Saturday, April 3, 2010

125) Close-Up (1990)

125) Close-Up (1990) Dir: Abbas Kiarostami Date Released: December 1999 Date Seen April 1, 2010 Rating: 4/5

The problem with watching a film that has as much cachet as Close-Up does is it's hard not to be too expectant. I don't buy into the notion that your expectations ultimately dictate how you react to a film (prejudices and preferences only dictate your judgment so much, y'know?). But I also just didn't see something here that it seems many others did. True, I was completely caught up in the Wiseman-esque trial scenes in the film and in the playful supposition that this man impersonating Makhmalbaf was role-playing even after he was clearly caught. But I don't see how this film works as anything more than a superficial commentary on the way cinema and life cyclically are inextricable from one another. A very strong film but I can't really speak to the rest, which probably won't keep me up at nights.

Friday, April 2, 2010

124) Soul Kitchen (2009), 130) Micmacs (2009) and 143) Snap

124) Soul Kitchen (2009) Dir: Fatih Akin Date Released: August 2010 Date Seen April 1, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

130) Micmacs (2009) Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Date Released: May 2010 Date Seen: April 6, 2010 Rating: 2.5/5

143) Snap (2010) Dir: Carmel Winters Not Yet Released Date Seen: April 20, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

Soul Kitchen has grown in my estimation since having reviewed it because some scenes really are irresistible. See my capsule reviews for my Tribeca coverage for the New York Press.

123) Dogtooth (2010)

123) Dogtooth (2009) Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: April 1, 2010 Rating: 4.5/5

A bonafide masterpiece and more than likely the best movie of the year. Seriously, anyone that bitches and moans about a lackluster year at the movies needs to just see this and stop being polemical for no good reason. See my review for the New York Press.

ISF: Quadrangle (2010)

ISF: Quadrangle (2010) Dir: Amy Grappell Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 31, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

This documentary portrait of two couples that experimented sexually with a hinkier form of couple-swapping is fascinating, not just because of the non-chalance of its subjects but because of the motives of its filmmaker. Director Amy Grappel is the daughter of one of these couples and it's clear she's made Quadrangle to work out some of her issues with her parents. She especially goes out of her way to show her mother's foibles while not cutting nearly as deep with her footage of her father or the other couple that her folks diddled. It's a weird confessional kind of cinema masquerading as a document meant to challenge our blind acceptance of a societal norm like monogamy. It seethes with Grappell's open wounds.

RV!: Bluebeard (2009)

RV!: Bluebeard (2009) Dir: Catherine Breillate Date Released: March 2010 Date Seen: March 31, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

There’s something inherently dissatisfying about knowing that Bluebeard might be the Super-Breillat film, as Godard might put it. Bluebeard, a meta-reflexive adaptation of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale, is a crystallization of the French provocatrice’s usual themes of sororal rivalry and sexual demystification. It’s also an undiluted 80-minute shot of what makes Breillat so frustrating in her style of intellectual filmmaking. The Last Mistress, Breillat’s excellent last effort, was a departure of sorts from Breillat’s typical cinematic essay, a relatively unostentatious romantic epic about the seduction of a hot-blooded young hellcat that resembles the titular untamed beauty in Bizet’s Carmen. Bluebeard is a return to form in as much as Breillat’s films are defined by hertypically languid, nigh-inert style of filmmaking.

Breillat’s films typically invite viewers to mull over their consequences and appreciate various telling character traits for what they betray about their characters’ insecurities but it is always with the understanding that the characters are not to be approached on their own terms. Characters are not meant to be appreciated as characters but as ideas, sentiments, ideologies. Her style of filmmaking in that sense is a direct descendant of Eric Rohmer’s. And yet, it’s increasingly frustrating to note that while Bluebeard is Breillat’s most advanced treatise yet, she’s still not quite capable of sustaining both narrative dynamism and ideological potency for a narrative-length film (how’s that for a loaded turn of phrase?).

