Thursday, May 05, 2005

SELECTED SHORTS. Saw a few movies:

The Red Violin. This Girard is an odd duck. If I hadn't seen Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould I would have expected something like Diva. Well, while The Red Violin is episodic, it's also got a big old McGuffin to pull you through: artistic inspiration as a barrier-breaking, life-changing motive-force. Plenty of other movies have worked this side of the street -- Lust for Life, Quills, Dr. Zhivago, etc. But using the violin and its sad backstory instead of a single artist-hero makes the trick a little dicier. It's easier to identify with the madness of Kirk Douglas than to imagine oneself risking the wrath of Maoist thugs for the music of John Corigliano. But I was impressed by the clever and highly specific takes on historical eras, especially the opium-addled British Romantics. And I wonder why Sam Jackson doesn't do more roles like this where he can, you know, act. Because he's very good at it.

Wag The Dog. Speaking as a jaded roue myself, I admired the unshakable cynicism, which has given the film life past its heyday as a Clinton joke. I didn't like DeNiro's performance. I'm sick of seeing him tuck the corners of his mouth, especially since watching him do it in that wretched Scorsese ad for American Express; it's become his personal Del Sarte schtick for "I don't know how to handle this emotion, folks." Wasn't Ron Silver available? Dustin Hoffman is more the thing. There's a man comfortable with his solipsism! Props also to Woody Harrelson, who made me think of Thurber's "The Greatest Man in the World."

Hotel Rwanda. The best thing about it is: no arc. Shit just keeps coming, and Don Cheadle just keeps putting on his nice clothes and taking care of increasingly precarious business. The scenes of horror are suitably appalling, but cleverly titrated so that you don't grow too numb to take them in. The madness seems as if it will never stop, and every un-mad moment is only carved out of it by the righteous will and cunning you have seen expended. By the end, even the money-shot restoration of (some of) Rusesabagina's extended family can't deceive you into thinking that the story is really over -- it merely pauses, in medium-long shot, to acknowledge a moment of grace before the film runs out. It's no shock that Terry George also wrote the relentlessly grim The Boxer, but it is a surprise -- a pleasant one -- that he was again given such a big canvas for so muddy-bleak a vision.

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