Your Spoilt-for Choice Weekend at the Movies

09/18/2009 12:13 PM |

Happy Renowned Actor Gets Fat to Play a White-Collar Whistleblower Weekend, Everyone!
  • Happy Renowned Actor Gets Fat to Play a White-Collar Whistleblower Weekend, Everyone!

Hey, it’s fall of a sudden! Soon there may be as many as two or three interesting-looking movies coming out per weekend!

The Informant!: How much do I love the exclamation point that Soderbergh added sometime over the summer? More importantly, I love the movie-a-year-or-better level of productivity that the L’s Henry Stewart perceives as lending Soderbergh’s recent run a breeze of rough-draftiness. It’s exactly that experimental efficiency that makes Soderbergh so exciting, and makes me less concerned or disappointed when he makes a movie that isn’t as good as Out of Sight or The Limey. Which is often. Because those movies are amazing. But there’s never any “I waited four years for that?!” with Steven Goddamn Soderbergh. I wouldn’t call The Informant! tonally inconsistent, either—tonally strange, yes, the way it mixes jauntiness and deadpan farce and glimpses into the psychology of a go-getting liar (via some of the best-used voiceover in ages), but strangely focused and of a piece in a way that a less prolific director might not be willing to commit to. For such a cool-headed director, Soderbergh has become adept at wringing offbeat comedy from genres that seem too slick or serious for it. The Informant! may be a bit of a one-joke movie, but that joke is aimed with such precision, and delivered with such human pathos by a plumped out, mustachioed Matt Damon, that I didn’t much mind.

Jennifer’s Body: Let’s talk about Diablo Cody, because no one else discussing this movie will be able to do anything else. I haven’t seen it yet, but the critical consensus so far seems to be that Cody has revealed her true, disappointing colors by (a.) daring to write a horror movie that does not transcend and surpass the horror genre and (b.) not toning down her snarky, slangy, post-Buffy dialogue style while doing so. Odd, right, that well-paid, award-bestowed screenwriting phenom Diablo Cody didn’t consult conventional critical wisdom when preparing her follow-up—and instead seems to have written something based on, yuck, how she actually likes to write and what interests her! I mean, sure, lots of people may have enjoyed Juno, but didn’t she hear that it was too hipster-y and self-satisfied and mannered? It was so annoying, the way the characters would sometimes say funny things. I for one am appalled that she apparently harbors absolutely no interest in making Wendy and Lucy. The nerve of some people! Anyway: maybe I’m wrong and this movie is totally rote and, as such, disappointing; Sutton’s review manages to critique it without resorting to saying it’s bad for not being some kind of exercise in minimalist restraint (although: sorry, Ben, I have next to no idea what “egregious titillations” means). But I can’t imagine it’s not at least more enjoyable and funnier than most high school and/or horror movies. What I’m saying is, I want to read a review of Jennifer’s Body written by someone who actually likes horror movies [Like... Ben Sutton? -Ed]. Or, alternately: I want to go see Jennifer’s Body. Even if you’re in a dismissive mood, you should be psyched about this movie, because if Megan Fox can’t be of use playing a demon-possessed boy-devouring succubus, it’ll be all the easier to declare her useless once and for all.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: My recollection of the book is a little foggy, but it’s about as long as Where the Wild Things Are, right, and without any actual characters? The movie’s solution appears to be a patented bumbling-misfit-genius-dreamer archetype, in this case a scientist (voice of Bill Hader) who causes the giant food calamities. The character designs are cute, but even as an animation fan, I’d rather just watch Bill Hader and co-voicer Anna Faris in a live-action movie.

Love Happens: I’ve been wildly anticipating this movie so that theaters can finally stop playing the trailer for it, which I have seen approximately six hundred times, which to me counts as seeing the movie six hundred times, in which case let me reiterate six hundred times, this movie is terrible and I hate it.

Bright Star: Michael Joshua Rowin thinks you should see this Keatsy romance. He’s half-convinced me; the movie’s trailer is still fighting against the other half.

