Sunday, June 24, 2012

189) Brave (2012)

RV!: La Luna (2011) Dir: Enrico Casarosa Date Released: June, 22, 2012 Date Seen: June 14, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

189) Brave (2012) Dir: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell Date Released: June 18, 2012 Date Seen: June 14, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

Eh. See my review for the Nashville Scene.

187) Rock of Ages (2012)

187) Rock of Ages (2012) Dir: Adam Shankman Date Released: June 15, 2012 Date Seen: June 12, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

Ewwwww, I'll take the crab juice! See my Tom Cruise-centric piece for Capital New York.

RV!: Timecrimes (2007)

RV!: Timecrimes (2007) Dir: Nacho Vigalondo Date Released: December 12, 2008 Date Seen: June 11, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

Yeah, it really is that good. See my interview with Mr. Vigalondo, uno vrai wunderkind, for Press Play.

RV!: Shallow Grave (1994)

RV!: Shallow Grave (1994) Dir: Danny Boyle Date Released: February 10, 1995 Date Seen: June 10, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

Still one of Boyle's best. See my Inessential Essentials column on the film at Movieline.

186) The Dictator (2012)

186) The Dictator (2012) Dir: Larry Charles Date Released: May 16, 2012 Date Seen: June 10, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Pretty happy to note how long this one has held on in theaters (still at several multiplexes as of this date!). I was dreading it based on its goofy and mostly unfunny trailers. But I should have known better than to trust ads that were clearly meant to pander to a disinterested hoi palloi's tastes (note: when I say "disinterested," I mean that the ad guys anticipated that  people would be disinterested; I laughed heartily at both Borat and Bruno). Also pretty happy to see that people aren't as hung up on the dissembling severity of Sacha Baron Cohen's cultural critique style of comedy. I mean, anyone that watches The Dictator and sees a film that is seriously trying to say anything other than, "Even the most progressive of you is a fascist at heart," is fooling themselves. Some jokes don't hit, but most do. Like I said on Twitter, I laughed.

185) Artists and Models (1955)

185) Artists and Models (1955) Dir: Frank Tashlin Date Released: November 7, 1955 Date Seen: June 10, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

Baby's first Tashlin (own a VHS tape of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, but have yet to buy my own VHS player). So my thoughts on this are going to be hopelessly dull. I see why people who love Tashlin, as I now think I should, are A-OK with him exhaustively stacking vignette upon vignette, and set piece upon set piece. Every other scene is a show-stopper, and I don't mean that as just a description of authorial intent. Beautiful, vibrant, surreal mise en scene, a very winning Jerry Lewis performance, and holy macaroni, young Shirley MacLaine, please jump on my staircase and sing at me, please, oh mama...

Commie Pasta Horse Operas A Go Go!

184) The Big Gundown (1966) Dir: Sergio Sollima Date Released: August 21, 1968 Date Seen: June 9, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

188) The Great Silence (1968) Dir: Sergio Corbucci Date Released: ????? Date Seen: June 13, 2012 Rating: 4/5

191) Tepepa (1960) Dir: Giulio Petroni Date Released: November XX, 1979 Date Seen: June 16, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

My kingdom for more energy to write about movies like these.

 Anyway, The Big Gundown and Tepepa, both of which star Tomas Milian as a Mexican bandit/peasant hero, are interesting in that their fundamentally similar pro-individual ideas are tonally very different. More to the point: their creators' respective approaches to humor are distinct. With the exception of the monocle-wearing gunman in The Big Gundown, who is surprisingly not the butt of many, if any, jokes, Sollima cracks wise at his working class characters' expense and not against the gentry/land-owners. In fact, even a revelatory scene where one nobleman prepares to, uh, take advantage of his station is played straight (I mean, rape's not funny, I get it. But still, Sollima's not exactly a guy whose deranged sense of humor suggests that he'd hesitate before disrespectfully making a rape-related joke). 

In The Big Gundown, buffa gags are only made at the expense of lower-class characters, like the scene where scruffy-looking types cut through Brokston's party. The joke in that scene is on the rich folk who are confused as to what these uncouth-looking people are doing at such a fancy do. Which is interesting since Sollima is on the side of the poor, disenfranchised, etc. Lee Van Cleef's gun may get the last word in the fight between Brokston and Cuchillo (Milian). But that's only because by that point he's seen reason and been inexplicably convinced of Cuchillo's innocence. The peasants have a new champion, and it's the amoral man that transcends his station with his gun (though surely the later scene where LVC practically drools at the sight of food he can't afford is a testament to his impending change in sympathies....).

