Mini-Reviews: This is 40, Amour, Central Park Five
This is 40:
Judd Apatow is the king of the devastatingly funny one-liner. Unfortunately for This is 40, his quasi-sequel to Knocked Up, they only land once every twenty minutes or so. While there are absolutely some truthful observations on long-term relationships, they are desperately in search of a narrative. The film wanders through ups and downs with no real sense of pacing or purpose, with its actors mostly screaming at each other. Paul Rudd is certainly charming, but you have to feel bad for Leslie Mann, who for three consecutive Apatow films now has had to play the quintessential crazy bitch. It’s not her fault: Apatow writes everything so that the man is a sympathetic ne’er-do-well and the woman is controlling yet indecisive. His children, who are normally cast in a smaller role, handle a large chunk of the movie, which is unfortunate as they are not yet quality actresses. Surprisingly high quality, however, is Megan Fox in a comedic role, who has never really had a chance to show comedic chops before but handles herself with grace. While numerous supporting scenes have the easygoing feel of an Apatow reunion (“Hey, it’s Jason Segel! Hey, it’s Melissa McCarthy!”), the whole affair feels rather tedious and endless. Unless he’s trying to make the film experience into the experience of being forty in a married relationship. Whoa. I might’ve just blown my own mind.
Michael Haneke is known for his cold, cruel style of filmmaking, so don’t be fooled when you read reviews of his latest Palme D’Or winner, Amour, which call it “surprisingly tender.” They mean in terms of Haneke, not in terms of all cinema. Amour is still extremely cold and dry, and though moments of warmth and reassurance may try to peek their way through, they are all too soon smothered by the pillow of despair. We meet an elderly couple, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who find that someone has tried to break into their home. The woman is afraid they’ll try again, the man says he’ll get the super to fix it in the next couple of days. Sure enough, someone breaks in the next morning: the spectre of death, as the woman has a stroke at the breakfast table and is told her condition will merely debilitate. The man tries to keep her hopes up (his assistance in walking her around looks like an intimate dance), but there is no hope when it comes to death. We will all die, most of ways in ways more slow, painful, and dehumanizing than we’d care to admit. Haneke predictably executes this film in a technically masterful manner: the structure is thoughtful, the framing is minimal yet strong, the characters flawlessly depicted. However, it feels like Haneke’s predilection toward ruthlessness undercuts the titular love: as it goes on, despite lovely scenes like the woman looking at old photos, it becomes increasingly clear that Haneke is more interested in embracing the meaninglessness of life and canceling out any snippets of warmth we get. As a result, Amour is a beautifully made film in every regard with a conflict of philosophy that left me relatively unmoved.
Central Park Five:
There’s not much to say that you wouldn’t expect about Central Park Five, the newest documentary by master documentarian Ken Burns. It’s the typically methodical execution of his subject matter, the truth about the famous Central Park jogger rape case from 1989. Five black teenagers were forced to confess to a crime they didn’t commit, vilified in the media, and locked away in prison for the rest of their childhoods. Their subsequent acquittal when the truth came out received far less notoriety, especially wild since the police and district attorney’s office still stand by the results that they found. Among Burns’ strongest storytelling choices here were having the film primarily narrated by the falsely accused and airing the actual forced confession tapes for us to see. While the complexity is unquestionable (watching the parents fully complicit in allowing their children to admit to wrongdoing they were innocent of with no lawyer present is astonishing), watching the faces of the kids simply trying to get out of there as their nightmare unfolds in real time is remarkable and horrifying to watch. Although the film feels more like something you’d watch on PBS than in a movie theater– the visual style is typically cut and dry– it’s still a must-see. Interesting postscript: the filmmakers have been subpoenaed by attorneys for New York City, claiming this doc “crossed the line from journalism into advocacy.” Pretty stunning that telling the truth can now be labeled as advocacy.