Monday, August 31, 2009

275) Ponyo (2008)

275) Ponyo (2008) Dir: Hayao Miyazaki Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 31, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

Hayao Miyazaki's anime does not condescend to its child audience's need to be taken seriously. Instead, his stories assume that children will and should get respect for their ingenuity and limitless energy. If anything, Ponyo, his latest film, commends adults for acting more like kids. Lisa (Tina Fey) is a great mother because she emulates her son Sosuke's (Frankie Jonas) ability to temper responsibility with the childish ability to just go with the flow. The other kids laugh at Sosuke when he tells them he has a job--"You're five years old!" one protests--but that's just because they don't realize just how self-aware he is. Taking care of himself  and his new gal pal Ponyo (Noah Cyrus) while taking everything that happens as a result of Ponyo's running away from home in stride is a job in and of itself.

Events unfold gracelessly in Ponyo because that, to Miyazaki, is how things go, even in fantasies. Sosuke understands that and Gran Marmare (Cate Blanchett), Miyazaki's enlightened harbinger of nature and ruler of the ocean, respects his judgment at the end by earnestly asking him if he can love her daughter. This astonishing question, which closely resembles the vows a bridegroom must make in order to marry his wife, is clearly not meant to be answered by an ordinary five year-old but rather another extraordinary ideal child of Miyazaki's imagination.* 

*That doesn't mean Gran Marmare's question makes any more sense taken out of its context. Miyazaki usually runs out of creative steam by the end of his films so it stands to reason that by this put, things fail to tie together very neatly. Still, it's nice to know that it does make sense within the film.

274) Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

274) Sansho the Bailiff (1954) Dir: Kenji Mizoguchi Date Released: XX 1955 Date Seen: August 30, 2009 Rating: 4/5

It's remarkable to see how debased any visible or even tangible signs of authority are in Sansho the Bailiff, Kenji Mizoguchi's evocative epic. Tokens of power in the film are required at every turn, even at the film's wrenching climax, which hinges on a small statuette of Kwannon. Only the flesh-scorching brand of the titular slave-driver/land-owner is universally acknowledged, showing how, as with the Bible's Job, corporeal affliction rules in a world on the brink of self-destruction.

Sansho's daunting pessimism is not unusual, considering that the film is set in the Heian period, an era whose decadence is similarly bemoaned in Kurosawa's Rashomon, where rain threatens to wash humanity away while a beggar and a priest debate whether people are even worth a damn. This is the period shortly before the samurai overthrew the nobility and instituted a kind of martial law so if anything, the film's elegiac tone, where the son of an ex-communicated official endures years of hardship but is ultimately unable to quell the evils of feudal slavery, is rather lenient. 

Mizoguchi's characteristic attention to foregrounding nature in his outdoor photography is all the more wistful considering how Zushio, the film's protagonist, eventually learns to lament the emptiness of the artificial powers that be. Rarely are people as majestically filmed in Sansho as the trees and natural landscape they pepper. Directors like Hiroshi Inagaki and Nagisa Oshima both display a similar awe for the great outdoors* but neither is capable of achieving the same overpowering effect Mizoguchi does here. Here, he provides the viewer with an elemental anchor, assuring us that while people may not be able to affect sensible change in their environment, they should not take their achingly beautiful surroundings for granted.

*In Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto and Empire of Passion, respectively 

273) The Final Destination (2009)

273) The Final Destination (2009) Dir: David R. Ellis Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 28, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

Same ol, same ol. See my review for Slant Magazine.

272) Halloween II (2009)

272) Halloween II (2009) Dir: Rob Zombie Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 28, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

My favorite Rob Zombie flick. See my review for the New York Press.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

271) The Story of Marie and Julien (2003)

271) The Story of Marie and Julien (2003) Dir: Jacques Rivette Date Released (DVD): July 2005 Date Seen: August 28, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

I think I only really understood what put me off about the impenetrable, disjointed pacing of The Story of Marie and Julien after watching an hour of Jacques Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating. I stopped watching Celine and Julie with a little more than two hours to go because it was all about the necessity of play and hence unconcerned with engaging me with any kind of narrative. Its characters don't have traditional story arcs because would defeat the purpose of their child-like need to constantly reinvent themselves through various games that they make up as they go. 

While The Story of and Marie and Julien can be retrospectively considered to be more deliberate in its mounting tension, it does not feel much more purposeful. Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) is not a traditional protagonist: his passionate fling with Julie is propelled forward not by his proclamations of love for her but by the fact that each successive scene he's in overthrows our understanding of what happened in the last one. In other words, Julien's story progresses without a sense of narrative continuity so that its herky-jerky tempo mimics his uneasy--to say the least--relationship with Marie (Emanuelle Beart). 

This revelation makes the film more thoughtful in retrospect but no less grating while watching it. Because its rhythm defines its characters, Marie and Julien infrequently stalls because of its stop-and-go structure. The way Marie thwarts Julien's need to have order in everything he does, as represented by his obsessive certainty that he can fix the various clocks he works on throughout the film, is ingrained in the story itself. That abruptness makes certain recurring images, like Marie's mysterious blue room and their bouts of role-playing sex, captivating because of the urgency with which they're presented but also fundamentally frustrating.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

270) Corridor of Mirrors (1948)

270) Corridor of Mirrors (1948) Dir: Terence Young Date Released: July 1948 Date Seen: August 27, 2009 Rating: 4/5

Save for its appropriately convoluted finale, Terence Young's Corridor of Mirrors, an adaptation of a novel by Christopher Massie, is a thoroughly engrossing gothic noir. Young's film presents the seduction of Milfanwy (Edana Romney), an innocent young woman looking for thrills and soon to be femme fatale. She's picked up and swept off her feet by the beguiling Paul Mangin (Eric Portman), a gentleman obsessed with a lurid Victorian vision of British history that takes a lot from Renaissance Italy and also a lot from the Greeks as well. 

Mangin's decadent sensibility, which culminates in a house that is part carousel, part mausoleum, full of vaulted ceilings and mirrored armoires, is cobbled together from Italian and Greek elements. His old-fashioned decor and mannered deportment entrance Milfanwy immediately, probably more than his creepy fascination with dressing her up to resemble the woman he fantasizes about in a Venetian portrait from 1486. She's drawn to Magin by the gaudiness of the Brits' fetishized vision of Renaissance art and neo-classicism, a warped kind of nostalgia that dooms Mangin because he can't bear to leave it behind. 

