Monday, January 02, 2006

Two bites from the Big Apple

If this was the last time I get to close out the year with a week in the greatest city on Earth, I definitely went out on top. As my usually indulgent boss Oby Brown pointed out, it's a little selfish to expect to get the last week of every year off, and I couldn't come up with a rational argument to refute that.

Along with getting to hang out with my parents and brother, a week in NYC for me is about four things: Museums, music, meals and, most of all, movies. Here are reviews of two highlights which should be coming to Macon soon.

The Squid and the Whale

Noah Baumbach's autobiographical tale about the implosion of his parents' marriage is a sad tale spiked with just enough humor and humanity to make it a small classic.

When your parents are Brooklyn College professor and semi-acclaimed writer Jonathan Baumbach and Village Voice film critic Georgia Brown, there's bound to be a little ego in the room, which Noah Baumbach exploits to the max.

Jeff Daniels as the pater familias is as good as I can remember him being in an already long career. He is blissfully unaware of how he has ignored his children's rather obvious problems. Watching him fight for a parking space in the family's Park Slope neighborhood as if it was the most important thing in the world is as funny as it is frustrating. Already christened by the Hollywood foreign press with a Golden Globe nomination for best actor, expect to hear his name on Oscar night too.

But the beauty of "The Squid and the Whale" is it's ensemble appeal. Laura Linney is adequately embattled as a woman whose serial affairs have robbed her of any ability to communicate with her children. As the older son Walt, Jesse Eisenberg gets to run with the year's best joke about a Pink Floyd song or just about any other subject, and young Owen Kline is charming as Frank, who has more problems than any child star since Drew Barrymore.

Although the family collapse is painful to watch at times, expect no "Kramer Vs. Kramer"-style histrionics. It's never mawkish or maudlin, just surprisingly intimate and real. How it attracted so much attention from the Golden Globe folks (also nabbing a best picture nomination, among others), I don't know, but I do agree. Next to "Pride & Prejudice," it's the best movie I've seen this year.


I was looking forward to this one more than any other movie this year except "King Kong," so I guess I should be happy with being only mildy disappointed.

Going as only he can from popcorn to politics, Steven Spielberg follows up his take on "War of the Worlds" this summer with an ambitious look at the terrorist act that tore apart the 1972 Munich Olympics and how Israel reacted to it.

To track down the identified members of the Black September unit that killed11 Israeli athletes (with an unforgivably incompetent - and I still suspect intentional - assist from the German government), Eric Bana leads a troubled team of assassins commissioned by Golda Meir. He's a wise choice and up to the task. You can see the increasing futility of his mission played out on his face.

As the team sets out on its gruesome task, the movie has the look and feel of the best '70s thrillers, most notably Kubrick's "The Conversation." They are methodical and meticulous, and it's a tense ride. Daniel Craig, the next James Bond, and the always reliable Ciaran Hinds ("Persuasion" and any number of Masterpiece Theatre appearances) stand out in Bana's band of assassins.

Like the best movies about the past, Spielberg has more to say about today's bloody mess than he does about Munich and its aftermath. For Spielberg, the endless violence-begets-violence cycle created by terrorism and our response to it is a zero sum game, a point he drives home here with all the tricks in his bag.

He's at the top of his game here, and my only real beef is that the movie is at least 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, with the multiple-endings syndrome that almost sunk Peter Jackson's "Return of the King." As Geoffrey Rush points out as Bana's handler, "There's no peace in this," and there also doesn't need to be any kind of neat resolution.

1 comment:

Thisishollywood said...

I find it quite interesting. It is a movie which will be remembered through the ages for its bravery. The performance by Heath Ledger will smother you with a lot of pain but yet leave you waiting for his next. Michelle Wiliams as his wife is so understanding which makes her performance futile. This movie is a winner by heart and a masterpiece for the thought which went into making it.