Monday, December 04, 2006

Clearing the decks

For all the peace-and-goodwill in the air and on the airwaves, there's no more intense month than December. There's Christmas, of course, and the hum of seasonal activity; lists to make, cards to send, and presents to buy. For the NY-based culture vulture, there is the flurry of end-of-year plays to see on and off Broadway, and the usual snowstorm of new movies, which like nuts have to hoarded through the winter given the usual January-to-March famine.

This I will all get to in good time, but first I should probably say a few words about those new Hollywood releases that have somehow eluded this blog. There's not a lot to say, given the volumes of ink already spilled, but I'll say what I need to and we'll move on with the fresh slate due soon.

First, I doubt I was the first person to comment on how Casino Royale, the first Bond picture I've liked with few reservations since 1989's Licence to Kill, is given thrilling new life by an actor who looks a little like Kirk Douglas (that top-heavy, blond boxer's build). Or who has the cool of Steve McQueen. And how this combination breathes new life into an old tuxedo. But, somehow, after I posted these thoughts on the Mobius Home Video Forum, I seemed to come across them everywhere. Did I generate the wave, or was I merely surfing it? My ego aside, I'm pleased to report that thanks to Daniel Craig (and, I think, to editor Stuart Baird, for contributing a different rhythm to a series largely composed of old hands) I can proudly continue my Bond-age, begun at age eight with a double bill of Diamonds Are Forever and Live and Let Die but fairly moribund through the Brosnan era, into my forties.

Borat is basically an inverted remake of 1986's Crocodile Dundee. In the Reagan era, when Republican rule had the patina of optimism, everyone cheered the guy from down under who came up from the antipodes to get the girl and bid the new-morning America a cheery g'day. The knife of satire that Borat flashes, as fierce a tool as the one Dundee clutched, slashes away at the empty, broken, or unfulfilled promises of the Bush era and holds a mirror to the wreckage as our hero pursues his own dream girl. And, based on the boxoffice, we love both our foreign visitors.

Where serious pictures are concerned, I'd take The Queen over Babel any day of the year. The former is infused with a certain wry humor, and is to the point; the latter is sprawling and humorless, except when the comedy is unintentional, and much of it (particularly the quasi-pornographic Japanese segment) struck me as deeply distasteful. Paging Borat.

Finally, how nice it was to experience The Fountain with an audience of true believers. As eccentrically un-studio and richly produced as it is, with its imaginative pictorial effects, the film isn't fully satisfying as a cult object; we've been down the road that the film takes us on, if not in a space bubble. [The transformation-into-tree bit was handled without the sci-fi trappings at the close of the classic Edge of Darkness BBC miniseries (1985), directed by Martin Campbell, who, to bring us full circle, is at the helm of Casino Royale.] What's beneath the finery, and not the finery itself, is what gives a film like this true and lasting distinction. But my fellow viewers, who were there despite the dismissive reviews, who were there because they wanted to be there before the film shuffled off to DVD prep, were completely attentive to its particular vision, without a cellphone in sight or in sound. And that is always good to see.

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