Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Unseen #31: Somebody Up There Likes Me



Why’d I Buy It?: Came In Paul Newman Boxset

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: No real reason.

How Was It?: Pretty damn good. Somebody Up There Likes Me is one of those films you get pissed about not seeing sooner, and a prime example of the kind of film I love doing this column for. One second it’s a film I only knew about in sketchy historical terms, the next it’s an essential. A film I would easily rank among my favorite Biopics, Sports movies, and New York Films. A fast paced, well written and acted, stylish, and vastly entertaining bit of old school studio craftsmanship.

Robert Wise never gets as much credit as he deserves, but he’s always been one of my favorite of the old studio directors, out of the unabashed hired hands. Sure he made some fairly dreadful films like The Hindenberg, and Star Trek The Motionless Picture. But When given the right material Wise knew how to make a picture work. And he made some truly great ones.

If nothing else he was a fantastic adapter. Capitalizing and improvising with the freedom’s that other filmmakers pioneered. And here, especially in the first third of the film he apes Jules Dassin to fantastic effect, using the then new style of location based shoots for shots that have a depth and life to them that are just startling. Wise was of course one of Welles’ first disciples, and he shoots the city sequences with a startling depth of field. It’s a film with the kind of detail that only life can provide, and so many of the frames are so rich with it that its difficult not to use your freeze frame with every long shot. (DOP Joseph Ruttenberg won an Oscar)



The film tells the true story of “Rocky Graciano” a small time hoodlum, who after stints in prison and the brig, builds himself up to a respectable fighter. Only to have his past come back to haunt him, when he really makes it big.

Wise directs the boxing sequences with a startling realism (though not quite the brutality he used in The Set Up). He strings the film together with sequences that are just perfect. Such as the ending title fight, (a bruiser in itself) which Wise intercuts between the fight, the crowds listening to it in the neighborhood, and the sounds of the radios echoing in the empty tenement street, in a perfectly crafted montage. There are other little touches that make the film feel different. The film is gritty beyond the usual studio style "realism" actually feeling like the inner city. Then there's the fact that watching it you actually know that there are black people in New York, and two of the main characters (Including Graciano’s wife) are Jewish. It might not be much now, but in the era of Gentleman’s Agreement, it still was a big deal.

Newman famously ended up subbing for James Dean in this his first starring role, and as a result that Newman cool isn’t a hundred percent there yet. Its not just the fact that he’s about as Italian as Charlton Heston is Mexican. He’s as much playing James Dean as he is Rocky Garcianno (as he would again, to a much lesser extent in The Left Handed Gun). There are times where he fidgets and mumbles in a way that you can actually SEE Dean coming out in the role. Its frankly pretty eerie. (Especially the scenes where Newman plays against Dean foil Mineo)

And yet, his performance is not Dean, and Dean would have probably been horribly miscast in the role. Oh sure, he could have done the tortured, brooding scenes. Fighting with fathers was Dean's raison d tere. Dean could play persecuted better then just about anyone who ever lived. But Newman has a capacity for pleasure that Dean never seemed to have. Try imagining a scene like the one where Newman strolls around his old neighborhood with his new family, surrounded by adoring fans, sporting a fur coat, cigar the size of a baby’s arm, and a shit eating grin the size of Tulsa with Dean in it. Its impossible.



And while the classic Newman character would be a lot more humble then Graciano, and a lot smarter for that matter, he would always walk with that same swagger. This movie could be subtitled, “Birth Of The Cool.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You say "Guest" I say "Blogging"

Aaron over at the Death Rattle, which as you might remember kicks ass, has been doing a month of slasher movies. To cap it all off he invited yours truly and a gaggle of other horror bloggers to participate with a bunch of top five lists.

I chose Slasher sequels, which rank somewhere between home movies of your dog and snuff on the critical respectibility list. But I liked to think I picked some good ones. So go on and check it out, and of course the work of all the other great writers. And let me know what you think.

For further reading on the films covered (titles omitted so not to spoil)...

4. (4)
3.
2. (2)
1

Monday, June 28, 2010

No Post Today

Blame This:



To make up for it, here is a picture that I will probably deeply regret come my next job interview.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Foutaises

This post is part of Agitation of The Mind's Jeunet retrospective. Neil Fulwood has been putting up great stuff all week, and if you haven't been reading it thus far. I suggest you start.



There are two conflicting schools of thought on Jeunet. The first being he’s a whimsical genius who makes singular films. The other says that he was only a front for Marc Caro’s genius and once those two split Jeunet began making films so sugary that merely watching them will kill diabetics and give dentists cavities.

While I’ve never thrown in with Jeunet’s harshest critics there’s no denying that the idea is a persuasive one (Given of course, that one sets aside the wonderful Amelie). With Caro Jeunet made Delicatessen and City Of The Lost Children. By himself he made Alien Resurrection a film that makes me break into hives just thinking about it. And A Very Long Engagement and Micmacs. Both fine films (I think. I’m not going to lie I need to watch MicMac’s again before I feel comfortable giving it any kind of objective judgment, when I viewed it at BNAT my brain was pretty much mush), but both lack the focus of his earlier work.

Perhaps the easiest way to explore this is to take a look at the work in the shorts he did pre Caro. There’s not much of it, in fact one of the things that makes Jeunet such an odd filmmaker is just how small his filmography is. You could watch all his films in a day if you had the inclination.

To watch Fountaises is to watch the work of a filmmaker fully formed. Its not much plot wise, nothing more then the Jeunet muse Dominic Pinon saying what he likes and doesn’t, while Jeunet literalizes it, in unexpected ways. The sequence carries a shall we say strong familial resemblance to a few of Amelie’s famous sequences. But this is more proof that Jeunet knew what he wanted prior to meeting Caro and knew what he wanted to do afterwards, then anything else.

If anything what Fountaises suggests to me is Caro is the one who instigated the flights of fancy that, Jeunet is often criticized for. While the film’s tone is certainly heightened, to say the least, it contains none of the out and out fantastical that Jeunet’s films are so well known for, none of the Gilliam style fractures with reality.

There’s not much that can be told about Foutaise, the film is such a quick watch and so readily available that it almost seems silly to try. It’s a short with a crystallized sense of style, a clear feeling of authorship, and whose chief virtue is its energy and off kilter point of view. I believe you can say the same thing about everyone of Jeunet’s films, and certainly of Jeunet himself.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The 25: Part 13: Chinatown

(The twenty five is an examination of the twenty five films that made me a cinephile. These aren’t necessarily what I consider best movies, nor are they necessarily my favorite. Though in some cases they are both. Instead these are the films that made the biggest most indenialable impression on me. Films that if they hadn’t hit a certain way at a certain time I would not be the same film goer that I am today. They’re the twenty five.)



If JFK was the first film I could remember realizing was adult, Chinatown is the first film I can remember realizing was art. Chinatown is a film of such sensuous surface pleasures that it would be easy to overlook the level the film is playing at. Yet even at fourteen I never could. There are dark currents in Chinatown that will carry you away. For all the pleasures of Neo Noir Chinatown is the real deal, swimming amongst the jokey likes of The Long Goodbye and The Late Show like a shark in a pool of guppies. That’s its secret weapon, just how damn well it works as a narrative, piecing together a narrative that is damn near labyrinth while never getting you lost.

