Seven Movies, Some Television and Other Things So Far in 2011

This post has been released under the Movie Journal Amnesty Act of March 2011, which states that blog entries may be short and crappy, since I am too busy to write up proper ones.

Machete (2010, Robert Rodriguez)

I loved the Machete fake trailer in Grindhouse, but felt R.R. was stretching the joke too far by making this. It didn’t get stellar reviews, so I skipped it in theaters. Oops. So wonderful, probably better than Planet Terror. Baddies Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal and Jeff Fahey all get brutally killed, along with Cheech Marin and about two hundred others. I don’t know how Rodriguez stays on the cool/fun side of the campy comic-action tightrope, instead of stumbling like Sukiyaki Western Django or falling clear off like Tokyo Gore Police. Dude is good.

Hatchet 2 (2010, Adam Green)

Ugh, a boring waste of time. Good for you if you make a self-aware, post-Scream horror movie full of fun references, movie veterans and tons of humor and gore. But boo on you for throwing away all accumulated goodwill on an obvious rehash sequel. Boooooo.

Frozen (2010, Adam Green)

Watched to give Green another chance after Hatchet II. Full of “why don’t they try…” and “why wouldn’t they just…” moments, and I thought the cinematography was boring, but the story and acting are undeniable… quite a good little horror flick.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994, John Carpenter)

When bad horror gets me down, I like to watch this again. It’s clunky at times and likes to montage itself (each cool shot is shown three times or more) but Sam Neill is great, and it’s one of few horrors I’ve seen that takes its Lovecraftian apocalyptic premise all the way to a satisfying conclusion.

Barres (1984, Luc Moullet)

A whole movie about dodging payment in the Paris subway – only 15 minutes long with no spoken dialogue. Cute and instructive. Told myself I’d finally check out Moullet but this is all I’ve gotten to so far.

Barres:

Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise)

Watched with Katy. What’s this new cleaning song doing in here? Must all Disney movies have a cleaning/work song?

The Clash: Westway to the World (2000, Don Letts)

A member of Big Audio Dynamite makes an interview film with some concert footage about The Clash. Very conventional, would’ve rather read The Clash’s wikipedia page and watched a full concert DVD.

Marty (1953, Delbert Mann)

The TV version from that rad Criterion DVD. I enjoyed Mann’s smooth Jimmy Stewart voice on the DVD commentary. He died two years before the DVD came out. A big shot in television through the early 50′s, he started working in cinema beginning with the film version of Marty, reaching the heights of a Cary Grant/Doris Day rom-com in ’62, then by the early 80′s he came back full-time to TV. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, acclaimed for this and Network, and also surprisingly the author of Altered States.

I’m still not clear on the kinescope process – so it was a camera aimed at a TV screen during broadcast? And this was done by the network, not by some enthusiast at home with a proto-VCR setup? And it was set up for time-shifting to the west coast? How did they get the film developed and send it to LA in an hour? Is the kinescope the reason why lateral camera moves make the movie suddenly looks like I’m watching it inside a cylinder?

“Girls: Dance with the man who asks you. Remember men have feelings too.” Marty is bored, has no luck with ladies, finally meets one who is his own speed. Meanwhile his mother is worrying over him and his aunt is moving in and his friends are telling him to forget the girl. Will love conquer all? Yes. A very small-scale but wonderful movie.

Rod Steiger would go on to star in Run of the Arrow and In The Heat of the Night, and more importantly, as the warmongering general of Mars Attacks!. He was recast as Borgnine in the feature film, but his mother and aunt made the cinema transition – the mother (Esther Minciotti) also played mother to Cornel Wilde and Henry Fonda in Shockproof and The Wrong Man, respectively. I had to subtitle her thick accent at times on the DVD here.

Parks & Recreation season 1

Now maybe I’ll be able to remember who Amy Poehler is, even though I’ve seen her in four movies. Also good to see Aziz again after Human Giant, but this was surprisingly not too funny/brilliant a season. Things have already picked up at the start of s2, so hopes are high.

