A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
NYFF and Enter the Void
Not wasting time I did spend today watching some movies.
I finally watched the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In(2008) which has been remade in English as Let Me In(2010) and which opens tomorrow. I really liked the film a great deal, however I found it less a horror film than a sort of romance.Those interested in seeing a really good, but bloody, supernatural film should give it a go.
I also watched the short version of Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void (2009), on IFC's In Theaters on demand service. As you probably are aware I posted a very long rambling review on the full directors cut back last month. I loved the visuals but hated the over the constant traveling from place to place.
This time out, watching the film on a 42 inch LCD TV the film disappointed even more. Shorn of the big visuals and big movie theater sound the film completely collapsed. The dialog was inane, the characters were insufferable, and the revelations even more painfully obvious and unremarkable. Yes, the film seems to move better with roughly a half an hour trimmed (The short version is 138 minutes compared to the directors 165 minute complete version), but it still doesn't manage to make it any more enlightening. If nothing else a second viewing simply shows the film to be even less remarkable and less clever than it was before. The film tells you what its about in the first ten minutes and then staggers to its appointed revelation for two plus more hours. As I said when the film ended the first time, "you took three hours to tell us that?"
Summing it up by using the term of our second look series, on further review Enter the Void is pretentious twaddle. As my friend Lou said as when he called me after his second viewing its best seen with the pictures on and the sound off.
I can't recommend it, especially on TV where you really can't get lost in the trippy visuals. While not one of the worst films of the year, it is one of the least necessary and one of the biggest disappointments. If you must see it do so on the biggest theater screen possible with the best sound system.
Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore (2007)
A Canadian look at Michael Moore and his movies is an interesting view of the man and his image. The film's conclusion is that Moore is more interested in himself than anything else, and he will go to almost any length to protect said image.
I have a love/hate relationship with Moore. I do appreciate that he gets people fired up but it annoys the hell out of me that he often cooks the books. For example: Moore started with a film called Roger And Me about trying to see Roger Smith but neglected to say that he actually met with Smith twice. The bank gun scene in Bowling For Columbine was set up 30 says in advance so he could walk out of the bank with the gun. His recent Sicko simply stated the obvious about the broken American health care system. At the same time I like that SOMEONE is saying what he is saying. I like that he is challenging the status quo; I just wish he wouldn't call it documentary film making.
It was with that love/hate attitude that I sat down to watch Manufacturing Dissent on the Sundance Channel. I would let the film take me where it wanted to and if I didn't like it I could turn it off in favor of something else. I stayed all the way to the end. Seemingly fair minded, the film speaks with a good many people who know or knew Moore and it lets them say their piece about him and his behavior, going all the way back to his high school days. At the same time the filmmakers follow Moore around the country and try to get him to talk to them about a variety of issues (his charitable trust owning Halliburton stock, for example). The people he speaks with all seem to have the same love/hate relationship; they love him, but ultimately what matters to Michael is Michael. One person connected with the awful truth talks about having to stay in a flea bag hotel while Moore stayed in a suite in a ritzy hotel. When the person asked Moore about it he said, "You know Midwesterners, they're all about making money". It's a telling comment.
Also telling is how Moore reacts to being questioned by the filmmakers who film their entire exchanges with Moore. None of the questions are what you could call difficult, except that Moore doesn't like their queries, and you can watch his demeanor change. It seems Moore doesn't like to be questioned or seen negatively. Film critic David Gilmour shows clips from the interview with Moore when his film Canadian Bacon came out. Gilmour was very candid about critical reaction to the film and you can see Moore's persona change as he seems to want to kill Gilmour (who was taking a bit too much delight in tormenting Moore when his discomfort was revealed). Moore reins himself in, but one gets the sense that he was not going to let that happen to him ever again. (And lest you think it's a one-off, we get an interview with the former head of Film Comment who did an interview with him where Moore became surreal when asked about factual problems in Roger And Me.) Strangely most of the people interviewed seem to like Moore, at least when he is the jovial Moore. They just don't seem to understand this other Michael Moore who is the "rock star" who must have his way.
For me it's the fairest of the documentaries or pieces I've seen bashing (or if not bashing, questioning) Moore since it's point of view is not purely right wing. The film focuses on Moore, but it does get some jabs in at people like Bill O'Reilly and other TV pundits of his bend. It seems to feel that Moore is the only one, outside of Ralph Nader, who he may have betrayed on some level giving voice to the left, but that he's not all that he seems. It also argues that we should (rightly) question what Moore tells us as true, since it may not be the gospel truth but rather some approximation altered for effect.
I could be wrong, but it seemed to make sense.
I liked it if for no other reason then its seemingly reasoned approach requires much thought and no knee jerk reaction.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
In The Realms Of The Unreal (2004)
Henry Darger was a man few people knew when he was alive. Indeed even the people who knew him can't agree on how to say his last name. He was a solitary man who spent most of his time living in a world of his own creation, which he put into a 15,000 page novel, several hundred paintings, journals, and autobiographies, all of which were discovered when he was dying. Darger is now hailed as a great artist of the outsider school, and this is his story...as near as anyone can tell.
Using Darger's art and mostly his words from his novel, journal, and autobiography, this film takes you into Darger's mind. It's a strange world shaped by poverty, cruelty and a stay in a mental hospital when he was young. The movie plots the parallel courses (or single course?) of his life and the novel which he began in 1909 and continued working on for almost 70 years. It's a strange tale of little girls battling an evil empire in the name of Christianity. It's a wild dream-like story.
The film itself is dream-like. There are no talking heads pontificating about Darger's work, there is simply Darger's word and occasionally the remembrance of someone who knew him. This is a portrait of the artist as a man, since no one knew the artist as the artist until after he had died. After about twenty minutes of being lost in the paintings and words one begins to feel unrooted and starts to drift off, as if in a dream. It's a strange experience, similar to being trapped in the mind of someone else. It's amazing.
Actually this is an amazing film that is probably as close to being inside the artist as you can get. Even more so when you consider the work he left behind is obviously so incredibly personal, and relates to the trials and tribulations of his own life. Who need drugs to go on a trip?
If there is a flaw it is that the film is a bit too long. It's a brief 79 or 80 minutes and could use some trims, though I don't know where. The seemingly excessive length is a problem solely in that it is too long in someone else's head and it becomes a bit disconcerting.
See this movie. I'm certain it will show up on PBS, and it's on DVD. If you want to see something that will get you out of your head for a while, or if you want to see something that will teach you about someone new, see this film. Turn off the lights, take the phone off the hook and surf in someone else's mind for a while.
The best way to enjoy this film would be to experience it knowing as little as possible. I've tried in this review to say just that, however there is a chance I may have said too much. You may wish to consider seeing the film first before proceeding.
The problem with this movie is that unless you go in and take it for what it is, with no preconceived notions, odds are you are going to be disappointed. For me, seeing this after reading some less than stellar reviews I was ready for a film that was going to disappoint. To my shock and amazement I was surprised to find that the film is a flawed masterpiece, and probably one of the best films of 2006.
