I’m too whipped to write my review today of Angelina Jolie‘s In the Land of Blood and Honey, but I can tell already that my generally positive reaction, which I wasn’t expecting to have, is a minority view among critics who’ve posted today. Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy is at least somewhat admiring.
“It’s clear within the first few minutes of In the Land of Blood and Honey, a blunt and brutal look at genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s, that this is a serious piece of work and not simply a vanity project for its debuting writer-director, Angelina Jolie,” he begins.
“But while the personal story at its core carries some nuanced shadings, this impressively mounted production gradually reveals itself first and foremost as a compendium of atrocities, a catalogue of pointless abuse and killings no one did much to stop for three years.
“Fueled by her well-known attachment to humanitarian causes, the director trains an intense light on a situation most outsiders at the time preferred not to deal with and now would rather forget about, which means that Jolie would literally have to lead people by the hand into theaters for this Film District release to do any theatrical business beyond the already committed.”
I regret to say that, for me, Stephen Daldry‘s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Warner Bros., 12.25) doesn’t work as well as it should, although many with whom I saw it on December 8th leapt to their feet when it ended, clapping and whoo-whooing. I was impressed and touched by aspects of this melancholy 9/11 tale — particularly by a third-act scene between 12 year-old Thomas Horn, who plays the lead, and a supporting character played by Jeffrey Wright — but too often I felt unengaged and at times perplexed.
Thomas Horn, Max Von Sydow in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
My main problem was with the urgent, often hyper manner that Horn uses (i.e., has been told to emphasize) in his portrayal of Oskar Schell, a brilliant, precocious youngster with borderline Asperger’s Syndrome. There, I’ve said it — and I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m just passing along what I felt as I watched.
The story is about Oskar’s attempt to come to terms with the 9/11 death of his jeweler father (Tom Hanks) by finding the owner of a key he’s found among his dad’s belongings — an effort that takes Oskar, whose off-balance condition makes him feel challenged and threatened by aspects of urban life, almost everywhere within the five boroughs of New York City.
But with Hanks and Sandra Bullock, as Oskar’s emotionally shell-shocked mom, relegated to a few brief parenting scenes (and maybe one or two as man and wife), Extremely Loud is almost entirely about Oskar’s world, and that, I have to say, is an excitable, agitated place I wanted to escape from. The kid has a personality like a nail being hammered into wood, and it’s not long before you’re saying “later” and “lemme outta here.”
I’ve had a chance to read a draft of Eric Roth‘s screenplay, which was adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer‘s 2005 book of the same name. Roth’s script works better than Daldry’s film because you don’t have to listen to Horn while reading, and in the film you obviously do as this is not The Artist.
The character with the most screen time besides Oskar is a Man With No Name Who Doesn’t Speak and Communicates With Crib Notes, played by Max Von Sydow. Oskar meets Von Sydow when he visits his grandmother’s place across the alley from the apartment he shares with Bullock (and had shared with Hanks before his death), and is told by the elderly man that he’s a “renter.” Right off the bat you know there’s more to him than that.
So to repeat, the first 75% or 80% of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was a problem for me because of Oskar’s personality. But the Wright scene is by far the best in the film. I loved it especially because it’s one of the very few in which Horn isn’t beating people to death with his Oskar-isms. It’s so welcome when calm and inquisitive Wright settles Oskar and the whole movie down with exquisite conveyances of what and who his character is — his humanity, his sensitivity, his ordinary-ness, his decency.
I’ve never read Foer’s book but let’s presume that Roth’s adaptation does a sublime job of conveying it and perhaps kicking it up a notch or two. Plus all the flashbacks and the layering and the ins and outs. It was apparently quite a task, and it seems like a commendable achievement given the requirement Roth had to fulfill. And the third act brings it all together in a way that solves…well, most of the issues and which feels emotionally complete, for the most part.
Von Sydow delivers a poignant performance, but I didn’t feel it was as brilliant or slam-dunky as early viewers had described it.
There are several plot and character-explanation questions that didn’t come together for me, but which i’m not going to raise at this time. I don’t want to be the spoiler so let’s just hold off for now. In fact, I’m going to stop this review here and now and leave well enough alone. There’s plenty of time to get into my Part 2 nitpicks.
Incidentally: In his 12.18 review, Variety‘s Peter Debruge writes that EL&IC director Stephen Daldry and producer Scott Rudin “were both in Gotham on the day of the [9/11] attacks.” Actually, they weren’t — they were both in London working on The Hours. I double-checked this earlier today with a Rudin p.r. rep.
My admiration and affection for Martin Scorsese‘s The Last Temptation of Christ (’88) means I’ll have to buy the Criterion Bluray version when it comes out next March. I first saw Scorsese’s Biblical drama 23 years ago in L.A.’s Century City Plitt plex. I remember the barking of Christian hooligans in the plaza outside the theatre, and my being interviewed by one of the local news stations, and seeing the clip later that night.
