Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Two Weeks of Movies Noted

Well - another way too long layoff here at this blog. Can't say I have much excuse for the first week, but then the cable went out over the weekend - that stunk. Though with no TV or internet over the weekend, I watched movies (and Get Smart) instead, which is good. Turning over the Netflix queue, trying anyway... So here's a roundup, bi-weekly, films seen.... Typing is not too successful just now - I have a cut finger, which is annoying me quite a bit, but I am going to grind it out...

Fish Tank: 10/15 - Andrea Arnold's follow up to Red Road... Story of Mia, a 15 year old girl living in a wretched apartment with her wretched mother and ghastly little sister; she wants to be a dancer, she fights with her friends, she tries to save a horse from a family of drifters - misery abounds. Then her mother brings home a new man - Michael Fassbender, looking gorgeous, looking like a cross between Matthew McConaghey during the week or so he was a star and a downscale Heath Ledger... Things happen - she starts hanging around one of the boys with the horse, she gets ready to audition for a club as a dancer, she flirts with the boyfriend... This, needless to say, goes badly. But for all the misery on display, it's not precisely a downer of a film - Mia is too feisty, the actress playing her is riveting, Fassbender comes off as a budding star (as he has in the other films I've seen him in) - Arnold has a good eye, and a tough minded and direct approach to the material. And - as someone said, in a review or article or post somewhere a few months ago, when it was on the festival circuit - Arnold presents an unapologetic vision of female desire in the film. Her characters ogle Fassbender, and so does the camera...

Crazy Heart: 10/15 - Jeff Bridges vehicle, and let's hope it wins him an oscar. The story is not unfamiliar - aging country star, down on his luck, drinking himself to death, meets a lady, younger and livelier, and it sort of brings him back around. But he's still a drunk and soon enough something will happen to screw things up - though the film departs from the formula somewhat in allowing people something like a happy ending. Probably most surprising - a happy ending without a couple - that you don't see so much, not in this country. The film is best served by its actors - Bridges and Duvall and Colin Farrell all turn in great work, Bridges carrying the film, the other two providing clean detailed character turns... Maggie Gyllenhaal, though gorgeous and very likable, is a bit outclassed - though her character seems a little underwritten as well. She's got a bigger role than Farrell, say, but doesn't seem to be anywhere nearly as sharply written - she's just a bit too much of a device here... Shame... You get hints in the film (Ebert mentions one, a turn of a phrase that indicates his ability) or why this younger, more together woman goes for old drunk Bad Blake - both what he offers and what kind of person she is to be drawn to him - but they aren't developed... or she doesn't sell them - I'm not sure who to blame... But overall - it's a neat little film, that twists its formulae here and there in ways that give it real juice. (Farrell's character; the separate happy endings, as it were...) And finally - it is a pretty explicit riff on Jeff Bridges' career - full of Lebowski references, to name one - the bowling alley he plays in; picking his glasses out of a trash can; the "barley pop" line ("oat soda" in Lebowski)....

A Town Called Panic: 8/15 - amusing little Belgian animation about three roommates, cowboy, Indian and horse - cowboy and indian want to buy a present for horse - order 50 bricks, but get 50 million; this ruins their house, and when they rebuild them, fish start stealing their walls - hijinks follow. Surreal and amusing, but probably better suited for TV. As an ongoing series, it's one I think I'd watch...

The Last Station: 7/15 - Polite, sometimes interesting biopic about the last days of Tolstoy, from a Jay Parini novel. Secretary arrives - a naive young man, a vegetarian (and celibate and a virgin) - he will serve the master. He will also spy on everyone for everyone. Instead he is caught in the power struggle between the countess and Tolstoy's associates. This is very one sided, as the Tolstoyans are all monsters (twirling their mustaches and stealing the poor man's copyright from his loving family) - while she is a long suffering (though somewhat histrionic) wife, etc... There is much drama, the kid gets paid, Tolstoy dies, the actors get to ham it up (with inevitable - and deserved, don't get me wrong - oscar nominations) - not much is made of the fact that it is 1910 and Russia has 7 years of this nonsense left before things get really wild... I don't know if there is much to say pro or con about the film - there do seem to be some ideas hiding in the margins (all those camera; gramophones and ticker tapes, the modern world creeping into furthermost Russia), but they seem pretty incidental; I don't see much point in the film's existence other than providing Plummer and Mirren with juicy roles - though that's not to be discounted.... Unfortunately, the most substantial reaction I had to the film was irritation at the constantly moving camera. I suppose it's par for the course in mainstream films - the camera roves and drifts round and round endlessly - but to no purpose at all. The best you can hope for is a shot that draws your attention to different objects in turn - but most of the objects turn out to be meaningless as well. All the action is in the words and the actors delivering them - but the camera won't stay still and let them do their thing - or even just follow them around... the movements are gratuitous, distracting and pointless. It makes me mad! The only time it stopped was for obvious second unit work - landscape shots, that sort of thing - and closeups in extreme shallow depth of field, where moving the camera would have put the actor's face out of focus. The only thing worse than the endless meaningless motion was when the director hit on the Utterly Unprecedented Device of shooting a Violent Argument with a wobbly handheld camera - great heavens! why has no one ever thought of doing that before? Anyway... it's pointless to complain... but reminds you rather sharply of the difference between contemporary art films (in all their shapes) and contemporary - whatever this is - prestige pictures....

As for DVDs? I had to watch the Big Lebowski again - it gets better every time, smarter, more moving, and funny as hell... a couple more Langs - Return of Frank James, which while a fine movie, seems the most generic of the Langs I've seen - a very well executed old fashioned western. It seems to have established Lang's ability to work on American genre pictures, and the ones that come after it are more individualized... like The Woman in the Window - a superb little noir, with a strange twist in the tail - that - I should save for another post to talk about - it seems to be doing a couple things at once, and it's hard to describe them without rather massive spoilage... And finally - though I can't quite force4 myself to watch it all the way through all that much, I find it awful tempting to put Inglourious Basterds in and watch scenes at random...

1 comment:

Joseph B. said...

I really admired Farrel's turn in "Crazy Heart". Its such a small part, but there's something magnetic about it... maybe the way we expect him to a collosal asshole, and he turns out to be a pretty good fellow.

And yes, I have to watch Lebowski about once every 2-3 months.