Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Simon Pegg stars in this dark, weird, quite funny film about an agoraphobic writer who is researching a book on serial killers and has become obsessed with the idea that someone plans to murder him. His issues--some of which are traumatic and which are kind of hitting me where I live--come to a head when he's forced to go to a launderette to wash clothes for a meeting with a BBC executive. Pegg is great, of course, and I just really got into it and stuck with it the whole way. ***1/2

DRACULA (2012)
Maybe Dario Argento is just used up. Dull, soporific version of the Bram Stoker novel that somehow makes the story of Dracula seem even more boring than it already is. I love Rutger Hauer and Asia Argento, but they're sleepwalking through a film that looks like an awful student project with the most ridiculous CGI I've seen since the 90s. Thomas Kretschmann is a potentially good Dracula, but he's so over the top and stupid in this movie... I just hated it. Zero stars.

Four college girls rob a diner and use the money to head to Florida for spring break. I expected to hate this maligned film, but I was totally fascinated by it. It looks glossy and shallow, but I think it's interesting and even vital in the way it takes our expectations of gender roles and twists them around. I think a lot of the negative reviews are responding to two things. First, on some level, male reviewers seem to not know how to take a movie about college girls basically acting like men and not getting punished for it. There aren't a lot of consequences in this movie. Hurt feelings, yes, but the girls aren't exploited: for the most part, they're willing participants in what happens to them, even taking control of it in the end, and that aspect especially seems to piss off a lot of people. It is unsettling, but when you think about why it is, you get one of the films main points: that we're not used to seeing young women in movies who act like young men act in movies without seeing them have to suffer in some way. In a lot of movies, the things that happen here would ruin their lives, and this movie is somehow able to stand back from moral judgments, and that's fascinating.

The other negative reviews seem to basically amount to "What the fuck is this shit? I can't masturbate to this!" A lot of people expecting an exploitation flick were sorely disappointed, which I think is another point here. This is basically what Sucker Punch claimed to be but lacked the conviction to follow through with. This movie is able to confront its audience and their expectations without being aggressive about it, and that means something. I think this movie is far from shallow. It's powerful and vital. Good performances all around, but James Franco is especially committed to the role and totally mesmerizing. This is my favorite film of 2013 so far. ****

UPDATE 7/12: I've been thinking about something else the film illustrates, too. I feel like the girls have no moral qualms about robbing the diner because it's in service of getting something that the media keeps telling them they're owed: a consequence-free good time at spring break. I have a sister around this age, and I see a lot of girls especially (for purposes of discussing this particular film) of this age on Tumblr, and I read their posts. They're chasing this idea of social interaction that is largely a construct of film and television. I see these people lamenting how they don't have a lot of friends like on Friends and they don't have the same types of parties/drama as people on Skins and they seem to take these things as depictions of how friendships are supposed to look. They feel so entitled to a good time that they literally think they're oppressed and deprived if they're not constantly having fun. So if the girls in the film appropriate male symbols of power and use them in service of what seems like frivolity, it's only because the media has taught them to and they've internalized it.

Not much as a biopic, but the tone is kind of fun and the performances are pretty good. Anthony Hopkins' impression of Hitch is cute, and the makeup is good, even if the movie never quite lands the way it wants to. I dug ScarJo, too, but that surprises no one by now. Part of the problem is that no one really has any realizations: Hitch bullies his wife, she tolerates his obsessions with his ice blonde leading ladies, but it's okay, I guess, because he loves his wife so much and she saves Psycho for him. We know he didn't really learn much or change much, because Tippi Hedren and that whole obsession is just around the corner, so it cuts a lot of the drama. It's pretty to look at--great production design, and I like Danny Elfman's score (but I always enjoy it when he writes this score). Good cast. Enjoyable, insubstantial. ***

Painful. Laura Linney plays a distant cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt's (a subdued, boring Bill Murray) who falls for him and gives him handjobs to help him relax. That's basically it. The movie mostly centers around the state visit of King George VI and the tension of that weekend, but it never really earns the tension or the drama it tries to create. It's also weirdly hostile towards women. FDR's relationship with Eleanor is played as contentious and angry, and his relationship with his cousin (the unfortunately named Daisy Suckley) is emotionally abusive; she just goes on and on telling us what a great man he was, justifying his selfish behavior, and it's just so damn annoying to watch. I can't believe Laura Linney is even in a movie that goes to great pains to justify its sexism. I hope she paid off her mortgage okay, because that's the only excuse I can come up with. The Blowjob That Saved US-Anglo Relations. **

BIRD (1988)
Clint Eastwood's biopic of Charlie Parker is quite an involving film. It's not really a straight biopic, but I like how it uses Parker's music (weaved into the film) and Forest Whittaker's excellent performance as a way to create a jazz-like impression of Parker's life. It's very compelling; Parker is an addict who seems to have accepted addiction as his cross to bear, but can't stand it in others. The women in his life (Diane Venora is very good as his wife, Chan Parker) become his enablers, as he charms his way into their forgiveness. We watch as he abuses his body and promises to do better, even as he knows he won't. When he died of an overdose, the coroner estimated his age at 65. He was 34. ***1/2