Before I gave up on the idea of having one, I used to tell people that Chinatown was my favorite movie. Its easy to see why. It’s a fine film, with golden cinematography (The imagery is lovely all that dusty golden light, the boy on his donkey in the dry river bed, the flaw in Dunaway's eye), a script by Robert Towne that’s legendary, and a cast filled with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston giving their career best performances. Nicholson connects with Towne’s screenplay in a genuine way I don’t think he did with anything else. Its probably the only Nicholson performance made of small moments. Even early Nicholson was defined by his grandeur, think of him playing the piano in the middle of the road in Five Easy Pieces, or telling the boys about the aliens in Easy Rider, and lets not even go into his “But these go up to eleven.” Performances he’s been content to give since then. But it’s the little things here, the way he drops the word “m├ętier” in conversation, casually but making damn sure its noticed. The way he flinches, only for a second, when confronted with the swollen face of Burt Young’s beaten wife. Another example of his failure to live up to his responsibility. It makes Jake Gittes perhaps the only truly vulnerable character Nicholson ever played. And then ending is shocking not merely for what happens, but how badly it breaks him. He’s matched of course by Faye Dunaway, as the noble doomed Evelyn Mulray. Dunaway has never been better. Very few have.

But at the end of the day, that’s not what draws me to Chinatown. It has a pull to it, like an undertow. In the midst of an industry that at times seems dedicated to telling us that everything is alright, Chinatown tells us the exact opposite (Which is part of the reason the film’s clumsy, silly sequel The Two Jakes, which contains what as far as I'm concerned is the single stupidest most nonsensical bit of character motivation I've ever had the misfortune to see, failed so very badly). Despite its classic status, Chinatown is perhaps the bleakest American film ever made. A film in which the evil devour the innocent, and experience not a burp of indigestion. The film documents the birth of Los Angeles as we know it, with the air of someone recording a Satantic Baptism. Caught in the middle is Jake Gittes, a private eye who is duped into ruining the reputation of a seemingly inconsequential civil servant. His simple quest to find out who used him is complicated when he runs across Noah Cross, a very evil man who sits at the dark heart of the film’s mystery.

Cross, played by Huston, is my favorite villain and the most realistic potrayl of evil, I’ve ever seen in a film. All unthinking hunger and want. Cross is a man ruled by his appetites, and his appetites, be they for fish with their heads on, the San Fernado Valley, or his own daughter, are horrific. Huston, all likably avuncular and full of disarming folksy charm, until he bears his teeth, gives him a rancid grandeur, and the scene in which Nicholson asks him exactly what he’s after has the chilling ring of truth to it.

There is of course Polanski to fit in. It has always been difficult to separate Polanski from his art, now its damn near impossible. The recent turns in his case add another sickly layer to the film, as we wonder how Polanski must have contemplated Cross’s famous line “That most men never have to face the fact that under the right circumstances they’re capable of anything.”

Its that darkest of truths that makes Chinatown what it is. That makes the “My Daughter my sister.” Line carry all its horrific power after a trillion parodies. That makes those final doomed moments just as sickening each time you want them, the frantic last struggle for survival breaking the mise en scene itself, taking it from the classical homage it had been employing, to brutal hand held for those last couple of scenes.

Though it may no longer hold the top spot, Chinatown is still a favorite of mine. Easily within my top five. But I watch it rarely, only once every few years. Its too bitter. Too true.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Versatile Me?


The gentlemanly JD over at Radiator Heaven, has been kind enough to honor me with the Versatile Blogger award. An award that asks the person it has been bestowed upon to name fifteen other, deserving nominees.

Yikes.

Tall order that it may be, I am happy for the opportunity to bestow like my Juggalo brethren some more mother fucking clown love (Note for the sarcasm impaired: not really). So without further ado lets gets get started.

Agitation Of The Mind: Sure if I say many more nice things about Neil Fulwood and his blog on this site people are going to start to talk (I swear these plane tickets to England mean nothing). But this doesn't change the fact that Fulwood has as far as I'm concerned the best batting average in film blogging. When he hits the top of my sidebar I get happy, because I know I'm about to read something good.

Plus I need to do something to make up for the fact that I went all Joe Biden at his 500th post celebration and told him that I hoped his blog would continue for entire months!

Four Of Them: Literate and funny Simon over at Four Of Them gives me hope for the future of America. And she writes about movies pretty good as well.

Garden Of Groovy Delights: Gideon's latest post is entitled "How Vampyros Lesbos Changed My Life"... Why are you not there.

Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies: The Kind Of Face You Hate: Self Styled Siren: These guys all need endorsments from me like I need a lobotomy. Rousing the question, do I infact need a lobotomy?

I'm Not Patty: Rob is an intelligent and incisive writer. With a great eye (you'll never look at Sean Young in Blade Runner the same way), quick wit, and warm style. But what really makes Rob special and one of the best writers on classic movies out there, is the fact that he cares. And cares deeply. About what he writes. Take what's become the centerpiece of his blog, a chapter by chapter, sometimes line by line rebuttal of Mommie Dearest. Its a work that's Quioxitic to say the least, but it wouldn't be done by someone who wasn't a true believer. I'm glad someone's doing it, and I'm glad that someone is Rob.

Icebox Movies: A new discovery but one I'm glad I made. Adam Zanzie is only nineteen but he has a breadth of film knowledge better then 90 percent of the bloggers out there. An in depth writing style that really gets into the meat of his subjects, and ambition to spare.

Keep your eye on this kid he's going places.

The Long Voyage Home: I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is the best blog you're not reading. Be a good chap and remedy that won't you?

Planet Of Terror: Lets face it there are a lot of horror blogs out there. But blogs with a unique voice and style? There's less of those. Blogs that spend an ungodly amount of their bandwidth being incredibly generous to other bloggers and the promotion of independent film? Well there's only one of those...

Death Rattle, Freddy In Space, Scare Sarah: Remember that thing I said about how great horror bloggers are who have their own unique voice and style?

Make Me A Sandwich Grace: Its not many blogs that can cover with equal aplomb the books of Ian Fleming, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a videogame featuring an uppity opossum and the legacy of 24. Make Me A Sandwich Grace is such a blog.

The Kid In The Hall: Take the coolest 80's kid you know. Go ahead, fix her in your mind. She just started a blog. Now aren't you lucky?

The Film Connoisseur: Never to be imitated or duplicated Franco writes about film with an enthusiam that makes me look like the lone resident of bitter fuck island.

The Deadly Doll's House Of Horror Nonsense: Internet Phrend and sometimes nemesis Emily has been a great friend to this site. Sure I could be pointing her out because she's pound for pound one of the best writers on the web, with an inimitable funny natural prose style, adventurous tastes, and charm to spare.

But nope, its just cronyism ; )

Anyway, I hope you take the time to visit each and everyone of these blogs they're well worth your time.

