Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Netherlands (Soldier of Orange) vs. Brazil (Elite Squad)
Uruguay (The Pope’s Toilet) vs. Ghana (Cobra Verde)
Argentina (The Official Story) vs. Germany (In a Year of 13 Moons)
Paraguay (Paraguayan Hammock) vs. Spain (Blood Wedding)
I must say, it’s been an impressive showing so far for the South American teams, with all five making the Round of 16 and four of those advancing to the quarterfinals. I don’t expect them all to win this weekend, but Brazil’s still the team to beat in this tournament, Argentina’s looking pretty tough, and Uruguay will get a chance avenge the USA’s honor against the Ghanaian squad. Also, should Paraguay pull off the upset against Spain, does anyone know where I might rustle up a copy of Paraguayan Hammock)? Thanks buds.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Meanwhile, it’s World Cup time again, and right on schedule, the entire world has been seized by futbol fever. Well, the parts of the world that aren’t predisposed to hate a sport in which few points are scored and ties are commonplace. Seriously, folks- you’ll go nuts over American football, which alternates 45 seconds of boring waiting for 5 seconds of play, but you whine about a sport in which the ball stays in almost constant motion? What gives?
Anyway, now that the White Elephant is more or less over, it’s time to do something else that’s fun and seasonal here. And with the World Cup heating up (USA! USA!), I hit upon the idea- the World Cup of Cinema! Here’s how it works:
Heading into the Knockout Stages, I’ve made a list of all sixteen of the remaining nations, and then selected a movie to represent each nation. The criteria for selecting these were (1) the movie must have been filmed (in whole or in part) in the represented country, (2) it must be a film I have not seen, and (3) it must be available on DVD for obvious reasons.
Having chosen my sixteen films (see below), I will then wait to see how the tournament pans out. Following the championship game, I will watch the selected title from the winning country and review it for the site.
Sounds pretty easy, I think. It’s a little sad to see that France and Italy aren’t in the mix, since even if their teams are full of prima donnas and crybabies I would like to have an excuse to include one of the Rivette movies I can stream at MUBI and an early Antonioni film in the selection. Still, I like the diversity of this list, which makes me wish I had time to watch more than one, but my schedule being what it is… well, you know. Maybe in four years I’ll find the time for something more ambitious.
Anyway, the titles I’ve selected are:
Argentina (Group B winner) – The Official Story (1985, Luis Puenzo)
Puenzo’s film was one of the critical darlings of 1985, when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and garnered the Best Actress prize for star Norma Aleandro. It then took home the People’s Choice Award at Toronto that year, then won Best Foreign Film awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics’ Association, the Golden Globes, and finally the Oscars. And considering how strong the Argentine team is looking this year, it probably behooves me to pick something good.
Brazil (Group G winner) – Elite Squad (2009, Jose Padilha)
Padilha’s 2002 documentary Bus 174 was one of the finest “nonfiction” films of the past decade, so I’m curious to see what he can do with fiction. Elite Squad was a pretty controversial choice for the Golden Bear at the 2009 Berlinale, with some critics condemning the film as “fascist”. Still, I’m curious to see Padilha take on Brazil’s criminal culture again from a different angle than he explored so vividly in Bus 174.
Chile (Group H runner-up) – Machuca (2004, Andres Wood)
This was one of the few films I could find from Chile, aside from a handful (such as The Maid), which I’ve already seen. Still, the premise- the friendship of two boys set amidst the 1973 coup of Allende- could be promising, unless of course it’s sentimental mush. Could go either way, really.
England (Group C runner-up) – The Servant (1963, Joseph Losey)
Plenty of worthy titles from the UK, so I consulted the BFI’s list of greatest Brit films from a few years back. The two highest-ranked titles I haven’t seen- Kes and Brighton Rock aren’t Netflixable- but this one is, so there you go. This is one I’ve been meaning to watch for years, coming as it did smack dab in the middle of Losey’s most fruitful period, right between Victim and Accident.
Germany (Group D winner) – In a Year of 13 Moons (1978, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
I’ve been working my way through Fassbinder’s filmography over the years, but I’ve always heard that this one is pretty strong meat even by RWF standards, which may explain why I’ve avoided it thusfar. Still, it’s one of the most celebrated of his films, so it’s one I ought to watch sooner or later, so why not now?
Ghana (Group D runner-up) – Cobra Verde (1987, Werner Herzog)
Yeah, yeah- I know that Herzog is German, and Klaus Kinski is hardly even of this Earth. Still, do you know how hard it is to find a movie from Ghana? This one was partially filmed there, so that’s good enough for me. USA! USA!
