Here’s another bucketful.
Blindness. Serious-minded science fiction, allegorical as you like, about an epidemic of “the white sickness,” a new form of sightlessness that plunges the sufferer into blinding light instead of traditional darkness. We experience this from the point of view, so to speak, of several dozen people left to their own devices in pigpen quarantine, so that we have little idea how widespread the problem is — the population in quarantine hardly seems unmanageable — and no idea of developments and discussions in the outside world. Within this hermitage, factions form, oppressors emerge, war erupts. (Lapse in serious-mindedness: the chief oppressor, the possessor of the lone gun, breaks out in a Stevie Wonder song. It could as well have been a Ray Charles or a Jose Feliciano.) One of the shut-aways, known only to her infected ophthalmologist husband whom she has refused to abandon, remains unaccountably immune to the disease, setting her up in the future as literally “a leader of vision.” This is Julianne Moore, practically the queen of serious-minded science fiction, with Children of Men, The Forgotten, and Safe to show for it. (Not so much Next, Evolution, or The Lost World: Jurassic Park.) The arty photography indulges in a lot of white-out effects to convey subjectively the sensation of “swimming in milk.” But even in its straightforward narrative duties, even before the first onset of the disease, it has a quality of overexposure that erases color and detail. We might have been disposed to interpret this as a critique of trendy cinematography — a cinematic epidemic of partial blindness — if director Fernando Meirelles hadn’t favored it in other contexts: City of God and The Constant Gardener. And the storytelling has a slow-going, groping, bumbling manner that suggests, if not quite blindness, at least a lack of focus and precision, an inability to hit a nail on the head. The seriousness of the situation, particularly the squalor of the living conditions, is clear enough. The drama of it is blurred.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Tolerably sweet teen romance, uniting two strangers from the same Jersey high school in a night-long search of Manhattan for a rumored concert by their mutual favorite band, Where’s Fluffy? Gross-out gags are limited to a single, if ongoing, grossery: a drunken girl fishing her cellphone and a wad of chewing gum out of the public toilet into which she has just upchucked. A gag that truly gags. The leads, however, are charming: Michael Cera, of Juno and Superbad, as the heartbroken heterosexual in a gay garage band called the Jerk-Offs, tooling around town in a balky yellow Yugo (“I think it might be the only Yugo in the country”); and Kat Dennings, of Charlie Bartlett and The House Bunny, as the pouty poor little rich girl with abundant brains and no boyfriends. Both of them, especially the latter, show a nice feel for the low-key humor of inarticulateness. In name only do they evoke the badinage of Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles.
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. A names-changed adaptation of the memoir by Toby Young (now Sidney Young) on his disastrous stint at Vanity Fair (now Sharps), an impudent Brit-wit, played impudently but not wittily by Britisher Simon Pegg, who aims to breathe a breath of foul air into the Manhattan beau monde. On screen it becomes a conventional romantic comedy about a flopping fish-out-of-water netted eventually by a beautiful co-worker (Kirsten Dunst) whose favorite movie, significantly, happens to be La Dolce Vita, the one to do with the journalist who sells his soul to mingle with the rich and famous. The whole thing plays to the groundlings: no bona fide Smart Set bon mots, but instead low-comedy pratfalls, puke, coke, a dead dog, a drag queen, and, as a climactic coup de grâce, an awards-show brawl on live television.
Eagle Eye. Political paranoia thriller so utterly preposterous that it has the opposite effect and reassures us we have nothing to worry about. (And so pell-mell in presentation that we can barely follow it.) Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan, as ordinary citizens under the eye, thumb, and puppet-strings of Big Brother, are ordinarily likable, or in these circumstances, pitiable.
The Lucky Ones. Contrived road movie wherein three wounded vets from the Iraq War, strangers to one another stranded at a shut-down airport, drive westbound in a rental car: a latter-generation The Best Years of Our Lives, better thought of as The Forgettable Year of Our Lives. (Sample contrivance: the soldier wounded in the private parts, wanting to test out his equipment before facing his fiancée, chances upon an RV of itinerant prostitutes at a picnic stop, one of whom finds him so “cute” she’ll give it a try for free.) The director, Neil Burger, wakes up to the passing scenery only for the Rockies and Vegas, and even then, only briefly and tritely. Otherwise the attention centers entirely on the understandable discomfort of Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams, and, the least uncomfortable of them, Michael Peña. Very late in the proceedings Annie Corley turns up as the mother of a KIA, bringing with her a touch of naturalness and, by way of The Bridges of Madison County, a flood of positive associations.
Miracle at St. Anna. Spike Lee, redundantly setting the record straight about black participation in the Second World War, flatters himself on doing what Glory did for the Civil War, although without the inherent significance. The racial issues here feel tacked-on rather than built-in. Even so, if setting the record straight were an artistic criterion, he might have had something to be proud of. Instead, he has set the record straight diffusely, flabbily, lumberingly, boringly. He may hold his own in a war of words with Clint Eastwood (where were the blacks at Iwo Jima?), but he’d be annihilated in a war of cinema. And the inclusion of an Eastwood look-alike and sound-alike as a racist brass hat reduces the war to the playground: Yeah, well, yo’ mama wears combat boots.
When I was counting up the looming film festivals last week, I missed the San Diego Italian Film Festival at the Museum of Photographic Arts, October 3 through 20, overlapping the San Diego Women (or Women’s) Film Festival and the San Diego Asian Film Festival. I had been uninformed until I walked past a poster in the window of a barbershop in Little Italy.