My Week in Movies: October 22, '11

Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom)
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975
Derived from a work by the Marquis de Sade, the monumental "Salò" likens conscription to wrongful abduction and, likewise, military life to heinous torture. The similarly involuntary, rigidly structured paths share infallible high command from the bourgeoisie, both subject to horrors no average person is intimately familiar with in exchange for prior hopes and beliefs. The difference is in reception - one path is glorified, allowed to become jaded in the face of countless literal deaths in the name of preservation; the other humiliated, forced to suffer and survive infinite false deaths for the sake of entertainment. In this shallow hierarchy we only "earn" the right to humanity through the invented superiority of wealth, the wealthy being the only ones with freedom enough to openly deliberate quandary and express enlightenment ("The limitation of love is that you need an accomplice; ...the libertine's refinement lay in being at once executioner and victim!"). Pasolini's discernibly cold presentations and refined camera placements cart us from shameful arousal in the bowels of depravity through progressively revolting compulsions of sexual abandon, intensifying the ways with which we view our bodies, and our society. It's the anti-eroticism and deprival of will gotten off on by Anne Rice and Eli Roth alike. For as long as I have recognized my passion for cinema, Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson have been the masters by whose work I unconsciously measure all other film. Judging by "Salò", which easily joins Davaa Byambasüren's "The Story of the Weeping Camel" and Peter Brosens' "State of Dogs" (among others, of course) as one of the very best of the best films I've seen this year (or ever), in Pasolini I may have discovered another master to hold in such regard. Screenshots after the jump (NSFW).

Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969
We all dream of a day we'll inevitably become rock stars - modern myths, educed from our varying versions of gods - in a world barely imaginable, reliant on growth and change beyond what we persist in being. With this dream we remain lost children, disbelieving we'll ever truly "grow up" as our once-future image matures in to a dull reflection, that fantasy feeling less and less tangible. Pasolini opens his "Medea" with what could be called a deconstruction of one of the great heroes, Jason, who with his Argonauts is presented to be, while handsome, almost as savage as his adversaries. This first half, in appearances inspired by the barbarism of Robert E. Howard's "Conan" tales and akin to the otherworldly landscapes and practices through which a fledgling civilization propagates in Andrzej Żuławski's later "On the Silver Globe", reminds we the aging disenchanted to discover "magic" in the mundane; to travel this strange earth and surrender to existence's wonders - the real "gods". Tribal North African wind and strings evoke both precise beauty and primitive chaos in a naïvely violent harvest ritual and endure throughout, haunting and illuminating. A wavering of creative conviction surfaces once Euripides' narrative takes over, rendering outstanding events nearly tiresome, though this is not to damage the whole of the film, which, cut from the same brilliant cloth as "Salò", offers a gorgeous realm of legend to sit back and revel in. Screenshots after the jump.

Paranormal Activity 3
Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2011
Judging from the first two films (the priorly viewed second of which is mused over several titles below), I determined the best way to view "Paranormal Activity 3" would be, well, drunk. I cruised to the nearest convenience store, snagged two BOGOs of Mike's Harder Lemonade and went to town. Man, was I ever right. This third entry - and second prequel - in the franchise that took down "Saw" feels like the composed best we've yet seen from the growing collection of "home video" "found footage". It is the most rounded and satisfying cinematic experience of the standing trio and offers new forms of tension via panning surveillance and children's impressionable imaginations (along with new, deliciously retro set design). It's like examining the most active paranormal footage any "Ghost Hunter" could hope to find, which is silly fun enough to finally get this naysayer on the side of "Team PA" (and if that wasn't a thing, I just made it one). The biggest advantage the series has going for it is that so little story is divulged in each entry; we hang on every score-free, semi-realist moment in hopes of gleaning the newest plot point in the continual backlog (which, upon some skeptical double-checking, does in fact reference past disturbances in its chronologically later predecessors... though there are plenty of unanswered questions for a fourth entry to take care of). This is the sort of movie you actually want people in your audience screaming over and commenting on throughout. Step aside, "Shaun of the Dead", there's a new horror comedy in town... and, incidentally, only maybe 5% of the theatrical trailer footage is in the knowingly "Poltergeist"-esque final cut.

