23 February 2012

Viewing Journal: Hiatus roundup

Planning to return to business as usual the first week of March. (Over the next couple of weeks I'll be watching way too many films to address at even my usual capsule length, thanks to New Directors/New Films and a forthcoming retrospective that I'll be covering for L.A. Weekly.) But folks have requested at least a micro-rundown of everything I've seen over Skandie season, so I'm gonna try composing tweet-reviews and then just posting them here instead of on Twitter (and most likely cheating a bit on the character limit). Quick and dirty is the idea here; keep your expectations low.

  • Attack the Block* (2011, Joe Cornish): 71. Miraculously engineers an emotional about-face regarding its hoodlum protagonists without betraying their essential nature. Inventive creature design. Racial subtext gets a tad heavy-handed in the home stretch.

    * Seen way back in September but never written up because I left for Toronto the next day.

  • /Sweet Smell of Success/ (1957, Alexander Mackendrick): 89. Endlessly quotable, of course, but also astonishingly acrid. The scene in which Falco brokers an assignation between the sad floozy who's hot for him and a columnist from whom he needs a favor ranks among Hollywood's ugliest spectacles. I just wish swingin' Steve Dallas had even a little of the Bloom County incarnation in him, rather than being such a nonstop beacon of righteousness.

  • About the Pink Sky (2011, Keiichi Kobayashi): 59. Crazily laid-back Japanese indie features vividly odd characters ambling through a goofy non-plot. Doesn't add up to much, but during e.g. a lengthy conversation between two teen girls in which literally every sentence ends with the word "idiot," that seems beside the point. Pleasingly diffuse b&w lensing, too.

  • /Spellbound/ (1945, Alfred Hitchcock): 48. Conclusive proof that superlative direction can't redeem a truly awful script. Sorry auteurists. Alas, weeks later, I've forgotten most of the film's multitude of idiocies, retaining only a general sense of its pseudo-Freudian nonsense. Probably would've had some good sarcastic one-liners at the time.

  • /Annie Hall/ (1977, Woody Allen): 84. Thoroughly wonderful, though now that I know the story of its editing-room transformation from Anhedonia, I can see how thin and rushed it becomes in the final reel, as Annie (who wasn't intended to be its focus) heads off to L.A. And it doesn't wallop me like Manhattan does. Embarrassed to admit I've re-enacted the scene outside the Bergman film, when Annie arrives one minute late. ("We've only missed the titles. They're in Swedish.")

  • /Citizen Kane/ (1941, Orson Welles): 87. Big comedown, anticipated 100 here. But while I'd long cited Kane as an exception to the rule that movies shouldn't attempt to depict decades of a person's life, it, too, suffers from the sorry sight of young, supremely gifted actors slathered in old-age makeup. Joseph Cotten, in particular, might as well be on the Mercury stage when he's playing the elder Jed—it's like watching a high-school production of Long Day's Journey Into Night. (Everett Sloane gets away with it by virtue of apparently never having looked young.) And I had to admit to myself this time that I'm more hugely impressed by it than deeply moved. I may join #teamambersons yet...

  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven): 42. Guess you had to be there at the time. Maybe Freddy Krueger becomes more interesting when he starts cracking wise in later installments, but he doesn't remotely frighten or unnerve me here, and the whole is-it-a-dream? business is very clumsily telegraphed throughout. Shock ending makes zero sense. Only intriguing element is Heather Langenkamp, who isn't much of a thespian but startles in this context merely by looking and acting so utterly ordinary.

  • /Rebecca/ (1940, Alfred Hitchcock): 78. Such a fantastic idea, but I do wish Du Maurier hadn't felt the need to make it so explicitly Gothic. Fontaine's pointedly nameless ingénue being haunted by everyone else's memory of her predecessor yields all the poignant, suffocating drama anyone could ask for; the big plot twist, while brilliantly shot by Hitch as a sort of present-tense flashback, slightly cheapens what had been a fantastically rich portrait of first love's corrosive nature.

  • /The Piano/ (1993, Jane Campion): 55. Ada's wholehearted surrender to Baines still troubles me. Obviously the film is very much a woman's vision, and I'm not averse to potentially off-putting complexity in this realm, but Campion really does present Baines' sexual blackmail as a genuine expression of pure love, which comes perilously close to "I beat you because I care." And the film just doesn't complicate that enough for my taste. Otherwise impeccable, and holy moley Paquin is amazing.

  • /Take Shelter/ (2011, Jeff Nichols): 59. Previously addressed at Cannes, and I don't have a whole lot to add. The blatantly metaphorical nature of the film's Storm just bugs me. Cringed anew at Shannon's big blow-up scene, which plays like a ready-made Oscar clip. (Though I almost never care for climactic, mortifying fuck-you-all shoutfests, see also Young Adult last year.) Individual moments impress, but the overall effect for me is strained.

    More to come...


    Slayton said...

    I agree totally about Rebecca - I was absolutely sold on its painfully detailed depiction of a one-sided relationship until the third act provided a distraction. Fontaine and Olivier 'get' it as well - Olivier is especially good at showing that kind of magnetic aloofness that could draw a naif like Fontaine so easily, and the kind of self-absorption that fosters a sort of emotional abuse without necessarily being intently malicious.

    Slayton said...

    As for films that show decades of a character's life, was it you who wrote a glowing review of Lee Chang-dong's Peppermint Candy once upon a time? After I saw it I had sworn I'd seen a writeup in your back pages and looked for it to no avail.

    md'a said...

    No, I didn't care for Peppermint Candy. Not a big fan of Lee's in general.

    Peter Labuza said...

    Was this your first time seeing "Sweet Smell of Success"? It's such a great movie because it's so ugly as you point out. All those characters live for the filth, even if they act like they reject it (The POV shot of Sidney starting at JJ and his sister, both showing the same cold hard look, always makes me giddy).

    md'a said...

    Was this your first time seeing "Sweet Smell of Success"?

    No. That's what the /slashes/ bracketing a title indicate.