08 March 2012

Viewing Journal: Hiatus roundup III

Final bunch.

  • /Belle de jour/ (1967, Luis Buñuel): 67. Always intriguing, gorgeously shot by Vierny, but it suffers from a Gallic variation on the Ralph Bellamy problem, with Séverine's husband just too dishwater-dull even if we posit (and there's no particular reason to do so) that we're seeing not the actual man but only her warped perception of him. Likewise, the badass kid gangster is absurd, and while one could argue that this, too, is by design, it still strikes me as ill-considered. Deneueve's blankness, on the other hand, is sheer perfection. DISCLAIMER: I'm almost always put off by films about sadomasochism.

  • Lady and the Tramp (1955, Hamilton Luske & Clyde Geronimi & Wilfred Jackson): 51. Might have seen this in re-release as a little kid, but I don't actually remember it, so no /slashes/. Begins impressively with a near-wordless introduction to Lady as a pup, quickly turns generic once it flashes forward a year and the animals start talking. Seems to me you could do a live-action remake of much of this film starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler—Tramp, in particular, has that noxious brand of "charming" arrogance so prevalent in contemporary rom-coms. Only the Siamese cats, seemingly on loan from Warner, transcend formula.

  • Wanderlust (2012, David Wain): 59. Reviewed for Las Vegas Weekly. The film in a nutshell: Rudd improvises one of the greatest comic setpieces of all time in front of a mirror, then Wain has him attempt pretty much the same routine opposite Akerman, where it falls completely flat. (And the latter, for some reason, is the one that's been made available as a teaser clip online.) Please, learn to distinguish wheat from chaff.

  • The Geisha Boy (1958, Frank Tashlin): 52. Jerry Lewis remains one of the top items on my cinephile to-do list—I have yet to see any of the films he directed, embarrassingly. As a performer, he's a taste I still hope to acquire, but this particular effort skews way too mawkish for me, with Tashlin's penchant for absurdist physical comedy regularly shunted aside in favor of boy-manchild bonding. Plus it totally wastes the young Suzanne Pleshette, who's smokin' hot in uniform. Eager to see more, though.

  • Black Venus (2010, Abdellatif Kechiche): 65. Historical biography + victim narrative = RUN AWAY!, which is one reason it's taken me so long to get around to this one. But Kechiche's approach to the outrageous, at times nearly unwatchable material is so clinical and matter-of-fact that it all but precludes the possibility of feeling emotionally manipulated. Nor is that at all his usual style, as anyone who's seen any of his previous features well knows. Impressive. He does, however, stubbornly persist in making all of his movies way the hell too long.

  • /Hugo/ (2011, Martin Scorsese): 51. Up from 48, mostly because it looks far superior in 2-D—emphatic depth perception only diminishes the intended storybook quality of the elaborate sets, unless you spent most of your childhood reading pop-up books. Still can't get into the wide-eyed, self-congratulatory "magic of the movies" guff or Hugo's quest for a surrogate family; his notion that the automaton might somehow write a message from his dead father, even though Dad perished while the thing was still utterly broken, just feels like shameless pandering.

  • The Secret World of Arrietty (2010, Hiromasa Yonebayashi): 66. Sheepish admission: This is my highest rating to date for a "traditional" Ghibli film. (My favorite is the wholly atypical My Neighbors the Yamadas.) Granted, it lacks the enchanting highs of Miyazaki's best work...but it also lacks those films' tendency to gradually devolve into phantasmagorical senselessness, thanks to ably-plotted source material in the form of Mary Norton's The Borrowers. Slight but diverting, and the emphasis on scale, with tiny people navigating giant objects, suits animation perfectly.

  • /A One and a Two.../ (2000, Edward Yang): 64. Third viewing, and I'm officially junking Yi Yi now since Yang went to the trouble of including an English-language title in the film proper (it's not a subtitle). But I'm not junking a single word of the capsule I wrote a dozen years ago, which still 100% reflects my underwhelmed reaction to this fine but hardly earth-shattering family drama. Just too darn muted for its own good, and certain elements that its fans seem to cherish, like little Yang-Yang as a stand-in for Big Yang ("You can't see it for yourself, so I help you"), make me cringe.

