My Week in Film (1/11 - 1/17)

Scarface (1932)
(Directed by Howard Hawks + Richard Rosson)

Pretty, pretty good. Paul Muni rises through the ranks as he takes over the South and then the North side, ruthlessly killing everyone/thing in sight. The film's best sequence is the rat-a-tat-tat machine gun killing montage where Muni destroys all his opponents. I didn't particularly like Muni that much. He seemed like this hulking monster just ready to unleash all those incestuous feelings (hey, they copied that from De Palma's original!) raging inside him. Of course, you know how this ends, but it's still pretty awesome. All those X's, that long single-take opening with the whistling and the awesomeness, and even though sometimes it's get bogged down by crappy stuff that's annoying to me for reasons unforgivable, I still had a lot of fun with it, even though I couldn't understand anything that Muni said for the last 10 or so minutes.

Sadly, this is better than anything in the movie.


The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1963)
(Directed by Eric Rohmer)

Film #1 of the Six Moral Tales. It's about this college kid who keeps seeing this girl on the street. He becomes infatuated with her and tries to get her to go out with him. They agree to set up a date the next time they see each other, but after that, he can't seem to find the girl at all. So he starts walking around Paris, going to this bakery and always getting the same cookies and just trying to find things to do. He finds things to do. This was pretty charming. We get mostly voice over of the guy's inner thoughts as he debates what he should do. There's some clunky camera moves and needless jump cuts and zooms that feel misplaced (or misused or something) that detract from the overall experience. At 20 minutes, it's not really enough to really get into it, but I suppose it's a fine way to start this year's journey into Rohmer-dom. Rest in peace.


That Uncertain Feeling (1941)
(Directed by Ernst Lubitsch)

By far my least favorite Lubitsch. It just isn't any fun. Bored housewife tries psychoanalysis because she has nothing else to do but this makes her start thinking about all the things that are wrong with her marriage and about how she bored she is. The she meets Burgess Meredith (an individualist who hates everyone) and somehow they strike up a romance or something and there are painfully unfunny divorces, lots of "phooey" and just... nothing. Burgess Meredith gets a chance to be an asshole to everyone and to wife's Hungarian guests and I guess I just don't find the process of breaking up an entire marriage cuz they're bored all that funny or charming or anything because it did absolutely nothing for me. I was not prepared for that going into a Lubitsch film.


The Village (2004)
(Directed by M. Night Shyamalan)

I'm not ready to join Cahiers du Cinema or anything, but there's at least half a really good movie in here. The first half of this film is this weird suppressed melodrama with all these intense brooding feelings under the surface (oh, it's Phoenix, of course) and there are all these unusual angles and shots that constantly surprise me. There's a gentleness here that's very inviting or something. The problem is: although Shyamalan is an interesting visual stylist, his writing is godawful, and the movie takes a big, big turn for the worse in the second half (pretty much when Phoenix stops being the focus, I lose interest) because the utter banality of the film's revelations and maybe because I don't think there's a really good way to handle this material in a way that's not completely awkward although the film's final image is a strangely powerful one. Some of the performances were pretty distracting, too (Judy Greer's confession to Phoenix had me on the floor heaving, and Brody's turn as the village idiot or whatever is just distracting) and the performers aren't really helped by some of the clunkier lines. So, yeah, really good first half, but then it goes up its own ass, climaxing with possibly the most annoying part of the film (Shyamalan's attention-grabbing cameo - oh, can you see my direction? THIS IS MY CAMEO! argh).


Fighting (2009)
(Directed by Channing Tatum)

Channing Tatum is a strange presence. It seems he's supposed to be this total hunk, but he really comes off as this as a mumbling weirdo that just happens to have washboard abs or whatever. Basically, Terrence Howard awkwardly recruits Tatum into joining an underground fighting thingie majigger which allows him to make improbable amounts of money in a quick amount of time. There are some personal rivalries going on, a love interest is introduced, and there's a big fight at the end. But it's all treated pretty weirdly. Running throughout the film there's a kind of eccentric spirit at the heart of it. I really love Howard's group or whatever that drives him around everywhere. They're always cracking jokes and bringing life into the film. Howard has this really affected way of speaking. It really drove me up the wall for a lot of the movie, but then those final scenes came together and he really sold me on the character regardless of the cliches that the movie uses because it doesn't even care they're cliches. And the romance is really sweetly played. Loved the grandma role and how all of that's handled. I don't know why I don't like it more. It was just really interesting. I watched the shadows play all day long just to arrive at this moment of truth.


The Informer (1935)
(Directed by John Ford)

Disappointing. The cinematography is ridiculously excellent. Joseph H. August's cinematography is pretty awesome. Dublin is a fog-shrouded hellhole, and there's no respite but drinking yourself into a stupor. The lighting is dramatic and the light sources are unexpected. Something about German Expressionism goes here. Whatever. The problem is that the story's nothing but a one-note thingie majigger following the titular informer as he goes around, drunk, trying to forget what's he done, failing, and then being unable to see anything other than the place around him. He originally informs to get his girl and him to America, but he gets one in drink in him and suddenly the reasons don't matter, there's just guilt, and what else to wash away the guilt with but with a little drink. Although McLaglen is pretty good, he just basically goes around being a brute and a drunk which is not particularly interesting to me. Then there's the cringe-inducing side characters of the noble IRA dude who's just trying to do his job and his girl and those final moments just reeked to me of blerghy stuff going on. It's all very unfortunate, really. The common man is a beast, destined to walk around aimlessly, waiting for reasons to fall into his lap. good luck, roujin, you know where you're headed.


