Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sometimes I don't know why I bother with this when I only have time to update once a week and by the time I update I have a huge backlog and this is a

test to see how long a title I can use. Guess I have my answer. Anyway...

- The Sci-Fi Marathon was awesome. I even almost managed to stay up the whole time (I nodded off for twenty minutes or so during BATMAN, which since I've seen it dozens of time was no big whoop). But aside from the asswipe behind me who thought was making with the less-than-witty snide remarks almost the entire 24 hours I had a blast. Can't expect perfection in a theatre full of nerds, I guess.

Moving on, the movies themselves. Highlights were, as expected, FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE CRAZIES, neither of which I'd seen previously. FORBIDDEN PLANET is pretty widely acknowledged as a classic of its kind, and the rep is justified. It lacks the cheesiness common to most sci-fi films of the period, in large part because genre trappings aside it's a psychological drama (that the monster is largely unseen helps). As a result, the subtext- that no matter how advanced man becomes, he's still a slave to his primal nature- is taken much more seriously than in most old-school Hollywood sci-fi movies, as well as being seen with much more complexity. And while the human performers are uniformly good without being show-offy, the real star is of course Robby the Robot, who also turned up at the marathon in the old TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Uncle Simon" and in a villainous role in the dopey, forgettable THE INVISIBLE BOY.

On the basis of George A. Romero's best work, I'd say that his pet theme is the ease with which the human race is thrown into chaos and turmoil, be it as a result of zombies or, in the case of THE CRAZIES, an outbreak of a disease in a small town. While the Army swiftly tries to impose order and various government departments bicker over ways to fight the disease, social order collapses and the townspeople are basically left to fend for themselves against not only the army who would round them up but also the disease itself, which they know little about. There are moments of human feeling in the film, but Romero is less interested in baiting the audience's emotions than examining the messiness emotions can cause when confronted by an unflinching terror. The film's final reel is at least as bleak as the climax of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, with a deliberately hollow happy ending following a much more troubling one. THE CRAZIES definitely deserves to be ranked alongside Romero's best work.

Alas, I'd already seen quite a few films at the marathon, and of the ones that were new to me, not all of the films were good. One of the area premieres, the Russian mockumentary FIRST ON THE MOON, was pretty disastrous. An account of an abortive, apocryphal Soviet space mission back in the 30s, the film is ugly to look at and narratively incoherent. Not to mention un-funny- I wouldn't have pegged it for a comedy but for the presence of a little person on the flight crew, with resulting failed sight gags. I don't think this went over well with the crowd at all, and I gotta say I was with them.

Another unpopular choice was the inclusion of half a dozen entries from the 1943 serial THE BATMAN. The politically incorrect portrayal of the Japanese supervillain was good for a few chuckles, as well as the endless scenes of Batman and Robin getting the shit beat out of them, but the Batman here bears little to no resemblance to the modern incarnation, and I even found myself missing the campiness of the Adam West series.

And what Sci-Fi Marathon would be complete without a Japanese monster movie? This year's selection was GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, which was about half an awesome Godzilla movie. The problem is that director Ryuhei Kitamura, who previously dropped VERSUS on us, doesn't really care all that much about making the kickass Godzilla-movie-to-end-all-Godzilla-movies that this really ought to have been. In other words, he concentrates wayyyyyyyyyy too much on the damn PEOPLE. Come on dude, it's Godzilla. People don't come to see choppily edited kung fu or interplanetary warfare. They want guys in monster suits clumsily knocking each other around. And while the early scenes of this nature have a disappointing highlight-reel vibe (Big G is missing for the entire first half of the movie), once Godzilla joins the fray it's pretty fun. Glad to see Godzuki on the scene too, keeping his childlike sense of wonder even after (SPOILER) he grows to formidable size.

For ratings, see my screening log.

