Archive Page 2

29
Sep
10

Apartment Zero

I just watched Apartment Zero, which has been on my cult movie list for a long time after being recommended by Videohound and one of Scarecrow’s clerks ages ago. It certainly wasn’t entirely what I expected since the box sells it more as a horror and instead of the psychological thriller with very pronounced homoeroticism throughout that it is. With that said, it was definitely an unusual and surprising film. There are very strong similarities in tone and subject matter to Polanski’s The Tenant, which is another paranoiac film about getting along with your neighbors, although in some ways it is its polar opposite. In contrast to The Tenant’s harmless, socially awkward main character who mainly just wants to get along with his unsettling neighbors despite the way they increasingly intrude on his privacy and sanity throughout the film, however, Apartment Zero’s lead LeDuc is openly hostile to his friendly, though eccentric neighbors from the beginning in this film. Then again though, like the best Polanski films, Apartment Zero has the audience on pins and needles throughout, the twists and turns of the plot are truly unpredictable in a way that most thrillers aren’t, and it explores non-mainstream sexuality in a challenging way.

What I also really liked about Apartment Zero was the way that although all of the characters in the film have very large and obvious flaws, almost everyone is at least sympathetic with many of them being pretty likable. I wouldn’t call it a great movie per se, as overall it is fairly uneven. In certain parts it can feel less unpredictable and more like the movie can’t make up it’s mind about what it wants to be, teetering between black comedy, romance, horror, and even quasi-porno. And it also hits you over the head with the homoeroticism in a way that’s bordering on totally bizarre and laughable. I appreciate the ambitiousness of the attempt though and Colin Firth’s performance is really excellent.

29
Sep
09

Hiatus Over

Sorry to have vanished again briefly. The last few weeks turned out to be totally killer for me between having various people visiting me, going on my own vacation, working, being boring etc. etc. Hopefully, I can get back started again now though. I have seen so many movies that I need to update on, including:

Hell is a City

Bright Star

Capitalism: A Love Story

Dead Again

Odd Man Out

Ponyo

Inglourious Basterds (I can barely stand to write out this title with its bad spelling omg)

Julie and Julia

District 9

Maybe I’ll do a series of short takes just to plow through them.

11
Aug
09

An Angel at My Table

an angel at my table

With my recent discovery of another sprawling, chaotic video store to haunt, I finally tracked down a scratchy VHS copy of An Angel at My Table by Jane Campion, which has been surprisingly difficult for me to find considering that it was recently released by Criterion Collection. As usual, I’m sure the fact that it was directed by a woman and is about a woman writer has NOTHING to do with being unable to find it anywhere.

Anyway, the film is a biopic about New Zealand-born writer, Janet Frame, which starts with her working class childhood, extends through her adolescence, and on into her early adulthood with three separate actors for each phase. I really liked the movie, although I do have a couple complaints. For one thing, I did not have the benefit of closed captioning/subtitles while watching it, which caused me to miss a fair chunk of the dialogue between the thick accents and the poor quality of the VHS copy I watched. I would definitely recommend trying to get the DVD version if you can because I imagine subtitles will make it much easier to follow.

Secondly (and no doubt relatedly), the scene changes in the film are often pretty abrupt and several times I got confused about what was happening and who different characters were. There is no direct narration in the film so you have to pick information up as it moves along.

There is no direct narration in the film so you have to pick information up as it moves along. The edges become a little blurry in terms of how much time is actually passing from scene to scene, what the relationships between different characters are, etc. At a certain point, you kind of just have to let go of understanding a lot of the background particulars.

With that said, it was impossible for me not to identify with the main character and to feel compelled by her life story. As a card-carrying introvert, I always really appreciate movies that focus on people who are painfully shy, even if they make me cringe intensely. This movie is an intense, sensitive portrayal of the character that manages to pull her inner life out through a lot of subtle details in the landscape, the framing of the shots, the narrative choices, and last, but definitely not least, absolutely fantastic acting. I think Campion must have left a lot of blanks in the movie in terms of the story, not only for practical reasons, but also because this style forces the audience to watch the movie in the hyper-observant way that Janet Frame lived her whole life. By the end, you feel like you’ve really been inside her world, with all its beauty and pain. Much recommended.

05
Aug
09

moon

rockwell-moon-1

Here is another quickie review today. I was a latecomer to Moon because I suspected it was going to be one of those anxiety-filled, Kafka-esque sci-fi movies that make me even more nervous than I am on my own and I was right to a certain extent. It is definitely very tense for most of the film. Yet, somehow it was tense in a way that didn’t wear on the psyche and it was very absorbing to watch.

There are some interesting plot twists along the way (that I won’t ruin for once) which wake the audience up a little bit and there are a couple scenes out on the moonscape which actually does a lot to relieve the audience’s claustrophobia. I also think there’s something about the muted vacuum of the space station setting which oddly mellows the emotions in this movie out, which is kind of the opposite of a few other sci-fi movies I can think of. Generally, there are definitely echoes of some of these other films, Dark Star, Solaris (the American remake version, as opposed to Tarkovsky’s heavier endeavor), and even the other recent, fabulously executed sci-fi movie, Sunshine. But the charm of the movie isn’t really so much from it being particularly groundbreaking or even all that philosophically deep.

Mainly the movie’s charisma is thanks to Sam Rockwell’s amazing, bravura performance and a carefully written script. So much of the believability and pathos of the film rests squarely on Rockwell’s shoulders and I thought he did a spectacular job during what must have been a lot of green screen time. It’s a little indie gem that’s worth checking out even if you aren’t particularly big on the genre. I can at least say that I felt like it was worth addling my nerves a bit to see it.

