Behind the Candelabra
Remember when Wilco got a ton of press for having been dropped from their record label, Reprise, just as they were about to release the album that went on to be their most critically acclaimed and popular work, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? It was a story often repeated at the time as a shorthand demonstration of how sorry and dysfunctional the music industry had become. How could one of the country’s best, most innovative and respected bands get dropped as a reward for making their finest synthesis of experimental leanings and classic Americana pop song craft? The story became symbolic of how skewed the priorities had gotten within the music industry which increasingly focused on short term profits from lowest common denominator garbage.
Well, I happen to think that Behind the Candelabra has become the filmic equivalent of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Every story about the film leading up to its release had to mention how no Hollywood studio would make the movie even though it was to star two of the most famous (Michael Douglas) and bankable (Matt Damon) stars working today and directed by one of the most successful and esteemed filmmakers (Soderbergh). Bankable stars; a respected, dependable filmmaker; a juicy, ridiculous story—what’s not to like? Apparently enough that only HBO would agree to make it, effectively killing the film’s chances of a theatrical release and giving one of the best, most entertaining movies of the year over to television.Continue Reading
The Bourne Ultimatum
The last (for now) of the Bourne trilogy, which turns out to be the most intriguing of the three due to its critical approach towards Hollywood’s demand for viewer identification. Based on Robert Ludlum’s series of novels, the distinguishing feature of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), keeping him from being just another fantastic superspy in the mold of James Bond, is that while his super-abilities come from his secretive training, his morality comes from no longer being able to recall the ends for which he was trained. Thus, the narrative thrust of the trilogy: in trying to find out who and what he is and why a top secret offshoot of the C.I.A. wants him dead, he tries to make amends for various assassinations he performed, but can only remember as abstractions without their ideological intent.
So as not to condemn the entire C.I.A., there are good guys (Julia Stiles as Nicky Parsons and Joan Allen as Pamela Landy), who recognize the wrongs perpetrated on Bourne by the ultra-clandestine offshoot, Operation Black Briar, and real bad guys (David Straithairn as Deputy Director Noah Vosen and Albert Finney as Dr. Albert Hirsch), who do everything they can, including killing innocent civilians, to keep the conspiracy under wraps. In terms of the action spectacle, the film delivers (although there is an extended sequence involving cellular technology that reminded me of that tedious Ben Affleck actioner where he spends an hour and a half with a phone to his ear). As with 007, the object of the audience's fantasy is clearly delineated, only with a face that suggests more B.M.O.C. at your average Mid-Western fraternity than international espionage. But the film is tuned to Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers in that the final reveal has the viewer questioning his or her fantasized identity rather than giving into the lure of diversionary entertainment. * SPOILER ALERT * Upon going face-to-face with Dr. Hirsch, Bourne achieves total recall, remembering that he willingly gave himself over to the Operation, proving his allegiance by willingly killing an unknown captive for no other reason than he's told to. * END SPOILER ALERT *Continue Reading
The Talented Mr. Ripley
A lot of directors working today try to ape Hitchcock. His films are the gold standard for artful forays into psychological terror. Christopher Nolan is just the latest celebrated director trying to tap into a rich vein of Hitchcockian malice for his own films. But while Nolan succeeds with astonishing set-pieces within his films—think of the face-to-face interrogation room sequence between Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight—his films are, for the most part, long on disorienting gimmicks and rather low on psychological depth. He also doesn’t go near the subject of sex and Hitchcock’s films are full of sex—sexual obsession, sexual dread, sexual paranoia—the one exception being sexual fulfillment which seemed to exist only within the arms of his most beautiful and iconic star couplings in films such as Notorious and To Catch a Thief.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a first-rate Hitchcockian exercise from the late director Anthony Minghella and it has all of the corrosive sexual dread you could ask for as well as a disturbingly convincing subtext on the kinds of identity games Americans are always involved in. It’s glamorous and dark and manages to top Hitchcock in at least one respect—its undercurrent of eroticism is explicitly homosexual.Continue Reading