Mangin's attachment is fatal, a damning critique of British contemporary culture as a history of stolen, aherm, borrowed elements. The hall of mirrors in Mangin's mansion refracts Milfanwy's unkind visage as she laughs at his pitiful sense of taste because it is already a fractured product of thinking that insists that cultural duplication begets greater appreciation of their own taste. Just as the Romans took bits of Greek culture to make their own, so have the Brits taken bits of the Romans', as represented in the gondola ride Mangin takes Milfanwy on past an eerily reverent recreation of a traditional commedia dell'arte stage comedy.* Mangin's taste is recreation without celebration, nostalgia without reverie.

Still, the film almost condones Mangin's obsession much in the same way Viconti elegiacally bid farewell to a corrupt past in The Leopard. Mangin's new vision of history is beautiful but it, like him, is dying because because it cannot adapt to lower class modernity.** It refuses to mingle with the present day and hence prefers to die on its own sword than branch out. The film uses Veronica (Barbra Mullen), a deranged guest in Mangin's mansion, as a McGuffin to not only show what life is like within such a hermetically sealed world but to also show, through the film's estranging climax, how Mangin's world is recreated by contemporary plebeians: as a house of wax.

*It's never occurred to me before but could one link the character types of commedia dell'arte to the Greek shadow puppet plays? I'm think specifically of how Harlequin reminds me of Karagiozis. Something to gnaw on, for all you culture/history buffs out there.

**Though Mangin finds Milfanwy in a nigh club, he disdains her smoking as a sign of his need to pick up only certain desired scraps from the low culture heap that is contemporary British youth culture.

***Or perhaps prisoner, depending on whether you believe her or Mangin.

269) Antichrist (2009)

269) Antichrist (2009) Dir: Lars von Trier Date Released: October 2009 Date Seen: August 26, 2009 Rating: 2/5

It's sad to think that Antichrist was the most talked-about film at this year's Cannes Film Festival as it really is just another Lars Von Trier film. In other words, it's a smug, pseudo-intellectual prank that viciously attacks the audience after overtly telling them they will be scolded. The film opens with a hilariously cynical wordless prologue where Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Defoe fuck frantically as their child topples out of a window and opera music plays while everybody moves in slow motion. Rather than sincerely trying for affecting pathos, the scene announces the film's lack of earnest emotion and Von Trier's infantile unwillingness to even try to be serious. 

For von Trier, that scene is an opening salvo and a promise that the audience will be abused should they choose to be baited by his usual misanthropic brand of cinematic brutality. And he makes good on that promise with a talking fox, clit clipping, leg stabbing, bird killing, and on and on. It's like Long Weekend meets Dogville plus a little Evil Dead 2 thrown in for shits, giggles and idiotic, strictly provocative ideas about how nature is the source of misogyny. Just another day for Mister, yawn, Enfant Terrible.

The story of Defoe and Gainsbroug's characters, named only "He" and "She," unfolds incrementally and faux-seriously, as a story about "She"'s recovery after suffering a nervous breakdown. "He" takes her to the country to help her overcome her fear of nature, which "She" says is her greatest fear. From those seemingly innocent beginnings unfolds a gnarled, emotionally dishonest allegory of how Nature is the root of the abuse of women. That impulse first takes hold of "She" as masochism but eventually infects "He" despite his feeble protests that he is, in fact, an enlightened male. 

Thinking about Antichrist after having seen where von Trier takes his characters, the trajectory of the film is disarmingly simple.* The film's plot single-mindedly proves that even mild-mannered "He," a therapist and hence man of science, can fall prey to the inexplicable emotions that make him want to punish his wife for being a sexual creature. There are signs from the start that he will heed this call of the wild. From the beginning, "He" doesn't trust her to take her anti-pyschotic medication, proving that he himself distrusts certified medical science. Also, he will begin to see strange things to echo "Her"'s insane predictions of doom the longer "He" stays with "She" in their cabin in the woods, showing that her fear of being overwhelmed by everything and nothing green is in fact not just a figment of her imagination. 

The roots of Natural Evil are already in "He," just waiting to flourish. By the film's end, despite his protests to "She," he will want to kill her for her negligence, insanity, cruelty, etc. Or maybe just the fact that she literally cock-blocks him with a loose plank of wood, then punctures and clamps a vice onto his quad, then stabs him repeatedly in the face with a shovel. If you can make something out of that kind of gibberish, you're probably taking the film more seriously than Lars did (he sneers happily in a statement included in my press notes that he believes Antichrist is "the most important film of my entire career!" Right. Just like how he was serious about never wanting to visit America, or sticking to Dogme's tenants, or proclaiming himself to be the greatest filmmaker in the world. Right, right. Gotcha.).

Von Trier's attempts to bait the viewer are so tired that I can't even bring myself to gasp when he pulls the rug out from under me any more. It's not shocking, titillating or controversial so much as silly and nonsensical. I wish Antichrist were worth infuriation but the most I can muster is a tired "Meh." Some fun bits of obnoxiousness, some stupid, some good dramatic bait, most not. Just meh.

*This is one of von Trier's biggest cons, the idea that he is earnestly interested in experimenting with a Strindbergian concept of minimalistic drama (hence "He" and "She" and nobody else in the film). 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

268) Crude (2009)

268) Crude (2009) Dir: Joe Berlinger Date Released: September 2009 Date Seen: August 25, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

The back-and-forth pace between the two sides is fairly well-balanced, with some exceptions. See my review for The L Magazine.

267) American Casino (2009)

267) American Casino (2009) Dir: Leslie and Andrew Cockburn Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 24, 2009 Rating: 1.75/5

Never really grabbed me; too short-sighted, un-enlightening, etc. See my review for The L Magazine.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

265) Ashes and Diamonds (1958) and 266) Samson (1961)

265) Ashes and Diamonds (1958) Dir: Andrzej Wajda Date Released: May 1961 Date Seen: August 23, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

266) Samson (1961) Dir: Andrzej Wajda Date Released (DVD): December 2004 Date Seen: August 23, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

The amount of agency that the tortured protagonists of Ashes and Diamonds and Samson have by the end of either film delineates how they differ as martyrs. Ashes and Diamonds' Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) is doomed by the knowledge that his actions on behalf of the anti-Communist resistance are futile and hence cannot advance beyond his current stasis. Conversely, though Samson's Jakub (Serge Merlin) is wracked with guilt over his selfish need to distance himself from the ghetto he's escaped from, he simply has forgotten that he can make something of his freedom thanks to the opportunities the resistance supplies him with. Maciek's life, to use Wajda's recurring metaphor, is an permanently unbalanced house of cards while Jakub's has a sturdier foundation. 

