The film is washed away by the quirky music choices Van Sant made for the soundtrack. They turn Paranoid Park into a pleasant mix tape made by somebody with okay taste. It doesn’t help that his mix tape is offered to teenagers.
Van Sant’s teenagers are mostly numb objects. They’re no James Deans, they don’t act out, and Van Sant has a Warholian view of them. The girls come off better than the boys, which is strange because the girls appear to be professional actors and the point seems to be how beautifully natural everything is, or naturally beautiful.
It doesn’t work for me because it doesn’t jibe with my memory of adolescence, which for me was a time of turmoil and emotional confusion not spent in Portland, Oregon. Even when I was trying to appear indifferent I was still boiling inside and horrified by everything around me. I don’t see that in Van Sant’s teenagers; I don’t recognize them.
Olivier Assayas thinks globalization is a cacophony of bad acting styles. For him, people’s inability to be genuine or know what they really want is an indictment of the system. Ultimately, says Assayas, globalization turns everyone into a sad sack; the movie itself is pathetic.
There’s no reason to watch it when you could watch a Johnnie To or a Michael Mann movie instead. Their films are serious about being existential confrontations between criminals and their times. They mean it, even if they’re even cheesier than this cheesy film. And Assayas probably knows that. He has good taste but the things he likes are better than the movies he makes.
Only Asia Argento, a half-drunk dreamgirl who falls asleep in bars, makes it through untainted by the film’s irrelevance. At one point she gets a new passport with an “anonymous” American name: Flavia Trapizano or something, the kind of name you hear in the US all the time if you never leave Nino’s Pizzeria on Henry Street in South Brooklyn.
When talking about Van Sant and Assayas we have to talk about taste—their films are the sum of their tastes. They are the cinematic equivalent of record-collector bands like Sonic Youth. That’s why they both have Kim Gordon in their films. They couldn’t go on if they had to be silent about other people’s work, and something compels them to get their fingerprints on everything they love.
Doomsday does for the 1980s-style post-apocalypticism of Road Warrior what Grease did for the 1950s. It turns it into a kiddie musical. The difference is that people liked Grease. They had affection for it and it meant something to them. Doomsday doesn’t even mean anything to the people who made it. It’s filled with decapitations, burnings alive, and cannibalism, but it’s more like Rent than Escape from New York.
The modern-primitive characters in Doomsday shout and shout, begging to be killed. The main character, a counterfeit Beckinsale, chooses to live among them rather than go back to plague-free London. She’d rather rule in Hell (Scotland), but the Hell is plague-free too, no different from London except David O’Hara (a great actor) doesn’t live there. The film is dedicated to the suspicion that in the future we will have to be total assholes just to survive. Unlike now.
Thinking about Grease reminds me that I’ve been watching new films set in the 1950s my whole life, even though I wasn’t alive in the 1950s. I’m not looking forward to watching new films that take place in the ’50s when I’m in my fifties.
If Married Life doesn’t take place in the 1950s, it takes place around 1949, and that’s close enough. A couple of years ago, the director of Married Life, Ira Sachs, made an excellent film called Forty Shades of Blue. Part of what made it so good was that it took place in the present. It was about a beautiful Russian woman married to a successful, belligerent music producer in Nashville. It wasn’t afraid to set its drama today and to go for it—the film was impassioned and not phony.
Married Life, Sach’s follow-up, is the opposite: enervated, stylized, boring. It falls into the reactionary tradition of movies like Far from Heaven, which retreat to the 1950s to flirt with significance by crypto-commenting on today. Movies like that are coy and cheats—anti-repression but repressed themselves, too much in love with Tupperware. It’s impossible to care what happens in Married Life, a movie about living room furniture Pierce Brosnan does everything he can to save.
The most brutalizing thing about this movie is the title. Funny Games is not a phrase in English. You can’t go around pretending it is. Has any natural-born English speaker ever used it? For the remake, Haneke should have translated the title into English. Repeating the same mistake twice is an example of the film’s redundancy.
The Duchess of Langeais
That reminds me: Why isn’t The Duchess of Langeais called Don’t Touch the Axe, an exact translation of its French title and the name of the Balzac story it’s based on? It’s a clueless U.S. distributor who thinks Americans would rather see a movie called The Duchess of Langeais than one called Don’t Touch the Axe.
A conversation with my aunt
I was talking to my aunt about movies on the phone the other day. She was telling me about a friend of hers who sees a lot of movies for free. “He gets free tickets because he knows people,” she said. “He’s a prison guard.”
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Feeling unwell and without health insurance, I visited a walk-in clinic in my neighborhood, Red Hook. While sitting in the waiting room with about twenty other people, half of them children under ten, a security guard wheeled in a TV and a DVD player on a stand. He popped open the tray and put in a DVD so everyone waiting would have something to watch.
An MPAA warning appeared on the screen: “Some material may not be suitable for children for scary creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements.” Then the movie started, but it was strangely framed and hard to see. The color was washed out, everything had a brownish tinge. At first I thought the main actor was Dustin Hoffman, but as the film went on I realized it was David Strathairn. The movie was loud and obnoxious, featuring realistic sword fights between children and computer-generated goblins.
It was like a zombie movie for 11-year-olds, relentless and terrible, something no one should watch, especially in a health clinic in a poor neighborhood, especially me when I was sick and maybe dying. Why was this on?
The TV was so loud I couldn’t read the book I’d brought. Pretty soon I realized I was watching a Canal Street bootleg of The Spiderwick Chronicles, a movie currently playing in theaters. I saw eighty minutes of it before a doctor called me in. The Spiderwick Chronicles sucks. Don’t go see it and don’t show it to kids.
You may think it’s unfair to judge a movie based on seeing eighty minutes of a pirated DVD in a health-clinic waiting room. The banks of fluorescent lights did not create an optimum screening environment, it’s true, nor did the moans of pain, nor the old lady sitting next to me wearing headphones and singing along about Jesus. But as I sat there, in pain myself and barely able to focus, I realized that this was the future of moviegoing, that this was how most of the world already sees movies. This was reality, not sitting next to David Denby watching Little Children at a press screening in Lincoln Center, something I’d done in another life.