The story of a young writer who ends up stuck in her own novel (literally) and has to find her way out is being marketed as a horror film pretty much across the board. The problem is that after the first twenty five minutes of creepy-scary build up, the film shifts gears and becomes something else. Certainly there are still horrific elements, but the film is more a mythic quest along the lines of Alice In Wonderland, or one of the other classic quest tales, or perhaps even Andre Tarkovsky's Stalker.
The bulk of the film set in The Re-Cycle (the film's English title) a place were everything lost or forgotten goes. People, toys, characters, city blocks, memories, everything goes to this place. It's a jumble of places and people, many half-remembered. It's a place that is visually stunning to look at and is often amazing. The film's storyline is also a jumble of pieces that refer back to other films or comics or books (for example Neil Gaiman's Sandman, What Dreams May Come, Spirited Away, Night of the Living Dead). Some have said that the film makes no narrative sense and is more candy for the eye instead of the head, but I would argue against that, since a world as jumbled as this would create a series of quests as equally jumbled. It's as if you dreamt about the five different movies you watched before bed, and then linked them in your mind as you slept. The structure and seemingly referential nature of the set pieces seems to support this idea.
As I stated at the start, the film is not set on being a straight horror film all the way through. There is more than just the notion of scaring the audience at work here. Yes, the film has a couple of good scares, and a few moments where your stomach knots in unease, but it's actually about something else. What that is isn't really clear until towards the end, so the film ends up shifting tones three or four or five times in it's two hour span. I know this shifting gears and recreating itself as something else is probably going to disappoint hardcore horror fans, but ultimately it allows for a growth of characters and storylines into places you might not fully expect.
This is a masterpiece.
In the interest of full disclosure I do have to say that the film isn't perfect. Some of the creatures are a bit too rubbery and fake, which is at odds with much of the fine work on things like the long necked corpses. There are also a few lapses in the visual effects where it's clear that things are not real, which is often glaring considering that many of the films vistas (from deranged amusement park to mountains in the sky) are so real as to be almost matter of fact.
I really loved this movie a great deal. It's a rare film that not only tries, but succeeds in being more than just one thing. It manages to take old things and turn them into something new. It's just a wonderful experience for those who are willing to be open to what it is, and not what you think it should be.
Currently out on DVD
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Dil Se (From The Heart) (1998)
A reporter for All India Radio is heading to his next assignment when he meets a young woman at a lonely train station. Before he can bring her tea she steps on a train and disappears into the night. Haunted by the girl, he never suspects he will run into her again; only when he does, she doesn't seem to remember their meeting. More chance meetings lead to romance...or does it...
Serious Bollywood romance/drama about what happens when affairs of the heart run into affairs of state (the girl is part of a revolutionary group). It's a very serious film with a very deep romance that for the most part impressed me. It's a well acted "little " film with some beautiful settings, great dialog (I'm still thinking about the reporter trying to pick up the girl at the beginning: "Can I get you anything? The stars?"), and a hard edge. Part of the reason for the intensity is the film is very intense in its emotions, which is both good and bad since our hero at times seems to be almost a stalker. At the same time, that makes the feelings that much more sharp.
I'm a little thrown off by the musical numbers in this serious film. Here it kind of works (more so than in the horror films I've seen), but at the same time as the film gets darker and darker the music felt out of place to me. Of course it's my Western sensibilities, but this film is rather dark. One piece I read on it said the film failed at the box office and I can kind of see it because it has left me somewhat shaken. It's not really like your typical Bollywood film, or even Slumdog Millionaire. That is probably saying too much, but at the same time it's the truth.
The film really rattled me. I don't know if it was in a good way or a bad way. I'm not sure if I like the film; I certainly admire it, but at the same time I don't know if I like it. I know one of my reservations with it is the fact that the film runs over two and a half hours. Yes, it allows for a deepening of the characters and the situations, but more than once I just wished that the film would have gotten on with it. Then again I'm not sure I would have been as moved by the film if it had. I'm all over the place about the film. It's very good, but do I like it? I have no idea.
I'm all for giving the film a try. I can't say anything else, mostly because I don't know what else to say.
I think that the best way to describe this film is as a romance for the modern world, bleak though it is.
I don't know if this has had an official US release. I picked it up as an import from an Amazon e-seller which is certainly the way to go if you want to see a film that will almost assuredly stay with you.
Monday, September 27, 2010
After This Our Exile (2006)
I watched the complete restored director's cut which runs two hours and forty minutes, some forty minutes longer than the theatrical cut. I had picked the film up because the description on the DVD case promised one thing; how it delivered that story was not what I expected. (I also picked it up because I love the English title)
As the film opens a boy is being sent off to school by his mother. She is being especially nice to him and he suspects something is wrong. Sneaking off the bus, he returns home to find his mother packing up her things preparing to leave him and his father. He runs off to tell his dad, who returns home in time to stop her from leaving. Dad manages to talk her into staying, but it isn't for long. His mother eventually departs, leaving the boy and his father alone to take on the world, and the money men he owes because of his out of control gambling.
This heartbreaking tale of two souls adrift in life's storms makes for compelling viewing. The performances by everyone involved, especially Aaron Kwok as the father, are very real and emotional. It's painful at times looking into the lives of these people. They are not good or bad, they are just people...which is readily apparent when Kwok, his wife having just left him, breaks down on the couch, grasping desperately at his son, pleading with him not to leave him too. It's a heavy moment. The movie is full of heavy moments, many of them that rung true with me, having lived through similar ones with parents and friends.
The film is technically a marvel with a look that is stunning, as is the use of the widescreen. Even better is the use of music, both in its original score and its use of songs from elsewhere. Director Patrick Tam is also listed as music designer, a title I've never heard of before, but which is aptly put in the present case. If the film has a flaw it's that in this cut it's a bit too long. As I said earlier this is forty minutes longer than the theatrical version, which must move at a better clip. However I would be remiss in not saying I really couldn't tell you what I would cut to speed the film up, or if I did have an idea I certainly wouldn't know where to cut forty minutes.
On a more personal note I was slightly disappointed in the very end of the movie. There is something about it that left me unsatisfied, I suspect because it doesn't provide an end...rather a "stop". It's a minor thing that I can't explain, but it's what prevented me from completely falling head over heels with the film, something I felt sure I was going to do. Don't get me wrong, this is a really good movie, it's just the last second of the film just made me go "wha...?". Frankly I'm going to have to watch the final portion of it again to see if it makes a difference on a second viewing.
Minor reservation aside, you need to track this film down because it's a heartbreaking masterpiece.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
David Fincher Directors Dialog- NYFF Day 3
Let me cut to the chase. It was a good talk but way too leisurely. The problem was Todd McCarthy who interviewed him started him out as if they had several hours when they were restricted to a strict one hour talk. It was interesting, but hardly informative and certainly the least of any of the previous Dialogs I had seen.
McCarthy started with Fincher's childhood and by the time 45 minutes had passed they had talked about growing up, his days in making commercials, working at ILM and watching movies. They spoke fleetingly about Social Network, but that was about it. They barely mentioned any of his other films at all, and nothing in depth. They had about 15 minutes for questions from the audience, which since Fincher can talk at length about himself turned out to be very few in number. The one bit I got was that Fincher's Dragon Tattoo is going be be darker and dig deeper than the previous film. He added jokingly that it may have been a mistake to remake the film but he was going to try anyway.
