Sunday, July 27, 2008



And this weekend's winner is...

"Head-On" *****

At my sister's recommendation I finally got around to seeing this German/Turkish epic love story (Yeah, it's a bit of a tough sell). It is the film equivalent of a knock-out punch delivered by a boxer whose fearlessness and clarity are peerless. The story is lucid and immediate, abrasive and real.

Like Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, however, its segments are punctuated by brief musical interludes by a group of Turkish musicians who frame the story and remind us that we are watching a film.

Danny would see this film and say something about it was like "eating a whole pizza" because it fills your mind's stomach rather than leaving you wanting like so much Hollywood filler. I would agree with his assessment, and I would highly recommend this explosive love story to you, dear film-goers.

This week's loser is...

Le Boucher (The Butcher) **

Le snooze.

A) While I like Michael Haneke's original Funny Games (I have not seen his shot-for-shot American remake) I was also put off by its gimmickry. The same is true of this film. Claude Chabrol, who wrote for the landmark French publication Cahiers du Cinema, directed this thing. He must have said to himself, "Hmm... Let's make a murder film where the woman falls in love with a man and finds out with the passage of time that he is a murderer. I will make the audience have tender feelings for a killer." Thanks, Claude, but no thanks. It's not that it's a bad idea. It's just that you're a little heavy-handed with it. It's a little obvious.

B) The film is an hour-and-a-half long. Forty-seven minutes into the film, something finally happened that made me say "Oh, that's kind of interesting." But like a sudden bout of bad gas after a Mexican meal, the storm of excitement blew over quickly and left only the stench of boredom in its wake.

C) The film looks bad. And while films can be heard, they are also made to be seen. So when a film looks bad in addition to being manipulative, boring, and slow, it's a bit hard to justify it also looking bad.

On the bright side, the parts that were interesting were interesting, and I can see how Chabrol's initial idea was innovative in its own right. I appreciate the attempt, but I want my 90 minutes back, Claude.

Margot at the Wedding ****

I may have underestimated Noah Baumbach. While Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic has a cult following of its own, it registered as only a mild earthquake on my film-reviewing Richter scale. While he only wrote the screenplay for Anderson, he directed The Squid and the Whale, which was solid enough, but also felt constipated to me. It felt pretentious even though the gravity of story came through loud and clear. I felt what the characters were feeling, but I also felt that the characters were largely unsympathetic cretins who were responsible for creating and perpetuating their own personal Hells. These were not characters I could love in spite of their faults -- I wanted to feed them to their faults.

Margot at the Wedding is an improvement in my book. The writing feels less pressured, less intentional, and more natural. The result is a film that is every bit as caustic as The Squid and the Whale, but less like a day with a clinically depressed family that has forgotten to take their Valium. It wisely steers clear of the dysfunctional-family dark-comedy indie-film and opts for something that feels more organic, more beautiful, but vicious at the same time. Mr. Baumbach, thanks for giving us something this good.

The Fisher King ****

Terry Gilliam must get headaches all the time with that huge imagination crammed in his 'noggin. I have yet to see Brazil, but it is on my Netflix queue now, all the more so because I have seen The Fisher King.

It is whimsical and heartrending and tender and imaginative like the best dreams and the worst nightmares, and it sort of feels like a mix of both. I hate summarizing plots in reviews, so I will simply say this: My girlfriend left her cellphone at my apartment Friday night before she went out for drinks with friends from work, and this was prime bachelor time for me. Because of this film I got in my car and drove her cellphone to her at the Eldridge Hotel bar because I knew she would be glad if I did so. It made me appreciate her more. Good films affect real life.

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