More from the queue
Needless to say, these four blurbs are riddled with SPOILERS...
The Ring Two (Hideo Nakata) [C+]
This represents my first encounter with Nakata-the-director and I have to agree with others that Dude totally has no game. This is a shame, not only since it makes Gore Verbinski look like some kind of auteur, but also because, at least here, he traffics in some truly effed-up ideas, even considering his genre of choice. I won’t mince words: I was sincerely rooting for this film, and my excitement over where it was headed lasted a lot longer than it wound up deserving (yes, even past the CGI deer swarm sequence). Ditching the tape hook (and, thus, the whole viral subtext) in the second reel was a ballsy move, but I wasn’t prepared, even after skimming reviews during its release, for how far Nakata would take the parental guilt theme. Watts (who so doesn’t work the curls) is basically your classic recovering errant parent, trying to coax the Osmentian mien out of her son, as well as smooth over the guilt she accrued after turning both of them into potential murderers-by-proxy in the seriously unnverving final minute of the first (American) film. By the time her actions have earned her understandable accusations of being an abusive parent, Nakata has already scored some major how’d-they-smuggle-this-into-googooplexes kudos, and he ain’t done by a long shot. So why does this movie still not work? Because Nakata works at around 80% thematics, 20% actual thrills - it’s increasingly difficult to dig where he’s going when what’s on screen is often retarded, dull and, by the end, incoherent.
Tropical Malady Take 2 (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) [A-]
Obviously, this was going to be different when viewed on celluloid, but less predictable was how my readings were basically the inverse of what you’d expect. Viewing one, on a badly compressed DVD on my TV, was an enveloping experience, with me grooving on the ambiance and mood. Number two, in a theater with surround sound, had my brain racing. I stand by my claim that it doesn’t need to be deciphered, so humor me while I try to do so anyway: the two halves are, as it were, one story. In the first half, Keng and Tong revel in the first flickers of love, and we end with the former riding away high on making a connection with someone - a familiar feeling memorably portrayed with a repeat of the corny radio hit from the film’s opening. (We also see Tong -- or someone who’s naked in the middle of nowhere, in any case -- at the beginning. Symmetry?) But in the second half, we witness Keng’s inevitable feelings of dread, projected onto a malicious tiger he’s trying to hunt down. His wild misinterpretation of these events are so pronounced, Weerasethakul has to go to piece of folklore to support it. Basically, he’s afraid to make the next move, as a relationship, to him, involves a complete and total devouring of his personality -- “my spirit, my flesh, my memories,” as he puts it. This is love viewed as a paranoid fantasia, a rebuttal to the first half’s ode to being swept up, or at least the rude awakening of same. Feel free to read the film as an ode to coming out of the closet if you wish.
The Conformist Take 3 (1970, Bernardo Bertolucci) [A-]
I briefly want to comment on the hideous American dub VHS version that, to this day, is still the only copy of Bertolucci’s mid-stride masterstroke available to North Americans. Up until this afternoon, this was the only version I had seen, and it’s a far different film than the original (but, okay, still dubbed) version currently making the rounds throughout the U.S. However, this has nothing to do with the quality of the print (which is quite blah, really -- Paramount is seriously slacking in the preservation department). It’s in the performances. In the American VHS version, Jean-Louis Trintignant comes off as tacitrun, closed-off, his performance a series of reined-in poses. His wife, meanwhile, comes off as the twittiest character to ever grace a screen. None of this is so in the version I saw today. This is, pointedly, because of the voice dubbing. Trintingnant’s English-language voice is emotionless and his wife’s is shrill, loud and essentially stupid. But the Italian voices are a lot more nuanced and, consequently, this completely changes how one views their performances, and the film as well. Color me surprised that Trintingant’s performance, when interpreted differently on the soundtrack, is far more comic, far more aloof -- it’s a layered performance, and it gives greater emotional heft to the final stretch when he completely shuts down. So my memories of a broodfest turn out to be wrong: The Conformist has more in common with his earlier, better films than his subsequent, international-master ones. I also noticed that you can see the blue gel on the windows in the dancehall sequence fluttering in the wind, creating seams in one of the more memorable subtle pictoral choices in cinema.
The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles) [B]
If nothing else, it’s ambitious. In a marked departure from City of God, (90% style, 10% social tract), Meirelles tries to mark an equal balance between thrills, message, and brooding romance. (Rachel Weisz is quite fetching, by the way, though she has nothing on the eerily similar character Jennifer Connelly played in Waking the Dead.) And not just that! It’s a shotgun marriage between veddy British passiveness and topical urgency. The thing is, it almost succeeds. Fiennes’ major flaw, after all, is that he’s too classically British, and the film gains its pull not from the mystery -- too arbitrary, too redundant, too clearly a red herring -- but from his attempts to morph into a man of action. The thing that makes this less glib than that sounds is that Fiennes is rather inept at this personality switch. He fucks up all the way, most chiefly in a scene that would otherwise be a cheap screenwriter’s contrivance. Towards the beginning, Fiennes informs Weisz of his belief that it’s pointless for someone (rather than an agency or collective or somesuch) to save just one person, when you’re inevitably flooded with exponentially more cries for help, which you of course can’t handle. But when, towards the end, he tries to do the opposite, the kid gets away, the noble intention a failure. The film is filled with moments like that, Meirelles often taking a Guaranteed Killer Moment and then subverting it so that it has a different effect. Another one, even better: when Fiennes sees Weisz’s mutilated corpse, Fiennes keeps all the emotion inside. Any director would eschew gratuitous shots of her body, choosing to hold on a close-up of Fiennes for a long, long while. (“When will he break? Will he ever?!”) But Meirelles dips his (natch: handheld) camera down underneath the gurney, followed by someone keeling over and vomiting. This physically disgusted person turns out not to be Fiennes (of course), but rather erstwhile chum Danny Huston. Which reminds me: Danny Huston rules, shaky Brit accent aside.