Saturday, October 18, 2008

< the sum of its parts

Last night I saw the Coen bros.' latest outing, Burn After Reading, which was a decent way to spend a couple of hours, but did not feel like a worthwhile way to spend $15 (even after a student discount!). Before I get into the movie itself, I have to digress briefly in re: the movie going experience.

I enjoy going to the movie theater solo. I don't know why some people view it as some sort of antisocial defeat, as seeing a movie is usually not a team exercise, except for those enhanced by audience reactions (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Snakes on a Plane, or even comedies like Zoolander). The majority of movies that I see are able to be judged based on individual reactions, and are meant to stand alone without the help of callbacks and props. The theater I went to was very nice and clean, with big plush seats, little tables for drinks and snacks, and plenty of legroom. I often take for granted the fact that going to movie theaters in L.A. is a unique experience, except that my usual theater in Burbank has signs everywhere reading, "Where the People Who Make the Movies, See the Movies." The projections are clear, the screens are up-to-date, it's lovely. Also, in the U.S. we can sit wherever we want. Here in Australia (and in England and Thailand, I know for sure), the seats are assigned, which is so obnoxious to me. Honestly, it just seems like such a waste of effort. Anyway, I ended up sitting next to a woman who chewed with her mouth open, whose food smelled like a diaper bag, who leaned over to me 10 minutes in and said "Boy this movie's boring!" and then laughed continuously until the credits rolled, even when everyone else was silent. If I could have picked my own seat, I would have been able to avoid this! [/rant]

Onto the film itself. I had heard that the movie would be Seinfeldian, with a lot of slow plot movement punctuated by sudden bursts of energy, and I'm glad I knew to expect that since the trailers and ads made it seem far more rollicking than it was. I guess this was an experience in which I appreciated many small aspects of the movie, but I could not really discern the point of the movie at all. One thing in particular confused me — the music cues built up huge amounts of tension and then diffused for no reason, which led me to believe that the movie is a satirical send-up of the spy genre. J.K. Simmons' small role in particular confirmed this suspicion for me, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Coens' said that there was some other purpose to the movie.

The performances were somewhat cartoonish, but fit the tone of the film, and the cast roster would be impressive in everything. I loves me some crazy Tilda Swinton (who doesn't?) and John Malkovich (looking creepier and creepier as he ages) cursing a blue streak, as well as Frances McDormand, who I would watch opening a jar of pickles for entertainment. George Clooney was, for the first time in my opinion, good-looking and vibrant in his role. What can I say, he's got monkeyface (the beard helps though) and I always think of him as the handyman from The Facts of Life.

And Brad Pitt. I have had a hard time figuring out how I feel about him for a long time as he is the epitome of overrated in the looks department (king of monkeyface, f'real), and a lot of the time I feel like he's trying too hard to be taken seriously. But he is an excellent comedic actor, and I've always loved him in roles like this one. He really did a lot with small facial movements and vocal tics and was the standout actor to me, which is saying a whole lot given his castmates.

The violence was humorous, and somehow those scenes had more levity than the ones where a couple of characters were simply talking. The direction and camerawork was incredibly impressive, as everything seemed very static but was punctuated from time to time with quick pans in tight spaces or sudden cuts to dutch angles (signalling that something is amiss!). Since some of the scenes were pretty boring, I found myself marvelling at the great costuming and set design. For example, when Katie is meeting with her lawyer, her blouse is the same print as his pocket square! Probably the best gag throughout the movie (except for the obvious one of Clooney's character's sex life which felt silly and coke-fueled) is that the MacGuffin is actually pointless – very postmodern, "foregrounding the apparatus."

It's not really worth watching, but there's not too much else in theaters right now that I'm interested in, and I love going to the movies. For certain, it reminded me how much I love Richard Jenkins (Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. from Six Feet Under), and that I should see The Visitor as soon as it's on DVD. Most people ardently love or hate the Coens but I am somewhere in the middle. I think that Raising Arizona and Fargo are modern classics, and I quite enjoyed O Brother, Where Art Thou? but The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and this film were just...alright to me. I didn't love or hate them. I still think you have to be stoned to enjoy The Big Lebowski so maybe that's why I didn't get it or care for it much, but who knows. I do want to see The Hudsucker Proxy before long, so we'll see which category that one falls into.

I know this was a really ambivalent review. Sorry.

1 comment:

fergusnoodle said...

I have never been to a movie theatre with assigned seating!