Japan (Group E runner-up) – Tokyo Olympiad (1965, Kon Ichikawa)
Plenty of great Japanese films I still need to see, but this one seems the best fit for my purposes, considering that it’s a doc about a major international sporting event that happens every four years and all. Plus its rep is pretty stellar, with many critics comparing it to Olympia except more rooted in humanity and with a welcome absence of Nazis. Should be fun.
Mexico (Group A runner-up) – Solo con tu pareja (1991, Alfonso Cuaron)
I originally toyed with the idea of selecting a Santo movie, especially after hearing a coworker professing his love (or at least his childlike affection) for Mexican wrestling pictures. However, after seeing the limited selection of Santo classics on Netflix, I re-evaluated my choice. Fortunately, I’m a fan of Cuaron’s work, especially Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien, so I’m more than a little curious to see his debut effort. That it’s been released on a Criterion DVD just makes me wonder all the more why I’ve been dragging my feet. It’s not Santo, but I’ll take it.
Netherlands (Group E winner) – Soldier of Orange (1977, Paul Verhoeven)
Haven’t seen any Verhoeven films pre-The 4th Man, and of those this one seems the most promising. Like his later Black Book (which was pretty awesome in my opinion) this deals with the Dutch experience in World War II. Plus this being Verhoeven there should be plenty of violence and probably some tits as well. So yeah, awesome.
Paraguay (Group F winner) – Paraguayan Hammock (2006, Paz Encina)
This is the only film I’ve ever heard of from Paraguay, home of legal eyelash implants. It played at Cannes in 2006 where it won the FIPRESCI prize, and has since gotten positive notices elsewhere, placing at the top of Muriels voter Adam Lemke’s list of 2008’s best films. Also, it’s not on DVD, so if anyone can tell me where I might find this I’d greatly appreciate it.
Portugal (Group G runner-up) – In Vanda’s Room (2000, Pedro Costa)
I’m still kind of on the fence about Costa, but there’s no denying that he has a unique vision. This was one of the few of his films I missed at the Wex’s Costa retrospective a few years back, but now that it’s been released on DVD by Criterion I’m willing to give it a shot. Three hours though- yikes.
Slovakia (Group F runner-up) – Zelary (2003, Ondrej Trojan)
Zelary was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2003. However, it was originally submitted by the Czech Republic, not Slovakia. Still, it was filmed almost entirely in Slovakia, so I’ll take it.
South Korea (Group B runner-up) – A Tale of Two Sisters (2003, Kim Ji-woon)
The last decade has seen a surge in strong genre films from South Korea, and one of the most acclaimed is Kim’s atmospheric horror movie. The film was recently selected by Scott Tobias of the A.V. Club for his New Cult Canon column, and it was remade by Hollywood in 2009 as The Uninvited. And I figured that with all the arty stuff flying around I should throw at least a handful of genre movies into the mix, so this seemed a good decision.
Spain (Group H winner) – Blood Wedding (1981, Carlos Saura)
Saura is one of Spain’s best-known filmmakers, but aside from a few recent films and his classic Cria Cuervos, I’m woefully underversed in his work. Blood Wedding is the first and perhaps best-known of his so-called “Flamenco Trilogy,” and was released a few years back in a supposedly gorgeous Eclipse box set. Seems as good a place to delve deeper into Saura as any, methinks.
Uruguay (Group A winner) – The Pope’s Toilet (2007, Cesar Charlone / Enrique Fernandez)
This crowd-pleaser, co-directed by the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of City of God, played in both the 2007 Un Certain Regard and that year’s Toronto Film Festival, where it got largely positive reviews. It was also a Film Movement release. But honestly, it’s mostly here because it’s one of the few Uruguayan films available through Netflix, along with Whisky, which I’ve already seen.
USA! USA! (Group C winner) – Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966, Harold P. Warren)
Back when wannabe auteur was paying off his cast and crew with “shares” in the film after he ran out of money, no one could possibly have imagined that Manos: The Hands of Fate would become, after a fashion, a pop-culture phenomenon. Ever since it was voted “worst movie ever” by the brain trust as MST3K, Manos has become a cult classic among aficionados of bad movies, much like Plan 9 From Outer Space before it and The Room after it. It currently sits at #8 on the IMDb’s Bottom 100, which means that should USA somehow survive a Knockout Stage that will potentially pit them against Brazil or the Netherlands (to say nothing of the other half the bracket), I’ll be able to watch and review this before Scott “Mr. Unwatchable” Von Doviak gets the chance. Woohoo! USA! USA!