03
Aug
09

Yes Madam, Sir

yes-madam-sir_592x299

The IFC Center is hosting Docuweeks in NYC this month, which is a festival of documentary films from all over the world which are screened here and in Los Angeles to put them in the running for the Oscars. This weekend I went to see Yes Madam, Sir, profile of Kiran Bedi, India’s first female police officer. After refusing time and time again to compromise with a corrupt, networking/politically-based system, Bedi is dumped in numerous unwanted, nightmare positions and manages to make some powerful reforms in a notoriously ill-run prison she oversees and at a police academy which has been allowed to be lax in its discipline and training regimen before her arrival. It is a very interesting portrait of a strong, passionate woman who has always pursued what she felt was best. While there are obviously some very meaningful feminist components to the film, I appreciated the fact that the movie does not hit you over the head with them and that it realistically portrayed the difficult choices many ambitious, principled women must make as they seek success in a patriarchal world.

While watching the film I couldn’t help making comparisons between Kiran Bedi’s life and my mother’s. She is a similarly strong-willed, ambitious woman who started out (at least during my lifetime) as an LDS housewife and went on to go to a prestigious law school and fulfillment in her career. I think one thing that struck me during the movie was how, beyond the nobility of relentlessly sticking to her moral code, there are deeper reasons why Bedi’s opinions had to be so firm and her assertiveness so unbreakable. For many women, particularly women who are trying to make progress in a very male-dominated field, compromise is not an option. While certain compromises might soften you in the eyes of some, they will ultimately be unforgivable to those who judge women much more harshly and will use any opportunity to undermine their authority and strength.

A significant subplot in the film revolves around Bedi’s relationship with her daughter and other members of her family. As is common for so many strong women, it seems like Bedi has been forced to neglect her family as she pursued a larger agenda for the betterment of her country. Toward the end, you can see very clearly both how painful it’s been for her daughter to grow up without having her mother as much as she wanted, but also how much respect she has for her mother and how she would not have wanted her to back down from the numerous fights she found herself in. I feel the same way about my mom. Whatever sacrifices my dad and I made to move with her to law school were very much worth it to see my mom succeed where others said she would fail. I’ve learned so much from what my mom went through and it makes me want to pursue my career with the same drive and also, just be myself in a way I don’t know I would have the courage to otherwise. It is great to see such a fascinating woman portrayed with real depth and insight into what she faced along the way and I hope this film will have a chance for wider distribution in the near future.

31
Jul
09

kiss of the spiderwoman

kiss_of_the_spider_woman

Well, so I sat down and watched Hector Babenco’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. I’m not here to talk about the film — it’s good, Raul Julia as Valentin is as great as you’d expect, William Hurt is good (if a little broad) as Molina, the score is fantastic, the look is unexpectedly and delightfully gritty, the ending is tragic — but more about how the movie interacts with the book that it’s based on.

Kiss of the Spider Woman has been adapted a number of times: translated from its original Spanish, turned into a play, turned into this film, then into a musical (which I have a hard time picturing, but then Little Shop of Horrors makes absolutely no sense if you just describe it as a musical version of a Roger Corman film about a man-eating plant). The book likes to play around with narrative conventions, dispensing entirely with any description whatsoever up to and including dialogue tags. All the information we have about the protagonists and villains we gather from the conversations themselves. It’s a very theatrical approach, stripped of the faces and voices which would normally help the audience separate Valentin from Molina, Molina from the Warden, the Warden from his subordinates. It casts an ambiguity over the whole book, especially in scenes where the personalities of the characters are suppressed or where they don’t refer to each other by name. The love scene between Valentin and Molina benefits particularly strongly from this; the assumptions you bring to the scene and your understanding of who’s doing what to whom is all internal.

Obviously, all of that ambiguity goes out the window when you pin Valentin and Molina down to this particular face, this particular voice. There’s never a question of who’s speaking and when; Raul Julia is clearly not William Hurt and vice versa, so what was crucial to the novel — the blending and exchanging of personalities between Valentin and Molina — just evaporates. In the book, the line between the two is sharpest at the beginning of the book, when you have Molina the gay aesthete spinning out a movie for the hardline revolutionary Valentin; as the book develops, the boundary blurs. Valentin softens, becomes more willing to accept small pleasures and fantasy, and Molina is spurred into action and out of his apolitical escapism. Without a narrative framework to overtly place the characters, this exchange of personalities and narrative voices effectively transposes the characters. Molina becomes Valentin, Valentin becomes Molina. The film faithfully follows the arc of the book, but the transition is simply less effective when you’re looking at huge, blond Hurt and not the small, dark Julia. The physical distinction is simply too great to admit to any ambiguity.

All of which isn’t to say that the film is bad in any way. It isn’t. It’s great! But something of what made the novel so compelling is inevitably lost when it’s taken away from the page, and any understanding of the Kiss of the Spider Woman has to be grounded in this recognition.

31
Jul
09

The General

buster_keaton_general

Just a quickie review today. I saw The General yesterday and it is, of course, fantastic. It’s kind of amazing to watch Buster Keaton act, since he actually has a really dour, long face, huge, soulful eyes, and he naturally wears a rather serious expression. Check him out in this close-up for example:

BusterKeaton

He looks more like a poet than a virtuosic, daredevil comedian. But when I really think about it,  I guess this deadpan is actually part of what makes him funny. The true magic of The General comes from the way Buster Keaton floats through the obstacles around him half-unaware, half-blase. Just like his other famed contemporary, Charlie Chaplin, the real dynamite quality of his performance is how effortless he makes pretty unbelievable stunts look. His odd, sullen face sets this off all the more. The other thing I like about The General is how it is a perfect marriage between action and comedy and, as I’d already mentioned in an earlier review, these genres come together all too rarely these days. This one is definitely worth checking out. Particularly, if you are lucky enough to live in a city with an amazing silent movie house with a real working organ like I used to.