erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2016 posts

Wednesday May 25, 2016

Movie Review: Weiner (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The truest, funniest, most necessary line in “Weiner” is spoken by documentarian Josh Kriegman near the end.

It’s the night of the New York City mayoral primary, Sept. 13, 2013, and as the returns come in, it’s apparent that candidate Anthony Weiner, who in an early poll led with 25 percent of the vote, has gotten crushed: He finishes with less than 5 percent. Meaning all of the work he and his staff and his wife (and his wife!) have gone through during the previous months has been for naught: the ramping up, the fundraising, the endless ethnic parades and shaking of hands; the newspaper and magazine and television interviews; the attempts to overcome Weiner’s idiotic 2010 sexting scandal only to be immersed in the wider, more egregious, and more punchline-worthy “Carlos Danger” scandal of 2013, all of it for nothing. And after the concession speech, with its own farcical elements, and after friends and staff have left, it’s just Weiner and his lovely wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, in the silence of their Manhattan apartment. Oh, and Kriegman and his camera. And it’s Kriegman who breaks the silence with the question we’ve wondered throughout this painful, absurd, all-too-human exposé:

“Why are you letting me film this?”

You deserve a break today
Weiner documentaryI’d forgotten about the second scandal, by the way. Or I guess I thought the second scandal was simply a rehash of the first instead of its own new thing. I tend to turn away from public accidents like this. I don’t rubberneck on the freeway, either. So why did I go see this documentary about a carwreck of a political career? Two reasons: I heard it was good, and I was curious what it could tell me about Anthony Weiner that I didn’t know.

Give him this: He’s a man who doesn’t back down from a fight—any fight. The floor of the U.S. House, a political dais, a bakery in Brooklyn: It’s all the same to him. “I don’t like bullies,” he says, but it only makes sense if the fight is worth it, and in the doc his fights are increasingly not worth it. Not after “Carlos Danger.”

He’s articulate and quick-witted, too. He has a great line when he’s riding in the back of his towncar to another whatever—event, interview—and Kriegman asks him something, and Weiner responds with a query of his own: Is there a species of fly on the wall that talks? He’d like to know about that. He thinks that would be interesting to see: a fly on the wall that talks. It’s one of the wittier ways of saying “Shut the fuck up.”

There’s tragedy in this. You look at Weiner’s attacks on Republicans in 2009, 2010, his sticking up for the common man, and you think about what might have been. You look at his wife, so beautiful and poised, and how important this image of the two of them, the Jew and the Muslim, could’ve been for the world.

Instead, the image is of bulging gray underwear. The movie opens with a great quote from Marshall McLuhan, “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers,” but Weiner manages to come up with a worse name than his own: Carlos Danger. And the woman he’s sexting has an equally ridiculous name: Sydney Leathers. The press goes crazy over all of this; Huma is even drawn into it. The New York Post, with maybe an eye toward Hillary, attacks her for sticking by her husband. Truly, the press comes off awful here. We’re a moralizing culture that craves dirt. We keep throwing the first stone but it’s a tomato.

Election night is the worst. Leathers goes on Howard Stern’s show, and he convinces her to stalk Weiner, to wait outside his campaign headquarters to confront the losing candidate. To kick a man when he’s down? For shits and giggles? It’s never stated why. But off she goes, happy for another day in the spotlight, and he’s forced to dash through a nearby McDonald’s to avoid her. Even in losing, he’s not allowed a moment of grace. Every element of his life is turned into farce.

The role of women in these scandals generally goes unexplored. We get why men are attracted to beautiful women but why are women attracted to famous men? One wonders, too, what our history would be like if we assumed the same sexual restraint on the part of political leaders as we do from a Mick Jagger or a Warren Beatty. Is the scandal that we like the scandal? That we need the scandal? But there’s an obvious lesson: Women who will fuck you because you’re famous will most assuredly eliminate the middle man given the chance.

So get up and get away
You know what stunned me? Huma and Anthony are still together. I watched everything he dragged her through and assumed the marriage was kaput. It’s not. Not officially. How did he salvage it? What did he say to her in private? In the private more private than the private we see.

As for the question Kriegman asks? Why let him film this? I guess it’s all we’ve mentioned: Weiner’s inability to not fight; his desire for the last word. Or maybe he needs the spotlight as much as Leathers. Maybe it’s the same reason for the sexting that brought down his career: He can’t help himself.