The Unseen #30: Gasssssss



Why’d I Buy It?: Came in the Roger Corman Boxset I bought.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Its tucked away in the corners of said Roger Corman Boxset. Its reputation is less then sterling. I just never got around to it.

How Was It?: Not bad actually. Going into Gas there is one thing you have to know. It is a movie made by complete fucking hippies, for complete fucking hippies. A Gas is released that kills everyone over twenty five. Resulting in a world ruled by well, complete fucking hippies.

Gas is a pretty naked attempt to capture the post Easy Rider zeitgeist (and profits therein) of hippie kids with Camera’s fucking around (Corman acts as director here, making his ability to capture said zeitgeist oddly impressive). The film has a colorful aesthetic and an appealing slapdash feel that doesn’t quite overstay its welcome. Despite the fact that by all rights it really should.

The film has a slapdash lets put on a show vibe. Not even reaching eighty minutes, and padding itself out with scenes like its opener, where an “animated” John Wayne like general and a scientist argue for about ten minutes before accidentally releasing the titular Gas. (Placing in the film’s padding contest a distant second to its, “Oh fuck, watch this band play.” That it desperately tries to fill time with)

The film doesn’t have a plot per se its more of a sketch comedy, with only the slightest of overreaching plots separating it from The Groove Tubes of the world.. But is mostly a loosely connected series of incidents, ranging from banal, a gunfight where the fighters cry out the names of Western Heroes while shooting at each other. To actually pretty funny, such as their adventure in a small Colorado town that has been turned into a paramilitary cult run as a zealous football team. Led by a despot who uses a combination of Religious mania and Ra Ra tactics to inspire his team to burn El Paso to the ground. Not that would be, you know, a bad thing.

The film stars pre fame Bud Cort and Talia Shire, who both do strong, if a little stoned seeming work.

Gas is a film that has aged poorly. . Which makes is both the key to its charm (hippies) and other less recommendable attributes (Including what must be the single most tasteless consequence free Rape Joke I have ever seen).

Its tough to imagine anyone getting anything out of Gas on more then a purely academic or ironic basis, but I have to admit I kind of like it. Don’t mistake that as a recommendation. Perhaps more then any other film I’ve written about YOUR MILEAGE WILL VARY dependent upon how much you like weird shit. It might not be what you would call a good movie. But it’s such an odd little artifact, like all of Corman’s film an accidentally meticulous record of its time and place. What can be said except, Groovy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wise Blood



The thing I love about John Huston, the thing that makes him such a rewarding filmmaker is the fact that he never stopped pushing himself.

While other directors of the studio era stood dumbfounded like deer in the headlights before The 70’s. Getting mowed down in a bloody awful spectacle, which had them feebly turning out a cheap imitation of themselves or two before silencing themselves forever, Huston instead went out and made Fat City. A film so gritty that makes the harsh realism of the movie brats look as artificial as Finnegan’s Rainbow. Huston’s career was that of an innovator, which is why even watching a minor film like Moulin Rouge can be a fascinating experience, just for the way he uses something inconsequential to test the boundaries of what he can do. Unfortunately this dings him in the eyes of some of the more annoying astringently auteurist critics who can’t recognize the drive to push the limit as being an artistic signature in and of itself. And in an artistic period where most directors would be happy to make small reflective pieces, primarily about themselves, Huston suddenly decided to take up adapting unadaptable novels as a hobby.

It’s not as if he didn’t have practice. Huston’s career began with the adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. In his salad days Huston helmed an adaptation of Moby Dick. A work that could best be described as unfortunate (One of my favorite lines about the film, I’m afraid I forget who wrote it, went “Huston saw Ahab as a heroic non believer in God. Everyone else saw Atticus Finch behaving erratically.) He even tried to do a literal interpretation of the entire Bible until the studio realized what the fuck he was doing and made him stop at Genesis. Still this pales in comparison to the ambition with which Huston finished his career. He adapted The Dead as his final film, bringing James Joyce to the screen which anyone will tell you, is a trifle difficult. A few years before he directed Under The Volcano, Malcolm Lowry’s sweaty proto Gonzo classic. And before that he directed Flannery O’Connor’s The Wise Blood.

Now that’s a trio that’ll make an English major blanche.



As you might recall I am all about Flannery O’Connor. If forced to choose the one book to take with me to a desert island it might honestly be the complete collection of her short stories. Her work has a beauty and fragility to its language and an honesty and passion in its subject that never fails to shake me. In my review of the book Wise Blood I called it unquantifiable. I think that’s just about right.

I had to wonder how anyone could turn it into a coherent movie. Flannery’s book is all fever dream language, and metaphor. How does one literalize a passage like:

"Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown."




The short answer is Huston doesn’t even try to make it coherent. He wades hip deep into material that would make less stout hearted directors faint. You remember the scene in Dead Man were Crispin Glover tells Johnny Depp he’s going to die and then stares unnervingly at him for about five minutes? Imagine that scene blown up to feature length and you’ll begin to understand what Wise Blood is like. Who else but Huston would keep the scene from the book in which a minor character steals a Gorilla suit and runs around attempting to shake hands with people. And not only keep it, but shoot it without once winking. Wise Blood may not work as a film on its own. But as an artifact, or concordance with the novel it’s fascinating.

The only wrong note the film plays is a jarring broad score that ranks as one of the worst and inappropriate I’ve ever heard. Its like leftover Hee Haw music that was rejected for being too cornpone. Its like scoring a Bergman film with a slide whistle.

Give full credit to the cast, who are fully able to tune into Huston and O’Connor’s somewhat disparate wavelengths simultaneously. The Southern Gothic is one of the toughest tones to capture in American art. It has resulted in some of the greatest works of American Literature, Painting, Film, and Music ever made, and some of the absolute worst. The difference is commitment, nothing stinks worse then inauthentic Southerness, what Noel Murray referred to as “A Bunch of college kids from New York dropping their R’s and singing about Coal Mines collapsing.” Huston and his cast sell it. Particularly Doriff a better actor then he is usually given opportunity to show, Ned Beatty knocking it out of the park for the second time this week, and Harry Dean Stanton as the would be Blind Preacher Asa Hawks. (Also William Hickey in a cameo that's pretty much perfect.)

Huston similarly commits tackling his subject head on. He changes the setting to the modern day (Not that you can tell in most shots) and shoots the imagery however grotesque with a straight ahead matter of factness that only adds to their queasy power, you’d be hard pressed to find an image more dislocating then the Madonna and Child Parody Huston creates at a key turning point in the film.

Whether you fine Wise Blood a thought provoking parable on the inescapability of God, like O’Connor. Or a grotesque parody of religious mania like Huston. You won’t see anything else quite like it. As O'Connor herself, "Grotesqueries? We are all grotesqueries."



(All Art work comes from Josh Cochran's site)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Toy Story 3



Perfection has its own perils. Pixar has become so synonymous with quality that when it falls anywhere short of perfection it hard not to be a little too hard on them. Take Day And Night, the new short. Its all concept, all experimentation, a blend of 2D and computer animation that was clearly made just to see if it could be done. What its not is quite the comic masterwork that Pixar’s last two shorts were (Presto in particular is a literal gem. Like a lost Buster Keaton short remade by Chuck Jones and then computer animated). But still there’s that core of greatness there, that’s easy to forget. The fact that there’s a studio out there still willing to throw money at a pure experiment is tremendously exciting.

