Sunday, November 06, 2005

Short Cuts: November '05

d. Ki-duk Kim, 2005

I do wish I understood a bit more about Buddhism, because I feel that it is at the heart of this film. (Certainly religion in general is central - enough portraits of spiritual figures, Jesus et al, are scattered about the mise-en-scene to hammer this home.) The sacred tone is compelling, though, even if one cannot understand the film. There's a bit in the middle where someone dies that leaves me perplexed - perhaps a misstep, or perhaps I just don't get it. The last 20 minutes are absolutely breathtaking.

A Very Long Engagement
d. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004

Golly, Jeunet has one of the most poetic visual styles working today. And he puts it to very good use here, contrasting the beauty of his shots to the often-times gritty, squalid subject matter. Unfortunately, the cheekiness of Amelie (which, in spite of the cheekiness, I loved) creeps in, debasing the gravity of certain otherwise perfect battle/war-time scenes. The character quirks also pile up and wax irritating, e.g. Mathilde's limp & her temporal ultimatums, e.g. if this film ends before the audience is sick of me, Maneche is alive. Regardless, Jeunet (and Audrey Tatou - if my fiancee didn't exist, I'd be in love) is in his element concerning the "love" bits. I think he wanted to make a love story, got caught up in the anti-war aspect, and still terminated at a love story. It would've worked better w/ less bathos, but a good, entertaining film regardless. (And I should mention that the labrynthine plot is enough to turn off most, but I loved it, if for nothing else than the simple fact that it refused to condescend the viewer.)

The Ballad of Cable Hogue
d. Sam Peckinpah, 1970

What the hell is going on here? Comedy punctuating pathos, culminating in a preacher/cassanova asking God & The Viewer (one in the same?) not to take Cable Hogue (both the character and the film) lightly. Needless to say, I loved it. One year after The Wild Bunch, Peckinpah drops the violence and does a character study. (Although it is really a nasty bit of fun how he toys with the audience from word go, blasting the guts out of a desert lizard - the only bit of blood in the film.) Toward the end, the idea of mechanization v. nature surfaces (via the tenor of an automobile, of course.) Before that, though, it's anyone's guess. I would say, if pressed, that this is about the American Dream. Hogue (Jason Robards, in a brilliant performance), while stranded in the desert, promises to God not do what he did before, "Whatever is was [he] did" if God will just send him some water. And water the Good Lord sends. In the form of an extremely lucrative spring along a wagon route. Whether Hogue does what he promised not to do or not (is that understandable enough? Whatever.), the viewer must hazard a guess, but it is clear that he - pretty much - forgets God. American ingenue, really. Cable Hogue finds what he asked God for, and then forgets God, rendering God obsolete and unnecessary amidst all that water and money. Basically: rags-to-riches. I'm sure there is a good deal more there, I just cannot grasp onto it w/ one viewing under my belt. Clearly there is a good deal more to the relationship between Hogue and God, and to the entrepeneurial nature of Cable. Weird thing though: strange bits of fx play - a winking/smiling five dollar bill, some fast motion camera action that seems more Chaplin than Peckinpah. I can't make heads or tails, but I did love the thing.

Dallas 362
d. Scott Caan, 2003

Did you know that Scott Caan is James Caan's son? I did not until, I don't know, a year or so ago. The likeness is undeniable. Ditto that cute, bravado swagger. Anyway, just thought I'd let you know.

Now, Scott Caan is very likeable actor. Very. Whether he's good/great/awful/mediocre/whatever is for you to decide, but he's certainly a likeable kid. Kid probably working as the great signifyer here. Kids make fun first films, full of technical flourishes - slo-mo, still shots, strange editing tricks: that kind of thing. And Dallas 362, like Pi, like Boondock Saints, like Reservoir Dogs, does not disappoint in the bravura category. And, as with the aforementioned, the technical experimentation nearly sinks Dallas 362. There's so much good stuff here - a really fantastic eponym, a real-life hetero male-to-male friendship, dissent in the face of convention - but the ugly bits - over-acting, unnecessary tangential characters, Jeff Goldblum - almost overshadow all of it. Thankfully, the film ends where it should end - in the capable arms of the friendship story, leaving a mostly satisfying taste in this viewer's mouth. Recommended with reservations - that is, watch out for the freshman hijinx.

