Saturday, November 27, 2010

197) Presumed Guilty (2008)

197) Presumed Guilty (2008) Dir: Roberto Hernandez and Geoffrey Smith (Now unofficially? Name's no longer attached to the film's IMDB page) Not Yet Released (badumdum tsing!) Date Seen: June 18, 2010 Rating: 2/5

Manipulative and unenlightening. See my review for The House Next Door.

196) Knight and Day (2010)

196) Knight and Day (2010) Dir: James Mangold Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: June 17, 2010 Rating: 2/5

And I was so looking forward to this, too. See my review for Slant Magazine for more.

195) Orlando (1992), ISF: The London Story (1986), 216) The Tango Lesson (1997) and 217) Rage (2009)

195) Orlando (1992) Dir: Sally Potter Date Released: June 1993, July 2010 Date Seen: June 16, 2010 Rating: 4.25/5

ISF: The London Story (1986) Dir: Sally Potter Not Yet Released Date Seen: June 30, 2010 Rating: 4/5

216) The Tango Lesson (1997) Dir: Sally Potter Date Released: November 1997 Date Seen: July 2, 2010 Rating: 2.5/5

217) Rage (2009) Dir: Sally Potter Date Released: September 2009 Date Seen: July 2, 2010 Rating: 3.25/5

I found The London Story to be pretty nifty once I got into its pee-culiar rhythm. See my piece on Potter's films for CityArts, reprinted at the New York Press's site.

RV!: Zodiac (2007)

RV!: Zodiac (2007) Dir: David Fincher Date Released: March 2007 Date Seen: June 14, 2010 Rating: 4.25/5

Yeah, I know, a great choice for a B-picture in a double bill with Despicable Me, right? Second viewing of Zodiac, first time on a big screen (first time via a Netflix disc that kept skipping, even after repeated cleanings). See my piece on it, comparisons to Memories of Murder and Olivier Assayas for the New York Press.

194) Despicable Me (2010)

194) Despicable Me (2010) Dir: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud Date Released: July 2010 Date Seen: June 14, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

You know what? This movie's fun. See my review at Slant Magazine to discover why you're wrong for not feeling the same way (I'm not the contrarian, you are! I'm a one-man critical consensus! The world's mad not me! Moohoohaha!).

193) Valhalla Rising (2009)

193) Valhalla Rising (2009) Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn Date Released: July 2010 Date Seen: June 13, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

Not Refn's best effort but so ambitious, so dissonant in the central aesthetic clash between comic book realism and Malickian lyricism that I was engaged throughout. Still think Refn's someone to look out for but that his best effort may still be Pusher II. See my second interview with him for the New York Press, which unfortunately cuts off the funnier bits I allude to about how he wants to direct a Wonder Woman adaptation.

192) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

192) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) Dir: Mike Newell Date Released: May 2010 Date Seen: June 12, 2010 Rating: 1.25/5

This movie is easily the klutziest of all the new summer blockbusters I saw this year. I'm not going to write at length about Prince of Persia: The Havenglaven in the Ratzenfratz of Destiny because my grievances with this shit heap would likely just read like a laundry list (ex: scriptwriters heap contrivance upon contrivance, Kingsley half asleep, pseudo-Indiana Jones repartee between Gyllenhaal and Arterton totally unconvincing, plot convoluted beyond belief, boring CGI effects, etc.). So this is me cutting myself off and furthermore, reminding myself I don't need to write at length about everything. Abysmal; really and truly abysmal. I was more interested in hearing what the middle-aged Persian couple--because that's how they still define themselves in Great Neck, Long Island so suck on that, hypothetical readers too quick to point out that I'm using outdated terminology--were screaming to each other in the otherwise empty theater (my favorite comment was, of course, him yelling in English, "What is suicide?" I also like his approbative grunting during the scene where Gyllenhaal and Arterton smooch. Went something like this: "Oh! Mmm! Nnnhh hh hh!" Wifey conspicuously silent during this sequence, undoubtedly afraid of being forced to watch the sequel should she speak out of turn). Blarfenglar.

191) Wake in Fright (1971)

191) Wake in Fright (1971) Dir: Ted Kotcheff Date Released: October 1971 Date Seen: June 12, 2010 Rating: 4/5

Ridiculous but also astonishingly dire. See my interview with Kotcheff for the New York Press.

RV!: Lifeforce (1985) and RV!: Return of the Living Dead (1985)

RV!: Lifeforce (1985) Dir: Tobe Hooper Date Released: June 1985 Date Seen: June 10, 2010 Rating: 0.75/5 

RV!: Return of the Living Dead (1985) Dir: Dan O'Bannon Date Released: August 1985 Date Seen: June 11, 2010 Rating: 4.25/5

Recoil in terror as I talk about the summer of 1985, also known as the successive fall and rise of Dan O'Bannon's ego. See my piece for The House Next Door.

