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December 09, 2012

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David Ehrenstein

AVE MARIA
Mothers of America let your kids go to the movies! get them out of the house so they won't know what you're up to it's true that fresh air is good for the body but what about the soul that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images and when you grow old as grow old you must they won't hate you they won't criticize you they won't know they'll be in some glamorous country they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey

they may even be grateful to you
for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
and didn't upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it's over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won't know the difference
and if somebody does it'll be sheer gravy
and they'll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
or up in their room
hating you
prematurely since you won't have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys
it's unforgivable the latter
so don't blame me if you won't take this advice
and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
seeing
movies you wouldn't let them see when they were young

--Frank O'Hara[1960]

Tom Carson

Glenn, why do I have a glum feeling this is your way of prepping us for your verdict on Django Unchained?

Glenn Kenny

You know Tom, it's funny how the mind works. I've had that passage highlighted for almost two years, and for some reasons, the main one of which I thought was "hey, I really need to put something new on the ole blog," I decided to do this. But now that you mention it...

Did you like it? I'm still half in shock, myself.

David Ehrenstein

How about your other half?

That Fuzzy Bastard

I had figured it was about BEE.

bill

Does this have something to do with SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK?

Tom Carson

No screenings yet in NOLA, so I'm out of the loop, GK. But given what I've heard so far, I'm seriously wondering WTFIU.

bill

The only specific negative things I've read make me very curious. Like a supposedly very boring last hour. I want to know what a boring last hour in a Tarantino revenge movie looks like. But I, too, am very, very concerned.

Brian Dauth

Maybe it has to do with the upcoming complete Pasolini retrospective at MoMA -- two weeks of unabashed cinematic joy (longer if you see each movie twice).

Grant L

OK, I know this is pure crosstalk, but if Tom Carson is still listening: I read your review of Albert Brooks' 2030 not long ago and would agree with a great deal of it, but would take quasi-serious issue with you over your description of Defending Your Life's tendencies toward "mawkishness." To me the film was a quite successful attempt at growth - instead of having his character ending the film firmly stuck in the same self-absorbed hellhole he began in he aimed for his own version of a learning moment, but did it as honestly as possible and, IMO, fully earned it - I found myself more than a little surprised but very pleased that the ending brought some tears, and still does.

Tom Carson

@Grant L: not to hijack the thread, but you ask, so I answer. I haven't seen Defending Yr Life since it came out and might think differently/better of it now. But at the time, as I recall, I just thought the whole concept of "redemption" in that one was something a younger Brooks would have scoffed at. Or put between air quotes the size of a tiger's fangs, anyway.

Grant L

I agree that a younger Brooks certainly would've. It just seemed to me as the film progressed that after nailing obsessive narcissism so well and thoroughly in the three previous films he was quite weary of just doing it again, and ready to expand his palette and make his characters a little more complex. Not so much redemption as recognizing that in life people go around in circles but they also do make the choice to change. End of hijack.

Grant L

Sorry, almost the end: from a great interview with the Onion AV Club: "Well, I really do believe, more than anything, that fear is the great issue of all of our lives. I think all of the horrible things are done out of some form of fear mixed in with religion. You know, those two create a lot of issues that people have to deal with. We seem to, as a species, be very afraid, and I just sort of imagined, "What would that be like, if you removed that? How would you function?" I'm not saying you don't keep enough so if a lion's chasing you, you run, but do you need to be afraid going for a job interview? What does that do for you?"

bill

That's a good quote from Brooks, and I don't fully agree with Tom about the film overall, but the last time I watched DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, while I still thought it was pretty excellent, I thought I could see the beginning of the draining that would eventually lead to THE MUSE and LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD. Brooks is one of my favorite people, one of my idols, and I consider DEFENDING YOUR LIFE to be one of his four best movies. But it's the fourth best out of four. In terms of comedy, I don't really think it can stand long against REAL LIFE, LOST IN AMERICA, and especially MODERN ROMANCE. MODERN ROMANCE has extended scenes that almost function as stand-alone sketches -- the quaaludes scene, for isntance, or when he goes to the sporting good store -- and all the stuff about his job as a film editor is frankly ingenious, and they're all almost beside the "point" of the rest of the film. There's a ballsiness to that which DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, for all its inventiveness, doesn't have.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I just like talking about Albert Brooks.

Tom Carson

So much for unhijacking. If I can trust my memory, Defending Your Life is definitely much stronger than what followed it. I just remember it was the first time I'd seen weak spots and a hint of mush in a Brooks movie, faults that got more dominant in the flimsy stuff later on. I can see Grant L's point about him wanting to move on from just satirizing narcissism, but I don't think he came up with especially good answers about what he should move on to -- maybe because he kept himself front and center. It might have been interesting to see him direct a movie he didn't act in.

