Monday, December 31, 2012

Film Journal: Week Ending 12/29/2012




Seven Chances (Keaton, 1925) **** (A) 

Leans heavily on Idiot Plot – does this guy really propose to woman after woman without thinking to mention the $7 million? – but grousing about plot points with Keaton is an exercise in missing the point. Keaton spends half the film's short (60 min.) running time exhibiting a deft touch with small, impeccable, precise sight gags (watching him chase ladies up and down the stairs was a favorite) and the next half in full-tilt propulsive madness, running from an anthill swarm of jilted gold-diggers while displaying levels of disregard for his body that cinema wouldn't see again until around the time of Jackie Chan. Keaton must have been made out of vulcanized rubber and steel. (To name just one trick that really should have killed him, watch for a somersault down a sand dune that is just demented.) If one of my revelations about Chaplin a couple weeks ago is that he invented a large part of the cartoon world's visual vocabulary, I think I've got to give credit to Keaton for inventing Wile E. Coyote.

By the way, I'm now a strong proponent of muting the tinny, distracting music out of these movies and subbing in a mix of your own. I went with Philip Glass' "Glassworks" for this one and it actually seemed to sync up well to the mood. In any event, I found it much more compelling than the ubiquitous ragtime, which I switched on a couple times and immediately turned off again.


The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992) *** (B)

Am I crazy, or is this the best of all the Muppet films? Being able to lean on Dickens' classic structure, imagery and language helps, and getting Michael Cain to play Scrooge without a hint of shame for slumming with felt socks didn't hurt, but the songbook is strong, the jokes are solid, and the art direction is great – a couple shots even approach the artistic. Maybe it's that each of the Muppets gets a character well-suited to their (its?) established persona and then plays that character, rather than trying to shoehorn a Muppet character into the narrative. So it's not (for example) Fozzie Bear filling the Fezziwick function within the narrative, it's Fezziwick as played by Fozzie Bear, if that makes any sense (or even if it doesn't). Waldorf and Stadler as Marley(s) are apt fits; Kermit may have been born to play well-meaning doormat Bob Cratchit. Anyway, I like the Muppets in their show, I don't particularly like their movies, and I liked this quite a bit. So there you have it.


The Loneliest Planet (Loktev, 2011) **** (A)

Plays basically like an excellent short story, Hemmingwayesque in the best sense, with extremely sparse yet extremely specific characterization of a couple of young lovers adventuring their way through the mountain wilds of Georgia with their hired guide. Almost the entire running time is given to tiny incident that gives subtle shades of meaning to the essence of who these people are, until one of those tiny moments turns out to be so massive that it threatens to upend everything, coloring all that came before and all that comes after (the film mirrors it obliquely near the end). The unbelievable part is the way the damage that the incident creates is allowed to play out in exactly the same kind of meditative subtle picaresque scenes that marked the film prior to the incident, resisting any hope of easy characterization or resolution. It's entirely possible to create a dozen plausible "readings" of the film's themes, which include (in no particular order) gender roles, courage and cowardice, and instinct vs. deliberation. I suspect this is one of the more argued-over films (per viewer) of the year. Sophomore director Loktev is masterful at building and sustaining a mood of unease; nearly every peaceful moment seems loaded with the expectation of violence. First-time actor Bidzina Gujabidze should be Oscar nominated, if the movie is eligible (it premiered in Toronto in 2011).


The Sound Of Music (Wise, 1965) ***1/2 (A-)

Old-school Hollywood singin' and . . . well, singing'. Not a whole lot of dancing other than a view ballroom scenes. Nevertheless, this is worthy. Some pacing problems make it sag in spots, but most of the songs are evergreen, as are Andrews and (surprisingly, especially) Plummer in the leads. What I always lost in the pan-and-scan TV showings of my youth (or childhood) was the panoramic spectacle of Austria, which lends spectacle to the proceedings and enhances the pathos of Captain von Trapp's love for his country and his need to escape it.


