Sunday, January 29, 2006

When the lights go down (Spoilers!)

BUBBLE (2005, Steven Soderbergh, seen in theatre)- after OCEAN'S 12, which was little more than a swagger-fest, Soderbergh heads for the heartland (southern Ohio, to be precise) for this small-scale gem. I was particularly taken by the director's use of non-actors in his cast. Debbie Doebreiner as Martha is especially good as the kind of overweight, middle-aged woman we don't often see in movies- a plain but nonetheless cheerful woman who (and this is the real difference) lives a largely unexamined life. She works, cares for her father, works at her job, eats without fretting over her weight (compare to, say, LOOK AT ME's Marilou Berry struggling with her body issues), and takes her religious faith for granted. She's the sort of person, whose life is on the straight and narrow, who is seen all the time in real life but rarely onscreen. It's the matter-of-fact way that Soderbergh portrays her, as well as others in her life, which makes the film special. In fact, I was a tad disappointed when Soderbergh introduces a murder mystery into the story, although my misgivings melted away when the film portrayed the subsequent investigation in the same low-key way (a scene where the police detective questions a clearly zonked-out witness is particularly well-done). There are a few stylistic flights of fancy taken by the film (which make sense in context), but it's this level of realism, which never rubs your face in squalor or segues into miserablism, that is Soderbergh's real triumph. Rating: ***1/2.

EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF (1980, Jean-Luc Godard, seen in theatre)- I'm still not entirely sure about my reaction to this one, given that it feels like a gap-bridger between the early Godards I love and the later Godards I don't care quite so much for. It's chock full of great moments you'll only find in a Godard movie, from the seemingly random freeze-frames and slow-motion to the sexual non sequiturs (love the "ow"/"oh"/"hey!" scene). As a whole, it's sort of impenetrable, with very little in the way of a narrative arc- what story there is is composed of interlocking character vignettes, but it's not readily apparent how they are meant to connect. Still, fascinating viewing, and Jacques Dutronc's impersonation of filmmaker "Paul Godard" is a hoot. Now if I only knew what it all meant... Rating: ***.

THE CONFORMIST (1970, Bernardo Bertolucci, seen in theatre)- obviously awesome, even more so for having experienced it on the big screen in a nice subtitled print instead of dubbed on cable. Still, bad luck for me having a headache and tummyache during the movie, which kept me from really grooving on it. But now that there's a good print out there how long will it be until there's a DVD for me to buy? Rating: ***1/2.

Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (2004, Xan Cassavetes, seen on DVD)- pretty much what I was expecting (awesome film clips interspersed with interviews), but there's nothing wrong with that. I certainly wish I could've experienced Z Channel firsthand, and if nothing else it compelled me to add a bunch of titles (THE SICILIAN, TURKISH DELIGHT, LA MAGNIFIQUE) to the ol'Netflix queue. In fact, here's an idea for some enterprising DVD distributor: put out a "Z Channel Classics" series so that we can see all the great forgotten titles Harvey loved, or at the very least some movies starring the gorgeous Laura Antonelli. Rating: **1/2.

MATCH POINT (2005, Woody Allen, seen in theatre)- didn't watch this again or anything, just had a few second thoughts re: my high initial opinion of the movie. I still enjoyed it (being a Highsmith lover, how could I not?), but some problems I had with the movie grew upon reflection. To begin with, the film's treatment of Chloe's baby fever feels clumsy- Allen has always had a love-hate relationship with neurotic women in his films, but while in his self-starring comedies they clash with his own neuroses to priceless effect (never more so than Janet Margolin's siren-inspired coitus interruptus in ANNIE HALL), here they clash with the more cultivated level of behavior. Also, Scarlett Johansson's performance is pretty uneven- as seductress, she does a good job combining hunger with emotional neediness, but when she acts the role of the spurned lover she turns shrill, and consequently less interesting (still, she's not THAT bad, Lee). Still dig the movie overall, but not as much as before, and the change is certainly worth mentioning here. Rating: *** (was ***1/2).

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