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

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Missing Links

Where does the time go? Seems to me I've been remiss in posting my Weekly junk lo these last three weeks. So, hold onto your seats, 'cause I've been busy:

  • In the 4/5/06 issue, you can find ten mini-blurbs for the PFF (including such keepers as The Proposition, Tokyo Zombie, and Wordplay*), and, as ever, Rep.
  • For 4/12/06, there be reviews of On a Clear Day, the awesomely titled Gay Sex in the 70s [sic], and (for real this time) Winter Passing. And, as ever, Rep.
  • And today, we're all about the reviews of American Dreamz and L'Enfant. And, as ever, Rep.

* Eagle-eyed regulars to this site will notice that my Wordplay grade, found on my 2006 grades page, no longer jives with the mixed write-off I gave it in the PW PFF coverage. And you'd be right, if you in fact cared. While I didn't give it another go proper, I did watch a bit of it a couple days ago and, basically, couldn't believe that I wasn't less than endlessly bemused. Consider it one of those unfortunate cases where a steady dose of movies -- and, in my case, also moving -- results in a slight missing of the point and an underrating of that which doesn't deserve to be underrated. Also, Jon Stewart is not, as it turns out, really annoying during his semi-gratuitous interviews. Also, that championship finale is totally fucking thrilling. What was I thinking, etc.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

PFF Day Eleven: Where's Day Ten?

A. There was no Day Ten. I took the day off and stayed as far away from movies as posisble...until 10:30pm, when I busted out that copy of Cold Water that was taped for me off of its freak Sundance appearance last month (thanks, Jeremy). Gosh, that was a good film. I'll probably write that up. No, really.

Anyway, I think I might be totally done with the PFF. Tomorrow night is nothing but Festival Favorites (most of which I've already seen/am not interested in) and Friends With Money, which I might see out of some vague sense of duty. (Update, 24 hours later: just not on Tues., the 11th.) On the other hand, I have the likes of The President's Last Bang, Keane, and Good Morning, Night being shipped to me, so I might prefer those to dragging my sorry ass on a train into town. (Update, 24 hours later: I sure did prefer those to the dragging my ass option. Also, nice evening, took a protracted bike ride for the first time in ages. Bliss.)

Sorry for the bloggishness.

Anyway, here's the last of it. Blurbs (for the rest of the fest) en route.

House of Sand (Andrucha Waddington, Brazil) [B]
True, my memory of Me You Them is fuzzy, but nothing in that Sony Pictures Classics pick-up suggested that Waddington could lens deserts so strikingly -- or, for that matter, that he could slip into total abstraction, as he occasionally but intriguingly does here. In fact, some of the time it seems Waddington's far less interested in the standard issue feminine-takedown-of-an-outdated-patriarchial-system than in making a Brazilian Gus Van Sant picture; what's the second shot but the one where two heads bob up and down in close-up from Gerry? (Er, sorry: from Werckmeister Harmonies, I mean.) The lack of a musical score is nifty enough, but the almost total refrain from narrative signposts is even better. Basically, this is one of the weirdest ellipsis movies I've ever seen, occasionally dropping lines like "In the decade we've been here..." when you (or maybe just I) thought that no more than a couple months had passed. And that's not even counting in the jarring and quasi-eloquent way in which the two actress' suddenly switch roles, Fernando Montenegro going from mother to daughter in a single edit. (Fernanda Torres is fine as the daughter and eventually the granddaughter.) I'm not too hot about the repressive take on women -- guess what happens to the daughter, born and bred in the desert, as she grows older? -- and Waddington still needs to shed some of his other pesky traits, like furiously underlining the themes. (Assuming he wants to -- this could turn out to be a editing suite save à la Taxi Driver.) But his real concerns do eventually reveal themselves, thanks to an almost verbatum copy of a shot from the ending of 2001: this film is meant as a trip, and as very little else. On that level, it works. Keep goin', Waddington.

Isolation (Billy O'Brien, UK) [B]
Homicidal cow fetuses! Actually, this Irish creature feature (if you can call it that) is quite atmospheric -- all long lens and a memorably unnerving score that is literally comprised of two notes. Not to mention how knotty it is: even an hour in, it's still hard to figure out where it's going, let alone how our puny beasties are even going to gradually off the five characters (among them John Lynch and Sean Harris*) running about the remote farm setting, if that's what they'll be doing. In fact, O'Brien takes so long to put the film in any kind of definite path that it should incite claims to sloppy writing. Luckily, the film's moody enough to pull us through, building through a series of ideas that become increasingly unsettling as they become increasingly clear. Ever so gradually, the film works it way through a series of unnerving, if sometimes aborted (heh) ideas. In the first half, we get ideas on birth: Manly Men forcing a birth with tools; a fetus appearing to either crawl into the womb or simply scrape the legs along the way into it (!!). But the second half turns into an unnerving meditation on accountability, with the people who are in charge of handling the soon-parasitic situation -- and keeping the rest of the world safe from it -- either unfit for the task or unable to cope with the idea of essentially killing themselves to save everyone else. Saying that a horror film is about "the fear of death" is obviously idiotic, but more than most others it is here: [Less Vague Spoiler Alert] it eventually comes down to one character who is probably definitely infected and can either kill herself now or risk infecting the rest of the world by not killing herself. With some more focus -- or deeper exploration of its themes, especially in the first half -- this could be better still. But mark my words: I think this O'Brien fella's onto something.

