Saturday, September 19, 2015

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing

Year 7, Day 262 - 9/19/15 - Movie #2,154

BEFORE: McConnaughey career retrospective Day 3, and I'm up to this film from 2001.  Admittedly I know nothing about it, this might be a mortar film between two bricks.  I think I just taped it after planning the McConnaughey chain, which I was looking to expand.  Three films with one actor is no big deal, four is serviceable, five is a little more impressive, but if I can get it up to 8 or 9, well then I've got something to really be proud of.

THE PLOT: In New York City, the lives of a lawyer, an actuary, a house-cleaner, a professor and the people around them intersect as they ponder order and happiness in the face of life's cold unpredictability.

AFTER: I've criticized a number of films for jumping around in time unnecessarily, and I'm prepared to do it again tonight.  This is a great big jigsaw puzzle of a film, with its scenes not in the proper order - but what would be great about a jigsaw puzzle of a film would be eventually seeing how the pieces all fit together, like some resolution or insight at the end that helps us organize things.  But there's not, I ended up not even knowing the shapes of the pieces, or what the final picture is supposed to be, so it's like doing a jigsaw puzzle in the dark, without knowing where all the pieces are, or even if some of them are from a different puzzle.  

I maintain: if you, as a filmmaker, felt the need to scramble up all the scenes and present them in what appears to be random order, you might THINK you're doing it to create suspense, but all you're doing is either being excessively "arty", or proving that your film's narrative is not strong enough when presented in proper linear order.  There was certainly a wave of films that did this in the years following "Pulp Fiction", but that was an example of Tarantino being "arty".  This film, however, falls into the latter case, because if each of these 5 intersecting stories were told separately, or one at a time as in "Pulp Fiction", I think that none of them individually would be able to hold anyone's attention.  

Instead we're supposed to marvel at how everyone is connected, like they showed us in "Magnolia" a couple years before, and what they tried to do with "Crash" a few years after this.  But no larger point is made by these characters being interconnected - I can't even say for sure that there were thirteen conversations, and I can't even tell you what the one thing is.  Happiness?  Guilt?  Fate?  It's got to be one of the big ones, right?  But since I can't tell you, that means this film committed a worse sin than being arty, it ended up being obtuse.  Ooh, look how complicated connected things can get!  Ooh, just when you think everything's going well, you're just setting yourself up for either disaster or disappointment!   

You know what, screw off.  People watch movies (generally speaking) to forget about the major and minor disappointments in their lives, when you fill a movie with work problems, relationship problems, hitting someone with your car, and even worse, BEING the person hit by said car, it doesn't elevate me, make me feel better, or give me any great insight into life.  

And then, to place little title cards before each segment, much like Woody Allen did in "Hannah and Her Sisters", it's just a reminder that no matter how much misery Woody Allen inflicts on his characters, he also remembers to make his films FUNNY.  And parts of life are funny, even some of the miserable parts can be ironically funny.  This was just depressing.  If you're going to show us a slice of life, make sure it's a slice that tastes good, or we're not going to want to eat it.  

If the point of this whole exercise was to suggest that people get what they deserve, that their negative actions lead (somehow) to more misery entering their own lives, then this point would be served much greater by not just saying "cause and effect", but by showing it.  And, you know, putting the effect after the cause.  There was so much time-jumping here that I half expected a character to walk out of a bar and pass himself also coming in.  

Also starring Alan Arkin (last seen in "Grudge Match"), John Turturro (last seen in "Rounders"), Clea Duvall (last seen in "The Astronaut's Wife"), Amy Irving, Tia Texada, Frankie Faison, David Connolly, Barbara Sukowa, Rob McElhenney, Malcolm Gets, William Wise.

RATING: 3 out of 10 physics equations

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