Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes, 2009
Dir: Guy Ritchie
December 30, 2009

We all knew that Sherlock Holmes (2009) would be a Guy Ritchie film, the trailers made sure about that. The question remained, however, whether the detective tale would have anything to do with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation besides the title. Well, it begins by showing the Ritchie aesthetic, with Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes deducing in his mind how he will dispatch a watchdog goon standing guard. The slo-motion stylings in his head soon become a normal speed/quick edit reality and the adventure has begun. There's even a bare-knuckled boxing match set to folksy British isle music (not The Stranglers though) for the Ritchie auteurists to sink their teeth into. I like the Holmes tales (so there is a reason why I went to see this), as I have some sentimental attachment to most stuff that I enjoyed as a kid, and even more to the character itself. Robert Downey Jr. does at great job at portraying some vague cartoon of Holmes, but actually liking the stories may be a hindrance to liking this a whole lot. Not that he and Jude Law aren't good in their buddy bits, but putting the cleverest line of a movie in a trailer is really killing a lot of films these days. Rachel McAdams isn't gonna change your mind on how you think about her. And is Mark Strong really that menacing? It doesn't help that the story, while trying to get into that whole Victorian/industrial revolution/secret society atmosphere, sort of left me feeling like I was watching Tom Hanks scramble around in Angels and Demons (2009). Oh, yeah. All that occult/black magic red herring stuff too. The only thing that kind of kept my interest for the most part was having Moriarty skulk outside the main plot, teasing us for what surely will be a sequel. That and the fact that Ritchie has always done a pretty decent job with that whole gritty underground London thing. There's no need to be excited about this though. It's all spectacle and no engagement. All explosions and no suspense. A coulda-been-juicy update capsized by its own trickery.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Bride Who Wore Black

La Mariée était en noir (The Bride Who Wore Black), 1968
Dir: Francois Truffaut
December 29, 2009

This Francois Truffaut thriller is based on a novel by William Irish, whose books had been adapted by Alfred Hitchcock on many previous occasions, so you can tell that the Hitch worshiping is continuing. The ominous musical score, written by Bernard Herrmann, another frequent Hitchcock collaborator, is probably the best part about this film. Jeanne Moreau stars as a woman whose fiancé is killed in a freak accident by five men. Utilizing a series of disguises, Moreau, never one for excuses, tracks down all five culprits, sexually enslaves them, and then engineers their deaths. And Tarantino claims he never saw this film. Yeah right, you fucking film geek. If you ever watch this, sit back and laugh as you see how much of a thief Tarantino is. As for the film itself, I'm starting to think that Truffaut was rather too ponderous, subtle and/or out of his element every time he tried to get into Hitchcock territory. It's stylish enough, and thrown in are a boat-load of cinema/suspense cliches, but the production values are surprisingly lackluster. It does manage to build some effective suspense toward the end, but overall, it's not really that great. So totally the type of film that Tarantino would rip off.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Phantom + others

I said a little while back that I wanted to look at more of Murnau's stuff so I'm going to do that now. I watched a film last week called Schloß Vogelöd (The Haunted Castle) that he made in 1921 that takes place in a castle that isn't haunted. It's more of a chamber drama about revenge I suppose, which wasn't awful, but it barely had any of Murnau's expressionist touches, and add to that the fact that the film transfer on to the digital format was fucking abysmal. It was really hard to tell what was even happening most of the time, plus with trying to read the inter-titles it just wasn't worth it. Tagged on to that DVD was an American film from 1925 called Wolf's Blood. I'm guessing the distributor put this together as one of those "horror double-bills" that you often stumble across to add an extra bit of enticement, especially when the movies aren't that good. It's too bad that these aren't horror films. Wolf's Blood gets credit for possibly being the first werewolf movie ever, but what they don't mention is that it also might be the dumbest movie ever too. It's never scary; a guy gets a blood transfusion of wolf's blood that turns him retarded. I was kinda hoping that he'd just run off into the woods after they say he mauls some guy (yeah, you don't see it), but a whole fucking love story comes into into it and flushes it below 1 star territory.

Phantom, 1922
Dir: F.W. Murnau
December 26, 2009

Phantom (1922) was made right after Nosferatu (1922), but Murnau had such trouble getting money together due to the terrible inflation that the German Mark was going through that it a miracle a lot of it got made. Add to that the fact that for the longest time people thought that this was a lost film it's pretty remarkable that we even get to watch it at all. It was found and put together based on Murnau's notes about it, but it's tough to say for sure on these things if it's exactly the way it was supposed to be. Some of the reels that were found were damaged, so a lot of the frames needed coloring to make any kind of restoration possible. The archivists tried to correlate the color to the mood of the scene but again it's hard to say if this adds anything to what Murnau was trying to do. The film itself is pretty good, especially when Muranu's dreamy Expressionist moments are allowed to dominate scenes. The biggest problem that film has is that it was penned by Thea von Harbou (Metropolis), and her heavy-handedness is all over the place in this one. Especially at the end. In what could have been a downright bummer, where Lorenz (Alfred Abel) goes to jail for his obsession, it peters out into "oh I was so crazy back then" foolishness. So the whole flashback part of it really ruined it for me. Lorenz is a goody goody who writes poetry and has female admirers, but when he's run over by the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in the city, he's love struck. His poetry, championed by a book-keeper and his smitten daughter, is scoffed at by a publisher as mediocre. He soon realizes that he will never be able to win the heart of this girl without money; he is chasing phantoms. He asks a wealthy aunt for a loan, and she agrees given his honest reputation. When he meets a woman who is a dead ringer for the rich girl at a night club, it's game over. The worst part is that she is a prostitute. He starts blowing all the borrowed money on her and aunty is none too pleased. The film unravels the way a tragic drama should, and like I said, had it ended on that downbeat note, it would have hit home much harder. Lorenz's inability to get out of the mess that he makes for himself is probably the best over-arching theme of the film, so the fact that they lessen it's blow at the end kills it. This is worth checking out if you like Murnau or early expressionist films. Those parts in this are really good. I mean look at the in-camera trick below. The buildings on the left are "collapsing" on him!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ball of Fire