Fincher came off as a nice guy and one who can talk endlessly about his life and career. He is also very much a tech geek with some of his answers assuming you know about the technical aspect of things. His one real flaw as a raconteur, and one Todd McCarthy should have corrected, was that he never mentioned what project he was talking about. He spent more time naming the films of his friends and colleagues than he did about his own. What project were you working on when you came up with the idea for under cranked Steadicam work that got your friend in trouble because it was similar to stuff from Return of the Jedi? What was the animated film that you were working on making transparencies for six months? Fincher never said.
Don't get me wrong I would love to sit Fincher down and talk to him for an afternoon of a couple of days, but because of his rambling nature an hour is not long enough. Actually this would have been better had there been in interviewer who could have really steered the conversation and stop Fincher from talking at length about things other than his movies.
Ultimately I enjoyed it but I didn't need to hobble in to the city for it with nothing else to do.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) On Further Review
Yes, Empire has always been critically lauded as the best of the original Star Wars trilogy. But just because it's the best of those three films doesn't necessarily mean it's a good film in it's own right, or at least as good of a film as everyone seems to want to remember it as. It has the most serious, somber tone of the original three, but that alone does not automatically make it a great movie. Since this is the middle part of a three act play, almost by definition it has to be of a more serious nature, as this is when the most character develpoment should be taking place. The focus of the middle act should be on the drama, with the action stepping to the side to let the characters grow, change, and evolve. And, while this does happen, just because it's the best of this small group of movies...
The acting by the people portraying the main characters has thankfully improved from the first film. However, there are still many supporting characters, minions of both the Alliance and the Empire, who turn in some of the worst performances, however small, in cinematic history. Take for instance, Han Solo telling some nameless General that he has to leave the Alliance due to Jabba The Hutt having a bounty on his head. The bland, lifeless exchange between the two is indicitive of the emotional void most characters in this universe seem to have. (And if you are a representative of Wookieepedia, please don't write in to tell me the name of the General, let alone the oodles of pointless backstory that has been invented for him by fans with WAY too much time on their hands...you think we're bad for doing THIS site...)
Still, that pales in comparison to my favorite moment in all of Star Wars-dom. As the Rebels begin to evacuate the ice planet Hoth, an anonymous lower official of the Empire reports that information to an anonymous higher official of the Empire, who responds with the most horrendous delivery of the most horrendous line. Whatever era this is supposed to be set in, "Good, our first catch of the day..." is not the type of jargon that is consistent with anything else in this fictitious universe. And the only thing more rigid and wooden than the reading of that line are the trees in the Redwood Forests that feature in the next overblown film in this trilogy (which we'll get to tomorrow). Whenever I watch this film, which is probably once every couple of years, I find myself laughing out loud at that snippet of a scene, even skipping back to play it two or three times more so I can continue laughing at it, before moving on.
Another weakness of the film is a similarity to the problem of the first one, which is the thinness of the plot. Even though the movie runs for two hours, when you boil it down, there isn't a hell of a lot going on. As enjoyable as it is to watch the action sequences (particularly the battle on Hoth at the beginning; the work with miniatures is worthy of Ray Harryhausen), they really aren't doing anything to further the plot, and in fact, run as long as they do to DISQUISE the fact that there really ISN'T much of a plot. The entire original trilogy could probably be told in one film running about two to two and a half hours. The audience had by this time become so enamored with the special effects (which did revolutionize the film industry) that they didn't quite notice there wasn't that much of a story...or maybe it was just a Jedi mind trick...
Speaking of which, what sort of Jedi powers was Yoda using to keep from vomiting uncontrollably while strapped to Luke Skywalker's back as he flipped and somersaulted thru the forests of Dagobah while training in the ways of the Force? One of the greatest assets of the film, Yoda's strength as a character only serves to show the weakness of the others. Due to his being a teacher, a purveyor of knowledge, his impact as a character is the largest in the film. It's unfortunate that the best performance in the film is coming from a MUPPET, leaving the humans behind in the muck of Dagobah in terms of acting. Not to criticize Frank Oz, or indeed any of the Muppet crew; I hold them in the highest regard in terms of performance ability (The Muppet Movie is a favorite film of mine), but the humans should not be getting outshined by a puppet here, even if he is endowing Skywalker with the philosophy of Anger Management 101.
There are some other problems as well, like the character of Lando Calrissian, who seems to exist solely for the purpose of infusing the Star Wars universe with someone other than white anglo-saxons. His "charming" of Leia Organa is rather laughable, and any woman that would fall for some of those lines, such as, "...you truly belong here with us among the clouds...", hardly seems worth going after in the first place. And for someone who's supposed to be "an expert in human-cyborg relations", C-3PO doesn't have the slightest clue as to how humans relate...which might work as a joke once, but after that only serves to make him an incredibly annoying and unnecessary character, who needs to be carried (in this film, literally) by the others.
As I mentioned earlier, I do watch this film occasionally. Why tear it apart? Because as much as I enjoy it, and I do, I'm also capable of looking at it objectively. Most people of my generation have a great love of these films, but that love quite often overshadows the fact that these just aren't quite as good as the rememberance of them is. It is fun, it is enjoyable, but it is not the greatest thing since sliced bread...even if you slice it with a lightsaber.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Twitter, NYFF, thanks and other stuff
Today we've got lots of updates and random links.
First up Unseen Films is now on Twitter. Ken has made an account and we'll (he'll) be posting links to what we're posting here and anything else that can fit into 140 characters. Perhaps that will include instant reports from say, the New York Film Festival.
Speaking of the New York Film Festival, it officially starts later today.
For me the actual events will (hopefully)start tomorrow with the Directors Dialog with David Fincher.
As you know my back has reduced my ability to go to screenings but in fairness I really haven’t missed much. Yes I did miss Robinson in Ruins and Uncle Bonmee on Tuesday, but other than that I’ve only missed one other press screening that I had intended to see, Lennon NYC Wednesday morning. It’s on PBS in a couple of weeks and because of my back I decided discretion is the better part of valor and I passed. I will be missing the screenings today of Social Network and Film Socialism. There was to be a third screening of Avant Garde titles but that’s been canceled. Since my doctor wants me to rest a and since seeing Social Network may require traveling around the city I’m passing, more so when the bits on Godard’s Film Socialism I’ve read have been less than stellar.
Not to worry I have plenty more to see. If I manage to attend all of the films and events it will be an additional 13 films and events. (Current score I’ve seen two, missed five and had one canceled. As for my back that's pinched nerve).
We're beginning a project of going back to fix the old posts.I’ve been rereading some of the early posts and I’ve found that there are some problems with a number of them, and now we're going to be going back and fixing the mistakes.
