Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Christmas comes but once year, and some of us know what to do with it. A tree? Full of dangly things and noisy things and paper things? It's a catmas miracle! I'm told one of these monsters almost got Rudolph last night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Recent Films, Autumn 2010

It's been ages since I've written up my new film viewing - partly because I haven't exactly been overwhelmed by the new films I've seen, partly because I haven't seen that many. (Going for older stuff instead, like three viewings of The Third Man this week, that sort of thing...) This is nothing but a sketch, going back a couple months. Some of these films I might come back to - well - one of them, I might come back to. (And Carlos is going to get its own post, though I won't make any promises about when.) It's pretty surprisingly thin pickings for the fall, I think.

White Material - 12/15 - I have to see it again - it only lasted 2 weeks in town... when I do, I hope I can come up with more to say about it.... It's a fantastic film, haunting and driven - Isabelle Huppert intense... set in Africa, a country on the brink of civil war (or toppling over from brink to throes), following Huppert, whose family runs a coffee plantation - it is harvest time - she is determined to bring the harvest in - but the rest of the family is useless, the government tells her to leave, but she won't go, etc. I can't do it justice, so won't try now. Beautiful, haunting, harrowing, another worthy entry in Claire Denis' filmography - she is one of the world's best, and every time shows it again.

Black Swan - 9/15 - I suppose Darren Aronofsky is something of an important filmmaker - he has chops - but I have yet to be won over by any of his films. This one has a lot going for it, but too much of it comes from somewhere else. It's got Nathalie Portman playing a ballerina who manages to win a plum role (partly since the company's artistic director seems to have broken up with the previous star ballerina and has designs on her, something like that.) There's a rival, though, just in from the west coast, sexy and ambitious and not above sabotage. Maybe. It might all be in the heroine's head! All this plays as a mashup of Inland Empire, The Piano Teacher, The Red Shoes and miscellaneous other dance movies... looks nice, but so what? There's nothing new in the story, and even the execution is imported - certainly Haneke and Lynch did it better... I think there is a better film lurking in it, though - like The Wrestler, the best stuff is in the details, the physicality of it. What you see in the dance scenes, in the preparations - preparing shoes, the trainer massaging Portman, a shot of the back muscles of two dancers practicing a move. Those moments, Aronofsky's ability to capture the physical details of bodies and material and movement, make the psychodrama seem trite.

Marwencol - 10/15 - fascinating documentary about Mark Hogancamp, a man in upstate New York who was beaten half to death 10 years ago (more or less) and who, when the money for his therapy ran out, started building elaborate dioramas with GI Joes and Barbie dolls as a way of practicing his motor skills and keeping his imagination active. He invented a town - Marwencol, an imaginary Belgian town in WWII, a place where everyone sort of calls off the war for a while, to hang around, have a beer, watch some cat-fighting... Until the SS comes, looking for drink! He started taking pictures of what he built, very carefully composed and staged pictures, and eventually these found their way to the art world, and from there, he got attention, and even a show. And a film made about him. The film is pretty basic, nothing too special, as a film, but it's such a fascinating story - and Hogancamp's work, both building the town and photographing it, is so strong - dramatic and compelling - that it becomes a powerful and lovely movie. I admit, it also plays into one of my fascinations - hand made, home made art, especially narrative art made from - detritus? scavengings? what do you call it? Whatever it is, I find it fascinating, and Hogancamp is as good at it as anyone...

I Love You Phillip Morris - 8/15 - Jim Carrey as a con man - starting out as a cop, looking for his birth mother, than, after a car accident, deciding to come out of the closet - and turn to a life of crime. Insurance fraud, mostly - which lands him in jail where he meets the love of his life, Phillip Morris, played by Ewan MacGregor... Well - they fall in love, they get out of jail, he cons his way into honest work as CFO of a medical supply company of some kind, where he makes them a ton of money and embezzles a ton for himself... and ends up back in jail... All this is amusing - Carrey gets to let himself go, and is great when he's on the make, but it does turn into a bit of a downer (and a drag) when he the facts intrude.

Tiny Furniture - 9/15 - not sure what to say. Story of a kid just out of college, Aura by name, home, living with her mother (who happens to be a very successful artist, with a vast studio/loft in Tribeca) and sister... She - Aura - mopes and procrastinates, hangs around with loathsome young men and a crazy old girlfriend, takes a hopeless job, wallows in various forms of self-pity, sort of suffers, acts cruelly toward a friend.... All in all, it's handsome looking, amusing, but a bit off putting - all those loathsome characters behaving badly - and centered around a hopeless sad sack, played as a a bit of a damp dishrag.... The rest of the cast has a better time of it - they generally get to revel in their awfulness - playing a cad has to be such a joy for an actor. Still - hard to say how this could be done better - a stronger protagonist would probably come off as even more self-pitying - this way, it's possible, at least, to think her passive-aggression and self-indulgence is meant to look pathetic. I guess. Still - it's not half bad, for all that.

