Sunday, October 28, 2012

Film Journal: Week Ending 10/28/2012

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, Ford) **** (A)

Now THIS is the definitive John Wayne/John Ford collaboration I was waiting for. It also manages to dodge the annoyances of this era's genre conventions, not by eschewing them, but simply by doing them well. For the (inescapable) comic relief we are provided with veteran character actors like Andy Devine and Edmond O'Brien, who create real and amusing characters, rather than just stock dummies or midgets to hoot at. And was I just complaining about this era's overuse of "begin-at-the-end" framing device (which distracted me from the otherwise-excellent ALL ABOUT EVE)? Here it actually works magnificently, since the only thing that's really given away is that Stewart's upright lawyer/teacher-man/future-senator isn't fated to be gunned down by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin, glowering in silly cowboy duds like only Lee Marvin can) during the central showdown. This doesn't ease the tension when the real battle of the movie is not between the heroes and the cowboy thug, but between the conflicting philosophies of society represented by the two leads. Can order be imposed upon chaos through principal and rule of law, or does the violent wild need to be tamed by men capable themselves of violence? It's to the film's credit that the answer appears to be 'yes.' Both Stewart's bookish-but-valiant Ransom Stoddard and Wayne's tough and capable farmer are seen as necessary components to a tamed West, but the civics lessons and nascent representational government at the heart of the movie make it clear that Stewart's vision of the frontier is waxing while Wayne's is waning.

As good as Stewart is here, it's Wayne who owns the show. Everything that can seem contrived about the Wayne persona is just right here; the swagger, the confidence, the machismo so over the top that it always flirts with ridiculousness (see Nathan Lane in THE BIRDCAGE mincing exactly like Wayne), all are in service of a character who is perfectly in service of the story. His Tom Donniphon is a man tough enough to warn the bad men away from himself and those under his protection, pragmatic enough not to try to protect too many, and good enough to be defenseless against the threat that the elegant and non-violent bravery of Stewart's lawyer represents to his romantic intentions. He's fated to be the man who paves the way unsung for the taming of the West, only to be left behind when it is tame. LIBERTY VALANCE echoes through the genre, prefiguring both LONESOME DOVE and UNFORGIVEN. This is one of the greatest westerns of all time.

The African Queen (1951, Huston) ** (C-)

John Huston directs Bogie and Hepburn? Given the pedigree, I was ready to enjoy what seemed like a classic from Old Hollywood, albeit a rather minor one. Famously (according to Wikipedia) shot on location, they really may as well have put it on the lot for all the use Huston makes of it. Some 'yes-you-are-in-Africa' wildlife are shoehorned into the movie in post like stock footage, but the majority of the film is tight and medium shots of the two actors, who are left completely alone for almost the entire running time. It's still fun enough as a breezy buddy film (it's great watching Bogart bluster, then immediately wilt every time, before Hepburn's indomitable resolve), but once Bogart's hard drinking river-rat and Hepburn's trademark fine-bred dame with an iron will fall in love (spoiler), the film rather unfortunately hangs its fortunes on the ability of the leads to generate some romantic heat, which they succeed into doing essentially the exact opposite of. Perhaps the morals code wouldn't let them express any heat while unmarried and cohabiting, perhaps they couldn't figure out how to be any more than admiringly amused by each other; in any case, this is rarely more than intermittently satisfying and never even remotely believable as a romance; I don't think the long sequence in which the Queen gets stuck in deep mud, nearly leading to the death of all (both) characters was meant to function quite so aptly as a metaphor for the film.

 Watchmen (2009, Snyder) ** (C-)

Alan Moore's famed graphic novel is arguably one of the great works of literature of the 80s – in any genre – so given that this movie is famously a slavish recreation of the source material, it's one of the greatest movies of the decade, right?

Hrrrrrm. Where to start? Well, first of all, I have to admit that the technical aspects are pretty close to flawless. This movie really *looks* like the comic. Um, some of the performances are pretty good, particularly Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach, who is, let's face it, probably the character that transfers most easily to the modern comic book movie template, what with the grittiness and the violence. The special effects are solid, with a few exceptions. I liked them.

