[A little more about Much Ado, Gatsby, Gravity, & Her]

Stephanie asked me to talk a little more about Her, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, & Much Ado, and then I got too long winded for the comment box. So I’m putting it here, a little informal, but you can pretend you’re eavesdropping.

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Much Ado About Nothing is fun, first of all. I saw it twice, first at the SIFF press screening, & second on the day I found out I was laid off, and it was the perfect distraction for that kind of a shitty day. Much Ado isn’t my favorite comedy (Twelfth Night, obviously, as if I could ever love best a comedy with no cross dressing), but it’s pretty high ranking, and I know the text pretty well. I also have some Opinions about it, like that in a modern update especially I’d like to see an older Beatrice & Benedick. Amy is basically the same age Emma was when she had the role, & she definitely made me forget she was too young.

It’s a no-budget, quick-shoot, Rolodex movie, and it shows. The music is terrible. Alexis is pure ham, and you do wind up spending time wondering who should have been Benedick. I haven’t worked out an answer yet. We need more screwball comedies on which to judge people. Thinking about stylized dialogue keeps taking me back to tv, & I just distracted myself thinking about Bradley Whitford, which is ridiculous, because he’d be just as hammy as Alexis. But it’d be pretty fun. Or this might be just because I watched nine episodes of Trophy Wife in the last 24 hours.

ANYWAY. Since it’s fast & friends, some stuff is great & some stuff isn’t. Great stuff other than Amy? A buncha boys: Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, & Reed Diamond. Also Nathan Fillion & Tom Lenk’s security goons — they’ve both watched way too many 70s buddy cop movies, a far more effective bit than whatever the hell Michael Keaton & crew were doing in the Branagh version. Story-wise, some things don’t age so well in the modern update, but making it clear B&B had a sexual relationship pre-film was a good call.

I’d love to see this quickie Shakespeare business become a Thing, though. Do Twelfth Night next, please. OH THEY COULD HAVE OLIVIA WILLIAMS AS OLIVIA. Please make this happen. OH. And J August Richards as Orsino! This is a thing I did not know I needed until RIGHT THIS MINUTE. Who’s our extended Whedonverse Viola, though? That’s a question for the room.

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The Great Gatsby is a mess. A great big beautiful *interesting* mess. Baz got one thing dead right and that’s that Nick is stupid in love with Jay. Underlined & with an exclamation mark. A funny thing about Gatsby is that going into it I thought…Carey Mulligan is worth watching in anything. And I was wrong. I don’t know what Baz had her doing, but no.

Leo, however. There’s an amazing shot when he’s waiting for the reunion with Daisy at Nick’s, and he’s sitting in the overstuffed room, an astonishing combination of drenched cat & coiled spring. I know everyone is talking up his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, but I really think Gatsby’s what I’m going to remember of him this year. That shot, & the pure joy when he’s tossing the shirts down to Daisy. I’m not sure how it’ll play on TV, though. I only saw it in 2D, but Baz likes his frame *packed*, & I think my TV is too small for that business.

(I read somewhere that Baz wants to do Hamlet next, to which I say OMG NO. If he must do a tragedy, I’d love to see his Sleep-No-More-esque Macbeth. Imagine that, but with a dose of pure Baz camp? Now *that* could be delicious. Or terrible. But I’d definitely go. It’d be *interesting*.)

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Speaking of TV being too small, Gravity! An astonishing piece of filmmaking technically, obviously, but also I have to give major props to Cuaron for cutting back, making a 90 minute movie when everyone is dragging shit out to 2.5 hours or more. Someone suggested to me that might be part of why I didn’t come out of it with a 3D headache, and that might be true, but I also think part of it is Cuaron’s joy in the long shot. This is not 90 minutes of frantic cutting. It’s 90 minutes of having time to sink into scenes, and 90 minutes where then the 3D gave depth to what space feels like.

There has been some criticism going around about the script and…I didn’t care. I mean, I noticed the cheesy bits, but I was not bothered. I loved that it was a big roller coaster effects movie about a woman in peril saving herself. I loved that she had lost things on Earth, had gone to space to escape that, and now had to make the choice, repeatedly, to live. I adored the whole gigantic obvious birth metaphor (I mean, my god, that shot when she’s first stripped off the suit & is gently turning in the fetal position… it’s stunning. I’m not going to forget that shot for a long time.)

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I had mostly been waiting to see Her before I could finalize my wrap-up. It was weirdly important to me that I saw it before the end of the year. It’s interesting, given how “everything good” supposedly comes out in the fall, that aside from Her, my top three films came out in the first half of the year. Upstream Color played Seattle in April, Frances Ha opened in May, & Before Midnight in June. It’s also interesting to me that all four are unconventional romances*. In some ways, Her is the most conventional of them all. It’s a warm, gorgeously shot boy-meets-girl. Just… the girl is an OS. Nobody’s perfect.

Today I was kicking around the idea of the manic pixie dream girl in regards to it, as that’s clearly the type of impossible relationship Theodore wants, and the challenge comes when Samantha, the OS, grows beyond childlike romance. There’s also a great contrast between the memories of his relationship with his ex-wife (basically, them playing games & playing house) & the actual woman we meet later in the film (Rooney Mara, awesome as always).

