Thursday, June 22, 2006

Paul puts off posting. Devil throws snowball.

Well, I'm almost out of here. I'm scheduled to move back to Columbus on Monday, July 3, barring any unforseen complications. It'll be nice to live alone again, to say nothing of living within 10 minutes or so of an arthouse instead of an hour. So that's nice. Everything's set to be turned on the morning of the 3rd, so ideally there will be nothing keeping me from posting as soon as I'm all moved in. Although knowing me I'll put it off again.

I don't plan to work at another movie theatre after I move, which is probably for the best, since the nature of the job means I don't have much time for a social life. Having evenings and weekends for myself would certainly make this easier for me, or at least more convenient. And I won't miss the asswipe customers who treat me like crap when the technical shit hits the fan. Yeah, like I deliberately set out to sabotage the projector and ruin your day. Cut me some slack in my opinion.

Moving on...

THREE TIMES (2005, Hou Hsiao-hsien, seen in theatre)-

Dear Hou fanboys,

What exactly am I missing? I have yet to see a film of Hou's that really grabs me. Yes, the dude is obviously really talented, but something about his work has always left me a little cold. I hope it's not the distance Hou assumes from the action onscreen- lord knows I don't have a problem with distance per se (see my #4 movie ever). And that the images are impeccable goes without saying- dude can frame an image, and having Mark-li Ping-bin as your DP is never a bad choice. So what gives? Is Hou one of those either-you-get-it-or-you-don't dudes (like late Godard), or is he simply an acquired taste (like Hong)? And if it's the latter, how do I go about acquiring the taste for Hou? I don't want to feel like I'm out of the loop, guys. Help a fella out. Based on the nature of his work (lush-looking, narratively slow), I'm pretty sure that DVD wouldn't be the right place to catch up on him, but since I couldn't make it to every film in the Wexner Center retrospective five years ago, it seems that's my only option. So where should I start? A TIME TO LIVE AND A TIME TO DIE? THE PUPPET MASTER? Another viewing of FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI?


P.S.: It's kind of too bad he's only made the two films with Shu Qi, since I've already seen both of those and wouldn't mind sitting through more considering that she is so hot. Just sayin'.

P.P.S.: Rating: **1/2.

ZATHURA (2005, Jon Favreau, seen on DVD)- with ELF and now this, Favreau demonstrates that the suckiness of MADE was just first-time jitters and proves himself to be great at family-themed fantasy. Like ELF, this is lots of fun without being patronizing to the kids- Favreau doesn't engage in the tech tomfoolery that Rodriguez does in his kiddie pics, taking its cue from the structure of the game (one step at a time) and the trouble that results. There are a few moments of "brothers stick together" speechifying, but mostly the movie is content to be a ride and to let the relationship between the brothers play itself out through action. The role of the Astronaut might have worked better with, say, Nathan Fillion in the role- more square-jawed, yes, but also wittier. Best throwaway line: after her dad expresses his anxiety over her upcoming date, a girl (Kristen Stewart) blurts out, "we should never have rented THIRTEEN!" Not the kind of reference you expect in a movie like this, really. Rating: **1/2.

THE WAR WITHIN (2005, Joseph Castelo, seen on DVD)- I preferred this suicide-bomber story to last year's PARADISE NOW, but even so it's hardly a great movie. I can't help but feel like a lot of stories suffer from studios' insistence that movies run 90 minutes or more- while the final days of a Pakistani suicide bomber in the U.S. hold an inherent dramatic interest, the movie ends up spreading itself too thin, losing a lot of steam by the end of hour #1. The most compelling aspect of the movie ends up being the bomber's relationship with his Americanized friend, illuminating the gulf between the two men's experiences. However, a conversation between several Pakistani immigrants at a picnic feels to thematically on-the-nose, making explicit what was more interesting when it went unsaid. There is no doubt a great movie to be made on the subject of suicide bombing, but either it has yet to be made or I simply have yet to see it. Rating: **.

USHPIZIN [The Guests] (2004, Giddi Dar, seen on DVD)- fairly entertaining, and respectful of the traditions of Orthodox Judaism without rubbing them in the audiences' faces. I liked the sense of place the film displayed, courtesy of Dar as well as co-writer/star Shuli Rand. Feels slight but hardly innocuous, which in itself puts it a cut above most arthouse crowd-pleasers. Rating: **1/2.

