The Master – 4

The Star Tribune called this a “must-see for serious film lovers and a challenge for everyone else” – and here I thought all along that I was a serious film lover. For me, this was one pointless scene after another: the ‘Master’ rides a motorcycle on the desert salt flats – to what end? the ‘Master’ is arrested for owing money(!) – but money is never mentioned again; the Disciple beats a critic to a pulp (or kills him?) – but the police don’t seem to notice. Nothing seems to string together; it’s all, “here is another scene.” Joaquin Phoenix is amazing as a drunken psychotic, to be sure, but I don’t relate to, or particularly enjoy watching, drunken psychotics. The other half of the relationship – and if the movie is about anything, it is about this relationship – is an unconvincing Philip Seymour Hoffman, more teddy bear than charismatic cult leader. The one interesting character is the wife, played with icy steel by Amy Adams, but it is not her movie.

Searching for Sugar Man – 6.5

There was one heartwarming, tear-inducing moment in this documentary: when the obscure-everywhere-but-South-Africa folk singer Rodriguez makes a triumphant visit to Cape Town, 25 years after he is last heard of and presumed dead, and performs to an adoring, screaming sold-out crowd. The other virtue of the film lies in introducing us to the Dylanesque music of Rodriguez: the songs are all truncated, but we hear enough to make us, sort of, want to hear more. Rodriguez himself is presented as something of a Christ figure – a carpenter with no material possessions who helps the poor – although one wonders why there is no mention of the mother(s?) of his three daughters. Unfortunately, he is inarticulate, which is hard to square with the biting lyrics of his music, and I had an underlying confusion as to why a movie was being made in 2012 about a discovery in 1998.

Arbitrage – 6.5

It is very hard to make a convincing movie about corporate malfeasance or corruption. There are so many checks and balances and audits and committees. Richard Gere’s story in this Wall Streeter seem as implausible as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s bike-riding in Premium Rush. One, of course, is reminded of Bernie Madoff and Tom Petters, but I’m not sure I’d believe a truthful movie about their lives to be believable either. Another problem with Arbitrage was that the numbers simply didn’t add up: the deal to sell his company to Graydon Carter wasn’t going to resolve the situation. One knew, from early on, that Gere’s character was screwed, and the main goal of the movie seemed to be painting a portrait of a mogul in decline. It was pleasant fun so far as it went, but that wasn’t very far.

Dark Knight Rises – 7.7

Christian Bale is a convincing and compelling Batman in this superbly acted, directed and photographed (wish I’d seen it at IMAX) action brooder. Somehow the story races along on parallel tracks – one grounded in real-world actions and emotions, the other on a superhero plane – without letting you ponder or making you question this dichotomy. Despite having no end of technological marvels at their disposal, whenever Batman and his nemesis square off, they simply use their fists. And how delicious it is to have the evil force, applying the ultimate in government deregulation, named Bain! One continues to wonder how Marion Cotillard gets a visa to perform work perfectly suitable for an American, while Anne Hathaway elegantly and insouciantly steals every scene she is in, plus a few other things.

Nuit #1 – 7

For the first 15 minutes they take off their clothes, for the rest of the film they bare their souls. The conceit and the dialogue are very ’60s French, and I only caught on slowly that Quebec, not Marseille, was the location of the dingy apartment. I can’t say that anything profound or enlightening emerged from this one-night stand, but the movie’s effort at intimacy was hard-fought and honest. Mostly it was the simple beauty of Katherine DeLean that made our time spent together enjoyable.

Well-Digger’s Daughter – 8

How sweet, how innocent, how French! How could anyone with a heart, and nostalgia for simple life in the country before the war (WWI!), not melt at the love affair between the rich, but talented, boy and the poor, but sophisticated, girl. Actually, the love affair we had to take a bit on faith; what the movie showed more clearly, and in a way more movingly, was the struggle by the father to reconcile love for his daughter with the need to protect the honor of his family. And since Daniel Auteuil adapted the Marcel Pagnol story and directed the film, you understood that his performance as the father was a labor of love.