So when I say that for me at least, Toy Story 3 doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of Part 2, its because very few movies do. Toy Story 2 is a perfect storm, a beautiful, meticulously written film with a metaphoric perfection at the heart of its narrative that is simply boggling. Not because of any flaw in this excellent concluding part (And to be fair I felt the same way about Up, and multiple viewings have certainly raised my opinion on that film). Pixar once again demonstrates its artistic alchemy that borders on actual magic. And for all the complaints about the many flaws of the modern day movie landscape, I cannot help but feel anything but truly lucky every time I watch a Pixar film. To be a film fan here and now, and get to experience so many wonderful films, it’s a blessing.

Toy Story 3 is gold. It’s a film with so many great narrative turns that it feels unfair to spoil any of them. Pixar’s eye for casting remains impeccable (Ned Beatty in particular here), its script’s sharp and its artistry breathtakingly beautiful. And that’s really all you need to know. Any quibbles I have with the film are minor ones, and pretty unfair. For example (and I’m being purposefully vague here) at one point we visit another child’s gang of toys, and they’re so appealing I was sorry that we didn’t get to spend more time with them. Like I said, I know its unfair, there would really be no story driven reason for the film do to so. Its basically punishing Pixar for writing such an appealing cast rather then a bunch of bland placeholders, and filling their roles with the likes of the always welcome Bonnie Hunt, Timothy Dalton (who I have a tremendous amount of affection for since Hot Fuzz ) Jeff Garlin, and a freaking Totorro.

The other area of unease is the absence of John Lasseter. Now once again this isn’t fair, Lassetter is in no position to direct the film, what bothers me more is that no one really seems to care. While Brad Bird, Pete Doctor, and Andrew Stanton all get heaps of praise (rightfully). People always seem a bit stingy with Lasseter. Eager to write him off as the guy who made Cars. Never mind the fact that when taken in the context of his other work Cars is an immensely personal film. Never mind the fact that Lasseter created Pixar. And has fought tooth and nail to both make and keep the company what it is.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that Pixar keeps moving people into the directors chair. Its very smart in the long term, and means that Pixar won’t have to face the problem that Ghibli is rapidly approaching, the fact that once Miyaziki and Takahata die (Ideally in about a billion years or so) they won’t have anyone there who can actually make films.

Still, if Lasseter’s absence from the project means he never will direct a film again then the world of animation has lost a unique and vital voice. And it’d be nice if that could be acknowledged.

Still these are all in the end minor problems. Given how lionized they’ve become it’d be easy for Pixar’s films to become airless, its kind of incredible how loose they are, and how much weird energy they allow in. Michael Keaton is a FREAK in this movie, giving a performance as the fetishtic Ken easily on par with Beetlejuice or any of his other early comedy work (And lets not even talk about "The Monkey").

But still, that doesn’t make Toy Story 3 light weight. And I’m not just talking about the heavy emotional buttons the film hits. If the central metaphor doesn’t have the perfect simplicity of Part 2 (Allow yourself to be played with or broken or seal yourself away). Its no less thought provoking.

As anyone who has a bit of a collector’s streak (OK a whole lot of a collector’s streak). There’s a lot of reasons I do what I do. There is of course the superficial level of enjoyment. I love having a huge amount of Books and films and comics I love on hand.. But there’s a little something deeper. So much of the culture is so inconsequential that there’s something beautiful about being able to choose what is of consequence. Because if you keep this book, or this film, or this music, then you get to keep it alive. And you get to pass it on. You might do it at a yard sale, or you might do it after your death at your estate sale. But every time you pick something up consciously or not, you are saying “This should continue.”

It might sound silly but everyone who cares, really cares about film, or literature, or music, becomes a living ark. Like the people at the end of Fahrenheit 451, we become the books.

But there comes a tipping point, where curating becomes hording. And that becomes poisonous. It can make you a little bitter. It can make you a little crazy. But worst of all it defeats the entire purpose, as the only way this stuff really works is if it gets out into the world.

And that’s what Toy Story 3 made me want to do, and what I think I will do. Get a big box full of my stuff and find some worthy hands for it.

Anything else would just be a waste.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Secret Of Kells

(Myself while watching The Secret Of Kells)



Really I don’t have much more to say then that.

The Secret Of Kells is pretty freaking mind blowing.

A beautiful, painstaking film, that manages to take most of the things I love, Catholic theology, pagan mythology, 2D animation, Irish History, and blend them into a finished product so beautiful that it actually makes my eyes hurt.

The Book Of Kells, for those who don’t know. Is a Copy of the New Testament that is frankly one of the greatest things western civilization has ever produced. A work of such painstaking detail and beauty that it boggles the mind. You have to remember that this was when the practice of “writing shit down” was itself, considered a novelty. The Secret Of Kells, acts as a kind of secret origin for that work. Telling the story of a young monk, Brendan, living in Ireland during the time of the Viking raids and his troubled apprenticeship to the holder ot the book. As the Vikings draw nearer, the film follow’s Brendan out into the woods as he gathers materials for the books making. And encounters many of the spirits of the pagan spirits of the woods, both good and evil.

The Secret Of Kells is one of those films that’s damn near impossible to write about, because to appreciate its technique you just have to see it. Just as an example; I’ve heard many compare this to the work of Gendy Tartakovsky. There are some concepts like the animalistic Vikings that are very much in this school. So on a very superficial level I can see how you’d think that.





But in motion that’s not what the film looks like at all. Its one of those blessed rare cases where the style lends the film substance. Incorporating the ruthlessly two dimensional style and brutal lack of perspective of pre Renaissance Medieval art in a way that looks like something that I can confidently say, you’ve never seen before. It's representational art in only the most rudimentary sense, Really its iconography and its beautiful.

It’s the sort of thing that could ONLY be done in 2D animation. As much as I love Pixar, there’s a certain spontaneity and life that can only come from 2D animation. And the eagerness with which people are discarding it saddens me. Even something like Princess And The Frog is at its heart a nostalgia piece. Its behind glass atop a Lucite block. The Secret Of Kells lives and breaths.

To call the film beautiful is not enough. Every corner of every frame is filled with the sort of detail and grace that makes a veteran animation fan weep.

Calling the film merely hypnotic would be doing it a disservice. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a completely beautiful visceral experience that as an animation fan made my brain go “SQUUUUUEEEEE” the whole way through. But its much more then that. It’s a startlingly weighty meditation on Cultural Heritage and Responsibility. It’s a film that provides no easy answers. No cut and dry villains, no morals. The Book Of Kells is content to be what it is, a beautiful, utterly stunning experience.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Match Point



And while we’re on the subject of Ripley, as far as I’m concerned the closest anyone has come to capturing him on film. Staying very true to his elusive character. This Despite the considerable handicap that Match Point is not a Ripley Adaptation.