Finally, here’s the matchups for the Round of 16, which begins this weekend:
Saturday, 26 July
Uruguay (The Pope’s Toilet) vs. South Korea (A Tale of Two Sisters)
USA! USA! (Manos: The Hands of Fate) vs. Ghana (Cobra Verde)
Sunday, 27 July
Germany (In a Year With 13 Moons) vs. England (The Servant)
Argentina (The Official Story) vs. Mexico (Solo con tu pareja)
Monday, 28 July
Netherlands (Soldier of Orange) vs. Slovakia (Zelary)
Brazil (Elite Squad) vs. Chile (Machuca)
Tuesday, 29 July
Paraguay (Paraguayan Hammock) vs. Japan (Tokyo Olympiad)
Spain (Blood Wedding) vs. Portugal (In Vanda’s Room)
So, who are you rooting for? Sound off in the comments.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
With Toy Story 3, it’s a little trickier, since my inability to think of something insightful to write has less to do with my thoughts neatly dovetailing with those of other (better-known) critics than the fact that it more or less scratches the itches the other two Toy Story movies scratch. Even more than most successful third installments, Toy Story 3 traffics in the viewers’ nostalgia for- and familiarity with- the previous films, to the point where in the opening scene I got a smile on my face when I heard the line, “I’ve got my dog, with a built-in force field!”, knowing exactly what would happen next.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
(Yes, this is going to be another rant about bad driving. Deal.)
Today’s targets are those people who haven’t quite figured out how to deal with those newfangled “roundabouts” that are popping up nowadays. Personally, I think they’re fairly easy to navigate. But try telling that to the guy who nearly plowed into the side of my car this morning trying to enter the roundabout. So for that guy, and all the other mental flyweights who sacrifice all common sense whenever they climb behind the wheel, here’s a short list I’ve compiled of roundabout rules:
1. Roundabouts are designed as a replacement for the conventional intersection. Rather than simply turning in the direction of his desired street, the motorist navigates around a small circle in a counterclockwise direction until he finds himself in a position to turn right on the desired street. Thankfully, I haven’t noticed anyone who hasn’t figured this out already. Still, it’s worth mentioning all the same.
2. The traffic that is already in the roundabout has the right of way. This means that if you’re waiting at the roundabout for an opening in traffic, you’re just gonna have to be patient and watch carefully for a real opening instead of speeding implusively into traffic in an attempt to create one. If you can’t handle that, then tough shit, because if you hit someone it’s your bloody fault.
3. That said, once you’re in the flow of traffic in the roundabout, you should do your level best to keep traffic moving. Naturally, if there’s a choice between applying the brakes and mowing somebody down, then by all means slow down or stop. But other than that, there’s no discernible reason (at least, not as far as I can imagine) to stop once you’ve entered the roundabout. Pull the car in, drive around, and drive out again. Pretty basic, I’d say.
4. Likewise, it behooves you (and everyone else around you) to slow the hell down once you’ve entered the roundabout. This means that roundabouts should not be taken at 45 MPH. Better to slow down a little and be careful than speed up and cause an accident that’ll slow you down even more, right?
5. Roundabouts have been around in Europe for years, and for some in America the sight of a roundabout conjures up images of motorists in Paris or Rome speeding around in a circle and jockeying for position like the famed chariot race in Ben-Hur. This shouldn’t happen. In my experience, most roundabouts have clearly marked lanes designed to feed drivers into different streets. These should be observed at all times, particularly during high-traffic hours. And yes, this means that if you miss your desired turn, you’ll just have to drive around again. I mean, it’s not called a “roundabout” for nothing after all.
So, what reason could I possibly have to write this post? Last night, someone damn near ran me off the road trying to make a right turn from the left-hand lane. Seriously- are roundabouts that bloody hard? I’d like to think that if one uses a little common sense (a precious commodity, I know) behind the wheel, and shows a little consideration for others on the road, a post like this won’t be necessary. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case, so I’ve done this for the benefit of those who require it. That goes double for you, dingbat teenager who rear-ended Ang a few months ago.
As for you other smart drivers out there, there’s no need to thank me. I like to think I’m doing the Lord’s work here. Consider it preemptive penance for the curse Victor put on me…
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Additionally, I just found out that Rufus de Rham, who was set to contribute to the White Elephant, was taken to the hospital a few days back. Shaka Shervington, Rufus’ bud at Paper Spaceships, has assured me that Rufus is going to be fine. Still, my thoughts go out to him, and I’m hoping for a speedy recovery.
