Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Yet More Capsule Reviews

Enjoy them, will you?

The Final Destination (d. David R. Ellis) - Supposedly, this is the last installment of this unfortunately successful, and unfortunately occasionally entertaining series of horror films. But what sets it apart as the last one? It's the exact same film as the previous three! A group of people, mostly young and boring, survive a ridiculous disaster with the help of the psychic abilities bestowed upon one of their number. Death, not having any of that, then begins to elaborately pick them off one by one. THE END. Again, it's no different from the other films, except that it's quite a bit worse. There is one set-up in the beginning, and call-back at the end, that might have been spooky if the rest of the movie weren't so bone stupid. Also, the special effects are terrible.
First Name: Carmen (d. Jean-Luc Godard) - Apart from the pleasant surprise of Tom Waits's "Ruby's Arms" being used extensively and effectively in the film's last third, this wearyingly opaque story about a man and a woman who may be bank-robbers, or instead may be making a movie, and who are probably, this being Godard, Marxists, but who are in any case falling out of love, is a typically, this being Godard, frustrating wank. Maruschka Detmers is lovely, and frequently nude, though, and this is not something I take lightly.
A Film With Me In It (d. Ian Fitzgibbon) - Written by lead actor Mark Doherty (I say "lead actor" as opposed to "star" because Dylan Moran gives the more memorable performance), this film is about a struggling, and failing, actor who suddenly finds himself living in an apartment where people have fatal accidents, sometimes separated by mere minutes. What does one do in such a situation? The cops won't believe a word of the truth, so you begin to act as though you were actually guilty of murder. The film is not un-funny, but its intentionally absurd premise is stretched way too far (eventually, people die of things that wouldn't actually kill them), and the allegedly hilarious, cynical pay-off is incredibly ill-advised: boring, old-hat, ruinous.
Stalker (d. Andrei Tarkovsky) - A full review of this Russian masterpiece would defeat me, so this capsule format is a life-saver. At heart -- or maybe only at the edges -- Stalker is a sober, philosophical, science-fiction riff on The Wizard of Oz: in the future, after an unspecified global calamity (given that this was made in Russia in the late 70s, I think we can assume it was nuclear in nature), a mysterious new region has opened up called the Zone, and somewhere in there is a place that grants wishes. The especially desperate hire people known as "stalkers" who can take them to this place, avoiding the dangers, and traps, the Zone creates along the way. The film tells of one stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), known as "The Stalker", who leads two men -- The Writer and The Professor -- into the Zone, and towards wish-fulfillment. Or so they claim to want.
The Wizard of Oz-ness of Stalker comes not only from the wish-fulfillment quest in a fantasy-land (which is achieved entirely without any -- okay, maybe one -- special effects, and almost entirely through the psychology of, it would seem, you, the viewer) but from the "real world" scenes being shot not in black-and-white so much as in sepia-and-white. And Tarkovsky's eye for those images is utterly astonishing. Calling a film hypnotic is such a bland thing to say, but I don't know quite how else to describe my state of mind when watching one of those sepia images, this one silent, of the Stalker lying in a shallow creek bed, as a black dog runs through the water towards him. Stalker lives almost entirely on its images -- and some execellent acting -- but what Tarkovsky accomplishes simply by photographing the Soviet Union and calling it science fiction is pretty extraordinary.


Ed Howard said...

I'm shocked — SHOCKED! — that you didn't like Carmen. No, not really actually, knowing your general opinion of Godard. But I love it, and think it's one of his very best movies. I love the goofy humor of Godard's performance, and the sensuality of the images, and the abstraction of the narrative into a series of gestures that sometimes suggest love, sometimes antagonism. Godard always said, all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun, and I love the way he riffs on these simple genre premises. But, you know, you're not exactly in the minority in finding this stuff largely infuriating rather than fascinating as I do.

bill r. said...

I want to like it, Ed. I really do. I try my best, but it simply plays as empty pretense to me. I did like BAND OF OUTSIDERS, and bits and pieces of BREATHLESS (a film I actually have an urge to see again, which must mean something), but beyond that I feel like Godard's films work as parodies of French art films. When people who never watch foreign films make fun of foreign films, it seems to me that they're coincidentally describing Godard.

And I sort of think I am in the minority, at least among cinephiles, but maybe it's not such a small minority. Hell, I know Herzog has my back.

Greg said...

