Well, in the spirit of SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival, which I didn't attend for one film, one second, due to broklessness, this year), this weekend I held and singly populated (as I put it to my coworkers today) MIFF (Matthew International Film Festival). I went to see a whopping five films. I had a good time with them, all, more or less. In the order I saw them:
*Swimming Pool. First Ozon I've seen, I believe. Not a great film, but it is at least 3/4s of a good film. I say this because I literally don't know how I feel about the final quarter of the film, when the story starts taking some sharp turns. I really don't know what I think, yet -- do these developments enrich the film by bringing to new levels, or do they betray the accomplishments of the first three quarters without adding enough of of their own stuffs to the mix? Like I said, I literally don't know what I think yet. I might need to see it again to sort it out. However, that 75% of the flick is quite engrossing, highlighted above all else by Charlotte Rampling's superb work. It's really satisfying and hilarious to see Rampling, who has, let's face it, more or less moved into Deneuve-like state of Cinematic Grace and Agelessness, play such a stick-up-the-butt getting hers.
Not to take away from her unpronouncably-named co-star, who was also rather smashing, and rather elemental, as well. Like two polar-opposite forces.. or eras... of nature smashing against each other. Charles Dance, too, is never a detriment to a film, and the French actors who played Frank, Marcel and Marcel's daughter were noteworthy, too. I like Ozon's cool but, to my mind, not bloodless style. He's French, but he's not too French.
*Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Lots of junky fun. Not as much as with the first flick, no. And that giddy and even oddly transcendent energy that characterized the action in the first film is gone -- but some of the action is still exciting. The ladies -- and their F/X -- pull it off. The warehouse battle with Justin Theroux's gang was messy but exciting. The first showdown with Madison, at the observatory was also good. The ante- (not anti-) climax on the rooftop was a real mixed bag. The action wasn't that fun and poorly balanced between the various Angels and opponents; Dylan "won" against her ex by default, which wasn't very satisfying -- she shoulda beat his ass in; and while the Thin Man's action was WAAAY too short, it was good -- particularly because of how Dylan took to him (Barrymore's final act of surrender to his "charms" was unexpected and hilarious, the best joke in the film); the actual climax between The Angels and Madison is too short but good. And scenes that stressed action but not fighting, like the opening rescue segment and the motorbike battle, while again messy and technically ragged, are nonetheless fun to watch.
The picture isn't neither as "sloppy 70s retro heaven" nor as funny as the first, but it still scores points on both fronts. Many of the jokes fall flat or are simply lost in the shuffle (could someone have turned up Ja'net DuBois' mike, please?). But the stars are clearly having a ball, Bernie Mac is a five thousand percent improvement of Bill Murray (even when his material isn't all that funny, HE is funny), and even Matt LeBlanc has some funny moments. Truly living up to the spirit of the series, the movie carelessly and breathlessly moves form one wild and stupid vignette to the next, new costume/disguise/hairstyle in tow. The sequence in which Alex "luges" down the road to spy on Robert Patrick is s pretty direct homage to Farrah Fawcett-Major's famous "skateboard away from the badguy" scene from the series. It was all lots of fun.
And, in a movie which can hardly claim big-ass character development, based on a television series that can hardly claim big-ass character development, some of the characters were rather superficially striking and/or charming. I actually liked the character work in this film. I don't know that Justin Theroux exactly gives a really good *performance* -- but, man, this is one of those cases where a filmmaker, a project just knows how to USE an actor and a character. Theroux, with little-to-no script to help him is truly monstrous, the ultimate boyfriend from Hell come back to haunt you. The intensity of his mugging, his physical presence... And -- Jesus Christ! -- where the fuck did the nerdy director of Mullholand Drive get that goddamn body??? Theroux's body was AMAZING, all taut and knobby and tight and tense and scary as shit -- and I wanted to fuck the living Hell out of him. DAMN.
(Lots of other beautiful men in the film, too, by the way... Robert Patrick hasn't looked this good in years, and Rodrigo Santoro -- YOW!)
Barrymore played very nicely off of Theroux's energy, or, more often, just off his presence in the storyline. Her misguided attempt to save her friends by leaving was as effective as the horror on her face when she was crawling away from the evil ex as he walked scarily, goofily, excitingly, thru that fire Alex started. A high popcorn movie moment.
There were lots of extras in this film for fans of the show, and they, too, had to do with how the characters were handled. Nominally, the show was "about fighting crime, solving cases." The joke was that show was really about "hair." The success of the show says it was about "TnA." But, the real fan of the show knows that what Charlie's Angels was about was friendship. Lightweight as the whole damn thing was, you KNEW these gals were friends, family. Which is a big part of why the last two seasons were the weakest -- that familial, intimate feeling wasn't there between all three Angels... just between Kelly, Kris, Bosley and Charlie.
