27 October 2009

Up

I don't want to say too much about this movie, because the less you know about it, I think, the more you'll enjoy it. So I'll just say that it's one of the most wonderful movies I've seen in quite a while. It's absolutely wonderful. I laughed, I cried, I gasped in terror, I was on the edge of my seat. It was SUCH a lovely film.

22 October 2009

A Boy and His Dog

This is a flawed but ultimately winsome film about a young man and his canine companion and their adventures in a post-apocalyptic landscape. There's nothing particularly original or interesting about the film's version of Armageddon - all the movie's entertainment is lodged in the character of the dog, who is an absolute delight. A spiteful, curmudgeonly, but absolutely lovable creature, who faithfully trots around at the side of Vic, played by a young, dumb, full of etc Don Johnson. There's a kind of charm to the young man, but really, it's all about the dog. In fact, if you rent it, you might as well hit fast forward for the half hour that the dog isn't on screen - it's not really worth watching. But you definitely won't want to miss the ending, which is so great that it redeems the previous half hour.

17 October 2009

Moo, by Jane Smiley

I've been on a kind of Jane Smiley kick since I read A Thousand Acres a year and a half ago. Or at least it seems that way. I had read a novel of hers back in high school, Duplicate Keys, and really enjoyed it, and I loved Acres, so I kind of started working my way through her oeuvre. The next one I did was Horse Heaven, which was good, but not as good as the others, and then I watched The Secret Lives of Dentists, which was based on a short story of hers and pretty much sucked, and then I tried reading 10 Days in the Hills and hated it after 15 pages, so I thought I was basically over it, but for some reason I picked up Moo and now I feel sort of done with Jane Smiley. It ended on a high note - Moo is definitely one of her better books (though Thousand Acres is still my favorite).

Moo has all the perks of Horse Heaven, but without the flaws. It's a massive, sprawling cast of characters, but they're successfully held together by the overarching frame of Moo University, and there aren't so many of them that you get totally confused as to who's who. It has only one animal character, the giant hog Earl, but he's a well written and very likeable creature. It has Smiley's typical warm, pleasant prose, and a bit of the ironic humor. Although a lot of the satire seems kind of outdated, it's interesting nonetheless, and kind of a nice time capsule of its particular moment ('89). It's probably more entertaining to those familiar with the strange inner world of universities, but it's not quite as dorky as, say, David Lodge novels (which I love).

All in all, a warm and pleasant read, if a rather long one.

Raging Sun, Raging Sky; Looking for Eric; Little Moscow; Case Unknown

The International Film Fest is in full swing here, and I've been livin' it up. I've also been lazy about updating, so we've got a lot to cover, and ima do it quickly.

Raging Sun, Raging Sky:
The first movie we saw. We had actually wanted to see something else (a lot of other things), but everything was sold out, so we got tickets to this. Only later did we notice that it was 191 minutes long. yowzers.
So first off - seriously, it's really long. It's so long that it becomes an Experience. You doze off, wake up, and you're still there. Lifetimes pass. The thing is though, it really didn't need to be that long. You could shave an hour off easy, and in fact, the movie would be vastly improved.
This is a pretty advanced level artsy film. As in, the cinematography is gorgeous, the movie is heavily symbolic (even venturing into primal scenes of goddesses, wandering through deserts, and of course butt sex) and the plot makes very little sense.
But for all it's flaws, there was something moving about it. Maybe it's because I've been thinking about epics so much lately, but there was something interesting about how it played with the conventions of origin myths by centering around male homosexual relationships. Also, the main hero had a lovely smile.
A final thought - there was lots of gay male sex in this movie, ranging from loving consensual to brutal rape. It occurred to me that generally, when one sees gay male sex in movies, it's awfully brutal and looks painful and unpleasant, even when it's consensual and between two guys who care about each other (think of Brokeback Mountain). What's up with that?

Looking for Eric:
De-lightful. The main character is a down-on-his-luck dude who is on the verge of ending it all when Eric Cantona, former Manchester United star, magically appears as a guardian angel. As my bf put it, the movie has it all - action, humor, romance, guns, drugs, sports footage. It's a jolly good time, if a wee bit sentimental.

Little Moscow:
Patriotism makes me want to support this movie, but god it sucked. A forbidden love story with political overtones. A Polish town that is essentially occupied by Russians in the 60s, an adulterous love affair between a Polish officer and the songstress wife of a Russian officer. The wife sings Ewa Demarczyk songs in Polish, which is a really big deal. Her Russian husband is a preposterously nice, good-hearted guy, and one has no idea why she'd cheat on him with this arrogant potato-faced Pole (apologies to Lesław Żurek, who was at the screening and is actually a babe in real life, but his character was NOT charming). SPOILER ALERT. The movie tries to sell itself as this tragic love story, saying she killed herself out of love for him, but it also can't resist implying that really it was the evil Russians who killed her. The coproducer, also at the screening, mentioned that they wanted to work with the Russians on the movie - it doesn't portray them negatively! Uh, really? Yeah, no surprise that one didn't work.
Anyways, point being, it's melodramatic and boring and not a good movie. Curiously enough, Żurek has apparently been in a movie directed by Ken Loach - who directed Looking for Eric. Small world!

