Collected Dailies 2

I was watching The Last of Sheila (1973) last night – an old-fashioned flick in which James Coburn and all his teeth gather a group of friends together on a yacht off the Italian coast, to discover which of them murdered his lover a year in the past. Along with Coburn, the group consists of actors of an earlier cinema generation: James Mason, Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, Joan Hackett, Raquel Welch, and… Ian McShane. Where did he come from? I was just watching him in Nemesis Game (2003), but 1973? Checking out his credits, I see that they run all the way back to 1962. The man has been in episodes of Miami Vice, The West Wing, etc., etc. He didn’t just drop into Deadwood fully formed.

Meryl Streep ruined It’s Complicated (2009). The movie could have been a mildly diverting garden-variety romcom. All the necessary elements are present onscreen, except one: a bearable protagonist at the center of the film.

Streep could have played her character in so many different ways. She could have gone with a substrate of anger, angst, insanity, mild retardation, nymphmania, i am woman hear me roar, quiet desperation, Madison County – anything but what she chose, which was “normal,” or “natural,” or “boring.” And shame on director Nancy Meyers, too,  and on Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, for standing by and letting Streep, this national treasure, who can accomplish just about anything in front of the cameras, leave her chops at home and behave like Jessica Alba or my sister performing in a high-school drama.

I Do and I Don’t (2007) – I was reading a series of comments on another blog yesterday, whichwere  discussing whether that blog should clean up its language or not. The three basic arguments: (1) The blog was becoming more popular and therefore should gentrify its language in order to avoid injuring the sometimes-tender sensibilities of mainstream readers, or (2) Four-letter words have their place, but should be used only as le mot juste, not in a lazy way to avoid finding the absolutely awesome correct fucking word, or (3) It’s a free country, dude – say what your thinkin.

I was reminded of this debate as I watched “I Do and I Don’t,” because each of the points, (1) through (3), has its merits. Context is all. Jane Austen’s style did not require recourse to the vulgar. On the other hand, Deadwood was enriched immeasurably by Ian McShane’s over-the-top invocation of “cock sucker.” I for one enjoy the humor of overused profanity.

“I Do and I Don’t,” which one critic has labeled sitcom-grade filmmaking, indulges in the humor of inappropriate sexuality, beginning at point A (detailed prostate humor), jumping quickly to point B (crazed-married-but-unfaithful-horny-cougar humor) and thence in spritely fashion from point to point along a curve that traces the pubis of laughs. It’s an Argument-(3) movie. Well, until near the end when the writers get a hold of themselves and yeah, go sitcom on us.

I wrote a while ago that I had reached my Cuba-Gooding-Jr. limit (I’m still OK with Cuba Gooding Sr.). It might have been after watching the Cube in that peculiar Shadowboxer (2005) that Lee Daniels made before making Precious (2009). However, as I finished Hardwired (2009) last night, I realized that I had made it through the whole thing with nary a negative Gooding thought (unless you count the fact that the script provided him with one of those automatic handguns that contain 1,000 bullets in their clips). Is the man wearing me down through the sheer quantity of his output, or was this little B movie just good enough with him in it to satisfy me? That mug of his – the wrinkled brow, the twisted lips – he was becoming Cuba Badding, lost to me, but jeez, he and Val Kilmer, these guys must get up every morning, grab the script they find out on their front porch, delivered daily like a copy of the Times, and head off to the day’s shoot while perusing it for the first time.

Blaise Pascal (1972) -In the latter part of his career (1962), Roberto Rossellini announced that film was dead, or words to that effect, and turned to TV work, which he regarded as the medium of the future. As he was the first Italian neo-realist (correct me if I’m wrong) and one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, this came as rather a shock to many cineasts. Nonetheless, he made many fine biographical movies for TV in the next decade or so. Fortunately, Criterion has gathered three of them in a box set. “Blaise Pascal” is one of them.

I love historical movies, especially when they’re true to the facts. In making his, Rossellini skipped the usual dramatic trappings of arc and acts and laid out the facts of the subject at hand, as he understood them. Having watched the movie, I read the intro to Pascal’s wiki entry; it might have been a summary of the movie, the difference being that I’ll forget the wiki piece within hours, whereas I’ll remember the movie much longer. There is something a little strange about reading a few sentences packed with facts, bearing in mind the human drama that attended them onscreen.

It was ok, too, to turn from Pascal’s physical woes and the menace of mid-Seventeenth-Century Catholic physics, in which a vacuum could not exist, for theological reasons, and you believed otherwise at the risk of your life, to The Young Victoria (2009), in which Emily Blunt takes a little longer to man up than Cate Blanchett did in Elizabeth (1998).

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