Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Week in Review

FILMS:

  • Atonement (Joe Wright, USA, 2007)
  • No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, USA, 2007)
  • The Party (Blake Edwards, USA, 1968)
  • The Pink Panther (Blake Edwards, UK, 1963)
DVD:

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm - 2nd Season (Various directors, written by Larry David, USA, 2001)
Atonement
The more I thought about this film, the more I hated it. It had components that were technically well put together (the scene at Dunkirk in particular) but just don't work as a whole. It uses various devices that are too clever, too self-conscious, too manipulative and have been used many times before but to much better effect. I could go on and on and bag it, but I'd rather provide a link to the ABC's At The Movies Message Board where I've expressed myself quite at some length, along with other people's thoughts.

No Country For Old Men
Seeing this for the second time, I liked it just as much, but picked up various nuances and small details that eluded me the first. My earlier comments are here. I could easily go see it again, particularly as there's a vacuum of decent films, as there usually is this time of year. It's a pity ACMI doesn't have something decent on, like the Kubrick retrospective they held this time two years ago.

The Party / The Pink Panther
This was a Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards double screening at the Astor. Sellers spoofs an Indian in one and a French in the other. Yet both roles were perhaps unsurprisingly similar - the bumbling buffoon that capitalises on people's amusement with ethnicity. They were both good fun, especially the first.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
I first encountered this brilliant series when I went to the US in 2003, at which time the third season was about to start and HBO was screening repeats of seasons 1 & 2. At first, the series seemed a bit raw and under-produced compared to Larry David's more widely-known Seinfeld. But after a few episodes, this series has really gotten into my blood. It's more risque than Seinfeld with a more of a reality look about it. David plays himself, or at least a version of it, which viewers can recognise as Seinfeld's George Costanza (a fact that is played upon in this series). I particularly like one character's foul-mouthed, heavy NY-accented description of David as a "fucking four-eyed fuck". Hilarious stuff, brilliantly written and well put together. I have five of the series on DVD (a sixth has been completed in the US, but not yet available on DVD), and I'm slowly working my way through them.

This is a description of the show, from the official website:

Each half-hour episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm features verité-style footage of David (playing himself) at home, at work and around town, as he gets into predicaments with fictional and real-life personalities. With cast regulars Jeff Garlin (as manager Jeff Greene) and Cheryl Hines (as wife Cheryl) reprising their roles, the series features appearances by guest celebrities playing themselves or character roles.

Candid, unsparing and self-deprecating, Curb Your Enthusiasm brings the off-kilter comic vision of Larry David--co-creator and co-executive producer of one of the most lauded comedy series in TV history, Seinfeld--to HBO. The series blurs the lines between reality and fiction, as David (playing himself) and a cast of real and fictional characters are followed around Los Angeles by a ubiquitous camera that chronicles the private, often banal world of a (relatively) public man.

Having evolved from the 1999 HBO special Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm, this series proves how seemingly trivial details of one's day-to-day life--a trip to the movies, a phone call, a visit from some trick-or-treaters--can precipitate a "Murphy's Law" chain of misfortune to hilarious effect. Like George Costanza in Seinfeld, the protagonist of Curb Your Enthusiasm has a knack for getting himself into uncomfortable situations that end up alienating him from peers and acquaintances.

To keep the narrative fresh and spontaneous, Curb Your Enthusiasm is shot without a script; the cast is given scene outlines and often improvise lines as they go. The result is an unpredictable format that's unlike anything else on TV.

7 comments:

Cibbuano said...

Ah, Paul... I think you and I have very similar tastes...

My review of Atonement: hated it

No Country For Old Men: Extraordinary, I'd love to watch it again.

The Party? Pink Panther? Fantastic double header.

Curb Your Enthusiasm? I've got it at home, waiting for a window of time to watch it!

Marina said...

