Monday, March 03, 2014


Movies/TV I saw last month...

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)—I think I might have been a little lost coming in for the third movie in a trilogy without seeing the others, plus it's also the first picture I've seen by director and co-writer Andrzej Wajda  Dense and complex, acutely observed, following various players in Poland on the day World War II ended and the next day, an interesting mix of the dread of Nazis and another kind of dread of the Russians.
Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader (2012)—Gallant cheerleader vs. Goofus cheerleader. Who will win? Because actually this movie has two 50-foot cheerleaders. In fairness, only Goofus cheerleader actually attacks anything.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)— Comical. The hands—watch for the hands. What they had money for. IMDb description: "When an abused socialite grows to giant size because of an alien encounter and an aborted murder attempt, she goes after her cheating husband with revenge on her mind."
Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds (1995)—Just a little bit bigger and just a little bit sillier than Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (above).
Ballast (2008)—Nicely done indie with a sharply observed story about a fractured family attempting to make it through crisis in the Mississippi Delta area. Directed and written by Lance Hammer, who seems to otherwise have only to his name some special effects credits on Batman & Robin, Batman Forever, and Practical Magic. Have seen none of them, but Ballast is definitely recommended.
Children of Men (2006)—Can really hit its stride, usually in terms of the action. There's a great ambush scene early, for example. But I wasn't convinced the premise was thought through enough—the reach of this picture far exceeds its grasp. Then again, taking on the depiction of a world more than a decade down the road from the end of all human fertility tends to beggar imagination in the first place.

