Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Metal and Melancholy

Thursday, May 31 at New York City's Spectacle Theater

Flowing like a wide river of pleasure and pain, Metal and Melancholy examines late-20th century Peru through the eyes of Lima cabdrivers. Most had other, often white-collar, jobs before the collapse of the economy forced them to put the family car to work, and many were piecing together a patchwork of part-time jobs to supplement what little they earned behind the wheel when writer-director Heddy Honigmann talked to them in the early ‘90s, yet none waste any time on self-pity or bitterness. Instead, they draw on what appear to be deep reserves of fatalism and tenacity to do what it takes to support themselves and their families.

The documentary starts with a montage of shots of Lima’s streets as seen through the windshields of a series of makeshift cabs, the sound of energetic radio broadcasts, the chaotic clamor of the Lima street, and the rattles and ragged purrs of aged engines introducing us to a world in which nearly everything seems to be held together with duct tape and faith.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dark Shadows

An awkwardly stitched-together collection of mismatched parts, Dark Shadows is a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie, a vampire love story-slash-family reunion played out as a half-funny spoof.

Portraying another in a long line of chivalrous freaks for director Tim Burton, Johnny Depp is Barnabas Collins, an early-American English immigrant turned vampire. But while Depp’s soulful eyes draw us into the torment of Barnabas’ eternal unlife, everything else pushes us away, telling us not to take his story of lost love and unswerving family loyalty seriously. If the tragic Goth hero of Edward Scissorhands, Burton’s first feature and his first collaboration with Depp, could have strode straight out of the mists of mythology, Barnabas would be more at home in a sitcom, where he would be cast as one of those well-meaning weirdoes who’s calibrated to activate the viewer’s maternal instincts.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

In the blog that provides a cozy canopy of voiceover truisms to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) writes that India is like a powerful wave. Resist and it will mow you down, but go with the flow and it may take you someplace delightful.

That turns out to be a pretty good metaphor for the movie itself. A fable for the AARP generation, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel provides just enough reality to conjure up the age when people’s options start to really narrow (if you thought 30 was scary, this movie implies, just wait until you hit 70), then assures us that we’ll always have more than enough options as long as we’re brave enough to keep trying new things. To make that point, it layers on the clich├ęs so deep in every direction—from the characters and their relationships to the cinematography to the carpe diem aphorisms—that you may be tempted to make a beeline for the shore. But if you can relax into a leisurely dogpaddle, you’ll soon settle comfortably into the cinematic equivalent of a nice warm bath.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Patience (After Sebold)

If it’s hard to adapt an artfully written traditional novel, imagine the challenge facing director Grant Gee (Joy Division) when he tried to make a movie about W.G. Sebald‘s elliptical, near-plotless The Rings of Saturn. A loose anatomy of a pilgrimage billed as a novel, Sebald’s book traces the shadows cast on our fragile, disintegrating world by the Holocaust and other man-made catastrophes. And as if that weren’t already abstract enough, he does it by hopping from one seemingly unrelated concept to the next, like a frog ping-ponging through a pondful of lily pads.

But Lee acquits himself honorably. His Sebaldian pastiche includes passages and images from the book itself, moody black and white footage of some of the places Sebald wrote about, and a slew of insights into his work from a sometimes thrillingly articulate group of his fans, most of them artists or writers themselves.

Where Do We Go Now?

Where Do We Go Now? director Nadine Labaki likes to create a sense of family when she works, collaborating with people she loves and creating an on-set atmosphere that is “very open and free,” as she put it in a Q and A after the opening night screening at Tribeca Film Festival. Her cowriters are close friends of hers, her sister did the makeup for the film, and her husband was the musical director. And her actors in her latest film, as in her first, Caramel, are mostly non-professionals. Labaki keeps things loose and comfortable for her cast during her shoots, aiming for a kind of “organized chaos that allows me to keep them very spontaneous” and leaves plenty of room for improvisation. “The fact that I’m acting with them also allows us to become very close,” she said. “I’m able to create the rhythm of the scene from the inside.”

So it’s not surprising that her socially conscious chick flicks radiate a cosy and welcoming vibe. Caramel, which centered around a Beirut beauty salon, was about female bonding strong enough to transcend macho brutality and homophobia. Where Do We Go Now? tackles the tensions between Christians and Muslims that have been tearing Lebanon apart for decades.

Friday, May 4, 2012


In a nation that gets more homogenized every day, Texas still feels, as its ad slogan says, “like a whole other country.” That’s partly because of a commitment to individualism that runs so deep it almost amounts to a cult of personality, though it’s a cult with many leaders: Texans celebrate just about any personality big enough to step forward and declare itself. It’s also because of the metaphor-studded, pomposity-puncturing, laugh-out-loud richness of the language. A true Texan, like a prototypical Irishman, can turn almost anything into a good story.