Sunday, April 26, 2009

Capsule Reviews!

Vinyan (d. Fabrice du Welz) - Du Welz's first film, Calvaire, belongs firmly within the new trend of extremly grotesque and violent French horror films (Du Welz qualifies as French inasmuch as he's Belgian) that, generally, I don't like at all. But I thought Calvaire was actually kind of interesting, not just because it looked good, but because it combined backwoods European hillbilly horror with an occasionally Bela Tarr-esque texture. The film was a pose, but an interesting one. His new film, Vinyan, owes a great deal to Nicolas Roeg's adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's Don't Look Now, but it's either a credit to the film, or a condemnation of my memory, that this didn't occur to me until after the film was over. The film features Rufus Sewell and Emmanuel Beart (both terrific) as parents who lost their son, Josh, to a tsunami disaster in Burma. When Beart believes she sees Josh in a video intended to draw attention to the plight of children in that region, they decide to travel into the jungle and see if Josh could possibly have survived. The above image should indicate to some degree what they encounter. Like the Roeg film, the horror of Vinyan comes from the bottomless well of grief contained in Sewell and Beart, and as a result of that, and du Welz's eye for unsettling images, this film carries a much stronger impact than a film like Inside could ever hope for.

JCVD (d. Mabrouk El Mechri) - When I first heard of this post-modern, heart-laid-bare action film, which features Jean-Claude Van Damme as a version of himself, I though it must be some kind of disaster. What happens is, Van Damme -- frustrated over his divorce, loss of custody of his daughter, and the trajectory of his career -- goes to a bank in Belgium, and finds himself in the middle of a robbery. Due to an unfortunate mix-up, the police believe him to be the guy robbing the bank, which, for the safety of those inside, Van Damme goes along with. As a crime film (which this is, more than it is an action film), JCVD is a little too loose for my tastes, but Van Damme is the real point of the movie. To put it simply: I had no idea. And it's not just his now-famous tortured monologue, delivered to the camera, and to his fans -- throughout the film, he's so effortlessly moving as a 47 year-old guy, whose career is that of an action film star, and who now believes that his career is not only kind of silly, but maybe worthless, too. He said it, not me, but if Van Damme really thinks that he's never done anything worthwhile with his career, he can think again.

Les Biches (d. - Claude Chabrol) - This film has been on my radar for at least a decade, maybe more, beginning before my knowledge of films was even that deep, because, hey, lesbians. Of course, that kind of content is pretty meager, probably because I just can't win, but Chabrol's highly influential, quiet thriller about two women -- the rich Frederique (Stephane Audran) and the poor, withdrawn Why (Jacqueline Sassard) -- is fascinating in the way it subverts our ideas of who will snap, and the reasons behind it. If you've never seen a Chabrol film, but have read the novels of Ruth Rendell, you'll already be familiar with the sensation of coldly watching a group of people -- who, for the good of all, should have never even met -- coming together like a car-less traffic accident. Quietly, coolly, and perversely compelling.

24 comments:

Ed Howard said...

I haven't seen any of these films (though I grow more intrigued by JCVD every time I hear about it, and I'm planning a big Chabrol spree this summer to coincide with Flickhead's blog-a-thon), so I'm just going to give a big thumbs-up to your "currently reading." Gargoyles is pretty brutal, no? I'll admit I'm a sucker for that kind of angry, nihilist stream of words.

bill r. said...

Oh, you missed the change. I've moved on to another book, and have, in fact, read two since laying Gargoyles aside. I only have about 70 pages to go in the Bernhard book, and plan on chipping away at it, but I've made such plans in the past that haven't worked out. I hope this isn't one of those times, though. The book is like a cross between Kafka and Thomas Ligotti, which should be right up my alley. The problem is I overestimated my current ability to plow through such a thing.

Ed Howard said...

Oh yea, I saw you changed it right after I commented. Gargoyles is admittedly a rough slog, especially if you're not in the mood, and its final 100 pages or so are the toughest. But I think when I read it, I picked at the earlier sections over the course of a few days and then read the whole prince's monologue in one long marathon session: it was exhausting but well worth the effort. I can't imagine it would work quite as well broken up into smaller chunks, because so much of its effect depends on accumulation.

I'd like to do a currently reading on my site and had one for a while, but I always forgot to change the books. So for the record I'm currently reading David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster.

bill r. said...

Reading this monologue in pieces may be a bad idea. I'll probably try to do it in big slabs, rather than little pieces. We'll see.

I've been wanting to read that Wallace book, or Oblivion, soon. I made it through Brief Interviews with Hideous Men at a, for me, very fast clip last year, so maybe in some way I'm on his wavelength, and I don't find his stuff as difficult.

I don't know what I'm talking about. Forget I said anything.

Fox said...

Bill-

Excellent bringing up of Don't Look Now in comparison to Vinyan. It totally fits, especially in how both films build to a kind of "terror/horror" money shot near the end.

