14 June 2012

Viewing Journal: Week of 11-17 Jun

LEST YOU BE CONFUSED: Films in /brackets/ I had previously seen. The ratings are on a 100-point scale that merely signifies my personal and highly subjective degree of enthusiasm, and I use the entire damn scale, e.g. 65 is equivalent to 6.5/10, a mild thumbs-up. Anything 70+ I really liked, and 80+ is generally top ten for any given non-phenomenal year.

[Somehow I forgot when I began this week's journal in Standard Mode that Father's Day was coming up and I was gonna be out of town for four days. Switching formats mid-stream pains me but I'll never catch up if I don't, so here's the rest à la capsule.]

  • /National Lampoon's Animal House/ (1978, John Landis): 59. Significantly smarter and wittier than the genre it inspired, with a fantastic ensemble cast—amazing that Matheson and Riegert didn't get bigger career bumps—but it still mostly loses me when it goes full retard (Flounder, Bluto, Niedermeyer). And I guess I was too young the last time I saw this to be appalled by its cheerfully racist depiction of black men as terrifying and predatory, or dismayed by its inability to perceive women as anything other than prissy airheads, faithless whiners (poor Karen Allen), alcoholic cougars, or deceitful jailbait. Otter picking up a girl by posing as her dead roommate's grieving fiancé is too icky to laugh at, at least in this frivolous context.

  • Denver & Rio Grande (1952, Byron Haskin): 35. Haskin's making a strong run for the title of my least favorite classic-Hollywood director, though three films is probably too few for me to have a good fix on the depth or breadth of his ineptitude. Here, he somehow manages to make Edmond O'Brien and Sterling Hayden, playing feuding railroad men, seem dully artificial, though it doesn't help that both are saddled with unspeakable dialogue. Pinned down by gunfire, in a scene that has bullets whizzing past them every few seconds, some dude notes to O'Brien that "bees have been buzzing around since dawn." "Yeah," O'Brien grimly replies. "Lead bees."

  • Goon (2011, Michael Dowse): 60. As of this writing, Seann William Scott gives my Performance Of The Year; shame there isn't much of a movie surrounding it. Stifler was cute enough (I only saw the first one), but Scott's disarming, absurdist interpretation of real-life hockey enforcer Doug Smith—renamed Doug Glatt in acknowledgement of the copious liberties taken—is one of the all-time great portraits of sweet-natured stupidity, somehow making impulsive acts of violence seem downright adorable. Alas, screenwriters Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg (I take it Seth Rogen was busy?) didn't really find a story for this singular character to inhabit, so we just get a generic slow-burn romance between two people separated by meaningless obstacles and a generic showdown with rival enforcer Liev Schreiber, who's instructed to act with his m(o)ustache. Plenty of flavor, no base.

  • /Harold and Maude/ (1971, Hal Ashby): 49. I really just want to strangle Maude, to be honest. She's a Manic Pixie Dream Crone, embracing life and seizing the day with the kind of pushy, simpleminded vigor that in reality would drive somebody like Harold to demock his mock suicides. That Harold sleeps with her is still shockingly bold (even given that nothing but the afterglow is shown), and Ashby's use of Cat Stevens as an organizing principle achieves stunning power in the cross-cutting climax, which seems to be the inspiration for almost every dramatic TV show's season finale for the past decade. But there's only so much ostensibly delightful nonconformity I can stomach, and around the time Maude steals the cop's motorcycle I started actively rooting for her demise. And then we're given that oh-so-subtle glimpse of the camp tattoo on her arm. If you want to "seig heil," "seig heil"...

  • /Prometheus/ (2012, Ridley Scott): 54. Previously addressed here. Had no particular desire to see this again but my dad wanted to go on Father's Day and I was too relieved he hadn't chosen That's My Boy to argue. Ultimately, it feels like it should be David's story but isn't—he's as much a cipher as HAL 9000, except HAL wasn't subject to all the "real boy" nudging that Prometheus introduces and then largely abandons. (David's final dialogue exchange, in which he expresses bewilderment at the human need to understand Why, seems to directly contradict previous hints that he's undergoing a sort of existential crisis.) And this time the idiocy of the biologist who wants to cuddle scary-looking snake monsters was trumped by the idiocy of the designated villain who gets her alleged just desserts (though in fact every decision she makes is perfectly levelheaded) because she can't comprehend that rolling a couple of feet to the side might be a better escape path from a gigantic falling column-shaped object than trying to back up 100 yards.

