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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 01.21.2004 12:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I really, really like Northfork. I think that the Polish brothers achieve a hypnotic mood, that rarely any other crew are able to capture. I was particularly stricken by the use of symoblism. Scratch that. How they used symbolism. The setting achieves a brilliant sense of humanity, in an almost absurd and outrageous form. Very intriguing.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 01.21.2004 12:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Northfork is a singular achievement graced with elegant, atmospheric images of a peculiar and completely fictitious space, a Montana community that is "dammed." I found this cross between David Lynch, the Coens, and Dali to be haunting, full of grandeur, and astonishingly insufferable. Hypnotic? More like somnambulistic. The comedy (especially the pop-cult allusions) is misjudged, and the precious peculiarity simply didn't resonate with me whatsoever. (Let's not confuse "intriguing" with "good." And as for the symbolism... well, Hawthorne they ain't.) In fact, it would have made my Five Worst list, except I didn't feel like writing about it--its lethargy seems to be contagious.

Michael, we also share an opinion regarding the bilious In Praise of Love. Dear God indeed. It's juvenile, uninformed, and obvious--the pleasure has seeped out of Godard and been replaced by gimmicky, second-rate moralizing. At least the black-and-white looks pristine. Awfully sad that there's infinitely more relevant discourse available to us in a piece of exploitation like Irreversible than in the work of one of cinema's true artists.

Eric
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matt header
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PostPosted: 01.21.2004 1:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I didn't hate "Northfork" - in fact, I found its sense of humor, especially the scene in Ursula's diner where they order chicken broth, engagingly unique - but it's all over the map and rarely intriguing on an emotional level. I can admire its undeniable creativity, but I can also recognize that the Polish brothers' are achingly searching for a way to structure their goofy whims. This is a pair of weird imaginations in search of a story, instead of an imaginative story within itself; I wouldn't say it's insufferable, but tiring it is.
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 01.21.2004 1:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
Awfully sad that there's infinitely more relevant discourse available to us in a piece of exploitation like Irreversible than in the work of one of cinema's true artists.



Or a piece of exploitation like Funny Games. Wink
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 01.21.2004 1:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

the night watchman wrote:
Or a piece of exploitation like Funny Games. Wink


Yeah, I was waiting for that... We disagree about that one, for sure. I still think you can make an intellectual and narrative defense of Funny Games, without reducing Haneke's position to one of moral arrogance. Still, I do see where you're coming from on that one.

Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 01.21.2004 2:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually, I was just being reactionary. Smile I think the meta-narrative aspects and the self-conscious use of genre conventions and contrivences of Funny Games removes it (if not necessarily elevates it above) exploitation or its categorization of a straight genre film.
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matt header
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PostPosted: 01.24.2004 12:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I haven't posted my screening log here in a couple of weeks, so I have quite a few to add:

The Cooler C Tries to achieve two different tones that the "Las Vegas film" is known for - the feel-good, elegant, glitzy caper/comedy (ala The Rat Pack) and the down-and-out, nightmarish, void-of-greed-and-sin drama (ala "Leaving Las Vegas"). The movie fails on both counts, as the tough-guy dialogue clashes terribly with longwinded redemption speeches and avowals of true love. Still, it's almost saved by the performances of Macy, Bello, and Baldwin; they're not great, but the conviction they give and even the understanding they have of their dialogue (which is awful) transcends their characters above the mediocrity of the screenplay.

The Company C+ The ballet scenes are fantastic, a nice balance of chaotic, abstract colors/shapes and comprehensive wide-angle shots from the audience, to capture ballet in all of its glory. If it had only ballet, "The Company" could have been great: an analysis of how film and dance can compliment each other. Unfortunately, Robert Altman's habit of wandering through his movie's spaces, picking up bits and pieces of conversations and relationships where he can, makes the dramatic context awfully dull and disappointing - these subplots could be seen as cliche if, ironically, they weren't so insubstantial (they're only half-stories as they are).

