The pace holds steady….
The September Issue. R.J. Cutler’s documentary version of The Devil Wears Prada, a revealing inside look at the putting-together of the year’s fattest issue of Vogue, what turns out to be history’s fattest issue ever. The bleeding and sweating, the fighting and dying, over the tiniest details will retain a degree of fascination no matter how trivial the details. (E.g., cover girl Sienna Miller’s teeth, hair, etc. How does she dare show her face in public?) From a certain angle, the more trivial, the more fascinating. Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, Meryl Streep’s counterpart, is touted as “the single most important figure in the fashion industry” and “the most powerful woman in the United States,” yet she remains, with or without sunglasses, somewhat remote and inscrutable — behind a severe, face-hiding bob, like curtains closing on her nose — while never receding into Streepian caricature. Her long-time and less-groomed associate, Creative Director Grace Coddington, confides much more to the camera, and rallies much more sympathy to her causes.
Earth Days. Latest in a rash of fires lit on screen for the environmental movement. Documentarist Robert Stone, stepping back for the long view, gathers his fuel from the origins of the movement, the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the mobilization that led up to the first Earth Day in 1970, the gaining momentum that ran into the stiff resistance of the Reagan Administration. The like-minded, solemn, humorless talking heads — Stewart Udall, Stewart Brand, Paul Ehrlich, Dennis Meadows, Denis Hayes, Stephanie Mills, Hunter Lovins, Pete McCloskey, Rusty Schweickart — are more flatteringly photographed than the average talking head, and the archive clips are frequently touching, whether the Madison Avenue pipedreams of an affluent and efficient post-WWII America or the raw news footage of shaggy-haired idealists from the Vietnam era. The faithful will get their fix.
Jerichow. The Reading Gaslamp last week had the makings of a Nina Hoss film festival, positioning this newer showcase under the same roof with the already situated A Woman in Berlin. The sunken-cheeked willowy blonde, no longer starving under Russian occupation at the end of the Second World War, is now the modern-day wife of a suspicious and abusive Turkish-born snack-bar entrepreneur, in Christian Petzold’s German translation of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Of course James Cain held no patent on deadly love triangles, and indeed the cucumber harvest here brings to mind Elmore Leonard’s facsimile, The Big Bounce — not the dreadful movie remake of five years ago but the underappreciated adaptation of forty ago. (Excellent, educational shots, in the bargain, of the pickle pickers stretched out prone on the slow-moving mechanical rig, a couple of feet above the ground.) The third side of the triangle is a stone-faced loner and Afghanistan army vet played by Benno Fürmann, hired away from the cucumber crop to chauffeur the Turk after the latter’s license gets lifted for drunk driving, exposing the hireling to the daily allure of his employer’s wife, a good-looking albeit unglamorous and unconniving femme fatale. This unpretentious bare-bones rehash, too elemental for copyright infringement, justifies itself not by the altered ironic ending (a bit too ironic for belief) but by the filmmaker’s precise, understated, no-waste style, with dexterous use of subjective cameras from differing points of view.
9. If you’ve been waiting for the Rob Marshall musical remake of Fellini’s 8½, be warned that this isn’t it. (That would be Nine — not an Arabic numeral but letters of the Latin alphabet.) This — not to be confused, either, with District 9, though no great harm if it were to be so confused — is a post-apocalyptic computer cartoon by Shane Acker, set in a rusty, dusty, color-deprived future. “But life,” intones the rumbling narrator at the outset, “must go on,” even if only in the form of Lilliputian cloth-doll automatons hounded by Brobdingnagian mechanized cutlery. The realistic graphic style recalls the stop-motion Coraline earlier this year in its endless devotion to tactility — the gunnysack skin of the automatons, the grainy wood, the weathered metal — and since the line between live action and computer animation continues to narrow and to blur, it would be no problem to populate the very same terrain with flesh-and-blood people instead of their disembodied voices (Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau). The engulfing visual experience provides sufficient distraction from, or compensation for, the rudimentary conflict of rebels against machines.
Extract. Mike Judge, the Office Space man, never mind the Beavis and Butt-head man, goes blue-collar at a food flavoring factory, where his fund of observations of workers on the job proves skimpier. The owner and central character comes close to a complete cipher, although Jason Bateman’s flat-tire facial expressions serve as an adequate cover. Around him are more players than Judge can juggle — Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons, Clifton Collins, Jr., Gene Simmons, others — but at least two of them look likely to survive as memorable: the dim-witted, frosted-haired junior gigolo (Dustin Milligan) and, even likelier, the obtuse intrusive neighbor (David Koechner), guarding the adjacent driveway no less zealously than Cerberus the gate of Hades, incapable of cutting the conversation short, picking up the pace, or hearing the pleas of his prey: “Well, I’m not going to keep you long.”
My One and Only. The coming-of-age of George Hamilton (the septuagenarian executive co-producer), in the guise of dark-haired but short-nosed Logan Lerman, installed behind the wheel of a new El Dorado, to ferry his precociously out-and-proud gay brother (Mark Rendall) and his addlepated Southern-belle mother (Renée Zellweger, speaking under her breathy breath, her mouth never far from a pucker) in her flight from her faithless second husband, a travelling bandleader, and into countless encounters with other varieties of swinish manhood, en route from New York to Los Angeles in 1953. False, lifeless resuscitation of the period, so dully lit and colored (under director Richard Loncraine) as to make you pine for Fifties Technicolor. To project The Big Heat at a drive-in in Cinemascope(!) may not be a big thing, but it’s an indication.
Play the Game. Grandpa and grandson in parallel amorous pursuits, swapping tips, trading secrets. Marc Fienberg’s Amateur Hour and Three-Quarters, his first feature film, amounts to a terrible mortification for anyone on screen or in front of it, not least of all Andy Griffith, required to react to a hard-on and a blow job and then to recount these to his younger-generation confidant: “Have you ever heard of a Black Market drug called Viagra?” and “I felt like a damn Popsicle.” He must need the work. Badly.