Ball of Fire, 1941
Dir: Howard Hawks
December 19, 2009

Even an extreme dislike of all of Hawks' previous comedies couldn't dissuade me from having a rollicking time watching this. Maybe the masterful triple threat of Hawks directing, Gregg Toland as cinematographer (Citizen Kane (1941), and a screenplay written by Billy Wilder (Sunset Blvd. (1950) pushed it over the edge. Seriously, Deep Focus. It's structure, while being fine, isn't really what makes this an important film. It's a piece of pop cinema for 1941 for sure, as a gangster comedy, but this ain't Analyze This (1999). The social commentary that Wilder's script adds is pretty subtle while not taking away from any kind of entertainment value, which is why I think this is good. Not only does it take subtle jabs at politics, especially when people take it too seriously (some foreshadowing of McCarthyism), but the sexual innuendo is off the charts for a film from 1941. Gary Cooper plays a nerdy (really, more nerds?!?) English professor helping to compile an encyclopedia with the help of 7 other much older professors (based on the 7 dwarfs of Snow White) who, in an attempt to figure out the new "slang" used by real people (like "smackeroos" or "killer diller"), meets Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), a nightclub singer who's involved with the mob. Cooper I think needs a lot of cultish love to appreciate, but Stanwyck really shines in this, throwing out her ballsy jive with a charisma that radiates with her verbal sexual aggression that must have been something of a shock for people when they first saw this. She pretty much typifies what the strong Hawksian woman is. Some of the comedy bits are a bit corny (or maybe just very 1940s), even the bit that is about "corn," but it's hard not to laugh a lot during this. Also the scene where Cooper first sees Stanwyck is a big reminder of how cool Big Band was. I'll let you decide what to think of "Matchbox Boogie." Gene Krupa also shows why he was the hero and inspiration of many crazy rock drummers, especially Keith Moon. This film has something for everyone, and is totally worth watching.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451, 1966
Dir: Francois Truffaut
December 15, 2009

More Hitchcock from Truffaut, except this time he directs his only English language film that not only blends Hitch but also dark 60s sci-fi along with his own sense of light whimsy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm assuming every 8th-grader ever has read this so I won't go into the story, but Truffaut (wisely, I think) leaves things out that are in the novel to keeps things tight, and yet also lets him do his typical meandering thing within those scenes. Oskar Werner (Jules from Jules et Jim) plays Montag the "fireman," and I'm not quite sure how his accent played out in this. At the beginning I suppose it's alright, where you can identify with that "foreign" totalitarianism. Julie Christie does a nice double act as Linda/Clairisse, and I want to say she is a mega-babe but seems like she'd be way too nice. She's very attractive anyway. As the story progresses and he starts to read books, Montag gets "anti-social" (seriously, parts of the novel make no sense and I was thinking about it while watching this) and "weird," which is bad. He's not fighting the system, he's just being a nerd. Who cares, right? I guess that's more a problem of the story than the film. The film itself is an exercise in style over substance, and in creating a futuristic realm with a palpable sense of “otherness,” Truffaut succeeds in creating a wonky dystopian fantasy world that only occasionally feels brutally left in the 60s. All of this is captured through unique compositions (with an even more unique color palette) by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg. Best of all, in keeping with the story's theme, printed word is not allowed (take that Godard). Therefore the opening title sequence cleverly (and ominously) uses a detached voice-over as the camera pans a sea of rooftops, each of which has a television antenna broadcast directly to the unthinking zombies. The story is a little played out, but only Truffaut would have made the film like this.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Side Street

