04 August 2012

Viewing Journal: Week of 23-29 Jul

As you may have intuited by now, the future of this journal is uncertain, at least in its current form. Letterboxd offers an ideal format for the semi-casual capsule in which I specialize, and as I noted earlier, it makes it easier for me to vary the length according to how much of interest I actually have to say (whereas in a weekly format I feel anal-retentively obligated to give each film roughly equal space, though I do cut myself some slack on W/Os and films I've previously reviewed). To be honest, I was preparing a farewell speech, but then a stranger kindly sent me $50, so once again I feel compelled to keep going. I guess for now I'll put up the Letterboxd reviews, maybe expanding the really short ones a little if anything more occurs to me. (If you're happy about that you should drop me a few bucks. As you can see, it works.)

  • /Altered States/ (1980, Ken Russell): 52. Very effective as a portrait of heedless curiosity, considerably less so as the love story it apparently intends to be. An audacious choice to devote the first act to semi-passionate courtship and then jump ahead seven years to the point where they're getting divorced, but the downside is that the relationship never really takes hold, which makes Hurt's about-face in the home stretch feel hollow and even somewhat phony. Also, I confess to having serious suspension-of-disbelief issues with the very premise, especially since the movie gets the science so hilariously wrong. The x-ray of Hurt's skull is a particular howler. Gorillas are not our ancestors, fellas.

  • The Night of the Grizzly (1966, Joseph Pevney): 42. Despite 'Scope photography, this forgotten quasi-Western has the clunky, overemphatic feel of '60s TV (exacerbated by the presence of Nancy Kulp—Miss Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies—providing excruciating comic "relief"). Misleading title, too—very little of the film takes place at night, and the grizzly is arguably its third-string antagonist. (Just as well, because it's about as terrifying as Fozzie.) Don't think I'd ever seen Clint Walker before; he pretty much begins and ends at "strapping."

  • The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996, John Frankenheimer): 25. Total number of flying fucks given by Val Kilmer in this picture: 0.00000000000. It's actually painful to watch poor David Thewlis struggle to give a coherent performance amidst such random lunacy; no doubt he signed on to work with Brando, but instead he got "Brand-o," the bored old man whose commitment to flipping convention the bird had become its own perverse sort of brand. And while you'd think the one certain advantage this would have over Island of Lost Souls would be makeup and special effects, neither the mutants nor the Sex Kitten Formerly Known As Jungle Cat are remotely as unnerving here as they were in the '33 version, perhaps because they're competing for the grotesquerie crown with most of the human cast. (Admittedly the much-touted homunculus does not disappoint.) Undoubtedly has camp value for some, but it just made me sad.

  • Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954, Hiroshi Inagaki): 55.
  • Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955, Hiroshi Inagaki): 46.
  • Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (1956, Hiroshi Inagaki): 38.

    Serious question: Has there ever been a trilogy—bona fide, I mean, not just a film and its two sequels—that isn't widely considered a masterpiece? No matter how mediocre some or even all of the films may be, people just swoon at the sheer triptychyness of the whole affair. (See also: Red Riding, Dreileben, etc.) I came to a somewhat belated understanding with the first installment and its bloated origin story, which starts out sluggish but gets more and more compelling as its ostensible hero is systematically deceived, humiliated and otherwise abused, learning the hard way that with great power comes great responsibility; or that a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack; or maybe just chill the fuck out there Slashy. But shouldn't there be a tad more action in a samurai series? Ichijoji Temple features one badass-if-brief duel at the beginning, one man-vs.-army showdown at the end, and a whole lotta deadly soap-opera in between. (Plus it's not even clear to me why Musashi calls out this swordfightin' academy in the first place. Far as I can tell he's just trying to make a name for himself, the way young gunfighters seek out Old West legends; unlike the first film, though, this one doesn't seem to find such behavior juvenile or shameful, which meant I found myself kinda rooting for the ostensible bad guys.) And Ganryu Island does nothing but stall for nearly two hours, as Musashi postpones his inevitable face-off with the effeminate rival (which, again, has no emotional undercurrent whatsoever because it's strictly glory-seeking) in order to go be a humble farmer for a year, which despite the presence of some bandits is about as exciting as it sounds. Sunrise duel, when it finally arrives, is superbly elemental and suggests that Inagaki might have been something had he been a stronger judge of material. But the series honestly needs Harvey Scissorhands to fashion one solid two-hour film from all the largely redundant and/or monotonous footage. All the same, it's arguably worth enduring for the drop-dead gorgeous Eastmancolor alone. Let's see digital rival that.

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