August 12th, 2009

movie popcorn

Nine movies in twelve days

I used to go to the movies a lot. Double features at repertory houses four, five times a week. Today, not so much. More activities with more friends, and more distractions, like the internet. Plus which I’ve kinda caught up on my education of world and classic cinema, I’ve already seen a lot of what’s out there that interests me. So these days it may only be a few movies a month. But sometimes elements converge – in this case visiting friends and some interesting screenings – so I’ve seen nine movies over the past twelve days. If nothing else, these certainly show the breadth and eclecticism of my taste in film:

WHATEVER WORKS ** (out of four)
Woody Allen’s latest, another hermetic romp of misanthropy and adultery.

Visiting mudcub likes getting dirty and grimy, and we’ve been screening films about and filmed on location in NYC. So I picked this one up since it covered all those bases. An excellent documentary from The History Channel about the amazing engineering going on 800 feet below Manhattan to ensure we’ll have enough water for the coming century.

NAKED CITY *** (out of four)
A 1948 gritty police mystery shot as a faux documentary entirely on location in NYC. The police shake down mooks and big palookas in search of a killer. Great use of locations and interiors, and a spectacular final chase scene on the Williamsburg Bridge.

JULIE AND JULIA *** (out of four)
Not as cloyingly saccharin as some of Nora Ephon’s other movies, and it’s a joy to watch Meryl Streep subsume into and have fun with a role. All sorts of cinematic tricks to make Streep tower over everybody else, which I guess meant hiring a lot of 4'6" actors. The movie could have been a little shorter but you didn’t want it to be!

Subject matter aside, one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the most entertaining. Over 90 interviews and possibly thousands of clips defty edited into a history of Australian exploitation movies. These are the guys who should be putting together the clips compilations for the Oscar shows. Add it on your Netflix queue if it’s not playing near you, you won’t be disappointed.

What a pleasure it was to come across on TCM a Preston Sturges film I hadn’t seen. Sturges coaxed Harold Lloyd out of retirement to star in this, and combined his trademark brilliant dialog shot in dazzling long takes (uncommon for when the film was made) with slapstick employing Lloyd, window ledges of a skyscraper, and… a lion. A milquetoast slaves away for 22 years in the same job, gets fired, gets drunk, wins a ridiculous amount of money at the racetrack, buys a circus while totally plastered, and then tries to sell it when he comes to his senses. Edgar Kennedy makes an appearance, as does Margaret Hamilton! A charming delight.

YOU, THE LIVING **½ (out of four)
A Swedish director strings together 50 deadpan vignettes about the human condition. Slightly surreal, highly composed – the camera only moves a total of three times in the entire movie – and because of that it kind of startles you when it does. Closest stylistically to Jacques Tati’s Playtime, only not nearly as comic. I admired the film a great deal, and I’m glad that I saw it, but it’s not to my taste.

DISTRICT 9 **** (out of four)
One of this summer’s most anticipated sci-fi movies, thanks to its enthusiastic reception at ComicCom, and it doesn’t disappoint. You might not want to sit too close, since it employs lots of shaky hand-held you-are-there camerawork as effectively as The Blair Witch Project, Children of Men, and The Wrestler.

EMPIRES OF TIN **½ (out of four)
Jem Cohen’s fragmented and abstracted meditation on the Bush regime, made up of images, live music (songs by Vic Chesnutt), and text readings, refilmed from a single performance at the Vienna Film Festival. Many of the images were evocative and haunting, shot in the streets of NYC and Vienna, but I had trouble with some of the music, which included a lot of distortion and squeaky violins. Again, it was a difficult film I respected, although didn’t enjoy very much.

Thanks to my seatmates, mudcub, Brian/wonderboylj, Ed/tycho_anomaly, David, Jeff/hammerride, and naylandblake.

Finally – if you’ve read this far – you might be interested in a rather transgressive Hungarian film that’s finally getting a commercial release here in the U.S., albeit a very small one. TAXIDERMIA opens this Friday at Cinema Village. It’s hard to describe, but it has something to do with speed-eating competitions and taxidermy, and you can read more about it here. Nayland and I are planning on seeing it next week, and if you ask real nicely, maybe you can come see it with us.

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