Side Street, 1950
Dir: Anthony Mann
December 13, 2009

So this weekend's noir double feature moves on, but I must say that this is not nearly as impressive, at least in it's narrative. The film is really silly and dumb for an hour, and then gets pretty good until a voice-over-laden ending, but the film is only 80 minutes long so big friggin whoop. Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell are back as a young couple, except this time they both aren't really that good and not just Granger. Granger's Joe is a mailman looking to move up in the world. When he notices where a lawyer stashes some of his dough, he decides that he's gonna snatch it to help out his pregnant wife. What he doesn't know that the lawyer is crooked and has stashed some blackmailed money in there, and instead of just taking a couple of hundred bucks, he unwittingly takes $30,000. If there is anything that can save this movie, it is the style of Mann, who I admit I must look further into. The film starts off normally (or annoyingly) enough, but soon the camera angles distort madly, shadows loom ominously, lighting and air is sucked from the frame. Although the script tries to keep up the Jean Valjean myth of Joe's essential goodness, it is clear that he becomes damaged: he will never be able to return to his old, naive certainties. He learns both what evil is, that as a thief he has it within himself, and how it can be used, even if it's just to save himself. It's just a shame that some narrator has to tell us all this; Mann has done a pretty good job visually. At about an hour into the film, Joe end's up at a club looking for information and has a scene with Jean Hagen that is really great formally. It caught me off guard as I was really thinking about all the things that were pissing me off. The film ends with a wild car chase scene that captures New York in that gritty, bleak way that Kubrick tried to do later in Killer's Kiss (1955) but didn't really have the professional equipment to do so. The aerial shots of New York at the beginning and end are also really impressive. In the end it's a pretty good example of how a good director can save a movie, but also how a terrible script can still keep it down.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

They Live By Night

They Live By Night, 1948
Dir: Nicholas Ray
December 12, 2009

A fine debut from Nicholas Ray in the film noir/melodrama genre, but I have a bit more of a soft spot for it considering it could quite possibly be the first "love on the run" film. It's obvious that Ray's propensity to cast a sympathetic eye on undesirables is evident already, and the tenderness and romanticism with which he handles the script really elevate it past a lot of others in this great sub-genre. The characters are pretty straight forward, nothing fleeting like in Badlands (1973), but there is a sweetness and naivete that seems to be all about what Ray's thoughts on cinema were, and which is certainly unique to any other kind of film noir that coming out at the time. Add to that the bittersweet atmosphere and constant lyrical theme of missed opportunities, it's no wonder I liked this so much. The acting is not amazing but it is played out in a way that is dramatic but not silly, which is all you can really ask for. One scene where Bowie (Farley Granger, who can be a bit hammy) is wondering why Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell) would go with him knowing that the cops are after him is particularly telling, with soft-light close ups and melancholy music while they are drinking milk, another nod to the childlike innocence of these kids who are in over their heads. Ray was dealing with the censorship of the times, but the sensuality of the making out by the fire, the aggression with which Keechie tries to save Bowie from slippin' back into crime, the “Your Red Wagon” song (a little more obvious nowadays, but still quite bold), the sensual sharing of the sweet potato pie, and not to mention Bowie’s frequent shirtlessness, is about as erotically charged as an 1948 film can get. I think that these themes will be just as evident for the later films that he is more famous for (which I have yet to see), but I really dig it. It seems to me that Ray didn't just touch upon the taboo; he simultaneously added innocent lyrical romanticism along with that hard, subversive edge. How cool is that?


Friday, December 11, 2009

His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday, 1940
Dir: Howard Hawks
December 10, 2009

I think I said earlier that there might be some better screwball comedies out there than the few that I have seen. While this is probably a better film than the earlier efforts (objectively speaking), I still just really didn't like it all that much. I suppose that it all comes down again to my sense of humor and this not being funny enough more of the time. It actually got a few chuckles out of me, and has one of the snarkiest jokes ever (When some asks Cary Grant what Craig Bellamy's character looks like, he says "Oh you know...that actor, Craig Bellamy."), but it's pretty boring. The whole battle of the sexes thing didn't make me bat an eye, and Rosalind Russell was pretty annoying as ex-wife who can't get away. Grant was in his great cock-sure mode as a newspaper editor, but even some of his zingers fall flat. Some of the best stuff in the film comes from others who only surround the main duo, like the press room guys who always have something clever to say. Hawks' style is always evident and there is again nothing you can fault in the composition or pacing, so you have to go to the story, which is just not very fun, which it is supposed to be. This gets a lot of attention because of the lightning-paced dialogue, but also because Hawks and the screenwriters wrote a lot of the dialogue so that people would start talking and arguing over each other, you know, "like people do in real life." I think it was an observation that Hawks made about life that was well in-tune with his own sense of naturalism and how it could mesh with cinema. Not that it helps the story out a whole lot, but it certainly led to some of the better comedy bits. I hate to say it, but Screwball is lame.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, 2009
Dir: Werner Herzog
December 9, 2009

"Shoot him again!"
"What the fuck for?"
"His soul is still dancing."