Warriors Two (1978)
(Directed by Sammo Hung)

If I've learned anything watching Sammo Hung in the 13 or 14 films I've seen in him now is that the more kung phooey ones have the most epically awesome zooms used as graceful punctuation in their fight scenes. At least, that's how I remember it. The plot stuff isn't too fun in these. It's basically: Sammo is a good old fatty, and then there's a dead master, and revenge and some training, climaxing with a blowout in a non-distinct location. And that's fine. Because even though I wasn't very taken with the film for the first half, the training sequence was lots of fun even if the master or Cashier Wah aren't that interesting. He learns all these different Wing Chun techniques, and although it's not definitely not as thorough as 36th Chamber, it still had its charms. Then plot kicks in and the zooming dead awaken and Sammo gets to show off some of his awesome stuff and the villain has one of the most hilariously preposterous reveals I've ever seen. Is this fun? Let's find out at three in the morning with nothing in your pocket, the revelations are few. roujin, you have to tear down the walls.


Never Back Down (2008)
(Directed by Jeff Wadlow)

I wish I could tell you why I watched this. People do stupid things at three in the morning, I guess. . .

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
(Directed by Wes Anderson)

I could look at this film all day. I could find new things in it all the time, I imagine. That's how densely constructed and designed it is. Of course, that's par for the course with Wes Anderson, and that's one of the things I like him. He packs his films with ridiculous amounts of detail and feeling and sadness and humor and warmth and awesomeness. Fantastic Mr. Fox is pretty much the same movie he's been making all along except this time it's figurines and crap. We got the usual fathers and sons type deal and you got lateral tracking shots and you got awesomeness. I just pretty much had a smile on my face the entire time. And it all further cements that Wes Anderson is the best Anderson :) Best movie of 09, most definitely.


A Christmas Tale (2008)*
(Directed by Arnaud Desplechin)

I first saw this film all the way back in Nov. 2008 when it came out in the States. I went by myself and sat in the back of the theater as I usually do if I'm by myself and I came out of the screening kinda feeling a little depressed, but I was also teeming with this weird sense of elation because I just had seen this incredible movie and I kept trying to form it all in my head and try to find out why it had such a reaction on me, but it always eluded me. I didn't know why I had responded to it in the way that I had. So I watched it last night (around 1AM, to be more accurate) as I'd always meant to (same with Kings and Queen and Ma Vie Sexuelle, even though I saw that last year, too) just to find out what it is that gets me all bothered about it, why it sends me reeling in so many different directions. To start, Desplechin is definitely novelistic. In the sense that there's a lot of backstory and his characters are intricately drawn and have lots of contradictory traits about them and things like that. But he's also very cinematic, which are two things I don't feel have to be exclusive or anything. I'm thinking of the cluttered widescreen compositions in the house (which is like another character, same as Summer Hours but even more so) filled with pictures, paintings, mementos, people. Yes, people. Personally, I liked all the characters, found them engaging and humorous even when they're cruel to each other or insult each other, and I liked the way that the film evokes myths in order to explain some of the ways that families deal with its history (when Amalric says in his direct address bit that he feels he's part of a myth, but doesn't know what myth it is), and that's not even without mentioning the very direct references to storytelling that are pretty much given away in the title (it's a tale, after all). It starts off with that shadow puppetry or whatever it is detailing the mountainous backstory of the family and then it invokes Shakespeare and Plato at the end, just saying it was all shadows on the wall. Watching the movie, I felt thrilled whenever Desplechin would cut or dissolve within a scene, showing us a new angle, or doing something unexpected because I felt it tied back with his cute little obsession with DJ scratches. And I don't know. I just felt glad to be in this world for 2 and a half hours. I'm an only child, but my mom comes from a large family and that's something I don't have in my life anymore so maybe that's why Desplechin (and Anderson, to a certain extent) hit me so hard. I'm not sure. I'm not sure of anything anymore, but when Emmanuelle Devos conjures up all her energy to momentarily overwhelm the film in the scene above, at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…


The Killer (1989)
(Directed by John Woo)

so, this John Woo fella, he basically just makes these manly melodramas, right? It's not that different from something that Michael Mann would do though Mann is more into setting a mood, I guess, whereas with Woo, just a shot like the above would suffice (I'm generalizing, but that's my right). There's also the whole two sides of the law thing here with Chow Yun Fat as the killer and Danny Lee as the police offer being kindred spirits or whatever. You just need to look at Heat for that. Although it's troubling that the two sides get so friendly that they ultimately start helping each other. Uh, what does that mean? Anyway, yeah, melodrama. And lots of it. Chow Yun Fat plays the titular killer. He accidentally blinds this one girl doing a job, and he decides he has to take care of her. But then there are double crosses, and cops who admire a serial killer (more or less) a little too much, and honor among men, and promises and things like that. Of course, Woo is really flamboyant in his set pieces, and the final one here is awesome. It's set in a church, and there are candles everywhere and doves are flying (that parody in The King of Comedy is really hilarious now; Chow poses as a stuntman who is being set on fire while the director decides if there should be a dove in the shot or not) and the guns are blazing and the men are alive and powerful. It's quite beautiful, and quite cheesy, but damn if it's not awesome.


Jhon's Movie of the Week is.... A Christmas Tale

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