Critical Stuff

I resubscribed to The New Yorker, first time in years. It feels quaint, really, to get a magazine in the mail. Next thing you know I’ll be sticking rabbit ears on my TV.

I did it for digital reasons, though. Not only were certain articles not available online, but a subscription gave me access to TNY’s entire archive. If I want contemporary commentary on, say, Calvin Coolidge (and who doesn’t, sometimes), it’s a click away.

I just like the idea of this, of course. This sort of open, searchable history is a rabbit hole for me, an invitation to overdue bills, overgrown grass and obesity. Be very, very afraid.

What I have done, though, is skim through movie reviews, and that’s been a lot of fun. I’ve read Pauline Kael’s first take on “The Godfather” (“The movie is on the heroic scale of earlier pictures on broad themes, such as “On The Waterfront,” “From Here To Eternity,” and “The Nun’s Story.” Seriously? “The Nun’s Story”?), and David Lardner’s 1942 review of “Casablanca” (“…although not quite up to “Across The Pacific,” Bogart’s last spyfest, (it) is nevertheless pretty tolerable…”).

Ignoring the snotty writing that comes with a New Yorker subscription (and a tote bag, apparently, although not yet), I do love to read about movies. Some of my favorite writers these days, in fact, are film lovers who stun me sometimes with their talent. And most of them are true amateurs, too.

And certainly I like to write about movies myself; it’s a good muse for me.

I just don’t watch that many movies.

You’d think that I do, but I don’t. I mean to, I’ve got a lot of resources for spontaneous watching, I’ve got the time and surely the inclination, but I don’t, not lately. Maybe one a week. Lately.

This past week, though, I watched three, almost in a row. All of them tolerable, too.

I was completely surprised by “Greenberg.” I knew it was about an annoying man (Ben Stiller), a dog, a young woman and L.A. I was prepared to be irritated by it, or by him. I just didn’t expect it to be such a good film.

Then I came home and watched “The Men Who Stare At Goats,” a satire that didn’t work for me, although the actors all were quality (George Clooney and Kevin Spacey in particular) and more importantly knew what kind of movie they were making. It ended up feeling like a script the Coen Bros. bailed on at the last minute and somebody had to make anyway, but without the blood. I stuck with it because it was only 90 minutes and I was watching the Blu-Ray version (I swipe John’s PS3 sometimes), and even the desert looks interesting in high definition.

And on Monday night I finally sat down and watched “Everybody’s Fine,” with DeNiro, Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale and some woman’s voice on an answering machine, a woman whose life and death drove the film.

You can find the plot in the trailer: DeNiro, a widower, hits the road to visit his kids, all of whom bail on a planned family reunion at the last minute.

It’s a brave movie, skirting what might have been popular sentimentality by the use of a first-person device I won’t mention but that felt like one of those choices filmmakers make that in retrospect maybe they shouldn’t have. I appreciated this, actually; it let me concentrate on the story, which was about awkward family dynamics, but mostly I watched DeNiro.

I see my father a lot these days, in a lot of places. Give me a guy in his 60s with gray hair and some wear and tear on his face, and my head turns, whether I’m watching a screen or walking down an aisle in Albertson’s, and this was my dad. In superficial ways only, but then that’s all I’m left with. Pictures. Memories, shorthand and isolated moments that function ultimately only as shadows of who and what he was. But it made me think of him, it made me think about me and my family, it moved me and at the end it was my favorite, not the best but the best I could do, really, if you understand why I like to watch movies and why I do.

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  1. I can be counted on for contemporary comment on Calvin Coolidge it that will make your day.
    Thanks for your movie commentary. I’m into Netflix just now — the third season of Mad Men. I will be sorry to see the last of it and am delighted there will be a fourth season.
    I love to read New Yorker when it belongs to someone else. Each time I get my own subscription it becomes a burden, a chore and, at last, an unread pile. I remember when New Yorker’s cartoons would make me laugh out loud. Never, now: Not any more.

  2. strange you should mention it-i actually watched MOST of the nun’s story a few weeks back when it came on the old movie channel. i was drawn to watch it, even though it was quite unexciting. it seemed to be very serious in its attempt to capture a woman’s passion for purpose in life. i’ve been wondering about that De Niro movie, so thanks for the commentary.

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