Match Point like Ripley is a tale of relentless social climbing and John Rhys Meyer is the perfect climber. And in his relentless violence, hunger, elegance, and above all his serenity, he makes the perfect monster.

Chris is a blank slate giving off only an air of faintly reptilian malice. Note his love of Opera and classic literature he always reads, and the frustration he exhibits with both. Is he trying to better his taste? I don’t believe so I think it is much more likely that he is trying to appear like he is bettering his tastes so that when the time comes “He can have the most interesting talk about Dostoevsky.

Match Point’s critical reputation has never been sturdy. It was hailed as a return to form at its Cannes release and then quickly discarded as “Just another Woody Allen film.” (Though I have a lot more tolerance for latter day Woody Allen then most) It was criticized as too long, too reminiscent of Crimes And Misdemeanors, and too Allen. I still think its the best thing he’s done in years.

There is a key difference between Crimes And Misdemeanors and Match Point. Landau’s ordering Huston’s death is so removed from him that it’s an abstraction, and crucially the death is used to keep the status quo. Huston threatens Landau’s status, his respectability, and the quiet comfortable life he has built up for himself. His actions are defensive, while Chris is definitely on the offensive, like Ripley he kills not out of passion, or revenge, or in defense, even defense of something as shallow as one’s image, he kills because it is terribly convenient for him to do so.

Match Point is also very much a post-Theistic film for Allen, God and religion are given merely a few derisive shots. Crimes and Misdeamors on the other hand is Bergmanesque (right down to the title) in it’s preoccupation with God and his silence. As Ebert puts it in his excellent analysis of the film “
In this darkest and most cynical Allen comedy -- yes, comedy -- he not only gets away with murder but even finds it possible, after a few months, to view the experience in a positive light. If as he says, the eyes of God are on him always, what does that say about God?
” again
“..Match Point, which premiered at Cannes 2005. The new film resembles Crimes and Misdemeanors in the way it involves a man who commits murder to cover up an affair, but Match Point is more firmly a film noir, and Crimes is frankly a complaint against God for turning a blind eye on evil.”
Again
“Judah discusses his problem with his brother Jack (Jerry Orbach), who has connections with the Mafia. "They'll handle it," Jack tells him. Handle? "I can't believe I'm talking about a human being," Judah says. "She's not just an insect to be stepped on. ..."Yet he steps on her.” And finally “The implications of Crimes and Misdemeanors are bleak and hopeless. The evil are rewarded, the blameless are punished, and the rabbi goes blind.”


Yet Match Point if nothing else is even bleaker. While Judah is a man who is pushed into evil, and finds he’s more comfortable there then he thought he would be, Match Point is about a man who never quite leaves the pool. Even in the relatively benign beginning of the film he has the air of someone who is always “on” and as with Ripley we are never sure if what is behind the mask, if there is indeed anything there at all. Note Chris’s reaction when he shoots the old lady, one could read it as despairing and remorseful, but to me it reads more like someone who thinks that at this moment they “should” be despairing and remorseful and is going through the motions of it, even if there is no one to go through the motions of it to. His reaction is not unlike that of a man going through the after effects of a tremendous adrenaline rush and while Crimes and Misdemeanors toyed with the idea that God is watching everything and is keeping silent for his own reasons, Match Point in its marvelous denouement (the bit that really makes it a masterpiece in my book) jettisons the notion entirely. First with Chris’s conversations with the “ghosts” in his kitchen when he coolly brushes off their proclamation of doom, and secondly when it seems that divine intervention actually has occurred when one of the policemen investigating the case has an epiphany only to have it brushed under the rug by good old human luck.

This film is a marvel to view a Swiss watch of a movie where each piece on its own is a work of art. To quote Ebert yet again “One reason for the fascination of Woody Allen's Match Point is that each and every character is rotten. This is a thriller not about good versus evil, but about various species of evil engaged in a struggle for survival of the fittest… Even sweet little Chloe basically has her Father buy Chris for her.”

Allen’s eye for casting has always been one of his most underrated attributes as a director, and Match Point is one of his best cast films. Not just Rhys, and Allen’s muse of the week Johanson, whose languid sensuality has never been put to better use and whose youth and vulnerability Allen uses to startling effect. But the bored upper class brood they attempt to prey on is equally excellently cast. From Brian Cox’s doddering yet powerful patriarch, Matthew Goode’s charming mixture of aristocratic disdain, entitlement and alcoholism, Emily Mortimer’s spoiled sweetness, and Penelope Wilson’s hell bitch, shocking after her turn in Shaun Of The Dead.

Allen steps up his game as well. Shooting things at a formalist, nearly Kubrickian reserve, though getting his fingernails surprisingly dirty when it comes to sex and violence, two things he’s always been oddly shy about showing onscreen (A sex scene set during a rainstorm is down right steamy). Its Allen’s most sensual film by far. Aided and complimented nicely by Remi Adefarasin beautiful but understated cinematography.


















One key difference between Ripley and Match Point, is while Ripley argued that American’s had far surpassed our European cousins in our ruthlessness and corruption, Match Point argues that the Europeans still retain the crown in this particular field. Nola like so many visiting girls in Henry James novels cannot survive when the British start to move in on her, despite her reasonable prowess. Look as well, to the construction of the film, it is Allen’s longest and many critics groused that it was too long. I disagree there is not so much as an ounce of fat on this script it’s propulsive and economic. Look at the first meeting between Nola and Chris the entire movie is summed up in under a minute of screen time. Two predators meet and size each other up, only one has horribly underestimated the other, and soon suffers the consequences. It is nothing short of brilliant. Just like the film.

The American Friend



"If you close up the doors they'll start coming in the windows."

"The Riplaid" is one of my favorite series in the crime genre (and if you haven’t read them, now would be an excellent time Random House has put out a new printing with covers and design that captures the tone of Highsmith’s work so perfectly I was frankly pissed that I'm not quite a big enough chump to buy the books again).











He’s a fascinating character. And one who filmmakers seem to find damn near impossible to capture on film. The thing that makes Ripley fascinating and frightening is that he simply has no motivations beyond convenience. He doesn't kill out of anger. He doesn’t hate the people he kills, normally he likes them, it’s just that well gosh its awful convenient for them to die. Ripley lives a life of comfort, gardening in his villa, painting in his spare time, occasionally traveling and fucking his French wife. And by God if he has to kill someone every couple of years to sustain that life, well then he’ll lose no sleep over it. And yet you still like Ripley you root for him. Why he’d probably like you too, right before he beat you to death with a fire poker. This is why Anthony Minghella’s version of The Talented Mister Ripley can best be described as a misinterpretation of epic proportions. Turning Ripley into persecuted victim. Turning Dickey Greenleaf into a sneering sociopath and Freddy Lounds into a tormentor. Making his first murder one of self defense. Giving him reasons. I can’t watch that movie without my brain screaming “WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG.”

You can’t even cloak Ripley’s motives in philosophy (like Malchovich did in his fun but ultimately misguided performance in Ripley’s Game). He’s not a Nietzchien, or a Randian, or any kind of strong man. His greatest desire is to live in bourgeois, material contentment and occasionally get a chance to demonstrate his cleverness.