    Smokey and the Bandit (1977, Hal Needham): 66

    Feel like I saw this a dozen or more times as a kid (mostly on cable, back when cable was basically one channel that showed the same 10 movies over and over), but can't be sure it was ever start-to-finish so no /slashes/. In any case, there's no chance that my pre-teen self appreciated the unique tone it achieves, an amalgam of fast-paced zaniness and relaxed nonchalance that I'll dub good-ol'-screwball. The appeal of Burt Reynolds and Sally Field can seem mysterious from today's perspective, but it's kind of amazing how effortless their performances seem here; it's not so much that they throw lines away as that they refrain from trying to sell them, an approach abetted by Needham's (and/or his editor's) penchant for cutting briskly away rather than providing the customary laugh-beat. It's absurdly casual, and yet at the same time it's also just plain absurd—best example is probably the Bandit explaining Frog's presence in his Trans Am to the Snowman via CB (complete with untranslated slang) while completely ignoring her lengthy monologue about her experience as a dancer, which she delivers, obscured from sight, while changing her clothes underneath what's left of her wedding gown. Had it just been the three of them, plus a bunch of stunt driving involving faceless pursuing cops, we'd be talking about a minor classic. But Jackie Gleason—and I say this with all due respect to a comedy legend—not only brings the anti-funny but proceeds to nail the anti-funny to the wall so that we can watch its twitching carcass slowly expire. (I did not enjoy his work in this film.) Thankfully, he's cordoned off from the main action, but every recurrence disrupts the film's blithe rhythm, and that rhythm is precisely what's cherishable.

    Declaration of War (2011, Valérie Donzelli): W/O

    Almost stuck with this out of respect, as it's at least trying to do something unique and arresting. And I really dug the musical number (duet in cabs following diagnosis), which is heartfelt enough that it honors the gravity of the situation even as it provides formal counterweight to the disease-of-the-week template. But the other distancing devices—multiple omniscient narrators; intrusively offbeat source music; bursts of histrionics usually reserved for grand opera (one family member instantly collapses upon hearing the news, while Dad drops to his knees and bellows at the heavens as if he were Kirk cursing Khan)—just seem inappropriate, frankly. I'm all for innovation, especially when it comes to subject matter this well-trod and predictable, but the tone here really needs to be laser-precise (even in its wild shifts), and mostly I was wincing. Also, I would give my eyeteeth, once I figure out which those are, for a movie scene in which the parent actually does what the doctor/cop/other authority figure says rather than pull that whole I-care-too-much-to-submit-to-bureaucracy-NOW-ANSWER-ME! routine. All the people who wait for the doctor rather than harass the technician love their children just as much as you do. Being obnoxious is not noble.


    Terry McCarty said...

    Re SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, I sort of liked Mike Henry's willingness to play comic-dumb as Gleason's son a la Clint Walker's Texas Ranger turn in Hy Averback's THE GREAT BANK ROBBERY (1969).

    eugene n said...

    It is clearly pummel-all-my-favorite-movies month at TMWVTM --
    PROMETHEUS, JUMP ST, and DECLARATION OF WAR are all on my running top ten list for 2012.

    Just came in to comment quickly on this:

    Also, I would give my eyeteeth, once I figure out which those are, for a movie scene in which the parent actually does what the doctor/cop/other authority figure says rather than pull that whole I-care-too-much-to-submit-to-bureaucracy-NOW-ANSWER-ME! routine.

    because I independently had the thought that DECLARATION OF WAR was actually precisely that movie: yes, you do get the moment where she bursts in to interrogate the radiologist, but apart from that the dominant theme is that the doctors are competent and the protagonists listen to them. (I adore the two scenes with the coughing pediatrician toward the beginning -- Best Supporting Actress Skandie please.) There is even a scene, which you probably didn't get to, where Romeo lectures Juliette on "not outsmarting the doctors."

    md'a said...

    It is clearly pummel-all-my-favorite-movies month at TMWVTM

    As far as I can tell that's every month. The only films I liked on your 2011 top ten list are Martha Marcy May Marlene and Weekend (the latter mildly). I walked out of two others and turned a third off after I think 20 minutes of an awards-screener sample. Our tastes aren't very similar.

    the dominant theme is that the doctors are competent and the protagonists listen to them.

    The doctors' competence doesn't enter into it. My complaint isn't that most films are Mr. Lazarescu; it's that any film involving a loved one who's desperately ill seeks to establish how much the protag cares by having him/her refuse to abide by society's rules. It's a cliché. Once that scene happens, things can proceed in any direction, but the initial reaction is always FUCK YOUR RULES THAT'S MY GODDAMN SON!!!

    Another dumb moment in Declaration comes when Juliette tells the neurologist "I want the best brain surgeon for my son." Duh, lady.


    Doctor: Your son has a brain tumor.
    Parent: I want a moderately competent brain surgeon for my son.