My Week in Movies: August 20, '11

L'heure d'été (Summer Hours)
Olivier Assayas, 2008
What is the importance of art when compared to the significance of sentimentality? Does choosing a pragmatic path over favored impracticality alter the emptiness sustained after a matriarch departs, or does it simply make that grave void more tangible? Assayas' consummately lovely and affecting weave is instantly warm, familiar and so naturally progressive we needn't be bothered by much hard narrative. "Summer Hours" joins the small handful of films (a handful led, incidentally, by "Once") I've put on in repose with hopes of being lulled to sleep only to be promptly riveted, blissfully unable to nod off until the credits.

I Love You Phillip Morris
Glenn Ficarra & John Requa - 2009
If "Catch Me If You Can" was a romantic comedy? "I Love You Phillip Morris" falls back on some peevishly standard elements such as a pedestrian score, and the constant bait-and-switches brush on oversaturation, but these never once beleaguer it. There's something special about Ficarra and Requa's rascally and just-rebellious-enough approach here that just... works. It's hilarious, heartwarming and heart-shattering all at once. Thorough, and thoroughly enjoyable. Pack a tissue or five.

James Gunn, 2010
Wow, someone could teach a whole psychology course on this richly absurd showcase of twisted and re-twisted morals and utter perversion that debases the past decade of superhero culture and way beyond. And not only does this mark the first time I've genuinely liked Ellen Page, in the year of "...and Kevin Bacon" it may feature the Baconator's best recent performance. Oh, and... William Katt! Screenshots after the jump.

35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum)
Claire Denis, 2008
Once settled in, one discovers something indescribably catching about "35 Rhums". Where at a glance it appears little more than another oft-shaky angst-fest and I can't peg but one story thread with much resonance or realize any cultural relevance, I find driftingly pleasant the silent meditations on how we create significance within our lives. And the colors! Those purples! Listen to further thoughts on Episode 17 of Reel Time.

Further first-time viewings:

Il mio nome è Nessuno (My Name is Nobody) - Tonino Valerii, 1973
Leone's direct influence is oft apparent and, more importantly, I still adore me some Terence Hill, but not much of interest comes from this deconstructive spaghetti carnival apart from a few good chuckles, and the again bean-mongering Hill's voice - one of my favorite male performer voices, up there with Robert Evans' and Udo Kier's - has been dubbed over by another actor! Heinous Hill dubbing is why I haven't managed to complete "Ace High" yet. I should watch "They Call Me Renegade" again.

Conan the Barbarian - Marcus Nispel, 2011
This new millennium barbarian is so laughably bad you can't help but enjoy yourself in his monosyllabic presence. It's all much more Nispel's "Pathfinder" than his "Friday the 13th" (and that's not quite as self-evident a statement as it may seem; if you've seen "Pathfinder" you understand) and shares more in common with mid-to-late-'80s direct-to-video swords-and-sorcery ventures that only wished they were the nigh incomparably testosterone-fueled 1982 "Conan" than Conan itself. And Conan itself? Well, if ever Robert E. Howard's eloquent pulp is to be matched in film, we will need a much closer resemblance to the source and either a complete dashing or greater embracing of story than in this bruiser with skulls as fragile as those of "Final Destination" and arteries as explosive as in "Freddy vs. Jason" (I'm not even sure this version gets all the pronunciation correct, let alone the principal aura). As of now, Arnold's got an easy lock on the notorious glutton over the green and contemporarily straight-laced Momoa, who at least looks the part, if anything, but please have at it if you're game for some so-bad-it's-good fare with effects inconsistent enough that as soon as you think, "Wow, that sand dude actually looks pretty swell" you'll have to follow up with, "Oh, I think his prosthetic teeth are about to fall out."

Road to Nowhere - Monte Hellman, 2010
Is this the duller "Southland Tales" of movies about making movies? I guess, thinking thematically, abiding by recent cliché and calling it the "Inception" of such movies would be slightly more accurate, but here the layers are accomplished with 170% less racking exposition. If anything, I enjoy the filmmaker perspective - the simultaneous stress and thrill of an intimate shoot and the unique appreciation of and obsession over, as character (and apparent Monte Hellman intermediary) Mitchell Haven puts it, "other peoples' dreams", and how deep one will blindly go to realize them. Good opening and closing tunes, too. And Dominique Swain looks like a Tennessee Sharon Horgan. Weird.

