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Topics/Questions/Exercises of the Week — 19 June 2009

Filmmakers Of The Week: Mohsen Mahkmalbaf and Marjane Satrapi. Neither has a current film to promote.

The Harmlessly Frivolous Reason To Join Twitter Of The Week: Nicer Film Titles, illuminated here. Your correspondent is old enough to remember when New York magazine ran its competitions, which he believes were discontinued because the new generations that began to fill Manhattan in starting in the late '80s resulted in increasingly dumber and less witty responses.  Such challenges as "nicer" or at least watered-down titles—"near miss nomers," they called them—were a staple. And they weren't limited to film. Some back-in-the-day examples found in Thank You For The Giant Sea Tortoise: Lawrence of the United Arab Republic; The Sun Comes Up, Too; The Agony And The Fun; Man and Batman, by George Bernard Shaw, and a personal favorite, John O'Hara's 212 288. I ought to offer a prize to whoever still gets that.

Still, this micro trend specifically wants "nicer" titles, and since I haven't joined Twitter I'll offer these up for any tweeter who wants to adopt them: The Awkward Truth, Make Way For Some Stuff, The Inadequetely Socialized Dozen, The Reasonably Impressive Seven, Troubled Harry, The Amiable Ambersons, Indiana Jones and The Temples of Heartburn, Last Year At Massapequa.

Armond White-ism Of The Week: "Marriage is the implicit casualty of both movies—a plot development that looks especially odd next to the Cavalier film where Schneider, Trintignant and Henri Serre (from Jules and Jim) ponder the ethics of marriage and politics." In the event you were wondering just how one could possibly relate Alain Cavalier's recently revived 1962 film Combat dans L'ile to the contemporary American comedies The Hangover and The Proposalthere, as they say, you have it.

Film Critic As Career Counseler: At The Onion's AV Club, Scott Tobias reviews The Proposal and concludes: "Following 27 Dresses, this is the second high-concept, low-impact, wedding-themed comedy in 18 months for choreographer-turned-director Anne Fletcher. It might be time to move on." But think about it: why would it be? Wouldn't it be safer for cinema in general for a dubious talent such as Fletcher to be relegated to her little corner of mediocrity than to have her wreaking havoc on more "ambitious" projects? It's exactly the same with Michael Bay. Sure, the Transformers films are abominations which any grown adult ought to be ashamed to even bring up in conversation, but by the same token, for as long as Bay is occupied with making them, he can't fuck up anything else. Win/win, as far as I can tell. (Of course, by "move on" Tobias may not mean "try something new cinematically;" he may mean "leave the business entirely and start a vintage clothing shop or something," in which case I absolutely concur.) Discuss.

Will You Join Our Crusade?: No, not to support the Iranian revolution—what kind of pussy do-gooders do you take us for? Our crusade—or, rather, Jeffrey Wells' crusade—or, rather, what Jeffrey Wells thinks the Universal public-relations office's crusade should be—is to "Get in front of it, slap it down—don't let Lou control the conversation." Hells yeah. That a—hole Reed has monopolized...oh, wait, never mind, he means Lumenick. You see, widdle Wou did a vewy bad thing; he bwoke the embawgo on weviewing Michael Mann's Pubwic Enemies, [okay, Gwenn, that'll be enough of that—Ed.] and not only that, he didn't like the movie o'ermuch. Anyway, Wells has a plan to counter Lumenick's negative vibes, man: "Mann loyalists unite!" Because everyone knows that Public Enemies is going to rule!

I must admit: the Mann film is one of those things I feel like I'm under some obligation to feel excited about, and just...don't. I can't put my finger on the problem—my inability to find any interest in a Dillinger not played by Warren Oates or Lawrence Tierney; that idiot 9/11 truther who's playing Billie Frechette; my own schizoid perspectives on Mann's prior picture Miami Vice, which give me a headache and make me not want to think about anything Mann-related—I just don't know. So, are you excited? Why? And why ought I be?