I'm actually a little surprised by your dislike of "Atonement". I though the film was fantastic and after reading your comments over at ABC I must say I humbly disagree with your take on the Dunkirk scene. It's been months since I've seen the film but I remember thinking that the scene brilliantly paralleled what was going on with Robbie at the time: he's unsure of whether he'll make it home and whether he has anything to go back to and everything he walks through on that beach feels only partially complete and though the scene is quite orderly and well pieced together, everything seems to be happening at once, a mound of events and emotions running together.

Though I agree that "The English Patient" had Oscar written all over it, I hated that film (and that book for that matter) where as I love Wright's film - even the "twist" ending which has everyone's panties in a knot. I was entranced enough to give into Wright's vision and into the characters he created - enough that I found the conclusion plausible if somewhat unsettling.

But I've ranted off enough. ;)

Paul Martin said...

Cibbuano, indeed we seem to agree on at least these ones.

Marina, we'll have to agree to disagree. No-one wants to go to a film and be disappointed. Atonement had very good reviews, but I had serious doubts so I went in with very low expectations. I tried at every step to give ground to the film, to try to get into its space, but it failed me at every point. It just would not work. I can see how it works for others, but I found it bad. I consider it one of the most over-rated films of last year.

Cibbuano said...

Paul,

I wrote a lengthy post on Why I Hate Atonement...

Though I disliked it, I think it's wonderful that, as an audience, we can all have such vastly different experiences watching the same film.

Marina said she found the Dunkirk scene moving, but, when I watched it, I remember thinking 'Ooh, this is fancy, but it's just a long walk. Yes, war is tragic and raw.'

Paul Martin said...

Cibbuano, thanks for the link. I pretty much agree with every one of your criticisms, with some slight differences. I also felt like I was a lone dissenting voice with this film.

I found the typewriting them excrutiatingly painful. I thought it was a little contrived at the start but could have lived with it, if it didn't repeat itself. But it did, as if it were a curtain call at the end of each scene. It reminded me of the snow falling at the end of each scene in Coeurs, which also irritated me. It added to the appearance of the film as a pseudo stage performance. It was too gimmicky, too cute, too clever, too show-offy. It was too self-conscious and thus detracted from the cinema medium. In one of my posts the At The Movies message board, I mentioned transparency. Too many devices in this film draw attention to themselves so that you notice them, rather than being drawn emotionally into the story (which No Country For Old Men does so well).

Another diffference with our critiques is James McAvoy. I find his acting just as wooden and contrived as Keira Knightly's. I agree with you about Knightly's toff accent - it wasn't a fatal flaw, but it was a constant irritant - but I found both characters to be cardboard cutouts without any substance. I liked The Last King of Scotland, in spite of McAvoy, whose performance was similarly disappointing in that film.

When I saw the Dunkirk scene, I thought it was really well done, but the longer it progressed, the more its choreography distracted me. It just seemed too gimmicky, too show-offy. There comes a point where technical expertise just doesn't impress any more. Just like the best of CGI doesn't impress, rather it is how it is used. Better to use less trickery and more competent story-telling. None of the characters engaged me. And for me, that's what cinema is about, being engaged by a story, losing yourself for those 90 or more minutes and experiencing another world. I felt I was sitting there watching actors, director and other crew members assembling a production. I think Atonement is a textbook example of how NOT to make a film.

Cibbuano said...

paul, thanks for your lengthy reply on my post...

on McAvoy, I didn't feel that he was excellent, just that, given all the things that I criticized about the movie, his role was one plank of driftwood holding up the movie. He shed a tear on screen, and I raised an eyebrow in appreciation. Still, it was a 'look-what-i-can-do' moment.

on NOT making films: I wonder if Wright ever felt that the movie was too much production? They assembled this team of talent, got a big cast, did it all up... and then in the final edit, did Wright realize that it wasn't a great movie? And hide those feelings?

Paul Martin said...

did Wright realize that it wasn't a great movie?

Who knows? I think he thinks it's a good movie, and I think a lot of people agree. It has a target audience that doesn't include me.