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Weekend Movie Report #5

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It has finally happened–I’ve seen a film so bad I needed a new classification.

Weekend Winner

Rudo y Cursi (2008 Cuaron, Spanish)

This film reunites Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal to explore sibling rivalry through the sport of soccer.  As with many films of this type, there is a certain inevitability about how things will end, but Carlos (not Alfonso) Cuaron manages to sidestep the most obvious things.  Bernal’s abyssmal singing on a cover of Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me is nearly worth the price of admission by itself.

Weekend Loser

The Box (2009 Kelly)

Richard Kelly has developed an exceptional talent for making failures that are interesting to watch, if not exactly satisfying as entertainment.  The Box has a great deal of potential, deftly using the iconic role of a mysterious visitor portrayed by Frank Langella, who stabilizes the film’s first half.  Unfortunately, the story shifts into listless sci-fi and fails to deliver much of an ending.  I can’t help but feel Kelly will never get the best out of actors, as both Marsden and Diaz seem to struggle with the accents and idiot plot behaviors they have been asked to deliver.

Special Weekend Loser for Exceptionally Transcendental Badness

Test Tube Babies (1948 Connell)

Likely to be found in abandoned film collections with such exploitation classics as Reefer Madness, Test Tube Babies suffers from sub-par production values, even compared to its generously inept peers.  When the film derails into a fifteen minute lecture from a doctor on artificial insemination, I was glad to have a break from the horrible acting by the two main actors.  The only way this film is entertaining is by being transcendentally bad, hence the new category for WMR.  Watch it, if you dare, at the Internet Archive.

Honorable Mentions

2012 (2009 Emmerich)

Despite numerous flaws and skilled cast clearly more interested in a paycheck than performance, 2012 succeeds because it doesn’t dare apologize for its shortcomings.  The only serious flaw is a general inability to bridge the top-grade sequences of destruction with meaningful plot.  2012 is the first camp classic of the new millennium.

Bullitt (1968 Yates)

Another of the realist post-noir crime films I associate with the era, including films like Chinatown, The Long Goodbye, and Night Moves.  The only indulgence for action-fantasy allowed is the spectacular car chase through the streets of San Francisco, which practically established a visual nomenclature for every car chase repeated since.  It’s all the more exciting knowing what sort of death traps American cars of the era could be.  It makes me wish I could have been there to see it when it first hit the screen.

District 9 (2009 Blomkamp)

District 9 presents science fiction at its best, in which a contemporary social or technological ill is studied in a recontextualized setting.  In this case, it’s a powerful indictment of racial hatred and poverty as protrayed by the alien “Prawn”.  The first half holds its ground very before losing out to the action element necessary to complete the story.  Compared to the brutailty of the weaponry used by humans is, note how abstract the violence delivered by the alien weaponry is, turning bodies into hurtling mists of fluid.

Howards End (1992 Ivory)

I’ve doubtless lost a chance at understanding the novelty of her performance at the time, but this solid literary adaptation is almost unsettled by Helena Bonham Carter’s romping insanity. As to be expected, the remainder of the cast operates at near perfection.  The quality of the Blu-ray transfer is a bit underwhelming, even though Critrion normally delivers great remastering where needed.

Ran (1985 Kurosawa)

It’s interesting to see how Kurosawa reconciled feudal Japanese society with the original source story of King Lear.  What I conceived as a multi-faceted play dealing with pride, power, and loyality almost turns into a singular obsession with an old man’s eclipse.  It’s tempting to say this film transparently depicts Kurosawa’s own age, but I know better than to question an artist of his calibur.   No matter what, it’s a powerful interpretation, but hard to truly appreciate without at least a passing knowledge of the source material.

Where the Wild Things Are (2009 Jonze)

I’m perpetually unsettled by this very adult children’s film.  There is so much space for interpretation of a child’s psychology within the monster archetypes that surround Max.  The film never quite loses the edge of menace that these monsters produce.  It’s a pity most children aren’t in a position to appreciate the subtleties.

