Screening Log #11: Cleaning Out the Projection Room (part 2)

After yesterday’s first installment (here), I present the second, and final, part of my catching up on my screening log. Moving on without further adieu…

 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

 

Halloween (2007)

Halloween PosterWritten by Rob Zombie based on characters created by John Carpenter

Directed by Rob Zombie

Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell and Tyler Mane

Rob Zombie’s re-interpretation of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” seeks to ground the psychoses of Michael Myers in the real world and, in doing so, misses the element that most made the character terrifying in the first place. As he existed in Carpenter’s vision, Myers was an unknowable darkness, he was pure evil incarnate. Carpenter made the audience complicit in Myers’ destruction by placing the POV inside his mask as he committed his first kill, a gesture that posits this darkness in the viewer. Zombie’s Myers instead is demystified and, as such, unable to render any culpability in the viewer.

 

Happiness (1998)

Happiness PosterWritten and Directed by Todd Solondz

Starring Jane Adams, Dylan Baker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson, Ben Gazzara and Camryn Manheim

Always one of my favourite films to watch with new friends, it functions, somewhat, as a litmus test: if the other people watching appreciate it (if not enjoy it outright) then the future is bright. I dealt with this in my list of favourite films and the kernel of its appeal withstands multiple viewings. I consistently find myself taken back by the humour and, at times, tenderness and truth in the film; a scene between Dylan Baker and his son explaining his behaviour, in particular, kills me every time. Other thoughts can be read here.

 

Hausu (1977)

Hausu PosterWritten by Chiho Katsura based on a story by Chigumi Ôbayashi

Directed by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi

Starring Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo and Kumiko Ôba

Ôbayashi’s phantasmagorical film is unlike anything I’ve seen, veering wildly from one tone to the next, backed by unmistakably 70’s music and putting forward striking and surreal images. I imagine this film is something like what an Asian atheist Jodorowsky would make in a discotheque; from a piano devouring the hands of its player who seems momentarily enraptured by her digital emancipation to a young woman whose silhouette becomes made of fire and a flying head attacking another girl the film opens itself for interpretation and allegorical representation by giving its characters names such as Angel, Fantasy and Kung-Fu.


I’m Still Here (2010)

I'm Still Here PosterWritten by Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix

Directed by Casey Affleck

Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck

The film existed, for a long time, in a Heisenbergian state of uncertainty: is it a documentary or is it an elaborate and Kauffman-esque hoax? In the end the latter held true as Joaquin’s foray into the hip-hop arena was an orchestrated fallacy. So what exists beyond the elaborate deception? In the wake of the crumbling documentary facade the film still exists as an interesting meditation on the creation of persona in the age of Hollywood ; the film’s constructed nature peels back a layer to reveal the tenuous connection between media and reality.

 

The King’s Speech (2010)

The King's Speech PosterWritten by David Seidler

Directed by Tom Hooper

Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter

An impeccably crafted film that captured the Academy Award for best picture, “The King’s Speech” acquits itself admirably on all levels – save, perhaps, for historical accuracy, but that’s an argument to be carried out by more informed people than myself. A typical Best Picture winner insofar as the film, while executed sharply, feels rather safe. Firth and Rush are their reliably excellent selves and the film carries out its positive message that one can overcome the obstacles set out before them, even if they are of low breeding… what? It’s about the Royal Family? Oh.

 

Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth PosterWritten by Terry Jones, Jim Henson and Dennis Lee

Directed by Jim Henson

Starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie

Jim Henson’s mind blends the Muppets and Where the Wild Things are to produce this strange and pleasant childhood gem. David Bowie is perfectly cast as the simultaneously alluring and repulsive totem of Connelly’s emerging feminine desire and Connelly exudes an appropriately cloying adolescent self-centredness that makes her journey through the film more gratifying. The puppet work is astoundingly creative and I shudder to think what would become of this film were it to receive the CGI animation treatment of a re-make. It’s no wonder the children of the 80’s grew up to be such odd adults.

