Movies I Watched Last Week

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Surprisingly few.  I’m not a big fan of watching films on an airplane.  For some reason, it just doesn’t work for me.  Even though airlines now show uncut versions of films on widescreens, the lack of a comfortable seat, all the noise and distractions (meal service, PA announcements, the guy sitting next to you going to and from the bathroom, the moron behind you who grabs your chair and pulls it back to help stand up) – it’s just not conducive to really watching a film.  I’ve also got my laptop loaded with films (and blu-ray rips on the MacBook Pro with retina display look fabulous) but the same distractions apply.  I think if I came upon Citizen Kane for the first time on an airplane, my reaction would be, “What was all the fuss about? It’s a fucking sled.”  On the other hand, on a 16 hour flight, I need something to pass the time, so I watch films.

So please take what I’m going to say about these films with as many grains of salt as you’d like.

I’ve always been a Woody Allen fan and I think he’s been on something of a streak lately.  So I came to To Rome With Love with high expectations, none of which were met.  There are four stories and he cuts relentlessly between them, yet the lives in the stories never intersect.   I suppose it’s meant as a tribute to the omnibus Italian films that were so popular in the 60s.  But for the most part the stories are not that good and the framing device (the traffic cop) isn’t used consistently enough to justify it.

Story 1 – young beautiful American girl (Alison Pill) means young handsome Italian guy.  They get engaged. Her parents (Woody Allen, Judy Davis) come to visit from the U.S.  The girl’s father discovers that the boy’s father, a mortician, is the world’s greatest opera singer, but he can only sing when he’s in the shower, so he mounts a production of Pagliacci where they wheel the guy onstage in a shower to sing.  It’s a one-joke story that takes too long to get to a very small joke.

Story 2 – an ordinary Italian guy (Roberto Benigni) suddenly is followed everywhere by the paparazzi.  He’s now a star, famous for being famous, and they breathlessly await news of if he shaves before or after he eats his breakfast.  And then one day he’s no longer famous.  I suppose this is meant as a commentary on reality TV but I’m not sure what the commentary is.

Story 3 – A young American architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg) meets a famous American architect (Alec Baldwin), who then hangs out invisibly with him for days, offering advice when Eisenberg’s live-in girlfriend’s best friend (Ellen Page) comes to visit and he finds himself attracted to her.  The device of having Baldwin always there, very similar to Bogart in Play It Again Sam, simply doesn’t work, it’s not exploited to its potential, and Page is thoroughly miscast as someone who is supposed to be irresistibly sexy and wild.

Story 4 – A young Italian couple comes to the big city and gets separated.  Somehow the husband ends up with a prostitute (an incredibly sexy Penelope Cruz) while the wife gets romanced by a fat, bald movie star.  It’s like a series of bad sitcom jokes only salvaged by how hot Cruz looks.

Individually, none of these stories is strong.  Taken as a whole, it just doesn’t hang together.  Which leaves you with the expected gorgeous photography of Roman landmarks and little else. It’s a shame because Allen had so much to say in Midnight in Paris and you’d think, given his love for film and so many great Italian directors, that he could come up with something much more meaningful for Rome.

Once upon a time I was a huge Oliver Stone fan.  But lately? Alexander?  W?  Wall Street 2?

Savages is about two guys and a girl (Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively) who have a three way relationship and grow the bestest marijuana ever and so catch the attention of a Mexican drug cartel who want their primo weed.  You get Salma Hayek as the drug lord (!), Benicio Del Toro as her enforcer, John Travolta as a crooked cop.  It struck me first as an example of how far the director of Natural Born Killers has fallen, that he couldn’t do more with this material. And it struck me as a too-obvious attempt by Stone to do his version of True Romance, with a lesser cast (Taylor fucking Kitsch?) and without Tarantino’s great dialog, and with a really truly horrible ending.

I’m a big David Cronenberg fan and I was eager to see what he would do with this material.  Technically, this shines.  There is an exactness to the way this has been shot and cut.  Pattinson proves he can act.  Yet in the end, I’m not sure what this metaphor-heavy story adds up to.  Something Pattinson does about halfway through the film, a random and extreme violent act, makes no sense and goes unremarked.  The final 15 minutes or so, Pattinson and Paul Giamatti talking and talking and talking and talking, I’m still not sure what that was about.  The final moment of ambiguity – why?  If this is meant to be seen as an indictment of the Wall Street “masters of the universe,” and I’m sure it is, it just didn’t come across for me.

I suspect that I’m likely to watch all three of these again under better circumstances to see if they improve at all.  For those of you out there who’ve seen any (or all) of these, what were your thoughts?

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