Final Destination 5 - Steven Quale, 2011
AKA "5nal Destination". What's more excruciating, the extrapolation of common fears surrounding methods by which everyday practices could go horribly awry, or the boredom? Though piecing toward a cute twist ending (that has little to do with the ultimately underutilized "kill someone, get their life" development you've seen in the trailers) and featuring hints of morbid cunning along the way, the frail fifth in this exaggeratively splattery franchise goes through the motions, taking what had been decent fun for two movies and rendering it tiresomely less imaginative in the process. The cringe factor remains to a meager extent, but the tension dissipates without any basis beyond an excuse to watch people meet death in various degrees of computer generated viscera clouds. While Tony "Candyman" Todd may show face here and there, the series' key gimmick has always been the shameless cutting out of the middle man - a tangible killer a la Jason Voorhees (one of whose more memorable kills from "Friday the 13th: Part 3" seems to get a shout-out here) to steal our sympathies and provide purpose atop mere bloodlust - death's connecting pieces have done that job effectively until now (this is the part where I attest to having skipped the tosh-looking third and fourth "Destinations", the latter of which apparently winks, fittingly, at the whole go-to-the-race-to-see-the-crashes thing). This time, without a believable story to make us care (or at least with one glaringly lost and futile in its failed avoidance of been-there-done-that territory), it's about on the level of a more glorified, dramatized "Faces of Death" video. As for the 3D, that this film has been critically touted as one of the medium's best recent executions proves audiences are stuck on the idea of 3D being all about "things flying out at you", which doesn't even happen all that often here outside an actually rather groovy opening credits sequence that harkens to its predecessors' more memorable dismemberments through an '80s-tastic sequence of glass shattering in slow motion. And... well, we know Miles Fisher looks like Tom Cruise... but my, does he ever emote just like the Cruiser as well!

Tears of the Sun - Antoine Fuqua, 2003
I dislike disliking a Fuqua, as since the worthy "Training Day" the director has had considerable hits with me in "King Arthur" and "Brooklyn's Finest". Then, he's also had "Shooter". If you want to take an  obvious look at the stark difference between manufactured American mainstream and international independent arthouse, just watch this and Denis' "White Material" in the same day, like I coincidentally now have. Here obligatorily pretty paleskins with heroic intentions are out to rescue those deprived Uncle Sam's comforts in dryly procedural manners; the more insert shots of semi-automatic weaponry the better. "White Material" provides an ostensibly less filtered display of white naïveté amidst an African unrest unaided by foreign superpowers. Now, "Material" may not be the greatest of greats in my eyes, but within this example it accomplishes its purpose far more effectively than the drudgingly marketable "Tears of the Sun" accomplishes its own.

Drive Angry - Patrick Lussier, 2011
What gives? Cage sleepwalked through this one! Lame. Worth watching for William Fichtner's cooly funny showing, though, added to a latent kitsch value, but on top of the shockingly somnolent showing from the lead none of the promise Lussier showed with the pure fun of his "My Bloody Valentine" remake is evident.

Total: 10

Rewatches (3): Summer Hours (Assayas, 2008), Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960), White Material (Denis, 2009)
- "My mother isn't quite herself, today." And "Psycho" isn't quite the best Anthony Perkins film I've watched this month - that would be Orson Welles' "The Trial" by a longshot - but it was neat to finally be able to see a vintage film on the big screen again. Prior to this, the only classic films I'd seen the way they were originally intended were the more recent "Star Wars" and "Pink Floyd's The Wall" (as part of a High Times tour in which I, probably the only non-smoker in attendance, won a raffle for a free subscription). In some cases it's astounding what a difference the aspect of size makes, but here I'd say of greater importance is the opportunity to fully appreciate the artwork free of disruption (audience allowing, of course, and in this case my audience was not allowing... but so it goes, more and more, these days). I hadn't seen "Psycho" in so long that much of it felt fresh, particularly the very good opening half featuring Janet Leigh. After perhaps the film's best sequence, the "clean up", it becomes dully procedural, but I suppose one must consider its seminality and give it a pass regardless.
- "White Material" prospered considerably with a second chance. Subjectively it's not on par with "35 Rhums" and knowing the obvious outcome from the get-go makes for a slogging runtime, but seeing and liking "Rhums" primed me for a better appreciation of Denis' work here, which previously I had criticized as being amateurish. I stand by that criticism to an extent, but at least I'm sort of coming around, right? Maybe. Listen to further thoughts on Episode 17 of Reel Time.

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