You’ve Got Mail – Nora Ephron (1998)

I know the blogosphere is inundated today with remembrances and essays and photos and eulogies of Nora Ephron and there isn’t enough time to read them all, so just quickly, a few words on You’ve Got Mail – aka the film I’ve had to eat the most shit over liking ever.

Since its first release in 1998, the arbiters of bad taste seemed to immediately decide that the gooey email rom-com was indeed in very poor taste. In a film extolling the virtues of the little guy standing up to the big corporate guy, the big guy wins and puts the little guy out of business. Worse, the movie seemed to incorporate every single big corporation possible, most notably AOL and Starbucks, into the movie’s foreground. Worst still, it’s a — yuck — remake. Of a Lubitsch film andSleepless in Seattle to boot! The story is basically predicated on cheating, and besides, she’d never fall in love with the suit who put her out of business and stamped on the memory of her dead mother.

All of that is true, and worth the time to note. It’s valid criticism, and I’d never argue it wasn’t. It can be said that certain rom-coms require you to turn your brain off and just let the improbable story flood over you and take you in its lazy drift. You’ve Got Mail is not one of them. It requires you keep your brain on to actively edit out all of those points as you wash away in its lazy drift.

So why, then, do I like You’ve Got Mail?

Simply, I’m charmed by it. Completely, totally, utterly. That’s all.

By Kathleen’s romantic little notions. By how hurt she can get, and how clearly and unguarded it shows in her face, and how she can find it in herself to eventually defend herself so fiercely when confronted — and by how she deals with the regret of saying horrible things.

That even though she doesn’t overcome the odds and save her store, she saves the soul of her store in the photograph of her mother and the simple door chime and tucks it away as a memento.

And by Joe Fox. F. O. X. How sad and embarrassed he is by what he’s done. How he eventually pushes aside the bottom line and does find his heart, and finds out everything is personal.

By the mystery relationship between Birdie and Cecilia, Kathleen’s mom.

And George’s girl trouble.

And New York in the fall.

And the winter.

And by “the horn is so forlorn”.

And the gentle whirring of the Olympia Report Deluxe Electric.

And pumpkins, and Christmas lights, and caviar garnish, and the bouquets of sharpened pencils.

Charm is a dead idea today. Once a staple of the industry — in fact, once the entire industry — there is so little of it left besides Hanks and Clooney, Streep and Winslet, and who else? Emma Stone perhaps. Not Kristin Stewart or Amanda Seyfreid, not Ben Barnes or Anton Yelchin. Now, instead, we have quirk. And quirk sucks. We could use a little bit more charm in our lives again, and certainly a little bit more screwball in our movies.

Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson (2012)

The revision I sent in wasn’t printed, so read this version instead: 

The last time Wes Anderson came around the block to show us a live action feature, 2009’s The Darjeeling Limited, he faced a baptism of fire like he’s never faced before. Critics and fans alike, as well as the regular crop of haters, seemed to be waiting to shout “hipster crap!” to the first person who would listen. Too quirky! It’s Tenenbaums in a different continent! And the damn soundtrack!

To his credit though, he came through that trial completely unphased, first delivering the stop-motion wonder The Fantastic Mr. Fox and now the throwback first love tale, Moonrise Kingdom. Once again,Anderson has dipped deeply into his ink well of familiar tropes and flourished each thought with his singular style.

His seventh film, Moonrise presents a simple story: a boy and a girl, Sam and Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), both young, both outcasts who are occasionally prone to violent outbursts, fall in love. The pair, feeling their home lives caving in on them, decide to run away to make that love work within the little bit of space they can carve out together before parents (Frances McDormand and an absolutely show-stealing performance by Bill Murray), troopmasters (Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel) and Johnny Law (Bruce Willis) can catch up with them to tell them they’re too damn young.

It’s a nice story to think about, and many people will find it to be a story they’ve been thinking about in some shape or form since they were twelve too. But there’s been some suggestion in the ether that the film’s premise doesn’t necessarily work because kids don’t fall in love like that, not that deeply, not that young. And all kids don’t, but some do. The plot description describes my fifth grade classmates Andy and Zoë as much as it describes Sam and Suzy. Andy and Zoë, occasionally violent outcasts themselves, were able to convince enough people of their love that when they got “married” during a spring recess after lunch period, nearly every kid from fourth and fifth grade followed them in a mass wedding procession around the schoolyard as the teachers watched on in awe. Much like Khaki Scout Troop 55 — who view Sam as their mortal enemy — eventually comes around to Sam and Suzy’s side, becoming their eventual protectors, we came around to Andy and Zoë’s side too in the face of such a mad display of love.