If you’ve been reading for any amount of time I think you’ll have noticed that my level of typos, and other errors has gone down. I think part of this is because writing regularly for a real audience I’ve gotten better. Mostly it’s due to the diligent work of Ken who has taken it upon himself to be the Editor and Chief of the blog. He’s double checking everything I do. He’s also a sounding board and general partner in crime (A couple of things planned are the result of his kibitzing). I would be remiss if I didn’t thank him publicly for all of the seemingly thankless work he’s been doing. Its not thankless and it is much appreciated. (And since Ken has become Editor and Chief you’re probably wondering my title- Overlord. I’ll leave my other cohorts to tell you their titles)
Its been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted some links so I’m going to do so again. I freely admit some were stolen from IMDB.
Back in Mayl I reviewed The Last Train Home about the annual migration of workers in Chinat from the city to the country and back again for the New Year holidays. The Leonard Lopate Show had a good interview with the director a couple of weeks back to mark its wide release into theaters.
A piece on the inspiration for Dog Day Afternoon
When actors turn on their movies.
Did you ever wonder what it would cost to repair movie damage if it was real?
Is The Man Who Killed Don Quixote the worlds unluckiest film?
If you're in NYC and don't want to go to the NYFF, The Friars Club Comedy Film Festival is also this Weekend.
Tying into this weekends double feature, the question to has any Science Fiction film changed the world? has been answered.
Martin Scorsese picks the best gangster films
Did you have a Krull wedding?
Roger Ebert on 3 Chuck Jones films
Voices Of A Distant Star (2003)
( I've wanted to review this from the start of Unseen, but I couldn't find new words to do it justice...so this is the piece I wrote for IMDB about it, with a few slight modifications. I think you'll understand what I want to say about the film if you read this.)
Voices Of A Distant Star- it's not anime, it's something else...it's one of the best films I've ever seen.
The plot is basically the story of two friends, (one on earth, the other in space), sending cellphone text messages to each other across widening distances during a war.
I've told you everything and nothing.
It's a flawed masterpiece of short science fiction literature. I have never run across a piece of sci-fi that does what this does. It's a melding of image, word, and music into a 25 minute tone poem or short story of what our future holds.
This is far from perfect technically, but considering this was done basically by one guy on his home PC, the odd visuals are understandable.
This isn't anime.
This isn't anything that I've ever seen before.
It is, but it's not. You've seen this before but something about it is different.
It's a self-contained tale that makes you want to know more, but at the same time more isn't needed. It's a short story.
Yes it's flawed, but there are bits that...I can't describe this delicate piece of art. Forgive me, I could tell you everything about it and you wouldn't discover it for yourself...well you would, but it wouldn't have the same experience as just seeing it.
It's not perfect, but its flawed beauty is simply one of the best things I've seen or experienced in the realms of film and science fiction. My initial reaction was OH MY GOD.
This is a feeling; how do you quantify a feeling? And it's a feeling of quiet lyrical beauty. This is an ephemeral object, a melting snowflake, a day of perfect sunshine...or of cold rain. It is something that exists in the moment and is about distance and absence and the passage of time and...
This is something that just is.
It's a flawed work of art.
(Warning, there is a novel that extends the story...I've read the ending and it should be avoided since it changes things)
Currently out on DVD
(FYI: The director did 5 Centimeters A Second which I reviewed back in March)
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Play Time (1967)
Play Time is an odd film in that the joys of the film aren’t apparent on the first viewing. It is a film that requires multiple viewings in order to get maximum laughs out of it. This need for multiple viewings is I’m certain what killed the film when it was first released.
Play Time was Tati’s long-in-gestation follow up to Mon Oncle, which won an Oscar for best foreign film. During the almost ten years between films Tati worked on several scripts and did a stage show. Eventually he settled on a story about modern life and proceeded to spend a fortune building a mock-up of parts of Paris in an empty lot. The reason he did this was so that he could rotate the sets to follow the sun. He could also move the buildings around to suit his needs. The set, which by all accounts was amazing to see, was called Tati-ville. Tati was clearly working on something extraordinary and in interviews he talked about trying to create a new form of entertainment.
In fairness to the story behind the film, which fills up large portions of the two biographies that I’ve read of Tati, I’m going to say that you need to find a full account of what happened and read that*. It’s a story that needs to be made into a movie.
After years of shooting and post production, and with his fortune and that of his investors sunk into the film, Tati premiered his two and a half hour long film to thunderous silence. No one knew what to make of it. Tati in desperation began to cut the film in the theater AS THE FILM RAN in a desperate hope to make the film palatable to audiences. Nothing worked and the film sank him financially. Only two feature films followed; one, Trafic, was dismissed by many people (I love it), and the other, Parade, is an odd film version of a variety show.
The plot of the film doesn’t really exist. It's roughly 24 hours in Paris as marked by the arrival and departure of tourists. Along the way various characters, including Tati’s Mr. Hulot, come and go as we see the madness of everyday life. We watch people do what they do in the city, streets, offices, and restaurants. It's more or less a series of set pieces that kind of connect to each other.
The scenes actually connect in ways that we don’t expect and which isn’t always apparent, which is why the film needs to be seen multiple times, and preferably on a big screen. You see the trouble, or joy (depending on your point of view), is that the film isn’t about what's going on in front of you, it's about what's going on in the background. It’s the stuff going on behind what we think is the focus of the film that’s the REAL focus point. Characters come and go, often on the edges of the screen, and what THEY are doing makes up the really funny bits. Characters that have been in the fringes suddenly become the focus (or vice versa), with payoffs in jokes that won't mean much if you didn't see the earlier bit. You have to watch the film several times simply because you can’t catch it all the first or second time thru.
When I saw it the first time I didn’t like it (the score I gave the film at IMDB is a 6). However I was warned that I would have to watch it multiple times...and you know what, the more I see it, the funnier I find it. Each time through I see new things and make new connections. Jokes that should have been plain the first time (that I missed), are caught the third or fourth time thru.
It’s a film you have to work with and develop a relationship with, but if you can do that, it's hysterically funny.
Unfortunately the film has one key problem (beyond not playing to expectations), and that is it's very cold and calculating. Yes, it's funny, but it's so much a reflection of modern life that it's almost TOO impersonal. That is Tati’s point, that life is impersonal. He also doesn't have one person the star because he wants to make it clear that we are ALL these people. To hit the point home his Hulot character has several doppelgangers running about. While it's not as cold and impersonal as Mon Oncle, a film I don't like because it's not as warm as Trafic, Play Time is the most human and humane of all of the Hulot films, with the result its still an off-putting film, even after you’ve warmed to its humor.
Ever film lover needs to try this film at least once, if possible twice...and really if possible on a big scree). It's so different than what we think of as screen comedy that there is something special about it. And it's damn funny.
The film is currently out on DVD from Criterion but it's going out of print because the contract with Canal has expired. The film will be released by Lions Gate, but the double disc Criterion DVD is the one you want (more so than the BFI edition because it has additional material not on the BFI edition)
(*- The link is to the Wikipedia article on the film which talks briefly about the making of the film.)
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Berlin Alexanderplatz (1931)
The original film version of Berlin Alexanderplatz is included in the Criterion Collection edition of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s TV adaptation of the same novel. Running a scant 83 minutes (when compared to Fassbinder’s 15 hour adaption) this version is notable in that it was written by the author of the book, Alfred Döblin….