Speaking Of Not Caring: Drew McWeeny on Bruno: "If you see the movie and it infuriates you, just remember one thing:  any reaction you have is a victory for Sacha Baron Cohen, except for complete and utter indifference...Your move."

And...I win! Big! How big? I didn't even know I was playing, that's how big. Hell, I probably won't even see the damned thing. I mean, it might be funny and all...but is it cinema?

Excited about Public Enemies? I sure as hell am.
#nicermovietitles: PUBLIC MEH-NEMIES
Borat left me indifferent, so I guess I won that round with Sacha Baron Cohen.
I haven’t seen The Proposal yet, but I have to say that IMO Anne Fletcher can work wonders with formulaic material. Perhaps I’m alone in noticing the rather compelling combination of energy and grace that she brought to her directorial debut, the otherwise predictable teen dance flick, Step Up. She spiced the formula with well observed, unfussy details of the characters’ lives and environment (Baltimore), and cinematographer Michael Seresin eschewed studio slickness for subtly gritty location work that grounded the film in reality. I see some of these same virtues in 27 Dresses, even though, yes, the script is even more formulaic. A former choreographer, Fletcher fills the frame with variety, movement and life, more than you can say for the average hack who toils in this genre. I’m not nominating her for the pantheon or anything, but I really do think she’s a pretty solid director so far. Just curious – have you seen her films, or are you assuming they suck because of lame trailers and negative reviews, or maybe just a distaste for the genre?
The Unruly Bunch As I Lay Flatlining No Country for Senescents
@ Jay—I’ve seen 27 Dresses and, for my money, it pretty much betrayed whatever promise was displayed by Step Up. Formulaic is one thing; sexist drivel is another. And her depiction of environment in Dresses didn’t strike me as at all distinctive. Haven’t yet seen The Proposal.
I save my excitement for restorations these days, but I will be quite glad to see Public Enemies, if only for Depp. However, when it appropriates the name of a great Amreican film it had better live up to it. That Wells thread is something else. I have had a nice email correspondence with Lou, he pops up in my comments from time to time, and I can assure the people over there braying for his head that Lumenick’s knowledge of American film is broad and deep indeed. So what is with all the venom directed at him? He broke an embargo? Big deal. It’s a movie, not a Federal Reserve rate cut. The idea that any critic, from A.O. Scott to Kenneth Turan, can “control the conversation” is quaint. It seems to me that the only ones around the Intertubes trying to control conversations are the swarms of fans for certain films and filmmakers who simply won’t permit you to have a different opinion unless you want to endure a volley of the most intemperate kind of verbal abuse imaginable.
I love Johnny Depp, but he’s more of a cartoon character than a real person. Public Enemies is going to be like watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Maybe it works because Depp is a crazy celebrity and Dillinger was a crazy celebrity? We’ll see. . .
Re: “Bruno” I’d care more if I thought he was saying something more relevant than just “Hey, if you go out of your way to piss people off, you’ll piss them off!” I miss Alan Funt. Re: “Public Enemies”, I’m going to go see it because I liked the old-fashioned gangster movies and this looks like fun. Plus, it’s Mann, so at least it’ll be well-shot.
the AW ism of the week is an example of me reading Armond and thinking, yes, he is actually making a good point here. Having seen The Hangover and just seen the Cavalier at FF, i agree. (and i will never need to see The Proposal)
When we saw Ben Butt, we were both pretty excited about that Proposal trailer, GK. Weren’t we? Was that wrong? I think it could be fodder for a great drinking game. Or, of course, it could just be sooooooo rote that it makes one hurt. Also, Public Enemies is pretty dope, if narrower than it aims to splay. It’ll be interesting to read the reactions since I don’t think many critics will like it for a variety of reasons. More soon, maybe even in these webspaces!
FWIW (not much, I’ll wager), I saw The Proposal over the weekend and quite liked it. Of course it’s formulaic, as are most all romantic comedies, good or bad. But it’s smartly written, well acted and snappily edited, and Fletcher is deft with the camera. This is more than we get from most major studio releases these days.

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