The 400 Blows (1959)—Lovely, as always.
Frownland (2007)—The unkind term is "mumblecore." This has some interesting points but too often becomes opaque of intent. "Pathetic existence" does not automatically equate to "black comedy."
The Gingerbread Man (1998)
Gomorrah (2008)—"Martin Scorsese Presents" this reasonably good Italian gangster picture, set in modern-day Italy. Features interweaving stories and cruelty.
Grace of My Heart (1996)—I love this movie because it's so in love with so many species of '60s pop music. Also some very nice casting: Bridget Fonda (pitch-perfect as a hung-up teen mag idol), Peter Fonda (as a wacked-out California guru), Bruce Davison (too often underrated), Richard Schiff, and John Turtorro (maybe never better, and he's always good), among others.
Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004)—Full-of-itself celebration of the awesome-cool circumstances of the Patty Hearst kidnapping and subsequent events involving her. More into myth-making than exploring what actually happened. Cool guitar soundtrack, though repetitious.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)—I understand this was the first movie until that point, going back to before Birth of a Nation, to never once move the camera. It also has very long takes and very little happens. It is oddly mesmerizing, if you go in for this kind of thing as I sometimes do. I haven't looked up the literature yet to see if it's a common issue, but I must say on first look that I found a wonderful 190 or so minutes marred by an ill-advised plot development (in a movie that has almost no "plot," I thought). I liked this enough that I expect I will go back to it again someday, long running time and all, and maybe that plot point will actually deepen it. It's good enough most of the time I'm willing to give it that much benefit of the doubt.
Looney Tunes—"The Abominable Snow Rabbit" (1961), "Ali Baba Bunny" (1957), "The Bear's Tale" (1940, terrific mash-up of Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood), "Bewitched Bunny" (1954), "Buccaneer Bunny" (1948), "Bugs' Bonnets" (1956), "14 Carrot Rabbit" (1952), "Hollywood Daffy" (1946), "Mouse and Garden" (1960), "Oily Hare" (1952), "Paying the Piper" (1949), "A Pest in the House" (1947), "Porky's Poor Fish" (1940), "A Star Is Bored" (1956), "Stupor Duck" (1956), "The Stupor Salesman" (1948), "The Super Snooper" (1952), "Swallow the Leader" (1949), "Transylvania 6-5000" (1963, it appears anything after 1961 latest sees a real drop off in quality at every level, they feel like egregious padding of the box), "The Up-Standing Sitter" (1948), "You Were Never Duckier" (1948)
The Mother and the Whore (1973)
My Life as a Dog (1985)—I remembered this as better. And I spent most of my time watching it thinking it was about to become better.
No Country for Old Men (2007)—Others have said it before me, but I will repeat them: in a second viewing the extreme turns of violence prove to be less distracting and it's easier to see what a fine picture this is—nearly pure cinema in many long passages with no dialogue, just immaculately conceived and blocked and shot action and reaction, piling atop one another in an intensely insane feedback loop. Seeing it within a day or two of seeing Touch of Evil (below) threw up some interesting connections—both are essentially border tales, crossing back and forth between Mexico and America, they are heightened tales explicitly addressing "decaying society," and incidentally they both have some particularly good motel scenes. No Country for Old Men suffers a little from a post-superhero tendency toward larger-than-life characters who can do anything—Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, who is nigh perfect) is a super-villain if ever one existed, and the coin-flipping trope is just silly. But blame where it belongs, a lot of that came from Cormac McCarthy's original novel. The Coens wisely sidestepped other of its problems, such as some slight tendency to maunder about greater generations of the past. This grabs hold and does not let go for every minute of its two hours. Inspirational line: "You don't have to do this." End times, baby. End times.
Poltergeist (1982)
Q (1982)—Here there be dragons, literally. Inhabiting New York. And only one person figures it out. Also: Michael Moriarity in full grip of the Method style of acting, David Carradine sleepwalking through another one, and Candy Clark almost unrecognizable.
Silent Running (1972)—Heavily dependent on the performance of Bruce Dern, which unfortunately is not great. The premise is a little strained too. But it's a movie with an outsize impact. Among other things, it looks like a key source for the Wall-E droid.
Strange Invaders (1983)—What did I just see? Halliwell's 2008 quotes Richard Jameson of the "Seattle Weekly": "Isn't so much a spoof of '50s sci-fi formulae as it is a running commentary on styles of cultural awareness." Worth a look.
Touch of Evil (1958)—Masterpiece.
A Trip to the Moon (1902)— Must-see classic by cinema pioneer Georges Melies. Charming, antiquated (check the formalwear), weird, and it's less than 13 minutes. Here's a nice version.
Triumph of the Will (1935)—What appears at first to be mostly a lot of parade footage (expertly shot and framed) gradually turns into something really quite chilling and extraordinary as it focuses on the closing ceremonies of the Nazi convention that it documents from 1934 in Nuremberg. Then it becomes almost unholy in a very strange way, albeit likely dependent on my (our) historical vantage. If you and I were there, we might well have been chanting "Sieg Heil" ourselves, but that's just a matter of human psychology. That's what makes it so chilling, especially when the light, glancing mentions of racial purity come up. Is it OK to say it reminded me of the 2004 Republican convention?
V for Vendetta (2005)—Boring (that double-bladed putdown), with not nearly as much to say as it appears to think.
Village of the Giants (1965)—I enjoyed this campy exercise quite a bit, which features Beau Bridges, Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon, the Beau Brummels, and Ron Howard playing a dopey kid with a chemistry set. All the hep teens in town call him "Genius." They seem to spend most of their time focused on finding way-out places to dance, like mud in a rainstorm. How are you going to keep a formula that turns them into giants away from them? That's right, you can't. I guess the title is a play on Village of the Damned?
The Virgin Spring (1960)—Efficient period piece by Ingmar Bergman retelling a folk story about a proud and foolish princess who is defiled and murdered. Some interesting business about Christians and heathens, moral angst, etc. All good, no more pretentious than it needs to be, and very clear what it's about. This is also the inspiration for Last House on the Left. Worth seeing.
Weeds (s5, 2009)—I was perfectly ready to sit through this season and formally give the series up. It's true that the first three are likely all that's essential. But they are very essential, and mastermind Jenji Kohan is so good at juggling various TV-inflected balls—sitcom rules of the road, outlandish dramedy developments (with narrative arcs that cohere in spite of that), a spectacularly good core cast, surprising guests (Alanis Morissette?!), lots of style, and a refreshing view of marijuana culture—well, I just signed on for another season, God help me.

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