Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer Film Updates

Another film roundup post. I haven't seen so many films this summer - it's been a busy one (not in a good way), and film watching - not to mention writing - has gone by the wayside. So - rather like the last time I did this - these will be quick hits. New films in theaters...

Keyhole - 10/15 - the joys of Guy Maddin - archaic looking surrealism, this time in an old house. While enjoyable in every way, I did find this one to be a bit routine - well - routine for Maddin. He's still one of my favorite filmmakers, so I'm hardly complaining.

Safety Not Guaranteed - 9/15 - this is one I wanted to write up at more length, but never got around to it... It's more interesting than good, I'm afraid, a bit frustrating. It starts very well, looking like something worth seeing - head on shots and 180 degree cuts and 90 degree angles and fairly precise timing. The opening builds a quick, deft and amusing characterization (or Aubrey Plaza's character), before shifting to the story. The story starts with similar edge and some funny bits, but loses its way, becoming more and more predictable, routine and watery - and looks more standard indie as it continues. Story of a writer and 2 interns tracking down a guy who advertises for a partner on a time travel mission - one of the interns (Plaza) wins the guy's trust, etc. The film gives you enough moments along the way to stay enjoyable, but it's not enough - the metaphors are heavy handed (everyone's after their lost youth - or represents someone else's lost youth), and the ending struck me as a lazy shift from the fantastic to the marvelous - and all of it stops looking like anything special after the first 10 or 15 minutes.

Your Sister's Sister - 10/15 - yet another low-budget looking indie (maybe even mumblecore!), starring - just like Safety Not Guaranteed! - the acting Duplass... This one is about a guy whose brother just died - his best friend (Emily Blunt) used to be the dead brother's lover, and the two of them pretty obviously are repressing a good deal of sexual tension... he's a mess, she sends him off to her father's cabin on some remote island to get his head together - where he runs into her lesbian sister. A bottle of tequila and a good deal of talk later, they are in bed, but in the morning sis turns up. Etc. All this is nicely done in the middle, the three actors playing off one another - but once the plot and its issues are properly established (lesbian sister wants a baby, rubber breaks, Duplass and Blunt characters love one another), the film resorts to a good deal of handwaving and montage sequences to pull off its ending. It's not bad though - the actors are sharp, the writing (however they arrived at the script - whatever parts were improvised or not) is pretty good... (Interestingly - the dialogue and interactions among the characters are the best elements - the structure seems a bit off.) Lynn Shelton's direction is fine - nothing special, but she chooses shots well and it all looks pretty good. A fine middle of the road indie film, I guess. I have to add that it bugged me, because it is another of those films where no one seems to have to think about money - doesn't anyone have a job in American films? a job they can't decide to ditch on a whim, like Blunt's character does? jeez...

To Rome With Love - 6/15 - I have to go back to my every seven years thing with Woody. Midnight in Paris was a fluke. This has 4 stories set in Rome - only one of which is worth a minute of your time, despite the superb cast in all four of them. Typical late Allen - bland looking, not all that funny, the jokes telegraphed and flat, a bunch of derivative stories - lame sex farce; lame Borgesian self-reflection, lame self-pity about the poor celebrity - and the one good joke, an opera singer who can only sing in the shower - so an impresario (the Woodster himself) put him onstage singing Pagliacci in the shower.

Beasts of the Southern Wild - 11/15 - a film I should give more attention to, but... it is a lovely film, set in southern Louisiana. A storm floods a town, the people try to cope - we see it through the eyes of a little girl, whose father is sick and whose mother is a memory... It is a bit twee at times, but more often wonderful - beautiful and clever and engaging.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai - 11/15 - Takashi Miike's surprisingly restrained remake of the Kobayashi film, starring a famous Kabuki actor in Tatsuya Nakadai's role. Basically the same story, told the same way - starts with the Samurai asking to kill himself in the house of Ii, sparking flashbacks to the last ronin to try it, from a couple perspectives. All of it is quite tasteful by Miike's standards, even with the bamboo sword suicide - and the second flashback devolves into plain melodrama, not the best either. It plays more like Yoji Yamada (in period samurai mode) than either Miike or Kobayashi. It's maybe a bit better looking, more painterly - a kind of murky smudged quality, that admittedly might be a result of the 3D, or maybe the digital production... The look has an odd affect, for it is both a bit disappointing, and very beautiful. Which I suppose is true of the film as a whole. All this plays less politically than the original - there's nothing about the record, erasing his exploits - and I think the ending is different - I don't think Nakudai used a bamboo sword. That change makes his death even more absurd and meaningless. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is too flat and polite to satisfy.

Brave - 10/15 - lovely film, but slight - a scottish princess with flaming red hair, a tom boy, raised by her mother to be a lady, but raised by herself as an archer. Time comes to marry - the clans gather and she chooses archery as their contest - since she too is the first born of a clan. She wins, causing trouble - but then the film swerves away from to something else, when she buys a spell to make her mother change. Those things never go well. Still, it works out in the end, though I think the magic plot is less interesting than what was promised when she won the contest. Oh well. Still, a very handsome production, with all of Pixar's usual virtues except a superior story and script.

The Campaign - 10/15 - a political farce pitting Will Farrell against Zach Galifianakis in a campaign for a North Carolina legislative seat. It takes the shotgun approach, blasting jokes about more or less everything that is wrong with American politics today, from sex scandals and attack ads to Citizens United and outsourcing to "hunting accidents" and owning the right kind of dog... In the end, of course, the winner Does The Right Thing, and the evil-doers are punished, which reminds you that it is a work of fiction. Not the deepest political satire you will ever see, but consistently funny and often clever, and that's a good start.

Dark Horse - 7/15 - new Todd Solondz film that somehow tricked me into the theater. I suppose because it looks like another Unlovable Loser Redeemed by X [here, X seems to be: the love of a woman more pathetic than himself] film - and I figured, that is a genre in need of some abuse and if anyone is going to be able to abuse it amusingly, it might be Solondz. Alas - he is not so clever. His idea of subverting the redemption of the unlovable loser story is to just invert it - unlovable loser ruined. It is true that the kinds of happy endings attached to these films are forced and unbelievable - but this kind of unhappy ending is equally forced and unbelievable. It's basically a one joke joke - perfect for Dinkle the Unlovable Loser, but not exactly suited to a feature film. Though to his credit, Solondz gets in and out of it in a hurry - under 90 minutes, I think. Heck, its almost as if he got to the third act, where the unlovable loser was finally going to be redeemed, and decided, fuck this, and killed him off. I think it might have been easier not to start in the first place. Though that would cost us some neat Christopher Walken moments.

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