Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Elizabethtown (Crowe, 2005)

This is complicated.

You want to give Crowe props for unabashedly sentimentalizing his autobiography. Long the province of novelists and Truffaut, you've just gotta give it up for the one guy who is trying to make "personal" movies.

Yet watching this incoherent turd-fest you will be shocked that this is the same man who made the very good Jerry McGoo and the very very very very very good Almost Famoo. Orlando Bloom is unwatchable. Kirsten Dunst surprisingly sweet. Much stolen from Wilder, nothing as gratuitous as the Apartmento suicide in Famoo. The Elizabethtown locals including David Gordon Green's buttboy are all cool. Story makes no sense, too much cheesy music, and a third-act roadtrip which is like a cross between On the Road and a 5th-grade History Textbook.

Best line, from Kirsten Dunst, in voice-over during the trip: "...this is where Martin Luther King was killed. But his death was only the beginning of his victory."

A strange line in a movie with ZERO black people in it.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A History of Violence (Cronenberg, 2005)

A promising early sex-scene left me convinced this movie could be something, but B-list wacko Cronenface has the human insight of an overrated plodding pulpster--in other words his combination of lurid plot and constipacing convinces coastal critics that he's "after something interesting." A vision of America that would seem antiquated in 1955, corny on "Born in the USA"--there's a scene that involves a joint and cruising-down-the-strip--the hosannas piling up on this pile of dung are as baffling as usually genius William Hurt's cringe-worthy performance. Read a book instead.

The Major and The Minor (Wilder, 1942)

Never went to sleep last night, half-crazed from some film failure, but I knew my mood would brighten when the perverts over at TCM programmed this as their early brunchtime sweet Sunday soucon. Wilder's first directorial effort in the USA, Ginger Roger's finest performance. Ray Milland is perfect. The cleanliness of Billy's comedic and narrative line has never been matched, nor the way the scales balance satire and tenderness, always attempted, never achieved but for the master. Cameron Faggot Crowe's nutzoid about Billy always baffled me--Crowe's got Wilder's heart (maybe a bit too much), but Wilder's brain was full of razor blades. Crowe's is full of confetti and Elton John B-Sides.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Junebug (Morrison, 2005)

If you want to see a star-in-the-making, go see this movie for Amy Adams. She's gonna be the real deal.

Also, see this movie if you want to be incredibly bored by typical indie-regional pretension/condescension.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Constant Gardener (Mereilles, 2005)

Another movie attempting to settle the great writer v. director question. Compare it to Hotel Rwandaa (George, 2005). While Mereilles (City of God), has visual flair to spare (and a suprising eye for composition and color, in spite of his shake-n-bake camera), it lacks a crucial element: screenwriter Jeffrey Caine (the loathesome "Rory O'Shea Was Here") never fully explains the conspiracy, something essential in a conspiracy thriller. It's something about big pharma, drug testing, and a worldwide plague of TB (what?), but nothing ever quite makes sense, as if the filmmakers, desperate to keep you on edge, fell off the cliff themselves. Rwandaa on the other hand never had anything but a medium close-up, but man, did the story rip your nuts out; people all around me were gasping in the theater during the scene when Cheadle rides over the bodies.

As a side note, we've been given two movies this year about African poverty but none about American poverty. Not to get political, but I just don't give a shit about Africa. I'm a left-wing jingoist; I realize that people in Africa are suffering from poor medicine, but guess what, America: so are people just a few miles to any side of you. Maybe we should try and save our fellow countrymen before the rest of the world. And that could start with the movies.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Broken Flowers (Jarmusch 2005)

Fuck you Jim Jarmusch. I want my money back. This movie is long, boring, meaningless, contentless, emotionless, shotless, prideless. It doesn't even deserve that sentence.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The 40 Year-Old Virgin (Apatow, 2005)

In the words of South Park's resident annoying Jew Kyle Schwartz....I'M BACK!!!!!

Where have I been? I'm not telling, but it involved chocolate sauce.

Anyway, Judd Apatow: I used to love you. Now you are a sell-out hack just like the rest of 'em. Fuck you for making this piece-of-shit movie. Fuck you Seth Rogen for making fun of "Liar Liar," a movie about eight-hundred times more subtle than this one. Fuck you Paul Rudd for doing the same sleepy-eyed loser performance in every movie I've seen you.

