Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

In which everything that worked in the first film is stripped away and we're left with another summer-movie disappointment. The actors are mainly going through the paces (Brian Cox, for instance, has a role that he could play in his sleep, which is the approach he seems to have chosen), and the action scenes are terrible -- imagine trying to film a fight scene with a camera that has been stuck inside a paint mixer and you'll get the idea. And, if you melted some cheese over the screenplay, it would make for the most delicious hash browns. The coda is comically inappropriate.

Grade: C
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004)

Last Saturday a dwarf couple came into the store. Seriously. I heard the door chime and I turned to say hello, like we always do, and I only see the top of a head bobbing along. So I figure, hey, it's some kid come in looking for their mom, but then I realize that most kids don't have male pattern baldness. So there was this little person in the store and he had his little person girlfriend with him. I'd never encountered a dwarf before, so I thought that was kinda cool. He was a nice guy, too.

And what does this have to do with Tad Hamilton? Not a fucking thing.

Grade: D+
Dirty Harry (1971)

Certainly troublesome in its politics, with the implication that the violent, sociopathic Callahan is justified in his actions because, you know, criminal scum and ineffectual liberal courts and all that. The film doesn't make itself any easier to like, either, with its incredible deck-stacking -- against Harry the unorthodox-but-good cop, we get not a charismatic or nuanced villain but a slobbering, raving psychopath who leaves us no options when it comes to audience identification. However, while I'm not fond of the film's right-leaning stance, it can't be faulted on any other grounds. It's a fantastic cop thriller made even more exciting by Don Siegal's terse direction. (The most thrilling shot is also the most atypical: the camera spiraling into the heavens at the end of the football stadium arrest.) And Andy Robinson's Scorpio may be a caricature, but he's also a memorable villain for the ages. I'm torn between my distaste for what the film is saying and my lower-brain enjoyment of its hard-boiled action aesthetic, and as you all know, I listen to my reptilian brain probably a little too often.

Grade: B
Winter Light (1963)

Chilly drama from Ingmar Bergman that dares to look oblivion in the face and ask: What if we really are alone here? If Persona is, as I was taught in a course on philosophy and film, about Hegelian dynamics and the recognition of the Self in the Other and whatnot, this then represents an inability to get beyond the Self, with its main character so wrapped up in his crisis of faith and his own loss that he can offer no help to his congregation (and, indeed, he maybe be the worst thing for them). Opaque, frustrating, occasionally reminiscent of bad teenage poetry... but also pretty fucking devastating.

Grade: B
Fast Company (1979)

So I guess even David Cronenberg can't make race cars interesting. Good to know.

Grade: D

Monday, July 26, 2004

King of the Ants (2004)

A house painter becomes an assassin in the latest film from terminally uneven B-auteur Stuart Gordon. The film has interesting ideas about the limits of what man can or should do, as well as a surprising and complex understanding of morality (it's one of the rare films to nail the difference between immorality and amorality), but it's damaged by a screenplay that knows where it wants to go but doesn't quite know the way there, and it's fatally wounded by a godawful lead performance by Chris McKenna. Kind of worth seeing anyway, just for the obvious fun George Wendt is having in subverting his image, but it's pretty clear to me why this couldn't buy a theatrical dance.

Grade: C+
The Son (2003)

Spare to the point of nonexistence, this bone-dry tale might have made a decent entry in Kieslowski's Decalogue. Instead of an hour, though, this runs 103 minutes, which leaves it as an exercise in marking time until one of the characters works up the guts to upset the stasis. Because of its tabula rasa nature, all manner of meaning and subtext can be ascribed to the film; I prefer to take this as is, and I find it wanting.

Grade: C+
The Last Laugh (1924)

Technically astounding silent film about a doorman's fall into despair following the loss of his job features skilled directon and a lovely acting job from Emil Jannings. The plot, too, is oft-heartbreaking. But apologizing for your ending in advance doesn't make it suck any less.

Grade: B+
Ivan the Terrible, Part II (1958)

Starchy historical pageant with little of the inspiration and none of the fire that drove the excellent first installment; save for a couple odd inspired shots, Eisenstein seems to have directed this by rote. The fierce, ambitious and proud Ivan from the first film here has been reduced to an incomprehensible and repetitive cipher. No thanks buds.

Grade: C

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I, Robot (2004)

Better than it looked, mainly because it really does have something on its mind -- it's concerned with no less than the stuff of life that makes us uniquely human. (In that respect, it's like a bigger, booomier version of Alex Proyas' previous Dark City.) Even as it devolves into a generic actionathon, it keeps the ideas up front (the reveal of the villain is surprising in its force and ambiguity). Still saddled with a lot of unfortunate stupid stuff, most of which I suspect was the work of Akiva Goldsman (the worst screenwriter ever to take home an Oscar), and Shia LaBeouf's character seems like a holdover from a different cut of the film, one in which he had something to do. Bridget Moynahan is problematic, too -- she's so forced and stiff that I thought she would be revealed as a robot in the third act. Still, it's more thoughtful than your average summer fare, even if it has nothing to do with Asimov; pretty funny too, with Will Smith more on his game than he's been in a couple of years.

