Saturday, April 28, 2012

124) Showgirls (1995)

124) Showgirls (1995) Dir: Paul Verhoeven Date Released: September 22, 1995 Date Seen: April 18, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

Not really a big fan or a big detractor either. Which is sort of surprising, I think. Check out my pro-Eszterhas piece for Capital New York.

123) Titanic (1997)

123) Titanic (1997) Dir: James Cameron Date Released: December 14, 1997 and later April 4, 2012 Date Seen: April 15, 2012 Rating: 3/5

By now, I can't help but selectively react to baggage surrounding this film, which has become something of a cultural artifact since its release, as much as the film itself. The two things are the same thing now, I guess. So some scattered thoughts:

  • The 3D post-conversion of this film is really good. I think that if all 3D post-converted films looked this good, the seemingly terminally stalled conversation about 3D's worth could progress.
  • Billy Zane was not as bad as I'd been told. It's the role, guys.
  • Leonardo Dicaprio is not as bad as my mother has always led me to believe. It's the role, mom.
  • Kate Winslet is as dead sexy as I've been led to believe. People who say otherwise are pinheads. There's one scene I've fixated on where Winslet is nekkid and she's standing in the extreme left foreground of the camera's frame. And in the post-converted 3D version, the side of her right hip gets all up in my face. Me want. More so than the 3D Kate Winslet breasticles I was promised. Those were fine. But 3D side-hip: WHOA. 
  • I'm kind of charmed by Cameron's lame approach to filming history like the Colonoial Williamsburg style re-enact history. Characters info-dump at great length the contextualizing trivia that Cameron wants us to know--and they do it all with a straight face! Which is funny, really, but it's mostly just cute for how sincerely cheesy it is.
  • Really good special effects, especially when the ship goes tits up. I was also pretty scared during that one scene where Kate is trudging back to free Leo with axe in hand. 
  • I greatly resent the bizarre disconnect between the film's implied message--of how all life is worth living, we should live every day as if it were our last and that nothing else matters--and the way that Cameron actively condemns many of the film's stiff upper-class characters. His hypocritical us v. them delineation is annoying when it's just a class warfare thing. But that kind of mentality is even more infuriating later in the film, when the perfidious nature of Zane's character is confirmed when he desperately tries to bribe people to let him into a lifeboat/ Didn't we JUST establish that wanting to live is a good thing? How can you condemn survivors, even the ones in the lifeboats that were afraid of taking on more passengers, for making the wrong decision at the wrong time? Fuck that.

Monday, April 23, 2012

122) 48 Hrs. (1982)

122) 48 Hrs. (1982) Dir: Walter Hill Date Released: December 8, 1982 Date Seen: April 14, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

What this movie gets right it gets really right but what it gets wrong is unfortunately equally wrong. All of the stupid canned racial tension between Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy  felt tacked-on, pointless. These guys are already uncomfortable together even without Nolte's lame, unbelievable racist jabs. Nolte's character glibly takes these potshots early on in the film and then miraculously gets to distance himself from them later on ("I didn't mean it, honest!" Psssh.). But just look at the big fist fight scene: there's such raw charisma here. Murphy and Nolte don't need stupid reasons to clash; just throw them together on a pretext and make 'em do it. They look good fighting, not struggling to think of reasons to fight.

But! The fight scenes are Peckinpah-esque, the wisecracks are almost screwball-level good and both buddies give very strong performances. Pretty magnetic, on the whole.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dany Trejo, I Guess.

121) Bad Ass (2012) Dir: Craig Moss Date Released: April 13, 2012 Date Seen: April 11, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

I was supposed to do a phone interview with Danny Trejo, who is somewhere out Romania. Shooting a movie but still, he's in the Carpathian Mountains or some shit and he's not taking calls, apparently. So I tried emailing him. But Machete don't email either, I guess. Sigh.

In any case, I reviewed Bad Ass for Capital New York. So there, nyah.

Mary, Mary, Mary Krishna! I mean Harron!

118) The Moth Diaries (2011) Dir: Mary Harron Date Released: April 20, 2012 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 4/5

120) I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) Dir: Mary Harron Date Released: May 1, 1996 Date Seen: April 10, 2012 Rating: 4/5

Preparation for my forthcoming Harron interview for Press Play. I like her films a bunch. Will probably also review The Moth Diaries for Capital New York. May try to check out her Fear Itself episode before I write the latter...stay tuned.

Stooges. Why Did it Have to be Stooges?!

ISF: Disorder in the Court (1936) Dir: Jack White Date Released: May 30, 1936 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

ISF: Brideless Groom (1947) Dir: Edward Bernds Date Released: September 11, 1947 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

ISF: Malice in the Palace (1949) Dir: Jules White Date Released: September 1, 1949 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

ISF: Women Haters (1934) Dir: Archie Gottler Date Released: May 5, 1934 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3/5

ISF: Gents Without Cents (1944) Dir: Jules White Date Released: September 22, 1944 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

ISF: Dutiful but Dumb (1941) Dir: Del Lord Date Released: March 21, 1941 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

ISF: Spooks! (1953) Dir: Jules White Date Released: June 15, 1953 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

ISF: False Alarms (1936) Dir: Del Lord Date Released: August 16, 1936 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3/5

ISF: Grips, Grunts and Groans (1937) Dir: Jack White Date Released: January 13, 1937 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

ISF: The Ghost Talks (1949) Dir: Jules White Date Released: February 3, 1949 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 3/5

RV!: Pardon My Backfire (1953) Dir: Jules White Date Released: August 15, 1953 Date Seen: April 9, 2012 Rating: 4/5