Lars/Real Girl’s well-meaning brother Paul Schneider is low-key ladies’ man Mark. Nick Offerman of The Men Who Stare at Goats is mustachioed manager Ron. Bored receptionist April is Aubrey Plaza, a minor hostile character in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Poehler’s new friend Ann is Rashida Jones, the lawyer (?) who talks to Mark Zuckerberg after-hours in The Social Network, and her boyfriend Andy is Chris Pratt of nothing I’ve seen yet, but keep trying, Chris. That upcoming anthology thing you’re in looks promising.

Saxondale season 1

Steve Coogan plays less of a buffoon than usual, actually kind of a bright and capable guy. He’s not super classy though, an ex-roadie for various rock groups turned independent exterminator with anger management issues, with a new young assistant whom he and his wife Mags (Ruth Jones of Little Britain and Nighty Night) somewhat adopt. Not a masterpiece of a show, but a happy diversion with some sharp comic bits.

Stella (2005)

The only season of Michael & Michael & David Wain’s show. Once I learned to tolerate how awful and stupid it is, I started to appreciate its stupid, awful, brilliant sense of humor. Or maybe I’m just stupid. Still to see: Michael & Michael Have Issues and rival series Wainy Days. Plus I never watched Reno 911, and maybe Viva Variety will come out on DVD some day.

Flight of the Conchords season 2
The Mighty Boosh season 2

These two are currently competing for best musical comedy series of the decade. Metalocalypse doesn’t stand a chance. Conchords may have the edge, because the music in Boosh season 2 was less prominent and awesome than in its first season.

Love Unto Death (1984, Alain Resnais)

Each scene (and the definition of a scene ranged from a single spoken sentence to a 6-8 minute stretch) is followed by complex music over a dark screen with falling snow, the snow sometimes thick and heavy, sometimes falling at different angles or drifting sparsely or entirely absent. Katy liked the movie but disapproved of the unhappy ending and the snow scenes. I loved the whole thing, am thinking of extracting the snow music and burning a CD.

The final Resnais film with Jean Gruault, writer of Mon Oncle d’Amerique and La Vie est un roman. Scientist Elizabeth (Sabine Azéma – I was recently loving her in Wild Grass and she’s just as great here) is the new girlfriend (2 months) of archaeologist Simon (Pierre Arditi of Not on the Lips, Coeurs). He gets checkups and is found to be in perfect health, yet he experiences fainting spells, possibly heart attacks, and at the beginning of the movie he’s declared dead by family doctor Jean Dasté (L’Atalante star, also of The War Is Over), who is embarrassed that Simon awakens a few minutes later.

Their good love/hate friends (André Dussollier – in Love on the Ground the same year, hard to recognize at first without his white hair – and Fanny Ardant – I recognized her from La Vie est un roman and Katy from 8 Women) both work in the church, and Simon is a fervent nonbeliever. Now that they have reason to be talking about life and death, suicide and resurrection, there’s much heated disagreement, then the two try again to comfort Elizabeth after Simon dies (again) from his mysterious ailment. Has a harsh but beautiful ending.

Grunes, always succinct:

Resnais tweaks Time in L’amour à mort. A genetic botanist, Elisabeth works toward the future; an archaeologist, Simon digs into the past. … Sometimes the inserts are only blackness, and sometimes the inserts are so frequent that the human drama seems what’s inserted. … As Simon dies again Elisabeth promises to join him. They already seem a fully meshed couple; the Martignacs, an unmeshed one. Resnais’s final shots suggest that the film has always really been about the Martignacs.

Except for Sabine’s horrid black coat, there’s no infernal fashion or general early-80′s ugliness, but then again, this is set in the countryside. I suppose all the garish proto-punks were confined to Paris at the time.

