Remember the Colin Ferrell who stole scenes from Tom Cruise in Minority Report? What happened to that guy? He doesn't show up in Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann) , but then, that's really the least of the film's problems. Ostensibly based on the TV show (which I never saw), the feature version is so bland, so lacking in distinction, it may as well be called Drug Bust!. We know the Mann m.o.: men who define themselves by their work, who have to define themselves that way because the world they live in is slippery, amorphous, and only they can bring meaning to it, while the whole package is delivered with operatic brio. This was best demonstrated by Heat, where his Dostoevskyian universe felt grounded in everyday, banal reality, the grand philosophical crises of cops and robbers undercut, as in the famous robbery sequence, by the dull clack-clack-clack of gunfire.
But where Heat had actual characters to organize this worldview around, here he has department store mannequins named Sonny and Rico, and the drama required to bring his m.o. in focus is replaced by hot air and testosterone. Most scenes are standard issue my-dick-is-bigger-than-yours confrontations between our undercover heroes and drug lords, whose trust they want to earn. But there never feels like there's anything at stake. There's a middle-section romance between Sonny and Gong Li's assistant drug lord or whatever she's supposed to be, and we're expected to care because... why? They have hot monkey sex? All that's left is the visuals, which have been bafflingly heralded in most quarters. At the risk of sounding like A----- W----, I can't help but think this approval boils down to "Oooh, pink sky! I've seen that in real life!"
While there's nothing wrong with appreciating Miami Vice as a series of abstract images, it doesn't really hold up, because there's still an underlying reliance on Hollywood conventions of structure and closure. Had Mann really jumped in with both feet, Drug Bust! could've looked a bit like L'Intrus (The Intruder) (2006, Claire Denis) , a spy tale at turns haunting and frustrating. The story, as far as I can tell, is about Louis, an old man living in Switzerland, who is actually a Russian spy. His heart is going out on him, so he retires and arranges to have a heart transplant and, with a new lease on life, attempts to regain ahold of the past that slipped away from him while he was a spy. I think. The film is fragmented and impressionistic, so that summary is possibly full of errors -- and I've seen it twice.
(I want to pause to note that the first time I saw it was in a theater, and near the end, there was a projection problem, and the image started to darken, very slowly, over the course of ten minutes. Despite this, I was always enthralled, and if Louis' problem had been glaucoma, I'd never even known there was something wrong.)
Still, the plot is somewhat secondary. It's the succession of images that enthrall: a baby's smiling face, a dog chewing on a human heart, the black ocean, the oppressive weight and hugeness of a steam ship contrasted with floating ribbons dispersed in its honor. Between this and the monolithic score by the Tindersticks, the film creates a wonderfully oneiric mood, where the distinction between reality, memory, and dream dissolve. Yet this is also the source of my frustrations; at times, it's so cryptic, that it can feel like the movie is drifting off without you. The ending is particularly irritating -- no summation, no resolution, it just disperses the way it floated in. (Does this make me a hypocrite w/r/t my problems with Miami Vice? Then so be it.)
However, the emotional journey of Louis is never less than clear. Despite the occasional obfuscations, we discover just how isolated this old spy is, how pathetic his attempts are to engage with life again, not realizing that, despite his money, his connections, and his new heart, he is no longer the one in control. Louis returns to Tahiti to find the son he believes he has from a past affair (while essentially ignoring the one he has in Switzerland), and the people there play a trick on him. I can't decide if this trick is cruel or hopeful, but it definitely comes out of pity.
A few quick notes about V for Vendetta (2006, James McTeigue) : 1. No, not as good as the comic. 2. Yes, it's been dumbed down, most egregiously in presenting V as an uncomplicated hero, where Moore always viewed him with some suspicion. 3. The direction is pretty clumsy -- repeating Evey's childhood trauma in the present, with the same exact camera setups comes across as comical, and the hectic opening, cramming too much in fifteen minutes, makes the film feel shallower than it actually is. 4. However, a few moments make their way from the comic more-or-less unchanged, like Evey's interrogation, Valerie's letter, and V's confrontation with the doctor, and the movie is stronger for it. 5. Still, I was shocked by how moved I was by the final sequence, invented for the film, where the army of Vs take off their masks, and some are revealed to be characters who had died earlier -- the one moment of fanciful unreality in a film that takes itself way too seriously.
