Managed to see a couple of the flicks new to theatres, including Casino Royale and Deja Vu. The former, I'd shrugglingly say, is only a marginal improvement over the recent Bond excursions. Yes, it figures Bond in darker terms, and cheekily plays with--- or plays away--- some of the Bond mythology, but the action sequences are ludicrously true-to-form, and so about as thrilling as tap water. Daniel Craig's turn as Bond is fine, even if he looks like Prince Charles' blond-headed nephew, and Eva Green sizzles reliably, though she's given precious little to do. I gather, however, the filmmakers could only muster enough irony for the irrelevant flourishes regarding martinis and swimsuits. The specious spectacles are as impossibly contrived as ever, with a high-altitude fight-sequence that's a birch's-leap away from Crouching Tiger, and a poker game that's obviously scripted by someone who knows the game but has never played a hand. And only Bond could have a heart-attack in the middle of a poker game--- and return to the game with an undepeleted chip-stack. So don't believe the hype, or any of the reviews; it's just more of the same, with a few cosmetic touch-ups--- or touch-downs. As for the inauspiciously-titled Deja Vu, the less said the better. It's just a cross between Minority Report and Laura, executed with the sophistication of Timecop. It also proves a law that hardly needed re-proving, that any movie that fucks around with time eventually ends up fucking with itself--- and leaving time sadly wasted.
More delightfully, I've been rediscovering the many virtues of two older macabre comedies, Arsenic and Old Lace and the original The Ladykillers. Of the former, I have to confess I had forgotten how good Cary Grant is in it: his performance is a manic aria of antic genius, that characteristic cool of his as much a victim of the comic action as any of the bodies in the basement. It's all farce--- and farce on top of farce, on top of farce, a kinetic piling on of ridiculously exasperating complications--- but it's a brilliant exercise in infectious lunacy, thanks largely to a terrific supporting cast that includes Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre, and Jean Adair and Josephine Hull as the dotty old aunts with the deadly decanter. Most importantly, though, the movie's still laugh-out-loud funny. I assure you, you'll never be able to hear the word "charge" again without chuckling, and certainly no movie in film history uses a bugle more effectively.
What Arsenic does for the bugle, The Ladykillers does for the minuet, Boccherini's in fact, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better example of comic menace than Alec Guinness' performance, a parody of his friend (and onetime biographer) Kenneth Tynan that's touched with bits from Alistair Sim and Raymond Massey for good measure. Guinness gets most of the laughs, his eyes somehow droller than droll, and it's a hoot how he weaves subtlety into what might otherwise be described as a caricature. There's a bare second, for example, in which he manages to make Boccherini seem funky, but it's a perfect little arabesque that's both broad and wry at the same time. (Tom Hanks tried creditably for both of those qualities in the Coen Brothers remake, and failed on the latter. The temptation toward shamelsss mugging was probably just too great.) The movie's not perfect--- it wraps things up a little too abruptly--- but it's still a hell of a lot of fun; and it and Arsenic and Old Lace will cause you keep your distance from those little lopsided old ladies. They only seem harmless.
Is it worth adding that I also saw Robin Williams' Man of the Year? No, it's not, save to make two brief notes: first, that it's one of a number of movies shot partially in my neck of the woods lately; secondly, that Williams has, I think, become terminally unfunny, the only laugh in that celluloid craptacular coming from Lewis Black, one of the few living practitioners of the manic aria. Of course, the script is bad--- very, very bad--- and the flick goes entirely off the rails when it decides to follow the dead weight that is Laura Linney on a storyline. (She's a vaguely competent actress, but she has a vampirical effect on every movie she's in, sucking every fluid ounce of life out them, like Meryl Streep used to do before she got cheeky.) Robin, though, has become everyone's boring uncle. He gestures wildly and says things that are supposed to be edgy and audacious, but it's all schtick and noise and distraction that's distracting no one. He's not an expired talent by any means, as his dramatic roles prove quite well; but I'd suggest he look back on some of his great comedic forebears, like Cary Grant and Alec Guinness. The former has a lot to teach him about sustained mania, and the latter a lot about going beyond the predictabilities of broad comedy. Right now, Robin's movies are closer to Casino Royale and Deja Vu than they are to The Ladykillers or Arsenic and Old Lace. They're familiar before we even see them, as contrived as they could possibly be, and they leave everyone too much apprised of time too sadly wasted. Not just ours, frankly, but his.