A complete shambles of a movie that is totally worth watching for the hilarity and bizarre sincerity that is Nicholas Cage doing his best Klaus Kinski. What's obvious is that Cage is not doing anything new (even pulling a little Sailor Ripley at times), or anything that wouldn't make you roll your eyes in one of the many blockbusters that he's in. But in this, it just works, even if it doesn't add up to any kind of powerful character study. Cage, like Kinski (Aguierre (1972), Fitzcarraldo (1982), is perfect for a Herzog's fiction film because the artifice of character that he bellows out while he struts around seems at odds with Herzog's visceral reality that defines all of his films, and yet completely enhances Herzog's storytelling abilities. The plot kind of gets in the way most of the time, so all you have to know is that Cage's character is a dirty cop (or just a cop that get's the job done?), and just 'cause he like to get high don't mean he stop bein' the po-leece. The more drug-addled his mind gets, the stranger he gets, and while he seems to be messing up his life, his police work still means everything to him even as he gets sucked deeper into the serpent's world filled with gators and iguanas. Val Kilmer is his just as weird kind-of partner who is not in nearly enuugh of this, Eva Mendes is his hooker girlfriend who suddenly decides to get clean, and Xzibit is a gangster named Big Fate who has two lackeys called Midget and Gee (the bit about "Gee," a name that Cage finds ironically amusing, is one of the funniest things in the movie). Low contrast, gritty, and cocksure, Herzog lands on a stylistic swagger I’d expect for a movie with the synopsis at hand. However, I was left wondering how these choices contribute to any semblance of structure. They don't. The dialogue on institutional failure doesn’t hold a candle to The Wire either. But only Werner Herzog could have made this Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (which I'm guessing is a bit different than the original) because only he has such a bizarre vault of fresh images and ideas that he so willingly feeds to us. All this silliness straight into seriousness, and also the Herzogian commitment to the strange; the peculiarly poetic moments of Cage reading the poem of a dead Senegalese boy about his fish or how he explains to his girlfriend that he found a spoon in his yard when he was a boy that he thought was buried treasure and then hid it in a shed, but has no idea now where in the shed he hid it. Even if it is rather garbled, and at the end Cage is right back shakin down kids outside a club for sex and drugs, this was hypnotic in it's looseness and unpredictability. Not to mention pretty fuckin' funny. A real guilty pleasure.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Soft Skin

Le Peau Douce (The Soft Skin), 1964
Dir: Francois Truffaut
December 7, 2009

It's Hitchcock meets New Wave in the film that basically threw Francois Truffaut's rocketing star back to earth, and in a sense, ruined his big-time movie career (but not his reputation). Let me say this: this should not have ruined his movie career. People were expecting something else, considering the lighter and more whimsical tones of his earlier films, but this was consistent throughout and helps make it a pretty good film. Watching it now, it seems like a lot of other adultery pieces that I've seen, but in 1964, I'm not sure how audiences would have handled it. Europeans I would have thought would be OK with it, but maybe it was always just one of those unsaid things that was tolerated but never brought up. The film is about a family man and famous lecturer from Paris, Pierre (Jean Desailly) who falls for young stewardess Nicole (Francoise Dorleac) (seriously though, who wouldn't?) when he goes to talk about "Balzac and money" in Lisbon. The typical awkward situations come up over how he is going to hide his infidelity and lead a double life, and then when he is gone for more than one day his wife (Nelly Bennedeti) starts to get suspicious. Just when you think that Pierre might have gotten his way (getting a divorce from his wife, but sleeping with her one last time, and then moving to a new place with Nicole and contemplating a new marriage) his plans fall apart as Nicole realizes that she's 22 and doesn't want all that yet. There are basically 2 endings and that is one of them, which works fairly well and could have ended the film. The second one, at the very end, is crazy but kind of stupid. The whole vibe of the film is very Hitchcock, from the score to the pacing and even characters watching each other. Seriously, when Pierre watches Nicole dance I'm pretty sure I know exactly how he feels. And there was no phony voice-over, which is awesome. In the end though, it's just that, not quite a "genre" piece but something that feels less Truffaut and is more about his love of Hitchcock, which was immense, with a New Wave twist. Decent.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

As Tears Go By

Wong Gok Ka Moon (As Tears Go By), 1988
Dir: Wong Kar-wai
December 5, 2009

All the WKW ingredients are already there along with some of his trademark poetic moments. But overall, it still feels like an what is just an average Hong Kong gangster film, and as other critics have noticed, it's pretty much just a rip-off of Mean Streets (1973) narrative wise. This is not nearly as good or ambitious as something like Chungking Express (1994), but I think I enjoyed watching this more, especially since in between laughing at all the gangster cliches and excruciatingly 80s music, I was kinda wondering whether all that was getting riffed on as well (or as least Top Gun (1986)). Probably not considering the success of that movie. They were probably just looking for the same vibe. All the acting is like that too, with Andy Lau, Jackie Cheung, and an incredibly young looking Maggie Cheung caught hard in that decade. This just seems like a good movie to break into the Hong Kong movie biz, and let people know you are capable of handling a film.


Saturday, December 5, 2009


Husbands, 1970
Dir: John Cassavetes
December 4, 2009

I got a friend to go to the MFA for a screening of this tonight and then go out to the bars, because, judging by what the description said, I figured it would be appropriate to get drunk afterwards. Man-o-man, this is one heck of an experience. Hilarious, gut-wrenching, silly, serious, and flat out great. Watching a Cassavetes film is like no other visual experience you have. When one of their best friends dies, a single night of grieving drunkenness turns into a three-day drinking binge that ends up in London as the three middle aged buddies left alive are ankle-deep in grief. The opening with the flashback of their friend Stu and the bass-line music is incredible. Of course, the power of this film doesn’t come from the situation Peter Falk (Archie), Cassavetes (Gus), and Ben Gazzara (Harry) are thrown into, at least not in the sense of a dramatic structure, but rather from the awkward and painful sequences they share with others. My friend is certainly no film snob and he absolutely loved this too. It’s telling too (not sure I should be telling this but whatevs), because a week ago he told me he got profoundly drunk and spent the entire evening texting/calling an ex-girlfriend as well as the girl he is currently obsessed with to tell them that he was going to kill himself (not really seriously, I guess, but the example works well). That’s kind of what this is, though the movie never really goes that far. Most of that stuff is just implied, which is, of course, what makes Cassavetes so brilliant. The ending is also amazing, in the sense that it isn’t even an ending at all. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a more open-ended conclusion in any other film. That’s kind of a problem too, because while the film is 150 minutes long, it does ultimately feel a little too short. Maybe it’s because drunk people are just so damn riveting, and Cassavetes is probably the very best at photographing drunk people. Add this to the awesome list.