By contrast, Tepepa mercilessly mocks the rich. Who exactly thought it was a good idea to make Orson Welles, playing a greedy land-owner that our titular hero seeks to unseat, look like Fu Manchu? I'm not exaggerating: he has the Fu mustache, blue eyeshadow and inexplicably slanted eye lids. Whose responsible this?! 

Furthermore, the moral crisis that Tepepa (Milian again) goes through when he realizes that the old boss is the same as the new boss, etc., is intended to be rathah serious. Tepepa's flashbacks reveal the titular character to be a man in turmoil, a would-be revolutionary whose ardor shrivels up because he's betrayed by pretty much everybody. But the only person that we know from the outset will act like a traitorous SOB is Welles's character. And yet, by film's end, Tepepa is so disabused of his delusions, that he manipulates Dr. Henry Price (John Steiner) to his advantage, an indirect sign of his corruption as a character. Tepepa's no longer chaste and pure and full of humanistic righteousness: he's disillusioned and he uses that to do good but ultimately, he can't run from the darker implications of being, uh, how you say, not so innocent?

In the end, we learn that Tepepa has done a terrible thing, a thing that Steiner understandably need to avenge (understandable according to the logic of the genre). But even that act of vengeance needs punishing, ultimately, doesn't it? The ends may or may not justify the means in Tepepa, a film whose code of Ouroboran ethics is actually pretty admirable, in a grand guignol kind of way. When the film's ra ra go revolution (to paraphrase Victor Morton) finale comes, it's a fairly hollow victory. Everybody's dead, corrupt, lame--but we can still remember what they stood for, hey, hey! I don't think that's meant to be enough, ultimately, which is where Mr. Morton and I differ in our opinions. But still: wow, sharp, if crude, stuff.


In case you missed it, I wrote about The Great Silence for Capital New York. Hope you enjoys it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

RV!: Hickey and Boggs (1972)

RV!: Hickey and Boggs (1972) Dir: Robert Culp Date Released: October 4, 1972 Date Seen: June 6, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

Hell yes. See my piece for Capital New York.

183) Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

183) Smokey and the Bandit (1977) Dir: Hal Needham Date Released: May 19, 1977 Date Seen: June 4, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Perfectly enjoyable. See my piece at Movieline on Needham's casual badass-y-ness.

Alien, Android and Anthropos: The Alien Legacy

RV!: Aliens (1986) Dir: James Cameron Date Released: July 18, 1986 Date Seen: June 3, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

RV!: Alien 3 (1992) Dir: David Fincher Date Released: May 22, 1992 Date Seen: June 3, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

RV!: Alien: Resurrection (1997) Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Date Released: November 26, 1997 Date Seen: June 3, 2012 Rating: 3/5

184) Prometheus (2012) Dir: Ridley Scott Date Released: June 8, 2012 Date Seen: June 5, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Yessireee, Bob, I was quite taken with Prometheus. Check out dis here piece for Press Play, which I think came out swimmingly.

Bad Idea Podcast #13: White Man Can't Ninja

178) Ninja Terminator (1985) Dir: Godfrey Ho Date Released: Dunno Date Seen: May 31, 2012 Rating: 0.75/5

179) Enter the Ninja (1981) Dir: Menahem Golan Date Released: October 2, 1981 Date Seen: June 1, 2012 Rating: 1/5

180) Ninja III: The Domination (1984) Dir: Sam Firstenberg Date Released: September 14, 1984 Date Seen: June 1, 2012 Rating: 0.5/5

181) The Ninja Squad (1986) Dir: Godfrey Ho and Robert Young Date Released: No, Really, I Don't Know Date Seen: June 2, 2012 Rating: 0.25/5

182) Ninja Project Daredevils (1985) Dir: Godfrey Ho Date Released: IDK LOL Date Seen: June 2, 2012 Rating: 0.5/5

RV!: Enter the Ninja (1981) Dir: Menahem Golan Date Released: October 2, 1981 Date Seen: June 9, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

RV!: Ninja III: The Domination (1984) Dir: Sam Firstenberg Date Released: September 14, 1984 Date Seen: June 1, 2012 Rating: 3/5

Steve Carlson and I recorded this podcast so that we'd be less nervous when we presented a double feature of Enter the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination at 92YTribeca on June 9. And it helped a bunch, I think. We felt relaxed and the crowd was receptive. Furthermore, the beer was good, our hosts at the Y were very gracious, the 35mm prints looked GREAT and the experience on the whole was a lot of fun. Showing those movies will definitely be a highlight of my year. See the latest Bad Idea Podcast for a lil primer on the art of ninja-sploitation cinema.