This is the story of Franz Biberkopf who is just out from jail after a four year stint for killing his girlfriend in a rage. Vowing to get his life together and go straight we watch as Franz almost instantly falls in with some bad guys and makes the acquaintance of Cilly, who will become his girlfriend. At first Cilly is supposed to get Franz to come around and become one of the gang; she grows protective of him, and remains so even after they part ways. Events turn dark and Beiberkopf tries to make the best of it.
I’m hard pressed to say how this short version, running some one tenth of the TV mini series, compares to either the longer version or to the novel itself. Its been decades since I saw any part of the Fassbinder version, and I’ve not read the novel, however I would assume that since Doblin was involved there is at least some kernel of the spirit of the book inside it.
I like the film. It’s a good little melodrama that seems less heavy than the longer adaption (or at least what I remember of it.) It's not all sturm and drang. You like Biberkopf and Cilly and all of the other characters and you care what happens to them. If there is anything wrong with the film it’s a bit too breezy, moving a bit too fast through events so that they don’t quite have the required weight that would have made this a great film.
What I love about the film, and the reason that I’m recommending it, is that it was largely filmed on the streets and in the country around Berlin. The film is full of street life and night life and people in the country. This has one of the best senses-of-place I’ve seen in film. I’ve seen dozens of documentaries and films set in the same period, and I never got a sense of what it was like to actually be living in Germany during that time. Despite being fiction, this is a film that is very much alive and well. It’s a living and breathing document of the Germany of 1930 (hell they even mention storm troopers in passing).
Definitely worth a look if you can find a copy.
Living Skeleton (1968)
The problem seeing the film is that apparently its never been released here in the United States. I'm not sure why, though I'm guessing that the film's black and white cinematography was deemed a drawback for US release when most films were being released in color (this would have been released in the US in 1969 at the earliest). I finally found a copy of the film at the Wizard World Convention in New York. It was sans subtitles but I could pretty much work out what was going on, and get creeped out by it.
The plot has to do with a bunch of pirates who kill everyone on board a ship and steal a treasure. Sometime later a woman (a relative of one of the victims), and her boyfriend end up setting in motion a series of events that begin to bring justice to the pirates, who are now on dry land, and herald the return of the ghostly ship.
This is a strange film that was eerily shot in black and white. The film balances light and shadow to fantastic effect. Much of the film seems to be an odd marriage of Japanese sensibilities and Western style images, with skeletons, bats, vampires, and a Christian church. The plot doesn't completely make sense as we are often in a world of dream logic. Images of the massacre haunt the people there as well as those caught in the supernatural web. Things are often not what they seem. The effect is not so much a straightforward film but a cinematic tone poem that gets under your skin.
I'm explaining this badly but if you pop this in and turn off the lights I think you'll find that the film will give you a few shivers. Now to find a copy with English subtitles...
(ADDENDUM: This film will finally be released in a Criterion Eclipse box set of Japanese horror in November 2012)
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Certified Copy (2010) NYFF Day 2
Seven Brothers Meet Dracula (1974)
Excellent, if occasionally awkward, mixing of the Hammer Horror films with the Shaw Brothers martial arts films. The plot has Dracula going to China and taking over the body of a Chinese warlord. He then sets up a zombie army to do his bidding. Professor Van Helsing is brought in to help fight his old enemy. He joins forces with a family of martial artists and that's when the fun begins.
I know it sounds silly, and quite frankly it is. At the same time it's also a real fine adventure film (it's not really scary). The performances are good and the action almost nonstop. It's a mixing of two genres that shouldn't work together but somehow do.
The film was originally cut up, retitled and rearranged for American release. If you've only see the shortened 75 minute version you really haven't seen the film, since that removed some dialog sequences and repeated some action and horror bits to bring the whole affair up to a reasonable running time. The shorter American version is okay, but it's nowhere near as good as the full original version (though I know at least one person who prefers it). The film is out on DVD in a version that has both the short American version and the longer, more graphic, original version.
One of the better Hammer Horror films. This is must see for anyone who likes horror and martial arts films.
The best laid plans...
Well that's not happening.
At least for the immediate I'm stuck immobile due to a back injury. I'm hoping that once the meds kick in I'll get to the second and third films, but for right now Robinson in Ruins is a no go.
On the up side the new lap top appears to work fine with the blog.
Monday, September 20, 2010
L'atalante (1934)- On Further Review
L'atalante, the final film by director Jean Vigo before his untimely death, is hailed as a masterpiece of cinema.
Vigo left behind only three short films and this feature before dying. Typically all of his films are screened together, because the running time is around three hours and they make a nice evening's entertainment. The UK DVD that I have of the film has a second disc with the shorts on it.
L'atalante tells the story of a barge Captain who marries a young girl and then plies his trade up and down the river. Focusing on the couple and the crew it's the rocky story of a true romance.
The film met with mixed results upon its release and was cut up. Over the years there were attempts to put the film back together, and the film was restored to 89 minutes in 1990, and was then revised again in 2001.
I like the film. I just don't know why this is a frequent visitor on lists of the best films of all time. I've pondered the film ever since I saw it for the first time and I haven't yet figured out why it's great.
Certainly I have my beef with any number of the "classics" of cinema, but more times than not I can walk away from the film and at least understand why someone would argue that say Citizen Kane is a great film, even if I don't feel that way. Here I'm completely at a loss as to explain why it's a great film. I suppose it's all due to how someone connects or doesn't connect with the romance. I never really connected since I never saw what either person saw in the other. Yes, I'm coming from a different time and place, and how I look at romance and even relationships that become marriage is different, but beyond that I saw nothing. For me there was too much to take on faith. The thought that this film is highly rated only because Vigo died upon completion nags at me.
This isn't to say that L'atalante is a bad film; it's not, actually it's a good one...it's just not a great one. If there is anything that is great about the film it's the photography. Shot on location on the barge and the environs around it this film beautifully shows a time and a place. I love how the film looks and how it makes you feel how that you are there. Honestly I can see how people are influenced to want to chuck it all and go live on a barge.
Is this worth seeing? Yes. I don't think it's a bad film, and if you strip away the useless and uncalled for baggage of this being one of the greatest films of all time it's an enjoyable one. See it for itself and you'll have a good time; bringing anything else to the table will only serve to disappoint you.
Currently out of print on DVD in the US (thanks to the collapse of New Yorker Films) it can be had used or as an import.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Two brothers and two girls are traveling cross-country trying to avoid those who are infected with a horrible disease which has killed most of the population. They are doing okay until they run across a father and his infected daughter, who are looking to get to a government clinic with a serum that promises a cure. The two groups are forced through circumstances to hook up, and the journey changes their outlooks on the situation. It also marks the beginning of events moving out of everyone's control (or at least the realization that things are not in their control).
Small scale film is a nice compliment to films like 28 Days Later or even the recent zombie cycle, though there are no crazed cannibals or walking dead here. It's a dark horror tale more about the horrors of life then of monsters and madmen. How would we react to a situation like this? This might be an indication of what we might do.