The Three Musketeers
Paul W.S. Anderson, 2011
It is difficult to admit my relative disappointment with this much-anticipated 3D follow-up on "Resident Evil: Afterlife" from W.S. Anderson, which is not the technical achievement I had hoped for. Thankfully the letdown was easy - no pretenses are held from the get-go, and the somewhat family-friendly flick has fun with how ridiculous it recognizes itself to be. To be sure, this "Pirates of the Caribbean"-esque adventure features more than enough to admire for one as desperate to come out pleased as I. Here we have an Anderson seemingly, uncharacteristically less concerned with visuals in comparison to his norm, perhaps a side effect of predominant "on location" shoots in various German castles as opposed to more controlled studio environments (though this is not to say there aren't some nice corridors and signature W.S. low angles of vast rooms). Instead Anderson is, for once, focusing more in the unwieldy story at hand - in this case one that has seen many an adaptation over the years, only few of which are worthy (my favorite I've seen easily being the 1948 Gene Kelly version). As a cute and jaunty - if cumbersome despite its obvious efforts against as much - take on Alexandre Dumas' notorious tale that features vexingly modern mentalities on celebrity, fashion and the representation of one's wealth while taking a cue or two from "The Princess Bride", "The Three Musketeers" is in fairest form with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. It falters when blatantly pandering, especially in the case of servant character Planchet, comic relief whose use is aptly compared (in context) to "a fart in a bottle". Not to be discounted are certain performances, primarily the eternally lovely and lovable, leg-flashing Milla Jovovich's of a very giddy and breathy, thereby very Milla-y assassin rendition of Milady de Winter, and a cockily flamboyant Orlando Bloom as the gaudy Duke of Buckingham. Then there's the one-eyed once more Mads Mikkelsen - ever a treat. All builds to the airship battle climax - a grand spectacle the likes of which have rarely been seen since such films as 1961's "Master of the World" - that soars on an inspired score and makes me long for a full-fledged sky pirate picture. As implied, unfortunately little to be found could not have been accomplished without 3D, though I am confident Anderson will wow me once more now that he is back to his more creatively freeing baby with the currently shooting "Resident Evil: Retribution". Speaking of "Resident Evil" (when am I not?), Anderson must love his cliffhanger ending for "Afterlife" - it's shamelessly mimicked, almost beat-for-beat, in "Musketeers"!

Further first-time viewings:

Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer - Leythum, 2011
Now this is more like it. That is, more like what I was hoping for when I checked out "The Consultant" (reviewed prior to this viewing, all the way down below). The sort of understated panache enjoyed here feels restricted from most Marvel tentpoles, which are confined by enormous spotlights and mass expectation. Yes, ultimately it is silly, but I'll be damned if it's not more worth the while (if an approximately three-minute runtime can be considered a "while") than "Thor" itself, or even the mostly enjoyable "Captain America: The First Avenger".

Holy Blood (Santa sangre) - Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989
That it feels like a carnival freak show is probably the best compliment I can pay this capably accomplished yet fatiguingly inconsistent work of surrealism (an artistic movement that so rarely sees successful translation to motion picture, am I wrong?).

Paranormal Activity 2 - Tod Williams, 2010
Better than the dully grating original if only because every other scene isn't that girl saying, "We should get out of here!" over and over. I can respect these movies' minimalism, the chimeric authenticity of which generates the feel of inglorious home video... I even found fair entertainment value in this sequel once its third act settled in... but I think my interest in programs like "Ghost Hunters" and "Paranormal State" has disintegrated my potential to truly enjoy them (note: read thoughts on "Paranormal Activity 3" above to see where I was wrong to think as much).

Bloodlust Zombies - Dan Lantz, 2011
It's exactly what you'd expect - a probably-fun-to-make technical disaster only one step above being softcore pornography, using a porn star's name on the box cover despite that star only being involved for maybe 10 minutes of total screen time (at least half of which is spent in a goofy sex scene). I think what I'm trying to say here is... great movie, you should watch it!

A Serious Man - Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2009
When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies, don't you want a Coen Brothers movie to love? In my case, I won't be finding as much in "A Serious Man". Positively, a sharp wit courses through the work, running from a perfectly hypocritical quoting of the lyric mentioned (from one of my favorite albums, the oft-utilized "Surrealistic Pillow" by Jefferson Airplane) and instruction in Yiddish class coming across along the lines of the "Peanuts" teacher's plunged trombone drone to the more subtle consultation signatures the Coens seem to love so much - those that typically take place across an important-looking desk that harbors an unimportant-sounding professional who traditionally exposes the greater insignificance of the proceedings (while maybe mentioning Tuckman & Marsh in the process). I suppose overall I don't have many clear negative points to make about "A Serious Man" (I mean, really, who can finite fault a film rooted in Jewish culture that earnestly cracks a nose-job joke?) but for as optimistic as I tried to be about the odd project, the whole thing fell as boring and flat as a latke. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #026.

