The best I can say about Noah Baumbach‘s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Netflix, 5.21), a dramedy about a Jewish family with the usual anxieties and uncertainties, is that it’s mildly engaging. It gets you here and there. It mildly diverts.
Especially when things get testy or cryptic or flat-out enraged (i.e., 40ish brothers Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler trying to beat each other up, paterfamilias Dustin Hoffman ranting at a fellow diner in a restaurant who’s been putting his stuff on Hoffman’s table). Plus Stiller has a striking emotional breakdown scene, the likes of which he’s never before done.
But this mostly Manhattan-based ensemble film (with detours to Rhinebeck and Pittsfield) just isn’t all that riveting. It just doesn’t feel tightly wound or hungry to get over. It’s “good” but unexceptional. I didn’t dislike it, but feels very Netflix-y.
Where does Meyerowitz sit on the Baumbach scale? Way, way below the brilliantly anti-social Greenberg (’10), my all-time favorite Baumbach, and which delivered Stiller’s best performance of his career, hands down. And it has none of the pizazz of Noah’s two Greta Gerwig collaborations, Frances Ha (’12) and Mistress America (’15). I don’t know where it belongs, but tonally it’s kind of similar, I guess, to The Squid and the Whale (’05) and While We’re Young (’14).
During filming The Meyerowitz Stories was called Yen Din Ka Kissa, which is Hindi for something or other. “Where the day takes you”? Something like that. Pow, right in da kissa!
The story is basically is about three Meyerowitz kids — Sandler’s Danny, Stiller’s Matt-from-the-coast, and Elizabeth Marvel‘s Jean — coping with their troubled histories with their father, Dustin Hoffman‘s Harold Meyerowitz, a somewhat curmudgeonly sculptor who wasn’t that great of a dad, etc. There’s also the small issue of Harold’s possibly impending death, due to a head injury that happened while walking his dog.
The output of legendary nouvelle vague director Jean-Luc Godard was the epitome of cool between 1960 and ’67, during which time he made Breathless, Le Petit Soldat, Vivre sa vie, Les Carabiniers, Contempt, Band of Outsiders, Masculin Feminin, La Chinoise and the legendary Weekend. But then came Godard’s militant Marxist period (’68 to late ’70s), during which he denounced his heyday flicks as bourgeois trash and devoted himself to revolutionary cinema. But when the familiar references to Hollywood genres and conventions began to fade from his films and as Godard became more focused on Maoist dogma and such, people stopped giving a shit.
So is Michael Hazanavicius‘ Redoubtable, a new Godard biopic, about the sexy cool period or the hardhead Marxist period? You have to ask? Of course it’s about the latter, and boy, does it embrace Godard’s bitter sniping and pissed-off, ultra-didactic radicalism! It really bores into that, and so the movie becomes as much of a drag to 2017 audiences as Godard himself became a drag to his once-loyal fans starting in ’68.
I just watched this Hazanavicius film earlier this evening so I should know. Redoubtable isn’t oppressively awful but it does make you feel profoundly irked at Godard (Louis Garrel) and his hammerhead bickering and general aversion to anything remotely soothing or pleasurable.
In the lead-up to the Cannes Film Festival debut of Redoubtable, the idea began to sink in that it’s about a mid ’60s love affair between director Godard and actress-author Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin). Well, it is that to some extent, but mostly it’s about how Godard’s frowning, screwed-down, butt-plugged revolutionary mentality began to decrease or suffocate whatever regard he might’ve once had for even a semblance of joie de vivre, and thereby destroyed his relationship with Wiazemsky.
Now this is a choice spot from which to capture the hustle and bustle of the Cannes Film Festival. This was taken roughly an hour ago (12:45 pm) on the outer balcony on an 8th floor suite at 7 La Croisette, rented by Loveless producer Alexander Rodnyansky for interviews and whatever else. I was there to interview Alexander, who knows the international movie realm as well as anyone and possibly better than most, along with Loveless director-writer Andrey Zvagintsev. I have the audio uploaded and all, but I’ll run the piece later tonight or tomorrow morning.
This morning I chose to get some extra column-writing done instead of catching the 8:30 am screening, which was Robin Campillo‘s BPM — Beats Per Minute (aka 120 Battlements Par Minute). Naturally, it’s being called a likely Palme d’Or winner. I’ll be catching it at the 3 pm screening, but missing the 8:30 am screening continues Hollywood Elsewhere’s remarkable tradition of often (not always but with some regularity) missing the initial showings of hot Cannes films. Very few have this basic instinct.
Jordan Ruimy update: “Don’t raise your expectations too high for 120 BPM. It has some powerful moments, but some parts really drag. And some of the story felt very familiar. Still worth watching.”
6 pm update: Caught 3 pm screening of 120 BPM. It’s good but turn down your Palme d’Or predictions. It’s a fine, dug-in, impassioned tale but strategy, tactics and pushy rhetoric only travel so far. French Shortbus meets Longtime Companion meets aggressive political protest.