Bill, and Ed, I had a bit of a dispute over Godard with Ed and Ryan about a year ago (remember that Ed?). So, you're not completely alone. While I find things to admire in some of Godard's works, on the whole I find him lacking a coherant vision and (I may have said this in the Ed/Ryan discussion) he seems to think he's a good ten or twenty times more clever than he actually is.

bill r. said...

Greg - Was I around for that? It sounds vaguely familiar. In any case, I agree with everything you just said.

Greg said...

It was at Only the Cinema or Medfly Quarantine, I can't remember which now because the dialogue was with Ed and Ryan, I just can't remember whose write-up initiated it. I just know they were wrong. I mean, obviously, right? I'm sure they both agree with that assessment.

bill r. said...

To me, his films all just feel like exercises. Even BREATHLESS and BAND OF OUTSIDERS feel, at times, like crime films once removed. People claim that the Coen brothers make pastiches of old genre films, but that's really what Godard was doing, and I can't bring myself to care all that much. And those are the Godard films that should appeal to me the most! And BAND OF OUTSIDERS did, despite it all, but that may have just been because of Anna Karina.

Ed Howard said...

Yes, we've talked about Godard before, the one I remember was actually right here, wherein we also recall that Bill doesn't think Simone Simon is hot, and that I prefer Lady From Shanghai to Citizen Kane. So, uh, we all have our failings. (There was also a discussion at Ryan's place, now that I think of it.)

Bill, I get what you're saying about Godard's films feeling "once removed," but I think the genre parody/pastiche element is only one part of his work, and at that not as important as some of his admirers make it out to be. I generally think that what those who find him "pretentious" — and God(ard) I hate that word — are missing is his playfulness, his sense of humor, his eye for aesthetic beauty. He's very interested in formal concerns, in genre and narrative construction, but to me it's anything but dry because there's such wit and lightness in how he approaches it, more obvious maybe in the 60s films but rarely absent even in his later work, which has a, in my opinion unearned, reputation for being totally inaccessible.

Anyway, I doubt I'll win you over but I find a great deal of depth and substance in Godard's films, far beyond anything as simple as genre pastiche; there are few filmmakers as intellectually probing as him, about politics, sexuality and film form.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear that A FILM WITH ME IN IT falls apart. I'm always on the lookout for something with Dylan Moran after his BBC series BLACK BOOKS. He's also great in a small role as the doctor in TRISTRAM SHANDY. He just gives one great line reading after another.

I'm here to say it's possible to feel both ways about Godard. I love BAND OF OUTSIDERS, PIERRE LE FOU, A WOMAN IS A WOMAN, BREATHLESS, CONTEMPT, and ALPHAVILLE. Most of the rest of his catalogue makes me want to throw myself out the nearest window. He's the only director who ever put me to sleep in a theater- twice!! The cover of LA CHINOISE is a photo of Jean-Pierre Leaud holding up a little red book. This creates a deathmatch between the completist in me and the person who wants to learn when to stop. I've held firm so far, but the completist always wins. As Mr Beaks once wrote over at Chud: "It's the life of a cinephile- sooner or later you've got to watch JAMAICA INN."

Seconded, thirded, and fourthed on STALKER. It really does just defeat analysis on some level. You end up just telling people to see the damn thing.

bill r. said...

Ed - I don't expect you to agree with me, either. And mind you, I see the wit in BREATHLESS and BAND OF OUTSIDERS, but it doesn't make me laugh. Partly, if not largely, because I don't want it there, or at least not his brand of meta-humor (or most brands of meta-humor). Call me narrow-minded if you must, but I think genre films have plenty to recommend them without, in essence, having the words THIS IS A FILM emblazoned on the screen.

But yes, he has a great eye for aesthetic beauty, in that he sure cast lots of hot chicks in his movies.

I'm going to see PASSION next, by the way! Or maybe PIERROT LE FOU, since I actually own that one.

otherbill - The cover of LA CHINOISE is a photo of Jean-Pierre Leaud holding up a little red book. This creates a deathmatch between the completist in me and the person who wants to learn when to stop...

Ha! I don't have that with Godard, obviously, but I do feel it with many, many other filmmakers, and genres, so I know where you're coming from. I own more bad horror films than I care to admit, just because I know that some day, and some point, I'll be in the mood for it. A horror film espousing a Marxis point of view, though, would probably be my cut-off.

I may have been slightly too hard on A FILM WITH ME IN IT, but I really did hate the ending. If you're drawn to it because of Dylan Moran, however, I doubt you'll be too disappointed.