The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (Stainton, 2002) **1/2 (B-)

Half of this movie is the most inept, poorly-acted, confusing, dumbly executed, sophomoric, misshapen mess of a spy movie to not yet have been featured on MST3K. Luckily, the other half of this movie stars STEVE FREAKING IRWIN, who took a weapons-grade levels of not giving a shit, dressed it up in awesome short-shorts and a mullet, drizzled it with crazy, and then ate it. There's something undeniably riveting about watching Irwin do what he does best, which is: (a) jump into rivers in the dark to wrestle full-grown crocodiles while they try to kill him; (b) hold insanely poisonous snakes by the tail while they make very serious efforts bite his testicles; (c) hold other extremely poisonous bugs and spiders next to his face while poking them with a stick; and (d) doing all of this while talking to the camera with the boyish exuberance of a Ritalin-starved nine-year-old showing off his brand new, fully functional lightsaber.

Here's the thing: HE NEVER STOPS TALKING TO THE CAMERA, even when the croc fight is clearly not going the way it's supposed to and therefore his (real-life) wife might get (real-life) eaten, and especially not when the spies are trying to whatever the top-secret whatever that the so-called plot apparently whatevered into Irwin's possession. This isn't so much a "collision course" as it is "Steve Irwin pretty much totally ignores the spies around him, treats them as the minor annoyance that they are, and never even learns they're spies, all while continuing his entirely straightforward course, which involves shooting an ostensible episode of his show." I thoroughly doubt that it was meant that way, but it's possible to read this as a meta-commentary on the pointlessness of such plot devices when placed beside the fascination of real nature, perhaps best exemplified when Irwin retrieves the movie-fake satellite-data-thing Macguffin by plunging his hands into a hot pile of what I'd be willing to bet $100 is a completely real pile of crocodile poop. In any case, this is one seriously nutso-pants movie. I kind of liked it.


Elf (Favreau, 2003) *** (B+)

Thoroughly silly but ultimately ingratiating, ELF distinguishes itself from most Ferrell-based manchild stuff by leaning hard on his natural underlying sweetness and through the wise choice to have everybody around him (Caan, Steenburgen and an uncharacteristically de-twee-ified Deschanel) to play the premise entirely straight. There's something undeniably awesome about Buddy's reaction to "Santa's" visit that wouldn't have worked if the people around him were equally buffoonish. Seems destined to make the rotation of beloved Christmas movies (the inclusion of Peter Billingsly in a cameo is a hint that this was their goal), but even if it doesn't, we'll always have Peter Dinklage playing a beloved children's author as a stereotype of asshole CEO corporate entitlement. As all children who believe in Christmas can recall, angry violent Dinklage is the most famous Dinklage of all.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Film Journal: Week Ending 12/15/2012



Young Adult (2012, Jason Reitman) ** (C-)

This review contains spoilers.

A narrative mess redeemed in part by some nicely timed character moments and some sharp performances, notably Theron as Mavis, a former prom-queen sociopath/psychopath stalking a high school boyfriend to escape her failing job as a writer, and particularly Patton Oswalt as the nerd-loser from that same high school with whom she forms an entirely likely (given independent comedy tropes) friendship. I'm about to be harsh, so it's worth saying that the interplay between Oswalt and Theron is a frequent source of enjoyment, as is the understated way that new information about Mavis continues to shed light upon her decaying situation.

The big problem is that apart from Oswalt's hate-crime crippled Matt, none of the characters work as recognizable people at almost any moment. Director Reitman tries to create a realistic world (objects believably distressed, interiors believably cluttered), but as much as Theron tries to make Mavis understandable (if not relatable), Diablo Cody's script makes here into such a cartoon monster that she defies credulity within that context; a more plastic mis en scene (think CITIZEN RUTH) would probably have suited her better. Meanwhile, it's impossible that everybody around Mavis would be so completely blinkered to the fact of what she is and what her motives are, beginning with ex-boyfriend Buddy, a perfectly nice married family guy whose obliviousness to Mavis's clear advances makes him seem unfathomably dumb. A clumsy final-act reveal tries to reverse this effect but fails in pretty much exactly the same way (but on a smaller scale) as in a Shyamalan flick, which is to say that it seems clever until you think about it for more than three seconds.  No, nobody up to that point had been acting out of pity toward her, or if they were, then they're even more Machiavellian than Mavis, which they aren't. Also, if they were acting out of knowing pity, why make a point of showing the wife's other band members actively suspicious of and loathing her as clear counterpoint to Buddy's oblivious wife? Also, if they were acting out of knowing pity, why did Buddy allow Mavis to kiss him?

