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.