Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Film Week

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

KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962)
Roman Polanski's first feature film. It's like a masterclass in film technique; it's tight, controlled, and economical. Its premise--a couple pick up a young hitchhiker and take him sailing--uses interesting camera angles and confined spaces to create a visual representation of the generation gap and explore the psychology of male rivalry. There are some sinister undertones that make the film so taut, and a simmering sexual tension. I'm honestly not sure Polanski ever made a better movie than this one. ****

LIBERAL ARTS (2012)
Yet another white people movie where the young guy can't move on with his life because he's not as happy as he was in college when he could do that douchey, self-centered, soul-searching thing that suburban kids mistake for being really, really interesting. Josh Radnor (who wrote and directed) plays an adult who goes back to his alma mater to celebrate the retirement of his favorite professor (Richard Jenkins) only to fall in love with a bright student (Elizabeth Olsen). They correspond and write these spectacularly pretentious letters to each other where, among other things, they congratulate themselves repeatedly on engaging in The Lost Art of Letter Writing. Then, of course, she wants to lose her virginity to him, because he's just so fucking fascinating, and this is the kind of movie where the older guy has to counsel her on why she shouldn't do that, because this is that kind of male fantasy movie. It's fitting that the guy who played Ted Mosby made this, because this is the kind of pretentious bullshit Ted Mosby was always fobbing off about. When you play it seriously, it's incredibly tedious and full of itself. **

THE DISTANT DRUMMER: A MOVABLE SCENE (1970)
I'm not going to rate this, but I wanted to mention that I saw this short educational film that tries to dissect what the hippies are and why they use drugs. It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen, because notable marijuana-user Robert Mitchum narrates the film and has to say that drugs aren't the answer. That's hilarious. How did this come about? Did he get caught with drugs and have to make this as part of a community service deal? I mean, this thing is like Peter O'Toole making an anti-drinking PSA.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014)
Well, it's at least a little less jingoistic than its predecessor, but it doesn't have that film's technical brilliance. It takes place more or less concurrently with the events of 300, showing us Themistocles and the Athenian navy as they fight the Persian navy, led by a Greek woman named Artemisia. I enjoy the bizarre fantasy movie take on history, but was I supposed to root for the Persians? It's just that Eva Green is so incredibly good in this movie. She gives this riveting, gonzo performance as a woman fueled by revenge who will fight and kill anyone she feels like in order to get it. The Greeks--typically in any movie ever--are freaking boring and have interchangeable personalities. In 300, Gerard Butler at least had a sense of humor; he didn't play it staid and serious, he played it for the fun, fattening corn that it was. The guy playing Themistocles is the exact opposite, creating a real personality vacuum at the film's ostensible center. This one doesn't hit the pulpy highs you want it to, but if you like over-the-top action flicks, Eva Green is a reason to see this once. **1/2

DJANGO (1966)
Can't believe I've never seen this before. Great spaghetti western with Franco Nero as an ex-Union soldier who walks into a border town dragging a coffin behind him, and walks down a path of revenge. Exactly the kind of rough, pulpy flick I wish more people did well. The equivalent of a beautiful war poem written on the back of a crumpled napkin. ***1/2

I KNOW THAT VOICE (2013)
Nice documentary about voice actors. I have always loved hearing voice actors talk about what their work is like and how they discover the voices of characters. That kind of thing is endlessly fascinating to me, and it's nice to see them highlighted in this documentary produced by John DiMaggio. ***

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES (2013)
I've established in the past that I like these movies. This was sort of a spin-off but tied into the original in a very surprising way. Some great twists, and definitely a change in mood. The best thing you can say about a horror film, I think, is that it's effective, and this certainly was. ***1/2

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