Daily notes 2010-09

New viewings:
The Red Chapel
Last Train Home
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
OSS 117: Lost in Rio
Blue Valentine
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Lives of Others
Arizona Dream
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Before Sunset
Before Sunrise
Half Nelson
Entre les murs (The Class)
Brain Upon the Brain!
Pan’s Labyrinth
Tokyo Sonata
Good Night and Good Luck.
Trash Humpers
Last Days
Sin City
Where Eagles Dare
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
All the Real Girls
The Company
Fish Tank
Tropical Malady
24 Hour Party People
The Hunted

Just watched: Last Train Home, The Red Chapel, Marwencol

Long night of documentaries.
Last Train Home: a few years in the life of a Chinese migrant family. Harsh and fascinating, but doesn’t quite go anywhere.

The Red Chapel: Von Trier’s production company delivers Danish asshole who takes his comedy troupe buddies to North Korea as a sort of performance practical joke. Again, doesn’t quite reach its potential, but the look into North Korea is incredible. It’s Nazi Germany.

Marwencol: man’s second chance allows him to live in an alternate universe of models and fantasies which sprawl into an epic obsession. It’s actually all about cross-dressing.

Just watched: Bhutto
At the Milwaukee Film Festival. Another conventional docu with an extraordinary subject, a docu that anybody could’ve put together with access to the impressive amount of video footage. Simply telling the story of Benazir Bhutto’s life is dramatic, moving, tragic, all of it. The filmmaker employs CGI in a sexy way throughout, and much of the film is meant to be fun. There was so much more potential. At least now I can confidently recount how the American CIA armed the Mujahideen residing in Northeastern Pakistan to fight off the invading Soviets, and that arming led to the formation of Al Qaeda.

Watched: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Finally. Needless to say, an improvement over Nine. Let’s call it Twenty.

My God I’m in love with this woman. No wonder patients fall for their caregivers. She’s always just looking directly into the camera with that perfect equanimity.

Currently watching: Nine
Why am I watching? I don’t like musicals. The subject matter… the cast… it may be tolerable. That Rob fellow isn’t untalented.

OK, turning it off after 10 minutes. Just cannot do musicals.

Currently watching: The Lives of Others
10 minutes. Positioning the pieces, immediate large-scale setup implied. 2006 was a very good year for Sebastian Koch, but I can’t take my eyes off Ulrich Mühe. He looks like he could do anything.

Yikes. It’s the German National Shame Film.

Still watching: Arizona Dream

OK, this made me laugh.

Currently watching: Arizona Dream
Vincent Gallo and a little indulgence. Pretty irreverent so far, but I want to keep watching.

Over halfway done. I don’t know. There are quite a few elements which make this film singular and exceptional but others – many others – which strike me as amateurishly out-of-place. We have soul-searching narration from Depp (the wisdom of which occasionally comes off as teenaged) followed by Vincent Gallo acting like a lecherous cartoon character and Faye Dunaway wearing a Gondry-like Personal Flying Apparatus and looking like one of those perversely wealthy kooks. I have no idea where the film is going and do not trust the writers to successfully deliver me There. But I still do enjoy watching for its time capsule quality if nothing else, and its pleasantly 90’s crafting.

I do feel as if there’s something special at work here – the questionable elements are absolutely attributable to Kusturica (who won the Palme d’Or twice, once before this film and once after) who co-wrote, and David Atkins who did the rest of the writing – Atkins, who is responsible for the irritatingly indy and conventional Novocaine. Kusturica appears to be a seasoned storyteller, refreshingly, but his literate choices leave me a trifle dubious.

Currently watching: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Rather inspiring film. Once Guetta turns to street art… I just really don’t think he’s very good. I mean not nearly as good as Banksy, and when we spend the first half of the film pomping and following Banksy, then turn to Guetta… well, suddenly he reminded me of Rupert Pupkin. He just isn’t as creative in his statements. And I remember seeing all this art – I was living in LA when they were active. There’s one piece outside the New Beverly Theater, an old woman and the caption “You looked better on MySpace.” Banksy or Guetta? (I now see its Banksy, my suspicions proved).

Excellent reminder of what film can do in a phenomenal context. Of course the mere acts of Guetta’s make him exceptional – just like Pupkin… media savants.

Currently watching: 2046
Finally. I don’t know much of anything about China, ignorant inasmuch as I know the breadth of my ignorance. It’s a microcosm over there. Wong’s talent is extraordinarily – is he the best director in China? Perhaps not. As a writer, I question him.

Just started: Centurion
Michael Fassbender has officially exploded. He’s all over the place. Yea! The film itself looks absolutely tired but is so darned pretty. So this is the path Fassbender is choosing… he doesn’t mind the blockbusters, I see… is he our next Ewan McGregor? I think I see more talent in Fassbender, and so young! His presence here is an unsettling turn.

The film is absolutely gorgeous HD but is filled with pitifully childish CGI blood, which sprays on any available surface in a shot. This confirms my negative gut reaction at the opening credits sequence, a weak imitation, which made me think of the legions of graphic artists who work on these things and how much grasping they do… A shred of creativity, I think, I think that’s real! Almost got it! Alllmoooost!OHAWESOME.

