Monday, December 03, 2012


Movies/TV I saw last month...

Argo (2012)—Great thriller, great story, great detail.
Billion Dollar Brain (1967)—Bloody sequel to the bloody Ipcress File directed by bloody Ken Russell. I mean "bloody" in the Brit sense, of course ("damned"). It's not gory, just perversely willful. And I couldn't follow it. Took me two tries and still not sure why I did.
Christo in Paris (1990)—With this fourth picture of five, the scope of the collaboration between the Maysles and environmental artists Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude comes into impressive focus. Christo's life story, a refugee from Bulgaria as a young adult who has made his way as an artist in the West, is fascinating. It doesn't hurt that the actual project documented is also one of his most interesting: wrapping in beige fabric the Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge in Paris, built from 1578 to 1607 and a staple of French visual art ever since.
Christo's Valley Curtain (1974)—Maysles short about a large-scale environmental art installation, their first collaboration with environmental artists Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude. Some nice images, notably the installation itself, a giant curtain of orange fabric drawn against a valley floor in Colorado. Nice use of the golf course within view of it.
Crimes of Passion (1984)—Very dull Ken Russell sextravaganza tarted up for the '80s.

Dead Again (1991)—I really had some hope for this because the attack is so seductive and dazzling in the early going. But it bogs down in loopy concept narrative and I got lost.
Dersu Uzala (1975)—Very likeable Kurosawa set in Siberia.
Dogfight (1991)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
The Dresser (1983)—Huzzah-for-the-theater exercise with Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay in the center ring. Hits some very nice notes along the way.
El Dorado (1966)—Late Howard Hawks Western with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. A little poky overall, but nice performance from John Wayne. I may learn to like him yet. I was often distracted by the Nelson Riddle music, which sometimes sounded like the Batman TV series of the time with Adam West.
Equinox Flower (1958)—Ozu's first film in color? It moves a lot like they all do, and watching a few of them recently I have to admit they blur together some. I like the flavor of them all though, with their tangled and naturally complicated relationships and families.
Goodfellas (1990)
Gothic (1986)—Ken Russell ghost story featuring Byron, Shelley, Mary Shelley, etc. Incoherent, flamboyant, check. Some interesting images and occasionally forward momentum. Russell's natural moods fit well with 18th-century romantic poets so works surprisingly well when it does.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
His Girl Friday (1940)—The kick of this story doesn't hold up, I'm sorry to say (having now seen this Howard Hawks version several times as well as the 1974 movie version of The Front Page and a '90s community theater production or three), but whoa baby, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Talk about epic performances. This time I particularly enjoyed what a rascal Cary Grant plays, and something new about Russell's face was intriguing, a kind of baby-fat innocence I never noticed before that harmonizes interestingly with her role and the screenplay. I love that Cary Grant's real name, Archie Leach, is just sitting there in the dialogue, as well as Ralph Bellamy's—Bellamy plays the guy who looks like Ralph Bellamy.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
The Ipcress File (1965)—Not quite as charming as it thinks it is. Plus I can never follow spy stories.
Islands (1987)—Third and least interesting of the Maysles pictures about environmental artists Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude. Here the focus is islands in the Biscayne Bay off of Miami, whose shorelines are decked out with pink fabric.
La Jetee (1962)—Mostly this annoyed me.
Kagemusha (1980)—Given that Kurosawa is generally leagues beyond most others, this seemed overlong and muddled to me a lot. I thought the doppelganger thing was frustrating because it was almost good enough, but left a lot of its potential unrealized. I'm open to arguments otherwise.
Lincoln (2012)—Very nice!
Lost (s6, 2010)—Warming to this again. There seems to be a lot of i-dotting and t-crossing going on with elements such as Libby. I don't know whether or not I approve, but incidentally it gives me pause to think of going back and looking at it all again to try to sort it out.
The Master (2012)—Wow, amazing. Does Joaquin Phoenix have a crossroads story of some kind?
Night Gallery (s2, 1971-1972)—Yeah, charm's wearing off this a little now, these scripts are often numbingly talky with clumsy exposition, etc. Some good ideas—visual, narrative—but almost always belabored. Theme music's always cool at least.
Pontypool (2008)—Second time through the seams show some, but still pretty nifty.
Radio Days (1987)—I really like this Woody Allen, which plays like a nostalgia memoir with lots of great gags scattered all through. Favorite line, impeccable timing: "You speak the truth, my faithful Indian companion."
Rhapsody in August (1991)
Running Fence (1977)—Second Maysles documentary about the environmental artists Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude, this time imposing themselves on at least two communities to create a fence made of white nylon 18 feet high and 24 miles long passing through ranch country in Sonoma and Marin counties in California and then into the ocean. Loose, raw, engaging, good stuff.
Sans Soleil (1983)—For now I am filing Chris Marker under "lost on me." This actually took three separate sessions to get through, which I think goes beyond being a bad mood.
Seven Samurai (1954)—Masterpiece.
Silkwood (1983)—Not quite enough there there, though Meryl Streep is typically amazing.
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)—I had an opportunity to see this in a theater (in "the original" 16mm) with Haynes introducing, a total treat. There's a slightly suffocating air of grad student critical theory beeswax about it, but so many things work so well: the dolls, the glamour, the voices, the screenplay, the WTF pathos, the sense of Karen Carpenter and her family—and, yes, the goddam music that means it will never get a proper public release. It rarely sounds better than it does in this movie, and I'm only somewhat predisposed to like the music in the first place.
3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Tokyo Twilight (1957)—Downbeat but typically good Ozu. I read somewhere that this is his only picture set in wintertime.
The Trial (1962)—I did not much buy this. I liked how it felt at once like both an early '60s European art film (the low budget) and an Orson Welles production. But I take exception with the treatment of Kafka, which is essentially absurdist. I think Kafka is more a paranoid and his themes are on the order of dread and despair. It may look absurdist from the outside, but the point is how it feels to live in that world, where famously you can wake up an insect. This picture mostly felt like a lot of smirking to me.
Waiting for 'Superman' (2010)—Seemed to me smug and simplistic.
The White Diamond (2004)—Probably a minor entry from Werner Herzog's documentary period about an airship inventor who tests his machine, where else, in the South American jungle. As usual, it's ultimately about ecstasy and grace, and it has some very fine moments. Watch for the kid who likes to dance.

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