Sunday, May 2, 2010

Break Time!


Emerging from a brief hiatus to announce another one. Nothing solemnly serious or likely to be long, just stuff corresponding to the end of the semester, sunspots and ever-shifting constellations. I've also been somewhat blocked in writing about the Doctor Dolittle portions of Pictures at a Revolution. I honestly can't remember if I've seen the Rex Harrison original and if it's as big a stinkeroo as its reputation suggests. (Oh, let's not kid ourselves: the answer's yes.) In any case, the movie does offer some interesting parallels to the blockbuster flops and Oscar-nomination-wrangling of today, which I will ruminate on at a not-so-later date.

In the meantime, a few quickie reviews. Mike Judge's Extract was a disappointing all-buildup-and-no-payoff, lacking the satirical thrust of Office Space and the fitful brilliance of Idiocracy. Bobcat Goldthwait's World's Greatest Dad at first feels like the world's worst movie, then ventures into intriguing satire before copping out at the end; Heathers covered similar ground better.

Olivier Assayas's euphorically acclaimed pastoral-familial drama Summer Hours has been likened to nothing less than the creative heights of Rohmer, Ozu, and Farm Aid; and, well, I found it to be very, very...pleasant. Not terribly dynamic or insightful, lacking the pent-up passions of the oft-scorned Merchant-Ivory films. The movie makes better use of Juliette Binoche than, say, watching her unpack groceries for ten minutes in the coma-inducing Flight of the Red Balloon, but as usual she doesn't get a chance to cut loose. I've now seen four Assayas films -- including Irma Vep, Boarding Gate, and his contribution to Paris Je t'aime -- and I'm still not sold that he's a great filmmaker. I don't get the sense that he really feels anything for his subjects where it counts (the heart, the gut), and even his most accomplished sequences, like the teen revelry that closes Summer Hours, would be even more effective if they didn't appear so choreographed. (For a perceptive counterpoint, see the Film Doctor's review.)

On the plus side, I just finished Part I of John Woo's exhilarating international version of Red Cliff and am waiting in bated breath for Netflix to send Part II. I've always been a non-admirer of Woo's, rolling my eyes at his guns, doves and slo-mo. But with Red Cliff he's eliminated two of those tropes and employs the third sparingly. He's made a pop-Kurosawa extravaganza that's more joyfully invested in the genre than Wong Kar-Wai and Zhang Yimou have ever been. (Even the best sequences of Ashes of Time and House of Flying Daggers leave me with the sense that the filmmakers think they're slumming.) I haven't seen the mangled U.S.-theatrical release of Woo's film, scaled from five hours down to two-and-a-half, but like Ed Copeland I can't imagine what could have been cut that isn't essential. Check out the original, stat, and don't let its length daunt you: The time goes flying by.

4 comments:

FilmDr said...

Craig,

Thanks for the link. I liked the fact that Binoche didn't cut loose in Summer Hours, and I guess I enjoyed the way the film undercut its blissful sunny southern France affect with darker undertones about generations quickly going to hell. In its way, Summer Hours only seems pleasant. I wonder if Godard would like Assayas' presentation of the sadly Americanization French.

Looking forward to your discussion of the making of The Graduate in Pictures at a Revolution.

Steven Santos said...

I'm pretty much with you on the ones I saw, although World's Greatest Dad does stick with me despite feeling that a sharper director would have turned it into a classic. I saw "Extract", but don't recall much of it. It just seemed so neutered compared to Judge's other two films.

As for "Summer Hours", pleasant is the perfect description. I don't see the masterpiece mostly everyone else saw. The only other Assayas feature I've seen is "Clean", which I thought was much better. I can't help but think that it's really hard for me to relate to a family trying to decide what to do with such a beautiful house. I just wish I had their troubles.

I have Red Cliff at home and will hopefully get to it soon. I skipped it in theaters because I wanted to see the 5 hour version. Definitely looking forward to it. I love Woo's non-American work and "Face/Off", but feel he needed to let go of those elements you mentioned mostly because they descended into self-parody.

Craig said...

FilmDr,

I meant "pleasant" more in terms of style than content. You're right that there are some dark corners in the story; I'm just not convinced Assayas probed them as deeply as he could have. (Also, maybe it's my upbringing, but I've always hated houses that felt like museums. I didn't see that much difference between the two options in the film.)

Steven,

Really hope you like Red Cliff. (I think you will.) For all the nifty CGI, it's the characters that make the movie. I'll say more after I've seen Part II.

Craig said...

To clarify, my house growing up wasn't museum-like, but I had a friend or two whose were. One of them had a mother whose interested were completely devoted to collecting things, and when his brother accidentally broke an evidently expensive vase she went ballistic. Ah, memories.