189) Moloch Tropical (2009) and 190) 12th & Delaware (2010)

189) Moloch Tropical (2009) Dir: Raoul Peck Not Yet Released Date Seen: June 9, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

190) 12th & Delaware (2010) Dir: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady Not Yet Released (Or was it?) Date Seen: June 10, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

Beautiful, angry. See my piece on Lincoln Center's annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival for the New York Press.

188) The Karate Kid (2010)

188) The Karate Kid (2010) Dir: Harald Zwart Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: June 7, 2010 Rating: 1.75/5


187) Raw Deal (1986)

187) Raw Deal (1986) Dir: John Irvin Date Released: June 1986 Date Seen: June 3, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

I found an OOP copy of Raw Deal after having written the aforementioned lengthy, as-yet-unreleased piece on Arnold Schwarzenegger's three best film roles. It came recommended by friends and boy, am I glad they told me to see it. This is easily one of the best film to visualize and exemplify '80s excess. That flagrant abandon comes to a head in the film's unrepentantly decadent bar shoot-out scene. It's not even a remotely fair fire fight: Ahnuld is completely out-numbered but he's still mowing down everyone and, more importantly, every thing in sight. Glass is being destroyed left and right; no bottle, no window, no table is spared (they were apparently having a fire sale on candy glass and pretty much used it throughout the movie, if i recall correctly). And nobody's reloading, of course. It's pretty much a shooting gallery with Arnold blowing everyone away. Die, materialist signifiers, die!

And yet, the most preposterous idea in Raw Deal is imagining that Schwarzenegger could ever consign himself to a (relatively) modest life living in a witness protection program in a small podunk town after righteously fingering (heh) a bunch of corrupt cops. The film's spectacular opening car chase scene in the lumber yard proves how Arnold can't even pretend to be Clark Kent without looking a little like a Bizarro evil Superman now and again. When his car breaks down and he has to break off pursuit of a local badman, he just leisurely takes out his gas tank, sprinkles some of its contents on the road, lights his cigar, takes a few puffs and when the culprit drives by, lights his ass up. This is shortly before Arnold comes home to find his wife drunk, spluttering about how little attention he pays her these days and eventually using a cake with gaudy pink frosting as a projectile weapon ("You should not drink and bake"). The punchline of this scene? She hasn't made the man's dinner!

Gosh, this just...this just epitomizes so much of the De Laurentiisian crassness of the era while at the same time it's decidedly a superior product of its times, both in its sporadically sleek action choreography and in its nuts-and-bolts storytelling (Arnie is especially charismatic here, too). In other words: it's brainless and silly but it's a damn good time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

186) Marmaduke (2010)

186) Marmaduke (2010) Dir: Tom Dey Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: June 2, 2010 Rating: 1/5

It was a dark time in my life. See my review for Slant Magazine.

183) Me, Them and Lara (2010) and 184) The Mouth of the Wolf (2009)

183) Me, Them and Lara (2010) Dir: Carlo Verdone Never to be Released, thank God Date Seen: May 30, 2010 Rating: 1/5

184) The Mouth of the Wolf (2009) Dir: Pietro Marcello Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 31, 2010 Rating: 4/5

The former is totally and utterly depressing to watch and the latter is easily my favorite contemporary documentary of the year. See my piece on the Film Society at Lincoln Center's annual "Open Roads" program.

181) Family Resemblances (1996) and 185) Let it Rain (2008)

181) Family Resemblances (1996) Dir: Cedric Klapisch Date Released: June 1998 Date Seen: May 29, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

185) Let it Rain (2008) Dir: Agnes Jaoui Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: June 1, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

I like the marriage of Klapisch's normally hyper sensibility with Jaoui's theatrical drama in Family Resemblances and consider Let it Rain to be the best (ie: the most refined and hence bearable) of the films she's directed thus far. See my interview with Jaoui for CityArts, reprinted on the New York Press's site.

180) Nightfall (1957)

180) Nightfall (1957) Dir: Jacques Tourneur Date Released: January 1957 Date Seen: May 28, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

I barely remember writing this. See my review for Slant Magazine.

179) Get Him to the Greek (2010)

179) Get Him to the Greek (2010) Dir: Nicholas Stoller Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: May 26, 2010 Rating: 3.25/5

I laughed. And now that I think about it, I rather like the romantic relationship between Peggy and Monstro. But still: an utter mess. See my reviewlet for the New York Press.

178) Tiny Furniture (2010)

178) Tiny Furniture (2010) Dir: Lena Dunham Date Released: November 2010 Date Seen: May 26, 2010 Rating: 1.5/5 (Note: this is how I felt after seeing it; don't comment on this rating unless it's to high five me;  otherwise respond to the below post)

"I hate you all. I hate you all. I hate you all, myself most of all." -A pre-transformation Renegade in Zardoz-

I had a brief conversation with a colleague and good friend at a McDonalds just before watching Get Him to the Greek together. This was less than an hour after I first saw and gagged on Tiny Furniture. My uncontrollable anger has abated somewhat since then but only by a scooch. This review isn't a reaction to any of the smart, well-written reactions to the film; I love that other critics found something in the film worth defending so passionately. I just couldn't take this film. The below reaction is an infinitely more articulate version of what I tried to say during that cheap, artery-clogging repast from a few months ago. Because ranting and raving about "The affect, the incompetence!" while gobbling up french fries is a pretty shitty way to criticize a film, even casually.

