Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The New Lou Review # 3

Something New: My wife decided we should try this when it popped up as a recommendation on our NetFlix account. It's about Kenya McQueen, a corporate lawyer who is afraid she fits the demographic of the 42.6% of African American women who are college educated, professionally employed, upwardly mobile and never ever marry. Encouraged by her friends to relax her criteria for the "ideal black man," she consents to a blind date, but ditches when the man in question turns out to be white. Later, predictably but forgiveably (else no movie), she meets said white guy at a party. Turns out he is a rather talented landscape architect and she hires him to tame the weed patch that is her backyard. You can take it from there, I'm sure, although this wasn't a "ha ha" comedy like Bernie Mac's Guess Who (although I enjoyed that film as well), but a more realistic, lower profile romance. We liked it quite a bit, and have decided to trust the all-knowing, automated Net Flix personalization software more.

Inside Man: I'm woefully under-watched in Spike Lee's recent films - I don't think I've seen one since the excellent Malcolm X - but aside from that annoying signature shot of rolling people forward on a dolly cart, if this is where his career has been lately, then damn he's good. To say too much about this film is to ruin it, but suffice to say it's a lot more than just the bank heist movie that I thought I could wait for DVD or HBO to see. Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, and Jodie Foster are as amazing as you expect them to be when they are on and in the right roll. And kudos to Foster for realizing that her part, though small (she only filmed for three weeks), was vital. Really tight script, the kind of "clever" film that harkens all the way back to classics like The Sting.

The Squid and the Whale: A very realistic, somewhat depressing portrait of two children who become increasingly disfunctional as their separated parents grow increasingly hostile towards each other, this film certainly provides incentive for those who are married with children to work through their problems. But there's a lesser reading that I was amused to apply to the text, that of an indightment of literary fiction. Both parents have PhDs in English, both published authors. The father teaches creative writing and, indeed, at least some of the tension in their relationship is due to the fact that his career wanes as his wife's waxes. He's overbearing, filling his elder son's head with his opinions, to the point where, when the boy is assigned to read A Tale of Two Cities, the father dismisses it as "minor Dickens" and the kid refrains from completing his assignment. His mother encourages him to read it for himself and make up his own mind, but he says he doesn't want to "waste his time." I can't say I "enjoyed" the film, though it did hold my interest and I am glad I saw it. But it was indicative of what I disliked about the genre of realism when I was a actoring student in London then playwright and director in Chicago. Which is that realism, as a form, tends to be about a group of individuals, often a family, who air their disatisfactions with their lives in increasingly virulent outbursts until some ephemerally determined level of verbal cacophony has been achieved, at which point an act of violence is intrudeced to bring things to a crescendo - sometimes a fight but in this case a heart attack scare - after which things settle, without a proper resolution, but into a new appreciate of misery. What I found curious in this tale though, was this: Throughout the novel, the father crushes everyone else's opinions, dismissing movies, books, and other pursuits as being "minor," "not serious," or "lowbrow." When invited along on a date with his son, he alters their choice of cinema from Short Circuit to Blue Velvet. But after the heart attack, the son finds his father reading a paperback in the hospital. The father explains that he's just reading fluff - "You can't do serious reading in a hospital" but that "Leonard is the fillet of the mystery genre." In other words, the professor, who dismisses everyone else's tastes throughout the film, is caught reading genre in his last appearance - in this case Elmore Leonard. I found this choice amusing food for thought, even as the film epitomized my reasons for working on the side of the fence I do.

Thank You for Smoking: I've not read the novel by Christopher Buckley (though twenty plus years ago I did read the first three Blackford Oakes novels by his dad), but this film was tremendous. This level of naked cynicism and tongue in cheek can't really be found - at least not this smoothly delivered - anywhere else but the Colbert Report. Aaron Eckhart was masterful in this - yes, I'm thrilled that he'll be playing Harvey Dent - and, incidentally, the sympathy he manages to engender left me wondering why we seem to be harder on unlikeable protagonists and unvirtuous heroes in science fiction than we are in the mainstream and other genres. The film is just uproariously funny in the way that all truth that hurts is. Highly, highly recommended.

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