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

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Paris, je t'aime (Various, 2006)

I decided that on a beautiful early summer afternoon, I would rather see sixteen (I think) short films about Paris than one film (no matter how good) about an elderly Alzheimer's patient, and I think it was the right choice. For the day, at least. A "collaborative film" (why aren't there more of these?) between sixteen different directors, including some very familiar names (the Coen Brothers, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Gus Van Sant), is an altogether joy to watch, although some of the films are rather hit-and-miss. Instead of talking about it as a whole, I'll just give some thoughts on the more remarkable ones (both good and bad):

My favorite of all the films was a tie between Alfonso Cuaron's short but incredibly sweet Parc Monceau, a single shot composed of Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier walking down the street, reunited at last, which comes to a clever (but not overly clever), heartwarming conclusion. My other favorite was Alexander Payne's 14 arrondissement, which almost broke my heart, in a wonderful way. It details an American postwoman visiting Paris, which she has been studying French for for over two years, and is reporting (via voiceover) back to the class about her trip. While some of the (very snobby) audience around me might have been laughing at Margo Martindale's character, I found her to be the most real, the most alive character in the entire film. This movie was worth seeing just for this film (although you can see it on youtube here), a little piece of Parisian paradise.

Other noteworthy good films were cinematographer Christopher Doyle's (who works with Wong Kar-Wai) ode to Asians in Paris via a frenetic, wtf-inducing musical; Olivier Assayas', starring Maggie Gyllenhaal (whom I don't usually care for) as a drug-addicted American actress filming in Paris; and Wes Craven's against-type film, with a British couple visiting Oscar Wilde's grave. Not worth my time were Vincenzo Natali's half-serious, half-parody (but doesn't work in either genre) vampire short with Elijah Wood, and especially Sylvain Chomet's short, set at the Eiffel Tower. I thought I would be able to watch two hours of Parisian-centered film without encountering mimes. I was wrong. You've been warned.

All in all, every single director in this movie portrayed his or her (although not enough women directed in this one) love for Paris in a very different way, with divergent results, but as a piece of film, it was a good way to spend a mostly fluffy two hours. I recommend it.


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Monday, May 28, 2007

Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)

It makes sense that one of the most claustrophobic films I've ever seen was based on a stage play; "Bug," adapted for the screen by its playwright Tracy Letts, has that personal intensity you expect from a play. There are only five characters, and most of our time is spent with two of them, in a small motel apartment. Those two are Agnes (Ashley Judd) and Peter (Michael Shannon), who are introduced by Agnes' friend R.C., and pretty immediately hit it off. Soon, their relationship becomes less about finding someone to spend time with (as it seems to be for both of them at the beginning) and more about conspiracy theories and, well, bugs. Peter, an Iraq war vet who claims to have been a guinea pig for army doctors, says he's infested with bugs, and soon, he gets Agnes, who seems like a relatively reasonable woman, to believe in him completely.

Giving away much more of the plot would ruin the perfect intensity created in the theater, but Bug's tagline ("Paranoia is contagious") couldn't be more accurate. This is not, as it has been advertised, a gory horror film, but instead is about psychological horror, and what happens in one's own head to cause everything to go wrong. Also, though less obviously, it is a parable about drug (especially crack) use, and how paranoia is contagious through drug use as well. I had the misfortune of catching Richard Roeper's opinions on the film this weekend, and he raised the question of how Agnes would be taken in my Peter. While I don't think it's that simple (not by a long shot), I think Roeper (as usual) is missing a key point about the film: it's about everything but the physical bugs. It's about the government, it's about drugs, it's about war, it's about America.

Bug is a terrifyingly intense and unsettling experience, one that deserves to be seen for its tremendous performances, especially by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, who both devote themselves so fully to their characters that I forgot they were actors at all. Friedkin, returning to his mental horror roots, directs it so uncomfortably, a great compliment. The final third lags a bit, with long monologues and little resolution, but there is something in this movie that wouldn't let me go. There were grumbling teenagers after the movie was over, saying things about how it's not scary or gory, but that's the marketing's fault, not the films. If you're looking to be scared, but in a different way, I can't recommend Bug enough.


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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Diggers (Katherine Dieckmann, 2006)

A somewhat lengthy absence from film blogging (and, truth be told, film watching as well), but now I'm back with a clear mind and a lot to write about.

As a crazy-rabid fan of MTV's legendary The State, I have been anxiously awaiting Diggers, Ken Marino's feature-length screenwriting debut, since I first heard about it several years ago (it was just recently released in theaters and on DVD, as a part of Mark Cuban's day-and-date campaign). Not only is it written by Marino, it is executive produced by David Wain and stars everyone's favorite, Paul Rudd. I knew not to expect a full-out comedy, but what I didn't expect was such a subtle, heartfelt drama tinged with comedy about a place and time that are long gone.

Rudd, Marino, and Ron Eldard and Josh Hamilton play clam diggers (hence the terrible title) in 1970s Long Island, and is apparently based on Marino's childhood and his father's life. These men, bastions of a disappearing way of life, are being forced out of their waters by a large clam digging conglomerate. In the shadow of the destruction of their lifestyle, they deal with love, family, and loss. The film starts with Hunt (Rudd) and Gina's (Maura Tierney) father's death, and expands to include the lives and troubles of all four men. Marino is especially alternatingly hilarious and devastating as a man with four children, another on the way, and his job hanging in the balance. You can tell Marino has a genuine empathy and love for his character, and his performance is the film's best.