Part of my distaste for Tiny Furniture is a personal reaction to the film's blithe depiction of growing up ignorant and affluent and part of it is my reaction to what I maintain is Dunham's tendency of simply pitying her lead protagonist's lack of worldly knowledge. But a lot of what I don't like about the film can be found in a specific scene. It's a perfect example of the film's seemingly accidental intelligence. Dunham's avatar Aura has just gotten her first post-grad paycheck from a waitressing job that she almost instantly picked up after moving back home to her mother's duplex (or is it triplex?) apartment. The check is for $197 and some change. Several scenes before this, we hear her boss say that she would earn something like $12 an hour (please correct me if I'm wrong on the numbers but please be kind if I am wrong; I are sensitive). As some have argued, there is a romantically motivated reason motivating her departure. But that paltry first payment is the catalyst that brings her to quit. 

What's most frustrating about this sequence is that there doesn't seem to be a link between the scene where she learns what she should expect to be paid and that one where she gets what she's owed. In theory, that should be the crux of this comedy of self-loathing: the disconnect between the two. But there's no overt or even implicit acknowledgment that the paltry sum Aura earns is an exaggerated product of her self-absorbed worldview. I'd argue that this is one of the only flights of fancy in the film, right alongside the scene where Alex Karpovsky reads Woody Allen's Without Feathers in bed, reminding the viewer of the self-involved comedic impulse Dunham is fatalistically attracted to. 

But that reading is just an assumption of intent based on what Dunham tries to project about her self rather than what her film actually achieves. So much of Tiny Furniture's limpid comedy of faux pases (this can't be right) suggests Dunham made her second feature because of an ill-conceived impulse to look back at her precious little life through the lens of a self-caricature that serves as a receptacle of everything she regrets about her recent past. In other words, there was nothing in the film that made watching Dunham self-flagellate a churlishly needy version of herself enticing, moving, engaging, whatever. I just saw the film's affected stance.

From my severely limited vantage point, I can only imagine enjoying Tiny Furniture if Dunham either debased Aura more consistently--ie: a lot less distracting asides that only prove the vapidity of her friends or the unfailingly dull nature of her sex life--or prove that the drama she's presenting is a parody of a time in her life she understands more about now than she did while experiencing it. I left the theater thinking that Tiny Furniture had absolutely no bite to it and that Dunham was just too sheepish in putting down Aura's callow decisions. Even the now infamous tube sex scene ends with the bartender dude abandoning Aura in the street, which begs the viewer to pity her. But we have to like Aura to want to condescend to her. No, thanks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

177) Splice (2009) and 182) Visionaries (2010)

177) Splice (2009) Dir: Vincenzo Natali Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: May 25, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

182) Visionaries (2010 Dir: Chuck Workman Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: May 29, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

A nice reminder of Natali's talent though not nearly as good as his best stuff. Still, a nice step up in his career. Hopefully his next film has an even bigger budget.

176) Cropsey (2009)

176) Cropsey (2009) Dir: Barbara Brancaccio, Joshua Zeman Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: May 24, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

Problematic in its reduction of the story to a series of overlapping myths but pretty fascinating, too. See my interview with the directors for the New York Press.

175) No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948)

175) No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948) Dir: St. John Legh Clewes (say that three times fast) Date Released: February 1951 Date Seen: May 22, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

Really quirky and fitfully brutal (in other words: it lives up to its reputation). Read more in my review for Slant Magazine.

174) Agora (2009)

174) Agora (2009) Dir: Alejandro Amenabar Date Released: May 2010 Date Seen: May 20, 2010 Rating: 2/5

Blarfenglar; the anti-epic. Read my review for Slant Magazine.

173) Robo-Geisha (2009)

173) Robo-Geisha (2009) Dir: Noboru Iguchi Date Released: May 2010 (Apparently? Where in NYC did this get released?) Rating: 3.75/5

My entree to Iguchi's world and boy was I entertained. Slapdash at times and the all-girl ninja army stuff just isn't very interesting (though I do get why he goes there in light of Iguchi's history as a porn filmmaker). But c'mon: robo-castle! Very yes. See my write-up for the New York Press.

ISF: Vampire Frankenstein Girl (2009?)

ISF: Vampire Frankenstein Girl (2009?) Dir: Yoshihiro Nishimura Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 18, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5 

I thought I knew where I stood on Nishimura's brand of surreal, DIY, make-up effects-centric brand of gross-out slapstick horror. I was sure of this after having only seen one of his films, Tokyo Gore Police (I had read a good deal about them though, mostly unintelligible gushing from fanboys). 