The Triplets of Belleville B+ Sylvain Chomet's odd, catchy, unique animated film about Champion, a bicyclist who is kidnapped during the Tour de France and transported to Belleville, sending his beloved grandma and pet dog on a rescue mission, where they team up with a once-legendary trio of lounge singer triplets. That's on the surface: underneath the story there's a (mildly anti-American) commentary on French-American stereotypes, in which the imaginary Belleville is a hallucinatory hodgepodge of French and American caricatures. The mock-American characters in the city are monstrously obese and goofy, but a) the French have been so lambasted in American movies it may be our turn to receive similar treatment, and b) Chomet's satiric vigor isn't limited towards us piggish Americans: his French people eat nothing but frog stew and frog legs, and the snobbish French waiter is hilariously supercilious. Regardless of its political ideas, its catchy rhythms (musical and visual) and its unique, Tati-like sense of humor are engaging.

The Spirit of the Beehive A Victor Erice's haunting, enigmatic depiction of a lonely childhood. Young Anne, with aristocratic parents who don't understand her and surrounded by throngs of children she doesn't engage with, sees the movie "Frankenstein" and becomes infatuated with the monster; his seclusion and simple gentleness present to her a soul mate. Erice's metaphor of the beehive to human civilization, with individualistic workers, drones, and queens working for themselves, is a bit depressing, but the spell he casts is unforgettable and overwhelming. Truly wonderful.

In America B+ An emotional, creative, extremely personal film from Jim Sheridan, who uses magic realism to tell the tale of his family's immigration to America from Ireland. I agree with a lot of the comments on this movie that were posted elsewhere on this site (under the Best Films of 2003 topic, I believe). The sudden transition of Mateo from threatening black man to angelic, gentle friend is a bit jarring, but it may be the only false step in the film. It balances on melodrama a lot of the time, but remains emotionally rich and surprisingly deep (perceptively elaborating on the effect that deceased Frankie still has on the entire family). The SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! scene of one character's death leading right into young Sarah's birth is the best in the film - that was the exact moment when I broke down and got sucked right into this movie.

Big Fish B- An intriguing step in Burton's career, certainly - his ideas are intelligent, even if his execution is not. "Big Fish"'s message tells us of the importance of elaborate fantasy in a world of often-mundane reality, and of the role that films play in everyday life; but the film has more happy endings, optimism, and joie de vivre than Burton's usually have, and he doesn't handle these moments very well. They can be too "cutesy," pulling us out of the elaborate, whimsical charm of Edward Bloom's tall tales. That said, Finney, McGregor, and Lange are generally outstanding, and it's good to see Burton's dark sense of humor in tact (the moment when McGregor smiles at Sandra after taking a beating for her, his teeth all crooked and hideously bloody - brilliant!).

Northfork C+ Sometimes the Polish brothers' outlandish creativity got to me, especially when we watch the bureaucratic government agents struggle to order lunch in a mysterious cafe or trying to coerce an aspiring Noah out of his rickety ark - it reminded me of George Orwell filtered through the Coen brothers. But more often than not, this is a wacky sense of odd humor in desperate search of a story, instead of the other way around; it's messy and very tiresome, even in its funniest, most creative moments.

Nicholas Nickleby C+ Dickens is my favorite writer - every time, I get sucked into his elaborate web of coincidence, drama, wicked villains, and orphaned, plucky underdog heroes - and director Douglas McGrath seems similarly fond of him. Visually this is definitely Dickensian - some of his most familiar images (the Gothic cemetery and churchyard, the cobblestone streets of London, the aristocratic manor, the dank dungeon) are fashioned with great care and wit. But as usual with Dickens interpretations its muted running time and obedience to thinning out the story deprives it of its dramatic intensity, meaning we have a nice-looking but quite dull adventure. Jim Broadbent and Jamie Bell give memorable performances, but many critics' complaint that Dickens' main heroes are usually the most boring has never been truer than in this film. The actresses - Romola Garai, Anne Hathaway, etc. - are usually required only to stand around and look pretty.

Bus 174 A- Amazingly intricate and elaborate documentary on the lone gunman who took hostages on a bus in Rio de Janeiro one 2000 day. The movie is more concerned with social injustice, racism, political hierarchy, a corrupt police force, and the manipulation of the media than with the actual incident, which is appropriate; by the end, if we can't condone the gunman's actions, we can understand them, since the most hideous violence in the film is committed not by him (indeed, he kills only one person, perhaps accidentally) but by the police force and the government that suffocates him. Tremendously sad film is certainly biased - as this film shows it, Rio is a hellhole of crime and hopeless depravity - but it turns our antihero into a martyr for Rio's persecuted underclasses, making for an unforgettable and emotionally shattering documentary.