But...this is a modern comic book movie. Which is to say that, even though, with one major exception, the script hits all the main plot points (even retaining the 80s setting for no better reason than 'the comic was set in the 80's).. wow, it sure does manage to hit them for all the wrong reasons. I mean, Moore set out to completely explode superhero comics, and succeeded, taking the stylized world and playing it entirely straight and psychologically realistic. You can make a compelling argument that post-WATCHMEN 99% of superhero stories have been essentially redundant. Zach Snyder's film perversely subverts this subversion, turning WATCHMEN back into the exact sort of POW ZANG BANG comic book fantasy that Moore was celebrating/stabbing/mercy killing. So it can't be a surprise that the movie's one major point of divergence from the comic is Moore's sharp turn into EC Comics horror grotesquery, which obviously had to be transmogrified into something that is somewhat more movie-sensible (as long as you don't think about it too hard), with the somewhat unfortunate side-effect of destroying the entire point of the original story. Other than that, good movie. Oh yeah, also — Matthew Goode as Ozymandias would have given the worst performance in the history of anything if he hadn't been upstaged by the even worse Malin Åkerman as the Silk Scepbrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...Put it this way. She's very pretty, and even her sex scene is laughably boring.

Having said all that, if you devoured the comics in middle school as they came out, seeing the images come to life on the big screen can be awesome on a surface level. Just be aware going in that it's mainly foam, not much beer.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Film Journal: Week Ending 10/21/2012

All About Eve (1950, Mankiewicz) **** A

Well, now I have to watch BORN YESTERDAY to see the performance that kept Bette Davis from the Oscar in one of the fiercest performances of the decade. Davis is the fading though still undeniably great star, and it's not hard to see that Davis is drawing on painful personal experience as her Margo Channing is slowly obsolesced by her conniving superfan-cum-amanuensis, the titular Eve (Ann Baxter). The rest of the cast does superb work (George Sanders was justly Oscar'd for his turn as a bitchy, Machiavellian impressario/theater critic), and at the half point Marilyn Monroe debuts like the real-life megaton bomb(shell) the fictional Eve is meant to represent. Baxter isn't as indelible as Davis, but perhaps that's by design in a film that mourns the way great actresses are cast out in favor of the new pretty thing, long before their own Awesomeness Expiration Dates.

My only real quibble is the "start at the end" framing device, which isn't particularly necessary, and deflates much of what should be revelations about Eve and her true intentions. This but seems to have been an extremely popular trope during Hollywood's golden years. Almost never does it work for me; not here, not in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, not in SUNSET BOULEVARD, not in . . . well, let's say it works infrequently, even in movies I think are landmark achievements in other respects. Am I wrong about this? What was the deal, classic movies?

The Searchers (1956, Ford) ***1/2 (B+) 

Sorry, but no, this isn't one of the 5 or 10 or 20 best movies of forever times, as seems to be the consensus these days. Which of course (as I apparently feel compelled to say any time I give less than four stars to a canonized movie) doesn't make it bad. Ford is an understated master as always; it's a gorgeous movie full of gorgeous shots, and Wayne is a powerful presence, but half the movie belongs to charisma-hole Jeffery Hunter and his oft-delayed betrothal to fellow charisma-hole Vera Miles (at least those crazy kids have something in common), which consistently derails the other much more interesting movie that keeps trying to happen. That movie is unquestionably great, though I think the film's rather inevitable ending (you're not going to end your picture with John Wayne murdering Natalie Wood) tries to let Ethan off the hook in a way that doesn't work after two-plus hours of vileness. Also, anybody who thinks that this movie is an outlier of racial sensitivity is forgetting the Indian bride played for yucks. (To say nothing about the stock "retarded" character, who is purely meant as comic relief and is about as funny as a clown*. Seriously, what the hell is it about 50s and 60s Westerns that thought that a retarded man or a dwarf or a retarded dwarf was necessary even in an otherwise dramatic piece? I don't see TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD interrupted for a five minute scene of Billy Barty getting drunk and making hilariously lewd advances on Dill — which, now that I've typed that: yes, of course that would be better). Still, credit where due for presenting Ethan warts and all, as both a brave man of action and a miserable racist son of a bitch, and to Wayne for committing his considerable screen presence to the endeavor. It's strength is in letting us sort it out, which does leave us with a much more nuanced moral landscape that your usual 50s oater. You know, even with the cop-out ending.

*Clowns are not funny. They are horrible.