So what's this movie's point? Mean people wind up having mean lives? A final scene with Matt's sister is framed as a sort of "brave" anti-statement of purpose, but even there the idiot-character problem presents itself. Does Matt's sister really believe Mavis will take her to Minneapolis, like what, a refugee getting on the last helicopter out of country, or something? Does she think that she can't go to Minneapolis without Mavis? Is she not aware of other cities to which she could go? She's wearing scrubs, so it would seem she has some fairly transferable skills. Are we really expected to accept somebody capable of such ugly but open-eyed disgust toward their own modest environment but so stupid as to see no other way out but to be carried from thence like a pet Pomeranian by some near-stranger? Why is everybody in the movie a numb-minded dummy?

These are the sorts of questions this movie had me asking. I think it's safe to say I found it disappointing.


 Tokyo Story (1953, Ozu) **** (A)


"Quietly devastating" is probably an overused term in criticism, but it's appropriate here. Ozu lets the line play out for a long time before starting to reel it back in, given the rigid politeness of Japanese society, it takes a while for each tiny petty indignity to reach a total, and to realize just how methodically terrible the children are being to the parents. It's not until a simple tracking shot reveals the elderly couple sitting outside in the sunlight, where we're invited to realize they've been sitting, probably for the entire day, because they've nowhere else to be, that it finally coalesced for me. We're saved from miserablism by warm performances (particularly Ryu and Higashiyama) and a dialectic more complex than "these kids today, why I oughta . . ." Ozu slowly makes larger points about society and modernity, showing Tokyo less as a city, and more a routine from which even slight variations are an inconvenience hardly worth pursuing. Furthermore, the parents also are clearly complicit in their own neglect; their polite reserve is so impenetrable and self-negating that it approaches parody, and when forced to contend with the distracted businesslike nature of their city-dwelling offspring, they prove true the old adage about slight, passive-aggressive forces meeting extremely moveable objects.

Ozu's compositions are fantastic, particularly the interiors, which create a sense of subliminal claustrophobia by rarely shooting from the room where the action is. This is a story largely seen from the next room over, as though each space can't hold both the observer and the observed. (I don't think we get an exterior shot until the final act shot in the country.) The main complaint I have mainly involves me as a viewer; since the 'action', such as it is, is largely based on meticulous subtlety, my near total ignorance of postwar Japanese culture (and Japanese culture in general) led to an ever-present suspicion that I was completely missing gentler shades of nuance that would be easily accessible to another. Might be worth breaking out the Criterion commentary track for another viewing.


Love, Actually (2003, Richard Curtis) *** (B)

A Whitman's sampler of romantic comedy isn't really the worst way to do the genre, given that most concepts that drive it can't support a sustained narrative. Dipping in and out of what seems like at least a dozen of them makes this effort essentially free of extraneous padding (i.e., nobody is pushed into a pool, no couple spends half the movie separated over an idiot misunderstanding, no montages), and if you don't like the story you're watching, no fear, another one will be by in five minutes. The quality of each segment varies widely, and is largely based on the skill of the actors involved. Best is probably Emma Thomson and Alan Rickman's surprisingly nuanced sketch of marital infidelity, though Hugh Grant's turn as the bachelor Prime Minister in love is breezily and Britishly enjoyable, almost in direct proportion to how completely ludicrous the political element is. Other bits are...less fortunate (Colin Firth does his best to salvage an eye-rolling premise; a snippet in which a loser finds sex galore in Wisconsin seems airlifted in from a much broader comedy), but at least the integration of the various stories into a larger narrative is handled with a light touch.


A Christmas Story (1983, Bob Clark) *** (B+)

Notable for its depiction of childhood as a bewildering and occasionally terrifying struggle, meaning that it admirably manages to be totally anti-sentimental even while taking a nostalgic and generously funny look back at a previous era. Given that Ralphie is frequently a totally self-involved, if benign, little crapper, and given that I nevertheless totally identified with him and felt the immediacy of his petty problems, it's feels like one of the more honest filmed depictions of what it's like to be a kid. The fact that it's one of the uglier-looking movies in captivity (until recently I assumed it was just an 80s era TV movie, which is what it looks like) only adds to the warty charm. The only real sour note is the ending "fa ra ra ra ra" bit, which reminds us that this movie came from a Hollywood era only months away from serving up Long Duck Dong and Short Round.

