Inception – 4

An attempt at mind-bending with convoluted plot and visual pyrotechnics, Inception winds up a silly movie that makes no sense on any of its purported four levels. While that is not unusual in Holllywood films today and could be somewhat forgiven if the acting were enjoyable, Christopher Nolan’s movie also suffers from horrid miscasting and bad performances all around. Leonardo DiCaprio, indistinguishable from his role in Shutter Island remains a mysterious movie star to me: he poses rather than acts and conveys no depth in the only character that even purports to be a character. The others are unengaging cardboard cutouts. How did the foreign Marian Cotillard get to be Cobb’s wife? How did Ellen Page, who seems to have wandered in from some different Hollywood universe, get to be a spatial-design genius? Is there supposed to be chemistry between her and one of the male leads? Michael Caine gets to be Michael Caine. Etc. The dialogue, instead of developing personalities or engendering emotions, is strictly used to explain the plot’s alternate universe, and it sounds more like an instructional manual than real people talking. And for action scenes, Nolan falls back on my pet peeve of action movies: dozens of bad guys, all professional killers, spray machine gun fire at our heroes and hit no one, while the good guys, who are chemists, businessmen, architects and visionaries, use pistols and rifles and never seem to miss. And does it bother anyone else that half the time the Japanese character is called “Say-toe” and the other half “Sigh-toe”?

Winter’s Bone – 8

The milieu is the costar of this story of a heroic 17-year-old girl’s fight to save her family’s home from the bail bondsman. It’s remarkable that director Debra Granik could find so many scrungy-looking hillbillies who could act so naturally. The people live by their own moral code, but they also raise livestock, cook, sing country music and have convincing lives while cooking meth in the background. Jennifer Lawrence is simply sensational as the heroine. Her role is eerily reminiscent of Melissa Leo’s in Frozen River. This movie is just as bleak: it may have been filmed in color, but all my images from it are strictly black-and-white. Maybe this depiction of the deep Ozarks is not as real as it seemed. Then again, I wouldn’t have believed that Senatorial candidates in Mississippi this month (or is it gubernatorial candidates in Alabama?) have had to swear their belief in the literal truth of the Bible.

Theater: A View from the Bridge

The contrast, on back-to-back nights, between Donald Margulies’ new play, Time Stands Still, and a revival of the Arthur Miller chestnut, A View from the Bridge, made me reflect that a golden age of drama, like the Greeks experienced or like the Rodgers and Hammerstein era of the musical, has passed. Margulies’ work was facile and shallow, presenting issues and emotions scattershot, at sound-bite length; while Miller set a simple table and let it play out at length, without diversion, into tragedy.
Both plays were set in a Brooklyn living room; both were animated by an arrival from overseas; and, for my purposes, both starred actors famous from film (viz. Scarlett Johannson and Laura Linney). Maybe because the 1950s were a simpler time, it was easier to write a play with timeless punch. The inclusion of lawyer Alfieri in the role of Greek chorus added as well to the timelessness of the play. More likely, it is Miller’s brilliance as a dramatist that has not been replicated. I think of Tom Stoppard as a living author whose work may still be shown fifty years hence. No one else.
And after paying $117 plus Ticketron charge for the evening, I am reminded again how superior a value a good movie is.

Wild Grass – 4

This movie signifies the decline of French civilization, or French cinema, or the career of Alain Resnais. Or maybe, as other reviewers claim, it is a masterpiece. To me, nothing made sense. Unlike Marienbad, where inscrutability created a mood and fomented ratiocinization, here the musical score was unduly portentous and the characters left me cold. I searched reviews to understand the ending, but of course reviews have an excuse for ducking that point. I did find Anne Consigny quite attractive.

Get Him to the Greek – 7.8

A pitch-perfect sendup of the music business, school of Spinal Tap. Numerous laugh-out-loud scenes mixed with man-love, gross sex, and nebbishy boy-girl love – the Judd Apatow formula that I’m a sucker for. Sean Combs was a revelation – give that man an Oscar! – while Russell Brand and Jonah Hill were brilliant. (How did Jonah Hill become the leading man of the moment?) Only the excess of a crockery fight in Las Vegas marred my enjoyment.

I Am Love – 6.5

A bizarre movie, Italian-style. There were shades of Antonioni and Visconti’s The Leopard, with Tilda Swinton as a blonde Russian fitting in or not. Based on the title, I was expecting a moral about love; but love seemed to go in every direction, based on which characters you considered. The director cut away from each scene before it finished, which led to the impression that he cared more for impression, and fashion, and Italianness than making a gripping story.