Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past several weeks.

SLACKER (1991)
Richard Linklater's debut is an interesting flick that just follows a series of conversations around, going from one and then following a tangent to another between different people, while strange things happen in the course of the film's running time. Again, I find Linklater's interest in just watching how people reveal themselves very compelling. ***1/2

Jennifer Lopez is still being menaced by the men she sleeps with, but this time it's the high school boy next door who, the film takes great pains to make us understand, is of legal age but just got held back a few times because of some weird personal problems. It's weird how this movie really bends over backwards to make Jennifer Lopez the victim here, a teacher in the midst of a troubled breakup with her husband who is just powerless to stand against the forces of the outside world and make her own decisions. I guess they didn't think someone with poor judgment would be as sympathetic as someone who is unwittingly seduced and then punished endlessly for it because the boy is an unstable psychopath. This movie stacks the deck so hard in her favor that she basically comes across as just completely helpless yet utterly flawless. It's uncomfortable; if it had been a man in the lead role, there would have been an entire conversation about this. I would dislike this movie even if it had starred, say, Jon Hamm, because I really hate this thing in movies where the older man who should know better is somehow completely powerless to overcome the sexual advances of a teenager. But with Jennifer Lopez, it's doubly insulting, because now it's a woman completely having her agency taken away. Seriously, she can't even defend herself without a man saving her. This is the same Jennifer Lopez who used to star in movies like Enough, which were literally about not defining yourself by your trauma and finding the physical and emotional strength to fight back. Here she just gets thrown around a lot. And yet, the stupidest bit in the movie is the idea that someone could buy a first edition of the Iliad, let alone by just running into it at a yard sale. *

GOJIRA (1954)
I'd never seen the original Japanese, uncut edition of Godzilla before, and I'm really glad I did. I always hated Godzilla, King of the Monsters with Raymond Burr so much that I wasn't ever that interested in going back to it. I finally sat with and I found an entirely different film, a surprisingly serious science fiction movie about the implications of nuclear warfare and the long shadow of the atomic bomb, with quite a good performance by Takashi Shimura (as if he gave any other kind). This was really a genre film that, through serious character development and never winking too hard at its own premise, elevated itself above, well... the kind of movie that the Americanized, edited Godzilla, King of the Monsters is. That film was condescending about the Japanese culture and felt it had to explain everything to the audience, basically taking out the characters, the drama, and Japan itself. This was a real movie. ****

Unfortunately, it made me hungry to see the Japanese original of the next film, Godzilla Raids Again, rather than the American cut that was originally known as Gigantis the Fire Monster. And that's proving to be harder to find than I had hoped it would be.

I didn't know much about Hilary Knight other than that I've always loved his illustrations, but this short documentary was a very nice look at the man and the eccentric friends he's made (including with Lena Dunham, who is not as central to the film as the HBO commercials would have you believe). The heart of the film for me was the history of Knight's collaboration with Kay Thompson on the Eloise books and why it abruptly ended (and, frankly, how the Thompson estate treated Knight  when he attempted to revive the character). A lovely portrait of a man who looks to have attained the kind of happiness I value. ****

Agnes Varda's short film about the grittiness of life in a poor quarter of Paris is fascinating, juxtaposing the harsh reality of life with playful, surrealistic moments that find the moments of joy in such a life. ****

Another Varda short film, this one a sort of travel documentary about the French Riviera. I love Varda's approach to this one; rather than go black and white and all "search for truth," she uses the bright, vivid, beautiful colors of France and takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the subject of tourism, She is a bit mocking of what tourists wear, and even suggests that, although France needs tourist money, the place is much more of a paradise when all the tourists leave. Varda does find some truth, even in her less serious approach: though she has great love for the monuments and the history and the beautiful countryside of France, most tourists will never truly look for them. ****