That kind of mad display both stories have has to be respected, maybe even envied. As torturous as those years are, these are the kinds of moments you can look back on without the echoes of a stomach ache and Moonrise hits on this hard and with passion in every stride. Anderson’s woodsy thought process won’t necessarily evoke a true childhood moment for all, but elicits a thorough batch of the rainy summer daydreams where most grand childhood adventures and romances are so often had: in heads and hearts, if not in flesh. Maybe that’s a more true evocation of childhood anyway, because the best part of childhood is the imagination. It’s the things we wish we could do, before we know why we can’t do them. Fly like Superman, draw like John Romita Jr, swing like Ken Griffey Jr, or just to be able to speak to your crush without dropping dead right on the spot. They’re all equally impossible at that age, except in our heads, and in our movies.

Attenberg – Athina Rachel Tsangari (2012)

The spiritual cousin of last year’s Dogtooth, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg is almost as strange and almost as engrossing in its strong, relevant look at the financially and socially ravaged Greece, told from the inside but through the wary eyes of immigrants Marina and her dying father Spyros. Like a Vonnegut story, there is no suspense about this: he will die, and she will be alone in the world, except for Bella, her exhibitionist best friend, who’s teaching the sheltered Marina the things Spyros never could. In some ways she’s as fresh as a robot learning to be human from Bella, whose lessons amount to casual whim and loose fancy: tongue kissing and silly, crotch-grabbing dances in place of emotions. Attenberg is hilarious in the dry-roasted sense, pulling smirks and giggles out of its incredibly painful awkwardness and deeply striking absurdities. It’s a treat for those who can hang with it.

The Many Varied (and Useless) Paths to Self-Discovery Through Cinema

There were a couple of pieces last week [I wrote this last week and forgot to post it because I am just not very bright] about advice on how to help kids become cinephiles and, personally, I think they’re all wrong.

Sasha Stone’s piece on Awards Daily was the more interesting and comprehensive one to me because of it’s thoroughness (even though by the author’s admission it is incomplete). The other was this compilation piece on CriticWire (compiled by Matt Singer), where a the critics polled suggest films ranging from The 400 Blows, to The Battle of Algiers, to Black Orpheus,to Hoop Dreams and the teenage dream, Hannah and Her Sisters in their quest to grow a new cinephile from seedling.

But they both, I think, miss a vital point in the growing process: the two absolute keys, to my mind, to becoming a cinephile — or anything, really, especially at a young age — are personal discovery and perfect timing.

As you know, timing is everything.

Everyone past their teenage years surely remembers them vividly, either with longing or with something of a cringe, or with both. I can only speak directly for my own coming of age, but you couldn’t tell me anything when I was a teenager. I knew everything, and better than everyone, especially adults.

Of course I was a moron, and I knew nothing, but that’s besides the point.

Continue reading…

DVDs NUTS – Goodbye First Love/Tomboy/Harold and Maude

Goodbye First Love

First love is not an un-essayed topic in film. It may be the most over-essayed, in fact, but French director Mia Hansen-Love brings a delicate combination of immediacy and an arm’s-length distance to the screen as she traces almost a decade’s worth of scar tissue built up on a young girl’s heart. Minutes become hours, hours become days, days become weeks as 16-year-old Camille (the lovely Lola Creton) breaks apart emotionally while waiting for a letter from her first love, Sullivan, who seems to have forgotten her as he backpacks around South America. But Hansen-Love doesn’t hold Camille up for ridicule for her love-sick teen silliness in this fly-on-the-wall drama. Everyone’s been there, so instead, the picture painted almost causes a collective sigh of relief at a shared, intimate moment of helpless awkwardness. (available now through video on demand)


Celine Sciamma’s unflinching childhood drama stars newcomer Zoe Heran as a 10-year-old girl named Laure who, upon moving with her family to a new city, convinces the new group of kids that she falls in with that she’s really a boy named Michael. She disguises herself with short hair and boyish tank tops and a little sister who is good at fibbing, but carefree summers always have to be paid for eventually. Tomboy is a tough and often uncomfortable film to watch (think My Life as a Dog commingled with a less aggressive Fat Girl), but it’s a thoroughly rewarding look outside of the walls of the normal emotional prisons that adolescence constructs around us. (available now)
Special Features: Behind-the-scenes featurette

Harold and Maude

Criterion Collection Cocaine is a hell of a drug, and it did a hell of a number on director Hal Ashby, who ruled the 1970s with a solid decade of eccentric brilliance, earning seven Oscars from 24 nominations for films like Shampoo, The Last Detail and Being There. But perhaps the best of the bunch is the one that received no Oscar nominations at all: 1971’s beautifully delicate Harold and Maude, featuring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon as the most unlikely couple to ever be in cahoots together. Gordon’s Maude is the Grand Dame of the Manic Pixie Dream Girls, one that none have ever lived up to, and Cort sets his world on fire with a pair of wickedly bright downcast eyes to match a wicked sense of the macabre. Modern auteurs like Wes Anderson and Gus Van Sant owe an awful lot to Ashby for making this film. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, Hal Ashby seminar, Cat Stevens interview