My Week in Movies: October 29, '11

I racconti di Canterbury (The Canterbury Tales)
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1972
An uninhibited anthology of familiar themes humorously redressed, Pasolini's selective adaptation of "The Canterbury Tales" - resembling of the center panel in Hieronymus Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights" triptych (and, eventually, the right) - precisely captures Geoffrey Chaucer's delectably muck-slinging vulgarity through rending saliently unethical certain medieval matters traditionally staged with decided regality. Colorful characters populate the vivid landscape with unkempt beards, yellowed fingernails, disarrayed teeth, sweat, dirt and excreta. The poor wear their unchosen grime like a badge as they toil, earning every last scrap of bread before falling under persecution for all they have - their hidden vices - as the wealthy wallow in their filth and profit from said extortion while enjoying similar vices. The latter are justified by their pocket lining yet quiver at sights of one like them executed. The ultimate punishment for these hypocritically righteous blithely purges corruption with still stronger feculence. Nothing is sacred, nor was it ever. Contrary to the later "Salò", here the selfish rich need not underhanded trickery to apprehend their libidos' targets - their right to take whomever they wish however they demand is built in to edict. Neither do they appear capable of philosophical broadening, being instead more impatiently given to impulse, or perhaps simply the exclusive liberty to lust openly. The extent of their profundity lay in their clumsy pick-up lines. Rich and poor blur as one doomed humanity through likened tragic folly. Where the comfortable castle-dwellers are, in time, undone by their own devices, peasants more readily come apart - socially and fatally - in effort to attain greater status, meanwhile putting on airs as simultaneous aggrandizement and defense. From Chaplin-esque slapstick and shamelessly guffawing gluttony to in-references such as Pasolini himself being hilariously, appropriately revealed in the role of Chaucer and a smirking, allegedly historically accurate call-out to the auteur's prior "Trilogy of Life" adaptation, "The Decameron", this "Canterbury Tales" perfectly embodies what the notoriously foul collection might have been were its creator in fact a filmmaker. Screenshots after the jump.

Winnebago Man
Ben Steinbauer, 2009
Many have stories of continued experiences with a certain video of Jack Rebney. Through copied VHS tapes and eventually YouTube, the so-called "World's Angriest Man" has circulated laughter and catharsis for decades, though no one seemed to know where he came from or where he's been. When I first saw the industrial outtake reel in question, I can't say I was too enamored. If anything, I uncomfortably felt the unknown man's frustration with himself in what appeared to be a nowhere gig. Film professor Ben Steinbauer's far more intimate reaction, however, drove him to embark upon this determined shot-in-the-dark documentary, the first half of which plays like a search for Sasquatch while illustrating the allures, causes and effects of what has become a subculture of accidental celebrities made as such through public humiliation on mass scales. At first, though I remained intrigued thanks to Steinbauer's effectively gripping assembly of footage, I worried it was all going to be more or less an extended version of a "Tosh.0" "Web Redemption", and about as enlightening. What the surprising "Winnebago Man" in fact becomes is a fascinating portrait of coming to terms with one's own legacy. Though in a Timothy Treadwell-esque fashion he's isolated himself from while still desiring a platform with what he feels is a dumbing down of society he inadvertently contributed to, in a way Rebney is like a member of the Beatles - a figure with greater aspirations doomed to be remembered for and haunted by but a brief and tumultuous time in his life. Finding and following him through Steinbauer is a real treat - one funny, intimidating and supremely emotional that should resonate with just about anyone.

Der Räuber (The Robber)
Benjamin Heisenberg, 2010
As Rorschach puts it in "Watchmen", a prison's a prison. Whether behind the bars of a cell or the four walls of "free" society, we are confined, all the while reminded by peers and mentors that, in so many words, status quo is the righteous aim. For initially incarcerated protagonist Johann, harmless and eventually remunerative marathon running seems to bring the closest achievable sensation to true freedom, however the man's blank expression ever suggests his bemused outlook. Alternatively, to look in to Johann's eyes during his pop-fueled bank heists is to see a more overt flow of adrenaline, and it is for that adrenaline the heists appear to be primarily conducted, though it is presumable an endgame - freedom via defrauded wealth - is somewhere in mind. Either way, it feels as though he is running, literally and figuratively, in circles; destination: nowhere. When the pure liberation of running meshes with the unsavory rush of robbery, the adrenaline pumps in to the audience as we bite the nails of fingers crossed for our antihero's salvation, be it through flight or rectitude. Graceful New Berlin Schooler Benjamin Heisenberg chooses his words carefully, precisely and almost serenely capturing the thrill of a crime blockbuster with far greater ambiguous depth than is per standard with such things.

