Wednesday, July 18, 2007

June in Review


A note on ratings: I always feel like I'm being real generous with them. Part of this may be due to the fact that I actively seek out films I think I'm actually going to enjoy - I'm not a film critic, so it's not my obligation to see License to Wed - and part of this is just that I tend to always find some interesting or redemptive aspect in most things I see, something that gets me thinking or is visually exciting/unique. As a result, I very rarely out and out hate something I've seen. Anyway, I started adding ratings mainly to assist me in ranking the films I've seen in a given year for my year-end list, even though I don't like lists and never felt compelled to make one until I started maintaining this thing. Either way, I'm constantly torn by my approach to letter grades, whether it's from a critical or personal vantage point and they're basically entirely done on whim and the only reason they're here is because they're in the file I copy/paste them from into this blog. Ok.

Knocked Up, Judd Apatow. [A-] june 2nd 2007.

Darkman, Sam Raimi. [B] june 3rd 2007.

Serenity, Joss Whedon. [B+] june 5th 2007.

3-Iron, Kim Ki-Duk. [A-] june 12th 2007.
[Kim Ki-Duk's a tough egg to crack. I've seen three of his films now, The Isle and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring being the other two, and I'm not sure what to make of him. His films are unbelievably beautiful, each of them reveling in a sort of poetic ambiguity that often makes them feel more like a prose poem in film format than a traditional film, if that makes sense. I choose prose poems primarily because all of the ones I've encountered have possessed a sort of magical realist, strange attitude towards the world that his films seem to also carry within them. An epigraph at the end unfortunately states what has already been said, but it's one of the few out and out disappointing things about this movie.

This film is haunted and haunting, it's about a man who wills himself to become a ghost and a woman who, having dipped her toe in the land of the dead, chooses to continue living on the borderlands while loving her specter.

One particular scene jumps out: A sad-eyed dog hovering alongside his master's corpse, looking up at two interlopers in his home, but not moving or uttering a single sound. Something about this dog chilled me to the bone.]

Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi. [C+] june 13th 2007.
[I'm about as torn by this movie as I've been by any in a while. There are moments that are so utterly hysterical that it is unfathomable to me that they could not be intentional. Of course, it's bizarre that Raimi would choose to, after toeing the lines but never quite taking the plunge in the previous two installments, convert this huge movie franchise into an outright camp comedy, but I'm pretty sure he's done it. There's a long history of Spider-Man empathizing with his antagonists, it's one of the things that makes him such an endearingly human superhero, but he out and out verbally reconciles with two of the three (!) baddies he encounters in this movie by the time it's finished, the most anticipated of which, it needs to be said, is so half-assed and so much of an afterthought that it almost feels like a blatant slap in the face to Spider-Man geeks everywhere. The movie seems to bask in a sort of Art Deco style for a long while before eventually, and unfortunately, becoming a slick action movie again but it doesn't really stumble until the climactic battle. James Franco turns in one of the best comedic performances I've seen in a while and I had a blast watching it, but determining whether this was good or not or whether I even liked it, despite my previous statement, is infuriatingly difficult for me to determine. Still, I found myself constantly shocked and in disbelief over what I was seeing and I'd be hard-pressed not to recommend a viewing of it just for its sheer what-the-fuckness.]

Knocked Up, Judd Apatow. [A] june 17th 2007.
[Upon first viewing, I decided that, while I liked it, I liked it less than The 40-Year Old Virgin. Upon second viewing, I decided that is definitely not true. What can I say that hasn't been said already about this movie? Over the course of Apatow's career, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared included, he's demonstrated a remarkably observant and compassionate attitude towards his characters that has really resonated with me. He's a humanist filmmaker and I dig that. I've always been kind of a comedy geek, but his movies make me want to pursue a career in it.]

Pierrot le Fou, Jean Luc Godard. [A] june 17th 2007.
[Godard's probably the most exciting filmmaker that I've ever seen and I'm thrilled that I got the chance to see this on the big screen for the first time. I wish I could remember more about it, but it really takes a lot of turns and I'm writing this far too long after the screening to really say anyting of worth. I can remember that it was endlessly thrilling, inventive and fun, and I can't wait for the inevitable DVD release following this restoration's national tour.]