Oh yeah, you wanna know why Cassavetes died at 59 from cirrhosis of the liver? He (they all do actually) pounds all the brews and booze in the film for real. Talk about method acting...


Friday, December 4, 2009

Only Angels Have Wings

Only Angels Have Wings, 1939
Dir: Howard Hawks
December 2, 2009

This seems to me, and absolutely feels like, after having now watched a couple of his film, what should be the perfect Howard Hawks film. His greatness may come from "not wanting to annoy the audience," but in doing so he doesn't judge any of the characters in his films, and his cinema instincts and tight scenes drive this to greatness. Looking back at it, it might be hard to be thoroughly impressed with the material for some, but I definitely was. I don't think I've seen a better film about how men try to relate to women and work in a film filled with dark fatalism. The Columbia atmosphere of music, drinking, smoking (most cigs smoked in a film I've ever seen) and rolling fog in the Andes mixed with his personal love of aviation seems to find Hawks working on a film that he truly wants to sink his teeth into. Cary Grant, after being number one dork in Bringing Up Baby (1938), is absolutely awesome as Jeff Carter, the cock-sure boss of a airmail and freight business and leader of a band of pilots that occasionally have to risk their lives in bad weather to do their job. He has no qualms about telling a woman how he really feels ("And all the weeping and wailing in the world won't make him any deader 20 years from now. If you feel like bawling, how do you think we feel?") or dumping a pitcher of water over some drunk bitch's head and telling her act right and not so selfish. But he is also riddled with guilt about how he treats his pilots and what he has to make them do. The ladies in this are also really great, though leading lady Jean Arthur, who probably acts better, is blown away by bombshell Rita Hayworth in her first Hollywood A picture, who plays the ex-girlfriend of Jeff and is now the "no-good" wife of a pilot that is not in good graces of the rest of the group, simply by her presence (and being a total babe, which Arthur really isn't. Sorry.) The naturalistic acting and clutter that fill Hawks' frame always have interesting things, the dialogue is crisp and the mix of the romance/adventure aviation flick with the set-up of a woman (well, white woman) invading a small all-male community who are thrown for a loop by her simply being there, again, kind of make this a perfect little film.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jules and Jim

Jules and Jim, 1962
Dir: Francois Truffaut
December 2, 2009

Talk about a mixed bag. The description of this film, not to mention the praise and cinephile wank jobs that it induces, made me think that this was a shoe in for me. But there was just something about it that bugged me though, despite it being pretty good in the end. The whole whimsical tone, as Tuffaut said himself, seemed the only way to make this film, but I wanted scenes, which were mostly good, to be a bit more serious sometimes. At the end especially, which under different circumstances could have been perfect instead of just good, I wanted it to make you heartbroken instead of just leaving you with a wry smile on your face. I guess I've been watching too much WKW. This is good, and having now seen Truffaut's first three films, plus the awesome short film Antoine et Colette (1962), I'm positive that I dig him way more that Godard.

The course of the film follows two young men, Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre), as they live out their young adulthood's in Paris before World War 1, and then after as they progress into middle age. At first they spend time talking about art and dating girls, sometimes the same one. They then become enamored with the same woman, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), a free-spirit who spends time with both men as they go to a beach house and ramble around and swim and be silly. I enjoyed this part, along with the very beginning, the most. The whimsy of remembering something fond, like looking through an old photo album, works extermely well. Eventually Catherine marries Jules, who had gently warned Jim earlier, "Not this one, Jim." They both go off to war, on opposite sides (Jules is from Austria), and both have fears that they might kill each other. The stock war footage that was used was way too long, because you get the point.

Once the war is over, Jim goes to visit Jules, Catherine and their young daughter, who are living in Austria. It becomes apparent that the marriage is unhappy, and Catherine is still her old self, which apparently was always just a bitch who slept around. This is where the tone of the film stops working for me. Maybe Jules is looking back on this with some sense of endearment, but for me, it just stopped. For some reason, both men are still obsessed with her, and in in her restlessness, she begins to seduce Jim. When it becomes apparent that the marriage is over, Jules gives Jim his blessing to marry Catherine just so he can still be around her. So Jules is a lonely pussy, and Jim is falling for the same tricks. Everywhere on the web in reviews it talks about how cool they are, but they aren't. They get played like an old record. They live happily for a while, until Catherine has trouble getting pregnant. She goes sketchy again, and even tries to get back with Jules. Jim decides to head back to Paris.