I like that the film doesn't fully tell us everything that happened before. Things are not overly explained. We're given enough to work things out for ourselves, and it's more frightening that way. It's not a perfect film, but it is compelling and tense. It's a good enough film to make me wonder why it didn't get a big release. Perhaps the lack of monsters, and its reasonably realistic (and bleak) nature have made it a film the studio doesn't know how to market.
I really like this film, it's a nice find. Recommended. Currently out on DVD
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Before The Fall (2008)
(Spoilers are ahead. I talk about the ending so don't say I didn't warn you)
I saw this on IFC's In Theaters service, though I know the DVD is out here in the US.
With only four days left before a meteor is to crash into the earth, the governments of the world inform the populations of the world. As panic and prayer ensue one man tries to make peace with himself, the world, and his family. Unfortunately a serial killer has gotten out of prison and made his way to the family's house in the country. Forced through circumstance our hero must now protect his brother's children before the meteor kills everyone on the face of the earth.
Talk about damned if you do damned if you don't. This is not a particularly happy movie. They basically tell you at the start that there is no hope, so the question is do you lay down and go now, or fight until the last possible minute? Thematically this is the life of anyone who ever has been told they are going to die and decided to fight to the bitter end. I'm not sure we need a film this bleak to lay it out for us.
Actually I'm not sure what to think of this film. It's two excellent films; first, an end of the world tale beautifully made and nicely well modulated, more so since the whole notion of the adults knowing what's coming and the kids not adds a nice shading to the tale. At the same time the serial killer story is well done and scary, with some nicely nasty turns. The problem is that in the process of shoehorning them together both stories are kind of undone. The meditative nature of the end of the world tale (which I should say kind of reminds me of Andre Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice) gets lost when faced with the serial killer. The serial killer plot, while very tense, is short circuited by knowing beating him doesn't matter. I have no doubt that should something like a meteor threaten the earth something like this could happen, but at the same time watching it kind of seems pointless. If the film could have somehow made the two parts work together better this might have been a great film. As it stands it's a good film that's too bleak to contemplate, and too fractured to feel satisfying.
Worth a try, but you'll know where it's going from the outset so don't say I didn't warn you.
I'd give it 6 out of 10 because of its fractious nature. The pieces are actually much higher than that.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Carlos (2010) NYFF Day One
Today was the first press screening I attended for the NYFF. There is a level of insanity at work with my obsession with films and with the New York Film Festival press screenings. Its scary the way I've been trying to figure out a way to see the most amount of movies with the least amount of effort. Given the chance I would have seen everything, and probably hated myself for doing it (the festival does program some not so hot films each year). In my favor, the way the real life schedule worked out I could only get to screenings starting today, however there is some sort of madness in diving in with a five and a half hour miniseries on a terrorist, even if it was on my short list of must see films (I can't go to the festival screening because of conflicts).
On the other hand one has to wonder about the wise nature of getting on a train just after the crack of dawn to see a movie or as will be happening over the next couple of weeks, lots of movies over several mornings.
Should anyone want to ponder the notion of whether film criticism is work or play should consider that in order to go to the screenings I’m going to have to be out of the house two hours before I would leave for the day job. I’m going to be getting home, on days I’m not going to the regular festival screenings an hour or two after I would normally. I then have to write up what I’ve seen for your edification.
As it stands now I’m attending about half of the films and events (less the Masterworks and Views from the Avant-Garde programs) that are screening at the festival, and I am trying to see more with Silent Souls high on the additions list. What the final total will be will have to wait until the smoke has cleared and the films are sent back.(The best thing to do is watch this blog to see what's coming next since my plans and the various schedules are in flux)
Forgive me for that long aside, that wasn’t my intention. My intention was to talk about the TV miniseries Carlos by Olivier Assayas which is about the international terrorist Carlos the Jackal.
I am kind of mixed on Assayas as a director. In all honesty none of his films before Clean made any real impression on me (Though I do love the art work for Irma Vep).
Clean was the first film that registered because it was touted as one of the great unseen films of it’s day boasting a performance by Maggie Cheung, Assayas’s ex-wife, that the ever elusive eveyone seemed to be saying was sure to win an Oscar. Yes Cheung’s performance was amazing, but the film itself was kind of obvious and unremarkable. In its favor, perhaps if the film hadn’t been as big a struggle to find (I picked it up as an import DVD a long time before it hit the States) and it wasn’t hyped as the next big thing, I might have liked it better.
Next in the cue was Boarding Gate, a weird little film about revenge and double crosses that starred Asia Argento. Part drama, part action film the film, part other things, it was mostly a mess as it bounced from pillar to post in a story about a woman (Argento) screwed over by a former lover (Michael Madsen). Its an interesting misfire on a WTF was that level.
Assayas’s last film before Carlos was Summer Hours, a family drama about what happens in the wake of the death of the matriarch of a family. Neither maudlin nor histrionic the film simply shows life as it more or less happens. When I first saw the film I was very mixed about the film with a deep passion for some of the scenes (I think the early parts of the film are as close to being as perfect a film as you ever likely to see ) and feeling it was being manipulated to head into a certain direction (after about 20 minutes the film feels like real life artificially connected.) It was only after seeing the film several more times that I really began to like what the film was about and I understood what it was aiming for. And while I still think it hits more in the pieces than in the whole, it has become a film I do want to add to my collection for later viewings.
All of this was prologue to Carlos, the film which got me out of bed way too early this morning, and which was the first film of this years NYFF that I saw.
Actually I'm not sure what I'm suppose to say. I made a number of notes during the intermission of Carlos but somewhere, very early on actually, into the third part of the film I was kind of left with the problem of there not being really much to I wanted to say about this over long movie.
The film covers the life of Illich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, from his beginnings with the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) through to his capture in 1994 by the French in Sudan. The first part of the film takes the film from his joining of the PLFP to the planning of the infamous OPEC attack. The second part begins with the OPEC attack and goes until he gains asylum in Syria. Part three takes us through Carlos' life as a terrorist for hire to his forced retirement and eventual capture by the French.
The first two parts of the film are pretty straight forward in their telling of Carlos's life (though there is much that is left out) for approximately ten years or so. The film in these early parts isn't bad, the trouble is that the it isn't really all that compelling, it is interesting, it's just not "must see TV" (This is after all a three part TV miniseries that is being released to theaters in a limited run). Its Carlos spouting lots of rhetoric, planning attacks, being on the run, bedding women and gaining notoriety. I enjoyed myself, but had I not had the chance to see the three parts back to back I may not have gone back to finish the story. Actually had I been at home instead of Lincoln Center I probably would have wandered off since interest kind of wanes since the film is kind of dramatically flat, the high point of the film being the OPEC attack (who knew the life of a terrorist could be so unremarkable). The rest of the film is just sort of... at one not very exciting level.
A big problem is that there really isn't much to Carlos. Look at the character, he never really arcs, he's a terrorist who changes only in that money takes over more for ideals, but the ideals are still there. He's a vain good looking guy,at least in the film, who admires himself on every level more than he probably should. He's the sort of guy who puts off getting a serious medical condition taken care of so he can have liposuction. The character is ultimately kind of one note, even if Edgar Ramirez makes him more interesting than the script does.
