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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Location: milwaukee, wi

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1971)

Put Wanda in the forgotten classics hall of fame. Barbara Loden made this landmark of independent cinema in 1971, and it was one of the first films directed by a woman given wide theatrical release. It is the improvisational, intensely personal story of Wanda, who has deserted her husband and children and eventually falls in with a small-time criminal, accompanying him on a robbery that can only end in tragedy. Loden herself plays Wanda, and it's such a remarkably personal and realistic performance. The film, with its intense realism and lack of famous actors, feels almost like a documentary. It's not in any way polished, nor, at times, very compelling, but that's what life is like. Wanda's life is depressing and dead-end (she cannot even find a job in a textile factory because she is, according to the boss, too slow), and so is the movie, right down to the last shot.

The film was shot in Kodachrome, making the colors washed-out and real. There is one notable shot, several minutes long, of Wanda in a white coat walking across a dingy landscape of dirt. She has no recognizable beginning or destination, but walks nonetheless. This is the problem of the second-wave woman, not that Wanda is a feminist, or even a strong person, but that there are some feelings that many women share. I am not an essentialist in any way, but watching this movie, I had the feeling that I had seen it before, or that I knew it in some way. That's how Wanda touched me.

All those brilliant qualities aside, the exact lack of compelling action at times stopped me from loving it outright. But I think Wanda is a movie that doesn't want you to love it; rather, it gives the audience a problem with no solution. Barbara Loden died at 48, giving the world only this film, but what a legacy: this film precludes both much of independent cinema and feminist/female-directed cinema. This is certainly a film that deserves to be seen, and to be seen widely.


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Monday, April 09, 2007

Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007) and some thoughts on the box-office debacle

As I said in my Planet Terror review, I liked Death Proof less than PT, but that does not mean too much. Tarantino's trademarks are all over the movie: foot fetishes, Big Kahuna Burger, even a remarkably Reservoir Dogs-ian conversation around a diner table. It's a good thing, too, because all these things fit perfectly within the framework of an exploitation film. As a "grindhouse" movie, Death Proof is a better example, with its hot girls and fast cars. The movie is in two distinct parts, both starring Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike: the first, about Jungle Julia and her friends, and the second, starring Kill Bill stuntwoman Zoe Bell as herself and featuring Rosario Dawson and two other ladies as her friends. Both groups of women are, obviously, remarkably foxy and verbose, and often pretty clever. Both are terrorized by Stuntman Mike, with varying results. The big difference in the two stories is between the passivity of the first group of women versus the aggression of the second, making the first half of the movie (up until the last 45 minutes, actually) kind of...boring.

For me, things didn't get going until Zoe and her friends decide to take the badass white car out for a test drive. Tarantino is brilliant in his decision to have them talk about playing "ship's mast" for almost 15-20 minutes before revealing what it actually was. What a buildup! What a payoff, as well. The last 20-30 minutes of Death Proof is what the phrase "edge of your seat" was made for, so incredibly tense and then gratifying. For those final few minutes, I can even forgive the drawn-out, aforementioned Reservoir Dogs throwback scene, even though Tarantino's expository dialogue sounds forced at times coming out of these women's mouths. Tarantino can't write women? Fair enough, but he sure can write a car chase. And that's really what mattered here.


My favorite part of the entire Grindhouse experience, however, was Eli Roth's faux trailer for "Thanksgiving," seen below.

Hilarious, disgusting, and utterly 80s. Roth hit the nail on the head with this one, and gave me the definite feeling that he should actually make Thanksgiving, as well as reinforcing my belief that Roth is one of the, if not the, best horror director working today. Totally whet my appetite for Hostel II, if it could have been any more.

But the biggest Grindhouse story is how it got trampled at the Easter weekend box office. Like many others, I was both surprised and disappointed, but I can't say that I was as surprised reading the rumor that the Weinsteins might break up the films and rerelease them, soon. Obviously the problem wasn't with the poor marketing, or the release on Easter weekend, but because you had to pay $8 for two movies. Sarcasm, of course, but that's a quick fix that only addresses part of the problem. Why would people go see an R-rated gore fest on the holiest of weekends? Sure, I did, but I doubt I'm the typical American moviegoer. This is definitely a niche picture, but I think a lot more could have been done, and a lot better, by the Weinstein Company in the marketing department. The movie was advertised on the strength of director names and the novelty of it all, when the plots should have been better featured. I'm planning on going to see Grindhouse again in the theater this week, but I'm not sure I would do the same thing for the single movies. It seems like pure greed on the Weinstein Co's part. Just take it on the chin, guys: you did a bad job marketing this and it was kind of a failure. That doesn't mean it's not a great movie, or not a great idea. Just not on Easter.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez, 2007)

As you probably would expect, I took in the first possible showing of Grindhouse yesterday (thank God for flex time on Fridays). I think it's too hefty of an undertaking to talk about both of the films at once (although most print reviews have done so, and rightfully, I think), so today, I will talk about my favorite of the two, Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror.

Again, most print reviews I've read have said that PT is the weaker of the two movies, I definitely disagree. Neither inappropriately campy nor cartoonish, both accusations I have heard, it stars a smoking Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling, go-go dancer turned zombie killer, and Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray, her former lover and head zombie fighter. Although, to be truthful, they aren't really zombies, but have instead been infected by some kind of chemical weapon. Or something. That's one of my favorite part about exploitation films: nothing has to be concretely explained. The fun is in getting wrapped up in the story, something Rodriguez clearly is playing with in his missing reel. Also joining the zombie fighting is Marley Shelton, as Dr. Block, and other fun characters, including the insane Mexican babysitting twins. Lots of people, lots of guns. The bad guys, most notably Bruce Willis and Quentin Tarantino, are grotesque fun, especially when their bodies are melting or something like that. Naveen Andrews, from Lost (a show I've never even seen!), is particularly great as the scientists who collects an interesting prize from his enemies.

All of these elements - sex, violence, melting flesh, even some political commentary - add up to a fun time in the theater, one that had me jumping, cheering (inwardly), and even feeling like I might puke. Everything you want from a zombie exploitation film. Throughout the homage, as well, there's always the distinct feeling that this is a Rodriguez picture, from the sin City-esque opening sequence with Cherry Darling dancing, to the score, composed by the man himself and basically the same as his other scores. This is pure expolitation fun, right down to the last shot, which is as authentic as it comes. Were more movies like this...


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