The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)
screened December 4 2007 on DVD in Weehawken NJ IMDb
I found some of the elements in this film distracting: the Ken Burnsy voiceover (was this meant to be ironic or subversive in any way?), the gaussian blurring of shots, the indebtedness to Days of Heaven in mood and image. But on the whole this is a thoroughly respectable effort, and it’s unusually leisured pacing is something to be savored rather than derided.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007, Paul Greengrass)
screened December 5 2007 on DVD in Weehawken NJ IMDb
Montage as hucksterism. If I get my hands on the DVD again, I’d love to do a video essay with some of the action scenes slowed down to a crawl just to pin down the editing sleight-of-hand tricks pulled off here. You never really *see* anything in this movie, which I guess is kind of accomplished in a cinematic equivalent of negative capability, but it’s also kind of cheating. (Of course bear in mind that these complaints are coming from the same guy who found the fight scenes in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon downright pornographic in their wide angle explicitness.) All the same, very entertaining and smart-sounding.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007, Sidney Lumet)
screened December 6 2007 on DVD in Weehawken NJ IMDb
I think I’m in the minority, but I thought Ethan Hawke gave a better, tougher performance than Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman’s performance tends towards a kind of schtick that has emerged with his acting over the years – the purse-lipped hesitations and knowing leers. Hawke looks out of control in this film but that deer-in-the-headlights look alternates with other moments of pain, rage, misplaced trust and a certain innocence borne of ignorance. He’s the soul of the film in a film that has more genuine soul than No Country for Old Men. The plot sounds like something the Coens would have optioned (except perhaps minus the gimmicky backward storytelling), and they probably would have made something more precise and visually captivating. But the lack of those very elements in this film are what allow the raw pain at the heart of this tragic mess of a family to come forward.
Eastern Promises (2007, David Cronenberg)
screened December 7 2007 on DVD in Weehawken NJ IMDb
Watching this film it occurred to me how many of Cronenberg’s movies have a prosaic, TV-movie look to them. Something square about the compositions and framing, the uninspired, blocky handling of dialogue scenes. All of this was okay in A History of Violence because it reinforced a feeling of the prosaic being gradually set into upheaval — the hyper-kinetic action sequences in that film operated the same way. And now what was innovative and subversive has become conventional – the intense fighting in the film is just a more potent version of standard Hollywood brawling. It’s a good yarn being told, and the subject matter is fascinating. I wish I liked the work of screenwriter Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) more because I am very interested in the multi-ethnic working class London milieu he examines. But he betrays the perspective of an outsider and a genre writer, whose investment in these people and their predicaments extends as far as conceiving potent classic movie thrills.
Juno (2007, Ivan Reitman)
screened December 9 2007 on DVD in Weehawken NJ IMDb
As soon as I saw that burger phone I knew I was in trouble. Thinking equitably, I could deem this a welcome response to two of the many teen male coming-of-age stories: Rushmore and Knocked Up. But it just tries too hard to be quirky. Jennifer Garner’s scary career woman mama wannabe becomes remarkably poignant by the last act, making you wish the film had dome more do delve into the unlikely rapport between her and the title character than waste time with the younger, cuddlier version of Steve Buscemi’s character in Ghost World (amiably played by Jason Bateman). God help me if I hear another Moldy Peaches song.