Monday, April 30, 2007

Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974, Jacques Rivette)

Ahem. Like you really need me to tell you how awesome this movie really is. I'll leave you instead with three movies to pair with CELINE AND JULIE in double features. (1) PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE- like C&J, a great film about play, seen from a different perspective. Rivette's film is about adults playing like children, whereas Burton's deals with adults acting out a child's version of how awesome it would be to be grown up. (2) ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD- watching the final reels of C&J, in which the heroines assume minor roles in a domestic drama only to hijack the action to their own ends, one can see the wellspring of Tom Stoppard's play. (3) Rivette's own THE STORY OF MARIE AND JULIEN- probably the closest Rivette came to re-configuring C&J's major visual motifs- an old house, lurking cats, half-explained intrigue, and ghosts from the past. One film is offhand comedy, the other as straight-faced romance.

Also, Juliet Berto was so hot. Rating: ****.

Grindhouse (2007, Robert Rodriguez/Rob Zombie/Edgar Wright/Eli Roth/Quentin Tarantino)

There's a critical examination to be written about the growing category of "filmed fan-fiction"- movies in which the filmmakers take the movies they grew up on and graft their personal movie-fueled fantasies on them. The ultimate example of this is still Peter Jackson's KING KONG remake, in which the director got Hollywood to pony up $200 million or so for the movie that's been playing in his head ever since he first watched the 1933 version. But these things are no better than the disposable fare that inspired them unless the filmmaker invests them with some soul. Rodriguez can't do that, and he really doesn't try, which is why PLANET TERROR [segment rating: 4], like so many of his previous films, works better at trailer length (dude! Her leg's a machine gun!) than at 80-odd minutes. For all the missing footage and the pseudo-distressed footage, this may be his most grindhouse-inspired trick, making a movie with 2 1/2 minutes of scattered awesomeness to sell the shit out of, to get butts in the seats and cash in the coffers. But while your normal 2007 audience will probably like PLANET TERROR more due to its almost nonstop barrage of action and gore, I can't help but think that DEATH PROOF [segment rating: 7] plays more like actual grindhouse fare, with a few kickass sequences to give people what they came for and long teasing stretches in between to make them wait for the good stuff. Although when those scenes are full of Tarantino dialogue, it seems churlish to complain- he's not quite using his A material, but they work all the same. And it's good that Tarantino actually bothered to write actual characters for his segment- Kurt Russell's Stuntman Mike is a psycho, yes, but he's also kind of a loser, and Sheriff McGraw's diagnosis of his mental state is pretty much on the money. And the girls are fun to hang with too, so much that we really feel it when one group is no longer on the scene. And that final twenty minutes or so- wow. Just... wow. Someone get Zoe Bell her own action movie, pronto. As for the trailers, everyone has been drooling over Rodriguez's MACHETE and Roth's THANKSGIVING, but I have a soft spot for Wright's DON'T, a fake ad for a nonexistent cheapie giallo. Having seen a fair number of 70s trailers, this one felt practically perfect- the distractingly blurry soft-focus, the sudden freeze-frames, the endlessly repeated title, and the way this title turns into the so-obvious-it's-perfect punchline to the trailer. Most 70s-era trailers for genre fair are pretty risible today, and compared to the money-shot stylings of MACHETE and THANKSGIVING (the best thing about the latter is the voice of the narrator) or the not-even-trying-for-period feel of Zombie's ILSA-inspired WEREWOLVES OF THE SS, DON'T got it down cold. Two more random thoughts: (1) Like Theo, I long for the day when a director will make a fanboy reimagining of the movies I dig- I'd love to see the French New Wave equivalent of KILL BILL- but I guess it won't be nearly as bankable as zombies and car chases, and (2) what, no T&A? Overall rating: 6 out of 10.

