Monday, May 16, 2011

Recently Seen

The Shadow Box (Paul Newman, 1980) - The videotape material seems a little undercooked, simply "there," when it could have been developed into something with more thematic/aesthetic resonance, à la Egoyan.  But an intriguing enough effort, because it tries to do a lot with a little - noticeably finite actors and sets, a little stagebound, but it looks like someone was at least paying attention to the colors of props and costumes, for example.  (Thanks to M. for supplying me with a copy a few years back ...)

Blues in the Night (Anatole Litvak, 1941) - Depression-era bonhomie along with a pair of shots that encapsulate an entire century of white commercial popularization of black music in America.

From Paris with Love (Pierre Morel, 2010) - These days Travolta, like Jimmy Fallon, needs roles that allow one to laugh at him in order to stay bearable onscreen.  From there, a film that uses him well will build off of the humor of the premise itself, like From Paris with Love does - making Travolta a brash hick with a scarf way too fashionable for his station.  The film, like Taken, has a million things wrong with it ... but the EuropaCorp formula is depressingly efficient at hitting certain pleasure buttons.  I cannot lie.  Still, as much as I love the Transporter movies (and District B13) I wonder if the EuropaCorp stable has an artiste, making masterpieces - like MilkyWay has main man Johnnie To producing superb film after superb film (whether modest or grand in scale).  Luc Besson, whose work I do find fairly enjoyable and somewhat interesting, doesn't cut it by comparison.  Anyone else?  I'm all ears since I've basically mentioned at least half of the EuropaCorp films I've even seen ...

Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011) - My ambiguous feelings toward this film can, in many ways, be summed up in how the cinematography captures the actors' blemishes and imperfections.  I appreciate the impulse to bare the body - not in terms of nudity, but rather as a matter of the body as a "machine" that excretes, sweats, wrinkles, etc.  But the idea seems to go nowhere; it's not motivated by aesthetics, nor politics (god forbid an amalgam of both).  Really this just summarizes my disappointment with the vast majority of the whole Apatow school of comedy.  It's not that I don't value the abstract goals - "deep" gross-out comedy - it's that Apatow (whether he's a writer, director, or producer) seems to mostly get behind projects that just pale in comparison to the Real Thing ...

The Harvest (David Marconi, 1992) - I saw this mentioned by a facebook friend a while back (h/t NDC), and out of curiosity I checked it out.  The 1990s were a really rich time for a particular type of cinema that almost nobody talks about - low-budget films that may be "independent" or "genre" or a little of both, that may have enjoyed a stronger life on cable than in theaters.  The qualities of The Harvest include its slightly ingenious plot construction, which is intelligent - there's more New Rose Hotel here (inviting the mindfuck, thematizing it, developing it) than there is Vanilla Sky (taming it, killing it, burying and disavowing it).

2 comments:

Jon Hastings said...

I like The Harvest: I believe I was turned onto it by the video critic in Entertainment Weekly at the time of its video release. I wonder if the kind of movie it is is really a product of the early 1990s: that after Pulp Fiction these kind of movies became more self-consciously "indie" and the genre stuff became a bit of a goof. I remember seeing One False Move and Resevoir Dogs the same week: I liked them both quite a bit, but wouldn't have pegged Dogs as the movie that was going to spawn its own little sub-genre.

Zach Campbell said...

I think that's a good way to stage the difference, Jon. Usually Tarantino / the Tarantinoesque are juxtaposed (always negatively) against a more "authentic" indie movement. Tarantino vs Jarmusch, or vs. any number of people Ray Carney champions. But really Tarantino's wheelhouse has always been a commercial project rather than that of the, errrrr, 'independent spirit.' And One False Move's formula is indeed one that I wish were still able to thrive in commercial US cinema. Maybe it still does, on DTV or something, and I simply don't know about it. But Quentin Tarantino's "formula" is easier to market, I think, even if most emulators are not as talented as QT.

(Speaking of One False Move - I can't say I kept up with Carl Franklin's work in the past decade, but I still think One True Thing is one of the strongest mainstream Hollywood films of the late '90s. He's a talented director.)