Sunday, July 31, 2005

Movies Weekly

I may have missed the Friday Random ten (I was at Fenway, booing Manny*), but I can make my weekly movie post, I hope. Thisweek brings us a couple new films, a couple DVDs, and a gift from TMC...

5x2 - *** - moment to moment, shot by shot, Francois Ozon is one of the best directors in the world. He's not necessarily showy (though sometimes he is), but he makes everything he does seem right. This is the story of a marriage, told in reverse, from divorce to first attraction, in five discreet episodes. Critics have sniffed at the structure, and maybe they have a point - but it serves a couple purposes that can't quite be gainsaid: it keeps you from investing in the suspense of what will happen - you know what will happen - so you don't think about how it will turn out; because of this knowledge, Ozon is free to concentrate on the incidents in their isolation - and on those moment to moment, shot to shot details. And, it allows Ozon to pose other couples against the main pair, in a more interesting way than if he had told the story chronologically. This strikes me as more important than most of the reviews I've seen notice - that each section (except the first) brings on a different couple, who pose a kind of alternative to them.... I don't know if this is enough to make it really work - except that it does work, at least it kept me completely engrossed, in the fate of a pair of people who aren't really worth the trouble.

Wedding Crashers -*** - there seems to be a wide range of opinions about this, critics (kind of) hating it, loving it, everything in between: I'll have to come down on the liking end of the scale. It's funny; Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are both in great form... the story? it's got a couple wild boys settling down because of women - oldest plot in the book - except, the women here aren't exactly all that settling. True love, here, is finding someone who wants to join you in doing what you want to do anyway...

The Merry Widow - **** - Ernst Lubitsch directs Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald - plus the requisite second bananas - Edward Everett Horton, Sterling Holloway, etc. - in a classic Viennese musical comedy. And who can resist? And what would possess anyone to resist?

42nd Street - **** - I see that look - yes, yes, more Berkeley. This one's on DVD so I can take another look... I've finally gotten around to reading Rick Altman (all that Berkeley adulation back in May and June was the start, not the end...), and am looking at 42nd Street in his terms. It's interesting - some of the elements he stresses are in full swing here (the modulation from real to ideal, the "audio dissolve") - others, such as the formation of the couple, are less clear. It would be interesting to spend some time on this film, in that context - I may, but not tonight. I will limit myself to this - the duality of work and art (real/ideal, inside the machine/above the machine, etc.) - the way the backstage part of the film builds toward the explosion of the Berkeley numbers, which themselves repeat the pattern, building from the stage possible to pure cinema - and maintaining the "real" (the real stage, I mean - the painted backgrounds in the 42nd Stret number, for instance) and the "ideal" (here, the illusionism of the cinema - the creation of depth and cinematic space during the number.) Etc. It is a glory of a film....

Showgirls - 0/inc. - ah. So lately I have been trying to track down crappy movies, and see if they really are crappy. This is an obvious candidate for that. Well - unfortunately, the DVD did not cooperate - giving up the ghost somewhere around the 52 minute mark. So now what? Is it fair to praise or trash it without seeing the rest? No, probably not - thus the "incomplete". But do I expect the rest of the film to change the impression of the first half? Not really. The odd thing is, it's actually rather difficult to attack it. Film Quarterly, for example, ran a roundtable discussion of it a couple issues back - the contributors ran off the predictable litany of its virtues - it is camp, it is satire, it comments, fairly meaningfully, on gender, race, class, sex, performance, drag, genre, movies, Las Vegas, etc., it establishes visual motifs of the double, the mirror, the whole nine yards. Al that is true - that stuff is all there. And it's probably supposed to be there a good deal of the style, feel, structure - good bad or indifferent - are pretty clearly intentional. So - why isn't it a neglected, misunderstood masterpiece? Well - partly because all of those things, whether they're in the film or not, are more interesting to talk about than to watch. They are in the film - usually in a bland, literal, calculated way - which it parodies, ironically.... The terrible sense one gets, in the end, is that Showgirls is to, oh, 42nd Street, what Creed is to The Ramones. Yeah - Creed is a rock group - look! they have a guitar player, he's got a leather jacket, they have a long haired singer, they sig songs! - it's rock, right? But it's just - just - just -

Zabriskie Point - ***1/2 - meanwhile: here's Antonioni trying to do a hippy flick. It's interesting, if never quite functional. Has some great shots of LA at the beginning - industrial wastelands, billboards, freeways... then heads out into the desert, where the boy and girl Antonioni has been somewhat aimlessly following meet. They go into the desert and flirt, and when the sex starts, Antonioni stages a very strange mass orgy in the dust - which now strikes me as a distant homage to The Merry Widow (or film like it) - in the Lubitsch film, there is a montage toward the end of Chevalier and MacDonald dancing - they dance alone in a room, then are joined by hundreds of dancers - Lubitsch cuts to another room, they dance alone, then hundreds of dancers come in - repeated a couple more ties... The Antonioni has the same effect - though it's silly rather than exhilarating. What is exhilarating, though, is the ending - ah, the redemptions of imaginary violence and Pink Floyd!

*I didn't boo Manny! the crowd did, and I don't blame them - but hey - he gets a big hit (like he did today), and all is forgiven.

1 comment:

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