I do have to say that looking over my notes from the screening my feelings toward the film for the first two thirds is actually quite favorable with my answer to the question of "would I recommend the film?" being "Yes but not at the prices charged in a movie theater." Frankly I was going to call a friend and see when this was scheduled to play IFC in Theaters on cable so I could see it again.
However my feelings for the film really changed after the intermission.
Simply put the third act is a big mess. It's such a mess that it glaringly highlights all of the problems with the first two parts. Jumping through time and around the world the third part is like being adrift in a very long film after coming in somewhere in the middle. Who are these people? I didn't know. They kind of reminded me of people I knew but things weren't quite right. Characters come and go. We get bits of sequences. There is an attempt to explain Carlos' early life, something that didn't seem necessary up to that point, but it's dropped after three or four sentences which really don't explain anything. Now that his past is brought up you suddenly realize how painfully incomplete it is and it suddenly makes a bell go off in your head as you suddenly realize how much is missing from the story.
What happened? I don't know, but the problems sink the film.
I kept watching the film wondering where bits of his life had gone. Years go by with no sense of how long. There are more than a handful of scenes that seem to be the second part to something we never saw. There is an argument between Carlos and his his wife Magdalena Kopp, that seems to be referring to something we missed, yes we know about his womanizing, hell the film goes way over board in the sex scenes, but it seems to be coming from something specific. Over and over there are scenes that jump us to the second part of a plot point or moment in the story that we don't have an understanding about. Carlos is suddenly paranoid in Hungary for no reason, where did that come from? Up to that point he's been cool as a cucumber and almost unflappable, the paranoia is out of character. Like many of this odd half scenes we don't know what is behind them, or its explained after the fact by a line that tells us instead of showing us. It's a huge mistake that rears its head again and again.
After a nicely constructed first two thirds that takes us from place to place and point to point we are suddenly jumping through time. Why? I don't know. Actually I suspect its the result of having to compress about 15 years into half the screen time that covered the previous ten years. It doesn't work and it hobbles the film.
It was here in the third part is the point where I realized that we never saw a good many events. Through out the film there is a switch to news footage during some sequences which move us from one place to another. Many events through out the entire film are covered in this way, but it's only when the film really starts to jump through time and leave out details on the personal story that you notice how little we know.
Worse everything begins to drag. For me the final two hours felt twice as long as the preceding three and a half hours.
Was this supposed to be even longer but it had to be scaled back? Or is this simply a case that the filmmakers were too close to their material and didn't realize that things weren't explained enough.
There is an odd scene in the third part that I think should have been used to structure the film and would have allowed the film to have gaps in narrative. It's the brief scene with the journalist. As terribly cliched as it would have been, why couldn't the film been framed as Carlos telling his story or as a journalist investigating the man? I know I could have accepted the gaps even in a film as long as this. (But I still have to ask why are therein a movie this long?)
As much as I hate to say this the third part, and it's lack of exciting scenes opens us up to noticing that there are some really poor performances in this films. Nora Von Waldstatten is not particularly good as Carlos's wife Magadlena Kopp, Alexander Sheer is borderline awful as Johannes, the girl playing Nada is down right silly and several of the minor performances are just plain bad. Sure they were okay in the first two parts but as they take more and more time closer to the spotlight I really felt they weren't that good to begin with.
By the time the final part had ended I had changed my feelings toward the film, from one I could recommend with a few minor reservations, to one I really couldn't. No that's not true, I still can recommend the film if you skip the final part or don't have high expectations.
In a weird way I'm left wondering if this is how one of the guys at the screening felt. He had seen the film previously and he said that he was only going to stay with the film up to a certain point and then leave. When asked why, he said that he had something to do, but I seemed to get a sense that he just didn't want to see the last part again. I know I don't know I could be wrong.
Ultimately it's not a bad movie, but in all honesty I'd wait for the IFC and Sundance Channel screenings (Its US release is a co-branded release). This is not a film I can recommend you spend six hours watching in a theater. See it at home where you can come and go at your leisure and not have to feel you've paid too much.
What I want to do is find the person who wrote up the film for the program and ask them why they wrote it up as they did. I mean they say " An astonishment in every respect, Carlos is a dynamic, intelligent, and revelatory account of the career of the notorious revolutionary terrorist popularly known as Carlos the Jackal. A sensation at Cannes, it also packs every one of its 319 minutes with real movie-movie excitement, action, sex, and suspense, creating a nerve-jangling, you-are-there verisimilitude, most of all in its breathless re-creation of Carlos’s audacious 1975 kidnapping of OPEC oil ministers in Vienna." That may have been what they were going for and probably how they felt but that's not the film I saw nor is it how I felt. It's only occasionally exciting, has little suspense and has no nerve jangling anything (The film fails completely in taking a real event and making us forget that we know how it's going to come out.)
If I was to write the film up briefly I'd call it a cable TV movie with graphic sex, violence and a great performance from Edgar Ramirez in the title role. The film carries you along through the life of Carlos for most of it's running time until it collapses in the final third leaving you to wonder why in the hell they needed to almost six hours to tell the story when so much goes unexplained.
If you can explain to me why this film is almost six hours and what the point of it was I'd be very happy to listen.
(For people who love bloopers of gaffs in films, this film is full of them, with shots with in scenes not matching , a CGI explosion that blows a store front apart but which causes no reaction in the people on the street around it, and other goodies quick eyes will find)
(Addendum: There are 27 pages of press material on line for the film but I haven't read them. Some of you may take me to task for that but I have to be honest and say most people who see this film won't see that material and will have to take it on face value. Its with that in mind I saw the film and expressed my thoughts)
Limits Of Control (2009)
Jim Jarmusch's latest film is either going to strike you as brilliant or mind-numbing and tedious. In a weird way it's a return to the art house films from Europe in the 1960's and 1970's.
The film begins with a man meeting two others who send him off on a mission of some sort. Along the way he sits, drinks two espressos in cafés, and meets people who send him on to the next part of his trip. It's hypnotic and philosophical and more often then not, nothing happens.
If it doesn't click with you, you will want to turn it off or walk out of the theater or something, depending upon how you're viewing it. If it does click with you it will be a great zen mediation on life, dreams, perception, and finding patterns. I liked the film. I completely understand why the reviewers I read were split. This doesn't behave like most films do now, and it messed with some of their heads. I understand why the studio didn't give this as big a run as other of Jim Jarmusch's films, because even by his standards it's a bit atypical. For me it's a weird hybrid of Dead Man, Waking Life, and some of Werner Herzog's films, or at least some sequences where he marries incredible music and image. What does the film mean? I don't have a clue. It's a strange film with an odd comic sense (everyone is always asking our hero "you don't speak Spanish, right?" in Spanish, and then proceeding to talk to him at length. It's a beautiful film that really belongs in a picture frame.
I'm at a loss as to explain it or my feelings towards it.
If you're willing to go with the silence and the lack of explanation I recommend it at least as a rental.
It's a trip.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Forrest Gump (1994) On Further Review
"Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory
gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you're stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there's nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while there's a peanut butter cup or an English toffee. But they're gone too fast and the taste is... fleeting. So, you end up with nothing but broken bits filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. And if you're desperate enough to eat those, all you got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers."