Jim later sees Jules in Paris and learns that he and Catherine have moved back to France. From there, Catherine tries to win Jim back, but he has already decided to marry someone else. In a jealous rage, she pulls a gun on him, but he wrestles it way. The scene, with the music and composition, it really silly. As is the the next part, where, for some reason, Jim decides it's still a good idea to hang out with Catherine, and even get into a car with her. She drives it off a bridge with Jules watching. Jules is left to attend to ashes of his friend and of his lover/wife. You sort of see it coming as Catherine becomes more unstable as the film progresses, but it is still a shock when it happens.

I think this film might be why Americans think Europeans are so promiscuous, or are at least OK with it. My own repressed Puritan thought process kept coming up, "Why isn't Jules getting pissed about this?" But, as the title says, the film is about two friends who don't want to damage their relationship. As good as Moreau is as a crazy uber-bitch, she is somewhat superfluous to what I want, though basically essential to the story. I really didn't like the voice-over in this, and some of the techniques used were a little much (except the wipes...wipes are always OK with me), but then again, it's very New Wave. And then there were some name drops like in Godard, not as tedious, but still...You see the contradictions? In the end, the film is charming but flawed.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happy Together

Chun Gwong Cha Sit (Happy Together), 1997
Dir: Wong Kar-wai
December 1, 2009

The Turtles song aside (which is covered and played at the end of this film), this film is not really about being "happy together" or any reunions. The Chinese title literally means "exposure of something indecent." It's a pun or something, but it makes more sense. It really doesn't matter. This didn't need a title. "Gay Days of Being Wild" would have worked, but whatever. Nevertheless, this is really what I want from a WKW film. It's not quite Days of Being Wild (1990), but it's pretty close, and WKW's themes have matured to the point that make me spot them right away (lamps!). This started off really weird, but began to flow incredibly well near the end; the shots of the humongous Iguaza waterfall, acting as the torrent for characters that can't stop themselves, really resonate.

Ho (Leslie Cheung) and Lai (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) are lovers that have always had a volatile relationship, and in the hopes revitalizing it, take a vacation to Argentina. They run out of money though, and are forced into action in Buenos Aires to return to Hong Kong. Ho is basically Yuddy from Days, except that here he is gay, and the fact that Leslie Cheung was probably way more into dudes than girls makes his performance all the more believable and awesome. Lai has a more stable personality, and begins working at a tango bar to make money. Ho begins bringing other guys there (as a gay hooker?), presumably to make Lai feel like shit, and when Ho wants to start the relationship back up, Lai wants nothing to do with it despite being depressed.

But when Ho turns up at his door beaten up, Lai takes him in and begins to nurse him back to health. A semi-sedate Ho reminds Lai of what he liked about him the first place, and he later comments that these were his "happiest" moments with him. But the restless Ho can't stay down, even when Lai takes his passport, and things drift again. Lai, still depressed, bottles a guy at the Tango bar and get a new job in a kitchen. There he meets Chang (Chang Chen), a drifter from Taiwan who has a lot in common with him (including a vague disinterest in girls). They spend some time together, play soccer outside the kitchen, but Chang leaves once he gets enough money to go south so he can see the "end of the world."

Lai moves on from the kitchen to a slaughter house, and in his loneliness, finds himself picking up guys at public toilets and cruising gay theaters. He says that he never imagined that he would act like Ho, but "lonliness will drive you to anything." With Ho doing his restless thing, Lai decides to head back to Hong Kong after finally visiting Iguaza Falls. He stops in Taipei first to go to Chang's parent's noodle shop, where he steals a picture of him so he can remember him.

Again, WKW, in his own way, captures the pain and restlessness of modern relationships. Christopher Doyle's camerawork is like an extension of himself, every shot getting the meticulous detail it deserves, from black-and-white to off-focus, to the lush, slow motion that characterizes all these films. Complaining about the lack of plot or structure is completely missing the point. Let the film wash over you, like Lai at the Falls. It's worth it.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby, 1938
Dir: Howard Hawks
November 30, 2009

This is like if the pilot of "Beauty and the Geek" got time portaled back to 1938, and even then it still wasn't good or funny. Hawks' bits of busyness can be interesting some times, but this just tried way too hard to be zany. Cary Grant is Bill Nye and Katharine Hepburn is Paris Hilton and they have to take care of/keep track of a leopard in suburban Connecticut. I can imagine the gut busting that must have took place in the late 30s over this nonsense aharharhar, but even if I was alive back then I'm not sure if would have been in the target audience. Nowadays this movie is made as Fool's Gold (2008). OK, some of the stuff was amusing, but it just wasn't "haha" funny. Or maybe just dated. You just have this thought in your head, "This is a classic. I should be liking this. What's wrong?" Throw that shit out and move on to the next movie. I had the same sort of reaction to Twentieth Century (1934), so these screwball comedies might just not be my jambox. And no, they never have the leopard in a high chair (talk about false advertising...).


