Saturday, February 28, 2009

Screening Log: February 2009

Coraline (3D) (Henry Selick, 2009) ** - Selick gets just the right Roald Dahl-like balance between whimsy and nastiness, while downplaying the weaker elements from Gaiman's material. (For me, that's mainly Gaiman's Stephen King-like tendency to use hand-wavey mubo-jumbo to get himself out of the corners he's written himself into.) I liked the design quite a bit, although I'm not sure that the 3D added anything integral to the movie.

The House Bunny (Fred Wolf, 2008) (v) ** - A great performance from Anna Faris, some good performances from the supporting cast, not too much time wasted on the idiotic perfunctory romantic comedy subplot.

Crank (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, 2006) (v) * - Effective and entertaining as a cheap, nasty, gonzo exploitation movie. But there's a line between ironic commentary on a cultural phenomenon (in this case Grand Theft Auto-style rampaging male adolescent id video games) and an example of that phenomenon made by people who feel they need to cover their asses/hedge their bets.

The Abyss (James Cameron, 1989) (v) (r) *** - Kind of like Titanic: big, dopey, and despite the (at the time) cutting edge effects, very old fashioned. Watched (almost) back-to-back with Aliens, I am more-and-more convinced that the seeds of post-"Golden Age" action filmmaking (Michael Bay and Peter Greengrass) are here in Cameron's movies.

Aliens (James Cameron, 1986) (v) (r) *** - I'm not quite as impressed with this as I was when (a) I revisited Alien last year or (b) I've revisited other Camerons over the last few years. Lots of good stuff, of course, but a little bloated. As with T-2, there are scenes devoted to explicating the movie's themes that would have been better left out, because those themes - while powerful - aren't complex. Which is probably why I'd give John McTiernan's films from this period the edge: the themes there aren't necessarily any more complex, but they're worked out more fully within the boundaries of action/adventure.

Trafic (Jacques Tati, 1971) (v) (r) **** - It's not quite that self consciously artistic comic filmmaking is underrated in film buff circles as much as the necessary correction to the undervaluing of unselfconsciously artistic comic filmmaking that began several decades ago might have gone too far. Or (although this brings things close to the edge of meaninglessness) Keaton's gain in reputation often came at the expense of Chaplin's. But it's when watching a movie like Trafic that I become aware of what a self-conscious artist like Tati or Chaplin can do that someone like Keaton just really isn't interested in: provide along with a philosophical/temperamental take on the world and our place in it, an expansive and inclusive world view - a look at society, culture, etc. organized by a single, coherent sensibility.

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) (v) (r) **** - Two random observations. (1) So much of the movie's scariness/creepiness is tied up in how Kubrick uses music (see also: There Will Be Blood). (2) Heath Ledger's Joker was so different from Jack Nicholson's Joker that no one seemed to notice that Ledger's Joker was actually Nicholson's Jack Torrance.

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) (v) (r) *** - This was the Original Theatrical Cut. I used to prefer this cut because I thought the voice-over tied it in nicely to the noir tradition. But really, despite references to The Big Sleep and Sunset Boulevard, this isn't much of a "classic" noir. It's something else - and the voice-over really does just get in the way. And I have to say that the final moment of the 1992 director's cut (the only other version I've seen at this point) - the elevator slamming shut - is (just about) infinitely better than the tacked on B.S. we have here.

Big City (Frank Borzage, 1937) (v) ***


(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

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