If you're a State fan, a Six Feet Under fan (Lauren Ambrose has a key supporting role as Hunt's big-city girlfriend), or really just want a movie with equal parts laughs and tinges of sadness, Diggers is for you. My only complaint about it is the fact that there is no real story, but that doesn't detract from the slice-of-life story of the film. Additionally, director Katherine Dieckmann shot the film beautifully, and shows uncommon insight toward this very male way of life. Recommended.


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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pandora's Box (GW Pabst, 1929)

I have surprisingly little patience while watching movies sometimes. For as much as I love film, if something doesn't catch me pretty quickly, it's not likely that I will sit through it all. Seriously, for every one movie I finish, there's probably at least one more that I started and didn't finish. This is why I am still so surprised that I just drank up Pandora's Box, a two-plus hour silent film. But, as with A Fool There Was, the other silent film I have truly loved, Pandora's Box revolves around a femme fatale (Louise Brooks here, Theda Bara in Fool) who ruins people's lives left and right, but just can't help it. As well, these two films are made what they are by their magnetic leading women. Just look at this still I took:

Brooks' Lulu has just been caught with her boyfriend by his fiancee, and that look she gives alone is worth the price of admission. Never has pure victory, greedy, uncaring victory been so convincingly portrayed in a single look. Pandora's Box has the femme fatale, May-December relationships, murder, a sensational trial, Jack the Ripper, and even veiled inferences a lesbian relationship between Lulu and a countess.

Louise Brooks was the biggest celebrity in this country for a while, known for her reputation as much as her acting. A Lindsay Lohan for her time, you could say. But her story, as revealed in the Searching for Lulu documentary extra on the Criterion, is incredibly tragic yet uplifting. What a remarkable woman! But back to the movie: not only is Brooks amazing, but Pabst's direction is truly great. The cinematography is surprisingly modern; some of the shots of Brooks moving, or the sun hitting her in the right way, feel like they could be from a Guy Maddin film. What a convoluted way to explain it!

A convoluted review (not even a review), to be sure, but the film is so impressionistic that I couldn't find a better way to describe it. It does start a little slowly, and drags in the middle a bit, but it's completely worth it. Highly recommended!

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A few evenings with Guy Maddin

I recently rented this Guy Maddin collection, which includes Triumph of the Ice Nymphs, Archangel, and the short The Heart of the World. Maddin is one of my favorite directors (if you haven't checked out any of his work, I suggest that you do right this minute), but I had read such conflicting reviews of this DVD collection that I was particularly interested in checking it out. I wasn't disappointed, at least not intellectually.

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs is Maddin to the extreme; a totally surreal and unreal fantasy about a man, just out of jail, who falls in love with a woman on a boat but has to leave her to return to his sister, who lives on their ostrich farm with a grumpy servant who is trying to kill her, only to fall in love with two woman (one being the original woman) and becoming acquainted with a doctor who lost his leg when a goddess statue. I have been considering that sentence for a few minutes now, and it really is the easiest way to describe the plot. There is both so much and so little to the plot; all the relationships are complicated and intertwining, but nothing really happens.

While the movie takes place in a magical, expansive place where the sun always shines, it seems strangely claustrophobic, as if all these settings were actually the same place. In small clip of a making-of featurette included on the DVD, all the settings were actually in an abandoned Winnipeg factory, which isn't surprising. The epic, spacious quality is reigned in by something inexplicable, but that keeps the movie from being as effective as it should be. The most interesting thing about the film, however, is the complete lack of lead actor Nigel Whitmey's name anywhere in the credits. In the commentary, Maddin reveals that Whitmey had his name taken off the project because Maddin had all his dialogue re-dubbed; if you've ever seen a Maddin film, the dialogue always has its Canadian tongue firmly in its cheek, and Maddin thought that Whitmey was too earnest in his acting. A great, telling anecdote from a great director.

Archangel also concerns a one-legged (motif alert!) Canadian WWI soldier, who becomes obsessed with Veronkha, a woman who has an amnesiac husband and bares an eerie resemblance to the soldier's late wife. The story is less convoluted than Twilight's, and also more effective in Maddin's more traditional style of black and white expressionism. There are parts, as in most of Maddin's films, where I have laughed out loud - Maddin's humor is in full-force here, and really takes you by surprise. The themes of obsessive love and bodily misfunctions are here as well, and make this a good, if somewhat typical, Maddin effort.

Maddin's six-minute 2000 short The Heart of the World is the real reason to get the DVD (although you can see it on youtube here, it doesn't really give it justice). Only six minutes long, but on several 2000 year-end best-of lists, Heart is an homage and gentle satire of silent expressionism. Someone on youtube said, without any prior information, they thought it was the best film made in that era, and I would have thought so myself. It is so spot-on to the time that it's almost scary. The story, about a state scientist (another laugh) who has to pick between three men, is told in a frantic, yet elegant, style. It reminds me of so many silent films I've seen, and yet is fresh and completely contemporary. See it right now.

Twilight: 7/10
Archangel: 8/10
Heart of the World: 9/10


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