Sunday, March 23, 2008

sleepytime round-up...

Seriously, though, I've been meaning to update for a while now, but lately I've been crippled by a state of constant exhaustion. Not like disease-style, just super mega-sleepy all the time. I think it's mainly just those end-of-winter doldrums, coupled with being busy at work and your general, everyday chronic depression, but most of my freetime of late has been devoted to napping and complaining about how tired I am, and, sadly, stupidly, not writing.
Despite this, I've managed to watch a few films of note lately. Nothing majorly earth-shattering, but a few I liked and a few I didn't, all of which warrant some space here on "Negative Pleasure."

First up is "Weirdsville," the latest from Canadian filmmaker Allan Moyle. Y'know, I can't say I've ever thought of Moyle as a major, important filmmaker, but thinking about it, he's someone who's had a decent career of consistently interesting work. His "Times Square" is admittedly one of my all-time favorites, and despite its' flaws, "Pump Up the Volume" certainly captured the zeitgeist of its' time. "Empire Records" is goofy as hell but when viewed as camp it's reasonably brilliant. In general, Moyle repeatedly turns in highly entertaining, unquestionably intelligent work. "Weirdsville" is no exception, though certainly not a masterpiece, it was just the kind of smart but easy entertainment I needed to end to vicious cycle of rape-related films I had been unintentionally yet repeatedly subjecting myself to over the past couple of months.

In the distinctly Canadian "Weirdsville," a pair of loser junkies (Scott Speedman and Wes Bently) respond to the presumed overdose of a friend (Taryn Manning), by attempting to covertly bury her body in the basement of the building one of the guys was recently fired from working at. In doing so, they accidentally bump into the guy's former boss, who turns out to be the leader of a coven of geeky Satanists, in the middle of a blood ritual. Before 90 minutes are up, there's a resurrection, a heist, a bunch of middle-ages role-playing dwarves and Max Headroom himself, Matt Frewer, getting impaled through the top of the head with an icicle. Is it good? Not exactly. The best of Moyle's previous works (those mentioned above) have all had a specific moment in pop cultural, and perhaps more specifically musical, history and youth culture to play off. "Times Square" is a punk movie, "Pump Up the Volume" signaled the coming of the "alternative" wave of the early 1990s, while "Empire Records" found a certain mania in the same moment's death. "Weirdsville" ain't got none of that stuff. The junkie leads are likable and interesting enough to watch but they're basically pretty generic, 1970s throwbacks, which I suppose in some ways is a comment on the lack of cultural identity among today's youth something something, but I don't think it's specifically intentional. Anyway, the heads and tails of it, this flick is alright, nothing special, but far from a pain to watch. I guess I gotta say I liked it, just, y'know, not LIKED it liked it, wink wink nudge nudge. It was alright.

Next up is David Fincher's "Zodiac." I'm pretty hot and cold on Fincher. Y'know, his films are mostly alright, but they play better as spectacle than actual, meaningful cinemagoing experiences. Agitprop, I guess you could say, or really agitpop, although I don't think that's really a word. "Fight Club" is probably the best example of this. When it first came out on video, some friends and I certainly got up in the revolutionary spirit of the whole thing. Looking back, though, it's pretty embarrassing. I mean, the flick is ok and all, but far from revolutionary or anything that should really be taken seriously at all by anyone.

"Zodiac" made it on a number of 2007 top-10 lists, and I've spoken to or read from a handful of reliable cineastes who speak very highly of it. And certainly, it's a handsome piece, a slick, solid bit of assured, pleasantly understated filmmaker, with a number of truly excellent performances, particularly from Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox and John Carroll Lynch (in general, the movie has a pretty spectacular cast, which also includes John Getz, Candy Clark, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, Dermot Mulroney and Philip Baker Hall). But as much as it's understated it's also an overlong and overly self-impressed, self-important road to nowhere. Not too long into "Zodiac's" nearly three hour running time, I realized, "Oh, this movie wants to 'The Boston Strangler," "The Boston Strangler" being the Richard Fleischer film from 1968 that was perhaps the first film to deal with the story of a real-life serial killer in a distinctly realistic, documentary-influenced yet visually arresting way (and, much like "Zodiac," with a handful of major Hollywood stars- Tony Curtis, Henry Fonda, George Kennedy, playing reasonably unglamorous roles). This is sort of the main problem, basically, wanting to be something that you're not, you're never going to be it, because it's it and you're you. Am I being too simplistic on this one? Too harsh? Well, whatever, it's a decent enough watch if you've got a whole afternoon to kill, but I guess I just didn't like it as much as some other people did. Yawn.