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, Andrť 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.
The past five days, Martin and I have spent approximately 28 hours of face-time working on the story for Yellow, draft two, including 10 1/2 yesterday. Iím exhausted, and we havenít even started writing yet. The story is 80% new, meaning itís almost like a new first draft than a second. This week is going to be a killer, so probably fewer movies than usual. Biggest breakthrough: we surgically added two more dimensions to our protagonist, bringing him up to the standard three. Hooray!
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004, Quentin Tarantino) (v) 80
Slow, but not unreasonably so. If this Leone-inspired second half was always part of the filming strategy, Iím not unhappy about the story being broken in two and separated by eight months or whatever. (But I suspect that it was the other way around, that breaking the story in two led to the more sedate editing style.) Ultimately worth it for Umaís showdowns with Jackson Browneís ex-girlfriend and Caine. (Oh, but was occasionally distracted by trying to imagine Warren Beatty in same role.)
The Thief of Bagdad (1940, Ludwig Berger & Tim Whelan & Michael Powell) (v) 76
Everything Matt says here is true; however, Iím an all-day sucker for this kind of fantasy movie (see also: Clash of the Titans, Time Bandits, hell, even The Magic Sword). Lead John Justin has a weird, undefinable Afflecktion, though.
Phenomena (1984, Dario Argento) (v) 65
Rating is probably indefensible; story-wise, it makes Opera seem coherent. But Jennifer Connelly, who canít be older than fifteen here, already has enough talent and confidence to center the script and make it work, enough for me at least. (Compare with the lightweight performances in The Beyond.) Not perfect, of course; her power with insects shoulda been incorporated better, just to name one thing. The monkey with the
switchblade straight razor is the litmus test, really.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004, Roland Emmerich) (f) 58
Comfortably dumb. Canít argue with the math, either. Admittedly, Iíve never been able to make it though an entire Emmerich movie before, but Iíll go out on a limb and say that this seems like the manís most personal statement, as personal a statement that someone can make in the medium of Disaster, at least. The wolves are the litmus test, really.
The Terminal (2004, Steven Spielberg) (f) 30
Pretty much awful from the get-go, with Tom Hanks going back and forth from unbelievable imbecile (are Krakhozians, or whatever the fuck, living in the 1930s or something? Maybe thatís what their revolution is about) to unbelievably cunning and crafty corporate-space survivalist. Hanks barely moves a muscle in his stiff, waxy face, like he has Botox in his soul. And whatís with people bringing up Tati in regards to this crap? Because there was an airport in Playtime? Thatís like saying The Fast and the Furious owes something to Traffic. The only moment I think I liked is the visual juxtoposition of Hanksí saltine-and-ketchup sandwich and Stanley Tucciís frappacino, momentarily giving the frothy drink an oppressive weight. Ultimately, thereís a lot of horrible stuff in this movie, but the part that bothers me the most is the lie that Hanksí Nivorsky can imprint his individuality and identity on this institutional/corporatized space, when, judging by the fate of the real Nivorsky (an Iranian, actually), itís clear that the opposite happens. Good taste is the litmus test, really.
Caffeine withdrawal is a bitch.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) (v) 81
Still haunted by the film and Macdonald Carey's hair.
Spider-Man 2 (2004, Sam Raimi) (f) 79
Comments forthcoming. Or not. You never know with me. For reference, though, the first Spider-Man is in the low-to-mid 90s, much to the horror (I imagine) of Scott and Matt.
Cries and Whispers (1972, Ingmar Bergman) (v) 63
Rosso, certainly; profondo, unsure.
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 hasnít been a lot of time for movies. That should change, though; Iím 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 isnít that funny. But what itís 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, itís kind of a sad thing, and thatís what set this film apart from other romances Ė the melancholy, a kind of side effect from Stanwyckís 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 donít slather horseradish on my food, ya dig?
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987, Sui-Tung Ching) (v) 51
Second viewing, or maybe third, and thereís a clue to this movieís 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. Thereís 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 thatís about it. Made me wanna play Feng Shui, though, so thatís 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 wonít blame Mostow, since I donít 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 Cameronís 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.
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 Cuarůn) (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 Cristůbal Colůn'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. Cuarůn 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.
