Like I said, not much this week. Between doing work on Yellow and getting to the fifth boss in A Link To The Past (the bug-catching net? Are you kidding me?), there hasn’t been a lot of time for movies. That should change, though; I’m done wth Yellow for the time being and I got library movies to get through.
Oh, and rescue Zelda.
The Lady Eve (1941, Preston Sturges) (v) 89
Contrary to what Peter Bogdanovich says, this Sturges really isn’t that funny. But what it’s missing in laughs is made up for in sheer romance. Barbara Stanwyck paralyzes Henry Fonda just before going in for the kill, but a funny thing happens: she falls in love. Actually, it’s kind of a sad thing, and that’s what set this film apart from other romances – the melancholy, a kind of side effect from Stanwyck’s con artist life, that seeps into the film, curdling any sentimentality. I don't think I've seen Stanwyck be less than amazing, and she's probably at the top of her game here; she's totally hypnotic.
To Have and Have Not (1944, Howard Hawks) (v) 55
Innocuous, and while better than the similar Key Largo (far as I know; I turned that film off after a half-hour), I expect better from Hawks. Also, I like Walter Brennan, and I like horseradish; but I don’t slather horseradish on my food, ya dig?
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987, Sui-Tung Ching) (v) 51
Second viewing, or maybe third, and there’s a clue to this movie’s problem. Lots of jumping around, lots of arm-waving and magic spells and tentacles and Evil Dead-style shenanigans (all of which is nudged on by the restless editing), but otherwise, kinda like eating a tub of Cool Whip. There’s a good bit with the protagonist hiding in a bath to avoid a powerful demon that can smell humans, and the bearded ghostbusting monk guy is cool, but that’s about it. Made me wanna play Feng Shui, though, so that’s something.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003, Jonathan Mostow) (v) 35
Strike One: the schtickiness (the male stripper, the inflatable boobs, the psychiatrist from the second film), which I find unwelcome in my apocalpytic SF thrillers. When Cameron (tries to) make a joke, it has the sincerity of a high-school nerd trying to fit in with the guys; the jokes in this script are just dumb pandering. (I won’t blame Mostow, since I don’t remember any humor in J.T. Walsh,You Are Missed or OU812.) Strike Two: the CGI, which turns the Terminators into a pair of warring Wile E. Coyotes. The big car chase, the centerpiece, is just godawful in this regard. Remember when action directors could spend their budget money to stage tense car chases with real vehicles and real stunts? That was awesome. Strike Three: the betrayal of Cameron’s message -- you know, No Future But What We Make -- for the sake of sequels (i.e., money). Game over. Hit the showers.
I'll probably being going easy on the movie-watching and blogging this week. Computer problems? Major surgery? Post-moving stress disorder? No, I found an old Super Nintendo during the move, and I hooked it up and am now attempting to complete The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, a game I've never played.
The Saddest Music in the World (2004, Guy Maddin) (f) 80 (downgraded from 81)
Amazing how a movie with such a frenzied editing style can still feel so slow, hence the lowered rating. I thought maybe I just hadn't been acclimated to Maddin's surreal vision in a theater setting, but unfortunately, the truth is that the melodramatic plot is always a step behind the audience. Still: One of the coolest movies in a long while, and great performances from Mark McKinney, Isabella Rossellini, and especially Ross McMillan, he of the haunted stare and mellifluous voice. Also, as a screenwriter with a prediliction for realistic scenarios, its opened my eyes to the potential for the bizarre plot in film.
Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick) (v) 78
Starting to think that Malick doesn't give a fuck about Starkweather, Texas farms, or WWII, but is only interested in how modern man relates to the natural environment, whether it be (in this case) driving a car off-road through the badlands of the Dakotas or building a Swiss Family Robinson-style treehouse just outside the city limits. If this was patently obvious to everyone else, my apologies.
Atlantic City (1980, Louis Malle) (v) 78
Starts off as a great character study, but felt like it became more stylized and plot-driven by the end (just after the "I watch you" monologue), and it felt a bit like a betrayal. Burt Lancaster is awesome as ever, though.
