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July 2004 Screening Log - click for reviews, when applicable. Titles of short films listed in bold.

 

01. Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995) 75 [Really, though, how could my opinion of it not go up a bit after seeing the sequel? Its "flaws" (e.g. the largely unquestioned romantic style) now seem to have been placed there by design in light of its sequel, though it's more likely that an older and wiser team of filmmakers found they couldn't respond to the film the way they once could and worked that frustration into the new film's script.]

Get Over It! (Tommy O'Haver, 2001) 42 [I would be tempted to suggest that O'Haver might be some kind of modern savior of the movie musical if he had any affinity for making us believe in his characters at all. Plenty of gay indie filmmakers have made teen films, but this one sees little difference between Chelsea nightlife and the high school social scene. It's all bubbly Technicolor backdrops and drama club scandals. Even though the widescreen compositions here are exciting and the musical numbers energetic (especially the one that plays out behind the opening credits in one long take), the near lack of chemistry between actors or building excitement (in a movie about staging a play, no less!) keeps the technical aspects from really impressing.] 

Salvador (Oliver Stone, 1986) 62 [The main reason to watch is obviously James Woods' performance. The mixture of weasel-eyed self preservation, reckless abandon, and nervous intelligence makes him an unlikely, but believable protagonist, even if the character arc detailing his redemption feels a bit forced. Stone's politics are here in full force, with the ends often hoping to justify the occasionally questionable means. I might bristle a bit at the way that he treats a female reporter who's content to sell the company line on the network news, but it's tough to debate the fact that the public isn't often well-informed about the United States' diplomatic roles in third world countries.] 

 

02. Two Brothers (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 2004) 39 [Essentially a less successful reworking of The Bear from director Annaud, who in his world-spanning love of nature often seems to be Werner Herzog for those who prefer not to have too many ideas in their movies. Either shot on some form of High-Def DV or some of the worst-projected film that I've ever seen in my life, this sad waste of resources lost its prime appeal for me right off the bat. The tigers themselves do a fine job of filling screen time, especially when interacting with each other, but the human stories that surround their sometimes overscripted antics consistently fall flat.]

Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004) 81 [Simply put, a better version of the original. Originality and subtext are on shorter supply, but there's a better lead villain, much improved action scenes, and the same great cast of characters that made the first film so pleasurable (plus the awesome addition of Molina's Doc Ock). This one thankfully doesn't sputter in the second half, but so much of my response to it was on a level of pure enjoyment that I'm just as eager to view it again as I am afraid to think that the experience might wither under a more critical eye. Numerous scenes are melodramatic in a way that makes me glad that melodrama exists. The inherent cheese factor allowed that stuff to draw me closer to the characters, even as I was rolling my eyes. Now that I'm out of the theater, I can see how it might be dismissed as an almost scene-for-scene do-over of the first, but the key elements here, such as Raimi's direction and Maguire's performance, feel sharper.] 

Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004) 92 [Loses next to nothing on another go around, and this time I recognized that the establishing shots in the film's opening are the places that the characters haven't yet visited. Before Sunrise ended with a similar series of shots, recalling the end of L'Eclisse, but with a much sunnier disposition. In the sequel, the device has a different meaning entirely, and as one of the few explicit directorial touches in a film that generally strives for the illusion of reality, that meaning is extra significant. Is it a presentation of a "reality" that is about to be ignored by the romantic fantasy of the two protagonists or an unquestioning, anticipatory tour through the world that they will soon inhabit? I guess the answer to that question depends on which side of the optimist / pessimist line you fall on, but that it, like the film's ending, can be viewed in a number of ways suggests that this movie is by no means to be taken as an ending of the story.]

 

03. The Stupids (John Landis, 1996) 62 [Frequently hilarious, because there's so little at stake. It thankfully never becomes the message movie that so many "lowbrow" comedies these days feel obligated to become, even if there's some subtextual baggage inherent in the concept. Featuring a family that unquestioningly believes everything they're told, the movie establishes a wry commentary on our worst fears about the average Americans. The highlight of the movie, from this perspective, is probably the scene in which The Stupids turn an "Applause" sign on and off, causing a Pavlovian response in an unthinking audience. Ironically, the whole shebang seems pitched over the heads of the stupidest viewers, with the movie ending up as something cleverer than it pretends to be. The  gags that I enjoyed the most, such as the wig disguise and the trips to heaven and the stone age, were actually quite elaborately set up.]

