24 April 2010

Even you, Andrew?

It's so sad to see a respectable critic like Andrew O'Hehir join the ranks of people who ought to know better but were duped by that awful Argentine film that won the best foreign film Oscar this year.

Read it and weep.

I've hardly watched any movies all month. I think I must be cleansing my palate after an overloaded winter of filmgazing obsession.

LMAO. I can't believe that I thought this was one of the three worst movies I saw last year (Worse than A Single Man even.) and a friend who saw it first said he was terrified I'd like it because it'd mean he could never respect me anymore and here's yet another critic frothing about how wonderful this film is.
Roger Ebert, I never!

16 April 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009)

Really, I don't like the original by Abel Ferrara. I thought it was long on kitsch and short on enjoyment. I thought it was dumb as well. Herzog's film isn't really dumb but it is a kind of a huge mess. As with much that Herzog has done, I didn't know how to connect to this movie at all. The one Herzog movie I've really loved was Stroszek though and the interesting thing about this movie is the way I could see it as a dialogue between that movie and the Abel Ferrara Bad Lieutenant. I'm puzzled by why so many people liked this movie. I mean, I think I understand it adequately, I just maybe didn't see it like they saw it. I was more or less completely unengaged in this film. I found it dull and frustrating. Nonetheless, I'd watch it again probably because it seems like it might have slight potential to improve on second viewing. C-

15 April 2010

Tin Man (Nick Willing, 2007) / Comedy specials on Netflix Instant Viewing

Even if I haven't been going to the movies, I have been putting various things on via Netflix. The ones that I actually watched are the Tin Man miniseries from the Sci-Fi channel and two stand-up comedy specials I've watched in moments where I was desperate to be buoyed.

I think it'd be easy to dismiss Tin Man as something slight but it was really more imaginative and inventive and well put-together than I had expected, especially after having read Wicked and then endured the play. It's a sort of update of the Wizard of Oz story starring Zooey Deschanel as DG and Alan Cumming as a sort of strawman. I love that this movie isn't as literal minded as a lot of these sort of updates are. It went in directions I didn't quite expect, even if it's naturally a little predictable. I thought it might be based on a graphic novel or something but that doesn't seem to be the case. The acting is decent for the medium. The only other actor that was familiar to me was wicked long-lost sister Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson), whom I recognized as Rhonda from Psycho Beach Party. B

I felt extremely ambivalent about Daniel Tosh's special Completely Serious. It certainly deals with some very important issues of today and it does so in an incredibly politically incorrect fashion and he's probably being tongue and cheek but I'm not sure I could really go with him. Even though I felt like there was parody and satire happening, I felt like the bite wasn't sharp enough and that he might just be too much of an asshole for my comfort. I liked the way he referred to his technique a lot. It was like taking apart a machine while you were running it. That's the sort of post-modern I kind of like, especially since I don't think people are aware enough of the machines that drive them. C-

Anjelah Johnson: That's How We Do is nicer than the other comedy special, even the politically incorrect bits don't feel malicious like Mr. Tosh's bit. She's likable and funny, mostly inoffensive. I didn't know her from MadTV. Not spectacular but it was a pleasant diversion. C
PS- This post feels half-assed. I got trouble in mind today. But I'm almost caught up now so that's all right.

We Live in Public (Ondi Timoner, 2008) / Afghan Star (Havana Marking, 2009)

It's spring in Chicago and it's been too gorgeous to sit inside all day watching movies, not to mention the apartment hunting that was going on, so I've hardly watched any movies in the past couple of weeks. I was sort of Jonesing yesterday so I stopped in at Specialty Video on the way home from a haircut and picked up a couple of documentaries: We Live in Public and Afghan Star, which I had been really excited about seeing in the theater last year but which I unfortunately missed when I had the chance. Neither of them lived up to my expectations but both were engaging and worth watching.

Josh Harris made a bazillion dollars in the 90s through some kind of internet something or other, though I'm not entirely clear on what he earned the money for exactly. I feel like the NPR piece on this film, We Live in Public, was much more coherent and informative than the actual movie, which I guess is it's main flaw. If you've ever seen a documentary about something artsy that happened in New York where everyone is blowing it out of proportion and talking like they held Jesus's hand the day he walked on water, this movie is kind of like that. Essentially, he spends his fortune on these over the top ventures that seemed part venture capitalism, part unethical psych experiment that could never be approved by any ethics panel, and part performance art. His most famous experiment is often credited as being the first reality show. He basically put a bunch of New York lunatics into a bunker and filled it with food, booze, and weapons and filmed it all. Whether this was for the internet or not or whether anyone watched it wasn't made too clear in the film. I think one of the problems with the film is that the filmmaker was a participant in the narrative and was too close to achieve any real critical distance. The movie needed to be more reflective, I think. It also seemed to make pronouncements about the role of technology in our lives that were as quaint and obsolete as Blue Man Group. C-

Afghan Star was the UK's submission to the Academy's foreign film panel this last year. It's a documentary about this American Idol-type television show in Afghanistan and its role in the culture. There is an element of this film that seems like what you'd expect from a movie about a talent contest and that part of the film isn't that great. (See Every Little Step or Pageant for a more successful take on that narrative.) The stronger part of the movie is about the culture and politics of what's been going on in Afghanistan for the past few decades. It doesn't necessarily go into the whole story like a special on the History Channel or something but it sort of gets the story across. I guess what I wanted though was a more in depth look at how Afghanistan got where it is now, even though that's not necessarily the mission of this film. It was good. I just wanted a little more from it. B-

