Friday, January 28, 2005

The Door in the Floor

Rarely has sex looked so mournful, the erotic been so pained. These people who live after a loss that one can’t imagine surviving. The northeast beaches, the sun in the grass, on the sand, looking cold. These muted youths. These nude women in their fifties that make you want to be with nude women in their fifties. An Irving film, and to understand, you must know his work, though not necessarily the work on which it was based (Widow For a Year). His touch is everywhere, the self conscious, semi-forced one liners the echo—with the sort of inexpertness of fatigue—early, less conspicuous tag lines: Keep passing the open windows; beware the undertoad; sorrow floats. A confusing film if you don’t know how to look at it. You’ll think it’s the boy’s story, maybe the wife’s; unless you know Irving, you’ll not understand it is the writer’s story, as unlikeable as he; it is in fact a story about storytelling, the place between the life of the writer and the work a writer creates, a statement concerning the price of art, suggesting that to write, one must choose the door in the floor, all the terror behind it, one must go crawling round in there and get comfortable, so that to be a real writer, you have separated yourself from others, who would never choose the door in the floor, who avoid it at all costs, who are frozen by the thought of it, so that while tragedy destroys the normal person, the writer painfully embraces it and then, of course, tells the story, the most perfect witness, and perfectly alone. A self aggrandizing statement to be sure, one it’s hard to buy, but I have to like the way it’s offered.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Treasure of the Seirra Madre. Matchstick Men. Jaws: the Revenge

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
A film that goes apart as Fred C. Dobbins does; you just don’t buy it, this morality play sort of forced through its paces, a story not so much about what happens when one tries to get what he wants, but what happens to one when he does get what he wants. A classic indeed, the sand and gold in that Mexican desert, the mountain a woman yielding, and the men, their dirty faces and ragged hair, their beards curling, somber faced Mexicans who suddenly laugh and then go somber again, that particularly well contrasted black and what cinematography, a film about greed but only peripherally, more about madness, though it never unlocks its madness for us.

Matchstick Men
A sting you will see through, and knowing it doesn’t give you the pleasure that knowing the final twist of similar con films might, where you when watch it unfold you begin to understand the layers of trick beneath the layers; they layers in this film, their built sloppily, forced, false; Cage’s mannered performance; this Paper Moon rift; a film that has a box promising surprise but offers up no surprise; just a good looking piece of well lit anti-noir that you’ll never watch twice.

Jaws 3: the Revenge
Hello, I’m Lorraine Grady, and you will find it almost impossible to look at me, my face having taken on the characteristics of Roy Scheider, a not very pretty man; in any case, I’m the main character here and after my husband and son have been killed by sharks, I really need to get away, so I choose the Bahamas, an island, a house close to the water…
Hi, I’m the shark and I’m mad at Ms Brody and her kin so I decide to call on my supernatural powers that allow me to follow her plane…Hello, I’m Michael Caine, and what I’m doing in this film, you ask me, but don’t you love the scene where I fall into the water and pulled out with miraculously dry hair…Hello, I’m J Eric Miller, and what I’m doing watching a film like this at two in the morning is a type of penance.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

After Dark My Sweet

This is Jim Thompson, one of his incarnates, never that story about a heist that goes well, about the ultimate scheme worked out, the story about how it is a fuckup, the fuckup the context of a study in character (see the underrated Hit Me), this study like any good film noir, even a brightly lit desert dry one, the question that surrounds the heart: is it good, or is it bad? Bruce Dern’s character phrasing a question like that, and Jason Patric, the killer boxer with one secret you didn’t guess, he plays a character trying to answer it, and both of them, they play it well, even with Rachel Ward, looking more like a pretty boy than a beautiful woman, sort of gumming up things around them; a study in facial expressions, a study in the way we walk, the story quite simple, and Foley, he makes one hugely false move, a move that most films would be undone by, but this one, it holds up, the sun sizzling on the sand, in the dead date trees, the half ugly sex scenes, all that glowing skin, and the little boy whose going to die.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Short Cuts

A sprawling thing, owing more to Carver in terms of plot than theme, though the big one, the most consistent one, that of human disconnect, is here, in the film, which about LA, or Altman’s vision of LA, as much as anything, an LA full of disconnected people, floating through each others lives, forced through each others lives, in these plots manufactured to connect, the strange and almost happy music, the strange heaviness with which certain performers play their parts, this uneven film, Tom Waite’s fantastic performance vs Lyle Lovett and Huey Lewis bombing; that one unforgettable scene, Mathew Modine’s quietly desperate character, letting the air out of the balloon, opening his mouth as if it he who is crying, the other one, Julianne Moore, standing there, waistdownnaked so long that you feel you really know her; and one of my favorite love stories, between the character played by Tom Waites and Lily Tomlin, that makes you believe a man can still be forgiven and can still be worthy of it; a film that plays like a tribute to Passive-Aggression, the langue official of the modern relationship; all these sad people and all these people trying to be happy, every now and then one of Carver’s small good things, a film more cynical than it intends to be, one in which the stories are fitfully unresolved; an interesting film, not quite hypnotic, but one that you follow even as you see through it, even when the humor feels sophomoric, over the top, out of place, when the situations smell of exaggeration and stereotype, each of these faults followed up, balanced out by moments of absolute humanity, these false and forced performances juxtaposed against, mixed in beside, fearless and near perfect performances; this film where your find yourself, through Altman’s lens, looking at us, one of us, a few of us, what it is like to be human, though not what it means, and from what piece of fiction should we really ask that anyway?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Light Sleeper