RV!: Hannibal (2001)

RV!: Hannibal (2001) Dir: Ridley Scott Date Released: February 9, 2001 Date Seen: May 31, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

Yeah, I still have a soft spot for this mind-boggling clunker. See my piece for Capital New York.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

177) Telling Lies in America (1997)

177) Telling Lies in America (1997) Dir: Guy Ferland Date Released: October 15, 1997 Date Seen: May 30, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

The first movie I watched in my new apartment, d'awww. Also: love how this poster makes the film seem like the Bizarro mirror inversion of That Thing You Do. Ha!

Ahem. See my Inessential Essentials column at Movieline for more.

RV!: Commando (1985)

RV!: Commando (1985) Dir: Mark L. Lester Date Released: October 4, 1985 Date Seen: May 30, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I'm still not as in love with this as some are. But I do love its quips and its deliberately inelegant screwball comedy. See my capsule for the L Magazine.

176) Womb Ghosts (2010)

176) Womb Ghosts (2010) Dir: Dennis Law Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 29, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

Now, here's a movie by an inept gay auteur sorting out his mommy issues that I can get behind!

...I actually kinda want to leave my thoughts on Womb Ghosts there but I shan't, mostly because nobody knows who Dennis Law is beyond Grady Hendrix and Daniel Craft, and they both dislike Law's movies. 

And I get why: dude is a really lousy filmmaker. But as a collection of weird, fatuously expressed anxieties that lack a strong or particularly consistent thematic anchor to moor them beyond a rote concern with being haunted by the maternal/psycho-sexual sins of someone else's past, Womb Ghosts is...ok, fine, it's a total mess. 

Still, there are any number of singular images from this film that have stayed with me, and not just because the film charming as a stale cinnamon raisin bagel paired with a bottle of Sunny D (no, wait, that's still too charming). But yeah, show me something more batshit than a ghost fetus forcibly inserting itself into her host's vagina, I dare you. Or something more endearingly perplexing as Suet Lam flaying a ghost vigorously, then apparently whipping the open air where said ghost once was. What exactly is wrong with this film? Everything. Everything is wrong with this film and I do not understand it. But ok, let's see more by this guy. 

Dennis Law could very well be Hong Kong's answer to Ed Wood.

175) I Killed My Mother (2009)

175) I Killed My Mother (2009) Dir: Xavier Dolan Date Released: XX 2012 Date Seen: May 29, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

After watching this, I'm still unconvinced Mr. Dolan is anything more than a filmmaker that indulges his young, pretty things' angst. Mother's lead protagonist behaves petulantly, without a doubt. But Dolan never really explores why his bratty avatar and his mother's stand-in (this is semi-autobiographical) behave the way they do. As in Heartbeats, the film's text and subtext are conflated: shrill histrionics replace thoughtfully interrogative moments where protagonists risk really share themselves and/or think about why they behave the way they do around each other. 

I remember liking this more when I watched it. But now, I don't even remember why apart from the fact that I saw my relationship with my mother echoed in the film's drama. Still, I don't recall Mother being that thoughtful or even being particularly moving. I just thought, "Oh, yeah, been there." And that's not enough.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

All of Cannes 2012 In a Post (Apologies to Ray Bradbury Fans)

141) Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Dir: Wes Anderson Date Released: May 25, 2012 Date Seen: May 16, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

142) After the Battle (2012) Dir: Yousry Nasrallah Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 16, 2012 Rating:  2.25/5

143) Rust and Bone (2012) Dir: Jacques Audiard Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 17, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

144) Polluting Paradise (2012) Dir: Fatih Akin Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 17, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

145) Mekong Hotel (2012) Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 17, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

146) The We and the I (2012) Dir: Michel Gondry Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 17, 2012 Rating:  3.5/5

147) Paradise: Love (2012) Dir: Ulriech Seidl Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 17, 2012 Rating: 2/5

Much more after the jump!

RV!: Putney Swope (1969)

RV!: Putney Swope (1969) Dir: Robert Downey Sr. Date Released: July 10, 1969 Date Seen: May 15, 2012 Rating: 4.75/5

Great, great, greatness. See my Inessential Essentials column at Movieline for more.