Dennis Hopper’s performance comes the closet to getting Ripley right. Its not quite there. While the vulnerability that Hopper and Wender’s decide to focus on, is decidedly canonical (unlike again Minghella's) they sacrifice one element of Ripley for another, capturing his vulnerability but not his supreme lack of a guilty conscienceness.



Still even if it doesn’t quite capture the stunning amorality of Highsmith’s world, The American Friend comes tantalizing close.

Combining threads from "Ripley Under Ground" and "Ripley’s Game", The American Friend follows Ripley as he perpetrates an art scam, forcing the great Nicholas Ray to create forgeries of a dead artist’s work, and enlists an ordinary man dying of cancer to commit some murders when the scheme complicates. (Sam Fuller also cameo’s, perfectly cast as a crime boss. Though sadly the two greats do not get to share a scene).

I have mixed feelings about Wenders. Though I am a great admirer of his early work in particular King Of The Road, Lightning Over The Water, Paris Texas, and Wings Of Desire are all flat out masterpieces, and The New German Cinema in general. I have reservations about him, as anyone who has actually sat through Don’t Come Knockin in the theaters must. Wender has spent the latter part of his career making not merely bad movies but movies in painted with a particular type of badness that call in to question what you liked about his work in the first place.

Still he’s in fine form here. Able to modulate his tone in a way I didn’t know he could do. The film is taught by his standards (and slow by any other). In a way it doesn’t matter that the film doesn’t quite capture Ripley as the film is much more Zimmerman’s (The unlucky dying man. Played in fine form by Bruno Ganz.) then it is Ripley’s. As Zimmerman weighs his decision, Ripley disappears from on screen for nearly an hour, as the film becomes meditative in a way that is completely unexpected in a crime filler. With Wender’s finding some shocking lyrical imagery.

Odd that the one detail from Highsmith’s work that Wender’s deliberately eschews is Ripley’s class, turning Ripley into a high living vagabond rather then Highsmith’s entranched (if on the borderlands) member of the upper class. I’ll admit its not quite a move I understand. Especially seen in context of the Germany this film was made in, in which class was such a touchy issue people were blowing each other up over it. Was he trying to “claim” Ripley as a hero? I don’t believe so, it doesn’t jibe with the Hopper as a symbol of American corruption that the film works so hard to cultivate from the title on down.

The American Friend comes tantalizingly close to nailing down one of the most elusive characters in modern literature. That it doesn’t quite succeed makes it no less of a fascinating film.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The 25: Part 12: The Road Home

(The twenty five is an examination of the twenty five films that made me a cinephile. These aren’t necessarily what I consider best movies, nor are they necessarily my favorite. Though in some cases they are both. Instead these are the films that made the biggest most indenialable impression on me. Films that if they hadn’t hit a certain way at a certain time I would not be the same film goer that I am today. They’re the twenty five.)



I tend to think of The Road Home as the last great screening of my cinematic unconscious. It was not Zhang’s technique that entranced me, but the simple human emotion projected on the screen and the lyricism of his images.

Its fitting as The Road Home is precisely the type of film that too much analysis destroys. Like a butterfly killed with chloroform and mounted before being judged a mediocre specimen.

The Road Home is a flawed film, considered a minor entry in Yimou’s oeuvre, by even the director’s most ardent admirers. It contains one of the most singularly intrusive voice overs I’ve ever heard. Perhaps sixty percent of its run time is taken up with shots of Zhang Ziyi running about in sun dappled slow motion. It reduces the Cultural Revolution to an minor inconvenience in a way best described as unseemly (Like a film where the biggest problem with The Holocaust is that it keeps making people late for dinner). Its characters are kind of flat, and not much happens (A brief summary, two people meet. Fall in love. He goes away. She Waits. Eventually he comes back.)

This is all stuff I know should disengage me from the film. But they never strike deeper then intellectually. The Road Home remains a bracingly lovely film. And one of my favorite on screen romances.

Briefly, I feel I should mention as this is a column about my development as a filmgoer I should note that San Luis Obispo was pretty much a perfect place for a film goer to develop. There’s a lot wrong with my deeply neurotic hometown, but the its damn near a wild life preserve for outdated modes of watching movies. I’ve written about The Insomniac before, and the great unmolested genuine film palace before, but there’s a Drive In here as well. And a art house, which allowed me to watch films like The Road Home on a big(gish) screen.

With the advent of home theater and the decline of the multiplex, one of the things that surprises me is just how giddy so many cinephiles seem to give up the theater. Now I’m in full support of watching a film by any means necessary. And I have no delusions about the sanctity of the theater, a lot of them are pits, and its not just a multiplex problem. The worst screening I ever went to was a revival of Blue Velvet with an audience of hipster douchebag’s so jaded that they howled with laughter through the scenes of sexual abuse. If there is ever an experience to make you reevaluate the merits of Ebert’s review of the film…

But I don’t feel for a second that the ideal experience will ever be anything but the theater. The theater experience is as much about reaction as the film. The audience is harmonics, and nothing will ever compare to the feeling of hundreds of people experiencing a film as one. my feelings about the theater are much like my feelings for the church. It may be flawed, perhaps irrevocably, but it is my home. And I would rather try to defend it and build it then abandon it.

The Road Home may be a simple story, told in a simple way (Though there is a quiet wit to the film. It’s as much about the cultural shift in China as it is about the romance. The way Yimou sneaks Titanic posters into the background to comment on both is very well done). And yet the emotion it provokes, both by Zhang Ziyi’s natural pure performance and Yimou’s natural mise en scene and Malackian golden light.

It’s the simplicity that gives the film its power. The film’s greatest scene (and incident) involves Ziyi attempting to catch her lover as she runs through the woods. A scene I will never forget as long as the movies occupy any fraction of my headspace.

In my time at the movies I’ve seen wave after faceless wave of people killed in the most horrific ways. I’ve seen tragedies reproduced on sound stages, and even watched the Earth turned into a cinder a time or two. And yet I don’t believe that anything I have ever seen on screen has moved me quite so deeply, so primally as that simple combination of the sound of breaking pottery, and a few dumplings rolling down the hill side, juxtaposed with the sight of that weeping girl. Then I understood what film was in a way that none of the theories and techniques I’ve learned about film have ever come close to matching. Film is empathy. Empathy trapped in light.

Through study I’ve learned more sophisticated ways of saying that, in fact I probably wouldn’t have been able to even phrase my reaction that way on first viewing. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder if all this analysis and dissection is really just a means of covering up what I already know. If I’ve lost more then I’ve gained.

The Unseen #29: The Young Racers

Time For Another Installment In Things That Don’t Suck’s Red Headed Step Child. THE UNSEEN!!!


(For once you will get EXACTLY what the poster promises)

Why’d I Buy It? : Included in the Roger Corman Box set I bought.

Why Haven’t I Watched It ?: To quoth Murderface The Young Racers lacks a certain zazz. There’s nothing WRONG with The Young Racers but when its placed next to the lurid delights of something like Bloody Mama, X The Man With X Ray Eyes, or A Bucket Of Blood, The Young Racers can’t help but look a little anemic.

