Ten Recent Reviews

Funny Games (2007) -
I hated the original. It worked on me the way I suspect that Haneke expected, but I didn't forgive him for putting me through the psychic violence of the film and then pulling out the rug from under me. Brecht would've been proud, but I was pissed off and wouldn't watch his films after that. That is, until a friend persuaded me to watch Cache with her. I thought it was brilliant but was afraid that going back through his catalog would provide another mess of horrors to infuriate me. Then he announced the U.S. version of Funny Games and I decided to go for it. This was much easier to take because I knew what was gonna happen and thus was not enraged by the narrative and instead found myself just focusing on the ideas of the film. Or should I say "idea"? Although I think it's a devious little film, I find that once you've taken the main thrust of it into consideration - real violence does not have the exhilarating feel of screen violence and rarely has its morally attached happy outcome - there's not much more that's there. Knowing this as a shot by shot remake, I knew what was going to happen even though I watched the original nearly a decade ago and so I found the characters impossible to connect with or get involved in their plight in the face of the ideas of the film staring me down ominously. That said, I agree with the main message of the film and think it's worth seeing, but probably not if you've seen the original. This one doesn't bring anything new to the table.

The Lost -
Right on the heels of Funny Games I saw this grim little horror show about a murderer in a rural town where there's apparantly nothing to do but fuck and get fucked up. Opens with Ray, our resident psychopath, murdering two female campers on a whim and getting away with it. The rest of the film is a slow burn toward its brutal climax. I guess this is how I like my horror films these days: nasty, extremely unsettling, and afterward you kind of wonder why you watched it and why it's made. My theory is that people who are drawn to this type of film work to find the furthest reaches of on-screen violence that they can tolerate and then work backward. The film falls squarely within the same kind of un-fun, grim, brutish, nasty sub-genre of horror film that includes Last House on the Left (my own personal watermark for upsetting onscreen violence) but also includes films like Salo and Man Bites Dog and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and probably Irreversible as well, though I haven't seen it. Everyone who is drawn to this type of film seems to find the one that finally hits their button and then they draw back. They've scratched the itch of what they can take in non-exciting, on-screen violence. I hit it back with Last House and found watching this a mostly unpleasant experience, brewing slowly (too slowly for my tastes) toward a fucked up ending that's broadcast from early on and you spend the rest of the film waiting for. It's well-made for what it is, it's an effective screed against this type of violence that in no way glorifies it or makes it exciting. But would I want to see it again? Probably not.

Chinatown -
Nearly perfect, even the tenth time around. A grim film of course, as with everything Polanski made after his wife was murdered (and many of the ones he made before that). But I love the way danger lurks everywhere. A setting seems empty and quiet - orange grove, waterway, nursing home, etc. - and suddenly menace enters the picture. Nicholson and Dunaway turn in classic noir-styled performances, and John Huston is as sleazy a villain as ever set foot on screen. Somehow I'm glad that Polanski won the fight with Robert Towne to have the ending as it stands now rather than the more "Hollywood" ending that Towne had initially written, even if Towne himself thinks it got fucked up in the process. The film is genius at just about every level, if you ask me.

Punishment Park -
Fucking intense, but along more predictable lines than comparable pieces of wildly leftist art like Godard's Weekend, or even Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool, which keeps throwing curveballs. I like its bluntness - I got nothing against sledgehammer subtlety when it feels right - but I kept hoping it would at some point go in a way less hectoring, less didactic. That said, if your sympathies are with the left you're gonna hear a lot in the film that appeals to you, as it did to me. So if it's preaching to the choir at least it's out there preaching, which is fine by me. As an agitprop film, this is a fine thing; as effective political art it's only illustrating an existing political divide, not offering any solutions. To do that it would have to work harder to understand its conservative participants, something it never tries to do. Very punk, that. And it's certainly intriguing enough to send me off to see more Watkins.