The Animation Show 2007

Rabbit (2005, Run Wrake) {A juicy and sneaky piece of work, to say the least.}

City Paradise (2004, Gaelle Denis) {Visually impressive, but too cutesy by half.}

Everything Will Be OK (2006, Don Hertzfeldt) {Against all odds, Hertzfeldt just gets deeper and better with every film. I'm almost afraid of his next movie.}

Collision (2005, Max Hattler) {OK, he's combining American and Islamic flags with kaleidoscopic effects. And?}

Davey and Son of Goliath (1996, Corky Quackenbush) {An obvious predecessor to ROBOT CHICKEN and its ilk- pop-cultural parody meets stop-motion animation. But the original DAVEY cartoons kinda ask for it, don't they?}

No Room for Gerold (2006, Daniel Nocke) {A reality-show sitution, but with characters with animal heads. Dug the camera-focus effects.}

Versus (????) {Innocuous. Can't seem to locate the info on the Animation Show site.}

9 (2005, Shane Acker) {Fascinating stuff. Not the masterpiece Hertzfeldt's is, but certainly the most visually impressive of this year's bunch.}

Guide Dog (2006, Bill Plympton) {Plympton's not really my bag, but the dude getting carried away by little birds was funny.}

Eaux Fortes (2004, Remi Chaye) {Evaporates pretty quickly *groan*}

Overtime (2004, Oury Atlan/Thibault Berland/Damien Ferrie) {This probably wouldn't have gotten to me like it did had I not gone to the Henson retro last month. Given the storyline- a bunch of Kermit-like puppets learning to accept their creator's death- it's hard not to make the connection. Poignant stuff.}

Dreams and Desires (2006, Joanna Quinn) {The set's only real weak link, which is pretty good percentage-wise. But the jokes just aren't funny and the animation is weak.}

Game Over (2006, PES) {Kinda fun, but why didn't end on Hertzfeldt like they usually do?}

INLAND EMPIRE (2006, David Lynch)

Gonna have to check this one out again for sure, although I'm not sure it'll make sense then either. But then I'm not sure it's supposed to cohere completely, or even to work as anything more than a series of Lynch brain droppings. Doesn't quite sustain itself over the course of three hours, the last two of which feel like a less inspired version of the final two reels of MULHOLLAND DR. But there's still some fascinating stuff on display here. I do wish Lynch would reconsider his decision to stick to digital, since it runs counter to his knack for strange and vivid colors. Final note- someone asked why Laura Dern didn't get more Muriel Award votes, and I can still only say that it's because more people didn't see this. Too bad, because she's pure genius here, and it would've been nice to see someone other than Mirren take the prize. Rating: 7 out of 10.

L'Amour Fou (1968, Jacques Rivette)

One of the things I love most about Rivette, especially in his early work, is the way he was so willing to let the seams show. Consider how he uses 16mm and 35mm footage in this one- he doesn't try to smooth out the 16mm grain to make it look more like 35, and when he cuts back and forth between the two, the quality of the sound changes as does the aspect ratio. In addition, the soundtrack itself contrasts with more conventional films, full of half-heard dialogue and incidental noises that occasionally overpower the stuff we're "supposed" to hear- think the Coke bottles being set down on the rehearsal table with a bang. All of which I guess is a roundabout way of saying that part of what makes Rivette fascinating is that he keeps the spontaneous on-the-fly stuff in here, rather than smoothing out all the rough edges, which makes his work jarring in the best of ways. L'AMOUR FOU is not a film that one can watch complacently, settling into a comfortable moviegoing experience. The film can't even be boiled down to a synopsis, or even a thematic through-line- for a while it looks like it'll turn into a May '68-era meditation on the limits of freedom and the consequences of trying for it- but the characters and Rivette's style are much too prickly for that. Rating: ****.

Joan the Maid (1994, Jacques Rivette) [2-part TV version]

Part 1: The Battles- One of many things that Rivette gets exactly right here is how different war was back then. Whereas now weapons are being designed for maximum killing power, a lot of the weapons back in the day were as much defensive as offensive, if not more. As much damage as one could do with a broadsword, one got much more use out of it pushing away opponents and other weapons. If body counts were high back then, it had less to do with deadly injuries as it did with hunger, disease, and infection from those injuries. Oh, and falling.

Part 2: The Prisons- Lots more court intrigue here than I'd remembered, which places Joan's fate in a more complicated context. It's telling that Charles disappears from the film after being crowned- modern audiences might interpret this as turning his back on the people who got him there, but given his position it's understandable, since his new power has caused him to withdraw from the action. Also, why is it that so many movies about saints are shitty, yet Jeanne d'Arc has three great ones about her? Could be that her story has damn near everything a movie like this could hope for- humble beginnings, battle scenes, court intrigue, royal pageantry, and a heroine who is both martyr and a victim of her historical climate.