3-Iron, Kim Ki-Duk. [B] june 22nd 2007.
[I showed this to a friend and, upon conclusion, he told me "I can find little to complain about in this movie." I feel like I liked it a little less the second time around, but the blurb I wrote about it (above) was written like 6 days after this second screening and I think I've already somehow transported myself back into the mind-space I had upon the first viewing. Really, I like this movie a lot.]

Army of Shadows, Jean Pierre Melville. [B+] june 23rd 2007.
[This is a really beautiful film, but it stumbles a bit in its desire to preserve as much of its plot as it possibly can. Like many biopics and historical films, it feels the need to include everything and consequently glosses over certain things while devoting more time to apparently smaller details that feel more significant, so there's a constant struggle between prioritizing poetry and facts and as a result both are occasionally compromised. The last 30 or so minutes of the movie feel especially compressed, but the overall picture has enough wonderful moments to make up for it, and the blue-tinted cinematography is really something else as well.]

Wild at Heart, David Lynch. [B+] june 24th 2007.
[I liked this a whole lot more the second time. It's maybe the airiest Lynch I've seen, in the sense that I don't feel like there's a lot going on beyond the spectacle of it. It's strange that a movie this light is home to some of the most grotesque things I've seen in his oeuvre, but the whole thing is really more of a cartoon than anything else.]

The World, Zhang Ke Jia. [A-] june 25th 2007.
["We hope this panoramic view will heighten your knowledge of the world." This line, uttered by an electronic voice in an elevator going to the top of a replica Eiffel Tower at the center of an uber-Epcot like "re-creation of the world" park in the middle of Beijing, feels like the Rosetta Stone for this film: it is an earnest attempt to recreate the world via allegory, set within a park that is an earnest, if ridiculous, attempt to recreate the world. Of course, that level of self-reflection and self-effacement simultaneously acknowledges the audacity of this endeavor and the possibility for its failure, but it doesn't indicate any shame or reservation, which I think is good.

The story itself, the personal story, is a series of episodic allegories for various situations that the world itself is in. Initially the whole piece comes off as more of a political allegory, with the romantic relationships being examples of how politicians and countries betray and oppress each other, motivated by self-interest and greed above all else. After a while the political aspects of the film start to feel minimized in relation to the personal story, which made me start to wonder if the film had lost its way. This concern quickly disappeared. Rather, I started to think that the initial, politically oriented bits are meant to serve as set-up for the later part, which is definitely dominated more by issues of identity and personal, rather than power-based, relations to others - cultural concerns. It is through culture, Zhang is saying, that we will begin to establish a sort of global unity. Not to mention of course that we must keep in mind that politics are meant to be in service of the people, not the dominant force running this World.

Of course, the fact that the entire movie is set within a park that is completely reductionist of world culture doesn't hint at a great deal of hope, but it's important to note that there's a sort of naive beauty and admiration that seems to fuel it - more than consumerism - which necessarily gives the place a bizarre beauty and hopefulness. The park is an idyllic vision of the world, one in which the twin towers still stand in New York and a troupe of dancers performs in front of the Taj Mahal on every hour. Still, there's an acknowledgment that if we continue going at the pace we are, the world, just like the central couple in the film, will inevitably self-destruct.]

Fucking Åmål, Lukas Moodysson. [A] june 27th 2007.
[I don't think a movie's made me this happy in a while. It's a simple story of two high school girls that start to fall in love in a small town, done in a verité style and expertly acted. The whole film is filled with charming moments and the characters are wholly believable and real. Even though Moodysson is clearly sympathetic with the two central characters who can't stand their town ("fucking Åmål!"), there is never any contempt or judgment on his part towards the others, which I like. There might be an air of disappointment, but it never treads into mean-spirited territory. The film maintains a tone of sympathetic objectivity, a humanistic attitude that makes the sad moments even sadder and the happier moments unbelievably soaring. This is a really beautiful movie.]

Where the Buffalo Roam, Art Linson. [B-] june 29th 2007.

The Searchers, John Ford. [A] june 30th 2007.

In Between Days, So Yong Kim. [B-] june 30th 2007.