I think I owe Don't Look Now another viewing sometime soon. When I think about it, I just can't stop thinking about the 2 hour and 28 minute sex scene.

On JCVD...

Jason Bellamy (from The Cooler) and I got into this quite a bit awhile back, but, I found JCVD to be kind of whiny, especially in its monologue scene.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't impressed by Van Damme's performance, but the apologising, explaining, and justification for his career to the audience seems really silly to me. Meanwhile, it looks like he's about to start filmning Universal Soldier 3, so...

bill r. said...

Fox - And the daughter/not daughter in Don't Look Now and the son-or-is-it? in Vinyan are both wearing red. And Don't Look Now takes place in Venice, and in Vinyan they spend a lot of time in boats. I'll have to watch the "making of" on the Vinyan DVD to see if Du Welz says anything about it.

Don't Look Now is a great movie that people spend too much time talking about the wrong thing. The sex scene is too long, and the pleasure of watching Julie Christie in such a scene is partly undermined by watching Donald Sutherland in such a scene. But none of that matters, because the movie is incredibly haunting. Look at it again, it's worth it.

I didn't think JCVD was whiny, and I though Van Damme took the hit for his part in whatever mess he's made of his career (maybe less so regarding his personal life, but I don't know anything about that). Maybe I'm giving the film too much credit for the thing that really impressed me, which was Van Damme's performance, but that really did floor me. As for Universal Solider 3, yeah, he's making that, but A) he could be locked into contracts, or a career rut, that one good film won't pry him out of, and B) he's also working on a film he wrote and directed. Doesn't mean that film will be any good, God knows, but after JCVD I'm willing to give it a shot.

Fox said...

(maybe less so regarding his personal life, but I don't know anything about that)Yeah. I'm curious as to how accurate that court room scene is. Not in dramatic execution b/c obviously there is some humor there, but I wonder if he had those kinds of issues with his wife.

I would like to see JCVD again. I really liked the very beginning. I thought it kind of nailed the exasperated feeling he must feel (have felt) when cranking out the action films. That elaborate long shot is ruined and must be redone b/c of one minor error. I bet some of his fight scenes were just as particular and exhausting.

And I think you're right about Don't Look Now getting pinned down for that sex scene. When I watched it, I didn't know what it was, who Nic Roeg was, etc. I saw it b/c a friend said it was "supposed to be good". So yeah, I definitely owe it a modern day viewing. Still... I very much remember the scary grandma midget!!

bill r. said...

Fox - Yeah, the beginning of JCVD is great. When he was a young guy, a situation like that probably would have rolled off him, but at 47, you can really feel the exhaustion, frustration, and muscle pain he's experiencing.

I do know (I checked Wikipedia after watching the film) that he's had more than his share of failed marriages, and did lose custody of his son. I don't know the details of any of that, but obviously this was a personal film for him, and that's worth something in and of itself. It came from his heart and gut, and you don't get that from a talentless egomaniac like Steven Seagal. I just wonder how long Van Damme has had this kind of thing in him, or if it's just this project that brought it out.

The ending to Don't Look Now is one for the ages, but I wish people would quit giving the credit for the very idea of it to Roeg. It ws Du Maurier's. He just film it -- he did a great job, but the idea was NOT his.

Ed Howard said...

This is my second Wallace book, after A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. I haven't yet worked up the courage to tackle Infinite Jest, but I really enjoy his essayistic writing -- it's dense and full of often surprising ideas and insights, or else common ideas stated in such a way as to make me think about them anew. That and he's really funny.

bill r. said...

I liked Wallace's essay on Lynch very much, but it really bugged me that he believed anything even vaguely similar to Blue Velvet that was released after that film was a rip-off. Severed ear in Reservoir Dogs? Rip off! Also, with the preceding in mind, it seemed odd that he claimed some filmmaker (can't remember who) got the idea of directing their actors towards "Bressonian" performances from Lynch. Isn't more likely they got it from, you know, Bresson?

Ed Howard said...

Some of his specific examples about Lynch rip-offs were questionable (the severed ear being one, for sure) but I thought he actually made a good case in general for filmmakers like Tarantino and the Coens developing their sensibility out of a kind of "Lynchian" aesthetic. Not that they're necessarily ripping off specific things but that they're drawing on that special, unsettling vibe that Lynch achieved in his films, the tension between violence and comedy, normality and absurdism. I didn't buy a lot of his examples, but it did make me think about Tarantino as a mainstream acolyte of Lynch, which hadn't occurred to me and on its surface even seems counterintuitive, but actually I think makes a lot of sense.

bill r. said...

Eh...I don't know. I don't think these guys would have any problem citing Lynch as a strong influence if he had been. Tarantino has spoken favorably about Blue Velvet, but that's all I can remember. You must have read that interview with Glenn Kenny at "The House Next Door", since you're part of that group: remember that Kenny said that Wallace admitted that his knowledge of films and film history wasn't that strong? I think it shows in the Lynch essay. The knowledge of film is much stronger and deeper in the filmmakers he claimed rode Lynch's coattails than it was in Wallace.