Dishonorable Mentions

Escort Girl (1941 Kaye)

Failing to fall into unintentional comedy or raise up to a level of enduring entertainment, Escort Girl is mostly forgettable.  In true exploitation form, it presents a moral lesson on sin while shamelessly indulging the viewer’s voyeurism.  Watch for a down-to-pasties striptese inserted into a plot that can’t even directly talk about prostitution, relying on nudge and wink references.

Julie & Julia (2009 Ephron)

Somehow this film went sour on a second viewing for me.  It may be that you can’t help but realize how poor the Julie half of the story is.  We’re talking about a biopic about a woman who merely cooked and blogged.  Adams is mis-cast for a role that really needs someone who can do flawed.  I think I also reject the general appreciation we have for actors who impersonate other celebrities.  Streep’s frankly better than this film deserves.

Va Savoir (2001 Rivette, French)

Rivette is firmly part of the older school of French directors, those who refuse the pacing and technique of lesser “entertainment” films.  While billed as a farce, I only saw one set piece that really hit the right comedic note (the duel in the fly-gallery).  The film’s attention is split between too many main characters.

Written by Bill

November 24, 2010 at 4:42 pm

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Weekend Movie Report #4

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It’s a couple of weeks since the last one, so there’s lots to cover.  Let’s get going!

Weekend Winner

A Prophet (2009 Audiard, French)

Strap yourself in for a gruesome murder scene involving a safety razor, an indication of the sorts of commitment the main character, Malik, has.  The film is both a study of the ability of prisons to turn minor offenders into hardened criminals and how a person makes their way in the world, even as a criminal.  In the latter, the film reminds me of The Godfather or Scarface (1983).  In a strong group of contenders this week, A Prophet stands out for its lasting power to raise questions.

Weekend Loser

Flicka (2006 Mayer)

Why would I have subjected myself to a by-the-numbers wholesome family film like Flicka?  It’s based on the book, My Friend Flicka, which is set a stone’s throw from where I grew up.  It’s not bad for what it is, but there’s a world of film makers more inspired out there and it feels like a waste of time.  Also, the film was tainted by the accidental death of a horse on the set (probably why it was released with very little publicity).

Honorable Mentions

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938 Curtiz & Keighley)

I don’t know why people keep trying to improve on this story when it was nearly perfectly presented in 1938 in Technicolor.  It marks the beginning of the color epics before WW II, which would include Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.  Olivia de Haviland and Errol Flynn are working near their best.  Check out the extras on the Blu-ray for the archery wizardry of Howard Hill, who provided all of the key arrow stunts in the film.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007 Dominick)

This film will probably be rediscovered again and again, becoming more successful as time passes.  Its original run got decent critical praise but the audience never really showed up.  Beyond the marquee players are a handful of great supporting performances from actors who have since proven their abilities, like Jeremy Renner and Sam Rockwell.  The cinematography and use of landscape is nearly perfect.  Look for it cheap on Blu-ray, I found it at Wal-mart for $10.

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009 Moore)

Michael Moore is an incredible comedic mind, which makes is all the more strange that his genre of choice is the documentary.  This is another good showcase of his style, although the problem he’s tackling is bigger than what can be dealt with in a 2-hour time span.

Departures (2008 Takita, Japanese)

Expecting another tiring Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, I was surprised how much I enjoyed Departures.  Maybe the requirement that voters have actually seen the nominees is starting to pay off.  Anyway, don’t discount this dark comedy with a heart.

Night Moves (1975 Penn)

Gene Hackman’s turn as an out-of-his-depth private investigator (a staple of 70’s post-noir crime films), anchors this character-focused story.  As it turns out, the objective isn’t as important as the evocation of Harry Moseby’s milieu.  Look for very young-looking James Woods and Melanie Griffith early in their careers.  Compare to The Long Goodbye and Chinatown.

No End in Sight (2007 Ferguson)

This documentary makes its way onto the short list of Iraq documentaries because of the access to people who were on the ground and trying to make the best of the situation, only to be ignored or countermanded by senior Bush administration figures.  It’s not aging well, as the general wrong-headedness of the war effort is hardly a surprise at this point in time.

