MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

This and That

My Blueberry Nights

Wong Kar Wai is definitely a visionary filmmaker; perhaps one of the best currently working. This is a man who has credits like Chungking Express, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love and 2046under his belt. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the man’s work, but I’ve always respected the loving care in each frame of his films. Truly, for any fan of film, the man’s work must be seen because he paints beautiful portraits about the ways in which people are able (or unable) to communicate with one another. Again, while none of his films have blown me away, I never felt less than admiration for what he was trying to accomplish.
With My Blueberry Nights, Wong Kar Wai makes his first film in English with a primarily American (and British) cast that includes Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn and starring singer-songwriter Norah Jones. For many fans of Wong Kar Wai, there will be no bigger cinematic event this year. Unfortunately, this is a mere trifle of a film. That wouldn’t be such a crime if it weren’t coming from such a masterful filmmaker.

My Blueberry Nights is, essentially, a twenty minute film stretched out to ninety minutes (the version that played Cannes, I’m told, was even longer). The plot concerns a woman named Elizabeth (Jones) who stops by a New York City diner to return the apartment keys to her philandering boyfriend who is nowhere to be found. She decides to leave the keys with the diner owner Jeremy (Jude Law), but not before they share an excruciatingly long talk about car keys, blueberry pies, and security cameras. After this talk, it should be clear to almost any audience member what the ending of this film will be. However, instead of getting right to it, the film takes an hour long detour in which we follow Elizabeth as she travels for almost a year, taking odd jobs in odd towns. She winds up first in Memphis, then in Reno, and meets a floozy and her husband (Weisz and Strathairn) and then a cardsharp (Portman).

The problem with the film is not necessarily that it is so needlessly meandering, but that it contains long monologues about love and loss that sound trite; more than that, these speeches and ‘revelations’ are unearned. We see everything through the eyes of Elizabeth and unfortunately her character is a cipher, remaining passive throughout the entire picture. It’s hard to fault Jones for this portrayal, but she is a neophyte actress and I wonder if perhaps Wong Kar Wai had cast a more experienced actress (like Weisz or Portman) in the lead role the film might have carried more weight. The way in which Jones reacts to every incident in this film is the same way she might eat a blueberry pie, leaving a hollow core at the center of the film.

The supporting performances are good to quite good, from an underused Rachel Weisz to a surprising and daring performance from Natalie Portman, but the true standout is Jude Law. A few years ago, Law was poised to be the next big thing and then experienced something of a fizzle, but his performance here is a reminder of just how charming and charismatic he can be in the right role. He brings a light touch to the proceedings and he represents the warm center of this half-baked pie.

The cinematography is exquisite, as per usual. Darius Khondji has long been one of the best in the business and he really seems to have found a great collaborator in Wong Kar Wai. The way in which Khondji plays with the neon lights in Reno and the bleeding of the pies in the diner is breathtaking and I’m in awe of the way in which he shot the early scenes between Jones and Law, often with glass between us and them. Unfortunately, that glass, that wall, between the audience and the actors is indicative of one of the problems with the film. We never connect to Elizabeth or any of the other characters in a meaningful way and this is especially troublesome during a scene after the death of a major character and as an audience, we’re unsure what we should be feeling.
The accomplishments in this film are nothing to sneeze at and a mediocre film by Wong Kar Wai is still better than most, but in the end this film is just that: mediocre.
Critics Dropping Like Flies

I must say, with the various firings of critics in print media outlets around the country, that I feel a lot of sadness. Jan Stuart, for example, was recently let go from Newsday and I remember growing up and anxiously opening up Part 2 of that newspaper, anxious to see what Stuart would say about that weekend’s films. I don’t want to go on too much about this because you can find excellent coverage of this very topic on MCN from David Poland, but these firings do sting me.
I believe that film criticism is not only important, but necessary. If it weren’t for film critics, I would not be the writer that I am today (take that as either praise or criticism, if you wish). Reading critics like Jan Stuart, Jack Matthews, David Ansen and others helped me hone not only my writing skills, but my reading comprehension. The men and women that are working as critics are doing wonderful work not just picking apart and analyzing films, but writing their reviews. To see two hundred films a year and write about each one is no easy task and some of the best critics are able to do not only that, but to write incisively and intelligently about each one.

My vocabulary is what it is because of the reviews of Roger Ebert, Todd McCarthy, Janet Maslin, and various others. I learn something new every time I read Mahnola Dargis, Armond White, J. Hoberman, or Joshua Rothkopf. I had countless arguments with the pages of Pauline Kael’s “For Keeps” and I learned about the history of movies from Andrew Sarris’ “You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet.”

What I’m trying to say is that film critics are important. I do not count myself as one because what I do is relatively easy in comparison to the great work of the aforementioned critics. It is a sad state of affairs that our country’s newspapers cannot support the great art of film criticism.
After all, were it not for film criticism, we might never have gotten Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, or Jean-Luc Godard, all of whom got their start writing for Cahiers du Cinema.

E-Mail of the Week

“So which DVDs did you get for your birthday?” -Kenny

I treated myself to Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage and The Virgin Spring, Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise, Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl, Claude Berri’s The Two of Us, Agnes Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7 and Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog.

Some of these I’ve seen, some I haven’t, but I’m looking forward to watching every single one. How about you guys? What would be the titles you’d put on your wish list to own?

The reason I got Berri’s film, in particular, is because I finally caught up with Jean de Floretteand Manon of the Spring and honestly, I cannot recommend those films highly enough. They are four hours of beauty, bliss, tragedy, heartache and hope with wonderful performances fromYves Montand, Gerard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Beart. I think these films must have been quite an influence on P.T. Anderson when he was making There Will Be Blood and I think if you enjoyed that film, you’ll like these two.

This brings me to another point. I’ve gotten a few e-mails that have wondered if I’ve still been keeping up with the new releases and I must say that it’s been tough to get myself motivated to see some of the recent films, but I’ve been going. It’s just extremely difficult to find more than two hundred words to say about films like 10,000 B.C. or Semi-Pro or Horton Hears a Who. I’m hopeful that the next few weeks will start to bring us interesting films on a more consistent basis. For the past few weeks whenever anyone has asked me what films are worth seeing, I can only say “Paranoid Park or go home and rent something.” I’m hopeful that my answer will change in the coming months.

– Noah Forrest
April 1, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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Frenzy On Column

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon