Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Raspberries for Blueberry

As so often happens with film festivals, the opening attraction of the 60th Cannes, Wong Kar Wai's U.S. debut My Blueberry Nights, has the bitter taste of lemon to it. Wong's acolytes in the critical community are no doubt forming a protective phalanx around him as I write, but if Variety's is one of the kinder reviews ("its ambition and accomplishment remain modest in the extreme") his detractors would seem to have the edge. Me, I go back and forth, sometimes in the same film; aspects sink into the cortex, while the rest can come off as precious navel-gazing, if elegant to look at and listen to (I rarely go back for return visits, though). Wong can take heart in that Michelangelo Antonioni's reviled visit to America, Zabriskie Point, looks better today than it did in 1970.

What I can't quite wrap my head around is how and why the Hong Kong filmmaker chose as his co-writer Edgar-winning mystery novelist Lawrence Block, known for his hard-hitting detective stories (like 8 Million Ways to Die, quirkily filmed in 1986). There is an alcoholic cop in the storyline, but much of it sounds a little like the twee Janet Jackson/John Singleton picture Poetic Justice (memorably described in an article I read at the time as "about a hairdresser, named Justice, who's poetic") and why Wong thought that senior citizen tough guy Block--not exactly Nora Ephron or Erich Segal--could help middle-of-the-road non-actress Norah Jones strike romantic sparks with boring boxoffice poison Jude Law is a puzzler. On paper, it's one of the stranger writer/director pairings since New York liberal blowhard Paddy Chayefsky and gonzo Brit Ken Russell were yoked together on Altered States once Arthur Penn dropped out, but this one is by choice. On screen, those of us far from the Croisette will have to wait and see once the hoping-for-a-hit-after-Grindhouse Weinstein Company cultivates Blueberry (the second pie-obsessed movie in a week, following Waitress) stateside, then hope that Wong and Block explain themselves on DVD.

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