the world cup blog
life with brian

what i watched last week

Crazy Heart. Jeff Bridges earns the hype and the awards … but then, he always does. He plays Bad Blake as a imperfect man who mostly means no harm, and as an entertainer who honors his public even if he doesn’t always honor himself. His interactions with fans are lovely … it would be easy for Blake (and for the movie, and for the audience) to look down on these small-town folks, but that never happens. Bad Blake might struggle to get through a song without puking up the alcohol he drank before the show, but he still makes sure to play the songs he was asked to play, singling out the fans, making them feel a part of his world for a moment or two. He has room in his heart for almost everyone … sadly, he doesn’t have room for himself in there, and there’s an abandoned son as well. Near the end, the film becomes a more obvious Movie About Alcoholics, and it’s not bad, but it feels a bit rote after the grimy naturalism of what came before. 8/10.

The Untouchables. Robin really likes this movie, so we end up watching it more than other, perhaps better, films. OK, I like it too. On this viewing, I realized that the painstaking look of Chicago in 1930 that garnered an Oscar nomination for art direction, when seen on Blu-ray, was so real it looked fake. Some shots looked very much like the kind of studio shots where the director wants you to see the artificiality. It was more real than real. 8/10.

Lola Montès. I love The Earrings of Madame de so much that I might be mistaken for a connoisseur of Max Ophüls films, but I haven’t seen many, so I really looked forward to Lola Montès. I must say, I was very disappointed. The movie is beautiful, it’s different, it’s idiosyncratic … and it’s still boring, especially when Martine Carol is on the screen (which is always, since she plays Lola). The movie is most interesting as an example of how people can see the same things yet draw different conclusions. My friend Kim loved Lola Montès, but some of the things she loved are things that I agree were present, but which I found were unfortunate. She notes of the affair between Lola and Franz Lizst that “We never get any sense of why they are together, what passion they have, or why they are really breaking up.” Kim’s perspective is that the film resists the audience’s attempt at identification, but my take is that, without having a sense of why characters are who they are, the audience is right to resist the film’s charms. If I am not supposed to be interested in the characters, what am I supposed to find of interest?  As for Carol, who is listless in the movie, Kim writes, “the film works because her acting is so flat. The acting itself is another obstruction against identification.” Except her acting isn’t flat so much as it is bad (much like her dancing … as Kael wrote, “she was too bad a dancer even to play a bad dancer – she was a non-dancer”). If the film purports to set the audience up for melodramatic satisfaction, and then subverts our desires … well, that would be a good movie, and I can imagine that Ophüls was trying for something in that vein. But it doesn’t set us up for satisfaction, because it doesn’t give us anything to get satisfied about, beyond the lovely camera work. We are asked to take for granted that Lola was desired by all men, but there is little desirable in Carol’s performance, so the subversion doesn’t take, because we’ve lost interest long beforehand. If Ophüls gave us a Lola who enticed the audience, then the subversion would be frustrating and thus illuminating. Instead, we get a poor acting job, which defeats the purpose. #273 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 movies of all time. 6/10.

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