Saturday, April 02, 2011

a few brief movie notes... of course, that Day the Clown Cried thing was a really, really well-thought out April Fool's Day joke, which they tip at the end of the podcast. Well-done, guys! (Now what's with all these alleged torrents of the film that pop up when you search for it?). Anyhow, I watched three films - or two and a half - on Friday, waiting for Black Wizard to start.

The Adjustment Bureau was the film I had the least hope for on setting out - since big-budget PK Dick adaptations are often rather annoyingly and inappropriately action-packed (Minority Report, Paycheck) - and so it left me pleasantly surprised, telling a recognizably phildickian tale of an ambitious young politician who runs into a sort of angelic bureaucracy responsible for making sure human life goes according "to plan," who are as determined to keep him from the woman of his dreams as he is to resist their input. The film captures Dick's romantic side in a way few adaptations of his work have, and does a fairly nice job of illustrating concepts of determinism versus free will; while there's a bit too much running around towards the end (and the film as a whole is nothing particularly exciting to look at, with a rather mundane visual sensibility), it's a likable, solid commercial film, with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt doing fine jobs with their characters (tho' I thought Terence Stamp, who plays an angelic higher-up, seemed a little unconvinced by the whole affair; who could blame him?). A solid B+ of a movie, not the worst way one could spend a couple of hours in the cinema.

Hobo with a Shotgun, on the other hand - which I somehow had high hopes for! - is a depressingly demeaning experience - a garish, insincere movie that has more to do with an irony-heavy misapprehension of the appeal of exploitation cinema of yore than with its purported themes (poverty, class rage, etc; at least that's what I'd hoped the film would be taking on, rather than its bottom-drawer resort to generic vigilantism; it does take a bite out of Bumfights, but without doing much to convincingly elevate itself above that level, save for abusing ersatz bums, not real ones). It has unrealistic, unlikable, cartoonish characters, cliched "bad punks" who torture people at random, Godawfully broad writing and acting, and excessive, silly, somewhat depressing violence; not even seeing George Strombolopolous - how the hell is that name spelled? - killed with an ice-skate can motivate me to want to claim it as being somehow "Canadian." I found it - and the tittering of the people behind me - ugly enough that I walked out after forty minutes; it's the worst of the Grindhouse fallout thus far. Rutger Hauer keeps his dignity, but that's about it...

Finally, Essential Killing, the new film by Jerzy Skolimowski, has mixed rewards. It begins very strongly, with Skolimowski using the mechanisms of cinema to make the audience identify utterly with a jihadi, Mohammed (played by Vincent Gallo) as he strikes out at invaders in, we assume, Afghanistan, where he is himself taken down, bagged and shackled and stuffed into an orange jumpsuit, and taken to a cell where he is tortured and frightened by violent, unsympathetic, and coarse Americans. Finally, he is rendered off... to a snowy country where there are moose wandering about, and people appear to be speaking Polish? What? Up to that point, the film is entirely credible, bold, and compelling, perhaps taking a moral stance that has more to do with western liberal guilt than the actual realities of the mujahadeen - but doing it with conviction, bravery, and immense skill; were he an American, this sort of film would have had him dubbed a traitor just a few short years ago. However, the decision to set Gallo's escape in a snowy eastern European country (rather than, say, a remote military base off Cuba or other such recognizable locations) seems to have more to do with the realities of budget and the convenience of working in the director's home country than it does with any historical realities or meanings the film wants to get at. Even if one is willing to shrug and roll with it - and I was - from then on, the film's hold on your mind and attention slowly dwindles down to a rather disappointing ending, well out of porpotion with the powerful start. Gallo never speaks, perhaps because he couldn't pull off a credible accent or a Middle Eastern language; that would be fine, if he were at least shown praying or calling on Allah now and then - which is something I would guess a devout Muslim in his position would do! Mostly he just suffers, and hallucinates a bit, as he tries to survive while starving and freezing in the woods. When, after about forty minutes of his ordeal, he runs into a farmhouse where he encounters a lone widow, played by frequent Polanski actress Emmanuelle Seigner, her muteness also seems a contrivance, designed to avoid a messy tangle of accents, and her kindness to Gallo doesn't seem particularly motivated, meaningful, or moving - a symbolic salving of wounds that doesn't really satisfy, dramatically (or help him much). Having a "sister of mercy" appear might, I suppose, be said to reflect Skolimowski's sincere sorrow for the sufferings of the Muslim world since 9/11, but by that point, Gallo (being white, and doing nothing much with his performance besides wearing a beard to really identify himself as a Muslim) has been transformed into a sort of persecuted everyman, as non-specific culturally or politically as the two escapees in Figures in a Landscape... replacing something politically charged and focused with something far vaguer. The film does have a poignancy throughout, and many compelling images, and it's a welcome return to cinema for Skolimowski, a very interesting, under-appreciated filmmaker; but it ended up being a lot less than I'd hoped, sorry to say.

That's about it for now...

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