Thursday, March 27, 2008

mini-spree of movie-watching

I was going to wait until I had seen No Country For Old Men before I made this post, but my cold is eating my head up and I am not planning on watching a two-hour long film that I may be too stupid to understand any time now.
Across The Universe

I can see that views on this film can be and have varied. It is not like Troy, which we unanimously agree is the dumbest film known to man. I will give it that. However, contrary to the views of several on my flist and among the upper echelons of film criticism in the American media, my disapproval of it is unbound.

This is not to say that it did not elicit highly emotional responses from me at several moments. If you have spent any part of your life in the company of the Beatles I dare you to sit through a sequence where the entire city of Liverpool comes out to sing 'Hey Jude' to a curly-haired dockworker without sniffling. I had to stop the film and cry my eyes out before I could go on. I don't want this to be held against me, though -- the rest of the film was a high price to pay for some old-fashioned emotional manipulation. I had so many problems with the film, I would be put-upon horribly to enumerate them all, but how about I highlight Bono covering 'I Am The Walrus.'


Old friends will know I am one of the few remaining adults in the world who can be reduced to tears by vintage U2; their Beatles' covers -- the Rattle and Hum version of 'Helter Skelter' comes to mind, as does the cover of 'Sgt. Pepper' they did with Paul McCartney at that massive pollutant of a concert during the G-8's failed climate change conference a couple of years ago? -- have been, in my opinion, among the most affecting in modern rock. Were fifty-year-old Bono to sing 'Running To Stand Still' in his ruined angel-voice today, I would assuredly suffer pangs. Bearing this in mind, his performance in this film was even more vexatious to me. Why will he play a Timothy Leary-esque character and perform 'I Am The Walrus' [in an American accent, at that] when he is old enough to know that he suffers from neither the bizarre, anarchic sense of humour nor the paranoia out of which the song was fashioned? It's not easy feeling embarrassed for Bono, but he forced me into it. I was like, aw, man, stop it. You don't look pimpin'. You look like a dork who won a contest to be in a Beatles movie.

Apart from this gargantuan travesty the music cannot be faulted for being what it is, one or two glaring inadequacies aside -- the 'Blackbird' moment is frankly infuriating, 'Let It Be' used in an isolated montage of the Detroit race riots was unpleasantly dissonant (were they trying to be inclusive of race issues? it did not work.), and it's more funny-peculiar than funny-haha that 'With A Little Help From My Friends' suddenly soars out of Ringo mode into the blues-and-soul Joe Cocker version. After all, everybody sings along with these songs; to puke and mewl at a Beatles cover would be akin to resenting the fact that people like to sing. Some of the sequences are, in fact, magnificent. The conflation of Vietnam's killing fields with Strawberry Fields, or 'Come Together' as a paean to the city of New York, for example, were marvellously-executed ideas. A post-Summer of Love gang of English youth grinding to 'Hold Me Tight' in the Cavern Club - fantastic. Were this a two-and-a-half-hour long interpretative installation of the Beatles' work I would be all over it.

But they have a story and characters, and I repeatedly found myself asking the screen, why? Why are you trying so hard? I understand that there may be an incredibly important story to be told by drawing parallels with the youth of the anti-war protests of forty years ago, and the situation in the States today, and I can even credit the idea that this story can be told through the work of the Beatles, but this is not that important story. This is like trying to recreate a Picasso canvas on a grain of rice with a blunt pencil*.

For me, there was too much of a cultural and structural lapse with what I know and care about, so it came across as loopy and emotionally uncommitted. I did sing along and all that, but it was a very 'because the sky is blue it makes me cry' feeling.

[Further, purely personal disappointments: The opening shot, of a boy sitting on the sands listening to the ocean waves, and then turning to the camera and singing the opening lines of the famously misogynistic 'Girl' caused major dissonance -- how can you have boy + ocean waves in a Beatles' song and not think of the heartbreaking 'Julia'? How can you have boy + golden-haired beauty + 'Something' and not think of George Harrison writing it for Patti Boyd?]


