Friday, June 15, 2012

In Theaters: "Your Sister's Sister"

The friends have gathered because it’s been a year since Tom’s death. Al (Mike Birbiglia) gets up to say a few words about what a great guy Tom was, so kind, so thoughtful, so remarkable. From across the room, Tom’s brother Jack (Mark Duplass) objects. You guys didn’t know him when he was younger, Jack says. He was a bully, an asshole, and if we’re going to talk about him, let’s acknowledge “the full man.” He raises his glass, and leaves.

This scene, which opens Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister, is about as keenly-observed a dramatization of genuine social discomfort as you’re likely to see in a film. It’s one of several moments that have an almost documentary-styled naturalism; Shelton writes a specific kind of witty, conversational dialogue—casual, overheard, and funny. (We can presume from the “creative consultant” credit given to the film’s four speaking actors that a fair amount of it is improvised as well.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

In Theaters: "Rock of Ages"

The primary problem with Rock of Ages, the guiding principle that defines not only its failure but its very existence, is that it is an artifact of pure nostalgia—that is, affection for the past, with no regard whatsoever for the actual quality of what’s being invoked. Put another way: just because you remember it, doesn’t mean it’s good. Based on the jukebox Broadway musical, Adam Shankman’s film is set on the Sunset Strip in 1987, using 26 songs from the era. The difficulty is that these were (for the most part) bad songs then, and they are worse songs now; the film’s fatal flaw is that it never decides how it feels about that fact, or how to deal with it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New on Blu: "Harold and Maude"

The shot of Maude’s forearm lasts about two seconds—if that, if you’re counting really fast. This, more than anything else, more than the free love and the anti-authoritarianism and the black humor, is what marks Harold and Maude as a product of its time. Because if this movie were made today (and the idea of Paramount or any other major studio bankrolling a romantic comedy pairing an twenty-something man and a 79-year-old woman is a farfetched one indeed), that shot of her forearm would be a long, lingering close-up, and Harold would react, and then Maude would deliver a long and detailed monologue about what we see there. It is, it could be argued, the key to her entire character, but director Hal Ashby merely glances at it—he cuts to it, mid-zoom, and cuts away immediately, the camera still closing in on it. He sees it, and then looks away, as you would if you were sitting there with her yourself. Ashby doesn’t want to dwell, and he doesn’t want to pry. He acknowledges it, and moves on.