Interesting (to me) side note, which will be longer than the actual review: Most of the jokes appear to have entered the Princess Bride/Holy Grail zone at this point; that is, morphed from repeat viewings into a sort of cultural/generational shibboleth, to the point that the surprise needed for humor has long since gone, even though we still appreciate the jokes as genuinely funny. ( You know what I mean, I think. I don't laugh out loud anymore at "I fart in your general direction" or "it's only a flesh wound", and neither, I hope, do you.) It's a weird sort of canonization, requiring aficionados to quote large chunks of the movie to one another, that happens to some classic funny movies but not to others. It's totally annoying, right?. Now let me repeat the entire Miracle Max bit to you while you nod indulgently.


Giant (1956, Stevens) **1/2 (B-)

Entertaining-but-bizarre lurching sprawl of a movie that never seems to figure out what it wants to be about, but it's at least beautiful to look at as it meanders around, trying on subjects themes, which include: A tumultuous requited love story, a second tumultuous unrequited love story, a picaresque family history, the loss of the great cattle ranches to the incursion of Big Oil, and the uneasy segregation/slow integration of races in early 20th-century Texas. I'm trying to think of another movie that seems to have ended simply because, well, we're at 200 minutes, so I guess this may as well be the end, huh? Jett Rink is arguably the worst of the three (damn, only three?) James Dean performances, but I'd also say it's the most intriguing in its occasional lecherous meanness, and his juxtaposition (as well as uber-young Dennis Hopper, all adolescent and moon-faced) with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor serves as an interesting look at The Way Things Were meeting The Shape Of Things To Come.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Film Journal: Week Ending 12/9/2012


Argo (2012, Affleck) ***1/2 (A-)


I guess we're going to have to come to grips with it. We're living in a world in which Ben Affleck is apparently an actual director, which has to stand as one of the more surprising career reappraisals of the last decade. I haven't seen previous efforts THE TOWN or GONE BABY GONE, but given the positive critical reception of those two and the unmistakably professional quality of this one, I'm probably going to have to catch up.

Affleck's effective in the lead, though I suspect there were dozens of better choices for a role that mainly calls for cerebral anti-glamor (and Latino ethnicity). Affleck-the-actor has Hollywood action star qualities that Affleck-the-director is clearly working against, given that this is the "good guys" are doomed if the fighting even starts. (Obviously, it probably didn't hurt from a financing point of view to be able to secure an above-the-title star for the project, a temptation/benefit most directors don't have.) The rest of the cast is a who's-who of character actors, all of whom are clearly having fun with their juicy small roles, though Alan Arkin may be having too much fun; his schtick is funny but hammy, and a touch off-key considering the serious tone of the rest of the material.

ARGO is a first-rate suspense movie that draws most of its power from its laser focus exclusively upon the issue at hand, to wit: how to extricate a small group of US Nationals in hiding in Teheran's Canadian embassy during the height of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis? The movie succeeds in large part because of how rigorously Affleck maintains his tunnel vision on that question and only that question. As a result, the inevitable and typical movie-trope distractions (the hero's job vs. home family estrangement being the most obvious) stick out more glaringly than usual, but these are luckily kept to a minimum. Affleck manages to create a palpable sense of dread and a specific sense of place and time; with the exception of a few showy camera moves in establishing shots, it even seems like he's borrowing the film vocabulary of the era (he's certainly borrowing the hair, the mustaches, and the ridiculously huge glasses). Though the plot is driven by clearly political elements, the film avoids the didacticism that a more agenda-motivated movie would have fallen into, while at the same time providing a very clear sense of the issues surrounding the situation. Counter-intuitively, the result is a movie that creates greater political complexity mainly by making the politics of secondary concern to the immediate need for survival.


