This Week's New Releases
dir. Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie's Revolver wants nothing less than to bring to an end a recent era of crime cinema. (That era began in the early 1990s and was dominated by Quentin Tarantino and John Woo. Ritchie's first feature film, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, formalized the style, dialogue, and narrative codes of this period.) The romanticism of a Hong Kong crime thriller, the soul of blaxploitation films, the witticisms of East End gangsters, the stoicism of a yakuza, Las Vegas cool, and, the granddaddy of them all, mafia pragmatism, are all built into this towering edifice of a movie. At its highest (and dizzying) peak is a metaphysical question: What is the ego? The complex substance of the self, the conundrum of how one knows he/she is one and the same and not someone else, the mysterious voice in your head—Revolver attempts to resolve the ancient philosophical puzzle of the source and meaning of human consciousness. This is no joke.
The saint of the towering work is a British gambler, Jason Statham; his disciples are a chess master, Andre 3000, and a master con artist, Vincent Pastore. The saint's enemy is a Las Vegas boss, Ray Liotta; the enemy of the saint's enemy is an Asian gang lord, Tom Wu; and the angel of death is an Israeli hit man, Mark Strong. The god of the underworld is a faceless Mr. Gold.
The film ends with the intellect (Andre 3000) and the imagination (Pastore) revealing the truth to the man (Statham): He is his own disciple, his own enemy (and the enemy of his enemy), and his own god. The world of the film has no contact with our world: the real world of race, politics, gender issues, immigration laws, and police work. What we see on the screen happens nowhere else but in the mind of a criminal—his thoughts, ideas, and theories. Ultimately, Revolver is a failure. Ultimately, Revolver is the Hegel of crime cinema. CHARLES MUDEDE
Honey and Clover
dir. Masahiro Takada
A friend of mine once announced that the world would be a better place if it was run by teenage Japanese girls. I don't know if I agree with that sentiment, but I do know that, in this hypothetical Harajukracy, every movie would be like Honey and Clover. Based on a popular art-students-in-love manga/anime, Honey and Clover is a live-action iteration that stays close to the source's cornball, soap-opera roots.
Ayumi (Megumi Seki), the most popular girl in school, loves the bespectacled, shaggy-haired nerd Mayama (Ryo Kase), but Mayama is busy stalking an older woman named Rika (Naomi Nishida)—he even keeps her discarded tins of lip gloss and other bits of garbage tacked to his walls in plastic bags. Meanwhile, Takemoto (Sho Sakurai), "the least arty student in our school," loves the eccentric and talented Hagumi (Yu Aoi), but he—choke!—can't work up the nerve to tell her.
The students frolic at the beach and throw parties all around campus, making bad abstract paintings all the while. The soundtrack is full of cheesy expat American bands fighting through lyrics like, "Why is lonely in my life?/Does everyone feel lonely, too?" Along the way, our young artists learn lessons: "You should paint the pictures you like however you like, whether you win a prize or not." When their unrequited love remains unrequited, they mope at the same beach where they had previously frolicked: "Where had the sparkling sea gone?"
The most frustrating thing about Honey and Clover is that, after nearly two full hours of castrated flirting and characters getting tremendously sad just because it's the time in the movie for them to get tremendously sad, it doesn't really end: One character fights the urge to sell out his art to the establishment (represented here by two flaming gay gallery owners named Mario and Luigi) and everyone else is still mooning over their crushes. This is fine for manga, or a cartoon, but for a cutesy teen-romance movie, it's absolutely intolerable. I bet the teenage Japanese girls are clamoring for a sequel. PAUL CONSTANT
Jimmy Carter Man from Plains
dir. Jonathan Demme
Last year, former president Jimmy Carter published a book on the future of the Middle East mess, provocatively titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. It made for quite a book tour.
In Jimmy Carter Man from Plains, director Jonathan Demme chronicles the tour, with its attendant protests, Al Jazeera interviews, face-offs with seriously pissed American rabbis, dialogues with college students, and regular dips in hotel pools. It's a backstage look at the modern mechanics of political persuasion and, while extremely repetitive—at times it seems that not a talk-radio interview or local Barnes & Noble appearance has gone unchronicled—it's surprisingly entrancing.
Carter intended his book to incite debate; he wanted to push beyond the agreed-upon (and often stale) norms for American discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The tension of the movie becomes whether he will accomplish anything more than that—whether deliberately enraging a large number of made-up minds will create an opening for a new discussion and lay the foundation for changes of heart, or whether it will just sell a lot of books and, in the end, change nothing.
What's most fascinating is watching Carter's combination of strength, smarts, religiosity, and deep humility as they work in concert to disarm some of his most antagonistic audiences. It's a study in a type of moral certitude, and a style of persuasion, very different than those exhibited by the current president.
Jimmy Carter Man from Plains is more than two hours long, and feels it. It can be a grind to watch his daily efforts to convince the world that he is neither an anti-Semite nor a naïf. But mass persuasion is a grind, and the movie succeeds in conveying both the drudgery and excitement of trying to change huge numbers of minds at the post-presidential level. It also has a lot of footage from fast rides in Secret Service vehicles, for those who like that sort of thing. ELI SANDERS