September Movie Journal - Xanadon't
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At the Movies
So far as I've been able to tell there simply hasn't been much at the cineplex (or art-house theaters, for that matter) lately that's stirred up much excitement for me. This is just as well, considering how busy I've been over the last few weeks, but finally I reached my breaking point and simply had to go out and see something. Thank heavens for this remarkable little "kids" movie- at once a visual treat and a clever and fun send-up to classic horror movies.
Really ParaNorman feels like a movie for adult horror fans, with the idea of entertaining children occurring now and then as an afterthought. In fact, only the brightest and most macabre-leaning kids under, oh, 12 or so, need apply.
Maybe the best thing about ParaNorman is the fact that it doesn't waste so much precious time reaching for laughs. Instead they most often occur naturally, shaped and delivered by the care and detail put into the character design, along with the often exceptional voice-acting at work. Oh yes, eventually the movie gets perhaps slightly too gooey and "moral of the story" on us, but not before treating viewers to one of the finer "big, loud, movie climax" sequences to come along in quite a while, be it animated or not.
I can't imagine Tim Burton's upcoming Frankenweenie will be half the movie this one is.
Trouble with the Curve (2012)
Bleh. What a mind-numbingly ordinary and terrifically bland movie. And I can't remember the last time my intelligence has been so insulted. Well, at least not from a film that actually offered some level of promise... some level of star-power. (Yeah sure we can all only take so much grumpy-ass, reactionary Clint. But Amy Adams, John Goodman. C'mon.) The plot unfolds in such a paint-by-numbers fashion that it was all I could do to keep my ass in the chair. There are no surprises here. There are no touches of individuality. If you think you know what any given character will say next, well, you're probably right. When you think you've figured out exactly what will happen, well yes, where the fuck else could such an unimaginatively directed film take us? Congratulations. We can all write for the movies too.
I thought that- just maybe- because this is the first film in nearly 20 years that Eastwood has starred in and didn't also direct that this meant perhaps the film would be something special. Perhaps he saw something extraordinary in the script. Maybe this unknown director has "future house-hold name" written all over him. Surely, between this reasoning and the personnel aboard the project, there would be something worthwhile happening here. Except there just isn't. There's nothing at all to recommend. The movie is devoid of anything meaningful or memorable or noteworthy. Trouble With the Curve makes last year's vastly overrated Moneyball look like a masterpiece. It takes a sub-mediocre movie to do that. Oh, and maybe I didn't mention, but Eastwood as a crotchety, stubborn--basically an insufferable dumbass--of an old man is fucking terrible all the way down the line. So bad, in fact, that it makes me wonder if Gran Torino- a film I think I like- didn't suck too.
The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
Ah yes. The 140 minute Rom-Com. What a terrible, terrible phenomenon. There's simply no excuse for it. And truth be told, with Jason Segel and Emily Blunt as the two leads, it was ultimately the one deciding factor against catching this in theaters.
Here's a movie that I'd say overstays its welcome, except I'm not sure how much of it was welcome to begin with. So much of the attempted humor here comes off as simply clumsy and awkward. Never has Jason Segel seemed so unfunny. So untalented. So un-anything-special. And while Emily Blunt is still able to charm just about anyone right out of their socks, she has so little support around her (whether it be from supporting actors or a script that never becomes anything more than barely workable) that eventually I simply resented her presence in a movie that probably would've otherwise been easier to just turn off. No, this was not good... not good at all.
God Bless America (2012)
Having my hatred echoed as concerns a bunch of America's ridiculous fixations and wayward ideals is a fun enough way to pass the time. But ultimately it felt like something of an empty exercise. Still, the movie comes out swinging so hard that it's difficult to ignore.
Dark Horse (2012)
Todd Solondz has made a career out of making movies designed to make viewers uncomfortable, and while Dark Horse is ostensibly his tamest effort to date in terms of extreme, disturbing, or otherwise "out there" material, there's still plenty to be found in its characters and story to make viewers shake their heads, fists, or just quietly cringe on the inside.
Essentially this is a critique-- no-- lambasting of the 30-something male perpetual adolescent. I don't know where they found this guy but I spent a great deal of time wanting to wring his fat dumb-fuck neck.
This movie didn't bowl me over, but it quietly sneaks up on viewers and strikes me as something a shade or two more important than it would first appear. This all said, I still don't consider it essential viewing unless you have a vested interest in Solondz's work. Or if you love the idea of watching Christopher Walken walk around pissed off and frustrated in a terrible toupee. This has it's own built-in appeal, I know.
