Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Dreamers (2004)

In my dreams, I remember when Bertolucci was a skilled and important director. Nowadays, all he's interested in are good-looking but marginally talented actors and nice camera setups. Not bad when it's about cinephilia, but gets much less exciting when the subject turns to sex or (especially) politics -- it's in the tradition of those with-it '60s films like I Am Curious (Yellow) where the political content was hastily mixed into the script so that censor boards wouldn't brand the film as pornography. Revolution, schmevolution -- this is about attractive people getting naked. Be honest with yourselves and us.

Grade: C
Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975)

There's bad dubbing. There's an inane plot. There's the generic zoom-happy directorial style. There's painfully cheesy effects. This would all be a damn shame if this film wasn't so completely badass that it renders criticism irrelevant. One of my hard, fast rules of cinema life: No matter how silly or incompetent your film may be, if you stage a climactic battle between a one-armed boxer and a blind monk wielding a portable headchopping machine, I'll most likely be your friend.

Grade: B+
The Naked Spur (1953)

Taut Western with Jimmy Stewart at his nastiest as a self-styled bounty hunter. His efforts are more than matched by the small but capable cast that comprises the other sides of the film's narrative pentagon. Surprisingly violent for its time, too. All in all, a film worthy of the acclaim heaped upon it.

Grade: B+
Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

I'm not a big fan of spaghetti westerns, and this film did nothing to change that. Despite the occasional grisly florish, my interest waned pretty quickly. Feel free to upgrade accordingly if you have more patience for this genre.

Grade: C
The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)

Like The Dreamers, this is primarily about getting pretty people to shed their clothes; the difference is this film is content to be just that. Oh, there's a story to tell -- in fact, the plot here is atypically well-rendered and involving. But the filmmakers couldn't be taking it less seriously. They understand that they're simply here to give the audience an unpretentious good time, and that's what they deliver. So it's not art. It is, however, pretty good trash, which is just as difficult to deliver.

Grade: B-

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Hero (2004)

Visually stunning wuxia extravaganza featuring five awesome actors (plus one skilled director) doing their best to distract from a less-than-perfect plotline. Thrilling and beautiful, with an artistic scheme reminiscent of Greenaway's (there's a different dominant color for every scene). Granted, emotional involvement is entirely predicated on whether you find Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung to be two of the coolest actors alive. And, let's face it, this is essentially politcally questionable Chinese propaganda. But Gawd... just look at it! (The Cheung-vs.-Ziyi scene is just about perfect.) If uber-lefty Michael Sicinski can love it, so can I. Neener.

Grade: B+
Garden State (2004)

Mike D'Angelo once described Punch-Drunk Love as "P.T.'s Buffalo '66, except made by somebody who'd only seen that movie instead of somebody who'd lived it"; watching this latest overrated slice of Sundance precociousness, I couldn't help but think that Zack Braff saw Punch-Drunk and Buffalo but missed the point of both of them. A bundle of quirks and an overdeveloped visual sense does not a film make, and when it comes time to add some kind of weight to his story, Braff whiffs it, falling back on tired indie cliches about repressive daddies and quirky girls. I guess I'd be more forgiving if the female romantic interest was at least worth the trouble, but Natalie Portman's endless cuteness can't salvage her irritating character. Just goes to show, nothing good ever came out of New Jersey...

Grade: C
The Wicker Man (1973)

Overrated as a horror film/thriller (the chills are confined mainly to the final ten minutes and you can see 'em coming with Coke-bottle glasses), but undervalued and indeed quite successful as a sly, blackly comic satire on fanaticism. Also, Christopher Lee is supercool; also, Britt Ekland is superhot.

Grade: B
Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979)

For about twenty minutes, it's Russ Meyer's best film -- a distillation of everything that drives his creative impulse into one gargantuan, frenzied package. But the film doesn't know when to stop; by the hour mark, it's clear that all its good ideas have been exhausted, and with it all of the director's inspiration. Seems fitting that it's Meyer's final proper film, as he has nothing new or interesting to say and resorts to padding out the film with endless, repetitive sex scenes that go nowhere and do nothing. The real pisser is that there was a different, better film that could have been struggling to get out -- if the opening scene had led into a perverse satire of fascism and fanaticism instead of the dull musical-beds photoplay that it is, it could have been brilliant. But no... instead, we get to watch as Meyer loses complete control over his muse. Even the women aren't terribly attractive. (Kitten Natividad may have been a popular burlesque star, and she may have had a stunning body, but goddamn her face is busted.)

Grade: C

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Corporation (2004)

Sharp indictment of the corporate mindset and the blithe disregard for humanity that mindset entails. In the words of Jose, it's Lefty with a capital L, but it's also remarkably thorough and precise (at 145 minutes, it'd better be thorough), and it resists capitulation to the kind of scattershot agitprop tactics that mar even the best works of, say, Michael Moore. In the interest of fairness, some CEOs and other various conservatives get chances to sound off; while I can't say this feature makes the film feel any less aggressive in its bias, it does allow plenty of time for the film's most fascinating find -- Interface CEO Ray Anderson, a man who seems genuinely conflicted and pained by his copmpany's negative impact on the world. His struggles to make his company self-sustaining provide one of the many rays of hope that manage to shoot out from this film's bleak-at-first-glace outlook. Troubling stuff, this, but also possessed of an undeniable power that makes it feel essential. (You may find yourself disagreeing, though, if your sympathies line up more concordantly with, say, the guy from the thinktank.)

Grade: B+
Suburban Nightmare (2004)

Better-than-average video feature about the squabbles of a husband-and-wife serial killing team. More than just your average tits-n-blood exploitationer, this takes time to set up its main characters as intelligent and interesting people who also happen to take a lot of joy in murdering others. Trent Haaga and Brandy Little both turn in fine acting performances. It's not as violent as you'd expect, either -- this is heavier on dialogue than body fluids. Consider this a fulfilling of the promise director/writer Jon Keyes displayed in his debut American Nightmare.

Grade: B