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009
Dir: Wes Anderson
November 27, 2009

So I'm thinking that this was a really good idea for Anderson. It takes a story that is a proven winner and let's Anderson put his visual stamp on it as well as some stop-motion flair, which meshes well with the Roald Dalh vibe, at least better than some other adaptations that I've seen. Sure, it can be a little too Wes Anderson at times, but the script was well written and all the voice actors lends their talent. It has enough moments to keep the kids interested, and is also funny. The moments when characters reflect on themselves aren't awkward, and can be poignant in a way that doesn't make your eyes roll. I'm generally a Wes Anderson fan, but, to me, he had most definitely got stuck in a rut. Here, he seems to have got out of it.

Mr. Fox is sympathetic and likable, but he is not a good guy. He is a thief, he lies to his wife, and, while he loves his son, he can't help but be disappointed in him for being "different" and constantly makes this known, especially when a cousin, Kristofferson, comes and makes it plain that he is a model fox. In contrast, the farmers aren't likable, but seem justified in their quest to get rid of thieving animals. You are always rooting for this charmer and his friends, hoping that they can get away with cussing up some mean ol' farmers. His journey is one of self-reflection, which I'm thinking is why all the yoga jokes are in there. His quips about existentialism aren't over the top, and seem to me a sincere attempt by a fox who wears a tie (even in the absurdness of that) at wondering how he should behave: as a civilized being or as a wild animal (losing his tail bit, figuratively and literally). In the end, he realizes that he can only be himself, which is as Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Fantastic Mr. Fox really brings one back (or puts one back, rather) to a sense of awkward and wide-eyed childhood amazement. Times when grand adventures popped up at every corner, yet with those came insecurities, sadness, the mopes; all indicative of something bigger than you, with some future lesson. Wes Anderson has captured this in a colorful, intimately-animated, tiny little world, one that’s difficult to leave. Absurdly (and dryly) hilarious, melancholy, and constantly delightful.

Oh yeah, the soundtrack? Awesome. "Let Her Dance" by The Bobby Fuller Four is one of the forgotten pop gems of the 60s.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Fallen Angels

Duo luo tian shi (Fallen Angels), 1995
Dir: Wong Kar-wai
November 19, 2009

So, this is good. But I kept wanting something else most of the time, and as it is sort of a sequel to Chungking Express (1994), there were parts that I just didn't want. Of course, that's my opinion, and there are tons of other stuff that I really dug, especially Leon Lai, who plays a killer trying to reform his life while dealing with the barely-alive relationships that he has. The ending also had me thinking about what exactly happened in regards to Wong Chi-Ming, Lai's character.

The film is not really about one character in particular, but revolves around different ones coming into contact with one another and then breaking apart again. So, instead of missed connections maybe broken connections? Similar themes, and just as sad. Wong Chi-Ming is a hired gun who has a partner, a beautiful young woman (Michelle Reis) who does his scouting and gives him his assignments. He sums up their relationship by saying, "The best thing about my profession is that there's no need to make any decision. Who's to die... when... where... it's all been planned by others. I'm a lazy person. I like people to arrange things for me. That's why I need a partner." He has feelings for her, but thinks it is improper to have a relationship with your partner. Little does he know that his partner is also secretly jonezing for him, and Wong Kar-wai throws in the masturbation/crying scenes to prove it. All of Wong Chi-Ming's hits are rad, the music, color and pace blending to absorb you in to the scene and force you stop analyzing what you are watching, which is what the best films do. At a certain point, Wong Chi-Ming decides that he's had enough of killing, and starts to think about terminating his relationship with his partner.

Back for more bizarreness is He Zhiwu ( Takeshi Kaneshiro), who before was a cop but now is some mute wandering vagrant who does strange things to get noticed in his own way. Here he has lost his ability to speak after eating a can of expired pineapples, a nod back to Chungking. I still have problems with his character, but it's hard not to laugh when he's forcing a guy to eat all of "his" ice cream (and then giving ice cream to his whole family) or pressing a woman to buy "his" vegetables. I suppose the way I feel about He in this film is the exact same way that his father (Man-Lei Chan) does, which is unbearable frustration at the things he is doing, but looking back on them with fondness and tolerance in the bigger picture, or a recording he made of it. He meets a woman named Charlie (Charlie Yeung), who is looking for a woman named Blondie, and he joins her in the quest to find her and they get up to crazy antics. He starts to fall in love with her, and his hair starts to turn blonde, possibly in hopes that she will notice. When she stops using his help, his hair goes back to normal.

While pondering his future, WCM meets a woman with blond hair (the Blondie?) (Karen Mok), who is another free spirit/quirk machine that just comes off as retarded to me. Lonely people trying to get noticed I suppose. I don't know, maybe I'm missing some other point, but I can't get into it. WCM's need for some closeness leads to a one night stand with Blondie, and later as the partner walks by Blondie, she catches a whif of WCM's scent on her. WCM and his partner finally meet and he tells her he wants to terminate their relationship. As a favor, she asks for one more hit, which he agrees to. Once he gets there, he is faced with overwhelming odds and is killed easily. A set-up? Was the partner jealous of Blondie? Angry that their relationship, which barely existed, was being terminated? It's all very ambiguous, and that makes it all the more disturbing to me.

After WCM is dead, He ends up eating in a restaurant where the partner is also eating, and gets into a fight with some other people there. He gets the shit beaten out of him, but still offers a lift on his motorbike when the melancholy partner asks for one. They zip through Hong Kong, possibly starting another relationship, or it could just be another one-off destined to end.

