Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Screening Log: September

Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009) ***

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) (v) (r) ***** - Did I say On Dangerous Ground was my favorite Nicholas Ray movie? I hadn't seen this in years, and the image quality of the VHS tape I had first seen it on really did not do it justice. Also: most of the discussion of this movie talks up its unconventionality (less sympathetic viewers might phrase it as its near hysteria), but from a distance of 55 years, what strikes me is how classical it seems.

12:08 East of Bucharest (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2006) (v) *** - A little movie on a big subject. It reminded me of Greil Marcus writing about Elvis Costello, re: the relationship of the personal to the political.

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009) ** - Ignore the conventional fx-driven ending, and you have a subversive, quick-witted, and surprisingly moving action-adventure movie. I am amazed that it's thoroughly South African-centric p.o.v. clicked with a relatively big audience here in the U.s.

The Miracle at St. Anna (Spike Lee, 2008) (v) ** - Spike Lee is our Sam Fuller.

Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004) (v) ***

Cloak and Dagger (Fritz Lang, 1946) (v) (r) ** - Watching something like this (or Man Hunt) makes me think that Fritz Lang has to have been one of the greatest "pure" filmmakers ever, in that he manages to get the greatest amount of "cinematic interest" out of any scenario he's given.

Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005) (v) (r) **** - I've written a little bit about the way that certain movies or directors have taught me how to watch other movies and directors. One of my big "aha" moments came when I found myself watching and really liking The Pink Panther (which I had always thought of as a prime example of a great performance trapped in a so-so movie) and realized that watching Jacques Tati's movie had trained my eye to the point where I could really appreciate what Edwards was doing. (Had I not grown up watching so many movies mutilated on tiny TV-screens, I'm not sure my eyes would have needed to be trained in that way, but that's a longer digression than I probably need to make here.) So, with Broken Flowers, which I had thought was pretty amateurish when I watched it when it was first released on video, having since seen and come to appreciate the films of Hong Sang-soo (and having even thought they were a bit "Jarmusch-esque") helped me get what Jarmusch was up to here. (Another way to put it might be that it helps to think of Jarmusch more as a "world cinema art house filmmaker" than as an "American Indie filmmaker").

Nickelodeon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1976) (v) * - To me, this is a good example of an "academic" movie that works on paper - conceptually it's all of a piece - but didn't quite come off. Ryan O'Neal seems comparatively uncomfortable and the slapstick is clumsy: I couldn't help thinking that Blake Edwards should have directed it and that John Ritter should have had O'Neal's role. Despite that, I liked it: the concept is strong, the supporting cast is good.

The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008) ***

Crank: High Voltage (Neveldine/Taylor, 2009) (v) ***

Park Row (Sam Fuller, 1952) (v) *** - For the first hour, mannered and stiff, but filled with interesting details about the 19thC newspaper business: then it explodes into brawls and beatings.

Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, 2008) **

I'm Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira, 2002) (v) ***

Idiocracy (Mike Judge, 2006) (v) (r) *** - Mike Judge's genius is that every day the world looks more and more like his movies. So even if you, like me, thought they were good-but-not-great on first viewing, by the second or third time through, you've caught up with them and even the weaker stuff turns out to be funny because it's true.

How Green Was My Valley (John Ford, 1941) (v) (r) ***** - This isn't the only measure of a great director, but it is, IMO, a pretty good one: this is one of about a dozen John Ford movies that if you told me was "his best" I'd nod and say "I can see that." I mean, I think his best movie is Wagon Master, but who'd argue against this one? This time around, I ended up having to watch it with the volume way down and, though I like the score, the music cues are the only "dated" part of the movie. Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O'Hara's final kiss is one of those timeless moments, when you feel you could be watching a great movie from 1917, 1930, 1941, 1957, 1972 - well, you get the picture.

The Cloud-Capped Star (Ritwik Ghatak, 1960) ***

Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009) (v) * - The major problems with Adventureland:
(1) It buys into its main character's stunted, limited worldview. (Mottola's actual worldview?) (See Kicking and Screaming for an example of a similar movie that calls its main characters' worldview into question in a number of ways, including: presenting characters with a reductio ad absurdum version of that worldview, validating the different worldview of other characters). (2) Partly because of that, the other characters are nothing more than obstacles/props for main character's "journey", with no meaning apart from what they mean to the main character. Any potential conflict is swept under the rug (notice how Martin Starr's character shows up at the end to support the main character, without any mention/resolution of his earlier criticism). All of that said... Mottola has a comparatively light touch and, moment-to-moment, there are nice details. And Jesse Eisenberg is good: he doesn't do schtick and is believable as an entitled-but-sensitive juvenile lead. Kristen Stewart, on the other hand, I couldn't watch without thinking of her performance in Twilight - which is unfair, sure, but every time she "uhh"'d or "umm"'d I started giggling.


(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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