One of the best scenes in the doc, one that will stick with me as indicative of our times, is Weiner’s post-Carlos Danger interview with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC—an interview that takes place via satellite. O’Donnell, both high-handed and exasperated, is in the studio, while Weiner, increasingly desperate and combative, with a look in his eyes that asks “It’s him, right?” when he knows it’s himself, is ... I don’t even know where Weiner is here. A big empty room. But he’s got the earpiece in, and the lights and camera are on, and Kriegman and co-director Elyse Steinberg cut to footage of that combative, split-screen exchange as it appears on TV. But they also pull back and show us what it’s like to be where they are. And from that perspective, Anthony Weiner is simply a man talking to himself in the midst of a big empty. 

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Posted at 07:10 AM on May 25, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Monday May 23, 2016

Movie Review: Indignation (2016)

Indignation James Schamus Philip Roth

He's driving the car, she's driving everything else. 

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Indignation” is the most lyrical movie about a blowjob ever. 

It’s an adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2008 novel of the same name, but first-time director James Schamus, who wrote some of Ang Lee’s best films (“Eat Drink Man Woman,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), left out most of the indignation. He softens the characters and makes them reasonable. Roth’s story is hysterical comedy while Schamus’ is lyric tragedy with a dry absurdist centerpiece.

In some ways, Schamus actually improves upon the book. For one, he makes us care about the characters. But without Roth’s indignation, the story doesn’t quite cohere.

This one goes out to Bertrand Russell
Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) is the son of a Newark butcher who winds up attending the very goyishe, not to mention very English 101, Winesburg College in Ohio in the fall of 1951. In the novel, he goes because his father has become unreasonably concerned for his safety in the midst of the Korean War, and Marcus can’t deal. In the movie, he just goes. His father is a little meshuge, sure, but it’s long-distance meshuge. He’s hardly in the picture.

While taking on problematic roommates, weekly chapel, and invitations to the one Jewish fraternity on campus, Marcus must also deal with his libido. In the library, he spies a girl with her leg dangling over the arm of her chair, and he has to stay up until 2 a.m. to finish what he should’ve been studying when he was studying that leg. That's a good bit. It recalls another Roth scene—I forget which book—in which his Newark protagonist, also in a library, also enamored of a nearby girl, rewrites Shakespeare/Romeo: Rather than wishing to be the glove that touches the cheek, he wishes to be the bra that touches the breast.

The girl here is Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon, quite good), a lovely blonde in his American Studies class, whom Marcus takes to dinner one evening, then to the nearby cemetery to “park.” He’s driving the car but she’s driving everything else. He’s too nice to ask, too innocent to know. And it’s there, amid the quiet of the dead, that she does the deed that in a roundabout way leads to his death.

See, his roommates, one gay and in love with Marcus, the other straight and a doofus, mock him, and disparage her, and after a quick fight he moves into a room of his own: a third-floor garret that any college student would kill for, and which is treated here as if it were hardly worth the climb. The move also pricks the ears of uber-upright Dean Caudwell (playwright Tracy Letts), who summons Marcus to his office, where the two engage in a debate with raised hackles barely concealed beneath confusion (on Marcus’ side) and beneficent smiles (for the Dean).

Is Caudwell anti-Semitic? Is Marcus too sensitive? Whatever the reason, the debate goes on and on. At one point, Bertrand Russell is called upon, dismissed, defended. God and man are engaged. It’s semi-absurdist in its pointlessness, and it ends with Marcus, suffering acute appendicitis, vomiting over the Dean’s rug.

In the hospital, he’s visited by the no-longer estranged Olivia, who gives him a post-op hand or two beneath the sheets, and then by his mother, Esther (Tony nominee Linda Emond), who bears bad news: She wants a divorce from Marcus’ father. But she takes one look at Olivia, who has a scar on her left wrist from a previous suicide attempt, and whose father may be sexually abusing her, and cuts a deal: no divorce from the father (which Marcus doesn’t want) in exchange for no Olivia (whom Marcus does). Marcus accedes but is heartbroken. And it leads to his death.