Owning Mahowny C I'm surprised by how much I disliked this film, considering the great reviews it got and the impressive cast and crew. I haven't seen Kwietniowski's "Love and Death on Long Island," but his style here is deliberately slow, rather cold, and elegantly downbeat. A shot of a shower curtain with white roses dotted across a black background sums up the film's style nicely: it's sparked by beautiful elegance, but it all happens against a story of depression and inescapable addiction. Hoffman's performance is impressively perceptive of his character's gambling problems ("financial problems," he'd say), but Mahowny is a spectacularly unrelatable character - I can't say I really cared what happened to him, perhaps because of the deliberate emotional ambiguity. Subplots involving a police investigation are necessary for the story but make the pace completely off-balanced. I found it rather dull and never believable, but I know I'm in the minority on this one.

Raising Victor Vargas A- I can't believe a first-time director made this. Peter Sollett's debut is amazingly realistic, natural, beautiful, humorous, and warm, portraying a desperate lothario in a New York Latin American neighborhood who doesn't know what to do when he actually falls in love. Filled with quiet, perceptive moments and glowing with natural performances, this is an astonishing debut with a brilliantly warm epilogue (the piano music of Victor's brother, Nino, accompanies what may be the most realistically optimistic ending to any film this year). One of the best of the year.

XX/XY B Another impressive debut, by writer-director Austin Chick, concerns the development, falling apart, and reunion of a trio of friends who dabble in sexual experiments with frustrating, embarrassing results. Thankfully, the movie is ultimately hopeful: Chick's message isn't that "if you play around with sex you're gonna regret it," but rather "we can always find love, even through sexual embarrassment and romantic unsurety." Chick's love for film is obvious, with the main character's ambition to direct and several references to Claire Denis, and her curiosity with film style reminded me of Jean-Luc Godard in several moments (the confrontation on the docks, Coles' animated film, the opening scene in the subway). It can't retain its intelligent, natural spell throughout, but when it does the film is captivating; there isn't a single poor performance in the entire thing, also.
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 01.24.2004 8:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saw The Butterfly Effect yesterday, and while I was a bit disappointed -- there were more than a few substantial plot holes, an almost distracting lack of subtly, and a tendency for the narrative to leapfrog from crisis to crisis; not to mention the anticlimactic ending -- I still found it pretty engaging overall. I do have to respectfully disagree with Rob Vaux's assessment that the movie is "a supernatural thriller which mistakes naked sadism for spine-tingling suspense." (***MINOR SPOILERS***) Furthermore, by recounting the characters' childhood traumas out of order in his review, he misses the point that each trauma is an outgrowth of a central crisis, i.e. pedophilia. In other words, everything that goes wrong is a product of the actions of Kayliegh and Tommy's father, and not random horrors piled atop the characters, as his review suggests. In fact, there's a fairly logical order and rationale to the terrible events of Evan's childhood.

Typically, Rob's reviews are insightful and precise, and while I do agree with his evaluation of the movie?s other narrative failures, I think he let his discomfort get the best of him when gauging its tactics.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 01.24.2004 10:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
Along Came Polly (Hamburg, 2004) - The formula is dying on me. I stayed in longer than most, but, jeez.


That's age and experience talking. It only gets more frustrating.

Eric
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 01.26.2004 3:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

1/19 ? 1/25

Schizopolis (Soderbergh, 1996). I?ve been quoting this random act of Dada all week: ?Generic greeting!? ?Generic greeting returned!?

Two Mules for Sister Sara (Siegel, 1970). Languorous, but the tone is just right, and there?s a comfortable spark between Eastwood and MacLaine.

Friday Night (Denis, France, 2002). Entrancing poem about the thrill of the moment, told almost entirely in closeup.

Murder on a Sunday Morning (de Lestrade, US-France, 2001). Strongest conceit of this Oscar-winning doc is letting the defense attorney explain his psychological strategies in advance, and then allowing us to watch them in action in the courtroom.

Sword in the Stone (Reitherman, 1963). Terrible.