The opening of Lina Wertmuller‘s Seven Beauties (’76) is an “oh, yeah” classic, but many have forgotten that it’s not really a main-title sequence. The title is announced but otherwise it’s just a mission-statement thing, a declaration that the film won’t be playing it straight, that satire will be used, etc. What other films have begun with impressionistic tonal mood-setters (music, montage) that seem to be main-title sequences but aren’t?
Yesterday was a four-film marathon with barely a moment to breathe or assess. Okay, I had three-plus hours after seeing Bong Joon-ho‘s dreadful, cliche-ridden, Spielbergian Okja, which I knew would be splashy, showoffy kid-mulch going in, at 8:30 am, and then Jonas Carpignano‘s A Ciambra, a good-as-it-went, respectably compelling sequel to Mediterranea about a young teenaged thief (Pio Amato) coping with character and loyalty issues in a hardscrabble town in Southern Italy. But I couldn’t get down to it.
I wanted to at least tap something out about A Ciambra, which I saw at the subterranean Director’s Fortnight venue under the JW Marriott, but I couldn’t squeeze anything out. Guilt doesn’t get you there — writing does. I ate and napped and piddled around. In the late afternoon I posted three or four riffs about other subjects, but before I knew it I had to attend a 7 pm screening of Ruben Ostlund‘s The Square, followed almost immediately by Kaouther Ben Hania‘s Beauty and the Dogs at 10:15 pm.
(l. to r.) Beauty and the Dogs director Kaouther Ben Hania, costars Ghanem Zrelli and Mariam Al Ferjani.
Ape-channeller Terry Notary (who has only a single scene — the star is Claes Bang) in Ruben Ostlund’s The Square.
In other words, yesterday really meant something because of a low-key, near-great, at times hilarious social comedy (Preston Sturges on Percocet?) followed by a harrowing recreation of a nocturnal post-rape trauma that happened in Tunisia in 2012, assembled with a series of eight or nine long takes and pushed through with a brilliant lead performance.
The finest of the lot was The Square, a longish (142 mins.) but exquisitely dry Swedish satire, mostly set among the wealthy, museum-supporting class in Stockholm. It’s basically a serving of deft, just-right comic absurdity (the high points being two scenes in which refined p.c. swells are confronted with unruly social behaviors) that works because of unforced, low-key performances and restrained, well-honed dialogue.
Ostlund’s precise and meticulous handling is exactly the kind of tonal delivery that I want from comedies. There isn’t a low moment (i.e., aimed at the animals) in all of The Square, whereas many if not most American comedies are almost all low moments.
Yesterday Jordan Ruimy tweeted that The Square is Leo Carax‘s Holy Rollers mixed with Maren Ade‘s Toni Erdmann. Except I didn’t find Erdmann even vaguely funny (for me Peter Simonischek‘s performance was painful) and I was constantly chuckling and chortling during The Square, so what does that say? I’ll tell you what it says: Fuck Toni Erdmann, although I’m certainly open to the Jack Nicholson-starring remake, if and when it actually happens.
The problem is that The Square stops being a perfect absurdist satire somewhere around the two-thirds or three-quarters mark and downshifts into a glumly moralistic thing that’s about the lead character (played by the handsome, Pierce Brosnan-ish Claes Bang) trying to face up to his errors and make things right.
I didn’t like Bong Joon-ho‘s Big Fat Lovable Pig Who Never Farts (i.e., Okja), but I was too lazy to write about it earlier. Goes that way sometimes — you think about writing something and even prepare with notes, but you somehow can’t make yourself do it. Now it’s 6:30 pm and I have to catch a 7pm showing Ruben Ostlund‘s The Square, followed by a 10:15 pm screening of Kaother Ben Hania‘s Beauty And The Dogs, which got some good buzz earlier today.
This, trust me, is the absolute finest gelato place in the entire world. Okay, maybe it isn’t but it sure seems to be from my perspective.
World’s most dangerous soft-drink bottle. Not designed for stability as far as the upcurved bottom of the bottle is concerned. Two days ago I damn near spilled a bunch of Coke on the keyboard of my refurbished 15″ Macbook Pro. I avoided tragedy but if things had gone badly it would have mostly been Coca Cola’s fault.
Earlier today HE’s WordPress specialist Dominic Eardley finally managed to fix a hugely irritating problem that was turning up on iPhone screens, which was a bizarre tendency for italicized titles within slider headlines to downsize. But no more apparently.
I keep getting these notions by way of insect antennae vibrations that Alex Kurtzman and Tom Cruise‘s The Mummy (Universal, 6.4) is probably going to underperform and may even become the next King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. It feels shallow and obvious, and has certainly been over-trailered. I’m not saying it’ll flop, but that it won’t do what Universal marketing is hoping for, and may even fall short of that mark. It feels amusing and energetic, yes, but I don’t like Sofia Boutella‘s Egyptian princess mummy — she’s too little, too CG-augmented and not scary.