January 15, 2008

Bob le Flambeur (Melville, 1956)

A quiet fatalism runs throughout Bob le Flambeur, slowly revealing itself in the rain slicked streets, the nightly routine of boozing and gambling, the overcast dawns, and especially Bob Montagné's face, his furrowed brow, muscles constantly contracted, always staring down. The rain, try as it might, can't seem to wash away the sins of the many who roam Paris by night, and fate, no matter how much one might try, cannot be altered. And so Bob goes about, losing his money, over and over again.

An undeniable stylistic precursor to the Nouvelle Vague, Melville's film is the type that will always seem modern and fresh, no matter how many decades pass. There is a languid vitality to the film that is impossible to do justice to through words alone. This is a film that must be seen.

January 11, 2008

Juno (Reitman, 2007)

This year's Little Miss Sunshine. That seems to be the label of choice for all of the award season pundits when discussing Juno. And though the comparisons are apt to a certain degree (this sort of hip, colorful, American indie filmmaking has become a genre unto itself) Juno does a remarkable job of toeing the line. On occasion, it comes close, but director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody never quite allow the film to implode into the realm of cloying quirkiness. Juno's cheekiness may be annoying at times, but it feels quite true to her emotional and physical maturity. Ellen Page is sure to be the beneficiary of much praise, but the performance to savor is J.K. Simmons, who imbues his role as Juno's father with humor and a wonderfully confused but unwavering love. Certainly not the year's best, but funnier, if quite a bit lighter, than last year's indie sensation.

January 9, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War (Nichols, 2007)

Charlie Wilson's War is a product that looks like an Oscar contender, smells like and Oscar contender, and has the pedigree of an Oscar contender, but once finally revealed, is nothing more than nicely polished fluff. Let me clarify that in no way do I abhor Mike Nichols' film. It's just that any talk of this film as one of the year's best is quite baffling to me. There is certainly much to enjoy. Yet, there is something about Nichols' film, its inherent simplicity, the pandering nature of the entire exercise, that I can't quite get past.

This is pop history, nothing more, nothing less. A simplistic exploration of a complex period of recent US history that nevertheless feels strangely pretend. Too refined to be considered proper farce, the film also lacks the subversiveness and vitriolic energy that the best satire requires. And Nichols' filmmaking, while polished and professional, feels strangely hollow. Gone is his feel for the contours of human behavior, and the vitality, that marked much of his early work. So while Sorkin's script crackles and pops in all the right places (done exceptional service by Hoffman's perfectly mannered and hilarious turn as CIA man Gust Avrakotos), it does so in the service of nothing particularly meaningful. Unless of course, you are the type who would confuse lazy, obvious, finger-pointing, for something clever and meaningful.

In the end, when the entire aftermath of Wilson's clandestine campaign is reduced to a single minutes long scene in a conference room (and capped by a punchline quote), it becomes clear what Nichols' real intentions are. Charlie Wilson's War is a breezy comedy that one can enjoy for a brisk 97 minutes and forget nearly as quickly. For truly inspired satire, check out Nichols' Catch-22 instead.