Meanwhile, writing a review for the White Elephant has semi-reinvigorated my desire to review movies regularly. So while you’re here, check out my thoughts on the following recent releases:
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
And a special thanks to everyone who contributed reviews this year. Considering some of the stink bombs that got submitted, I would have understood anyone who had second thoughts, but everyone has come through nicely. I had initially intended this year’s White Elephant as a way to keep Muriels voters active in the off-season, and although there are plenty of friends o’Muriel in the mix, this year’s White Elephant participants hail from throughout the cinephile blogosphere. There should be a number of names listed below that you’re already familiar with, along with plenty of others that you really ought to know. So do yourselves a favor and check out everyone’s review. I hope that you’ll find at least a handful of new writers worth reading.
And now, without further Apu… this year’s White Elephant Blogathon lineup!
Simon Abrams reviews The Pest!
Ali Arikan reviews The Survivors!
Kent M. Beeson reviews Ishtar!
Josh Bell reviews Dr. Doolittle: Million Dollar Mutts!
Brandon reviews Roller Gator!
The Dread Pirate Steven Carlson reviews Gymkata!
Paul Clark reviews Gorilla at Large!
KC Costanzo reviews Olga’s Girls!
Dennis Cozzalio reviews Mannequin 2: On the Move!
Chris Devlin reviews Strange Circus!
Andy Fernandez reviews Play Dirty!
Kenji Fujishima reviews Scream For Help!
Daniel Getahun takes a break from his newly wedded bliss to review Summer/The Green Ray!
Richard Gorelick reviews Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare!
Abigail Graber reviews The Gate!
Jaime Grijalba reviews The Suckling… in Spanish!
Ivan Lerner reviews Johnny Mnemonic!
Matt Lynch reviews Pieces!
Jeff McMahon reviews Guy Ritchie’s Swept Away!
Britt Parrott reviews Reptilian!
Michael Peterson reviews Taoism Drunkard!
Shaka Shervington reviews Attack of the 50-Foot Woman!
Philip Tatler reviews Crimes of Passion!
Patrick Williamson reviews Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze!
Finally, the review I’ve looking forward to most this year: Victor J. Morton, Rightwing Film Geek, reviews Claire Denis’ The Intruder. Honesty requires me to admit that I was the one who submitted this title. However, in keeping with the rules of the game, I selected The Intruder before I knew who would end up reviewing it, my reasons for choosing limited to its polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it nature. But when my random assignment process (too boring and complicated to discuss in the space) ended up giving the film to Victor, a Denis non-fan of long standing- the dude didn’t even like 35 Shots of Rum, and I thought everybody liked that one- I couldn’t help but smile and think, “think is gonna be gooooooooood.” And Victor’s succinct and decidedly vulgar response upon learning his assignment let me know that my gut feeling was right. Check it out here!
There are a few stragglers still out there, but they should be posting by tomorrow (right, guys?), so keep checking in here for all the White Elephant festivities! You’ve already got plenty to get you started. Enjoy!
But if the title itself summoned up images of a guy in a gorilla suit, the movie’s cast threw me for a loop. Many monster movies are chock full of has-beens and never-weres, but the cast for Gorilla at Large is impressive, especially for a 1954 release. It was top-lined by popular leading man Cameron Mitchell, with support from Lee J. Cobb (who would receive an Oscar nod for On the Waterfront later that year) and Rear Window baddie and future Perry Mason Raymond Burr. Plus there’s a small role for an up-and-comer named Lee Marvin, fresh off his memorably villainous turn in The Big Heat. And Gorilla’s leading lady was a Fox contract player who would go on to become a big-screen icon- Anne Bancroft.
So, you can imagine, I was eager to watch Gorilla at Large, but also a little confused. What kind of rampaging-primate thriller could attract a cast like that? As it turns out, Gorilla at Large isn’t quite what its title implies. Oh sure, a gorilla escapes its captivity during the course of the film, but for much of its duration the gorilla (named Goliath) is but another player in the drama. Instead of a full-blown monster movie, it’s a strange sort of hybrid, combining a creature feature with a murder mystery. It doesn’t quite satisfy in either respect, but it’s pretty charming all the same.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the movie is its visual style. For a relatively small-scale production, Gorilla at Large is pretty eye-catching, especially on the surprisingly good-looking Fox DVD release. Many of the film’s interiors look almost like something out of a Douglas Sirk melodrama (albeit one on a tight budget), while director Harmon Jones and director of photography Lloyd Ahern make good use of the colorful- and authentic- carnival setting. My favorite suspense scene in the film involves a pursuit inside a mirrored maze, and the scene wouldn’t work nearly as well without the seemingly endless reflections cast by the walls.
