Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blades of Glory (Josh Gordon & Will Speck, 2007)

There's really very little worthwhile that I can say about Blades of Glory that you weren't already expecting. It's a Will Ferrell vehicle, and that alone is enough to get me, and tons of other people, by the sold-out showing I went to last night, into the theaters on opening night. I really do think that Ferrell is, and very rightfully so, the face of American comedy, and that's a good thing. Will Ferrell as a figure skater? Count me in.

But there are a lot of problems (surprise, surprise) with Blades of Glory that don't quite make it up to par with the Ferrell/Adam McKay collaborations (Anchorman and Talladega Nights). First, there's Jon Heder. Sure, he was funny as Napoleon Dynamite, but since then? All crap. Admittedly, he wasn't as terrible as I expected him to be, but they really could have gotten any other guy and put him in this role that would have been just as good, and less annoying. His scenes with love interest Jenna Fischer (America's crush) are really good, cute and funny, and that saved him in the movie.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag as well. Will Arnett is criminally underused (he's another of the funniest men working), and Amy Poehler as his sister/skating partner is overused, or, rather, misused. She screeches and doesn't show her comedy chops at all. I'm not a huge Poehler fan, but I know she can be funnier than this, and Arnett outshines her with half the lines. Romany Malco (of The 40 Year Old Virgin) is also very underused in the role of choreographer. But for those guys that are underused, there's Nick Swardson who, after Ferrell, was my favorite part of the movie as a creepy stalker of Heder's character. Sure, he's just playing a variation on Reno 911!'s Terry, but with a character that great, why wouldn't you?

There are some abnormally huge plot holes (what happened to Heder's father after he was unadopted? Why bring up Ferrell's beloved Italian brush, only to never talk about it again? and so on), but Ferrell and his one-liners really make this golden. Not a Ferrell classic, but a real laugh riot, one definitely worth seeing.


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Thursday, March 29, 2007

I Am Curious: Yellow

I'm having a problem getting into Vilgot Sjoman's I Am Curious: Yellow. It's the film that inspired thousands of hours of Congressional debate in this country over the so-called "obscenity" of the sex scenes. Speaking forty years in the future sure gives me some hindsight, certainly, but an hour in the movie, there's only been one sex scene, scandalous only in that Lena Nyman appears completely naked on camera. To be sure, I didn't rent Yellow to be titillated, but instead to see this document of the emerging consciousness of sexual ethics, but I haven't found anything particularly shocking as of yet.

I was very interested in the beginning, in the meta-fictional story of Sjoman and Nyman's love affair, but that was so abruptly dropped that I am wondering what happened. Sure, the film is stream-of-consciousness in a cinematic form, but that doesn't mean I'm not bored by the progression. The film wants to be so many things: comment on Swedish society (more than anything), radical feminist fable, meta-fictional take on making movies, but, halfway into the movie, I don't feel that it accomplishes much of that.

I'm only, as I said, an hour into the movie, so I could be totally off-base (and will write more as to whether I am or not), but I'm not loving this movie so far. The high point is Lena Nyman, who is fifty years ahead of her time, still ahead of us in fashion and politics, really. She's a great actress and really quite foxy.

So advise me, please! Do you recommend I Am Curious: Blue, seeing what I've said about Yellow? Will it illuminate things, or only bore me further?
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On Lars von Trier and The Five Obstructions

Lars von Trier is a man who, with every fiber of his being, wants me to hate him. He is constantly trying to make me hate him, with his pompous attitudes and often ridiculous filmmaking techniques (Dogme, Automavision). But everything he does just makes me like and respect him a great deal, especially those high-minded ideals and avant-garde ways to make movies. He is a study in contradictions: von Trier grew up with Jewish, communist, nudist parents, but converted to Catholicism late in life (yet his Zentropa films has distributed hardcore porn); he is notoriously afraid of flying, and almost never leaves Denmark, but is world-renowned for his films. Such a complicated man could only make the kinds of ilms that von Trier does, and is one of the directors where having some biographical information makes the films make so much more sense. I have loved almost every von Trier film I've seen, especially Manderlay. All these things, that self-righteous yet intensely searching attitude, that love of new, difficult filmmaking technology, come to a head in The Five Obstructions.

This film is a study in the process of filmmaking, and I am always a sucker for films about making films. von Trier challenges one of his mentors (and friend) Jorgen Leth to remake his 1967 short film The Perfect Human (which von Trier says he has seen 20 times) five times, each time incorporating several obstructions designed to make Leth a better director. The obstructions range from shot lengths, to animation, and the poles of complete creative freedom and none at all.

This is the kind of movie where two men sit around and talk about the process of making movies, which, in turn, is really about life and the way one lives. This kind of thing has been described as mental masturbation, a kind of mental exercise for those bourgeois artists with nothing better to do. I disagree; this is the 21st century equivalent of philosophers of centuries past discussing the meaning of life. von Trier sees that his mentor, his friend Leth is slipping into obscurity, whether because of the changing public or because of Leth's own complacency, and devises these obstructions to get past the shallow Leth, into the depths of his self. Whether or not Leth learns anything from these obstructions is debatable; whether or not von Trier learns anything is also questionable. But these two friends debating about the bare nature of film and the director's place in it, is well worth the watch for those interested in the inside of movies.