The Vault of Horror (Roy Ward Baker, 1973) 43 [I think I'm burning out on these British horror anthologies. There's definitely an enjoyable camp component present in them, but the actual experience of watching the oh-so-predictable stories as they unfold pretty much outweighs that enjoyment. Personally, the prime highlight was that the title card was overlaid on a picture of the British House of Parliament. Good gag, that.] 

 

04. She-Devil (Susan Seidelman, 1989) 54 [Shoddily made, but there's detectable feminist rage between the actor's lines, all of which seem to have been sanitized for our protection. Meryl Streep's performance is good, despite a role that is not. She keeps finding ways to inject humor that couldn't have been present on the page, and ends up turning a caricature into something just a tad easier to accept. The movie doesn't really escalate once it's set up, which is disappointing, but not completely damning.]  

Betty Fisher and Other Stories (Claude Miller, 2001) 67 [The frequent shifts in direction made this one of those rare movies that managed to catch me up in its story, above any other considerations. Miller cuts from one strand of his plot to another without losing much in the way of momentum or thematic relevance. It presents a vision of the world where selfishness reigns supreme, and then proceeds toward a moralistic (or is it simply compassionate?) judgment its complex web of character relationships, without feeling like a sham. It probably won't resonate with me, but sometimes that's okay.]

Cutter's Way (Ivan Passer, 1981) 61 [Strained in its attempts to create an expansive  disillusioned, post-Vietman worldview, but effective as an unlikely buddy movie, this mixed bag of a movie is more satisfying in theory than execution. I can appreciate it as an updating of noir themes, swapping out Venetian blinds for a sun-dappled paranoia that lives out in the open, but I don't feel that undercurrent in the same way that I do when I watch old noir. Perhaps it's because for the bulk of the running time the villain isn't even recognizable as such. John Heard is playing a conceit more than a character, and he's not a very believable one at that. Jeff Bridges fares much better as his straight man.]

 

05. The Notebook (Nick Cassavetes, 2004) 36 [Scattered surface pleasures, found in the performances (especially by Sam Shepard, who seems to have wandered in from a more honest film) and the nostalgic backdrop do little to counteract the cornball premise and sketchily developed characters. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams are fine and attractive as the giggly, vapid young lovers, but their older counterparts are almost painful to watch. It's a shame that Nick Cassavetes continues to use his mother's presence in his movies to such diminishing returns. Joan Allen is similarly wasted, which is probably an even more dubious accomplishment. It's endlessly irksome that the excuses for keeping the two lovers apart are never really given any sort of justification or believable airing, but there's not much of a discernable reason for them to be together in the first place. Not inept, but positively shameless from opening shot (which evokes On Golden Pond) to closing reel, which plays out for a good ten minutes past what would have been a far more interesting ending.]

 

06. Barbershop 2: Back in Business (Kevin Rodney Sullivan, 2004) 51 [Better than the first, for sure. There's more of a laid back hang-out dynamic at work here. The plot is more of a secondary concern, at least for the first hour or so. For example, Queen Latifah shows up to crash a party for no discernable reason, but that only enhances the feel of community that the movie's striving for. The cast is mostly good, with Cedric the Entertainer's frequent outbursts far funnier than they were in the first film. Politically, it's a hodgepodge -- defeatist but hopeful. Visually, it's a bit of a mess.]

Storytelling (Todd Solondz, 2001) 75 [Surprisingly, I never got around to watching this movie again until now, even though my first viewing left me in solidly mixed territory. Now, I guess because there's less of Solondz's personality hanging over the affair I can better judge this insanely self-reflexive movie on its own terms (even if it might not have ever been conceived as something meant to exist on its own terms). I see the machinery churning behind each of the movie's manipulations, but I can't help but admire the thing as the almost unassailable construct that it is. It is galling but insightful throughout. Solondz certainly wants to put his audience in a position where they are responsible for their response to his movie, and his provocations do manage to draw me in before I can gauge my response from more of a distance. Also, the second half of the movie felt much less messy to me than it had on the first viewing. Now I can see the reasoning behind just about everything's inclusion.]

King of Ants (Stuart Gordon, 2003) 65 [Usually you have to go to foreign genre films (e.g. Miike's) to get this kind of anti-moral stance, squirmy brutality, and blatant weirdness. Gordon, long a staple of B-movie horror, steps one foot out of the genre without stumbling. This is a direct-to-DVD release well worth seeking out. The less you know about it in advance, the more likely its unpredictable shifts will be able to catch you off guard and unsettle you. I'll refrain from saying more, but don't mistake that decision for apathy.]