Surf's Up (2007, Brannon, Buck) **1/2 (C+)

You know what? I think I've seen enough kids movies cut from the exact same wan 'hero learns a lesson' template. (The lesson in this case is: enjoy the experience, not the accolades. Is it learned? By the hero?*) Manages watch-ability primarily via (1) some occasionally nifty integration of the animated characters into what appear to be real backgrounds, (2) Jeff Bridges' reprisal as The Dude in animated surfer penguin mode and (3) fairly breezy sense of humor that never seems to be taking itself seriously. The faux documentary trope drops in and out as the plot demands, though the talking head portions are probably the most entertaining. "Thoroughly inoffensive" sums it up well.

*Yes, and yes. I suppose after all it's good that the protagonist's arc involves his learning not to care if he wins or loses, since that was my starting point.

The Master (2012, PT Anderson) ***1/2 (A-)

There's an extraordinary moment near the end of THE MASTER in which Phillip Seymour Hoffman repeats the word, "two." I won't give the context since it comprises a minor spoiler (and I'm pretending these are being read by people), but it was the moment for me that I decided that Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd, cult founder, leader, author, and all around flim-flam man, really believes the new age time-travel past-lives moonshine he's peddling — which, come to think of it, might be what he sees in Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a disaffected, sex-obsessed, disturbed and violent WWII vet who stumbles into his orbit. Apparently, Freddy is also a savant with a very odd specialty; he is preternaturally skilled in making hooch out of fuel, turpentine, and whatever other obviously poisonous household products are at hand. Nor is this a matter of necessity; Freddy appears to prefer his swill even when premium liquor is at hand. Stranger still, so seemingly does Dodd. Or, perhaps, Dodd simply appreciates a man willing to get high on his own supply. Sure, sometimes others get sick or even die from this shit, but they themselves never do. They are, as Freddy puts it, "smart about it." Down the hatch.

That's Dodd is full of it is never something the film really leaves in doubt, though the movie isn't particularly interested in exposé (it evokes Scientology but doesn't seem to mirror it). An early scene depicting a confrontation between Dodd and a skeptic proves conclusively that this "Master" is all potato and no chip. But still...his methods are effective in breaking down emotional and psychological barriers, and in fact his methods seem as though they could conceivably be of occasional benefit, if only they were stripped of demagoguery. Hoffman's imbues Dodd with the sort of charisma and intelligence that makes you *want* to believe, at least in the moment, that he's telling the truth. He's a man who know exactly what he thinks, and exactly why, which can be intoxicating even after you've figured out that what he thinks is ultimately full of nothing.

Which brings me to Paul Thomas Anderson, a man seemingly in possession of limitless formal skills as a filmmaker. I'll see any of his movies, for no other reason than the sheer intoxication of watching an artist who knows exactly what he is doing and why. Like Altman, or or Kubrick, or Scorsese (or many dozens of others to whom PTA is less frequently compared) we know in each film we are contending with intelligence and intentionality in service of craft. Anderson does extraordinary things as usual with image, with dialogue, with performance and (perhaps especially in this case) with sound, to create at all times a sense of deep experience. What's not clear in this case is whether or not it's ultimately full of nothing. Which is my extremely long-winded way of saying that I really sure as we sit watching this movie we are doing, what it's supposed to mean, or even if there is meaning to be had.

It's certainly possible that this is one of those films whose layers will reveal themselves over time, upon reflection and upon subsequent viewings (look: most 3.5 star reviews are not getting a review anywhere close to this long). But my initial impression was one of context excised. In some cases the missing context is overt and serves the story well (e.g., the fact that we aren't showing the meeting of Freddy and Dodd is because Freddy was blackout blotto and doesn't remember it; leaving it out underscores Freddy's role as our 'point of view' character). Nevertheless, my mode was one of constant expectation of a revelation that never really came, a constant "wow, this is really interesting to watch, and I sure wish I knew why it is supposed to be as compelling as I feel I should find it."

There's a moment around the middle of the run time when Dodd breaks down Freddy by forcing him to spend the day with eyes closed, walking from one end of a room (wood paneling) to another (glass window) and each time forces him to describe what he feels. It's pointless, it's repetitive, and the way it is shot and scored and acted had me on the edge of my seat for the catharsis that it seemed to think it was presenting, but I never really saw the point of it and I still don't. It's possible that Anderson has with THE MASTER become, like the Master, the delivery mechanism for a giant sham.

But if it is just a sham, it's a hell of an entrancing sham. I'll watch it again.

