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

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

a summary judgment

Remember that section of Love and Death where Woody becomes suddenly and inexplicably depressed? That, alas, is what's become of me over the last several weeks. (Technically speaking, Woody became suicidal; the principle's roughly the same.) Needless to say, work -- and, thus, my filmic obsession -- has tapered off a bit. As I make my way out of the hole, I've devised a smashingly therapeutic idea: drop a few hopelessly quick words* on what few long strips of celluloid I've seen in the last week or so. More importantly, it's been barren round these parts, yes?

Here goes:

/Little Murders/ (1971, Alan Arkin) This one -- a very deadpan adaptation of Jules Feiffer's lucidly dark comedy of a play -- apparently grew in infamy in my mind; a second viewing reveals that, no, the second half doesn't entirely work -- or make any kind of sense, for that matter. The first, however, is an entirely different story. There's a good hour stretch where it's never less than wildly inventive in its absurdism, which must be some kind of record in sustained comic misanthropy. (Particularly the 20-minute meeting-the-folks scene; bite me, Meet the Parents, indeed.) Elliott Gould = Coolest Actor of the '70s. Grade: B+

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Alfonso Cuaron) What everybody else said. But not this. Or not all of it anyway. Grade: B

Jean Rouch Fest A scary part of my job as writer and compiler of the Philly Weekly Repertory Film and Video listings: while readers (or non-) get to hypothetically take in rare films on big screens and with other people, I almost always see them on my couch and (usually) on my lonesome. Sometimes, I even wind up taking in an entire mini-festival in the span of one day's sitting. Such was the case with this six film tribute to the late Rouch, documentarian pioneer and one of the purveyors of cinema verite. I haven't become an expert -- the dude has 106 films, according to the IMDb -- but there was more to the guy than my simple description would suggest. In films like 1967's Jaguar and 1961's A Chronicle of a Summer, he made sure to throw in exposes of the doc form's inherent fraudulence. Not to mention that he was expanding the form -- having subjects re-watch films, even narrate them after-the-fact -- before it was fully-grown. Not a master, but neither just a time capsule filmmaker.

Dishonored and Morocco (1930/1931, Josef von Sternberg) If only Greta Garbo had the affection of a von Sternberg. On the other hand, Dietrich, the director's seven-film obscure object of desire, deserved what she got. Morocco, the duo's first Hollywood effort, possesses the expected B&W lushness and chiaroscuro-ness while attaching some cork-screws into the simple plot. Gary Cooper is pretty non-Gary Cooper, to boot. Dishonored, however, is pure movie-geek bliss. Playing a Mata Hari type, Dietrich is perpetually elusive, always slipping into a new identity as she slithers through the otherwise by-the-numbers storyline. The director, meanwhile, turns in what looks like his Forty Guns: a whirling dervish of odd tricks that somehow, but almost don't, coalesce into something coherent. The party scene, with its jungle of balloon strings, must be seen before you die. Grades: B/A-

Oh, and my usual published deluge is viewable. Nothing else this week, he says semi-casually.

*A promise that, as always, I'm incapable of keeping

N.B. For some reason, Repertory is credited to lead film critic Sean Burns -- but only on the web version. Sean, one of the biggest Mystic River fans in the galaxy, should be pleased as punch since net-hounds will now discover that he thinks rather less of it.
N.B., uh...2 Misprint remedied. And there was peace once again in the realm...


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