Saturday, June 26, 2010

Some Film Reviews

I haven't actually been to any movies (or watched any, for that matter) since the World Cup began - it's been a bit of a soggy patch for new releases, and that's made it easy to ignore films in favor of soccer. The World Cup only happens every 4 years, after all - and it is such a magnificent spectacle, it's hard to take your eyes away. So this post rounds up films I saw a few weeks ago, and has been sitting in draft ever since - that has more to do with a couple events (a niece's graduation, notably) taking up time than the cup, but still... There were some good ones in this batch, so I want to get it posted eventually...

Metropolis - the restored version: 15/15 - No doubt about it, this is an event. I don't know if it is because of the quality of the print, or the new footage, but it is like seeing a different film. The new footage is important - some of it is added plot - the "Thin Man", following Freder and his associates around town - more details about Georgy (the worker Freder trades places with) and Josephat (Joh's fired assistant) - etc... Though most of the additions seem to be adding shots to familiar sequences. These shots, maybe even more than the added plot elements, give the film a brand new feeling - and, frankly, make it seem more like a Fritz Lang film. A couple sequences in particular - Freder and Maria's rescue of the children, and the mob chasing the "witch" through the city - really illustrate this. Both are a good deal longer - both are much more detailed and intricate. The rescue gains a sequence trying to break through a grate that threatens to doom them at the last moment (a la Harry Lime) - the mob scene gains a number of shots, that show more of the geography of the city, and clarify the relationship between the two Marias (real and robot) and the mob. Bbut more than making more sense, the two esquences have a much better rhythm - Lang is a master of rhythm, of alternating slow and fast passages and shots, action and pause - he's a master of building tension and releasing it... that's missing in the versions of Metropolis I remember (and confirmed by glancing at my 10 year old DVD). Those sequences are dashed off in the old version - they lack sense (it's not clear at all that the mob is chasing the real Maria when they catch the robot, say), and the rhythm is direct and fairly monotonous. Everything is cut, action to action to action - all movement and violence, unfolded without pause. The new version is much more Langian - the action is varied - there are shots full of movement and shots of stillness, tension - literally, the movement of the children in the rescue and the mob in the chase is blocked - there are obstacles (the grate) - people in motion run into walls... Throughout these sequences, and many others, the new footage builds tension - creates multiple threads of action, retards the action before releasing it, and so on. I would say - for the first time, this film looked and felt like a truly great film - not just an iconic film, full of wild ambition and great imagery. For all that, in the past, I think I always felt a bit distanced from it - as iconic as its imagery and ideas were, the film felt dated. But the full version feels anything but dated - it is as thrilling and powerful as M or the Mabuse films - it's just bloody great.

Air Doll: 10/15 - Kore-Eda's little mermaid update - a sex doll comes to life, lives, suffers... It starts well, but it seems to run out of ideas. The Air Doll comes to life, wanders around Tokyo, takes a job at a video store, etc. - her adventures are intercut with snippets from the people around her - her owner, a clerk at the store and the store's manager, a drunk girl next door, some kind of kid, an old woman who seems to want to be arrested, a cop looking for bad cop movies, and old man on a bench, a father and daughter.... We get the usual array of living doll/robot/fairy princess imagery, but at first it's quite intriguing, in its low key meander through the streets, and its not-that-subtle intimations of sex slavery and the immigrant experience. (It's a Korean woman, after all, playing this doll - her experience is not unlike someone brought here, without knowing the language, dependent on a man, etc.) There are hints of similar alienation in the other characters - her owner is from Osaka, and she is mocked for speaking with an Osaka accent, for example - though most of the alienation turns out to be less literal, just loneliness and isolation. (That is, it blunts its potential political edge.) In the end, it never really builds - the second half tends to slide into cliches, competing cliches - will she be redeemed? will she be destroyed? will someone innocent suffer? It fades; Kore-Eda is a superb director, but this story loses its way and goes to nothing.

Harlan: In the Shadow of Jud Suss: 10/15 -fascinating documentary about the family of Veit Harlan, director of Jud Suss, dealing with the repurcussions of his activities in the war, especially that film. Or I should say - dealing with the lack of repercussions. The conscience of the film, and family, is Veit's son Thomas Harlan - who made a life of trying to take the responsibility for his father's act of enormity... Meanwhile the rest of the family seems to grasp the evil of the film, but still tend to make excuses - and claim that they are not to blame, that they too suffered - though it is to the point that they did not suffer in any way comparably to the way Jews suffered, to some extent because of the film. One of the women in the film talks about her grandparents - Harlan on one side; on the other, a Jewish couple who were murdered in Russia. The film addresses these issues quite well - through the experience of this family.

Network: 10/15 - Howard Beale is fired, and goes mad on the air, first promising suicide, then trying to apologize, but saying he couldn't take the bulshit anymore. This is a hit so he is allowed to rant - at first, things go nowhere special, then he has a real crack up and starts talking about visions - and finally turns up in his PJs and gives the mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore speech. Success! WIth Faye Dunaway as a cynical programmer, William Holden as an old time news producer who makes moralizing speeches but is as selfish and amoral as anyone, Robert Duvall as a company man, and Ned Beatty as the big boss, who steals the movie with a speech about money. There's a subplot about terrorists as entertainment, that ends the film. Overall, it's basically Meet John Doe with the roles redistributed a bit, and in general, simpler and more paranoid. (Rather obvious parallels - from the promised suicide to a confrontation at a long table to the girl reporter to the John Doe clubs...) Money and information has replaced power politics as the goal and means, though. Still, it's a bit too simplistic, and not too convincing in its implication that TV is the devil, especially considering that Lang and Capra were doing this stuff in the 20s and 30s - the ballyhoo boys...

Casino Jack and the United States of Money: 10/15 - basic documentary about Jack Abramoff, the super lobbyist, right wing freak, and con man. Though the most disturbing thing is how the confidence schemes are indistinguishable from the legal lobbying. All of it is deeply immoral and corrupt. Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Edward Arnold and Ned Beatty would feel right at home.

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