"Crimes and Misdemeanors" ****
DJG has noticed recently that Woody Allen tends to play the same character over and over, and others have noted throughout his directorial history that he simply playing himself repeatedly. Such is the case with his character in "Crimes and Misdemeanors," but not in a bad way necessarily.
There are two parallel narratives in this film that only momentarily converge, and Allen's character is part of the weaker of the two stories that appear here. We have seen and heard his story before, but here it is perhaps a bit more affecting than usual. Here he is the soon-to-be divorcee, the rejected suitor of another, and one whose convictions about his filmmaking and art in general are unswerving and immune to compromise. Well, sort of.
The real sell here is the Martin Landau story, which is as real and tangible and affecting as anything I have ever seen in Hollywood. Caught between a mistress who wants to expose the affair they have been having and his wife of 25 years, he makes a decision that haunts him doggedly. This is where the film puts a microscope to the human condition and makes moral pronouncements and delves into personal responsibility and theology and the nature of reality. It is really pretty profound, and definitely worthwhile.
At the end of the film I found myself wondering exactly what the Woody Allen narrative was trying to say, but only because I was so affected by Martin Landau's portion of the movie. It was so good that it was distracting, and though it may be lopsided for this viewer, it was worthwhile nonetheless.
Just Add Water ****
As I watched this film I could not help but think of Tom DiCillo's excellent, underrated "Box of Moonlight." It has a certain homespun, homegrown quality to it that is awkward but also honest, and it lampoons small-town life, meth-labs, druglords, and culture on the skids. It is an ode to white-trash, and it is a portrait of white-trash turned to gold.
At the beginning of the film I was put off by its flavor, certain that the writing was sub-par, the characters subhuman. But as things progressed I found myself making odd connections with these strange folk, and by the end I was cheering along with them. It's an odd little parable about life at its lowest and the redemption that can follow us into the dark unknowingly. I recommend it highly.
Burn After Reading ****
I had heard enough negative criticism about this film that when I finally saw it Friday with Becki, my girlfriend, I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It may not pack the same sort of existential punch that "No Country for Old Men" did, but I don't think it ever intended to do so. This is the same Coen formula that fueled "The Ladykillers" and "Intolerable Cruelty" -- two films that are considered lesser in the Coen canon, but that are still better than most films made by other aspiring filmmakers.
We watched "Fargo" immediately after this and I was struck by how both films manage to focus on man's capacity to ensnare himself in traps of his own devising. "Burn After Reading," in particular, is circular (as Becki pointed out) in its design, with its characters chasing their tails like dogs that don't really know any better. Unlike dogs, however, they should know better. That's what makes this film ultimately entertaining, absurd, and enjoyable. As humans we live in the Theater of the Absurd, and "Burn After Reading" is a great example of that old line about man being on the stage of life only for a day. He frets and frolicks, and then he is gone and his place remembers him no more. Is it futile? Does it have to be? Maybe there is some food for thought here after all...