“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Look, here’s the thing about being rich, it’s like being a superhero, only better. You get to do what you want. The authorities can’t really touch you. You get to wear a costume, but it’s designed by Armani and it doesn’t make you look like a prick.” — Tom Wamsgans, Succession
Since we’ll be leaving the United States in just over 32 hours, we thought we’d check out another movie, if only for the experience of sitting in a movie theatre armed with a double espresso shot caramel macchiato and an apple fritter. I’ll never eat in this town again.
The film itself, Burn After Reading, was decidedly so-so. I think my main problem with several of the Coen Bros. comedies is that the characters are painfully flat and, as a result, I simply don’t care much. (The Big Lebowski gets around this by making its characters quite endearing and strangely poignant, which should be an impossibility with such a far out, potheaded plot.) Same here: apart from very few moments, all of the protagonists remain cartoons – added to which there simply isn’t much of a plot to hold everything together. While the individual situations are comical, there’s a “ooookay… what should happen next? dunno…” quality to this film.
So, since a lot has already been written about the film, let me talk about more interesting things: the trailers. Four of ’em, and all of them intriguing.
I’m not a big Meryll Streep fan, although I acknowledge that she’s a good actress. Much of the time she seems too much like “Meryll Streep acting her little cotton socks off”, just like Robert de Niro, even at his best, tends to make the strain of acting very visible. It works in some films, but I prefer acting that almost vanishes – or otherwise make it very overt acting that doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s an act. Having said all of that, this trailer made me look up. Added to which it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman. Colour me intrigued.
Trailer no. 2. Okay… on the surface, this looks like it’s trying way too hard to win Oscars. Disability. Troubled musician. Based on a true story. Directed by the guy who brought you these middlebrow tearjerkers. And yet, and yet. Robert Downey Jr. can make most middling films interesting and Jamie Foxx definitely knows how to act. Also, based on the trailer the film looks beautifully shot, without going for the glossy, strings-swelling-triumphantly, one-step-away-from-Hallmark visual style.
I’ve only seen one film by Gus Van Sant: Finding Forrester. Yes, I like Anna Paquin, but that didn’t make it a very good film (although it was one of the weirdest, coolest, loveliest evenings and nights in my life that followed that film). Okay, I’ve also seen the vignette he directed in Paris Je T’Aime. I have no idea whether I like him as a director or not. Mostly I’ve read reviews of his films and thought, “Um… right.” (I am uncannily interested in Gerry, mind you.) Then there’s Sean Penn who, for me, is very hit-and-miss. When he’s good he’s very, very good; when he’s on a mission, he’s annoying as hell. But, I must admit, this trailer looks fascinating.
Finally, Frost/Nixon. So far I wasn’t interested at all. And if I’d remembered the director, my disinterest would have doubled, nay, trippled. Is there a more competently nothingy director than Ron Howard? But this may be just the right film for a bland director who nevertheless knows how to get good performances out of his actors. Added to which: Matthew Macfadyen. Yep – it’s Tom Quinn. It’s Henry IV. It’s one-eyed guy with bigass scar. (That last one was Enigma, in case you just went, “Huh?”) And the trailer doesn’t look like “Talky sort-of-historical film based on a play, with actors who wish they hadn’t played in those vampire movies” – it looks like a proper film.
So: main feature – meh. Trailers? Gimme more of that!
About a week ago I was informed by my love that we’d be watching Pride and Prejudice on Friday. Not the BBC six-hour extravaganza – that’s still on the menu for later – but the recent film version with Keira Knightley and Matthew “I’m an MI5 agent – get me out of here!” MacFadyen. Since I’d heard good things about the film, I resigned myself to my fate with rather less grumbling than might be expected. After all, I’m secure enough in my sexuality to watch a Jane Austen film without fearing to catch “the gay”.
No, no, no… It’s not what you may be thinking now. I wasn’t secretly thrilled at the thought of 2+ hours of Keira Knightley being all witty and sarcastic and sexy. Thing is, I don’t find her very sexy at all. She’s not ugly, but a) she’s too girlish and b) she’s too thin. Back when I saw Bend It Like Beckham, I thought that there’s a very attractive woman in this film, and her name is Parminder Nagra. Keira? I wouldn’t mind cooking a proper dinner for her, but that’s about as far as my feelings towards her go.
Also, I never thought that she was a great actress. All the films I’d seen her in, she was basically the same character: feisty heroine/modern grrrl who can hold her own with the boys. I mean, like, hello! Boring! (Or something to that effect.) However, I must say after watching Pride and Prejudice that there’s more to her, provided that the director and cinematographer and make-up artists and producers don’t keep telling me, “You must desire this woman! If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you!” Her Elizabeth Bennet was far more interesting than any of the other characters I’d seen her as.
In general, the film was surprisingly good. Now that I’m no longer teaching at an English Department, I can perhaps confess that I’m not too keen on Jane Austen. Sure, she’s witty, but I wish she’d written only one novel or perhaps short stories. Admittedly, I’ve only read Emma, but with the Austen film adaptations I’ve seen I always felt déjà vu. The 2005 P&P film has its faults: the pacing is off, with the beginning feeling rather rushed and the middle too leisurely; some of the more modern camera moves and edits fail because the film tries too hard to be “contemporary”; and there’s entirely too much giggling! But at least in the European version, there was something nicely understated about the romance: as a matter of fact, many of the romantic couplings are less about brainless passion than about a mutual liking combined with a sense of pragmatism. Or, in one case, about stupidity. And the film doesn’t try to gloss this over.
Finally, talking of gloss, or lack thereof: while the film looks lovely much of the time, it doesn’t go for the Heritage look where even dirt is disconcertingly clean. There’s mud, there’s geese and pigs (with big dangly man-bits – what a strange scene!), and things aren’t antiseptic. The film didn’t have the picture postcard look, the “Wish you were here in the 19th century with us!” feel that so many costume dramas insist on, and it was all the better for this.