I don’t care for most of the metaphysics, such as they are, in George Roy Hill’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), based on the unread-by-me Kurt Vonnegut novel. Surprisingly, though, some of them I do like. (Are human beings right to believe they possess genuinely FREE will?)
Be that as it may, the virtues in this outre movie are multiple. Hill has his heart in it; his brain too. I don’t know just how versatile an actor Michael Sacks is, but he enacts a maturing innocent, Billy Pilgrim, at various stages of his life knowingly and winningly. Ron Liebman is deep and true as a troubled creep, while Sharon Gans is a passionate non-caricature as the silly Valencia Pilgrim. Also first-rate are the touching Eugene Roche as a decent conservative man and soldier and the enchanting Valerie Perrine as a movie starlet.
It’s difficult to know what the film is ultimately about, particularly since it seems to regard World War II as being without a purpose (Alfred Kazin’s complaint about the novel). But it’s otherwise impressively honest and occasionally darkly funny.
Predictably, characterization means nothing in a movie as unspeakably raunchy as Maggie Carey’s The To Do List (2013). Not a trace of insight arises about why the valedictorian virgin here (Aubrey Plaza) decides to experiment with every form of erotic gratification known to man except for gay stuff. Indeed, none of the major characters is fully believable.
I did get a few laughs from this poorly plotted mess, but everything in it still blurs into one big dirty joke. In Tulsa, The To Do List lasted no more than two weeks and was never even shown in the second-run, dollar theatres. Somehow audiences knew to stay away.
The protagonists in the 1961 Italian film, La Notte (“The Night”), are a married couple—emphatically married. Disillusionment, the weary efforts to understand and console, the fearful concern over having caused pain, the unwillingness to part—these and other realities so frequently subsisting in matrimony are beautifully depicted by director Michelangelo Antonioni. Beyond this, the film raises the following questions: Do Western cultures really care about marriage? Do they care about anything? Why does it seem as though nothing of substance takes place in our busy but non-communal cities? (I’m thinking of the sequence in which the wife, played by Jeanne Moreau, strolls through Milan.)
The second half of this near-classic is somewhat too talky, but the movie in toto is one of the most technically clever, resonantly made pictures I’ve seen.
(In Italian with English subtitles)
“Black” cinema in America still has not reached a level of high merit, as evidenced by the content in Malcolm D. Lee’s The Best Man Holiday (2013).
That I never saw the 1999 flick The Best Man, to which this is a sequel, hardly prevents me from forming a proper opinion of the current film, which I see as superior to something like Lottery Ticket but not even as palatable as the Sanaa Lathan vehicle, Something New. Lathan is in the Lee film, too, and as usual she’s decidedly effective. She never blows it with facial play, timing, or restraint; but, moreover, she’s part of a mostly agreeable cast. Terrence Howard is okay in his role, but the comic character he plays is slimy and offensive. And here’s where the flaws come in.
Critic Stephanie Zacharek at The Village Voice appreciates the movie’s “joyousness” and doesn’t want to talk about the flaws (“flaws be damned”). I agree that a joyousness is there, but I’m not very impressed by it—because the flaws ruin the picture. For one thing, Holiday loses its edge and becomes maudlin. For another, its spirituality is nothing more than pseudo-spirituality. (The holiday in the title, by the way, is Christmas.) Along with utter bawdiness, there is in the film a superficial Christianity—Monica Calhoun’s “Christian” Mia mentions a woman with a “big booty” whom she hates—of which I want no part.