Sigh. It’s really awful. It’s a bad cartoon. This Neil Marshall should be ashamed of himself.

Currently watching: Before Sunset
Yeah, yeah.

Oh, man. We’re an hour in and they’re still talking like they did in the first 25 minutes of Sunrise.

Currently watching: Before Sunrise
Ethan Hawke may very well have been a big reason why people thought it was OK to grow goatees in the nineties. As for this film, well, it’s hard to see through the opalescent vapor of sentimentality that is fogging up the goings on.
Let’s break this down into minutiae sight. Hawke (25 years old) throws his head back in ecstasy. Hawke: (gaily) “Let’s get off this damn train!”

Currently watching: Half Nelson
Is it a coincidence that this viewing treads the heels of The Class? NO. Opening shot: the sound of an alarm clock going off. There’s no more painful and recognizable sound in America.

One second of seeing Gosling sneer at himself and I’m filled with faith (this is my first Gosling, as well. Prepping for Blue Valentine, to open MFF). This is all within the first 50 seconds of the film – hooray!

Currently watching: The Class
OK, I understand, Cannes is like every other festival, and Social Issue films always win.

Well this fella is no better than his students. I think it’s evident that modern education could stand a jump start, if not a new frame altogether. There are a few ways to handle educational systems within films… one is a generalized approach to dealing with the more troubled members of our society, making schools comparable with prisons and the justice system (and that’s certainly interesting), and the other is a massive examination of societal class structure. Frankly the latter is what I had been hoping for with this viewing, but it’s still interesting.

OK. Negative reinforcement = bad. I recall coming to the same conclusion when I was in high school. But I really was hoping to get deeper into that, and by the end we didn’t really get deeply into anything.

Currently watching: Bubble
Here’s my prediction, right at 15 minutes: all I know of Bubble is that its heading in a noir direction – a murder, or something, awaits up. I think this new gal on the right is the femme fatale, totally jaded, wants out of the shitty little town, and our sap in the middle will be her ticket. The stony woman on the left smells trouble. It’s very impressive – if I’m right, that is, because then it will be Soderbergh proving to us (as usual) that drama can be found even in the asshole of America. That’s a message I’m ready to hear.

Still watching: Brand Upon the Brain!
Maddin’s active raw talent is rather astonishing (for this first-time viewer, at least).

Currently watching: Brand Upon the Brain!
My first Maddin. Sensory overload of silliness. It has a teen’s exuberance and irreverence, yet Maddin was 50 when he made it.

Currently watching: Pan’s Labyrinth
Uh oh. When a villain puts on a song, only one kind of thing typically follows…

Currently watching: Tokyo Sonata
The film seems to be exuding ennui along with its characters, which is a bit dispiriting. It’s very American Beauty. This actor sitting here on the bench has a smug self-awareness I don’t care for.

Currently watching: Good Night, and Good Luck.
Is it my imagination, or is this film numbingly boring? I wonder if Clooney thought he was giving the public what they want – a serious American film about Terror in America, made by Americans, patriots, good citizens, smart citizens, informed citizens. This film feels like it would be the favorite of NPR broadcasters. It also feels completely hollow, as did Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. And we had such high hopes for George. He is similar to Cary Grant, it’s true, but is clearly too enamored by his own image.

Re-watching: Brokeback Mountain

Just watched: Trash Humpers
Well I don’t know why I didn’t expect this.

13 years of making films and Harmony Korine hasn’t exactly evolved as an artist.

Currently watching: Last Days
10 minutes in and this is perhaps the 6th shot. Good stuff!

Currently watching: Sin City
The comic elements apparently bled right into the acting. Maybe this is a stupid thing to say, but I simply can’t believe a damn thing that’s happening. I suppose this is literally just the same as an animated film. I actually did enjoy the opening credits, though. But why would a person want to make a cartoon with real people? The product is simply immature (I tend to think that that says something telling about most comics and graphic novels).

It often pains me to watch Willis. Here his character, despite having a nigh-fatal heart condition and concentrated misanthropy in his blood, has been dispatched with something like 10 slugs to his torso. He falls to the ground. Down – but out? Oh, no.

You just witnessed my gut reaction to the film’s… conceit. But I learn fast. There’s fun to be had if you don’t mind depravity, indulgence…

And Mickey Rourke is great.

Currently watching: Where Eagles Dare
Five minutes in and its going strong.

Intrigue! Who killed the 7th paratrooper? My money is on the blonde. An exceptional setup thus far.

…nope. My second choice. It’s totally Clint Eastwood. Oh! And look, Philip Stone!

The siege of Adler Schloβ!

The score patiently throbs, tense and malevolent..

I have officially grown weary of Clint Eastwood’s dormant smugness – – and this is still the relative beginning of his career. Yes, like our President, he seems to quietly expect one to be impressed with him. Despite this there are still reasons to enjoy him.

Enjoying myself.

