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

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

criticism as form-filling

Let's try something different, just for kicks.

Film : The Lost Generation
Director : Jack Walsh
Year Released : 2004
Land(s) of origin : USA
Grade : B-
Seen at/because of : Home/Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Fest.
Merits : Evocative portrait of a largely undocumented part of an era, foisted upon us by a perpetual outsider; manages to be both historical and distinctly personal, always feeling like it's entirely the product of one person; uses period music (plus Sigur Ros) scantly.
Demerits : Walsh's narration (or at least the writing: someone else reads it) too literal for an otherwise hypnotic personal essay; falls apart once Walsh focuses on "letters" written to dead dad; the random images -- many of them traveling shots or herky-jerky zips across fields and such -- too often feel lazily tacked-on; unwisely turns meta- at one point, destroying the mood; ends with a glib homily.
Extra-cinematic factor : The filmmaker and I both went to the same university (albeit 25 years apart).
If this movie were an XTC song it would be : “Outside World”.

Film : Callas Forever
Director : Franco Zeffirelli
Year Released : 2004
Land(s) of origin : Italy/France/Spain/UK/Romania
Grade : D+
Seen at/because of : Home/Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Fest.
Merits : Jeremy Irons doesn't entirely ham it up as Callas' bitchy-yet-honorable manager, reading some of his more dire lines with a pleasant matter-of-factness; tunes are nice.
Demerits : Shrill, crass, starfucking "memorial" to Callas, remembered by Zeffirelli as a your stereotypical egomaniacal-but-oh-so-loveable diva; frequently interjects self-conscious techniques, hoping that the mere mention of how awful something is will have viewers forgiving the film when it goes and does it anyway; Zeffirelli still a purveyor of handsome incompetence after four decades in the biz; forcing Joan Plowright to bark such faux-Hedda Harper-isms as "This is 1977 - Satan's redundant!"
Extra-cinematic factor : “Complete Control,” which for some reason opens the film, is one of my all-time favorite Clash songs.
If this movie were a Busch Gardens (VA) attraction it would be : Whatever piece of shit replaced the Questor.

Film : The Leopard
Director : Luchino Visconti
Year Released : 1963
Land(s) of origin : Italy
Grade : A-
Seen at/because of : Home/Entertainment value; geeky completionist reasons.
Merits : Consistent fascinating elusiveness; eye-popping decor obviously intended to devour characters rather than simply look eye-popping; middle-of-the-road politics, i.e., humanity first; creating a convincing argument for doling out sympathy to rich, overly-priveleged aristocrats; Burt Lancaster a terrific actor even though atrociously dubbed into Italian, and clearly not by him (see also: Donald Sutherland, Casanova; Terence Stamp, Toby Dammit); last hour nothing but one endlessly fascinating scene that solidifies the themes and does a far better job of creating a sense of alienation in a public setting than the whole of Death in Venice, thus rendering that even more bunk than before.
Demerits : Uh...atrocious Burt Lancaster dubbing?
Extra-cinematic factor : Inspired, in a typically whacked-out way, a terrific Monty Python sketch.
If this movie were an insect it would be : A caterpillar.

Film : Before Sunset
Director : Richard Linklater
Year Released : 2004
Land(s) of origin : US/France
Grade : A-
Seen at/because of : Ritz at the Bourse/Last one a fave; never thought it needed wrapping-up.
Merits : Comes up with the best possible sequel idea for a movie that aggressively didn't require a sequel; yammering less highfalutin' than before and even more subtextual (in that they're clearly talking around what they really want to say, which they haven't figured out in any coherent way, et al.); takes place in real time this time, meaning every moment is drowning in permanence; Jesse even more predatory this time around; gorgeous, startling ending (wait nine more years?).
Demerits : Ethan Hawke takes more stock in his novel-writing abilities than anyone else; opening scene kind of obnoxious...though it literally never does nothing wrong once Julie Delpy gets an establishing shot.
Extra-cinematic factor : Sigh. Woe is me.
If this movie were a brand of rolling tobacco it would be : Gauloises.

Film : The Exterminating Angel
Director : Luis Buñuel
Year Released : 1962
Land(s) of origin : Mexico
Grade : A
Seen at/because of : Home/Philly Weekly
Merits : Everything that's stereotypically Buñuelian (i.e., rage + satire + bourgeoisie and/or religiouso + deadpan surrealism + hallucination sequence or two); sense that this is his bemused reaction to the Antonionis and Fellinis prevalent during the era; genuine despair as these cretins wither and grow mad; penchant for roaming sheep and bears.
Demerits : Shrug. It's practically diamond-cut.
Extra-cinematic factor : When I first saw it three or four years ago, wasn't the Buñuel dork I am now.
If this movie were a genus of fish it would be : Isurus.

Film : The Raspberry Reich
Director : Bruce LaBruce
Year Released : 2004
Land(s) of origin : Canada
Grade : C
Seen at/because of : Home/Philly Weekly.
Merits : Tireless energy; a sense that BLB actually kinda believes in this antisocial activism; overuses bumper sticker phrases to such an extent that their constant presence becomes a half-decent joke; mocks revolutionaries who boast bad affected German accents.
Demerits : Never fucking ends; wait! does he believe in this?...no, he can't...does he?...could he?
Extra-cinematic factor : Temporarily distracted me from conservative-v.-liberal tag team wrestling match.
If this movie were a bogus New Age study it would be : Numerology.

Film : Maria Full of Grace
Director : Joshua Marston
Year Released : 2004
Land(s) of origin : US/Colombia
Grade : B
Seen at/because of : Ritz Five/Philly Weekly.
Merits : Agreeably humanistic look at the entry level section of the heroin trade; expressive lead Catalina Sandino Moreno no mere cypher/audience surrogate; avoids didacticism as often as it can, not even ending with statistics or a hotline number; handheld photography not too handheld.
Demerits : Still too small in scope; baddies are this close to sporting handlebar mustaches and capes; must watch as characters make the occasional incredibly, really, mind-bogglingly, asininely, inhumanly questionable decisions.
Extra-cinematic factor : Moreno and Marston present at screening, the latter spouting the exact didacticism the film labors so hard to avoid making; audience member had the cajones (or, more likely, outright stupidity) to tell the filmmaker he thinks the "perfect solution" is for countries to kill all drug couriers.
If this movie were a suffix it would be : -ism.


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