The UP Series (1964-Present, Apted) **** (A)

The UP series defies these stars and grades, since any one entry isn't going to be much more than a reserved B+, but taken as a whole they are one of the most affecting movies in the history of cinema. At this point it has thoroughly transcended its origins as sociopolitical thought-experiment and has become a slow, real-time meditation on lifespan itself. Despite some of Apted's admitted missteps near the beginning, in which he attempted to guide the subjects toward his own agendas, these men and women steadfastly insist upon their dignity simply by existing as themselves, and the effect of watching an entitled young prat like John (who at 7 is sort of bratty and pompous in a way he's clearly learned from adults, but by 21 is truly gross in his blinkered privilege) evolve in leaps to maturity — still conservative, perhaps still casually entitled, but undoubtedly outward-looking and empathic — is, for me, to understand mercy. Every new installment colors not just what we now know about who the subjects are, but what we previously thought we knew about who they were. Some of these people are wonderful, some seem horrible, some seem rather dull, some vivacious, some petty and small-minded, others staggeringly hopeful and generous and the crazy thing is that each of them likely fits all those categories at one point or another. I sort of love all of them now.


The Avengers (2012, Whedon) *** (B+)

Short: This functions in large part as "Iron Man And Friends", which is probably for the best given the rather sharp drop-off in charisma after Downy Jr., and is likely done about as well as the current superhero formula possibly can be.

Long: Twelve-year-old me would be sorely disappointed in how little I appreciate this golden age of superhero movies in which we so obviously find ourselves, but while most of them are at least decent, there haven't been many really good ones. Worse, I don't get the sense that there has really been an attempt to make a really good one, because what you want from a business standpoint is what has worked before. Thus, you get essentially a string of exact same movie in different tights. Establish world and cast > origin sequence > bad guy origin > minor battles > final battle > hint at the sequel, and we're out. And why would it be otherwise? These movies cost over $100 million each, so why mess with the formula? Just keep cranking out Issue 1 of SUPERHERO, THE MOVIE time after time. Only Nolan's one-degree-from-the-real-world take on Batman and Robert Downy Jr.'s gleefully narcissistic performance in IRON MAN have really broken through to try something fresh. I'm not even sure what I'm asking for. I think it's ambition, or vision, or something surprising and weird. Maybe I'm just put off by product that is so blatantly meant to be product.

Bit of a tangent, sorry. Anyway, THE AVENGERS really doesn't diverge from the formula, but it benefits from working that formula at near maximum efficiency, and from having already established all of its characters in other movies. Thus, the origin sequence is just the plot bringing all of these supes together to form a super group, like Damn Yankees or the Traveling Wilburies, which is a slight but welcome variant on the 'how I got my powers' first act. THE AVENGERS also benefits from healthy doses of director Joss Whedon, who manages to nail the tone (fun, breezy, quips, explosions, etc.) and sneak in a handful of what are known in the industry as The Hilarious Jokes, most of which involve the Hulk hitting somebody. Strangely enough, given how incomprehensible simple fist-fights have occasionally become on Whedon's fine TV shows, the action scenes probably represent a new gold standard in lucidity. You pretty much always know who is punching or shooting which alien bug, where, and how. What I'm saying is, you almost never find yourself thinking, "Wait, Thor is hitting THIS bug? But I thought he was hitting THAT bug. So then, who is hitting THAT bug? Is it Captain America? Where is Captain America? WHERE IS CAPTAIN AMERICA RIGHT NOW??"

These are the things you rarely find yourself asking during THE AVENGERS.

The plot makes zero sense (which, I know, superhero movie, so who cares), none of it has any emotional weight (ibid), and everything blows up real good (ibid ibid). So, I don't know, maybe it's brain candy but it's that good brain candy. It's the house that's handing out full-sized candy bars, not the house that's handing out Bit O' Honey. It's fun. It's dumb. It's forgettable. I think Iron Man dies for a second. Captain America is an unfrozen caveman lawyer, who is confused and frightened by your strange technologies. Thor definitely flexes all the muscles (ladies). Hulk has magical stretchy pants, so does Black Widow. Hawkeye exists. The sequel will be this exact same movie again. When's the sequel?