Mystery Train (1989)
Well, I guess I can't absolutely love all of Jim Jarmusch's movies. Luckily there's still a bit of the overall feel here that has always endeared me to his work. It's just a bit more uneven and unable to strike the right notes with the remarkable consistency that he generally achieves. Also, the three separate story lines just never culminate into anything that ever feels special or quietly magical. So that's a let down.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Whatever else you want to say about Moulin Rouge there's simply no denying that it's an ambitious, obscenely enthusiastic, and often awe-inspiring celebration of film as an artistic medium. This thing just rakes up one technical achievement after another into a big fucking pile and then tosses them into the air like a thousand million pieces of shimmering shining confetti. Holy fuck.
Okay, so there's plenty to admire going on. Unfortunately that doesn't mean it all came together in a way that suits my tastes. It's not that I hate musicals (I certainly don't). It's not that I especially object to overly self-aware movies that know they're doing something special. But you combine those things with just a bit too much Tasmanian Devil whirlwind editing and camera-work and a movie that, admit it, gets a bit too cute for its own good, and I eventually get at least a little bit weary of it all.
But no, don't listen to anyone that says Moulin Rouge is a shitty movie. They're just plain wrong.
Where I see what all the fuss is about...
The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
Pre-code Hollywood musical-comedy chalk full of fun, sexual innuendo, and class. I've never seen quite anything like it before but I'm happy to have given this one a chance.
This is somehow the first Ernst Lubitsch film I've ever seen, as well as the first time seeing Maurice Chevalier in a film. Just one of those reminders that there's SO MUCH good stuff to catch up on out there.
Listal Group Project
Bellflower (2011) (2012)
Ah, yep. One of those attention-grabbing, up-start, genre-bending indie movies that I really wanted to like, but never quite could. There's a list of things to applaud, but an equal size list of "shit that annoyed me". The shit that annoyed me eventually won out, and I'm afraid that's what has stayed with me.
I don't quite think it warrants the comparisons to Quentin Tarantino or Danny Boyle, but even so, the film interested me enough to keep my eye out for this director in future.
Black Dynamite (2010)
Fucking hilarious. This movie had me laughing and smiling pretty much all the way through. I just loved the overall tone of the movie. I think this has more brains than at least 90% of comedies that show up in theaters and I'm really thankful to the giraffe for including it because there's about zero chance that I'd have ever watched it otherwise. Great musical score, great performances, great attitude. The fact that this spoof/love-letter to the blaxploitation genre makes me want to actually go out and track down a number of leading titles from the genre should indicate how well it went over with me.
Okay, yes, eventually some of the jokes reached their mileage limit. And no, I probably won't rush out and buy it so I can rewatch it whenever I want. Truth be told, the whole "spoof" genre is one that has an enjoyment-level ceiling that's only so high with me. But really, this one bumped its head on it repeatedly.
The Rapture (1991)
In all honesty, I don't think it would've much mattered how this thing wound up (as it stands, the message imbedded in the film's final moments is a big improvement compared to the ideas propelling the final act), the truth of the matter, personally, is that the ends never had any chance of justifying the means. Religious beliefs and lack there-of off to one side, I simply had trouble stomaching a psychological horror movie dressed up in so much cringe-inducing rhetoric and dogmatic hullabaloo. Mimi Roger's over-celebrated in some circles, but nonetheless strong performance didn't make it worth it. Nor did David Duchovny's abs. And while there might still be some points of interest one could squeeze from cult-psychology-drama, I couldn't get very keyed up on the ordeal.
I'm not saying that The Rapture is a bad film. (Though I'd hesitate to call it a good one.) And it's possible that if I'd seen it 5 or 6 years ago, I'd walk away from it differently. But this viewer just couldn't muster up much interest in its message one way or the other, nor its methods of getting there.
On the positive side, I ultimately don't regret catching up with an oft-neglected film from the nineties and acquiring an opinion about it.
No Man's Land (2001)
Blacker than black comedy takes this film through shades of M.A.S.H. and beyond. Its straight-forward directing style and parable-esque narrative construction-- along with the fact that so much of the action revolves around 3 players-- make this seem almost as though we're watching a piece of parlor room drama. But of course "the realities of war" insist that this film is something bigger and heavier. And bigger, it is. For one thing, the film takes conscious effort to capture the splendor of nature that stages the Bosnian War. The conflict is ugly, senseless, tragic, maddening, and complex. The scenery is poetic in its simplicity and serenity. These ideas play off each other nicely.
And then we have the global media/political arena aspect of the film that hang-over the more poignant and personal points of drama and metaphor. This almost automatically elevates the film to "important 21st Century War Drama" by itself. Luckily there's ample talent on-screen and off to justify such a claim. Not more than half-way through the film, it struck me that yes, this is an important piece of movie-making in addition to being plain old good and engaging.
