East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Opening this weekend

***Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
**The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
*16 Years of Alcohol
It's All Gone Pete Tong
House of D
XXX: State of the Union

Insufficient information: The Third Wish.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Holy Girl, or, You're making it hard for me [SFIFF '05 movie note]

A young woman (Mía Maestro) serenades God with a declaration of her patheticness; her face revealing devotion while her voice remains clear. Meanwhile, her students Amalia (María Alche) and Jose (Julieta Zylberberg) snicker over Jose seeing her with her tongue down her boyfriend's throat. Despite the giggling, Amalia longs for contact with God. Jose has more profane outlets for reliving boredom, but she plays along, sketching Amalia's descriptions of closed-eyed sight. But it's when, in the midst of a crowd watching a theremin performance, an older man (Carlos Belloso) presses his crotch against her, that Amalia finds her mission. Except her idea of soul-saving is more erotic than you'd think God would like.

The religious themes are soon backgrounded - Amalia becomes just another stalker - and the success of the rhyming plot centred on the perv flirting with Amalia's mom (Mercedes Morán) is more moderate, but Lucrecia Martel's movie is humane throughout. Although she's accusing middle-class religion of being as self-serving as any other aspect of bourgie life, she doesn't blame her characters: "You're a good man," Amalia tells her feeler-upper. Martel deploys some neat tricks: on a roadside, the reputed site of a post-car crash miracle, where a fade to silence fills the air with Amalia's mindstate. At the abrupt ending, while some of the characters teeter on the edge of ruin, Martel shoots Amalia and Jose floating in a heated pool, warmed by the irresponsibility that's both their privilege and joy.


Martel on the connection between her family and her E.P. Pedro Almodóvar: "They really resemble the women in those films." But Lucrecia, how then were you conceived?

Monday, April 25, 2005

R.I.P. Box scores

Because I'm depressed that Kung Fu Hustle only took in $7 million, the Box Scores feature will be discontinued. Good riddance.

Palindromes, or, A man, a plan, a movie: Ivomanalpanama? [SFIFF '05 movie note]

All but alone among cinema's provocateurs, Todd Solondz has observed people well enough to induce reasonably deep thought as well as disgust: it's not him that makes us feel guilty at laughing at the handicapped Christian kids' dance routine, it's ourselves. Solondz is as cruel as Lars von Trier, but where Lars believes a nasty streak is vital to the superior artiste, Toddy knows that it just shows that you're an asshole. (Lord knows smart people are more likely to be pessimists, but that doesn't make them right.) "Genes and randomness, that's all there is," his accused paedophile stand-in says (as if that wasn't more than anyone could deal with.) Aviva #8 (Jennifer Jason Leigh) cuts him down with the movie's best line, yet we see she doesn't hate him, she's sorry for him. Solondz is confused by the pity of others, since for him, self-pity conquers all.

Kings and Queen, or, Who (cut) cares (cut) about (cut) consistency? [SFIFF '05 movie note]

I'd never seen any of Arnaud Desplechin's movies before; this one spells out why he divides people. Me, I've gotta love a guy who jump cuts four times, or none, during a single line. Even when his script (cowritten with Roger Bohbot) fails him, as in many of the innumerable flashback scenes presenting shock revelations that undermine the characterizations, he makes the dialogue seem funnier and wiser than it is. Emmanuelle Devos, as a gallery director heading into a third marriage, gets shot like she's Catherine Deneuve. (As a psychiatrist, so does Catherine Deneuve.) Asylum inmate Mathieu Amalric gets cute scenes with a suicidal anorexic (Magalie Woch), and when, while touring a museum, he explains the knotted adult world to the boy who adores him, it's a tour de force.

Best movie of the weekend was The Holy Girl, post coming tomorrow.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Harvest Time, or, No news in the truth [SFIFF '05 movie note]

It's Fifties Russia, Mom's a champion on the combine harvester, Dad got maimed in the war. Director Marina Razbezhkina's feminism seems rote - the mother will be crushed 'cuz that's what happens in these movies; the issue is if she'll be stoic or if she'll go postal, or both. Sights: a legless man's push-ups, the mother tearing down the Pravda sheets serving as wallpaper. A pan across faded faces leads to the unoriginal, appropriate present-day coda, bemoaning forgetting.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Sin City, or, True kills for every boy [movie note]

The Hard Goodbye: Marv (Mickey Rourke, unbiodegradable) avenges Goldie (Jaime King, corpsey), the only one who was nice to him - bull, his parole officer (Carla Gugino, hot) helps him. Oh, that's not what Miller means by nice.