The Piano (1993 Campion)

The Piano is another of those “great” films I’ve resisted for a long time, although I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed it at the time of its release.  I didn’t get interested in Campion until recently with Bright Star, and it’s clear that Campion’s had great skill for some time, given how solid The Piano is.  Paquin’s Oscar for the supporting role was probably a bit generous in retrospect, but Holly Hunter earns her award while not even able to make use of her voice.

Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982 Parker)

I saw this in college at the only midnight movie I remember ever having while I lived there.  I can still hear the bottles rolling down between the seats.  For a film that evokes drug culture so strongly, I’m surprised how well it coherently tells a story without use of dialogue.  The animation segments are still outstanding.

Saw (2004 Wan)

Not as gruesome as I’d expected and I was surprised by its Hitchcockian heritage.  Not a bad horror film for people who don’t like horror films, as all the violence is well-placed and not gratuitous.  There’s a hint of the Edgar Allen Poe or Arther Conan Doyle closed-room mystery in the predicaments Jigsaw sets up.  Still don’t need to see the sequels…

Scarface (1932 Hawks)

Forget De Palma’s remake in 1983, I’ll take the original because is has 100% more Ann Dvorak.  Like a lot of early thirties films, pacing and scoring are occasionally deficient, but the action sequences are tastefully done.  The ethnicities of the gangsters seem to veer between broad stereotype and afterthought.  The whole experience is a fresh mess and too much fun.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971 Mel Stuart)

It’s interesting that you can come back to this film as an adult and have a different experience just as rewarding as that when you were a child.  In retrospect, any attempt to remake this film was doomed to fail, as there is a certain space that can’t be reproduced.

Dishonorable Mentions

(500) Days of Summer (2009 Webb)

There is such a thing as too many gimmicks, as this film proves.  It’s an interesting mess and the third of the time that the gimmicks work is pretty good.  The foreign film homage is great for film geeks and the musical number complete with Disney animated birds are among the high points.  The film is not particularly generous with Deschanel’s character, who rarely overcomes the role of foil to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s lead.  Too cute in the end, I wish this film could be re-edited and re-mixed.

How Much Do You Love Me? (2005 Blier, French)

Yet another in a long tradition of free-wheeling French romantic comedies, which are not conventional in the Hollywood sense.  In this case, we have a recent lottery winner buying the long-term services of a prostitute played by Monica Belluci (freakishly beautiful at 40, and still able to vamp it up).  Also playing a goofball pimp is Gerard Depardieu.  I can’t say I didn’t like it, but I know this isn’t a great entry point for people who are unfamiliar with French films.

Paprika (2006 Satoshi Kon)

Some might say Inception is essentially based on this animated film, in which scientists have discovered how to journey into patients’ dream spaces.  The visual impact of the film cannot be denied, but its vague script is unnecessarily obtuse and the fat guy humor translates poorly.

What Would Jesus Buy?  (2007 VanAlkemade)

If we weren’t living in an era of such incredible documentaries, this film would perhaps be more impressive.  As it is, this is a bit underwhelming compared to its peers, although the principal subject, Reverend Billy, is greatly entertaining and the message is worth hearing.

Written by Bill

November 7, 2010 at 7:41 pm

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Weekend Movie Report #3

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Weekend Winner

Sweet Smell of Success (1957 MacKendrick)

This film presents the most prominent performance of Tony Curtis’s career and glowering, refined menace from Burt Lancaster.  It’s not easy to put yourself in the time and place of this film without understanding the history of Walter Winchell, but it is an easy recommendation for a film canon.

Weekend Loser

St. Trinian’s (2007 Parker & Thompson)

This film stayed safely in the British market for almost four years before being released on DVD in the U.S.  Thus the young cast has experienced some career ascendancy in the interim (Look for Cole and Arterton, who are already becoming bigger names).  It’s not truly bad, but is hopelessly frantic and jumpy, as if we can’t believe a film is about teens and pre-teens if it hasn’t been edited rapid-fire.  Beneath the overloaded cast there is an echo of that old Ealing black comedy flavor.

