Friday, August 10, 2007

Second catch-up post of the year. I need to get on top of this stuff more frequently. Anyways, here's most of the films in the backlog pipe:

Alone with Her (2007): Stalker's-POV thriller is, for the most part, about as tedious as actually stalking someone. It's a hackneyed standard-issue woman-in-danger film with a voyeuristic first-person technique slathered atop it to make it seem fresh. Boredom, however, is preferable to the troubling sensation one gets upon viewing the last ten minutes. This is better overall than the ugly Chaos, but its essential worldview is the same. Yet, many people who thrashed David DeFalco's film have been far kinder to this. I think we need to ask ourselves: If this is how the film ends, what was it really about? Grade: C

Beauty and the Beast (1946): Visually sumptuous adaptation of the well-known story by stylist extraordinaire Jean Cocteau moves with the unhurried grace of a particularly poetic dream. Using Jean Marais to play both the gentle Beast and the brusque suitor Belle abandons when she takes up residence in the Beast's castle makes salient points about the duality of Man with far less fuss than something like Skin of Man, Heart of Beast, as does Cocteau's expressive use of mirror images; the latter also could be a nod to Lewis Carroll (a likely influence on Cocteau) as well as a conscious link back to the more overtly surreal through-the-looking-glass shenanigans of The Blood of a Poet. I think the film loses a bit off its game whenever it retreats back to the "real" world, but it's still pretty great. Grade: B+

Day Night Day Night (2007): Didn't realize it at first, but the crucial line of dialogue in this impressively minimal venture is when the lead character, an unnamed woman played with extraordinary physical subtlety by Luisa Williams, asks the men who are shepherding her towards her destiny as a suicide bomber, "Will you please eat with me? I don't want to be alone." Hers is a mission she will undertake on her own, yet the depths of her solitude (revealed at film's end) are unknown even to her. Writer/director Julia Loktev reflects this by making Williams not just the only major character but the only character at whose face we get a good, solid look. (Her instructors are hooded and/or masked, and the throngs of people in Times Square are treated merely as functions of a crowd.) Loktev's direction is potent and thoughtful at every turn; she shows, in agonizing detail, every step of Williams's journey towards her ultimate fate. (I especially appreciated the subtle foreshadowing involved in the opening half-hour's incidents of clumsiness on the part of Williams.) In the words of Gang of Four (via Joseph Conrad -- thanks Andy!), we live as we dream -- alone. Grade: B+

Old Joy (2006): A film of and about passive aggression. Bit of a heartbreaker, this one -- the interplay between Daniel London and Will Oldham feels natural and true, attuned wonderfully to the rhythms of friends who don't want to admit they've grown apart, yet Kelly Reichardt insists on making things real obvious for the slow people in the audience by bookending the film with snippets of talk radio that merely turn the unspoken into the spoken. The occasional bit of overexplanatory dialogue ("Mark, you really hold onto shit. Not that I should talk.") doesn't do the film any favors either. I'd probably appreciate this fragile, lovely little thing if I wasn't being reminded too often of how fragile and lovely it all is. Grade: B-

Paris Belongs to Us (1960): Jacques Rivette's first film may be a dry run for the expansive masterwork that is Out 1 (about which I should really finish writing my review some day), but that doesn't make it any less awesome -- it's still a seductive, intriguing work of art that imperceptibly moves from observational and slightly fizzy to sinister without so much as a stumble. A character describes Shakespeare's Pericles as "full of shreds and patches, yet it hangs together," yet Rivette's grand point seems to be nothing really hangs together in life, everything is in various states of chaos and the closer you get to something or someone, the less you really know about it or them. There's something mysterious within the small sampling of Rivette that I've seen -- a utilization of large canvases and deliberate pacing to get at something fundamental about human experience (the way the erosion of time clouds understanding, maybe?) -- that I really respond to. Grade: A-

The Simpsons Movie (2007): Seems pretty analogous to the double-digit-season episodes I've seen -- a fair amount of funny jokes, a larger amount of lame jokes, a strange obsession with the most dickheaded side of Homer and lots of convoluted plot. In short, it's 86 minutes of the same thing many disgruntled fans have spent the last ten years decrying at 22 minutes. Wherefore the acclaim? Grade: C+

