01 March 2012

Viewing Journal: Hiatus roundup II

Took me longer than expected to pick this up again, so I figure I'd better make it a separate post.

  • Bad Boys (1983, Rick Rosenthal): 49. Essentially a women-in-prison flick featuring men, but not as enjoyably disreputable. Flirts with an unexpectedly powerful ending, then chickens out, which is typical of its sensibility (see also the lethal-boombox fakeout). At least the rape scene (not in prison, with Ally Sheedy as the victim in her screen debut) is appropriately ugly.

  • /Malcolm X/ (1992, Spike Lee): 71. First viewing, as one of three white people in a sold-out Times Square theater on opening weekend, was hands down the most electrifying moviegoing experience of my life...and yet I think I liked the film better this time, thanks to lowered expectations. For one thing, I'd completely forgotten that the first hour plays like an old-time Hollywood musical (with gangster elements, obviously), boisterous and effervescent in a way that puts more recent attempts like Chicago to shame. Standard biopic potholes surface once Malcolm joins the Nation, but Denzel's commanding, Oscar-robbed performance serves as remarkably smooth asphalt.

  • /Tuesday, After Christmas/ (2010, Radu Muntean): 65. Previously addressed at Cannes. Lovely final shot notwithstanding, it remains too resolutely ordinary for me to get excited about; marital infidelity is commonplace to begin with, with a wholly predictable narrative, so uninflected naturalism isn't really the greatest fit. Still think Popistasu (the mistress), who fared worst in the Skandies, gives the strongest performance overall.

  • /To Kill a Mockingbird/ (1962, Robert Mulligan): 66. Probably not the best idea to revisit this one shortly after seeing a parody poster of The Help that retitled it White People Solve Racism. Not that Atticus actually solves anything at all, of course—the ending remains realistically downbeat—but I was much more conscious this time of how marginalized all the black characters are, which made "Stand up. Your father's passing" play a little grotesque to me. And the film, concentrating as heavily as it does on the trial + Boo Radley, just isn't as rich or as memorably detailed as the book. Still quite moving, of course, and Mulligan couldn't have found a better Scout short of conjuring Reese Witherspoon into being three decades earlier.

  • /Arlington Road/ (1999, Mark Pellington): 64. Overwrought enough that I'm not surprised Pellington went on to direct one of the worst-rated films in Skandie history (last year's I Melt With You), but I still get a kick out of its diabolically clever bait-and-switch, in which every preposterous narrative element is ultimately revealed to be part of the bad guys' overall design. It's a con-man film disguised as a paranoid thriller, basically—an inspired idea, if sloppily executed. And Joan Cusack's role here rivals Albert Brooks in Drive when it comes to thinking outside the box, casting-wise; her sad little "...yeah" when she catches Hope Davis at the pay phone gave me a full-body chill once again.

  • /Rio Bravo/ (1959, Howard Hawks): 86. Only slightly weak element here is the Chance-Feathers romance, which struggles to recreate the Geoff-Bonnie dynamic in Only Angels Have Wings but can't quite pull it off with the Duke and the Dick. (Sorry.) But falling a bit short of the greatest film ever made is hardly a crime, and we're mostly talking wall-to-wall rip-snortin' fun. Even Ricky Nelson holds his own, looking legitimately badass when Colorado initially refuses to sign on with Chance's sorry crew. Easy to see how the lazy pace and emphasis on downtime influenced Tarantino.

  • /Moneyball/ (2012, Bennett Miller): 65. Previously addressed here. The real problem, though, I now realize, is that the movie falls apart when the 20-game winning streak happens, because the streak is completely meaningless, a statistical hiccup—which Beane even verbally acknowledges at one point, but that can't override the ludicrous amount of screen time that's devoted to it. Clearly, everybody involved felt that it would be dishonest to ignore such a notable real-world event (and no doubt people would have bitched up a storm if they had), but it's a shame that the A's didn't happen to win 20 of 21 with the single loss right in the middle, as that would have freed the movie (which would surely still exist) to pursue more relevant and less generically crowd-pleasing angles in the home stretch.

  • /Deliverance/ (1972, John Boorman): 45. I'm fuzzy on how this is anything more than a poorly acted, gruel-thin exploitation flick with delusions of grandeur. Haven't read Dickey's novel, but it's evidently the interior monologue of a single character; onscreen, we learn virtually nothing about any of the quartet (dialogue is functionally unilluminating throughout), and their actions reveal precious little as well, apart from credible horror when cornered by randomly malevolent hillbilly caricatures. Theo contends that the film's true subject is Doubt, but (a) there's no baseline of Certitude from which these ciphers can descend, and (b) it's hardly incisive to instill doubt via such an extreme violation—might as well have the hero start questioning the sanctity of his home by having it collapse and kill his entire family.

  • /Sans soleil/ (1983, Chris. Marker): 56. Succeeded in getting more out of this the second time, though I'm down with Vincent Canby to some extent when he suggests that Marker has merely fashioned a flimsy clothesline upon which to string the edited highlights of years of vacation footage. (Simile mine.) Knowing that the voiceover text is in fact Marker filtered through fictional intermediaries made me note its similarity to Varda's eclectic essays, though I still prefer a bit more focus than we get here; if there's a path connecting "How to film the ladies of Bissau?" (with its haunting single-frame acknowledgment of the camera) to, say, the Vertigo tour, I'm afraid it escaped me. No, the fact that he's a tourist shooting film in both instances does not suffice.

  • /Dangerous Liaisons/ (1988, Stephen Frears): 69. Originally my #1 film for '88. Seems a little cute to me now, overly impressed with its own naughtiness; Hampton, whose subsequent work (including A Dangerous Method) I've generally hated, manages to repurpose an amazing number of choice barbs from Laclos' epistolary source, but subtlety and modulation just aren't part of his arsenal, which means we get hackneyed moments like Valmont's lewd "I think we might begin with a few Latin terms" cutting directly to a Latin Mass. Malkovich somehow makes reptilian lechery seem alluring; Close does the same for tight-lipped, dead-hearted cattiness; Pfeiffer is simply heartbreaking. As usual: poor Keanu.

    Still more to come...

  • 1 comment:

    Nictate said...

    "... it remains too resolutely ordinary for me to get excited about; marital infidelity is commonplace to begin with, with a wholly predictable narrative, so uninflected naturalism isn't really the greatest fit."

    A fair diagnosis. I was actively annoyed by TUESDAY's studied brand of uninflected.