Movies lately I

The Brothers Grimm (2005). Don't bother with this one. We all like Terry Gilliam, we all remember fondly Brazil and thought 12 Monkeys was pretty cool, and the material here had a lot of promise, but whoever was making final decisions just couldn't decide on one direction. The movie keeps making us think it's going to go down a particular path, but then erratically changes its mind and starts down a different one. At the beginning there's a hint that we might get to experience the true horror of pre-sanitized/Disneyized fairy tales, but that's quickly abandoned. At certain points it looks like Gilliam's specialty of creating bizarre characters could come thru, but in the end none of them come together very well. Three-quarters of the way in, Gilliam (or someone) decides to suddenly make an embarassing half-hearted effort at giving the main characters psychological depth, but then seems to realize it's too little too late and quickly gives up. Finally the whole rambling mess ends in conventional style, never having grabbed our attention.

Broken Flowers (2005). I was pretty disappointed with Coffee and Cigarettes, so it's nice to see Jarmusch finally come out with an actual movie again. This one doesn't let you down. While I didn't find it nearly as enjoyable as Dead Man or Ghost Dog, its power to capture the feeling of our age makes it more intellectually satisfying. ("Feeling of our age" sounds kind of grandiloquent, but I think it's appropriate.) Jarmusch concentrates on Bill Murray, a rich man with no meaning in his life and little desire to pursue any, but also gives an important place to Jeffrey Wright, his working-class friend whose eager but naive engagement with life is so great that it actually pushes Bill Murray's character out of his stasis. The quest that follows is a study in subtle acting as every encounter explores the feelings that swirl around relationships long gone, intercut with the tedium of moving between events that we, perhaps against the evidence, take to be the substance of our lives. But the real payoff comes with the end, which is perfect to the movie, and which exactly portrays where we - as individuals and a society - stand today. And the soundtrack is pretty sweet too.

Election (1999). Apparently I'm the only person who still hadn't seen this movie. It's not only a hilarious black comedy, it's also the best portrayal of the American political system I've ever seen. But in a way it's ultimately conservative, since the only character willing to challenge the system itself, Tammy Metzler, merely manipulates events to pursue her own personal goals, and quickly forgets her "revolutionary" rhetoric (does it sound stupid analyzing comedy this way?). This makes perfect sense in the context of overall despair for radical change, and we can't really fault the movie for reflecting reality, but it would be really nice to see some hope out there somewhere.

Bottle Rocket (1996). Okay, enough of these pretentious reviews. Bottle Rocket is cute, funny, and harmless. I'll spare you the WSWS-style class analysis.

Prime Cut (1972). The main reason to see this movie is that Lee Marvin is such a badass! The plot had a lot of potential, way way more than it knew what to do with. Gene Hackman plays a Kansas City meat baron, who also trades in human flesh. Lee Marvin is a Chicago enforcer for an Irish gang sent to extract debts from Gene Hackman. I want to emphasize that the gang is Irish, because the movie nearly overwhelms you with names like O'Brien, Shaughnessy, Delaney, and features a family of about 6 redheads. Lee Marvin and his men even come in for a good amount of mick-baiting from Gene Hackman and his super-Aryan henchmen. Who knew the Irish still weren't white in the '70s? Anyway, the setup is perfect for questioning the distinction we make between exploiting animals and exploiting women, but instead the movie takes the easy way out and makes the good-hearted mob enforcer teach Gene Hackman an important lesson about human supremacy. Plus the climactic fight/shoot-out was pretty lackluster. Oh well, Lee Marvin is still awesome.


mischa said...

disappointed to see 'Lagaan' didn't make the Werner Prize shortlist. i thought it rewarding, although i could have done with fewer scenes showing Aamir Khan whacking away at a cricket ball. two hours fewer.

Jake said...

have patience, young padawan learner.

Chris said...

word on these reviews. i'd like to see an entire entry on jarmush movies. also, i'm not so willing to let wes anderson off the hook. sure, bottle rocket is harmless enough, (and he hasn't made a movie i haven't enjoyed), but the priveleged, self-absorbed, white guys get off way too easily in all his movies... in fact anderson makes you love these characters for their lack of sensitivity towards others. not to mention the very stereotyped lackadasical black musician and the Philipino pirates (the only characters who aren't in on the joke) in the life aquatic.