UP! (1976, Russ Meyer, seen on DVD)- SPOILERS!!!! UP! is as batshit as I'd been led to believe, and even more awesome. But would one expect any less from Meyer? Consider that the film contains the following: (a) an elderly German named Adolf (with appropriate mustache) paying a young man to whip him, (b) an opening reel in which virtually every crosscut includes an update on what time it currently is, (c) murder by piranha, (d) a lumberjack who carries his axe wherever he goes, (e) a phone booth standing in the middle of an empty field, and (f) Kitten Natividad as a nude Greek chorus frolicking in the woods. Add to that the requisite Meyer assortment of buxom babes, notably Raven De La Croix as Margo Winchester, a mysterious man-eater who delivers her lines in a Mae West-ian purr and who is first introduced jogging in heels and a halter top. Benefits, I think, from brevity- whereas SUPERVIXENS, fun as it was, lagged a bit and began to repeat itself, UP! is leaner and meaner. Top-notch Meyer- neither as Hollywood as BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (a GREAT DVD by the way) or as propulsive as FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, but in its own way just as much fun. Rating: ***1/2.

Coming in the sorta-near future: my 2005 wrap-up article. Yes, I know. I don't think June is too soon to do one either.


Lee Walker said...

Dear foolish non-believer,

Before further actions and suggestions can be prescribed, please give a brief account of which HHH films you have seen.

Hou fanboy

PS- Congrats on moving back to a city with at least a modicum of cultural activity. Hopefully you will see your quality of life improve very soon.

Paul C. said...

Dear Hou fanboy,

I wouldn't call myself a non-believer so much as a Hou agnostic. I want to believe but so far haven't been moved to do so.

Secondly, I've thusfar seen GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN, FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI, MILLENNIUM MAMBO, CAFE LUMIERE, and THREE TIMES. I also saw parts of THE PUPPET MASTER, although I was extremely tired at the times and couldn't stay awake. The parts I did see were quite fascinating, which is probably why I'm still curious about Hou.

Finally, yeah, it'll be nice to get out of Akron. A few high-fat/carb culinary delights aside, there's nothing around here I couldn't find in a real city in much greater quantities and levels of quality.

Hou agnostic

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Paul, good luck on getting acquainted with Hou. As a latercomer myself, I can testify it's a worthwhile pursuit.

And good luck on your move too. As for your blog, I'm looking forward to digging back through your archiives! Thanks for stopping by my little neck of the woods. I may just pursue that Punch-drunk Love bit anyway!

Lee Walker said...

Well, if those are the films under your belt, I can see why you've had a hard time with Hou. Those are definately what I'd call advanced films. If you're not used to HHH's themes and rhythms and the way the films play off his earlier work, they're going to be near impenetrable. (Although CAFE LUMIERE is quite lovely and could stand up in isolation... but that's a minority opinion.)

I'd recommend starting with A TIME TO LIVE AND A TIME TO DIE, it's probably Hou's most emotionally direct film and has a powerhouse of a climax.

My first was DUST IN THE WIND - not a bad place to start, either. Hou covered this territory better in later works but it's still a striking work and the first real flowering of Hou's true voice.

CITY OF SADNESS is great but is so dense in terms of narrative and cultural history that's it's impossible to parse on a single viewing - imagine watching THE GODFATHER without ever having seen a mafia film and knowning nothing of the culture or historical events of the film.

THE PUPPETMASTER, of course, is one of his masterpieces and probably a fine place to enter. On my first viewing, I thought the film was easy to enter and quite accessable. I soon found out that not many people agreed.

The third masterpiece (after TIME and PUPPET) in my book is GOODBYE SOUTH, GOODBYE. You could probably start with this but I think it's going to be more rewarding if you have a few of the historical films under your belt.

The ones you've seen are ones I'm fond of but you're starting at the wrong end of the dog.

I say keep trying - the best is yet to come and it may open up the work you're already familiar with in new ways.

PS - Assayas' doc is quite entertaining, too.