This essential difference is paradoxical considering that, while both films were made more than a decade after WW2, Jakub's story takes place at the inception of the war and Maciek's just after armistice has been declared. Samson is a more involving story because its wracked hero has a shriveled but vital air of hope about him and yet, Jakub's final act of defiance is a hollow victory. It can only be re-imagined as an act of purely symbolic rebellion thanks to the grace of perspective. Jakub's story appears to be more pressing than Maciek's, but that sense of urgency is false. The miasma of indecision that Maciek sinks in is ironically more appropriate as it directly reflects the moral stagnation Wajda's filmmaking is responding to. It may be more monotonous than Samson, but it is intellectually more earnest.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

264) The Haunted Strangler (1958)

264) The Haunted Strangler (1958) Dir: Robert Day Date Released: July 1958 Date Seen: August 22, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

The Haunted Strangler is one of the few horror films I've seen that looks like it is both about and directed by a schizophrenic madman. What looks superficially like a variation on Stevenson's archetypal Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quickly devolves into a haphazard heap of dangling plot threads and red herrings. The first 36 mins. of the film are spent watching Boris Karloff's venerable,* mild-mannered writer search for clues that might exonerate the man executed for being "The Haymarket Strangler." Then, in an uninspired twist, Karloff becomes possessed by the real killer's dagger and effectively becomes "The Haymarket Strangler." Then, one morning and a murder later, his wife tells him that he's always been "The Haymarket Strangler." Then he gets thrown into an asylum because nobody believes him when he says that he is in fact "The Haymarket Strangler." It's amazing that Karloff's character doesn't throw himself out of a window*** sooner than he does; my head's still reeling. 

*Karloff was in his earl '70s when he starred in The Haunted Strangler.

**Karloff's transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is marked by a hysterically campy half-puckered grimace he expertly wears with the skill and zeal of an unflappable veteran who looks forward to throwing himself into his work, no matter how silly.  

***Don't worry, he survives.

263) Empire of Passion (1978)

263) Empire of Passion (1978) Dir: Nagisa Oshima Date Released: March 1979 Date Seen: August 22, 2009 Rating: 3/5

There's not much writer/director Nagisa Oshima's adaptation of Itoko Namura's Empire of Passion has to say that Oshima hadn't already said in a more engaging way in his notorious In the Realm of the Senses. The most interesting thing about Passion is how it varies from the type of passion play Oshima was interested in. Typically, Oshima's films follow people faced with the choice of either taking what they believe is their only course of action or living miserably. Naturally, because they're always already backed into a corner when they have to make these decisions, they act and suffer the consequences, which are always self-inflicted. The ghost that plagues the doomed lovers in Empire of Passion is thus just Oshima's way of intellectually tweaking the traditional Japanese ghost story's moralistic use of the supernatural. The difference is that in Oshima's film, the morals and the ghost in question are conjured up by the people being judged and not some higher power. 

Save for that generic variation on Oshima's central theme, Empire of Passion is just a less ambiguous version of In the Realm of the Senses. It strips Senses' story of tragic lovers whose growing taste for hedonism makes them condemn each other and tweaks it--Tony Rayns lists the various ways in which Passion's characters are just* the "converse" of Senses'. Though Oshima claims that he made Passion's sets to counter the artificial sets of Sense, the ornate attention he lavishes on Passion's lush, "natural" setting makes it look just as gaudy as any of the operatic sets from Mishima: A Life in Four Parts. It overtly spells out what In the Realm of the Senses left mostly up to the audience, namely whether there is a clear line between the characters' passions and their anguish over being enslaved by them. The difference in relative bluntness should impress even the most casual viewer seeing as how it's inscribed in the respective films' aesthetics, Senses being comparatively more flat while Passion has a depth-of-field that makes it beautiful but not necessarily more thoughtful. 

*I added the just part; Rayns believes the fact that Passion is Senses' mirror image to be a sign of its complexity, hem hem, haw haw. My favorite Oshima is still Pleasures of the Flesh.

262) The Dead Pool (1988)

262) The Dead Pool (1988) Dir: Buddy Van Horn Date Released: July 1988 Date Seen: August 21, 2009 Rating: 2/5

If it wasn't so preposterous--watch out for that harpoon--I would not have enjoyed this nearly as much as I did. See my mention of this in my piece on celebrity stalkers for The Onion's NY A.V. Club.

261) Inglourious Basterds (2009)

261) Inglourious Basterds (2009) Dir: Quentin Tarantino Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 21, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

Engaging for its implications regarding Tarantino's usual reliance on rhetorical dialogue and scenarios but way too drawn-out and in love with itself to be wholly engaging. Gonna try to get on the Rotten Toe Mates Revue again. Fingers crossed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

260) Thirst (2009)

260) Thirst (2009) Dir: Park Chan-wook Date Released: July 2009 Date Seen: August 20, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

As an ardent admirer of director Park Chan-wook's tendency to put his heart on his sleeve by fixating on otherwise minor aesthetic details,* I have to say, Thirst is a bit of a disappointment. It's the first one of his films where I understood why his detractors dismiss him for what they perceive to be pop insensitivity thanks to his boisterous, micro-level storytelling. As a story of seduction, Thirst's meaning is almost entirely invested in Park's typically ornate visual cues, but unlike most of his other films, it never really develops beyond them. 

In a nutshell: when Father Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) turns into a vampire after he's infused with tainted blood, he reluctantly transforms from a selfless martyr into a hedonist. Conversely, Tae-ju (Kim Ok-Vin), the object of his affection, changes from a masochist into a sadist. Park unfortunately gets so wrapped up in deferring to the skeletal structure of Emil Zola's source novel, Therese Raquin, that he never evolves the characters' beyond those types. Instead, he's far more invested in unfolding, in its own belabored time, a convoluted and emotionally barren plot through which the characters' morals are tested and, not surprisingly, found wanting. 