Elephant (Van Sant, 2003). Fails as realism and as impressionism, but there?s no denying its formal beauty.

Sympathy for the Devil (Godard, UK, 1968). Sometimes I can?t stand Godard?and I don?t like the Rolling Stones?which made this ridiculous documentary a real chore.

The Cars That Ate Paris (Weir, Australia, 1974). I guess the final scenes, which feature cars dressed up as monsters ?eating? through an entire town, are worth seeing.

Ashes and Diamonds (Wajda, Poland, 1958). Dry, but I often found the imagery fascinating, especially a damaged crucifix hanging upside down in the foreground, casting a skeletal shadow of thorns and anguish. The last few scenes are satisfying, especially the chase through sheets on a clothesline, and the spilled blood seeping through them.

The Howling (Dante, 1981). I perked up only three times: First, at Roger Corman's cameo, then at John Sayles' cameo (he also co-wrote the script), and then, finally, at the last five minutes, as the newswoman decides to reveal the truth over the airwaves: "Boy, it's amazing what they can do with those special effects, eh?" Dantean irony, at last!

Monster (Jenkins, 2003). Yeah, Theron really is that good. Too bad her work is overshadowing Ricci, who also gives a career performance.

The Tenant (Polanski, 1976). Deliberate piece of creep about a apartment building with a sense of menace all its own--when Polanski pulls furniture aside to find a hole with a tooth in it, it just seems a natural part of the building's body. Eventually we realize that the tenant has lost his mind to paranoia, and the film's funny, unexplained surrealism becomes very effective. Darkly funny, compelling?one of my favorite Polanski pictures.

Eye Myth (Brakhage, 1972) / The Wold Shadow (Brakhage, 1972) / The Garden of Earthly Delights (Brakhage, 1981). I love the dude, I really do.

The Ape (Nigh, 1940). Monogram cheapie with Karloff as a mad doctor killing people for their spinal fluid, and blaming it on an escaped circus ape.

The Ghoul (Hunter, UK, 1933). Karloff as an eccentric obsessed with Egyptian voodoo, who returns from the grave to give some serious payback. Britain?s answer to Universal horror, with reasonable results.

Dont Look Back (Pennebaker, 1967). I?ve never understood the appeal of Bob Dylan, and this doc reveals the 1965 Dylan as immature, na?ve, self-important, seriously deluded, and not very smart. Problem is, Pennebaker seems to buy into the guy?s own sense of self-aggrandizing myth. I?ll give the movie credit for essentially inventing the ?rockumentary,? and for offering some insights into this musical figure, but I couldn?t stand it. I like Dylan even less now.

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (Rawlins, 1947). I?ve been told this is the best of the Tracy films; I?ll have to take it on faith. As B-movie kids? stuff, I kinda enjoyed it.

Dreams (Kurosawa, Japan, 1990). Eight vignettes that aren?t particularly dreamlike?they more resemble fairy tales or parables. Of course they vary in quality, but none disappointed me, and several earned my rapt attention. (Personal favorite: ?The Tunnel,? with corpses reporting back from battle, symbolizing the guilt their officer?the lone survivor?feels. The control of camera placement, sound, and color is mesmerizing.) The poetic images are really something?I?d argue this is one of the most purely beautiful films ever made. I?d rank it very high in the Kurosawa canon, despite the simplistic didactics in the last few segments.

Character (van Diem, Netherlands, 1997). Expert gothic psychodrama told on a Dickensian canvas, at a breakneck pace. I was captivated by the storytelling and psychological complexity; I guess it deserved that Oscar.

The Last Detail (Ashby, 1973). Rowdy, foul-mouthed ode to the wild life, but also a kind of elegy for misspent youth and ill-directed lives. I found all three leads utterly unlikable, but there?s no denying the great acting, and Ashby clearly has a few things to say about they way people interact.

The Unknown (Browning, 1927). Lon Chaney is magnificent as Alonzo the Armless, a circus performer who throws knives at a young Joan Crawford with his feet. Ah, but he's really a criminal on the lam, bearing a hand with two thumbs that identifies him as a wanted murderer. This is some sick, brilliant stuff: When Crawford confesses she can't stand the touch of male hands, the smitten Alonzo plots to have his arms surgically removed; when he returns from the secret operation, he learns Crawford has fallen for another. At that moment, the look of despair, hysteria, and rage on Chaney's face is simply brilliant acting. And the climax, involving a man about to be torn apart by horses, is expert suspense.

