January has yet to disappoint as one of the most disappointing months for film (or, rather, simply half-hearted, in a very post-blackout drunk coitus disinterested breakfast conversation fashion). There aren’t any particular releases worth focusing on this week, so we thought we’d continue to just meander through:
The New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis and Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek express variations on the same sentiment in their respective reviews of "Tristan & Isolde" and "Last Holiday," something along the lines of "When did every movie get saddled with the obligation to break new ground?" (Maybe, unfair an expectation as it is, around the time apparently imperishable DVDs popped up everywhere and we started wondering why anyone would go to the theater to see "National Treasure" instead of just ordering in a pizza and re-watching "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (but they did, bewilderingly, go see "National Treasure" anyway, something that makes us never want to have children we may eventually feel the need to sedate with two hours of loud noises and shiny things)). Dargis:
Critics often complain that Hollywood has nothing new to offer, but part of the appeal of the old studio system was the regularity of its offerings. One Fred and Ginger movie looks pretty much like another Fred and Ginger movie, only "Swing Time" is better than "Top Hat." We want movies to be different, but not radically so, which helps explain our enduring love for genre and stars. There is something reassuring in the knowledge that a film with Brad Pitt will at least give us the pleasure of his company (though of course you could end up falling asleep to "Meet Joe Black"). Just as there is something undeniably pleasant about an entertainment like "Tristan & Isolde" that delivers exactly what it promises, no less, no more.
Zacharek wouldn’t make the argument that she enjoyed Queen Latifah-vehicle (and Alec Guinness-vehicle remake) "Last Holiday" as much (and indeed, Dargis hated it), but she is charmed by what she sees at the film’s anachronistic spirit, and she addresses those who would complain about the contrivance of the very movie-ish plot point on which the film turns â€” the misdiagnosis that leads Latifah’s Georgia Byrd off onto her exuberant new lifestyle.
But Georgia can’t go on that dream vacation — she can’t eat the gourmet pork fat, and she can’t get the groovy guy — until after she gets that bad-news diagnosis. It’s a hurdle the movie has to leap to get to the good stuff, and we have to jump along with it. Maybe the greatest sin "Last Holiday" commits is demanding our innocence, and that’s the last thing we want to give up. There’s something in us that wants to make sense of that brain scan, so we can prove to ourselves that we can’t be taken in by folderol. But if we can’t move past logic, we miss all the eating, the talking, the laughing. We miss everything we supposedly came to the movies for.
Elsewhere, the New York Press‘ Matt Zoller Seitz does some meandering of his own after reviewing "When the Sea Rises." Zoller Seitz (who we should probably be referring to as simply "Seitz," except, when you’re given anything resembling two last names, you really must make use of them) surveys the year end lists and suggests that, while "Brokeback Mountain" is a fine film, "it’s not the year’s best movie â€“ not by a long shot â€“ and to say so is, in some sense, to mistake social significance for art." He’s similarly reserved about "A History of Violence," and mildly points out that critics have always been prone to awarding socially significant films more praise than, when their immediacy has faded, they deserve.
"V" is one of the most politically audacious mainstream Hollywood films ever made because it really lays it on the line — there are dark echoes of 9.11 and 21st Century neocon power dreams and hard-right fanaticism all through it, and yes…the good guy does blow up a building or two.
And Poland, never one to be afraid of the grand gesture himself, proclaims in these mid-January days that "’V for Vendetta’ reaches past the purely visual and may well be the best film of 2006."
+ Young Lovers in a Cave Can’t Escape the World (NY Times)
+ "Last Holiday" (Salon)
+ SEA LINGERS WITH SIMPLICITY (NY Press)
+ Another Day, Another Genre (Chicago Reader)
+ Finding Beauty in the Miserable and the Mundane (NY Times)
+ BÃ©la Tarr’s Marathon Masterpiece Casts a Devilish Spell (Village Voice)
+ Vendetta Days (Hollywood Elsewhere)
+ V FOR VUCKING VANTASTIC (The Hot Blog)