On Greenberg (2010) and Mad Men

Ben Stiller gets his sweater on in Greenberg.

Directed by Noah Baumbach

Written by Noah Baumbach, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Starring Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans

Something dawned on me as I watched the opening credits to Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a film about normal human beings.

The credits, which run over “Jet Airliner” by the Steve Miller Band, seem to be deliberately evocative of a movie from the 1970s, when story and plot mattered less than it does now and when movies were unafraid to take their time, even meander.

We’re literally witness one of the lead characters in the film, Florence (played with great vulnerability and unintentional sexuality by Greta Gerwig) run errands. It couldn’t have been a more pedestrian start to a film.

That’s what Baumbach (director of the searing The Squid and the Whale (2005)—which haunted me for days) accomplishes so winningly in Greenberg. Florence and the film’s eponymous protagonist, Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) have the feel of reality, which is to say they reek of disappointment. Continue reading


BP Saturday Night Movie: One Step Behind (2008)

Driving is one activity that forces us to look in the mirror.

Kenneth Branagh’s shambling version of Hanning Menkel’s Swedish cop is what drove all three smart and handsomely produced BBC productions of Menkel’s crime novels.

Melancholy suffuses all of the films, but it seems especially prevalent here, with Wallander seemingly too old, too distracted, too dulled to catch a murderer in his Swedish oceanside community.

I like to see this Branagh as the flip side of the character he played in his film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing (1993).* He was young, handsome, and filled with brio, content to trade barbed witticisms with Emma Thompson in sun-dappled Tuscany as the day is long.

Now the day seems very close to night, Thompson is a distant memory (they were married for more than a decade) and Branagh is slogging through BBC made-for-TV movies.

Of course, I’m projecting. The real Branagh is re-married and is directing the Marvel big-budget Thor, so he appears to be fine. Kurt Wallander, however, is another story, one that Branagh effectively portrays. It’s an affecting performance; he’s a caring, troubled man, weighed down by a heavy heart.

The film has much to suggest about the way we alienate ourselves from our lives through the lure of work.  It surrenders to some serious genre cliches late in the game, however. (It also rather apes the plot of 1986’s Manhunter, the first Hannibal Lector film.)

Branagh has appeared in the thrillers before. He’s well remembered for his turn, with Thompson, in the Hitchockian Dead Again. But fewer viewers might remember Robert Altman’s compelling (if a bit by-the-numbers) The Gingerbread Man from 1998, which seems to be rather reviled on imdb.

* Why was Keanu Reeves in that movie again?

Revisiting That Famous Final Scene

I have spent/wasted half the afternoon reading what is literally a 20,000 word essay on interpreting the final few minutes of the last episode of The Sopranos.

And you know what? it’s convinced me. I’ve changed my mind. Via con Dios, Tony. Or in your case, Via con el diablo.

I can’t believe it’s been three years since the end of the greatest show in television history.

Even better, the debate over the last episode rages on, which is a tribute to the vision of David Chase.

Thought for the Day (from Hank Moody)

Replaying Season 1 of Californication, gearing up to screen Season 2…..

Hank Moody: Just the fact that people seem to be getting dumber and dumber, you know? I mean we have all this amazing technology and yet computers have turned into basically 4 figure wank machines. The internet was supposed to set us free, democratise us but all it’s really given us is Howard Dean’s aborted candidacy and 24 hour a day access to kiddie porn. You know, people …. they don’t write anymore, they blog; instead of talking they text, no punctuation, no grammar, LOL this and LMFAO that. You know, it just seems to me that it’s just a bunch of stupid people pseudo- communicating with a bunch of other stupid people in a protolanguage that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than the King’s English.”

Rollins: Yet you’re part of the problem. I mean, you’re out there blogging with the best of them

Hank: Hence my self-loathing.

Californication: A true male fantasy

Spent the last two weeks getting caught up on the David Duchovny vehicle Californication.

Other than the story of a sardonic, haggered, seen-better-days writer now maddeningly single with a precocious daughter, I really don’t see what it has to do with me.

I like the show. Really. Some of the lines made me laugh aloud, which is rare for any show. And of course I’m the sucker for the Flawed Hero. Don’t we all see ourselves in the stories we choose?

Here are the basics. Duchovny is Hank Moody, once considerered an up-and-coming novelist (the backstory is that he once drew the attention of Bret Easton Ellis. Make of that what you will) sold out and moved to Hollywood once his book “God Hates Us All” is turned into a movie renamed “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and starring “Tom and Katie.” (Can’t help but think edgy novelist Rick Moody was the inspiration  — for the name at least.)

Moody does the full LA and ends up an arrogant prick. So much so that his longtime girlfriend, and the mother of his daughter, takes up with another man and leaves him stone cold. He still loves her, of course, and much of the series observes his half-hearted attempts to woo her, even as she prepares to marry the ever-stiff Bill.

Most of the time, Hank medicates himself with whiskey and women and much of the show’s titillation comes from the sex scenes and the locker room talk. But you don’t have to watch the series long to realize that the creators are much more interested in the question of whether rehabilitation is truly possible. Whether once you lie down with dogs (so to speak, don’t come after me, McCain campaign), can you ever pull yourself up and be normal, functioning member of society? Can you be a good father? It’s like what they always say about the homeless. Once they’re out on the street for too long, you can’t pull them back. Continue reading