Monday, February 02, 2015

January Film Report

I have to get back into this habit - and with another big snowstorm and the city (and my office) shut down, this looks like an excellent time to try it!

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - 11/15

Extremely stylish, black and white vampire film, in Farsi. The vampire is a girl, who dances alone to 80s records in her room, then wanders the empty night city in a chador, seeking whom she may devour. The plot, as such, revolves around a cool looking young man with a junkie father and evil dealer - when the vampire kills the dealer, the boy takes him money and drugs, dresses up like dracula and goes to a party - on the way home he meets the vampire girl, and ends up at her place in love. In the end, they hit the road, with his cat, like an origin story for the vampires in Only Lovers Get Out Alive. It is all very handsome, and rather witty, though a bit thin.

Princess Kaguya - 10/15

Film by Isao Takahata, adapting an old legend - a bamboo cutter finds a baby in a bamboo stalk, takes her home and raises her - she grows supernaturally fast, and when money appears in the bamboo, he concludes they are meant to move to Kyoto and make her a princess. They do, and everyone is miserable about it. In the end, she remembers she comes from the moon, and must go back, though she doesn't want to. This leads to a fair amount of hopeless nostalgia and regret, until Buddha and his court come down from the moon to take her away. It is all a very beautiful film, funny in places, and moving, and sad, and probably a bit too long.

Inherent Vice - 12/15

Now we hit some of the highly anticipated releases of the new year - holdovers from last year - Oscar Bait! Though this one seems to have been left out. PT Anderson directs Joaquin Phoenix in a Pynchon adaptation - a shaggy dog detective story, drawn from the tradition of the long goodbye, the rockford files, philip k dick, the big lebowski, chinatown, and miscellaneous other things that might occur to you. We have Doc Sportello, a stoner PI whose former old lady somes by with a story about a kidnapping scheme against her current sugar daddy a real estate mogul who has become an acid head; the next day Doc gets a case from a black ex con looking for an ayryan brother ex con who works for Wolfmann (the sugar daddy); Doc visits and gets whacked on the head and accused of a murder, and Wolfmann's kidnapping. After this he gets a case from a woman looking for her husband who was supposed to be dead but someone deposited a lot of money in her bank account. He visits Wolfmann's wife; he visits his DA girlfriend; he is questioned by the FBI. That sets it up - from there on, the film is a series of absurdist situations that seem like classic detective story set ups but don't quite come off. There's something called the golden fang, that might be a boat, might be a drug smuggling cartel, might be a group of dentists doing coke and fucking their receptionists and dodging taxes. People come and go, die, disappear and reappear and in the end, he engages in some not-quite-unbelievable heroics, and then does something selfless, and Shasta Fay comes back. There might be a complicated scheme in there involving the FBI and Las Vegas, but Anderson whips past that in a hurry. The whole is confusing as heck but consistently amusing and clever - it ends up feeling like finding some channel showing a whole season of some detective show with a lose overall plot, that you keep clicking back to during commercials of the red sox game, so you ed up seeing it in unconnected 5 minute chunks. It's a really good show, though - sometime, you should sit down and watch it straight through! (Actually - it felt a lot like the episode of the Rockford Files that was playing at a laundromat I was at a couple days before Christmas. Playing commercial free, but I was coming and going, and doing laundry, and couldn't hear over the machines, and was reading a book while I waited anyway. Stray bikers and ex-cons and rich guys and land deals and cars screeching around corners and attempted murder and cops and lawyers, all blended together coming and going and cracking wise. Probably, on balance, more satisfying this way that actually watching the whole episode straight through.)

