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July 31, 2006

Scanner, Scoop, and Sketches

Somewhat unintentionally, I caught three movies this weekend, Richard Linklater's stylishly trippy take on PK Dick, A Scanner Darkly, Sidney Pollock's interesting if too deferential doc, Sketches of Frank Gehry, and Woody Allen's dull "Thin Man" update, Scoop. I'll try to write longer entries about them later (especially Scanner and Sketches, which both deserve further discussion), but for now a few quick comments.

A Scanner Darkly: I'd been looking forward to Linklater's film for a long time, and the discussion of the film at CultureSpace describes much of what I liked about it, although my experience of the film was much different than Michael's for reasons I can't describe without giving away a major plot point. Linklater's use of rotoscope animation works well for the subject matter: the highly addictive Substance D used by Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), James (Robert Downey, Jr), and Ernie (Woody Harrelson). Some of the best scenes feature Officer Fred (also Reeves) and Hank wearing scramble suits designed to conceal their identities by "scrambling" thousands of different identities that continuously morph and shift. As a commentary on surveillance and corporate power, Linklater's film may not be adding anything new, but the disorienting effect of the animation makes for a powerful cinematic experience.

Sketches of Frank Gehry: While watching Sidney Pollock's documentary about Gehry (essentially a series of recorded conversations), I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the film, in part because Pollock and Gehry rarely venture into any sort of interpretation of Gehry's architecture. While I can admire the creativity of structures such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or the postmodern playfulness of the Gehry House in Santa Monica, I most appreciated the skeptical take on Gehry's work raised by Hal Foster (an art historian whose work I admire), in part because Foster raised some specific questions about how people inhabit and use buildings, with Foster specifically raising the point that the Guggenheim building might overwhelm the art it holds. Much of the rest of the film seemed dominated by Pollock's preoccupations with artistic success and creativity

Scoop: I probably wouldn't have seen Woody Allen's latest yarn under normal circumstances, but because I was with a larger group, I hoped for something like a playful, contemporary take on the Thin Man films described in AO Scott's review, but Allen's one-liners have lost their sharpness, and Scarlet Johansson's bubble-headed college journalist simply wasn't that interesting although Allen's camera clearly relished lingering over Johansson in her wet bathing suit. I deeply enjoyed many of Allen's low-key detective comedies (I'm rather fond of Manhattan Murder Mystery in particular), but Scoop simply seemed lazy and sloppy to me.

Posted by chuck at July 31, 2006 11:04 AM

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Did you see architecture critic Witold Rybczynski take on Sketches of Frank Gehry at Slate? He had many of the same complaints.

Posted by: A. Horbal at July 31, 2006 12:51 PM

I must have skimmed Rybczysnki's review because it looks familiar, and his diagnosis of Pollock casting Gehry as an outsider rebel figure (a la Ayn Rand) seems about right, a depiction that seems completely at odds with the fact that Gehry's career depends on access to the capital made available from giant multinational corporations, which hardly makes Gehry a rebel. If I write a longer review, I'll likely riff off of Rybczynski's--glad you pointed it out.

Posted by: Chuck at July 31, 2006 12:58 PM

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