Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Week of July 28th:

Frenzy (1972): Everywhere I look, there's a darkness... Alfred Hitchcock's darkest joke is also one of his grandest, an iconic wrong-man thriller given a contemporary viciousness and pumped up to Kafkaesque levels of persecution, and Jon Finch is in his own way the perfect protagonist, so beaten down by life that a murder rap is just another thing for him to impotently defy. But here's the thing: While a good deal of the film (especially the ride in the potato truck) is sick squirmy fun, there's something that most people miss or at least don't feel like discussing. Hitchcock beats Michael Haneke to the punch a good 25 years prior to the latter's ascendancy in indicting his audience for what they're not walking out on. Pay attention to the structure: The opening half-hour shows us a callous society obsessed with bloodlust, lacking any basic concern for the downtrodden and joking through in that black, head-down British way ("In one way I rather hope he doesn't [get caught]. We haven't had a good juicy series of sex murders since Christie. And they're so good for the tourist trade."), and we figure yeah, it's all a nasty larf, innit though? Then comes the uncomfortable rape and murder of Barbara Leigh-Hunt, shown to us unsparingly and unedited so that we're smacked full in the face with the ugly atrocity of it all. For a minute, you can see Hitchcock disgusted with the society he sees around him and letting both birds fly. Lovely, lovely indeed. Grade: A-

Heartbeat Detector (2008): Starts off vague and barely connected to itself, with emphasis on atmosphere and intimation; what with the air of mystery and the obsession with music, the general feel one gets from the first half of this is that of an Olivier Assayas film but without Assayas's intimidating formal command. (There's a party scene that falls just short of being a direct lift from Cold Water.) Then the film stumbles into its answer-everything phase, and it goes from being irritatingly insubstantial to teeth-grindingly obvious. By the final monologue, my ability to care about the lessons director Nicolas Klotz was trying to impart had more or less atrophied to nothing. There's probably a fine film in this undisciplined mess, and that fine film is probably a lot shorter than the 130 minutes over which the film stretches. At least there's Mathieu Amalric, giving doing his usual solid work in the service of nothing much. Also: While I'm sympathetic to some of the film's political stance, isn't this essentially a cinematic representation of Godwin's Law? Grade: C

Horror of Dracula (1958): Robust re-interpretation of Bram Stoker's oft-filmed horror classic. Between Terence Fisher's nicely atmospheric direction, Peter Cushing's authoritative portrayal of Van Helsing and Christopher Lee's justly-famed turn as the Count, there's a lot to like here. It's easy to see why this was a starmaker for Lee -- he has the dapper countenance and charisma of Lugosi, yet his version of the Count is far more feral and savage. Simply put, he makes the vamp feel dangerous again. Good job, everyone. Grade: B

The Lovers (1958): Here's your incandescent Jeanne Moreau. Here's your young, vibrant Louis Malle giving his all in deconstructing another genre after the triumph of Elevator to the Gallows. Here's your fashionable emptiness wielded like a straight razor three years before L'Avventura. Here's your rich-man/working-class dichotomy as a social-commentary structure without feeling cliched or obnoxious. Here's your slow-burn ground-floor plot leading into an unexpected explosion of deliberate fairy-tale magic realism. Here's your still-potent black-and-white eroticism (the scandal is understandable). Here's your surprising glimpse at Jeanne Moreau's titties. Here's me feeling pretty satisfied. Here's me kinda falling in love with Louis Malle. Grade: B

The Naked Venus: (1959): About as good as a nudist-camp film could ever be, really. For one thing, it's got a real director behind the helm -- Edgar G. Ulmer, the poverty-row auteur best known for Detour. The clean black & white photography helps as well. The film's best innovation, though, is exceedingly simple: The nudie-camp scenes (which are surprisingly scant) serve the plot and not the other way around. That said, this is really no more than a trashy divorce-court TV-movie potboiler that, on occasion, shows us some titty. It's a friggin' masterpiece next to Diary of a Nudist, but it's still just a nudie-camp movie. Grade: C+

No Telling (1991): Ground-level modern-dress mutation of the Frankenstein story gains a lot of force from the simple act of being a character piece first and a horror movie second. Director Larry Fessenden, also responsible for Habit and Wendigo, has a special talent for using horror elements as an expression of emotional distress, and here the standard toying-in-God's-domain megalomania experienced by government scientist Geoffrey Gaines is an illustrative flipside to his relationship with his ever-more estranged wife Lilian. His attempts to create new life bump up against his inability to keep any life within his marriage. (There's also metaphorical import in the couple's stumbling, unsuccessful attempts to conceive a child.) Earnest, well-acted and very placid, this nonetheless rewards the patient with a genuinely pathetic nightmare figure at the end, where Geoffrey's attempts to control Nature literally fall apart before him. It's a little bit horror, a little bit social commentary and a little bit tragedy. Grade: B

Storm Troopers U.S.A. (1969): What the fuck is this? Really, I can't describe the delirium that wafts off this strange, ill-advised Florida-lensed motherfuckery. There's a prologue that compresses Nazism into a five-minute history lesson, then there's some manner of plot that involves a modern-day Nazi splinter sect in America trying to rain terror down upon the populace by storming into a hotel and taking everyone hostage, then they're all undone by their libidos and there's some fight/chase scenes that are unexpectedly enjoyable if only for their convincing savagery. And that's just the bare outline. I haven't even gotten into the daffiness on the side, like the mind-blowingly awful choreography in the sequence where a mole in the Nazi organization is murdered or the cheesy charms of the three sailors on leave who float through this film like walking adverts for America awesomeness. Apparently, this never received a theatrical release, which doesn't surprise me, as people's brains might have melted on contact. Really rather amazing, this one. I'd go on, but you should really just see it for yourselves. Best ten bucks you'll ever spend. Grade: B+

Trigger Man (2007): Minimalist spin on the Deliverance genre is, if anything, way too minimalist -- there's a fine line between "nothing" happening and nothing happening, and Ti West's screenplay lands firmly on the wrong side of the line. Furthermore, West's technique stymies his intent; while something like this really calls for rigorous discipline a la Gus Van Sant's Gerry, West instead belongs to the handheld shake-n-zoom school of filmmaking. The general paucity of incident and the unsteady camera cancel out any potential positive effects that might have arisen from each technique individually, so what we're left with is in essence a really bad home movie. The bit with the female jogger: time-padding at its lamest. Grade: D


Blogger Kza said...

A) Congrats on the HND mention!

B) The Mclusky quote made my day.

C) I need to see STORM TROOPERS U.S.A., don't I?

11:28 PM  
Blogger Steve C. said...

A) Thanks! It was... unexpected. Nice to know they're reading, at any rate.

B) Second time I've been able to do that, after my Prozac Nation review. If I could quote Andy fucking Falkous in every capsule, I would.

C) Oh yes. Yes you do. Knowing your taste for trash as I do, I think you'll find it to be a crackpot treasure. No World's Phoniest Bat, though, sorry.

11:39 AM  

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