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Screening Log



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


01. I Huckabees (David O. Russell, 2004) 79

A Dirty Shame (John Waters, 2004) 61


02. Triple Agent (Eric Rohmer, 2004) 47 [Relatively decent, but never quite gripping, which makes it precisely the kind of spy movie you'd expect a guy like Rohmer to make. I can appreciate what he's going for here, trying to tell his tale through the oblivious perspective of the protagonist's artist wife. He shoots himself in the foot, though, by including dozens of newsreel clips, providing the context that the structural approach works so hard to cut us off from. The dialogue scenes are impressively sustained dances around the subject at hand, but when the film shifts into payoff mode at the last minute, I didn't feel particularly repaid.]

Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004) 87 [Two viewings of this one still don't quite tell me exactly what it is that I'm watching, but when the atmosphere is this intoxicating, who's to complain? At this point, I see the midway rupture as a lapse into a symbolic fantasy (or is it? -- there's that naked guy in the first reel), in which the protagonist must come to terms with the full ramifications of the emotional plunge he may or may not take at the end of the first segment. It's a bit frustrating, honestly, to be so charged by a viewing experience that words can't quite justify the relationship that you've felt with the film, but if words were enough, we probably wouldn't need cinema, right?]  

Undertow (David Gordon Green, 2004) 52 [Dear God, what happened here? Not a disaster, exactly, this is a huge disappointment nonetheless. Everything mysterious and seemingly deep about Green's other films feels calculated and on the surface level here. The half-baked, Night of the Hunter-style plot is, frankly, beneath him. It took the better part of my goodwill to avoid writing this off entirely. Green's style seemed largely misapplied here, although he manages to make his infrequent action scenes genuinely exciting. Maybe he wants to do the next Charlie's Angels or something...]


03. The White Gorilla (Harry L. Fraser, 1945) 60 [Obviously, tons of other sound movies have integrated silent footage with varying degrees of success, but I haven't seen one that did this to such unintentionally hilarious effect. That it was made in 1945 makes the approach even more laughable. About 2/3 of what we see here is recycled, and the attempts to integrate the sound footage into the silent framework (e.g. the useless narrator, always hiding in the bushes, too shocked to act) are stupefying. If this thing didn't work so well as camp, it would be dreadful, but the sheer atrocity of it ensures that never grows dull. A must-see, of sorts.]


04. This Gun For Hire (Frank Tuttle, 1942) 67 [Rather refreshing in its stone-faced demeanor, at least until the final scenes which disappointingly (but predictably, given the era the film was made in) allow the audience to breathe easily about the morally shifty anti-hero. Alan Ladd's performance gives us what is perhaps the definitive cold-hearted assassin. You can still feel echoes of it in today's movies. Veronica Lake is conspicuously placed in this setting, but at least the movie seems aware of it. The scene where she uses her makeup bag to leave a trail is inspired, and her two wonderfully staged but wholly inappropriate songs are about as good as these things get outside of a full-fledged musical. This is very capable genre work, but it's finally too workmanlike and visually uninspired to compete with the best '40s film noir entries.]


05. Kids (Larry Clark, 1995) 60 [Back when I was about the same age as the characters in this movie, I had a violently negative reaction to this film, probably because I could not get over seeing it as a message movie. Now that I'm older, I can appreciate it mostly as an evocation of a particularly tawdry milieu, done with a kind of exhibitionistic frankness that hadn't really been seen before. I don't exactly like the plot, which arbitrarily injects a moral into a world that doesn't have much use for one. Several of the strained grace notes (e.g. the dancing blind boy on the subway platform) are previews of the slapdash poeticism that would turn up in Harmony Korine's subsequent features, and are out of place here.]

The 10th District Court: Judicial Hearings (Raymond Depardon, 2004) 56 [It's disappointing that this doesn't amount to more. The first few cases are funny and even a bit instructive, but as the stakes increase and moral gray areas arise, the amount of insight offered by Depardon's non-style doesn't also increase. Because the director is so non-committal about his subjects (the formal approach is unified throughout), and because we're told their cases were heard chronologically, we can only assume their mere inclusion in the film makes them significant. Figuring out that significance, however, is entirely dependent upon the viewers own prejudices, which makes this a somewhat fruitless exercise. Depardon doesn't get in the way of his subject, but I think we watch many filmed documentaries to be aware of the ways that a director's personality can supercede the subject at hand. Significantly, the verdict of the penultimate, and most interesting case is never revealed. Is that a major gaffe or an attempt to make us question the fairness of the stern, quick-witted and quicker-tempered judge?]


06. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, 2004) 59 [Desplechin certainly can't be faulted for not thinking things through here, but I think that this film crosses a threshold where character complexity is pushed to the fore at the expense of things like a satisfying narrative or a consistent tone. Though there's an eventual payoff, but for much of the running time Mathieu Amalric's scenes are a distraction. Desplechin's inability to make comedy and tragedy fit snugly against one another is partially to blame, no doubt, but I think it's also because no matter how many filmmakers disagree, movies don't inherently function in the same ways that novels do. Ultimately, this is an ambitious film that is more satisfying in retrospect, but I have to say that I was pretty content with the melodrama before my expectations started getting subverted, thank you very much.]

The Stuff (Larry Cohen, 1985) 67 [Cohen takes a swing here at Invasion of the Body Snatchers, updating it with more social relevance and plenty of chuckles, but far fewer scares. His can't-miss concept starts out so strongly that it's no surprise when it turns out that he doesn't really know how to end the film (two or three of the 5 endings offered are great, though). Really, one watches a Cohen movie to see the thinly veiled political subtext mutate and spin out of control as it butts heads with genre-imposed clichés, and on those grounds this one doesn't disappoint. The "and the people did believe us" epilogue is vaguely inspiring.]