Mother (1926, Vsevolod Pudovkin)

Dramatizes the 1905 Russian Revolution. Although I didn’t know that until I looked it up after the movie, because I know nothing of history or Russia. Apparently Battleship Potemkin is about a military uprising during the same time, and the 1905 events led to the 1917 revolution which took out the Tsars and formed the Soviet Union. So that’s why the ending, which seems tragic, is filmed as if it’s a great victory.

Full of great editing, a few cool overlapping images. Pudovkin worked under Lev Kuleshov, using his teacher’s montage theories to make grand works of propaganda, “far less ambiguously so than his rival Eisenstein.” I was in the mood for some Russian cinema, thought I’d watch a bunch of early features leading up to Emory’s presentation of I Am Cuba on 35mm, but I got busy, only watched this one and missed Cuba.

Brilliantly tense movie, vaguely similar to the other film called Mother I’ve watched recently in that both mothers try to free their sons from jail, becoming more like their sons along the way. In this one, she is partly responsible for his arrest, revealing a cache of weapons he was hiding after his group’s unionist revolt takes a bad turn. Later, she has turned against the state and teamed with the unionists, marching on the prison to free their comrades. Everyone we liked is dead in the end, but the individual is unimportant anyhow; the movement lives on.

J. Jones:
“The montage effects are different from those of Eisenstein, who believed editing was a way of achieving dissonance, making a jagged cinema of conflict. Pudovkin is more lyrical. His cross-cuts, while dramatic, do not break up but enhance the narrative.”

Also checked out:
Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (1913, Yevgeni Bauer)

Unfortunately, I found it a dullsville tableau drama, despite minor excitement over a mild camera move or two, a flashback and the presence of such a taboo subject as rape in a silent film. Seems like a good study film for an early-cinema class, but it’s not thrilling my current urge to watch quality Russian cinema. The film’s writer played the rapist, ha.

Buy from Amazon:
Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer (DVD)

The Girlfriend Experience (2009, Steven Soderbergh)

While Soderbergh’s studio movies with George Clooney and Matt Damon have been humming along at a regular pace, he’s been inconsistent with his smaller, more personal movies: Bubble and Girlfriend Experience were kind of crappy, no fun to watch, but Che was overwhelming. So yeah, Katy and I are glad we didn’t save this one for a hot date movie, since it was neither hot nor very good. A couple of unappealing actors play a story that doesn’t seem to matter, told in random-ass chronology with camerawork alternating between intriguing, decent and appalling.

Bored-looking “bona fide porn star” (as Netflix proclaims her) Sasha Grey (of Grand Theft Anal 11, Meet the Fuckers 7 and Fox Holes) is a professional escort, dating muscle-bound personal trainer Chris Santos. She is into astrology, takes notes on her encounters read to us in voiceover. He is considering going on a trip to Vegas with his work buddies. The only two scenes I liked were when he somewhat awkwardly requests a promotion from his boss and when she reads a negative review of her services online.

From the writers of Ocean’s 13, surprisingly. In fact I’m half-surprised that it had writers at all. At least it was short.

Under The Volcano (1984, John Huston)

Wanted to check out some more late Huston before the upcoming Emory screening of The Dead, since I don’t believe Wise Blood is typical of his films. But now, having seen these two plus The Maltese Falcon and nothing in between, I still have no idea what is typical of his films. It’s got that familiar 1970′s grime all over it, so either Huston was late in adapting to 80′s-style cinema or, more likely, Mexico was still in the 70′s.

“Some things you can’t apologize for.”

“Hell is my natural habitat.”

Full of fun quotes, mostly spoken by literate drunk Albert Finney, who gave up sobriety when his wife left a year prior. Finney (a few years before Miller’s Crossing) is tended by his brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews, lately of The King’s Speech), and all is depressingly normal until the now-ex-wife (Jacqueline Bisset, the mother in The Ceremony) shows up unexpectedly. Finney goes off the deep end with the drinking and erratic behavior, ending up shot to death in a hostile bar/whorehouse, scaring a horse into trampling to death his wife in front of Hugh, with whom she’d been having an affair before she originally left Mexico. It’s a great ending to a movie which overall didn’t strike me as hard as it seems to strike everyone else.