Both parts: ****.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

2007 Science Fiction Marathon

/Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century (1953, Chuck Jones)/ {What else can I say?}

/12 Monkeys (1995, Terry Gilliam)/ [***1/2] {As cleverly-written and visually spectacular as I'd remembered. For all the tension between Gilliam and the studios over the years, the truth is that sometimes he's been able to bring some awe-inspiring visions to the screen with studio funding.}

King Dinosaur (1955, Bert I. Gordon) [*] {Textbook Gordon cheapie, with a weird pro-Bomb ending, in which our heroes, who travel to another planet only to discover that it's populated by hostile "dinosaurs," set off an atomic device and watch the mushroom cloud from a distance as triumphant music plays. Lousy, but a perfect Marathon cheeseball.}

Spaceboy (2006, Raymond Riggs) {Yet another high school movie in which a nerdy outsider wins over a hot popular girl with his eccentricity, despite the fact that he's not remotely interesting. Also, the skirts the female lead wears definitely wouldn't pass dress code, not that I'm complaining.}

Spaceboy (1973, Renate Druks) {This is certainly a love/hate movie for Marathoners, but it's pretty amazing. Trippy as hell, with a clearly aged Florence Marly selling herself as a sex symbol, and Frank Zappa on drums- what's not to love?}

The Great Yokai War (2005, Takashi Miike) [5] {Sometimes fun, occasionally lots of fun, but very little discipline. Why can't Miike die-hards see the almost interminable longeurs in their hero's movies?}

Puzzlehead (2004, James Bai) [7] {A nice surprise- the best low-budget cerebral SF title I've seen since PRIMER. Clearly low-budget, which is why the doubling effects are impressive- we don't expect them to be so well-executed in a movie of this scale. Almost somnambulant performances actually end up working rather than feeling like an affectation- in the grey Brooklyn of the film, they fit in perfectly. Bai marks himself as one to watch.}

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965, Robert Gaffney) [*] {Did I dream this movie? Tons of stock footage, random freeze-frames, a plywood mothership, sequences set to inappropriate songs by long-forgotten (and no doubt studio-imposed) bands The Distant Cousins and The Poets. Also a female lead who appears in scene after scene yet almost never speaks- until she does- and extended driving scenes that almost rival THE BROWN BUNNY. All this and much, much more on a shabby print that somehow enhances the experience in a way that the pseudo-distressed prints of GRINDHOUSE could not. Movies like THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA feel gratuitous next to the genuine article, which this most assuredly is. It's such an empty gesture- why parody a genre that parodies itself?}

Zombie American (2005, Nick Poppy) {Pretty funny.}

Fido (2006, Andrew Currie) [6] {SHAUN OF THE DEAD meets PLEASANTVILLE. Works pretty well, and the crowd at it up. Why doesn't Henry Czerny work more? He does the type-A white-collar sleaze as well as anyone out there.}

/Gravity (1976, Michael Nankin and David Wechter)/ [A Marathon classic returns triumphantly after a few years' absence. Funny as ever.}

Automatons (2006, James Felix McKenney) [zzzz] {After 12 hours or so, the fatigue really hit me hard, although if the film felt at all worth it I would've made the effort. What I saw was interminable scenes of obviously-miniature robots marching interspersed with dire video broadcasts. Finally woke up during the final battle, in which the robots fight each other- typical audience question, "which robots are which?"- and then the film exhausts its budget killing off the human characters in gory ways. Come on guys, you gotta try a little harder than this.}

Chopping Mall (1986, Jim Wynorski) [5] {Pretty fun in an 80s-schlock way. Psychotic Johnny 5s killing teenagers in a mall at night. You'll more or less know from the description whether this is for you. Probably wouldn't bother with it outside a marathon context, which I guess makes it ideal here.}

Monday, April 2, 2007

April 2007 mini-reviews

4/29- /The Grifters (1990, Stephen Frears)/ [***1/2] {A seriously nasty piece of work, in the best way. Much as love Cusack being Cusack making Cusack movies, I do wish he'd crawl outside his comfort zone once in a while and do darker stuff like this. The final ten minutes of this may be the highlight of his career.}

4/29- /Georgy Girl (1966, Silvio Narizzano)/ [***1/2] {People who only know this movie because of the silly song will be a little taken aback by the hard truths it traffics in at various points. I know I was the first time I saw it.}

4/29- The Long Day Closes (1992, Terence Davies) [***1/2] {Gorgeous. Wish I could see this on the big screen. Hey Wexner buds, Davies retro, s'il vous plait.)

