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When Monday Movies Gets off of This Mountain, You Know Where We’re Gonna Go

Wild Target — I’m not quite sure how this wound up in my queue — possibly from this equivocal though interesting Alyssa Rosenberg review — and from the trailer, I had high hopes. They weren’t dashed, precisely, but after a strong start the movie makes a fatal error. Nighy plays a fussy assassin, heir to a family hitman business, so buttoned-up that his mother still isn’t sure he’s heterosexual. Emily Blunt plays a grifter moving forged Rembrandts around. A long opening sequence in which we see Nighy and Blunt going about their work separately (and expertly) suggests that we’re in for a genuine “two-hander,” with equal attention and characterization to the male and female romantic comedy leads, but after Blunt’s mark gets wise and hires Nighy to off her, it becomes a predictable exercise in unbuttoning by a Manic Pixie Dream Girl par excellence. Instead of killing her, Nighy’s hitman gets in the way of his client’s henchman’s own attempt, and pretends thereafter to be her savior as they stay a step ahead of the angry mark. Blunt’s cool grifter goes out the window, replaced by an impulsive child in need of protection and prone to swooning.

A more active role for Blunt after the meet-cute would have taken this from amusing to solid; also, the confidence to recognize that Bill Nighy is many fabulous things, none of which ever need change. Rupert Grint tags along as a possible protege for Nighy. There’s an every-which-way triangle between the three of them that never gets off the ground. Martin Freeman is very funny as a hitman who’d like to think he’s Nighy’s competition.

The Last Waltz — In memory of Levon Helm, taken by cancer last month, we watched The Band’s self-thrown funeral. It’s a glorious, freewheeling concert party film, directed by Martin Scorcese. The film’s narrative is subdued, but it suggests a mythical American journey, pulling a story from the same well that Greil Marcus identified as “the old, weird America”, fashioning its source material into new steel with ancient reflections. The Band’s music sounds eternal, but when their mentor figures join them on stage, their older forms limn the Band’s innovations. Ronnie Hawkins plays a straight-up blues, Dr. John a honky-tonk; the Band’s songs are something else, narratives with more complex chordal turns, folky but orchestral. It’s older and newer than rock and roll, less sexual, more epic. That may be what made “Stage Fright” one of my favorite songs as a teenager — it’s not clear why the main character is up on stage (it’s certainly not to rock you, to rock and roll all night, to give the dog a bone, etc.) but whatever the reason, it has life or death stakes.

Superficially, there’s no story to The Last Waltz, but there are narrative archetypes stirring in the stew. Their Mentors, above, have taken them as far as they can. Joni Mitchell, languid and lovely, singing “Coyote”, is an attractor who’s singing to a Trickster. I always thought Coyote was about Neil Young — Wikipedia suggests Sam Shepard — but the real trickster figure here, the world-making kind, is probably Bob Dylan himself, stealing the fire from the hidden mountain gods that the Band will turn into farfisa laments and rebel howling.

Old Joy — Kelly Reichardt’s first film gives us Will Oldham as a woodland creature from that lost America, trying to find a home in this one as the bridges get taken down and the forest turned into a green collar on the interstate. Oldham is a friend with hobo blood, the kind you owe unpayable debts of love but can’t quite fit into your days. Daniel London aches mutely as he leaves his pregnant wife for a weekend with Oldham, struggling to maintain or revive the deep connection that once must have flowed freely. A back massage at a hot springs is probably what made Netflix file Old Joy under “Gay & Lesbian” — that may be putting too fine a point on it, but suffice it to say that two men have love between them but not ease.

Damsels in Distress — A fun sketch, less necessary than Metropolitan, less political than Barcelona, less clunky than Last Days of Disco. Whit Stillman follows in Woody Allen’s footsteps, launches Noah Baumbach, is devoured by Wes Anderson. But to see him after a decade of Anderson reveals the difference between Anderson’s mannerism and Stillman’s attention to manners. Richard Brody writes that the performers in Stillman’s films “aren’t models of naturalistic psychology but of gestural and vocal idiosyncrasy.” But where Anderson conducts marionette symphonies, Stillman’s characters are wind-up toys of idiosyncracies, set free into Brownian motion, as like to bang against the wall as to fly. As the least shy apologist for privilege imaginable, Stillman shows us a world in which frat boys barely smart enough to live have ardent, lovely defenders. He also dotes on a small scar above Analeigh Tipton’s mouth, which made me love her beyond measure.

Because of a backlog and a missed week, Monday Movies is filing our omnibus here, and our Avengers review at An Und Für Sich. Please join the discussion at either site!

May 7, 2012 - Posted by | Monday Movies, Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I couldn’t place Analeigh Tipton, but a quick visit to imdb revealed she was the babysitter in Crazy Stupid Love. Fifteen years ago that problem would’ve driven me crazy all morning.

    I watched Cloverfield last night while fiddling away at other things and flipping back and forth between that and the Lakers/Nuggets game. I saw it at the theaters and remember thinking it was disappointing but also intriguing. After seeing it (sort of) for a second time, it’s more of the disappointing and less of the intriguing. The handheld camera idea was a terrible one. I think I understand some of the reasoning. It allowed them to keep us, the viewers, just as “in the dark” about the monster as the characters. It adds to the frantic feel that would come with fleeing this thing.

    But after a while, it’s incredibly frustrating when important things are happening in the movie and you’re more concerned about the feeling of vertigo that’s being whipped up. I also question whether anybody in the world would hold onto or worry about a camera when giant fleas were attacking them. But maybe this is not a problem I should have in a movie about a giant bug destroying Manhattan.

    Last thought: this group was incredibly unlucky when it came to avoiding this monster. They come across it near the Brooklyn Bridge, flee all the way to Central Park, and run across this thing repeatedly over that route of more than sixty blocks. Whoops. Last, last thought: I hated that the home video at the end seemed to capture the monster’s egg (or something) splashing down off the shore of the beach near Coney Island.

    Comment by mattintoledo | May 7, 2012

  2. I saw the Avengers and it was the first time I sat through a 3-D experience. I didn’t care much for either – but I am happy The Family minus The Wife did.

    The 3-D thing was like watching a cardboard pop-out box with subtitles that seemed to be hanging from hooks attached to your head. I liked the fish that announced and closed the commercial break, it seemed bright and playful.

    The movie was not nearly as good as I thought it would be. It was entertaining but the only thing excellent in it was Scarlett Johansson. Maybe Brad Pitt would have made a good Thor. Maybe not.

    I have scheduled to watch The Hurt Locker this week-end. Is that a good idea.

    Comment by Guido Nius | May 8, 2012

  3. I loved the Hurt Locker.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | May 8, 2012

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