Gonna take some time off from the blog for a little bit. A bit too much on my plate right now: I got not one but two friends coming into town in the next couple weeks (one from California, one from the U.K.), I need to prepare for a semi-public reading of Yellow that's coming up soon, and I recently started work on a new screenplay that's taking up about 75% of my brain. I'll still be watching movies -- I have six from the library that are sitting on my cable box, staring at me -- and you can check here for the ratings as they happen. But no capsules for the time being.
Need to think about seeing better movies...
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933, Michael Curtiz) (v) 58
Reveals House of Wax for what it is: not a movie, but a 3-D delivery system. Ignore what Danny Peary says; this is the real deal, perhaps not scary (it is more an offshoot of The Front Page-style newspaper genre), but it's actually a movie, one that moves briskly along via shots and editing. (In other words, Mamet would approve.) The lead actress is annoying, for sure, with all that screwball patter, but at least she's an active participant, unlike the do-nothing female lead of House of Wax. Ending doesn't work; the actors aren't good enough to pull off the subtext needed in previous scenes. Deserves to re-ascend over its remake; or is Curtiz "too Hollywood" for adulation?
The Big Country (1958, William Wyler) (v) 55
Really hard to hate a movie that's all about shit-kicking the usual wild-west-frontier macho bullshit of the Western genre. In a reversal of the usual gender roles, city slicker Gregory Peck comes to "the big country" to marry his sweetheart, the daughter of a rancher, and bring along a little of that ol' civilization along with him. And of course, he proceeds to undercut every expectation they have of someone unfamiliar with (and resistant to) the lawless West. Would've been a fine story at, say, 100 minutes; at 167, it reaches for an epic status that it can never earn. Burl Ives gets an Oscar for having all the best lines; the young Chuck Connors is distractingly similar to Willem Dafoe.
Irma La Douce (1964, Billy Wilder) (v) 34
Apparently this was a musical before Wilder got his hands on it, which explains a lot. Shorn of songs -- in other words, ripped from its context as a musical -- it's just a increasingly-fluffy comedy. An interesting, almost Brechtian premise (a cop, on his first day of duty in the red light district, loses his job and becomes the pimp of the most popular prostitute) backs itself into a corner by the end of the first act, where he's jealous of the men she sleeps with and she won't let him get a proper job, because it would make her look bad. Really, the story should end there, or at least find a tragic way to resolve the tension. Instead, the cop disguises himself as an Englishman so he can be with her... oh, it just gets stupid. Had the characters been allowed to express themselves via song, the musical genre might've been able to sustain the silliness and provide a counterpoint to the characters' bleak reality; but what we're left with are sad people forced to smile as if they're being re-Neducated. I don't think the Wilder of Double Indemnity or Ace in the Hole would've put up with this shit. Lemmon makes Lemmonade, as usual, though.
Through A Glass Darkly (1961, Ingmar Bergman) (v) 89
Wasn't sure what I was going to write here, but then Scott saw Wild Strawberries and called it "pretty much critic-proof", and that's how I feel about this Bergman as well. Impeccably acted (Harriet Andersson is phenomenal), beautifully shot (by Sven Nykvist, of course), and a script you could bounce a quarter off. And although it clearly demonstrates that Bergman came from theater, and the story could easily be staged, it never feels like a well-made play shot on film (Un air de famille, I'm looking at you). If it isn't 90+, it's probably because I'm not so big on movies about faith; luckily, there's more to it than just that.
Capturing The Friedmans (2003, Andrew Jarecki) (v) 82
Comments to come (hopefully).
Hellboy (2004, Guillermo Del Toro) (v) 73
After all the fair-to-middlin' reviews, I'm as surprised as anyone that I liked this as much as I did. Probably has to do with the comics: last Christmas, I read through a couple of collections, and wasn't impressed. Great artwork and atmosphere (and if that's all you're looking for, go get 'em), but I was reminded of that panel in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, where he takes a bite of the apple and it's hollow. So it's funny, and perhaps not unexpected, that such a shallow, all-concept-and-no-heft kind of story should make for a good time in front of the TV.
I think I was hooked when the floodlight went through the portal and bounced off the gigantic Lovecraftian god-monster, and I knew I liked it better than Blade II when Del Toro used long, smooth takes instead of the former's choppy editing style. Ron Perlman is completely convincing, especially visually, as Hellboy, an odd-looking character that doesn't seem translatable from the comic book. And I was delighted by the appearance of Jeffrey Tambor; he brings his ability, as demonstrated on "Larry Sanders" and "Arrested Development", to walk the line between comedy and drama, to find the serious in the comic and vice-versa. Overall, it worked as an action movie for me better than, say, The Rundown, which also has a "just the facts, ma'am" hero at its center.
Not that it's perfect: the languid pace is really strange (it needed rat-ta-tat screwball-style dialogue), the Abe Sapien character doesn't work (the Niles Crane voice is distracting, and although he helps Hellboy, it's difficult to determine what role, structurally, he plays in the story), and after a smooth start, starts to lumber from scene to scene (the "Spying on Liz" scene is awkwardly worked into the story, and there's a big ol' gap between two climactic scenes). But despite all this, there's something about this team of freaks that works. In fact, now that Bryan Singer's jumped ship for Superman, Fox should give Del Toro a shot at X3.
Father Goose (1964, Ralph Nelson) (v) 60
Comedic romance between drunkard Cary Grant and uptight Leslie Caron on a small island during WWII weaves violently back-and-forth from interesting to intensely annoying. By the end, it finds the middle-of-the-road. Well, maybe that's where it always was. Slight but satisfying.
