Monday, June 13, 2005

Some of What I've Lately Seen

This is kind of a boring post - just some quick notes on recent films:

Howl's Moving Castle is the new Hayao Miyazaki film. A girl working at a hat shop runs into a charming wizard, then runs afoul the "witch of the wastes" who turns her into an old woman. But she's a tough and resourceful old woman, and she sets out on her own, soon hooking up with Howl and his movie castle... Meanwhile, Howl is wanted by both sides of a war, and complications multiply, with somewhat diminishing dramatic impact. It is a gorgeous film, full of Miyazaki's wonderfully detailed art and machines and places, but the story bogs down - it's getting some bad reviews (See Roger Ebert, for example - a major Miyazaki booster in the past) - what he says - that fans will have to see it just to see it, others might be better off going elsewhere - isn't far off. As a fan, I enjoyed it - but got tired of the story somewhere in the middle. The art, though, holds your interest...

The Girl From Monday is a new Hal Hartley film. It's set in the near future, after the revolution - when a company called 3M took over the government, and learned to commodify sex and desire. Bill Sage stars as a declining adman (he came up with the idea for selling sexual desirability, but hasn't come up with anything new since) who happens to be running a counter-revolution at the same time. Somewhere in here, a woman from another planet - somewhere near the star system Monday - walks out of the ocean and he takes her home and teaches her to live on earth. Meanwhile, one of his colleagues has sex for pleasure and is arrested and sentenced to 2 years hard labor teaching high school. It's somewhat in the style of Book of Life - similar science fiction/end of the world/religious parable material, similar grainy video look, overtly arty photography. I don't like it as much - I love book of life, the way it looks, the performances (Thomas Jay Ryan as the devil!), the lighter touch - Polly Jean Harvey singing "To Sir WIth Love"... The new film is okay, it's clever enough, looks great )especially early), but tends to drag a bit.

Tell Them Who You Are - Mark Wexler makes a documentary about his father, the cinematographer, Haskell Wexler. Haskell is a great character for a film - a great artist, a smart, somewhat dominating presence, a political radical - Mark approaches him with some trepidation. The film covers Wexler's career and life, but it is mostly about the relationship of father and son. It is a difficult relationship - they have a difficult past, and they squabble and nag throughout the film as well - though a good deal of affection comes across. The complexity of their relationship is well conveyed.

Crash - this has garnered many a rave (here's Ebert giving it 4 stars), for reasons that I don't want to speculate about. (I'll let David Edelstein speculate I don't get it. The truth is, this is a pretty awful film. It's a string of cliches and ripoffs from better films - Magnolia and Short Cuts and Grand Canyon, and Do the Right Thing, and 21 Grams and Pulp Fiction and every fucking film where a cop has a gangbanger brother - make it fucking stop! The actors are good enough, but the dialogue is ludicris [oh! a pun!] and - damn - I had a bunch of neat Tom Servo and Crow style wisecracks stored up during the film - I've forgotten them all! Wait - Sandra Bullock is on the phone - "why am I angry all the time?" she whines to her friend, who immediately hangs up - oh, to have shouted out, "because you're in a bad film! watch your step on the stairs there - oh! too late!" Yikes... Perhaps I am overreacting - could I be? I doubt it. It's the kind of film where an insurance company can deny a claim on the spot with one phone call to an interested party - insurance companies may indeed be tool of satan, but if it were that easy, what would all the lawyers live on? It's the kind of film where a road can be deserted in the middle of the night and then full of traffic - later that same night. It's the kind of film that makes you think the entire population of LA is about 20. It's the kind of film where not every black person is a crack addict or criminal - but someone in their immediate family is! Somehow, its inanity has been mistaken for a serious meditation on race - it's inexplicable, and we mustn't let ourselves be fooled. Paul Haggis is riding high with this and Million Dollar Baby, but both of these scripts are seriously bad - cliched, hackneyed, sentimental, unbelievable. (To Counter Ebert - here's Slate's David Edelstein. That's more like it.)

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