Friday, October 08, 2010

September Films Roundup

Here are a month of films seen in the theater (less A Film Unfinished, which I couldn't stop writing about in a paragraph...)

Room in Rome (9/15) - latest film from Julio Medem, who I really like, and don't quite understand why he doesn't have a bigger following, and better distribution. Though this is not the film to see to make the case for that praise. It is a chamber piece - literally - the title is accurate - a room in Rome - one of those films, 2 people in a room, talking, etc.... Here, the people are two women, a Spaniard and a Russian, both due to fly home the next day - they have met and had a couple drinks and the film starts with the Spanish woman begging the Russian to come up to her room, for obvious reasons... we se this from above, from the window, it turns out - they pull in opposite directions for a while, then they come up to the room.... And - what? talk, flirt, the Russian undresses, then the Spaniard, they start making out, but the Spanish woman falls asleep and the Russian leaves - except she's left her phone. She comes back and they talk some more and, etc. They fuck. Then they start talking - telling tales - and here, we move into Medem's territory, as they tell rather tall tales - a sex slave in Saudi Arabia? a tennis star? movie actress? renaissance scholar? all this plays off the decor, big paintings or Greece and Rome, and Cupid... the stories get deeper, maybe more true or at least more believable, and maybe they fall in love. That's what generally happens in these films. As it happens, the women stay naked through most of the film, have sex what? 1, 2, 3, 4 times? send mixed messages to the waiter, spy on one another on Bing, and such - in the end? they don't want to stop, but... end up on the street, pulling apart like at the beginning... I don't know. It almost gets past the mix of soft-core soap opera and Richard Linklater it threatens to be, but not quite.... Still - Medem is too good not to keep things intereting.

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (10/15) - an odd project, Zhang Yimou remaking Blood Simple - though played more like Raising Arizona, to be honest - a cartoon version of the blood simple story. Slight, but effective - a very simple story, an old tyrant with a pretty feisty young wife who has a weakling lover, a pair of clowns (a bucktoothed noodle maker and his peasant girl co-worker), and one outsider - a cold eyed cop... The woman buys a gun, the cop reveals her adultury and the tyrant hires him to kill them - as in the Coen's film, he doesn't - he is after the big score, and kills the boss and tries to rob the safe - but he can't open it - and keeps getting interrupted when he tries. Meanwhile the lover finds the boss' body and buries him, though I'm sure everyone has seen Blood SImple by now... It plays out fast and efficiently, returning now and again to the Coen brothers for scenes straight from their film - though not all is like that. Overall, though it is a somewhat pointless seeming film (rather like the Coen Brothers' remake of the Lady Killers - amusing enough on its own, but why bother?), but very easy to look at - strange and fantastic looking, Zhang's usual hyperbolic aestheticization in full flower...

Catfish (10/15) - possibly a documentary. The story - a photographer in NYC gets email from a kid in Michigan who has painted one of his photographs. Soon he is corresponding with her, mostly on facebook, though some real world stuff - shipping packages of paintings, etc. Through the kid, he starts communicating with her family - mother, and sister, who turns out to be 19, beautiful, long haired, a musician and dancer or some such... Before long, he and she are talking on the phone, carrying on a kind of affair by proxy, complete with sexy talk/text.... Well - she posts songs she's recorded, and our hero employs google and discovers something very interesting - that she's copying her songs from youtube videos. Well then - a bit more investigation, and most of the story starts to come apart - so they head out to Middle of Nowhere Michigan to learn the Truth. Which turns out to be - something rather unexpected. It's not the exposure of the facebook fakery that matters so much as what emerges instead.

