Saturday, February 18, 2006

Review Revue - February 2006

I've been watching a ton of movies this year, but it's been a while since I saw a really great one, probably since All that Jazz back around the very start of the year. However, I've seen some good stuff, and some not so good stuff.

6ixtynin9 - This is a film by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, who did the excellent film, Last Life in the Universe. Watching this movie, it's clear that Pen-ek has some very specific thematic and narrative things he likes to do. 6ixtynin9 lacks the profound melancholy of Last Life, Last Life was a movie you could drift into and get lost in, while 6ixtynin9 is more narrative based.

There's nothing wrong with that, I really enjoyed the movie. The music is great, and the lead actress is a really engaging presence. There's a nice sense of tension throughout the movie and it's fun watching the Rube Goldbergian unfolding of plot events.

However, the thing that holds the film back from being great is the fact that I feel like I've seen these sort of low level crime noir comic dramas many times before. It seems like every director starts with a film like this.

Bound - And this conception was fueled by the fact that I'd just watched the Wachowskis' first film, Bound. This film is also a noir drama with some comic elements, revolving around a bunch of money that gets lost. The twist that the film brings is the lesbian relationship between the two main characters. This is an entertaining movie, with some nice twists, but ultimately it's a bit constrained by the fact that everything is set in one place for the last hour.

The first forty minutes or so of the film are more unique. Watching the relationship develop between Corky and Violet is fun, though my whole viewing experience of the film was colored by an article I read about Larry Wachowski. This reaction raises some questions about how much a director's personal life should impact one's reaction on their work. In this case, the personal life is so bizarre, it basically forces you to reassess the work to date.

In the case of this film, right from the title we can see stuff that could be interpreted as playing on the masochistic tendencies of Larry, as well as on the fluid gender identities. But on the whole, the work is something that's good, but not great. But, it definitely shows that the Wachowskis have always been capable of capturing really striking images. Though at this point, it feels like the most interesting stuff from them is going on in real life.

Ran - When I watch a really acclaimed movie, even if I don't love it, I can usually at least see why it's considered a classic. However, in the case of Ran, I don't understand how this one got critical acclaim. I liked Rashomon, but here, Kurasowa makes an incredibly static, boring film. There's a lot of art cinema films that seem to deliberately confront the viewer with slow pacing and a lack of events. The recent Van Sant films are a good example of that, except they're so thematically rich and accurate in depicting everyday life. What Elephant does is show us ordinary life and allow us to find the drama within.

However, what this movie does is use similar pacing, except set everything in a very theatrical world. Most of the senes in the film feel more like a play than a movie, with their excessively stylized performance and static camerawork. You can put hundreds of people in suits of armor on the screen, but if you don't shoot it in an interesting way, it's not going to be cool to watch. I think the reason I didn't like the film is that in terms of style, it's basically the opposite of what I like, this is a very restrained, cold, theatrical style. I usually prefer the immersive movement and intensity of Wong Kar-Wai or Noe. In my mind, this film doesn't even look like it was made by someone who understands how to use film. I know Kurasowa is considered a master, but it seemed like he was phoning it in on this one.

There are some good parts, but it's a movie that moves so slowly in the first half that the movie had lost me before it got to the stronger parts. It's not wise to have an absurdly slow paced opening to the film because you're going to lose the audience. You've either got to have something interesting in the narrative or something interesting in the filmmaking, you can't do slow paced if you've got nothing happening. And, I know it was the culture at the time, but the women's eyebrow style was distracting. She looked like Robert Blake in Lost Highway, and that made it difficult for me to take the character seriously.

I just don't understand how this could be considered one of the best films of all time. If it wasn't for those outside scenes, this thing could have been a videotaping of a staged play. Film can do interesting things, why not try them?

Lenny - This is Bob Fosse's biopic of Lenny Bruce. Fosse's become one of my favorite directors, but unlike All that Jazz and Star 80, this one isn't able to transcend the traditional limits of the biopic. It's a great Dustin Hoffman performance, and I like the way that Fosse uses the comedy bits as sort of a Greek chorus to comment on the action, however, the narrative doesn't fully hang together. It's basically a function of the fact that at the end of his life, Bruce became boring, obsessed with his law issues, and hence the film has difficulty treating this period of his life.

However, it's still a good movie. The black and white photography is great, and Fosse has a great eye for composing a shot. However, Fosse didn't seem as engaged with the material as he was in his other films, so, no matter what he does, this was never going to be a really great movie.

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