I’ve always loved the way Scorsese creates a simulation of ecstatic release in the final seconds. (It begins at 14:20 in the clip below.) I’d like to think that Chris Hitchens heard something like this when he left the earth.
There’s nothing especially revelatory in JoBlo’s 12.16 posting of an official Warner Bros. synopsis of Alfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity. It’s roughly the same information passed along by costar George Clooney six weeks ago.
The interesting thing for me is a comment from JoBlo’s Mike Sampson: “There have been rumors that the film will be shot, or at least presented, in one take, which would be fascinating to experience.”
In July 2010 a posting allegedly from Framestore’s website reported that “Cuaron’s long and fluid style (the opening shot alone is slated to last at least 20 minutes) leaves no cut points to hide behind.” But I’d never heard that the entire film might be a zeo-gravity adaptation of the strategy behind Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rope.
The official synopsis supplies character names for the two-hander. Sandra Bullock, who has the lead role, plays Dr. Ryan Stone, “a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission.” Clooney plays Matt Kowalsky, a “veteran astronaut in command of his last flight before retiring.”
I’m sorry but Kowalsky is the name of a buck private or a sergeant or an ensign in a World War II movie. It’s the same kind of name as Muldoon, and Clooney has never struck me as a guy with a meathead name. He’s a Mike Slattery, a Darren Schmidt, a David Fleming, a Hank Grant.
“On a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes,” the synopsis reads. “The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone — tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness.
“The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth…and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.”
One of them is going to die, I’m presuming. Clooney’s guy, probably.
“The Artist has taken the lead in this year’s Best Picture race, according to the Gurus of Gold and Gold Derby handicappers,” a spiritually resigned Sasha Stone wrote yesterday morning on Awards Daily. “There is always that point in the year when you just know. And there is no stopping this movie. If there were any doubts before, there are no doubts now.”
Like any half-attuned, half-perceptive film lover out there, Stone knows that The Artist isn’t necessarily the best of anything. It’s the leading cave-in consensus choice among the under-inspired and easily led. It’s the easiest film to vote for if you take comfort, as most do, from the warmth of a crowd. And Stone, I believe, knows whereof she speaks. She lives and breathes and calculates the Oscar race like no other (certainly well beyond what I’m capable of) and when she throws in the towel, I listen.
“As an Oscar watcher this year, since my heart was pulled from my chest and stomped all over last year, I have to just shut down this year and play it as it lays,” Stone wrote.
The majority surely senses or suspects that The Artist is all about re-creation, backward visitation and reflective surfaces, but they’re down with that. They love the silvery sheen and the novelty and the showboat charm. The fact that it possesses and radiates nothing that is truly its own doesn’t bother them — it stirs heartfelt applause. A film that provides a nice pleasant time…yes!
I’m reminded of a line from Glengarry Glen Ross in which a real-estate salesman tells a colleague that an older couple “imperceptibly slumped” toward the end of a sales call. That’s what’s happening right now. The slump is in and the argument is over, and for people like me that’s unfortunate.
I don’t live for the Oscars but for the season, and particularly the various skirmishes in this and that category. Debating which film truly deserves to win Best Picture has always been a fun diversion. And now, weeks before the nominations and more than two months before the Oscar telecast, that debate has come to an end. Terrific. Pass the pretzels.
“My basic impression is that The Artist is a very well-done curio — an experiment in reviving a bygone era and mood by way of silent-film expression,” I wrote seven months ago from Cannes. “Is it a full-bodied motion picture with its own voice and voltage — a film that stands on its own? Not quite. But it’s a highly diverting, sometimes stirring thing to sit through, and the overall HE verdict is a thumbs-up.
“The Artist has been very carefully assembled, but chops-wise it’s not strictly a revisiting of silent-film era language. It visually plays like a kind of ersatz silent film — technically correct in some respects but with a 2011 sensibility in other ways. It has a jaunty, sometimes jokey tone in the beginning, and then it gradually shifts into drama and then melodrama. But it tries hard and does enough things right that the overall residue is one of satisfaction and a job well done.”
I wrote this while sitting on a stool inside the Orange press room, an hour or so after the first Artist screening in the Grand Lumiere. It never crossed my mind that I’d just reviewed the Best Picture Oscar winner for 2011. I doubt that it occured to anyone.
Is there any more tiresome expression in the English language than “whatever”? I’m sincerely sorry to be thinking this right now. My imperceptibly slumping congratulations are hereby offered to the Weinstein Co. publicists and particularly to Harvey Weinstein himself. By any sporting standard they played the game well.
Once more with feeling, HE’s 10 Best of 2011 (in this order): Moneyball, A Separation, The Descendants, Miss Bala, Drive, Contagion, Win Win, Tyrannosaur, The Tree of Life and In The Land of Blood and Honey.