Why Worry? (1923): I think I've finally figured out Harold Lloyd. His characters and situations often have the same sort of single-minded intent of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but where Chaplin seems to continuously skirt disaster and Keaton remains unflappable no matter what comes his way, Lloyd's approach is extreme tunnel vision. He focuses so intently on his goals that he becomes oblivious to everything else, and the humor often stems from this inability to understand what goes on outside his perseverance, whether he's inadvertently scaling a towering building in Safety Last! or drifting through a south-of-the-Equator revolution, as he does here. Funny stuff, if a bit retrograde in both its jokes and its politics; it remains, though, that I laughed a lot, especially during the knockabout finale in which Lloyd's hypochondriac rich boy finally discovers something that'll get his dander up. Also, John Aasen is awesome and that's all there is to it. Grade: B+

Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims (2006): It's a Japanese time-tripping gay samurai/biker road movie, and it's pretty fantastic -- a florid and hilarious camp phantasmagoria, earthy and rude yet with a dark edge and a real sense of poignant romanticism (the latter two aspects come from the volatile relationship between the title characters due to Kita's raging drug addiction). The entire film. in fact, could possibly be a metaphorical journey a la The Wizard of Oz (which gets stylistically checked in the opening minutes of Yaji); the number of times the dangerously zonked-out Kita says things like, "I can't make heads or tails of reality," or "That ain't my reality," certainly seems to support this. Consistently surprising, funny, sweet and generally just marvelous, plus it all ends on a raucous punk-rock number entitled "I Want to Be Your Fuck." A must-see for the adventurous. Grade: A-

Zardoz (1974): Wonderfully insane on the surface (flying stone heads! Sean Connery licking a guy! "The penis is evil"!), yet digging a little deeper reveals a surprising thematic lucidity. It's of a piece with director John Boorman's other, more acclaimed examinations of masculinity (particularly Deliverance) in which "man was born to hunt and kill" yet aspires still to transcend his violent origins (erections are linked to violence, yet the penis is evil, etc.). Moreover, it's a pretty classically structured path-to-enlightenment narrative; the difference is that this enlightenment involves our protagonist (Connery's red-jumpsuit-clad brute Zed) taking his first step towards true knowledge by killing his God. (No wonder Nietzsche gets invoked in the third act.) There's also a number of pointed swipes at the peace-n-love crowd, as the ageless utopian commune into which Connery stumbles is revealed as a ruthlessly exclusionary society devoted to crushing even the slightest notes of intellectual dissent. The reactionary crowd doesn't squirm away, though, since the ultimate lesson is that we as a species can only advance by surrendering our weapons (and ultimately our lives). The prevailing tone is one of a man who looked at his generation with a great sadness and concluded that all that can be done is eradicate it and hope the next generation does better by humanity. So there's a lot to chew on, but there's also a level on which this is just delirious, daffy entertainment (did I mention that Connery fucking licks a guy?). I think I love this film. Grade: B+

Zebraman (2004): Enjoyably silly superhero spoof from Takashi Miike, yet not without the twinges of melancholy and disillusionment found in much of his other work; if there's a throughline to many of his films, it's about the desire for peace and/or acceptance, as it is with this film about a hopeless shlub who assumes the mantle of the title superhero from an obscure '70s television show. (A radically downbeat reading could argue that this film truly ends after the scene at the river and that everything else in the film is hallucinated wish fulfillment.) Still lots of fun, with typical bits of Miike insanity ("Don't stand... behind me!") and a delightfully game performance from Sho Aikawa. Grade: B


Anonymous filmbo said...

Correct about Old Joy. The film was highly recommended from a friend who also suggested I check out Mutual Appreciation, which I loved, and so Old Joy was nothing but a precious let down. Decent, but a let down nonetheless.

Interested in your thoughts on OUT 1.

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't often get to play the pedant, so I will leap at the opportunity here: The quote, "We live as we dream-- alone" is originally from Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" (which, you're probably aware, was the inspiration for APOCALYPSE NOW)-- it's said by Marlow, the narrator.

Andy Nowicki

8:18 AM  
Blogger Paul C. said...

Yeah, but can Conrad take credit for, "the gun is good; the penis is evil; now go forth and KILL"? Didn't think so.

2:59 PM  

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