I had a conversation with a friend not that long ago where I got to deliver that classic line from Sleepless in Seattle: “You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.” The question of technology isn’t the point of the film; it’s the excuse. The point is any relationship worth having is going to be messy, messy with bodies, needs, emotions, people growing and changing. The question is: does Theodore want to be in love with an actual person?

Because, of course he’s going to fall in love with a woman who is literally always available, who anticipates his every need, who gently goads him into becoming his better self. But what does he give her? Humanity. We learn about her processing speed in their first conversation, and then he immediately dismisses it, but I sat there thinking about how *slow* life would must seem to her. All the time waiting for people to sleep and eat and think. It’d be cruel to expect her to limit herself to the pace of that life, when she could be filling her time with learning, developing, creating. But when we (person or OS!) learn, we change, and when someone learns as quickly as Samantha does, that change is equally rapid.

So, it’s not about falling in love with your phone, or laptop, or whatever. It’s about how hard it is to stay in love with *people*. It’s about the hard work of a relationship when one or the other is changing. It’s about discovering that there are other facets to your partner, and finding out how you feel about that. It’s about discovering the limits to what you can ask of another person, and deciding if it’s okay that there are places you can’t go together.

There’s just so much to say about this film. Visually: the style & color, the fashion, the slightly future but still very familiar technology. The supporting cast: Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, & Chris Pratt as slightly!future Chris Pratt, all so great. Thinking through the implications of Theodore’s job: creating handwritten letters for other people, basically a relationship surrogate. I think if this actually becomes a profitable arena in the near future, I want to get in on the ground floor. I decided that fan fiction was a great training ground, & I am looking forward to getting an apartment as gorgeous as Theodore’s.

And I can’t say enough about Joaquin Phoenix’s gorgeous, utterly open performance. So much of acting is listening, and for any other relationship movie you’d see that other face at some point. But here, it’s him all the time, in these long shots giving us plenty of time to focus on everything that’s happening to him.

So. It’s pretty great. You should all see it. The end, it must be admitted, is a little handwavy. I totally did not care. There was enough. Jonze earned a little handwaving.

* Upstream Color is a romance disguised as an experimental scifi film, Frances Ha is a romcom about when best friends break up, & Before Midnight is what happens after the happily ever after.

[SIFF Ewan McGregor Tribute]

Suppose I better start writing about SIFF before I get ridiculously behind. Or, I guess, more ridiculously behind. I am having a good festival, but it has been too full for much reflection, even with my lazy mornings. But I will try for you, my three loyal readers!

This weekend SIFF presented Ewan McGregor with the Golden Space Needle award for acting, so that seems like a good place to begin. As a part of that the festival screened four of his films (two new, two archival) and presented him with the award at a tribute event.

Because I’m poor, I opted to volunteer at the Tribute, which worked out perfectly: I got to see pretty much everything and I got film vouchers at the end!

So, the films! [The two archival choices are perhaps slightly less strange when you remember that SIFF just screened Trainspotting and Shallow Grave as part of their Danny Boyle weekend.]

+ I had never seen The Pillow Book before, and now I’m glad that I waited for the theater opportunity. The unique visual style, from the pages from the book to the various takes on picture-within-a-picture, would be wasted on DVD. It was my first Peter Greenaway film; which one should I watch next?

+ I of course have seen Moulin Rouge roughly eleventy billion times, but possibly only on DVD? I have an uncertain relationship with Luhrmann; I have Serious Issues with Romeo + Juliet (for all I love the universe of Verona Beach), but on the other hand Strictly Ballroom* is one of my favorite movies.

Moulin Rouge is of course great over-the-top fun, a Technicolor love letter to cinema & melodrama. It was a treat to see it on rich, beautiful 35mm. This time around I particularly enjoyed how beautifully smarmy Richard Roxburgh is as the Duke. There’s an art to that, and he is perfect.

+ Beginners was the film screened at the Tribute, a rather personal effort from writer-director Mike Mills. It was shot as two separate films as they really are two different stories about Oliver (McGregor) and they were then edited together.

The first is a film about the death of his father Hal (the impeccable Christopher Plummer) and the second is the start of a romance with Anna (Melanie Laurent). It’s pretty cute, though I rather wish I hadn’t seen the trailer beforehand as it gave away a lot of the quirk, as it were. Also, I wish the sound had been better, but that is the way of things at the Egyptian.

+ Perfect Sense is one of my favorites at the festival, and the first film I really feel the need to press on other people**. McGregor is a chef & Eva Green is an epidemiologist, and they meet in Glasgow as a world-wide epidemic begins which gradually robs people of their senses.

It’s beautifully done, the apocalypse made personal, and I strongly believe that it must be seen in the theater. The controlled environment is so key to the experience. It reminded me of my beloved Last Night in a lot of ways, so if you like one, check out the other.

*…speaking of movies they should show at Central Cinema (which, I pretty much always am).

** My true favorite is a favorite for personal reasons, so the recommendation cannot universally apply. I also really liked the first Secret, which I cannot tell anyone about. So it goes.