Ten Recent Reviews

I Was Born, But... -
Ozu in a comic mode often reminiscent of the Little Rascals, but serious stuff is never far away. The brilliant cross cutting scene between the kids bored in class and the grinding routine of the adult work world tells the kids exactly what is in store for them once they become an adult like their father. Which, even though they don't know it yet, is at the heart of why the kids are so disappointed in their father as he sucks up to his boss. Cinematography is stellar, absolutely gorgeous, with a common trait of Ozu's - contrasting domestic life with the industrialized wires, posts and towers that surround us. This could be from a relatively rural area of today, both in look and in theme. Absolutely brilliant. (And as a side note, the score took a little getting used to, but once I did I think it fit perfectly.)

Stuck -
Stuart Gordon has been better, but this one's still pretty good - if you share his cynicism and sense of humor about humankind, anyway. I kind of do and so I kind of liked it. I expected some garish, over-the-top stuff, but he actually reigned in the excesses that might have sent it up into Grand Guignol territory and kept focus on the story. Which is great, because the (fact-based) story is worth it; an implausible situation made believable by both script and acting. Of course, it does delve into the sort of pessimism that's a mainstay of Gordon's films from Re-Animator onward. Rea and Suvari in particular are good and (along with Gordon's understated direction) bring some weight and emotion to what in other hands might have been a trashy spectacle. Good stuff.

The Honeymoon Killers -
Grim little film touched with trashiness that's surely a huge influence on John Waters - I can't watch Shirley Stoler's performance and not think that Divine aped her move for move in the early Dreamland films. Between low budget and sound, gritty script and documentary-influenced shooting, it packs a real punch and again makes me think of Waters throughout. Starts out like it could get all campy on you and by the time the pair have become seasoned killers and knock off an old lady who's been natteringly annoying up until the moment of her doom when you really feel for her, you're inexorably drawn in to the world they've made here. A shame that director Leonard Kastle never made another film, because he's got the skills for sure.

Duel in the Sun -
Listen, I'm a sucker for a good Shakespeare adaptation, especially when the source is King Lear, so I was pretty much destined to like this from the beginning. But what's all this crap I read about it being some sort of overheated, cheap romance? Where's the real dramatic tension in the film? Sure, the plotline about Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones is central but the competition of the brothers for not just Jones, but for their father's affection and attention takes an equal part on the stage they've set, and that's Lear to the core. Peck is great as the scumbag Lewt and Jones fine as the "overheated" mixed-race Pearl, but for me the real deal lies in the familial relations and especially in Lionel Barrymore's Senator McCanles, an arrogant, racist windbag right up until the moment that everything falls apart for him and you find that you actually have some sympathy. If this didn't have the Lear connection and was only about Jennifer Jones choosing between the good and bad brothers, I'd probably agree more with the review on IMDB that calls it a "bawdy, overacted sexual western." But it does have the Lear connection. And I don't think it's "overacted" (whatever that means).

Fast Cheap and Out of Control -
Philosophy 101. Maybe Philosophy 201. Instead of wacko theories flying around like in Waking Life this tells how four people in wildly disparate professions find that their work ultimately boils down to their desire to understand the purpose of man, man's social organizations, and/or man's place in the world and relation to nature. Of course it's not laid out as schematically as all that, which is a big part of the charm of the film. Just a few guys telling their stories that somehow connect across to each other and create a slowly increasing web of ideas about the aformentioned topics. Lots of food for thought and if none of these guys call themselves philosphers within the film, they're treading the same ground as philosophers - and Morris knows it. I still don't think I've seen quite how deep this film goes on two viewings.

Ninotchka -
Writing, acting and direction all top notch - presumably the famous "Lubitsch touch" that I've read about but not really experienced enough yet to understand it. But I'm enamored enough of this sparklingly enjoyable film to want to find out fully what it means. Garbo in particular is great as deadpan Russian investigator and also great as she turns into the comic-romantic lead. This is exactly the kind of film people are talking about when the talk about the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Mother of Tears -
It's tough for me to say much about this film without starting an endless tirade of picking apart every sad detail - it's a total non-entity in my mind. Unlike Argento's best films which have the non-sensical, illogical qualities of a nightmare, this one spells out a story that makes perfect sense (within its own parameters, of course) but has no drive, no build, no set piece that holds you, no anything to recommend it. If this didn't have Argento's name plastered across the film, it would be utterly dismissed as the work of some lazy amateur who'd probably be likely to carve out a career of tired, straight-to-video sequels of moderate box-office successes like the Leprechaun franchise. While he assembles a number of ideas that could've been worked into a plausibly scary or affecting film, he just never does anything to develop them and we're left with lazy scene after scene of half-baked ideas that a couple rewrites, a little more time spent in pre-production - just anything - might have helped. It's sad that the great Suspiria, already suspect for being tied to the disastrous Inferno, will now be sullied further by yet another lame partner.