  • Chico & Rita (2010, Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal & Tono Errando): W/O. Can people really not see how hamhanded and tone-deaf this movie is just because it's animated? AMPAS I can understand—they thought Trueba's tiresome Belle Epoque the best foreign-language film of 1992—but what's the critics' excuse? I especially loved Rita initially refusing to sign the life-changing contract unless Señor Impresario agreed to sign Chico as well, which would provoke a < bullshit > cough even if she hadn't insisted that she wanted nothing to do with Chico just two scenes earlier.

  • Five Broken Cameras (2011, Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi): W/O. I just plain don't trust this movie. At worst it's pure propaganda; at best it's deliberately misleading—no matter how sympathetic one is to the Palestinian cause (and I'm pretty squarely in their corner), it's impossible to believe the Israelis are as borderline Nazi-esque as they come across here. Clincher for me was the destruction of camera #1, followed by footage, clearly taken from Burnat's POV, of a neighbor loaning him camera #2...which is being shot with what, exactly? Camera #1.5? I'm sure there's an explanation, even if that moment wasn't staged or recreated, but the fact that it never occurred to either director that an explanation might be necessary suggests a troubling degree of truthiness. [Screening in ND/NF.]

  • /Anatomy of a Murder/ (1959, Otto Preminger): 83. Such a strange film, especially for its time. Despite being fictional, it's closer in spirit to Depardon's Moments of Trial than to most courtroom dramas, its focus on Jimmy Stewart's defense attorney a hugely effective red herring. Both sides of the law are examined and found wanting, albeit implictly; it took me half the film to realize (and I'm not sure I realized it at all when I first saw it over 20 years ago) that Biegler's tactics are often even more underhanded than the prosecution's, and that this isn't "clumsily ironic" but the whole damn point. Masterfully done, but it does leave a massive hole where any human interest ought to be, which retroactively makes touches like the redemption of Arthur O'Connell's alcoholic mentor seem not just irrelevant but intrusive. R.I.P. Ben Gazzara, so quietly powerful and cagily opaque in this role.

  • /Repo Man/ (1984, Alex Cox): 76. Iggy Pop's title tune sets the tone for a movie that truly just does not give a fuck. Returns inevitably diminish a bit by the end as a result, but its unique brand of punk drollery still cracks me up, and many of its ideas, like the generic labels, seem way ahead of their time. (I'm drawing a blank on any recent indie films that put significant thought into their art direction.) Startling to watch Estevez in this now, as he really seems largely unformed; as I noted on Twitter, it's kind of a shame that he went on to have a notable acting career, as this performance would probably be legendary had it been a one-off. "What about our relationship?" "Fuck that."

  • World on a Wire (1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder): 62. First half ranks among the most dazzling feats of sustained formal gamesmanship in cinema history, much less broadcast-television history. Anybody with some knowledge of the genre, especially post-Matrix, can anticipate the climactic midpoint revelation*, but it's thrilling all the same to watch Fassbinder imply that scenario via mirrors, sound design and labyrinthine compositions; there are ostensibly expository scenes throughout that play like miniature Michael Snow epics. Alas, once the cat's out of the bag, RWF seems to lose interest, and part two winds up feeling as tediously plot-heavy as the back end of a typical Crichton adaptation. Good job Wachowskis realizing that zero-gravity firefights would come in handy at that point.

    * Which sounds like an oxymoron, I just belatedly realized, but does in fact make sense—the revelation concludes the first of the film's two episodes.

  • Neighboring Sounds (2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho): 60. Immaculately directed, kaleidoscopic portrait of a single Brazilian block, juggling several tenuously related narratives with deft assurance. Hits its sociopolitical subtext a tad hard for my taste, especially vis-à-vis the resolution of the neighborhood-watch storyline—I appreciated anew how subtly Martel addressed roughly the same systemic issue in The Headless Woman—but Mendonça Filho's talent is unmistakable (and it's not as if Martel exhibited much restraint her first time at bat, ugh). I asked Gabe Klinger on Twitter but he never responded: Anyone know if the date mentioned in the final scene (27 April 1984, I believe) has some special significance? Or is it just generally dictatorship-era? [Screening in ND/NF.]

  • Silent House (2011, Chris Kentis & Laura Lau): 25. I cannot believe they made this fucking movie again. I cannot BELIEVE they made this fucking movie again. I cannot believe they made this fucking movie AGAIN. I cannot believe they made THIS fucking movie again. I CANNOT BELIEVE THEY MADE THIS FUCKING MOVIE AGAIN. (Reviewed a bit more coherently for Las Vegas Weekly, though I didn't get much space.)