P.S. I don't know how I get out this review without talking about the performance of Joaquin Phoenix, who . . . holy crap. It's got to be one of the single most bizarre things I've ever seen. All crazy angles and distortions, his body and face a mess of discomfort, he's playing a young man who has somehow managed to make himself elderly, a bundle of muscle and rage turned inward on itself until it become sunken-chested weakness, filtered (I shit you not) through Popeye. It shouldn't work, it's horribly contrived, and it is inescapably believable. Hoffman does great work with a known archetype. Phoenix creates some sort of insane new archetype that will probably disappear forevermore.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Film Journal: Week Ending 10/14/2012

Inglourious Basterds (2009, Tarantino) **** 1/2 A
"This work has been totally misunderstood" is the essential subtext of many of Quentin Tarantino's digressions (whether in life or by in-movie proxy via one of his characters) upon pop-culture ephemera and serious art and everything in between. Tarantino has served up everything from the true meaning of TOP GUN (homosexual proselytizing) to Superman (Clark Kent as the hero's cultural criticism) to (within this very film) KING KONG (white America's fear of black men). For crying out loud, were one to watch the entirety of the QT oeuvre chronologically, the very first scene would feature a character played by Tarantino himself, providing a (somewhat convincing) exegesis on the what Madonna's "Like a Virgin" really means. His signature style prominently involves recontextualization of existing work. No, he keeps insisting, this isn't about that. It's actually about this. This work has been totally misunderstood.

Having said all of that, Tarantino's INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS has been totally misunderstood, and, given that the director himself seems to promote the misunderstanding, I am left to wonder if he isn't punking the film world, or if he understood that the film he actually made wasn't marketable and thus agreed to market a different one, or if even the Great Gazoo of Subtext himself has failed to realize what his movie is REALLY saying.

This isn't a Jewish revenge picture. It's not even a revenge picture. It's a commentary on propaganda in film. It is perhaps the first movie I've seen that really takes a look at the fact that Nazis have become in our pop culture essentially inhuman beasts made for and fit for slaughter, rather than human beings guilty of terrible crimes. This is not to say that Tarantino has made an apologia for Nazis, but it does a brilliant thing: it forces an audience (an American audience in particular) to confront their reaction to pop-culture-assisted dehumanization. Imagine the scene, played out in multiplexes across the land; a group of people in a movie theater watching INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Onscreen, a group of Nazi hoi polloi sit and watch a film about a German war hero, cheering each death of each dehumanized soldier. Suddenly, two parallel revenge schemes hatch simultaneously. Our heroes gun down Nazis like. . .well, like the vermin they are, while the rest of them burn to death, and the matinee audience for Quentin Tarantino's ostensible 'revenge' flick cheer this mass killing (probably) like . . . well, like the on-screen Nazi's who were just whooping it up as they watched the fictionalized death of a dehumanized enemy (QT even lets the Basterds kill Hitler to take the movie unmistakeably out of the realm of historical reality and into the realm of abstraction). The bait is taken; the trap is closed. The real-life audience has been put in the place of the film-life Nazi. It's a beautifully subversive way of presenting the theme.

Oh, also, it's beautifully shot, acted, and written, with three of the best suspense set pieces of recent memory ("Landa orders milk", "three glasses", and "Landa orders milk again") and the funniest punch line of the year: "Buon giorno!" This is Tarantino's best movie since PULP FICTION.

St. Elmo's Fire (1985, Shumacher) 1/2 (D-)

Short: This was not a good movie and I did not like it and I did not like the people in it and I did not like the things that these people did and I did not like the way what they did was presented either aesthetically or thematically.

Long: Boy, this isn't any good at all, unless you're looking for a vicarious laugh at the Eighties-ist of all things Eighties (To cite just one example: Rob Lowe in a sleeveless shirt and skinny bandana and poodle hair totally and unironically striking a bad-boy rock pose while, um, playing sax. Yeah.)

Shot with the eye for craftsmanship, composition, and trenchant detail we've come to expect from a Joel Shumacher film, ELMO'S follows a bunch of whiny, entitled, spoiled, unlikeable brats as they graduate from college and proceed to become miserable. At the end, they are still a bunch of whiny, entitled, spoiled, unlikeable brats (except for Mare Winningham and sort of Ali Sheedy) who now go to a different bar (spoiler). The film, while acknowledging that some of the characters are making some bad choices, clearly expects us to find most of them endearing and charming from start to finish, instead of vacuous losers (Moore, Lowe, McCarthy) or budding serial killers (Estevez, Nelson, also sort of McCarthy just on general principles). It also expects us to believe that Andie MacDowell is a doctor, which is against at least three articles of the Geneva convention.

