Saturday, February 04, 2006

Untitled 1

TELL THEM WHO YOU ARE (2004, Mark S. Wexler, seen on DVD)- sort of works as a companion piece with 2003's MY ARCHITECT, as both docs combine examinations of inimitable artists with first-person perspectives on the artists by their sons. The major difference is that while Kahn senior was dead and MY ARCHITECT was mostly his son investigating his dad's past, Haskell Wexler is still very much alive, and being a seasoned and highly outspoken filmmaker, he wants to have some say in how the film is made. Or is it all an act? More than one of the talking-heads rounded up by Mark Wexler state how difficult it can be for someone who is acting all the time to let down his guard, and one gets the impression that Haskell could just as easily be putting on a show for his son (this is borne out by his taking Mark to a meeting with a group of Cuban ambassadors, which Mark wants no part of considering it could jeopardize his new project working with President Bush). My biggest objection to the film isn't Haskell's ongoing attempts to wrangle control of the film from his son (which are pretty interesting) but rather that the final product feels sort of formless. Just when Mark seems to be probing deeper into his dad's life, he'll digress again and talk to others about his work as a cinematographer. Sometimes all the pieces come together (as when he examines his and his father's relationship with Conrad L. and Conrad W. Hall), but just as often Mark backs off from a point just when it's beginning to show promise (Haskell's lefty politics are never quite integrated into the film except as contrast to Mark's conservatism). Perhaps it's a case of being too close to the subject? And how will this play to, say, the two Walk of Fame tourists who don't know who Haskell Wexler is? Rating: **.

THE MATADOR (2005, Richard Shepherd, seen in theatre)- much more engaging than its synopsis might indicate. The highlight of the film is the dynamic between Brosnan (never looser or funnier) and reliably shlubby Kinnear- playing a hitman and a salesman, respectively- and Shepherd's jazzy direction wisely never gets in the way of it (kudos, also, to Hope Davis, who never allows Bean to become a standard-issue concerned wife). I also enjoyed the chronology of the film, which saves until the climax a key scene which is revealed to be the linchpin of their friendship. In the end, each of these men is called upon to preserve the self-image of the other in a time of crisis (more I shall not say). Could have been one of the year's best with a punchier ending, but nonetheless a pleasure throughout. Also, does anybody know the punchline to Brosnan's midget joke? Rating: ***.

NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN (2005, Martin Scorsese, seen on DVD)- Dylan is one of the key cultural figures of the late 20th century, largely because of his career between 1960 and 1966, which is the focus of this film. This doc is largely a found-footage and talking-heads affair, but the footage (including work by Jonas Mekas, Murray Lerner, and of course D.A. Pennebaker) and the heads (such Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Yarrow, and Dylan himself) are impeccably chosen, which allows the film to rise above most of its kind. Years from now, when a kid asks you what Bob Dylan was about, this will be the film to show them. Rating: ***.

GOOD MORNING, NIGHT (2003, Marco Bellocchio, seen on DVD)- my first exposure to Bellocchio, a true-crime story of the kidnapping and killing of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by a group of left-wing activists of the Red Brigade, is compulsively watchable and often fascinating. Much of the action takes place in the apartment where Moro is held, and the central character and audience surrogate is Chiara (Maya Sansa), the only woman in the apartment, who keeps up a front for the group by working a day job. She seems to stand outside the rest of the group (for example, she doesn't take place in the kidnapping), and her moral ambiguity is the film's also. While there are moments of suspense (the elevator scene, which was used for the Italian trailer, is a highlight), the film isn't a thriller, and indeed the true-crime nature of the story makes the final ten minutes of the film feel inevitable, and robs the ending of some of its potential power. Still, I'm curious to see more of Bellocchio's films. Rating: ***.

SEX IS COMEDY (2002, Catherine Breillat, seen on DVD)- films about filmmaking aren't really my thing- they tend to reek of navel-gazing wankery, for the most part, and the last thing Breillat needs is yet another excuse for navel-gazing. This film is a fictionalized re-creation of her experiences making FAT GIRL, or at least a couple of scenes in FAT GIRL, since the titular overweight female is nowhere to be seen here. Instead, most of Breillat's story here deals with her relationship with the preening male lead, who jokes around with the crew but can't turn on that charm when the camera is on him. Anne Parillaud is clearly enjoying herself as the Breillat surrogate, but the film lacks a compelling reason for being, unless Breillat's thoughts on love, sex, penises, nude scenes, and the like do it for you. Might have had some interest had Breillat focused on the shooting of one scene in particular, but since it shows her shooting several different scenes there's no real depth about any of them. There is some to-do about the actor (Gregoire Colin) wearing a prosthetic member for the film's sex scene, which I suppose is where the comedy of the title comes into play, but the film doesn't really do anything with that either. Note: perhaps if Breillat wants to really stretch, she could try writing a screenplay that doesn't contain the word "detest," which she tends to REALLY overuse. Rating: *1/2.

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