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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Water Drops on Burning Rocks (Francois Ozon, 1999)

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: I just don't get Francois Ozon. He makes visually gorgeous films, that's for certain, but there's always a little something missing for me. This same principle applies to Water Drops on Burning Rocks, Ozon's interpretation of an unproduced early Fassbinder play about an older man who seduces a younger boy into leaving his fiancee. Their relationship soon turns into one of the most dysfunctional I've seen on film, but instead of being interesting, it is natural, commonplace dysfunction, which actually isn't interesting at all, just annoying. Franz (the boy) and Leopold (the older man who is apparently irresistable, for some reason I couldn't see) finally fight until Franz is ready to leave, and his ex-fiancee Anna (Ludivine Sagnier, who spends most of her time onscreen naked) comes to take him back, but once she meets Leopold, and Leopold's ex Vera comes in to the picture, all bets are off.

The scene is set for a sex farce, one would assume, but it then just becomes more of the grating same. There is a dance scene that is truly fantastic - funny and visually very cool - but that's about it. The results of this four-way are tragic, but not really because no one in the movie actually cares. Well, I didn't really care, either. Everything about the movie is so detached and commonplace, while the actions are so audacious and colorful that the two just don't meet at any enjoyable place. Again, Ozon has made a beautiful film, but one that is not the sum of it's parts. When will I understand this Ozon phenomenon?


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Monday, March 12, 2007

300 (Zack Snyder, 2007)

By now, you've probably heard your share of 300 news: the fanboy excitement beforehand, the generally positive reviews, and Monday morning, the way that it dominated the box office to unexpectedly become the biggest March opener of all-time. I could have predicated that last one; the Friday night showing I went to, at a typically art-house theater, was in the theater's biggest auditorium, packed 95% full with hundreds of people. Although that's not normally the way I like to watch movies, it couldn't have been a more perfect way to see this movie, a blend of cerebral meditation on war and honor and pure popcorn violence.

Gerard Butler (I'd never really even heard of this guy before) plays Spartan king Leonidis, who decides to defend his kingdom against Persian aggression with 300 of the best warriors, because he can't legally take his whole army to war. The battle sequences are really amazing, especially the first one against the Persians, where the Spartans just slaughter hundreds, thousands of Persians without one Spartan casualty. The rest of the war does not go quite as well, but is no less interesting visually - a friend alerted me that the blood in the battle scenes gets thicker and darker as the movie goes on. While the scenes at the front are really amazing, especially the wall made of dead Persians, the subplot at home, with Leonidis' wife trying to get the empire behind her king and fending off a tribunal, are also interesting. There was one scene where many in the theater clapped and cheered so loudly that we missed several lines of dialogue (if you've seen the movie, you probably know which one I'm referring to), but it didn't matter; this is a movie all about image, not always instead of substance, however.

The acting is solid all around, as is the script, but the real glory in the movie belongs to director Zack Snyder (who also directed 2004's criminally misunderstood Dawn of the Dead remake). Every single shot in the film is perfectly designed and executed, so that any given second, any millisecond, could be taken as a piece of art. The metaphorical becomes literal (fighting in the shade comes to mind) in awesome, violent beauty. This is the most aesthetically pleasing movie I've seen in a long time, and might even trump Robert Rodriguez's Sin City (a movie I also loved) as the best Frank Miller adaptation. Hopefully, the monumental success of 300, a terrifically violent movie with no movie stars, paves the way for not only Snyder's Watchmen adaptation, but for more brave, beautiful R-rated movies in the future. I can't recommend it enough, and will almost definitely be seeing it again soon.


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Monday, March 05, 2007

The Pornographer (Bertrand Bonello, 2001)

It's almost always disconcerting to see one's favorite actors growing old. As any regular reader of this blog should know, I am a huge Francois Truffaut fan, especially of his films with Jean-Pierre Leaud. I have seen Leaud in other director's works, including Pasolini, Bertolucci, and, most recently chronologically, Catherine Breillat's 36 Fillette, but hadn't seen Leaud onscreen in a movie made less than almost twenty years ago. The Pornographers gave me that chance, as Leaud plays pornographic director Jacques Laurent, who was hugely innovative in the 1970s, and has come back to his old work after 20 years away, and has troubles reconciling his artistic temperament with the culture of hardcore porn, and the moneymaking aspects of it as well. It was almost as if Laurent's predicament, coming back to the work he loves after years away, was Leaud's as well, if only in my mind.

Leaud, with his long hair and aged face, is a great choice for Laurent, as he is someone the audience is almost certain to remember from years ago, much like a porn fan would have Laurent. Outside of the movie set where he becomes increasingly frustrated, Laurent has to deal with a failing relationship with his wife and a reconciliation with his son, a young idealist who seemingly wants to recapture the revolution his father lived through in 1968. While Laurent is the common thread in all the stories, more or less, the movie is not very cohesive, and scenes of Joseph (the son, played by Jeremie Renier of L'Enfant) with his new girlfriend only echo those of his father and, presumably, his mother.

The Pornographer, while containing some explicit sex, is more of a stereotypical French film: moody, talky, and very slow. It is worth the watch, if only to see Leaud still as a master of his game, but the story is not particularly compelling or well-structured, with the exception of the beautiful scenes where Laurent lives in the country by himself, trying to build a house. Laurent, possibly like Leaud, is trying to build his own place in the present he is no longer really a part of.


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