Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Movies watched, April 1-14, 2007

Okay, I've been slacking a little bit, so here's two weeks worth of viewing pleasure (and, in some cases, displeasure).

Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett, 1977

About a dozen people walked out of this screening, all within the first two to ten minutes or so. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but I found it was a beautifully shot, poetic portrayal of the lives of the residents of Watts, California in 1977. Stan works at a slaughterhouse (hence the title), dissatisfied with his job and how his life has turned out, which frustrates his wife, whose sexual advances are continuously turned down. There are a number of memorable scenes of the neighborhood children playing—for instance, as Stan and his neighbor walk through an alleyway, one can see the occasional blip of flailing legs above their heads, as children leap from one roof to the other. At times, the plot seems a little disjointed, lacking a conventional narrative. Essentially, it’s more of a patchwork, weaving together loosely linked characters and scenes, which cohere into a moving, heartbreakingly comic film.

David Holzman’s Diary, Jim McBride, 1967

This scripted movie succeeds in its attempt to mimic an off-the-cuff diary entry. The character decides to film himself, thinking that by observing the patterns occurring in his life, he will come to some greater understanding of their meaning—of course, it doesn’t really turn out that way, and he ends up scaring off his girlfriend, Penny, in the process. This is an interesting study on the way people react to being filmed: Penny is upset and disturbed by David’s project, while others don’t seem to mind, playing up for the camera. (One of David’s colleagues delivers a monologue stating that one cannot truly film “real life,” for the moment a camera is detected, people stop acting naturally—I would tend to agree.) It features some particularly innovative technical effects (especially considering the year it was made), such as a sped up montage of images from David’s evening TV viewing, and voiceovers accompanying photobooth pictures.

Factotum, Bent Hamer, 2005

I think this film captures Bukowski’s novels more successfully than Barfly—I always pictured Hank to be more gruff and bitter than Mickey Rourke’s dreamy, romantic interpretation—but it’s still not quite right. For one, Matt Dillon’s not ugly enough—he needs to bulk up a bit, stop washing and styling his hair, and for God’s sakes, get some acne scars. Now that I think about it, the whole movie’s not ugly enough; it’s too attractively shot to capture the necessary squalor and hopelessness.

The Player, Robert Altman, 1992

It seems wholly appropriate that Altman, whom the movie industry made its crowned king in the 70s, then abandoned in the 80s, marked his triumphant return in the 90s with a satire on Hollywood. Well-crafted and brilliantly biting in its comedic subtlety, The Player mocks various aspects of the industry—including the film itself.

The Brown Bunny, Vincent Gallo, 2003

The magnitude of hatred that the general viewing audience seems to feel for this film really made me want to like it. While I didn’t find it offensive, I wasn’t exactly impressed with it either. Basically, a man drives around for 80 minutes, then gets a blow job. (Actually, he gets an imaginary blow job.) There were a few nice touches, like the bug-splattered windshield glinting in the sun, but otherwise, this was a little too slow-paced, even for me (it was so quiet at times that I got distracted and actually forgot I was watching a movie). Moreover, the “surprise twist” at the end is pretty groan-inducing.

Death and the Maiden, Roman Polanski, 1994

This is, supposedly, the third film in a loosely linked trilogy, starting with Knife in the Water (1962) and Cul-de-sac (1966). But considering it was made 30 years after the other films in the set, it seems like Polanski simply realized that the theme was vaguely similar to two of his earlier films, and there you have it: now part of a trilogy!

That said, Death and the Maiden is a relatively suspenseful film, surprising at times, though I prefer Polanski’s earlier stuff. (Then again, I tend to say that about everything, so what do I know?) Also, much of Sigourney Weaver’s acting feels kind of stiff—when she delivers longer monologues it clearly sounds like Acting with a capital A, which I don’t imagine is the desired effect.

Slums of Beverly Hills, Tamara Jenkins, 1998

A coming-of-age story about a family of self-described nomadic “freaks,” who move in the middle of the night from one shitty apartment complex after the other, all within Beverly Hills (“for the school district!” their father insists). It’s somewhat typical, thematically (awkward teenager experiments with sex, doesn’t like her breasts, is embarrassed of her family, lacks a stable maternal role model, etc.), though the actual details (pot-smoking older brother singing show tunes in his undies, pot-dealing neighbor/devirginizer who seems to have an endless supply of Charles Manson T-shirts, etc.) are more on the atypical side, and make for some entertaining, comedic scenes. The 1970s period detail is spot-on, from the mustard-colored shag carpeting (I swear my grandparents had the same one) to Vivian’s standard outfit of tube socks and cut-offs.

No comments: