Saturday, January 24, 2009

2008 part 10...

Thank you, those of you still reading, for bearing with yesterday's self-indulgent blog entry (I guess "self-indulgent blog entry" is kind of redundant). So, here it is, 100 films from 2008. I'm not really done yet, but I think I need to start being less monomaniacal about this endeavor and start watching other stuff, and writing about other stuff, or something. Whatever, I'm feeling kind of braindead today, so, y'know, something. Words.

1. Igor- I probably should have liked this more, like, it's about monsters and stuff, and maybe I would have liked it more, had it been a better movie, but instead it's an intermittently entertaining but ultimately unremarkable knock-off of "Nightmare Before Christmas," or at least than general aesthetic, though thankfully without the horrible musical numbers (yes, I thought the musical numbers in "Nightmare Before Christmas" were horrible. I'm opinionated.). Seems kinda gory for kids, but then again when I was a kid I watched "Dune," "Gremlins" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," so maybe not, and you're probably not reading this to figure out what's appropriate to show to kids anyway. What was I talking about?

2. Blindness- It's weird, like, THE HAPPENING came out this year and borrowed plot elements from "Day of the Triffids," and "Blindness" comes out, and its' central plot element is the same as another great 1960's UK horror film, Terence Fisher's "the Earth Dies Screaming" (everybody going blind, except for one or two people). Both are kind of annoying too in that they just sort of have something catastrophic happen, and then it just stops. At one point, making a science-fiction movie where something totally unexplained, and never explained, happens might have been somewhat challenging and innovative, but here it seems more like lazy screenwriting, or perhaps not lazy but intentionally obtuse, yet obtuse without any purpose. Like, "Blindness" is arty, but it's really not an art film. Which isn't to say it's as bad as THE HAPPENING. Few films are. Actually, "Blindness" (by "City of God" filmmaker Fernando Meirelles) is alright, except where it isn't. Like, I couldn't help but feeling this was a film that was about something, but I'm not entirely sure what it was about. Mob mentality? The unpreparedness of the Canadian government (it seems to have been shot in Canada, Don McKellar [who wrote the script, from Jose Saramngo's novel] and Murray Chaykin are in it [if you don't know who those people are, watch any Canadian movie made in the past 20 years, and one of them is sure to be in it]) to deal with a major catastrophe? Is it about Katrina, is that what it's about? I can't help but feel it's a scathing indictment of something...humanity itself? Late capitalism? That time everyone went blind except Julianne Moore and they all acted like jerks? I dunno. At least it feels like it's about something. That's more than I can say for a lot of movies that got a lot more hype and accolades this year. And really, heavy handedness and bad ending aside, "Blindness" is a pretty well-made picture. Most of the film takes place is a delapitated detention/quarantine facility, where the victims of the blindness epidimic are left on their own, shut off from the outside world, and as things get more dire, "Blindness" gets genuinely pretty harrowing, so I guess things kind of average out, y'know, it's pretty prententious but I don't know that it actually has a point to it, yet it's an engaging film to watch, so dig on that, or don't.

3. Standard Operating Procedure- Y'know, it's an Errol Morris documentary, so it's good. Disturbing, thoughtful, probing, well-made, it's an Errol Morris documentary. This one's about Abu Ghraib. You should watch it. It's an Errol Morris documentary...Seriously though, one of the strongest qualities of Errol Morris' films, really what he's famous for, is his ability to capture interviewees at their most candid, and here we get the story from the actual particpants, from the abusers, it's bizarre in a way, to hear these people talking about torture, I mean, they were soliders, but they're just regular people, but they're, y'know, monsters, they tortured people. So, yeah, it's a typically stimulating, thought-provoking film from Morris, and one that surprisingly flew under the radar, despite the success of his "Fog of War" a few years back and despite getting mostly favorable reviews, it seems like this was really very minimally released and promoted. Are people not really ready to face this yet? I mean, they're not, the whole issue of torture, or else Bush and Cheney would be in, like, prison now, but they'll probably walk away from all of this pretty much unscathed, which is more than can be said for the people who were, like, y'know, tortured, or, as we might have suspected and this film reveals, the torturers themselves. Deep, right?

4. Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer- I sort of wanted to care about this film, obstensively a horror-comedy, but it doesn't really seem to care about itself. I mean, there's something there, something ok, but there's so much lacking, like, I know I use the word listless a lot to describe a certain kind of film, but "Jack Brooks- Monster Slayer" is listless. It's going through the motions, like, I think the movie is depressed, because there's some core of humanity to it, but it's not really funny or exciting, or well-written, or well-acted, except for Robert Englund, who's kind of wonderful as a nutty professor type, and who seems to understand what kind of movie this is supposed to be, so he camps it up a bit, but everything else is just totally blah, but I was sympathetic, like I wanted to cheer the movie up. Englund, by the way, was really busy last year. He did this, RED (which was great) and ZOMBIE STRIPPERS (which wasn't), plus a voice on the "Spider-Man" cartoon series, and he directed KILLER PAD, which really should have been better, given how much I liked his other film as director, "976-Evil." Good actor, though.

5. Hell Ride- I've heard this film described as a tribute to the biker films of the 1960's and 70's, but really it's a tribute to a Quentin Tarantino tribute to the biker films of the 60's and 70's. Aside from the presence of motorcycles and people riding them, leather jackets, violence and tits, it really in no way resembles an old biker flick, but it looks, sounds and feels exactly like a Tarantino (who was executive producer) film, or maybe more accurately a Robert Rodriguez film. That's not a compliment. Writer-director-star Larry Bishop might know better, he was in ANGEL UNCHAINED and CHROME AND HOT LEATHER (with Marvin Gaye), but, no...If it felt like too many films in 2008 overrused the once provocative open ending as a way out of scripts that had no real point, and thus no conclusion, then likewise this is the film that killed, for me, stylized, repetitive dialogue, because the characters just say the same things over and over and over again, like David Mamet, or Hal Hartley, only retarded. And it's supposed to be clever, or funny, or something, but it gets to self-parody, and then tedium, pretty quickly. And Dennis Hopper is in this. Yeah, I know it makes sense, he made EASY RIDER, obviously, though despite being a motorcycle movie, that wasn't really a biker flick, about a biker gang, but I get it, he's a motorcycle dude, and he was in THE GLORY STOMPERS, but he's just gone so far off the reservation, somebody needs to hit him in the head with a hammer. Assuming that as a 1960's-70's counterculture figure, Hopper was once a liberal, it's not so much an issue that he's conservative now, that happens, and being conservative or Republican does not automatically make someone a right-wing creep, some people are, like, fiscal conervatives, which isn't great, but it's better than like Bill O'Reilly right wing fucking assholes. Dennis Hopper, though, is right-wing and creepy enough to appear in a hateful conservative propaganda film like AN AMERICAN CAROL, so fuck 'im, he's a piece of shit, he's totally worthless. And fuck this movie, it's totally stupid, even if David Carradine is in it.

6. Slumdog Millionaire- I have a pretty allergic reaction to hype, which I guess makes a snob or whatever, but the more adulation gets heaped on something, the more skeptical about it and the more critical of it I am. People, as a collective, tend to get caught up in things, so that something just okay can get overpraised as something totally earth shattering (THE DARK KNIGHT, and particularly Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT, anyone?), and it bugs me. I'm a grouch, a borderline crank. When I get old, I hope to maybe be a coot. I'm cranky and hypercritical, I like finding my own opinion. That said, despite the hype, Danny Boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is really, really good. It's maybe not the greatest movie ever made ever, but it's hard to think of an audience movie this wouldn't be appealing to. It's just, like, good, I dunno, it's good.

7. Frost/Nixon- Likewise, FROST/NIXON is pretty good. Not great, not outstanding, not stupendous, but it's pretty good. I have to confess, I hadn't seen a Ron Howard directed movie since PARENTHOOD (2o years ago!) when I watched this, I've always just assumed, once he stopped making comedies, that he wasn't a director that I really liked, and I'm not really rushing to go and explore his back catalogue now, but I like what he did here. Maybe I was softened by Howard's endearing Obama commercial (with him as Opie and Ritchie Cunningham, plus Andy Griffith and Henry Winkler as the Fonz), maybe it's because Nixon, despite his obvious flaws and, y'know, crimes (actually because of them), is pretty endlessly fascinating, a deep, complicated figure of recent American history...Obviously, there are some parallels to be found here between Nixon's crimes and Bush's, I mean, that's the whole point of this film, I think, giving a former president (it feels so good to call Bush a "former president") the trial they deserved but never recieved, in the court of public opinion, or whatever, and the need of the people for them to admit wrongdoing, the abuse of power. So, yeah, this is certainly an interesting and worthwhile production, and, hey, Pat Nixon is played by Patty McCormack, THE BAD SEED, so points to Howard for casting. I mean, Frank Langella, great as Nixon here, was once best known for playing Dracula (he also played Skeletor in the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE movie), I don't know if the connection, from Dracula (to Skeletor) to Nixon, is intentional, but, well, stuff...