My only complaint is that some of the film’s excitement (particularly during the extended climax) is nullified because Richard Burton makes the right choices again and again, always appearing to be in control of the situation. Less excitement, more awe was perhaps intended.

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of bridge destruction in films.

Yes, the story feels almost archetypal in how it plays out.

And god, here we go. The ultimate twist. The film becomes more implausible as it goes on, alas. Done. A rollicking romp.

Now, for 1968, do you prefer Where Eagles Dare or Once Upon a Time in the West? They’re both about the same length, both broad archetypal genre pieces. There’s a bit more directional panache in Leone, but atmospheric sterility in Eagles – yes, Eagles is even yet melodramatic. Come to think of it, Leone’s later trilogy is riddled with imperfections (not to be found in the former trilogy) where Eagles feels very concise. OK. I’ll grant West because something emotional is at least attempted.

Currently watching: Babel
It’s funny how Japanese schoolgirls are a commodity, no matter what culture you’re from.

Brad Pitt… Brad Pitt… he’s Brad goddamn Pitt and clearly major billing. I expect more than I’m seeing here… though next year he redeems himself as Jesse James.

Done. You know, I thought it was very sweet. Unfortunately that same sweetness is its greatest hindrance. In hindsight the Japanese story was rather useless, and Bernal was under-utilized. But cost 25 mil and made 135. Impressive.

Currently watching: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Quality, but not blowing my hair back like I’d expected. Shots are pretty but lack dynamism – or movement, for that matter – and all dialogue has been quiet whimperings and whisperings. Halfway through and we’re getting our thoughts together in the bathroom, planning our strategic approaching climax (or should I say anticlimax?).

Currently watching: All the Real Girls
To my surprise I’m not hating it. He made it when he was 27, so it’s not too shabby, I’d say. But god do these characters talk about some stupid shit sometimes. Right now Zooey is telling Paul that she had dreamed that he grew a garden on a trampoline, and that she had been so happy that she had invented peanut butter. I guess Paul here must feel the same way about her.

I see now that Green is striving to be like Terrence Malick. It’s funny, I saw Snow Angels years ago (and hated it), my only Green, and came away with the same impression – so I must be right!

Done. Oh brother. It’s the chick flick of dude flicks. Admirable and all, but just too… young.

Currently watching: The Company
Wow, yes. Let’s give Neve Campbell some more attention.

Currently watching: Fish Tank
Very quickly it’s shaping up to be exceptional.

Christ! It’s the British KIDS!

And we always love seeing Michael Fassbender.

Mmm…….. too bad. It was downright exceptional up until Mia wandered into that suburban tract and then wandered off with “that little girl.” Things were amazing enough until then, I didn’t feel the need for the story to bend and bend again, and again.

Currently watching: Cheri
This kid has my gait and wardrobe, and polished irony – or is this just what I’d be doing in the 1890s?

Currently watching: Tropical Malady
This Thai has had a great deal of praise and I’m still waiting to see why. This is my first walk with Apichatpong Weerasethakul (first time I’ve written that without checking the spelling!), and so far all I see is Happy Together with a lot less energy and more cute, delicate, pithy dialogue. As usual, I’m sure my initial critical prejudice will be washed away with experience, as I’ll be tackling, I think, at least two more Weerasethakuls before the alleged crown jewel, Uncle Boonmee, premieres at the Milwaukee Film Festival. So far in Malady, I’m seeing a rudimentary Boy Meets Boy story with competent photography. Waiting for my ass to be kicked. Hoping.

But to be sympathetic for a moment: knowing pretty much nothing of Thai cinema, I would imagine that Weerasethakul represents a sort of artistic maturity (though apparently more like coming-of-age) that has blossomed in Thailand. That’s very good.

52 minutes in… Something is happening! Hmm now I see… it’s the youthful sense of discovery that’s to be appreciated here… Well, OK.

And now the film has screeched to a halt via an out-of-left-field folk digression… OK, interesting.

Currently watching: 24 Hour Party People
Color me 20 years old, but I’m impressed. Competent sweeping scene w/perfect British host. And the content isn’t bad either.

Currently watching: Basquiat

It’s fine, pleasing assemblage of 90’s talent, glad I’m watching it, but my hair isn’t blown back. I’m most appreciative of the glossy educational value. It’s a bit sentimental. Jeffrey Wright has talent, but I wonder if he – like his buddy here – may not be industry leading man material. No matter what I think, he is doing a really fabulous job..

Currently watching: Pandorum
Intriguing 33 million dollar anomaly. Extremely ambitious. Which would you rather have… Pandorum, or Dark City? Sort of tastlelessly high-concept…

Currently watching: The Hunted
I’d like to learn CQC without having to first become a marine. It seems vital.

Watched all but one season of Prime Suspect. Helen Mirren is my favorite actress, bar none. And that’s it! Season 2 is the peak, and there’s no real point in watching past season 3 unless you’re just there for Mirren, like me. Though watching our beloved Tennison pitiably battle alcoholism in The Final Act was too much for even this fan to bear.