Prentiss Riddle: Movies

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Prentiss Riddle

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Tango, Lenin, Grams

Despite my newfound interest in tango, somehow I missed Assassination Tango when it was in the theaters. It is better than I expected -- Robert Duvall's character of a quirky old hit man out for one last job could have been a My Left Foot/Rain Man -style acting exercise but it seems more genuine. Perhaps the fact that Duvall wrote and directed the movie and cast himself opposite his real-life partner Luciana Pedraza has something to do with it. The suspense subplot isn't bad if you remember the "sub" part, but what makes the movie is the tango, both the performances themselves and what I took for unscripted conversations with real dancers (an Austin Chronicle interview confirms that). I've never had much understanding for dance or patience for watching it, but in a dramatic setting and with outstanding music behind it I found it gripping.

I discovered Assassination Tango from a preview I saw in Brazil at a showing of Good Bye, Lenin. (Watching it in German with Portuguese subtitles was a nice linguistic challenge!) It is a nicely done comedy about a young man in 1989 East Berlin who attempts to convince his invalid mother that the wall hasn't come down. It is full of references which must be curiously nostalgic for Ostdeutsche -- crummy old Soviet bloc brands of canned goods and 60's socialist children's cartoons, for instance. It doesn't pretend that the DDR was any better than it was but it does recognize that there must have been a lot which people were attached to. I suppose a decent term paper could be written comparing Good Bye, Lenin with dramas about Nazi family life like Tadellöser & Wolff. Come to think of it, it has a thematic similarity with the concentration-camp comedy Life is Beautiful but I haven't seen that one so I don't know.

I was less impressed with 21 Grams. I had high hopes based on Amores Perros, the previous movie by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñarritu. 21 Grams was shot with a similarly gritty, washed-out look and the performers all put in some heavy emotional lifting, but the story didn't pull me in at all. Nor did the back-and-forth achronological structure -- I felt like we were being set up for a thriller-style twist at the end but there was none. Ultimately the movie is more like a throwback to 70's European plotless angst and it takes more than that to interest me nowadays.

Catching up on a few other titles: Lost in Translation is as good as everybody says (although I don't understand how Gwen could put Bill Murray's rendition of More Than This on a compilation CD); Matchstick Men is no Grifters but it is a decent caper flick, certainly good enough as airplane fare (that's where I saw it), and doesn't turn the father-daughter angle into treacle as I expected; Intolerable Cruelty is not the Coens' best but funny enough.

movies 2004.01.17 link