Case Unknown:
Again, patriotism issues. I thought it was pretty boring. My mom liked it though. Borys Szyc, who was awesome in Wojna Polsko-Ruska (why oh why aren't they showing that at the festival?) was not as great in this one, mostly because he had this absolutely ridiculous haircut.
The movie can't decide whether it wants to be an inspiring medical drama or a thriller. So it piles on various bits of plot, many of which are both unnecessary and unconvincing. There's a sideplot about the main character's father that is cliche, unneeded, and unclear all at once. The plot is garbled, and starts to drag. The characters are too scattered to be convincing. It's a pity, because there are things about it that are clever - the ending is surprisingly UN-cliche, which is nice, except that by then I had lost interest and just wanted it to be over. Szyc, despite his awful haircut, is kind of compelling. The guy who plays the patient is extremely charming.
But I still didn't like it.

06 October 2009

O'Horten

I'm not even sure I can explain why I liked this movie so much. There's something that's just so fantastically even-tempered about it. It has this wonderful matter-of-fact presentation of the plot line, treating everything from the most mundane to the most bizarre events without any discernible shift in tone that is just wonderful. It's the kind of film where you want to tell a person - just watch it, I can't explain.

The movie is vaguely about a guy named Odd Horten who has just retired from his job. Netflix tries to add some deeper storyline of "he decides to change his daily routine" or some shit, but no. That's not the point. There is arguably a kind of subtle development in that direction, but what's great about the movie is that it's precisely that - subtle. It's also one of the few films I can think of (No Country for Old Men is the other one that comes to mind) that has little blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments that aren't instrumental to the plot, but are just lovely bits of atmosphere. For instance, when Horten is in a shop, a man leaves and as he's walking by the window, slips and falls. This happened so quickly that I actually had to rewind the movie to make sure I didn't imagine it. It's a nice, quirky touch, one of several, and it's really neat.

You could certainly read into the even-temperedness paired with the quirky characters and see it as a kind of manifesto about being nonjudgemental and embracing humanity in all its strange diverse forms, or being alive to the possibility for wonder in the world, but honestly, I think the movie's charm is in being a sort of plain, straight-forward day-in-the-life piece of joy.

02 October 2009

Master of the Flying Guillotine

This is in many ways a typical 70s kung-fu movie, which is to say it's totally rad and a marvelous way to spend a Sunday afternoon. What is curious about this film, other than the fact that it (or the version I had, at least) alternates between dubbing and subtitles, sometimes mid-sentence, is the way the story is told. Explaining this will obviously involve some serious spoiler action, so if you are generally a fan of kung-fu movies and are thinking about watching this one, stop reading now.

So the movie opens with an old man - a blind old man - who we learn is the master of the flying guillotine, receiving word (via carrier pigeon bearing a sort of braille tablet) that two of his disciples have been assassinated by a one armed man. Let me pause here and say that the flying guillotine is not actually a guillotine, except insofar as it is a device that decapitates people. It's actually more like a kind of gnarly teethed hat on a chain that, used properly, separates people from their heads. It's pretty rad in a 70s special affects kind of way. Anyhow, so homeboy finds out his people have been killed and sets off to get revenge. So far, fairly standard, right?

So things first get a bit odd when he arrives in a town and goes to a restaurant for dinner. While he's there, a one armed man arrives and loudly says something to the effect of "I am a one armed man!" upon which the guillotine master does what he does best. People are kind of horrified, and it turns out that this was the wrong one armed man. Our hero, unfazed, says he doesn't care - he'll kill every one armed man he meets! This is a strange moment. It's absolutely hilarious, but it also doesn't quite seem right in the ethical world of kung-fu films. In fact, it's a subtle indication that our hero's moral compass is flawed, leading one to suspect that he might not be our hero at all.

Then we actually meet the one-armed man - the right one, that is - and a whole host of other characters with various fighting skills, which are brilliantly exhibited in a conveniently organized competition. Look out for the go-go gadget armed "Indian", because wow, he is neat.

I won't bother summarizing the whole plot, because it's long and bizarre and doesn't make a lot of sense, but the point being, as the film progresses, we slowly realize that it's actually the one armed man who's the good guy, not the master of the flying guillotine. This shouldn't really come as a surprise, given that Wang Yu has made a whole series of movies about the one armed man, but in the space of this film, and the way it's set up, it's really kind of odd. There's a gradual and subtle reversal of hero and villain, one that's never explicitly stated.

Mostly though, it's just a sweet movie with super cheesy sound effects that are nonetheless totally awesome, and it's a lot of fun to watch. Not a masterpiece of the genre by any means, but an enjoyable film for sure.