But this short, packaged with Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, makes me think that I might have been wrong about Nishimura. Admittedly, the juxtaposition of a weak short film with Robo-Geisha, a rather silly but also pretty strong feature from Noboru Iguchi, Nishimura's partner-in-latex-crime, is partly the reason for my double take. But this short was so scatter-shot, so flat in its absurd and meaningless exploitation of images of race and sex. Tokyo Gore Police actually had a level of bite and humor to its wackadoo reimagining of Robocop as a sentai show. It was totally bizarre but actually kind of smart, dynamic and well-paced. 

Maybe Nishimura just wasn't trying here. 

I know good friend and talented critic Steve Carlsen likes Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl so I should probably give that feature a shot next, though I also didn't like Nishimura's segment from omnibus film Mutant Girls Squad. I have to seek out more Iguchi, probably Machine Girl. One things for sure: Nishimura and Iguchi are both making unique and personal movies. Just not necessarily accessible or consistently entertaining ones.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

172) Iron Man 2 (2010)

172) Iron Man 2 (2010) Dir: Jon Favreau Date Released: May 2010 Date Seen: May 16, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

Within the realm of established expectations, sequels to comic book adaptations are typically better than their forebears. There usually isn't as much hand-wringing as there was in the preceding entry as there's less fear of failing as a franchise. In these sequels, by and large, a greater emphasis is put on emphasizing character over plot, emotions over schematic origin story plots. This is part of what Iron Man 2 is better than Iron Man but it's hardly a holistic explanation of what improved from one film to the next. Screenwriter Justin Theroux really let out his gut with his script for Iron Man 2 and embraced the fact that he's working on a superhero movie directed by Jon Favreau. The improvised banter, the meandering plot, the frustrated vision of Tony Stark as a clueless fratboy with a huge checkbook and a tendency to only want to change his bad habits after-the-fact: all of this recalls protagonists of more canonical Favreau films like Swingers and Made, which are basically the same movie anyway. All of these elements were frantically thrown together in Iron Man in a vain attempt to prove that Favreau's knack for light comedies about egocentric loser man-children could  survive the daunting framework of a tentpole franchise. In Iron Man 2, Favreau and Theroux proves that it can. 

This isn't to say that Favreau's eccentricities preclude or overshadow his weaknesses as a filmmaker. I love the fact that characters appear and then disappear for whole swathes of the film and then re-appear again later and the stellar patter Thereoux gives to the film's equally excellent cast, especially villains Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke. But yes, Favreau still hasn't learned how to shoot an action scene. He's still mostly relying almost entirely on the energy he infuses in these ugly smash-em-up sequences. To their credit, their crudely photographed choreography does a sense of spontaneous play about it. Which is fine and actually kind of riveting--the final scenes around Corona Park are a frenzied blast. But they just don't look very good, do they? These scenes sorely want finesse and in that way, they're the perfect representative of Iron Man 2: bigger, cockier and, yeah, less focussed than what you get in Iron Man. This is bad how?

I feel that Iron Man 2's seeming lack of focus proves that, in some ways, Theroux is further proving that he gets who his Tony Stark is more than he did in Iron Man. His Stark is someone that has the world on his shoulders and has to micro-manage and multi-task his way through everything he does with a smile on his face. And he does it because that smile comes naturally: he likes being the ringmaster of a giant 10-ring circus* and not knowing what will come next. His fear of dying unrecognized, of failing his father's legacy, of letting Pepper down, of losing his friends, etc. all percolate around the periphery of Iron Man 2's plot because that's where they belong. He wouldn't be a very convincing distracted genius scientist/narcissist otherwise, would he? 

This is akin to the way Iron Man spends so much time showing us the myriad tests Stark enacts when he builds the Iron Man suit. These scenes are also drawn-out but they're supposed to be. Stark's private trials are a never-ending source of inside humor for Stark, jokes that no one but he will get because no one else is there with him building the suit. That navel-gazing sensibility proves that Theroux basically got who Stark the scientist was, always fixating on things no one else can see and looking like a paranoid ass when he boasts about it later. But Iron Man 2 is the next best expression of that understanding, a character study that only looks as harried as its protagonist is supposed to. The sooner people stop whining about how Iron Man 2 sets up the next of Marvel's tentpole films and start looking at it as the superior action comedy that it is, the better.

*Only nerds will get this joke....

Saturday, October 2, 2010

171) Over the Top (1987)

171) Over the Top (1987) Dir: Menahem Golan Date Released: February 1987 Date Seen: May 16, 2010 Rating: 2.25/5

While I've admittedly mellowed to the high cheese quotient in Sly Stallone's "arm-wrestling for custody of my estranged prissy military school cadet of a son" flick with time, I remember groaning constantly while actually watching Over the Top. Stallone's working class man with a deep-seated code of ethics/honor schtick has never impressed me. Granted, I've never seen Rocky, but I'm not boasting about that. I just don't get the appeal of an action star that's trying to convince me that he of rippling muscles and Adonisian physique is just like one of us. I'm not sure if this is a hard and fast rule I can really hold to but I don't want my action heroes to be like me, but rather like goddamn action heroes. It's why I love Arnold Schwarzenegger but then again, I get a kick out of Bruce Willis's bluecollar act and adore Jackie Chan's happy-go-lucky bum. Still, there's just something that rubs me the wrong way about Stallone's regular joe pose. It just makes him look like an affected macho trying to pass as an average, salt of the earth kinda guy.