How? Post-op, he can’t climb the stairs to his garret, so he stays at the Jewish fraternity, where its president, Sonny Cottler (Pico Alexander), tells him he doesn’t need to go to chapel: He can pay someone else to go for him. But the ruse is discovered, Marcus is kicked out of college, and, with no deferment, he’s sent to Korea, where he’s KIA. The end.

Causation is big in novel and movie, and it goes: blowjob —> roommate fight —> garret —> post-op Jewish frat —> scheme —> expulsion —> Korea.

So don’t get blowjobs. Sincerely, Philip Roth.

Look homeward, angel, and melt with Roth
In his novel, Roth lets us know fairly early that our first-person narrator is stuck in a limbo/purgatory he can’t comprehend:

... perhaps this perpetual remembering is merely the anteroom to oblivion. As a nonbeliever, I assumed that the afterlife was without a clock, a body, a brain, a soul, a god—without anything of any shape, form, or substance, decomposition absolute. I did not know that it was not only not without remembering but that remembering would be the everything.

But we eventually comprehend it. The first chapter, which lasts for 224 of the novel’s 233 pages, is called “On Morphine,” while the second-to-last chapter, “Out from Under” (just seven pages), informs us that Pvt. Messner, after having his intestines and genitals hacked to bits in Korea, is doped before dying. That’s the book. It’s death throes: a howl of protest against Jewish parents, sexual mores, and self-satisfied Christian puritanism that led, or is leading to, his death. It also feels like Roth’s own protest against his hugely successful career: the writing life, that scribbling limbo, that took over from the life as lived, and during which he’s forced, as Marcus says, to “remember each moment of life down to its tiniest component.” As Marcus recreates Winesburg, so Roth recreates Weequahic, Newark, on page after page, in book after book, down to its tiniest detail. No wonder he retired a few years back.

The final chapter, “Historical Note,” is just two pages long, and adds irony to what’s passed. We’re informed that, two decades later, in 1971, after a week-long protest, the chapel requirement at Winesburg was abolished. So what caused Marcus to die is ended by the next generation with hardly a whimper, and with, one assumes, much celebratory oral sex. Roth once wrote (again, I forget which book) that in the sexual revolution his generation was like the first wave at Normandy, over which the hippies of the ’60s stepped on their way to easy sexual bliss, and this is the literal version of that. Even into 2008, Roth is still indignant about it. Portnoy still has his complaint.

But that’s not for Schamus, who goes with his own, softer framing device. 1971 isn’t mentioned. Hacked genitals certainly aren’t mentioned. Instead, what begins and ends the film is an old woman at a nursing home being given her daily meds. Then she looks at the wallpaper in the home—little bouquets of roses in a quaint, 1950s pattern—and memories flood back into her. It’s Olivia, and the wallpaper makes her recall the flowers she brought to Marcus in the hospital; and she recalls that long-lost love. 

Three things: 1) It's very sweet; 2) shouldn’t Olivia’s thoughts lead to Olivia’s story rather than Marcus’?; 3) for good or ill, it’s not exactly Rothian.

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Posted at 10:12 AM on May 23, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Friday May 20, 2016

Movie Review: Cafe Society (2016)

Cafe Society by Woody Allen

He's hardly a schmoozing nightclub owner; she plays love like it's a stubbed toe.

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Love fades” the old woman tells Alvy Singer after his first break-up with Annie in “Annie Hall,” and it’s a kind of horror for him: that even this greatest of human feelings is temporary; that nothing lasts.

“Could it be that love doesn’t end?” Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) wonders three-quarters of the way through Woody Allen’s “Café Society,” and it’s a kind of horror for him, since he loves a woman, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who loves him (kinda sorta), but who’s married to his uncle Phil (Steve Carell). Must he carry this hurt through the rest of his life?

Bobby: Call Alvy. Or that old woman on the street. You’ll feel better.

Tin man
“Café Society” opened both the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and, a week later, the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival (we’re sloppy seconds), but I imagine mostly for reasons of pedigree. It’s Woody, it’s got a great cast. That’s it.

It contains echoes of his earlier, better films. A New York Jew goes to Los Angeles, finds he misses New York, returns. But there’s no wit to it. Bobby doesn’t skewer Hollywood as Alvy did; it’s more of a shrug. The movie is a shrug. Like most latter-day Woody, it’s got a tinny, inauthentic quality. It’s propelled by narration (by Woody, as in “Radio Days”) that moves the characters around like chess pieces but delivers no emotional impact.

