Outstreched arm

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

In an interstellar burst

Yes, I'm alive.

Yes, I'm lazy. Boring, too. And you know what? I blame Jerry. This thoughtful colleague of mine gifted me one month's subscription to TotalFark, thereby rendering me incapable of doing anything else with my free time. What a farker.

Anything else I've been up to has been recorded on Flickr and Netflix, I've just been too "busy" to write reviews and such. Very briefly: John Sayles's Men With Guns is another excellent movie pulled out of thin air; it's a political, social, and ethical parable set in an imaginary (but all too familiar) South American country. It's in Spanish - be as cynical as you want of Sayles's international humanism, but he lives and works it. Excellent performances all around, a confident script, and an eye for the little big things; not a groundbreaking film in itself, but a load-carrying element of Sayles's nonpareil career.

I also saw ...And Justice for All, the movie that's not Scent of A Woman, though it contains Al Pacino and the widely (mis)quoted line "You're out of order! They're out of order!" It may seem odd to begin praising a movie by showing understanding for those who won't like it, but I have to do just that: it's a slightly imperfect, jerky, oddly balanced tragicomedy with uneasy laughs and often overripe pathos. It seems to consist of dozens of seemingly unrelated vignettes centered around the character of Arthur Kirkland (Pacino), an ethical lawyer having to deal with the corruption, malevolence, cynicism, and technical difficulties of the American legal system (as given here). The central plot has him defending a judge he can't personally or professionally stomach, and it's set up so that no course of action would be smart or morally defensible. Does it get resolved, then?

Well, one test of your own answer to this question is to ask another: what did you think of Chayefsky/Lumet's Network? It's a similar kind of movie: obsessed with grand themes, but never too busy taking itself too seriously; funny or disturbing depending on how believable you find it; hilariously exaggerated (it's satire, after all) but with an obvious point to make about the real world. And both films are remembered for their powerful freak-out scenes ("I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!")

And as with Network, the writing is often thunderous in the best of ways - unrestrained like a child genius you'd be crazy to ask to be quiet. I also have to point out perhaps the most bizarre ingredient here: the hilariously inappropriate 1980s soul/jazz that opens and closes the movie. It doesn't really ruin it, but it's shocking.

After reading various reviews of Men With Guns and ...And Justice for All, my feeling is that both are underrated. Perhaps this is a terribly artfag thing to say, but can we please get beyond judging movies on their plausibility alone? It's certainly a factor that needs to be taken into account, but when I rate movies, I give them one free pass: the acting can suck, or the photography can be terrible, or the budget can be shoestringy. Now that we've covered that, let's see what you can do with the rest.

Ah, nearly forgot one: Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line. After seeing this and Fog of War, I'm scratching my head - I want to like Errol Morris, yet it's not happening. He's a fine director - highly skilled with visuals (though some student-filmish animations in Fog of War had me groaning) and with a unique idea of pacing and story arcs. But somehow, the slow, Phillip Glass-backed lullabies don't really take off. They seem too long and fail to let the characters really speak for themselves. What can I say, I'm a hypocrite for offering advice on criticism and immediately failing to articulate my own.

I've been practicing my keys regularly. I really don't know if I'll ever be any good, but I'll sure try. Props to Miles and Adriano for their help.

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