And Charlize Theron just won the Golden Globe right now as I?m writing. No quibbles here.

Eric
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Rob Vaux
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PostPosted: 01.26.2004 6:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:


And Charlize Theron just won the Golden Globe right now as I?m writing. No quibbles here.

Eric


Yes, but her girlish shriek broke character. I wanted her to come up all blotchy and hostile, and drunkenly wave that hand cannon at the audience. That would have been cool.

Eric, you see many many more films than I do. The only this I can toss up is a repeat veiwing of SHATTERED GLASS and a wonderful little cult film that I'd missed until now ? Anthony Shaffer's THE WICKER MAN. Barring the 1973 fashion sense, a fascinating and bizarre little flick.

And hey, LOST IN TRANSLATION and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, winning Best Picture. Positive signs from the Golden Globes.

Hi, I'm Rob. I work here. Smile
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 01.26.2004 6:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:


The Cars That Ate Paris (Weir, Australia, 1974). I guess the final scenes, which feature cars dressed up as monsters ?eating? through an entire town, are worth seeing.



So, I guess you're in line with the general consensus on this film. I liked the mordent social commentary a lot, but I guess it's not quite enough of a validation of the movie for most.
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 01.26.2004 6:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rob Vaux wrote:


Hi, I'm Rob. I work here. Smile


Hi Rob! Smile So, I gots'ta know: is it pronounced VOWX, or VAHX?
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 01.26.2004 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rob Vaux wrote:
Eric, you see many many more films than I do. The only this I can toss up is a repeat veiwing of SHATTERED GLASS and a wonderful little cult film that I'd missed until now ? Anthony Shaffer's THE WICKER MAN. Barring the 1973 fashion sense, a fascinating and bizarre little flick.

And hey, LOST IN TRANSLATION and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, winning Best Picture. Positive signs from the Golden Globes.

Hi, I'm Rob. I work here. Smile


Welcome, Rob! I'm thrilled to have you among us. I do watch a lot of films, although this last week was exceptionally busy. That's the most I've done in a week since, oh, probably college and that semester I didn't have a job. Typically I see between 5-10 a week, but I recently realized that I owned about 50-60 movies that I hadn't seen--they just keep piling and I can't keep up. So I decided last week that I would dedicate a couple of weeks to making a dent. I haven't done anything except work and watch. That pace is over now, though. Back to the workhouse grind.

Incidentally, I really like Wicker Man. Some sequences dwell on the pagan routines perhaps a bit too sensationally, but it has a wonderfully claustrophobic sense of doom--you can practically feel Woodward's scolding puritanism tightening the noose around his own neck. Shattered Glass just missed my Top Ten; what are your thoughts?

I adore Lost in Translation, but we definitely differ on the Lord of the Rings series. I certainly admire Jackson's achievement, but the trilogy just doesn't capture my imagination the way something like The Son or Ararat do. I left those films exhilarated, desperate to talk about the feelings and thoughts they stirred up. (One of my cinematic highlights of 2003 wasn't a movie but the group discussion following Crimson Gold.) I left all three Rings feeling a little abused, impressed but wearied all the same.

NW, I dunno if I'm with the majority on Cars That Ate Paris. I don't think it's a particularly good film, but I was certainly interested--I think I was more taken with the idea of such a social satire than I was with Weir's actual expression of that satire. Still, when it was over I was unsure of where I stood regarding the picture, and that's always a positive, right?

Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 01.26.2004 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:


NW, I dunno if I'm with the majority on Cars That Ate Paris. I don't think it's a particularly good film, but I was certainly interested--I think I was more taken with the idea of such a social satire than I was with Weir's actual expression of that satire. Still, when it was over I was unsure of where I stood regarding the picture, and that's always a positive, right?


Well, I guess it's positive in the sense that's it's not negative. Maybe I was so inured by the anti-hype that's surrounded this movie for over, literally, twenty-some years, that in the end it couldn't have been as bad as I was lead to believe. A reassessment might be in order, however; let's see how it holds up with raised expectations.

Oh, and I like The Wicker Man a lot, too.
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