February Foreign Film Festival

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[Apologies for the lateness of the post. I’ve been fairly preoccupied this month…]

To try and shore up an area where I’ve been almost criminally negligent, I dedicated February to foreign films, ones that were largely chosen at random. Almost all of them were terrific, and admittedly, a little safe. But you have to crawl before you can walk. Most importantly, all of them were tremendous entertainment and most of them carried a considerable impact. Consider my appetite seriously whetted for more.

Here we go:

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Noir September: Night Moves (1975)/The Long Goodbye (1973)

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Ellen Moseby: [of a football game] Who’s winning?

Harry Moseby: Nobody. One side is just losing slower than the other.

 

Harry Moseby cracks wise all through Night Moves. That Gene Hackman grin is always at the ready, defusing tight situations. But Harry is an angry man. You see flashes of it, when he’s pushed too far—or when he feels cuckolded. He used to channel that anger into football. But that’s gone. Now he seems like a man who doesn’t know where to put it or what to do with it. His life isn’t working out and he knows it. People, including those he trusts most, let him down. Beneath his sardonic patter, he’s an optimist. He wants to believe in the better aspects of human nature. He might even be a romantic. Why else would he cling to the quixotic fantasy of being a private eye on his own? “Take a swing at me, Harry,” his wife’s lover tells him. “Like Sam Spade would.”

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Mad Men: Truth in Advertising

 

Note: Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the entire sixth season of Mad Men.

Great television spoils us. And even worse, even as it raises our expectations for what serialized drama can be, we quickly employ our newly evolved standards against the very thing that inspired us. This is, naturally, what has happened with Mad Men. After five knockout seasons, it seemed more viewers were on patrol for a decline in quality than were actually enjoying the vicissitudes of the sixth season.

I’ll confess to occasionally being one of them. There were times when it seemed the series lacked the same tug on me that earlier seasons had—I put off watching it at times; I wasn’t sure I was missing anything. Most of the criticism stayed locked on Jon Hamm’s Don Draper. Hadn’t we indeed seen this movie before? The drunkenness, the philandering, the flashbacks and the fantasy sequences. He seemed trapped on a treadmill to nowhere. Other characters seemed to be suffering the same fate, quippy Roger, unlikeable Pete, vexed Peggy. Had the show overstayed its welcome like an articulate but ultimately exhausting party guest, someone who hours ago sounded insightful but now simply tries the patience?

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BP Double Feature: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)/ Elizabethtown (2005)

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We want certain things from a romantic comedy; there are requirements. Number one being, naturally, that the couple in question gets together in the end. Given that the film’s resolution is preordained, the challenge is, as it has been since the days of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, remains how to keep the journey engaging. Some movies, like Annie Hall (1977), subvert the format. Others, such as When Harry Met Sally (1989), embrace it, counting on sharp writing and distinct performances to distract viewers from the creaky plot mechanics.

Oscar-nominated The Silver Linings Playbook seems like it wants to fall within the first category, but in reality, belongs squarely in the second.

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Accessories After the Fact: Zero Dark Thirty

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In defending her masterwork, Zero Dark Thirty, at an event in Washington earlier this month, Kathryn Bigelow spoke of wanting to detail the “complexities” and “ambiguities” of the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. Her screenwriter, Mark Boal, argued that the director gets grief because she operates from a “subjective” point of view, rather than an “omniscient one.”

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