Another Movie Guy: "Elegy" etc.

Welcome to the first “Another Movie Guy?”! Each week I’ll review a recent new release, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have some new additions to your Netflix queue. Or someone with whom you can angrily disagree.

I certainly didn’t expect to see yet another movie which prominently features Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, and a dark room. Elegy, the Philip Roth adaption which opened this week, is not the best movie I’ve seen this year, but worth checking out if you’re into odd direction, solid acting, and wanton melancholy.

Roth, an aging hyper-masculine intellectual with women problems, wrote “The Dying Animal,” the story of an aging hyper-masculine intellectual with women problems. Ben Kingsley plays David, a professor who hosts a weekly literature discussion show. He also has a thing for his students, this time the otherworldly, young Consuela (played by Cruz). They begin a highly sexual relationship. Usually dominating his students, David is unnerved when he finds that Consuela strives to be his companion. An overwhelming obsession with Consuela’s breasts further complicates matters (side note: Who can blame him? Even Pedro Almodovar loves Cruz’s breasts, and he’s gay). The affair proves to be David’s undoing, and those who know him best watch him crumble.

Sir Ben plays Kepesh as a reserved, intelligent man. His most wrenching moments are the ones where he remains stiff – yet you can see the emotion simmering beneath. Cruz brings the same qualities to her role. Despite the age difference, you can feel chemistry between the two. The story is somewhat engaging, and yet many scenes felt inert. Dennis Hopper, for example, plays Kepesh’s confidante and brought little to the table. The individual parts didn’t add to a greater whole – I wanted to like the movie more than I did. The best scenes involved Kepesh and his son (played by Peter Sarsgaard), a young doctor who can’t hide the seething contempt of his father. The movie is certainly worth a rental, especially since the director lovingly photographs Cruz’s body (more than Woody Allen, I might add). Some shots of Cruz felt a little excessive, but hey, I wasn’t one to complain.

In the spirit of hyper-masculine literary movies, here are some others worth knowing about:

Factotum.
Charles Bukowski is the shit – there’s something endearing about an ugly, depressed alcoholic womanizer who writes novels about an ugly, depressed alcoholic womanizer. Not much happens in Factotum. Henry Chinaski (Matt Dillon) is an incompetent employee. He loses his job, and makes up for it by drinking and sleeping with insecure barmaids. The movie is worth watching for Dillon’s performance. He does an uncanny impression of the author, and manages to capture his fiendish moments as well as his fleeting moments of grace. For bonus points, you may want to check out the documentary Bukowski: Born into This, which gives more insight into the author.

The Black Dahlia.
LA Confidential is one of my favorites, so I approached Brian De Palma’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s “The Black Dahlia” with eager anticipation. Having read the book, I thought I’d be in for a devious, complex narrative with sharp dialog and amazing twists. Needless to say, I was fucking disappointed. The screenwriter glosses over major plot points, and makes the story cheesy. Ellroy wrote a great scene in that takes place in a dangerous Los Angeles lesbian dive. The movie turns the dive into a classy lounge, and adds a k.d. lang number. So many scenes like that one fall flat. The actors go for broke, but can’t salvage the story. Sure, the movie looks great, and Aaron Eckhart brings a great 40’s-era hardboiled cadence to his lines. But time and time again, De Palma shows that he’s only capable of making a good movie when he has a decent screenwriter.

Game 6.
Not an adaptation, this comedy was written by novelist Don DeLillo. Nicky (Michael “I was Batman” Keaton) has a play opening on the same night as game 6 of the 1986 World Series. A lifelong Red Sox fan, he skips opening night to watch the game. Attending the play is Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey, Jr.), a loathed theater critic who goes to extreme lengths to protect himself from angry playwrights. The pleasure of the movie is its rich dialog. A regularly repeated line is “The Redsox are always winning until they lose.” Keaton and Downey, Jr. are smart actors, and probably relished the chance to speak dialog composed by someone who knows how to write a decent sentence. The movie has an easy-going pace, but gives you time to appreciate the absurd situations. Sure, the bizarre mystique of the Red Sox’s losing streak is gone, but Game 6 brings more awesome than Bill Buckner did.

That’s it for this week’s edition of “Another Movie Guy?”! Tune in next week when I watch a biopic of yet another dead 70s punk icon.