12/21/08

My Week in Film (12/15 - 12/21)

Expect something soon.



Mauvais Sang (1986)
(Directed by Leos Carax)

Yes. I mean, yeah, definitely. This is right up my alley. It's not as much as an explosive expression of love as Les Amants but it's right up there. At points, it gets bogged down with its plot/boring stuff but then it gives you this amazingly awesome sequence of Denis Lavant and Binoche ( Shocked ) just talking and flirting and being young and sexy (more Binoche than Lavant, honestly). And the filmmaking backs up all of this. Just really amazing stuff. Carax just dives right in into this heady mess of feeling and fury and love and god knows what else, somehow always finding the right way to show us what's happening. And, of course, I can't say enough about the awesomeness of the "Modern Love" part. It's as explosive and redemptive and awesome as anything I've ever seen in a movie and just fucking gets it. The frustration and the need to do something, do anything at any given moment. blah blah blah. fucking see this plz.

★★★★




Man on Wire (2008)
(Directed by James Marsh)

Good but also kinda boring. What I dug the most was the sort of random team-building going on and how everyone who was involved didn't really know what they were doing but sort of came out of it with this really magnificent story. The reenactments were fine for the most part, the talking heads were boring, whatever. I mean, yeah, it would've been cool to see this and it's too bad that something like this just wouldn't happen now (not because the WTC is gone or whatever but because just the increased security levels and paranoia or whatever... there are cameras EVERYWHERE) but the whole thing just isn't that special to me. However, Phillippe is a fascinating character and it's very easy to just get swept up into his whole deal and in those final moments, he really had me with him. Points to that.

★★1/2



Throw Away Your Books, Rally In The Streets (1971)
(Directed by Shuji Terayama)


I've long been excited about this one. After obsessing over various clips (not safe), I thought I should finally watch it. Although it doesn't live to the impossibly high expectations I had, it's still a lot of fun. It's kind of like a musical version of something like Masculin Feminin except a lot less harsher and critical. It's meant as a rallying cry to the all the young people of post-60s Japan and shit. Lots of politics and lots of sex. As a youth film, it's pretty excellent with attitude and rebelliousness to spare. But it's also as much an artifact and time capsule as it is an actual film. I don't think the film would be as good as it is without the excellent proto-punk/blues music courtesy from Tokyo Kid Brothers which turns into the didacticism of some the film into explosive singalongs of desperation and fury. Anyway, this is still pretty excellent and I'm extremely glad I finally caught up with it.

The university - who is it for?
The Turkish bath - who is it for?
The peace movement - who is it for?
The pink film - who is it for?
The skyjack - who is it for?
Masturbation - who is it for?
Dynamite - who is it for?
Your liberation - who is it for?
Your arrest - who is it for?



It's all your fault!


★★★1/2



Milk (2008)
(Directed by Gus Van Sant)

Definitely the single most important 08 release if only for its newfound social relevance (prop 8/prop 6, whatever). Really enjoy the way that GVS has merged the personal and the political as this is clearly a passion project and very, very removed from the superior (aesthetic awesomeness of) Paranoid Park. Anyway, fuck this shit made me mad. Like, extremely pissed off and that's another sign of its power. I don't really think the film works all that greatly on a personal level (save the Franco stuff) but on the political level as a film that demands change, it succeeds beautifully (has any other film come out with as much incidental relevance?). The film seems to be most at home at the scenes of rallies, riots, whatever and less when things get more intimate. Maybe, as skjerva says, it's about how Milk is always associated with the social and all that stuff. Whatever. Anyway, Sean Penn is really great as is Franco (and anyone else who is not named Diego Luna). Oh, and the recording thing is kind of clunky and could've been handled a lot better.

★★★1/2



Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
(Directed by Woody Allen)

Alright, this seems easier to deal with. Where to start: the narration. Entirely contemptuous of not only the audience but also of the film's characters. I genuinely think that if you took the narration out, it would improve this film tenfold. It's completely expositional, on the nose, and at points insulting. Maybe it's just me but at points it seems to mock the characters (it's especially harsh on Johansson's character - a dreamer and romantic). All the stuff about the bohemian lifestyle is so awful. Cristina talked with poets and painters and she held her own. They all listened to the beauty of the Spanish guitar. I fell in love with Gaudi. It's fucking ridiculous. All of it. And, for a film that brims with erotic sentiment, it feels really watered down, almost "puritanical" as Cristina puts it. There is little to no passion in any of this and the film extremely relies on the Spanish cast. Needless to say, Cruz and Bardem are pretty great and all the scenes with them being insane and screaming at each other are pretty good. I don't think they completely redeem the film but at least they're worth watching. As for the Spanish locale, nope. It feels really cliched and "European" and very lifeless without any vibrancy. It's as if Allen thought it was enough to have pretty architecture and Spanish guitars playing to really set this breezy atmosphere to distract us from the inaneness of his characters. It should be said that Hall escapes relatively unharmed. Johansson is not so lucky. Total wash.

