Apart from this, that, and the other thing, here’s what I’ve seen in the first half of the most boring month of the year.


Jean-Luc Godard’s recent films seem scarcely recognizable from his best-known work. Sometime after WEEKEND (1967), playfulness and accessibility gave way to pretension, intellectualism and something approaching anarchy—not really the gleeful, punk kind, but a strain more subversive and belabored. Truthfully, I haven’t seen much of his later work, apart from the button-pushing HAIL MARY (1985) (which I barely remember anything about) and the oblique, contentious IN PRAISE OF LOVE (2001).

His latest is his best received effort in decades. Though far from the most engaging “art” film I’ve seen in the past year (certainly nowhere near GOODBYE DRAGON INN or even PRIMER), its merits barely outweigh its debits. From what I can gather, NOTRE MUSIQUE is rumination on war, complacency and shifting/evolving political paradigms. As is typical of Godard, it’s structured into chapters: Hell and Heaven respectively (and briefly) open and close the film, while the intervening Purgatory makes up the bulk of it. Hell and Heaven both approach poetry, the former with an emotional montage of found footage dating back to Nazi Germany, the latter set entirely in a self-contained emulation of paradise that aptly feels like a dream. Purgatory, on the other hand, exists entirely in modern-day Sarajevo and resembles a free-form lecture, densely stringing together a journalist, a young female Russian-Jewish activist, a few Native Americans, cool camera tricks, and lots of discourse with little narrative holding it together.

I wish Godard aimed for more clarity in presenting all these ideas/images as a thesis, and to argue that the complexity of these issues doesn’t allow for it is a cop-out. But I can’t entirely dismiss this film for merely being obtuse. True, I did nod off at random moments throughout Purgatory, but at other instances, I felt wrapped up in Godard’s images, particularly one scene where the protagonist gradually, almost magically comes into focus. Unlike IN PRAISE OF LOVE, I can imagine returning to NOTRE MUSIQUE again, trying to fit its disparate puzzle pieces into place to at least get at Godard’s big picture, if one does indeed exist.


I never really paid much attention to Kevin Bacon until I finally saw DINER for the first time a few years ago. I was suitably impressed—his character was passionate, funny, tortured and ultimately tragic, not like death but of someone who just doesn’t recognize his own potential. In real life, you could say that Mickey Rourke’s career followed that path rather than Bacon’s, but until this decade, the latter’s claim to fame was arguably a party game based on his ubiquity rather than his value as an actor or a marquee name.

Although I initially praised Tim Robbins for his transformative role in MYSTIC RIVER, I now think Bacon gave that film’s key performance—certainly subtler, more restrained and internal than Robbins or fellow overacting Oscar winner Sean Penn. And now, Bacon flexes his chops in THE WOODSMAN, a disturbing little film about Walter, a man adjusting to life following a twelve year prison sentence. We don’t find out the nature of his crime until halfway through the film, and even though every bit of press emphasizes it, I’ve decided not to mention it here, either, for those few of you who haven’t heard what it is. I went into the film knowing why Walter was imprisoned, and I think I would’ve appreciated it more had I been kept in the dark (in the same way that John Cassavetes’ final film, LOVE STREAMS, is far more interesting if you don’t know the relationship between his and Gena Rowland’s characters going into the film).

So, THE WOODSMAN is about guilt, making bad choices, learning to live with an affliction and understanding how it affects the people you choose to surround yourself with. Although I found some of the film’s set-ups a tad implausible (and you might too, for crushingly obvious reasons), I never thought Walter himself was an unrealistic figure. Bacon could have played him as a saint or monster, but instead, he comes off unexpectedly sympathetic, even when we don’t fully comprehend his motivations or desires. Kyra Sedgwick is also good as the person who doesn’t necessarily provide Walter with his redemption, but at least guides him towards it. The rest of the cast is uneven: rapper Eve gracefully does what she can with a cipher role, but as a detective checking up on Walter, I couldn’t tell whether Mos Def was supposed to be misguided, evil or just stoned.

Fortunately, Bacon is right up there with Paul Giamatti regarding this year’s best lead actor: nuanced and controlled, he exudes as much presence as the film’s working-class Philadelphia neighborhoods.


Oh, those wacky Icelanders. Curious, deadpan piece about a slacker living in a remote village. Lots of great ideas and sight gags and a melancholy ending that doesn’t feel at all forced. Not as successful an exploration of quirk as KITCHEN STORIES, the work of Aki Kaurismaki, or REYKJAVIK 101, but not a waste of time, either.


Never have the spooky and the banal ever so wickedly vied for a viewer’s attention as they do in this low-budget mishmash of JAWS and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I’d say skip the first trite fifteen minutes and head straight to the water: whenever the stranded couple is in peril, the film’s engaging. Whenever they whine about their predicament, it’s annoying. Too bad that the film’s eerie, superb last ten minutes don’t entirely justify the ragged, uneven seventy that proceed them.


A sweet biopic about the PETER PAN author as portrayed by a competent (if oddly dull) Johnny Depp. I almost caught myself falling under its sentimental spell until I realized however well-executed and occasionally restrained, it’s still tugging at the heartstrings in the worst possible way in lieu of the most Academy Award nominations. As a friend would say, pleasant enough for schoolchildren, but everyone else should know better.