Two Evil Eyes (1990, Dario Argento & George Romero) (v) 52
A Poe diptych by two masters of horror, shot on location in Pittsburgh. The first segment is Romero's The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar. The writing, generally, is tight and the gore effects (especially the final one) are good, but instead of spicing up the predictable story, it's always vanilla. Romero said it was like directing an episode of "Columbo", and it shows. 42
Argento's story is The Black Cat, and boy, was this a revelation. Perhaps because of the budget, perhaps because of the location shooting, or perhaps because he wanted to challenge himself, Argento forsakes most of his usual stylistic calling-cards. No primary color schemes, no serial killers, very little mystery. Instead, he focuses entirely on Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel), a photographer who specializes in crime-scene photos and other lurid scenes, as his obsessions get the best of him, leading him to kill his wife's black cat for art. Naturally, this leads to a bad end for everyone involved. Since there is no mystery (or better put, Usher is the instigator of the mystery), Argento is forced to deal with the inner nature of his protagonist, and surprisingly, he comes through. I've never seen an Argento movie that was so character-driven as this that I'm shocked that he co-wrote it; at times, it's closer to Abel Ferrara or somebody. Although it's full of allusions to Poe (Rod Usher, Annabel, Mr. Pym), there are references to Hitchcock and Mario Bava's Hatchet for the Honeymoon as well. In fact, although Argento has been called "The Italian Hitchcock", this is the only time that comparison seems apt, particularly at the end when the cops come calling and Usher desperately tries to cover his guilt. It's not entirely successful -- I have no idea what Usher is trying to accomplish in the final scene, except provide a punch-line for the hour-long set-up -- but it's incredibly interesting, nonetheless. Ultimately, what this segment tells me is that Argento could make a "normal" movie if he wanted to, and that every bizarre idea (like monkeys with straight razors) is carefully considered and chosen. Gotta give the guy credit for going with his muse, but this glimpse at an alternate Argento makes me just a tiny bit sad. 62
On a totally unrelated note, Martin's pets survived. It's Miller Time!
The Rundown (2003, Peter Berg) (v) 59
Wondered what a guy like Mr. Berrrrrrrg was doing directing a The Rock action picture; then I saw it and it became quite clear: this thing is so Lefty it's been scouted by MLB. Which clears up the argument about Very Bad Things in my favor (assuming there was an argument), in that it was definitely not racist or misogynist, but clearly a satire on white male privilege. (A very funny one, I thought.) Yet, while the politics of this movie are commendable, unfortunately it isn't that good, cribbing from Midnight Run and the Indiana Jones series to no one's benefit. Luckily, it's anchored by the always-charismatic The Rock, who can get away with underplaying and being soft-spoken, and unselfconscious enough to pull off an "I'm tripping!" scene. Good luck to you, Mr. Schwarzenegger, since running California can't be done with a body double; my boy Dwayne'll be fine, thank you.
House of Wax (1953, André De Toth) (v) 41
Add at least 9 points if seen in the original 3-D, which I was fortunate enough to do when it was re-released in the early 80s during the second 3-D craze, along with Parasite and Comin' At Ya!. Completely unsure if the audiences in '53 were expected to be surprised by the "mystery" presented here, or if they were supposed to be distracted by the 3-D or what, since it's always totally clear what's going on. A shame it isn't better; Vincent Price's makeup is great, and deserved to become iconic. And the Paddle Ball Guy's pretty cool; totally missed the self-aware banter back in the 80s. Too distracted by the 3-D, I guess...
Monster (2003, Patty Jenkins) (v) 40
Actually found the first thirty or so minutes interesting: details about life on the outer margins, the meeting of two wounded people, looking for solace... Hey, I didn't say it was groundbreaking, but it held my attention. But then the killings begin -- the only reason this story got funded in the first place -- and it about killed me with boredom. Really, the only thing you haven't seen here is Theron's performance; it'd be great even if she wasn't wearing makeup.
Mrs. Miniver (1942, William Wyler) (v) 39
Fifteen minutes in, and I'm praying for the Luftwaffe to come.
The Village (2004, M. Night Shyamalan) (f) 17
Sniff around Listology and you'll find most of my spoiler-laden comments. Better yet, read Steve Carlson's take at Milk Plus or go here and read comments by SDG and Scott Renshaw. I think the national honeymoon with Night is over; when the twists are only about fooling the audience, without regard to the story or the characters, then you've ceased to be a storyteller and have become the ringmaster of a flea circus.
I'm back, after having a little computer difficulty, something that seems to happen every 6-9 months. (Go to Apple and look up "Logic Board Repair Program" for more info on my woes.) Supposebly, they've got this little kink worked out, and even updated my OS to make sure it works (why couldn't Tiger be out?). That, unfortunately, doesn't make me a bit less paranoid.
Yellow, Mark Two, is complete and was sent off to Meet The Opportunity about a week ago. I think it's a 100% improvement on the last draft: a more thought-out story, better dialogue, new and improved characters. It's also, like I wrote earlier, probably 80% different from the first version, so I really don't know if people who liked the old one will like this. All of y'alls out there who want to read it need only let me know; however, I'm not going to send it out until we've had a reading, which won't be for a week or two. I really want to hear it first.
In other news, Entertainment Weekly gave Spike Lee's She Hate Me an "F". Not surprised in the least, even if I think it's a bit better than that.
In totally unrelated news, my wife and I went to Taco Bell the other day and discovered that there is now a Blue Dew. Oh sure, it's called "Mountain Dew Baja Blast, a Tropical Lime Storm", but there's no way people aren't gonna call it Blue Dew. Although one site has compared the taste to that of Scope, I liked it; very similar to the first Sprite Remix. But then, I'm naturally biased towards Dew anyway.