The Searchers -
This was paired with Taxi Driver in a local film series to illustrate similarities and differences and I have to say that while I'm growing more distant from finding that Scorsese's film has a lot to say to me, I'm getting more and more interested in Ford's with every viewing. Beautifully done, beautifully written, with a protagonist as out there as Travis Bickle, though toned down for the times (or rather, Taxi Driver was toned up for the times). Obsessive quests to save a young girl from a perceived taintedness by an unstable vet from the losing side of a war - that's the central idea of both films, though obviously played out in very different ways. Except that Ford's film is better.

Superbad -
I love Judd Apatow, even if Dex is sick of hearing "From the guys who brought you The 40-Year Old Virgin" in every ad. But this one - crass and sweet and humorous as it is - didn't make me laugh as much as 40-Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, even if I did like it and enjoy it overall. More importantly, it didn't make me cry or even feel like there was a need to. Apatow's best stuff always treads that fine line of comedy and drama that makes his films (and TV, of course) really felt as though they're real lives lived and that's what makes them so funny. The cops here are caricatures and the fact that so much time is spent with them is a shame because the central friendship between Evan and Seth that's about to be separated could really have been a strong dramatic idea. Instead it's downplayed in favor of the lovable loser story that I've seen a million times before. It's still funny, it's well written and acted, but it's lacking a little something that really would've kicked it up a notch for me. Maybe Rogan's next script will iron out these minor problems.

Fool For Love -
Altman's style actually suits both the material and the theatricality of said material well. It's a very character-driven piece and his camera just keeps moving around the motel's lot or a room, zooming in to look closer at things and then zooming back out to show a bigger picture. I just wish I got more of a charge out of the material itself, because while Altman's really hit or miss for me, I'm usually pretty keen on Shepard. And while it's a little annoying watching the give and take between Basinger and Shepard for the bulk of the film, once it's put into context by the ending, it makes a lot of sense. And again, Altman's inquisitive camera (and microphones) (and of course the excellent cast) really help get you involved in these characters that might otherwise have been just a buncha nobodies. Good for Altman, not bad for Shepard. Overall, a pretty good thing, even if not terrific.

Taxi Driver -
What is there to say? It's pointless to write about this film at this date. I've seen it a billion times and you probably have too. Over time, this has faded a bit for me as I said above. I don't think it has much to say to the world, just a portrait of a fucked-up guy that you can take or leave. And it's interesting how Schrader's obsessions and Scorsese's dovetail in parts and seem to pull the movie in different directions in other parts. I dunno, it's iconic, it's classic, Michael Chapman's cinematography is brilliant, DeNiro really gets inside Bickle and illuminates him, but I just don't get the charge out of it that I used to. I'm sure I'll watch it again in my life, but there are many other films I'd rather see now.

Underworld U.S.A. -
Gritty Sam Fuller film in which a young punk sees his father beaten to death by some gangsters and dedicates the rest of his life to getting even with them. And as he worms his way into their organization, you just have to wonder what will happen once he's finished his revenge - a point the film thankfully addresses. In fact, it's the central idea of the film. Great stuff, on par with Naked Kiss and better than Shock Corridor for my money. I hope a DVD release is in the works.

Pulse -
Not as bad as I expected, given the one-star rating from the TV guide and the 4.3 rating it's currently enjoying on IMDB. Not great by any stretch but it's an interesting concept and Wes Craven and Jim Wright do a fine job adapting the film to the American teen crowd it obviously aims for. Sure, there are the flickering ghost images that have become cliche by now; sure there are plot holes; sure the cinetography and editing aren't quite up to what I'd like to see in my ghost stories - too much of that quick-cut "creepy" imagery that doesn't scare anybody over the age of 13 (shouldn't, anyway) - but it lays on the atmosphere quick and heavy and never relents, even if it also never quite picks up the pace. I enjoyed it - probably because my expectations were nil. But I've seen much dumber scare flicks.


Joaquin said...

You love Judd Apatow? Really?

nervenet said...


Dex said...