* Thaaaaat's right! A movie called "Isolation" starring the guy who played Ian Curtis (in 24 Hour Party People).

Sunday, April 09, 2006

PFF Day Nine: 9 is Satan

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzig, USA) [B+]
[Fascinating; more forthcoming]

Hell (Teekhayu Thammanittayakul & Sathit Pratitsahn, Thailand) [C]
[Like a Vegas show about hades; more forthcoming]

American Dreamz (Paul Weitz, USA) [C-]
[Did ya hear that one about Bush being dumb? Or American Idol being stupid?; more forthcoming]

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (The Brothers Quay, UK/Germany/France) [C-]
[Makes Twilight of the Ice Nymphs look like Careful by comparison; more forthcoming]

Saturday, April 08, 2006

PFF Day Eight: Seriously, Family Guy isn't even that well-written. The jokes are all interchangeable and irrelevant to the plot.

[So, not only am I still ridding my body of sickness, but I had to do some work today, turning around a review of the bluntly titled Gay Sex in the 70s. The film number should return to normal by tomorrow, when the weekend really begins. Woe that I've partly wasted yet another PFF...]

It's Only Talk (Ryuichi Hiroki, Japan) [B]
Agreeably aimless character study, anchored by a heckuva job by Shinobu Terajima (anyone have a copy of Vibrator?); more forthcoming.

Wassup Rockers (Larry Clark, USA) [B]
In which Larry Clark learns to like his subjects; more forthcoming.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

PFF Days Six and Seven: The Day I Wake Up Sick and The Day I Wake Up Still Sick, Respectively

This happened during PFF 2004 and I never fully recovered. This time I ain't fuckin' around: I am heavily medicating myself and taking time to rest -- all so I can storm the fest from Friday through Monday. (I may also find the energy with which to attack the litany of "more forthcoming"s scattered about this page.) Anyway, I did manage to lug my ailing body to one pic (plus a critic's screening of the Scots inspirational weepie On a Clear Day, which has Peter Mullan swimming the English Channel.

Wild Country (Craig Stracham, UK) [B-]
[Ken Loach + lycanthrope = not as great as it sounds; more forthcoming].

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

PFF Day Five: The Day I See Things Twice (or Need To)

Waiting (Rashid Masharawi, France/Palestine) [B-]
[I love that some dude over at EYE Weekly criticized a movie called Waiting for its lack of urgency; more forthcoming]

/A Bittersweet Life/ (Kim Ji-woon, South Korea) [B+]
[Wait till you hear my nightmare cinema interruptus story!; that, and more, forthcoming]

/The Death of Mr. Lazarescu/ (Critsi Puiu, Romania) [B+]
[Wait till you hear my impatient asshole audience member story!; that, and not much more, forthcoming]

[Sympathy for] Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, South Korea) [B-]
[Not the best choice for a fifth film of the day (I also caught the rather insane Down in the Valley); more forthcoming]

Monday, April 03, 2006

PFF Day Four: The Not Good Day

Time Off (Francisca Schweitzer & Pablo Solís, Chile) [C+]
I don't think Schweitzer and Solís quite know what they have here: lead guy has abuse issues he should look into into before it gets worse, while lead girl is in fact a schizophrenic, albeit one of those delightfully aloof types you only see in the movies. This is some serious shit, though if S&S don't explore it, at least they respect it. Things start out quirky but soon a bottomless sadness: at first, the lead's friend who barely speaks and wears a Kangol hat is...well, Silent Bob; as the film proceeds, he starts to seem genuine, although guess what happens to him in the final act? At the end, it's suggested that not everything is supposed to be processed through our egocentric pseudo-hero, and that's worth something at least.

Evil (Yorgos Noussias, Greece) [C]
Greek zombies! Scuzzy DV and tonal switcheroos galore -- a pace-halting dark-night-o'-soul monologue swap is immediately followed by an undead oral sex gag -- but not without its delights: hilarious opening, trailing three infectees through their respective evenings before they snap in public, while one split-screen moment tries to line up two different shots, one of a guy running and another a mismatched close-up of his legs running. You might have had to have seen that last one.

