Friends, I am a shell of a man.
Toronto has hollowed me like a dugout canoe and replaced my pulpy insides with middle-class angst, unearned teen nihilism, meditative Mongolian astral projection, and (thank you, Paul Verhoeven) excrement-covered boobies.
Oh, and less than an hour ago, Anthony Minghella stole two hours ofmy life and transmuted it into a pale yuppie-guilt therapy sessioncalled Breaking and Entering. Jude Law, Robin Wright Penn,Juliette Binoche, Martin Freeman, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone… a finecast, some fine moments — but it’s all moments with these new, diffusedramas of interconnectedness.
Iñárritu and his ilk use cryptopoetic spirituality as a spool towind their many character threads, but in this tale of a London urbanplanner, his wife, his Bosnian lover, and her cat-burgling son (who’sbeen raiding the urban planner’s office), the underlying substrate ofhuman community feels like nothing more than wan, well-intentioned NewLabour compassion, a hearty let’s-all-try-to-be-nice-shall-we.Minghella might just be an inherently synthetic artist, I think — muchlike his urban planner protag, he’s all steel superstructure. Breaking is far more accessible than the gorgeous, static fresco that was Cold Mountain, but in his first original script since Truly, Madly, Deeply,Minghella seems more concerned with sterile epigrammatic symmetry (“Idon’t need a husband, I need a good night’s sleep!” one character criesin the middle of a well-wrought screaming match) than the stuff-of-lifehe’s after. Breaking is set in London’s “transitional” King’sCross neighborhood, and Minghella’s chatty, meandering narrative seemsto be stating — among many other things — that the human heart can’tbe sanitized. Yet… that’s exactly what it feels like he’s trying todo. The shots, as usual, are exquisitely crafted, but what do they addup to?
Guess I felt the same way about the teen slashfest All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,which the Weinsteins bought a few days ago. It’s been hailed as hiptwist on an old genre, but doesn’t so much turn the anti-sex,anti-pleasure morality play of teen horror on its ear as buy into itwith a ferocious vengeance. Mandy Lane is the virgin goddess of a WestTexas high school; a parade of predatory boy types wants to ravish her,and the mean girls want her head. So far, so familiar. But there’s afringe figure, Emmet: Christian Slater in Heathers minus thetrenchcoat. He’s Mandy’s pal… or was, until an “incident” that leftone of her suitors dead. From here, we flash forward to a party on theobligatory rich kid’s remote ranch, where Mandy’s serially plied by boyafter boy. Meanwhile, outside the house, The Texas Chainsaw Massacreis quietly breaking out. Then follows an engorged dissertation on theblood economics of horror — supply a loathsome character, demand asuitably ironic death. The conclusion isn’t so much a twist as a plungeinto beta-male psychosexual oblivion. The approach is furiouslyeffective in bursts, but I, for one, am tired of watching teen moviesset the sexual tempo for our cultural. Forgive me for being obvious,curmudgeonly, and possibly jejeune, but: High school students, real andimagined, may have heap-big sex nowadays, but that doesn’t make themour sexual standard bearers. We’ve so oversexualized our“coming-of-age” movies — and so undersexualized our adult ones –we’ve managed to keep ourselves in a kind of permanent eroticpuppyhood.
Okay, coming down off the soapbox now — but hey, what a perfect segue into Little Children, Todd Field’s long awaited follow-up to In the Bedroom.The tale of parents growing increasingly more childlike the longer theyhang around the kiddie pool, the movie guides us into very dark cornersof the American suburban mythos (that schematic and well-trod Stepfordnightmare-scape largely designed by phobic urbanites) and then guidesus right back out again. It’s a tourist-package safari into thehungrier recesses of the human heart, and you’re back in time fordinner, easy-peasy. And a little facile-pacile too. But then, perhapsyou’re the type who can accept Kate Winslet as “the ugly girl” in anadulterous love triangle. That’s tough to swallow, even if we’retalking about a knowingly skewed perspective filtered through PatrickWilson’s incurably vapid “prom king,” a Mr. Mom with a gorgeous workingwife (Jennifer Connelly, pictured) who casually emasculates him.Winslet, who’s supposed to be a mousy feministfireplug-turned-housewife, is really ripe desire in the (amplydisplayed) flesh, and her voluptuous energy overwhelms the film. That’snot her fault: This film is dying to be overwhelmed by something, sinceit’s not quite sure what it’s saying. Sure is pretty though: The shotssway in a dreamy fever, Kubrick’s Lolita with a post-American Beauty coat of paint.
Speaking of dreamy fevers, Khadak is a gorgeous if notstrictly cohesive hallucination of modern Mongolia. The montage isloose but vivid here, the story almost subliminal. Our hero is Bagi, anepileptic scion of a nomadic clan with a gift/curse for merging thedream realm of spirits with the material here-and-now. And when you seehis here-and-now, you’ll understand why he’d want to merge it with thenetherworld: Bagi’s stark but serene steppeland world of sheep andshepherds is being invaded by industrial modernity. Animals are beingconfiscated and slaughtered, families relocated, traditions upended.It’s up to Bagi to reunite the collective soul — animal and human –of the nomadic culture, which he does by…, by…, well, it’s all alittle ambiguous and Tarkovskian — and best appreciated with yourtwilight brain. (Luckily, mine’s in permanent twilight by now.)
Considerably more on the nose is Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book,an anti-sentimental revisitation of the World War II epic. Our Jewishheroine Rachel (who takes the Christian nom de guerre Ellis) watchesher family mowed down before her eyes; then, in true Verhoev-ianfashion, channels her vengeance into sensuality: A former cabaretsinger, she quite gamely steps into her role as Mata Hari of the DutchResistance and screws her way into the Gestapo’s office with ataracticcool. Verhoeven, never a subtle filmmaker, takes to his themes — theunstoppable cross-pollination of violence, the post-ideologicalpolitics of hunger, want, and survival — with a knife and fork, andthe results are one or two betrayals (and about half an hour) past areasonable audience’s attention span or interest level. Verhoeven’sdesire to bloat Black Book into the definitive Dutch occupationepic makes a certain sort of sense, given the quite extraordinary trueevents he’s attempting to portray — yet you find him skimping on theemotional closework, falling back on the shock and awe of arbitraryhorrors, the depredations visited upon desperate wartime humanity bydesperate wartime humanity, the reeking vitality of that animalscramble.
And speaking of animals and scrambling, I’ve got to hit two moremovies today. Back tomorrow, ladies and gents. Love each other, keepthe angst to a minimum, and try not to start any wars while I’m gone.Because honestly, after this week, I don’t know if I can take anotherone.