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Judge Joe Armenio's Blog
• Location: Cleveland, OH
Inside Man (Lee, 2006)
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
Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005)
King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
The Ice Harvest (Ramis, 2005)
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)
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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