My Week in Movies: August 27, '11

Kan door huid heen (Can Go Through Skin)
Esther Rots, 2009
Maybe it's because I've known many wonderfully free-spirited Eastern Europeans that I, through fond reminiscence, connect so easily with Rivka Lodeizen's protagonist Marieke. "Can Go Through Skin" (the title of which I imagine refers to invasion and physical abuse's deep emotional affects, though it could have several meanings) takes place in the Netherlands - downtown Amsterdam and a Zeeland peninsula, specifically - but the unfettered attitudes, humble diction and casual manner of dress are remarkably redolent of the Slovakian, Czech and Polish people I've been lucky enough to befriend along my way. Or maybe the connection is rooted more through Esther Rots' portrait of Marieke, so instantly intimate we almost feel as though we are in her often wontedly nude skin. We dwell on and relate to private idiosyncrasies such as treading o'er thinly iced puddles, braiding tall grass and - with a bit more direct relevance to the focal characterization - finding nooks about a thoroughly symbolic ramshackle manor and, perhaps even more symbolically, hiding from nothing within them. We closely follow Marieke post-trauma as she determines how to carry forth while cautiously learning to trust again. This involving strain of life stems down two paths - one restorative, one deleterious; both under a rehabilitative guise. Where do we go? Screenshots after the jump.

Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages (Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys)
Michael Haneke, 2000
I believe most fans of film would readily attest to adoring long takes, be they still or mobile. The spectacle of an uncut performance combined with flowing camerawork and meticulous plotting is truly something to behold and revere. If Haneke has one signature I've recognized across his work I've thus far experienced, it's his penchant for finding one still composition or mobile blocking arrangement that accommodates an entire scene or sequence and in this regard the almost "Slacker"-esque "Code Unknown" is a treat for any self-professed cinephile - a series of long takes, several of which are particularly enrapturing, all of which are fascinating to dissect both technically and narratively. And of that narrative? Well, it simply - or, not so simply, really - goes to illustrate the importance of title. Without the banner alerting us to the indeed intentionally incomplete nature of the stories within, "Code" may frustrate viewers before its fractured style nestles, distracting from the flux of cinematographic feats. Listen to further thoughts on Episode 18 of Reel Time.

Olivier Megaton, 2011
As anticipated, "Colombiana" takes few risks, though in spite of containing a couple of perhaps the year's most numb-skulled scenes yet (outside the likes of "Transformers", that is) it is suitably entertaining with an emotional core driven by the gravity of familia. As desired, it is "The Zoë Saldaña Show" through and through (with a shorter, preceding presence from her character's younger portrayer, the already-impressive Amandla Stenberg). With clear assistance from Luc Besson's signatures, Megaton has significantly improved since his last outing with the merely passable "Transporter 3", his brightest moments being whirls of claustrophobic action not seen this cohesively since "The Bourne Identity" and insert shots highlighting Saldaña's visage in close-up. As per standard, however, these moments are given maybe a quarter second of screen time a piece. How come we are so rarely allowed to dwell, at least a little longer, on a film's more calculated compositions? One day I may rent "Colombiana" and go through, taking stills of each lovely yet suffocated bit. I'd be able to paper four walls with the resulting Zoë-fest. I realize I'm nitpicking quite a bit over a film I enjoyed, but one more admittedly tangential quibble, if I may, which concerns an issue heard in several films of late: come on Foley artists, must you add a schluck to every on-screen beverage sip? Not only are the glasses always full, in most cases the character performing the action is ostensibly too graceful to be so boorish.

The Monster that Challenged the World
Arnold Laven, 1957
The world, sure... or, more accurately, just a little Californian naval research facility. If you've seen any standard 1950s sci-fi you probably have a good idea of what to expect from "The Monster that Challenged the World", and I'm happy to report this particular "Monster" is above average amongst its peers! A military male protagonist whom we regard as handsome because his female co-star swoons upon his entering a room (and maybe he is handsome, in that husky John Wayne kinda way) investigates the disappearances of several sailors and local youngsters, spending most of his time in offices and labs trying to escape quirkily arrogative comic relievers more unintentionally funny than properly so (the over-friendly coroner keeps minced ham on rye in the morgue cold chambers? Ha-yuk!). Our mutated mollusk of a culprit initially remains shrouded 'neath dark waves, an eerie side effect of the film's gaunt "B" status (though, as a technicality at that point, "B" no longer strictly stood for an implicatively low "budget"). When we do glimpse our well-accomplished beastie it does not disappoint, being equal parts daunting and hokey. You can practically feel the youthful bliss of an afternoon at the nickelodeon as you revel in this paradigmatic creature feature!

Further first-time viewings:

Vierges et vampires (Virgins & Vampires) - Jean Rollin, 1973
AKA "Requiem for a Vampire"; AKA "Caged Virgins". Rollin's vampire erotica goes dialogue-light to good end in this wholly entertaining and often quite eerie romp rife with nibbling fangs and nubile flesh that may well top the sole other Rollin I've seen thus far, "Shiver of the Vampires".

Octaman - Harry Essex, 1971
Oh, man. So awfully awesome. Bottom of the barrel studio moviemaking at its uproariously bad best. Plus Kerwin effin' Matthews, man. And Pier Angeli fatally overdosed on barbiturates during production? After a life of failed romances with the incomparable Kirk Douglas, the legendary James Dean and the well also totally super-awesome Armando Trovaioli I guess it just took an "Octaman" (curiously taglined "Man or Reptile?") to push her over the edge.

Giant from the Unknown - Richard E. Cunha, 1958
Gloriously pulpy. I mean, pretty terrible, but in such an enjoyable way.

La pianiste - Michael Haneke, 2001
AKA "The Piano Teacher". Where Haneke's signatures may be in possibly their purest form in "Code Unknown", here they feel hidden (caché, if you will). "La Pianiste" is as cold as its cruelly elitist and mercenarily selfish protagonist, even in its various depraved depictions of repressed sexuality and even after said protagonist is cut down to size in revolting manner by a vicious case of anxious blue balls. The subject could be provocative, but with this handling I could have attained a similar reaction surfing for dungeon fetish pornography. The emptily brutal "Funny Games", which was designed as this may also have been to expose audiences to their own savage lusts, carries more sensitivity. At least now I know I have indeed been pronouncing "Schubert" properly all this time. Take that, straight from the Huppert's mouth, you countless numbers who have tried to correct me! Listen to further thoughts on Episode 18 of Reel Time.

Tangled - Nathan Greno & Byron Howard, 2010
Okay Disney, am I supposed to be giggling at your self-parodical quips or reveling in the hackneyed majesty of overblown pastoral romance? Because the way you're trying to juggle both just isn't gelling. "Tangled" is relatively modest in the scope of modern animation spectacles, and though its majority is basic in appearance it is not without a gleeful color scheme nor the occasionally impressive composition. As for everything else, so what? Maybe if Matt LeBlanc had voiced the male lead...

Boarding Gate - Olivier Assayas, 2007
Assayas' "Eurotrash" never quite stems over its economical roots nor reaches a significance greater than that of your everyday crime picture. I took three sittings to get through it without nodding off entirely and even then it bored me out of my mind, living up to the reasons I had been passing it over since its DVD release.

Total: 10

Rewatches (1): Gothika (Kassovitz, 2003)
- In the realm of 2000s horror, I love "Gothika". Kassovitz' keen tension-building methods and unusual scares are so fresh, to put it simply, added to the easy fact that Halle Berry is a modern screen goddess.

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