8. CITY OF EMBER- I think this is probably a really good movie for preteen girls. Tweens. I don't know any preteen girls so I can't ask them what they thought of it. It was okay, though. Bill Murray is in it, so, y'know, it was okay. It's definitely a children's movie, though.

9. APRIL FOOL'S DAY- One of the more unusual slasher films of the 1980's is reimagined as an episode of GOSSIP GIRL with extra violence. While the original played it kind of light and humorous (no one actually gets killed in it), this one goes for somnabulistic and submoronic instead. It's more than 20 minutes before anything, I mean ANYTHING happens. Like, you're a third of a way into this motherfucker before it even remotely seems to become a horror movie, and even then, horror is a relative term. Actually, even once things got started, I was waiting for it to be revealed that what was happening onscreen was actually a joke. Nope, just bad filmmaking. One thing, kind of insidious, there's a scene where one of the characters in the film is distracted by driving, and she hits, not injures, but does hit, a jogger with her car. But the thing is, he's the asshole, because she apologizes, and he's still pissed, because SHE HIT HIM WITH HIS CAR. And you know he's an asshole, because he's smoking a cigarette. Because if he wasn't smoking a cigarette, y'know, I guess it wouldn't be justified for her to hit him with his car. Which raises two issues, the first being the villainization of cigarette smokers, which is just, like, stupid. I don't even smoke anymore, but c'mon, someone's not an asshole just because they smoke. But then there's this whole idea that it's okay to hit someone with your car if you don't injure them. Driving culture is so fucked up, people in their cars, they think it's okay to totally view pedestrians as obstacles, not human beings. It's not okay to not pay attention when you're driving, and it's not okay to hit someone under any circumstance, even if you don't hurt them. Cars are dangerous. Like 40,000 people a year are killed by cars in the US, more than 100 people a day. Cars kill more people than guns (in the US) and it's because of this attitude, people don't care, people are willing to risk the lives of others, mainly pedestrians, because they're so cut off from reality in their fucking cars, like waiting three fucking second for someone to cross in front of you is such a chore, like driving is a divine right, not a privileged privilege. Plus, y'know, the enviornment, and gas, oil, the war...really, if you drive a car, you're automatically kind of an asshole. Sorry, but to be fair, you were probably kind of an asshole anyway. I'm just sayin'...but, yeah, APRIL FOOL'S DAY, the original, was unique enough a movie that it really shouldn't have been remade, especially not this badly.

10. The Tracy Fragments- Oh, I get it, the girl is the movie is, like, fragmented, so the film is, like, fragmented. Symbolism. Seriously, though, the first line of dialogue (not meant to be funny) made me laugh out loud, then I pretty quickly got bored. This film is almost unbearbaly pretentious. I wish I didn't like Ellen Page, who stars in this. I shouldn't like her. I don't like most of the movies she's in. I don't know anything about her personally, so for all I know she could be a really horrible person. I hated "Juno." This is like the serious version of that, just obnoxious with pretentious, overwritten dialogue. Painful. Brian DePalma did some pretty interesting stuff with split screen. "Sisters," "Phantom of the Paradise," and it's been generally kind of dismissed, but I think Bill Norton's "More American Graffiti," which used split screen extensively and aggressively, is actually kind of an amazing film. But this isn't a film, it's an exercise. And this was directed by Bruce McDonald, Canada's premiere filmmaker who isn't David Cronenberg or Atom Egoyan, or Guy Maddin, or Denys Arcand, or somebody from SCTV. McDonald previously made "Roadkill" and "Highway 61," two very cool movies. Why do dudes always want to make movies about teenaged girls? Is it like a perv thing, or an attempt to master that unconquerable element of male adolescence? I think that's it, like memories of girls and stuff from that time are so strong, you feel really powerless, so you make a movie, and you can, like, control girls and stuff. For pretend. Actually, as this went along I found it vaguely less intolerable, but that might have been acclimation more than acual affection, or I could just like watching Ellen Page do stuff, because basically this is an hour and change of her just doing stuff.

I guess that's it for now. More to come, whatever it may be. Maybe more films from 2008, maybe some other stuff. But something, for sure, and soon...

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