Archive for November, 2010

Half-Assing It & Full-Assing It

November 30, 2010

Last night I watched Juan José Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes, partly because it sounded intriguing, partly because I wanted to see the movie which beat out both A Prophet and The White Ribbon for the foreign-language Oscar. It’s one of those movies where a character becomes obsessed with chasing a rapist-killer to escape the void that is his life, and his learning how to let go of the case tracks with his ability to open up to another human being—in other words, thhpfft! (Comes complete with a head-to-toe view of the victim’s battered nude body, artfully spreadeagled for our delectation.) Smack in the middle of an otherwise very conventional movie, we get this freakshow of a shot (slightly accelerated here, the actors don’t really sound like they’ve been huffing helium):

Robert Frost once compared writing free verse to playing tennis with the net down, an equation I’d find odious coming from anyone less than the author of “After Apple-Picking”, but the shoe certainly fits here. The phony kineticism of a shot which the mind recognizes is physically impossible even as it’s taking place, and which isn’t just created but can be endlessly toyed with and corrected in a computer, makes a poor substitute for, say, the 400 timed camera moves, and the perfection necessary from cast and crew alike, that went into the Copacabana shot in Goodfellas.

While I’m at it, I may as well mention how badly I’ve wanted to write about Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, a movie which affects me more like music than a film, and which hit me harder than any movie I’ve seen in—hell, I dunno—a year at least. It opens with the light of the world being diced and obscured by a thickening hatchwork of fencing and bars, as all normal life is stripped away from an illiterate French Arab teenager who’s entering prison for hitting a cop, and ends with his release a few years later, when he’s grown into a young man with a radically altered position on the food chain. The unsentimental education that he receives in between these two moments—moments so cleanly defined you could set an atomic clock by them—is a detailed, demanding process, and we’re made to feel his years behind bars so completely it’s as if we’re experiencing every second of them. Grim as it is, A Prophet exhilarated me, and fills me with joy. Audiard brings a really dense conception of characterization to his heroes, both here and in his earlier films, A Self-Made Hero and the great The Beat That My Heart Skipped, yet what plays smoothly on the surface comes at you in jags and angles afterward.

on the verge

November 22, 2010

Hitting ’em Where They Ain’t

November 2, 2010

As of this writing the San Francisco Giants are the baseball champions “of the world”, which means that there is not a single nine-man squad on the entirety of the planet which is capable of beating them. It also means that a rather large monkey is finally off my back. Rooting for the Astros and the Giants over the course of my adult life has been an exercise in two things, futility and heartbreak, and I get plenty of that from my love-life, thanks. For decades the Astros were one of baseball’s sad-sack asterisk teams: participants in two of the great league division championship series of all time (’80 and ’86), they lost both in agonizing fashion, and when they did finally reach the World Series in 2005, they were asphyxiated and left for dead by the nine-minute wonder Chicago White Sox. Meanwhile, the Giants made it to the World Series in ’89, only to be overshadowed by the Loma Prieta earthquake and the Oakland A’s, and when they made it back in 2002, they couldn’t hang onto the late five-run lead that would’ve given them the trophy. (Now, that was brutal.)

So who needs it, right? I’d basically checked out on baseball, partly because I was tired of the disappointment and mortification, but also because the constant shuffling of free-agents made me feel like I was rooting for corporate flavors, and because I’d grown weary of following the achievements of people who I don’t know and probably wouldn’t like much if I did. This year’s Giants club snuck up on me, though—in fact, they snuck up on the world. A team of misfits and castoffs, as the press keeps reminding us, but with a staff of homegrown starters and a cross-eyed closer who signals his thanks to Zardoz after getting the final out, the whole pack of them is impressively aware of the Giants’ long drought. (The team’s last championship came in 1954—the year I was born, for crying out loud—when it was still located in Harlem.) A lot of the already heavily-qualified pleasure of the A’s success in the ’90s was undercut by the personalities involved—Tony La Russa, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire being pretty damn far from my idea of heroic material—and it wasn’t much easier to cheer on Barry Bonds in 2002. Whatever his gifts as a player, Bonds was never relatable as a man.

That isn’t a problem with the current Giants, whose acknowledged leader is a 26 year old pot-smoking longhair. Timothy Leroy Lincecum is pretty far out of the mainstream, as they say, and that’s an especially pleasing look on a public idol today of all days. Even as I write this millions of people are donning their tricorn hats, shoulder holsters, and chastity belts, and lining up to refudiate that elitist Kenyan conman in the White House. It was only two years ago we were all singing “Hey, hey, I saved the world today” in a classic underestimation of the American people’s capacity for self-willed ruination, and whatever blows befall us at the polls are sure to be magnified when the media runs down “what it all means” in the aftermath. Ah, well…One monkey off and another back on.

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