 The Lion King (1994, Minkoff) ** (C-)

Hasn't aged too well, despite some handsome animation and a couple of moments iconic enough to have trickled into the cultural subconscious. The seeds of Disney's second great quality dive were sown here in its biggest hit to date (still? I think? If somebody has Internet, please research this), with sub-middle school fart humor mingled with over-the-top darkness (channeling Riefenstahl? Really, kiddie movie?), and pacing that caroms between lackadaisical and rushed. The gross racial profiling, which at the time this was new I remember thinking was a silly criticism, stands out pretty clearly. "Never go into that neighborhood, Simba. The elephants haven't gentrified it yet. And as you can see from the animation, it LITERALLY gets dark early over there. Was our studio's founder notoriously racist? Yes, he was! Oh, look at the time.; we're late for a quick song and a trampling. Fatal for me, coming-of-age for you. Spoiler! Let's move on."

I'll never not be disappointed when the choir in the admittedly powerful wordless opening sequence gives way to Elton John's "circle of life" schtick, because when I think of Africa, oh yeah, I think of Elton John. Props, though, for lifting Hamlet's plot engine and plunking it down here. I foresee a double feature with STRANGE BREW.

Monday, December 3, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS: DECEMBER 2012 END OF THE WORLD EDITION

Yo, if the Mayans are to be believed, and you don't know any math, then this is it! My last reviews EVER. I wish I could say we've had a good run, that it was all worth it... I really really wish I could. But onwards! December! I saw lots and lots of stuff:


Flight

This movie was great. It’s got some great action, particularly in the beginning, but it also is just an ordinary run-of-the-mill movie with a plot, good actors, neat tensions and a proper ending. It’s about a pilot who expertly crash lands a commuter plane, but is then found to have alcohol and cocaine in his system. The movie does get a little preachy, but Denzel’s facial expressions will probably reflect your thoughts about the preachiness, if that kind of stuff gets to you; he’s funny. I liked it a lot. I probably should not have watched it a week before taking a commuter flight to Miami though…

Wreck it Ralph - 3D

THIS MOVIE WAS SOOOO GREAT AND FUN! It’s about a videogame bad guy who is tired of being treated poorly, so he leaves his game to make a name for himself for doing something positive. IT’S SO CUTE! But sometimes scary and funny. The supporting cast is terrific… I give it two extra lives up!

Twilight the End of the Saga

Um… Listen… if you’ve already seen the first three, you gotta finish it, amirite? Of course I am. Under no circumstances should you see this movie if you haven’t seen the first three. Corollary to that: under no circumstances should you see the first three if you haven’t already.

Skyfall

No spoilers, but this movie IS AWESOME! Best Bond movie EVER! Okay, one spoiler: the bad guy throws A TRAIN AT JAMES BOND! DUDE! He’s all “Well, well Mister Bond” and then BOOM throws a train at him! So, you know, if seeing trains thrown at a spy is not your thing, then go ahead and don’t watch Skyfall, communist. *whistles*

The Dictator

THIS MOVIE WAS BRILLIANT. It was pitch perfect satire, but very funny too. It was the perfect length – all the actors brought their A games. Actually, I thought I would hate this movie because the preview was funny and usually that means they use up all the good stuff. But, nope. It was great. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH Go see it!

Chico & Rita

You know how sometimes I get punished for being a racist who tries to see movies starring/about minority characters? Yeah, that. This movie was teerrrriiibbblleee. It’s a ”grown up cartoon” about a Cuban “couple,” (they meet, have a one night stand and then “break up” because he has a girlfriend.) This “love” story continues for 65 years across two countries. She becomes a Hollywood star but then loses it all because she speaks out about racism in American hotels. He, I’m not sure what he does, he kinda stalks her around for a while… I think. BLLECCCH.

Safety Not Guaranteed

This movie, on the other hand, was great! Not much happens in this tale about a shady reporter deciding to go on a magazine funded booty call to see his summer camp crush 25 years later. He takes two interns with him under the guise of responding to a “time traveler’s ad for a companion to go back to 2001.” One of the interns, the sarcastic girl from Parks n Rec, plays the role of applicant and, okay, sorta predictably, falls for the time traveler. There is a vibe in the movie that’s sad and promising and you’re not sure what to believe or who the good guys are, but it works. It’s good.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Hmmm… well, let’s see. First off, can I say, I LOVED the book. And I’m not just saying that to impress you with the fact that I read books, though that is a part of it, the book was great and made me wonder if the story was actually true. Oh noes, I’ve gone and squandered all that respect you JUST had for me because of my book reading and all. Sigh. Anyway, the movie --- YARF --- I did not think that ish was real, not even for a second. That movie was so bad, NOW, I’m wondering if there even WAS an Abraham Lincoln AT ALL. Or an America for that matter. IT’S ALL SUSPECT!