The Burning Plain: It’s funny, I always assumed Alejandro González Iñárritu was the reason I didn’t much care for 21 Grams or Babel, because screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga also wrote The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which is not so much a cross-cut, time-scrambled, miserablist ensemble piece about how we are all bound together via the constant, tragic stream of misunderstandings that mostly destroy everyone whatever whatever. But now Guillermo Arriaga has directed his first movie, and it’s apparently at very least time-scrambled and miserablist and now I don’t know who to trust! The L’s Simon Abrams takes A.O. Scott to task for mocking Arriaga’s time-scrambling, but I don’t know that I’d call an acclaimed yet not particularly well-known screenwriter so much an “easy target.” If Guillermo Arriaga is a fish in a barrel, what’s Diablo Cody? And: scene.

4 Comment

  • Hey there Jesse. It may be hard to imagine, but I too more-or-less secretly wanted Jennifer’s Body to be a deliciously evil and enjoyable horror movie, and although I was extremely disappointed I still think Megan Fox could be more than a maniacal filmmaker’s muse.

    That being said, much of my problem with Diablo Cody’s script was not that it shied away from horror movie conventions, but rather that in trying to transcend them the film inadvertently removes any pleasure from their interpretation and manipulation. Without any subtext left to give what, on the surface, seems like a very conservative story of a small town trying to re-establish the status quo after being infiltrated by the devil-worshiping ways (literally) of city folk, the film finally succumbs to that regressive impulse.

    Cody’s outing of symbolism, subtext and metaphor leads to most of those “egregious titillations” I mentioned: the lesbian scene, Megan Fox swimming naked in a lake for no apparent reason. Even the final (spoilers!) murder-as-orgasm death goes to such over-determined Exorcist-referencing extremes that the implications are impossible to miss. Without some kind of narrative subtext, two young women making out on a bed is just soft-core porn.

    There were a few things I enjoyed (aside from Megan Fox, of course) that I failed to mention in my review for lack of space. Expertly cast adults: J.K. Simmons (a Juno hold-over and Peter Parker’s editor) as the bumbly, hook-handed school teacher, and Amy Sedaris as Needy’s perpetually absent, foul-mouthed mother. Johnny Simmons (no relation to J.K.) who plays Needy’s boyfriend has a young Mike Meyers thing going on that made some of his understated quips much more enjoyable than Fox’s over-emphasized lines.

    Finally, the film abandons its scenery of kitschy Americana for one beautifully Gothic sequence inside an abandoned swimming pool lit in shimmering turquoise and over-grown with vines. It’s prom night, so the three leads are decked out in their studio-backed-high school best, and the whole scene is shockingly beautiful and Burton-esque. If nothing else, Jennifer’s Body is a very beautiful film, both in terms of casting and cinematography.

    (PS. The main character is nicknamed Needy. Come on.)

  • But you don’t think that’s kind of a rarified, film-studies sort of reaction? That the movie doesn’t have lots of fun subtextual interpretations because it wants to actually deal with those things as actual text? That makes it sound like you’re bummed because the movie denies you the opportunity to do the standard Village Voice-y analysis — even though, as mentioned, your review gives the movie a much more fair/interesting shake than some of the others I’ve read.

    And I still don’t know how that makes whatever titilations “egregious.” You wanted the sexy parts to be less blatantly sexy? Subtextually sexy, maybe? Again, not that you couldn’t be right about the bottom line; I’m just not sure I follow your logic. What you’re describing sounds more gratuitous than egregious.

  • Well, not having seen the film I’m completely neutral on it (that sounded facetious but I very much mean it), but I think Ben’s complaint about the subtext here rapidly becoming, uh, text is less about film critics not getting to get their interpretive rocks off, and more about a straightforward complaint that’s often made when movies do this: it’s too obvious.

    What Ben describes is a movie in which genre signifiers are waved vigorously about, rather than integrated into the storytelling — you could argue that this reflects a knowing, pop-savvy pomo sensibility, or complain that the writer is merely lazily showing off her cleverness (and flattering the audience with the implication of prized, privileged knowledge).

    It’s a matter of taste, I guess, especially given that the same pro/contra arguments can be made about her dialogue.

  • Yeah, as mentioned, for all I know Ben is completely right about the movie itself. But I’m not really sure if an obvious idea or theme becomes much less obvious if you’re coming to it via subtext. That is, if the argument is that the movie says kind of uninteresting, tired things in a loud sort of way, I can’t imagine those same things being so much more interesting as subtext just because it would take an extra step to unpack them.