Other stuff of note:

- United 93 (2006, Paul Greengrass, seen in theatre)- this is pretty much a textbook definition of onscreen immediacy, as Greengrass places the audience squarely on 9/11, telling the story almost as though 9/12 has yet to arrive. Occasional lingering on grief aside the film is hardly exploitative, but this is nonetheless a horror film, and quite an effective one at that, and like most of the best it starts off fairly quietly, setting the scene and observing as the horror gradually unfolds. As the day transpires, we alternate between the military and civilian controls trying to make sense of the escalating chaos and the fateful flight itself. The scenes on the ground hold a certain fascination, as each of the control rooms operates professionally and to the best of their ability, but due to various factors- government red tape, procedures, lack of information, perhaps an offscreen reading of "My Pet Goat" in a Florida classroom- they find themselves powerless to stop the situation (so pervasive is the film's immediacy that it took me almost an hour to recognize DePalma stalwart Gregg Henry). But the film's final hour confines itself to the last minutes on United 93, as the passengers on the hijacked plane use the airphones to discover what has happened on the ground and eventually formulate a plan to take back the plane, less out of the need for survival than a fight-or-flight response to the knowledge that they'll die like the others regardless of their actions. To be honest I would need to see this again to properly rate it, mostly because I don't entirely trust my feelings when it comes to a film this visceral- it's hard to discount my immediate reaction, but it's this reaction that hampers my ability to distance myself from the film enough to judge it objectively. All the same, this is a work that demands to be seen, and more importantly, a very good film. Rating: ***.

- Friends With Money (2006, Nicole Holofcener, seen in theatres)- meh. Might have worked a little better with a lead actress other than Jennifer Aniston- yeah, her looks are distracting, but this is only really damaging because she's not a deep enough actress to convince us she's a single L.A. woman with a low-paying job and few prospects who would subject herself to multiple demeaning dates with a jerk who takes her money, as well as saying yes to a date with a schlubby slob without a job. Of course, I'm sure people like her exist in the world, but she didn't make me believe it. And the actresses around her do little except playing their usual types- McDormand and Keener have a veritable sass-and-smartass showdown throughout the movie, and Cusack gets so little screen time that she doesn't get much chance to be anything but quirky. It's entertaining enough in the moment, but as I said before I didn't buy what the film was selling. Rating: **.

- I compiled a top 10 Best Picture Winners list for Edward Copeland's poll tonight, with the intent of adding commentary sometime in the future. Okay guys, stop laughing. Anyhoo, the list.

1. Annie Hall
2. Lawrence of Arabia
3. Casablanca
4. West Side Story
5. On the Waterfront
6. The Apartment
7. The Godfather
8. It Happened One Night
9. Unforgiven
10. Rebecca

Comments to come, perhaps. The top 5 are in my top 100, so maybe I'll just do links with abbreviated remarks.

- I went to the doctor's office yesterday for some blood tests. I was pretty proud of myself, as for the first time I actually watch the blood being taken instead of closing my eyes like a wussy. But my tough-guy act was short lived, as I still had to deal with taking off the bandage last night before I showered. Sensitive skin plus copious arm hair plus adhesive bandage equals bad combination, folks. The mark from the needle had all but disappeared, but now I have two painful scars from the bandage. Maybe I'm wrong, but aren't bandages supposed to help wounds heal, not create new ones?


Donna B. said...

I love THE CRAZIES -- glad you finally got to see it. "Wow, these white suits really stand out!"

And that's a nice #2 best picture winner -- actually that's my favorite movie of all time. So how you can put the admittedly wonderful but often woefully uncinematic ANNIE HALL above it is beyond me.

Paul C. said...

Well, much of my ANNIE HALL love is tainted by the fact that for years I identified with Alvy's trouble with women. Mostly in high school and college, actually, when I would watch it at least monthly to console myself. So yeah, I know it's uncinematic, but I don't think it would work any other way, much less be completely awesome.

I also enjoy the added charge of ranking such an uncinematic film at the top of this list because it flies so resolutely in the face of what Hollywood so often rewards on Oscar Night. Not a blockbuster, not an epic, not an "Important" film, not an adaptation, and not even a L.A.-friendly movie- this is almost certainly the strangest film ever to win the big prize. Not that this was my deciding factor, but it's icing on the ol' cake.

And I take the lack of response on the next post up to mean you never wanted to punch a filmmaker in the face?