That need to prove himself to Joe Sixpack or whomever makes Over the Top a chore when it could be a light bit of dated generic fluff, like Bloodsport (I know, sounds weird, right? I'm not quite sure how that happened either). Stallone's a horrible father, one whose constant toeing the ground is supposed to make up for the fact that his idea of bonding with his kid is forcing him to arm wrestle complete strangers to gain self-respect and to drive a truck to prove that his (Stallone's) job requires a basic level of skill.

Then again, the deck is so stacked in Stallone's character's favor that the preposterousness of that scenario doesn't really matter because this film is so insanely jacked up on testosterone that it could only work that way. After all, the way to get Stallone gets his kid back is by arm-wrestling fellow truckers to win money to pay for the lawyers needed to win joint custody. This movie could be marketed as a legal alternative to steroids as I guarantee athletes could watch it in and vicariously increase their muscle mass (don't ask me how, I don't get it either). It's just a silly, punch-drunk, crotch-grabbing kind of movie, though it's too proud to be outlandish enough to live up to its name.

RV!: Jane Austen's Mafia! (1998)

RV!: Jane Austen's Mafia! (1998) Dir: Jim Abrahams Date Released: July 1998 Date Seen: May 15, 2010 Rating: 3.25/5

As a child of the '90s, I discovered many of the comedians that made the biggest impression on me when they were past their prime. My first Mel Brooks film was probably Robin Hood: Men in Tights and my first Jim Abrahams flick was probably Jane Austen's Mafia! Both films still make me laugh but the latter is probably the tipping point in the Top Secret! filmmakers' collaborative career. After Mafia!, fans had to recognize that the gonzo satirists that brought them The Naked Gun and Airplane hadn't so much lost it as seriously diluted it. Scary Movie 3 and 4 are both kinda fun but the laughs come in dribs and drabs as opposed to Top Secret! which is top-to-bottom hilarious.

With Mafia! Abrahams and co. start to show their age, which is good and bad. The film's spoofing of films like Goodfellas, Once Upon a Time in America and Casino is seriously dated: the joke about El Nino in the bathroom is really unfortunate, but I love the Macarena gag. I forgive the crotchety humor of parts mostly because while its lack of specificity is indeed grating, I love how ruthless these guys get when they pick on little kids in their movies. The many ways in which they pick on young Vincenzo (Jay Fuchs), the young immigrant boy that grows up to be the film's Godfather, is hilarious, especially the way he's forcibly dragged to the new world at the expense of his budding manhood. Sloppy but endearing in a weird way.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

170) The Dark Half (1993)

170) The Dark Half (1993) Dir: George Romero Date Released: April 1993 Date Seen: May 15, 2010 Rating: 3/5

Though The Dark Half, writer/director George Romero's adaptation of a short story by Stephen King, seriously takes a nose-dive once George Stark (Timothy Hutton), the pen name and now evil twin of mild-mannered writer and family man Thad Beaumont (also Hutton), starts talking, there's something about the film I find irresistible. For Romero, The Dark Half is a much-needed return to a more character-driven kind of horror film, something he hasn't really tried since Martin,* which is rapidly becoming my favorite of his films. Hutton's alternately inspired and just flat-out hammy performance really is the heart of the film, not the mostly unexplored idea that man needs to become schizophrenic in order to fully express themselves. Romero's script is crude and rambling but that's because he's trying to do something he's never really nailed down: fleshing out protagonists that are people first and a series of provocative tics second.

The Dark Half is also a nice reminder that Romero does know how and hence can cognizantly direct an evocative scene. His films aren't just a collection of neat concepts that infrequently pay off in a big way: there's a craft to it, as in the film's spectacular The Birds tribute, the ending in the hidden room, a brief street scene where Stark is stalking Beaumont, the rising tension in the scene where Stark pulls over his next victim or the one where he uses someone's head as a football. They're all sub-Bava or even sub-De Palma stabs at Hitchcockian suspense and hence just a riff on an established mode but I think Romero needs that from time to time; gives him some much-needed focus. Not a perfect film but certainly one I'm glad I saw on the big screen at BAM and a very nice way to kill time on a Saturday afternoon.

*As far as I know. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

169) Northface (2008)

169) Northface (2008) Dir: Philipp Stolzl Date Released: January 2010 Date Seen: May 13, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

I liked most of it. But not by much. Sorry; it's just not an especially memorable film, sadly. See my review for the New York Press.

