This weekend, other than spending some quality time with gf, her family and my beloved , turkey-loving dog, and spending an unhealthy amount of time discovering the bottomless diversions of Facebook, I managed to watch four new films. I rate them all about the same – each are solid and recommendable, though none would make my top 10 for the year – but between the four of them there’s a world of emotional responses covered.

Margot at the Wedding (2007, Noah Baumbach)

screened Thursday, November 22, 2007 in Exton PA IMDb

I liked this somewhat more than The Squid and the Whale. Editing is still too choppy and rushed at times for my tastes, the embarrassments and family dysfunction heaped upon with excessive preponderance, and yet it comes together. It’s much better paced than its predecessor and as such it helps the dystopia-on-the-Hamptons congeal into a credible-if-hyperbolized world through which flow constant streams of neurotic lava. Performances are first rate – Nicole Kidman ably takes the mantle of bitch-goddess like a 21st century contemporization of Davis/Crawford, and a game Jennifer Jason Leigh her hapless foil. Not to everyone’s tastes, it may seem to some that Baumbach still has an ax to grind against his family let alone humanity as a whole – but somehow I don’t disbelieve that such people as these exist. In fact with each year I live it becomes easier to see it.
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Enchanted (2007, Kevin Lima)

screened Friday, November 23, 2007 at the Regal Cinemas Downington IMDb

Came into this one hearing both raves (i.e. Todd McCarthy for Variety) and razzes (Robert Wilonsky at the Village Voice).  Easily the most entertaining film of the weekend, it’s a lot of fun for the most part, with revisionist fairy tale twists more clever and less slight than in Shrek (the “Happy Working Song” number with cockroaches, pigeons and rats doing cleanup work a la Snow White on a posh Upper West Side apartment is the highlight for me).  As far as substance, the film takes as many of its cues from Pretty Woman (girl with heart of gold redeems callous knight in business suit) as any of the old cartoons.  And as with Julia Roberts’ winsome hooker, if it weren’t for Amy Adams I suspect the proceedings would be unbearable; it’s her unironic relish as the irrepressible storybook heroine that carries the proceedings.   The film’s last act doesn’t quite hold up to what precedes it; Adams’ arrival at a costume ball in an elegant modern dress doesn’t have quite the stunning effect it aims for; and the expectedly climactic showdown between Adams and evil stepmother Susan Sarandon (who doesn’t get nearly enough screentime) is uninspired; as a result the film as a whole doesn’t linger much afterwards.
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Waitress (2007, Adrienne Shelley)

screened Saturday, November 24, 2007 on DVD in Astoria, NY IMDb

I was chiefly interested in this film after reading a couple of accounts that this was the feminine corrective to Knocked Up – so it surprised me that this film gives even less consideration towards abortion as a viable option for unwanted pregnancy (and I don’t buy that the film’s Southern milieu has anything to do with it, since the characters seem pretty removed from any Bible Belt pro-life influence).  That aside, the film is a winning portrait of a woman’s coming into her own, endowed with Shelley’s direction, not dissimilar from her old mentor Hal Hartley in its boxy dialogues (Nathan Fillion seems to be Martin Donovan reincarnate), though with a touch more warmth emanating from the fine ensemble, offsetting the cold diffidence of Kerri Russell channeling Kelly McGillis of yesteryear.
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No Country for Old Men (2007, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen)

screened Sunday, November 25 2007 at the City Cinemas 1,2,3 in New York, NY IMDb

“This may be a masterpiece of sorts, but it left me feeling rotten.”  This is what Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote about Fargo, and while I don’t agree with him on that film, I’m apt to  say as much about this comeback effort from the Coens.   I wouldn’t rate this film as low as he does, and I find his theory that American audiences embrace psycho killer characters during times of war more provocative than persuasive (personally I think these movies have a perennial appeal, like it or not).   All the same I share his concern that this film is as morally empty as it is exquisitely crafted.  Viewers can make their own mind up as to whether the impeccable detail realized by the makers – visual, aural, dramatic – serves in its own way (not unlike Cormac McCarthy’s prose) as a redemption via aesthetics to the horrors they recount.  Geoffrey O’Brien’s article in Film Comment is as good an argument for this as any I’ve read so far.  I had a good conversation with Ed Gonzalez before Thanksgiving (as of now it’s on his top ten list) where he was casting doubts on the many  ideological readings that have already sprung up on the internet, whereas he thinks it’s a masterpiece of style and genre execution (no pun intended).  I agree with him that the Coens probably don’t intend any more deep reading into this film as they have with any of their previous works (I think Raising Arizona is as deliberately symbolic as you’ll get with them); at the same time, I’m uncomfortable to chalk this up as a exemplary genre piece, as it’s clearly taking delight in burning some crime genre mainstays to the ground.  For one thing it seems like a rebuttal to the justice wins out, salt of the earth prevail sentiments that concluded Fargo.  But in relinquishing those old comforts, the Coens leave nothing left but stylized death and bleakness.  For god’s sake, even Salo had a happier ending. Fascinated with scenario and surface and nihilistic to the core, there’s something about this film that’s as rotten as the trail of corpses it leaves behind.
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