Park spends too much time is spent in moving from point to point in the film and never really settles on a metaphor long enough to develop it, a recurring fixation of his. Lately, he's more interested in creating a stream of imagery than in a consistently developed thread, which, here, is just a smidge more frustrating than in Lady Vengeance because of how much more purposeful its plot was.

This is not to say that there aren't flourishes of inspired storytelling or ideawork in Thirst but they mostly come from moments where Park is clearly just messing around, like in the various scenes where Sang-hyeon is still figuring his powers out. Scenes where Park's characteristic black humor dominates the film's confrontations usually reap the most rewards, as in the slapstick routine with the car's trunk at the end. Their emotional payload is immediate unlike the rest of the film's pivotal confrontations, whose significance is almost always overwhelmed by the restless motion of Park's over-wrought story arc.** 

*This especially applies to Park's last film, I'm a Cyborg But That's Ok. It was nothing but heaps of directionless details that established the characters' fractured emotional state-of-mind through ever-changing visual metaphors. It had zero urgency but was nevertheless lovely because it showed a sympathy for the film's protagonists that made it much both affecting and pretty.

**Very curious now to read the original Zola novel this is based on. I tend to think that the film's main problem for me is that it does not divert enough from that original story's template.

259) MIsery (1990)

259) Misery (1990) Dir: Rob Reiner Date Released: November 1990 Date Seen: August 20, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

A miniature culture war, one where high culture is crippled by the low but then beats the shit out of the low with a typewriter. See my mention of this surprisingly potent bit of meta-fiction in my piece on "Super-Friends," er, "Celebrity Stalkers" for The Onion's Nyork A.V. Club.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

RV!: The King of Comedy (1982)

RV!: The King of Comedy (1982) Dir: Martin Scorsese Date Released: February 1983 Date Seen: August 19, 2009 Rating: 4.25/5

It still has me in its bullying thrall. See my mention of it in my feature on "Super-Friends," er, "Celebrity Stalkers," for The Onion's Nyork. A.V. Club.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

258) Still Walking (2008)

258) Still Walking (2008) Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 19, 2009 Rating: 4/5

Exceptional because of its complex view of how a family copes with the knowledge that they're losing touch with each other as they grow older. See my review for The L Magazine.

257) World's Greatest Dad (2009)

257) World's Greatest Dad (2009) Dir: Bobcat Goldthwait Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 18, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

No, seriously, it's kinda like Phantasm. Just a lil bit. See me go out on a limb in my review for The L Magazine

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

256) G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

256) G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) Dir: Stephen Sommers Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 17, 2009 Rating: 2.75/5

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a weird jumble of highly impersonal and idiosyncratic creative decisions made respectively, in all likelihood, by the hive mind of Hasbro toy executives that own the rights to the G.I. Joe action figures and writer/director Stephen Sommers and his four co-writers. The result is a an All-American fantasy that takes the chest-thumping zeal of 24* and expands it to fit comic book heroes that only marginally made sense within the contemporary political context of their original comic books/cartoons/action figures/lunch boxes. I'd like to focus on the latter of the two imaginative forces at work in the new G.I. Joe film, because the former is too obvious a target to really interest me. And yes, you may assume from that and my weak star rating that I did in fact kinda, sorta like the film...just a lil bit.

Sommers and co. clearly tried to make their G.I. Joe the pet project they dreamed of--nobody but fans would want to revive the franchise almost two decades past its prime--but for various reasons, it never comes together. The plot is too distended and all over the place to be worth taking seriously and half of the film's action sequences are too sleepy to be memorable (the second and fourth fight scenes stank but the opening sequence and the one in Paris were both good, silly fun).

 But there are signs of intelligence in the film, like its dogged insistence on including comic-book-like flashback interludes, which Sommers probably should have excised for the sake of making a leaner product. These sequences are failed signs that Sommers is throwing a lot of things against a wall to see what sticks and a lot of them just don't.

What is commendable about the film, apart from its two genuinely exciting action sequences, is its stacked cast of eclectic performers. Yeah, yeah, it wouldn't be a Stephen Sommers film without cameos from Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo, but the casting of many of the film's heavy-hitters shows an attention to detail that goes well beyond just a bad studio-made film. Though both stuntman Ray Park and Korean star Byung-hun Lee had dull roles and distracting costumes--Lee's white suit and the lips on Park's helmet make for easy targets--both the film's big baddies, Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, steal scenes effortlessly with uncommon swagger. Gordon-Levitt's performance in particular was pretty terrific, expertly camping it up with an unidentifiable rasp of an accent and a hulking shuffle. His performance is a worthy successor to Gary Oldman's in The Fifth Element. If only there were other signs that somebody, anybody in the film was having as much fun as him.

*Sorry but the "Team America without the jokes" angle that many of my critical comrades have adopted makes no sense to me. 24 is closer to what G.I. Joe is like because it's just as relentless and single-minded in its dedication to a convoluted and increasingly preposterous scenario devoid of a complex international worldview (Like 24, its sense of who its enemy is is too shallow, especially in its dual presentation of the evil foreign bad guys and the multi-culti good guys, to bear a serious political agenda). G.I. Joe's world is just constructed with broader brushstrokes. 

Monday, August 17, 2009

255) District 9 (2009)

255) District 9 (2009) Dir: Neill Blomkamp Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 17, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

Because it's hard to imagine how District 9's scifi apartheid allegory could be subtle, there's no easy way to censure it for its excesses. Though I hate to act like a school marm and begrudge writer/director Neil Blomkamp's exorbitant use of faux-doc style shaky cam and grisly, blood-soaked violence, I have to object to his using such blunt narrative tools so inexpertly. Both are not uncalled for given the film's subject but both eventually raise unintended questions about how seriously Blomkamp intends us to take his grisly metaphor. 

I'll start with my complaint against Blomkamp's over-use of shaky cam. After a scant 20-25 minutes have passed, it becomes impossible to believe the film's claim to present a grimy fantasy world in a verite style. Once the camera starts to film Christopher, the "Prawn" refugee that alien oppressor and soon co-conspirator Wilkus Van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley in his stellar, sweat-drenched debut) pursues most actively, it becomes clear that Blomkamp is no longer following his own rules. The camera is showing us things that no human cameraman could possibly be privy to, eliminating the possibility that everything we're seeing is recorded by a subjective intelligence (there's also no hint that the camera could be wielded by an artificial or even alien intelligence; it's just there at the right place at the right time). This is the first obvious sign that Blomkamp, like so many other genre filmmakers that use shaky cam to make a political point--Mr. Romero, I'm unfortunately looking at you--is more concerned with the effect of his style than in the logistics of it. 