07. The World (Jia Zhang-ke, 2004) 51 [The opening sequences, with their much-improved visual sensibility and irresistible setting, seem to promise something new from Jia, but this is really more of the same. Like Platform, it follows a troupe of actors who serve as bellwethers for the state of Chinese society. This is as up-to-the-minute as any of the director's previous features, and as a result the characters this time aren't left behind by the conversion to capitalism so much as they're seen as disposable commodities that can easily be traded in for a younger model should they malfunction. This is might be a better film than I am giving it credit for, and I begrudge no one who thinks the world of it, but it seemed too bloated and superficial a look at the current Chinese situation to me.]


08. Keane (Lodge Kerrigan, 2004) 43 

Friday Night Lights (Peter Berg, 2004) 34

Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004) 56


09. Friday the 13th (Sean Cunningham, 1980) 54


10. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004) 53 [Oddly, this abortion drama mostly turns out to be a ratification of the working class' family values. Though it would be silly to say that abortion isn't at all a class issue, the extent to which it becomes one here is problematic, especially when Vera's adamant stance that she "helps young girls" is not at all questioned by instances like the one where she helps rich young girls. Ruth Sheen's mercenary best friend is a rare exception to the rich/poor = bad/good stereotypes that run throughout the film, even on a visual level. If she was the central character, and the movie remained alive to the complexities of her character, this would have been a much better film, I think. As is, the deck-stacking Leigh does, especially in the conception of Vera's saint- like character, is exceptionally frustrating, made worse by my knowledge that Leigh can do a hell of a lot better with precisely this kind of character (e.g. Hard Labour).]

House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou, 2004) 54 [I wonder how much of my reaction to this is based in my letdown that this is a much more conventional film than Hero. Maybe another viewing, with lower expectations, will reveal it to be a perfectly serviceable genre film, but I doubt it will ever manage to involve me emotionally. Certainly it's beautiful, but it's also kind of hokey, with its virtuoso action sequences coming off as obligatory additions to its dopey plot (could Zhang Ziyi's shirt possibly be ripped off more times?), instead of extensions of its characters' psyches. As in Hero, personal concerns are pitted against communal ones, but there's barely any conflict at all in that notion, perhaps because the characters this time out are much younger than they were there.]


11. The Boondock Saints (Troy Duffy, 1999) 20


12. Gertrud (Carl Theodore Dreyer, 1964) 97 [91 was a typo!! Poor Gertrud has already suffered enough!]


13. Demons (Lamberto Bava, 1985) 50


14. Mommie Dearest (Frank Perry, 1981) 73


15. Anatomy of Hell (Catherine Breillat, 2004) 71


16. Cafe Lumiere (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2003) 48

Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2004) 60

Saraband (Ingmar Bergman, 2003) 68


17. Make Mine Music (Disney Animators, 1946) 54

The Band Concert (Wilfred Jackson, 1935) 82

The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, 1960) 78


18. Fun and Fancy-Free (Disney Animators, 1947) 52


19. The Lair of the White Worm (Ken Russell, 1988) 60


20. A Thousand Clouds of Peace (Julian Hernandez, 2003) 32


21. Blood Ties (Jim McBride, 1991) 43


22. Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1971) 73


23. Getrud (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1964) 97


24. The Grudge (Takashi Shimizu, 2004) 46

Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004) 35

Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004) 58


25. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Billy Wilder, 1970) 82


26. Patton (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970) 58 [Interesting for superficial reasons, such as its scale, the film  is a limited success, because of its glib script. One scene after another merely sets up a punch line before  ending abruptly, and from this we're supposed to accumulate an ambiguous examination of a powerful figure? The  film establishes that Patton was a man who was difficult to embrace wholeheartedly (duh...), but it doesn't do much beyond that, despite Scott's intensity. In his scenes with Karl Malden, he feels like more than a  collection of extreme mannerisms, but since Malden's playing the only character that matters besides Patton,  they're the exception to the rule.]


27. Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004) 51 [The second viewing of this leaves me even less impressed. Even  the opening fifteen minutes, which seemed energetic and apocalyptic at first glance feel like a cheap  violation of the "rules" of zombie behavior that are later established. It's tempting to be forgiving that the  film isn't scary at all -- and is occasionally kind of lame -- now, since I'm re-watching it, but the other  Dead films hold up nicely enough that I can't help but dock a few points from my score.]


28. Salome (Charles Bryant, 1923) 36 [Alternating between a fiasco and a curio, this tough-to-classify silent  oddity flirts with being unwatchable because of its pretensions. Though there's an abstract visual style that  threatens to save the endeavor, it's not enough to make up for the resounding lack of dramatic drive. Since  the story is so familiar, even the promise of the final dance and beheading are little incentive to stay  involved. Alla Nazimova is too old by half in the title role.]

29. The Masque of the Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964) 70 [Visually, this is as good as Corman's films get. The use of color is sophisticated and the sets are dreamlike enough to shake of the low-budget feel completely. Price is given a surprisingly complex character to play, and his unshakable faith in Satan minimizes the moralizing that one normally sees in horror films. It's not really scary, but it is suitably creepy and psychologically compelling.]


30. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938) 95


31. The Other (Robert Mulligan, 1972) 48

The Prime of Miss Jean Brody (Ronald Neame, 1969) 62


January 2004 - February 2004 - March 2004 - April 2004 - May 2004 - June 2004 - July 2004 - August 2004 - September 2004 - October 2004 - November 2004