Above: Peter Wight and Lesley Manville, Another Year
It is perhaps no accident that two films which depict the abuse of Strong Drink by certain of its characters, as well as the significant consequences of said abuse, should be opening in the interim between the Christmas and New Year's holidays, but I suspect that the timing of the rollouts of Mike Leigh's Another Year and Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine have more to do with awards-season strategizing than being of public/spiritual service, or any such thing. I like Another Year very very much, and Blue Valentine somewhat; I review them for MSN Movies here and here.
While none of the "A" words are ever uttered in either picture, both of these films share alcoholism as a theme. Indeed, the story arc of the "present day" portion of Blue Valentine is practically, well, schematic in this respect. "We'll get drunk, make love," Ryan Gosling's character Dean says to his wife Cindy (Michelle Williams), offering her a "day off" at a kind of rendezvous motel to which he has a gift certificate. Trying to distract the both of them from the problems of the day, he thinks he's offering an enticement. And of course the problems are not only not solved, they're not even forgotten during their jaunt; and they in fact get worse, as Dean drinks more and more. In Another Year some of the depictions of behavior are so thoroughly accurate they may feel like a slap in the face, and/or induce a shudder; I can tell you that even from the vantage point of not having picked up a drink for a good length of time, the sight of Peter Wight's Ken waddling down the aisle of a moving train, balancing two cans of lager as he returns from the bar car to his seat, made me squirm in my own movie theater chair. The way Lesley Manville's Mary only ever consumes white wine, and kinda makes a point of it, is scarily telling also. And it's also bite-your-lip time when Ken expresses interest in Mary, and Mary responds with ew-gross dismissiveness. It's a kind of bitter, condensed master class in intra-drunk heterosexual relations, if you will. These notes are acute enough to mislead some reviewers into believing that Leigh's passing judgment on his characters; I don't think he is. And I believe that, if films are in some respects Rorschach tests, a preoccupation with what Leigh supposedly "thinks" about his characters says a fair bit more about the person voicing that preoccupation than it does about the film. This may be particularly so in the case of this film.
As for the beleaguered (as I'm sure she'd be the first to tell you) Karina Longworth and her own review of Another Year for the Village Voice (no link, you can Google it, but trust me...), well, it pretty much got what was coming to in in the comments thread in the post below this one, but the thing I was gonna ask was: What is it with these Twitterific Kidcritz™ going on as if having sat through The Human Centipede is some kind of accomplishment or testament to their endurance or whatever? Really? That all you got? For that reason, Tim Lucas' sort-of admiring but across-the-board blasé writeup of said film in the new (#160) issue of Video Watchdog is kind of a tonic. Highly recommended, as all issues of Video Watchdog are...
June Thomas: I kinda hated it. And then…I…went home, I read A.O. Scott’s review in the Times, I saw the comments, that were so…A.O. Scott gave it an absolute…what would you call it, a love song, he wrote a love song of a review.
Dana Stevens: He called it a poem, right? He said this movie “feels like a poem?” The movie he describes in his review sounds so great, I wished I had seen that movie.
June Thomas: Yeah! From that review…I wish I had seen that movie. But the movie I saw, I hated. And then I read the comments, on the New York Times website, and I thought, “Okay, I don’t wanna be that kind of person. I don’t wanna be the kind of person who thinks that movie critics love obscure movies, and that real people need to say that ‘Oh! This is the emperor’s new clothes!’" You know, you guys are just, sending up a smokescreen, or something. So…now I’m quite conflicted so now I need…
Dana Stevens: But isn’t there a way to not love Somewhere without doing an emperor’s new clothes on it? Wait, let’s get Dan’s reaction first. Dan.
Dan Kois: Ah. I don’t mind being the kind of fatuous [unintelligible] who hates Somewhere.
—From "The Culture Gabfest, 'Phoning It In' Edition," Slate, December 29, 2010
Marie Bell, perhaps about to demonstrate that blondes don't necessarily have more fun, in Jacques Feyder's fascinating 1934 Le Grand jeu, a fabulous Eureka!/Masters of Cinema rediscovery that's the subject of today's Foreign Region DVD Report, at The Daily Notebook.
Another freelancing alert: my debut piece, after all this time, as it were, for Elle.com just went up recently. It's a brief but I hope delightful survey of gender-reversal in film, featuring, among others, Anna Karina sort-of incarnating Richard Stark's tough guy Parker in Godard's Made In USA, a not-quite adaptation of The Jugger that was nonetheless close enough for rock and roll, or rather close enough for Donald Westlake to retain the rights to for a while. It gets more confusing, actually (but I try to clear things up), and begins here. The assignment had any number of attractions, and the timing of its publication does not displease; call me arrogant, but in one sense I see it as a kind of parting gift to Todd Anderman. But the piece can, I hope, be enjoyed without benefit of inside baseball.
UPDATE: And while we're at it, I've also got a review of sorts of Sofia Coppola's very fine Somewhere posted at The Daily Notebook, as it sometimes pleases me to do. Again, enjoy. Catch up after the weekend!
Once again, as is her custom, The Bride sends you best wishes for the holiday season. This has been quite an interesting year, and the past three weeks or so have been terrifically intense, bringing events of wondrous household joy, including Claire's highly delightful BAM debut with Mikel Rouse's Gravity Radio, concomitant visits from a posse of relatives (including the in-laws; it was my father-in-law's presence at a screening of Little Fockers that destroyed my opportunity to fudge my reaction to the film, and thus properly join the herd of independent minds...), and lastly, a holiday brunch of some ambition. I'm a lot happier than I was at this time last year (photographic evidence below the fold), but I'm also exhausted. So...
Yes, I am pretty crazy about the Coen Brothers' new film; my review of it for MSN Movies, which can be found here, should point to some reasons why.
In other movie news, I did not hate Little Fockers, although I fully expected to. It is my hope that my review of that film, found here, might point to some rationale that indicates I have not entirely taken leave of my senses. The film is being widely deplored as a "paycheck gig" for more of its onscreen participants. I happen to believe that it is that very quality that helps make it more tolerable. Once again I invoke Robert Christgau, here reviewing the 1971 Alex Taylor album With Friends and Neighbors: "I figure it's time I come out with it. I hate James Taylor and I don't trust any of his damn family either. But if I had to choose I think I'd take Alex--he sounds kinda bluesy, like he's in it for the money." Indeed. With Fockers the sense of very little being at stake lends a rather relaxed vibe to the proceedings, which resolve very briskly. In my experience, people who tell you they'd never in a million years even consider doing something solely or mainly for money are either lying, jackasses, or have enough of what Billy Bush calls "jack" already that they don't even have to think about it. I'm not sure which of the three I find the most irritating, but I try not to think about it overmuch. Anyway...
UPDATE: Sometimes one can be too honest, I see. Like I don't have enough fucking problems, I see that Jeffrey Wells believes I deserve some sort of punishment for having admitted to having laughed at Little Fockers. Apparently having made the man's acquaintance in the first place won't suffice in the pain and suffering department. (Just kidding Jeff—Merry Christmas!)