Caryn James‘ "Critics Notebook" piece in today’s New York Times bears more than a slight resemblance to sentiments expressed a whole month ago by one A. O. Scott in the same paper, namely a general grumpiness at the refusal of recent prestige "deep thoughts" films to engage current-day issues. As examples of this "genre of timid films with portentous-sounding themes," she cites "Good Night, and Good Luck" (we’d agree with her there), the utterly uninteresting-looking "North Country," the remake of "All the King’s Men," Matt Damon vehicle "Syriana" and, oddly "A History of Violence." One of these things is not like the others…
As broadly drawn as the graphic novel on which is it based, "A History of Violence" suggests that violence is everywhere and in everyone. That’s not a thoughtful probing of the question, but a spurious and facile statement not up to the level of Mr. Cronenberg’s bravura filmmaking.
We’re still musing on "A History of Violence" ourselves (we did like it lots), but we feel comfortable enough in our interpretations thus far to wonder what Ms. James is smoking, as they say, to come up with such a reductive reading. The film toys with our simultaneous condemnation and enjoyment of depictions of violence in such an unprecedented and disturbing way â€” if that’s not a "thoughtful probing of the question," we can’t imagine one. David Thomson at the Independent calls it "the first unmistakably great American film since ‘Mulholland Dr.’, even if it is made by a Canadian," and goes on to gush far more than we have.
Let’s have a look at the other trends shaping our film-soaked world:
Via Lou Lumenick at the New York Post: "’When I saw "The Talented Mr. Ripley" at my local theater in Carmel,
N.Y., a few years ago, the adolescent boys booed and got up and walked
out when they discovered their boy Matt [Damon] was playing a fag,’
["The Dying Gaul" director] Craig Lucas recalled. ‘But when I went to see "Alexander" there last year, nobody in the
audience batted an eyelash when Alexander and his boyfriend were making
goo-goo eyes at each other.’" Well, we would chalk that up to the fact that teenage boys (and everyone else) stayed away from that one in droves. But we do have "Breakfast on Pluto," "Brokeback Mountain," Philip Seymour Hoffman camping it up in "Capote," and Johnny Depp doing whatever in "The Libertine" to make this a very gay awards season. Or is the point to be taken from this just that playing gay is the new playing mentally disabled in terms of sure shots for Oscar nods?
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
At least 350 Mexican women have been murdered in this El Paso-area border town since 1993, and the case is still unsolved. Monica Campbell at the San Francisco Chronicle reports that no less than three films are suddenly in the works about the killings: "The Virgin of Juarez" (with Minnie Driver), "Bordertown" (with J.Lo and Antonio Banderas) and "Loteria for Juarez," in the works for HBO.
+ The Trouble With Films That Try to Think (NY Times)
+ Why are some of the greatest American movies made in Canada? (Independent)
+ The Discreet Masochism of the Bourgeoisie (NY Times)
+ DON’T PLAY IT STRAIGHT (NY Post)
+ Hollywood takes up cause of 350 dead women (SF Chronicle)