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

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

a vacation on my couch

Okay, back. How’re you? You look great - thinner. How’s it feel to be thinner? Of course that compliment wasn’t backhanded. Calm down -- let’s have a seat. I'll roll you a cigarette.

I’m all about typing up a rant-y vivisection of the long-awaited IFC game show Ultimate Film Fanatic. Just not yet. As for now...well, some folks take longwinded treks elsewhere during the summer. Me? I stop updating my blog. I have watched gobs, though, most of which I’ll tell you about now.

* Shakes the Clown (1992) and Wet Hot American Summer (2001): similar only because I watched them back-to-back? Both are cult items shanked by nervous distributors and disapproving critics; both aren’t, strictly speaking, terribly funny, either. Summer -- basically a The State movie, given Michael Showalter’s writing credit and the presence of numerous cast members -- at least has a higher line-for-line quotient, even if they’re often simple subversions of stock lines. (“Why don’t you dump her?,” asks nice guy Showalter to asshole boyfriend Paul Rudd. “No, dude, she’s hot,” he casually replies.) Rudd’s the genius of the lot, with one scene that’s sincerely troubling in it’s back-and-forth of extremes (“I love you...Fuck off, dyke...Of course we’re soulmates...”), but the whole thing is simultaneously spotty and all-around genial. The butt-fucking scene is plenty shocking, but I much preferred the leftfield heavy-drugs montage. As for Bobcat Goldthwait’s baby, as they say, it’s not funny, but it’s...interesting. A dry run for both Bad Santa and Freddy Got Fingered, it’s drunken-clown gags mostly fall flat, but there’s an almost fascinatingly sincere portrait of miserablism, too. Bobcat never indulges in his patented raised voice, suggesting that since his heyday he’s fallen into pathetic depression. Does the clown -- which the film reveals he’s good at -- represent his ‘80s schtick, this rather seedy film representing his true feelings (like Andy Kaufman resenting his turn on Taxi?). Almost fascinating...but then, the second half’s a pretty wan murder tale, even if it does have future Mr. Show bit player (and longtime Bobcat pal) Tom Kenny stealing the show as prick clown Binky. It’s cool enough to inspire a R.E.M. song (the terrific “Binky the Doormat”), but also not very cool at all.

* Far more than a noble (and almost entirely successful) attempt to make a Grizzled Old Man Movie by a man who’s still not a grizzled old man, Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986) -- previously unseen by me for reasons too impenetrably illogical to delve into -- feels at times like prep work for the similarly character-driven Last Temptation of Christ. Tom Cruise plays second banana to Paul Newman’s now-withered Eddie Felson, but Newman’s not only trying to teach Cruise to avoid mimicking his younger self. It’s the rare mentor film where the lessons are cynical: here’s how to con, how to make throwing a game into as much of an art-form as winning, how to keep other poolsharks from fearing you. The whole film is structured as a series of calm then release, looking plain and controlled then letting loose into the usual visceral Scorsese hijinks (as with Raging Bull, each session varies in approach, each a masterpiece of editing and photography). The story’s nigh-archaic, though Scorsese and scribe Richard Price throw in enough monkey-wrenches, always subverting clichés so that even the preordained climax winds up in a different place than you’d predicted. Inevitable Scorsese thought: that slow-mo ECU of chalk shattering off the cue is the best shot ever.

* Worth looking into: does Brian G. Hutton’s Where Eagles Dare (1968) have cinema’s highest body count? Somewhere between a post-Bonnie and Clyde nihilist’s delight and an endlessly transcendent experience for die-hard Third Reich-loathers, this Alistair MacLean-penned actioneer (cf. two movies with the word “Navarone” in the title) finds Richard Burton and a newly-returned Clint Eastwood mowing down rows and rows and rows of Nazis, either in or surrounding a dank and cavernous mountaintop Bavarian castle. Written off by the brilliant Dave Kehr as a “routine war adventure,” it’s actually the opposite; in fact, it’s so absurdly stripped-down that anything that could get in the way of pure plot - psychology, character arcs, thematics, nuance, et al. - is roundly eschewed. Hutton’s a clean director - his film is handsomely grandiose without ever feeling bloated, not to mention spatial relations are just fine - and MacLean, writing directly for the screen, is keen enough to not have his characters perpetually explaining the pre-Mamet-y twists and turns (i.e., expect annoying “Why’s he doing that?”-type mid-movie queries). Wouldn’t you know that Burton would turn out to be the most badass of the Shakespearean trained thesps? Even Clint looks vaguely intimidated.

* Didn’t catch the first five minutes of Dan Aykroyds infamously dire pet project, Nothing But Trouble (1992), so I can’t put it on the list. (Nor did an impromptu re-viewing of the similarly amorphous Bringing Up Baby soon afterwards help matters.) But from what I did see, probable claims of Aykroyd’s that it’ll one day become a cult item would be delusional, if not outright insane. Indulging in his “dark side,” Aykroyd proves himself a relatively safe thinker, or at least one that never follows through on his meatier hooks: the roller-coaster-of-death is too short to warrant any eeriness, and the greasy fat guys who pop up out of nowhere are introduced then given so little to do that you’re bound to forget about them a couple days later. Flat, never more than “sorta weird,” and besot with four endings too many (each of descending quality, to boot), it at least has something to it: are Aykroyd et al. punishing Demi Moore (trying to chop her up; having her held over molten lava; seducing on an on-autopilot Chevy Chase) for some unknown crime? Jesus.

* If all you know about the environmental artist Christo is that he likes to wrap famous landmarks in fabric (or that Mr. Show claimed that he had Imminent Death Syndrome), then you probably think him a whimsical piece of Eurotrash. One of the many services performed on the Albert Maysles (and friends) films in the box set 5 Films About Christo + Jeanne-Claude is showing him to be anything but: often seen with a hardhat, he’s actually all business -- eloquent, down-to-earth, and never open to discuss his art in highfalutin’ descriptions. (“Beautiful” is his favorite, and only, adjective.) Like the Andy Goldsworthy doc Rivers and Tides, the films also act as logical ways to document C. and J.C.’s installation pieces, finite works that remain up for three weeks tops. But then, just as important as the completed works themselves is the preproduction period: it takes years, sometimes decades, for them to put them up, and the films -- with the typical Maysles direct cinema style -- are more content to show them dealing with government higher-ups, locals, construction workers, etc. for pieces that can seem money-wasting at first but appear transcendent once in full-swing. Of course, if only all of their antagonists knew Christo had IDS...

Of course, I’m into other stuff. It looks like ten attempts to plow through London Fields is the charm, I suddenly like the outdoors again, and I’m finally -- finally -- developing a taste for whiskey. See? You couldn’t care.


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