The second sign that Blomkamp's an effective but brusque showman comes from his misappropriation of gut-busting gore. Though the film would probably not be as effective without these squeamish flourishes of flayed, exploding flesh, Blomkamp uses that logic as a mandate to go over the top. The two or three times when the camera is showered in viscera because of its truly unfortunate proximity to a newly asploded victim show that there is more of Peter Jackson's campy influence on Blomkamp's tough-minded film than there should be. Harsh conditions for the viewer are thus exploited to the point where they appear wanton more often than they should. If only Blomkamp had been a bit more rigorous in his editing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

254) Lorna's Silence (2008)

254) Lorna's Silence (2008) Dir: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne Date Released: July 2009 Date Seen: August 16, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

No one of the Dardenne brothers' recent films feels more different than the rest than 2008's Lorna's Silence. Their impressionistic narratives typically do not revolve around complex plots, making their latest film's uncharacteristically developed plot a remarkable complication to their experiential, pseudo-documentary style. None of their skill writing naturalistic dialogue, or directing budding actors, like Dardenne regular Jeremie Renier or inspired newcomer Arta Dobroshi, has however changed, making their transition from making collections of deftly arranged images to a quasi-noir plot a very comfortable one. 

At the same time, I couldn't help but watch Lorna's Silence with some apprehension after having relished some of their most articulate, hyper-focussed character studies films, especially Le Fils. Thankfully, my faith in their ability to push Lorna's plot forward without unnecessary or padded scenes mostly paid off. The film's drawn-out finale is the only thing that prevents the film from being great. Its lack of precision, specifically the fact that the film could end several times before it does, is however only bothersome because of how efficient the rest of the rest of the film's deeply involving story is.

253) Orphan (2009)

253) Orphan (2009) Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra Date Released: July 2009 Date Seen: August 15th, 2009 Rating: 1.5/5

A camp-fest that almost never shows signs of being a knowing self-parody and hence a very silly and inept film. See my solo live-tweeting of the film.

RV!: To Catch a Thief (1955)

RV!: To Catch a Thief (1955) Dir: Alfred Hitchcock Date Released: August 1955 Date Seen: August 15th, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

Even for a formal exercise, To Catch a Thief remains an exciting, though emotionally uninvolved, thriller.  For Hitchcock, the film is a means of showing off his love of visual games, drawing the viewer's attention through various playful but never tense chases scenes, like the opening flight from Cary Grant's villa  filmed from distant helicopters or the flower market chase. The flowers, the countryside, the women and of course the fireworks are more pressing than the absolution of Grant's wrongfully accused master thief. Grant's character is not a harried victim but rather an expert joueur, making capture never really imminent. It's why Hitchcock lingers a little bit at the end of several scenes prominently featuring the non-chalantly embroiled, leathery Brit, to prove that he'll never be caught by a woman or the police. He, like Hitchcock, will keep playing unencumbered by opposing players, making the memorable scene where Grant incredulously eyeballs Hitch a coy act of self-recognition.

252) Shorts (2009)

252) Shorts (2009) Dir: Robert Rodriguez Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 15th, 2009 Rating: 1.75/5 

Just as creatively lame as Spy Kids. See my review for Slant Magazine.

Friday, August 14, 2009

251) Carnal Knowledge (1971)

251) Carnal Knowledge (1971) Dir: Mike Nichols Date Released: June 1971 Date Seen: August 13, 2009 Rating: 4/5

 In its naked ambition to be a film of and about its time, Carnal Knowledge is striking for its single-mindedness and depth of cynicism. Cartoonist/playwright/screenwriter Jules Feiffer's scenario zips along with a clarity of intention that only an artist proud of his ability to announce his intentions plainly and without condescension could provide. Combined with director Mike Nichols' knack for filming people as statues, or objects whose humanity is defined by whatever pose they assume, Feiffer's anecdotal narrative seems constructed out of a combative sense of inductive reasoning. Scene by scene, Feiffer leads us to the sexual self-destruction of Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) in order to lay out a damning putdown of contemporary sexual progressivism and the deceptively innocuous, decades-old roots of misogyny that undermined those radical ideals.

Jonathan's story begins in the '50s like a buddy comedy, making nebbish but impatient Sandy (Art Garfunkel) our anti-hero's wingman. As the film goes on, Sandy is gradually phased out of the story and only infrequently returns as Jonathan's foil. Spoiled by the myriad opportunities he sees before him, Jonathan eventually ditches him like he does all of the women in his life. They're just things to him, making Sandy nothing but an inutile extension of Jonathan's ego. Sandy's only important to Jonathan as an extension of himself. Not satisfied with getting a vicarious sexual education through Sandy's stories of new girlfriend Susan (Candice Bergen), Jonathan decides that he too should try to make a pass at the girl in question. 

Initially, the trio's relationship isn't so much a menage a trois as an act of ventriloquism with Sandy as the dummy and Susan as the silent but captive audience. This delusional, one-way relationship is best expressed in the scene where Sandy introduces himself to Susan at a collegiate soiree while Jonathan lurks prominently in the background. His strained air of non-chalance quickly gives way to impatience when he wolfishly prepares to pounce on Susan as soon as Sandy blows his first pass at her. To Jonathan, Sandy's just a way to vicariously dip his feet in the water with Susan. His feelings, like hers, are irrelevant.

Even when he begins to seduce Susan behind Sandy's back, Jonathan's still pulling his best friend's strings. He tells Sandy that he shouldn't tell Susan that he's bagged "Myrtle," his imaginary girlfriend "Myrtle," who is in fact Susan. By lying to Sandy about "Myrtle"/Susan, Jonathan perverts what would otherwise be fraternal advice into a patronizing command which Sandy, of course, obediently obeys without a second thought. In fact, the subject is never brought up again in the story because it's assumed that Sandy has blindly followed Jonathan's orders.

Once Jonathan begins to pursue Susan for himself, it becomes clear that he's the film's real protagonist. We don't get to see Sandy's relationship with Susan end because at this point, Jonathan is no longer enamored with the possibility of sharing her. Her refusal to respond kindly to his brusque ultimatum, which cruelly echoes Bogey's admonishment to Sam in Casbalanca--"You can do it with him, you can do it with me," Jonathan bellows querulously--is the most damning blow to his psyche, more so than his later relationship with Bobbie (Ann-Margaret). Bobbie and Jonathan's falling out only coaxes out the scars of this earlier rejection. The disintegration of Jonathan's seminal fling with Susan on the other hand is like the first few panels in any of Feiffer's cartoon strips from The Village Voice: a dense set-up to a foregone conclusion. 