Bobby goes to LA to find work with his uncle, a Hollywood agent, who avoids him for several weeks, then gives the kid a job as a go-fer. Then he has his assistant, Vonnie, show Bobby around town. She does, he falls, but she’s got a boyfriend: a journalist who travels a lot. The boyfriend is a bit of a mystery. Watching, you think, “Who could it be? Who shouldn’t it be? Phil, right?” Yes, Uncle Phil.

But when Phil breaks it off with Vonnie, she’s distraught and finds comfort with Bobby. They’re about to move to New York and get married.

Then Phil changes his mind and takes her back. Heartbroken, Bobby returns to New York, where, inexplicably, and with the help of his gangster brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), he runs a high-end, hugely successful nightclub. Life goes on. He meets and marries Veronica (Blake Lively). Phil and Vonnie show up, with friends, and Vonnie is now like the name-dropping Hollywoodites he and she used to make fun of. Yet she isn’t. She’s still her (whoever that is). And she still loves him (whoever he is). And she tells him this when they go for a walk in Central Park.

Some problems:

  • Jesse Eisenberg makes a good stuttering neophyte but hardly a smooth, schmoozing nightclub owner. Too much nervous energy.
  • Kristen Stewart, so good with Olivier Assayas, is so so-so here: good as the woman you fall in love with, not-so-good as the woman who supposedly loves. Stewart plays love like it’s a stubbed toe.
  • Blake Lively is Bobby’s fallback position. Blake Lively.

One good line
Stoll is the best thing in “Café Society,” but his mob killings are treated as a kind of joke; and when he’s finally caught and sentenced to death, that, too, feels like a shrug. Our main characters are all stunned that their son/brother was a killer but don’t seem to care that he gets the chair.

Here’s a good bit: On death row, he converts to Christianity, since it has an afterlife and why take chances? His mother’s reaction—which is worse: the chair or the conversion?—is also good.  

And one line made me laugh out loud. Bobby’s uncle is that classic, thin, New York Communist Jew of the 1930s who overthinks everything, and near the end, pontificating, he tells the table, “As Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’” Then he adds, “But the examined one … is no bargain.”

That’s classic Woody. Which makes you realize how inconsequential the rest of the movie is. 

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Posted at 07:52 AM on May 20, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Monday May 09, 2016

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Aliens attack the earth, superheroes beat them back, we’re saved. Then superheroes are blamed for the destruction. Then they fight each other.

That’s the plot for both this movie and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” This one is “Citizen Kane” in comparison.

The battle lines are drawn here because both Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) are unreasonable, not because they’re complete moronic shithead idiots as in Zack Snyder’s “BvS.” Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (ditto), actually bring breeziness, fun and wit to the enterprise.

Example: During the Berlin airport fight scene halfway through the movie, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, a standout in a small role) gets inside Iron Man’s suit and begins to cause damage:

Ant-Man: You’re going to have to take this to the shop.
Iron Man (startled): Who’s speaking?
Ant-Man: Your conscience. We don’t talk a lot these days.

At another point, Ant-Man morphs into Goliath, freaking out the other superheroes, and leading Iron Man to tell his team: “OK, anybody on our side hiding any shocking or fantastic abilities they’d like to disclose?”

Captain America: Civil WarOr this: To defeat Goliath, Spider-Man (introducing: Tom Holland) wraps his webbing around his legs to topple him. It’s a rip-off of Luke Skywalker toppling the Imperial Walkers in “The Empire Strikes Back.” What’s cool is he acknowledges it. He references it. And it’s the way he references it: “Hey guys, you ever see that really old movie, ‘Empire Strikes Back’?” Leading Rhodey (Don Cheadle) to ask, “Jesus, Tony, how old is this kid?”

It’s all classic, Stan Lee-era Marvel. Doesn’t mean there’s not problems.

You in
“Captain America: Civil War” is based upon the landmark 2006 comic series by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, in which, post-9/11, superheroes were forced to register with, and reveal their identities to, the federal government. Tony Stark said yes, Cap said no. Battle lines.

Since secret identities aren’t much of a thing in the Marvel movie universe (“I’m Iron Man,” etc.), they needed a new issue. But the replacement doesn’t quite resonate. The issue has issues.

