Archive for November 6, 2006

By Special Request…

A second Monday Movie Review.

De-Lovely (2004) 7/10
Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) looks back upon his life, his career, and his marriage to Linda Lee (Ashley Judd).

De-Lovely is an odd duck of a musical. It strives towards (and I think achieves) honesty about who Cole Porter might have been, and what his life might truly have been like. The interweaving of Porter songs, some in a traditional musical comedy style of ‘people just knowing the words,’ some as performance, and many as a blend of the two, usually works. Some of it seemed gratuitous and squeezed in—Be a Clown was particularly irritating, as it just played out the same fun-on-the-movie-set images that every version of Be a Clown (or its clone, Make ‘em Laugh) has ever offered, without telling us anything new about the characters or the song.

The performances of Porter songs by pop stars are rather self-conscious. Look! It’s someone you young people have heard of! Nonetheless, I enjoyed many of them.

The conceit of the film is that Porter has died and, accompanied by an angel (Jonathan Pryce), he is looking back upon his life as a staged musical that he has composed. This is the sort of device that can really turn you off at the outset, but I feel it worked. It was oddly touching and thoughtful. The old age makeup used on Kline is, thankfully, not the embarrassment that most such attempts turn out to be.

The relationship with Linda is the heart of the movie. The film speculates that Linda knew about Cole’s homo- or bisexuality from the beginning (which is likely) and was happy to enter into a sexless marriage. Although the film looks behind closed doors into hearts that were never opened to biographers, it is consistent with the known facts. I think there is a delicate truth here, in the portrayal of the complex interplay between love and sex, marriage and friendship and romance.

Although not entirely successful, I found De-Lovely moving and worthwhile.

Dirty Tricks

So last night I was doing my MoveOn calls. You get a script, and you say the name of the Democratic candidate you’re supporting. It’s all done on-screen; you click a button with the response info, and the next phone number pops up with the script and the buttons. It always tells you what race you’re calling about, and I always look up the candidate before calling, because sometimes the voters I reach have questions about him or her.

So I’m calling Minnesota 1st, where Iraq vet Tim Walz is running against Gil Gutnecht. I place a call, and the script says, “We’re supporting Tim Walz, the Democratic candidate for…” I place another call, the script says “We’re supporting Tim Walz, the Democratic candidate for…” I place a third call, the script says “We’re supporting Gil Gutnecht, the Democratic candidate for..” What?

I check the web. Yes, Gutnecht is the Republican. Yes, my script says he’s a Democrat. No, the district I’m calling hasn’t changed.

I quick email MoveOn and tell them they’ve been hacked.

I place three calls for Walz while my screen says Gutnecht, and then my screen switches back to Walz.

Fucking sons of bitches. That’s all I have to say.

Monday Movie Review: The Prestige

The Prestige (2006) 6/10
Rival magicians Borden (Christian Bale) and Angier (Hugh Jackman) each seek the secret of the other’s tricks, especially the elusive “Transporting Man.”

Screenwriter/Director Christopher Nolan specializes, it seems, in uncovering secrets, and in making that uncovering tell us something about ourselves. His Memento was a bravura piece of work, with a gimmick both clever and simple. On the one hand, it was compelling, and on the other, it wasn’t distracting; it stood to the side and let us contemplate the relationship between memory and self. Unfortunately, there is so much illusion in The Prestige, so much complex and over-loaded discussion of its nature, that the whole idea of insight is entirely lost. Oh, sure, there’s a final scene discussing The Meaning Of It All, but there’s no experience of that meaning.

The movie opens with an explanation of the title (which you’ve heard if you’ve seen the previews). A magic trick has three acts: A Pledge (showing you something ordinary), a Turn (doing something non-ordinary), and the Prestige (twisting the Turn back in on itself). With a title like The Prestige, and a director like Nolan, we know this movie will twist around quite a bit. But the twists are singularly unsatisfying. There are three major ones, of which one has stopped mattering by the time it is revealed, one is obvious for at least a half-hour before the reveal, and one is just stupid. I’m sorry, but…stupid.

The stellar cast (including Michael Caine, Scarlet Johanssen, and David Bowie) are all there to play dress up and fool around with the cool machinery, none of them make us forget that there’s a lot of whiz-bang razzle-dazzle to pay attention to. And if the actors can’t misdirect you, then it’s not much of a magic trick.

Despite the movie’s disappointments, let’s give a nod to one of the most beautiful opening shots I’ve seen in a long time; the field full of top hats is exquisite.