 

07. Gas Food Lodging (Allison Anders, 1992) 37 [Too often unconvincing in its details to achieve any sort of emotional poignancy, this is a movie that only has the pretenses of conflict to power it -- its outcome is precisely the sort of predetermined pap that gives Sundance movies a bad name. There are some adequate performances here, but they're plunked down in the midst of a movie with such obvious agendas that the characters seem like secondary concerns. The resulting effect is pretty much the opposite of the unfiltered slice of life that the movie seems to be trying for.] 

 

08.  The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (John Badham, 1976) 66 [They don't make them like this any more, and they probably didn't make them like this back then either. The sort of winking, good-natured nostalgia at play here is a treat, and many of the movie's sequences are hilarious. The humor relies on a few too many cheap shots and it's easy to imagine some taking exception to the racial stereotypes at play, but a whitewashing of this material - or worse yet an infusion of honor - would have been more offensive. It stumbles a bit around third base by trying to create crises, but its home plate victory comes with surprising ambivalence.] 

 

09. The Corporation (Jennifer Abbott & Mark Achbar, 2003) 56

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004) 48

 

10. Cherish (Finna Taylor, 2002) 64

Fear No Evil (Frank LaLoggia, 1981) 32

 

11. King Arthur (Antoine Fuqua, 2004) 34

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2004) 42

White Chicks (Keenan Ivory Wayans, 2004) 59

The Clearing (Pieter Jan Brugge, 2004) 43

 

12. Un chant d'amour (Jean Genet, 1950) 96

Parents (Bob Balaban, 1989) 68 

Perfect Love (Catherine Breillat, 1996) 72

 

13. God Told Me To (Larry Cohen, 1976) 57

 

14. The Changeling (Peter Medak, 1980) 35

 

15. Talk (Lukas Moodysson, 1997) 54 [An old man, retired from his job at a Volvo plant, desperately tries to strike up conversation with anyone who will listen. As the film progresses, the tone shifts rapidly between the comic, the pathetic, and the ghastly. If it isnít a good example of the complex, but generous, ambivalence Moodyssonís capable of, it still manages to be affecting by jerking you around.] 

Le batteur du bolťro (Patrice Leconte, 1992) 63 [Consisting of one shot, about 7 minutes long, this short executes a simple idea well. By focusing on one man in an orchestra (the drummer who provides the faint percussion driving the piece) playing ďBoleroĒ, it disarmingly comments on his individualism while making his assimilation into the groupís passion inspiring. As the music grows increasingly stirring and nears a crescendo, the performer finds greater joy in his work. In its small way, itís as stunning as any DePalma set piece.] 

Charlotte and Vťronique, or All the Boys are Called Patrick (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959) 77 [This sprightly short, penned by Eric Rohmer, is perhaps the only film that Godard made that was scripted by another (Breathless probably doesnít count, despite its credits). Rohmerís influence is certainly felt here, with a small, humorous tale of romantic perception, but Godard is an undeniable presence, thanks to his use of jump cuts and his constant references to both high and pop culture (the synthetic pop song about Casanova in the first scene sets the mood). Itís charmingly self-reflexive, with a suave, deceitful young man in Godardís famous sunglasses trying to woo two girls who read ďCahiers du cinemaĒ and worship James Dean Ė and just happen to be flat mates. Godardís flair for directing women is readily apparent, as is the distinct vision of Paris (think cafes and bathrooms) that he came to define. The comic mix-up at the storyís center provides an opportunity to see how boys and girls develop stereotypes about each other, but the little lies being told here arenít judged harshly. In the first half, the young man uses his encounters with the two girls to confirm his sneaking suspicion that all women are alike (though that belief doesnít prevent him from wanting several). The second half finds the girls flattering themselves by contrasting their mates, who happen to seem the same man. The tone remains playful throughout, though, and the revelation of the scheme comes with a playful shrug.] 

Epilogue (Tom Tykwer, 1992) 48 [A little bit pretentious, which is par for the course with Tykwer, I suppose. It begins with the swooping climax of a loversí quarrel and then loops back through time as the aggressor searches for meaning in his actions. Morality is tied up with fate, and both seem malleable on this Moebius strip of interpersonal turmoil.] 

Fridge (Peter Mullan, 1996) 79 [Set in Scottish slums, this stark study of rampant callousness shows how a dismal social situation escalates an accident toward a tragedy. Mullan is an unsubtle filmmaker, but this shows us a corner of the world so gritty that itís immediately gripping. The director is confrontational from the outset. The Taxi Driver t-shirt a character wears challenges audience members who could find an icon among people so disenfranchised. These characters canít live up to the roles their lives have served them. When tested, they retreat into alcoholic stupor and petty squabbles. Itís obvious, but itís tense and powerful anyway.] 

