Friday, October 31, 2008

Three You Might Have Missed

Here are three excellent, and largely unseen, new releases. The first is still playing in theaters, the other two have made their way to DVD. Check them out.

1. Frozen River-so far this the best movie I've seen this year. Directed by Courtney Hunt, it stars Melissa Leo as a woman desperate to raise money to support her family. She accepts a "job" with a young Mohawk woman (Misty Upham) transporting illegals over the Canada/US border. This is a taut, moving, beautiful piece of work. Leo and Upham are terrific.

2. The Fall-there was nothing released this year that comes anywhere close to the visual ecstasy of this stunning piece of work by Tarsem Singh. A little Romanian girl in 1920s Hollywood is convalescing in a hospital when she meets a disturbed young stunt man. He's in the hospital after a possible suicide attempt. They become friends and he begins to tell her a story. We see the story through her fecund imagination. This is a visual masterpiece, a rich, invigorating piece of cinema.

3. The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford-when I saw this movie in the theater late last year half of the audience got up and left. It's long, slowly paced and thick with an unspoken homoeroticism. Not exactly what most people expect from a western starring Brad Pitt as Jesse James. It is a fine piece of work, though, a revisionist Western in the mold of Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller or Hellman's The Shooting. Casey Affleck gives a disturbing performance as Robert Ford, giving the famous assassin a humanity no one's ever attempted.

Declaration of Principals

The title of this inaugural blog entry is also my first reference to Citizen Kane. It will not be the last. While I plan to write a lot about new films, I expect to write just as much about films which are forty, fifty, sixty years old. In movieland--that dreamscape of flickering silver screens and worn videocassettes and shiney new DVDs and BlueRays--people never die. They are simply forgotten. Welles lives on, but most people today do not know his name. You can say the same about most of the great directors and, perhaps more surprisingly, about most of the great movie stars. Put this to a test (if you can stomach the results): ask people. How many people under sixty can name a Gary Cooper movie? How many people under sixty have actually seen one? Cooper was the biggest movie star in America in the forties, but today he is remembered for, maybe, one film, Zinnemann's High Noon. Forgotten are Morocco and Bluebeard's Eighth Wife and For Whom The Bell Tolls and Meet John Doe. These movies live on, but they are forgotten by each new generation. Movies do not die, they simply grow old while the world gets younger.

Understand, I am not a nostalgist. Most movies suck and always have. We have not only forgotten masterpieces like Act of Violence and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, we have forgotten the great stinking mountain of dreck released by Hollywood since its inception. This is an important thing to keep in mind as you wade through the selections at the multiplexes. The selection has always been rather spotty. They don't make them like they used to? They never did, at least not on a consistent basis. It's always been hit or miss with the movie business, in part because it's always been a business. We all know that Hollywood runs on fame and money. The love of both has produced a great body of shit over the years.

And yet.

Movies are the greatest artistic invention since the novel. They are capable of profound insights, beauty, and despair. The are capable of greatness. They are also capable of being distractions. We need not forget that they are entertainments. I do not know if there is a single important lesson to be gleaned from either Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I do know that it is entertaining, perhaps endlessly so since I have not yet exhausted my enthusiasm for it.

All of which is to say that movies run the spectrum from greatness to schlock with much in between. Hopefully, you will join me here to discuss the movies, new and old, awesome and awful, to praise them, to debate them, to remember them. They are alive. They need only be found again.