Which of these does not belong: The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, The 40-Year Old Virgin? You know, I once saw an unproduced pilot he made starring Jason Segel and it was brilliant. Now Segel is on a CBS show slated for the fall (How I Met Your Mother) and Judd Apatow is rolling in money. Judd Apatow is a dishonest pig.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Lords of Dogtown (Hardwicke, 2005)

This had the best scene I've seen in a movie in awhile: without dialogue, Emil Hirsch seduces Nikki Reed by miming and dancing to a Jimi Hendrix song blaring from a houseparty. Something straight out of Chaplin, it simply, beautifully expressed the swaggering awkwardness of adolescent desire.

However, when your three leads aren't good skateboarders--most skate scenes are close-ups of feet, cut to wide angles of silhouetted stunt doubles, then to a skateboard-cam--the magic of the Z-Boys is missing. Instead of casting three non-stars with indie cred--besides Hirsch, there's the kid from Elephant and Victor "Vargas" Rasuk--why didn't Hardwicke just dig up three skate rats from Venice and screw performances out of 'em?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Black Narcissus (Powell and Pressburger, 1947)

All I'm going to say is this: this an insane melodrama about lusting nuns in the Himalayas. It has the exact same structure as Los Olvidados. Is that enough for you? It better be.

Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960)

This, like Vertigo, is a film professor movie--cold, icy, fixated on the nature of scopophilia more than story. Released the same year as "Psycho," the comparisons are inevitable--childhood-psyche damage makes looney, faggy adult--though only this film succeeded in ending the career of one of film's most brilliant directors.

Also, a feather-in-the-cap to all you screenwriters out there: one of Michael Powell's rare attempts without Emeric Pressburger, both the story and the dialogue are missing that heart-stabbing P&P punch.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Who's the Caboose (Seder, 1996)

I've never had much affection for the East Coast alt-comedy scene of the mid-90s. Though there was a nice melding of the L.A./Boston scene with the Ben Stiller Show, I've always found those East Coasters--David Cross, Todd Barry, Sarah Silverman, Janeano Garofalo (who now has an abysmal show on "Air America" with this film's director)--unbearably smug and only intermittenly funny. There's nothing more ferociously annoying than white people who think they are "scathing."

But as much as I hate to say it, this movie was fabulous. Clearly produced for zero dollars--it was shot in 12 days--"Who's the Caboose" tells the story of Max Rabin (Seder) and Sarah Silverman (can't remember the character's name), two downtown NYC performance-artists/stand-up comics who come to Los Angeles for pilot season. Max is a big nothing, Sarah is repped by CAA. Time to rock and roll.

Don't expect the universe--the faux-doc style will sometimes leave you wishing for some of the Christopher Guestians--but this has some unbelievably spot-on satire. Max's Dad is a powerful lawyer who he hates (he's at work on a one-man show called "I Hate My Dad"); when Sarah reads for the studio execs on a sitcom pilot, the only one who laughs is the fatty, nebbishy writer (who has the best line in the whole movie; I won't ruin it for you); a beautiful David Cross monologue that involves his slicing of a bean; the way Sarah's manager (Andy Dick) has only one famous client. Even Silverman has some really golden stuff in here. As much as I hate to admit it.

I'm not sure how to track this one down; I saw it on the TRIO Channel. But for any fans of comedy, television, no-budget movies, or entertainment wannabees, it's really not to be missed.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Fargo (Coen, 1996)

A completely great movie that leaves me completely unmoved.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Kicking & Screaming (Dylan, 2005)

Has Will Ferrell ever been able to carry a movie on his adorably hairy shoulders? Not yet ("Elf" sucked, you hopped-on-the-bandwagon-too-late idiot, and as a sidenote, shame-on-you Jon Favreau. You waste what you have been given). It's not sweet Will's fault: it doesn't help when your director is blind.

Big Larry Fouch Fuck You to those smary Sideways-fellating critics who wrote something to the effect of: "Directed by Jesse Dylan (Bob's son, who knows a thing or two about father-son competition)...." as if that gave it some funky auterist street cred: well, I'm glad you read the press packet, you dumb Upper-West-Side truffle-oil eating semi-impotent with gray-thinning-pubic-hair motherfucker.

Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Sith (Lucas, 2005)

The finer points of all of this have been written about by more passionate people than myself (I've actually found the AICN guys strangely moving ). So I will make two points:

1. Has there been a film in which a director has been so madly in love with his own iconography? Like late 70s Fellini or late 90s Vivid-Jameson flicks, the joy of style seems to stem not from the narrative, but from the director ogling his own past. It is pure, sticky self-indulgence: the backstory to our nation's greatest myth. At least that's what Lucas and everyone in the movie theater seemed to think. And I was swept up along with them.

2. Is The Godfather the first intercut massacre scene? It's in Goodfellas too, and here is Lucas using it again for the Jeditracide. If anyone knows what weird Walsh/Ford/whoever movie Francis Ford stole it from, I'd love to know.

2a. The kids sitting next to me were discussing if they'd be attending junior prom while simultaneously ripping on each other for being at a Star Wars movie on a Friday night. I had forgotten just how insanely mean high school freaks are to one another.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Funny Ha-Ha (Bujalski, 2005)

I arrived at the theater before Eric. As I saw him walking down the street, I noticed a man talking with him. It was none other than our old teacher, Mr. Novotny, who still seems to be suffering.

We wanted the best for this flick: a low-budget feature, shot on super 16, about mumbly 20somethings. If nothing else, to show us that the low-budget, shot on 16, mumbly 20something feature could indeed be successful.

Unfortunately, a movie needs characters, plot, and camerawork. This movie didn't have any of those things so we walked out.

(Note: this was my first walk-out since "Howard's End.")

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Matter of Life and Death (Powell and Pressburger, 1946)

Have you ever worried that when you are on trial to enter Heaven's Gates, the prosecuting attorney may be a Revolutionary War hero? If so, this is the movie for you.

It's a masterpiece. Do whatever you can to find it.

I Know Where I'm Going! (Powell and Pressburger, 1945)

No one has an easy relationship with Michael Powell. People either really like him or are complete fanatics, and his non-acceptance into the international film pantheon (despite the best efforts of "Marty" Scorsese) has less to do with his unbelievable ability to entertain but rather that his excessively charming vision lacks the psycho-cynicism of so many "greater" directors.

He is a filmmaker of artifice--I am often reminded of Jacques Demy when I watch him--and watching a P&P movie is always the same for me: the first fifteen minutes are enraging. The acting is always speedy, the compositions artificial, the camera almost satanically smooth for the 1940s, but let the Powell vision wash over you, and it will be an experience: pure, ecstatic joy. His movies don't make you want to kill yourself: they make you want to go out and make your own movies.

This week I will be reporting on many more P&P movies, thanks to a wonderful retro at The Walter Reade Theater. Won't you join me, Larry Fouch, on my journey?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Waiting for Guffman (Guest, 1996)

Does this movie ever stop being hilarious? Some for selling, some for keeping.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A Lot Like Love (Cole, 2005)

I was reading "The Western Canon" today, and Harold Bloom wrote that as a genre, romance is dead. That's not good: since romance is my most favorite of all genres, I support any movie that tries to tell a love-tale in any sort of humane way.

There's a lot wrong with A Lot Like Love--lobotomized first act dialogue, a horrendous soundtrack, Ashton Kutcher--but about halfway through, it begins to hit moments of genuine slouchy charm. Most of this is thanks to Amanda Peet, the Tracy Flick of cinema: desperate to please, intentionally impressive, and strangely everywhere (though no place better than Saving Silverman). Here she manages to have a few moments that make you want to jump through the screen and kiss her ear. Kutcher resembles nothing so much as a ski catalog--his nose looks like a ski jump in Oslo--and a slightly more subversive actor could have really made things interesting: this movie could have--it seems like it wanted to--finally broken us out of the quirky girl/nebbishy guy rom-com conundrum.

The movie is about a half-hour too long, and that may be the best thing about it; the completely bizarre pacing plays nicely against much of the forced, adorable affability (there seem to be a number of gags involved things shoved up nose-orifices). I can't say I'd recommend this movie if you are over 17--though it was just the kind of picture that I would see summer of senior year of high-school, followed by a blow-job in my girlfriend's basement, so that might explain some of the nervous, nostalgic groin-tingling I felt towards the end of the second act--but I much preferred sitting through this movie than Michel Gondry's bogus Annie Hall-ripoff, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. After all, sentimentality is a more natural expression of romance than idiosyncrasy: when was the last time someone broke your heart and you felt clever?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (Cassavetes 2004)

Fuck yeah. You know those movies, that like in the first 20 minutes, you don't know if you want to keep watching or just run out of the room and tell everyone you know about how rock-and-roll it is?

