I've got an excuse. It is a bit disturbing, though, to admit how dependent I have become on the Internet: how the screening invitations, etc., that once came to me by post or phone are now almost exclusively conveyed by E-mail, and how the tangible typescript I used to carry by hand to a typesetter is now funnelled by cable directly from home to office. And all it takes is for my Internet Service Provider suddenly to stop providing me Internet service, and I am obliged, as last week, to go dark. It could have been worse. At first I was expected to wait eleven days for a diagnostic house call, putting me effectively out of commission for two weeks minimum, but after telephoning what is humorously known as Customer Service, negotiating my way through the jungly phone tree, sitting on hold for half an hour and listening to recorded promotional pitches -- for three days in a row -- I eventually, by incremental escalations in ire, managed to obtain a timelier appointment. (The parallels to the victims of Hurricane Katrina are distant but crystal- clear.) Not too surprisingly, the assigned field technician was unable to fit himself into the nine-hour window during which I was obliged to stay at home by the phone, but this snub seemed to give me the moral leverage to command an immediate response -- immediate, I mean, after telephoning for a fourth day in a row, negotiating my way again through the phone tree, and listening to another half- hour of recorded promotions. Inasmuch as I cannot be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt of all the following facts, I would not want to mention the ISP by name, but its initials are RR.
The "problem" -- and as a devout technophobe I can only comprehend it in the broadest of terms -- seems to have been that some implacable Javert-like inspector from the company had come by my place of residence on his routine rounds, to peek into an outdoor locked box whose existence and purpose I had no knowledge of, and to which only the company is authorized to have access, and he found there -- ah-ha! -- an improperly labelled hook-up. Whereupon, without checking to find out whether this provided service to a law-abiding paying customer, and without informing the resident of what he was doing, but just on the off chance that somebody might be getting away with something, he took it upon himself to disconnect it. And because the left hand did not know what the right hand had done, none of the Customer Service people I talked to could put one and one together. And there I was. Nowhere.
But now here I am. Back where I belong. And the in-box is overflowing.
Just Like Heaven, directed by Mark Waters, merits a kind word or two, and not solely because of the barrage of P.R. bribes that preceded it: the free Internet music downloads (sounds like heaven), the French Tulip scented candles (smells like heaven), and the 100% cashmere scarf (feels like heaven). A supernatural romantic comedy, unremittingly cute and on a couple of occasions actually funny, it adds a new wrinkle to the conventional ghost story, and new rules (anything goes) into the bargain. The new wrinkle is that the previous tenant who haunts a breathtaking San Francisco apartment as an intermittent apparition, visible only to the current tenant, is not technically a ghost at all, merely the disembodied spirit of a workaholic young doctor in a three-month coma. Because this previous tenant, female, had had no social life prior to the coma, and because the current tenant, male, is a withdrawn widower, a happy ending heaves into view at the same instant as the new wrinkle. Reese Witherspoon, assisted by some seamless passing-through-solid-objects effects, has sufficient artifice to make herself right at home in the situation. But Mark Ruffalo, though he can play befuddlement, which will come in very handy, is not by any stretch an acceptable romantic-comedy lead; and Jon Heder, in search of life after Napoleon Dynamite, proves to be no longer an extraordinary geek, only an ordinary one, as a dilettante occultist.
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is partly, if not equally, stop-motion animator Mike Johnson's Corpse Bride, a voguishly grotesque kiddie film in which all the characters look like reflections in fun-house mirrors, and the worm-eaten title figure is not appreciably more ghastly than the living. Indeed the netherworld boasts more color, albeit garishly expressionistic, than the mere blush of color aboveground. Overlong at an hour and a quarter -- and far too soon after the last Tim Burton film, a mere two months since his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and easily, plausibly, sensibly postponable till Halloween -- it features several showstopping musical numbers, not in a good sense but in the sense of clockstopping, and a couple of un-Disneyfied cute critters, a maggot with the eyes and voice of Peter Lorre and a skeletal pet pooch. For all his ghoulishness, the essential innocence, naiveté, even squareness of Burton may be linked to his unshakable faith that the sophomoric cackle will never evolve into a satiated yawn. The climactic rising-up of the dead to walk the face of the earth, like George Romero's zombies but without the appetite, is fairly amusing if you can slough off the descending torpor.
Côte d'Azur, a sufficiently French-looking title altered from the original Crustacés et Coquillages (or Seafood and Shellfish), chronicles a family holiday on the Riviera. The action takes the form of a change-partners sexual cotillion in which the committed heterosexuals slightly outnumber the overt or borderline homosexuals, yet command much less attention from co-writers and co-directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, the team responsible for the AIDS musical, Jeanne and the Perfect Guy. Two song-and-dance numbers -- the first, a rainy-day indoor recreation, at least half-fantasy in its musical accompaniment, and the second total fantasy at the closing curtain -- might be insufficient to classify the movie as a musical, but are surely sufficient to pose the question of why a low-rise soufflé such as this one demands distribution to provincial theaters while Alain Resnais's anachronistic operetta, Not on the Lips, must go straight to the DVD shelves. It pains me to propose the possible or partial answer that Resnais, though he thought to cast a man in a woman's role, has once again neglected to put any homosexuals into his movie and thus give himself a leg-up in the American art house. From my point of view -- as detached as a doctor -- the best reason to go to the movie, even so, is for the presence of the hoarse, horsey, toothy, earthy, uninhibited, sensual, soulful, womanly, completely human Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, so impressive in the recent 5x2. In her role here, she keeps making a point of her Dutch mother, but the real clue to her laissez-faire character would seem to be the actress's innate Italianness.