Commissioner Rob Manfred recently imposed new rules designed to reduce the length of Major League Baseball games. With the average 2017 game clocking in at a record three hours, five minutes, and eleven seconds, MLB bigwigs judged the game’s sometimes glacial pace a potential turn-off for the next generation of (presumably attention-span challenged) baseball fans and took action.
I haven’t seen any studies measuring the average length of the contemporary feature-length motion picture, but I have to believe Hollywood execs will start thinking along similar lines in the not too distant future. After all, it’s one thing when a biblical epic such as 1925’s Ben-Hur runs in excess of two hours; quite another when your average super hero epic (for example, the two hour and forty-four minute long The Dark Knight Rises) does the same.
Consider the case of Nelyubov (Loveless, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, March 2), the two-hour and seven minutes long tale of a 12-year old boy who disappears from his broken home. While director Andrei Zvyagintsev is well within his artistic rights to take as long as he needs to tell the story, it could have been told just as effectively in an hour and a half or less – and perhaps even sell more tickets as a result. (Then again, Zvyagintsev’s film has earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, so perhaps he knows what he’s doing and I’m just a cranky old guy writing about film.)
Our runaway is Alexey (Matvey Novikov), whose parents Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rosin) are in the middle of a messy and extremely acrimonious divorce. The police don’t consider the boy’s disappearance unusual or worrisome, but when he fails to return home within a few days the couple are grudgingly compelled to spend time together searching for him.
Upon meeting Zhenya and Boris, you will not be surprised by Alexey’s decision. The couple are clearly some of the worst parents imaginable, neither seeming terribly interested in their son’s wellbeing and both in new relationships that demand a lot of their time (and, in consequence, add unnecessary sub-plots to the film). Even Zhenya’s mother, a monstrous harridan who lives three hours away, has absolutely no interest in her grandson.
Shot in the wintry outskirts of Moscow, Loveless features the sort of long, lingering shots of snowy, damp desolation you’d expect in a Tarkovsky picture as well as some equally long, lingering (and oddly underlit) bedroom scenes. If you saw Zvyagintsev’s previous feature Leviathan (even longer, and also Oscar nominated), you’ll know what to expect.
A gut-wrenching testimony in ‘Winter Soldier’
It’s hard to imagine former Senator John Kerry ever being anything other than a thoroughly cautious, middle-of-the-road politician. Seen throughout the 1972 documentary Winter Soldier (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 3 as part of the series ‘Documenting Vietnam’), the once radical Kerry was active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s so-called ‘Winter Soldier’ investigations, which recorded war crimes testimony in early 1971. That gut-wrenching testimony is at the heart of this must-see film.