Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Screening Log: Late August

Halloween 2 (Rob Zombie, 2009) * - This is the first Rob Zombie movie where I haven't been shaking in anger, fear, or disgust when I left the theatre. In other words, a bit of a disappointment. Though many of his strengths are on display - the worlds in his movies feel lived in, there's a weight there that most Hollywood filmmaking (and I'm not just talking about horror/genre filmmaking) lacks that comes across through his attention to details; he has a gift for striking, expressionistic images that emerge from a more naturalistic surface - the entire movie doesn't quite seem to work the way I think he means it to work. I get the sense that Zombie wants the dream symbolism - the images of Michael's mother, the white horse, etc. - to work directly, intensely on the audience, but it has the opposite effect, creating a distance and, with that distance - with room to think about it rather than feel it - the symbolism seems half-baked. I should add, though, that I saw it under less than ideal circumstances: the sound was really off in the theatre (the Regal E-Walk on 42nd St) and the management did nothing to correct it despite numerous complaints. The dialogue was comprehensible, but muffled, which was quite distracting and it seemed to throw the audience off. It also didn't help that someone had brought several children to the screening, who were crying and making noise throughout. The fact that an adult could think that Halloween 2 is a good movie to take a bunch of kids to is scarier than anything in the movie itself.

On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1952) (v) (r) ***** - Probably my favorite Nicholas Ray movie. I love (a) how it keeps wandering outside of the boundaries of Hollywood convention (this is one of those movies that looks like it belongs to a particular genre but doesn't behave that way), (b) the shift from city to country, and (c) Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino's performances.

Terror in a Texas Town (Joesph H. Lewis, 1958) (v) **

Duplicity (Tony Gilroy, 2009) (v) ***

A Girl Is a Gun (Luc Moullet, 1971) (v) **** - I think I'll have more to say about both of these Luc Moullet movies after they've sat with me for a while. Right now, though, I'll just say that these movies spoke deeply to that part of me that is still a huge Greil Marcus fan.

Les contrebandières (Luc Moullet, 1967) (v) *****

Entre les murs (Laurent Cantet, 2008) (v) ** - Cantet really manages to capture the shifting dynamics of the classroom and the performances are all really strong. Considering that the cast is made up of (formerly) non-professional actors, this is an amazing technical feat of directing. I wouldn't want to make any larger claims for it, though, as it seems to shy away from - if not bury - the most interesting issue it raises: how the teacher's fear of losing control and shame at losing his cool turns into a passive-aggressive vendetta against a student. Andrew Bujalski should direct the American remake.

The International (Tom Tykwer, 2009) (v) **

I, Robot (Alex Proyas, 2004) (v) - This is the kind of big summer movie that depresses me more than something like Transformers, if only because there are bits and pieces of a good movie peeking out amid all the by-the-numbers blockbuster nonsense. Spielberg can sometimes get away with this, because he's a master of blockbuster nonsense, but Proyas' gifts lie elsewhere.

Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2002) (v) ****

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) **** - Audacious, thrilling, exciting, maddening. On the one hand, I'm more sympathetic to the movie's harsher critics than I have been to those of any other movie I've liked this much since The Lady in the Water: you need to take a leap of faith over the gap between intention and execution. On the other hand, I think a lot of the movie's supporters are, if anything, guilty of hedging their bets. Me, I line up with Sean Collins (my favorite piece of writing on the movie so far) and Ed Howard (the most insightful comments from one of the movie's supporters so far) in thinking that this is a gen-u-ine masterpiece. And in the spirit of the hype and hyperbole that the movie seems to provoke, I'll call it an American Weekend, using a "warts and all" definition of "American". (As an aside: I think Eli Roth is just fine. He comes across as an overgrown boy, barely keeping it together, which seems to make perfect sense for that character. I can't imagine he'd be getting dissed like that if he hadn't directed Hostel, which - by the way haters - is one of the best Hollywood movies of the decade).

I Love You Man (John Hamburg, 2009) (v) - I didn't mind sitting through this, but it's an all around lazy movie. Paul Rudd is funny, as usual, but he's been funnier in better movies. All the big third act stuff that is meant to solve all the problems doesn't even rise to the level of being perfunctory.


(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


Mr. K said...

Ah, no comments on "Terror in a Texas Town"? I don't think Lewis elevates this in the way he does "The Big Combo", but I feel like this movie lays the groundwork for "Once Upon a Time in the West", in both the economic attitude and back toward "High Noon."

Jon Hastings said...

I had some notes for it, but nothing that felt like it really needed posting. But since you asked:

(1) One of the signature moves here: small camera movements/reframings that reveal the (surprise?) presence of characters that we didn't know were in the scene.

(2) It feels unresolved: not in a meaningfully ambiguous way, but in a "Hey, what about that other guy?"-way. Haven't seen enough of Lewis' work though to really make this call, and would be interested on other people's take.

(3) It seems like the experience of Northern European immigrants in America remains, 50 years later, mostly unexplored territory in Hollywood filmmaking. Maybe because there are no Swedish gangsters.

Mr. K said...

I'd say you should really try "The Big Combo", which boasts performances from Lee Van Cleef, Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte, plus cinematography by John Alton. And there are a couple of really well-executed sequences in there. The murder of Brian Donlevy's character and the torture of Cornel Wilde in particular stand out.