was at least as good or bad as I was expecting. It was a good enough movie that Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand could make it seem a little better than maybe it was, and I was generally smiling during the movie if not often laughing. But the bottom line is that I'd dozed a bit during Rust and Bone, usually if I doze in one movie I'm not going to doze in another because I'm well-rested. And this one, I wasn't just resting my eyes but was actually dozing during Seth Rogen's pitch session at HSN. Which I'm sure was the comic highlight of the movie, there must be one in there someplace, and I missed it entirely.
We then walked down Wisconsin Ave. a bit to the AMC Mazza Galleria. Many years ago, there was a small Cineplex Odeon sloped floor triplex in the basement of this upscale mall. As part of a mall redevelopment, that gave way to a much larger stadium seating AMC theatre on the upper level. This was my first time seeing a movie there even though the new theatre has been open for several years, I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the screens and the overall comfort of the theatre, and I'm sure I will be back.
My first film there was This is 40. I'm not the Judd Apatow fan club. I walked out of 40 Year Old Virgin. Knocked Up was kind of OK. I regret not seeing Funny People. I think he might be better as a Producer of movies by other people than a director of his own. This particular movie has a lot of pitch perfect and telling moments. It has a lot of laugh out loud moments. There's plenty to recommend in the film. Unfortunately, the film's also close to 2:15 in length, which is way way way too long, and I started to feel every second of the film's length and squirm and rest my eyes and otherwise find plenty to focus on other than the perceptiveness and occasional LoL funny in the movie. There's no way I should doze off in three straight movies, no way, when that happens, it's not me being tired but movies that are too easy to sleep during.
Which is ultimately why this blog post is titled "The Big Sit." All of these are movies that make you focus heavily on the fact that you're sitting and sitting and sitting, which are not transporting you to another world, holding you rapt in their spell.
Across from the Mazza Galleria is the site of the former Borders #285. Which was one of those underperforming stores that Borders had too many of, and which they spent too much money remodeling at least twice, when they really needed to find a way out from under the lease. A DSW Shoe Warehouse has now opened. At least here, I know where the Borders was. Walking along Walnut St. in Philadelphia a couple days later, I was pained to realize that I could no longer to tell which store had held the original downtown Philadelphia Borders.
The final movie in this four-in-a-day marathon was Jack Reacher. Which may not be -- no, let's be frank, it isn't -- a particularly good movie, but which by the standards of the other movies I'd seen was exceptionally good. It was the only one that didn't drag, that didn't put me to sleep, that came close to delivering on the hopes or expectations that you might take with you into the theatre. I haven't read the Lee Child novels, so I could just focus on the fact that Tom Cruise was in it, and as a general rule, most movies with Tom Cruise have something going for the, and Cruise usually makes decent decisions on what movies to be in. I don't think he has many outright duds in his filmography, in part because he is in the movies. There's a particularly good if small supporting turn by Robert Duvall.
Especially in the wake of the Newton CT shootings, Jack Reacher has taken a lot of heat because of its violence. The opening scene is a sniper's eye view of shootings on the Pittsburgh waterfront as the gunman takes aim at a series of targets and kills what he's aiming at. The thing I find odd about this is that Lee Child gets kind of a free ride. It's as if the movie just decided all on its lonesome to be full of shootings and violence in a typical Hollywood kind of way, full of brutality toward all but especially toward women. Nobody then wants to step back to do the "but," to acknowledge that the movie might be doing all of these things but that it does them in service of an adaptation of a published book, nobody analyzes if the film's treatment of these things does justice to or is independent on the book on which the movie is based. Does Jack Reacher the movie take a kind and loving novel and turn it into the typical Hollywood gunfest? Or does it take a book that has these qualities, and bring those qualities to the screen? I guess I should be happy that I'm a literary agent who gets to work with the books that might get a free pass here because they're books which are literary and good. But I'm not, I'm disappointed that there's so much verbiage about the film that ignores the source. And of course since I haven't read the Lee Child novels I don't know the extent to which the tone and approach of the movie diverges from or stays true to that of the books, I only know that it's not good journalism or criticism or reviewing to take aim at the movie without putting it into the context of its source material.
- 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.