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Judge Joe Armenio's Blog

Judge Joe Armenio • Location: Cleveland, OH
• Member since: March 2005
• 54 full reviews
• 12 small claims

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Inside Man (Lee, 2006)
April 1st, 2006 2:06PM

I was too lazy to follow up on my vow to write about new releases here, but let's try again:

This sort of twisty, multiple ending-y screenwriting doesn't do a whole lot for me, but on the other hand I'm not especially bugged by plot holes, so you won't hear much from me about why didn't Christopher Plummer just burn the stupid incriminating thing, and why didn't he check the box right after etc etc. My main complaint about the screenplay is the profusion of joshing, deadpan witticism, which seems to be de rigueur in action films these days and falls flat more often than not here.

Lee as auteur emerges most prominently in Jodie Foster's character, who serves no immediate plot purpose; she's the smirking incarnation of Power, officially invisible here but recognizable from any number of other Lee films (remember the cops in 25th Hour, for just one recent example?) The is the smug, callow side of Lee that I don't especially like and that overtakes his worst films. Overall Inside Man is tighter, less of a mess than 25th Hour, but Lee's filmmaking here lacks the controlled power that animated the earlier film and made it such a thrilling mess. He's fishing for a cinematic hook, and a lot of the camera movements seem pointless (what's with circling the camera around the characters as they talk, as if it's on a merry-go-round? I seem to see that more and more these days, as a sgnifier of urgency, complexity, or what? It's irritating).

On the other hand we have his mixed wonder and anger at the effects of New York as great melting pot, as in the nicely underplayed sequence with Owen and the little kid with the videogame, or the bit with the Albianian ex-wife, orthe interrogations, nicely shot through with tension and humor. I was also pleased out of all proportion with the scene where Denzel is talking to his boss and stops to cough, then resumes his lines; it's a brief eruption of the spontaneous and real into such a calculatedly "fun" enterprise, more exciting than any "shocking" twist or stale aside about Tijuana.

Recent Screenings of New Releases
January 1st, 2006 4:28PM

Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005)
I guess it's naive to suggest that Mangold et al should be embarrassed for copying Ray so directly, what with the hazy flashbacks and family angst which serve to represent the personal torment which fuels art but haunts the artist, who is lonely despite the adulation of millions, etc. Although all of that is such hoary biopic convention that it might not have anything to do with Ray after all. Unlike the Ray Charles film it has a focus of sorts, which is good, but there's just no there there, everything about the Johnny/June relationship is leaden and transparent and trite; Witherspoon charms, but charming is different from acting, and her character is boringly noble and wise and long-suffering.

King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)
My reaction seems to differ from a lot of people's, in that I found the first hour appealingly goofy, and the jungle sequences tedious excercises in gross-out action, as Jackson tries to one-up himself by creating ever-grosser beasties for a good half-hour longer than necessary, an enterprise I don't find all that interesting for even a few minutes-- also the portrayal of the savage natives is so over-the-top as to be squirm-inducing. The last hour is a fun popular allegory of imperialism, and the Ann/Kong relationship is kind of moving, but it seems that Jackson lacks the heart or imagination to do much with it; you can tell he's much more comfortable creating slimy oozy things, and the emotional moments wind up mawkish (see also the excruciating Hobbit-bonding moments strewn throughtout all of Lord of the Rings and especially the last film of the trilogy).

Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
Bad stuff first: it never quite achieves the visual grandeur it should, perhaps because of choppy editing, and the storytelling seems clumsy in the middle, relying on a sort of shallow Hollywood shorthand to cram twenty years into an hour or so (Anne Hathaway is a careerist bitch because we see her hunched over an adding machine, a brief winter-wonderland sequence suggests married bliss, etc). But still, wow: Heath Ledger is remarkable, a bottomless confusion and torment and barely-suppressed anger suggested in his smallest gesture--- it's really a towering performance. And the narrative clunkiness aside, the heart of the matter is treated with a poetically sad grace and restraint. For me this is this year's Million Dollar Baby, a reminder that the ancient genres can still work, that a movie doesn't have to be formally innovative to be emotionally true; it might seem perverse for me to defend this movie as old-fashioned when it's causing such controversy, but I don't mean the content so much as the lack of irony, the belief in a very traditional kind of storytelling technique.

The Ice Harvest (Ramis, 2005)
December 1st, 2005 8:20PM

A whole lot of nothing-- tired heist-gone-wrong shenanigans, glib violence, a dose of anti-middle-class-respectability, with Christmas, a la Bad Santa, as the emblem of all things domestic, and just a hint of the earlier film's reluctant but central sentimentalizaing of the (surrogate) father-child relationship. Oliver Platt's comic drunk gives fullest voice to the movie's ideology, and the only interesting scene is his desecration of Christmas dinner, presided over by his silent ice-queen wife, representing domesticity, alluring but inscrutable and conniving and castrating; on the other hand Cusack's scattershot attempts to attain manhood and impress the equally conniving femme fatale by becoming an outlaw and killer are, in the noir tradition, doomed from the start. Not new ideas by any means, still potentially interesting in their troubled and troubling macho way; the whole thing is so slight and tossed-off, though, that it all feels empty rather than ambiguous or unsettling.

The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975)
November 25th, 2005 6:26PM

Venue: E Street Theater, Washington DC

Early on, Jack Nicholson's character says that he prefers men to landscapes, and by this point in his career Antonioni would expect his audience to recognize that he himself prefers landscapes; the vistas here, both natural and man-made and combinations thereof, are mostly arid, rocky, and forbidding (although we get Gaudi and some middle-class interiors as well), evoking the inability of both individuals and political entitites to know, understand, and connect far more effectively than the awkwardly written and acted story, which plays like second-rate Hitchcock. What dismayed me was the amount of space that the plot takes up, at least compared to L'Avventura and Blow-Up, movies whose plots are so digressive and elongated that they stop being arty thrillers and become something much more unsettling; The Passenger reaches these hights in the last reel, which is awesome in both the traditional and colloquial senses, but the rest often feels like mildly tedious buildup. You have to wonder why Antonioni kept filming this kind of story: was it a commercial wish to maintain the audience that had enjoyed his previous films, a genuine interest in the philosophical implications of the mystery story, a perverse desire to continue beating the dead horse of cinematic convention? You can't rule out the kind of perversity that despair produces: there's no consolation here, and Jack's story about the blind man is, for a visual artist, about as self-lacerating as you can get.

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