Tom Block

The ending is mawkish but the movie went wrong with all the stuff about Brooks having to "overcome his fear". That concept sounds more Oprah than Albert Brooks from the start, but it still could've been a decent Groundhog Day knockoff if only Brooks' bravery had been tested in some meaningful way, like by taking up an unpopular cause or something. Instead, the thing that gets his passport stamped for Heaven is his admitting that he loves a completely adorable (and beckoning) Meryl Streep! That's not just fake--it's weak as all hell, too.

Zach

Might as well chime in: I also like early Brooks a lot, although I haven't seen all of them. I did catch up with Defending Your Life recently, and I thought it was pretty great. Not perfect, maybe showing some of the flaws listed above, but a pretty sharp rendering of a great idea.

Grant L

He gets his ticket to heaven because he bucks the cosmic system, jumps out of his tramcar and makes the run across the tarmac that he's been told more than once is very dangerous, in order to be with the woman he's admitted to loving. I'm sure I have a weakness towards the overcoming fear thing because I'm right there with him on that quote. Fear certainly underlies rabid self-absorption, for one thing. And I'm sure it's also a matter of taste - one person's mawk is another's earned heart.

bill, I think the quaalude scene fits because it's not only hysterical it also illustrates his character. The scenes of him at his job I'm of two minds about - they're also great and I'm glad they were committed to film, but they sort of feel like padding in the movie, like he felt his central premise couldn't sustain to full feature length.

bill


Yeah, the overcoming of his fear is a hell of a lot more involved than Tom B gives it credit for. And given that GROUNDHOG DAY was 1993 and DEFENDING YOUR LIFE was 1991, I don't believe Brooks's film was ever going to be a knockoff of Ramis's.

And Grant, I didn't mean to imply that the quaaludes scene didn't fit. I think it's great, and obviously fits in with the character and the situation. My point was that and the sporting goods store scenes are extended comic sketches that go beyond whatever the plot requires. This is one of the many reasons I love both.

And the film editing stuff doesn't feel like padding at all. It's just filling out the guy's life, and providing room for different kinds of comedy than just relationship stuff. I think MODERN ROMANCE is his masterpiece.

Grant L

Feeling like the chipmunks in the Warners cartoon - "no no, it was my mistake, after you..." Although "adore" may not quite be the word to use for a movie as harsh as "Modern Romance" is for a lot of its running time, its one I'd use to describe it. I'm definitely with you on the greatness of the structure of those scenes.

Tom, would fully agree that it was downhill after Defending (though I don't think the serious slide started until The Muse).

Relistened to A Star is Bought just a couple of days ago and it remains brilliant, too.

Grant L

And if his choice to open himself up a little was indeed the central factor in the movies following not being so hot...well, can't change it now, and we've got those four great (and one pretty good [Mother]) ones.

Chris L.

I remember DYL very fondly, not least for letting Streep relax into a rare, Jean Arthur/Irene Dunne groove sans accented angst. Haven't heard if Brooks plans to direct again after the last one flopped. Of course, his psychopathic villain stylings also show great promise...

Chris L.

Also, a salute to Mr. Carson for his sharply concise article on "Zero Dark Thirty." It slices through a lot of the other stuff swirling 'round the film (which I won't get to see until wide release.)

https://prospect.org/article/zero-dark-thirtys-morality-brigade#.UMdBQmgPOrw.twitter

Bruce Reid

Now that this is played out, perfect time to drop in and admit that for me Brooks is 7 for 7*, with Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World's beautifully staged Taj Mahal scene one of the great self-defeats any Brooks hero has endured, right up with Modern Romance's first date drive and Mother's moving-the-chair opening.

*More if you count the shorts.

Grant L

I'm at a place where it would tak very little for me to want to reassess Brooks's last two, and that's much more than a little, Bruce. I did see the shorts again when I watched the SNL Season One box straight through a few years ago (an experience I recommend). To me there were a few good bits here and there, but it seemed like the strained relationship he had with Lorne Michaels suffused too much of it, and not in a good way.

bill

In all honesty, I don't dislike Brooks's last two films. It's just that they can't compare to the first four. Neither can MOTHER, but that one's more obviously strong, and needs no excuses made for it.

Bruce Reid

I'd agree with Bill that Brooks's later films are something of a drop-off, but he began so strong it's not like we're suddenly talking about Tom Phillips level of quality or anything. And no, any film that gave us "It tastes like an orange foot!" needs no excuses at all.

Bruce Reid

*Todd* Phillips

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