In the aftermath of Avengers battles in New York (“The Avengers”), Sokovia (“Avengers/Ultron”), and Lagos (here), U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), informs our heroes that 117 countries have signed an agreement putting the team under the control of the United Nations. Essentially the Avengers can only assemble when it gets agreement from the U.N. Security Council.

Right. Coupla quick questions:

  • Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross is our Secretary of State? Who’s president—Dick Cheney?
  • Why would the U.S. government hand over its chief form of security to the rest of the world? Who’s president—Noam Chomsky?
  • 117 nations agree on something and none of our heroes have heard about it? Can’t a brother get a newspaper? Or a Twitter account?
  • Where’s Nick Fury again?

Before, the Avengers assembled at the behest of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Cap never objected. Here, Cap says it’s a matter of choice, which he didn’t really have before, and which is an odd thing for a soldier to want anyway.

Meanwhile, Tony Stark, the former weapons manufacturer, who is berated by a woman (Alfre Woodard) who lost her son in Sokovia, is compliant. He’s all in. Downey does a not-bad job of selling the U.N. resolution, but he’s got the inferior product.

Then it gets personal. A U.N. conference in Vienna is blown up, the father of the Black Panther (introducing: Chadwick Boseman) is killed, and Cap’s friend, the brooding Winter Soldier, the former Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Shaw), is fingered. Cap discovers that the Winter Soldier was framed but Iron Man won’t listen. So we get the big Berlin airport battle. Essentially:

#TeamCap   #TeamTony
Captain America   Iron Man
Winter Soldier   War Machine
Falcon   Black Panther
Scarlet Witch   Vision
Hawkeye   Black Widow
Ant-Man   Spider-Man

Then it gets more personal. Rhodey, War Machine, is a victim of friendly fire from the Vision and may be paralyzed for life.

Then it gets less personal: Iron Man realizes Cap was right and the Winter Soldier was framed for the Vienna bombing.

Then it gets the most personal: Iron Man discovers the Winter Soldier, as a brainwashed Soviet spy in 1991, killed his parents in order to get five samples of the supersoldier formula.

So now Winter Soldier has two superheroes trying to kill him. And Cap keeps defending him. Which is a bit tiresome. I liked it better in the ’60s and ’70s when Bucky was just dead.

Oh, right. The villain.

A machination too far
He’s Zemo (Daniel Brühl), formerly Baron, who lost his family in Sokovia when the Avengers saved the world. Now he wants revenge. Here’s how he goes about getting it:

  • He finds a former Soviet/Hydra agent living in a cluttered home in Cleveland and steals his intel, including the key words that brainwash the Winter Soldier.
  • He orchestrates the Vienna bombing and frames the Winter Soldier.
  • He kills the government shrink/analyst scheduled to interview the Winter Soldier and activates him. (To do what again?)
  • Then he travels to the Siberian hideout where five Soviet supersoldiers are in cryogenic sleep and awaits the arrival of the Avengers.

I like the twist: He doesn’t activate the supersoldiers and sic them on the Avengers, as we suspect. He kills them with bullets to the head. Empires fall, he says, when they crumble from within, so he wants the Avengers to fight each other. He wants the Avengers to crumble from within. The supersoldiers were just a lure.

But ... weren’t they already doing that? Without his help? And didn’t his final move—showing Tony Stark evidence that the Winter Soldier killed his parents—depend upon Iron Man actually showing up in Siberia? That’s a fantastic coincidence to begin with. It depends upon Tony: 1) listening to the frame-up argument from Natasha (Scarlett Johannson), 2) finding evidence that confirmed this, 3) flying to Siberia at just the right moment.

How great if it had just been Cap and WS in Siberia. Zemo makes his big reveal, looks around: “Wait, where’s Iron Man? Seriously, this thing really depends upon Iron Man being here.”

Too much heavy lifting, Zemo. Just show Tony that footage in Vienna. Siberia shouldn’t enter into it.

Make Mine Marvel
I admit I’m a little tired of superhero movies. We’ve had 13 of these things since “Iron Man” in 2008—and that’s just the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Doesn’t include X-Men (Fox), Spider-Man (Sony), Batman/Superman/Green Lantern (Warner Bros.). Poor Chris Evans has been Captain America every summer but one since 2011. 