Wall-E -
A love story set in a mildly anti-corporate eco-disaster, not anything more political than that, so don't believe the hype about its message, which is really that adorable little robots can fall in love too. That said, I loved it - absolutely loved it. Imagery is gorgeous throughout - brilliant work again by the Pixar folks. And it's funny, sad, ultimately a totally poignant work of art told mostly through the visuals and not through dialogue, just like the best of Chaplin, Keaton, Tati - all of whom have been name-dropped in interviews and rightfully so. It also occupies a place in my head right near the fantastic Babe: Pig in the City, which I also absolutely loved. I've recommended it to everyone I know so far, even if they've expressed distaste for animated "children's" films and I'm dying to go see it again in the theater. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it - that's a really good sign.

Across 110th Street -
Interesting - where I expected either a gritty on-the-streets take on sticking it to the man via crime or a cop-buddy-Blaxploitation pic, I got neither and ended up with something more class-conscious than I expected. Starts out as the first thing - three guys rob some Mob cats working in tandem with Harlem gangsters, kill the roomful of thugs and hide out with 300K. A hardened white cop (Anthony Quinn) and a young, local, black cop (Yaphet Kotto) are assigned find the killers/thieves, as is a Mob underling (Antony Franciosa) and the staff of the Harlem boss (Richard Ward) on whose watch the crime took place (though obviously for different reasons). So as the gangsters work through the underworld and the streets to find who ripped them off, the cops work their way through a public that refuses to aid them, thereby checking off the on-the-streets crime pic and the hateful-slowly-turning-to-respectful partnership cop film I expected. What I didn't expect was the film's third act, when our sympathies switch to the plight of the three robbers - what got them to the desperate point of choosing to rip off gangsters and how they individually try to get away. It's strange the way the film plays with expectations and moves our sympathies around without making a big deal of it. Like many films in the style it's mostly a blunt, straightforward telling of events with no artsy pretense of something as lofty as "class-consciousness" or anything like it. Which for me makes it all the more appealing. It's not great, but it's way better than a lot of the cheap cop and spy thriller knockoffs that populate the genre.

Sorcerer -
Again we're cast adrift in a world of desperate criminals on the lam in this fine remake of Clouzout's classic Wages of Fear, but this time out we're actively aware almost from the get-go that we'll be watching their trials and tribulations and probably rooting for them. It doesn't vary much from the original story, but adds enough of its own touches to mark it out as something different (most notably the trip over the rotting bridge) and the brutal, often shocking physicality common to Friedkin's films is all over this one, beginning to end - its PG rating is surprising to me; I doubt it'd get even a PG-13 today. Scheider is great, as usual, while the other men fleshing out the doomed crew are equally strong. Some of the understated ideas of Clouzout's film are brought to the surface - there's little doubt as to whether Nilo killed someone to get the job - and the same grim pessimism about what men will do for money (especially if they're desperate) overrides this film. I liked it quite a bit -doesn't exactly replace Wages of Fear, but it's a strong addition to Friedkin's ouevre.


Howard said...

I think the hype about Wall-E's message was trumped up a bit because critics weren't expecting it from a G-rated film.

I loved it as well. It's the most sublime thing Pixar has done and their most "arthouse". It's right up there with Triplets of Belleville for pure story telling.

Dex said...

glad you saw and enjoyed 'the honeymoon killers'; it had a premiere on tcm underground, and i'm a bit confused as to why it hasn't shown up in the program's repeats, since it's one of the best things they've done.

i picked up on the waters connex too, but it also had an early scorsese feel for me, too.

Joaquin said...

Liked The Honeymoon Killers, absolutely love WALL-E (my own ranting about its greatness coming soon to a blog near you), and I love Jennifer Jones, which means I liked Duel in the Sun. It should be noted this is the film Laura Mulvey offered up as a case study to possibly refute her infamous 'male-gaze' essay. Only male-as-object-of-desire communicated from the eyes of Jennifer Jones can make an uptight theorist think twice. :P

nervenet said...

Howard, agreed. I'm not yet ready to say it's the best thing they've done (though I might), but yeah, sublime is exactly the right word.

Chris, you know that Scorsese was fired from Honeymoon Killers early on, yes? It definitely had the stamp of his early stuff on it even without him doing most of the shooting.

Joaquin, didn't know that about Mulvey's take on Duel. I've only read a little of her writing, and nothing done in the last, oh, 25 years or so though, so I'm hardly an authority on her. But now that you mention it I think I'll have to see it again, which will of course be a pleasure.

Dex said...

yeah - that's right! i do remember that!