RV!: The Terminator (1984), 168) Commando, RV!: Predator (1987) and RV!: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992)

RV!: The Terminator (1984) Dir: James Cameron Date Released: October 1984 Date Seen: May 11, 2010 Rating: 4/5

168) Commando (1985) Dir: Mark L. Lester Date Released: October 1985 Date Seen: May 11, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

RV!: Predator (1987) Dir: John McTiernan Date Released: June 1987 Date Seen: May 12, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

RV!: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992) Dir: James Cameron Date Released: July 1991 Date Seen: May 17, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

A whole mess of Arnold pics for a big ol' essay about what I think are his three best/most complementary roles as an action star: Predator, Total Recall and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Not going to publish this piece just yet as it's tied up with another project at present. But it's more than 3000 words long. So it's been written. As for Commando: the kind of cartoonish, half-cognizant violence I expect from Shane Black. And you by now should know how I feel about that guy's style of humor. Still: a lot more violent than most Black films and hence more entertaining.

167) Wall Street (1987)

167) Wall Street (1987) Dir: Oliver Stone Date Released: December 1987 Date Seen: May 8, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

There are two main things that make Wall Street one of my favorite of the admittedly small number of Oliver Stone's films* I've seen. Firstly: I love Michael Douglas's performance. I saw this a couple of months after rewatching Basic Instinct and I have to say, I really like Douglas when he's in sleazy smooth operator mode. There's that one scene in Basic Instinct where he's just had sex with Sharon Stone and he psyches her jilted lover out with a line as happily squalid as, "I think she's the fuck of the century. What do you think?" He says it so well. It left me begging for more, made me want to revel in that kind unibrow decadence just a little longer. And voila, just the thing for me.

Just so we're all on the same playing field: I don't think Wall Street works as a drama. Stone is self-consciously tackling zeitgeisty themes, scads of contemporary research and his ceaseless tyro's need to prove himself all at once. And while I know that's his M.O, that makes the script for Wall Street, which he co-wrote with Stanley Weiser, clogged with stiff, unconvincing and sometimes perplexing dialogue that sticks in the throats of all of the film's performers save for the better/more experiences ones. Charlie Sheen and John C. McGinley both gag a bit every now and then but Douglas never does.

Douglas's Gekko is flat-out convincing: I could see myself buying a used car from him, any used car, just gimme the lease now, please. There's gravitas to his Gordon Gekko and a fearful inevitability to his actions. I'm especially thinking of the scene where Sheen's Bud Fox is practically begging Gekko to stay interested in him while the two men take a ride in Gekko's posh limo (or was it a town car? I seem to remember a limo but I could be totally wrong). Douglas's lines are more than a little convoluted but they're ultimately inconsequential as he radiates such easy menace throughout the scene. He single-handedly saves the scene from devolving into a mess of ridiculous high-handed dreck with an exact but seemingly improvised show of nonchalance . That's Douglas at his best, effortlessly oozing charisma on command. A lot of papa Spartacus's charm rubbed off on him and boy does it show here (Gosh, I loveWonder Boys as much as the next guy but a man cannot subsist on Curtis Hanson alone).

The other thing I love about Wall Street is how absurd the film's concept of technological marvels is. I'm not talking about the fact that I'm watching Wall Street 23 years later from its original release date, which in technology years is pretty vast (like dog years, except smaller). Obviously, Wall Street is plenty dated and the thing that ties it to its specific place and time the most is the portable tv and the tape recorder Fox proudly and strategically whips out at just the right moments, as if he invented the damn things just for those moments.

But you don't have to be George Jetson to know that there's something inherently fishy about the idea that Fox is able to confidently walk up to anyone, let alone Gekko, in an open field in Central Park, with a clunky tape recorder down his pants (I know, I know, it's in his waistband but c'mon, humor me, will ya?) and do it with some swagger while doing it. Those things were massive. Just massive hunksa gadgetry. And Fox is strutting up to Gordon Gekko with one dangling around his crotch like he were the Mozza himself. Ah, such kitsch.

*At the time of this writing, I have only seen this, Platoon, Nixon, Alexander (director's cut) and W. I own VHS tapes of The Doors and Salvador though. And I'd love to see The Hand. Recommendations, preferably ones that try to take my taste into account, would be appreciated.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

RV!: Metropolis (1927)

RV!: Metropolis (1927) Dir: Fritz Lang Date (Re-)Released: May 2010 Date Seen: May 7, 2010 Rating: 4.75/5

The additional footage is the kind of flab I love to see, the kind that expands the fillm's mythos to even more gargantuan proportions. See my review for Slant Magazine.