Honorable Mentions

How to Train Your Dragon (2010 DeBlois & Sanders)

This is an overachiever that’s hard not to like.  I think much of the film’s success relies on vocal talent that is nearly imperceptible and extra attention paid to visual textures throughout the screen, including background terrain.  Dreamworks has been busy making quality films below the radar for a few years.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004 Hess)

This film utterly cheats with its anachronisms, but it is aging well on the merits of its overall presentation, gorgeous open Idaho backdrops, and surprising insight into the world of the teen misfits and outcasts.

No Impact Man (2009 Gabbert & Schein)

Five minutes into No Impact Man, you want to toss a certain self-righteous idealist off the roof of the nearest NYC coop.  Then you see his wife is apparently having the same thoughts, and you can allow yourself to be entertained.  The best moment, perhaps a bit underplayed, is when a sixties activist questions the lack of collective action on issues of the environment in favor of personal action.

Topsy-Turvy (1999 Leigh)

Topsy-Turvy is the best film I’ve ever seen about live theater.  Note the space given to performance and the slow pacing documenting the processes of staging, like rehearsal.  Kevin McKidd’s surprising turn as a vain actor is a nice surprise.

Dishonorable Mentions

A short list and reviewing selection bias leave me with no dishonorable mentions this week.

Written by Bill

October 19, 2010 at 12:30 am

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Weekend Movie Report #2

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I was a captive audience through much of the weekend, so I worked on my unwatched movie stack–mostly titles starting with “M”.

Weekend Winner

Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran (2003 François Dupeyron, French).  Omar Sharif still proves he has amazing screen presence in this odd French coming-of-age film.  A sixteen year-old fan of the neighborhood prostitutes develops a friendship with the local “arab” who runs the corner store, played by Omar Sharif.  Eventually the teen’s father dies, he is adopted by Monsieur Ibrahim, and they go on a road trip to Turkey.  It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does.  This film can perhaps be seen as a part of a long history of French memoir-films of boyhood (including The 400 Blows, Au Revoir Les Enfants, and even lightweight fair like Les Choristes).  Given France’s difficulty accomodating muslim practices in the past few decades, this film is especially interesting viewing.

Weekend Loser

Mondo Balordo (1964 Roberto Bianchi Montero, Albert T. Viola).  I think I mistook this for Mondo Cane when I bought it from Oldies.com, but it’s a similar sort of film:  little documentary tidbits intended to shock and amaze the viewers with a sort of carnival freak-show style.  Look, a crossdresser’s bar in Berlin!  Look, Japanese rope bondage!  Look, Jehovah’s Witnesses!  The only atmosphere for this one is provided by the victorian censure of Boris Karloff’s stiff narration.  Fans of exploitation cinema may enjoy it, but there are better diversions, in my opinion.

Honorable Mentions

Mother (2009 Joon-ho Bong, Korean).  Patience rewards the viewer in this film, a psychological thriller about the mother of a simpleton accused of murder.  Unlike Bong’s fine horror film, The Host, Mother takes time to get going, but the revelations and character development make the journey worthwhile.  I still cannot decide whether there is a certain type of Korean droll delivery that is cultural or an quirky artifact of Bong’s directorial style, but I found myself chuckling and not knowing why in odd moments.

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971 Claude Jutra, French).  The best of the two Québécois films I’ve ever seen, this is a memoir of life growing up in asbestos mining country working in the family general store under the titular high-functioning alcoholic.  Shares many warts-and-all qualities of French-language memoir films (see Monsieur Ibrahim, above).

The Unbeliever (1918 Alan Crosland).  This is reportedly the last film made by the Edison Company, featuring Erich von Stroheim in a villainous role.  As a historical experience, it was very interesting to see a film designed as WWI propaganda using actual Marines.  Not limited to marching in formation in the background, some marines are identified by rank and name in supporting roles.  I also found it interesting to see the odd conflation of social class-issues with the perils of athiesm.  My, how times have changed…

Mulholland Dr. (2001 David Lynch).  After torturing myself with Inland Empire earlier this year, I wasn’t sure I could do more Lynch.  I get it, he’s cool and arty and he talks about language of the cubists and the dadaists.  I also suspect that critical adoration of Lynch is more of an expression of disappointment with the film establishment than genuine appreciation of whatever it is Lynch is trying to accomplish.  As it stands, Mulholland is  structurally coherent while being a mostly empty portrait of Lynch’s mind-trip version of Hollywood.  I don’t doubt the power of his style, merely the ability to deliver content within said filmmaking.  I’m also twigged to the Robert Bresson school of declamation that Lynch makes actors work with.  Still better than Limits of Control, if you want a bad example of style excess.

