Thursday, January 8, 2009

Please Tell Me Cosmic American Blog Doesn't Come Off Like This

I know we made fun of Slate's Movie Club last year but...but...I can't help myself!

Problem Numero Uno: These people are all too glib, too guarded, too impersonal. They spend all their time inventing mildly interesting quasi-theories instead of actually sharing some thoughts that you might consider gutsy or embarrassing. But come on, what's the fun in saying you liked Rachel Getting Married because something that happened to the character reminded you of a certain painful event from your own life? Much more fun to say you liked Rachel Getting Married because "I loved the catlike prowl of Declan Quinn's camerawork, Rosemarie DeWitt's slow-burn infuriation, and Anne Hathaway's bottomless eyes and her watch-through-your-fingers toast to the squirming couple." Tell me about you, Jessica Winter! Tell me about you.

Still, it's fun to watch the writers try to outdo each other in obnoxiousness. Let's see who wins:

Dana Stevens: Is it possible that Anna Faris' itinerant centerfold in The House Bunny was the breakout performance of the year?

Even assuming that this is possible, assuming that this is the most amazing acting showcase in all of 2008 screen acting, just how great could this performance really be?

Dana Stevens: As for Jeanette's list of waterworks moments: The most unexpected one of the year for me came in Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress, when Asia Argento, in a thoroughly bizarre and unforgettable turn as a cigar-smoking Spanish courtesan, had wild sex with her lover as their child's funeral pyre burned beside them in the North African desert. It was so overwritten and lurid and absurd and yet … Niagara. All of Angelina's pious mourning for her lost boy in The Changeling couldn't touch the unhinged wildness of that scene of maternal grief. The Last Mistress was a whacked-out treatise on gender, power, and obsession disguised as a period costume drama, and I loved every perverse minute.

"Niagara"? Oh man, that scene was so "Niagara." Wink wink. I know what you're sayin' Dana.

Dana Stevens: Lisa, you're up next: What made you cry in spite of yourself this year? What made you laugh? And can I get anyone to join me on the Clint-Eastwood-is-overrated train?

Choo-choo! Chugga-chugga! All aboooooaaaaard! Clint-Eastwood-is-overrated train leaving the station! If you don't think he's that good, don't talk about his movies. Why do you need company?

Lisa Schwarzbaum: What else made me laugh this year: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which also kinda touched me as it did Dana. And Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, an underrated little beauty that looked "regular" but was, I thought, amazingly radical in its seamless weaving of straight and gay lives.

Just because a movie is "amazingly radical in its seamless weaving of straight and gay lives" doesn't make it good.

Jessica Winter: Back to the year's comedies: I wasn't a fan of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (Jason Segel's naked self-abnegation would have been more affecting if the rest of the movie hadn't surrounded him with nubile women eager to dress him up in their love and/or sex.) And somehow I doubt I have much company in advocating for the mostly maligned Step Brothers. Comedy is subjective, of course, but there's some feral pocket of my frontal lobes that wonders how it's possible to resist a movie in which the great Richard Jenkins (who gave one of the year's most tender performances in The Visitor) delivers a rousing speech about how he always wanted to be a dinosaur when he grew up. Or a comedy with a scrotum-on-the-drum-set fracas (marking the second time, after Boogie Nights, that John C. Reilly has appeared in a film featuring state-of-the-art prosthetic genitalia). Or that deploys "Ice Ice Baby" as a villain's ominous theme song. Or that contains a triumphant scene wherein grown men beat up children on a playground. Perhaps someone can talk me out of all this. Yet uneven as it is, Step Brothers strikes me not as the cynical nadir of the Judd Apatow-associated trend of manboy movies but as an imploded critique of said trend, and it thrums with anarchic, deranged energy. The same kind of energy, strange as it may sound, that Dana loved about The Last Mistress: I also adored that insane Eros-and-Thanatos desert sex tableau. And how about that gob-smacking moment when the incomparable Ms. Argento—who was just as memorable this year as the drug-running slut machine in Boarding Gate—sucks greedily at her lover's chest wound?

You're not selling me on Step Brothers guys. Or The Last Mistress. Yes, I know, you're sick of all the hype for the Oscar bait dramas. But just because you're fed up with Oscar bait dramas doesn't mean Step Brothers is suddenly "an imploded critique" of "manboy movies." Or maybe it is. I haven't seen it.

On another, more sexist, note, the Movie Club spends a great deal of time discussing how significant it is that this year all the members of the Movie Club happen to be female. Now, I'm not female, but this strikes me as the sort of thing that is significant and yet not that significant. They certainly don't help matters by spending at least one-third of the time analyzing the role of plastic surgery in cinema today. One navel-gazing highlight:

Lisa Schwarzbaum: Hi la … well, I was going to say "ladies," the kind of retro hello I would offer a group of girlfriends without a second thought. But here we are, movie critics who happen to be women as well as women who happen to movie critics, and perhaps I ought to be more formal, at least on the first go-round. Or at least until we get into the rich territory of how we-as-femme-critics see what we see on screen. So, hi all.

Oh just say hi God damn it.


Herr Zrbo said...

Are you sure these people are writing for Slate? It sounds like some grocery store shelf mag advertisement-disguised-as-editorial spiel.

Step Brothers?? Not only can I not stand Will Ferrell (he and Robin Williams should go back to Overratedville) but that movie looked liked the biggest don't-have-to-use-my-brain movie out there.

Funny thing is, check out this critique of the People's Choice awards from Entertainment Weekly. The writer seems to have a better grasp than these Slate writers on the current state of entertainment.

Sarah said...

Maybe it's time to admit to a little Slate crush? Your pigtail-pulling and playground shoving is displayed in your love-to-hate it posts (about 1/3 of the site content no?)

It's okay, we all love someone that doesn't equal our own mental prowess. You'll feel better if you just fess up and tell Slate- "Hey, I love you despite your terrible taste in movies and music."

Sarah said...

On the real subject, Step Brothers didn't make me laugh once. And I've loved John C. Riley since Magnolia. Remember when he was actual a dramatic actor, and a competent one at that?

Little Earl said...

I told you, I can't help it. They lure me in with their...with their...snappy titles and their...eye-catching graphic design!

Herr Zrbo said...

Well Sarah, the writers of this blog have already admitted to liking Slate, just read the sidebar under "Sites we make fun of but secretly wish we wrote for". It's all there.