Binders full of Certain Women


Lane from Mad Men as an American in Montana — and just as frustrated with life? What’s not to like?  Another bonus: placing Certain Women in Livingston — a town I became quite fond of a couple years back.  Tom Huddleston, Time Out:

The setting is Montana in winter, where the Rocky Mountains roll down into the dry, open plains. …it’s hard to recall a movie with such a precise, immersive sense of place, and the very specific mood that comes with it.

That central Montana setting bound me with instant affection to this film.  Now to the “buts.”  I have an “everyday life” tag — and Certain Women has become the mother of all “everyday life” tags.  There are no sweeping dramatic developments to be found here, yet the film is compelling.  On paper, there’s not much to substantiate my “story matters” mantra.  But this is not paper; it is — as David Lynch would say — the language of cinema.

Another potential problem related to the first is that presenting in this slice-of-life way the three exclusive stories do not allow any of them to build to a crescendo.  Potential, I say, because that’s the point — as much as anything else — of Certain Women.  7/10


VOD Log: Office Space

After seeing snippets here and there many times, and hearing about it in conversation on a number of occasions, I finally watched in its entirety Office Space.  Certainly it’s an iconic film, even borderline essential —  but that doesn’t mean it’s great.  The production values leave something to be desired, and purely as comedy it does not measure up to the best Apatow productions.  Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune characterized it as: “Drably shot, unimaginatively written and shallowly acted.”

Still, I recommend Office Space for its classic if rough-hewn content.  Despite its flaws, it musters up a few good laughs, and it’ll keep you in the know next time it comes up at the water cooler.  6/10

Availability: iTunes.  Comparison Notes: Any episode of The Office featuring Steve Carell (don’t bother with post-Steve Carell episodes) is ten times funnier than Office Space.  And, for a much better Mike Judge production, you may visit my post on Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.

Film Brief: Two Days, One Night

Two Days, One Night - poster smallLincoln failed by being a movie about the petitioning of individual votes, instead of being about, say, the sixteenth President of the United States, or the Civil War, or Slavery.  Two Days, One Night is a better movie, but fails by the same account.  It also builds the case — along with The Blue Room and Blue is the Warmest Color — that critics are amoureux with anything French these days.

For most of the movie monotony ruled and I was saying no; by the end a couple nice scenes turned it to a yes.  But on reflection the no votes win out.  5/10


Love Is Strange; this Movie Not So Much

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A great Rotten Tomatoes score (97%) and the chance to see John Lithgow, one of my favorite actors in — gasp! — a movie! — motivated me to see him in the story of of an aging gay couple, Love Is Strange.  The last — and only — John Lithgow movie I can think of him in was the terrific Terms of Endearment.  I’ve always loved him though, especially in the work most associated with him, 3rd Rock from the Sun, the most exuberant sitcom ever made.  He’s a brilliant actor, and I wish he had done, and will do more movies.Love Is Strange - text block

But alas, this project finds him saddled with a visionless, pedestrian script that makes you appreciate the genius of Woody Allen.  The performances are good enough, though the best job here is by Marisa Tomei, always the consummate pro.  Nothing is exceptional on any level, and the plot, script and overall production are straight out of amateur hour.  3/10

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Comparison Notes: Both highly recommended, much better alternatives: The Visitor, House of Sand and Fog

Meet Your New Neighbors

Film Title: Neighbors

NEIGHBORS IS FUNNY.  But there’s an interesting dynamic at play: a legitimate dramatic storyline, while driving the entire movie, is serious enough that it conflicts with the comedy.  When a young couple-with-baby have neighbors from hell (a frat house) move in next door, a genuine and potent conflict arises — and there are no obvious solutions;  just moving away is an idea promptly shot down.

The comedic yin and dramatic yang of Neighbors give it tension of the type that doesn’t exist in a pure comedy as say, Austin Powers, or even Superbad.  Indeed, you can almost think of this movie as a cross between Neighbors - text blockAnimal House and Lakeview Terrace.  The dramatic edge cuts into the funny face of the movie, and limits the all-out belly laughs.  But it’s quite ingenious in it’s simple way.  Because there’s no doubt this is a comedy, and likely the best of the year.  And though the dramatic side may tousle with the comedic, it also holds the film up and sustains it from start to finish.

But don’t get me wrong: Neighbors is not particularly tense.  This is not a life-and-death crime drama after all.  It’s just a very successful comedy, and surprisingly so.  As The Other Woman demonstrated, comedy is tough.  The only real problem I had with Neighbors was a certain airbag sequence, but it was short-lived.  8/10.

A Certain Something Somewhere

Somewhere posterSofia Coppola’s Somewhere (2010), speaks much the same language as her terrific film of 2003, Lost in Translation.  It is about a fictional A-list movie actor, Johnny Marco, who would seem to have everything — great success in his career, great wealth and fame, and a bright, vivacious 11-year-old daughter.  But Johnny Marco is a man adrift; his existence is almost entirely hollow.  Almost, because there is one thing saving his soul from complete emptiness:  his daughter.

I am continuously surprised to find that these sporadic little titles that I like have been given Roger Ebert’s top recommendation:

Coppola is a fascinating director. She sees, and we see exactly what she sees. There is little attempt here to observe a plot. All the attention is on the handful of characters, on Johnny. He has attained success in his chosen field, and lost track of the ability to experience it. Perhaps you can stimulate yourself so much for so long that your sensitivity wears out. If Johnny has no inner life and his outer life no longer matters, then he’s right: He’s nothing.

Coppola presents Johnny Marco’s existence in a matter-of-fact, deadpan way that will remind you of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.  A lot of people might really hate this movie: there is no big car chase explosions, or high-stake drug heists, or vengeance killings — or anything even a tenth so dramatic.  But I found Somewhere compelling and entertaining.  8/10

Cinematic Greats: Big Night

I LOVE Big Night.big-night-movie-poster-1996-1020203185

It must be the best food movie ever, but more importantly it is simply a great movie.  Because, though it is great as a foodie movie, it also reaches incredible heights of telling about the human experience.  This film is exceptionally deep.  At its heart is the struggle of two Italian immigrant brothers, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci), to make their floundering, too-far-ahead of its time restaurant successful in 1950s New Jersey.  And this central story is beautiful.  Supporting stories about their romantic and business relationships provide a richness to this film equal to any dish on the menu.  Full of good humor, even the brothers’ names, Primo and Seccondo, are a little running joke.

When I first saw Big Night in the theater, it spoke to me as a quintessentially pure indie film, and at the same time ‘the definition of film’.  This ‘definition of film’ is a theme of mine that I’ll explore more later, but for now know that it’s a label I apply as a mark of rare cinematic quality.  Big Night is such a rare gem.

This movie is full of delights.  Here is one:

Hot Dog!  The greatest culinary wonder: “Il Timpano.”  Marvelous.  I cannot tell you how it ends, but I can tell you what I exclaimed when it did: “Now that’s a movie!”  10/10