Monday, April 18, 2005

Products of their environment: Off The Map, Melinda & Melinda, Fever Pitch

So, today, three movies defined in large part by their settings and the characters who inhabit them - desert hermits near Taos, New Mexico; Woody Allen's Manhattanites, and Boston Red Sox fans.

I'll ignore Off the Map before briefly commenting on the latest from Woody Allen: I never really was a fan of his until the Brattle had a series showing his 1970s films - at which point I wished he would retire. Normally, I'm not one to give much credence to the "he's tarnishing his legacy" claims - if someone will pay you to do what you love even if you aren't the performer you used to be, keep doing it. I've got much more respect for Rickey Henderson, still trying to compete with kids half his age, than I do for someone who doesn't. But Allen's earlier movies were so good and his new ones were so bad... What's worse, he's starting to come across as an old man, rather than the eternally middle-aged nebbish. At least he's not pairing himself off with women in their twenties or thirties or being uncomfortably sexist. Still, it's depressing. He still fancies himself a serious artist and doesn't realize he's just a brand name now.

Fever Pitch, though... I was really pleased. I recognize that the Red Sox actually winning the World Series probably played hell with the movie thematically - even though the movie takes place during last season, it's already hard to remember that just a year ago, coming so close and falling short was the hallmark of Red Sox fandom. Life's good for us now. We're not Yankees fans who expect victory, but a goofy-looking Jimmy Fallon scoring Drew Barrymore isn't a triumph of the underdog or a victory contrasted with a defeat.

The Farrellys get a lot right. "Sweet Caroline", not giving everyone from the Hub goofy accents, and even choosing places in Toronto that genuinely look like Boston to double for the city when necessary. Most importantly, they make being a Red Sox fan look fun even before the World Series; too often we've been protrayed as miserable and happy in our misery, secretly hoping the Sox would never win because we wouldn't know what to do. The last six months have shown that to be crap, but they were filming before all that happened. Also, they present the Sox-Yankees rivalry as just that, a rivalry, not an inferiority complex. The people at Fox Sports should watch this movie and absorb that, because, well, if you've watched Fox Sports cover the Red Sox... Ouch.

(Speaking of which, the announcing team in the latter parts of the movie - Don Orsillo, Tim "I Want to Have Derek Jeter's Baby" McCarver, and Harold Reynolds - is now a fixture of my nightmares)

Off the Map

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

Off the Map takes place in the middle of nowhere, against a desert landscape that fills the screen and extends past its borders further than any eye can see. It's surprising that the film is an adaptation of a play; I'm not sure how that would work, with the implicit boundaries a stage's wings and backdrop create. The vastness of the land makes it, as they like to say, "like another character in the movie". It's not the most interesting or dynamic character, being mostly flat and made of dirt, but that it's in the running is an indication of how this movie doesn't live up to its potential.

I get the impression that Off the Map is autobiographical. There are 1970s period details even though the movie could easily be set today; it's framed by scenes of Amy Brenneman playing an adult version of 11-year-old Bo (Valentina de Angelis), and the latter half of the movie contains narration of what would happen later. It's events that could be worked into the screenplay, but aren't, perhaps because that's not what really happened. Or maybe not; for all I know, Joan Ackermann (adapting her own play) has never left the city, or she just wants to represent that not everything happens within a movie's timeframe.

Read the rest at HBS.

Melinda and Melinda

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2005 at Landmark Embassy #5 (first-run)

I like the idea behind Melinda and Melinda for the same reason I like a lot of things that aren't necessarily popular among movie fans - things like remakes, re-imaginings, and adaptations that diverge from their source material. Stories were originally amorphous things before we evolved the technology to make a permanent record, and different storytellers would tell the same story in different ways. Where Melinda and Melinda falters is that the stories Woody Allen tells using this idea aren't nearly as interesting as the idea itself.

The frame is that a group of Woody Allen New Yorkers meet for dinner, including two successful playwrights. Sy (Wallace Shawn) is a pessimist who writes comedies, while Max (Larry Pine) is a romantic who writes tragedies. Another attendee mentions something told to him by a friend of a friend, about a woman who shows up at a dinner party and throws the hosts' lives into chaos. Given the same basic concept, each expands the story into something from his own ouevre. Both involve Melinda (Radha Mitchell) interrupting a dinner party; both will include the hosts of the party setting Melidna up with a guy; and, of course, Melinda's presence will highlight the cracks in the hosts' marriage.

Read the rest at HBS.

Fever Pitch

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 April 2005 at Loews Boston Common #14 (first-run)

I can't exactly be rational about this movie. I feel like it intersects with my life, and not just because part of the movie was filmed after a game I attended (when the announcement that we could all stay to be extras came over the Public Address system, I commented to my brother that they just sold thirty thousand DVDs). The Red Sox winning the World Series was, if you haven't heard, a Big Thing in New England, and the shared euphoria afterward is powerful stuff for a movie to tap into, especially considering how fresh it still is.

So, understand, it may take a couple of years for me to be able to look at Fever Pitch and say how the movie itself makes me feel, and how it works. The delight I felt coming out of the movie is due, at least in part, to remembering my own October 2004 emotional roller coaster.

Read the rest at HBS.

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