As a privileged child of the '50s, Jonathan's sense of entitlement comes from the uninhibited freedom granted him by the idyllic college campus that he and Sandy galumph about. Paths surrounded by radiant foliage and the diorama charms of the pair's dorm room, lit only by their massive double windows, makes the period resemble Norman Rockwell's version of Heaven. Jonathan's break-up with Susan boots him out of that Eden into the harsh new world of the '60s, where he unexpectedly looks to Sandy for advice, trying and ultimately failing to to acknowledge Sandy as something like a person in the process.* 

To relate the decade as a period of self-discovery, Nichols playfully films Jonathan's pathetic attempt to relate to Sandy as someone might to his reflection. First we see Sandy confessing the secrets of his sex life while staring directly at the camera. Though he initially looks like he's breaking the fourth wall by addressing the audience, Nichols reveals later that there is a revere-shot component to these monologues, turning it into a conversation between him and Jonathan. Jonathan's sudden appearance changes his earlier role from that of a silent partner to the dominant speaking role. Nichols primes us with this view of Sandy to show him as Jonathan's detached reflection, an otherworldly second skin similar to Peter Pan's shadow. Jonathan's fatal attempt to swap wives with Sandy later can be thus seen as his attempt to suture the two personalities back together, an attempt that fails because it willfully ignores their fundamental differences.

Therein lies Jonathan's fatal flaw--his inability to see difference in either his sexual conquests or his best friend. Jonathan's bitter, alcohol-fueled rant of a slideshow presentation is the culmination of his myopic worldview. It's Feiffer and Nicholas crystallized argument against contemporary forward-thinking sexual crusaders who insisted that equality between the sexes was possible. In that rant, Jonathan can barely identify the various girls he's gone out with, recalling them mostly based on their physical appearances, especially the handful of ethnic girlfriends of his ("This is my Jap in a sack," he crows obliviously to Sandy and his wife, the latter of who responds in kind with muffled tears). 

He's so far gone that he has no hope of any kind of relationship based on mutual respect, resorting instead to fantasy. In the final scene, where Jonathan enacts a bit of Orientalist role-playing with an Indian girl, complete with tantric sitar music and a shot of him slumped on a couch as if he were a Pasha on his throne, is a slap in the face to the possibility of sexual revolution. And boy, does it sting.

*Being someone that grew up in the '90s, I have nothing perceptive to say about the veracity of Feiffer and Nichols depiction of the '50s, '60s or '70s. Not my generation, man.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

250) I Sell the Dead (2008)

250) I Sell the Dead (2008) Dir: Glenn McQuaid Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 12, 2009 Rating: 1.75/5

I Sell the Dead is such a creative runt that I berate it at the risk of sounding like a bully. Writer/director Glenn McQuad's debut feature takes a trio of characters actors that range from adequate to mediocre--in descending order of competence: Lost's Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman and filmmaker Larry Fessenden--throws in a knowingly nonsensical series of comic book vignettes about grave-robbing supernatural things--aliens, vampires, zombies: you name it--and then expects hilarity to ensue. McQuaid never goes far enough to really make his film anything more than a by-the-numbers plot that's too busy winking at the audience to provide any kind of consistent entertainment. 

To start, the film's plot is just a basic means of checking off a laundry list of McQuaid's favorite genre tropes and images and hence never bothers to offer any kind of insight or ingenuity as to how or why the characters get from point-to-point. Worse yet, the film's casting gives you the impression that McQuaid isn't taking any part of Dead seriously, even the scenes that don't have a cheap but meagre punchline at the end of it. (SPOILER WARNING:) The inordinate amount of time we see the mysterious, silhouetted head of the Murphy clan, has to be a bad joke on the audience. I mean, really, Perlman's impossible to mistake, faceless or not. Also, every close-up we get of Fessenden's pineapple-shaped head feels like a joke made in bad tast that ends up being the best running gag in the movie. (END SPOILERS). Phew. I'm spent. The movie sucks. It's tepid at best and ineffectual in every sense at worst. There. Ya happy?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

249) Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006)

249) Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006) Dir: Bobcat Goldthwait Date Released: October 2006 Date Seen: August 12, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

The deceptive first half of Sleeping Dogs Lie, comedian Bobcat Goldthwait's second directorial effort, is a lot like Meet the Parents but a smidge more raunchy. When Amy (Melinda Page Hamilton) brings her fiance John (Bryce Johnson) home, their engagement is threatened by familial intervention. This time however it's not because daddy's a spy or somesuch painfully unfunny mishigoss but rather because Amy is encouraged by her mother to be completely honest with John and tell him about a youthful indiscretion she's been afraid to tell him about for a while (It's dog fellatio. There. I said it. Trust me, that's not a spoiler. You find out in the first three minutes.). Harmful meddling as encouragement: now that sounds like a real family.

That light but surprisingly perceptive comedic touch is what separates the Goldthwaits from the Roaches, it seems. Though the film fulfills the romantic comedy genre's need to restore order back to Amy's turbulent life, it does so only after showing Amy just how hard it can be to hurt your loved ones by telling the truth. Especially when it comes to sex. Whether its regular infidelity or sucking a dog off, the sticky and not just a little conspiratorial proximity created in the aftermath of sex puts everyone on edge, alienating parents and children alike. 

Goldthwait's refusal to separate his not-so secret love of a good blue jokes from his heartfelt attention to his characters is striking, even if it is voiced within a familiar comedic stock plot. The lengths he goes to teach Amy how to handle sex* after-the-fact is pretty striking, especially the way that it initially seems to threaten her relationship with her rebound beau Ed (Colby French).** That helping of comedic nuance makes Sleeping Dogs Lie smart and sweet, which for once is not a sarcastic epithet coming from me.***

*Because let's face it, that's what the film's about. Amy's crystal meth-smoking brother Dougie (Jack Plotnick) is tolerated because he just went through a bad break-up, as his mom tells John, making sex the thorniest root of familial taboo in the family.