But if you’re going to have them, this is the way. Just look at the great scene where Ant-Man meets Captain America. How fun is that? That’s what you want: wit, personality, continuity. Don’t be like Zack: be smart.

But a little smarter would be nice, Marvel.

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Posted at 05:54 AM on May 09, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Thursday March 31, 2016

Movie Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Newman!

“Hail, Caesar!” is lesser Coen Bros. but I liked it. It has a bigger heart than a lot of their comedies (cf., “Burn After Reading,” “Barton Fink”) and finds redeeming qualities in even that most pointless of occupations: Hollywood star. It’s really the Coens’ smudged love letter to Hollywood. It doesn’t disparage the place, doesn’t idealize it, just presents it with all of its ordinary, quotidian, comic imperfections.

Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, a no-nonsense fixer for 1950s-era Capitol Studios, whose big star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped while shooting the Biblical epic, “Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ,” in which he plays a Roman tribune won over by the son of God. (“Squint against the grandeur!” his director shouts at him during the conversion scene.) Baird is then drugged by an extra (Wayne Knight of “Seinfeld”), and taken to a Malibu pad overlooking the ocean, which is occupied by a dozen or so communist writers, who, without much effort, and despite constant disagreement amongst themselves, indoctrinate the star. He becomes a communist. Which is totally unbelievable in the blacklist era—that he wouldn’t know communism, and he wouldn’t know enough to stay away from it—but the movie seems a kind of ’50s Hollywood version of ’50s Hollywood. It mimics the tropes of the genres it reproduces: drawing-room romance; singing cowboy picture; Esther Williams extravaganza; Biblical epic.

The future is calling
Hail, Caesar!At one point, for example, singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), an aw-shucks mensch, is tailing the star of homoerotic musicals, Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), and in classic ’50s fashion we see the neon lights of the city gliding by over his car windshield. Later, Gurney defects to the U.S.S.R. The old writers row him out to sea, where a Soviet sub emerges. Per the period, it looks like it was filmed in a giant bathtub.

What makes this almost poignant is the name the writers use in their ransom demand: the Future. We see Mannix trying to fend off one of the movie’s twin gossip columnists, both played by Tilda Swinton, when an assistant tracks him down:

Assistant: I know this sounds screwy, but someone’s calling from the future?
Mannix: Good lord!

All of those genres? They don’t last the decade. Neither does the studio system, while communism  itself will wind up on the ash heap of history. The future is always calling here.

Is that why the Coens are nicer to these characters? Because they recognize their short shelf life? Mannix, for all his toughness, is a man who confesses sins that are hardly sins, even as he spends his days trying to cover up scandals that are hardly scandals: Baird’s drinking; swim star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) having a child out of wedlock; a starlet making “French postcards.” It’s all quaint in the era of Kim Kardashian breaking the Internet. 

All the stars are decent, really. Hobie is a singing cowboy, sure, but he’s not a fake; he can sing, ride, lasso. He’s also humble. Baird is a ham but harmless. He can also inspire with his acting—if he can just remember the words. Hobie’s arranged studio date, Carlotta Valdez (Vernoice Osorio), is sweet, while director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) has almost infinite patience when forced to star the wrong actor (Hobie) in his sophisticated, drawing-room romance. Their scene together, the “Would that it ’twere so simple” scene, already feels like a classic.

The worst person in the movie is probably the twin gossip columnists, Thora and Thessaly Thacker, but they’re so easily sidetracked, and Swinton so good, that it’s all forgiven. Just the way Swinton says “Eddie.” Just that.

HUAC’s fears realized
It is startling that the Coens could make a light-hearted comedy set during the dark days of the blacklist, in which all of HUAC’s worst fears (or hopes) are realized:

  • There’s a communist cell in Hollywood.
  • It’s smuggling red propaganda into movies
  • A Hollywood star is a Soviet spy, who gives the U.S. a goodly portion of homoerotic song and dance as if to undermine American masculinity.

But it’s a Coen movie: all the machinations amount to not much. One of my favorite lines, in fact, comes from a communist writer bragging about his propagandizing. He talks up a fairly anodyne Hollywood scene, then says with self-satisfaction, “Well, I like to think we changed a few minds.”

That might've been my biggest laugh of the night. 

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Posted at 10:08 AM on Mar 31, 2016 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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