166) The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)

166) The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009) Dir: Daniel Alfredson Date Released: July 2010 Date Seen: May 4, 2010 Rating: 1.75/5

I groaned a bit less this time around. But only a bit. See my review for the New York Press.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

165) A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

165) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) Dir: Samuel Bayer Date Released: April 2010 Date Seen: May 3, 2010 Rating: 1.75/5

It seems pointless to rhetorically ask where the mandate to remake A Nightmare on Elm Street comes from because in reality, producer Michael Bay and his croneys at Platinum Dunes never really needed one before so why start now? I get why Samuel Bayer, director of Nirvana's epochal "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video (yeah epochal: wrap your mind around that!), is at the helm on this titanic (nyuk nyuk) turd. He was hired to add technical sophistication and a grungy veneer to Wes Craven's film. Ok, fine, that's almost even clever in a unibrow kind of way. But why only accentuate instead of building on Craven's already shallow attempt at complicating conventional black-and-white generic morality?

Bayer's Nightmare on Elm Street does nothing with Craven's original film save make it more "extreme," "edgy" or something equally meaningless. The black hat-wearing child killer Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) is now a rapist and a pedophile. Instead of killing some children, he's raped a whole pre-school class of them. He raped them all. Every last one. There must be at least a dozen of them. They didn't speak up until after he'd finished his rape marathon and he was never caught in the act. He raped all of them. Disgusting and reprehensible, absolutely, but also kind of impressive. And with those words, I've just become a "person of interest." I swear, fellas, it's not what you think!

So Freddy's a pedophile and that's worse than murder according to the film because it means these kids have had to grow up having to live with that terrible trauma all their lives. Just as in Craven's original film, Freddy's return is a tacky literal manifestation of revenge of the repressed except here, Freddy's targets were directly wronged by him. In the original, the sins of the fathers were literally visited on the next generation of suburban American kidilinks. This was already a stale idea when Craven did it in his 1984 Nightmare. Twelve years after Last House on the Left, Craven's notorious debut, and he was still only vaguely addressing the theme of subconscious societal evils surfacing in the form of communal Franken-boogeymen that are only as ugly as the people that created them. You can't improve something if you don't think it needs fixing in the first place so it stands to reason that fawning screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer did nothing to address what Craven couldn't or maybe just didn't.

So what does Bayer's Bayer's remake do? Show us everything that Craven did and a lot that he didn't. This is most grating in the way that Bayer gives good fan service by strictly redoing the iconic death scenes* of the original film. These scenes are often hideously overdone in Platinum Dunes' characteristic more is MOAAR aesthetic: I can't remember seeing a filmmaker abusively overuse slow motion this badly in a long while. I kind of like that decadence, to be honest, because I think there's something inherently attractive about filmmakers that seem to make creative decisions by committee and always have more money than they know what to do with. Normally that's my kind of trainwreck.

But again: why does this film exist? Bayer and his screenwriters don't even seem comfortable with the bed they've made for themselves in attempting to thoughtlessly update Craven's film instead of, y'know, remaking it. They don't know what they should show and what they should leave to the imagination, something even Craven, a hack par excellence, knew how to do. We see Freddy get burned to death by the Elm Street kids'** parents all those years ago, writhing around in his ass-ugly red and grey wool sweater in the most risibly funny slowmo scene in the film. We even see Freddy's lair because for some reason, the final girl and boy are determined to exonerate Freddy, as if somehow they were determined to find their parents out and blame all their problems on mommy and daddy. And when they finally do accept that Freddy was in fact a voracious pedophile, it's only after they're briefly convinced that their parents made the whole thing up and that Freddy was never bad at all. Bayer's retread isn't even able to conjure the superficial moral grey zone that pervaded Craven's Nightmare. So again: where's the beef?

Maybe if Bayer's Nightmare didn't feel exactly like the Platinum Dunes' other slasher remakes in that they're all shiny, oversexed and completely brainless rehashes that haven't got a worthwhile original bone in their bodies, I'd say that that purposelessness doesn't matter. But like whoa, it /is/ just another Platinum Dunes remake. I admit, I could watch the film at times. But not for very long.

*Tangental rant: I'm disheartened to see that most reviews of horror movies Iread use the term "kill scenes" instead of "death scenes." I understand that the latter emphasizes a fetishized quality that the former does not. But "kill scenes" is as sub-literate as it gets and an unfortunate reminder of the boundaries of the genre ghetto I often find myself working within.

**I would absolutely roll up for a new Nightmare sequel if it was a crossover with Our Gang, but only if the film's surtitle something like The Little Elm Street Rascals Aren't All Right.