140) Lovers on the Bridge (1991)

140) Lovers on the Bridge (1991) Dir: Leos Carax Date Released: July 2, 1999 Date Seen: May 14, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Wow, that is a ridiculously long gap between initial year of production--or even first-run at a US festival (NYFF in 1992)--and theatrical release! Weird.

In any case: baby's first Carax. I rather liked its aimlessness, its jagged edges and thematic stumping for sensationalism (ie: purity of cinematic motion for its own sake). That philosophy will find greater expression in Holy Motors, a movie that prematurely mourns the death of cinema since the cinematic experience as we've come to know it (according to Carax) is being limited by the forced intrusion of digital photography (?!). 

But this is pretty good. Yup. Dig that fireworks scene! Oh, and the firebreather's dance.

RV!: Being John Malkovich (1999)

RV!: Being John Malkovich (1999) Dir: Spike Jonze Date Released: October 29, 1999 Date Seen: May 12, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

After rewatcing this one for the nth time, I think it's almost as good as my teenage-self used to think. But Adaptation is better. See my Inessential Essentials column at Movieline for more.

139) Fear City (1984)

139) Fear City (1984) Dir: Abel Ferrara Date Released: February 16, 1985 Date Seen: May 12, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Didn't really care for the film's generic plot, which is understandable since the film is, according to Ferrara and Brad Stevens's Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision, a compromised work. But the atmosphere and the way Ferrara visualizes this film's world--nice. There's a lot of wasted potential here. I just sort of enjoyed soaking up the movie's seedy ambience. One image that's semi-seared into my brain is of a stripper dancing in front of a shimmering blue curtain. It's surreal how vividly I can recall the curtain but I can only remember a faint outline of a woman in a state of undress in front of said curtain. The rest is a blur.

RV!: Robocop (1987)

RV!: Robocop (1987) Dir: Paul Verhoeven Date Released: July 17, 1987 Date Seen: May 11, 2012 Rating: 4.75/5

Robocop really is almost perfect in its own way. 

I had an elaborate piece planned about the revelatory feelings that this most recent rewatch gave me (saw a 35mm print project at the Landmark Sunshine at midnight with Kenji Fujishima after we both attended the Metropolitan Opera's recent production of The Makropulos Case). This time around, I was especially struck by the film's masterful tonal ambiguity, the kind that Verhoeven's famous for, and how certain key images reveal just how richily murky Murphy/Robocop is an antihero. 

Murphy (Peter Weller) is a tragicomic figure. He's a meathead archetype and that makes him both the object of affection and disrespect for Verhoeven. I mean, is the bullet dance he does when he "dies" any less ironically humorous than the dolphin-like gyrating that Elizabeth Berkley does while straddling Kyle MacLachlan in Showgirls? I don't think so. More importantly, Murphy's a compromised hero throughout the film. He adopts a ridiculous cowboy mentality even before he becomes Robocop, partly for his son's sake and partly because he genuinely likes saying things like, "Dead or alive, you're coming with me." He twirls his gun but that's the kind of absurdly violent, gun-stroking mentality that people like Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, my hero) thrives on. The one difference between Boddicker and Murphy is that Boddicker kills for money and kicks and Murphy kills to uphold the law because it's his job.

The absurdly front-loaded that family matters is gently made fun of in the scene where Murphy comes home and remembers when his son, his wife and he once took a family photo. I don't think it's a coincidence that Murphy's son is dressed as a little devil, pitchfork and all. I think that image is pretty evocative, not just of the corruption of nostalgia that Robocop is overwhelmed by but also of the loss of innocence he now feels after recognizing how inhuman he's become. 

I think ultimately, becoming a humane inhuman is the only answer in Robocop because that's what what the film's perverse vision of the future needs. Like Howard Chaykin once said about his version of Blackhawk (and I'm paraphrasing), Robocop is a fascist for democracy. He's a contradiction, a character whose humanity is defined by his unqualified narcissism and faith in violence (ex: How do we know he's still alive on the inside? He twirls his gun and says things like, "Dead or alive, you're coming with me," just like Murphy's son's TV hero did and just like he did when he tried to arrest Atonowsky).

So yeah, I had a much longer and more elaborate piece planned. But this'll do.

138) Battleship (2012)

138) Battleship (2012) Dir: Peter Berg Date Released: May 18, 2012 Date Seen: May 10, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Don't look at me, I'm hideouuuus. See my review for the Nashville Scene, at least, ok?!