14 May 2012

Viewing Journal: Week of Cannes prep

Between writing an extra Scenic Routes column (to run while I'm in France) and driving 2.5 hours each way to park my surviving cat at my mom's house, plus other assorted errands, I didn't have time this week to write stuff up properly. Here's an abbreviated rundown. No activity here for the next couple weeks, obviously; you can find my daily Cannes coverage over at the A.V. Club. (SPOILER: Everything's crap.)

  • Iron Man 2 (2010, Jon Favreau): 44. Looks like all the charm was origin-specific. Tony Stark's insouciance has curdled into smugness (not inherently a problem, but the movie thinks it's cute), and there's now inevitably much more of the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots routine that made the first film's third act a bit of a trial. Also, are there just no halfway memorable or distinctive villains in the Iron Man annals? Rourke has nothing whatsoever to do here in a role that seems very Cold War-specific, forcing poor Sam Rockwell into doubling down on his generic corporate sleazeball...who hires a known terrorist to program drone weaponry and just trusts that it'll all work out. Like you do.

  • /Gremlins/ (1984, Joe Dante): 62. Despite giving Chuck Jones a cameo here, Dante really seems like more of a Bob Clampett guy at heart, which may explain why I've never quite embraced him. Here he's got a dynamite black-comedy premise (the one decent thing Chris Columbus ever gave the world—sorry Goonies fans) but gradually loses his grip on the blackness, turning the gremlins into harmless pop-culture clowns decked out in pimp shades and Flashdance leg warmers. All downhill from the marvelously disgusting, PG-13-inspiring spectacle of Frances Lee McCain dispatching several of the purely nasty ones via various kitchen utensils. Which presumably explains...

  • /Gremlins 2: The New Batch/ (1990, Joe Dante): 57. ...why I don't concur with most of my peers in finding the sequel superior. Which is not to say that it's not often funny, but I'm laughing almost exclusively at the Trump-bashing ("construction, sports, finance, and of course a popular line of jams and jellies") and Haviland Morris' knowingly goofy performance as the rapacious, chain-smoking Marla. (Doubly amazing when I realized she was also the ditz princess Caroline in Sixteen Candles, sporting a bad blonde wig.) Nary a chuckle at the talking brainiac gremlin or the buck-toothed Lenny gremlin or the sexy girl gremlin who wants to hump the security chief (paging Kevin James) or etc. Let's not even get into the electrified gremlin ex machina or Gizrambo. Hit and miss, but the puppets are all miss.

  • Thor (2011, Kenneth Branagh): 60. For one thing, it's gorgeous to look at—if there were an awards category for Best-Designed Imaginary Object, surely the Rainbow Bridge would win in a landslide (especially given how the source presented it). But Hemsworth won me over, too, giving good god-galoot, and Branagh deftly navigates the tonal shift between Asgard's mock-Shakespearean solemnity and Earth's laid-back frivolity. Admittedly there isn't much of a story here, but I actually prefer that to the excess of plot in Captain America; Thor doesn't pretend to be doing much more than getting the title character into position for The Avengers, and its essential modesty is appealing. Didn't really need Academy Award® Winner Natalie Portman for the pro forma love interest, though.

  • /Hate/ (1995, Mathieu Kassovitz): 79. Because Kassovitz has done nothing worthwhile since, I was prepared to wonder what the hell I was thinking back then. Instead, I'm wondering what the hell happened, because he fully deserved his Best Director prize at Cannes. If only a tiny fraction of the handheld, slice-of-urban-life indies I endure every year were half as formally accomplished as this freewheeling powder keg. Performances feel credibly spontaneous without ever becoming mired in improvisational awkwardness, and the loose-limbed, episodic structure keeps defusing urgency to invigorating effect. Only the Chekhovian gun and inevitable violent ending disappoint. One-hit wonder.

    (I also started watching, but did not finish, a couple of films screening at Cannes, one of which has been to my mind inexplicably acclaimed at two other festivals already. But I agreed not to write about those until after they screen.)

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