  • The Third Part of the Night (1971, Andrzej Zulawski): 69. Handily the best of the seven Zulawski films I watched in order to preview Cinefamily's retro (taking place concurrently at BAM in New York). Starts out remarkably placid by the standards he'd soon develop, but even this first effort ultimately takes a turn for the vividly grotesque, as our hero's work on behalf of the Polish underground finds him volunteering to have thousands of live lice feed on him for hours at a time. Zulawski finds an effective balance between the outrageous and the mundane; too bad he then immediately lost it.

  • /Vanya on 42nd Street/ (1994, Louis Malle): 72. When the Skandies crew voted for Best Performance of the '90s (gender-neutral) a dozen years ago, Julianne Moore placed 4th...for Safe, in which she's indeed outstanding. But I cast my own vote for her stunningly unconventional interpretation of Yelena here, which seems every bit as miraculous and ineffable to me now—somehow, she finds a deeper truth in every line by playing radically against whatever emotion the words seem to suggest. And Brooke Smith, I now realize, is nearly as good, in a very tricky role. Surprised to rediscover how cinematic Malle's direction is, too, given the ultra-theatrical conceit. But Vanya is not in Wallace Shawn's extremely limited range as an actor. He shouldn't come across as merely peevish.

  • The Devil (1972, Andrzej Zulawski): 38. Pitched at such a hysterical level from start to finish that it quickly becomes monotonous, and it's tough to imagine any viewer not well versed in Polish history comprehending the intended allegory (devil = government, protag = naive student protesters coerced into self-destruction). Basically you're just watching some wild-eyed, confused simpleton running around killing people at the behest of a weaselly imp. Zulawski's disgust and anger come through, but they aren't enough to sustain interest for two hours.

  • The Important Thing Is to Love (1975, Andrzej Zulawski): 60. Gratifyingly thorny love triangle starring two fine actors and one pleasant-looking hunk of timber. Romy Schneider won the (very first) César, but it was pop star Jacques Dutronc who really wowed me, in part because on paper his role seems virtually unplayable. Sadly, we're seeing the film primarily through the eyes of Fabio Testi, who does in fact look and behave like a Fabio. Gangsta subplot doesn't really work either. But bits and pieces of those other two performances will stay with me forever.

  • La femme publique (1984, Andrzej Zulawski): 58. An essay on screen acting, stronger on ideas than execution. At one point I thought it was turning into a proto-Alps, with Valérie Kaprisky's beleaguered starlet agreeing to take over the role of Lambert Wilson's missing wife, but by the end it's clear that we're getting Zulawski's instruction manual for performances that will eat their way into your soul. Kaprisky pretty much nails everything she's asked to do, from thrillingly anti-erotic naked dancing to a Mulholland Dr.-style metamorphosis over the course of acting the same scene multiple times. Everything around her feels strained, though.

  • L'amour braque (1985, Andrzej Zulawski): 41. Well, isn't this wacky. Opens with the ol' bank-robbery-featuring-goofy-masks (one of them literally being Goofy, as I recall), then proceeds to gambol and romp—there's no other way to put it; the male cast practically skips across the frame most of the time—through another love triangle, sadly devoid of the emotional complexity that distinguished Important-Ass Thing. That Zulawski fell for Sophie Marceau might be part of the problem, but she's also just too young and unblemished to serve as a compelling object of anything but garden-variety lust. Romy would bite her head off.

  • On the Silver Globe (1988, Andrzej Zulawski): 16. Hoberman called this Zulawski's masterpiece, which just confirms my suspicion that crackpot sci-fi bullshit gives him a knee-jerk hard-on (cf. Southland Tales). It's all but unwatchable, far as I'm concerned—bad actors wandering barren landscapes in ridiculous costumes, gesticulating wildly for no reason. It's as if the shittiest Planet of the Apes sequel from the '70s fucked the Zion sequences from The Matrix Retarded and gave birth to some mutant population of nonsense-spouting quasi-primitive cretins. On top of which, the movie was never finished (it was shot a decade earlier, got shut down by angry politicians), so Zulawski has to narrate all the missing sections, accompanied by documentary footage of random Poles walking down the street or riding an escalator. So painful I had to take a break every half hour, for fear I might try to cut my throat with the paper envelope the DVD arrived in. I know, now you're intrigued.