Grade: B-
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Pretty much defines 'crackerjack.' Despite some bumpiness (I have no idea what Janet Leigh's character is doing in the film, though I like Roger Ebert's theory) and a smattering of spell-it-out dialogue, this remains an expert treatise on how to make an effective paranoia thriller. Works as satire as well, which is doubly gratifying. Demme's got some big shoes to fill with this one.

Grade: A-
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)

If Sweetback was the match that lit the fuse, this then must represent the biggest, most dangerous powder keg at the end of that fuse. Not so much a film as an audiovisual incendiary device, this details the character of Dan Freeman and his rise from CIA token integrationist/flunky to charismatic demagogue uniting the black population of Chicago into a expertly trained guerrilla army. One wonders if Chuck Pahlaniuk knew of this narrative prior to writing Fight Club -- this film certainly echoes the latter work in its study of disenfranchised members of society lashing out in violent ways to overthrow the status quo. The target here, of course, is white oppression rather than consumerist dead-endism (both films are, if nothing else, quintessential fringe products of their time), but the idea still holds fast. The film is rough around the edges (budget limitations hamper the scope, and the narrative and character development undergoes a few stutters), but in its willingness to present ideas and concepts that nobody really wants to deal with and follow them through to the bitter end, it's an admirable, forceful film.

Grade: B
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

Some films, it's nice to know they exist but nobody should ever really have to watch them. This is one of those fims. Melvin van Peebles's power-to-the-people manifesto may have singlehandedly kickstarted the blaxploitation genre, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch -- it's a poorly made, badly acted, incoherent mess of a film. It is entirely possible to admire this film's historical significance and its sociopolitical importance whilst at the same time standing back and holding your nose.

Grade: C-

Monday, July 19, 2004

Finally back, with Wilder, Kubrick a direct to video gem and a piece of crap.
Today reviews:
"The Apartment" (1960):
I love love love this film, everybody is perfect, but my personal favorite is Macmurray playing the finest asshole int he story of cinema. Jack Lemmon is also great as a loser anti-hero, nothing is black and white in this movie, which makes it more realistic than other films of its time, the supposed hero of the film uses The Apartment  for personal gains lending it to his superiors, so they can use it for their sexual escapades. Probably the best directed movie by Wilder, just check out the office, and the party. Bittersweet ending, where you really don't know what's gonna happen next.  Just shut up and deal.
Grade: A+
"Kiss me, Stupid" (1964):
Minor Wilder, worth watching for an absolutely hilarious peformance by Dean Martin, is sort of an americanized italian sex farce, is just that anything after The Apartment would have been a dissapointment, Novak is pretty good and cute too, but Walston dissapoints in the lead role, which was supposed to be for Peter Sellers, who dropped out after having a heart attack, pretty sitcomy, but a bad Wilder is better than a mediocre film by anybody.
Grade: B-
"Sunset Blvrd" (1950):
Another classic,probably Hollywood's first great black comedy, and still one of the best, a lot has been said about Swanson performance, but i believe Holden's was very underrated playing a man 10 years younger than him, a struggling writer with a brokedown car who finds an old Hollywood Mansion, where Swanson character lives, an old silent movie stat who is writing a script for her comeback, he promises to help her in exchange for money and a place to live, and becomes her gigolo. Full of great lines, " It was probably a very important chimp, maybe the great grandson of King Kong", "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!". Cameos by many stars,  it suffers a bit since we know from the beggining what's gonna happen, it starts with Holden's body in a pool and his after-dead narration very clever Mr Wilder, but nevertheless a great journey.
Grade: A
"The Shining" (1980):
It pains me to say this, but i found it overlong and overrated, the kid was just annoying, and Shelley Duvall probably the ugliest actress ever, but like every Kubrick film, a great visual experience,  the hotel was an amazing setting, and there many effective setpieces, it just take forever, and becomes predictable after a while. The most memorable Jack performance.
Grade: B-
"Full Metal Jacket" (1987):
Most quotable movie ever: "i didn't know they stacked shit that high", "Pyle you climb like old people fuck", "You are so ugly you could be a modern art masterpiece", " you are a great guy, you can come to my house and fuck my sister", " Me so horny, me love you long time", wait i'm supposed to review the movie right?, the first half is one of the best pieces of cinema, showing what happens in the marines basic training, the deshumanization of man, so they can become killer machines, Vincent D'onofrio and R. Lee Ermey steal the movie with 2 chilling performances, then the movies stops and goes to Vietnam, where it shows 2 reporters going to their first mission, it doesn't look like Vietnam at all, it feels more like a WW2 film, more clicheish, and Kubrick trying to manipulate audiences with an overlong death scene.
Grade: first half: A.  Second half: B- , full film: B+
"Ripley's Game" (2002):
So Pauly Shore films always got theatrical release, but this and the Ginger Snaps series doesn't, one more reason to hate Hollywood.  Tom Ripley's older, married living in Europe, still a conman, tricks an englishman who is dying of cancer into becoming a hitman since he has nothing to lose, just because he offended him at a party, slow paced but always entretaining , full of twists, with a delightful performance by Malkovich, and a very underrated Scott. Leana Headey is quite fetching and would love to see more of her.
Grade: B+
"Elephant" (2003):
I hate when people complains when they say nothing happens in a movie, they are right about this one, Van Sant at his most pretentious conned the Cannes Jury into giving him 2 awards, for what is his second worst film of his carreer after the Psycho remake, pretty pointless, the performances are not bad, but is a failure at every other level, and commits what in my mind is the worst sin of bad cinema: its pretty damn boring.
Grade: D

