Monday, November 24, 2008

Catching up

Everything is different. The specter of economic failure haunts everything. I watch TV and there is a storyline about a pompous investment banker and I think, well, that was filmed before. I go shopping and stores are crowded and people are buying, and I think, don't they know? and begin to hope that the dire retail predictions will be disproved. (We will shop for the holidays, fuck it, fuck it all!)

But nothing is really affecting me, except of course the massacre of my retirement funds. But I have 20+ years until I retire, right? So much time to for the economy to right itself and balance to return to the world. I try not to think too much about doomsday predictions about the value of NYC real estate, and how my beautiful happy apartment might actually become an albatross. I'll stick it out, and survive! I will.

I came here to talk about movies and what spills out of my fingers onto the keyboard? I have a headache this morning. Understand, I rarely get headaches (2-3 times a year) so it's momentous when I do. (I am, despite the acid reflux and propensity to gain weight, a very healthy individual, from a similarly very healthy family. We kids grew up without allergies, nosebleeds, ear infections, rashes, or any of the other childhood ailments that plagued our classmates.) I took something (my mother is surprised that I don't know if it's ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but I don't take it enough to recall, and will often have to toss out the bottle because it's past its expiration date) and am hoping it helps. I had wanted to sleep late, but no such luck.

Today is the first of three vacation days, followed by two holidays (our office is closed both Thanksgiving and the day after), creating a solid week (9 days, with weekends) of no-work time. Today's plan is simple: leisurely morning on the computer, workout at the gym, buy some groceries, log in some writing hours, see a movie, catch up on recorded TV shows (almost up to date on "Life on Mars") while knitting a Christmas present, and go to bed early.

The next two days? Pretty much ditto.

Thursday will be a commuter train ride to an extended family dinner, and Friday or Saturday tentative plans with a friend, followed by a dismal Sunday where I recognize how fleeting my free time is before back-to-work Monday.

But, today... still empty and mine.

So, films. I have not been as good about getting out to the movies as I was. But there are still three I've seen in the past month which I haven't written about. Shame on me - and on my memory, which will now be tested as I try to recall what I liked and didn't.

The first, "Happy Go Lucky," is fairly easy, as it's a fairly benign yet satisfyingly entertaining movie, the latest from Mike Leigh ("Secrets & Lies," "Life is Sweet," "Topsy Turvy," etc.) The title refers to Poppy, a brightly-dressed and brightly-tempered teacher who spends her life looking on the sunny side of everything, and the film is mostly about the way the rest of the world embraces or resists her charms. The key resister is her driving instructor, and some of the best scenes are with the two of them trapped in his small car, attempting to maneuver around the city. But it's not all sweetness and light; real things happen to real people, and we watch as Poppy deals with them in her own, sometimes successful and sometimes not, way.

"The Changeling" was a disappointment, not because it's terrible, but because it's just not all that good. It's the story of a woman in the 1920's whose son is kidnapped, and then, a few months alter, she is forced to take in a young boy the police insist is her son. Angelina Jolie gets to play the suffering crazy-not-crazy mom, and it's one of those screeching-for-an-Oscar performances that is so DRAMATIC and EMOTIONAL that it comes across as dull. But worse for me was the pacing of the movie - there is no real emotional arc, but the resolution of a major plot point (is he or isn't he her son?) is followed by anti-climactic climax after anti-climactic climax. (I realize that I felt this with at least one of Clint Eastwood's other films - in "Million Dollar Baby," I was entranced by the first half, but felt like the air had been punched out of the story by the time we were forced to spend endless hours watching Hilary Swank in that hospital bed.) Even in small spots, though, the timing for "The Changeling" was way off - there is a scene where an officer is interrogating a suspect and it's inter cut with memory flashes of the actual crime. The camera in the present lingers on the lengthening ash of the detective's cigarette, juxtaposed with the raising of an axe in the past: two tense moments, waiting for the axe/ash to fall - and yet, it's edited so poorly, its timing so far off, that when the ash finally falls it no longer has any meaning, other than a casual curiosity as to who is going to empty the ashtrays in the squad room.

And then we have "I've Loved You So Long," a French film starring Kristin Scott Thomas (who is, apparently, as well known a French actress as an English one.) She plays a woman who comes to live with her sister and her sister's family after a long, unexplained absence. The movie is, of course, all about explaining that absence, but also about watching her gradually become part of the world again after sitting it out for so long. It's that second part of the film which I found more interesting, especially in the performances of Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein, who plays her younger sister. But there is also a great scene in which the younger sisters confront each other about what happened in the past - what's brilliant about it is that the director chose to start the scene smack in the middle, when the emotions are already high and the characters are on fire, rather than the usual approach of allowing the audience to see the tension grow. It was unusual and off-kilter, but immensely satisfying - seriously, do we need to see one timidly bring up a subject and the other rebuff her, and then the first try again, and then the other explode, and then the first fire back, blah, blah, blah, when we know exactly how that unfolds? Instead we're dropped right in the middle of the moment and it's exhilarating. Less successful for me was the nature of the big "secret." I won't reveal it but to say it's a disappointment in that it's too nice and neat, eliciting too many unanswered questions (like why nobody else figured this out for over a decade.) Ignore that, though, and it's a movie worth seeing.

The longest blog post I ever made?


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