  • My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days (1989, Andrzej Zulawski): 44. Could be a translation problem here, as most of Dutronc's dialogue seems to be elaborate puns by way of word salad. (His character is slowly losing his memory and his comprehension of language.) Still, it echoes L'amour braque too closely for me to think that appreciating each impromptu portmanteau would help much. Marceau really seems to neuter Zulawski, to the point where he's disinclined to give any of her characters a personality—she just plays Woman. Probably for the best that they split up, except that he hasn't made a film since.

  • /The Game/ (1997, David Fincher): 91. Epic piece forthcoming at the A.V. Club. It will somehow include references to both Steel Magnolias and The Human Centipede.


    md'a said...

    By the way, should anyone wonder why I didn't watch Possession for the Zulawski piece: (1) it's the one film of his I'd already seen (before I started rating older movies, but I dug it with reservations), and (2) it had already been covered via J. Hoberman in the previous week's issue, as it was given a week-long run.

    Victor Morton said...

    Without looking it up, I can at least tell you that 1984 was the *last year* of Brazil's military regime. And that there were huge public demonstrations demanding a swift culmination of what already had been several-years of weakening by the military and a transition to a full democracy (a new Constitution, the one still in force I believe, was drawn up starting in 1985). I can also tell you, based on my memory of high-school debate, that 1984 was also the year of peak worry about Latin American debt and that Brazil (along with Argentina and Mexico) underwent some horrific austerity measures to avoid a default (which would lead to a world bank collapse, a global depression and a nuclear war).

    On a different subject ... I find this formulation intriguing bordering on bizarre: "at worst, it's pure propaganda, at best, it's deliberately misleading." Apart from all considerations of this particular film (which I have not seen and cannot imagine doing so), I would formulate that dichotomy in the reverse. I vastly prefer the purest of propaganda than being lied to. Propaganda one can sift through and see through. Lying is a violation of trust and always immoral.

    md'a said...

    Upon reflection, I think I agree. #hellfreezesover

    expellerpress said...

    Holy shit, THE GAME was 15 years ago!? I'm old...


    1) I just finished reading the Down Is Up column and didn't notice any HUMAN CENTIPEDE references. Cutting room floor? Or do I just not read good?

    2) You probably hate questions like this, but what makes THE GAME "only" a 91 for you? I had gotten the impression it was your favorite Fincher, but now I see SE7EN got a 93. I remember you talking a bit about SE7EN's little shortcomings in the past, and you've mentioned that the very end of DAISY KENYON brought it down from a 100 to a 99 for you, etc., so now I find myself curious...if you had to nitpick THE GAME, what nits would you pick? Or is the grade just a gut-feeling thing you can't really analyze?

    md'a said...

    Re: 1), you either don't read good or you don't know the premise of Human Centipede, which I don't mention by name but unmistakably describe in the final paragraph.

    Re: 2), there are stretches of the film that I think are less than stellar on the surface-entertainment level, e.g. the whole bit where Douglas and Unger are climbing out of windows and jumping into dumpsters and whatnot. (Which ends with a terrible punch line, something like "Table for two, please.") There are places where you can see that it was written by the dudes who'd go on to write the last two Terminator movies (and had previously written The Net, though I never saw that one). Apparently the script was heavily rewritten, so maybe those are vestiges of the original draft(s).

    expellerpress said...

    Weird; I think my brain must've already jumped ahead to wondering what kind of comments people were leaving and I skimmed over the end of that particular sentence without realizing it. Dammit, I really don't read good!

    I love the mental image of Sean Penn tenderly tilting his head at me to make sure I understood THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE. He should start visiting random theaters and loitering outside of terrible movies just to provide that service.

    Kza said...

    Been awhile since I've seen THE GAME, but I recall the low-stakes dumpster diving as a necessary part of the film's structure -- the part where we go, "Oh I get it, they [CRS] let you experience an action movie in a 'safe' way". There needs to be "fun" sequence before it goes dark, even if (or maybe especially because) we expect it to go all wrong.

    But maybe that section's longer than I remember, so I dunno.

    (It's 11pm and I'm tired as fuck. Hope that made a lick of sense.)