Movie Thoughts

My wife and I are plowing through a stack of art-house films we got from our local library.  Here are some quick thoughts.

The Squid and the Whale – very reminiscient of Wes Anderson’s films, which is of course appropriate as writer and director Noah Baumbach is a close friend and collaborator with Anderson.  This one was more moody however, and revealed the deep pain caused by divorce.  My parents are happily married, but with a number of friends who have lived through divorce., the wildy erratic behavior of the children was familiar.  Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney give excellent performances, and Baumbach’s use of a subdued rock soundtrack is an excellent touch.  Less whimsical than other similar films, the movie does keep up with Anderson’s trick of shooting a retro film in a modern setting, so while the main character is driving an early 1980s Volvo, the camera is catching a modern 4-Runner on the streets.  Cute.  This was a tough movie to watch, but this sort of pain is worth confronting if we are to see just how brutal divorce really is.

Bottle Rocket – Wes Anderson’s first movie.  Lori and I are huge fans of Anderson, so I thought that we should be sure to see his first film.  The key to Anderson’s film is setting, and I always have a hard time adjusting to movies set in the Southwest.  Still, the film is deeply affectionate towards its characters – no cynicism, no snark.  Instead, we are treated to a kind image of what it means to find a friend and a father, and just how we are to define what is normal.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – This is the second movie we’ve seen that was based on a novel by spy write r John LeCarre.  (The first was the recent and brilliant The Constant Gardener).  As a film, Martin Ritt’s directing is incredibly powerful.  Of course black-and-white was the only way to do things in 1965, but once we – as viewers – come to see how the format was used by directors, movies take on a whole new meaning (See Night of the Hunter, for example).  I found this movie to be visually compelling, and of course the script and the acting (Richard Burton is phenomenal as a drunken, bitter spy) are magnificent.  LeCarre is a first-rate novelist, but my great problem was the moral ambiguity of the whole enterprise.

LeCarre’s consistent premise is that while Communism is (was?) thoroughly rotten, the West isn’t much better.  The final verdict of the movie is, in essence, “a plague on both your houses.”  In one sense, of course, he’s right that any human system is frought with peril and corruption.  On the other hand, it simply cannot be argued that the seedy underbelly of the intelligence world somehow makes the capitalist West just as morally bankrupt as the Communist bloc of eastern Europe and Asia.  There is a mighty death toll that argues to the contrary.  Whatever bad stuff was done by the West, we can point to a pile of 100 millions corpses in Russia, China, Cambodia and North Korea and say that while we did a lot of rotten things, we did not do that.  What a shame that LeCarre still cannot tell the difference.

We also watched Whit Stillman’s wonderful film The Last Days of Disco yesterday, but I must say more about it later.  Too good a film to boil down to one little post.  Up next:  Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.


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