And I love Lynch, by the way. I just think Wallace was really reaching at times.

Ed Howard said...

Yeah, I read the Kenny interview (which was fascinating) and I think it's true that Wallace doesn't have much depth on film history and things like that. Which doesn't necessarily invalidate his subjective, knee-jerk reactions, and maybe even helps him to see connections that critics more versed in film history wouldn't really see. Lynch isn't someone who Tarantino or the Coens frequently cite as a conscious influence, but that doesn't mean that his films haven't impacted them in more subtle or subconscious ways.

One of the things I like about Wallace is that he tends to approach things -- not just film, but the various subjects he did journalistic pieces on -- as an outsider, and to bring his outsider's observations to bear on whatever he's looking at. That means that, yeah, he's often wrong or overlooks things that insiders would know, but I think the freshness of his perspective is often valuable enough to overcome those deficiencies. I think his points about the Lynchian elements of Tarantino are particularly sharp. I could easily see a character like The Wolf, or a moment like the back-of-the-car shooting, appearing in a Lynch film, couldn't you?

bill r. said...

Lynch isn't someone who Tarantino or the Coens frequently cite as a conscious influence, but that doesn't mean that his films haven't impacted them in more subtle or subconscious ways....

Okay, but Wallace, as I remember, uses whatever similarities he can find to beat these other filmmakers. He doesn't say "And interestingly, Lynch's influence can be seen in filmmakers like..." and then explain what he's talking about. He uses the similarities to strengthen his idea that Lynch is the only American filmmaker around who matters.

And yes, I could see certain things from Tarantino films appearing in Lynch films, but they didn't: they happened in Tarantino films. That's an important distinction that Wallace doesn't acknowledge.

Ed Howard said...

Fair enough. For what's it worth, I do like both Tarantino and the Coens quite a bit, and will happily defend them from their often virulent haters. So to the extent that Wallace was just using Lynch as a club to beat down other filmmakers he didn't like, I'm not too sympathetic to that tendency. I just thought he made some good points about the prevalence of "Lynchian" situations and ways of treating characters in modern cinema, and he made me look at Tarantino, in particular, from an angle I hadn't considered before. Everyone talks so much about Tarantino's debt to old genre films that I hadn't really thought about quite how weird & surreal a lot of his set pieces could be.

bill r. said...

A lot of what Wallace had to say about Lynch -- specifically Lynch -- I found fascinating. And in fact, overall, I like the essay very much, and it was just the thing I needed, under the circumstances in which I read it. Those parts just stuck in my craw.

Tarantino's one reference to Lynch, by the way, (the only one I've come across, at least) was some list he provided to a movie magazine of his favorite insane moments in film, and one of his picks was the Dean Stockwell/Roy Orbison scene in Blue Velvet. He said, as you sat their watching it, you wondered if you were actually even seeing it. Something like that.

Bob Turnbull said...

Bill, I also just watched "Les Biches" recently and thought it excellent. I'm slowly working up to more Chabrol - I've seen three now and each gets better than the other. Before "Les Biches" I watched "An Unfaithful Wife" (also with the gloriously beautiful Audran) and it kind of snuck up on me. But this one built up in really fine linear fashion all the way through. I've got to get my hands on "Le Boucher".

And damn, Audran is gorgeous.

By the way, I've been remarkably slow in catching up on RSS feeds and old posts, so I never got around to thank you for quoting me in your "Blurbs" post awhile ago. However, I did find it strange that you chose that particular quote (the "I'm a sucker for [Bill R. and this blog]..." one) instead of this one: "If I could, I would gladly bear all of Bill R.'s children". You would have thought that the second one would've shown a greater sense of my devotion - unless of course you were trying to avoid that whole "creepy" factor...

bill r. said...

Bob, I've also seen three Chabrols -- the other two being Le Boucher (I got it through Netflix) and This Man Must Die -- and I've also enjoyed each one more than the last. That might just be a function of getting used to a new filmmaker, though. And Audran is indeed gorgeous, but personally I would lean towards Sassard. Although, given the movie, it's sort of the same choice, isn't it?

And as for your quote...er, you sent me that quote about wanting to have my babies in an e-mail, remember. And you included a counter, like Greg is currently using for TOERIFC or "Name That Movie", only yours was counting down the days "until I find you". I'll be honest, Bob: I have lost a few nights sleep since then. Maybe we're just not right for each other. I think you should move on. I'm no good for you. Etc.

Ryan Kelly said...

I have seen...

none of those movies. Le sigh. Though I gotta catch up on my Charbol for Flickhead's blog-a-thon.

Greg said...

Hi.

bill r. said...

Hello.

Greg said...

How 'bout this weather we're having?

bill r. said...

I know, right?

Greg said...

[whittles wood] Yup. It's something. Think I'll go get a slice of Mabel's Rhubarb pie from the general store.

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