Romantic comedy about pregnant teenager. Jesus is involved. Nice.


Romantic comedy about pregnant teenager. Feminism is involved. Nice.

I loved Jennifer Garner in Juno. I thought she was pitch-perfect. The film is a definite E for Effort for fashioning such a sturdy, funny creature of circumstance with real space to make mistakes AND NOT MAKE THIS CHARACTER A MAN, and Ellen Page was fantastic. The script was not without its decidely-off moments, though, and the music was just tiresome. [Although I agree with about that one song by the whoever it was at the end. Michael Cera, so adorable]

Saved! was a hilarious watch, and I adored Jena Malone and Mandy Moore. [Plus, I'm an Almost Famous baby, and any appearance of Patrick Fugit in a film automatically ratchets its approval ratings high for me.] It was funny and heartwarming without being really bold or groundbreaking, and I dealt with that fine. I will probably watch it again, just for Patrick Fugit on a rainy night with Chinese food.

None of this obscures the fact that these films approach nothing like the supreme incandescent unimprovability of the best high school film ever made and my favourite movie of all time, Mean Girls, but I'm willing not to hold that against either of them.

Jeeves & Wooster

We have the Season One DVDs and have been working our way through them with much mutual warmth and appreciation ["WHERE IS SPODE? IS SPODE GOING TO BE THERE?" "No! BUT HAVE YOU GOTTEN TO GUSSIE FINK-NOTTLE YET?" We call as aunt to aunt, who in their turn call like mastodons bellowing across a primeval swamp, etc.]. Two things from Stephen Fry's remarkable hagiography of Wodehouse, which doubles up as his introduction to the 'Best Of Wodehouse' collection, come to mind: the first is his remark about the impossibility of adapting a narrative like Bertie's to screen. The translation from page-to-frame does lose a lot in this telling, and it's quite an achievement that the episodes remain crisp and sharp in spite of how skewed time and characterisation are by the Wodehouse narrative. The series is not as funny as I remember it from my days as a child in the early 1990s. But this is not to say that it isn't still hilarious.

The second is, of course, Fry's observation that in spite of the scorn Bertie receives from all quarters in his stories, it is hard not to see that the man is really adorable.

It would be a pity, however, to overlook the character of Bertie Wooster, who is himself a great deal more than the silly ass or chinless wonder that people often imagine. That he is loyal, kind, chivalrous, resolute and magnificently sweet-natured is apparent. But is he stupid? Jeeves is overheard describing him once as "mentally negligible". Perhaps that isn't quite fair. While not intelligent within the meaning of the act, Bertie is desperate to learn, keen to assimilate the wisdom of his incomparable teacher. He may only half-know the quotations and allusions with which he peppers his speech, but proximity to the great brain has made him aware of the possibilities of exerting the cerebellum.

Wodehouse's genius in the Jeeves and Wooster canon lies in his complete realisation of Bertie as first-person narrator. Almost all the other stories depend upon standard, impersonal narration. The particular joy of a Jeeves story comes from the delicious feeling one derives from being completely in Bertie's hands.

To which I can only add: he is, in the person of Hugh Laurie, also a singular object of -- admittedly questionable -- lust. But life would be boring if all of us went for the Oofy Prossers of the world.

Looking forward greatly to the last episode, which I am about to watch. It has Gussie Fink-Nottle's prize-giving speech at Market Snodsbury.

Thank you.



  1. bombaygirl11:17 am

    Vintage U2 gives me goosebumps. I saw them in concert at Tinley Park in Chicago in the early 90s (their zoo tour) and cried with the power of it all. Though sitting front and center with my press-card weilding boyfriend may have had something to do with that...I could see the sweat roll off Bono's face. Agree 100% about Jennifer Garner in Juno. That scene where she asks to and then touches the belly...only someone who has lost a child can know that feeling. Cried for that. Love love love Hugh Laurie in the Jeeves shows. Love the Jeeves shows, period.

  2. bombaygirl11:18 am

    wielding. i before e and all that. I really should spellcheck.