And is JAMAICA INN that bad? Hitchcock's other Du Maurier films are excellent!

Ed Howard said...

Another common misconception about Godard, incidentally, is that his political films simplemindedly and dogmatically espouse a particular ideology without criticism or commentary. La Chinoise is many things, but it's certainly not an uncritical presentation of Marxist ideology or a simple call for revolution or anything of the sort. There's no denying that Godard sympathizes with Marxist ideas, so if that's a sticking point for you, so be it, but that film, which is so often singled out as being all dogmatic sloganeering all the time, actually has much complex things to say about political ideology and action. I know Fox agrees with me on that one.

Anyway, I can't see that film (or Passion or Pierrot le fou) turning you around on Godard, Bill, especially if you have a general problem with meta content, which is an essential component of Godard's work no matter which phase of his career we're talking about. But I'm glad you're still checking out his work. Maybe Masculin feminin is a good choice for a Godard film with little relation to genre while remaining fairly accessible? It's one of my favorites from his 60s period, too.

bill r. said...

Ed, I've heard you defend LA CHINOISE on those grounds before, and I'm sure you're being accurate, but I was, also, kind of joking.

And please understand, accessibility, as such, isn't necessarily what I'm looking for. I just watched and loved STALKER, after all, which is more accessible than FIRST NAME: CARMEN on one level, but certainly not on others. It's Godard's particular brand of inaccessibility I have a problem with. When I watch HOUR OF THE WOLF, and I don't entirely get it, or the pieces haven't all fallen into place, I still want to understand, or pay attention. I know that what Bergman is trying to communicate is worth hearing, whether I find myself in sympathy with it or not. Either way, even the "not knowing" element in HOUR OF THE WOLF is fascinating on its own terms. When I don't fully get what Godard is going for, meanwhile, I have the sneaking suspicion that what I'm not getting isn't worth the trouble anyway. Besides, I didn't enjoy watching what I didn't get.

Which sounds like I don't understand any movies, but you know what I mean.

Greg said...

Ed, the Ryan link was it. Good sleuthing. Also, that Bardot link of mine still totally fucking rocks!

Anonymous said...

JAMAICA INN isn't horrible, but let me put it this way: I don't remember a single particular shot or sequence from that Hitchcock film. That's not a sentence I can form about anything else I've seen by ol' Alfred.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

I think referring to any late Godard film as "a story about..." automatically suggests a pretty deep lack of interest/sympathy in Godard's cinematic aims. Much like theater director Richard Foreman, he's bouncing ideas, images, quotations, and digressions off each other to see the sparks fly, and actively resists anything that could make the picture translatable to a theme. FIRST NAME: CARMEN has a lot of interesting ideas about desire, surveillance, play-acting, and nature, but the bank robbery story pretty much only exists so that Godard can have a laugh at that early shot of the security guard reading a magazine.

bill r. said...

I knew that "story" would get picked out by somebody. And it's not that you're entirely wrong, FB, but for one thing, it's just short-hand, and for another thing if Godard truly wanted his film to be nothing but digressions, images, and etc. bouncing off each other, he would have provided no connective tissue at all, of which there is enough to the very broad term "story" to apply, however loosely.

However, this:

automatically suggests a pretty deep lack of interest/sympathy in Godard's cinematic aims...

is probably true. I've seen enough Godard to have developed a genuine lack of interest. I almost didn't even include the film in this post, to be honest.

FIRST NAME: CARMEN has a lot of interesting ideas about desire, surveillance, play-acting, and nature...

But what are they? People keep saying things like that, but they don't say what they think those ideas are, exactly.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Y'know, that's a good question, and I'm not sure I have a good answer. I mostly regard Godard as a painter, rather than a storyteller---I find the images in his films powerful and resonant (including the one you screencapped), without being particularly inclined to translate them into words. It's like seeing a painting by Rembrandt---there's a story in, say, Night Watch, but (Peter Greenaway's new flick aside) I'm not all that interested in it, just like I'm not actually interested in who the Merchant In Black Fur is; it's just a pretext for the meaning (such as it is) carried by the imagery.

Granted, in Godard there's *also* a whole lot of aphorisms. But I tend to find those less significant than Godard thinks they are (albeit occasionally funny).

I will say, though, that you might like CONTEMPT and WEEK END much, much more---Godard's 80's films are the most abstract of his career, and definitely not a place to start (even many Godard fans find them unwatchable and incoherent), while those two actually do have plots and characters and themes.