Opening Day of Close-Up (Nanni Moretti, 1996) 60 [This charming and inventive homage to Kiarostamiís film finds Moretti operating his Italian theater, worried that the premiere of Close-Up will be less than a smash. Competing against a film market with far greater resources than he can provide (both The Lion King and homegrown smash The Monster post boffo b.o. results), Moretti creates the kind of clown that cinephiles like me can get behind. We see him micromanaging his theaterís concessions and giving his patrons personalized driving directions, all out of an obvious love of cinema. Itís probably a little too easy to use an immediately identifiable art house phenomenon like Close-Up when youíre trying to make the point Morettiís making, but the box-office grosses listed during the closing credits are disturbing, even to cinephiles like myself who sometimes would like to pretend that such things ďdonít matter.Ē]   

Gisele Kerosene (Jan Kounen, 1989) 27 [Live action stop motion Š la McLarenís Neighbors, this garish technical stunt held little appeal for me. Featuring a broomstick-driven chase in a futuristic city, the jerkily animated, grotesque characters are so repulsive that thereís little to draw you in, beyond the kinetics.]

World of Glory (Roy Andersson, 1991) 80 [This pseudodocumentary does for Holocaust guilt what Songs From the Second Floor did for the Apocalypse. Anderssonís unmistakable style is in full effect here. Thereís a static camera, long shots that create tableaux, and lighting that flattens all emotions by pushing everything toward a monochrome murk. Itís really quite remarkable how thought through the still compositions are. When thereís a skewed perspective, the effect often suggests action in the way that camera movement and editing usually do. The straight-ahead shots each drive home the static feel that weíre looking at a diorama. Bleak but aesthetically exciting. Morbid but funny.] 

The Man Without a Head (Juan Diego Solanas, 2003) 68 [The extraordinary visuals here suggest a live action Belleville or an Amelie that favors the long shot. Classic Hollywood pushes up against French weirdness, allowing for moments like the one in which the oddball, titular character performs a short dance routine. The film isnít saying much, but it is effective on the larger than life emotional level that it aims for.]

Concert of Requests (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1967) 42 [Young love is tested when a man is forced to choose between his girl and his tent. Casual performances and a natural ease with the setting are the prime highlights here. Kieslowskiís use of pop music seems to be ironic in that it makes the relationships appear simpler than they probably are, but then again, itís possible he intends them to be literal commentary on the events. Much of the tension that exists here isnít verbalized, so itís tough to tell which it would be.]

Jabberwocky (Jan Svankmajer, 1971) 58 [Svankmajer applies his delirious stop-motion surrealism to Lewis Carrollís famous poem here, but the results hardly feel like a precursor to his later film Alice. Watching it has an effect similar to reading the poem, in that youíre convinced that youíre being exposed to nonsense, but it is intentional nonsense, as arranged by a genius. Once the recitation of the poem is completed, the movie breaks down even further, until youíre only watching a series of generally unrelated things that are evocative of things (mostly related to childhood) that you only can articulate halfway. When an image or a motif repeats, order pokes its head through the chaos (much like the cat pokes its head through the maze), but then chaos takes over again.] 

My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117 (Chris Morris, 2002) 41 [This hyperactive absurdity has an overabundance of herky-jerky style. The pretense of presenting all of it to us is a schizophrenicís weird waking dream, which some might find offensive. The mixed up electronic score is pretty cool, however, and Paddy Considineís presence is never a bad thing.] 

Nocturne (Lars Von Trier, 1980) 64 

El Secdleto de la tlompeta (Javier Fesser, 1995) 29   

Election Night (Anders Thomas Jensen, 1998) 40

The General (Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman, 1927) 97

 

16. Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times (John Junkerman, 2002) 33 [Kind of dead cinematically, with the exception of one fascinating scene that ďshouldnítĒ have been included. It shows Chomsky hobnobbing casually with some of his fans after one of his talks, and in it some of his persona (e.g. the tendency to begin his speaking engagements with self-effacing remarks) falls away. The scene begins to ask the audience to consider the audience that makes Chomsky the figure that he is and does more to question him than anything else in the rather bland movie.] 

