Ari Folman, who directed THE CONGRESS, states in the production notes that he hopes his new film will make the audience appreciate good, old-fashioned movie-making, with live actors rather than digitally scanned persons that can be manipulated by animators to play any role desired. Yet given the eye candy, THE CONGRESS could have the opposite effect, at least on those people in the theater seats who are open to experimentation in cinema. While the first segment is down-to-earth, dealing with the efforts of a producer and an agent to convince an actress (Robin Wright) to sell her soul and allow herself to be digitalized, most of the remainder, fifty-five minutes’ worth (taking two and one-half years to animate), is psychedelic, resembling an acid trip with stunning imagery. Yet despite all the beauty, the color, the fine acting by Robin Wright, you could not be blamed if you fidget in your seat as the movie is overlong, the dialogue often pretentious, the narrative on the loose side.
A bumper sticker that has made its presence felt on New York City cars features an American flag with the slogan, “These colors don’t run.” Would that this were true. Let’s forget about Iraq (I guess the slogan was printed some years ago) and look to the most humiliating escape the world’s strongest power had to make in a hurry, and that, of course, was from Vietnam. Rory Kennedy, who has made a stunning documentary of the event, was seven years old at the time that President Gerald Ford ordered a full-scale withdrawal of all U.S. forces and civilians in April 1975. The prolific resume of this youngest of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s eleven children, includes such documentaries as GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB, about the scandal involving the behavior of U.S. guardians at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison’ and ETHEL, an insider’s view of the wife and later widow of Robert Kennedy. She was scheduled to marry on July 17, 1999 but postponed the event because of the death in an airplane crash of her cousin, John F. Kennedy, Jr.
In his 1954 dystopian novel “Lord of the Flies,” William Golding creates a world of British boys as sole inhabitants of an island without adult authorities. They try to govern themselves but end up with disaster. Simply put, the youngsters become barbarians. In THE NOTEBOOK, we discover that adult authorities do nothing to civilize a pair of twin boys. To the contrary, the youngsters, copying what they see around them, imitate the adults. They become barbarians. In short, given the right circumstances, kids without adults can turn savage, and kids with adults can become unemotional, unfeeling, and violent.
ARE YOU HERE is a buddy movie not unlike those of the 1980s. This one finds a friendship between Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson), a TV weatherman and serial dater, and Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis), a person judged emotionally unstable who is being helped through his long-term friendship with Dallas.
The recession brought on by the bankers and Wall Street may be over, but tell that to the hundreds of thousands of newly minted college grads who must remain living with their parents because they can’t find jobs. But, what about the millions of people who have been laid off from their jobs, have gone through their unemployment benefits, and are still looking? If they can’t afford to remain in their apartments and houses, what do they do? If they’re lucky enough to find friends and relatives who will take them in, that’s fine, but there’s a limit to how long these benefactors will put up with their guests. Then what? If the unemployed wind up on the streets, I don’t see them. Where do they go?
The main reason for the high divorce rate in the U.S. is probably not adultery or violence but simply the disappointment that one or both partners are simply not the same as they were when they met and courted. Either they have grown apart, developing different interests, or they can’t understand why they don’t feel the same passion that electrified them during their honeymoon. Just my opinion, but my viewpoint is given graphic representation by thirty-one year old Charlie McDowell in his full-length directing debut, using actors who are experienced in small, indie dramas and comedies. With Ted Danson in a small role and Mark Duplass largely improvising, think “Cheers” meets “Your Sister’s Sister,” as the popular star of the long-running tv episodes crosses paths with one of the great avatars of mumblecore. This is not to ignore the starring role of Elisabeth Moss, heretofore known to audiences in the brilliant cable tv series “Mad Men.”
Gorgeous Italian scenery, exquisite food, cute convertible to see it all, even a few beautiful women. What could possibly go wrong? Just one thing: the two principal performers, particularly Rob Brydon, never shut up and what they do almost throughout the picture’s almost two hours is perform impersonations of actors. Sean Connery, Marlon Brando, Timothy Dalton, those are just a few of the celebrities that undergo satiric takes by the two noted comedians. Most of the imitations are amateurish, and even if they were more polished, who cares?
In the Broadway musical “My Fair Lady,” Henry Higgins notes, “The French don’t care what they do, actually, so long as they pronounce it properly.” We do, in fact, have the impression that what’s taken with some seriousness here in the States is treated more casually across the Atlantic. Bar pickups, for example. We may think to them it’s no big deal if you have a wife and home and you hit the bars for one-night stands, that even your spouse would not be jealous if she hears about this, but Philippe Garrel has other ideas. In fact in his latest film JEALOUSY, he finds three separate incidents of La Jalousie, one involving a child, but the more important one focusing on the intense emotions felt, in turn, by the wife of the principal character after he blithely takes off with all his belongings, and later, by the principal performer himself. So the French don’t lightly take the brush-off when the dumping involves a long-term commitment, and Mr. Garrel presents a slight but involving black-and-white drama as his contribution to this epiphany.
Here in New York, the city with the world’s most diverse population, you’re lucky if one day passes without your spotting at least one crazy out of our eight million people. But, I’ve never seen a guy wearing a large plaster mask covering his entire face, hair painted on top, fitted so he is unable to take solid nourishment. Man, that’s nuts, but the folks in an Irish band take such a character in stride. In fact, FRANK is inspired by the true story of one such person, Chris Sievey, who took on the name of Frank Sidebottom, but is inspired as well by other musicians like Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart. Jon Ronson, who co-wrote the film, was part of the band, the action shot in County Wicklow in Dublin and in New Mexico taking the place of Austin, Texas, the home of the SXSW festival. This by way of preventing you in the audience from saying that the plot is too far-out to be real, though anything can happen in musical comedy.
If good food could end the French and Indian War and lead to rapprochement—at least in the version given us by Lasse Hallstrom’s new movie—then surely the Palestinians and Israelis can get together. After all, French cooking and Indian cuisine are as different as Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, while both Palestinians and Israelis like falafel, hummus, babaganoush and halvah. THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, then is about how different cultures make a war of sorts across a DMZ of one hundred feet in a small town in the South of France, a film that will find its principal audience among fans of Hallmark green cards but will have appeal across a wide spectrum of folks whose taste in movies is as different as two principal performers played by Om Puri and Helen Mirren.