SHORT REVIEWS OF NEW
RELEASES SEEN, SEPTEMBER 2003
All films from U.S.A. unless
(- seen on video; [v] video
piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade
changed upon repeat viewing)
This section does not include my capsule reviews of films seen at the Toronto
IFF. For those, lookie
Splendor (Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman)
read a bit about the movie beforehand, I fully expected its clever self-reflexive
touches and its fiction / documentary hybridity. What really surprised me was just how lovely the first half of
the film is. The fact that Pulcini and
Berman can shoot on location in contemporary Cleveland, and then throw up a
perfectly plausible title card indicating
we are in the 1970s, simply emphasizes that the Rust Belt truly is a
period piece as is. (That’s how
Syracuse certainly is, a land time forgot – the haircuts, the clothes, the
drive-in motor banks, the Arthur Treacher’s locations they forgot to close, etc.) Yet one can locate poetry amidst the decay, both in Pekar’s work and in the industrial Midwest as a whole, and Splendor’s
unobtrusive but penetrating camerawork and lighting schemes serve to bring the
grungy sepia to life. The less
impressionistic, more biopicky second half gets a little rote, especially in
light of the offhand beauty of the first.
Also, I remember the infamous Letterman appearance quite a bit
differently, but I could be wrong.
Hardest Button to Button” [video for The White Stripes] (Michel Gondry) [v/s]
better than the Legos, this is the Logos.
Structural film with a kick-drum.
Meg reduced to the design motif she probably is. This was cool.
-Bolivia (Israel Adrián
qualities of the grainy B&W photography come across even on video, and the
characters, such as they are, compel a certain attention. Despite the fact that they exist inside a
rather overdetermined plot, there is a natural ease with which they move about
in the film. This is partly because
Caetano for the most part refuses to psychologize them, so we’re forced to read
them from their hesitant gestures, hard glares, and resigned shrugs. Many elements (both formal and narrative)
signal Caetano’s youthful lack of finesse, but there are more than a few
resonant, poetic nuggets inside the soft shell.
Vision (Chen Kuo-fu, Taiwan)
are some films which I like, despite a conscious recognition that on most
discernible levels they are not very good.
I’m not talking about cult films or “so-bad-they’re-good” stinkers, but
films like this one, which in many ways is a straight-down-the-line
mediocrity. Its best ideas seem to be
cribbed from other sources, like “The X-Files” or Se7en or Cure
or even, jesus, The Crimson Rivers.
But I liked it. It is utterly
modest in its ambitions, is almost always visually lovely (much better than
Avid-happy horror crap like The Eye), and manages to pull some genuine
twists out of its well-worn pocket.
There is something downright off about the two lead performances, and I
am too interested in their awkward delivery to write them off as bad
acting. David Morse blusters about as
the American fish out of water, but it’s a quiet, mournful, resigned sort of
blustering. Tony Leung Ka Fai (the man
Mike D’Angelo has called “The Other Tony Leung”) alternates between the hangdog
cop thing and the haunted-by-regret cop thing, but neither makes itself
especially felt. The film keeps getting
ridiculous and then it sort of pulls itself back into near-legitimacy. I feel like I’m writing myself into a lower
grade, but I’m sticking to my guns here.
Why, I do not know.
(Delphine Gleize, France / Spain / Belgium / Switzerland)
in Carnages Gleize pulls of a startling graphic match which sets formal
and ideational standards very high, and sadly she doesn’t come close to
delivering on the promise. I hesitated
before giving this film a 4 (my “lowercase con” zone), since I found myself
affording the film a grudging respect.
Its ostentatiously larky premise pretty much adopts the hoary
Europudding arthouse saw – “we are all connected by invisible lines of fate,
yadda yadda” – in order to mock it as a load of bull. And yet, with its clinical detachment, its underlined narrative
mysteries, its lack of discernible humor, and its irritatingly showy formal
moves (slow zooms, rack focus, and the like) which pretty much shout “first
film” at the top of both lungs, I simply didn’t enjoy watching it. Despite the film’s obvious trappings of
“quality,” I have to listen to the Little Man inside. [Points for Unintended Conceptual Rigor: the Village East 5 in
NYC, where I saw this, was cold as a meat locker.]
Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, U.K.)
when I feel that a film is making points with which I am inclined to agree, but
doing it badly, in a propagandistic, shamelessly manipulative manner, I find
myself sympathizing with the villains against my will. Mullan’s film is so completely ensconced in
contemporary values and moral outrage that it fails to convincingly demonstrate
how a worldview such as that of the Magdalene Order could exist. We never get a sense of the interlocking
propositions of this particular variety of Catholicism, and its sexist and
determinist assumptions. We get cheap
close-ups of the venal Mother Superior fondling wads of cash. We get bizarre S/M humiliation games played
by the nuns at the expense of their charges.
We get a childlike mental-deficient, whose suffering is proffered as a
sop to any moviegoers who find the other girls’ psychologies too conflicted or
ambivalent to serve as suitably abject victims. We essentially get a non-stop battery of ever-escalating
violences and victimizations, bludgeoning the audience and cheapening the
real-life story Mullan wants to tell.
His outrage at the church largely blinds him to the gender issues at
work in this narrative, and the fact that his melodramatic representation of
the prisoners’ plight leaves nothing for the spectator but self-congratulatory
tsk-tsking at those Bad Old Nuns. In
the end, we have something rather pornographic, and I doubt that was the