Playtime

Director:  Jacques Tati

France, 1967

Playtime is as unique a movie as I have ever seen.  It is a film that defies description.  As Roger Ebert says, “[It] is one of a kind, complete in itself, a species already extinct at the moment of its birth.”  It was directed by Jacques Tati, hardly well-known today.  He is the direct predecessor of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd.  Tati’s alter ego, M. Hulot, is very similar to those comedy stars of the silent era.

Playtime essentially has no plot.  Rather, it has a series of themes and incidents.  M. Hulot is a character in it, at least on the periphery.  He has traveled to Paris (an ultra-modernized Paris completely of Tati’s imagination) for some sort of business meeting.  What type of meeting it is is rather unclear, and totally irrelevant.  Hulot is just one of many recurring characters in the film.  We are not supposed to know much about them.  They are just part of the landscape that Tati paints.

The comedy that Tati employs throughout the film is far from the physical comedy of the aforementioned filmmakers.  The film is full of sight gags, many of which are readily apparent.  At one point, an American tourist wanders in a building and looks at a travel poster advertising London.  In the picture we see a large, rectangular building with a London-ish double-decker bus in front.  She then walks outside and sees the exact same scene, a large, rectangular building (identical to the one in the building) and a bus (this time a green Paris-ish bus) in front.  At a restaurant, a glass door breaks.  The doorman quickly picks up the handle and pretends to open the door for the customers, even takes tips from them.  Toward the end of the movie, a number of cars travel around a traffic circle while carnival music plays.  All the cars stop.  After a man places a coin in a parking meter, all the cars start moving again.

I really enjoyed this film, though it isn’t easily accessible.  It is pure cinema, to use Hitchcock’s phrase.  That is, it relies solely on images to tell the story, or in this case, stories.  There is almost no dialog.  What dialog there is is completely superfluous.  Someone compared it to 2001, though Playtime has actually less dialog than that.  Most of the scenes are shot from a distance.  There are no close-ups, and very few medium shots.  You are able to see far too much in each scene.  This technique requires you to be observant, as we are not told what to look at.  Many critics have noted that you need to watch this film several times in order to contemplate all there is to contemplate.

One of the main themes is the affect that modern technology has on man, vice-versa.  I was reminded of the writings of Neil Postman, who spoke often of how technology changes the way we view the world.  In Playtime, technology, specifically architecture, determines much about how the characters act.  It is a Huxleyan future, one where people are lulled into ambivalence.

There are many aspects of this film that cause you to think.  There are also many aspects that cause you to smile.  Often, the same part of the film accomplishes both.  That is one mark of a great film, one that entertains while it enlightens.  If you are willing to give it your time, it can reward you greatly.

Rating:  9/10

Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone is the first film by director Ben Affleck.  As an actor, I am not that impressed with Ben.  As a director, though, he has shown himself very capable.  GBG is about a child abduction case.  It takes place in Boston, MA.  Helene McReady (Amy Ryan) is the drug-addicted mother of the abducted child.  Her sister-in-law, Bea (Amy Madigan) decides to hire some private investigators, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), to augment the police investigation.  The police captain in charge of the missing children’s division is Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman).  His own child was murdered many years previous.  Patrick and Angie begin to work with the primary investigators on the case, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton).  Patrick is from the neighborhood, and can talk with people who don’t talk with the police.  As the investigation continues, everyone starts to wonder if they will find the child alive.  Even if they do find her alive, she may not be in good hands with her derelict mother.

This is an emotionally intense movie.  It is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane.  Lehane also wrote the novel on which the movie Mystic River is based.  They are similar movies in that they both are set in Boston, and they both involve crimes against children.  They both contain characters with deep emotional scars.  I think Mystic River is a little better movie.  It affected me much more than GBG.  That being said, GBG is a good movie.  The acting is all very good.  I have been very impressed with Casey Affleck.  He was entertaining in the Ocean’s movies (Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen).  Last year he also appeared in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, opposite Brad Pitt. He was very good in that.  In GBG, he has a youth and innocence that contrasts well with the corruption that surrounds him.

The production design of this movie is very good.  It was shot on location in Boston.  Most of the extras were locals, many of whom are non-actors.  All this gives the movie a very authentic feel.  You get a real sense of the neighborhood.

Ben Affleck does a good job his first time as director.  He doesn’t rely on cheap emotional manipulation, or unnecessary cinematic tricks.  He tells the story in a very straightforward manner.  The pacing is very nice.  He takes the necessary time to tell the story, allow each scene a proper time.  I can’t say he will become as good of a director as other actors (Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford in particular), but he did good with this movie.  It helps that he is from the Boston area.  He was able to apply an intimate knowledge that some one else might now have had.

Though it is gritty, and very emotional (especially for a parent), I would recommend it.  It makes you think about things you’d rather not think about.  I questioned some of the decisions of the characters.  Yet, I wondered how I would react in the same situation.  I didn’t approve of them, but I really could criticize them.  I would recommend you check the content review of the movie before you see it (link to the right).  It is raw, and dark, but if you can deal with that, it is worth seeing.

Rating:  7/10

Buckle your seatbelts . . .

At the suggestion of my friend, Randy, I have started a blog where I can talk about movies.  I will post movie reviews and suggestions.  I will feature lists of my favorite films.  I will also discuss my favorite directors and their films.  Please, leave your comments, objections, and requests.

I also plan to offer a service.  I will suggest movies upon anyone’s request.  You tell me what movies you like, and I will suggest a movie that you might like of which you are unaware.  I am to help people expand their film landscape.

Thank you, and good day.