Tag: George Clooney

Nice Fur Coat

by on Dec.02, 2009, under Movies

Beyond their compatible tones and themes, though, Salinger’s and Anderson’s work display a similar approach to characterization—a kind of ornamental realism that suggests Gustave Flaubert’s journalistic romanticism, with its obsessive worrying over the rightness of each word and phrase, only updated and pushed to the brink of caricature, sometimes beyond. The style is rooted in the notion that character can be signified, revealed, perhaps even distilled, through observable details.

–Matt Zoller Seitz, The Substance of Style Pt 4

Margot Tenenbaum’s fur coat shimmies in slow-motion as she gets off a bus, recalling Franny Glass’s sheared-raccoon coat. Anderson’s objective correlatives evoke nostalgia for a bourgeois childhood as enveloping as a hot bubble bath. He personifies things and objectifies people, aiming always for a pleasantly underwhelming sumptuousness. So it’s hard not to see the lovingly manufactured puppets in The Fantastic Mr. Fox as the epitome of this process.

The story Anderson tells reinforces this sense of unecstatic pleasure rooted in precision and thinginess. “I’m a wild animal,” protests George Clooney’s fox at every turn, but the joys of Mr. Fox aren’t rooted in wildness at all. For the characters, pleasure comes via real estate, dinner parties, a supermarket smorgasborg laid out like a gridded city, and, somewhere in there, the wild-but-careful thieveries and acts of cunning. For the audience, the pleasure is in the superfine textures of the characters and their world: ornamental realism, a celebration of the finer things. These are the teddy bears that rich children miss.

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The Informant!

by on Sep.20, 2009, under Movies

To many, Steven Soderbergh’s is the face that launched a thousand indies, but he’s much more impressive as the redemption of old, big, star-struck Hollywood.  I’m glad he takes the time between his major motion pictures for his experimental confections; I suspect that the linguistic investigations of Schizopolis or the cruddy longeurs of Bubble expand the palette that he brings to blockbuster cinema.

I think he shares with Tarantino an enormous wellspring of inspiration, but while Tarantino’s is his mind’s own Video Hut of Alexandria, Soderbergh’s is more of a living cinema sketchbook or laboratory. I simply no longer want to see those experiments. Full Frontal was the last straw, and its unfortunate fascination with the slippage between the lives led and lives played by Hollywood types, not all that clever a riff on Pirandello to begin with, ruined Ocean’s 12 when it was imported into that movie.

(Schizopolis underwhelmed me because I’d seen its famous “Generic greeting” scene done before — but I could never remember where. The blog While Seated jogged my memory: I’d gone to see Chicago’s Neo-Futurists perform Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind in 1991 in Chicago.)

But when he’s on, he’s on. Ocean’s 11 is, for me, the purest cinematic pleasure, drum-tight in the action and just loose enough to be sexy or funny without dropping the plot. Out of Sight is a slow and sexy crime story that maximizes the given resources of Elmore Leonard and George Clooney and even draws a shapely performance out of Jennifer Lopez. The Limey is probably the best evidence for my hypothesis about Soderbergh’s experiments informing his genre treatments: ruthlessly edited down, it’s a no-frills, sharp-angled story that relies much more upon the play between Terrence Stamp’s quiet anger and Luis Gúzman’s chatter than Lem Dobbs’ much-abused script.

Like no other director, Soderbergh has made the use of stars part of his art. That’s what makes the characterization of The Informant!‘s Mark Whitacre and his giddy, high-wire performance by Matt Damon so surprising and so much fun. Soderbergh’s great at exploiting star power — viz. Clooney — and to the extent that that’s been coaxed out of Damon previously, it’s been either his headstrong youthfulness in Ocean’s 11 or the reticent hawk of the Bourne movies. (Parker and Stone drew what is perhaps the canonical take.)

There’s seemingly no reticence at all in Mark Whitacre, the title character who moves from a “white hat” at the beginning of the movie, exposing himself to great risk in order to bring ADM to hell for its price-fixing scheme, to something altogether more complicated by the movie’s end.  Not only does he run off at the mouth to anyone within earshot, often with compromising information, his internal live-encyclopedia monologue comes up as a voice-over:


When polar bears hunt, they crouch down by a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to pop up. They keep one paw over their nose so that they blend in. Cuz’ they’ve got those black noses. They’d blend in perfectly if not for the nose...


Whitacre descends the steps of the jet followed by Andreas and some other SUITS. Whitacre peels off the group.


I’m just gonna hit the head here.


So the question is. How do they know their noses are black? From looking at other polar bears? Do they see their reflections in the water? And think, “I’d be invisible if not for that.” That seems like a lot of thinking for a bear.

Whitacre’s ever-interjecting consciousness adds a note of frenzy–of monkey mind–to an already-frenetic performance. Marvin Hamlisch’s loopy and anachronistic score reinforces the mania of Whitacre’s personality. The movie is serious enough about the ADM scheme and the various powers that conspire to refocus the investigation on the whistleblower instead of the crime. But Whitacre’s characterization, ranging from chipper and corn-fed to not sane, shapes the work and gives it its real artistic stretch.

The most impressive feat of The Informant! is that it takes us up this close to its protagonist but manages to hold back critical information about his actions and intentions. We get inside his mind without getting inside his plan. (Significantly, his first voice-over, presented originally to the audience but revealed to be a speech to his young son, clues us in that his mental monologue is very much a performance.) Done poorly, this could come off as unfair or selective on the part of the director. Instead, it’s exciting, allowing us intimacy with Whitacre from the beginning yet still leaving plenty of room for suspense and revelation. The storytelling gives us an unreliable narrator verging on a kind of first-person free indirect style.

The polar bear anecdote isn’t the only Whitacre ramble about deception and perception in the animal kingdom. Whitacre tells us how the colors of poisonous butterflies are adopted by their benign cousins to scare away birds. And he tells us (talking to his son, in the first monologue) that our breakfast orange juice and maple syrup conceal good old corn. Every act of looking is looking at a lie.

Link to screenplay by Scott Z. Burns

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