And you thought Seinfeld was about nothing: this movie's action climaxes with Elle Fanning making eggs benedict while her father sleeps off his hangover.
There's a lot be said both for and against Sofia Coppola's third straight movie that tackles the particular sadness of life in a hotel room. I'll leave the "Against" to someone else. On the "For" side of the ledger, we have:
* Steven Dorff's subtle (if more than slightly mumblecore) portrayal of the toddling, oversexed film star Johnny Marco. Even when his life is totally boring to him, it's actually kind of fascinating to us, and that's more or less the secret of the movie's watchability. Somewhere viewers, I ask you: who is the real life Hollywood model for Johnny Marco? Matthew McConaughey? Luke Wilson? Vin Diesel? Dare I suggest -- Mark Ruffalo?
* Elle Fanning's delicate turn as Johnny's well-adjusted daughter. For all her innocence, there's an insidiously fitting way that Coppola's camera plays visual games with the idea of Fanning standing in as one of Dad's endless supply of lady friends. Just another blonde in sunglasses, you know?
* The music, the music! I've gone on about this at length elsewhere, but Coppola squeezes improbably great things out of The Strokes, The Foo Fighters, and Gwen Stefani. I too love the late '90s and early 2000s!
I wasn't expecting much for this 30-oddth installment of the Judd Apatow movie empire. Russell Brand was the best part of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, sure, but a whole movie? Co-captained by the obnoxious Jonah Hill? Really?
In fact it's far and away the comedy of the year. From the first strains of "African Child" to spot-on cameo appearances by everyone from Paul Krugman to Lars Ulrich, the laughs never let up.
Hill exorcises his past career as an robotic disposer of angry one liners, and leaps successfully into the inevitable Apatow role of weeniesh straight man. Elizabeth Moss is all too plausible as a brutally overworked, vaguely boring medical resident. And Brand's Aldous Snow brings it: "I was watching the news one day and I saw footage about, uh, war, and I think it was in Darfur, or Rwanda, or Zimbabwe, or one of 'em, and I thought, 'this isn't right, is it?' And I made some phone calls and it turns out, it isn't."
Also: Diddy! With his giant smiling family, all in Kobe jerseys, gathering 'round the tube to catch Biggest Loser! If you haven't seen it, see it. I promise you, Diddy will fuck your mind.
James Franco, James Franco, James Franco. I just said "James Franco" three times in a row. Are the nerves of your inner thigh a little more aware of themselves than they were ten seconds ago? Is the saliva in your throat just starting to tingle, ever so slightly? Are you panting like a Labrador retriever at a fourth of July picnic? I know how it is.
Sadly, there's no interlude in 127 Hours where Mr. James reads aloud from his new collection of short stories, or discusses his latest Stuckist sculpture installation at the Tate Modern, or provide a precis of his forthcoming article on Knut Hamsun in KulturPoetik. At one point, however, he does begin to masturbate, so there is that.
Some critics, I know, have deplored Danny Boyle's decision to make 127 Hours a rollicking rock concert of a movie, jammed with vivid flashbacks, a lush musical background, and typical frenzied camerawork. A movie about a man trapped in a desert rock crevice, fearing his death -- so they argue -- should be quiet and slow, should capture the tedium as well as the agony of entrapment, should trust its lead actor to carry the brunt of this deliberate drama. They might be right. But damn it, Gerry sucked the first time I saw it. Boyle made the film in his own bombastic way, and it suits his lead actor just fine. (Mr. James, for all the Francomania jokes, is genuinely excellent in this role.) I was stapled to my seat for every one of those brutal hours.
UPDATE: Bonus James Franco feature! It's Ricky Gervais's fake opening monologue for Mr. James and Anne Hathaway at the Oscars. Then
Let's begin by observing that no other movie of 2010, so far as I'm aware, has inspired a 2,000 word Joyce Carol Oates essay. That counts for something, although considering that Joyce Carol Oates tosses off 2,000 words while reading the back of the cereal box during breakfast, maybe not all that much.
This is already the third movie of 2010's top fifteen that is structured almost entirely around the oppressive entrapments of family life, and we haven't even gotten around to Winter's Bone yet. I'm sensing a Theme. Why are we only now realizing that families are so awful? Has the recession made everyone in L.A. move back in with their parents?
The Fighter is perfectly cast. Mark Wahlberg as a rock-headed, mushy-hearted, iron-abbed boxer from Boston -- what, you were going to call Tobey Maguire? A charismatic crack addict who also croons Bee Gees songs? Why, you're welcome, Mr. Bale. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo are mostly grand, too, although the latter's mother-monster is a bit too horrid for her final transformation to benignity to be believed. Best of all, though, as I'm sure you'll agree, are the Seven Sisters Eklund/Ward. Their hair, their style, their attitude -- it's beyond magnificent. (Be sure to catch this NY Mag review of the actresses backgrounds: one is Conan O'Brien's sister, was in Serpico, one was arrested for burglary, one went to Amherst College, etc).
On the whole, this is an excellent boxing movie. It's not The Wrestler, of course, but what makes The Wrestler so great is that it only comes around once a decade. In the meantime, it's not such a bad thing to pass our hours with smart, sensitive Hollywoodish stuff like The Fighter.
Just when the anti-human nightmare that was Burn After Reading made me think I was done with the Coen Brothers for ever, they turn around and make... A Serious Man, which was reputedly so much more misanthropic that I didn't add it to the Netlfix queue. But then: this!
It's a triumph. Whether it's the historical period, the actors, or just an unexplained artistic detour, the Coens seem to have turned down their Coen meter and produced a film worthy of their best talents. The little girl is perfectly maddening, but she's meant to be, so it's okay. Jeff Bridges is a gorgeous one-eyed old-timer who makes it seem like the most natural thing in the world to spit out lines like "Them men wanted a decent burial, they should have got themselves killed in summer," and "It is a sadness to me that I have sausage fingers that cannot crowd onto a fretboard... Little fat girls at a cotillion." Yes, the Coens' joy in the imagined orotundity of Old West cowboy-talk is positively Deadwoodish. Hear, hear!
But before we bid adieu, good neighbor, grant me some final utterance on the subject of Mr. Matthew Damon. No man in the great municipality of Los Angeles bears a greater injustice. A true master of the timely jape, a picador worthy of the celebrated Artemus Ward, and yet he still is overpassed and unregarded as a comedic player. Damnation! P'raps it is the bitter memory of Stuck On You that blots the mind of the people, like the sordid vapor that settles in over the Sierras in wintertime. Well! It is high time that vapor were clear!
Sorry for that, Matt. Really, you should just speak for yourself here: after all, you are a Texas Ranger.