Thursday, November 24, 2005

Squids, whales, prime numbers, and the Watch-a-Thon recap

Missed a couple days of the Watch-a-thon due to the need to get groceries on Sunday and my head generally being filled with unpleasant mucus on Monday. This also why I didn't do so much of the writing here this week; the review for The Squid and the Whale just sat there half-finished because I was occupying time that would normally be spent on writing with something that made my head spin a little less, like trying to plow through the Pencilwise sections of a backlogged stack of Games magazines.

Speaking of which, if I ever get around to writing a screenplay, I have a conversation about someone not liking Sudoku because they're no good at math, followed by the other person explaining that there is no actual math involved and the numbers could be replaced with letters or shapes - and, in fact, frequently were back when they were known as "Number Place" before they went to Japan and somehow came back popular.

Of course, by the time I finished that screenplay, the Sudoku fad will have passed and it will be laughably dated. But, hey, I figured I showed restraint not having this conversation on the bus.

The Movie Watch-a-Thon Recap:

Movie seen at the Brattle: (11/20) Serenity, (11/22) Keane, (11/23) Touch the Sound.
Movies seen elsewhere: (11/18) A History of Violence, (11/19) Walk the Line, Derailed, Capote.
Money pledged so far: $50 entry fee + $50 flat donations + $9 x (10 Brattle Films + .5 * 7 other films) = $221.50
Why the Brattle Theater Matters
Details on the Movie Watch-a-Thon
Where to send you cash in support
Mail me if you'd like to pledge some dollar amount per movie

The Latest Reviews:

The Squid and The Whale

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #2 (preview)

By now, that having one's parents get divorced is no fun whatsoever is not really a message that needs getting out; it's a fact of life that most people are at least aware of second-hand. Even in the best-case scenario, where everyone eventually recognizes that it was for the best and the parents remain civil or even friendly, it's a thoroughly trying experience.

The Squid and the Whale does not chronicle a best-case scenario.

Because Noah Baumbach's film is semi-autobiographical, it takes place in 1980s Brooklyn, but it could be set in any relatively contemporary setting with minor changes: Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan Berkman (Laura Linney) are just realizing that their marriage is over, although it's probably been clear to outsiders for a while. Both are writers, though Bernard's star is falling while Joan is newly successful. It doesn't take long for their kids to start choosing sides, with older brother Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) tending toward his snobbish father and middle-schooler Frank (Owen Kline) favoring his earthier mother. Tensions increase when Joan takes up with Frank's tennis coach (William Baldwin) and one of Bernard's college students (Anna Paquin) rents his spare room.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 November 2005 at AMC Fenway #9 (first-run)

I saw Prime about a week after Proof, and, still keyed on numbers and a math nerd anyway, immediately glommed onto the fact that the stated ages of Rafi Gardet (Uma Thurman) and David Bloomberg (Bryan Greenberg) are 37 and 23, respectively - both prime numbers, and spent entirely too much time trying to read something into their indivisibility by other numbers. I also, of course, immediately figured out that they were, in fact, in violation of the half-and-seven rule (37 / 2 + 7 = 25.5), and would be so for another five years.

I bring this up for no particular reason, other than having recently received an email from a man claiming he or she could always tell which reviews were written by failed filmmakers. As you can see, that's silly - I am obviously a failed physicist.

But, back to the movie itself. It's the kind of minor film that rests somewhat precariously between moods. It doesn't quite pop enough to be a light and breezy romantic comedy, though the quick synopsis (a woman, unbeknownst to her, starts dating the son of her therapist) suggests a romance under peculiar but amusing circumstances. The "trouble" is that one of the central obstacles for the pair to overcome is their age difference, and the film takes this rather seriously, pointing out that though both are adults, there are real differences in maturity and ambition; it also points out the quandry that Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep) finds herself in because while the advice she gives Rafi may be good for her patient's mental health, it may not be something she approves of once she sees the bigger picture. And it doesn't necessarily resolve those bigger issues in a glib way, or necessarily present them as silly.

So Prime doesn't fit neatly into a box. This is a good thing, in principle. The rub is that its desire to be realistic often works against its aim to be funny and even the attempts to make serious points; for instance the issue of Lisa's desire that David only date nice Jewish girls is extraneous, but pushes other, more important things aside. I like that writer/director Ben Younger is able to have his movie express a full, and realistic, range of thoughts and emotions, and that for the most part cancels out any feelings I might have that whatever impression the movie is trying to make, it's not making it as solidly as it perhaps should.

You can do a lot worse than Prime. It's honest, funny, and kind of sweet. It manages to get the audience thinking about just why we get all skeevy about there being too much distance between a couple's ages (even if the older woman looks like Uma Thurman and the pairing isn't freaky-looking) while still having having space for jokes about - I kid you not - people being hit in the face with pies. You just not might feel as strongly as you'd like, afterward.

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