Good song to roller-skate to, though.

8 1/2 (1963, Fellini) **** (A)

This movie just keeps unfolding further every time I watch it, and I find myself at a loss as to what to say except "watch it, and for the love of God please don't try too hard to understand it." Probably has the most seamless transitions from past to present of its kind. (Does anybody know, was it the first to do that trick? It seems unlikely for the release date, but it strikes me here as an entirely new trope.) Does surreal as well as any other Fellini I've seen, and Fellini does filmed surrealism as well as anybody whose name is not "Luis Buñuel." Mastroianni performs effortless deflation of his effortless cool with each new angle of his odd hat. The harem scene is hilarious and lacerating. The final freak parade is beautifully forgiving and celebratory. I really like this.

Oldboy (2003, Park) ** 1/2 (B-)

Huge points for style and for employing plot twists that at least make sense in the moment. Unfortunately most of those points get docked right back off again because I don't care for nihilism simply for its own sake. Still, the scene that I will call "A Man, A Plan, A Hammer: Hallway" has to make anybody's all-time list of amazing fight scene choreography (that said choreography makes use of impossible physics should be considered a feature, not a bug), and the parallels between the opening shot and a girl on a bridge are admittedly gorgeous. I just wish at the end I had even the slightest reason to give a crap.

Caveat: I watched this on a Netflix streamer that only had an English dub available. It was decently done as far as those things go, but I really hate non-Studio-Ghibli dubs, which seem to lean hard on the extraneous appended "huh?" in order to make the audio sync to the lips, and usually employ much worse actors than the ones who originally delivered the lines. It's possible that a subtitled version would make me more generous.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012, Darnell/McGrath/Vernon) ** (C)

This movie wasn't very realistic.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Film Journal: Week Ending 10/7/2012

Lots of stars given out this week. What can I say? I tend to see movies that people I trust say are very good, and people I trust have gained that trust by being right a decent percentage of the time.  I'll try to get grouchier next time.

Mary Poppins (1964, Robert Stevenson) **** (A)

I think it's probably become diminished from the over-familiarity of some of the songs and scenes, but this comes close to being the best movie for families ever produced. It manages to be age-appropriate and engaging down to the very young (my kids loved it starting at age three) without losing charm or relevance for adults. It doesn't hurt that almost every song is a classic, lyrically and musically. Hard to miss how retrograde the gender politics are, given that the mother is essentially a witless dingbat, though even including a major suffragette story — with shout-out to Mrs. Pankhurst — in the background probably counts as a victory for Mad Men era Disney.

Van Dyke's accent is laughable, which is sort of the point for a character(s) clearly meant as comic relief, but he's also impossible not to watch, all rubber limbs and daffy grin. The children manage to seem headstrong and real without crossing into unforgivably bratty, and Andrews deftly manages to keep just enough of the title character's prickliness without ever making her less than charming. What sticks with me these days, though, are the visual flourishes, many of them sad or eerie: nannies like black handkerchiefs blown down the street. silhouette of chimney sweeps against the sky disappearing down the pipes (this is perhaps my earliest movie memory), Mr. Banks taking his slow walk to be sacked in a board room out of German expressionism; the classic shot of Mary's descent-upon-umbrella; and all those beautiful outdoor sets.

I also think there is evidence in the "text" of the movie that Mary Poppins is an ageless being who was once Burt's nanny, and probably his Uncle Albert's before him. But that's a story for another day (and probably for Neil Gaiman to tell).

Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese) **** (A)

Scorsese's dark poem of loneliness and alienation and menace still reverberates, even after the ubersleaze Manhattan of "Taxi Driver" received a "real rain" of sorts (courtesy not of an angry God, but of Rudy Giuliani — same diff?) . Watching this again after perhaps a 15 year absence, I'm struck by (1) how gorgeously it's shot; I'd remembered it as a grainy sort of color-drained Dogma 95 template, not Michael Chapman's flood of night-reflections and vivid color; and (2) the potential surrealism, which may not be precisely the right term, but given that our narrator is decidedly untrustworthy even to himself, I found myself wondering if/when we might be seeing the action filtered through the unhinged perceptions of our main character. Is the 'hero montage' following the shootout real? How real? Unsure if the final "chance" encounter with Shepherd isn't a return to obsessive stalking, though it played ambiguously to me. Not usually a fan of voice-over, though really how else can you get into the head of Travis Bickle? Is he talkin' to us? Is he talkin' to us?

