+ "Babel": Swelling with importance or self-importance, Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu‘s "Babel" arrives in theaters and divides the critics. Reoccurring thoughts: "Babel" is like "Crash," but better. The Japanese storyline is the most compelling. The connection of the Japanese storyline to the other two is a little thin. When you try to lay out the film’s larger meaning, it’s either elusive or a little silly.
One of the fondest of the film is Slate‘s Dana Stevens, who writes that "Babel has great expectations for itself: It wants to be a movie about big ideas and big emotions at the same time. Aided by gorgeous locations and classy trappings (cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, theme music by Gustavo Santaolalla), it succeeds for the most part." Scott Foundas at LA Weekly believes that the film is like "Crash" in that it "share[s] a similarly reductive view of human nature," but also writes that "Babel has an undeniable power, even (or perhaps especially) when itâ€™s at its most contrived and implausible."
At the New York Times, A.O. Scott salutes the film’s power while allowing:
That the film possesses unusual aesthetic force strikes me as undeniable, but its power does not seem to be tethered to any coherent idea or narrative logic. You can feel it without ever quite believing it.
Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum is more skeptical:
Measured in anything other than biblical cubits, the sum of Babel’s many parts turns out to be a picture that suggests Americans ought to stay home and treat their nannies better.
At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir believes that IÃ±Ã¡rritu is "one of the purest talents to emerge in this medium since Martin Scorsese," but notes ever so nicely of "Babel"’s striving for themes of connection and isolation:
[T]he risk that "Babel" takes, in laboriously and lovingly connecting the private tragedies of four families in four different countries, is turning that observation, which may be lovely as a momentary flash of insight, into a stoned college freshman’s profound theory about the universe. Tremendous resources have been expended here so that Cate Blanchett can lie on a dirt floor and moan, while we ponder why we can’t all get along, and whether we aren’t all the same under the skin.
David Denby at the New Yorker also writes of IÃ±Ã¡rritu’s talents, but deplores the way "he abuses his audience with a humorless fatalism and a piling up of calamities that borders on the ludicrous."
Among the scornful: David Edelstein at New York, who sighs that "Tricky storytelling is an irritant when you canâ€™t trust the storyteller." Jim Ridley at the Village Voice calls the film "Crash rewritten by Yoda"; he finds the film’s politicking heavy-handed, but concludes that "the sentiment is less galling than the narrative contortions that put it across."
And Armond (oh, Armond) White at the New York Press calls it "Crash for hipsters," and goes on to marvel that "Itâ€™s a weird sensation to watch an American-financed movie that condemns U.S. culture and the people who produced it, yet intends those same suckers to watch it."
And in summary:
A.O. Scott: "In the end ‘Babel,’ like that tower in the book of Genesis, is a grand wreck…" And David Denby: "’Babel’ is an infuriatingly well-made disaster."
+ "Death of a President": Armond White, being ever so quotable this week, believes that Gabriel Range‘s faux-documentary depicting the assassination of President Bush "may be the ugliest movie moment ever presented to a rational public." He’s the only one who manages to be perturbed about this film, which doesn’t seems to be generated nearly as much controversy as its distributors surely hoped after its Toronto debut.
Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader believes the film shouldn’t been labeled a mockumentary; he finds it engages the news format more than, perhaps, the documentary form, but that it also struggles to be a thriller: "[the film] wants to function as a mindless thriller that eventually makes us think — and only after the film is over question the form that encouraged us to be mindless. These are incompatible agendas, and in the end neither is fully successful."
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon would disagree; he finds the "the tone of mournful elegy [Range] strikes here is both convincing and — believe me, I’m shocked to be writing this — moving." Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman similarly thinks that "Death of a President begins as a disturbingly clever stunt but concludes as a contradiction, a political nightmare of haunting banality."
But for others, that banality precisely the problem. At the Village Voice, J. Hoberman labels the film "[d]ramatically inert but a minor techno-miracle," concluding that:
Death of a President is ultimately just an exercise. There’s a far more subversive political mock-umentary coming next week. I invite President Bush, Senator Clinton, and all politicians to get down with Borat.
And A.O. Scott at the New York Times writes that the film is "in the end, neither terribly outrageous nor especially heroic; itâ€™s a thought experiment that traffics in received ideas."
+ "The Wild Blue Yonder": Getting a smidgen of a release is Werner Herzog‘s "science fiction fantasy," which features documentary footage mixed in with narration by Brad Dourif, playing a stranded alien. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon declares it "Not a major Herzog work or one that will draw a large audience, but a must-see for those who suspect (as I do) that he’s one of the greatest talents now working in this medium." The New York Press‘ Armond White, on the other hand, thinks it is "one of his very best films" and that Herzog is the savior of the documentary.
Manohla Dargis at the New York Times believes the film "works better as an experience than it does conceptually," and adds that even when images are included for their own sake, "[t]here is pleasure in such useless beauty, of course, and pleasure too in drifting with the jellyfish amid the wild blue yonder of a great filmmakerâ€™s imagination."
And Ed Halter at the Village Voice writes that "[t]hough occasionally striking, the footage doesn’t pack the evocative punch Herzog intends, and segments that should be lyrical mind trips only result in overstretched longueurs."