Blow-Up (1966, Michelangelo Antonioni) (v) 66
Saw this a long time ago, and thought I'd forgotten most of it. On revisiting, realized that not a shit-load happens in the first place. Baby-faced Hemmings is great as the wholly contemptible Photographer, and, interestingly, takes a journey that is not unlike his role in Deep Red. Always feels like a maestro is behind the camera, and the ending is still fantastic, but ultimately feels like a path (trail-blazed, admittedly) that Eyes Wide Shut paved with gold.
The Beyond (1981, Lucio Fulci) (v) 58
Another example of either incredible stupidity or demented genius: the bloody, physical death of a character who (unless I misunderstood) is a freakin' ghost, fer chrissakes.
Knife in the Water (1962, Roman Polanski) (v) 50
Awesome Wellsian on-the-water cinematography, but not that insightful, kinda boring.
The Fury (1978, Brian DePalma) (v) 19
Two positive things about The Fury: 1) The affable Charles Durning was an inspired choice to play the head of a psychic research institute. He can go on about a "bio-plasmic universe" and make it sound reasonable. 2) This movie helped finance Opening Night. And I'm out.
Or, The Discreet Charm of the Eye-Gouging Zombie. This falls squarely into the no-logic, pure-dreamscape type of horror movie, such as Inferno, Messiah of Evil, or Phantasm, where the story is less important than the cumulative effect of the images. This is my first Fulci, and I was under the impression that he was a hack; he still may be, but he's a hack with a knack for a good composition or a nice camera move. At one point, a woman's face is dissolved by acid (don't ask) and the resulting blood and foam creeps along the white floor towards the woman's daughter, taking on a malevolent life of its own.
The thing about these kinds of movies is that they aim to strike the viewer in the pre-rational part of the brain via all the illogical and discontinuous imagery, and I think that a lot of people block off that part when adulthood sets in, ironically making these violent and gory movies most effective for kids. (Had I seen The Beyond when I was nine, it might be one of my favorite movies; as it happened, I saw Phantasm instead.) The Beyond is even more bizarrely organized than most. The movie starts with an evocative prologue, taking place in 1927 and shot in sepia tones, but in terms of narrative information, it's superfluous. From that point on, it doesn't even really build to any particular moment; rather than progressing in a linear, horizontal fashion, it seems to stack its scenes vertically, moving from scene to scene based on feel, match-cuts, and of course, the next victim to die a gory death.
Ah yes, the gore. Perhaps Fulci is a hack, since he insists on ending every legitimately spooky scene with an outrageous (and terribly done) bit of gore, usually meaning someone's eye is torn or poked out. The probably-infamous spider scene is particularly egregious, although its silliness borders genius; I know Fulci needed a fake spider to crawl into a guy's mouth and bite his tongue, but did he need to put the fake spiders in with the real ones for the establishing shots?
The real problem though, is that, for me, a film of this type has to compete with Phantasm. Don Coscarelli's masterpiece, for all its ridiculousness, is about something: the moment when a child realizes that death is real, and not only are those dead relatives not coming back, death eventually comes for him as well. (Also, the combination of a pre-rational narrative and a kid protagonist makes it double effective.) The Beyond can only offer stumbling zombies.
And yet, despite all this hackery, Fulci manages to pull off an incredibly effective slow-motion finale, one that's haunting and damn-near poetic. Okay, I'm sold. Mr. Fulci, where shall we go next?
Impressive debut feature, with excellent performances from a young cast (everyone is in the 12-18 range). A bit too writerly in places (particularly the long dialogue leading up to the Big Dramatic Event At The Heart of the Picture), and there's a ten-minute or so lull just after said Dramatic Event when it feels like clichés are going to seep in and ruin all the great character stuff the movie spent an hour building up. Thankfully, it recovers for a quiet and refreshingly understated ending. This is a writer/director to keep an eye on.
(And maybe I was just misreading the crowd, but it seemed like they didn't like it, at least not as much as last week's train wreck. Whatever*, Seattle.)
*From The Evasion-English Dictionary by Maggie Balistreri: "The minced oath whatever. Translation: Fuck you."
