This Weekend: What to See?


I’ve just seen Lars and the Real Girl, a film that I’ve been trying to get across town to see for weeks. Fortunately, Anne got to come along. And we both fell head over heels in love with it. I haven’t cried for joy at the conclusion of a movie in a long, long time.

If you haven’t seen it, make plans before it disappears. It’s a tender-hearted, deeply moving comedy that is full of insight about abandonment, loneliness, and the healing power of love. And it contains an admirably respectful portrayal of a community church. And it has Ryan Gosling, Patricia Clarkson, and Emily Mortimer. Convinced yet?

If you’re lucky enough to have Juno playing nearby, make plans for that one too.

Atonement?

A lot of people really love it. I didn’t. I don’t have time to write a review right now, but I agree with some of A.O. Scott’s assessment:

This is not a bad literary adaptation; it is too handsomely shot and Britishly acted to warrant such strong condemnation. Atonement is, instead, an almost classical example of how pointless, how diminishing, the transmutation of literature into film can be. The respect that Mr. Wright and Mr. Hampton show to Mr. McEwan is no doubt gratifying to him, but it is fatal to their own project.

Unlike Mr. Wright’s brisk, romantic film version of Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice, Atonement‚ fails to be anything more than a decorous, heavily decorated and ultimately superficial reading of the book on which it is based. Mr. McEwan’s prose pulls you in immediately and drags you through an intricate, unsettling story, releasing you in a shaken, wrung-out state. The film, after a tantalizing start, sputters to a halt in a welter of grandiose imagery and hurtling montage.

There are some powerful images — of scared and tired soldiers in France, of bloody wounds and shattered limbs in London — but the film’s treatment of the war has a detached, secondhand feeling. And even the most impressive sequences have an empty, arty virtuosity. The impression left by a long, complicated battlefield tracking shot is pretty much “Wow, that’s quite a tracking shot,” when it should be “My God, what a horrible experience that must have been.”

The main casualty of the film’s long, murky middle and end sections is the big moral theme — and also the ingenious formal gimmick — that provides the book with some of its intensity and much of its cachet. As the title suggests, “Atonement” is fundamentally about guilt and the attempt to overcome it, and about the tricky, tragically imperfect power of art to compensate for real-life crimes and misdemeanors.

Without giving too much away, I will say that the power of the story depends on its believability, on the audience’s ability to perceive Robbie and Cecilia in wartime as suffering, flesh-and-blood creatures. Mr. McAvoy and Ms. Knightley sigh and swoon credibly enough, but they are stymied by the inertia of the filmmaking, and by the film’s failure to find a strong connection between the fates of the characters and the ideas and historical events that swirl around them.

And except for the enthralling first act, which features an unforgettable performance by young Saoirse Ronan, I agree with The Boston Globe‘s Wesley Morris:

The filmmaking is so good and so well-polished that it crowds out the humanity….there’s no air…and the Vanessa Redgrave thing at the end is the writer… giving you a kind of ['this is what it all meant' wrap-up] thing that you feel you ought to have as a moviegoer. ..it’s kind of condescending, in a way, and I didn’t like that at all.”

(This quote comes from Jeffrey Wells’ reference to Morris.)

Meanwhile, I came across Stephanie Zacharek’s review of The Golden Compass, and I agree with most of her criticism:

Stephanie Zacharek, Salon:

I can think of no more dispiriting experience this holiday season than seeing the crestfallen faces of several of my colleagues as they trundled out of a screening of Chris Weitz’s adaptation of The Golden Compass. Those faces said it all: Their faith had been shattered; there was nothing left to believe in; God must surely be dead. How could a book they’d loved so much be turned into such utter, soulless crap?

The great bummer is that the movie version of The Golden Compass is unlikely to inspire anyone to read anything. Most of what’s magical about Pullman’s novel has been mechanized, obviously at great expense: It must cost a heap of dough to make animal figures look like they’re talking, and there’s barely an instant in The Golden Compass when you can’t hear the money gears turning. This is the kind of movie that was made by throwing dollars at stuff, as opposed to using imagination, thought or even just common sense. Whatever complex or interesting ideas might have been found in the source material have been watered down, skimmed over, mashed into nonsense or simply ignored.

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  • http://www.campbell.edu/coas/english/index.html elrambo

    Stephanie Zacharek, my faith in you, at least, is renewed!

    Now moving Lars to the top of my “must-see” list.

  • http://phillipjohnston.blogspot.com Phillip

    I saw Lars last night as well. What good writing and acting. Every scene shows relational development, nothing is unnecessary, and the whole film is an exercise in restraint.

    The scene outside the bowling alley moved me the most, I think. A simple handshake between Lars and Margo, yet so important.

    Wonderfully quiet film.


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