Wah-Wah (Richard E. Grant, UK) [D+]
Just awful. The little I read of Grant's memoirs was wry and amusing; either I stumbled onto the wrong part or it just doesn't translate to film at all. Never a credible moment in this portrait of his youth in South Africa, thanks to sloppy writing (papa Gabriel Byrne's alcoholism goes on and off like a light switch), very sloppy direction, and some of the worst acting I've ever seen from talented thespians being directed by one of their own. Emily Watson would be wise to stay away from the Yank accent from now on, and what kind of movie is this where Miranda Fucking Richardson turns in the most nuanced perf? I like Grant enough to believe that it was something very personal that Just Didn't Work Out, but that should only tell you how much I dig him in Withnail & I, Hudson Hawk, et al. Also, Patrick Doyle should be dragged out back and shot. It would be about bloody time.

Porcelain Doll (Péter Gárdos, Hungary) [C+]
Eastern European Peasant Whimsy. Starts off deadly, but grows mostly tolerable -- occasionally even lovely -- once Gárdos drops the manic Avid schtick. (Dude! Why are you abusing the jump cut when your movie's barely 75 mintues long?) The slower the better, basically, casting a spell so that you don't notice that, say, one of the pieces of magical realism is swiped wholesale from Field of Dreams. It also manages to slowly leave behind the cute and take on the melancholy, one tonal shift so sudden that you could hear the room collectively gasp: this isn't the wacky, precious fable it was supposed to be! Still would've annoyed the bejesus out of me at any other time; after a day of below-par fare, it was narcotically pleasing.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

PFF Day Three: Dream Warriors

The Camden 28 (Anthony Ghiacchino, USA) [B-]
[Howard Zinn to the rescue!; more forthcoming]

Heading South (Laurence Cantet, France/Canada) [C-]
[cluck cluck cluck; more forthcoming]

In Bed (Matias Bize, Chile/Germany) [C]
[Bize thought to himself, "Sure, I love the Late Marriage sex scene, but wouldn't it be better if it was 8 times longer?"; more forthcoming]

Midnight, My Love (Kongdej Jaturanrassamee, Thailand) [B]
[Greatest double take since Arabesque; more forthcoming]

The Descent (Neil Marshall, UK) [B-]
[Ooh! Scary!; more forthcoming]

Saturday, April 01, 2006

PFF Day Two: I'm actually blurbing

Hell (Danis Tanovic, France/Italy/Belgium/Japan) [C-]
Hell is...being in love with a married man decades older than you...finding out your husband is [gasp of gasps!!] cheating on you...having this weird guy who probably sports an ulterior motive stalk you until you start to, I dunno, like him or something. I have no clue how much of this particular trilogy Kieslowski banged out before keeling over, but I'm gonna bet he made it no further than a vague outline on No. 2, something like, "Checkhovian study w/ ghastly parental tragedy." (At least Heaven smelled like a second draft.) Admittedly starts to snap into focus towards the end, but even then not really; holding off the big secret till the end, like a Shyamalanian twist, was a gross miscalculation, as what precedes it a) can't support it, and b) is, as the italics should've already conveyed, rather on the deathly dull side. It really should've gone no lower than a C, but then it went and explained the subtext, via first a university lecture and then a literary dissertation. What a great way to knock it down a couple more rungs.

Hanging Garden (Toshiaki Toyoda, Japan) [C]
Blah blah blah family members who conduct illicit affairs blah blah blah long-suffering matriarch whose ear-to-ear smile masks a maybe psychopathic streak blah blah blah lying to preserve the good of all blah blah blah, et al. Better than 9 Souls, if only because at least this one has a fine performance from Survive Style 5+'s Kyoko Koizumi (quickly becoming a personal fave). Word prior was this showed a more mature Toyoda, but that turns out to only be in the sheep fucking category (in that this one doesn't have one). Otherwise, same irritating structure -- unfunny wackiness leading to goopy symbolism-a-go-go -- and far too much gratuitous swirling for anyone's tastes.

/The Sun/ (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Italy/France/Switzerland/Japan) [A-] [2nd viewing, first projected]
No real bump on the grade; simply a treat to see on the big screen, and with an oddly reverent crowd to boot. (Excepting the guy in the front row whose angle was such that he wound up snoring away on four separate occasions, everyone seemed to eat up Issey Ogata something fierce.) This time it was easier to catch the physicality of the film, the way Ogata seems to be trying to emulate human beings; he studies pictures of Hollywood stars (and fellow despot Hitler), but when he struts outside for the first time, he more closely resembles the crane with its dainty steps. ("MY body in no way differs from a human one," he keeps asserting.) Love the multi-camera live shooting...

Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, USA) [B+]
I'm sorry I dubbed Anthony Mackie "dull as shit" after She Hate Me. More on the way.