**It doesn't. That might be a spoiler. C'mon, did you really think that he'd leave her a broken woma...oh. You saw Shakes the Clown too, huh?

***I try not to be sarcastic on the interwebs. The two don't seem to mix.

248) Shakes the Clown (1991)

248) Shakes the Clown (1991) Dir: Bobcat Goldthwait Date Released: March 1992 Date Seen: August 11th, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

There's definitely a case to be made in favor of canonizing Shakes the Clown, Bobcat Goldthwait's acerbic directorial debut, as a minor cult classic; I just don't if I have the stomach to do it. The film is drenched in such a miserable, self-pitying stupor that its almost impossible to admire its barbed humor the first time around. 

Goldthwait, who also writes and stars in the film, plays Shakes, the ultimate bozo loser. He's great at what he does but he gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield and hence drinks that much more than the fish-eyed patron saint of schlemiels. As a cocky but depressed SOB with a sense of entitlement and little to no self-respect, Shakes' confidence is eventually only restored after his agent is murdered, his car blows up, his girlfriend is kidnapped and he forces himself to sober up. The scene where Shakes terrorizes a kid's party while struggling to stay sober is indicative of how Goldthwait's manic energy teeters between queasy misanthropy and spazzily confrontational tirades. That's comedy in Shakes' world, not the pretentious, pseudo-intellectual "art" of mimes but the crude and effective yuks of some poor louse wearing a bad wig and polka dot pants. Man, Goldthwait must really have been in his happy place when he made this one. 

247) Ace in the Hole (1951)

247) Ace in the Hole (1951) Dir: Billy Wilder Date Released: June 1951 Date Seen: August 11th, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

Ace in the Hole is a small wonder of a Jeremiad. Wilder's point could not be more blunt and by the film's first half hour, it's impossible not to anticipate the broad movements in his sweeping rant against yellow journalism. It's only natural that Chuck Tatum, (Kirk Douglas, who makes quick work out of his peels of speeches), Wilder's high-falutin flimflam man very, announces his intentions to anyone within earshot, even when he thinks he's deftly hidden his intentions behind a lot of bluster and ultimately meaningless promises. It's his job to make a story, making him an easy-to-read sandwich boardman professing Wilder's scriptures of doom. What's remarkable is how Wilder sold me on the film's premise--a washed-up NY reporter, Tatum exploits a sudden cave-in to make his career, fudging facts and delaying the victim's rescue--in spite of myself.

While Douglas' silver tongue gives the film its' main thrust, he only stirs the pot, leaving the bulk of the film's heavy-lifting--namely convincing us that he's got more depth than a political cartoon--to Wilder's technique. Ethereal crane shots that treat the growing hordes of gawkers and sideshow lovers like ants and indelibly claustrophobic footage of unlucky miner and eternal victim Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) do the bulk of Ace's dirty work. The rest is carried by Chuck's brutal romantic subplot with Leo's wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling), who provides a human face to the churlishly exploitative spectators that treat Leo's plight like a rock concert. Douglas and Sterling's asides are no less manipulative than the rest of the film but they're substantially less hot-headed than the rest and decidedly more polished. The way the two cruelly resolve their differences makes me almost want to believe the people that put this film up on a pedestal next to Sunset Boulevard or Some Like it Hot

246) Spy Kids (2001)

246) Spy Kids (2001) Dir: Robert Rodriguez Date Released: March 2001 Date Seen: August 11, 2009 Rating: 2.5/5

How can a pet project be this bland? Rodriguez crams in so many creative decisions that only he would think of--while Alan Cumming's Willy Wonka/Michael Jackson baddie works in a citadel that looks like Gaudi's version of Chuck E. Cheese, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo play super-smart super-spies--but spends the bulk of the film's runtime in doing nothing with them. Once again, he shows off why he's an artisan and not an auteur, focussing more on the sophistication of the film's special effects than in the actual content.* Infrequently some disarmingly funny gags crop up and the film's sense of wonder finally kicks in for a spell once the kids reach Cumming's castle--for my sake, think pure thoughts, sports fans--but never enough for me to really care for the characters or their dopey "Family first" mumbo jumbo. 

*That's not necessarily a terrible thing; Rodriguez's earnestness and inability to see the forest for the trees makes him more consistently entertaining as a filmmaker than his partner-in-crime Quentin Tarantino. This comes across best when you compare their entries for Grindhouse, I think, but also works if you were to compare either their bodies of work over time, too.

If we're going to take an inventory, I'll say that I like the polished showmanship of Jackie Brown and Kill Bill but only enjoy the cocky/grating dialogue of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs every other viewing and can't stand the dismal build-up and minimal payoff of Deathproof. As for Rodriguez, I like most of Desperado and El Mariachi and would probably enjoy Once Upon a Time in Mexico more if I were to rewatch it and ditto re: Planet Terror. I haven't seen From Dusk Til Dawn but I strongly dislike Sin City, probably because its the only film where Rodriguez is announcing his candidacy for auteurship by biting off a lot more than he can chew. "Strict adaptation" unfortunately does not necessarily mean "Daring artistic vision."

Monday, August 10, 2009

245) Big Fan (2009)

245) Big Fan (2009) Dir: Robert Siegel Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 10th, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

Save for the ending, genuinely uncomfortable in its refusal to let us feel either completely repulsed or completely distant from the character, making it feel lived in and very self-assured; an impressive directorial debut. See my review for The New York Press.

244) Beeswax (2009)

244) Beeswax (2009) Dir: Andrew Bujalski Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 9th, 2009 Rating: 2/5

I wasn't very engaged. See my review for The House Next Door.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

243) Julie and Julia (2009)

243) Julie and Julia (2009) Dir: Nora Ephron Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 7th, 2009 Rating: 2/5

Fine performers, lousy material. See my webcam review for the Rotten Toe Mates Revue.

Friday, August 7, 2009

242) Taxidermia (2006)

242) Taxidermia (2006) Dir: Gyorgy Palfi Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 7th, 2009 Rating: 4.25/5

Gruesome, stunning and very funny. See my review for the New York Press.

241) Grace (2009)

241) Grace (2009) Dir: Paul Solet Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 6th, 2009 Rating: 1.5/5

Wait, that wasn't a comedy? See my incensed review for Slant Magazine.