This is one of those movies. It's about the best movie channel ever that showed the best movies of all time. The documentary includes:

--Henry Jaglom talking about A Safe Place, which my friend Eric quite correctly dubbed "Death by Jaglom." If you haven't seen "Always..." I can't recommend it enough.
--Alexander Payne (who will be his generation's best filmmaker if he stops making yuppie crap like "Sideways") getting misty-eyed over one of my all-time favorites La Notte.
--Stuart Cooper!!!! If you've never seen Overlord you've yet to actually live.

Yes, the doc is not perfect--we never really know enough of Jerry Harvey, "The Leopard" doesn't take place all in one night, and I'm not sure why there is 15 minutes spent on "Turkish Delight"--but it is a must-see for anyone who cares about movies; just write down the titles of all the unknown masterpieces you've never seen and you'll be well-taken care of until July.

This movie is screening on the IFC right now. Watch it. Xan Cassavetes: I love your father and now I love you.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ran (Kurosawa, 1985)

Caught this one on this rainy Cambridgian night at The Harvard Film Archive. Kurosawa was 75 years old when he made this picture, and as such, only 98% of the frames are perfect. The influence of John Ford--especially The Searchers--is heavy here, particularly in the pre-battle scenes, which use horses on hills to visually articulate hierarchy.

A great film, and a great salve to Lee Siegel's moronic piece about Freud in The New York Times book review, in which he blames the great septum deviator AND cinema for ruining character. First he argues: "For all the rich work published after the war, there's barely a fictional figure that has the memorableness of a Gatsby, a Nick Adams, a Baron Charlus, a Leopold Bloom, a Settembrini." Um, hm, let's see: Augie March, Nathan Zuckerman, Frank Wheeler, and Herzog all seem to be far more fascinating than Baron Charlus. Then he writes: "How many movie characters can you think of -- with the exception, perhaps, of Citizen Kane -- whose names have the archetypal particularity of Isabel Archer or Sister Carrie?" Let's see: Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta, Cabiria, Sam Spade, Octave, Tracy Flick, Yojimbo, Darth Vader, E.T., Viridiana. Sister Carrie?!?!?!?!?! It's this kind of snobbery that makes the publishing industry so yakky. If you want to complain that there hasn't been a man in fiction richer than Konstantin Levin, that is fine: just don't blame it on the movies. The aridity of our current literature is more due to po-mo cutesy trickery than DVDs.

Sorry for that. Anyway, see "Ran." It'll rip your nuts out.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Jennings, 2005)

Just because Spike Jonze is a brilliant filmmaker--look at one of the first drafts of Charlie Kaufman's "Malkovich" or "Adaptation" to see what a huge hand Mr. Jonze had in shaping these films; his simple visual style a perfect counterpoint to Michel Gondry's flashy nonsense--doesn't mean music videomakers should be allowed to direct movies. Especially not movies from one of my favorite books of all times.

Apparently it was Mr. Jonze who recommended to the Hitchhiker producers that they hire British music-vid supastars Hammer & Tongs to make this film, and they are in way over their heads. I thought it was impossible to pull a shitty performance out of Tim from The Office, but here he is, twitching like a Tourette's victim after drinking three Diet Tabs. Mos Def looks completely lost, and Zooey Deschannel simply wins the award for largest eyes. Props to Sam Rockwell for updating Zaphod Beeblebrox from a Reagan-parody to a Bush-slam, but Garth Jennings simply lacks the control--both visual and narrative--to pull this one off. It's pure train-wreck cinema: a movie where it looks like no one has any clue what is goin' on.

I've read the entire series and still had trouble following the plot; the visual language was equally non-sensical (to film the emotional climax in tight close-ups is a bad idea, especially when your star is more porous than planet Zed); and the performers seemed unable to combine dead-pan Brit drollery with the zesty Brit nonsensery. Twenty years in development should have also guaranteed a script in which the characters' goals were at least clear to an audience. Almost a complete failure from start-to-finish--yes, the stop-motion yarn was cute, but it belonged in a Beck video--the filmmakers had the nuts to end the film with the dedicatory "For Douglas." Believe me, whatever heaven that genius is in, he's vomiting yarn all over the place if this piece of doggerel ever makes it up there.

It underscores Fouch Movie Rule #77: good books do not make good movies. Mediocre books can make great movies.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Crash (Haggis, 2005)

Do not see this movie.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Chapters 8, 36, 41-44 on the DVD of Hair (Forman, 1979)

Eric stopped by after work yesterday, and the discussion fell to movies, and then eventually to Milos Forman. We decided to watch the end of "Hair," but to prepare we re-aquainted ourselves with the songs necessary to enjoy the heartbreaking reprise (admittedly "Morning Song" was not needed, but it's always funny to go glibbyaglobbyjooby with Beverly D'Angelo, who looks like a fawn being buggered with a candy-cane).

Many friends ask why I love Milos so much. Here's why: there is one push-in in the whole movie, and that is when Berger (Treat Williams) realizes he's going to be sent to Vietnam. That's restraint, and that's why he can go nuts at the end--riprapripideedo camera moves, dramatic helicoptering, storm troopers--try not to be blown away as the camera moves with Berger onto the plane.

I must admit I really could do without the last scene: a messy mass of people from 1978 running and jumping around the frame. It looks like Milos raided a Styx concert, and in a way there's no better reminder how far the hippie movement had fallen by the time he decided to make this movie; the left's ultimate betrayal of Carter would come six months later. There is one redeeming moment--at 1:56:39--in which the camera has discovered what would soon be termed "white trash," but was then only known as a Lynrd Skynrd fan and father of three.

Fun fact: cinematographer Miroslave Ondricek has shot movies for which Hollywood hack director? Yes: Penny Marshall. But then again Sven Nyqvist shot "Sleepless in Seattle" so who's complaining?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Ermo (Zhou, 1994)

I rented this movie because the box said it was a comedy, and I was curious to see if the notoriously turpid Chinawood (no disrespek early 90s Zhang Yimou) could actually make something that crackled. Or at least make me laugh.

Ahem. This is a movie about a peasant woman who wants to make noodles so she can buy a 29" television set for her family. Yes, I suppose you could consider this a trenchant critique of the way consumer culture invaded rural, post-Mao China, but at one point in the movie, I turned on my computer, started reading the Internet, and was still bored. At another point, I imagined I smelled something rotting in my kitchen just so I could get up.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

To Be or Not to Be (Lubitsch, 1942)

A good game to play with a good movie is how many movies would not exist if that movie had never been made. One great example is Joseph H. Lewis' "Gun Crazy" (1949). That movie is never made you don't have Badlands, Bonnie & Clyde, Thieves Like Us, True Romance...those are just the completely blatant rip-offs (and don't give me the doodoo that Tarantino and Altman were commenting on the genre) the list could go on and on. But you get the point.

"To Be or Not to Be" is the kind of movie that gave birth to another classic: Mel Brooks' "The Producers." If not as blatant a rip-off as the "Gun Crazy" movies, "To Be..." clearly gave Brooks the chutzpah to make a comedy about the Holocaust (which when it was released 26 years later was considered iconoclastic).

In terms of influence it is even more important: this film, from 1942, dares to turn the Nazi dash through Europe into comedy, and includes the funniest concentration camp joke ever put on film. It is the progentior of every "dark war comedy"--"Mash," "Three Kings," etc...but surpasses those easily. Perhaps that's because it so easily transcends comedy, at once becoming an espionage thriller, a tender story about the redemption of love, and a moving paen to the power of drama. I dare you not to well up when Felix Bressart (perhaps my favorite of the Lubitsch troupe) delivers his speech to a gang of gestapo; I can't say I've ever seen a more beautiful and moving argument against war, hate, genocide, etc. than that. It says more about more things than hours of overly production designed du jour Holocause movies could ever dream.

It is also perhaps the most Wilder-esque. For all the times you've heard of the sign on ol' Billy's door that read "What Would Lubitsch Do," this is the Lubitsch film that perhaps most resembles a Wilder; at the time of production, Billy was making his first U.S. feature, "The Major and the Minor," perhaps the second best comedy ever made about pedophilia (I'll place it behind both Kubrick and Lynne's "Lolita.")