Margaret

This movie shines brilliantly at times. The first hour, in particular is gruesome and terrifying and sad and uncertain and beautiful… the next TWO hours, on the other hand… yeah, THAT’S RIGHT! Oy. My complaint isn’t even about the length, had they given me two more hours like the first hour, we would have been straight. BUT NOOO. The last thirds were full of ridiculous dialogue bits like a stereotypical older Jewish woman saying stuff like “file an injunction? What are you saying injunction? Like a train junction? I’m a stereotypical older Jewish woman talk to me like I will understand, bubbula! Oy, my nerves.” O_o I may be paraphrasing, but that’s the gist. It’s like they started out making a new movie with new characters, panicked and tried to remold these people into familiar caricatures. Boo.

Showgirls

Okay, true story, this movie came out when I was in college and all my roommates wanted to go see it because they thought it would be funny, but I thought it was going to be pornography, so I refused to go. I also refused to go to the strip club for my first roommate who turned 21’s birthday. Anyway, I saw a reference to Showgirls someplace recently and I was all “maan, I’m 29 and STILL haven’t seen Showgirls? What’s up with that?!” Now, admittedly, I’ve never seen a proper pornography, but I think teenage Dawn was exactly right. Am I wrong? Are pornos different from Showgirls? Anyway, porno –ness aside. Good glory is this movie awful. I mean AWFUL. THE FUCK JESSE SPANO?? THE. FUCK?

Contraband

Speaking of awful movies. Double blarrgghh yarf. Marky Mark is supposedly a reformed smuggler who gets sucked back in because his brother-in-law signed a deal with some guys to smuggle coke, but then the cops busted the boat so he had to dump the merch – now, the dealers WANT THEIR MONEY. But, of course, Marky Mark's wife is all “you promised me, Marky Mark!” And he’s all “But HONEY, IT’S FOR *YOUR* BROTHER!” Eyeroll.

Return

I don’t know who or why or when I decided to rent this movie about a National Guard volunteer returning from her tour of duty in Iraq. It wasn’t bad, but I think they were patting themselves too much on the back about the fact that their soldier was a woman. After the first 30 minutes, you’re like “yeah, we get it she’s a *MOM* AND A SOLDIER! OOhhhh. What else ya got?” Answer: did we mention she’s a mom? A MOOOMMMMM!!!

Gone

Hmm. Another bad movie. Well, it wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, heck, it wasn’t even the worst movie I saw that day, but it was bad. The plot is that this lady reports her sister has been kidnapped by the same man who kidnapped her seven years prior. The thing is, the cops never believed she was kidnapped, so they don’t believe the story about the sister now. SO SHE TAKES THE LAW INTO HER OWN HANDS! Dun dun dun! Oh, did I mention the woman was wealthy, pretty, blond and has blue eyes? Mmmhmmm. My ass. Maybe if this movie starred that woman who won the Oscar for her supporting role in the Help, I *might* believe this crap.

The Raven

Know what the worst movie I saw that day *was?* Hello… The Raven! It’s supposed to be a thriller based on the premise that a madman is recreating Edgar Allan Poe’s gruesome tales in real life with real victims. But then they decide to include some dumb romance/damsel in distress angle and John Cusack is plain AWFUL. His comedic lines miss, his dramatic declarations of love are laughable. The supporting cast is terrible… ugh. Not a good moment in the entire two hour mess.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Film Journal: Week Ending 12/2/2012


Sita Sings the Blues (2010, Paley) ***1/2 (A-)


I think I loved the first 30 or so minutes of this as much as anything else I saw this year. It's unfortunately difficult to explain in a way that makes sense, but fortunately impossible to spoil, since it's pretty much all effect — you've got to be there.