If only the rest of the film did so well at generating suspense, Gorilla at Large might have been a little classic. Alas, most of the movie is a relatively boilerplate whodunit, albeit one that’s been spiced up with a lumbering primate. I hate to say it, but I’ve become sort of burned out on old-school murder mysteries, and Gorilla at Large has almost nothing new to offer the formula aside from the gorilla. As with most undistinguished titles in the genre, figuring out the killer for oneself takes considerably less time than it takes the characters onscreen, and it soon becomes a matter of figuring out who wasn’t visible onscreen when the crimes took place and choosing the one who seems the least obvious. When a suspect is taken in by the police and all you can do is look at your watch and say, “okay, there’s still twenty minutes of movie left, so he can’t be the real killer,” you know there’s something the matter.
What’s more, once the true killer is revealed- I predicted this about ten minutes in, by the way- Harmon and his screenwriters find themselves with a perfect ending only to muck it up by not actually, y’know, stopping. If you’ve seen the movie, imagine how delicious and cold-blooded it might have been had the film stayed in the cellar during the climactic performance instead of cutting to the action onstage. In other words, once Joey (Mitchell) discovered the truth from Goliath’s trainer Kovacs (Peter Whitney), the film had closed on Kovacs’ line “[NAME REDACTED] has it coming,” followed only by the offscreen shrieks of terror. Maybe I’m strange like that, but I think it would’ve made Gorilla at Large a better movie.
Of course, cutting short the ending would also eliminate much of the promised gorilla-on-the-loose action. As I said before, Gorilla at Large doesn’t have much gorilla-based spectacle, which is kind of a mixed blessing. In my experience, gorillas don’t make very good monster-movie baddies unless they’re unnaturally large like King Kong and his ilk. Perhaps it’s because they’re fairly human-like, but gorillas are much better at being humorous or pathetic than they are at being scary. Still, Goliath is pretty engaging as far as man-in-suit gorillas go, and that’s largely a credit to George Barrows, the actor who manned said suit. Barrows specialized in playing apes throughout his career in Hollywood, including the inimitable Ro-Man from 1953’s notoriously awful Robot Monster, a title I nearly submitted for this year’s White Elephant until I thought of something better (or at least less toxic).
But with a cast like this one, Barrows hardly gives the film’s most notable performance. In fact, a number of Gorilla at Large’s performance outclass the material. Mitchell makes for a solid leading man, while Burr’s outsized grumpiness lends some gravity to the standard role of a husband with something to hide. Similarly, Cobb manages to put a unique spin on the character of the police investigator, giving him a hard and sometimes sarcastic edge that distinguishes him from any number of similar roles. Even Marvin manages to bring more to his part- a young policeman whose eagerness to please far outpaces his competence- than is required.
Best of all is Bancroft who, still in her early twenties, was already showing that she would become a formidable actress. Granted, a movie like Gorilla at Large wouldn’t seem to provide many chances to flex one’s acting muscles, but somehow Bancroft is able to create opportunities from what little she’s given. She brings surprising complexity to the Laverne, a skilled aerialist stuck in a dead-end life of playing second banana (ha ha) to a gorilla. From the role that was no doubt written as a femme fatale, Bancroft conveys the weariness and barely sublimated desperation of a woman who has more or less seen it all and nonetheless clings to the hope that she might still ride her skill to legitimate stardom. Bancroft gives far better than she gets in Gorilla at Large- one of the characteristics of a great actor. Truth in reporting also requires me to state that she’s incredibly sexy here, not simply because of the skimpy costumes she performs in, but the self-assurance that would become one of her trademarks as an actress.
In later years, Bancroft’s husband Mel Brooks would often rib her about Gorilla at Large on talk shows. But although the movie’s title and premise make it an easy target, it’s certainly no worse than any number of B movies from the era. And while it doesn’t quite succeed as a mystery or a killa-gorilla thrilla (sorry), it’s still worthwhile as a time capsule of the sort of movies Hollywood has forgotten how to make. Now that B-movies are getting A-budgets, blockbusters are continually trying to make the biggest and loudest spectacle of all. So it’s refreshing to see a movie with the modest charms of Gorilla at Large- a movie that only needed a handful of well-chosen actors and the sight of a man in a gorilla suit carrying around a young, scantily-clad Anne Bancroft to reel in audiences.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
In the spirit of the occasion, I’ve even created the White Elephant button that currently adorns my sidebar, and will hopefully pop up on at least a handful of others within the next week. Sorry if it looks cheesy- I don’t have much experience with graphic design, online or otherwise, and I didn’t want to impose on my bud Martin, who has graciously contributed banners for the Muriels for the past three years.
Anyway, don’t forget to come back next Tuesday for White Elephant #4. Should be fun- hope to see you here!