Finney and Bisset:

Andrews spontaneously goes bullfighting:

Didn’t watch the many DVD extras so I still know nothing about author Malcolm Lowry. Alex North brings his heavy hand to the proceedings, not offending except once during a comedy scene when he got overexcited. Shot with Mexican D.P. Gabriel Figueroa, who worked on at least four of Bunuel’s best films.

C. Viviani makes connections to The Dead:

It was with The Man Who Would Be King (1975), a project that he had been thinking about since the 1950s—based on a Rudyard Kipling story—that Huston made his return to literary adaptation. After the success of that bold “action-adventure” (in which both the action and the adventure are more within the characters than on the screen), Huston began favoring fictional works that were problematic, in terms of translating them to screen, because of the importance given to internal monologue or their absence of action. In less than ten years Huston would adapt three stories considered to be “unadapt-able”: Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor, Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, and “The Dead,” by James Joyce. In each case the adaptation rose to the challenge by deliberately ignoring false problems and by choosing to render the spirit rather than the letter of the original. It was not a matter of filming everything but of filming only what Huston liked, which is, in fact, a constant throughout his work. The culmination of this approach, The Dead (1987), is a film that is both respectful and free, and it became a kind of legacy work, in which Huston does not so much film Joyce’s story as use it as a pretext for offering his daughter Anjelica and his son Tony the gift of his artistic heritage.

Buy from Amazon:
Under the Volcano – Criterion DVD

The Dead (1987, John Huston)

Salman Rushdie came better prepared this time. He’s a fan of John Huston in general, but after programming the long-unseen Wise Blood last year for his “great adaptations” series, he turned out not to like the adaptation very much. This one he talked about as if he’d just watched it.

It’s quite a strange movie, and seems profoundly appropriate as a great action/adventure director’s final film. Opens with some friends arriving at a small party hosted by a couple of older women, spends ninety minutes at the party, then a short cab ride home with Anjelica Huston (oscar-winning for her previous John Huston film) and her husband Donal McCann (obviously not a huge film actor, was in Rawhead Rex the previous year, and not even in the lead). She confesses to her husband about a boy who loved her when she was in high school, who loved her with a passion her husband has never known, who died when she left town. And after she falls asleep, he looks out the window, his thoughts in voiceover are the James Joyce story’s celebrated final paragraph.

Ebert has a really wonderful write-up on the film:

The Dead ends in sadness, but it is one of the great romantic films, fearless in its regard for regret and tenderness. John Huston … had an instinctive sympathy for the kindness with which the guests at the Misses Morkan’s party accepted one another’s lives and failings. … Gabriel is the witness to it all. An early shot shows the back of his head, regarding everyone in the room. Later he will see his wife, finally, as the person she really is and always has been. And he will see himself, with his ambitions as a journalist, the bright light of his family, the pride of his aunts, as a paltry fellow resting on unworthy accomplishments. Did these thoughts go through John Huston’s mind as he chose his last film and directed it? How could they not? And if all those sad things were true, then he could at least communicate them with grace and poetry, in a film as quiet and forgiving as the falling snow.

The only actor I recognized (besides Huston, of course) was Colm Meaney in a minor role. Also in the room here Dan O’Herlihy (Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe), Donal Donnelly (of Richard Lester’s The Knack) as a drunk, Helena Carroll (The Friends of Eddie Coyle) as one of the hostesses (don’t know if she’s the one in charge or the one who sings a song who McCann imagines dead in the final monologue) and Marie Kean (Barry Lyndon’s mother).

For All Mankind (1989, Al Reinert)

Very nicely assembled space doc, a tribute to the Apollo missions. Some 16 years after we stopped going to the moon, Reinert montaged audio interviews and film records from the flights into a concise movie with some familiar imagery (still good to see it in well-restored HD) but plenty of new stuff for a space novice like myself.