The Big Fat Kill: Love object Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro's semi-detached head act subtle enough to elevate the movie from good to very good. The other star is Oldtown, the city's good time district, which feels as alive and dangerous as John Ford's Tombstone. Rosario Dawson and pals blend into the background, besides Devon Aoki as the NINJA HOOKER~! Odd, I thought ninjas and hookers were supposed to blend into the background.

That Yellow Bastard: Last Honest Cop Hartigan (The Brucester) rescues an imperilled tween but is framed for her rape; tween grows into Jessica Alba and is reimperilled. Willis works crazy hard to find the character behind the cliche, and I admit to getting off every time baddie Nick Stahl leaked golden blood.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Weekend state: More hustle, less flow

Opening this weekend:

****Kung Fu Hustle
**The Interpreter
**Don't Move
*Winter Solistice
A Lot Like Love
Up for Grabs
The Game of Their Lives
King's Ransom

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Grace note: Turtles Can Fly

I think this is a step above Marooned in Iraq, and is very close to being the best ever film about the Kurds. It's not as endlessly inventive as The Wind Will Carry Us, but it's probably deeper. Movie of the year contender.

More later.

Box scores

Weekend winner: The Upside of Anger, $1.9M (1.166 theaters.) I dismissed this too soon; it's still kicking after six weeks.

Weekend loser: The Amityville Horror, $23.3M (3,323 theaters.) Screw you guys, I'm claiming this as a victory.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Weekend state: If Eminem's remake sucked, how bad will Michael Bay's be?

Not a lot out this week, but a couple of goodies:

***Turtles Can Fly
Voices in Wartime
The Amityville Horror

Monday, April 11, 2005

Eros: The hand of fate

"Eros" (Wong Kar-wai): Brave little tailor Chang Chen arrives at the apartment of courtesan Gong Li, whom Wong keeps out of our sight for an age. After dealing with a client, she notices the tailor's arousal; she commands him to drophis trousers, proceeding to give him “cinema's most romantic (offscreen) hand job” (Michael Atkinson.) Chang then spends years making sparkly dresses for her, while she declines from swank entertainer to common hooker. It isn't quite top-notch Wong, partly because it isn't top-notch Chris Doyle (we saw all these mirror shots in In the Mood for Love, Cap'n,) but it owns the succeeding entries.

"Equilibrium" (Steven Soderbergh): Robert Downey Jr. rules as a twitchy marketer blue-dreaming of a bathing beauty. But if you thought Ocean's Twelve was trivial...

"Ruby Jubilee of a Shark-Jumping" (Michelangelo Antonioni): Got boobs?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Box scores: The drawing power of Matthew McConaughey?

Weekend winner: Sahara, $18.5M (3,154 theaters.) Just 'cuz I'm surprised anyone at all watched the damned thing, even given the incessant promotion. Still, it's got a long way to go to meet its $130M cost.

Also of note: Kung Fu Hustle, $290,000 on 7 screens. Watch this space.

Weekend loser: Robots, $4.7M (2,713 theaters.) CG animation is supposed to be a licence to print money - they have a long shelf life in theaters, and the DVDs and tie-in all bring the moolah in. But it's not a good sign when Robots is under $5M in its fifth week - the movie is already in the black, but it's a sign the novelty of CG is wearing off. If Fox has to compete against Pixar and Dreamworks, as opposed to riding their coattails, it'll get creamed.

Weekend state: A belated edition (the first of many)

Opening in the East Bay this weekend:

***Look at Me
Eros: *** if you walk out after the Wong Kar-wai segment, ** if you stay for the Soderbergh, * if you stay for the Antonioni
*Fever Pitch
Dust to Glory

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Short shorts: Griffith Masterworks: Biograph Shorts

Here are some comments on Kino's double disk compilation of 1908 to 1913 one- and two-reelers. I hesitated at putting this up, 'cuz the literary quality's not high, but it might be useful to someone (most likely myself.) None of the factual information is double-checked, so quote at your peril. Shorts are listed in chronological order. The gist is you should at least some of these. If you won't don't worry, normal transmission will resume shortly.

If you don't care, you're a philistine, but that's alright 'cuz so was D.W.