The story of Bluebeard, the wife-killing ogre, is set up as a story of commodified sexual expectations within a story of two young girls that each secretly want to believe in the promises of deferred romance and dread in that star. In the film’s fairy tale overplot, Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), a young peasant girl with no dowry, marries Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas) and leaves her mother and her sulking sister Anne (Daphné Baiwir) behind to live in his enormous castle. In the film’s “real world” underplot, Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites) teases her older sister Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) by telling her that story, relishing Marie-Anne’s discomfort at the film’s frightening ending. Marie-Anne of course isn’t upset because of the grisly fate that Marie-Catherine almost meets at her husband’s murderous hands but rather the suggestion that the child bride cannot find the fairy tale happiness she so richly deserves for her plucky attitude. In that sense, viewers can see Bluebeard as a full-length manifestation of the frustrated fairy tale wish fulfillment Breillat’s protagonists debate in Romance.

As with Fat Girl or Romance, the lifeblood of Breillat’s latest film is the way it does not emotionally attach itself to its subjects. Breillat treats her characters in the same way that Rohmer treated his subjects: as people-shaped things. This is not a result of sang froid or some manner of callous affectation (okay, maybe it is a little affected). On the contrary, Breillat shows a great affinity for both sets of siblings. Rather, what makes Breillat’s Bluebeard simultaneously so troubling and fascinating is that it appeals to the viewer’s need to find meaning in nuanced actions.

Breillat’s ideal viewer already knows Perrault’s fairy tale and is now looking to find her take on the subject in the way the characters’ movements give Breillat’s interpretation its Meaning. The foundation for ideologies, or in Breillat’s case counter-ideology, is meant to be sought out in telling lines of dialogue or declarative statements. As a conversation piece, Bluebeard will undoubtedly bring out the worst kind of snobby behavior in Breillat fans because it allows them the privilege of knowing that they are meant to quiz each other for answers afterwards, especially since that is what they now expect from a “Breillat film” (Or as Breillat’s ogre shrugs, “One should realize who one is, no?”).

And there’s a good deal of Meaning to be found if willing to rely on the nuance and sophistication of the dense screeds Breillat leaves behind on her human sandwichboards. The development of the timid/less mouthy of the two sisters in either pair of girls is naturally more attractive than the other one, though Marie-Anne does have a rather clever notion of what marriage is like (“Marriage is two people that love each other. And then, one day, they decide to become homosexuals. That’s true!”). If any character in the film can be sympathized with simply as a character, it’s Anne, whose smoldering air of defiant resentment is remarkable (“I didn’t choose to be buried alive.”). Still, while I can admire Breillat’s cinema of ideas and even find Bluebeard to be more satisfying the second time around, there’s no escaping the fact that this is a film that places heavy significance on loaded dialogue like: “There are always invasions. Barbarism is everywhere.” Give me the very un-Breillat Last Mistress over this any day.

121) Clash of the Titans (1981) and 122) Clash of the Titans (2010)

121) Clash of the Titans (1981) Dir: Desmond Davis Date Released: June 1981 Date Seen: March 29, 2010 Rating: 3/5

122) Clash of the Titans (2010) Dir: Louis Leterrier Date Released: April 2010 Date Seen: March 30, 2010 Rating: 1.5/5

The Harryhausen creatures in the first film are fine but I just don't remember anything else about it except for kind of having a good time and Bubbo and Burgess Meredith in a toga. I remember more of Leterrier's horrid remake, which is really sad. See my review of Leterrier's film, which refers to Davis's original.

RV!: I Sell the Dead, 118) Strangers Gundown (1969) 119) Today It's Me, Tomorrow It's You (1968) 120) High Kick Girl! (2009)

RV!: I Sell the Dead (2008) Dir: Glenn McQuaid Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: March 27, 2010 Rating: 3/5

118) Strangers Gundown (1969) Dir: Sergio Garrone Date Released: April 1974 Date Seen: March 28 Rating: 2.25/5

119) Today It's Me, Tomorrow It's You (1968) Dir: Tonino Cervi Date Released: June 1971 Date Seen: March 28 Rating: 2.75/5

12) High Kick Girl! (2009) Dir: Fuyuhiko Nishi Date Released (DVD): March 2010 Date Seen: March 28 Rating: 3.5/5

Like I said, a slow weekend for cinema, nyuk nyuk. Kinda surprised at how much I liked High Kick Girl! though. See my DVD round-up for the New York Press.

117) Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code of Honor (1973)

117) Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code of Honor (1973) Dir: Tatsumi Kumashiro Date Released (DVD): March 2010 Date Seen: March 27, 2010 Rating: 2/5

It was a worse weekend for me and cinema.