Playtime (1967, Jacques Tati) (f) 99
What a difference 70mm makes. Here's a film that's more-or-less the one-stop-shop for the Film vs. Home Video argument. Gags that were once theoretical come alive. Bits that were moderately amusing turn uproarious in a crowded theater. Expressions that were unreadable on the DVD are registered with intense clarity. Definitely the highlight of SIFF and possibly of the movie year.
Hero (2004, Zhang Yimou) (f) 95
If Hero is indeed just a dry run for the real thing, as Jim Biancolo reports (I'm lovin' The Listology, btw -- great job, man), then... No, sorry, I can't even begin to imagine the ramifications of that statement.
The Best of Youth (2004, Marco Tullio Giordana) (f) 75
One of the highest compliments I can give a six-hour movie is that I'd gladly see it again.
Marathon Man (1976, John Schlesinger) (v) 72
William Devane looks like he was drawn by Mort Drucker.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Alfonso Cuarón) (f) 71
Wherein Hogwarts turns into Humboldt State University. Clearly in the hands of a superior director, but damned if I don't feel so conditioned by Cristóbal Colón's hacknastics that this installment feels a bit... relaxed. It doesn't help that the improved acting and mise-en-scene reveal that the Potter stories just really aren't suited for two- (or even three-) hour movies. Thewlis is wonderful, looking like he stepped out of a Michael Powell movie, but there aint enough Oldman. Also, for further study: read the Entertainment Weekly cover story, which has a lot of in-between-the-lines meat. Choice quote: "So [Radcliffe] asked his director for advice. In the past, when Radcliffe asked Columbus for help, he usually got instruction on effective facial expressions. Cuarón talked him through it -- then challenged his star to figure it out for himself."
The Dirty Dozen (1967, Robert Aldrich) (v) 65
I didn't know Donald Sutherland was in this movie. Does Donald Sutherland know he's in this movie?
Secret Fest #3 (can't say, won't say but I'd love to) (f) 46
Memo to self: Be sure to title any movie I write in such a way that it doesn't give critics ready-made ammo.
[Again, it's supposed to come out this year. Again, it's Miramax.]
And that rating could go up after a second viewing, since I saw this from the third row at the Cinerama, which is like watching TV with your forehead on the screen. Visually amazing and, in certain scenes, literally breath-taking, this is the crazed poetry to Crouching Tiger’s sensible prose, as well as being the closest thing to a Kubrick martial-arts movie. I don’t think it’s quite as “cold” as that Kubrick comment makes it sound, but it is the kind of movie where characters and fights are turned into icons and abstractions. That probably sounds off-putting, but Yimou’s visual imagination is so voracious (two characters fight over the still water of a lake mostly just to demonstrate all the different ways to film such a scene) that it’s incredibly easy to get absorbed into the story. One fight in particular, between Zhang Ziyi and Maggie Cheung (who has never looked as gorgeous as she does here, and that’s counting In The Mood For Love) in the middle of a million yellow leaves, is simultaneously heart-stoppingly exciting and jaw-droppingly beautiful. It’s the scene of the year, and last year, and next year.
[Technically, this is a 2003, but Miramax is supposed to release it this year, but you know how that goes.]
Two brothers in 1966 Italy, during the summer before college, escort a mentally-ill young woman on a train ride to find her family. The film, six hours (!) long, follows how this gesture affects the brothers (and their family) over the next 37 years. Originally made for TV, it’s remarkable in that it manages to avoid soap operatics and remain engrossing from minute to three hundred and sixtieth minute. Although its televised origins pops up on occasion (characters disappear for extended periods of time, and every now and then there’s a “Word processors are the future!” type moment), ultimately, it does work as a movie, even if the best part, cinematically speaking, is the journey during the first hour. Acting is terrific across the board, and the actors do a convincing job of playing everything from 18 to 55, even if the make-up doesn’t always keep up. The emotional climax (which subtly and cleverly breaks the staid realism of the piece) would’ve seemed silly in a shorter movie, but is terribly powerful after getting to know these characters so well over the long haul.
