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.