Aaaaaand we’re back!
Oh man y’all, tax season was such a boot to the keester. But it’s over and now I’m bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to talk about all the awesome movies I watched in between gritting my teeth and bashing my head on the desk.
So! The Insider, like all Michael Mann movies, is very very pretty to look at. The lighting in particular is gorgeous and atmospheric. Also like his other movies, this one is quite long and takes its sweet time gathering momentum. But the choice of subject matter is one of the reasons this one succeeds where some of the others flounder a bit. It’s based on the true story of Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe), a teacher and scientist who became a whistle-blower for Big Tobacco in the mid-nineties. Mann’s light touch serves him well here and keeps any potential scenery-chewers in check (Al Pacino plays the journalist who brings Wigand’s story to light). For such a long movie (it clocks in at 157 minutes), it never loses steam or starts to feel didactic or preachy, which is pretty impressive given the controversial subject matter. Put on a pot of coffee and watch it with someone who won’t talk over it (aka not me).
Great, bloody fun.
I don’t really have to convince y’all to see this, do I? I’m not sure how it stacks up against other renditions of the same musical since this was my first time seeing it (for shame!), but I did appreciate that they avoided all the weird staging that made me dislike the movie adaptations of Dreamgirls and Chicago. Johnny Depp is the man, as always, and Helena Bonham Carter is for once playing a role she could easily have been cast in even if the director wasn’t her hubby (not that she ever gives a bad performance — I just question his choice to cast her as his leading lady in some of his other movies). I also want to give some love to Alan Rickman, who I think is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. His duet with Johnny Depp while the latter is shaving him gave me chills.
I wish I’d blogged about this movie when it was fresher in my mind, because it deserves a thorough response. With that disclaimer out of the way, I have to say it does exactly what a documentary is supposed to do, which is to challenge any preconceptions its viewers might be bringing to the subject matter, in this case the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
The film’s approach is simple: director B.Z. Goldberg interviews seven different children and their families living in or around Jerusalem — some Israeli, some Palestinian, some orthodox, some secular. In addition to broader questions about their beliefs and families, he asks the Israeli kids what they think about Palestinians and vice versa. As with any good documentary, there are no easy answers: some of the kids with the most hard-line responses are also the ones who have suffered the most; and sometimes not. After getting to know them, he asks all seven children what they’d think about meeting a kid their age on the other side of the conflict. One Palestinian boy and a pair of Israeli twin brothers agree, and the movie culminates in their eventual meeting.
What I appreciated about this movie was the director’s light touch with such a controversial topic. He doesn’t compartmentalize the kids’ religious backgrounds as separate from the rest of their lives but instead preserves all their complexities and contradictions intact. This is especially impressive since Goldberg himself is Israeli-American and therefore not exactly a dispassionate outsider. It raises more questions than it answers, but with a divisive issue like this one, I can’t help but think of that as a good thing.
Remember like ten years ago, when I said I was going to get through a bunch of posts super quick-like? This time I mean it.
I was a bit daunted (understandably, I hope) by the task of saying anything brief about Inglourious Basterds, other than “I loved it.” Tarantino’s one of my favorite directors, but also the one whose detractors I can sympathize with the most. You can admire him all you want for being a renegade and breaking all the filmmaking rules, but the rules are there for a reason, and his refusal to play by them (and his indifference to squeamishness on the part of his audience) is a legitimate turnoff for lots of people.
That being said, every single person I know who’s seen this movie (including the three extremely different peeps who joined me at the theater) loved it. Y’all know by now that the casting is spot-on (even Brad Pitt, who gets back to his country-boy roots) and that the pacing involves equal parts awesome action sequences and insanely long scenes of dialogue, which does or doesn’t work depending on who you talk to (I say it does). Dudes get scalped. History gets rewritten. Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent wear gorgeous continental-mademoiselle outfits. But the most important thing about Inglourious Basterds, for my money, is that it will make you laugh at things you never thought you’d laugh at. Whether or not you’re OK with that will probably determine how much you like the movie.
Whew, I’ve got some catching up to do! Sorry for my delinquency, ya’ll. With the exception of this one, I might keep the next few posts brief in the interest of getting caught up.
One of the things I appreciated about The Wire as a whole and particularly the last season was the way everything snowballed. As the show goes on, the area of our interest as viewers expands outward from one drug clan and the cops who are chasing them to include politicians, students, teachers, dock workers, clergymen, the Russian mafia, and the staff of the Baltimore Sun. To take this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach without losing a single thread of the massively intertwined plot makes The Wire a magnificent work of art.
I also appreciated the honesty that went into fleshing out each character and delineating their arcs over the course of five seasons. I’ve never felt that art needed to be “like real life” in order to be good, at least not in the sense that most people mean. But I did find it refreshing that the writers of The Wire resisted the temptation to settle for the mega-happy ending and instead stayed true to the characters themselves and to what w0uld probably happen to such characters in a world very much like ours.
This show gets under your skin, people. I liked the first three seasons intellectually, but this is the first one that’s really grabbed me emotionally as well. My two favorite characters from the first season are still around and causing trouble, and the newer ones are starting to get to me as well. I’m already bracing myself for the last episode of this season, to say nothing of Season Five.