Jonathan Poritsky

Netflixing: Scent of a Woman

It’s entirely pos­si­ble that I’ve seen this film before, but it’s also pos­si­ble that I never swal­lowed it down all in one sit­ting. I’ll be brief:

There is only one thing not to love about Martin Brest’s Scent of a Woman: the very seri­ous hunk of jarls­berg that must be downed while watch­ing it. Certainly, the film reeks of early 1990s over­writ­ten performance-vehicle sen­ti­men­tal pieces of cheese whiz. But that goes down much bet­ter if you take it with a grain of salt. Read on…

Netflixing: Blood Diamond

This film was added to the queue in antic­i­pa­tion of Ed Zwick’s Defiance, which I ended up see­ing and hat­ing enough to add a few dozen other DVDs to the top posi­tion in the mean­time. I’m pretty tough on Mr. Zwick, espe­cially after the dis­as­ter of The Last Samulrai, but Blood Diamond, which is flanked by those two ter­ri­ble releases, is some­thing else entirely. Certainly, the movie is full of his own bom­bas­tic style: things blow up, women bring redemp­tion to men, and there are plenty of tears and soppy music. However, this is a film with a true heart, and a mes­sage that is seem­ingly more vital than most polit­i­cal drama­ti­za­tions that are released while a con­flict rages on.

The story fol­lows two men, Daniel Archer and Solomon Vandy. The first is a white dia­mond smug­gler and self-proclaimed sol­dier of for­tune played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The sec­ond, played by Djimon Hounsou, is a black fish­er­man who becomes entan­gled in both Sierra Leone’s civil war and the inter­na­tional dia­mond trade when his vil­lage is attacked by rebels. They are both African, and that is the point.

It seems as though Mr. Zwick sets out to make Gone With The Wind on every out­ing. He finds sin­gu­lar bits of schmaltz amid nations brought to the brink of armaged­don and uses them as his macguf­fin to, well, blow a bunch of shit up and teach us all a les­son by the end of the pum­mel­ing. If ever this tac­tic works, it works best in Blood Diamond. Most of where this film stands apart is in the actind. Mr. DiCaprio and Mr. Hounsou bring a great deal of heart to the table. Archer as the cold hearted cynic who, sur­prise, light­ens up a bit by the end, and Vandy as the lov­ing man-child who dreams for a sim­pler world, where he could live in peace with his family.

My favorite moments in this film is a scene where Archer must pre­tend to be a jour­nal­ist and Vandy must pose as his cam­era­man so that they may get a free ride towards the giant dia­mond around which the film cen­ters. Bear in mind, at the point, Vandy has lost his fam­ily, his home, and he has very litt­tle to gain by find­ing the dia­mond any­how. Still, he pulls Archer aside and yells at him “I can­not do this!” He is refer­ring to lying. The scene is both heart-warming and heart break­ing, but in the end I found myself chuck­ling. The film would be bet­ter with more of this, but that is all we get.

I absolutely rec­om­mend giv­ing this one a view­ing if you haven’t yet.

Netflixing: Margot at the Wedding

Unfocused, uncom­fort­able, and uncon­trol­lable are words that come to mind when describ­ing Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding. However, the things that keep this film from mak­ing very much sense (no dis­tinct plot line, char­ac­ter arcs that land all over the map, wholly unex­plained bits of per­sonal his­to­ries) are exactly what raise it above so many films of a sim­i­lar ilk (and there are many) to become some­thing won­der­fully brutal.

I’ll para­phrase what hap­pens with as many cliches as I can fit. The film fol­lows a despon­dent Nicole Kidman as Margot, an emo­tion­ally detached middle-aged somewhat-well-known Manhattanite author, who heads to the Hamptons to her sister’s wed­ding. Pauline, her sis­ter, is more the didn’t-whiddle-their-depraved-childhood-into-gold I’ll-marry-any-guy-who-will-take-me-before-I’m-too-old type. These char­ac­ters may be very close to Mr. Baumbach’s expe­ri­ence, but it’s clear he has seen Hannah and her Sisters many many times. Anyway, Pauline is mar­ry­ing lazy-guy extra­or­di­naire, Malcolm, played with incred­i­ble nuance by Jack Black.

The film mean­ders around in search of a plot, never quite find­ing a hook on which to hang the story. Instead, Margot plays like a series of heart­break­ing scenes whose goal is to bring the emo­tional meat of each char­ac­ter to the sur­face. In this respect, Mr. Baumbach achieves some­thing quite spe­cial. At points appalling, like when Margot and Pauline recount their sister’s rape by the horse trainer while gig­gling and cack­ling, each character’s per­sonal his­tory is out­side of our realm of under­stand­ing. Attention is never paid to fill­ing in the gaps or explain­ing away the most dis­turb­ing bits. However, our con­fu­sion as an audi­ence makes some other scenes wholly enjoy­able, such as the few times Margot finds her­self cry­ing. We never feel sorry for her, but rather that we get relief from the pain of wit­ness­ing how ter­ri­ble she can become if she sees fit. Or, with­out spoil­ing any­thing, when Mr. Black, as the child­ish Malcolm, finds him­self under attack on the beach. There is no ques­tion that he has got­ten his come­up­pance, but he is so bro­ken, so psy­cho­log­i­cally ill-prepared to deal with adulthod, that we almost for­give him his transgressions.

I don’t believe that Mr. Baumbach is a very good sto­ry­teller, but that doesn’t make him a bad film­maker. It is refresh­ing to see a film that is so explo­rative of human emo­tion with­out let­ting things like lin­ear­ity and logic fum­ble up his direc­tion. I’m sure that we will see even bet­ter films from him, but for now, I will take as many of these as he has to offer and lap them up.

Netflixing: In Bruges

I spent the first reel of this film com­pletely bored, hop­ing there had to be some rea­son for this movie to be released com­ing up around any turn. Well, Once you give your­self over to the basic film­mak­ing offered up in In Bruges, you start to see where this film is doing a lot of things right. For one, Colin Farrell has a brief glint of human­ity, though not as much as he mus­tered up in Cassandra’s Dream.

If any­thing has proven con­sis­tent over the last decade of “inde­pen­dent” film, it’s that you’ve got to start with the less-clever-than-it-lets-on cold-blooded-killers-who-are-actually-like-regular-people semi-offensive-but-never-subversive black com­edy before you move on to big­ger and brighter things. And so, not miss­ing a step of his des­tiny, Martin McDonagh, of Oscar-winning Six Shooter fame, gives us this for­get­table speck. Read on…