--The Cigarette Smoking Man From X-Files
Our contributor from Australia, Reg, returns to the fold with his take on the Oscar winning, restaurant-spawning film Forrest Gump. As you can guess the film is really too well known to be a true Unseen Film, however it is not immune from being considered over-hyped and overdone for our On Further Review series. With that in mind I leave you with Reg as he continues his thoughts on the film responsible for birthing a restaurant where I got one of the best steak dinners I’ve ever had.
Forrest Gump, paean to the American Dream, or hymn to conservatism, anti-intellectualism, and unquestioning obedience to Those Who Know What's Best For The Country?
Well, on the surface, it could easily be dismissed as a frothy nostalgia-fest, with no larger intent than an excuse for a "Hits Of The Sixties And Seventies" soundtrack album, and the trial of some new film editing techniques. But to my eyes, there has always been something slightly darker going on. Certainly, Winston Groom's novel, upon which the fillum is based, had greater ambition than that. Groom's Forrest is a darkly satirical baby-boomer-equivalent of Voltaire's Candide, and like Candide, is subjected to more pain at the hands of society than Bruce Campbell was at the hands of Sam Raimi. His unquestioning acceptance of that pain, in the book, becomes a sad comment on the sheep-like conformity of modern society.
The film almost completely loses Groom's black humour. It perhaps only survives in the character of Lieutenant Dan, a man so bound up in a family tradition of dying for the country that that is his only goal in life. He thus despises Forrest not for his stupidity, but for saving his life, therefore preventing him from achieving his destiny. And praise is due to Gary Sinise for a performance which actually subtly shifts the character's bitterness at his destiny being thwarted to his becoming the only real note of cynicism in the film. One could almost see the character as an onscreen embodiment of Groom's reaction to the finished film.
The reason I find the film distasteful though is that Forrest doesn't ever really suffer, except at the hands of one character; the smart, liberal, and free thinking Jenny...and upon her head, all the sufferings in the world are heaped. So the unquestioning and malleable Forrest sails through life unscathed, except by Jenny's constantly seeking more than he can offer. Meanwhile Jenny is punished for seeking more; with abusive relationships, with poverty, and eventually, with a painful death resulting directly from her free-thinking lifestyle. She only achieves a kind of implied redemption when she returns to big, dumb, loveable Forrest.
As above, so below. All the social problems in America are caused by questioning, free thinking liberals, and if only they'd return to the arms of loving conformity, everything would be fine.
A good friend of mine (who is by no means a liberal, but is a music lover), once pointed to the interaction between Forrest and John Lennon as his least favorite scene in the whole film, and I do see his point. If this were a music blog rather than a film blog, I could probably write an On Further Review piece of a similar length to this one on John Lennon's Imagine and why I think it's one of the most
disingenuous songs ever written. The suggestion that it was inspired by a child-man's view of Mao-ist China is utterly egregious. Lennon was a liberal, but any suggestion that he viewed Red China through rose-coloured glasses, (which I imagine would just make it Even Redder China,) is somewhat rebutted by even a cursory listen to The Beatles' Revolution. Of course, in keeping with thematic consistency, Forrest's narration then has to go on to mention how the liberal Lennon will later suffer. I don't seem to remember the encounter with Elvis earlier in the film going on to point out how The King essentially consumed himself to death.
Forrest Gump is a very well made film. Technically, it is very clever and the acting is, for the most part, quite outstanding as well. I've long held the view that Tom Hanks is the modern day answer to Jimmy Stewart and if so, this is his Harvey, but I'm afraid I do look at it now and think "This is the film that could have inspired Glenn Beck."
Guilty As Hell (1932)
This film is a neat little mystery. It's a well made piece of Hollywood entertainment that uses every trick you can think of to draw you in and hold your attention.
The plot has a wealthy doctor killing his wife and framing a neighbor for the crime. We know he did it, and we watch as he sets everything up for the frame to work (as has been aptly pointed out, like an episode of Columbo). Coming to investigate is police detective Victor McLaglen and his friend and frequent rival Edmund Lowe, who is a reporter. The pair at first think things are clear cut but soon Lowe, thanks to the dead man's sister, begins to see they made a terrible mistake.
Good mystery is lifted up a couple of notches thanks to the two leads, whose constant bickering and friendly kidding add to the proceedings. Honestly the pair is what makes this film a must see. The film is nothing if not a precursor to today's buddy films.
A film to search out.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Jasmine Flowers (2004)
Ziyi Zhang and Joan Chen play a series of mothers and daughters from the 1930's to the 1980's. The film follows as daughter falls in love and becomes pregnant giving birth to the next generation. It's the course of woman in China over 50 years; fighting to find her place, before accepting the place she has at last made for herself.
Soapy film based on a novel will depend upon how you feel about the actresses and the soap of the story. If you want to see how good both Zhang and Chen can be, see this film. It's a wonderful showcase of their talents. I especially loved the screen test scene at the beginning, it's a great showcase for what Zhang can do. Chen on the other hand is quietly wonderful as the mother/grandmother all through the tale. There is a wonderful strength in her. She makes it look way too easy.
On the other hand the story is very soapy. It's filled with triumph and tragedy, and it's clearly constructed to produce a certain effect at the end. Reading about the film I found that some people really didn't like the "pulpy", "soapy" clichéd construction of the plot. Personally I saw the soapy clichés coming (I mean the producer discovering the daughter in the hopes of bedding her is as clichéd as they come), but I went with it because the ladies are so radiant.
Sue me, I liked it.
This is available as an import DVD
LA Street Fighter (1985) (aka Ninja Turf)
File this one under "What The F*%@ was that?"
LA Street Fighter was shown at midnight during this year's New York Asian Film Festival, and is probably best seen with a large group of people.
The plot has a bunch of 35 year old high school students (watch the film; they're all in their late twenties or early thirties), who get mixed up with gangs, drugs, and violence. When one of them wants out he has to fight his way through a series of bad guys.
Mind bogglingly bizarre, this is a film that has to be seen to be believed. My friend Dave (who saw the film at the midnight NYAFF screening) said that there is no way to rate the film but on a WTF scale, and on that it's somewhere off the chart. I have to agree.
This is a Korean film shot in the US in English. It's by the director Woo-Sang Park who made a bunch of films here with the intention of showing them over in Korea. He made one called American Chinatown, which is one of the worst films I've seen. I honestly don't think either of these films were ever really intended to be seen in English, but an English release happened because it helped defray budget costs.
It's not a good film. It's not really a bad film, it's more a film that is something else. It sucks you in and forces you to watch it whether you want to or not. I mean I picked up the DVD for a couple of bucks and started to watch it, then I realized it wasn't good and I should turn it off but at the same time I wanted to know what in the hell was going on. I never found out, and I was sort of entertained.
This film is a trip, a real trip.
If you like off the wall and off the deep end films you should try this...just bring friends and beer. I mean if nothing else you'll get to see a slightly paunchy and balding grown man walk around with a cut off jersey that bares his midriff...it's beyond strange.
This is out on DVD.