"Disturbia," surprisingly enough, got some pretty decent reviews, but it's basically a teen-aged knock-off of "Rear Window," but not nearly as funny as the one they did on the Simpsons from nearly fifteen years ago. Basically completely and totally without any significance whatsoever, "Disturbia" might look good next most other teen-oriented horror or suspense films from recent years, although for my time-wasting dollar I much preferred the highly adequate remake of "When a Stranger Calls."

Admittedly, "Disturbia" is head over heels better than "Saw 3." Y'know, they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and there's a fair chance I might be crazy, because I hated "Saw," yet still saw "Saw 2," which I also hated, yet still spent nearly two hours of my valuable, valuable time watching "Saw 3," which as you might imagine, I totally hated. Each entry in this series is more pointless and incoherent than the last. This one manages to take one of the few even mildly interesting things about this generally pretty uninteresting series, the relationship between the killer/mastermind and his ex-victim-turned-protege (played by Shawnee Smith, who I had a huge crush on when I was like 12 from her roles in "Who's Harry Crumb?" and the remake of "The Blob," both of which I still enjoy, admittedly), and basically fuck it up. I've got an admittedly masochistic streak cinema-wise, but if you don't avoid the fuck outta this one. Seriously. It's long, too. Not "Zodiac" long, but long for a movie like this.

Back in the world of "real movies," there's the totally endearing documentary "Billy the Kid." This had to be one of the most poorly released theatrical films in the history of cinema. Not that long ago, these cryptic posters for the movie were plastered all over downtown Manhattan, simply showing the image of the film's protagonist. Information on the actual subject matter of the movie was oddly sparse and hard to come by. Something about it looked like it might be kind of interesting, but I really couldn't get any info, so I skipped it. Maybe it's just my laziness in terms of doing any kind of research, but something felt like it was missing, marketing-wise. And, I mean, I had marketing, and I don't like reading reviews of films before I see them, certainly not new movies, I don't like knowing much before I check something out, but maybe just a little something, some minor hype, some baby buzz, something to pique my interest...

Anyway, it turns out this is a doc about a preteen near-genius with some serious behavioral issues living way out in the boondocks of suburban, near-rural Maine. And, really, in a nutshell, that's the film, no major conflict, no hardcore drama, just a slice of this kid's life, focusing on his first, woefully brief romantic relationship. Billy, the kid, is certainly awkward, and the victim of a lot of unfocused energies, but he's basically a really likable, endearing and indentifiable subject. The scenes of Billy and his paramour are priceless and painfully familiar (you couldn't pay me to be 13 or 14 again) and ultimately kind of wonderful (some kind of wonderful, such as it were). I dunno, "Billy the Kid" is pretty heartwarming, but in a very real way, not so much about triumph or defeat, or overcoming obstacles or whatever, but just really carrying on despite whatever, the day-to-day of it, living and learning etc. I guess I kind of loved this flick.

Similarly, but also very differently, I found alot to love in the aptly titled "Marvelous," a 2006 pic by writer-director Siofra Campbell, concerning a woman (Martha Plimpton- why isn't she in more stuff?) who discovers she has the power to heal, first machines, then people, which leads her to fame, along with her sister (Amy Ryan) and brother-in-law (Ewen Bremmer), as well as sort-of boyfriend (Michael Shannon of "Bug"). Along the way, this group of bickering misfits is taken in by a rich patron, and become religious figures of a sort, with the sister claiming she can communicate with the dead. Eventually, it all starts to get too cultish for everyone, and they start to implode. Perhaps it's the Long Island milieu, but the low-key, less-is-more aesthetic of this one reminded me to some degree of the early films of Hal Hartley, and not in a bad way at all. It's less stylized, the dialogue, but the economy of the thing, it's narrative simplicity, the way it plays a fairly expansive story off of minimal settings and set-ups...for more than 20 years now, there's plenty of talk of indie films and the indie spirit, far too often applied to movies that a far from independent in their production or intent, but this is really the real deal, not an underground film or anything too provocative, but a smart, creatively ambitious movie with some good ideas behind it and something to say (about celebrity, religion, faith, belief) pulled off modestly on a reasonable budget. Yeah, man, check it out.

Finally, I wanted to write about the Indonesian horror film "Mystics in Bali," which I finally got around to watching after having the disc from Netflix since, fuckin' hell, like December, but I think it's getting to be about that time for bedtime, or at least a little relaxing comic book perusing (I've been catching up on the 80s "Suicide Squad" series by John Ostrander, which keeps getting better and better, I'm nearly 3/4 of the way through the whole series, it's really boss), so I'll inflict the mad mad mania of "Mystics in Bali" on you next time.

Until then...

1 comment:

Nathan said...

good call comparing Zodiac to Boston Strangler. I watched BS this weekend and it's terrific. I'm not 100% sure why, but I get the feeling that Zodiac wishes it was more, like, mystical than it is, while BS benefits from being pretty brass tacks, and its few flourishes work really well.