Agnes Varda again, this time a narrative film. I watched this last Friday, and I'm still thinking about what I think it's about. It's beautiful to look at, particularly in its use of color to differentiate country life and city life, and the two women the main character is in love with. The film stars Jean-Claude Drout and his real life wife Claire as a married couple, Francois and Therese. Their actual children play their children in the movie. Francois is a happy man, living a country life as a carpenter working for an uncle who loves him, and when he meets a woman in the city (Emilie, played by Marie-France Boyer) and falls in love with her, he considers it an addition to his happiness. He doesn't love Therese or his family any less; this happiness "all adds up" he says, and is a subtraction for no one. It all seems very reasonable to him, and Mozart's music plays on the soundtrack and the sun shines and then something happens that forces him into a decision. This all takes place in a shallow and surface way that some critics find quite unsatisfying, but the more I think about it, the more I see a subversion in it. It's a tragedy hidden inside surface beauty, and Varda challenges you to see that for yourself, without her having to comment on it. Varda raises the point that the character capable of really understanding on a deeper level may not be able to exist in this world. It's not detached at all; it challenges detachment by daring to be a film that makes you understand what's missing from more conventional romances and how cynical they really are. ****

And this is only part of it. This is what HBO can legally show after a team of (no shit) 160 lawyers went through it. There are so many more stories I've heard, so many incidents that I'm aware of, that this could have been a miniseries that would have put The Jinx to shame. But as it is, this is a chilling documentary about a scam that's been going on for too long. I couldn't make it to the end without feeling sick. Excellently made. ****


Devilham said...

I saw Slackers in the theater (played at an art-house theater that ran things like that), always loved it. I am still partial to the line about 'pre-meditated fun'.... I so relate to that concept (that is, avoiding pre-meditated fun)

Tallulah Morehead said...

All I've seen of The Boy Next Door (and all I will ever see of it) was a clip of the "First edition of The Iliad" scene. It had me on the floor in hysterical laughter. It's like an SNL sketch gag, except they weren't kidding. Apparently everyone, from the screenwriter to the director to Ms Lopez herself (I confess, the woman makes my skin crawl, and I avoid her as much as humanly possible) was actually this appallingly ignorant, unaware that it was handed down by oral tradition for generations before ever being written down, and that if we take the first time it was written down as its "First Edition," it would be a hand-written scroll over two thousand years old, in ancient Greek, and in a museum somewhere, since it would be worth millions of dollars. Yeah. That would show up at a yard sale. Good grief. This is what you get when abysmally ignorant and stupid people try to pass themselves off as educated, intelligent and sophisticated. The only way it could have been any funnier would be if it was a SIGNED first edition.

Gojira is certainly a better movie than the Raymond Burr version (I have a DVD set that contains both), but neither is truly a great movie. But it is a shame that Gojira was so unavailable for so long. My favorite aspect of the Burr version is that Burr's character is named "Steve Martin," which just makes it unintentionally funnier. When Steve Martin first started to get famous, actually, from when I first became aware of him, which was when he was 18 and I saw him perform onstage at Knott's Berry Farm and thought "This kid is God damned funny," the first thing that stood out to me was that he had the same name as Burr's Godzilla character. (Twice in my life I've had cats I named Godzilla. It's a great pet name.)

Going Clear sits now on my DVR, waiting for me to take time to watch it. I look forward to it.

SamuraiFrog said...

The thing that makes the "first edition of the Iliad" funnier is that the kid and Jennifer Lopez keep quoting from it in various scenes, so the screenwriter was obviously aware of it. They couldn't have just said it was the first edition of a certain translation or something? Bad enough it looks like a volume out of some kind of Funk & Wagnalls library from the fifties.

Then again the movie was directed by Rob Cohen, whose whole aesthetic seems to be "abysmally ignorant and stupid."

I always thought it was too bad that no one stuck Steve Martin in a cameo in a monster movie as a reporter named Raymond Burr.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"I always thought it was too bad that no one stuck Steve Martin in a cameo in a monster movie as a reporter named Raymond Burr."


Tallulah Morehead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tallulah Morehead said...

Dialogue they should have had:

Stalker boy: "And look, it's signed!"

Lopez: "Boy, Homer's handwriting is terrible."

Stalker Boy: "Well, he was blind, you know."

Lopez: "Wow. You're so smart. Why can't you manage to graduate from high school? You're what? 30?"