And friendship is what this film is also about, in its lightheaded way. We're not talkin' Chekov here, but there is a "drama" happening here, centering around Dylan and her insecurities of loosing her family. Afraid of her ex killing them, afraid Natalie's gonna marry Joe and leave. Wispy as morning mist, but not ineffective. Like the show.
More than ever, I realized with this second film that the motion picture franchise IS capturing the spirit of the original series, because, really -- the names, the actresses, even the RACES aren't the same... but the characters are... they're just over the top, blockbuster movie versions of the original three Angels. Natalie is the perky, ditzy blonde who's also athletic and something of a country girl. That's Jill Munroe, except that Jill was never THIS ditzy, as the films reach for comedic effect more strenuously than the show ever did. Alex is clearly The Smart One. She even has black hair. She's Sabrina Duncan. And Dylan is the one with the iffy past, the girl sorta from the wrong side of the tracks (and may I say that when Barrymore screamed her devotion to Theroux in that flashback I laughed my ASS off?). This matches up with the sketchy history the series gave Kelly Garrett.
So, of course, it's particularly fitting -- and for this fan, even touching -- that Jaclyn Smith's cameo took the form it did. Which, by the way, totally took me by surprise. It was neither what I expected (a comedy bit) nor what I had been wanting (a key piece of the action, perhaps saving the Angels from Madison in an early encounter?) -- and it was something entirely better than either. Corny, syrupy, and a pretty sincere valentine to old fans like me... I got *vahklempt!* (Talk amongst yourselves a moment... I'll give you a topic... The Moral Majority is neither Moral nor a Majority -- it's Shitting It's Pants over the Recent Canadian Queer Marriage and Texas Sodomy Decisions. Discuss.)
And all this friendship stuff, what it means to be an Angel, tied in, of course, with the whole Madison deal. Once again, lightweight as Hell, but it works. One big reason why is because Moore is pretty damn good as Fallen Angel Madison Lee. The script only hints pitifully at what turned her bad, or what made her always bad to begin with, but Moore channels the characters obvious disatisfaction and bitterness quite nicely into rage and vengence and probable madness. And Moore looks rugged, ragged, old and absolutely wonderful.
Um, I've gone on about this one a bit, haven't I? Well, everyone else's had their say, so it was my turn!
And I like how, in all probability, I'll end up having said more about this junky little thing than about the other Festival entries combined!
Well, then -- great filmmaking? No, of course not. Good filmmaking? Um, probably not even that. But junky summer fun, even for the non-series-fan? Yeah. And with gooey, wonderful extras for that fan of the series? Oh, yeah.
*Cremaster 3 -- What the fuck do I say about a movie like this? Well, I don't have quite the critical or analytical acuity necessary to really say much about what the film might've actually been trying to do and how well it achieved its goals, whatever they might've been. I'm not that much of a "critic" or a "thinker" or an "artistic type." I can see motifs and imagery and stuff throughout this 3-hour-plus epic -- even if I hadn't read up some on it before attending the screening. Some stuff just pretty obviously comes into play here: creation, destruction, re-creation, reproduction, gender, anatomy, the distortion or recreating thereof, art, music, dance. And, as the title would indicate, Rising and Lowering. Most of everything happening at the Chrysler building is about going up and/or down (the indoor demolition derby being the most striking exception, arguably).
But WHAT THE HELL is Barney "saying" about all these images, themes? Is there something... whole... really being communicated here? Does it add up to anything? Intellectually? Emotionally? Deep-rooted symbolicallylilly?
Fuck if I know. I'm just a little Polock fag sitting in the audience, taking it all in.
And, ya know, I actually really enjoyed doing that. Thinking some about the things I was seeing, but also just enjoying taking them in, the fairly hypnotic and even loving way Barney brought them all to the screen. Beautifully made, beautiful looking film. And I enjoyed the story -- because, of course, this supposedly "non-narrative, imagery-driven" film DOES have a story (actually, two -- the Scotland one and the longer Chrysler Building one)... it's just that it's a story no one else would want to film, no one else would film this way -- and it's a story that most other directors would relate in maybe thirty minutes, whereas Barney takes the better part of three hours to do so. I just liked watching it all so slowly unfold. It was so weird-ass and lovelilililily paced.
The music, by the way, was really gripping. I liked it a lot. And Matthew Barney himself, it must be said, is a forking HUNK. Not that the make-up/effects to which Cremaster 3 sujected him always show him to his most studly advantage. Even when he's looking "normal," he's still got that god-awful (but entirely milieu-appropriate) moustache. But, I still say that Bjork is a lucky lady.
This was the first of the Cremaster Cycle I've seen, and I'm actually that the others aren't going to be anywhere near as long as Cremaster 3. They're going to be shown in pairs at the same theatre, here, in the weeks to come, and neither of these double-bills even come close to the length of 3. I'm afraid that's going to disappoint me, that I'll miss just getting to really commit myself to, sink myself into, the world Barney creates for a good long time.
