Film Log 2010
Yes. I like movies. So do you, presumably. And we like discussing them.
So what did I see this year? Better question -- what DIDN'T I see this year. Indeed, my viewing habits have fallen into disarray. Could you please lend a recovering geek a helping hand? Suggestions are welcome -- all and anything.
The Sacrifice (1986) Per Zach's suggestion, I pushed forward to the end of Tark's illustrious career. He is undoubtedly the king of somber cinema, and the queen of "wow, I can't stop thinking of what I just saw, though it made me nod off in the beginning, and I came this close to fast-forwarding" Yes I did miss some of the early household dialogue, which I don't think was a huge mistake, cause -- BAM -- we're suddenly in the closest thing to purgatory I've felt in cinema. Not in a boredom sense, mind you, but in a complete sense of dread, and eyes-wide-open staring at human fallibility and life's zero sense of certainty about what lies beyond. That was actually affecting. If it was not for the zany mailman and his ingenious suggestion of witch sex, I would've poured some cognac myself (down my throat, I don't need a glass for a bottle, it will do). Speaking for all the guys, were you not really into Tark like never before when that scene arrived? I mean -- they levitated, come on! But, in all seriousness, what followed that was truly tragic, and I had to 360 headspin when I realized it was shot in one take! I'm not sure what exactly was going on in this film, but I think it has something to do with sacrificing material stuff for spirituality, and it might have been playing with Nietzsche's eternal return. One thing is for sure about this guy -- you must watch his films multiple times. I don't know how to rate these at all until I see them again. But chances are they are safely on my big list, and likely getting cozy in the 8's or above.
Stalker (1979) OK, it had to happen. I like Tarkovsky. But he's testing me. He's on probation. In other words, having a sense of the narrative of this film will make it SO MUCH better next time. I think it's really important that we have filmmakers who push us to confront fundamental comforts. Who would have thought that Tark would attempt to repudiate the theme of Shawshank Redemption before the fact? That said, is he toying with the supernatural toward the end, or is he just plunging in the final dagger? I did like that shot, cause I was the weird kid who used to rest his head against the school bus window, and look forward to the bumps in the road. Attractive film, too, but let's not get carried away. The sound design has the winning hand.
Updated Analysis. So, I could not stop thinking about the movie today. There is just enough ambiguity in the film that you really wonder if anything magical happened. Or was it all in the characters' minds? When you believe something, you come to expect it, and eventually that thing manifests itself. So much of the film was made up of moments like that -- nearly hallucinations. But they were never completely out of the blue. They all seemed to be self-fulfilled beliefs and fantasies. A simple practical explanation for these moments is radiation sickness or the like (meteorite flu?); this definitely lends a nice explanation for the stalker's illness. That is definitely unsettling. But even more disturbing is that notion that men are driven to accomplish things by their minds, and then will find consummation of their endeavor -- not in reality -- but in their minds and their minds only. There very well could have been wish fulfillment but we'll never know, because this film flirts with fundamental epistemology. I can't wait to see this again.
Shadows (1959). Zippy. That's how this movie is. The giddy joy of the cool cats dancing to the jazz. The quick repartee. The sped-up sequences (unintentional probably but it adds to the espirit). This early on, Cassavetes has a great sense of pacing. I love the scene where the jazz singer starts singing, and it's really boring. Then the camera moves across the room, cuts shot by shot, and we see everyone's boredom. Cassavetes has a great sense of humor, of the natural kind, the spontaneous, on-the-spot kind. If this stuff was written, it does not come across as contrived at all. Another thing I like about the movie is the scenery. We get lots of shots of 50's NYC, the streets and diners, it's the closest you can get to time travel. The scene where the 3 guys check out the public art is masterful. Leila Goldoni sure was a pretty one and very good acting. Not a bad start at all to my Cassavetes Retrospective. 7.0
Meet The Feebles (1990) This is truly one of the most disturbing movies ever made. That's not to say it isn't hilarious or even touching. In fact, sometimes it's all of these at once. Peter Jackson had a brilliant insight that the best way to portray the darkest aspects of humanity was through muppets. This is truly /b/ before its time. It is so singularly WTF and can make you feel like the little kid who's seeing something he's not prepared for. I had moments of true nausea and unease watching this. Beyond this distinctive elan the film has, it is incredibly well made. The puppet work is top-notch: they all have personality and express emotion easily. The set design and lighting are nearly psychedelic in their attention to detail. The camerawork is quick and fun. I always loved Jackson's Braindead/Dead Alive, a gem of the splatter gore genre that is both truly funny and truly inventive. Though he is very overrated for Lord of the Rings (well-made films but nothing special ultimately), there is no doubt the guy has an abnormally huge imagination. Crazy. Recommended if you want something really twisted. 8.0
Zombieland (2009) Woody Harrelson really wants a Twinkie. He hates Snowballs. Damn unreliable Hostess trucks. If you give the hot girl a Mountain Dew, make sure it's not that red shit. She won't like that. She might try to bite your dick off. But if anyone asks about your game, just make up a story about a little hookup in a FedEx truck [fyi: you can overnight engagement rings that way]. You know cowboys get a kick out of that. He might give you a ride in his Lincoln. Hey, you take after him. You're just a neurotic geek who the internet market will sympathize with. But you're a growing man: today you play World of Warcraft, tomorrow you''ll have a trunk of torture devices to make mayhem with (zombie apocalypse not necessary). This is a bildungsroman, after all. You'll get that girl with the gun. Who needs cupid when your aims are so direct? And you will find your eden, your amusement park. "Is it better to be smart or lucky?" I know! I know! Pick me! 6.0 [Props for the Metallica and Velvet Underground music, and the restraint the characters showed not destroying a complete store until they got to the Native American one. Per usual, Bill Murray saves movies. Where's that application for sainthood?]