The latest from acclaimed and controversial director [redacted], making it the first Secret Fest movie this year worthy of being a secret. Unfortunately, it’s an utter and complete mess, showing neither the restraint of his last feature nor the control of his most famous, both of which are masterpieces. In other words, it’s like most of his other films. (Figure it out yet?) This thing is going to get shredded when it’s released, and deservingly. Why the high(ish) grade? Not having a marketing campaign to guide my response, I had absolutely no idea what it was about or what was going to happen, making the weird 180-degree plot turn a half-hour in legitimately surprising. Unfortunately, that’s when it gets stoopid. (Don’t worry – this twist will be the focal point of the ad campaign.) Still full of interesting bits and stylized shots, though, and an absolutely gorgeous title sequence.
Not much going on this week, with the move into Ballard, the finicky Internet connection, and the illness that knocked me on my ass for two days. It was like Helm's Deep in my body, I swear.
Stagecoach (1939, John Ford) (v) 93
The Cowboys of Altamira.
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976, Robert Altman) (v) 89
After reading some of the reviews on the 'net (especially Dave Kehr's something-crawled-up-my-ass-and-died capsule), I feel like I have to defend my rating. Screw it. This is classic Altman, and if you don't like, go home.
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring (2004, Kim Ki-Duk) (f) 86
So, raise your hand if you're of the philosophy that says whatever's on the screen is the title. Every review I've seen calls it "Fall" instead of "Autumn"; did I see a British print or something?
Anyway, for a movie about a Buddhist monk and his pupil with that kind of title, you can pretty much predict what's going to happen. (You should be able to guess what happens in the second "Spring" segment right now, without even seeing the film.) What makes it wonderful is that while the end is predictable, the journey there is full of surprises. Ever see a man tow a boat with a rooster? You will.
Secret Fest #2 (can't say, won't say) (f) 47
Additional comments: While I was pretty lukewarm on the movie as a whole, there's an actor in a supporting role who is absolutely fantastic. You may or may not have seen him before; he's got some movies under his belt, but he used to work in a different artform. But I'm telling you now: in 2005, when he's the one of the leads in a major summer blockbuster, he's going to be huge. You heard it here first. Well, you would've, if I told you his name.
They Drive By Night (1940, Raoul Walsh) (v) 16
In what universe was George Raft a star? Oh right, this one. Incredible that this actor, with his oddly-shaped body, weirdly femme-y eyes, and the inability to convey any kind of emotion could be considered a romantic lead, but here's this movie. While there's some promising stuff here about the lives of truckers and the problems of capitalism, it's all torpedoed by incredibly annoying characters (Roscoe Karns makes Red Skelton look like one of Bresson's models), terrible writing (I don't know which is worse, the dinner scene with the one-armed Humphrey Bogart or Ida Lupino's breakdown in the courtroom), dialogue that makes everyone sound like Bugs Bunny (no one has a straight line), and a dopey third act (where people are put on trial for murder without a shred of physical evidence). Bogart manages to come away unscathed, but barely.
That's right folks -- I'm Back in Ballard!
Yeah, y'all can only wish you lived in Ballard. Me, I'm living the dream, baby, the DREAM!
I got the Majestic Bay to the south, the library to the west, and Quizno's to the east, all within walking distance. To the north of is a little piece of nowhereland called Mountlake Terrace that can blow me.
Ballard, y'all! I can go over to Todd or Kirk and Word's any time I want, and throw rocks at their windows. I can buy the new Franz Ferdinand from Sonic Boom (walking distance) or get a iced mocha from Tully's (walking distance) or hop on the bus and be downtown in 15. And if they ever build the monorail--that's right, walking distance.
However, nothing's ever perfect. My phone connection in the new place is hinky at best, so this'll be the last update until I figure out what's wrong. (I'll be lucky if this entry even posts.) Hopefully, we're talking days and not a week.
And if you're someone In The Know, I'll send out the new address and phone number shortly.
A short history of Ballard.
A guide to what's cool in Ballard.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
Nor was it to be for any of the other contestants I'd been in contact with for the last month. That's a real bummer. Oh well, look at the bright side: nothing to keep us from wishing for a complete disaster!
Although, one of the scripts to make the Top 6 (someone must've campaigned hard for one of 'em) is something called Does Anybody Here Remember When Hanz Gubenstein Invented Time Travel? If it's half as interesting as the title, they may have something.
However, I do have some good news to report, but it's good news in the David Brent sense. More on that later.