★1/2




Straw Dogs (1971)
(Directed by Sam Peckinpah)

Aye, aye aye. Where do I stand on this? It seems to be about the male domination and masculinity on the whole. Hoffman's performance is "nebbish" and all that. He's a mathematician and he doesn't understand the things he's doing. The subtle little things that he's doing wrong and that end up with him having to take a stand. This stand is problematic for so many reasons and yet...
I kept thinking to myself while watching the film... "who in their right mind would bring a date to see this film?" I mean, isn't this film about the domination of the female by the male and how that domination and the insecurity in one's own masculinity can escalate into a dangerous act. And, yet, although the violence is cathartic (even though it shouldn't be) and painful... it's almost pathetic because of the constant identification of Hoffman's character with the man-child in the attic...

It's pretty obvious from all of this that I'm still wrestling with this film... but it's safe to say... I was blown away.

★★★★



Frost/Nixon (2008)
(Directed by Ron Howard)

Mostly just not interesting. I mean, everything is perfectly fine. Nothing really wrong or bad about this. But, what is there to be interested about? The performances are alright although I find Langella almost unwatchable. Not because he's bad but because all the Nixon mannerisms are totally horrible to me. So, what is here? Well, totally dumb and worthless "documentary" stuff thrown in for no real reason. It doesn't add anything at all to the film, it only makes it fail more in my eyes (like the narration stuff in VCB). There's a lot supporting performances that don't add up to anything either. Just familiar faces who say a bunch of inane stuff. And, there's Michael Sheen whom I do like, sort of, just sort of reacting and crap all the while keeping an awkward smile. Anyway, I don't think Howard makes any of the back-and-forth interview stuff very exciting. He tries but I never felt into it at all. This film should be dramatically compelling and maybe it is by film's end when Nixon does break down or whatever (lol spoiler!!!) but by that point I was mostly very disinterested and kept wondering, "when is Rebecca Hall appearing again?"

★★




Snow Angels (2007)
(Directed by David Gordon Green)

hmmm. This is a weird failure to me. All the dramatic stuff is way too be overplayed and the fatalism of the entire affair is also at odds with some of the romanticism at display. These adults... aren't they fucked up? Hey, look at these teens, they're experimenting?! Of course, Thirlby's role is really annoying. Stereotypical MPDG kind of thing. Arthur's home life is also just completely clumsy. The stuff with his parents is so annoying as his whole courtship with Juno's best friend. As for the main plot and the relationship between Beckinsale and Rockwell, I don't know what to make of it. I don't know. There's too much stuff in this movie and none of it struck me as actually being real or earned or any of it. I missed a lot of the more homegrown feeling of something like Girls or Washington which treats its dramatic moments with a lot more subtlety and feeling. This felt like a lot of screaming "fuck you" and whatever at each other which isn't very interesting.

"You want to party with Nate?"

★★1/2




A Touch of Fever (1993)
(Directed by Ryosuke Hashiguchi)

This is actually available on netflix under a different title, Slight Fever of a 20-Year-Old, for all that are curious.

Anyway, this is a really fascinating film. It details the everyday of life of a couple of guys who have found themselves selling their bodies to older gentleman at a club named Pinocchio (yeah). One of them seems pretty ambivalent about his sexuality. He has no problem with selling his body because of the money and because it's never personal. It's not enjoyable for him but it isn't bad. The other boy is much more emotional than him and grows to dislike everything associated with the place. Of course, one falls in love with the other. This is all told in almost typical Japanese minimalist style with lots of extremely long shots of people just doing random things. I mean, there was like a 8-minute take of a family eating around one of those cool little tables just depicting subtle behavioral changes and shit which was awesome and I kept wondering how long they would keep it going for (I think there's a name for the tables but I forgot what it was, anyway, they are awesome and I want one). The film is pretty fascinating because of its thematics, honestly, and not because of any cool visual stuff that it has going and at the end it becomes really clumsy in what's arguably its most important scene. The director appears in the pivotal scene as a john and what follows could've been handled better if he were behind the camera instead of in front of it, but it's like this weird exorcism shit that happens as the guy breaks down (this is supposed to be autobiographical, I think, and one or two of the characters could be him) and he addresses them talking about this all stuff and it's so bizarre and clumsy and heartfelt and so goddamn fascinating. I loved it. Anyway, I was surprised to see that this film was a hit in Japan and is a landmark in gay film over there (and it only has 96 votes on IMDB!). Surprised because it's so slow and patient in how it develops and stuff. I just can't see that sort of thing happening here (unless it's with Cowboys or something Cheesy ).

