Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's been a busy couple of months: I moved, went to San Francisco for a week, painted three rooms in my new house, and knitted a scarf for all of my co-workers. But now that the year is coming to a close, things are quieting down, and I have a brand-new hour and ten minute train ride to work in which to keep up-to-date on my blog entries. In other words, it's my New Year's resolution (haha) to have no more two-month long lapses on this thing. And now, without further adieu...

Movies watched, October 23-November 10, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited/Hotel Chevalier, Wes Anderson, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited is visually arresting, with exquisitely beautiful imagery and cinematography in almost every scene. It almost feels like it’s cheating to set the film in India, as everything there seems gorgeous and interesting and strange—for instance, the colorful and meticulously arranged objects on their dinner trays. Or perhaps that’s Anderson’s intention, to skew the eye towards the beauty of the country. Regardless, his characteristic attention to detail is present, such as when Francis (Owen Wilson) loses a shoe in the beginning and throughout the film wears an unmatched pair. The train itself is also used effectively and artistically. In one scene, the camera looks into two compartments, showing each character’s actions. Later on, we travel from car to car, for an intimate and somewhat whimsical portrayal of every character involved in the story.

And yet, The Darjeeling Limited is a little too much of the same. There’s a difference between having a trademark style and repeating yourself from film to film. There are, for example, way too many slow motion scenes here, rendering the technique ineffective. I can also sense an attempt to balance the whimsy with actual emotional conflict, but the result is maudlin and rather predictable. The brothers embark on an emotional journey and become closer as a result…how heartwarming. At the end, Francis (who had previously tried to hold his brother Jack’s passport hostage), now tells him to keep it. But Jack smiles and passes it back: “No, you keep it.” I could see that line coming from the beginning of the scene, but more importantly, it’s so boring and saccharine that it made me want to throw up. Seriously.

As for Hotel Chevalier, the short film that accompanies Darjeeling, while I didn’t particularly love it as a standalone story, it creates a nice effect while watching the feature film. The viewer, in a way, is remembering the experience just as Jack is; one can imagine what he’s thinking about whenever he gets a forlorn look in his eye, in a way that I can’t recall having experienced before while watching a film.

Play Misty for Me, Clint Eastwood, 1971

This prototype of the modern thriller is kind of predictable, though I imagine it seemed rather groundbreaking upon its initial release. It moved me enough to scream at Clint Eastwood: “It’s a trick!”, “She’s behind the door!”, and “Why haven’t you freakin’ changed your name and relocated already, dumbass!” In other words, the characters are not very smart and almost seem to set themselves up for trouble.

I did love seeing Jessica Walter (i.e. Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development) in her younger days. When she angrily calls Clint Eastwood “Buster Blue-eyes,” I’m pretty sure that I must have let out a little squeal of amusement. I’m also pretty sure that they must have parodied this film in the TV show at some point, which has inspired me to watch all three seasons again. Except I have to wait until I finish re-watching Lost in time for the Season Four premiere.

Julien Donkey-Boy, Harmony Korine (unofficially), 1999

Harmony Korine’s second feature-length film was created in adherence with the Dogme 95 manifesto, a filmmaking movement begun by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. The manifesto calls for, among other things, the use of handheld cameras, available light and sound, and props found on location—essentially purifying the filmmaking process, eschewing all of those unnecessary and bloated effects we so often see in modern movies.

Depicted from the viewpoint of a schizophrenic teenager, the film is murky and abstract-looking, with twitchy, jumpy camera movements and beautifully grainy colors. The family’s highly dysfunctional operations also add to the weird, uncomfortable feeling that’s conveyed. Julien’s sister (Chloe Sevigny) is pregnant and aspires to be a dancer, only to be debased by their father (Werner Herzog), who drinks cough syrup out of a slipper and plays mind games with his children. But much of the action takes place completely within Julien’s disturbed mind, so that it’s unclear as to how much of the film is “reality.”

While I love Werner Herzog, his portrayal of the father is somewhat distracting for me, since I find his voice to be so distinct that I can’t really imagine him as anyone other than himself. Thus, I was seeing Werner Herzog and not Julien’s father, which I felt significantly distanced me from the story. But that may not be such a bad thing, as theirs is not a family I want to get too close to.

Knocked Up, Judd Apatow, 2007

This was a lot sappier than I was expecting—while there are definitely some humorous moments, it’s more of a “warm and fuzzy” kind of movie. Entertaining, but not my favorite of the trilogy (okay, I guess it’s not really a trilogy).

Deathdream, Bob Clark, 1974

Bob Clark might have one of the most diverse oeuvres that I can think of—in addition to this Vietnam War-era horror film, his directorial resume also includes A Christmas Story, Porky’s, and Baby Geniuses. Go figure.

In Deathdream (originally titled Dead of Night but renamed upon its reissue) the Brooks family is notified that their son Andy is killed in battle—except that night he returns home, seemingly unscathed. The Brooks assume the message must be a mistake, meant for some other more unfortunate family. But Andy isn’t the same person, acting withdrawn and cold. His father suspects that something is up but his mother clings to the hope that their son is okay, even when it’s clear that his face is beginning to decompose.

A loose take on “The Monkey’s Paw,” Deathdream reflects the country’s views on the Vietnam War when it was actually still being fought. There’s an interesting parallel between the soldiers’ aftermath—some did, I’m sure, return home as a different person, zombie-like, their innocence lost. There’s also a not-so-subtle analogy between Andy’s use of a syringe to inject himself with blood to keep his flesh alive, and the increase in drug use among soldiers as morale waned. Deathdream is insightful and creepy—perhaps one could say it’s creepily insightful.

Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl, Kerri Koch, 2005

I’m not the biggest fan of riot grrrl—other than Team Dresch, who weren’t mentioned in the movie at all, I can’t think of any other such band I’ve ever really listened to. I’m all for girls playing music (I’ve been in bands on and off since I was 15) and generally getting out of the kitchen, but I can’t say I identify with feminism as a political movement. So while I admittedly went into the movie with a bit of a bias, I wasn’t really persuaded to delve deeper into riot grrrl either—mainly because it’s an amateurish documentary that, in my mind, barely scratches the surface of the complexity of this scene. From now on I’ll be steering clear of any film that includes the word “herstory” in its title.