Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weeks 2 & 3.

5. 3:10 to Yuma [Mangold, 2007, DVD]
6. Away From Her [Polley, 2006, DVD]
7. Halloween (Director's Cut) [Zombie, 2007, DVD]
8. Syndromes and a Century [Weerasethakul, 2006, theater]
9. Helvetica [Hustwit, 2007, DVD]
10. Alien: Resurrection [Jeunet, 1997, DVD]

I finally like Westerns. This is a big deal for me as I couldn't stand the genre when I was a kid. I think this is largely based on my being forced to watch grainy z-grade westerns with my Grandfather on Sunday afternoons, when I could've been watching My Secret Identity. Like most film nerds, I imagine, things changed when I discovered the classics (Red River, Stagecoach, etc.), and my love for them has grown in this era of excellent modern westerns (The Proposition, Jesse James/Robert Ford).
Despite the hype, I can confidently report that James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma does not fall into that latter category. I'm not going to deny the film's pedigree (Elmore Leonard DNA, hammy-great performances from Christian Bale and Russel Crowe, Ben Foster queering it up), but goddam-- James Mangold cannot stage a comprehensible shootout to save his life. I dare you to try to make sense of that opening Pinkerton sequence. It doesn't get much better after that. Passable, but nothing special. Don't let them tell you otherwise.
Oh and and for all this bitching and moaning about how 2007 was the year of unsatisfying endings (cf. There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, Zodiac, et. al), where is the outcry over 3:10's third act? Seriously, talk about jumping the rail.
I've not read any Alice Munro, but from what I understand her fiction doesn't easily lend itself to cinematic adaptation. So, I guess, good for Sarah Polley. Away From Her is largely moving, beautifully acted, tastefully made. That said, I find it hard to get too worked up over it. Call me heartless and flippant, but I much preferred Tamara Jenkins' tart and quasi-similarly-themed The Savages. But that's just me.
One day I'm going to vomit out a post about my muddled and confused attitude towards violence in films. But that's not happened right now. What I will say is: for some reason I give Rob Zombie's grotesque reimagining/prequel/reboot of Halloween a pass. There's no doubt that it's too long by 40 minutes (I did watch the "director's cut," so I'm unsure if the theatrical version clipped along at a better pace... I somehow doubt it) and filled with a lot of unnecessary ugliness, but I'm a sucker for slasher films with excellent papier-mâché masks.
On a side note: I'm not sure if it was the four Jack and Cokes or actual talent, but I thought Sheri Moon Zombie was terrific. I'm hoping that some enterprising director other than her husband realizes this and casts her in a film. And in said film, he also casts Aimee Mann as her sister. Tell me that wouldn't work. That's all.
Remember when I was bitching about how my sorry ass has seen Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and not Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century? Well, that's been remedied. (Thanks, Cinefamily!) While I watched it, I kept thinking of this conversation I had with my friend Morgan, shit, eight or so years ago. He was talking about an essay he'd read for a film class that was about "sublime" vs. popular cinema (I'm probably butchering this concept, but bear with me). The crux of it being: there are films that are purely enjoyable pieces of entertainment and then there are those that are sublime, that may not be quote unquote entertaining, but are transcending, that are... well, art. And while you might not emotionally respond to them immediately, you have to accept that you're a more culturally literate person for having seen the sublime.*
I'm not trying to say that Syndromes and a Century wasn't entertaining or engaging. Weerasethakul allows his actors to engage in rambling conversations that are simultaneously delightful/eccentric and banal/authentic. But his fractured narrative and taste for the oblique certainly made me work, stretched me. Even as my mind wandered and I started to lose my way, I knew that I was watching something special. Something that was going to stick with me. It has.
The documentary Helvetica goes like this: some talking heads discuss the origin of the typeface, some others praise its versatility and the design revolution that followed its introduction, some haters hate, then there are lots of montages illustrating Helvetica's ubiquity. Does this sound even remotely like something you'd enjoy? Yes? You're going to love it. If typographical nerdery isn't your bag, probably best to skip it.
My love for David Fincher's Alien3 grows every time I watch it. It's certainly flawed and clearly bares the scars of studio-tampering, but it remains a fascinating early-'90s AIDS allegory masquerading as a Hollywood franchise sci-fi movie.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien: Resurrection on the other hand-- oof-a. I hadn't seen the fourth installment in the Alien Quartet in years and was hoping to... well, I don't know. I was hoping that it'd work as camp or as an interesting example of screenwriter Joss Whedon's early work. Yeah, not so much. All that suffocating whimsy that Jeunet crammed in Amelie is front and center here. All the nuance that Sigourney Weaver brought to Ripley in the first three films has been replaced by a broad Mae West schtick. And Whedon's script is all glib rehash. It's depressing that after three classic entries, the series devolved into this. (Don't get me started on Alien Vs. Predator. Don't even get me started.)

*=Morgan, if I'm butchering this, please correct me in the comments. And while we're at it, what was that essay? Is it some really obvious Laura Maulvey shit? Should I be ashamed for not having it memorized?


John Barleycorn said...

I liked Sheri Moon Zombie in Halloween as well, especially that silent scream before her character all but dropped off the face of the motherfucking earth so Rob Zombie could make a run-of-the-mill slasher flick with the remaining minutes of the film.

Via Chicago said...

So, I stumbled my way here and am happy to comment on your fantastic endeavor. It is a noble and nerdy endeavor indeed, and I look forward to reading more. But for now...

1. I am with you in the recently discovered love of westerns after years of hating them, so must ask - have you seen The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly? Quickly catapulted to one of my personal favorite films ever.

2. I can not support any love for Halloween. And not because it "disgraces a great movie" or any other such blah blah nonsense, but because it's bad. Really, really bad.

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!