Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Basman at the Movies

1. I thought Sean Penn was phenomenal in Milk. He must be among the greatest American actors of his generation. But I agree with Bazelon that the movie, as good it was—3 ½ out of 5 in my book—suffered from being a biopic. Biopics in my experience tend to cramp imaginative possibilities.

2. I love Clint Eastwood, especially in this his later period and wanted to love Gran Torino, but I didn’t. I thought it suffered from some occasional Eastwoodian weaknesses, too much contrivance generally, too much contrived violence, too much violence as redemptive, an inclination to caricature, and too much black and white moralizing. Some critics say that the implicit homage to Dirty Harry and to the violence wreaking, say little wield a lethal stick protagonist of his early movies adds dimension to Gran Torino. I think it exacerbates the movie’s weaknesses. Again I say this as someone who thinks Eastwood is an exceptional director—and, digression, just compare the Sean Penn of Mystic River and the Sean Penn of Milk, simply amazing—and who ranks Letters From Iwo Jima as amongst my 4 or 5 greatest movies ever. (Possible slight spoiler alert): I thought the ending escaped and mitigated these weaknesses.

3. Wild Horses could not drag me to see the curious case of Benjamin Button’s Curious Case.

4. On the other hand I did see The Reader (haven't yet read the book) and thought it was good not great, but quite thought provoking. I liked the tension between the two perspectives of the Holocaust reflected in the movie's story and the relationship between Fiennes as a teenager lucking into sack time with Kate Winslett, too beautiful for her role perhaps, though I would not be so hard on her as others,. That then informed his dliemmas as a law student and as a lawyer and as a man. This is the perspective of subsequent generations of Germans coming to terms with the Holocaust as they live their already complicated lives in modern times.

If anyone got sick of Fienne's character's neurotic passivity and indecisiveness and cowardliness, well that was his character and he stood unredeemed. He was a weak louse, a particular cringe inducing and fully realized character, I thought. Lena Olin's rebuke of him near the movie's end, as he sought from her redemption, some kind of a moral pass, any kind of a pass, some cathartic cleansing, was strong and dignified and assertive and compelling, everything Fiennes is not.

Olin's is the other perspective of the Holocaust, that of the victims (and their children)--that there is no absolution to be had, no easiness allowed for what happened, no grays in the blacks and whites that properly and starkly colour that second perspective. That scene simply fixes Fiennes as one fixes a speciman.

Also I thought good and part of the first perspective were Winslett's answers to her interrogators as to why she did what she did and her question back, which they could not have honestly answered, what would they have done, with telling wisdom in her utterly prosaic, simple mindedness. Her answer served neither as excuse nor explanation nor not as exculpation either, but showed how utterly simple minded people sincerely and stupidly and robotically perceived their sense of duty, and showed how judgment from a perspective other than Olin's magnificent one is less than easy. Her sentencing was layered with dimensions of sanctimony and facile hind sight judgment.

I have read the director to have said he was making a movie that departed from the usual moral lines bounding movies about the Holocaust. To me he did, and without transgression either.

5. I cannot remember whether the “diavlogging ladies” discussed the silly and incoherent Slumdog Millionaire. Therefore, I shant say what I thought of it.

6. Finally, while I like Anne Althouse well enough, I think her reason for not seeing Frost Nixon, as I understood it, which movie I intend to see, is preposterous—she saw the real debate and wants not her memory of it desecrated, does not need a (possibly) liberal inflected account of it. Taken to its absurd logical conclusion, this reason, I think, is a denial of imagination’s reconstruction of reality in art and is a denial of diverse and complex human responses to, and accounts of, real events, as though there is only one perspective from which to see and gauge them.

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