Friday, October 19, 2007

Stray-glioma roundup

Michelle and I went to the movies last night -- Wes Anderson's new "The Darjeeling Limited" -- and I realized I've let several recent things slip by without an M&M review. So, in an arts-section version of the morning news meeting, here's a catch-up edition.

The Darjeeling Limited. Wes Anderson is a quirky, stylish filmmaker, and I've liked most of his previous movies, especially "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums." This one brings together three brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Scwhartzman, for a trip through India, including on the train that gives the flick its title. Like all Anderson's work it's beautiful to look at, and the performances -- including a smaller role by Angelica Houston and a cameo by Bill Murray -- are excellent. But it felt weirdly claustrophobic to me, even with the huge Indian vistas. The themes and plot lines and even the props are engaging but so precisely and (it seemed to me) self-consciously worked out that I kept thinking I was there for Anderson's amusement instead of the other way around. Designer emotional baggage, I thought during the predictable final scene. Enjoyable, but not a classic. 3 gliomas.

Michael Clayton. The new George Clooney vehicle is a throwback legal thriller that made me think of classic '70s movies like "The Parallax View" or "Three Days of the Condor," even though there's very little action-movie action in this one. The big chase scenes are all internal. Clooney plays the title character, a fixer in a big, powerful law firm who has to clean up the mess of his friend and the firm's star litigator, and confronts a bunch of stuff about himself in the process. It's a great role, and Clooney at his natural, likable best knocks it out of the park. Tom Wilkinson also is excellent as the lawyer friend who loses it, and Tilda Swinton is creepy good as the nemesis. This is the first film directed by Tony Gilroy, a longtime screenwriter who wrote the Bourne movies among others. For an excellent interview with Gilroy, check out this episode of Elvis Mitchell's "The Treatment" podcast. 4 gliomas.

Magic, Bruce Springsteen. In M&M's what-are-you-listening-to weekend challenge this emerged as a popular choice, and McDermott mentioned during our recent lunch that he's really enjoying the new Springsteen release too. I've been listening off and on for a couple of weeks now, trying to whip up some enthusiasm, but it's not sticking with me. I like the single, "Radio Nowhere," and a couple of others, and it is cool in a nostalgic way to hear the old, full E Street Band sound again. The magic, I keep thinking, is that they found the lost "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" tapes. Not that that's bad; that early music was great. But I've liked watching Bruce evolve over the years. I really liked "Ghost of Tom Joad," "Devils & Dust" and the recent Seeger Sessions stuff. Michelle and I saw his first show with that new band, doing the "We Shall Overcome" music at the first New Orleans Jazz Festival after Katrina, and it was overwhelmingly powerful. Definitely one of my pantheon concerts. This new record I like, but it won't be in my heavy rotation. As Greta would say, I'm whelmed. 3 gliomas.

Graduation, Kanye West. After the big throwdown a few weeks back over whether Kanye West's or 50 Cent's new release would sell the most copies, Kanye's better selling album is a big disappointment. I think he can be a very engaging rapper and he's a smart, terrific producer, but nothing on this record matches the fun and catchiness of his previous releases, "Late Registration" and "The College Dropout." 2 gliomas.

Others around the table, your thoughts? I know Michelle had different takes on both movies.
Have you seen or heard these releases?


Rita said...

Great reviews! To borrow your phrase, 2 Tumors Up.

Michelle said...

My reviews:

George Clooney was handsome and everything, but that was a forgettable formula movie that had to be released now (not in the Spring) because if it had been released in the Spring, everyone would have forgotten it by award time. Good technically, good acting, etc, but man, haven't I seen this same story three times in the past five years?

Darjeeling is a Quixotic tale; the movie itself feels as Quixotic as the characters and stories in the movie. Somehow the movie, and Wes Anderson behind the camera, are part of the movie too. If that makes sense. Wes, the movie, and the characters in the movie are all equally palpable, and all are (my guess) sad and searching for that thing -- that thing we always think/feel there should be there in life somewhere but isn't. The missing tooth. The thing that causes all angst and suicides.

I think that thing really is Santa Claus and Jesus, this promise we were all raised on that perfect happy people in fur-lined red coats and burlap tunics will save you and bring you gifts and everlasting life and meaning, and you'll be happy and feel resolved and understand the meaning of everything and know your place in the world and why you're here and what to do next.

And then when you're eight you realize that both are lies, but now you don't know how to erase this expectation of Jesus and Santa, and that there should be this thing, this answer, this harmony in your life.

This movie is in a genre of movie that I suspect is just a personal genre. There have been just a handful of movies in my life (starting with Trinity is my Name at the age of 8) that left me feeling weirdly peaceful at the end, in a way that I find hard to talk about. They are always movies about heroes -- usually shadow kings or antiheroes, really, with unrealized potential but great charm and sometimes mythical coolness -- who are on a quest. Sometimes the quest is not expressed as a quest -- they seem to be simply people walking slowly through life and things happen to them and they try to work through them.

These peaceful feeling movies have a thing about them in their pacing -- the movies seem to lope slowly forward, confidently and lazily. They aren't out to be a movie, per se, they just are. They meander, they're quiet, they seem somehow, even though the actual storylines may be outrageous, to mimic the rhythms of real life.

I haven't quite figured out where the peace comes from, except that maybe these movies have that pace to them, like the rhythm of the chug of the train, and that subtle thing running through the movie is soothing, like the beat of a heart to a baby. Hearing it and hearing it again and knowing when you will hear it again and having it always be there again on the exact beat when you were expecting it; there's kind of a peacefulness to that, something like the feeling you had back when you did still believe in Santa Claus.

I dunno. I'm making this all up as I go along. I just know that I had one of those rare peace moments after this movie, and I can't say why, and those only come once every few years, and whenever they do, I can't really argue the technical merits of that movie, I can only say that I liked it, because it made me feel that way. And I like that feeling. And so it is good.

Greg Hernandez said...

Well, Michelle, I really liked "Michael Clayton" a lot. Tilda Swinton was just terrific especially.
BTW, I saw "Rendition" yesterday - just OK - and saw "Eastern Promises" which was awesome. I liked "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" more than those nasty critics and really, really liked "Lars and the REal Girl."
Still gotta see "Into the Wild" and "Darjeeling" tho.

Mark said...

pretty awesome to get movie reviews on our little blog from someone who actually knows these stars!

thanks greg.