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.