State and Main: a film review

State_and_MainState and Main.

In a break from his usual heist-and-hostility routine, David Mamet brings us a movie about movies: temperamental talents, deeply hidden secrets, and the panic of production delays. The premise: the entire cast and crew of Hollywood production The Old Mill has been booted out of the small New England town where they’re filming. As the frantic director tries to hustle another town’s mayor into signing on as their new location, the clock is ticking away. And time is money, people.

Writer-director David Mamet’s dialogue is pointed, clever, witty, and utterly despicable. With its quick, smart humor and characters running the range from “wretchedly angst-ridden” to “utterly vile,” State and Main feels like an Aaron Sorkin show set in Hell. William H. Macy plays director Walt Price with whiplash virtuosity, slipping effortlessly between unctuous gladhanding and vicious rants. Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in another masterful performance as the first-time screenwriter improvising like mad despite his almost total lack of confidence; Hoffman takes the sad-sack role and transcends it. Alec Baldwin delivers one of his nastiest comic roles as the big-name movie star with a loathsome yen for under-aged girls.

And here’s a sneaky little in-joke: the small-town mayor (perfectly played by Charles Durning) is named George Bailey — a poke at Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. As Mamet no doubt knows, Capra’s view of small-town life was far from the whitewashed sentimentality we celebrate in the film today. It’s a Wonderful Life gave us a glimpse of village life’s underbelly, and State and Main would like to pick up where Capra left off, plunging farther into the ghastly depths than Capra ever dreamed. With its vicious wit, its depravities, and its rapid-fire plot complications, State and Main is a screwball comedy of the darkest shade.

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Delicatessen: a film review

DelicatessenVividly textured, richly ambiguous, and darkly comic, Delicatessen opens in a ramshackle tenement hazily located in a French town in some unspecified dystopian future. Food is scarce, yet the butcher shop occupying the building’s first floor never seems to feel the pinch too badly.

I think you see where this is going… but the new tenant does not. His name is Louison (played by oddly charming rubber-faced actor Dominique Pinon), he’s a former circus performer, and he delights the neighborhood children with his clowning antics, which are cartoonishly impressive. Indeed, all of Delicatessen has a cartoonish quality that meshes weirdly but successfully with its grubby, dark setting and its gruesome premise.

This is the first feature film of co-directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also co-directed the great City of Lost Children. Jeunet is now perhaps best known as the director of Amélie, and it’s easy to see Amélie as the indirect descendant of the grotesqueries of Delicatessen. Both films immerse themselves in a whimsically embroidered narrative built around the laborious quirks of its characters, and does so with an aplomb that magically weaves a potentially overwrought, incoherent mess into a beautifully balanced composition of humor, compassion, sorrow, and wonder.

habits

To make you even happier that you don’t live with me, allow me to list a few habits that enliven our tv time:

When someone on screen has cake, remark “They have cake.”

Brooklyn_Bridge ClovWikiFreeMake note of particularly galling (non-food) product placement with the complaint, “Aw, now I’m hungry for a Motorola cell phone.”

When watching an especially enticing setting or situation, announce “I want to go to there.” (Sometimes this results in a double-play: “They have cake. I want to go to there.”)

When the detective presents a blurry photo to a lab tech or scans it into an intricate machine, anticipate the inevitable (and technically impossible) sequence in which blurry photo is magnified to impossible clarity; repeat “Enhance. Enhance. Enhance.”

Whenever the Brooklyn Bridge appears in the background of a tv show, point at screen and in a matter-of-fact tone announce “Cloverfield monster.”