Trouble in Paradise (1932) I was so happy to have watched this movie. I guess I must have felt the "Lubitsch touch" and I quite liked it. On my disc there were all these quotations from notable film people, Chaplin to Welles, all giving genius credit to Lubitsch for what he did. I had no idea about the guy. Peter Bogdanovich even did this introduction where he talks about how this was romantic comedy done before the production code, sexual innuendos and suggestiveness galore, even having a bed appear before the word "paradise" in the opening credits. My favorite tidbit was something that Jean Renoir said. He said that Lubitsch's films reminded him of the sophisticated Berlin of the 20s. That's astonishing to think that all the really witty classic comedies from "It Happened One Night" all the way to "Some Like It Hot" were influenced by the wit of pre-Nazi Germany. There's nothing groundbreaking in the plot or the basic themes of the film, except it does not have a Hollywood happy ending. What makes it lovely is how it mocks almost everything, how each character is trying to outsmart the other, how it leads the viewer into that trickery, so that you share in the payoffs. It can also be really romantic at times. Great line: "Marriage is a beautiful mistake which two people make together... but with you, François, I think it would just be a mistake." 7.0
Les Enfants Du Paradise (Children of Paradise for non-frenchies) (1945). Favorably compared to Gone With The Wind, but I dunno. It's a big epic movie for sure. It's so long it takes 2 Criterion discs. I was never a huge fan of that southern love affair, so this three dudes after one vaguely attractive girl doesn't really get me in the mood either. You have a sincere artist, a womanizing actor, and poetic misanthrope. Unsurprisingly, she picks neither and goes with the Count, but she gets her comeuppance. I think it's an all right flick. There's a wonderful scene near the beginning where the mime acts out a pickpocketing to the police. One of the best witness testimonies ever. The movie has the right amount of charm, wit, wisdom, doled out in appropriate parcels and at the right time. There's a sweetness about the flick, but also a sadness. I'm just surprised about its reputation as one of the best of the best. My main criticism is that it merely tells a story I'm pretty familiar with, and it doesn't necessarily tell it in new and intriguing ways. It just does its predictable job really well. Consider it an example of Oscar baiting back in the day. I think its rep may benefit from its production circumstances, truly a courageous effort in the middle of the Nazi occupation (couldn't help but think of Inglorious Basterds in that respect). But even though I had finished a delicious Coq Au Vin crepe and glass of champagne before engaging this sprawling thing, I couldn't love it. The ending though might strike just the right note. He's being held back in the crowd, a force to strong to push back against. It seemed like a really lovely visual metaphor for fate and destiny. Indeed, the extras in the movie deserve an A+. Totally real and authentic feeling. 6.5
Hausu One of the most batshit movies ever made. Total "shotgun" approach: shoot a bunch of visual mayhem on the screen and see what sticks. That's right, equal share of: b&w beatup film stock, slow-mo, fast-mo, freeze frame, "bleeding" film, floating bodyparts, even painted skies and backdrops that move (that's right!). Fortunately, despite the jarring juxtapositions and near incoherence, this hodgepodge of tricks is nothing short of astonishing, bewildering, and sometimes transcendent. That is, of course, if you can disregard the perpetual silliness, both intentional and non, throughout this Japanese flick. That's right, a pervert's paradise. A veritable troop of schoolgirls heads out for a summer stay at the home of one girl's aunt. The aunt lives on top of a hill, in a sky painted (yes literally painted). She's got this cat that eats lizards and meows to the theme song of the movie and seems to control all the horror that soon follows, as one girl is picked off after the other, in colorful killings that recall Dario Argento but predict the likes of Sam Raimi in their quirkiness and hilarity. There are some scenes that nearly defy description -- the highly caffeinated approach of Japanese commercials (indeed, the director made his name in this field) blossoms with the free-associate mind of the Holy Modal Rounders or Residents at their most deranged. Also the soundtrack is killer, really really good mellow Japanese pop of the 70s -- soft rock fans will be happy. Like an ambitious, if unfocused, film student's total score, this scores an honest 7.
(Great piece of dialogue: the father is a film composer. the daughter asks how his trip went. He says: "It went great. Leone said my music was better than Morricone.")