Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fall Film Round Up #3

And finally, the last (well, almost) Fall round up post, this one featuring films that stand out - I cam't quite say they are the best, even the most important, even from an auteurist point of view (Ira Sachs seems to me to be a far more interesting filmmaker than the Wachowskis or Tom Tykwer, even at their best) - but they are the most interesting to gas about. (The "almost" up there refers to mostly to Lincoln, a very big film by any standards, which I have yet to write about. It is well worth gassing about, all the more so since it fits into my ongoing Civil War obsessions - so I am leaving it until I can work up something much more substantial. Maybe until I have seen Django Unchained, since there might be some thematic overlap there.... And of course, films are still coming out, including what might now be the best non-Anderson film of the year, Barbara - I have to think some more about that... I may never catchup...)

Killing them Softly - 12/15 - Andrew Dominick, director of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has come back with another artsy take on American tough guys and genre pictures, this one about small time gangsters in the Boston environs... A card game gets knockled over - masterminded (if that's the word, and it probably shouldn't be) by a dry cleaner, handled by 2 schmucks - the point being that the guy running the game did it before and bragged and everyone will think he is doing it again. So Brad Pitt comes in to clean things up, meeting with Richard Jenkins in a car under a bridge - Cogan (that's Pitt) says they have to kill them all, Liotta's character included; the bosses are waffling... The schmucks talk, as schmucks will - so Pitt goes for the drycleaner and the schmucks as well. James Galdolfini comes in because Cogan knows the dry cleaner - but he ain't what he used to be... So, you know... The novel (George V. Higgins) was written and set in the low-70s; this is set in 2008, with the financial meltdown and bailout, and the election, playing in the background - this is mainly for the audio, though; the film looks like 1973, not 2008, and the time shift doesn't make much difference to the story. Mostly, the political soundtrack provides a comical counterpoint to the lowlifes in the film - the lowlifes, I suppose, providing a comical counterpoint to the grand politics as well. As serious political commentary - well, it's a bit too on the nose. But that's all right. It's a tight, nifty little film, mostly talk, but such talk - with a creeping sense of dread and inevitability to it all. As short and efficient as the Jesse James film was long and languorous... very nice work.

Holy Motors - 10/15 - Return of Leos Carax, starring the very magnificent Denis Lavant. Mordant, funny, surreal, strange film... There's a prelude in a movie theater, with ancient films, audiences reacting to sounds (like Shirin), then Carax himself wakes up in a room, and uses a key in place of a finger to go into the theater, where it all changes. Lavant as many people - Oscar, a banker who leaves his house, talks about bodyguards and guns, etc - then has appointments: 1) as an old lady beggar; 2) in a body motion suit, pretending to fight, run, and fuck a woman in a suit; 3) "Merde" from Tokyo!, who bites the fingers off an american photographer's assistant, kidnaps Eva Mendes, turns her gown into a burka, then strips and cuddles in her lap (with a very large very erect penis). 4) picks up a mopey teenager at a party and drives her home.... Then there is an EntreActe where he leads a mob of accordian players around a church... 5) he kills a doppelganger in a warehouse, and is stabbed while trying to turn the other man into himself; 6) he kills the banker from the beginning in a cafe; 7) he plays an old man dying, and hopes to meet the girl playing his niece again, 8) (maybe - hard to say if this is meant to be an "appointment" or a chance meeting) - meets an old flame, who is his reverse - a woman, driven by - Lavant - playing parts... or 8) he dresses as a working class man, goes home to his family in a development - chimps... then - the driver returns the car and leaves and the cars talk to themselves like the Waltons. All this seems to amount to something about the end of the movies - characters pop up like in Cosmopolis to talk to our man in his limo, usually about movies, acting, identity, I guess - notably Michel Piccoli... Movies, acting, identity, image - it's all in there. I can't say it all adds up to much - but it is quite clever and amusing as it goes along. And lovely looking - though what's with all the big C's?

Cloud Atlas - 10/15 - The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer team up to make a big strange sprawling thing, that seems to have bombed completely in the theaters. Convoluted structure (sort of) - 6 stories, intertwined: 1849: a Maori slave stows away on a ship and is helped by a lawyer who is being murdered by Tom Hanks... 1936: a homosexual is chased out of Cambridge, goes to Scotland to help a composer write, does so, but ends badly, shoots the man, finishes his piece and kills himself... 1973: a blaxpoitation film manque - Halle Berry as a reporter, tracking down a series of murders, a nuclear scandal... 2012: Jim Broadbent as an editor who gets rich when his writer kills a critic, but he spends it all, and the writer's gangster pals come collecting, so he runs - he is put in an old folks home by his brother, though it turns out to be a prison - he and some other old timers run away, and he finds happiness... 2144: neo-Seoul, a fabricant (artificially built person) gets a soul, is rescued by a hero, gives a speech, tells her story and dies... 2321: civilization is gone - an advanced woman meets a primitive man, he guides her to an old observatory and they send a signal to the stars; meanwhile, his village is attacked, but they save each other and a child - etc...

All this is very clever, but a bit underwhelming. When it came out, there were some claims that it was confusing, but I can't see why - the stories are intercut, but they are all internally linear, and even with the same actors in all the sections, there isn't much attempt to throw anyone off. Everything makes perfect sense, really - and more, it is all tied together with gimmicky hooks - the cloud atlas sextet, a musical number; a tattoo; the way characters connect across the sections, etc. It does some interesting things with actors - as the same people appear in all the stories - crossing race, gender, age, and so on in different stories... The stories themselves, though, are pretty standard issue stuff. They're all about freedom and the like - love, sacrifice, sentimentality, with a dollop of goofball Buddhism thrown in. Even more disappointing, the film doesn't really do much with the genre possibilities at its disposal - all the sections are recognizable film genres (except maybe the 2012 one, though the comical-shenanigans-of-old-Englishmen type is not unknown), but only the 2144 one really uses the possibilities. This is especially noticeable in the 1973 section - it's got all the makings, the 70s paranoia plot, the blaxpoitation references - and there's almost nothing made of it. Hardly a zoom to be seen! The result is that you get the cliches, but you don't get the pleasures of the in jokes (except maybe in the 2144 one, though event hat is pretty bland) - in the end - the 2012 episode is the only one that really seems remotely fresh. In fact - it is quite good, and not like much of anything else. A lot of that is down to Jim Broadbent, who is just great - but the story is far more satisfying than anything else. Though the film deserved better than it got - all these complaints aside, it was an enjoyable enough affair, with some nice work. Just, nothing special.

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