(These I saw a long time ago - not sure how much I can say at this point.)

Waking Sleeping Beauty (9/15) - solid documentary abouyt the rebirth of Disney's animation department. That's about all I can say about it - it's good on telling the story, not so much on bringing any kind of critical thought to it. That's all right - does what it sets out to do.

Anton Chekhov's The Duel (10/15) - fine, conventional Chekhov adaptation, about a civil servant and his mistress, and the crisis in their affair - her husband has died, he wants to get rid of her, but lacks money and will... he has enemies, she has suitors... All of this elliptical and subtle, very Chekhov...

Inside Job (10/15) - fascinating and infuriating film about the financial meltdown - makes the plain obvious point that wall street and the investment banks were run like a combination of a ponzi scheme and racketeering. Deregulation allowed criminals to prosper in the financial world - and by the 90s and 00s, the system had evolved to positively encourage dishonest behavior. All the incentives - from high compensation to public ownership of investment banks (and the attendant emphasis on stock prices and constant growth) - encouraged risky, predatory, short term profit maximizing strategies - with no real risk from failure. And - when the thole thing failed - most of them walked away, or kept going, or got jobs in the government. And then - as the recent Peter Orszag stories reiterate - went right back into the banks, for a few million a year. Hard not to feel utterly helpless in the face of this stuff.

Red (7/15) - very amusing if stupid actioner with a bunch of retired spooks being knocked off and getting together to go after the people doing it. I can't quite explain the plot, which has something to do with a VP killing off his past, at the behest of a contractor - but it's quite amusing, with a hammy cast in full swing... very welcome Mary Louise Parker sighting - one of those actresses lost to TV, but who brings life to anything. She holds her own with the rest of the hams.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What About After That?

This is sad - Captain Beefheart, Don van Vliet, has died.

Having swiped a good part of this humble blog's motto and purpose from the Captain - my opinion of him should be clear...

And - here's a clip, live for radio, with Frank Zappa on guitar, a wonderful take of a magnificent song, Orange Claw Hammer...

One of the greats.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December Miscellany

Nothing much important here, but the world is turning around me, and I should put in a word....

The Cliff Lee sweepstakes are over - turns out there really was a "mystery team" - the Phillies! Not that mysterious, I guess. You had to wonder if they were going to step into any of the bidding - they aren't that far off the Boston/New York superteam standard. I will have to work up some baseball thoughts when I have some time - it has been a happy season here in the land of the bean and the cod...

On the film front - I have to get a note up about David Cairns' Late Film Blogathon, ongoing now.

UPDATE: forgot this one - Spielberg blogathon, hosted by Adam Zanzie (Icebox Movies) and Ryan Kelly (Medfly Quarantine.) Running from 12/18-28 - that is, right now!

Coming in January - a Hitchcock Blogathon - a very promising affair.

And? I must leave you - I am still in thrall to the Vampires, for another day or so. After that, the holidays... I hope to get back in here and make up for some of my slackness, but who knows.

For now - Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

30 Years

...since John Lennon's death. It was a fairly incomprehensible shock to me when it happened - more than I expected it to be. I was a Beatles fan before, but not terribly passionate - that came afterwards. I think - who can trust their memories?

There are many ways to memorialize Mr. Lennon - in today's political climate, though, I think this is necessary. We're still fucking peasants as far as I can see. He could have written this in 1980 - he could have written it today - and it would ring perfectly true. More true - this country, at least, does not seem to be moving forward - the class system is becoming more obvious, the divisions between rich and poor, those with power and without it, more extreme. We seem very willing to give up our freedom. We may or may not be getting better at smiling when we kill, but we sure seem eager to let the ones who can run the country. A working class hero is something to be...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Holiday Excuses?

I am actually rather shocked that it has been three weeks since I posted anything here. It's been a busy three weeks, with vacations and holidays -

(A thankful cat...)

- and a paper, about vampires, with this one figuring prominently:

- and not much else. I do have something of a backlog of films to write about. It's been a pretty underwhelming year in the theaters, and there hasn't been much this fall to tempt me out of the house, but there have been a few gems. White Material is all it should be - any Claire Denis film is an event, as far as I am concerned. And I had the chance to see both versions of Carlos - great film, and the relationship between the two is quite fascinating as well. There's a post in that, though I don't know when I'll get it done. I might also get a post or two out of the vampires before I'm done, you never know... And finally, well - there's Jayne Mansfield, ably presented by Frank Tashlin and company, which if nothing else, is worth a picture or two...

But still... I hope I get more content up here in December. Though it's another month that can disappear in a flash, with all the holiday stuff going on. I will conclude with a sports related comment - we Boston baseball fans have gotten a very lovely early Christmas present in Adrian Gonzalez. That is a fine way to warm the soul on these cold winter nights!