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.
I've been devouring an awful lot of movies lately, mostly on video. I feel like I'm starting to turn into Jeremy Heilman, only, you know, without the smarts. I have to say, I'm enjoying this bit of cinematic gluttony; the constant indulgence in narrative creates a hypnotic state that juices up the screenwriting portion of my mind. Or maybe that's just fatigue. Anyway, I'm gonna try and keep up the pace, at least until we move into the new apartment (Hello, Ballard!). Here's what I saw this last week:
The Last Picture Show (1971, Peter Bogdanovich) (v) 97
I'm thinking that ratings of 97 or higher are for movies that are so stupendous, they inspire me as a budding filmmaker, even as I suspect I'll never, ever reach their heights. This might be the best drama ever: intelligent writing, amazing cinematography (it looks like it could've been made in the 50s, except for the brilliant addition of explicit sexuality), and every performance a bullseye. Best moment: Cloris Leachman holding Timothy Bottoms close so he can't see her tears.
Cowards Bend The Knee (2003, Guy Maddin) (f) 83
The Saddest Music in the World (2004, Guy Maddin) (f) 81
Perhaps more later; I'm writing these out of order, and I'm tired. I will say that I saw these as a double-feature of sorts, Music first, and I could easily imagine the ratings switched around had I seen Cowards first.
Dressed to Kill (1980, Brian DePalma) [unrated version] (v) 80
Falls off after the hour mark, and the final scene is like an overindulgent bonus track on an otherwise-good CD, but until then...wow. I thought I was going to have to wipe sweat from the TV after the opening scene, and the near-silent twenty(?) minute sequence, from the museum to the elevator -- that's what people mean by "pure cinema", I think. Also interesting in that the clues to the killer's identity are presented not so much through physical evidence, but cinematically, through the directorial manipulation of visuals and sound.
Great Expectations (1946, David Lean) (v) 77
Man, Dickens was one sick puppy. Old, bitter woman emotionally-engineering a girl to break men's hearts? Death-masks and mass hangings? Death by burning wedding dress? Admittedly, it's all cut through by Pip's good deed, an action as steeped in humanity as it is lacking in common sense. You always know there's a compassionate hand underneath the dark details of the story. But this shit's fucked up, yo. Dude really was the Stephen King of his time.
All The President's Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula) (v) 65
As intriguing as a movie about making phone calls can be, but once it's over and nothing happens, it's like an equation that solves itself and disappears. Great direction, though.
Five Deadly Venoms (1978, Chang Cheh) (v) 63
Criminally slow, it seems, for a martial arts movie, and I was distracted by hearing Wu-Tang samples in their original context ("Toad-style is immensely strong, and immune to nearly any weapon. When it's properly used, it's almost invincible." RAW, I'ma give it to ya, with no trivia... ahem, excuse me). But the comic-book tropes (the names, the super-powers, the "Hey, let's you and me team up and kick ass!") are irresistible.
All About My Mother (1999, Pedro Almodůvar) (v) 58
Admittedly, I didn't scan that many reviews, but it seems like no one mentioned the clear reference to Opening Night. Or am I the only other person who's seen Opening Night? Oh yeah, the movie. I like melodrama as much as the next guy, but this one started to try my patience by the end.
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978, Irvin Kershner) (v) 45
Saw this because I was under the impression that its hook was similar to one Martin and I used in our screenplay Yellow. Turns out it's kinda like it, but not really. (How's that for stupidly vague?) Not awful as far as serial killer movies go, but it's way too logy to build up any real suspense, and I think the identity of the killer was decided by a coin toss. (Heh. I'm sure the same criticisms could be hurled at Yellow.) Bonus points for some character stuff (and it helps if you think Rene Auberjonois is a hoot, like I do), and for the fact that Raul Julia is mysteriously and hilariously credited as "R.J."
High Anxiety (1977, Mel Brooks) (v) 39
The hit/miss joke ratio is about 1:100, and the structure is...well, there is no structure. But this is Mel Brooks, so all that's a given. No, what sinks this is the unconscionably flat lighting and dull, dull, dull cinematography. Hitchcock movies are lush. Where's the care for detail that went into Young Frankenstein? Madeline Kahn = Awesome, though.