“Look at me. What do you see? What is around me? Is it dark?”
A restless insomniac wander, from some dim place toward some kind of light, the walk a man takes when he feels lucky, when he fears his luck is running out, when he no that it is time for a change, that midpoint, where hope is born by necessity and desperation is that lurking other option. Sarandon, the wild card, as good as she was in White Palace, in Thelma in Louise, those few times she’s been really really good, and Dafoe, even better than the always really really good he is, Schrader re-treading with style Travis Bickle and his other half lost protagonists, men on quests for voice, for place, for something onto which to hold. There’s a scene, over strawberries, in a restaurant, it reminds you of how good women are at saying goodbye, how they always know the significance of it before the man, that a woman, she knows the final moment, when it’s coming, when it’s there, and LaTour, he moves around smiling that smile that almost gets it, and he says, “What is around me? Is it dark?”

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Fight Club. Hero. Open Water. The Fearless Vampire Hunters. Napolean Dynamite.

Fight Club
Incidentally, a strange movie to watch post 9/11
Not the subversion of 1984, not its opposite, but it’s inversion, fascism turned backwards, not to bring about a perfect order, but to create chaos; a man split between two imperfect selves, one primal, one too placate; the near girl and near boy, a portrait of dis-balance; a film obsessed with the vasectomy and lobotomy, the cures for that which ails, those necessary half suicides; I’ve been reading Palanuik lately, and the film works better if you know him, the consistency of his work. An ugly poem to mischief; an out of tune ballad to the primal; a sort of hopeless scream, a nihilistic vision in which there is no hero, in which one spins between two evils and the most comfortable of them is only so because you know it better, whichever one you know. It’s anti-social and it’s anti-anti-social; there is no better kind of revolution, no good kind.

Hero. It’s all set pieces, falling water; furrowing drapery; swirling leaves; storming arrows. The surface of the sand, the lake, the sky; the dusted trees. Magic realism or straight across super naturalism, the characters fly like witches, move like Marvels. Substorylines contrived to almost justify the attention paid to choreography; it’s a dance video, a series of images, like many of those martial arts movies where the characters fight in ways that look cool rather than in ways that suggest they want to win the fight; it’s lovely, and like a lovely thing looked at a long time, it can bore. Long lines of army, soldiers with the swords, their shields, their bows, their arrows, their banners; mounted soldiers and soldiers sitting and soldiers standing and soldiers clapping; toy soldiers, to excite the little boy in you. There is something of Kurosawa here, but corrupted, Taritinoed, a piece that does precisely what it wants to which is to be admired; it’s failure to allow me to suspend my disbelief not a complete failure, just enough on the surface to keep my eye, my ear, the frame story quite simple, and me, simple as well, wanting to know: will he kill the emperor?

Open Water, much hyped, rightfully more attention paid to the making of the film than the film, more attention paid to budget and sharwrangeling than plot and character; an off guard ending; seven tense minutes; a film that thinks it’s about the dynamics between the stranded couple, but an ineffective rendition, a un-insightful exploration of what goes on between Man and Woman; Daniel Travis completely lacking scene charisma; badly written dialogue in a James Woods impression; Blanchard Ryan, hot in her way, equally underwritten, sinking beneath the water, willing her death—nice.

The Fearless Vampire Hunters, a film that makes me nostalgic for a poor period in which the tv was on a box covered by a sheet at the foot of the bed, and a woman and I were inventing our relationship while the film unreeled; a relentlessly cold film, all blue and ice crystal; Sharon Tate a great beauty here and only here; scenes like prophecy where she lies in the sembelance of death on the floor; the way MacBeth plays as a working out of those gory memories; this film, Fearless, beautiful in its frigidty, in its relentless slapstick; an over the top yet somehow subdued, surreal romp, unlike any vampire film; unlike, in fact, any film, quite distinct, quite of itself, a singular experience.

Napolean Dynamite, a vision of Butthead, five years older, without his sidekick, a bit more sensitive and a bit more smart; that perfect combination of teenage indignation and wound; plotted around the memories of a mid twenty year old; around the exaggerated stories that make up the youth of one; played out perfectly; a film completely dependant not on script or camera angle but performance, one absolutely fitting, enthralling, even, hypnotic.