My Favorite Brunette (1947 Elliott Nugent).  The closest thing I had to standard entertainment this weekend, I can’t help myself from kind-of liking Bob Hope’s send-up of noir stylists like Hammet and Chandler.  Sure, the jokes are still lame, but Peter Lorre’s deadpan delivery put me over the top.

Dishonorable Mentions

A strong selection this week leaves me without anyone else to chide.  If I had been feeling snarky, I might have dropped Mulholland Dr. to this position.

Written by Bill

October 14, 2010 at 3:18 pm

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Weekend Movie Report 1

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I watch a lot of movies, most of which are not part of the cineplex-delivered-made-for-idiot-teenagers modern movie experience.  Periodically, I’ll report on my recent viewings in short capsules.

Weekend Winner:  Temple Grandin (2010)

Made for HBO, this is what a biopic should aspire to be.  It features an important person with whom I was only a little familiar, adds a very strong performance from Claire Danes, and has a triumphant ending.  It’s easily available in the used DVD market right now and definitely worth a buy.

Weekend Loser:  The Limits of Control (2009)

I haven’t seen a film worse since Vortex and I like Jim Jarmusch.  There’s plenty to dislike in this film:  silly sexual content, disconnected “dialogue”, and a general lack of plot or coherence.  I’d rather watch Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us five times in a row than be exposed to another frame of The Limits of Control.  The only thing entertaining about this film is watching fools try to defend it on the IMDB message board.

Honorable Mentions

The Social Network (2010)

It’s not as good as the critics would have you believe.  Fincher makes competent films, but he’s not god’s gift to cinema.  At least this biopic doesn’t get stuck in biopic-checklist syndrome.  Eisenberg and Garfield are strong performers and it’s interesting to get a peek at Mara Rooney, who is slated to play Lisbeth Salander (the heroine of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Shopped at Ikea, and The Girl Who Sleeps With Old Guys).

Easy A (2010)

I’m convinced that 75% of Emma Stone’s acting peers couldn’t pull off the smart-sexy role she chews through in Easy A.  This film is pure entertainment and has a solid supporting cast that once again proves Tucci makes everything better.  Minor demerit for letting Lisa Kudrow out of her coffin.  Also, this is the last teenage film allowed to explicitly cite John Hughes.

They Made Me a Criminal (1939)

Great!  A Busby Berkeley film.  I can’t wait for troops of show girls showing off their gams… wait…  Never mind.  It’s not a bad film, despite John Garfield’s one-note-aw-shucks characterization.  Now I know why you don’t swim in irrigation tanks.

Mademoiselle (1966, French)

If you’re a sexually repressed school teacher, perhaps the best way to get the attention of the husky and sexy Italian lumberjack is to become an arsonist.  Considering how much difficulty I’ve had with French films from the 1960’s, this wasn’t too static nor too inaccessible.  It is quite romantic despite being utterly crazy.

Dishonorable Mentions

Love, Etc. (1996, French)

I may have been put off by the particularly muddy soundtrack on this one, but it doesn’t help that the eventual “winner” in the lover’s triangle is an utter tool.  Interesting for an early look at Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Love Songs (2007, French)

The French may have “invented” cinema, but don’t forget that Americans perfected the musical.  Outside of Bollywood, I don’t recall ever seeing a foreign-language musical until I ran across Love Songs.  Being French, it features romantic situations beyond the Hollywood standard.  Musically dull, although some lyrics pop.  Ludivine Sagnier is her usual pop-eyed self, but not enough to save it.

Written by Bill

October 5, 2010 at 8:30 pm

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