Further first-time viewings:

Zombies Anonymous - Marc Fratto, 2006
AKA "Last Rites of the Dead". This entertaining, apparently shoestring outing brings freshness to decaying corpses, becoming almost frustrating when it is considered that all its good ideas were used in such a just-one-level-above-student effort.

Gonzo: The Life & Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson - Alex Gibney, 2008
I have this thing with non-fiction literature... with the right subject and approach I love it for a few chapters, then I get to a point where I impatiently think, "Why can't they just make a movie out of this, already?" Last year this happened when I became fascinated by Toby Thacker's "Joseph Goebbels: Life & Death" only to drop off after having watched Lutz Hachmeister's excellently assembled "The Goebbels Experiment". I haven't read any Thompson, who strikes me as a next generation Kerouac, but while purists may disagree, this loving retrospective feels adequate in quickly acquainting me with the man's work.

Beginners - Mike Mills, 2010
A montage of intimately personal memories that feels more mature than Mills' "Thumbsucker", though I'm not sure it's working for me as well as that prior success' ostensibly aimless angst. It's about the little moments, more than anything - Christopher Plummer's acceptance of a carefully worded death sentence from his doctor; the bonding between father and son via loud exclamations of "fuck!", as though they're learning, or at least celebrating the fact that they can be real people with one another outside their familial roles. Unfortunately the majority of these moments are so nauseatingly cute I want to run the other direction.

Strangeland - John Pieplow, 1998
Indistinct and derivative (particularly of "Silence of the Lambs", even once blatantly thieving that film's famous misdirection sequence), "Strangeland" seems to execute its meager helping of good ideas during its establishment before realizing it has to keep trudging along to attain feature status. Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

Faces in the Crowd - Julien Magnat, 2011
I feel like I say this all the time, but this movie feels like a Lifetime Network original made with a slightly larger budget. The script, despite a moderately intriguing premise that correlates the rare condition of prosopagnosia (face blindness) to other sensory losses such as deafness, is one gaping hole after another, punctuated by clunky exposition and only held together by my darling Milla Jovovich (whose mere inclusion warrants certain forgiveness), who could put forth this sort of bubbly, emotionally tortured performance in her sleep. It must have been neat for the various "reflection Millas" to come in and get dressed up like her. I might have praise for the fun Julian McMahon, though I'm not sure that's really him behind the re-re-recycled twist giveaway of a Savini-esque face beaver he's sporting.

The Ward - John Carpenter, 2010
The atmosphere of John Carpenter's return to feature length directing after nearly a decade is very, well, Carpentery, but possesses little to reinforce the shallow eeriness of its institutional corridors a la the suburbian Haddonfield streets of "Halloween" or the bowels of the arctic station from "The Thing".

The Rum Diary - Bruce Robinson, 2011
Like watching Clark Gregg’s “Choke” with David Fincher’s “Fight Club” in the back of your mind, “The Rum Diary” is more a dull homage to Terry Gilliam’s “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” that happens to also star Johnny Depp. It tidily makes its points and lingers like a bad hangover. At one juncture, in reference to the innocuous pieces he’s forced to print in his doomed paper, Richard Jenkins’ editor-in-chief advises, “There’s a thin veneer between the dream and the reality. You wake the people up, and they’re not gonna be happy.” I want to be woken up. Read the full review.

Total: 10

Rewatches (2): Paranormal Activity 3 (Joost & Schulman, 2011); TrollHunter (Øvredal, 2010)

- Wow! Thanks primarily to StumbleUpon (and a little to reddit and a lot to /film) October has blown WTYWtD's prior traffic successes out of the water. As I publish this edition of "My Week in Movies", October currently sits at 37,166 hits - well atop what I had thought was a grand tally of 3,454 for what was formerly my biggest month (this recent August). I've actually earned two whole dollars via AdSense! Of course without a new backlog to semi-spam discovery engines with every month it'll be a long time - if ever - before WTYWtD reaches this level of traffic again but in the meantime I'll keep "stumbling", "digging" (does anyone actually use that site anymore?) and, somewhat more discriminatingly, submitting to reddit ("redditing"?). Major thanks go out again to /film for featuring my "5 Worst Movie Theater Disruptions" on the 300th Edition of Page 2!

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