*28 Days Later. Damn this film was ever so well-acted. I was frankly hoping for something somehow.. more. I wanted Boyle to take the genre, the particular sub-genre further, to some new and somehow terrific place. That didn't happen, but what did happen was a really good, intelligent, interesting, tense and scary sci-fi horror... with some really good drama woven seemlessly into its fabric. The movie isn't afraid to tug the heartstrings -- I guess because it knows how far it can go before it either betrays the conventions of the genre or insults the viewer. The characters are vivid and varied -- their different reactions to the plague make them a remarkable group thru which to experience this story.
It's heartbreaking and kind sickening to see how one father figure is replaced with such a different (and lacking) one when Gleeson dies and (the magnificent) Eccleston shows up. The true horror is shortly thereafter revealed to be, of course, nt The Infected, but those who fear it and fight it; Eccleston says as much, and he certainly lives up to his words in his increasingly horrifying actions. All queasily set against his genuine, tho tragically, maddeningly monomaniacal love for the men under his command AND the rather tender and slightly homoerotic way in which he takes Jim under his wing... up to a point, that is.
The inhumanity that is revealed in the attempt to preserve inhumanity, which the CO betrays in both word and deed, is the same struggle that has been happening within Selena all throughout the film by that poin, manifest in a wholly pathetic and evil manner.
Oh, and The Infected are some pretty damn scary shit. Boyle takes the kind of frantic editing and photography aesthetic of the MTV generation and really makes it add up to something here. It works for the material, beautifully. He also reveals a deft hand in the the way he stages the "deserted city" scenes near the beginning. The balance of ideas, thrills and scares, and... well, heart is pretty much perfect.
And did I say that -- GODDAMN, the performances in this film are really, really good??? Cillian Murphy is a real find... angelic-looking (man, he's physically beautiful, both clothed and full-on nude) and offering a performance that believably modulates all the way from A to Z. He's got to go from one extreme to the other in this role, and he really pulls it off. And Naomie Harris, in an more difficult role, is even better. She's got to make Selena's transformation from "survival is the best you get" to open-heartedness believable... ie, she's got to keep it from getting corny. She does it. Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns play off of each other -- and Murphy and Harris -- extremely well, succinctly and humorously distinguishing their reactions to the plague not only from each other's but also from the other characters'.
And Eccleston continues to amaze. He can turn and twist that horsey, breathtaking beauty of his into cruelty, madness, tenderness, vulnerability, the outsider's isolation... anything and everything. And he incorporates an awful lot of that into his complex and dangerous CO. I don't think I could ever tire of watching this actor work.
*Tomorrow. Once again, I report on this thread that the best film I've recently seen is an American film made in the sevenites. This is a stark, stripped to the dramatic bone tale that Horton Foote adapted from his play, which in turn was taken from a William Faulkner short story. It's so simple and so pure... it's the bare guts of life and drama. Methodically paced and straightforward, plain in presentation (in incredible black and white cinematography, it achieves a staggering epic, I want to say iconic, quality... it's like a modern day Greek tragedy. It's... elemental. It's also fucking beautiful.
Robert Duvall is the stolid Jackson Fenster, who takes a caretaker job at an isolated lumber mill that's closed for the winter, and who shortly thereafter finds himself taking in and caring for Sarah Eubanks, an rootless pregnant woman. What comes out of their meeting is a simple and powerful story, as Jackson's life takes turns he could've never forseen, ending in a bit of... well, I can't say. You have to see how it plays out for him. The machinations of the plot matter less than what they end up meaning to Jackson. Let me just say that.
Simply put, Duvall never gave a better performance than the one he gave in Tomorrow -- and few other actors have either, for that matter. It's incredible how much meaning Duvall can pack into such muted, minimal expression. Jesus Christ. (You'll also see, if you watch Tomorrow, where Billy Bob Thornton's Slingblade characterization finds its spiritual, if not acutal, origin.) Olga Bellin, who sadly did little screen work -- or even stage work -- that I can uncover before dying of cancer in the late eighties, has the extremely difficult role of the grateful, hapless, somewhat mysterious (and in relation to Duvall, completely Chatty Cathy) woman who connects with the taciturn Jackson. Out of a cast of few other roles of any consequence, there's also Sudie Bond, perfectly cast as Mrs. Hulie. And you simply don't say no to Sudie Bond.
As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the best works American cinema has produced. Most definitely the most incredibly overlooked films of the seventies -- a time when art could and did actually flourish in Hollywood, amidst the commercial product. It's just a beautiful, pure and perfect film. I hadn't seen it in years, and I'd never seen in the theatre. Incredible opportunity, having it play at a revival/foreign/independent-type theatre here. I'm going to have to see it again before its week-long run is over, because who knows when, or if, it's going to appear on the big screen anywhere near me?