David’s Movie Journal 1/17/11

Another entry in my attempt to watch 2010 stuff I thought I should see.  This might start to cool down a bit, though, as it’s getting to be time to start watching television again.  I still haven’t watched those last five episodes of “Caprica” and the final season of “Big Love” is about to start so I’ve got a whole lot of hating things that used to be good to look forward to.

It’s occurred to me that if I’m going to write about every film I see, I’m going to have to admit to some of the things I’m watching for the first time and thereby expose to you just how many movies I’ve never seen.  For instance, I’ve got a Netflix DVD copy of Amadeus glowering at me from my bookshelf every night when I turn on the Food Network.This is all to prepare you for the admission that Greenberg is the first Noah Baumbach film that I’ve seen.  I know that The Squid and the Whale is supposed to be great and everything but something has just kept these films from being a priority for me.  Maybe it’s because I thought they were all about effete, white, bourgeois psuedo-intellectuals, the kind of people I thought I wanted to be when I grow up back when I was in high school and I hadn’t yet realized how full of shit they are.  Boy, I don’t know where I got that idea.

Greenberg stars Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg, a 40-something former rock hopeful, now living in New York and “doing nothing,” though he is apparently able to pay rent and to consider buying a last-minute plane ticket to Australia without worrying about cost.  He has returned to Los Angeles, where he apparently grew up, house-sit for his brother, whose family is on a two-week vacation to Vietnam (Baumbach completely fails to mine the comedic potential from the fact that there’s something inherently douchey about taking a family with two small children on a vacation to Vietnam).

The reason I say Roger “apparently” grew up in Los Angeles is that neither the character nor the film seems to have a shred of familiarity with the city.  Perhaps if I had never been to the place I now call my home, this wouldn’t bother me as much.  But this indifference to the geography of a place has always rubbed me the wrong way in movies and Los Angeles always seems to get the worst of it.  In case you have seen

Greenberg and you haven’t been to this city, let me clear something up: if a person’s apartment is in Culver City then that person does not live within walking distance of Musso & Frank.  Also, only Hollywood assholes and tourists have lunch at Musso & Frank in the middle of the week.In Baumbach’s mind and, at one point, in his lead character’s words,

Greenberg is about living a life you hadn’t planned on and readjusting your expectations of yourself to the disappointments of reality, which is a truly interesting idea that is ripe for exploration.  Roger, though, is never as sad a man as he’s meant to be because the director seems to be subconsciously convinced that he’s still as cool as I would’ve thought he was when I was 15.

Even though our military invaded Afghanistan first, there have been far more documentaries about Iraq in the last ten years.  Perhaps that’s because the Iraq invasion was entered into with far shakier justification and therefore stokes greater ire.That would explain why the makers of Restrepo did not make a muck-raking or even overtly political movie.  If this film has an agenda at all, it is decidedly a pro-troops one.  Never before attempted, let alone succeeded, painting a sympathetic portrait of what types of people join the military and what the military in general and war in particular does to them.

They may process the death of a friend more matter-of-factly than we civilians would but they are not cold, programmed machines.  On the other hand, they are at least partially there for the purpose of killing people and they have to do their job well.  Never has a film presented taken such a warmly humanist approach to depicting trained killers.  Nothing will haunt you after watching the film as much as how you shared in the triumphant joy these men feel after having successfully ended the life of an enemy.

You don’t have to marvel at the actions of the soldiers in Restrepo and wonder how you would’ve reacted in the same situation.  Because, by the end of the documentary, you know that you would have reacted the same way they did, as a human being enjoying the company of her or his friends and doing her or his job.

Green Zone
As I mentioned last week in a Movie Recommendation, Paul Greengrass began his feature film career with
Bloody Sunday, a telling of the 1972 massacre of Irish protesters by British military.  The docudrama style of that film gave it a sickening urgency and, for better or worse, Greengrass has made that shaky, ground-level presentation his calling card on every film since.A realistic approach to a film’s aesthetics works best when it’s matched by realism in the screenplay and the performances of the cast.  In a film like Green Zone, however, it only serves to contrast and make more apparent the already overwhelming phoniness of pretty much everything that’s going on.

It’s understandable that those who believe (as I do) that President George W. Bush and his administration lied to us and cajoled us into a pointless war in Iraq would want to take temporary solace in a dream where there are easily identifiable villains and dedicated patriots to battle them.  But Greg Kinnear’s State department man is so hollow and sniveling in his malevolence and Matt Damon’s army guy (seriously, I don’t know what to call him; he doesn’t seem to have to answer to any authority I can pinpoint) is so reflexively moral, the movie ends up being like a fantasy too convenient and implausible to even masturbate to.

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