Man in the Attic (Hugo Fregonese, 1953) 37

 

17. Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004) 51

The Camera I (FranÁoise Romand, 2004) 9

Maria Full of Grace (Joshua Marston, 2004) 65

I, Robot (Alex Proyas, 2004) 14

 

18. Uncle Sam (William Lustig, 1997) 66 [No one writes screenplays like Larry Cohen writes screenplays. This movie alternates between being a condemnation of the Gulf War, a send-up of patriotism, an examination of the ways that people use their agendas to justify their misdeeds, and a rather corny (but funny) slasher film. Itís filled with the sort of off-the-wall oddities and social relevance that people treasured in Ď70s exploitation films. Given that the majority of todayís horror movies are technically precise thrill rides, itís all the more valuable. The visually inspired sequence featuring the peeping tom on stilts is a must-see.]

Deathdream (Bob Clark, 1974) 71 [The IMDB tells me that this was made in 1974, but most sources list 1972 as its year of production, which would make it even more remarkable as a nervy approximation of post-Vietnam angst. Itís maybe not as developed as I might have liked, hewing a bit too close to ďThe Moneyís PawĒ to fulfill its metaphorical potential, but thereís no denying the profound sadness that exists here. Itís so obviously the product of discontent that its technical crudeness is forgivable. The film rambles a bit, but in the end hits precisely where it has to.]

 

19. C.H.U.D. (Douglas Cheek, 1984) 63 [Sort of mediocre as a monster movie, but quite interesting as a long whine about bureaucracy. Set, quite distinctively, in 1980s New York City, it pulls in a wide range of social perspectives, and almost begins to resemble a zombie film as envisioned by John Sayles. The one brilliant scene, which graphically addresses the lead female characterís abortion anxiety, is one of those otherwise inexplicable, subtextual shockers that you can only find in a horror film. Still, itís a bit of a shame that the monsters themselves are almost irrelevant here.]

20. The Triumph of Love (Clare Peploe, 2001) 59 [The reasons that this doesnít work as a movie are precisely the reasons why itís probably best kept on the stage in the first place. Deceptive cross-dressing is so hard to pull off in a film that itís pretty amazing that people keep trying it. Itís still a funny, warm film, but thereís always that niggling reminder that you canít believe what youíre watching. Peploe seems fully aware of that, so she exaggerates the self-consciousness of the production (e.g. including glimpses of the audience, which seem great at first, but then suffer from diminishing returns), but it doesnít really alleviate the issue. Thereís a great movie swimming around in here (or maybe itís just the great source material), but it only occasionally rears its head. The cast is stellar, the ending is divine, but the summery spell it casts is, disappointingly, fleeting.]

21. Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (Mark Achbar & Peter Wintonick, 1992) 66 [Thereís a considerable amount of material to absorb here, but itís organized in a way thatís neither overwhelming nor especially reductive. The surprisingly ambivalent take on Chomskyís views is appreciated, and it all plays into the central theme, which argues against laziness in interacting with the world around us. Itís frequently funny, and always easy to watch. Much like Achbarís recent The Corporation, its extended run time passes easily.]

22. The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004) 46 [Itís possibly the most complacent movie ever made about a revolutionary. The movie strains to deal in small gestures, showing how one can be gradually changed by experience, but it continually overplays its hand, resulting in a dumbed-down, almost dogmatic attitude toward the process of personal growth. The last few minutes are especially boneheaded. The black and white shots of the common people always seemed to transform them into an idealization, which seems to goes against the theme of the necessity of life experience. The closing voiceover suggests thereís been no growth at all Ė just a solidification of already held beliefs. The final three shots are nostalgic nonsense. That all being said, there are two fine lead performances (with several decent supporting turns), some excellent cinematography and a few scenes that manage to hint at what the movie could have been in more capable hands.]

 

23. The Flamingo Kid (Garry Marshall, 1984) 43

 

24. Die, Mommie, Die! (Mark Rucker, 2003) 43

Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson, 1996) 76

 

25. A Cry in the Dark (Fred Schepisi, 1988) 61

 

26. Center Stage (Nicholas Hytner, 2000) 45

 

27. Manny & Lo (Lisa Krueger, 1996) 49

Starsky & Hutch (Todd Phillips, 2004) 58

 

28. Hangin' With the Homeboys (Joseph B. Vasquez, 1991) 54

 

29. Bagdad Cafe (Percy Adlon, 1987) 57

Broken Lizard's Club Dread (Jay Chandrasekhar, 2004) 11

 

30. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (Sara Sugarman, 2004) 50

 

31. Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton, 1996) 59

 

January 2004 - February 2004 - March 2004 - April 2004 - May 2004 - June 2004 - July 2004 - August 2004