Thursday, August 02, 2007

Movies watched, week of July 8 to 21, 2007

A Brief History of Time, Errol Morris, 1991
Not so much a history of time as a history of Stephen Hawking, this documentary about the noted paraplegic physicist is
nonetheless engaging. While it’s not my favorite Morris film, it retains many of the hallmarks of his signature style, such as the Philip Glass soundtrack, and oft-visited themes concerning the nature and purpose of life itself. Hawking’s robotic voice—well, really the voice of a computer he must communicate through—lends the film an otherworldly atmosphere, evoking cosmic entities, a sense of disembodiment.

alloween II, Rick Rosenthal, 1981
This picks up right where the first Halloween left off—actually, they overlap slightly, beginning as Dr. Loomis shoots Michael, only to find that he’s escaped, surviving multiple gunshot wounds and a fall from a second story window. While it’s satisfying that it directly corresponds to the first movie, the effect is awkwardly achieved. It doesn’t really feel like an opening, more like returning from a commercial break, the viewer thrust into the middle of the action with no explanation.

My disappointment doesn’t end there. I’m sure I’m not the first person to voice these complaints, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Michael can’t be killed—how is he still alive after being shot six times? Why can he just break through a glass door (or, conversely, why is the hospital door made of breakaway glass)? How is it that he can walk away from a flame-engulfed room? (It does look as though the fire eventually killed him, though not without a fight—oh wait, he comes back in Halloween IV…) I was under the impression that Michael was a psychotic human, yet he seems to have superhuman powers of invincibility. He also comes off kind of like a zombie with his trudging, yet steady gait. I can only hope that the upcoming remake will lose some of the silliness surrounding the original films.

The Pianist, Roman Polanski, 2002
Whereas most films about the Holocaust depict life—or a lack thereof—inside the camps, this film portrays the events leading up to that point, and the hardships endured for those left behind. (In one scene, Szpilman escapes from a building that’s being razed, emerging to an eerie, post-apocalyptic landscape of rubble and skeletal remains of bombed-out buildings—it seems that eventually, everyone suffered, Jews and Gentiles alike.) It’s a hard film to watch, leveling the sense of distance between viewers and this group of people who were exterminated more than 60 years ago—we can see ourselves in their place, and the feelings of dread and shock at what was allowed to take place intensify exponentially.

Secret Honor, Robert Altman, 1984
An uncommon portrayal of Richard Nixon as he dictates a two-hour drunken monologue into a tape recorder—he doesn’t even bother to buy a blank tape, instead recording over salsa music—reflecting on his life, both personal and political. At times sputtering, cursing, and crying, Nixon addresses an imaginary judge, an aide named Roberto, or sometimes just mumbles to himself in incoherent asides.

Atypical of the rest of Altman’s oeuvre, there’s only one character, as opposed to his usual ensemble cast of thousands. It feels more like a play or a one-man show—and now that I realize that it’s based on a play, I believe it was probably more effective in that

My Left Foot, Jim Sheridan, 1989
While the biopic of Christy Brown, an Irish painter and writer plagued by cerebal palsy, is certainly a story of triumph over incredible odds, the film manages to avoid being overly saccharine or insipidly heartwarming. It takes the viewer into territory both dark and humorous, such as Brown’s attempt at suicide after his declarations of love for his teacher are not reciprocated—it’s difficult to tell whether he’s shaking so much because of fear or his afflictions, but he’s physically unable to cut his wrists (thankfully). David Lynch’s The
Elephant Man comes to mind, in that the protagonist is an extremely intelligent person trapped inside the confines of his own malformed body, assumed to have the mind of a three year-old and treated as such by society.

Opening Night
, John Cassavetes, 1977

An alcoholic stage actress is haunted by a dead fan and obsessed with her inevitable aging, which is made all the more obvious through her current onstage role. As her sanity gradually unravels, no one seems to know how to deal with it, sending her to a spiritualist, or pushing her onstage despite her barely being able to stand. The storytelling is complex, at times making it difficult to discern whether a given scene is part of the play or the actors’ reality.

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