162) Metropia (2009), 163) Into Eternity (2010) and 164) Lola (2009)

162) Metropia (2009) Dir: Tarik Saleh Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 1, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

163) Into Eternity (2010) Dir: Michael Madsen Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 2, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

164) Lola (2009) Dir: Brillante Mendoza Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 2, 2010 Rating: 2.5/5

The last Tribeca 2010 review capsule round-up for the New York Press. I swear. No more. Until next year.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

RV!: The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)

RV!: The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) Dir: Tom Six Date Released: April 2010 May 2010 Date Seen: May 1, 2010 Rating: 4/5

If Tom Six never made the sequel to The Human Centipede (First Sequence) that his debut feature's title threatens viewers with, it would only serve to confirm my understanding of what makes First Sequence so playfully demented. It's nice to know that after a second viewing, I still find the film to be gripping, effectively queasy and a small wonder of new pastiche and exploitation cinema. Six announces his perhaps overdetermined control over the film from the start in the simple but effective pan his camera makes on the outskirts of a rather sizable highway. The shot, like the film, is overt in announcing Six's total control over what the viewer is seeing. It's very telling that this is how Six starts the film, immediately trying to impress the viewer with a visually literal and highly overt show of his authorial powers. The frequent mood swings that will come later in the film are deliberate. There is an intelligence to the film's shallow but deliberately frustrating direction. And now that you've presumably seen the film, I can go deeper into explaining how Six accomplishes that. Spoilers ahead. Duh.

To start, I think one has to address what I'm now more sure than ever is a deliberate shallowness to the film's narrative, tone, structure, aesthetic and acting. There isn't a coherent context that the film's events can be understood within. They do not exist in any kind of cogent history beyond a tentative allusion to Japanese kamikaze pilots and Nazis, which sadly does not a WW2 allegory make. Dieter Laser's Dr. Heiter is distressingly unreadable. Laser camps it up mercilessly and yet remains a serious threat not just because he has some supremely disgusting plans for the film's central three victims but rather because his motives cannot be understood beyond a point.

Beyond his clipped but disjointed speech, the only things that shed light on Heiter's character is his house's distinguishing fixtures, of which there are very few. The conspicuous black candles on his dining room table and the ultrasound mural behind his couch are the only signs that somebody has ever lived in there. It's spacious and lit with an ominous and ubiquitous fluorescent lighting throughout, from the fuzzy white that simulates natural lighting in the bedroom to the baby neon blue of the downstairs laboratory's medicine cabinet. There's a swimming pool with a rather large fresco featuring ridiculous Romanesque figures frolicking about but apart from that, the place could have been rented for the weekend and nobody would know but Heiter.

Heiter's dialogue and actions are even harder to parse. He's a very cartoonish villain, wielding his rifle from outside his bedroom floor-to-ceiling windows like a boy playing at being a soldier one moment, then enjoying pasta and canned tomato sauce the next. Without any understanding of where his abnormal behavior comes from, apart from the knowledge that he's previously experimented on his beloved "three-dog," the viewer isn't privileged with any insight into his psyche.

By making Heiter so flamboyant and so vile in his single-minded preoccupations, Six is knowingly pushing the viewer to ask for things he won't give them. There's no stabilizing explanations here, no ideological intent to justify Heiter's actions and hence no way to know what's really going on. The fact that the movie could effectively end halfway in, after the centipede is created, shows you that what the viewer is seeing is not motivated by a totally coherent narrative. We get the breadcrumbs that Six gives us and we only get that if and when he feels like giving them.

Six's nigh-tyrannically self-assured grip extends to the way he treats the human components of the eponymous centipede like playthings that he's emotionally invested in. We know that Six cares for the two American girls, or at least sympathizes with them enough to give them that crucial scene where they clasp hands, a scene that feels all the more poignant and significant the second time around. But beyond that, they are characters whose fates are irrevocably sealed. Their lives are now inexplicably headed towards a weird and very demeaning fate. There are two scenes that suggest these kids never had a prayer and they're not coincidentall the film's pivotal escape attempts. Here Six shows how well he can draw out tension and the extent of his film's pessimism. He can't help himself from frustrating the viewer. The scene in the pool and the one where the Japanese guy kills himself perfectly showcase Six's central preoccupation with anticlimaxes. That is what the centipede is, not a fetish to be feared reverently but rather an anti-climax, a grotesque menace that is realized midway through the film. Any narrative momentum in the film ultimately directs the viewer off a series of cascading cliffs.

That cycle of anticlimaxes is also central to understanding what the centipede represents, specifically what little it says about the disintegration of communication between total strangers. In light of the way the film ends, I couldn't help but focus on the way characters interact with one another in the film. Sympathy for these poor mechanicals is obviously generated by situational peril but I can't ignore the wisp of humanity, that potential for good expressed when the two Americans hold hands, in the film. I've never seen the ugly bimboish quality that so many did in the Americans, especially not before their first encounter with Heiter. They're under duress and very, very on edge. But never unduly ugly, never to the point where we can disavow the validity and humanity of their nervous reactions.

What the centipede does is force a group of estranged people to work together, to physically rely on one another as they do in the second escape attempt. Heiter's experiment is positioned as a regressive exercise meant to see if its participants can regain a lost part of their humanity, forcing them to see beyond their own immediate needs and to understand and appreciate their reliance on others. The disappointing end result of that trial by fire speaks to a damning cynicism that explains the film's constant need to throw the rug out from under the viewer. Because there is no hope nor any understanding to be found in The Human Centipede (First Sequence) after that final precipice, making the title's hint of further sequences all the more bleakly funny. I look forward to a sequel but I don't expect nor do I really need one.