4/25- Thieves Like Us (1974, Robert Altman) [***1/2] {Pretty amazing stuff. MCCABE aside, perhaps the most beautiful film Altman made. And John Schuck is so goddamn scary in this.}
%$ Puce Moment (1949, Kenneth Anger)

4/21- La Belle Noiseuse (1991, Jacques Rivette) [****] {Hell yeah. I'll write more on this at a later time, but two random thoughts until then. (1) I always feel a twinge of disappointment when Frenhofer paints over the old painting of Liz. Not only is it a cold gesture, but it's also a really fucking good painting of Liz. (2) Emmanuelle Beart could never not be hot, but I especially like her in this. I think part of it is that Rivette asked her to put on some weight so she'd look more like a regular person and less like a movie star, and oh man did it ever work. Being as genetically blessed as she obviously is, the weight change manifested itself in all the right places. Also, Rivette doesn't even try to hide her freckles, and you know how I am about freckles.}

4/19- Hot Fuzz (2007, Edgar Wright) [8] {Sweet jesus this is funny. Also Wright does action better than most Hollywood dudes who play it completely straight. And that supporting cast- Broadbent, Considine, Dalton, Nighy, Freeman, Peter Wight, Billie Whitelaw, Stuart Wilson, Edward Woodward, Ron Cook- yowza. Also holy shit is this ever hilarious. Can't stress this enough.}

4/12- Paris Belongs to Us (1961, Jacques Rivette) [***] {Pretty compelling, and very much a first film, providing an early glimpse into what Rivette would become. He was obviously still finding his voice as filmmaker, and it shows. But some scenes really sing- the stuff with the economist and his "ward," especially- and the film on a whole feels a lot like a dry run for OUT 1. And that's OK, since OUT 1 is a film you need to work up to.}

4/11- The Dead Girl (2006, Karen Moncrieff) [5] {Formally it's more NINE LIVES than CRASH, which I appreciated. The multiple storylines schtick's wearing thin, but this is a decent example of it. Nice to see Mary Beth Hurt working again, as well as Brittany Murphy making an effort for once.}

4/7- /Up Down Fragile (1995, Jacques Rivette)/ [***1/2] {Yes, it's a lightweight lark, but I'd only call it minor compared to CELINE AND JULIE, JOAN THE MAID, LA BELLE NOISEUSE and OUT 1. If nothing else, this finds Rivette's direction at its most supple, especially in those dance scenes at the Backstage club. And dig the awesome sound and production design- as good as in anything Rivette's ever done. I also appreciated how much Nathalie Richard danced like an old high school girlfriend, all about keeping limbs in motion, heedless of what she might have looked like.}

4/5- The Hoax (2007, Lasse Hallstrom) [4] {Diverting in a CATCH ME IF YOU CAN sort of way, but like Spielberg's film this gets bogged down toward the end, Spielberg with his requisite Daddy issues, Hallstrom & Co. by having Irving hallucinate Howard Hughes' top advisors guiding and/or threatening him. It's a bold gambit, but ultimately unsuccessful, and what's worse it basically lets the guy off the hook. If the guy wasn't in his right mind, how could he be held accountable? It's no better than an old-school shyster angling for an insanity plea. Plus while Richard Gere looks the part, he's too inclined towards soft-pedaling Irving to make him really convincing as the slick con-man he was.}

4/2- Quadrophenia (1979, Franc Roddam) [***] {though it's actually borderline-***1/2 up until the point when the great Ray Winstone unceremoniously disappears from the film. That said, it's hard to argue with the music.}

4/2- The Namesake (2006, Mira Nair) [6] {Once again, Nair is most in her element with the culture-clash elements of the story. Gogol's character trajectory is sketchy and kind of cartoonish, especially during his high school years. But the story of his parents rings of emotional truth, thanks in no small part to the performances by Tabu and especially Irfan Khan.}