My Week: March 10, '12

Paradise Alley
Sylvester Stallone, 1978
Stallone is not one to shy from the cheese, and his directorial debut "Paradise Alley" - a sensible creative bridge between his growing roles in front of and behind the camera in "Rocky" and "Rocky II", respectively - brings it in spades perhaps even more ample than those of "Rocky III", going as far as to include a slow-motion freeze-frame opening credits sequence to the tune of an original Bill Conti theme song heartily crooned by none other than Sly himself. The unabashed gusto in bits like this endear as opposed to falter, seeing as they know full well what they aspire to be and reach for those stars with few recognized limits. With the sheer quantity of films I take in on a regular basis, it strikes me when I am found truly caring for characters as opposed to simply looking at what they represent socially and culturally or, in lesser efforts, as mere tools in a narrative. "Paradise Alley" follows a year or so in the lives of three brothers, and outside "Young Adult" I'll be damned if I've cared this much for a set of screen individuals since my viewing of "Skin Game" last year. The passion Stallone puts in to the content of their characterizations and intertwined stories is palpable in every frame, through the detailed set decoration to Stallone's own performance as Cosmo, the hot-headed but sensitive ("I'm sensitive!") big shot caught between ideals. These characters, and anyone surrounding them, are born beneath a glass ceiling - one few can so much as hope to scrape, even momentarily. Added to that, their world is changing, rendering them relics in their own era. Their stubborn perseverance, resolve, ingenuity and, well, brotherhood, carries the film through even its technically weaker scenes. It's a pity the piece ends on an honestly foolish climax that purports professional wrestling as authentic and leaves many threads unresolved - or in a certain case, wholly unexamined - but as a whole the feature experience is indispensably winning.

The Mill & the Cross
Lech Majewski, 2011
With a 1970s sensibility one could liken to that of Pasolini when considering certain shots and the general atmosphere, Majewski brings aptly lit motion and backing culture development to Bruegel's famous painting. Though I can nitpick by pointing out occasional blue screen-generated illusion-breaking, the film is spellbindingly composed with striking imagery as it fleshes out its depicted world. I would suggest a similar treatment for my favorite painter Hieronymus Bosch, but I see Majewski already has a film entitled "The Garden of Earthly Delights"! Screenshots after the jump.

Further first-time viewings

The Ten - David Wain, 2007
Though it peaks with its ferociously uproarious opening story, "Thou Shalt Worship No God Before Me", with the exception of one abominably stupid animated segment "The Ten" is thoroughly watchable and frequently funny through fun references and an altogether dis-conventional demeanor that relishes in-humor and relentless irreverence.

OSS 117: Lost in Rio - Michel Hazanavicius, 2009
After "Cairo, Nest of Spies" introduced me to Jean Dujardin's charmingly stupid yet eternally slick Hubert Bonisseur, I was primed and wanting for "Lost in Rio" to bowl me over with triumphant comedy. Sadly, it's a merely competent return for the parodic spy, whose humor this round is less classic and more tongue-in-cheek to lackluster results.

Snowballs - Harmony Korine, 2011
Perhaps I look too deeply for purpose or meaning in Korine's works. "Snowballs" purports cultural relevance through its surface-level offensive costuming and intentionally short-minded narrator and brutish yet cheaply sympathetic central character, though I'm not sure it's there for anything more than to simply depict another honest oddity from the filmmaker's recollection of youth.

Tight Jeans - Destiny Ekaragha, 2008
With an intentionally simple script as thematically transparent as this, it's interesting that something as minor as continual dollying to and fro before our immobile cast helps maintain interest in the predictable and docile conversation comprising the brief piece. Cues seemingly taken from the books of Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater don't hurt.

Friends with Kids - Jennifer Westfeldt, 2012
Invoking these names is far too complimentary, but If Robert Altman oversaw Woody Allen making an over-edited film with a sorely underdeveloped central relationship, it might look a little something like "Friends with Kids". In other words, the heart is in the right place, but a good movie this is not. It's a credit to the talents of Chris O'Dowd, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig and John Hamm that despite dubiously limited screentime we care far more about their issues (which are left forgotten by the time the credits roll, all too quickly at that - just like everything else). On the strong side, the subject matter is highly relatable, particularly for those of us with children.

Trash Humpers - Harmony Korine, 2009
Korine has gone off the deep end. His apparent goals here are accomplished, but is anti-aesthetic of artistic note simply due to having been intentional?

John Carter - Andrew Stanton, 2012
Laughable from the opening seconds and sporting the worst, most cardboard 3D I've yet seen, I can now verify that yes, Disney has indeed fouled up big time here. Like "Prince of Persia" in space, but somehow worse, "John Carter" is preposterous, wooden, emotionless, ugly and an excellent example of how not to write a screenplay. Or how not to do anything, for that matter.

Total: 9

Rewatches (1): Rollerball (McTiernan, 2002)
- So people hate on the "Rollerball" remake but go gaga for "The Fast & the Furious"? I found "Rollerball" exhilarating in theaters when I was 16, and it doesn't hold up even close to as well upon this, my first rewatch since then... but man is it better than similar adrenaline junkie thrillers of its ilk.

Episodic Television (2): Parks & Recreation (Canvassing - Greg Pikitis), The Walking Dead (Judge, Jury, Executioner)
- After being wholly underwhelmed with the pilot however long ago, I've decided to jump on a bandwagon and give "Parks & Rec" the ol' college try. Despite Aziz Ansari, who I make a rule of generally loathing but is tolerable and even occasionally funny here, the show is amusing. I suppose it's tough to go wrong when you've got Chris Pratt, Rashida Jones, Paul Schneider and Nick Offerman on board. So far "The Stakeout" has been the best episode. "I was born ready. I'm Ron Fucking Swanson." Although as far as isolated gags go, it'll be tough to top Burt Macklin, FBI.
- I have been completely forgetting to add "The Walking Dead" to these entries. The show deserves as much, and in all likelihood I'll forget to add it again next week. Listen to what myself and cohort Deepayan Sengupta think of the program in detail on Reel Time's "Don't Listen, Dead Inside" podcast, which is the only reason I continue tuning in.

Episodic Television Rewatches (1): Scrubs (My New Coat - My Philosophy; His Story; My Clean Break; My Rule of Thumb; My Screw Up; My Choosiest Choice of All - My Self-Examination)
- "Scrubs" is the definition of "comfort zone" for me. I could curl up and watch all day on any day in use of such comfort. I've been picking and choosing my episodes, but I could stand to go through the series from beginning to end. For a fourth time, that is. I'll need to DVD it up, though, because Netflix uses the copyright-afflicted alternate soundtracks. Totally ruined the endings of "My Monster" and "My Sex Buddy"! It's funny to remember which throw-away gags appear in which episodes. "My Fault", just for one example, is practically non-stop!

Video Games (2): Kirby & the Amazing Mirror, Super Mario Land
- Absence makes the thumbs grow stronger in the case of "The Amazing Mirror", apparently! I put it down for a brief stretch for I was coming up empty when searching for yet-discovered lands... and as soon as I resumed play, I found not one but two, rife with secrets! The secret rewards aren't too satisfying, but I suppose it does relieve some stress to know that if I see one I can't get to, in all likelihood it's just a silly collectible to view from the menu as opposed to a new path to a new land. I'll have to put it down again, though... I'm already re-stuck!

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