Starman (1984, John Carpenter) *1/2 (D)

Man, was this weak sauce. Everything about this screams "80s TV movie" except for one scene in the opening minutes in where the alien incorporates as human, passing through some truly Carpenter-worthy stages of body horror before coming out the other end as Jeff Bridges with feathered hair. After that, they may as well have had one of the 2nd string directors on season 3 of "Simon & Simon" at the helm, with boring pacing, camerawork, and...I don't know, boring everything. The love story that develops is creepy in the extreme, given that it doesn't effectively deal with the fact that the Starman is posing as the husband of Karen Allen's grieving widow, and thus is playing on emotions that neither of them is really processing. I don't think that Bridges' sometimes-lauded, Oscar-nominated turn has held up that well, perhaps because it's become the template for every other Gentle Alien Too Good For Our Violent Species over the years. I suppose he should get credit for being the least annoying example of the annoying archetype he sort of created here, and he does do some subtle work, but I'm still going to blame him for co-starring in K-PAX (in the non-alien role) and taking Kevin Spacey right down the tubes for 12 years (and counting) now. As for the special effects, suffice to say, I envision BACK TO THE FUTURE snapping at STARMAN, Mark Wahlberg-style: "I'm the guy from your era that still looks cool today. You must be the other guy."

Melancholia (2011, Lars von Trier) ***1/2 (A-)

Lars von Trier's most recent flawed-but-brilliant movie opens with one of the most astonishing collection of images I've seen in film, each a high-definition diorama unspooling in ultra slow motion, each containing the vivid specificity, vague symbolism, and inchoate menace of a dream that's on the cusp of nightmare. It isn't a spoiler to tell you that the final image in this seqence shows an immense planet colliding with Earth, first dwarfing and finally annihilating it, because while some of these images come to pass, others don't, or else occur, but only on a symbolic level. Will the planet Melancholia really connect, or will it just be a signifier of some deeper emotional truth?

I don't know if it's a demerit against MELANCHOLIA that it never manages to live up to the promise of its opening — I'm not sure a narrative is up to the task (and part of me just wishes that the whole movie was just a series of similar beautiful intangible wonder).

In brief, the film is divided very formally into two parts. In the first, a just-married couple arrives for their reception at a palatial home belonging to the sister and brother-in-law of bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst), only to see the party destroyed in excruciating increments by the bride's crippling depression. In the second, Dunst returns to the mansion to recuperate, as the titular planet does whatever it's going to do: either making its slingshot orbit safely around Earth or else enacting the complete destruction we saw in the opening moments.

The wedding is barely discussed in the second part, while the planet is not mentioned at all in the first (the timing isn't clear, but it's possible that the characters are not yet aware of it), yet we are clearly encouraged to conflate Dunst's depression with the potentially all-destroying dark orbit of the planet. That this sort of gonzo metaphor is usually successful probably speaks to von Trier's skills as a formalist, but the broad application of it also unfortunately has the effect of divorcing us most of the time from emotional empathy with the characters, which might be a flaw in a movie that's about the destruction of all known life in the universe. It's enough of a misstep to make this a really good movie instead of a great one. Justine in particular seems more like an idea than a person, though Durst plays the hell out of that idea (it turns out she's capable of an alien glare that's chilling enough to suggest a life-snuffing planet.) She manages to put very old eyes into a young face. But she never quite works as a person.

Similarly, Justine's interesting proposition – that mass destruction might not even be so tragic given how awful people can be – doesn't connect with the impact it should, because the people at the wedding party are, while occasionally and to greater and lesser degrees awful, they seem to be abstractions, not real people who have the alleged real relationships with one another they purportedly have. They're all planets on disconnected orbits.

