My Week in Movies (2/26-3/4)

Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark (2023) – dir. by Steven Feinartz

What do you say about stand up comedy, you like it or you don’t. Well I like Marc Maron, and in this special he discusses, among other things, his grief at the loss of his partner (and filmmaker) Lynn Shelton back in 2020.

4/5 stars

Rolling Thunder (1977) – dir. by John Flynn

Rolling Thunder is one of those revenge movies like Death Wish, Taxi Driver and even off-shoots like First Blood, later action movies like John Wick and there’s a lot in common with Dirty Harry too.

It’s a movie filled to the brim with testosterone and PTSD, and one of the reasons it’s so great, I think, is because it really does have something to say.

On the surface it’s a revenge thriller, but protagonist Charles Rane (William Devane) is a returning POW/war hero who really does suffer from intense PTSD. He’s essentially a ghost (meaning this could be a cousin of the Demi Moore/Patrick Swayze movie Ghost) and carries out his revenge mission unceremoniously.

In these types of movies the protagonist endures some heavy sh*t in the first half or third of the movie so that afterwards when they are on their revenge mission we are wholly in their corner. There can be no nuance, no sense of “should they really be doing this?” because we share in their bloodlust.

But I guess these characters don’t really have a bloodlust. They carry out their mission silently, methodically, just like Rane does. They become a vessel for the audience’s blood lust… but here the protagonist’s silent commitment is put under the microscope.

Why is Rane so quiet, so ghostly? Well it’s not just because the plot calls for “the strong, silent type” but because he’s riddled with trauma. We see it at the very beginning, when he (and Tommy Lee Jones) return home after seven years in a POW camp. We see it when he’s with his son, with his wife as she tells him she has fallen in love with another man and intends to marry him.

Through all this he remains stoic. It’s a riveting character portrait even before the revenge element enters the story.

So the revenge plays the same role as it does in other such films but we never see Rane grieve his loss. In other films there’s at least a moment where we see the hero grieve, but here he seems almost unaffected. So numb is he that even this hardly stirs him from his slumber.

And yet it does push him to act, but it’s as if he was waiting for something like this all along, something to justify (in his eyes) his mission to follow.

4/5 stars

Saint Omer (2022) – dir. by Alice Diop

In Saint Omer we learn the story of Laurence Coly, a woman accused of infanticide. Her story is seen through the eyes of Rama (Kayije Kagame), a journalist sitting in on the hearing.

The majority of the film takes place in the courtroom, and it plays out not like a typical movie courtroom, instead it’s just to allow us to hear Laurence’s story, told plainly, as if scripted straight from the court record. Her guilt is never the question, but what is put on trial (by the movie) are the forces that led her to do such a thing.

It’s a harrowing story but a slow movie, effective in parts and other times just very French. I mean I love a good ‘people talking’ movie but this one really is just a lot of talking. It makes me wonder why the movie was framed in such a way. The story Laurence tells is that of a very harrowing movie… but instead of seeing it we just hear about it.

And perhaps that’s the point, to see and hear this filtered through one person’s experience, to see it on her face, to hear it in her voice… though we don’t see or hear much because she is such a vault of emotional information (not unlike William Devane in Rolling Thunder).

I don’t know much about director Alice Diop, but I do know she’s a documentary filmmaker. It’s easy, then, to understand her familiarity with and interest in people telling stories. It’s not so much their story but instead how it lives inside them.

3.5/5 stars

Hollywoodland (2006) – dir. by Allen Coulter

Okay so Hollywoodland is an appealing but messy period piece drama about the alleged suicide (but possible murder?) of one-time Superman actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck). Affleck is great, and Adrien Brody is great. Diane Lane is great too. It feels like this is an actor’s movie, with showy parts you can really dig into.

But it’s also a movie that… well I don’t know, it’s fine. It’s more show than substance.

That said, there’s one moment that jumped out to me, especially when I watched the next movie on this list, another Affleck film, Gone Baby Gone.

So here’s the scene: You have the detective protagonist (Louis Simo, played by Brody) who is considering taking on the case that will drive the plot of the film. George Reeves’ mother, Helen (Lois Smith) is unconvinced that her son’s death was a suicide. Simo, the slimy and ambitious little detective he is, wants to take her on as a client, mostly for the paycheck. But she’s weary of him. So the goal of the scene is this: Louis Simo must convince Helen Bessolo to hire him. In the dialogue below he does exactly that:

I don’t know, I just found it a really good piece of writing. It made sense to me, and I felt just as convinced as she was. It’s succinct and effective.

3/5 stars

Gone Baby Gone (2007) – dir. by Ben Affleck

Okay so one year later Affleck directed his brother in Gone Baby Gone. It’s a better movie, I’d say, much more textured and atmospheric and moving. Also twisty and surprising.

But let’s go back to that same scene. This time around our hero is Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), a boyish private detective out to prove himself. He works with his girlfriend, Angie (Michelle Monaghan) and they are approached by the aunt and uncle of a missing three year-old girl, Amanda.

The girl’s aunt, Bea (Amy Madigan), wants to hire them but Angie is a little hesitant. As she tells Patrick, she doesn’t want to go and find the girl’s body in a dumpster. It disturbs her and seems best just to let the police handle it.

In this scene Bea appeals to Patrick and, mostly, Angie, trying to get them to take the case. Here’s how…

So boom! That’s it. Angie’s convinced!

It’s not that it doesn’t work, but it just sort’ve cuts corners. The music dances a sweetly sad tune, we see the photo of a young child and that’s all the movie needs to move the plot along.

Those two scenes jumped out to me, one much better than the other, granted the rest of the movies go in opposite directions. I’m a huge fan of Gone Baby Gone but just not that one scene.

As a whole I think my biggest problem with the movie is Angie’s character as written. Monaghan is great and the movie is great too, even though it risks going off the rails with perhaps one twist too many.

But Angie’s decision kickstarts the plot, since Patrick has stated that he will follow her lead and bow out if she wants to bow out. And then the movie’s title comes in part not just from reference to the missing girl but to how their relationship arc concludes. The pathos in the final act comes from the decision Patrick makes and repercussions it has in his life.

I found it very effective and an example of a well-written, competent screenplay.

So Angie plays a pivotal role in the film but between these two moments she just sort of floats around. And it’s because of her relative silence in the plot that the end felt just a smidge unearned.

Gone Baby Gone reminds me of another Boston drama based off a Dennis Lehane novel: 2003’s Mystic River. Both are movies that really pack a punch at times. Moments might be seared into your brain but the stitching to get us from one moment to the next can be a little stilted.

I’m not a fan of Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River but for whatever reason the same things don’t bother me here. Gone Baby Gone just feels like a capital M Movie, dramatic, sincere, melodramatic, exciting, sad, etc. It runs the gamut.

4/5 stars

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