Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"You put your head through the arm hole."

V FOR VENDETTA (2005, James McTeigue, seen in theatre)- while McTeigue is credited as director, writer/producers the Wachowski Brothers have their fingerprints all over this- self-important speeches, androgynous women, and a message of rebellion against a repressive regime all speak to this. The end result is somewhat better than the last two MATRIX movies, but it suffers from many of those films' flaws, most of all an inability to present the brothers' ideas through action (the first had its share of soliloquies too, but the Big Ideas somehow went down easier when Morpheus expounded upon them in the middle of a martial arts demonstration). Portman is OK (she still lacks the star presence necessary to carry a movie), and Weaving does well considering his face is hidden throughout, but it's all so Heavy, due less to the ideas than the seriousness with which the film takes itself in order to sell the ridiculousness. There are a few welcome lighter bits for the audience- namely, the Stephen Fry scenes- and the flashback interlude featuring Natasha Wightman as a now-dead prisoner connect emotionally in a way the rest of the story can't manage. Rating: **.

TURTLES CAN FLY (2004, Bahman Ghobadi, seen on DVD)- had a bad feeling about this from the pre-credits sequence, in which a sullen young girl stands on the edge of a cliff as wailing tribal music plays in the background, but surprisingly this movie turned out to be half-awesome. The awesome half involves one of the more engaging characters to grace the screen of late- a Kurdish teenager called Satellite, who has carved out a fairly comfortable existence in his small village through ingenuity and a strong capitalist instinct (he marshals a team of kids to disarm a bunch of land mines then sells or trades them in town). Satellite's character arc could have supported a movie on its own, which is why it's a shame that the girl on the cliff plays a fairly major role in the movie, as Ghobadi follows her, her armless brother, and a small boy whose identity is only revealed later. When the American troops arrive, I wasn't much interested in the TV-friendly plight of the girl and her family- I wanted to see how Satellite dealt with the change. Too bad Ghobadi didn't trust the Western audience to care without wallowing in miserablism. Rating: **1/2.

THREE... EXTREMES (2005, Fruit Chan/Chan-wook Park/Takashi Miike, seen on DVD)- if I'm not mistaken, the American cut of the film shifts around the order of the shorts, with Miike's "Box" moved to the end, and I've gotta say that this was a wise choice. First off, Chan's "Dumplings," a "Monkey's Paw"-style horror story with a pretty gross twist. This short's a one-trick pony, the whole point being that we're supposed to be repulsed by what the heroine eats in order to stay young, and frankly that repulsion doesn't make for a very interesting movie. On to Park's "Cut," which finds him working again in the elegant, convoluted violence mode of LADY VENGEANCE- the film looks great, but it tries much too hard to shock. The same could not be said of the Miike, easily the best of the lot. The first twenty minutes are as tightly controlled as the opening reels of AUDITION, and when the story takes a macabre turn, it's shocking without feeling exploitative, and the dreamlike imagery in the film is fascinating. Also, the female lead is pretty smokin'. I think part of the problem with these omnibus films is that the producers largely hire directors who make features, so that when they have to scale back the running time, the stories are either gimmicky (Chan) or play like rejected feature ideas (Park). Only Miike, who is as prolific as anyone in the world nowadays, makes a film that feels like it's supposed to be as long as it is. Rating: ** (Chan: *; Park: *1/2; Miike: ***).

A NEW LEAF (1971, Elaine May, seen on *ugh* video)- hadn't seen this since college, and the viewing was of course occasioned by the May article in this month's FILM COMMENT. I'm happy to say that this film is as hilarious as I'd remembered, if not more so. The direction of the film is endearingly rough-edged as most of the best 70s comedies were, and I appreciated that May eases us into the hilarious Henry-Henrietta relationship, taking almost half an hour to establish Henry the aging cad spendthrift before putting Henrietta in his path. Walter Matthau should be the worst possible choice to play Henry, but he somehow sells it, and May is priceless as Henrietta, hilariously inept but so guileless she's completely endearing from the first dropped teacup. Plenty of great comic bits (the title of this post somehow makes for a classic one, somehow sustained over also two minutes), but also warm without ever becoming cutesy or soppily sentimental. Someone put this out on DVD in my opinion. Rating: ***1/2.

1 comment:

Steve said...

The best part of "Vendetta" was Fry's political spoofery. That one scene with the two John Hurts thrummed with a life that had been choked out of the rest of the film.