How Was It? : Interesting. The Young Racer’s isn’t a movie I would call good. But based on the way it acts as both a perfect example of and exception to Corman’s work, makes it a must see for any fan of his.

The film follows a kind of douchey professional racer touring the European circuit. He’s basically kind of an asshole and seems to be suffering from both raging narcissism and a half formed death wish. He’s befriended by a young journalist/novelist/would be race, who joins up with the racer’s entourage made up of his resentful brother, bored wife, willing groupies, and assorted hangers on. But does the young journalist have a, DUH DUH DAAAAA, ulterior motive.

On one level it’s a total fulfillment of the Corman Formula. Find a gimmick (racing). Find an exotic location (Europe). Go on from there.

On the other hand, The Young Racers feels atypical of Corman. For one thing, it doesn’t look cheap. The racing sequences have a real feeling of scope and speed, most of them are set not in tracks but on city streets, which presumably had to be blocked off, so as not to kill the pedestrians. For another, Corman pads the film with footage of his disaffected young cast walking around Mediterranean villa’s saying vaguely angsty things to one another. The result looking uncannily like a Roger Corman produced Antonionni film.

The real problem with the film is that its cast is deeply unappealing. With neither the star in his fading twilight years, nor brash up and comer that Corman was usually able to provide to anchor the picture, we’re left watching a bunch of bland people participating in skullduggery between the heats.

Who do we root for? The vain preening ass hat veteran? Or the callow non entity journalist? Or should we ally our sympathies with the vapid Euro hotties who Corman owed a favor to. Like Hitler versus Stalin whoever wins humanity ultimately loses.

Still despite the utter lack of any rooting interest Young Racers remains an appealing watch. The racings scenes are in themselves worthwhile. And in the era of the queasy cam its almost obscenely gratifying to watch a film made by someone who knows the value of relative motion. Plus its kind of fascinating to watch a filmmaker as thoroughly attuned to Midwestern sensibilities as Corman deliver his version of swinging sixties Euro Sophistication. Its like watching a Hee Haw episode centered around La Dolce Vita. Where Stock Cars, decadence and ennui meet on equal footing. On second thought this movie is kind of glorious.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Five Reasons Why Friday The 13th Part 2 Is Awesome


Last night after a bitch of a day at work and with cold beer in hand and pizza rapidly cooling, I went through my usual “How can I own so many movies and have absolutely no desire to watch any of them?” battle. Before settling on Friday The 13th Part 2. One of the funnest easiest to watch movies the slasher genre has to offer.

I’d even go so far as to say to the less horror incline of my readers, if you’re to watch only one slasher film on your brief existence in this mortal coil, make it this one.

The reason is simple, within its compact frame (under eighty minutes if you don’t count the ten minute recap that pads- er starts it) contains everything fun (Boobs, Gore, Bad Behavior) that the genre has to offer and a good deal of stuff that kicks it up a notch. Here are the five reasons that Friday The 13th Part 2 non ironically rocks my world, and places it well above the standard fair, making it the type of film that rewards plumbing the most dubious genres.

1) The Opening: Its now standard operating procedure that if someone survives a horror movie they will die in the sequel. But Friday The 13th was written before the rulebook started (and slashers if nothing else follow the rules of their form in a a way that makes Kabuki look improvisational). And its delivered with a vicousness that still shocks.

Part of it is just how hard won Alice’s survival in the first film was. Something we’ve just been reminded of after the recap. Part of it is they made the effort to get Alice Hardy back for the brief part. But most of it is the unmitaged nastiness of her death, an ugly ice pick to the head. Especially shocking coming after that most innocuous of scares “The Cat Jump. After all she’s been through its just plain not fair. Look for Alice to go along with Shelia next time Arbogast does “The One You Would Have Saved”



2) The Final Girl: Amy Steel is a charmer, and one of the few actresses I’ve was genuinely surprised never really made it out of the slasher ghetto. Brash, independent, tough, charismatic, and unashamedly sexual and adult in a way most demure final girls aren’t supposed to be.

This is a woman so cool she scared the shit out of Jason. Coming as close to killing him as anyone has. The bit where she surprises him with a Chainsaw, set up with the meticulousness of Chekov's gun, is kind of beautiful. Its worth noting that even though he's come back many times, Jason has never had the balls to tangle with Amy Steel again. I’d watch her even if she wasn’t in a duel with a back woods mongoloid. Inspeaking of which…



3) Bag Head Jason: With the creepy canvas sack. Mad staring eye. And odd little action (I love him taking a teapot off the stove after dispatching his victim). This is probably the only time that Jason has actually been frightening. When he received his hockey mask Jason became an icon. By definition things that are Icons are familiar and that which is familiar is once again by definition not scary.

4) Steve Miner: Unlike the first Friday which was directed by Sean Cunningham, a man whose sense of pace and mise en scene can charitably described as “clumsy”. Steven Miner is a decent director, He keeps the film at a strong pace, uses creative framing (He creeps his frames nice and open leaving Jason room to appear anywhere rather then the usual, keep the frame tight and cropped so when he comes in from the side its a surprise), creates a good atmosphere, has a rapport with the actors. He’s even able to stage a decent sight gag.

Its no accident that Miner has directed some of the most beloved slashers of all time (and also that movie where C. Thomas Howell drinks a potion that makes him black and Big Bully err….) He stages the kills in a way that makes them more then gratuitous gore shots, and the stalking scenes actually suspenseful.

5) Wheelchair Death: I’ve watched a lot of horror films. And I’ve watched a lot of exploitation films. And this is still one of the most sublimely tasteless things I’ve ever seen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Victory



Thank you to everyone who gave me a follow on Google Reader.

I am very much obliged.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Street Of No Return



As is a matter of record, I love Sam Fuller.

Fuller is one of those directors who is completely and utterly themselves. No matter how many bits and pieces of his aethestic end up in the films of Tarantino and Scorsese, Fuller shall always remain Fuller. Never to be imitated. I mean how the hell could you? No one could ever duplicate his particular alchemy of life experience, pulp training, and yellow journalism.

Street Of No Return is his final film (Fuller did direct a TV movie and a TV episode based on Patricia Highsmith after this, but this was his last feature). And like all last films it carries with it a certain weight of expectation. A directors last film (especially when they know it will be their last film) doesn’t merely need to work on its own, but instead must act as a capstone to their entire body of work.

Street of No Return accomplishes this. Showcasing what a truly weird director Sam Fuller could be. Something that often gets overshadowed by his tough guy sensibilities, but it was always an integral part of Fuller's identity (Google his original plan for the opening of Underworld USA sometime). Take the scene in which the two main character’s tender post coital bliss is intercut with the heroine riding a white horse in the alley sans explanation and clothing, save a thong.

Opening with the image of a black man getting hit in the face with a hammer, and getting markedly less subtle from there, Stree Of No Return tells the daringly non linear story of a pop star played by one of the lesser Carradines, who goes for revenge after his girl is killed (?) and his throat slashed. And also stops a race riot (?)

