Saturday, October 25, 2008

Week of September 8th:

The Bounty Man (1972): Bland TV-movie Western starring Clint Walker as a bounty hunter who goes to bring in John Ericson, a dangerous thief and murderer, while another group of unscrupulous bandits stick on his tail, intending to take the bounty for themselves. Does nothing unexpected or especially interesting; has the structure and psychological underpinnings of a Boetticher/Scott Western but lacks the lean, tough vigor. The ending is an abrupt pop-psych botch. Margot Kidder looks lost as Ericson's tenacious lady. Grade: C

Brand Upon the Brain! (2007): Who does alternate-universe perversity as well as Guy Maddin? Nobody, that's who. Even when he's wandering through ideas he's worked with before, he still manages to find new perspectives on them. Incestuous/Oedipal conflicts run through much of Maddin's work, as does gender fluidity; this time around, though, he's bundled said familiar thematics inside a memory piece framing a combination coming-of-age tale/Hardy Boys-type mystery that abruptly shifts into horror dynamics two-thirds of the way through. The genre-hopping craziness of the piece's main body reflects the emerging hormonal roil of the younger Maddin, on the cusp of puberty as he is; meanwhile, the framing device offers a rueful perspective on said flashback craziness, offering us a calmer time where the echoes of a painful childhood still resonate (both metaphorically and literally -- the present-day line sees elder Maddin refurbishing the family lighthouse, long since fallen into disrepair). Through all this, Maddin's dazzling formal abilities wane not a bit. Chews through ideas and images so quickly that it feels on the long side even at a mere 90-odd minutes, but when said running time includes the indelible bit where the narrator (I chose Crispin Glover) howls "RUMANIA!" ever more frantically while a dead man is shocked, Frankenstein-style, back into a grotesque simulacrum of life, it seems churlish to complain. Grade: B+

La Promesse (1997): Breakthrough film for the Dardenne brothers serves as a solid introduction to their neorealism-by-way-of-Bresson ethos. Luc and Jean-Pierre direct with confidence and force yet never seem overbearing or intrusive, important given the hand-wringing potential evident in their socially-engaged scenario. The film deals with the slow moral evolution of Igor, a young man who begins to rebel against his slumlord father and the treatment of the immigrants in Dad's thrall, yet the film doesn't hector or deal in shades of black and white -- Amidou, an African immigrant whose death touches off the boy's epiphany in the form of a promise to look after his wife, has a gambling addiction, and his wife is often adamantly unwilling to accept Igor's benign help. In lesser hands, this material could easily become breast-beating polemics, but the Dardennes, who favor human activity over human speech, keep it grounded in a particular sense of everyday existence and an awareness of physical being. (There's a scene where Igor's father gives him a whupping that's as quick, violent and brutal as anything I've seen.) It becomes less about the politics of the particular situation and more about simply Doing What's Right, and it's wonderfully engrossing. Also, aside from the film's value in itself, La Promesse also introduced the cinema world to a soulful, ridiculously talented kid named Jérémie Renier. And the cinema world is much richer for it. Grade: B+

Postal (2008): Big surprise time: Cinematic bugbear Uwe Boll, as it turns out, can be funny. And I don't mean accidentally funny like Christian Slater shouting, "Don't be insane!" in Alone in the Dark or the sudden appearance of medieval ninjas in In the Name of the King -- I mean in an on-purpose, joke-telling, setup-punchline kind of way. Postal is a teeth-bared tasteless satire in the vein of South Park, and seeing Dr. Boll's tendencies towards the inexplicable harnessed for comedic ends carries its own fascinating charge, as it's the bursts of slapstick weird that keep this from sliding into anti-everything drudgery. I expect a number of the biggest laughs are taken from the source videogame, but that doesn't change the fact that tone is everything and there's a million ways to fuck up, for instance, the cat-silencer gag. That it got a hearty laugh out of this avowed cat-lover is to Boll's credit. But it wouldn't be a Boll film if he didn't ultimately find a way to fuck it up, and Postal goes to shit in a hurry roughly halfway through after it presumably runs out of inspiration and becomes a dull, noisy shoot-em-up. Is it a coincidence that this shift comes right after its funniest and most surreal joke (the ultimate fate of Verne Troyer, playing "Verne Troyer")? I doubt it. Better than anyone had any right to expect, really, but it comes so close to scraping the edge of quality that its ultimate failure irks all the more. Grade: C


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home