★★★1/2




In the Heat of the Sun (1994)
(Directed by Wen Jiang)


This was actually sort of similar to A Brighter Summer Day in its depiction of teenagedom in a past decade (not 60s but 70s). However, that film employs a very oblique still camera thing while this is full of free-flowing camera movements and lots of visual goodies. I'm surprised this isn't more well-known cuz it seems pretty seminal (Cheesy) in its depiction of a certain time period in China. It's the cultural revolution and all the parents are away working hard! It appears to be summer and the teens around here have nothing to do but explore, fool around, and get into crazy ass fights. It's also very funny and stuff or something or not or perhaps.The film is mostly about the past (it's narrated by the central figure many years later). There are times when we see scenes and wonder how real they are because the narrator keeps doubting himself saying that things may have not happened this way and he gives fictionalized accounts as well to make himself look braver. However, while this is certainly a coming-of-age film, it doesn't really end up where you expect it at all. And, that's what I like the most about it. I'm not sure. You should tell me.

★★★1/2




Jumping (1984)
(Directed by Osamu Tezuka)

Pretty cool six-minute short. Boy/girl's jumps get higher and higher and higher. We jump over cars, then houses, then mountains and then we jump into war and into a mushroom cloud and then into hell. Pretty damn cool. Absolutely no physics in it from what I understand and apparently shot in one cut with 4000 motion pictures. Whatever that means.

★★★1/2




Broken Down Film (1985)
(Directed by Osamu Tezuka)


Even better. This one recreates that old silent cartoon short style to great effect as it does a really cool Duck Amuck-style thing. The cowboy/hero has to save the girl but also has to deal with the really old film's scratches and all this other stuff. Really, really awesome and funny.

★★★★




Push (1987)
(Directed by Osamu Tezuka)

This one's more overtly political. It follows a man who at the push of a button can get everything renewed from vending machines. He gets new clothes, new pets, a new car. However, he goes up to heaven and asks God for a new earth (he had been traveling through a barren wasteland, more or less). He's denied. And, God, a funny looking old man, says there's no such things. It's simple but very effective and the music at the end is awesome.

★★★1/2




Self-Portrait (1988)
(Directed by Osamu Tezuka)

This one's only 14 seconds long but still cool. Basically, Tezuka turns different people's portraits into a slot machine ending up at different combinations and finally ending up on his own face which spits coins (such a cute drawing, too!).

★★★





Still Life (2006)*
(Directed by Jia Zhang-Ke)


Just gorgeous. If anyone is using DV correctly, it's Jia. Utilizing the ridiculous depth of focus available to him to dwarf his characters in their surroundings (place them in a social context or something), he's showing/exploiting this technology like no one else is. To me, this shit is just fascinating. The slow pans (with the occasional dreamy music) to reveal new information and terrains is just amazing but I guess it helps that it helps that Jia is shooting the whole Three Gorges Dam deal which is just staggering. We see footage of people taking down buildings, in essence, dismantling their own city. Some parts of the city are just rubble of the buildings that have already been taken down and there's a bizarreness to these images (like, this can't possibly have been civilization, right?) that's accentuated by men in white suits and these little (but HUGE) moments where artifice is gleefully squeezed into the narrative (with CGI!). These moments are so random and yet so oddly beautiful that... jeezuz... and the ending beats Man on Wire at its own game. Just fucking superb.

★★★★

Really hard this week but...

Jhon's Movie of the Week is... Still Life

3 comments:

face said...

You missed out on some of the best aspects of Milk. More to come...

roujin said...

Looking forward to it. Also, post on the forums and stuff... (tsk tsk).

Bill Thompson said...

Hmmm, Langella's mannerisms as Nixon horrible? I don't see it, I thought his mannerisms were one of the key reasons he captured Nixon so well.