Mr Turner - 12/15

Mike Leigh's film about the artist JMW Turner from age about 50 to 75; works through his troubles and triumphs - hi relationship with his father, with his housekeeper, with his fellow artists and occasionally with collectors and royalty. (Ruskin loves his work - Queen Victoria is not amused.) Somewhere in there, about the time his father dies, he befriends a woman who runs a boarding house, and then beds her, and carries on a long affair with her, to his death - a time and place where he seems to be quite happy, most of the time. In the rest of his life, he is a bit of a pill. It is interesting, the art is fantastic (Turner was a bit of a 20th century abstractionist, before the time) - he is something of a son of a bitch at times, but not always, and indeed, part of the point is to undo all the easy conclusions - art requires suffering? artists are bastards? artists are exalted souls? artists - are anything other than people who work hard and create beautiful things that move other people. The film itself of course is extraordinarily beautiful, as Leigh and Dick Pope work to see the world like Turner saw it, at least out of doors.

Two Days, One Night - 12/15

Another fine film from the Dardennes brothers, this time about a woman (played by Marion Cotillard) who, when she is about to go back to work after being out with Depression, learns that she has been laid off. Or will be laid off - the workers were given a choice of letting her go, or losing their bonuses - they voted for the bonuses, but under pressure from the bosses, so there will be another vote. She gets a weekend to try to convince people to save her job at the expense of their 1000 Euros. That's the plot. It's a handsome film, with their usual sense of propulsive drive - though starts to feel a bit like treading water. And the plot is particularly melodramatic this time, with the poor woman on the verge of another breakdown te whole time, and - well, there's a fistfight, aa suicide and a marital breakdown before the weekend ends. Of course, most of the Dardennes brothers' films are melodramas, disguised in their over the shoulder through the streets of Liege filmmaking style - but this one feels a little more contrived than usual. But still handsome and smart, and Cotillard is more than worth it.

Selma - 11/15

Good old fashioned political fiction about the Selma marches - centered on Martin Luther King mostly, though surrounded by people, doing their own thing. It is all very well done - solidly filmed and constructed, put together like an old fascioned war film, The Longest Day or something like that. Might (like those films) be a bit too slick, a bit too much of the Big History story for its own good - but it is still very good. It has engendered some controversy - mostly about LBJ - which might have some merit, though I'm not convinced. It might underplay his role a bit - but it isn't really his story. It's King's story, and the voting rights movement's story - LBJ provides the political obstacle they have to overcome, you might say to get the VRA moved to the top of the legislative pile. I dont know enough about the actual history to know if this is more unfair than it seems - in general the film seems more than reasonable. If it has a flaw, it's that it poses economic justice against political justice - from what I know of King and Johnson, both seem to have understood the importance of both, economic and political rights. You can't have one without the other. I suppose, though, drama requires arguments about strategy, not about tactics (and the choice of how to get to two necessities, is one more of tactics, maybe), so this has to seem like a starker choice.

Duke of Burgundy - 9/15

This is a very hard film to evaluate - gorgeous looking, clever, but rather empty. It's a deliberate throwback to a kind of 70s art-porn horror film - somewhere between Jess Franco and Robert Altman's Images (both of which live somewhere on that continuum) - though mostly short of the porn and horror. Plenty of art, though. There is a story, more or less - two women, Cynthia and Evelyn - Evelyn seems to be a maid, Cynthia a professor who bosses her around - though this is quickly revealed to be a Game - Evelyn is writing the scripts, Cynthia playing her part... They are lovers, more or less happy enough, living this rather excessive S&M role playing life - though cracks appear. Does Cynthia get tired of the dress up and fake cruelty? Is Evelyn doing chores for other people? is she doing more than chores for them? Can Cynthia get revenge by wearing comfortable PJs and dirty socks and ignoring the safe word? We shall see. There are also butterflies and other bugs pinned in their cases, and lectures on entomology, and recordings of insects at play. If this were the Brothers Quay or Jan Svankmajer, these might come to life - they do turn into a Brakhage film at one point.... Anyway - a bit underwhelming, but a handsome film, that gets its 70s style down - especially the credit sequence, which might be the best part of the film, really nailing the feel.

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