240) The Tall Men (1955)

240) The Tall Men (1955) Dir: Raoul Walsh Date Released: October 1955 Date Seen: August 6th, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

All over the place but frequently engaging western romance that has fleeting traces of screwball comedy and a terrific female lead performance from Jane Russell (still don't get the Clark Gable appeal, I guess). See my mention of it in my piece on One-Eye Auteurs for The Onion's A.V. Club New York.

239) Moonfleet (1955)

239) Moonfleet (1955) Dir: Fritz Lang Date Released: June 1955 Date Seen: August 5th, 2009 Rating: 3/5

Fun boy's adventure flick but it never really grabbed me. Granger's big fight scene is ridiculously campy. See my mention of it in my piece on One-Eye Auteurs for The Onion's A.V. Club New York.

238) The True Story of Jesse James (1957)

238) The True Story of Jesse James (1957) Dir: Nicholas Ray Date Released: February 1957 Date Seen: August 5th, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

It's a real shame that this film's budding spark (yes, even the cloying interplay between "family man" Jesse and "brute" Jesse) should be tied down by such a terrible script (The exposition! The exposition! I'm drowning!). See my mention of it in my piece on One-Eye Auteurs for The Onion's A.V. Club New York.

237) They Were Expendable (1945)

237) They Were Expendable (1945) Dir: John Ford Date Released: December 1945 (!) Date Seen: August 4th, 2009 Rating: 3/5

I loved Ford's gung-ho, formally restless and visually striking montage sequences of battle footage and the earnestness of the story goes a long way but the torpid haze that hung over the film's narrative was too much. See my mention of it in my piece on One-Eye Auteurs for The Onion's A.V. Club New York.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

236) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

236) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) Dir: David Yates Date Released: July 2009 Date Seen: August 3rd, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

Because the sixth Harry Potter film is about proving one's allegiances through declarative actions, the bulk of its 153-minute length is spent watching the characters build up their nerve by striking poses of anguish. While director David Yates has Rowling's characters pantomime their way through their pathos more than they should--far-away, glazed-over looks and unnaturally stiff gaits relate that in this film, deciding who to snog is just as important as who to befriend and who to kill--he's got the right idea. He just doesn't always apply it proportionally.

Translating a 652 page tome requires a kind of of visual precision that Yates at times proves himself more than capable of. His skill at arranging the series' seasoned cast of amateur and veteran actors alike cannot be understated, deflecting a hungry gaze or betraying a mischievous wink skillfully. 

Yates' measured "mise en scene' is capable of acting out our wizards' emotions for them and mostly only harms the performances of cast members incapable of discerning emoting from vamping it up. Daniel Radcliffe, the black hole at the center of the franchise, luckily gets by thanks to grandiose images of him plummeting, leaning and carefully tiptoeing around Yates busy lens. Dave Legeno, Helena Bonham Carter and Emma Watson aren't so lucky (Watson's just a younger Scarlett Johansson--killer curves but only a modest amount of talent).

The most accomplished of Potter's theatrical thesps., like Michael Gambon or Alan Rickman, , handily meet the demands of Yates' operatic vision as they are accustomed to looking iconically Byronic. That weighty task unfortunately can be punishment for a promising but unpolished performer like Tom Felton. When he needs to really turn on the angst, he really shines but when it comes to uninspired longshots of him standing across the hallway from his bespectacled rival, he doesn't stand a chance.

The actor that shines the most under these potentially adverse conditions has to be Jim Broadbent. Broadbent's greasy Prof. Slughorn flounders about pathetically, incapable of looking completely at ease even when he's holding court with his favorite students. His character is incapable of posing, naturally tactless and winningly uncouth despite his wan attempts at puffing his chest out. Undoubtedly, this has much to do with the fact that he's only the most important accessory in the film and does not have to perform as if he were Atlas. Then again, nobody really told Broadbent's character how to act.

Additional Notes: For my money, the kid actors that held their own with their larger-than-life emotions were Jessie Cave (Lavender), Rupert Grint (Ron), Evanna Lynch (Luna) and Freddie Stroma (Cormac).

I'm wondering, considering the nature of the novel, who comes across as the bigger martyr, Snape or Dumbledore. I like to think Snape but thats because he has less time to look pained in the film despite his integral role in the film, making him more of a likable candidate.

Monday, August 3, 2009

235) Beaches of Agnes (2008)

235) Beaches of Agnes (2008) Dir: Agnes Varda Date Released: June 2009 Date Seen: August 1st, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

For me, Beaches of Agnes, my first exposure to the work of accomplished French New Wave dabbler Agnes Varda, recalled the hesitation I have reconciling formal and stylistic experimentation in even her contemporaries' best films. Full of disarming warmth and charm, Varda's presents her past as an ostentatious, polymorphous series of puzzle pieces that can never be truly reconciled into a coherent picture.  

Despite my initial reticence, Varda's vital zeal and creative energy persistently silences the qualms I have with the pretense and belabored intellectual navel-gazing that pervades much of the film and the defining movement that her career has become defined by. There's something vexing and wonderful about her self-portrait, one of the best signs that I'm looking at the work of a real artiste.

RV!: Victor/Victoria (1982)

RV!: Victor/Victoria (1982) Dir: Blake Edwards Date Released: March 1982 Date Seen: July 31st, 2009 Rating: 4/5

I have a soft spot for this film but by no means a totally uncritical one. Edwards is essentially a comic traditionalist but a bored one at that. See my aborted stab at live-tweeting by going to Twitter and looking for "#V/V" in the search function. Fun times were had.

234) Ramrod (1947)

234) Ramrod (1947) Dir: Andre De Toth Date Released: May 1947 Date Seen: July 31st, 2009 Rating: 4/5 

Wow, wotta solid, engaging soap opera that was! See my mention of it in my forthcoming feature on the westerns and war movies of five one eyed-auteurs for The Onion's New York A.V. Club.

Note: the piece's focus changed so now Ramrod is no longer part of it. Here's what I had written before:

AndrĂ© De Toth’s Ramrod is more of a grand soap opera than a typical western. Joel McCrea stars as a reformed drunk who winds up biting off more than he can chew when he decides to defend Veronica Lake, a rebellious landowner that wants to introduce sheep to a territory dominated by cow ranchers. As the film’s title suggests, the men of the film struggle to assert mastery over their land, their guns and their libidos while the conniving Lake manipulates everyone for her own personal gain. De Toth’s camera tensely snakes around McCrea and his co-stars, using tracking and over-the-shoulder shots to maximize the impression of towering masculinity.