Essentially, it breaks down like this: (1) A woman named Nina (modeled after creator/animator/writer/director Nina Paley, apparently) suffers the slow disintegration of her marriage as her husband moves to India on ostensibly temporary business; (2) a group of present-day Indian people recount, in fits and stars, the story of Sita and her tumultuous relationship with the blue-skinned Hindi demigod Rama; (3) we observe that story played out as a quasi-adventure story; (4) we observe that same story played out as essayed by the character of Sita, who narrates the action by singing ragtime jazz standards, or perhaps lip synching to old Annette Hanshaw records. The songs comment in clever ways upon Sita's situation, and Sita's situation comments in clever ways upon the situation of modern-day Nina.

Oh, and each segment is animated in a different style, which keeps the movie constantly compelling visually, and completely easy to follow, despite the intricate methodology. Given that it was done almost totally by one person and animated on a computer using Flash, it's pretty much amazing. It's the damndest thing. You ought to see it now. I'm downgrading it from total classic status only because Paley repeats the formula a couple too many times, leading to a little bit of old-timey jazz fatigue.


Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012, Heidecker, Wareheim) *1/2 (D+)

I thought I'd like this. I like Tim and Eric, and I like the so-wrong-it's-right, so-dumb-it's-smart, so-bad-it's-good aesthetic of their TV show (admittedly I've seen only a couple of their bits) and their occasional other appearances. It's the comedy of the off-putting, a dare to stay with them, and to an extent in this movie it works. Chef Goldblum has a funny cameo, for instance, and many of the Tim-and-Eric-ish segments are genuinely good. But dares can curdle from fun to a bad idea pretty quickly, and I have to say that eventually I had to take them up on their dare to dislike their. . . is this a movie? If so, is it a comedy? Parts of it are certainly funny. There's a point where "so-smart-it's-dumb" can become so 'so-smart-it's-dumb' that it's dumb. I think the moment probably comes when Eric Wareheim has paid Ray Wise, owner of a strip mall spa therapy, to allow him to sit in a large tub have a dozen young boys fill it with diarrhea. It's a pretty long scene, exactly as excruciating as it sounds, and it would be a challenge for any movie to come back from that. I'm guess I'm here to say that this is not that movie.

What I suspect is that, having hit upon the conceit of the premise, which is "Tim and Eric blow a billion dollars of studio money making a horribly unwatchable film," they must have thought, "Wouldn't it be even MORE hilarious if we ACTUALLY blew all the money making a film that ACTUALLY IS horribly unwatchable?"

As it turns out: No.


Wreck-It Ralph (2012, Moore) *** (B)

Modestly clever world-building, plenty of in-jokes for the video-game-addicted, and some particularly strong animation modeling character design to the voice acting lift this slightly above most of the non-Pixar animated fare out there. The plot rarely strays from exactly where you'd know it was going, but John C. Reilly makes a credible and likeable cartoon protagonist (this is a compliment, I think) and Alan Tudyk does his best Ed Wynn impression as the evil (spoiler!) King Candy. It turns out that Alan Tudyk's best Ed Wynn is a pretty good Ed Wynn. The opening Bad Guy Anonymous meeting is a hoot, though most of it played during the trailer. It's possible this movie is actually a candy commercial.


Five Easy Pieces (1970, Rafelson) ***1/2 (A-)

Once upon a time there bestrode in the land a glorious creature known as the "Restrained Jack Nicholson." Endangered even 40 years ago, it entranced all who saw its only occasionally unfurled eyebrow arches.

It's only natural, I guess, given that it's the moment that Nicholson is closest to what would become his default manic persona, that the diner scene is the most famous thing to come out of what is an understated internal drama. What I'd missed is that Nicholson's outburst toward the waitress is probably a product of his growing frustration with the never ending blather of one of the hitchhikers they've picked up. It's a great scene remembered for the wrong reasons; what's great about it is the subtle way it's about something else.

The slow reveal of who Bobby Dupea actually is and where he comes from remains powerful structural storytelling, though I can't help but feel that make the patriarch catatonic is one subtlety too many (even if it does give Nicholson his big acting moment). Since it's clearly his influence that's driven Bobby away from his cosseted prodigy existence, and since the rest of the family is nice enough (if odd), we're left with scraps and hints of the actual causes that have filled him with such vitriol. The effect is intriguing, since it's possible the problem is only that Bobby's an asshole. Ah, the 70s, when the hero could just be an unreconstructed son of a bitch and that could be the point. The final scene is a genius example of the long shot, a dialogue free short story.