Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

My Colleagues Are Wrong!

I hate to disagree with my fellow A.V. Clubbers, whom I respect as writers and revere as friends, but this week, Scott and Keith have their respective heads up their respective asses regarding two movies–one of which is among the most interesting of the year, and one of which is among the best.

First, Marie Antoinette. I can't make the case that Sofia Coppola's latest is a great movie, but I'd argue that it's on a par with The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation. Coppola's kind of a cold fish as a filmmaker, and not especially deep, but there's something striking about the way she combines luxe imagery, dreamy pop and thick-walled monuments to her own anxieties. Here, she obsesses over the trappings and protocol of royalty–something that, as many critics have pointed out, she knows something about personally–while indicating that real passion is something the privileged can only play at. That may not be the most stirring subject to make a movie about, but at least Coppola keeps Marie Antoinette brisk and fairly funny, and packed with scenes that coalesce between the screen and the viewer, like the best impressionist art. The movie is by no means a masterpiece, but neither is it some kind of humorless, one-note slog. There's a good chance that it'll be one of those films that people are going to still be picking over decades hence.

As for The Prestige, it really is a great movie: a mind-bending puzzle that really starts to come together when you think and talk about it afterwards. Remember the first time you saw Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's breakout film, Memento? How after it was over, you spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out what you saw, and then, in the hours after that, what it might mean? Well, The Prestige is easily the Nolan brothers' most personal and cannily constructed film since Memento. Like Memento, The Prestige deals with obsession and fragmented consciousness; and like Memento, The Prestige employs a tricky chronology that mirrors what the movie is about. Specifically, The Prestige features at least one not-too-well-concealed twist that I'm 90% sure is left out in the open on purpose, so that the audience will think they're ahead of the movie, and get caught flatfooted when the real twists come later. (In magician's terms, that's called misdirection.) I don't want to get too much into the significance of those climactic twists, because it's impossible to do so without spoiling the movie for people who haven't seen it, but suffice to say that I was knocked out by how Nolan sneaks in bits of information almost subliminally. It says something about how good this movie is that when it was over, I couldn't imagine how it ever worked as a book.

But I don't want to be too hard on my brothers this week. After all, Scott was dead-on about Flags Of Our Fathers, which contains about an hour's worth of gripping filmmaking and historical corrective, but then repeats itself and repeats itself, and eventually tries to pull something inspiring out of a story that doesn't have much uplift to give. Scott liked the battle scenes more than I did–I found the setting amazing, the staging unspectacular–but we're on the same page about how the movie's too good to dismiss, too muddled to hail.

And anyway, there are other movies worth seeing in theaters right now.