Monday, July 12, 2004

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

A worthy, if inferior, follow-up to the awesome original. Main problem here is overlength and an occasional mistrust of the audience's ability to connect emotional dots -- the low point is surely the Uncle Ben flashback. But then, there's the skyscraper battle and the runaway el-train and the quiet grace of the last five minutes. So I think the film comes out ahead. Sam Raimi is given more directorial leeway here, and it pays off -- his cracked sense of humor bleeds through more often, and his direction is more kinetic (including a neat homage to The Evil Dead). Occasionally feels closer to a horror film than a superhero drama, with several great jump-shocks. Overall? It's cool stuff.

Grade: B+
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

There's a certain kind of stupid humor, where the tone blows past dumb and heads into near-surreal, that I simply adore. And this film is pitched directly at that level. Remarkably odd for a Hollywood feature (jazz flute? a troublesome burrito? Will Ferrell talking to a dog? "a whale's vagina"?); thankfully, it's also fairly consistent, with the winning lines and concepts far outweighing the few that get stretched past the point of inspiration (for instance, the newsman gang rumble). Ferrell, it seems, is one of the rare performers who only gets funnier the more unhinged he allows himself to become (his phone-booth freakout is a gut-busting highlight); Steve Carrell's performance should be bronzed.

Grade: B+
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2003)

Geez, are all ballet movies this awesome? My current favorite Maddin film in a walk, mainly because Maddin seems to be taking the material seriously -- his trademark snark pokes through occasionally (like in the amusing, right-angle intertitles), but for the most part he puts the action through his patented Grain-o-Tinter and stands out of the way. Technically assured and filled with extremely potent eroticism; no idea what the money symbolism stands for, though.

Grade: A-
The Backyard (2003)

I keep thinking I'm overrating this due to a general unfamiliarity with the subject matter, but this documentary is so comprehensive and compelling (without being condescending) that I can't help but be impressed. Director Paul Hough has unearthed some seriously warped characters; thankfully, he keeps them grounded in the reality of their lives and their surroundings so the whole thing doesn't turn into a cartoon or a "point-and-laugh-at-the-rednecks" kind of job. People who initially seem like freaks end up feeling like real, complex people (the brothers who devise ways to torture each other use their plotlines as a way to deal with an absentee father; the crazed masochist turns out to have had numerous liver operations as a child, which makes him like a Bob Flanagan in miniature; the 17-year-old calling himself a wrestling promoter shows himself to be serious-minded and possessing extraordinary showmen's acumen). Interesting to note that, in playing at a sport that flaunts its artificiality, the performers admit that the pain and fire is essentially not as bad as it looks -- even the guys in Arizona who pride themselves on their hardness and their authenticity in offering the bloody goods reveal that they cheat by "blading" themselves to make a better show. Troubling, tough to watch at times, but also quite impressive; wonder what Hough'll do next...

Grade: A-
The Servant (1963)

Harold Pinter-scripted social allegory is consistently engrossing, even when the plot appears to go off the deep end; Losey's direction is exquisitely controlled, as is Dirk Bogarde's slithering performance as the title character. I'm now eager to start exploring the rest of Losey's filmography (this is the first film of his I've seen).

Grade: A-
A Woman is a Woman (1961)

Godard sure is a joy when he's playful: this exuberant quasi-musical goes slack in the last 25 minutes, but then two-thirds of a masterpiece is better than nothing at all. Anna Karina is adorable. The last scene is fucking perfect. More like this, please.

Grade: B+
The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971)

Man, this thing reeks. Poorly plotted even by Argento's standards and featuring little of his usual visual gymnastics, this feels more like a dog than a cat. At least Karl Malden seems to have had a good time.

Grade: C-
Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996)

Potentially decent Japanese monster flick with a fantastic villain gets undermined by a general lack of Gamera, lame character stuff and a berserk subtext that attempts to posit everybody's favorite flying turtle as some kind of kaiju Christ. I mean, I can respect ambition, but there's gotta be limits. The fights, when they finally show up, are pretty fulfilling and there's some surprisingly grisly violence (these things are usually so kid-safe...) redeem it somewhat, so I'll tag it a near miss.

Grade: C+