Thursday, September 27, 2007

Last of the dusty backlog films! Hooray!

Hostel: Part II (2007): In which the "torture porn" genre reaches a level of self-awareness. I mostly covered my thoughts about Eli Roth's film here, though I should add that it's also possible that the notorious "Bathory" scene is Roth once again flummoxing our expectations, giving us the violence we crave but pushing it way too far in order to stymie our enjoyment. It's an imperfect film, but it's also a step in the right direction. Also, the first thirty minutes or so of this, from the somber opening credits to the arrival by train in Romania, are the best example of giallo anyone's created since Argento's Opera, and I'm curious to see Roth try and do a whole film in that idiom. Grade: B-

Killer of Sheep (1977): For a film about nothing in particular, there sure is a lot going on in Charles Burnett's famed, rarely seen debut. There's quite a bit I haven't quite parsed yet (this practically demands multiple viewings), but I think the key to this quietly observational work is the depiction of the main character's job. Stan (played with a marvelous sense of exhausted resignment by Henry Gayle Sanders), as the title suggests, works in a slaughterhouse. What's interesting is that we never see him put in a full day. Rather, a look at his average day is fragmented across the length of the film; what's more, it plays out in reverse order (the first time we see Stan at work, he's cleaning the kill floor and changing to go home). The film, then, closes on Stan herding a group of sheep into the holding pen, but what sticks about the scene is that Stan, for maybe the only time in the whole film, looks happy. As he hollers and swings his arms, he looks as though he might be grinning, which cinches the metaphor for me: We work and slave, marching to our deaths as we struggle to keep ourselves alive, but we will go defiantly, and we may even enjoy ourselves a little before we go. Filled with striking moments (the dance in the living room, the engine negotiation), and I suspect I'll like it even more on a second viewing. Also: The debt owed this film by George Washington is pretty significant. Grade: B+

Ratatouille (2007): Deliriously entertaining joint from Brad Bird and Pixar that also functions as a defense against mediocrity -- the reigning ethos of Bird seems to be that nothing but nothing should hold people back from realizing their potential, and though forces may unite to knock down those of us who attempt to create something special, talent will win out in the end. The parallel, of course, between Remy the rat's cooking skills and Bird/Pixar's filmmaking is impossible to miss; some may see it as elitism, but it's really just about trying to have standards in a Shrek world. What pushes it over the line into greatness for me, though, is the brief but perfectly realized flashback near the film's end, wherein Bird and co. redefine their purpose and try to get down to why we love food and/or the movies in the first place. Lovely, sweet and hilarious in turn; I still think Toy Story is Pixar's crowning achievement, but this might be the best film they've turned out since then. Grade: A

Sicko (2007): Um, yeah. What he said. Grade: B

Superbad (2007): The cops are important. A lot of people have complained that they drag the film down, and a lot of people are wrong. The bumbling, party-minded law enforcement officers played by Bill Hader and Seth Rogen get off some of the film's best lines (I've been saying "I'm sorry I blocked your cock" obsessively), but they also represent the sadness in the film's soul. Officers Slater and Michaels are dissatisfied screw-ups whose status as authority figures rubs uncomfortably against their desire to regain their teenage years as a reaction towards what they perceive to be poorly-led lives -- they are, in essence, the great fear of the film's youthful charges, staring as they are into the uncertain chasm of adulthood. For a comedy, Superbad has a lot of pain and suffering along these lines. Most of our heroes' plans end up in disaster, and even when success comes to them, the joy is fleeting. (Not for nothing that Seth's one moment of glory plays out in slow motion.) It's not all pessimism, though: Our happiness is ephemeral, but too our humilations pass ("That was eight years ago!"), so the point is to enjoy as much as you can, to keep your head up and your eyes forward. Loss (of friends, of face, of time) is inevitable -- it's in how we deal with it. Superbad is a hilarious and vulgar film about how learning to accept failure is part of growing up. Grade: A-

4 Comments:

Blogger Sisko199 said...

Great review of Superbad. I never thought of the pessimism on life the movie implied through the cops.

I actually run a website on Bill Hader who's in Superbad, check it out:

Bill Hader Online
http://billhaderonline.com

10:09 AM  
Blogger Andy Nowicki said...

I liked a lot of things about Superbad, but two things really stuck in my amateur movie critic's craw. First off, the length. What is it about this film director that he can't trim the fat? A comedy, generally speaking, shouldn't much exceed 90 minutes, much less two hours. The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up had the same problem.

Second, I never bought that such nerds/geeks/losers like these two guys would ever have a shot at pretty girls like the ones they end up with, sort of (the outlook, it's suggested, is good for them both becoming boyfriends of the girls they like). Come on! For a movie like this-- one that's supposed to address unflinchingly what it's like to be an unattractive loser in high school-- this is an unforgivable betrayal. This is the kind of movie that's supposed to set the record straight, not throw sand in our eyes.

It's supposed to be in the league of "Welcome to the Dollhouse," not f__kin' "Can't Hardly Wait," where the gangly nerd inexplicably ends up with Jennifer Love Hewitt or "Weird Science" or someting...

4:12 PM  
Blogger Andy Nowicki said...

sometHing....

4:12 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Second, I never bought that such nerds/geeks/losers like these two guys would ever have a shot at pretty girls like the ones they end up with, sort of (the outlook, it's suggested, is good for them both becoming boyfriends of the girls they like). Come on! For a movie like this-- one that's supposed to address unflinchingly what it's like to be an unattractive loser in high school-- this is an unforgivable betrayal.

I'm with you partially on that -- the Becca/Evan thing, I thought, was believable at all times because Martha MacIsaac sells Becca's attraction admirably and Michael Cera manages to make Evan's gulping ineptitude charming in a way. (Then again, I was Evan in high school, so maybe I'm biased.) The overly-rosy conclusion to the Jules/Seth pairing, on the other hand, stretches credibilty way far. But then, I think it's all part of a piece -- life will let you down, but it's not all cruelty and failure. Sometimes things work out in spite of yourself. Also, pairing them off leads into that awesome final shot, with the two guys each going their separate ways, stumbling into maturity as well as potential relationships that will no doubt be temporary but worthwhile all the same.

12:55 PM  

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