February 14, 2006

President's Day 2006

The Matador • AMC Boston Common: 3:30 p.m. • I was sick with a cold on President's Day, but I was tired of sitting around the house, so I went to see The Matador with Laura at the newly acquired and re-named AMC Boston Common (formerly Loews Boston Common). The Matador was a real treat, mainly because I didn't know much about it, and I had no idea where the movie was going. It's mildly funny, mainly thanks to Pierce Brosnan tweaking his James Bond image with a vengeance, much as he did in The Tailor Of Panama. Julian (Brosnan) is an on-the-ragged-edge freelance assassin who smokes, drinks, and screws his way around the globe between killling various corporate targets. On the night of his birthday in a Mexico City hotel, in a moment of drunken lonlieness, he attempts to befriend a mild-mannered, but also on-the-ragged-edge Danny (Greg Kinnear), who is one blown sales pitch away from career and matrimonial collapse. Julian lends Danny some self-respect, and Danny lends Julian some humanity. Additional kudos to Hope Davis (American Splendor, About Schmidt) for lending some humor and personality to what could have been a predictable and flat wife character.
The Squid & The Whale • Guys Movie Night at the Somerville Theater • 7:30 p.m. • I was feeling too sick to go out again that evening, but I couldn't let Jed and Angus down! In the end I was glad I went. The Squid & The Whale was kind of an odd choice for Guys Movie Night. As Marc put it, "Isn't there a movie with an assassin in a catsuit we can see?" The Squid & The Whale is an uncomfortably biographical and unflinchingly observant joint custody comedy: the flip side of The Royal Tenenbaums. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is a once-successful novelist whose creative muse was died out (cf Grady Tripp, Wonder Boys). His wife Joan (Laura Linney) has emerged from her husband's shadow with her own nascent literary career ahead of her. He is fiercely competitive and emotionally closed off; she's been miserable for years and eager for change, including at least one affair with a "jock type"- as different from Bernard as possible.
Their kids, teenage Walt (Jesse Eisenberg, age 21, brother of Hallie) and barely-pubescent Frank (Owen Kline, age 13, son of Kevin and Phoebe Cates) are totally messed up. Bernard is only interested in his own intellectual universe, filling Walt's head with capsule judgements to the point where Walt is incapable of speaking out against his father or even forming a creative idea of his own. Frank, meanwhile, is in the middle of an early-pubescent muddle which is embarassingly familiar and intimate to watch. The 1986 solution to a divorce is a daily joint-custody swap: Dad gets the kids at his new house on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, and Joan gets them Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. They alternate Thursdays. Do you think this helps or hurts matters?
The script contains that same dry humor and unflinching observation of bad parenting which was played for comic effect in The Royal Tenenbaums. I keep bringing up Tenenbaums as a reference, because the retro-1986 vibe and the Wes Anderson-esque soundtrack reminded us so much of that movie- if you added Alec Baldwin's narration, Wes Anderson's trademark captions, and Mark Mothersbaugh's baroque harpsichord, it'd be the same movie. We all agreed on this point before I did the research and discovered that writer-director Noah Baumbach wrote Wes Anderson's other family epic, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. As much as I like movies which don't go on too long with nothing to say, this movie had no third act, and, at 81 minutes, felt a little under-developed.
THEATER NOTE: For some reason, the theater smelled like fish. Jed thought it smelled like "cod or haddock", I thought it smelled like tunafish juice, but the whole audience smelled it. I couldn't bring myself to tell the manager "the theater showing 'The Squid & The Whale' smells like seafood"!