The Eyes Had It

The White Ribbon (Haneke 2009) – “Like” isn’t the right word for it—it’s not something you recommend with the implication “This is gonna give you the warm and fuzzies”—but I was in awe of it by the end, and it has some surprisingly soft corners for Haneke.

Louie Bluie (Zwigoff 1985) – A 60-minute love letter to the blues musician Howard Armstrong, a man so charismatic and talented it’s almost irritating: in addition to playing a hell of a mandolin and fiddle, he was a fantastic illustrator who created huge, gorgeous, one-of-a-kind illuminated manuscripts packed with his writings and drawings. He was also a world-class trash-talker, and much of the time is devoted to him trading barbs with his musician friends of 40 and 50 years. It’s worth seeing just for Armstrong’s off-color woodpecker story; the older woman friend he shares it with nearly has a cardiac from laughing so hard. If I have a complaint, it’s that the movie isn’t long enough. I definitely could’ve used more of the man’s music.

Real Life (Brooks 1979) – For about the fourteenth time; I needed a laugh, and this thing’s a laughter delivery system. Among other things I prize J.A. Preston’s performance as a behavioral psychologist whose professional dignity takes a beating whenever he has to breathe the same air as Albert Brooks. It’s prescient as hell: the one big thing Brooks didn’t see coming was how willing, and then demanding, the subjects of reality TV would be when it came to being put at the center of things.

Bright Star (Campion 2009) – A movie about John Keats’ death that didn’t make me puke. For one thing the actors talk and move like human beings; there’s no slowed-down enunciation or striking of painterly poses. Cornish, Whishaw, and Kerry Fox (who’s playing matrons now) are all terrific, but Paul Schneider is the one who blew me away. His character must have fired Campion’s imagination as well: the movie is infinitely more pointed, and sadder, whenever the needling, nasal Charles Armitage Brown appears, along with all of his hang-ups and fixations, and begins making theatrical claims on Keats’ attention.

The Chess Players (S. Ray 1977) – It’s pretty far from my favorite Ray movies (The World of Apu and Days and Nights in the Forest), but it’s worth seeking out for the scenes involving the artistically-minded Indian “king” who’s stripped of his figurehead position by the pissy British governor-general. Ray grew neither pompous nor predictable with success: he feeds us the colonial history we need to know with animation that looks like Terry Gilliam’s work for Monty Python, in the middle of a many-sided tragedy.

American Heart (Bell 1992) – Kitchen-sink drama with Jeff Bridges as an ex-con and Edward Furlong as his son—the ups and downs they encounter after Bridges is paroled. Not bad but the ending is rigged. Okay, so life sucks for some people; believe me, we know.

The Good the Bad the Weird (Kim Jee-Woon 2008) – A Korean Sergio Leone homage rip-off with a sky-high budget but no storytelling ability, no characters, and no inspiration except a 40-year old spaghetti western. There’s one indisputably catchy chase scene involving four or five different parties (including two armies), each with their own agenda and each having to fight whoever’s in front of them to get at their real target; the combatants weave through, around and past each other over a vast desert plain, on horses, motorcycles, jeeps, trucks, and a train. It’s a movie’s worth of Indiana Jones adventures crammed into a single busy scene, but overall the thing’s a load.

I also watched Scorsese’s Cape Fear again. I say this the same way some men have to confess “I got drunk and cracked up the car again”, but I honestly thought I might be able to milk something useful out of it. Instead, if there was an emoticon for “rueful sigh”, I’d put it right here.

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