Friday, April 27, 2018


Opening this weekend:

Godard Mon Amour--The "mon" in the title refers to Anne Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), Godard's much younger second wife and the star of his 1967 La Chinoise. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius of The Artist, Godard Mon Amour chronicles the years of Godard and Wiazemsky's marriage. The particular focus is on the anti-De Gaulle demonstrations of May 1968, and the miseries Godard (Louis Garrel) inflicted on his wife, his friends and himself during that period, in his flailing attempts to be an authentic revolutionary.

Shot in gorgeous, sunny tones by Guillaume Shiffman, the film is well-acted, funny, sexy at times, and has a buoyant energy that is, if not Godardian, at least an amusing parody of the style. There are also nods to Woody Allen, like a redo of the subtitle gag from Annie Hall or, a la Stardust Memories, people asking Godard if he'll go back to making funny movies. And there are fourth wall gags, both overt and subtle, as when Godard is complaining about tracking shots just as Hazanavicius is in the midst of tracking up the length of Anne's sunbathing bikini-clad body.

In terms of its story, however, Godard Mon Amour most reminded me of Sullivan's Travels, the 1941 Preston Sturges comedy about a film director (Joel McCrea) of lightweight entertainments who hits the road as a bum to enrich his artistry by learning first hand about hardscrabble "real life." Sullivan ultimately comes to the conclusion that he can best serve mankind by making them laugh, but the humorless Godard we get here isn't about to reach that epiphany.

Hazanavicius derives much deadpan comedy from seeing Godard rant about the class struggle while dining with his friends at posh restaurants or romping with Anne in their beautiful Parisian apartment, and of course by snubbing admirers and behaving rudely toward the few actual working class people with whom he interacts. If the aim of the film, based on a book by Wiazemsky and also known under the title Le Redoubtable, is to depict Godard as an insufferably posturing, petulant, self-loathing douche, it succeeds mightily.

How fair any of this is I couldn't say; I don't even know how faithful Hazanavicius is to Wiazemsky's own, presumably subjective, account. But in general, fury at the inability to escape one's own middle-class sensibility is a very common phenomenon among middle-class lefty intellectuals, and it's a great subject, especially for comedy.  Hazanavicius makes his Godard the butt of this joke, but isn't able to make his hero likable in the process, as Godard himself might have.

Avengers: Infinity War--A big ogreish alien called Thanos (Josh Brolin) feels a strong need to de-clutter. Specifically, he wants to destroy half of all the living beings in the universe. To do this, he must capture six "Infinity Stones" stashed around the cosmos, including a couple on Earth, and implant them on his big armored gauntlet thingy. Opposed to his plan are both Iron Man's and Captain America's estranged factions of the Avengers, the Wakandans from Black Panther, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-man, Dr. Strange, and other Marvel stars and bench players.

This Gotter-half-dammerung free-for-all, largely based on a limited-run comic series from the early '90s, was directed by the brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who also helmed two of the earlier Captain America flicks. Unless you're a hardcore Marvel brand loyalist, there's a good chance you could get lost now and then in the specifics of the eye-crossing multi-strand narrative. But the Russos do a capable job of keeping the basic conflict clear, and they keep the big action set-pieces coming.

Over the last few years, Marvel has given us some half-dozen genuinely fun, delightful pictures, like Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy the first, Dr. StrangeSpider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok, leading up to this year's grand slam Black Panther. For me, Infinity War was a slight step down from these, probably because it's such an overstuffed all-star spectacular that it inevitably lacks a certain balance and focus, and also because the plot and the stakes are so cosmically, apocalyptically heavy.

Even so, the actors manage to find more playfulness than might be expected. There's some serious charisma in this cast: Robert Downey, Jr.'s top billing feels right, he seems to just naturally assume a leading man status in this ensemble. But his costars come across strongly too--Chris Hemsworth's harried Thor, Benedict Cumberbatch's suavely low-key Dr. Strange, Chadwick Boseman's quiet, bashfully authoritative Black Panther with his elegant entourage, the peerlessly soulful Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, and Mark Ruffalo's chagrined Bruce Banner, who's having a bit of trouble getting a rise out of his inner green self.

A few of the stars seem to get lost in the shuffle of this movie's ambitions, among them the recessive Captain America of Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie's Falcon and the Black Widow of Scarlett Johansson. And when Scarlett Johansson is one of the less vivid presences in a movie, you know there's glamour going on.

It will be interesting to see how this movie is received by casual fans. Even allowing that mortality is highly flexible in comics, there are surprising losses here, and a resolution that seems inconclusive in the Empire Strikes Back vein. I enjoyed Infinity War, but it left me thoroughly unsatisfied, just as it was supposed to.

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