119) The Three Stooges (2012) Dir: Peter and Bobby Farrelly Date Released: April 13, 2012 Date Seen: April 10, 2012 Rating: 2/5

Yeah, Pardon My Backfire is still my favorite Stooges short as I think it's the most consistently funny and has the most inspired gags in it. Your mileage may vary. Two pieces on the Stooges: one for Press Play and one for The Playlist. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

117) Beautiful City (2004)

117) Beautiful City (2004) Dir: Asghar Farhadi Date Released: March 15, 2006 Date Seen: April 7, 2012 Rating: 4/5

Very powerful, almost as strong as A Separation, I think, and definitely more potent than Fireworks Wednesday. I was talking to Steve Erickson about this and am kind of stunned that Farhadi's films were released theatrically here in the US but are still unavailable on DVD. Erickson suggested that the the film's US distributors are either grossly incompetent or negligent and he may very well be right. Because hark, Beautiful City did in fact have a New York City release date!

Anyway, one of the reasons I responded as positively as I did to Beautiful City is how Farhadi thematically buttresses his film's complex story of ethical responsibility with, for want of a better way of putting this, noises. The sound of the train near Firoozeh's (Taraneh Alidoosti) home that it threatens to cancel out  the sound of her baby's crying. But, like the sound of A'la (Babak Ansari) buzzing Firoozeh's doorbell, the sound of crying seems interminable. In this way, the baby's crying and the noise of the doorbell both reflect the urgency and persistent nature of Abak's dilemma. 

Which in turn reminds me of something I also found striking about A Separation. All three of the Farhadi films I've seen revolve around ethical loopholes created by the rules that govern Iran's patriarchal society. They are mainly about how the religious and semi-secular dogma that governs the film's protagonists doesn't properly equip the people it's designed to protect with the means of dealing with their lives' more complicated problems. 

And that in turn leads me to one of the other main things I loved about Beautiful City: how fully-realized Firoozeh is as a character. Her life isn't psychologically reduced  to tics but rather elevated by various innocuous actions, like when she insists on paying bus fare for herself and her infant child or when she takes out her own cigarette and lights it after A'la refuses to give her one. Firoozeh isn't just a nominally strong female protagonist: she's the real deal. And that's really rare.

116) Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope (2011)

116) Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope (2011) Dir: Morgan Spurlock Date Released: April 6, 2012 Date Seen: April 3, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

Fmeh. See my review of this aggravatingly middling flick for Capital New York.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

RV!: Deep Red (1975)

RV!: Deep Red (1975) Dir: Dario Argento Date Released: June 11, 1976 Date Seen: April 4, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

I've been waiting for my big Argento breakthrough. Now, eight films and one book of criticism later: Bam. See my forthcoming piece on this film and a certain John Hughes pitcher for Capital NY.

Editor's Note: le joint, c'est ici.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Moretti Amore

114) I Am Self Sufficient (1978) Dir: Nanni Moretti Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 31, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

115) The Mass is Over (1985) Dir: Nanni Moretti Date Released: May 6, 1988 Date Seen: April 1, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

I wrote two pieces about Moretti this week, one for Movieline and one for Press Play. Link to come for the Press Play piece. Basically: me gusta.

Editor's Note: here's the Press Play piece.

Monday, April 2, 2012

113) Wrath of the Titans (2012)

113) Wrath of the Titans (2012) Dir: Jonathan Liebesman Date Released: March 30, 2012 Date Seen: March 31, 2012 Rating: 2/5

There's been a recent up-tic in the ongoing argument both for and against "Chaos Cinema." Director Jonathan Liebesman's most recent films are fodder for pretty good counter-Chaos arguments. Wrath of the Titans may be more immersive than Battle: LA. But it's no less flat-footed or literal-minded. One character actually says that he and his comrades are entering a "labyrinth of possibilities" as they enter an actual labyrinth. Liebesman didn't write that line of dialogue but that's pretty much part-and-parcel with his films' style. In order to visualize the hell of combat, he gives us a lot of shaky camera movements. In order to get a sense of intimacy, he delivers physical proximity. In order to get a sense of how big the Temple of the Gods is, he showcases disproportionately large statues and columns. In order to get a sense of a character's disorientation, he films with fish eye lenses and various other odd-angled close-ups of bewildered faces.

Granted, some of the more visually coherent and hence pleasing moments in Wrath of the Titans are guided by a literal-minded intelligence, too, like the sequence where Perseus (Sam Worthington) is surveying an empty battle field and is represented as being rather small in the midst of so much rubble. But more often than not, Liebesman's more visually coherent scenes are immediately more impressive (though I readily admit I kinda liked Perseus's shaky fight with the fire-breathing goggies). Theses scenes are not much more impressive but they do give us a sense of scale and scope that more inspired filmmakers would probably be more capable of capitalizing on. 

This is pretty much where I stand when it comes to Chaos Cinema: don't just hide behind a frenzied technique, do something with it. Liebesman does nothing of note in Wrath of the Titans with his use of shaky hand-held photography. And that's basically the problem: shaky cam and Chaos Cinema is only as valuable a technique as it's most creative proponent. You show me a truly inspired use of kinetic editing and I will reluctantly acquiesce. Tsui Hark, sure, maybe even Paul Greengrass. But if you were to ask either of those superior director guys to do something with crane shots or non-hand-held digital photography, you'd get something equally, if not more, impressive. 

Jonathan Liebesman is not that talented. But he is a very prominent standard-bearer for Chaos. So it's easy to pick on him...mostly 'cause he sucks. Ultimately, I'm still waiting to be really dazzled by a Nouveau Chaos-keteer. Suggestions welcome.