A.O.-for-4

By clarencecarter | REVERSEBLOG: the reverse shot blog October 27, 2006 at 10:15AM

A.O.-for-4
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It's been a little quiet on the old RS-takedown front lately, so let's stop for a moment this fine Friday afternoon to note that it's rare to see a critic whiff so wildly and consistently at such poor pitches as lead critic for the New York Times, A.O. Scott, has in recent weeks over some of the Fall's more bloated “intellectual” offerings.

On Marie Antoinette:
”Marie Antoinette,” which will be shown tonight and tomorrow at the New York Film Festival and opens next Friday, is a thoroughly modern confection, blending insouciance and sophistication, heartfelt longing and self-conscious posing with the guileless self-assurance of a great pop song. What to do for pleasure? Go see this movie, for starters.

Nick Pinkerton thoroughly obliterates Marie at the main site, but I’ll add briefly that any talk of it should mention that, so bad is the script, the film dies completely each time any actor opens their mouth to speak. Somewhat luckily there are extended passages that rely only on Coppola’s meager imagery and Sarah Flack’s much-too-skilled-for-this-movie editing to lessen the burden placed on the horrible, horrible dialogue. Though, when these scenes are paired with a postpunk best-of selection, it almost makes one wish for yet another Rip Torn guffaw.

On Little Children:
Mr. Field, with his second feature — his directing debut was “In the Bedroom” — proves to be among the most literary of American filmmakers, one of the few who tries to find a visual language suited to the ambiguous plainness of contemporary realist fiction. He and Mr. Perrotta have wisely trimmed and modified the book, excising some of its harsher gothic notes and its wilder comic flights. The result is a movie that is challenging, accessible and hard to stop thinking about.

James Crawford disagrees wildly. If Little Children is what “literary” passes for these days, I’m giving up on books (that new Pynchon can’t come fast enough…). And if anything in the hyper-mannered spaces of Field’s film bears resemblance to a reality that Mr. Scott knows or experiences, then I do pity him.

On Infamous:
“Infamous, ” the picture under consideration here, based on Plimpton’s book, is well worth your attention. It is quick-witted, stylish and well acted. The release of two movies on the same subject is somewhat unusual, and the arrival in close succession of two good movies that tell more or less identical stories, each one distinguished by real intelligence in conception and execution, is downright uncanny.”

We haven’t reviewed this thing yet, and for good reason: Its smug self-importance is so impenetrable that any talk—good or bad—only provides further encouragement. Just because Capote the man was more than a hair self-aggrandizing doesn’t mean (as Capote the film ably proved) that a film about him need be as well. This not to mention that McGrath’s conception of the same material better handled by Bennett Miller is rather shrill and monotonous.

On Babel:
The individual scenes are sometimes so powerful, and put together with such care and conviction, that you might leave the theater feeling dazed, even traumatized. “Babel” is certainly an experience. But is it a meaningful experience? That the film possesses unusual aesthetic force strikes me as undeniable, but its power does not seem to be tethered to any coherent idea or narrative logic. You can feel it without ever quite believing it.

He’s a little closer to the mark here, at least recognizing that all the histrionics in Babel add up to very little. However, I’d question the degree to which it truly represents a cinematic “experience.” Sitting through Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Hitler: A Film From Germany (available as a free stream from his website www.syberberg.de) is an experience. Watching a pristine restoration of Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game is an experience. Babel is a trifle, and haven’t we all gotten tired of shaky-cam substituting for real cinematic energy? Still, I’ll grant that Scott’s half right on this one. In honor of the world series, we’ll call it a base on balls.