Friday, October 01, 2004

Short Cuts: October '04

American Buffalo
d. Michael Corrente

A heist is planned, replanned, and never gets out of that whole planning stage. Dennis Franz and Dustin Hoffman really pull this one through though. Both play relatively atypical characters (although less so for Franz), and play them extremely well. Hoffman is a kind of neurotic know-it-all that we can never trust, and Franz is rather insecure store-owner cum heist-maven. The thing is: nothing happens. The plot is most definitely the broken appendage of the film, but David Mamet's dialogue is a handy crutch. He explores the ideas of truth, trust, and relationships, coming to the 20th century realization that all are corrupt and we can do nothing about that. Not a great film, but not bad by a long stretch.

Dead Man Walking
d. Tim Robbins, 1995

More than I expected, less than it could have been. A personal (and, I'd venture to say, a communal) phenomenon is hype. Specifically: hype re: the "great" films of the early to mid 90's. Everyone (literally) (just kidding, not literally) tells me that The Usual Suspects, Dances with Wolves, or some such film is the end all to be all of cinema. I watch and am, with few exceptions (Schindler's List being the film coming to mind), entirely underwhelmed. Dead Man Walking is kind of a line walker in that regard. Penn and Sarandon give two grand performances as a murder/rapist and nun (obviously respectively) and Robbins is a competent director. The film engenders all kinds of discussion w/r/t the death penalty, religion, faith, culpability, and other great heady little 2nd-year philosophy items. Sadly, D.M.W. supplies these ideas in a cudgel-like manner; rather then being subtle or worthy of analysis. Worth the rental if only to view the phenomena first hand. (Umm, for what it's worth - I gave it 3 stars at Netflix.

Mon Oncle
d. Jacques Tati, 1958

Mon Oncle came out, obviously, between 1953's M. Hulot's Holiday and 1967's Playtime. Not quite as cheery as the former, not quite as cynical as the latter, Mon Oncle falls somewhere betwixt the two in both mood and theme. The protagonist, Monsieur Hulot, is existing in a dichotomous society; one where the East side of the road houses a quaint country village and the West side is a haven for the upper echelon of high society, replete with the Latest and Greatest marvels of technology. Hulot has the rare position of fitting in only with the villagers, but, at the same time, being required to hob-nob with High Society. As can, and should, be expected - hilarity ensues. Tati worked in set-pieces - he would carefully set up layer upon layer of jokes and then continually wrap back on each joke until absolute bedlam occured. The coup de grace set-piece of Mon Oncle is a luncheon party in which technology is admired and the intrinsic idiosyncracies of humanity are exploited. The absolute high point of this scene, and the encapsulating scene of the movie, is when the party eventually sits down to eat and has nothing to talk about. For 30 seconds we see them sit there, silent, murmuring about the current fiscal figures at work. And therein lies the rub: money can buy an unlimited amount of stuff, but cannot buy human interaction. Juxtaposed with Hulot's village, where music is played, birds sing, and the denizens converse, it seems like an extremely empty existence.

Scarlet Street
d. Fritz Lang, 1945

Edward G. Robinson plays a pathetic man beaten by both his wife and life - strongly against his type. At several points in the film he even wears a floral print apron. Added to this, he is a very talented artist. A mix-up ensues. (Not the funny type, more the tragic, Oedipal type. Not the complex y'all; the play.) A woman and her beau assume Robinson to be a famous artist, whom they can swindle big bucks out of. (Remember: I said he was talented, not famous.) The plot twists and turns, but Lang is a great director - the story avoids tripping over itself and never veers into the camp that Noir often does. (Did I mention this is a Noir? No? OK - it's a Noir.) As you can imagine, most everyone dies or terminates at a royally ruined point. A real upper. Bottom line: a really entertaining flick that should be seen more often.