Synecdoche, New York (2008, Charlie Kaufman) ***** (A+)

Astonishing. I'm actually going to wait until I've had a chance to take it in again (soon, hopefully), before writing extensively about this. Suffice it to say that it's on my short list for the greatest movie of the decade, an aching, surreal, confusing, heartbreaking, funny, beautiful rumination on the state of the human condition and identity and the nature of reality itself. I say this as somebody who hasn't been skeptical of many of the other big Charlie Kaufman films, but I can't recommend this highly enough. It's the film version of some miraculous union of Pynchon and Dostoyevsky and Kafka.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Wow, I'm glad Goat has started writing movie reviews again, because now that I'm in a race to read all the electronic books in the Brooklyn Public Library and watch every NFL game, my movie watching has fallen off precipitously. This month was an almost perfect balance of the dreadful and the sublime, so let's get on with it, shall we?

A Better Life This movie stars the Mexican drug cartel guy from Weeds. You know, the one who tries to kill Nancy a million times and pisses us all off by failing? Yeah, so I started off already bitter at him. But slowly, in this story about an illegal immigrant trying to raise his son and steer clear of Johnny law, he wins me over. His performance is so steady and understated, just like his character. I actually found myself saying "oh please let this work out," as he borrows money from his sister to buy a mobile landscaping business. And you all know how I hate lawbreakers! Good movie.

An American Werewolf in London One sublime down, on to the dreadful. Actually, I guess I can't really complain. It's not the movie's fault that it was made in the 1980s before people knew how to gin up a proper werewolf. Also, at least he's wrecking havoc in London and not here in my sunny beautiful America. However, the plot is terrible. Two boys walk through a mysterious countryside and the villagers, instead of being all "hey, stupid Americans don't go getting all eaten by the werewolf," they sit idly by and watch ANOTHER werewolf get created. AND THEN, even though ALL signs point to his wolfiness, still no one believes him. Oy vey. Listen, if you're a werewolf, you will only ever have to tell me ONCE. HECK...I'm pretty sure YOU ARE one. Yeah...YOU!

Pariah Good, bad...ooh, good again! This low budget movie is the coming out story of a teenage girl. Now, I don't like that it paints all tomboys as lesbians, but the story it tells was personal and plausible enough for me not to roll my eyes at some of the stereotypical parts. I likeded it.

Perfect Sense And back to horrendous, we come. BLECH. BLARGH. VOMIT. So, there's some weird virus that takes away the sense of smell of all the world. It then makes it way through the other four senses while the stoopid protaganists -- both aloof assholes *before* they lost their senses -- suddenly now fall in love *WITH EACH OTHER*??! WHAT?! Fuck outta here. There is not a single moment in this movie that felt authentic AT ALL. NOT ONE. Did I say Blargh already? BBLAAARRGGH.

Take Shelter UM. This movie was neither good nor bad. It just is. mmminnno. Guy has visions of the end of the world. He starts building a shelter. His neighbors think he's gone nutters like his mum did when he was a wee lad. Meh. It was okay. He gives his dog away immediately. So... sensible fellow, in my opinion.

The Skin I Live In THIS MOVIE WAS GREAT! I don't know why I don't go see every Almodovar movie AS SOON AS IT COMES OUT. I mean, I'm sure he's let me down in the past, but I honestly can't think of a single one of his movies that I didn't love. This movie is no exception. It's weird in the beginning and SO doesn't turn out to be what you think it is! There are so few surprises in this interneted world of ours, it's always refreshing to find them. So, I'm not going to ruin this one. Go see it! It's awesomesauce.

Solaris Grrrr *THROWS ALL THE STAPLERS* THE. FUCK? George Clooney is a therapist that they send to outer space because their astronauts don't wanna come back. AND SUP WITH THE DEAD PEOPLE? BLAH! *THROWS FRUIT*

In Darkness This movie about a Polish sewer worker who hides a handful of Jews from the Nazis, follows in the well worn paths of movies like Schindler's list etc. But there's a reason it's a well worn path. It works. You feel for the Jews, worry for the worker who is risking everything -- at first for the money the Jews are paying him, and then because he comes to empathize with them as people. It's a tad long, but worth it.

John Carter of Mars Goddamit, did I already throw ALL the Staplers??? Why do I never think ahead? This sucktacular suckfest of suckingness totes deserves to be pelted by staplers with extreme prejudice. Apparently, an American dude gets whooshed to Mars, wins a couple of wars, marries a martian princess, is zapped back to Earth and has to fake his death to get back. And Mars is also called Barsoom. Eye freaking roll.