Sunday, March 4, 2012

Film Comment Selects 2012 Round-Up

58) Transfer (2010) Dir: Damir Lukacevic Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 13, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

59) Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972) Dir: Adrian Maben Date Released: August 21, 1974 Date Seen: February 13, 2012 Rating: 4/5

60) Headhunters (2011) Dir: Morten Tyldum Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 13, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

62) Seconds (1966) Dir: John Frankenheimer Date Released: October 5, 1966 Date Seen: February 15, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

63) Mortem (2010) Dir: Eric Atlan Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 16, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

64) My Own Private Idaho (1991) Dir: Gus Van Sant Date Released: September 29, 1991 Date Seen: February 18, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

67) My Own Private River (2011) Dir: James Franco and Gus Van Sant Probably Never to be Released Date Seen: February 19, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

74) Cargo 200 (2007) Dir: Aleksey Balabanov Date Released: January 2, 2009 Date Seen: February 24, 2012

76) The Stoker (2010) Dir: Aleksey Balabanov Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 25, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

80) Almayer's Folly (2011) Dir: Chantal Akerman Not Yet Released Date Seen: February 26, 2012 Rating: 4/5

I wrote about some films in the 2012 Film Comment Selects for Capital New York and I wrote about the production history of My Own Private River for The Playlist. But below are some thoughts on the films themselves....

Transfer: Geez, what's with these German filmmakers and liberal guilt, eh? This scifi drama is kind of a riff on Seconds but not really. Very empathetic for the most part but the filmmakers' never sufficiently develops any of their provocative ideers about class, age and least, not enough for my tastes.

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii: Considering when this film was made, I think I may have over-emphasized  the bits of this film that suggest that the film is grounded in the band's own morbid self-interest. But hey, it's there. Generally speaking, the musical performances have really stayed with me. Kinda wish I was able to see the band perform back when they were in their prime. Sigh. I was born at the wrong time, magn.

Headhunters: Ok, at this point in the night, I was sloshed. I was killing my fifth beer of the evening and while I could basically follow the plot by that point, my opinion of this film is...well, it's mostly worthless. But I liked what I understood. Shit pipe!

Seconds: The more I think about this film, the more I love the feeling of disorientation that it gave me. Can't get it out of my head. That feeling of bobbing along, of being totally drunk without having touched a single drop of booze. It felt like I was watching a live-action cartoon dredged up from the id of a seriously depressed animator. This is why people idolize the '60s all out of proportion: films like Seconds give us the impression that it was a period that can be neatly re-imagined as a renaissance of radical American film art. The amount of creative freedom that Frankenheimer was given to make Seconds now seems uncanny. Another time, another world...but maybe not so much.

Mortem: When I started watching this partly endearing and wholly ridiculous art film, I thought it was a variation on the kind of half-baked, pseudo-intellectual, Sapphic-centric mindfucks that Jean-Claude Brisseau has recently cornered the market on (see: Exterminating Angels and A l'aventure). Brisseau is, after all, a Film Comment Selects darling. So this could easily fill the spot that a new Brisseau film left open. But then Atlan really started to lose me. Eventually, he just repetitively drove home the same couple of points, proving that he wasn't as self-aware as I originally thought he was. This is the kind of bratty, arty-farty movie where the revelation that sex is just masturbation with another person is supposed to be provocative. But it looks great and the softcore lesbian sex is kinda nice...but hey. HEY. NO.

My Own Private Idaho: This definitely feels like several different films were crammed into one narrative. Because that's what happened (three scripts, to be exact). Don't care about the lumpy and uninspired Falstaff/Hal stuff. And really resent how over-protective Van Sant is of River Phoenix's character. It's like the way that Scorsese tried to shield us from seeing Travis Bickle at his lowest point by panning the camera away during that one phone conversation in Taxi Driver. Except in this case, that kind of defensive logic determines Idaho's pace. The whole narcolepsy thing is a cop-out and a lame way of trying to summarize a young gay hustler's way of life. But I'm especially bummed to see Van Sant enforce that kind of the-kids-are-all-right BS logic in the way he edited this ground-breaking pitcher. He pulls every punch he throws here. I get it, but no, thanks.

My Own Private River: Now this is more like it. Franco did a great job of getting into the film and creating an alternate narrative out of several unused but wholly singular, never-before-seen sequences. These expressive new scenes tell a much more moving story than Van Sant's original film did. Franco really did his homework and the shorter cut he made (there's a six-hour cut...just FYI) is pretty extraordinary.

Cargo 200 and The Stoker: There's something about Balabanov's semi-whimsical but mostly bleak sense of humor that I find really appealing. Fuh intance, his fascination with fairy tale-like narratives that revolve around symmetry and doubling is pretty interesting. In The Stoker, two fathers and their two daughters wind up at each others' throats without even realizing it. In Cargo 200, there are two criss-crossing stories, one that follows a rich industrialist and his equally affluent niece and one that follows a poor prole and his middle class nephew (wearing a t-shrit that says USSR, no less!). 

There's also a seething cruelty to Balabanov's sense of humor, too, as is abundantly clear from the way that Cargo 200 careens to a stop with a rotting corpse in bed with a screaming girl that's only wearing a garish pair of heels. Oh, and by the way, the girl in question is chained to a bed while the guy that abducted her reads love letters that were originally written to her by her dead fiance. Also, her fiance is the rotting corpse. Something tells me Balabanov is a student of the Tobe Hooper School of Sadistic Horror. And I'm totally ok with that. 

The Stoker is very similar to Cargo 200, though it's perhaps a bit more straight-forward in the way one event leads to the other. Both films are perversely charming dark comedies, though The Stoker is a bit troubling, after a point. There is a semi-seriousness to Balabanov's advocacy of the title character's need to get revenge. The historical climate that Balabanov is satirizing in Cargo 200 (just before the changes that marked the end of the USSR kicked in) seems to necessitate its victim-of-circumstances' demise. But, possibly as a sign of our amoral, post-Soviet modern times, the victim in The Stoker is allowed to get revenge. Balabanov doesn't let us totally enjoy the stoker's revenge. But his revenge is depicted with a kind of self-righteousness that isn't 100% parodic. Balabanov's cruel but he's not that cruel...which is kind of disheartening, actually.

Almayer's Folly: Baby's first Akerman. Uh...I liked it! Akerman's style of long takes didn't always work, as in some of the scenes of the moon reflected in the water or the very last scene. But in general, I was pretty charmed by this one. I think she found a way into the story that was mostly dynamic and I was pretty absorbed throughout...don't have much else to say about this one, unfortunately.

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