d. Mike Leigh, 1993

Erudition is about as attractive as it gets, and Johnny here (David Thewlis) has it in spades enough to turn me gay. Johnny, in spite of all his intelligence, is a man attempting to talk his way out of fate, as if pollicating the shitty state of humanity enough times somehow renders one supercedent to that unfortunate cesspool. Leigh writes just as deftly as he directs, blending the aforementioned intelligence/wit with a deep-seated pathos. (Or is this another of those improv jobs? If so, Thewlis should be given a damn Gold College Freshman Philosophical Bullshitting/Fucking Over Award. That is, assuming such an honor exists. Which it probably does not, 'cause who in their right mind likes freshmen?) The result of Leigh's talent is a deeply depraved film - one in which humanity really isn't given much of a nice nod - wherein the characters dash away the pretense of "reality" and show, instead, the awful - many would argue "true" - nature of the world we live in.

d. Park Chan-wook, 2003

There are some absolutely glorious things going on with this film. Setpieces, originality of the story, fine acting. To say much at all would be to ruin the whole damn thing, so I'm gonna keep mostly mum on the plot points. I'll just get straight to my problem, and the reason I don't wholeheartedly proclaim this to be one of the absolute best films of the year. Rather than leaving the details for the reader to figure out, and rather than make them plausible enough to be figured out, Park - in reverse order here - shrouds the explanation in improbabilities, strong improbabilities, and didactially lays out the circumstances of those improbabilities. And that's really it. Now: I'm doing a bit of back-cover recitation here, but Park is clearly influenced by Hitchcock. And I like that. The general Korean action/suspense flick style works well with a Hitchcockian thing. Also: there's a good deal of philosophizing here, and I like that too. Questions pondered, with vague spoilers: what are the boundaries of love? If you could erase those boundaries, given the opportunity and impunity, would you? Are the weight values given to various crimes & sins in Western Society valid?

Ride the High Country
d. Sam Peckinpah, 1962

Elegy for the dear departed, i.e. the West. Peckinpah contrasts the "old-timers" (Joel McCrea & Randolph Scott - both phenomenal) against the "new-breed" (ostensibly, everyone else.) The only hopeful amongst the bunch - that is, a scion of hope for the future - is a would-be rapist who supposedly looks up these old-timers, i.e. this one isn't too terribly optimistic. At first blush, this seems in direct opposition to Peckinpah's later "masterpiece" (naturally, I beg to differ), The Wild Bunch, but here Peckinpah's dealing mainly with the ideas of loyalty and honor, ideas that - pretty much - are at work in the "old-timers" of The Wild Bunch. Standing for the new-breed is the town of Coarse Gold - get it? In one of the better scenes, an innocent woman (madonnas or whores, Sam, madonnas or whores) is married and proceeds to deal - immediately - with attempted rape from the bridegroom's brother, essentially by his consent. Here the harbingers of the future have ruined the future's future as well as fucking up tomorrow's affair. No clean marriage = no clean birthing = no cleanliness forever. Or something like that. But there's no plot, or at least not much of one, and a hurried ending that probably had something to do with the studio. I.E. ("I'm going i.e. crazy lately.") usual Peckinpah fare, wherein what might have been a masterpiece is mitigated - like a good, stiff gin & tonic - into a relatively innocuous, docile "good film."

Style Wars
d. Chalmant/Silver, 1983

I'd very much like to write a full-length review about this one, but I simply don't have the time right now. Suffice it to say that it's a fantastic anthropological study (although that sounds a bit too stuffy for the tone of the film) of an oft maligned/misunderstood subculture, that of the graffiti artist. Highlights include, foremost, the work of the artists - some of these pieces are simply stunning. The crux of the film is the way in which it catches the art at a transitional point, either dying or blooming. In hindsight, the moment turned out to be a bit of both. Here the movement is seen as a candle burning at both ends, threatened by high art (made apparent by a proper gallery showing of canvas medium facsimiles of the pieces originally displayed on train cars - missing the point entirely that, as McLuhan says to some extent, the medium is the message) and low art alike (here a crass hillbilly going by the handle of "Cap" whose m.o. is quantity over quality. Although a strong argument could be made for the fact that his form of tagging is equally valid.) Most striking is the eloquence of many of these artists - they have a mostly clear sense of what it is they're doing and why they're doing it and why it is, ultimately, art.