Whoa. I've never seen it and didn't know what to expect... this flick is insane. I've been around abusive people before, and I didn't regard this as a campy film (though it has enough moments that I thought a few times that I was disappointed that John Waters didn't direct it), but more as a horror flick. Yeah, it's over the top, but it's kind of terrifying, too. Couldn't look away from it. ***

The second adventure of Francois Truffaut's Antoine Doinel, a segment from an anthology film, and one that's all too painfully familiar. Antoine is in love with Colette, a girl he loves so much but who doesn't love him back. I remember being in this position as a teenager, of loving a girl so much who doesn't feel the same way about you, and how you think there's some way to find the one key to winning her, like if you can just make her understand how damn much you love her then she'll be so flattered she'll fall for you, too. Never happens, though, does it? Truffaut captures that urgency very well. ****

The newest Mickey Mouse short. Loved it, as I've loved all of them so far. ****

EVIL DEAD (2013)
A lot of people bagged on this remake for being straightforward, but that's not what I didn't like about it. (The original was straightforward, too, something too many people seem to have forgotten.) What bothered me is that for all of the special effects and makeup it uses, it's completely hollow. It's like a lot of remakes of horror films: it has nothing to say about anything. It's just another dumbass gory action flick that's terminally dull. (It's also a body horror flick that knows nothing about biology, but, yeah, it's a dumb movie.) I honestly don't understand the point of this even existing, because there are no characters, no emotions between the characters, and nothing recognizably human. It's just intense for the sake of being intense, but not in a way that I cared about. The original Evil Dead made a point of trying to be more nihilistic and intense than any other of the slasher/horror flicks of the time. The remake basically tries to do the same thing without adding any innovation and totally fails. Boring. So fucking boring. *1/2

I loved Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, and I loved his new film, too. It feels fresh and original, even as it seems to nick some of it's style from Tarantino and Guy Ritchie's earlier films. It's funny as hell, and it's refreshing that a lot of the humor is character-based and reactive rather than just coming out of one-liners. The story is delightfully convoluted but all holds together, not afraid to take side trips and constantly commenting on itself, with a great cast that includes Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson. Farrell plays a frustrated alcoholic screenwriter working on a movie about psychopaths. He gets caught up in a dognapping scheme that escalates madly, but there's a lot of talk about connecting and eschewing violence that I was really surprised by. Sure, there's violence in the movie, but McDonagh seems very interested in what violence means and what committing it does to people. Tom Waits has an especially great, small role as a killer of serial killers. Fantastic stuff. ****

I'll be honest, this one looked like a low budget softcore flick to me, but I was surprised how genuine it was about its characters: a recent high school graduate who falls intensely in love with the woman living in the guest house. It has its faults, mostly in some of the acting outside of the leads (who are committed to the roles), and the very low budget doesn't add up to the best production values, but it has a strong grasp of character and really wants to explore how these two become so interested in one another rather than just being a cheap exploitation flick. Not an unqualified success, but not a bad film, either. ***

After the events of Stolen Kisses, Antoine Doinel and Christine have married and are living a nice life in love and awaiting the arrival of their son. But Antoine suddenly becomes obsessed with a Japanese woman and his marriage begins to dissolve. It's interesting how Truffaut approaches this film with a light, comic touch. You can see why the women in Antoine's life keep wanting to forgive him. There's something about him that's just so... not needy, exactly, but that is looking for a mother figure. I've made women feel like that a lot in my life; this one hit close to home, but was quite enjoyable. ****

The final Antoine Doinel film, the now-divorced Antoine finds himself in a relationship with a younger woman, but also has a hard time committing to her and their relationship is unstable. Truffaut examines his approach to relationships through the eyes of ex-wife Christine and his teenage love, Colette, who comes back into his life. Truffaut was apparently unsatisfied with this particular outing, and while it's not necessarily the best of the five Doinel films, I liked very much how the main character and Truffaut surrogate comes to realize certain things about himself and why he's held back from giving himself over completely to a satisfying relationship without forcing his expectations on someone. ****


Roger Owen Green said...

Hyde Park on the Hudson wasn't very good. I didn't mind Murray, but Linney's character was SO awful.

But Hyde Park, where it was actually filmed - I'd been there the year before - looked authentic, because they actually filmed the exteriors (and possibly some of the interiors) there.

UeckersEats said...

How on Earth do you watch so many movies? I work 40+ hours a week, drive 20 hours to do so, sleep 56 hours a week. That leaves 48 hours to cook meals, play with my son, and maybe see 1 film. HOW DO YOU DO IT? I must know.

H said...

Nice humblebrag there from UeckersEats. If you loved In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, and if you haven't seen it already, you should check out The Guard with Brendan Gleason.

SamuraiFrog said...

Roger: When I finally couldn't process it anymore was the moment when Linney excused FDR's unwillingness to visit his mother in the hospital. "He explained that it just hurt him too much to see people in pain." She says it like, Gosh, gee, what a wonderful human being as opposed to, say, wow, what a line to dodge making the visit.

Ueckers: I'm unemployed, I don't have friends, I don't sleep well, and I'm too agoraphobic to leave the house. I have nothing but time.

H: I haven't seen it, I'll check it out. Thanks!

Nathan said...

John Waters actually did a commentary track for Mommie Dearest.