Movie Takes

Movie Takes

Hate-Love Relationships

By 4.14.14

“You can’t not love and hate the same person,” says Nick (Jim Broadbent) to Meg (Lindsay Duncan) — “usually in the space of five minutes, in my experience.” It’s the kind of writerly line — the writer in this case being Hanif Kureishi — that looks good on the page but proves a real bear the moment you try to illustrate it dramatically. In the case of Le Week-End, directed by Roger Michel (who also collaborated with Mr. Kureishi on The Mother and Venus, both about mismatched sexual partners), Mr. Kureishi has made it even more difficult for himself by putting his characters through the kind of mutually self-lacerating dialogue that makes Nick and Meg reminiscent of George and Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But sooner or later there comes out of nowhere — spoiler alert! — a plainly contrived peripeteia, after which love may be supposed to come on shift to take over for hate. It’s supposed to be a comedy, after all.

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Movie Takes

The New Noah

By 4.10.14

If there is anything that is clear about the occasionally unclear Judeo-Christian Scriptural account of the Creation, it is that it was an act of anthropocentrism. Mankind was seen by the author or authors of Genesis as the masterwork of God, who is said to have created man in his own image and to have given him dominion over the rest of the creation. All the rest of the Bible, in both Testaments, has to do with God’s relationship with men, not animals or any other part of the Creation. Accordingly, if there is any doctrine or belief about or representation of the Biblical account which we can be sure is false to it and to its spirit, it is the fashionable view among the literary hangers-on of the environmentalist movement that mankind is a disease of nature or a bit of filth from which the properly natural world needs to be purified. “The world has cancer, and the cancer is man,” as the Club of Rome’s Mankind at the Turning-Point puts it.

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Movie Takes

The Art of Storytelling

By 3.31.14

The critic for Variety called The Past (Le Passé) by Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) “an exquisitely sculpted family melodrama in which the end of a marriage is merely the beginning of something else.” Insofar as this is not simply a banality — since everything that ends is the beginning of something else — it is the opposite of the truth. The end of the marriage between Marie-Anne (Bérénice Bejo) and her Iranian husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) is not “merely” anything, not even the end of the marriage, and nor does it mark the beginning, as Marie herself would wish it to do, of her new life with Samir (Tahar Rahim), the man with whom she is expecting a child and trying to build a life together.

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Bombay’s Perfect Lunchbox

By 3.25.14

The word for “lunchbox” in Hindi is dabba,and the people who deliver lunchboxes, mostly from their wives at home to husbands working in the ever-growing office population of Bombay — which the politically correct are now commanded to re-name “Mumbai” — are called dabbawallahs. As we are reminded in Dabba or The Lunchbox, directed by Ritesh Batra from his own screenplay, the system devised by the dabbawallahs for getting the right lunchbox to the right recipient is world-famous for not making mistakes in spite of its not being the product of modern electronic information-management. Why, their system has been studied by Harvard University, as her dabbawallah (Sadashiv Kondaji Pokarkar) proudly informs lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) when she complains that he has been taking the lunchbox she prepares every day to a man who is not her husband. He is sure he could not have made the mistake she and we know he has made.

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Movie Takes

Ralph Fiennes’ Comedic Triumph in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

By 3.20.14

Wes Anderson’s long flirtation with whimsy has finally resulted in their tying the knot in The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m afraid that the union cannot be a very happy one, at least not for film-goers, though it does provide a certain amount of fun. In Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998), and, to a lesser extent, The Royal Tenenbaums, of 2001, Mr. Anderson still had one foot planted in reality, but since then he has been steadily losing this toehold, presumably on account of being told too often how delightfully whimsical are such subsequent productions as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), The Fantastic Mr.

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Clooney Tunes

By 2.24.14

Robert Edsel and Bret Witter, who wrote the true life history on which The Monuments Men was based, describe the original of George Clooney’s character in the movie, a Harvard-trained art conservator and historian named George Stout, as someone who .exuded knowledge, professionalism, and the pure love of and respect for cultural objects.” I don’t know quite how he does it, but Mr Clooney, who also directs, somehow manages to make this man, now renamed Frank Stokes, into just the opposite: a supposed scholar with no apparent knowledge nor passion nor even much interest in art, except in the most banal and general terms, in which he talks about it even to his supposed professional colleagues. As if to confirm that impression, the real life George Clooney was recently quoted in the media as saying he thought it would be a good idea for the British Museum to return the Elgin Marbles to the “Pantheon,” whither he imagined they had been taken. Throughout the movie it is all too easy to see through the supposed art expert to the rather dim actor and celebrity beneath.

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Movie Takes

Love and Secrecy

By 2.5.14

The epigraph to Ralph Fiennes’s The Invisible Woman, adapted from Claire Tomalin’s biography of Ellen Ternan, is naturally taken from Charles Dickens, of whom the latter was mistress during the last years of his life: “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” The context, in A Tale of Two Cities, is of love and death. The “profound secret and mystery” is another way of expressing the individuality that we love, when we love, and that we mourn in those we love after their death — at least partly because the elusive promise of discovering the secret and plumbing the mystery must now be acknowledged as forever to be unfulfilled. How far that opinion was held by Dickens the man and not as a narrative or thematic convenience for the author is, perhaps, his own mystery, taken with him to the grave. But a fascination with and a need for secrecy itself becomes for Mr.

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Who We Are

By 2.2.14

After only six weeks in release, Lone Survivor is closing in on the box office record set last year by Zero Dark Thirty for movies about our post-9/11 wars. Yet it has received little publicity compared not just with Kathryn Bigelow’s film, which courted controversy with scenes of torture that portrayed the torturers sympathetically, but also with the string of anti-war flops that came before it. Hollywood and the media desperately wanted people to like those movies for the sake of their political agenda, but people didn’t like them and didn’t go to see them. Zero Dark Thirty at least looked to people like it was pro-American.

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Mrs. Jonze

By 1.20.14

Bodies are optional — and therefore dispensable. That has been the subtext of the utopian dream of rationalists from Descartes to the present day. The trouble is that we know it isn’t true. We need our bodies. Without them, we are nothing, at least so far as we can know. The rationalists nowadays, however, have become so confident about the advance of technology, and especially the technology of artificial intelligence, that they tend to take for granted that it is only a matter of time until “science” — perhaps, as disembodied as its future creations — is able to synthesize humanity itself. To be up front about it, I don’t think so. Humanity is embodied and, the advance of technology notwithstanding, it always will be. That is part of what humanity means — along with all that bodies imply about the inevitability of pain and loss and failing faculties and death, which are among the bugs that the rationalists seek to eliminate from our human software.

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Movie Takes

‘American Hustle’ Gets Screwy

By 1.17.14

The best line in American Hustle comes in an exchange between Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, and Irving Rosenfeld, the small time crook played by Christian Bale who is bargaining with him to get a reduced sentence by helping to entrap several U.S. congressmen in what was to become known as the Abscam bribery sting. In the spirit of post-Watergate self-righteousness that must have affected the FBI almost as much as it did the media and the political Carterism that played to it, Richie tells Irving that he is the kind of person who is ruining America. Irving replies in high dudgeon: “No, you’re the one who is ruining America. People just got over Watergate and Vietnam and you’re going to s*** all over politicians again!”

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