The Adventures of Dollie
And even in his very first short, we see the formula - white bread family's beloved daughter imperiled by scurrilous ethnic types. Is the transfer really bad, or does the cameraman have Parkinson's? (Rating: 1/10)


Those Awful Hats
One of the first metamovies! And like so many metamovies after it, it takes a deus ex machina to resolve it! (7/10)

The Sealed Room
Inspired by Poe and Balzac! In anyone else this would be pretentious, but not in D.W. The Minstrel and the Count show you the difference between good overacting and bad overacting - the Minstrel is intentionally funny, especially in the way he puts down and picks up his ukelele, I mean lute. Plus, some real editing, as we cut back and forth between the Count and the hapless lovers. And cruelty! Love how they put the Biograph logo on the back wall of the sealed room. (3/10)

Corner in Wheat
Social protest! With a cast of several! D.W.'s worked out you can get a feeling of 3Dness by walking towards and away from the camera. But he also sets up a shot where there's a sign facing the audience telling of a rise in the price of bread. But the customers who walk in can't see the sign, so the shopkeeper has to point it out again and again. IF YOU MADE THE SIGN FACE THE CUSTOMERS... D.W. can't be a genius yet because he hasn't discovered camera angles.
"You have control of the entire market of the world." Spoiler: The rich guy drowns in wheat! Irony! Oddly mixed ending - like saying, it doesn't matter if the guy dies, the poor are still poor. Guess that's enough to let Rosenbaum et al call it great. (6/10)


The Unchanging Sea
"Inspired by the Poem by Charles Kingsley." Okay, if the poem features a man saying goodbye to his wife, going out to sea, getting washed ashore, suffering from amnesia, setting out to sea again twenty years later... it'd be a pretty shitty poem. (Firstly, "Enoch Arden" didn't have amnesia, and secondly, it was shitty, by Tennyson's standards or anyone else's.) But this is a movie, and this is D.W., so I cry. Mary Pickford has her first "meet cute". There's a tiny little pan as the man goes out to sea the first time, and one of the first obviously composed shots - three corpses on a beach, which seems appropriate somehow. (Oh! That poem.) And despite bad acting all the way through, somehow the finale is played just right. Who needs Sunrise? (9/10)

The Usurer
Nooooo, sentiment I can handle but social comment is deadly. Especially sentimental social comment... Hah! Evil usurer get trapped in own bank vault; that's TWO motifs in one go: poetic justice and death by suffocation. Alert Andy Sarris!... Another genius idiot moment: the usurer tries to light a cigar, but can't, because the room's running out of oxygen. This is clever, but WHAT IDIOT IS TRAPPED IN A SEALED ROOM AND TRIES TO LIGHT A CIGAR! (2/10)


His Trust
Blackface or no blackface, it's remarkably progressive - in terms of race, not gender (duh.) Even today, how many white men would trust a black man (careful, a servant, not a slave) to look after his family? (How many know a black man well enough?) Sadly it's not much a movie though, it's all diagramatic. (3/10)

Enoch Arden
Speak of the devil - this is more or less a remake of The Unchanging Sea, which in turn was more or less a remake of Griffith's original (1908) version of Enoch Arden. D.W. is now armed with a genuine vocabulary of shots and a biggish budget - not just rowboats, actual ships! - but that doesn't necessarily nake this an improvement - the material's too thin for the epic two-reel length, and the Victorian belief persists that tragedy justifies sentimentality. Some sweet shots though: Enoch hugging his kids goodbye, Annie wiping her tears off the eyepiece of the telescope, Annie leading her kids back to her hut, Philip proposing to Annie with her kids watching in the distance (almost deep focus!) And there's also a deep sympathy for the third wheel Philip character. Nitpick: no one can seem to keep straight whether Enoch has two or three kids (Tennyson offs the third kid, and I guess many in the audience would've known this) which makes it (deliberately?) vague whose baby turns up at the end. (6/10)

The Last Drop of Water
Whoa, inspired by Sir Philip Sidney! This is more heroic self-sacrifice, only this time, the self-sacrificer is a complete dick up until his one shining moment. Aside: how comes Birth of a Nation is considered more racist than, uh, every Western ever? And, are those Blanche Sweet's real eyebrows? (5/10)

The Miser's Lament
Robbers tie up little Kathy and dangle her out the window - will the miser give them the combination to his safe? (Answer: Not until they set the rope on fire.) With Lionel freakin' Barrymore as the good thief! He's neither particularly good nor particularly bad, which by his later standards is good. (5/10)


The Sunbeam
Aargh, more cute kids. This has a really high IMDB rating for some reason (7.6.) You can tell the old maid is an old maid because she wears glasses... "Only one way to solve their problem and hers also..." uh, lock her in a bank vault? (5/10)

One Is Business, the Other Crime
No, it's not a Hives song. Dorothy Bernard's waist seems impossibly small. Good, straight-up-and-down morality play with no ickiness. (8/10)

The Lesser Evil
Mae Marsh has a bit part in this one, apparently she was in the last one as well but I didn't see her. This is notable for its early use of the threat of rape (and gang rape at that.) The leader of a gang of smugglers turns hero... by preparing to blow Blanche Sweet's brains out rather than let his crew touch her. (6/10)

An Unseen Enemy
Idiot plot alert. The Gish sisters are threatened by an unseen enemy - someone pointing a gun at them through a hole in the wall.
It does allow a cool close-up of a gloved hand passing the gun through the hole, but still...
The Gishes are just a couple more cute gals at the moment, but that'll change soon enough. (5/10)