10 April 2010

Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009, UK)

Harry Brown is a sort of vigilante justice movie about some old men living in a council estate (England's answer to the projects) that is somewhat reminiscent of the milieu of the apartment building at the center of Gomorrah. There's rampant crime involving drugs, sex, and illegal weapons, in addition to robberies and senseless harassment that calls to mind A Clockwork Orange. It gets to a point where Michael Caine has enough and decides to clean house. Emily Morter shows up as the heir to Helen Mirren's lady detective from Prime Suspect and she kind of represents the moral voice in the movie, which naturally gets drowned out. It's dark and gritty and a spare in parts. I generally liked it but I wanted it to go a little deeper. Instead of saying, "Make the world a better plays and flush the scavs into a fiery sewer," I wanted there to be some suggestion or indication of the structural elements that bring us to where we are in the film... C+

07 April 2010

Reading Star Wars 2 to Filth

Instead of watching a movie last night I ended up watching this 90 minute diatribe on the awfulness of the second Star Wars prequel. I've never actually seen any of the prequels from start to finish but he makes a compelling case. I was skeptical going in but I found this strangely watchable and weirdly engaging, as it were.

Watch it here if you're interested.

06 April 2010

Battle in Seattle (Stuart Townsend, 2007)

As the title implies, this movie is about the protests surrounding the WTO summit in Seattle in 1999. Being as my politics and worldview might best be described as "Naomi Klein individual (minus a little get-up-and-go)" I was naturally very excited when this movie came out. It was greeted with mixed reviews though and I never got around to seeing it until last night because I've been so terrified of being disappointed. It's hard to be objective about a movie that so clearly and unambiguously reinforces one's own politics but I really liked this movie. I can think of a dozen criticisms people might bludgeon this film with and I wouldn't say that it succeeds as great art. I wouldn't even say it succeeds so well at persuasively and articulately defining its politics since it's probably preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, this choirboy says "Hallelujah!" I notice that the director is an Irish actor who went to the same acting school as Colin Farrell and was engaged to Charlize Theron with whom he starred in Trapped, which I vaguely remember liking. The acting in the movie is decent but not so great that you'd write home about it. A-

2 short films: Spike Jonze & Guy Maddin

Over the last few weeks the blogs in my Google Reader have been chattering about a few short films: Jonze's I'm Here, Maddin's The Little White Cloud That Cried, and Ramin Bahrani's Plastic Bag. I do most of my internetting at work (without audio) and it took me a while to get to the first two. The latter I still haven't gotten around to watching.

Given that the kind of person who has a film blog seems most often to the kind of person who likes both robots and Spike Jonze it seems natural that people have seemed to like I'm Here so much. My own circle of friends has given a range of responses that goes from "meh" to assorted vitriolic displays of scorn-fueled mirth. I'm more on the "meh" side of the spectrum. I thought the story was engaging enough but the metaphors and so forth aren't so great. I didn't really like philosophy driving the narrative. You can watch it on the official Absolut-sponsored page here but I found that page irritating and a little precious so I found it on this page which seems to be Hungary's answer to Youtube. C-

Guy Maddin basically brings us tranny art porn. If your math doesn't make that last sentence add up to "fabulous" you're clearly using the devil's calculus. It took me a couple of minutes before I was won over by The Little White Cloud That Cried but the important thing is that it won me over in a big way. Of course, I can't imagine most people enjoying it as much as I did because there are so many ways for people to criticize movies with hardcore sex involving pre-op transsexuals and a metaphysical edge. I liked it though. It's said to be a tribute to experimental filmmaker Jack Smith but I'm not very familiar with any of his work (which includes Flaming Creatures and Normal Love) so I can't even speak to any of that... Watch it here. If you dare. A-

01 April 2010

Copyright Criminals (Benjamin Franzen, 2009)

My boyfriend picked this up at our neighborhood independent video store yesterday and I ended up watching it tonight. It'll be late now. Sorry. :-) It's a short documentary about sampling that seems to have been taken up by PBS's Independent Lens. It's an interesting subject but I found the movie unfocused and superficial. They didn't talk to enough people and they didn't quite succeed at making a coherent piece out of the interviews they did get. I have to say, I found the show I heard about it on NPR more thorough and informative... I might say the length is what makes the movie necessarily choppy but the piece I heard on NPR was shorter than this film... C

Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)

Leo McCarey's film stars Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore as couple who have been married for fifty years and have lost their home to foreclosure. Their ungrateful children can't afford to take them on, it seems, and the two parents are split up, the wife staying with their son and his family in New York City, and the father staying with their horrible daughter and her husband three hundred miles away. It's a gorgeous film in some respects. There's something that reminded me of Frank Capra's 1930's films or even of John Ford's Grapes of Wrath. Those "regular people" movies from the time are so fascinating to me because they seem a little patronizing but simultaneously heartfelt. They're sentimental and hokey but manage to be profoundly affecting. Their notions of decency can range from seeming quaint to seeming almost revolutionary today. It was sort of disorienting though because you have this film that sort of feels like a Yasujiro Ozu movie tucked inside one of those '30s melodramas that almost seem to function like therapy for Americans who were exhausted from the preceding twenty-five years. I kept feeling this disconnect like my brain kept wanting to convert it to an Ozu film or even Koreeda. At the end there's this great sequence in the railway station that has called to my mind the grace and the emotional quality of moments in David Lean's Brief Encounter. I thought about rating this film with a lower score because of some of the hokiness but it had been a while since a movie made me cry and there's something timeless about the story and ache-inducingly beautiful about the trajectory. A