The Loved Ones (2010)
This movie is kind of an asshole, but I still respected it. Think Carrie meets Jennifer's Body meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre family meets Wolf Creek. It's a somewhat nasty little flick that kept my level of approval for it in constant motion. Eventually I was left feeling that it did more things right than wrong.
The Mummy (1932)
About as underrated/overlooked as the classic horror flicks get (likely because from what I understand all the sequels are shit). This wasn't the movie I expected, and that was a very pleasant surprise. It's a big-budget, bona fide entry into the Universal horror library, and the story plays on ideas dealing with reincarnation and Ancient Egyptian Myths in a way that keeps everything fresh and unsettling. Great work from Boris Karloff and the sexy and intriguing Zita Johann.
Planet Terror (2007)
As far as trashy entertainment goes, this is nothing short of a masterwork. For 100-odd minutes, director Robert Rodriguez just can't miss. Though I love the concept, it's almost a shame this was released as a double-feature "Grindhouse" presentation, because it stands alone in my mind as the moment in Rodriguez's career where everything came together perfectly in a singularly brilliant piece of schlocky, sleazy, uber-violent cine-mania!
What took me so damn long to finally give this a watch, I can't say. But big thanks to the giraffe for lending me such a valuable piece of his movie collection!
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
A solid sequel that does well not to give the game away too early or unnecessarily. In fact, it almost feels like its own film, rather than a sequel. Now does this mean Friday the 13th Part 2 is great cinema? Well, no. But understand what we're dealing with here. As far as Reagan-era dead-teenager slashers go, this isn't half bad. In fact, when inserted into a sophisticated equation measuring the value of kill-scenes, teen boobies, comical 80's wardrobe, cheese-fueled back-story, scary musical queues, and other 1980s must-haves, Part 2 performs surprisingly well.
The Tall Man (2012)
Pascal Laguier follows up Martyrs, the film that granted him immediate name-credibility (or perhaps notoriety, if you prefer) among horror circles with this much, much different animal, The Tall Man. Gone are the relentless, swift, and stunning scenes of horror, brutality, and DIY vengeance. This is very much not that type of film. In fact, the two films are in many ways as different as the languages in which they're spoken. And yet, for all the differences between the two films, there is an underlying similarity in that both movies ask big questions revolving around similar ideas- namely issues centered around things like moral relativity and assumed socio-spiritual entitlement/superiority.
Unfortunately in the case of The Tall Man, the characters and story at the center of the film simply aren't compelling enough to demand much interest in what the film or director has to say. In both movies there are certain switches thrown that affect how we experience the film and view the characters and underlying themes. But where Martyrs arrived as a film virtually impossible to ignore (and at least in my case, admire) The Tall Man underwhelms in its decidedly less urgent and effective twists in story and cinematic dogma.
It's fortunate that The Tall Man does get so many of the technical aspects right. Visually, it's a film that invites a good deal of admiration, and it seems to do so effortlessly. Also, none of the performances can be faulted in any substantial way. But for all the film's efforts to realign viewers' expectations about what a mystery/thriller/horror can be, there's a distinct lack of emotional or visceral punch to it all and a persistent feeling that the stakes just aren't too high and that there simply isn't much to get worked up for. Too bad.
Don't Look Now (1973)
Odds and Ends
Watched this based on its high ratings from a couple of listal members whose opinions I've grown to trust.
This is a really interesting and surprisingly thorough documentary about how through great amounts of determination, skill, and good fortune one man turned his hobby/obsession into a world-wide phenomenon.
The documentary never quite "blew me away" or anything. But it kept me 100% engaged and I struggle to imagine what could've been done better.
American Grindhouse (2010)
Some fun, candid, and often insightful commentary. American Grindhouse actually works quite well as a condensed history lesson, reaching all the way back to the beginnings of film. It's not the documentary I expected, and in this case, I think it's better for it.
Sin City (2005)
An exciting and fun piece of cinema, just as I remembered, but once again I felt the middle section (Clive Owen/Old Town girls) eventually pulls the experience down just a bit.
There Will Be Blood (2008)
While I still don't love There Will be Blood as much as I'm supposed to, I do respect it much more after this viewing. It's a far more important film probably than I gave it credit for. And I couldn't keep Kubrick's masterpiece The Shining from coming to mind time and again while watching the film.
Damsels in Distress (2012)
Okay, so very slow out of the gate this month, but I'm starting to make up a little bit of ground. Thus far a whole bunch of this month has been devoted to not watching movies and not hanging around listal. But we'll see how that plays out over the second half.
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