It's not quite possible to talk about it without giving away the story, so I'm not going to pretent - if SPOILERS matter, try to skip this paragraph... The film itself is a pedestrian affair - though that's a quality of the way its made - shot on the fly, on cheap cameras, it's video, all the way. What invention there is (in the film) is in the editing - the film makers do make good use of computer screens, pixels, apps and web sites and modern technology - facebook and google and GPS and the like. (It shares this, actually, with the very very slick Room in Rome, which also plays a lot with satellite imagery, map sites, etc...) What makes the film is the story. The woman behind the facebook crew - Angela, a 40ish housewife with a husband, daughter, 2 retarded stepsons - proves to be a fascinating character, and a rather imaginative artist. She's got a new medium, I think - she invents a host of characters, enough for a novel, enough to draw Nev in - if this is real (an open question), it makes you wonder who else she drew in? if you inject this kind of fiction into the real world - and Facebook, like it or not, is the real world - what kinds of effects can it have? Now true - it might all be fiction - but it still works as a story, and this is a very effective way of telling the story. It raises interesting points of course - if the film is true, then she made up a bunch of people and stories, and played them out as if they were real, on the internet. If the film is not real, if it is fiction - then the film makers are doing exactly what they show her doing... Either way - you get a fascinating examination of imagination, play acting your life and so on... It's fascinating and quite enjoyable - and Angela, whether character or author - is a truly great character...

The American (9/15) - stylish artsy mopey killer film... George Clooney as a hit man of some kind, who starts banging a girl in Sweden, is almost killed, goes to Rome to meet a friend, hides out, gets a job (building a gun for a mysterious woman), and deals with a guy with blond hair and a whore with a heart of gold. Not much happens in a beautiful place (making this almost a remake of Limits of Control - as Jim Emerson notes), then he delivers the gun, the woman tries to kill him, but he has anticipated it, and the boss - but they shoot each other and he dies in the car like Sterling Hayden. (No spoilers here because, well, if any of this surprises you, you need to see more movies.) It's a lovely film, slow and existential, completely predictabe (of course he's building a gun to kill himself with - geez!), and maybe not as important as it makes out. (Though I take it, from Emerson's comments, that the general public was terribly confused and distressed, and did not appreciate it's very real beauty.) Overall - it's more Melville than Suzuki (despite a few Suzuki references - the butterfly, the rival assassins), which is probably the main reason Jarmusch's version is that much better - Limits of Control was at least as much Suzuki as Melville (with a dose of Costa in there too...) I like Melville, but I love Suzuki.

Machete (9/15) - silly mexploitation film, full of overdone pseudo political references, plenty of ultraviolence, tis and ass - Machete is a federale in Mexico, attacks a gangster named Torres, double crossed rescuing a girl, his family killed, and blown up - though he ain't dead. He's in Texas three years later doing yard work. He's offered a job killing an evil senator - but that's a double cross - but he's Machete, and escapes. Soon all the bad guys are looking for him, while the women are trying to help him, in more ways than one (It's a mystery he can still walk, given the amount of tail he gets in the course of the film.) Meanwhile, everyone shoots at everyone else. It's all a series of gags and set pieces, but all of it quite entertaining, on a couple levels. You get assassination - an escape from a hospital - an escape from a house - a priest (Cheech) fighting off a gang of villains - all the ladies naked, including Lindsey Lohan - Danny Trejo, cool as shit, DeNiro and Jeff Fahey and Steven Seagal and Don Johnson trying to out villain each other - a huge shootout at the end.... What are you gonna do? a guiltless guilty pleasure...

And - wrap it up with another documentary - Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (10/15). It's nothing special as a doc, but a strong, clear telling of Basquiat's story, making the case for his art, partly by showing it. There is a nice selection of footage of Basquiat, which is sharply edited, musically edited. I think it does make a good case for his art, too - looking at Basquiat, now, he really does look like what they thought he was - his paintings grab you, visually - they are so strong, so arresting - and then they hold you, intellectually, with their references and structure, the blend of text and image, color, design, their relentless intertextuality, their relentless multiplicity. He was the real deal, I think, despite the myth. The problem, of course, is that he died after the first flush of success - he never turned the corner from flashy, brilliant work, to sustaining a mature, inteligent style. The biggest problem with the film, as history anyway, is missing this - it praises him as though he were accomplished and complete, romanticizing him, letting all his fans romanticize him. It plays up the genius child destroyed by evil society, rather than the stupid carelessness and bad luck that in fact killed him. Lots of dope fiends have gotten around the corner and gone on to have real careers - lots haven't - the ones who do are not always the ones you wish would... he left a good body of work, but it's a shame he wasn't still around to do more.

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