Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Week In Film - 8/24/14

As a challenge to myself to write more, I'm hoping to do brief reviews of every movie I watch. I'll cover what I watched the previous week, from Sunday to Saturday, and offer quick capsules of my thoughts and observations. Some may be more formally written, others may just be a collection of raw ideas. Here's everything I watched from 8/17/14 to 8/23/14.

Calvary (2014)
dir. John Michael McDonagh

I wrote a proper review of this which will be published online over at Wicked Local on Friday. But I think this may just be one of the best films of the year, my second favorite I’ve seen so far, only surpassed by Under the Skin.

Brendan Gleeson is proving to be one of the finest actors working today. Here he pulls off an astounding balance between being a strong, toughened priest with the wisdom to lead his flock (if only they would listen to him), and being emotionally vulnerable and privately frightened. As Sunday draws nearer he becomes increasingly erratic, knowing that he may very well die.

I don’t have too much to add that’s not already in my full length review, so I’ll just close by saying that I really need to track down McDonagh’s first film, The Guard. After seeing Calvary I need some more Brendan Gleeson in my life.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
dir. Howard Hawks

Watched this on a whim while browsing through Netflix, and while it has its slow points, it’s a ton of fun. I wouldn’t be the first to point out Marilyn Monroe’s magnetism. It’s not even that she’s gorgeous, it’s that there is something about her very presence, the way she carries herself which instantly draws your eyes towards her. Even in a movie like All About Eve, where she spends much of her screen time standing in a circle listening to other characters, your eyes still shift towards her.

This was also the first Jane Russell movie I’ve seen, although apparently she had a relatively short career. She does a spot-on Monroe impression at the end. 

Generally, the film shines during the musical numbers. The set design during Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend is breathtaking. The pure red background coupled with the human candelabras, which seemed ripped straight out of a Cocteau film, make for one of the finest numbers I’ve ever seen in a film musical.

Finally, I love the kid. He’s got this deadpan that reminds me of when David Lynch acts. Everything he says is pure gold. His interaction with Monroe when she’s stuck in the porthole is one of the film’s high points.

Pinocchio (1940)
dir. Hamilton Luske & Ben Sharpsteen

Rewatch. Last year I thought it would be fun to go through every movie in the Disney Animated Canon. Well, I watched Snow White, never wrote the piece I was going to do on it, and then forgot about the project. I finally decided to keep it going, at the least so I can have a better understanding of Disney, given that everybody my age is still obsessed with them.

I haven’t seen Pinocchio since I was a kid, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. The first half hour is a bit slow; the film takes its sweet time setting things up. But once it hits Pleasure Island it really hits on to something. Unlike a lot of the Disney stuff I remember, it doesn’t force itself into magical realism. I respect that willingness to get strange.

The Monstro sequence is the best part of the film by far. Beautiful ocean animation that really makes the whale feel like a force of nature. It has an impressionist touch to it that elevates the scene from simply suspenseful to iconic.

An Evening With Robin Williams (1982)
dir. Don Mischer

Been slowly working my way through a lot of Williams stuff in the wake of his death (as I’m sure a lot of others are as well. This is the first stand up special of his that I’ve seen, and sadly I was a little disappointed. Maybe it’s because I watched it by myself, and live comedy is always better enjoyed with other people. But I think a lot of his jokes were dated. Stuff about cats and dogs that may have been funny in 1982 feels like old hat now.

There are highlights though. His imaginary conversation with his soon-to-be-born son is a lot of fun. And his bit about cocaine had me laughing. I also really admire his stage presence, and his ability to do something like grab a woman’s coat and just start riffing with it.

The best part of the special is probably the framing device, in which Williams plays a grungy street vendor who meets himself after the show. They leave the concert hall and the street vendor looks up and says “You know Mr. Williams, what's right is what's left after you do everything else wrong. Ain't that a bitch?” It’s a really tender moment to cap off a night of frantic improv.

Enemy (2014)
dir. Denis Villeneuve

Hoo boy. I watched this a few days ago and it has stayed with me. I was feeling worried when Gyllenhaal started trying to track down the man who looks just like him. It seemed too much like the dime a dozen “mindfuck” movies from the early 2000s (think Identity). But once he finally meets his doppelganger it goes above and beyond.

I hate to compare surreal movies to David Lynch but it really is in his shadow. I think it would make for a perfect double feature with Mulholland Dr., given that they both cover a lot of the same themes.

Dark Star (1974)
dir. John Carpenter

Poor acting, bad story, unfunny script. But my god is it gorgeous. It has that homegrown aesthetic, but you never see colorful lighting in professional films like you see here. Maybe Mario Bava, but that’s about it. It works best during the quiet ambient moments, which would go on to become Carpenter’s strong suit.

It’s worth a watch as a curio to see where Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon got their start, but on its own it’s not that tight. Still, it’s astounding to think that just four years later Carpenter would be making Halloween, and a year after that O’Bannon would give us Alien

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
dir. George A. Romero

Rewatch. Saw this at a midnight screening on a scratched up 35mm print and I have never had a greater appreciation for the film than I do now. I already loved it, but this viewing really drove home to me how much of a masterpiece it is.

The editing during the more action and horror oriented scenes is top notch. Beautiful camera work, stunning sound design. I completely forgot the horrible screaming that overlays Helen’s death (that scene is like Romero’s version of the shower scene from Psycho, but he owns it and makes it his own).

It’s a story about how our inability to cooperate will damn us. They had the ability to survive, but the combination of pride and fear killed them all. Were it not for Harry’s antagonizing and his cowardice it’s possible they could have made it through the night.
I also noticed that the shot with Romero’s director credit is a close-up of an American flag, panning over to Barbara and Johnny’s car driving through the cemetery. A subtle moment that was always hiding in plain sight.