I can't work out if Mary Pickford is meant to be a whore or not... I don't think so, or maybe she's just really bad at it. This is a weird'un - I also can't work out what the point is. (3/10)

The Painted Lady
Blanche Sweet isn't having much luck with the fellas 'cuz she ain't a painted lady, although the only visible difference between her and the others is that she doesn't have a silly hat. Your typical morality play, except the moral is "If you're unpopular and suddenly a guy hits on, then he's only after your Dad's money and you'll end up shooting him, or going mad, or both." Aside: When Blanche tries to look older she looks way too much like Frankie Muniz. (4/10)

The Musketeers of Pig Alley
Lilian gets to play a non-wimp for a change - she gets to slap the bad gangster. This is pretty tense, with some cool shots: the bad gangster's cigarette smoke preceding his entry into the room; him walking right up to the camera in the gangland sneakaround. "One good turn deserves another" the titles say, but what exactly is the good turn? Not beating the crap out of them? Was he actually helping Lilian before? And how does that justify letting a murderous thug go free? (7/10)

The New York Hat
What is it with these girls and hats? Poor Mary even dreams about having one - in her sleep, she adjusts the imaginary hat on her head. So she finally get the ten dollar hat of the title - and it's huge, feathery and completely ridiculous. But her Dad wrecks it! Geez, Lilian Gish has to deal with gangsters and destitution; Mary Pickford has to deal with her Dad destroying her hat. Well, let them play to their strengths, I guess. (6/10)

The Burglar's Dilemma
This is a study of the alpha/beta, the dominant/submissive, the aggresive/passive, as a householder and his "weakling brother," an old crook and his bullied protege, and a bad and good cop are contrasted. It's also a misleading title - the only dilemma the burglar (the young crook) has is whether to confess to a crime he didn't commit or not - and if he confesses, one supposes he fries (did they fry 'em in those days?), so the decision is pretty easy. (4/10)


The Massacre
Not entirely sure what this has to do with General Custer, but it does has Blanche Sweet buried beneath a pile of corpses. Again, why does Ms. Pickford get off so easy? (7/10)

Death's Marathon
Lionel Barrymore's a gambler who's blown all his money, so he decides to kill himself through long-distance running. O.K., I made that last part up. He decides to shoot himself, and because he's really a dick, he call up him wife (Blanche Sweet) so she can hear him do it. This one's most notable for having a last minute rescue attempt that fails. And yet D.W. still manages to get a happy ending out of it. (4/10)

The Mothering Heart
Lilian Gish gives the first indications that she's something special - her expressions throughout, especially when she discovers her husband's infidelity, are superb. Great image: close-up of a pacifier on the remorseful husband's finger. (9/10)

The Battle at Elderbush Gulch
Young Mae Marsh fights with a couple of Indians over a couple of dogs, before her uncle solves the situation by shooting one of the Indian. He doesn't seem to realize this means war - dude needs some conflict resolution training. Mae Marsh's character is a nincompoop, but at least she gets to be a brave nincompoop; Lilian Gish is stuck being hysterical, a waste of her gifts. Great shot: a gun slowly descending from the top of the frame towards Lilian Gish's head. Once again, despite the fact that dozens of people on both sides have died, it's a happy ending. Well, as long as the baby and the puppies are safe. D.W.'s technique is fully developed now - when the cavalry comes (hailed by the expendable Mexican) this is at least as good as the Klanride in Birth of a Nation. The sorrow of the Indians at the death of one of their own is not shortchanged - Griffith makes it clear that he's cheering whitey because he's one of them, no other reason. (8/10)

EDIT: May 23rd, 2005: The Girl and Her Trust (available on the first volume of Landmarks of Early Film) is probably better than all of these. The ultimate chase on the train tracks ends predictably, but I've yet to see a more elegantly shot sequence predating Birth.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Box scores: I guess they weren't Catholic

Weekend winner: Sin City, $28.1M (3,230 theaters.) I thought it might be a bit more marginal than this, but the pub and the hint of controversy have served it well.

Weekend loser: The Upside of Anger, $4.1M (1,111 theaters.) It did so well in limited release that there were great expectations for its wide release, but instead its per theater gross halved. You can consider it either an overperforming indie or an underperforming major, depending on your disposition.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Weekend state: Casting the first stone

Opening in the East Bay this weekend:

***Sin City
**The Ballad of Jack and Rose
**You I Love
*The Great Mughal (1960)
Off the Map
Beauty Shop

It's hard to pick how much I'm gonna like Sin City from the reviews - will my love of pulp overcome my hatred of hatred? We shall see.