a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Samson Tobacco Tastes Like Ass

Well, it does.

First, many apologies to Jessica Pressler, whom I apparently offended on this very site last week. (The post is three or so down.) While it may sound insane when I say I meant the "rampant mean-spiritedness" line as a compliment (why "may"?), she didn't see it that way, and I've spent the last couple days following her puzzled e-mail feeling like the meanest of the mean. Also, she's good -- her gossip column, unlike most, isn't a cavalcade of celebrity ass-kissing; in fact, it's the opposite, with the added attraction of gobs of weird musings on the city at large. Also, what's wrong with being "mean" to Real World subjects? Patched-up now?

So, onto other business. Here's what I did this week:

Attack! (1956, Robert Aldrich) The "!" is apparently an add-on, as the title of the film is thrown onto the screen without it - as though it were more matter-of-fact than urgent. Still, it is urgent, seeing how colonel Eddie Albert is a big, honking chicken, afraid to send his own men to aid lieutenant Jack Palance when they're pinned down and being picked-off. (That, and everyone else calls it Attack!; who am I to light off on my own?) Anyway, a shape-shifting film, with the usual Aldrich soul-searching: nothing’s completely black and white and even Albert gets to look...well, not good, but not like some paragon of villainy. Besides, if anyone’s the villain, it’s that Lee Marvin fella. Friggin’ system... A-

Godzilla (1954, Ishiro Honda) The "new" version, reassembled and de-Raymond-Burr-ized into its original Japanese version, is still cheesy, and it's only more blunt. But what bluntness! The freighter-destroying opening is so much like the incident where the denizens of a Japanese fishing boat were contaminated by nearby American H-bomb testing that it seems like the strangest kind of exorcism: take that most awful of tragedies, turn it into a silly monster movie and rake in the bucks. As ever these days, tough not to read it in terms of our own country's meddlings. B

Mickey One (1965, Arthur Penn) Courtesy of star Burt Lancaster, Penn had recently been fired from helming the WWII actioneer The Train when he started making the Warren Beatty-produced Mickey. The results? Replacing director John Frankenheimer made one of his strongest films while Penn shot out his hands-down strangest. While the story has Beatty playing a second-rate stand-up comic running, Kafkaesque, from a nameless threat -- which may have something to do with gambling debt-collecting mobsters -- it’s rather obviously about the paranoia that crops up while working for The Man, a fear Penn both seriously punts forth and mocks at the same time. Beatty, truly being one of the coolest actors ever (really), is both Method-y and self-effacing, while Penn all but brags about being the first Hollywood stalwart to crib stylistic tricks from the French New Wave. Undeniably self-indulgent and not a little bit pretentious, but also breathtakingly inventive, quick to deflate its portentousness through sonic cuts, pixilation, oddball larks and other ADD-infused tomfoolery. It’s both grim and fun -- an odd mix, and one which few, if any, have been able to pull off. Still, can’t decide if it’s less than the sum of its parts, the other way around or, you know, leveled. B+

Bullet in the Head (1990, John Woo) Woo’s suds-’n’-blood at its zenith, I’d say, with the Hong Kong fave basically remaking The Deer Hunter and subsequently improving on it at nearly every turn. (Which isn’t much of a feat, I’d say, but still.) Thoroughly ridiculous, with Woo taking on Vietnam and not curtailing his beautifully choreographed carnage set pieces a little (opposite, really), but absorbing, thanks largely to its making-it-up-as-we-go-along storytelling style. Given its rep, didn’t disappoint. B+

/Night and Fog/ (1955, Alain Resnais) Hadn’t seen this since Media Arts 100 (i.e., 1997) and, well, oof! Pretty much a perfect being, which is to say it’s imperfect -- Resnais has no answers and just keeps asking questions, showing horrifyingly suggestive stock footage and having d.p.s Sacha Vierny and Ghislain Cloquet pan across the dilapidated concentration camps so they too can say, “yeah, this really can’t be explained.” Every holocaust film starts right here; none have beat it. A

The Fire Within (1963, Louis Malle) No less than the prototype for the French New Wave mood piece: slow, filled with quirky details, Satie sprinkled over the soundtrack, beautifully B&W, at least one scene of lovers in a bed, etc. Also a Suicide Film, though Malle never cheats: he has no answers, and even when he does -- as in the end -- it explains only a fraction of why he wanted to go through with it, suggesting that true suicidal types have reasons that go beyond comprehension, analysis or help. Could’ve done without the La Dolce Vita-inspired third act knock against the bourgeoisie -- not simply because it’s pretty thin, but because it feels out of place -- but otherwise haunting, a homerun from that most polished of French New Wavers. B+

Eddie Murphy Raw (1987, Robert Townsend) Yes, yes, yes, never saw it before. Mostly lives up to its infamy, though Murphy has a tendency -- like most SNL-ers -- to drive a bit into the ground through endless repetition, though this occasionally has its perks: the finale, especially, goes on forever but feels like a public exorcism; basically, he looks like he’s gone off the deep end and it’s half-blistering and half-affectionate. Otherwise, pretty much genius: I’ll go on pestering people by quoting, say, the Bill Cosby bit, the “bush bitch” section, and the ludicrous set piece about Italians after they see Rocky. Also, and inevitably: what the fuck happened to him... B+


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