Now Playing: Or, How Not to Fit a Month's Worth of Viewing Into a Blog Posting
First off, a few double features:
OTHELLO (1952, Orson Welles) with FILMING 'OTHELLO' (1978, Welles)- I'd never seen Welles' take on the Moor, which was all the more fascinating after hearing Welles' take on it a quarter-century later. In the earlier film, Welles' visual sense is typically sharp, which is amazing given the conditions under which the film was made (shot over four years, crucial killing scene basically improvised in a Turkish bath, etc.). Michael MacLiammoir's Iago is the best interpretation of the character I've seen, largely because he doesn't pin down the character's motivation (Shakespeare's ballsy gambit with Iago was that he was, quite simply, evil) without making him a cartoon. As for FILMING 'OTHELLO', I geeked out. I only hope that the world can see FILMING 'THE TRIAL.'
FILMING 'OTHELLO': ***1/2.
FINGERS (1978, James Toback) with THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005, Jacques Audiard)- Audiard's film isn't so much a remake as a Variation on a Theme By Toback, which works out fine, since Toback's film is pretty story-light, giving Audiard plenty of room to be creative. Many similar plot points, but what sticks out are the differences- e.g. in Toback's version, we encounter the protagonist (Harvey Keitel) first as a pianist, whereas it takes over a reel to get Audiard's antihero (Romain Duris) at the keyboard. One of the key elements in both films is the relationship between the protag and his controlling father, and I think Toback has the edge here, since Michael V. Gazzo is so much more charming and friendly as the dad, which makes his manipulations all the more sobering. Forced to pick one over the other I'd choose the 2005 film, largely because Toback wasn't (still isn't) as good a director as Audiard is (dig the photography and the use of music), but both films are good enough that one needn't choose.
THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED: ***.
THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2005, Fernando Meirelles) with LORD OF WAR (2005, Andrew Niccol)- a key theme of both of these films is the way the superpowers have turned their backs on the Third World- primarily Africa- leaving it wide open to exploitation by unscrupulous opportunists. But the films play off this theme much differently, one as tragedy, the other as black comedy. GARDENER is most effective as a postmortem romance, in which Ralph Fiennes' wussy diplomat learns to love his wife more after her death by piecing together the mystery of her life. LORD OF WAR is ballsier, following an unapologetic money-grubber of an arms dealer (Nicolas Cage) for two decades as he supplies dictators and despots worldwide. Both films succeed primarily by virtue of their lead casting- Fiennes adds righteous indignation to stock character of the withdrawn Brit, and Cage is even better in his role, lending it an ironic spin without which the film's tone would be impossible to sustain. Kudos also to both films' supporting casts, notably Rachel Weisz and Danny Huston in GARDENER and the positively chilling Eamonn Walker in LORD OF WAR. Word of warning for prospective LORD OF WAR watchers- don't arrive late.
CONSTANT GARDENER: ***.
LORD OF WAR: ***.
And now, the rest (in short):
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA (1928, Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich)- where did this get its reputation? The cutout animation is pretty cool, I suppose, but now this mostly feels like a waste of time. No rating- short film.
MENILMONTANT (1926, Dimitri Kirsanoff)- Nadia Sibirskaia without a doubt has one of the most incredible screen presences I've ever experienced. And the movie itself is awesome too. No rating- short film.
RHYTHMUS 21 (1921, Hans Richter)- so eerily close to my idea for an opening credits sequence for a movie I want to make that I now need to go back to the drawing board. No rating- short film.
VORMITTAGSSPUK (1928, Hans Richter)- deviant art rules. Looks like I'm getting the Kino A-G Cinema of the 20s and 30s as soon as I get some money. No rating- short film.
DISTANCE (2001, Hirokazu Kore-eda)- slow moving and not especially perceptive, but bridges the gap between the ethereally-inclined Kore-eda of MABOROSI and AFTER LIFE and the more corporeal director of NOBODY KNOWS. The restaurant meeting between the salaryman and his cult-member wife an hour into the film is easily the highlight. Rating: **1/2.
THE POWER OF KANGWON PROVINCE (1998, Hong Sang-soo)- Chris tells me that you need to see a few Hong films before you really get him, and while I loved TURNING GATE on the first viewing, I think it's going to take more than one for this. Still, pretty good. Love the "Clementine" singalong. Rating: **1/2.
THE LADIES' MAN (1961, Jerry Lewis)- the French are right. Lewis' filmmaking here is endlessly inventive, from the intricately choreographed introduction of the house full'o'girls to the third-act twist of the house being overrun by the TV crew. Plus it's hilarious, and "Herbert Heebert" is lots of fun to say. Rating: ***1/2.
MA MERE (2004, Christophe Honor?)- the point of this seems to be that the fun of sex comes from the transgression, but no one seems to be having fun (this makes sense for the seen-it-all Isabelle Huppert, but what about the kids?). Huppert excels at this character, but frankly she should give it a sabbatical, since she's too great to be typecast like this. Still not sure about Louis Garrel as an actor, but he's certainly game, and he and Huppert are well-matched physically. Rating: *1/2.
THE UPSIDE OF ANGER (2005, Mike Binder)- went down somewhat from the first viewing. May still be overrating it, since the film's flaws (Terry's rage is too over-the-top, too much sitcom dialogue, fantasy sequences break the reality) become more glaring on the second go-round. Allen and Costner still shine. Rating: **1/2.
SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002, Chan-wook Park)- having seen only OLDBOY and JSA, I was surprised how slipshod this felt, with little of the former's propulsive energy or the former's thematic interest. Park goes out of his way to problematize the idea of revenge- problem is, there have been so many takes on revenge in the past few years that there are few interesting angles left. So perhaps it's as much bad timing as anything else that made this one a disappointment. Rating: **.
SARABAND (2003, Ingmar Bergman)- minor, but only by Bergman standards. One of the first things that struck me was how uncinematic much of this felt- which makes sense, given that this was made for television. I certainly wasn't expecting it the first time Liv Ullmann made an aside to the audience, but the surprise wasn't unpleasant. The centerpiece sequences naturally belong to Ullmann and Erland Josephson- the other scenes feel almost like afterthoughts by comparison- but Julia Dufvenius and Borje Ahlstedt (who I didn't recognize as Carl from FANNY AND ALEXANDER) are nearly as good as their eminent costars. And is it just me, or is Gunnel Fred made up to look like Ingrid Thulin in a late scene? A worthy send-off for a true master.Rating: ***.
JUNEBUG (2005, Phil Morrison)- not quite as good as many critics have made it out to be, but still worth seeing. I was annoyed by the way George (played by Alessandro Nivola) was written- he arrives at his family's home, new wife (Embeth Davidtz) in tow, then disappears for much of the film, only to resurface at dramatic moments. Particularly irksome was the way he took his wife to task for missing (SPOILER) in order to chase down a potentially lucrative artist for her museum, after he'd avoided the family for most of the movie. The cast is somewhat inconsistent- Benjamin Mackenzie isn't actor enough to suggest shadings to his stoic character, and can Celia Weston play anything other than meddlesome matriarchs?- but two stand out. Amy Adams has the film's plum role as the sweet, talkative, and largely pregnant Ashley, who takes a shine to her new sister-in-law, and her performance is worth all the ink that has been spilled over it. But where's the hype for Scott Wilson, who is as wonderfully understated as Adams is open-hearted, and suggests volumes just by the way he leans over the kitchen table to eat or searches in vain for a lost screwdriver? Rating: **1/2.