April 2007 Archives

Globally grim: Brad Pitt in 'Babel'Why is it that the skillfully made and human Babel doesn’t resonate more, and feel more honest and rich?

Its blunt-instrument trailer aside, the movie from director/co-scenarist Alejandro González Iñárritu is sensitive and restrained, letting its four loosely related stories stand largely independent of each other and never forcing additional connections between them. The movie is never maudlin, its performances and individual plot strands are credible and involving, and the character of a deaf Japanese teenager is written and performed with an alarming authenticity as it moves toward literal and emotional nakedness.

Yet as well crafted as Babel is — a huge improvement over the director’s unnecessarily convoluted 21 Grams — there’s something off about it.

So now we get to the inevitable hand-wringing about violence in the media, in this case trying to tie the Virginia Tech massacre to Oldboy:

“The inspiration for perhaps the most inexplicable image in the set that Cho Seung-Hui mailed to NBC news on Monday may be a movie from South Korea that won the Gran [sic] Prix prize at Cannes Film Festival in 2004.”

The link is tenuous, and the assertion is utterly ridiculous. As Bob Cesca mocked:

“The lead character in Oldboy is Asian, which is weird and freaky because Oldboy is an Asian film and there are rarely any Asians in Asian movies. And ... the character appears to be grasping a hammer in the movie.”

But let’s say for the sake of argument that we found definitive proof that Cho Seung-Hui believed himself to be something akin to Oldboy’s protagonist. So what? All we’re doing by making that connection is adding obfuscation to what is already difficult to fathom: the unmotivated murders of more than 30 people.

Three days after the event, it seems increasingly clear that the shootings were the actions of a person with serious mental illness. Movies have nothing to do with it.

Simple Is Not Easy

Carrie Newcomer: 'The diner people weren't done with me'Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer tells about a friend who leads a group of people who knit for the local food bank. They’ll set up somewhere and knit with a sign that reads, “Knitting for the Food Bank.”

“People will come and talk to them,” Newcomer said in a phone interview last week. “Folks who might not maybe go up to someone on the corner and talk to somebody who has a sign will sit down with a group of women knitting and talk about the issue. ‘What’s happening with the food bank?’”

The lesson is that directness often isn’t the best way to reach people. “Sometimes our most powerful activism, our most potent activism, comes out of what we love,” she said.

Gene Hackman: Forever 'Misunderstood'Have you ever read or heard a discussion of a movie that made you think, They just don’t get it? Have you ever wondered, Am I the only person who saw the movie that way?

Culture Snob is hosting a forum for essays, arguments, and provocations on misunderstood movies. The blog-a-thon will run Wednesday, May 16, through Sunday, May 20, although I won’t turn my nose up at contributions that arrive before then.

The premise is that movies are marketed and evaluated coarsely and simplistically, and that they often contain a richness that’s never mined by critics and casual audiences. Films operate on many levels, and subtle motifs, buried symbols, and seemingly awkward filmmaking choices are sometimes the keys that unlock new meanings. Is E.T. really a sophisticated exploration of diaspora? If “Rosebud” is both a sled and a clitoris, what does Citizen Kane say about sexual development among boys? How does the story of Pinocchio inform The Fisher King?

Give me your rigorous readings, your idiosyncratic analysis, and your silly, half-baked ideas.

How Sexy Am I Now?

Woody Harrelson, looking unwell, in 'Natural Born Killers'Despite (and because of) its pedigree, Natural Born Killers is undoubtedly trashy, reveling in the killing spree of Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) and joyfully joining in the public and media fascination with mass murderers. And it’s an invigorating, brilliantly assembled movie celebrating the way that cinema can make the ugliest human behavior thrilling.