Lots of anti-gravity play, and talk about music. I was impressed that one astronaut took the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack into space, forgetting that the film predated the first moon landing. And speaking of music, I liked the documentary’s music without paying much attention, didn’t realize until the end credits that it’s all by Brian Eno. Nor did it really occur to me until more than halfway through the short feature that multiple missions were being shuffled without comment. These are two things I’ll have to focus on next time. Turns out Reinert cowrote that Final Fantasy movie I hated, but I can’t hold that against him now.

T. Rafferty:

What he does in this project, editing millions of feet of film and hundreds of hours of audio recordings into an eighty-minute feature, is treat the whole Apollo adventure as a single, epic trip to the moon, peopled by a crew so anonymous that it seems to represent, well, all mankind. … [Nobody] is identified by name. The film simply proceeds, with serene inevitability, from one fiery liftoff to one gentle splashdown, not troubling itself to distinguish any individual mission from any other and never interrupting the hypnotic flow of otherworldly imagery with a shot of a talking head. At first, when one of the offscreen voices says something unusually poetic, or funny, you wonder whose voice it is, but after a while you stop wondering. It doesn’t seem to matter. It’s everybody’s voice.

Reinert:

I began interviewing the Apollo astronauts in 1976. They were mostly retired astronauts by then, changed men. Over the years I taped nearly 80 hours of interviews with those original extraterrestrial humans, and excerpts from the tapes constitute the major part of the soundtrack of For All Mankind. The movie thus speaks with the intimate voice of personal experience.

For All Mankind is the firsthand story of a great mythic adventure. Touching the Moon was by definition a work of inspired imagination and high art, and scarcely requires further embellishment. It speaks for itself more eloquently than it can ever be interpreted: an age-old dream that at long last was fulfilled.

Rafferty again:

It takes enormous daring to make an avant-garde movie about people as determinedly square as the scientists, technicians, and pilots of the Apollo team; where this journalist, who had never directed a movie before, found the inspiration for that unlikely project is—like so much in the film—unfathomable. … In the late nineties, HBO aired a twelve-part docudrama series called From the Earth to the Moon, to which Reinert contributed two scripts. (The series is less exciting than it should have been—it tries too hard to be stirring—but its history is pretty reliable.) Reinert also had a hand in writing Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, which effectively (if, again, a bit too strenuously) dramatizes the 1970 mission … But For All Mankind is irreplaceable: one of a kind and likely to remain so. It is, formally, among the most radical American films of the past quarter century and, emotionally, among the most powerfully affecting.

Buy from Amazon:
For All Mankind [Criterion Blu-ray]
Pick me up a copy too, why dontcha?

L’Amore (1948, Roberto Rossellini)

For a while there, I dismissed all Italian movies. Their horror is badly acted and makes no sense, 98% of their movies have awful lipsync and among the higher-quality pics I’ve seen are The Leopard (which I hate) and flicks starring Roberto Benigni. Sure, I admit Antonioni and Fellini can be great, and I liked Suspiria a whole lot, so I figured I’d give the country another shot this year via poster-boy Rossellini. Rome, Open City was wonderful, but before moving on to Paisan I took a pit stop with L’Amore, wanting more Anna Magnani – and what a pit it was.

L’Amore is actually a film and a half, or an hour-long feature preceded by a short. First off is The Human Voice, a one-woman play written in 1930 by Jean Cocteau. I’d heard it performed before, on an LP by Ingrid Bergman recorded sometime after her divorce from Rossellini and return to Hollywood. So two Rossellini lovers recorded the same French monologue – coincidence? The play is pretty straightforward, a woman who’s been dumped awaits a call from her ex-guy, talks to him through a failing connection, going through various levels of grief. Should be a showy actresses’s dream role. The Bergman LP sold it better, as far as I’m concerned, sounding more like an actual phone call, all the visuals imagined. Rossellini’s version adds straightforward visuals – an unkempt Magnani on the phone in her room, with no fancy editing or showy camerawork. The biggest problem is the sound, distractingly out of sync (distracting even for me, who was busily reading subtitles), harsh and shrill, Magnani’s whining getting on my nerves until I finally turned the volume waaay down. You’d suppose a one-person movie in a single room would have been a good chance for the Italians to try recording synchronized sound for the first time ever, but even the pioneering Rossellini didn’t think to try that.

