English teachers around the country will have their hearts burst with joy when they see In the House, François Ozon’s latest wry thriller. Through smart characters and an emphasis on literature, Ozon goes high-concept but never loses grasp of an emotional core. Small moments are suspenseful because it’s impossible to tell how or when the characters will have the proverbial rug pulled from under them, and Ozon’s restraint with the material is remarkable. Even when the fourth wall gets broken, In the Houseworks because it has the confidence to go for the laugh, and not anything deeper.
English teachers across the country will have their hearts broken when they see The Great Gatsby, director Baz Luhrmann’s latest attempt to modernize classic literature with an explosion of glitter. Through glitzy production design and anachronistic music cues, Luhrmann drains all the meaning from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella, leaving only the symbols but not what they represent. Luhrmann values Gatby’s extravagant parties more than Fitzgerald was trying to say; he’d be more at home shooting a music video than a story about America’s adolescent soul.
It took a rape joke to get me into Arrested Development. I remember the incident well: my college roommate, practically rabid with affection for the Fox sitcom, made a deal with me. “I’m going to show you 10 seconds of the show,” he said, “and if you don’t like it, I won’t bring it up again.” Sure enough, I chuckled at the deadpan delivery from Jessica Walter and Tony Hale (a.k.a. Lucille and Buster, respectively), and yet another Arrested Development fan was made. Despite my affection for the show, I don’t share the same affection for The Arrested Development Documentary. It has no reason to exist.
The Folger Theater is consistently successful because they never forget that Shakespeare is meant to be populist fun. When they were originally performed, the playwright had to appeal to the groundlings as well as the aristocracy. The Folger’s production of Twelfth Night continues this tradition: filled with music and broadly physical humor, director Robert Richmond keeps his audience laughing. There are problems with the text itself, yet the strength of the cast overshadows the play’s dubious, borderline creepy plot points.
For a generation of people all over the planet, the Kon-Tiki voyage was an early precursor to the fascination with space exploration. Explorer Thor Heyerdahl his crew of five drifted from Peru to Polynesia, just so he could prove a historical thesis. My dad remembers reading Heyerdahl’s subsequent book about the journey when he was a boy (he’s from Bucharest, and the edition was conveniently translated into Romanian). I can see why everyone was attracted to the material: it’s a stunning yarn with a happy ending. Kon-Tiki, the Norwegian film by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, handsomely dramatizes the trip. Even with a few embellishments, it’s still a stirring story of survival.
At the San Francisco Film Festival, Steven Soderbergh went on a rant about the state of the entertainment industry. You should read the whole thing, but there is one section that I’d like to point out:
Cinema is a specificity of vision… It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.
By Soderbergh’s metric, Iron Man 3 is cinema. Writer/director Shane Black is all over this thing, whether it’s the pithy one-liners or the fact that it’s eerily similar to an action movie from the 1980s. Soderbergh is quick to point that cinema does not necessarily mean that the film in question is any good, which also sort of applies to Iron Man 3, too. It does exactly what fans expect, but its loud, dumb third act casts a pall over the preceding two.