As you might be able to tell if there’s one thing that Street Of No Return doesn’t have, is Fuller’s usual narrative drive. Fuller’s films are usually utterly relentless affairs. It’s a rare film of his that clocks in at over an hour and a half. Street Of No Return is more of a member of the bunch of stuff that happens school of narrative. Suggesting perhaps that Fuller was spending a little too much time listening to his admirers in France. First Carradine is a pop singer. Then he and his girl are being punished for crossing a mobster. Then he’s accused of killing a cop, then he homeless and looking disconcertingly likea drunken Christopher Lambert. And then there’s twenty minutes left so fuck I guess he better go out and get revenge. And hell you might as well have him stop a cadre of Black Militants while your at it.

Its worth mentioning that the one and only Mutherfucking Bill Duke (Official name) is amazing in this. And in his best scene gets to give a speech to a row of prisoners that would make R. Lee Emery blush.

Fuller’s images retain their potent sensuality. And they’re the film’s saving grace. There’s not a shot in the piece not cloaked in sweat, shadow, or violence. Its an overwhelming technique (why oh why did Fuller never direct a Tennessee William’s play?)

Like this review, Street Of No Return is a jumbled mishmash. But it is a completely exhilarating affair. A film that grabs you by the balls (when its not shooting them off) and refuses to let go. It may not be anything more then a master having fun. But damn it sometimes that’s enough.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Forgetting Sarah Marshall


With the possible exception of the genuinely moving Knocked Up and the deliciously shaggy dog of a film that is Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is my favorite thing to role off the Apatow assemby line, as well as one of the few comedies I’m reasonably certain that people will still be watching a few decades from now. It’s a buoyant, quick witted farce that in true comedy tradition manages to leave everyone a little better off then they where found, and has the added benefit of making you laugh like a drain as well. There’s not much more you can ask for in a comedy.

The film follows Jason Segal as a schluby guy emotionally devastated when he is dumped by his long term girlfriend. Deciding to escape to Hawaii, things get even worse when said ex and her sex god rock star boyfriend end up at the same hotel. It sounds like sub sitcom plotting, and to a certain extent it is. But comedies unlike virtually every other genre has some leeway here. As long as its funny whatever else it is matters little.

It’s a film that lives on its cast. There is of course Russel Brand who kills from his first appearance, with the deliciously vapid would be anthem “We’ve Got To Do Something” ("How can you read if you are blind?") He reaches that perfect balance of Bono like pretensious pseudo profundity and Keith Richards libertine excess to create a comic caricature that’s equally true to life as he is absurd.

Kristen Bell elevates looking uncomfortable into a kind of art form here. She’s a gifted performer as well as a good actress and if she doesn’t start getting better films soon she’s going to end up the saddest wasted opportunity in Hollywood since Anna Faris.

Mila Kunis is one of those actresses who I’m informed I should hate. This is complicated by the fact that I’ve liked her in almost everything I have seen her in. In both this and Extract she’s proven herself to be a likable creative comedienne, and even made her, well shall we say unlikely casting in The Book Of Eli work. She’s a funny, natural presence with good taste in scripts and a uniquely sexy presence (and a voice to die for). I can’t help but like her.

Jason Segal is of course the one who anchors the film. He’s the ideal sad sack, with crack comic timing and a seemingly infinite capacity for disgrace. Able to get huge laughs both from gags as broad as him drunkenly weeping at his piano as he sings The Muppets theme song and as unlikely as “Now I have the freshest cereal.” The unexpected punch of him launching into his Dracula musical with a full Translyvanian accent is one of the most unexpected laughs I’ve had at the movies. Not to mention the scene in which he is invited to help prepare the next days dinner. A scene which nearly broke my ribs when I first saw it in theater. Like all great comics Segal knows there’s nothing funnier then someone trying desperately trying to keep their dignity.

Apatow’s films are often criticized for their bland visuals. But if such laziness is in evidence it is not in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Which possesses a bright appealing palate, a warm film stock and a keen visual wit, getting many laughs merely by contrasting the beauty of Segal’s magic hour surroundings with his abject misery.

For what it is, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is damn near perfect.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Speed


I have a confession to make. I kind of unironically like Keanue Reeves.

Lets set aside for a moment the roles he’s easy to defend in, the likes of My Own Private Idaho, Scanner Darkly and River’s Edge. Lets take a look here at your Constantines, your Lake Houses, your Point Breaks, your Day The Earth Stood Stills. Theres a reason Keanu always gets cast in this high concept shit. Mainly, because he buys it.

Take Constantine, which is for the record one of my favorite guilty pleasures of all time (lower your opinions of me accordingly). There is a scene which finds Keanu sitting in an electric chair, with his feet in a bucket of water and a cat on his lap, patiently waiting to be sent to hell. And he acts like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Presumably because he doesn’t know better. His shall we say, unique cadences, zen outlook, and unflappable demeanor all conspire to make Reeves truly one of a kind. I mean come on how can you not like him a little.

He anchors Speed. Along with Sandra Bullock one of the few women not named Carrie Ann Moss that it can be said Reeves has some genuine chemistry with. Bullock’s appeal has always been not her glamour but her normalacy, which is why she is still a movie star at forty five no matter how many actresses she kisses in public. It’s that ability to keep that Girl Next Door feel even when doing things as patently ridiculous as piloting a multi ton bus over a gorge, that keeps her likable.

Speed serves as the apex of a certain kind of pre CGI blockbuster filmmaking. There’s a purity to Speed that you have to admire it’s a two hour movie that probably has ten minutes in it not devoted to vehicles going fast, shit blowing up, and actors trading pithy bon mots. It’s the Darwinian end result of the action eighties. A movie that has (de)evolved into nothing but a goods delivery mechanism.

And in all fairness Speed does nothing but deliver the goods. Things start off with a fantastic set piece involving an elevator rigged to explode, that would serve as the climax for a lesser film. The plot develops into (white noise) mad bomber (white noise) will explode if it dro- (white noise) -illed his best friend.

Watching anything wreck that much havoc on LA’s nightmarish Freeway system during its Kakaesque rush hour is a guilty pleasure for any Angelino (Let us also take a moment to appriciate the sublime irony of a thriller built around public transporation being set in a city notorious for having the worst public transportation system of any major metropolitan area in the world). Unfortunately the film does little more then nod at the cities multi culturalism. Original director Tarantino might have turned the film into LA’s answer to The Taking Of The Pelham 123. De Bont, just lets everyone have a funny line.

And yet I’ve ended up writing about everything in this movie aside from my reason for revisiting it. Hopper of course, grounds the film. Giving his role a real sense of menace and ruthlessness. Not to mention making the idea that he can outsmart Keanu Reeves seem all too plausible. He gives the role the requisite intensity. But It’s then kind of role that Hopper was all too often saddled with, in the late stage of his career. One that the movie depended on, but gave him little room to do anything but pop his eyes, yell, and get one ker-aizy speech in. Don’t get me wrong, like everything else in the film Hopper is a lot of fun. He’s just not much else.