Thursday, August 2, 2007

August 2007 mini-reviews

8/31- Lonely Hearts (2006, Todd Robinson) [4] {Mostly forgettable, aside from the ways in which director Robinson practically jumps through hoops to lionize his grandfather, the detective who cracked the case, played by John Travolta. The connection is pretty cool, I guess, but it doesn't exactly make for riveting cinema. The real story is Beck and Fernandez, and whenever we're not with them the movie sags, sags, sags.}

8/26- Ball of Fire (1941, Howard Hawks) [***1/2] {Was Barbara Stanwyck the coolest actress from the golden age of Hollywood? She very well might've been. She was just about the most versatile- not in the Master Thespian look-how-I-transform-myself-for-my-art sense, but in the sense that she could kill in damn near any genre. And she was sexy as hell, all the more wondrously so because she wasn't as conventionally glamorous as many of her counterparts, but unlike them she realized that sex appeal was above behavior more than appearance. Who else could've pulled off a character named Sugarpuss O'Shea? Yeah, didn't think so. Oh, and the movie's pretty damn great too.}

8/24- She Done Him Wrong (1933, Lowell Sherman) [***] {If Mae West's innuendos have lost much of their shock value, they're as funny as they ever were. What keeps this from being a really great film like the best work of Fields and the Marx brothers was West's use of conventional plotting. Much of the charm of those Fields and Marx classics was their cavalier disregard for conventional narrative setup-and-payoff, but in the world of She Done Him Wrong the true wrongdoers get punished, and the wrongs are made right. If there's any outlaw charge at all, it's that West herself is exempt from these rules, partly because she talks bad but isn't a crook, but also because of her ever-present belief that sex cuts through morality, rather than the other way around.}

8/24- Cobra Woman (1943, Robert Siodmak) [**] {Not a good movie by any means- I can't imagine watching this alone- but certainly a lot of fun. Sequences of this movie, especially the notorious King Cobra dances, are so jaw-dropping that they're unforgettable. Easy to see Jack Smith's obsession with Maria Montez too. Like many B-movie icons, she may not have been much of an actress, but she had style and presence out the wazoo, so much that you could forgive her shortcomings as a thespian.}

8/23- Pennies From Heaven (1981, Herbert Ross) [***1/2] {What he said, basically. I actually prefer this to Dancer in the Dark because of Ross' fidelity to the style of elaborate Hollywood musicals in the fantasy sequences. Whereas Von Trier's visions look like just regular Von Trier but with music, the contrast of the fantasies in Pennies make them switch between fantasy and "reality" all the more jarring. And strangely poignant too, as when Steve Martin finds himself alone but for his Hollywood-fed fantasies at the end of the film. I guess I need to see the BBC original, but as a remake this blows the 2003 Singing Detective out of the water.}

8/19- The Band Wagon (1953, Vincente Minnelli) [****] {Doesn't quite sustain the level of joy one gets from Singin' in the Rain, but that's about the only thing you can say against this. So many pleasures to be had- the urbane elegance of Fred Astaire, the in-every-way awesome legs of Cyd Charisse, the great songs, the gorgeous sets, and so much more. And why has Eli Roth's Thanksgiving trailer been posted dozens if not hundreds of times on YouTube while nobody has bothered to post "Triplets?" A sad state of affairs for today's tech-savvy movie lovers...}

8/7- Lorna (1964, Russ Meyer) [**] {As propulsive and convulsive as Meyer's films tend to be, I never expected to say this, but Lorna is mostly just kinda meh. A lot of the blame can be heaped on Lorna Maitland who, far from being the archetypal Meyer Amazon, is just sort of a wet blanket. Admittedly she has considerable natural, um, talents (lovely talents too, I must add) but she doesn't have much else going for her. As a result, the film is built around a vacuum, so despite some entertaining business on the fringes- especially Hal Hopper egging on Lorna's husband- the center cannot hold. In addition, the fire-and-brimstone morality of the story (including the "Man of God" narrator) feels fairly cynical here, a spoonful of medicine given to the audience so they don't feel so bad about eating the sugar.}

8/1- # /Mala Noche (1985, Gus Van Sant)/ [**1/2] {It's very much a first film, which doesn't quite make it good but certainly makes it interesting. The black-and-white helps- it lends the images a beauty they would otherwise lack, not to mention that it gives me more motivation to lend the film some extra goodwill. And some of the images are legitimately beautiful, especially the shot of Pepper's newly-dead body, having just fallen out of a window into the street, with steam rising from it as the rain comes pouring down. Still, more interesting as an early indication of Van Sant's later films- especially My Own Private Idaho and his Tarr-inflected "Death" trilogy.}


Steve C. said...

Lorna isn't very good, is it? His followup Mudhoney (which, if memory serves, also features Ms. Maitland) is the awesomeness Lorna could have been.

Paul C. said...

No, it's not, and it's sort of a slog too. I don't know why I gave it two stars, except that my love for big bouncing breasts wouldn't let me give it any less. I am nothing if not beholden to my baser impulses, at least where movies are concerned.

Steve C. said...

I gave it a C+ for much the same reason. Big bouncing breasts will forgive a lot of cinematic sins.

Paul C. said...

Although I should probably qualify all this by saying that breasts alone will only get you about a 7. I can point to Mondo Topless as the ultimate example of that. If you want any more than that, you've got to give me something besides T&A.


I'm happy people are seeing OFFSIDE now that it's out on DVD; not having seen it since March but still considering it my favorite picture of the year so far, I can't wait to revisit it. I actually would rank it as one of Panahi's best... perhaps not as elusive as CRIMSON GOLD or as raw as THE CIRCLE, but definitely as effective.