In the second part, The Miracle, from a story by Fellini, simple Nanni has a religious mania. While up in the mountains herding goats, she meets a lone dude, whom she welcomes as Saint Joseph (as in the stepfather of Jesus). They share some wine and she wakes up later, wanders back to work. A few months later she’s pregnant. Neighbors taunt and joke with her, a devilish midget throws her from her “home,” which looked like a pile of clothes in a plaza, then literally the entire town comes out to throw her a fake parade then throw stuff at her. So she flees up the mountain, delivers the baby herself.

G. Moliterno: “… largely made, as Rossellini himself acknowledges in the film’s epigraph, to showcase the consummate acting talents of Anna Magnani.”

He also mentions that the Human Voice segment was shot in Paris during prep for Germany Year Zero. “A clear indication of Rossellini’s greater than usual attention to visual style here is given by the pronounced presence of mirrors throughout the film in order to underscore the ongoing fragmentation of the self.”

And if I may overquote from the same source:

[Nanni] clearly anticipates the characters of Gelsomina and Cabiria in Fellini’s La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, but Magnani channels an animistic vitality into the role that makes the poetry of Fellini’s two later creatures appear wan in comparison. And in fact, despite Fellini’s own appearance in the film as the silent and mysterious vagabond who prompts Nanni’s religious delirium… Nannì brings to mind the “durochka” or holy fool, of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev. … [Appeals against the film's banning in the States] also overturned the Court’s own decision in 1915 which had for decades denied films the status of self-expression and thus protection under the First Amendment. Part of the miracle of Il miracolo, then, turned out to be its role in initiating the beginning of the demise of film censorship in the United States.

Summer With Monika (1953, Ingmar Bergman)

A handsome young man with always-perfect hair and a boring, sickly widower father meets a vivacious girl from a turbulent household. And they fall in love, run off together, and it’s perfect. Or it would be, but the movie sticks with them long enough for her to get pregnant, forcing an eventual return to civilization, at which point she makes herself useless, sleeping around while he slaves to make a living and tries to save for their future. It does not end well for the couple. But at least they’ve got their health.

Beautiful, amazing looking film shot by cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, who shot all of Bergman’s most famous films in the 40′s and 50′s. Harriet Anderson would appear in some more Bergman films as well as Dogville and The Day the Clown Cried (really). Harry (Lars Ekborg) wasn’t as excellent as Monika was, and thus was only rewarded with a small role in The Magician.

Released in the States in 1956 as an hour-long edit retitled Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl, which is the version that hit U.S. arthouses like a bomb, shocking people who’d gotten used to boringly chaste homemade product like From Here to Eternity, leading horny adults to start frequenting foreign films, which continued until home video destroyed the trend since now we could see all the bare breasts we wanted at home.

D. Micevic:

It happens near the end of the story, after an idyllic summer between two young lovers, Monika and Harry, has turned sour and they awake from their idealistic dreams to an existence of poverty and acrimony. Monika sits in a café smoking a cigarette, about to bed another lover. The camera closes in on her face—Bergman’s calling card of extreme close-ups during moments of intense personal anguish. Yet, in an instant uncharacteristic of the director, Monika looks directly at the camera as everything surrounding her fades to black. The shot holds for nearly a minute, preventing our escape as Monika stares us down, challenging us to pass judgment on her. It would be easy to scorn her decision, but Bergman provides us with no pedestal from which to condescend. If we are to reprimand her, we must confront her directly. It’s unnerving and brilliant, and this moment alone is worth consideration for anyone even slightly familiar with the director.

Bergman: “I have never made a less complicated film than Summer with Monika. We simply went off and shot it, taking great delight in our freedom.”