Footloose - Craig Brewer, 2011
All you really need to know about this new "Footloose" comes from hearing Kenny Loggins' opening anthem shouted over by an obnoxious DJ, as if the '80s hit isn't enough to get the job done on its own. The energetic 1984 film and its ilk, with their shares of iconic sequences, are distinct entities of their time, and simply cannot be remade in different eras. The goals of "Footloose" in the contemporary world are sufficiently accomplished in their demographics by the likes of "Save the Last Dance" and "Step Up". Worse, apart from neoteric dance moves and signature Brewer soundtrack touches that only come across as lame when you know how they first sounded, not much has been done to update this scene-for-scene rendition outside some incoherent one-upsmanship. Think playing chicken with tractors is kiddie fare? Try "Road Warrior"-style bus racing complete with Stahlhelm-sporting opposition! So this is how most people feel when watching Gus Van Sant's "Psycho" (to provide reference, I find Van Sant's work to be, at least, an interesting experiment). At risk of sounding as fogy as John Lithgow's pastor (recreated here as comically as can be expected by Dennis Quaid), the relevance of dance as a free form of personal expression is negated by the styles of dance on display. Protagonist Ren uses the Bible to defend his case against anti-dance legislature, but I'd like him to show me where in the Bible it says, "Thou shalt grind thy anal sphincter against thy strange neighbor's phallus." All this unwarranted retread really accomplishes is a further justification of solving problems with violence (an issue seen in the original, as well) and the frustration of now having to specify versions when referring to "Footloose" (not that such a reference occurs all too often). Why is Andie MacDowell in this?

Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant - Leythum, 2011
Here, after last week's less than rewarding viewings of fan films "Portal: No Escape" and "Dark Resurrection Vol. 0", I was thinking a "Marvel One-Shot" would validate itself as a proper short film expressing certain creativities generally limited within a fanboy-littered world. Now I quote John Pinette when I say, "Nay nay." Comprising nearly half your film of footage from a preexisting feature (in this case, 2008's "The Incredible Hulk") negates this from being considered as a wholly original work, and the remainder plays as a throwaway special feature (which it in fact is... so good on Marvel, I suppose, for not overstating it... too much).

Total: 11

Rewatches (6): Forward March, Time! (Tarasov, 1977); Deep Red (Argento, 1975); Plus Electrification (Aksenchuk, 1972); Dreamcatcher (Kasdan, 2003); Shareholders (Davydov, 1963); Jumanji (Johnston, 1995)
- With each viewing the powerfully and delightfully abstract assault of sound and image that is "Forward March, Time!" becomes easier to comprehend, to the point that I now doubt my initial interpretation does little more than scratch at certain details surrounding the bigger picture.
- As if I hadn't noted it on my previous two viewings, "Deep Red" is gorgeous! What a load of good-looking fun.
- I don't think I realized how long it had actually been since I'd last seen "Dreamcatcher". I remember seeing it in theaters, totally mind-blown by the real reason behind the quarantine. I immediately stopped at a bookstore to devour Stephen King's source novel, I was so enthusiastic about what I'd seen - the unique conceptual approach to a subject I, at that point, was so in to I was practically writing notes for a could-be textbook from all my tireless research. Now, I'm wondering if this isn't my karmic consequence for disliking "Pet Sematary" so much after years of my girlfriend insisting it traumatized her when she saw it in theaters in 1989. "Dreamcatcher" isn't horrible - with some nostalgia value built in for me, the great cast that brings together Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant and Jason Lee among others and just an overall sense of Kingy fun, it's easily watchable... but man, just for starters (which is as far as I'll go here), is the acting atrocious, or what? It's as though director Lawrence Kasdan was continually reminding everyone, "Now, now, gentlemen, that's fine and all, but this is a Stephen King movie... per the outcome of his adaptations on average, we have a lack of quality standard to hold up!"