Movies

Two Roads Diverged

The fates of the stars of 1964's The World of Henry Orient say much about the decade in which they came of age.

You already know that this a good year for big-league 50th anniversaries, from Beatlemania's advent to the first Civil Rights Act with any balls to speak of. So before April comes, let me draw your attention to a distinctly minor milestone: the premiere of The World of Henry Orient on March 19, 1964.

An Iraq War Satire with a French Twist

The French Minister

The French aren't famous for mocking their own vanities, which is why the new movie The French Minister—retitled from Quai D'Orsay, the metonymic equivalent of "Foggy Bottom"—would probably have Charles de Gaulle rolling in his formidable grave. Thierry Lhermitte plays a foppish, dizzyingly self-regarding Foreign Minister named Alexandre Taillard de Vorms—a blatant parody of Jacques Chirac's foppish, dizzyingly self-regarding top diplomat, Dominique de Villepin, best known on this side of the Atlantic for his 2003 U.N. speech denouncing George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. Call him the father of "Freedom Fries," since that absurd renaming on Capitol Hill menus was pretty much the major consequence of his stand.

No Fear of Flying

AP Images/Kathy Willens

I was terrified for the first 15 minutes of watching Born to Fly. Okay, maybe for closer to 30 minutes. For much of the documentary film by Emmy-nominated director Catherine Gund, you watch dancers with the STREB dance company fling their bodies across the stage, landing loudly on their backs or stomachs with hard thuds. They leap around giant iron beams and slam against hard plastic screens. Thanks to beautiful cinematography from Albert Mayles, who’s made 36 films and helped create the narrative nonfiction film genre, you feel the height in every jump and the fragility in the bodies moving fast through time and space.

The Magnificent Anderson

Yes, Wes Anderson’s films are hyper-stylized, but they’re rich in meaning too. None more so than The Grand Budapest Hotel

AP Images/Martin Scali

Who could’ve predicted, when Wes Anderson first surfaced in 1996 with the caper comedy Bottle Rocket, that he would become the most polarizing director of his generation? The movie seemed, on paper at least, an artifact of the post-Tarantino indie boom in smirking gunplay and logorrheic dudes. In fact it was the vessel for a new sensibility, dry yet earnest, ironic without being cynical (well, someone grasped its magnitude: Martin Scorsese put it on his decade’s-best list). Rushmore followed, then The Royal Tenenbaums, and suddenly the sensibility swallowed the culture.

Sit and Wait for the Sadness

The Ozarks—land of hillbillies and a few vast modern fortunes—are the setting for recent literary thrillers.

Flickr/Cindy Darling

The Ozarks, a plateau carved by rivers and streams into what are generously called mountains, have always felt like their own American planet, jutting up from what should be uninterrupted plains. They cover the isolated southern half of Missouri and the northern half of Arkansas, an area that’s been largely left out of the national consciousness until now. It’s easy to date recent interest in the Ozarks to the 2010 movie Winter’s Bone, based on a novel by the same name, which received four Oscar nominations and launched Jennifer Lawrence’s film career. A meth-fueled mystery that followed Lawrence’s character as she tried to find her drug-dealer father and save her mother’s family’s land, the movie was treated by reviewers as more documentary than fiction, a portrayal of desperate poverty in a foreign patch of America. 

When Hollywood Went to War

In Five Came Back, Mark Harris takes a look at the directors who turned propaganda into high art.

Even though George W. Bush relished comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler, the mind boggles at imagining Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino all donning uniform for the duration to make films championing the Iraq war's righteousness. That their very approximate 1940s equivalents did just tha— generally for a fraction of their peacetime pay—is a trenchant reminder that World War II was different. How Frank Capra, John Ford, George Stevens, William Wyler, and John Huston's lives and careers were altered as a result is the subject of Mark Harris's first-rate Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War (Penguin, $29.95). 

As Good As It Gets for Oscar

AP Images/Jordan Strauss

By now everyone knows that—as my colleague Tom Carson pointed out last week—Oscar history is strewn with verdicts so absurd as to legitimately raise the question of why anyone cares, unless you find the Academy Awards irresistible for the way they’ve become part of Hollywood lore.

Noah Goes Hollywood

Noah is obviously ready to bust some heads.

You may have seen previews for the upcoming big studio Hollywood production of Noah, which stars Russell Crowe as the famous biblical shipwright. As we learn from The Wire, Paramount Pictures, at the urging of the National Religious Broadcasters, has acted decisively to make sure that people don't get the misapprehension that the film is a literal retelling of the biblical story of Noah. For instance, in the biblical story, God has not only all the best lines, he has all the lines. Noah never says a thing, nor does anyone else, but as you can see from the trailer, this film is full of people talking. Discrepancies like that could cause mass panic, so the studio will be adding this statement to all the film's promotional materials:

"The film is inspired by the story of Noah.