In the end, all individual scenes are composed as microcosms emphasizing Wong's primary themes, which are about loneliness and how people's inability to communicate with each other is the cause of that. People occupy the same space and yet never connect. Each character’s actions and language (or lack) are almost undecipherable to those they wish to communicate with. Distance is emphasized by showing the actors through windows, mirrors, TV monitors, and even a decorative waterfall. Other noticeable motifs starting to show up throughout his films are clocks/time and stairs and escalators/distance. Christopher Doyle's cinematography is just plain awesome as usual, with the wide lenses, reflections, and odd angles really adding to Wong's urban malaise and neon pulse that is his Hong Kong. The one thing that I really enjoyed was that the visual effect employed in Chungking and Ashes of Time (1994) is slowed down to a sumptuous WKW pace, and it really, really works. You can see what is happening and it looks as if the camera is shooting an expressionist painting, the flashes of color seeming to be the strokes of a paint brush. For me the manic improvised scenes don’t quite work, but it's overall a beautiful, funny and sad film which most definitely is worth watching.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Barbary Coast

Barbary Coast, 1935
Dir: Howard Hawks
November 15, 2009

A pretty minor Hawks, certainly not the "must-see classic" that Netflix claims it is. However, it is surprisingly risque in its' details which surround a pretty standard story, which could have branched off into much more interesting things if it wanted to. Mary Rutlidge (Miriam Hopkins) arrives in San Francisco during the Gold Rush as a mail-order bride, expecting to become the wife of a wealthy rancher. He is dead by the time she arrives though, and her bitterness is apparent. From there she falls in with Loius Chimalis (Edward G. Robinson) a gangster casino owner who tussled with Mary's husband-to-be, and who has taken it upon himself to run the city. Mary's character is interesting in the fact that she is cleary the protagonist of the story, and yet she is immediately portrayed as someone who was getting married only for money, and then immediately got in with a gangster who could provide lavishly for her. Hopkins does an OK job, which is basically what all the acting is in this film. There can also be lots of enjoyment taken away just from the atmosphere of the film, which like I said, for a film that was released a year after the Production Code went into effect, has lots of touchy stuff. There are drugs, booze and prostitutes suggested and seen in the background, and tons of characters are either drunk or say racists things. The way the men on the docks react when they find out that a new white woman has come to the city is pretty hilarious. There is nothing remarkable about any of the supporting characters, pretty much all supplying a standard role (moralist, comic relief, crony). Mary soon starts to learn that her own moral failings aren't nearly as bad as Louis', who will do anything to keep power, and his attraction to her isn't helping things. The film starts to lose steam when Jim (Joel McCrea) is introduced, Mary's real love interest, who also just happens to be a lonely poet prospector. It doesn't play out exactly the way you'd think, but in the end it gets there. This film certainly never really gets a great Hawks feel to it, but it is at it's best in expressionist moments when the town's seemingly constant coating of fog lends it some Gothic atmosphere to elevate its conventional melodrama.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Fourth Kind

The Fourth Kind, 2009
Dir: Olatunde Osunsanmi
November 8, 2009

So, I was out eating fajitas and drinking margaritas with some buddies when one of them asked if we wanted to go to the movies. The Fourth Kind was universally approved of, even by me, because I hadn't been to the "movies" in a while, and I was also shitfaced. There is nothing that will sober you up quite like a steaming pile of visual turd. After I realized I wasn't going to be moderately impressed or invested in the story, I was hoping it would eventually get hilarious like The Happening (2008), or maybe there would be a crazy pay-off at the end like in Fire in the Sky (1993). I remember that that movie was not that good, but I do remember being really scared, in a mesmerized sort of way, of the beginning and the ending when I first saw it, and being flummoxed by how boring the middle is. But no, this has absolutely nothing.

The "true" story is made to seem more legit by first having Milla Jovovich talk directly to the audience, saying it is up to us to "believe what we want to believe." OK Milla, I believe I'd rather watch you in The Fifth Element (1997) a million times before I'd watch this again. Then, there is the "real" archival video footage of psycho-therapy sessions and the tapes of the "real" Abigail Watson, pale and fleshless, talking about her experiences. I'm pretty sure that this "real" person is actually some shitty B-actor, but hey, it could be real, right? All of the people that may have been involved in the story are turned into safe movie stereotypes, from the blind daughter to the disgruntled son, even to the angry, "I'm not gonna believe this shit" sheriff.

Those things can be overlooked if you actually get scared, and maybe some people did, but I just couldn't get past the Youtube sensibilities and no-attention span techniques. Floating cameras, split-screen for no reason, introductory titles; this movie was made for the dumbest people in America. The technique aside, aliens, in their way, can be very frightening. Here, they make video footage distort and they show up in people's minds in the form of an owl. An owl? Now, when talking about fear, it is interesting to listen to what people have to say. Do they find a visceral experience more frightening, or something less tangible; something they can not understand. I tend to fall in the latter category myself, and this tried really hard to do that, but really just fell off the back of the retard truck first. There are some jolting moments for sure, but there are better vids on Youtube about this shit, which is, it seems to me, exactly what it was trying to be.