John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, playing through September 4 at Film Forum; as some of you may recall, I was a sportswriter for 15 years and although tennis has never been on a list of my favorite subjects, Johnny Mac was always worth watching. For all his supposedly bratty behavior, he was a fascinating player whose game was based around finesse, intellligence and some magical shot-making. This French documentary, directed by Julien Faurut, combines a portrait of McEnroe at his peak with Markeresque ruminations on the game and how it stresses and warps personality. Any film that quotes Serge Daney (whose writings inspired the name and, I hope, tone of this blog) on tennis is worth your time.
McEnroe: Man Making a Racket
Andrei Rublev may be the greatest of all Andrei Tarkovsky's films. (I would probably push for Stalker, although Nostalghia is a personal favorite). Rublev is the one in which his thematic concerns, his mysticism edged with pessimism, most clearly emerge without derailing the film's forward momentum. As a film about the motivations that drive artists, it is at once oblique -- we never see Rublev working on his brilliant icons -- yet decisive. The lengthy final movement of the film, centered on the casting of a giant bell, process that Rublev witnesses with a certain fascinated detachment, speaks as directly to his own muses as anything in the film, and is dramatic, beautiful and stirring as any sequence in Tarkovsky's canon. The new digital restoration on view at Lincoln Center into the first weeks of September is a vivid, crisp reminder of the smoke-filled, rain-soaked world of Tarkovsky and a fitting tribute to a singular filmmaker.
Chris Weitz might seem an odd choice to direct a thriller about the abduction of Adolf Eichmann, but Operation Finale is a tough-minded throwback to the kind of densely layered genre piece that used to be the bread-and-butter staple of American film. My review of the film is here.
Blue Iguana: Schwartz and Rockwell in Cahoots
Finally there is Blue Iguana, a cheerfully ramshackle crime comedy bolstered by the undeniable charms of Sam Rockwell playing a career criminal with more guts than brains, imported to London for a single heist along with his dumb-and-dumber friend (Ben Schwartz), at the behest of a smart, repressed lawyer (Phoebe Fox). Needless to say, the initial action goes wildly wrong, leading to a series of increasingly violent face-offs with a gang of none-too-bright denizens of the British capital's underworld. Much gross-out humor ensues and a lot of Tarantino-esque violence. Writer-producer-director Hadi Hajaig keeps the action moving at a healthy gallop, so much so that you don't notice the large structural holes in his original screenplay until hours after the film is over. The result is surprisingly funny and generally entertaining, although the action sequences are more slick than precise and the entire thing makes less than a lot of sense. Rockwell and Fox carry a lot of the load with their cautiously flirtatious rapport.