While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.

The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."

Phew! Now that we have that cleared up, I thought as a public service I'd detail a few more things in the film that aren't taken directly from the Old Testament:

The Oscars? Let's Grouch

AP Images/DAVE CAULKIN

Picture a caravan of Edsels charging at you with tuxedoed dodos behind every wheel. You've now got some idea of how most movie fans under, oh, 40 or so apparently feel about the Oscars, and who can blame them? Not me. Hitting rock bottom—well, let's hope so—with the recruitment of jackass-of-all-trades Seth McFarlane as last year's host, the Academy's frantic attempts to rejuvenate the proceedings are based on a faulty premise. Really, the problem isn't—or isn't only, anyway—that the show and/or the nominees aren't hip enough to lure an audience not dependent on Depends and revitalized by Viagra. So far as I can tell, the kiddies are increasingly unbedazzled by the ceremony's purpose, a rather more fatal drawback.

Ashes to Ashes—The 3D Edition

When you buy a ticket to a movie called Pompeii, expecting art or even brains would be fatuous; what you want is a good time. Sue me for confessing I had one. 

AP Images/FEREX

Is Pompeii worth two hours of any sentient adult's time? It's definitely a waste of your hard-earned leisure cash, but that's not quite the same question. I don't know what sort of value you put on your time when you're in a mood to savor dumbness so unalloyed it's like a throwback to the dawn of cheesy movies.

A Monumental Failure

Honestly, who on earth thought George Clooney's The Monuments Men was a good idea for a movie? 

AP Images/Sony Pictures Publicity

I'm not sure what could turn George Clooney into a good movie director, but he could start by curing himself of wanting to be well thought of. In front of a camera, he's all suave effrontery, but plunk him down behind one and his cockiness goes out the window. Since Clooney minus his cockiness is the approximate equivalent of Joe Biden with laryngitis, you find yourself wondering which long-gone high-school teacher he's wanly hoping to impress.

Campaigns and the Human Condition

An image from "Mitt," taken at the moment when Mitt Romney realized he had lost the 2012 election.

Over the weekend I watched the Netflix documentary "Mitt," and true to its billing, it humanized Mitt Romney to an extraordinary degree. That's not all that surprising, given that the film was directed by a filmmaker who is friendly with the Romney family and obviously sought to give a behind-the-scenes view of the campaigns (it covered both the 2008 and 2012 races) that portrayed Romney in the best possible light. But in humanizing Romney, it did an excellent job of illuminating just how artificial all campaigns necessarily are.

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole of NYC’s Lena Dunham Obsession

Vogue Magazine

Just as twentysomethings aren’t the ones writing about millennials (that would be Ross Douthat), Lena Dunham’s contemporaries aren’t the demographic that considers Girls its television muse. No, that would be over-twentysomething men, who make up over 20 percent of the show’s viewership and a perhaps even healthier percentage of the bylines featuring name drops of Dunham in the New York media (this would also be Ross Douthat). Everyone who’s been having heart palpitations over Hannah Horvath’s desire to be a voice of a generation seems to have missed the New York old guard’s intention of making her the voice of the whole damn city.

Why Are So Many People Still Protective of Woody Allen?

AP Images/Chris Pizzello

They may be a big deal these days—the prelude to the Oscars, like that's something to brag about—but some of us remain secure in our knowledge that the Golden Globes are a joke. Not the judgment by one's presumably qualified peers that gives the Academy Awards their claim on validity, the Globes aren't the verdict of particularly qualified critics either; the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which bestows them, is notoriously a pack of nonentities. All in all, the GG's might as well have been named for the late, great Anna Nicole Smith's not-found-in-nature gazongas.

Pope Francis's "Cardinal" Rules

Thinking about Otto Preminger's film 50 years later in the context of Pope Francis.

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

What to make of last year's onslaught of Francismania? Like the sucker for pop-culture phenomenons I am, I haven't enjoyed anything so much since the Harry Potter books took off. As a veteran secular humanist, I can't help feeling some simpatico with the killjoys striving to remind us that the first Pope in memory to rate an affectionate New Yorker cover still presides over an essentially reactionary organization whose core doctrines haven't changed. But all the same, screw it: they're messing with everybody else's good time. Those of us without a dogma in this hunt just dig waiting for Pope Frank's next Bob Newhart-ish "He said that??" surprise, even as we relish the consternation he's provoked in everybody from Rush Limbaugh—"pure Marxism," the great man flatulated—to Home Depot founder Ken Langone, who fretted that Francis doesn't understand how good rich Americans are. Cardinal Timothy Dolan had to reassure Langone that the latest Pontiff does indeed love his flock's gazillionaires.

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