 

Poetry in Motion (1982)

Poetry in Motion PosterDirected by Ron Mann

Starring Charles Bukowski, Alan Ginsberg, Michael Ondaatje, Tom Waits and many more

Ron Mann’s documentary film captures the quirks and eccentricities and sometimes brilliance of a range of poets at the start of the 80’s. The definition of poet is here loosely applied; performers such as Tom Waits appear performing with musical accompaniment and, in the case of The Four Horsemen, uttering more than speaking anything directly intelligible. A fascinating time capsule of poetic performance that preserves such inimitable voices as William S. Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg and the deliciously curmudgeonly Charles Bukowski who charmingly compares making a poem to regarding one’s own bowel movement in the toilet bowl before flushing.

 

Santa Sangre (1989)

Santa Sangre PosterWritten by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Roberto Leoni and Claudio Argento

Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Starring Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra and Sabrina Dennison

Perhaps Jodorowsky’s most narratively linear film, “Santa Sangre” still bursts at the seams with the surreal imagery that is unmistakably Jodorowskian: an elephant hemorrhages blood from its trunk, a son uses his own hands to play the piano for his armless mother, and the usual quota of little people and outsiders. “Santa Sangre” functions as a strange fable that interrogates the Oedipal complex in ways that may have broken the mind of Sophocles and tickled Freud’s cocaine-addled brain. Jodorowsky is as unique and fearless a visionary as cinema has.

 

The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network PosterWritten by Aaron Sorkin based on a book by Ben Mezrich

Directed by David Fincher

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake

Perhaps the best film in a year that was a little slender when it came to cinematic greatness, “The Social Network” isn’t quite as relevant as some critics would frame it to be. It, in fact, does very little to comment on the way we live or how Facebook inflects our day-to-day living; the film is, at its heart, a very well crafted biopic. Sure, it’s a biopic of the man who created Facebook, but it makes no gesture to investigate how Facebook has changed our lives, only how it impacted Mark Zuckerberg’s… and he is hardly an everyman.

 

Somewhere (2010)

Somewhere PosterWritten and Directed by Sofia Coppola

Starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning

Sofia Coppola returns to the thematic ground she tilled in “Lost In Translation” to good effect. Following the intentionally superficial and slight “Marie Antoinette” her gaze turns to the more contemporary superficialities of the life of a modern film star. She elicits an unexpectedly subtle performance from Dorff who is believably numbed and whose slow thaw in the warmth of his daughter rings true. Patiently shot – though perhaps a little heavy-handedly didactic in its visual explication of her theme, see the shot of Dorff’s face in plaster cast foregrounded against monster masks.

 

Spider-Man (2002)

Spiderman PosterWritten by David Koepp based on characters by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Directed by Sam Raimi

Starring Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe and Kirsten Dunst

The first of Raimi’s Spider-man trilogy gets a lot right and also gets in its own way. Bolstered by some canny casting choices – Tobey Maguire’s wonderfully aloof Peter Parker and Dafoe’s well-balanced unbalanced Norman Osbourne – some of the effects and costumes ham up Raimi’s, already sometimes silly, style. The relationship between Peter and Mary Jane works well, ending the film on a note of surprising restraint even as Franco’s Harry Osbourne carries a constipated tone similar to that of Hayden Christensen in that year’s “Star Wars: Episode II”.

 

The Town (2010)

The Town PosterWritten by Ben Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan

Directed by Ben Affleck

Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and John Hamm

Affleck continues to show himself to be a more than capable director, crafting another finely made action-thriller (after the underrated “Gone Baby Gone”). Affleck populates his film with solid actors, from Renner’s volatile performance to the sparse but weighty Chris Cooper as Affleck’s father, the material is elevated above its standard genre trappings. The director’s intimate knowledge of the Boston neighbourhoods infuses a certain measure of veracity into the film, though I can’t help but wonder about Boston with the recent cinematic glut of blue-collar crime films cropping up, i.e., “The Departed”, “Mystic River”, “Celtic Pride”.

 

True Grit (2010)

True Grit PosterWritten by Joel & Ethan Coen based on the novel by Charles Portis

Directed by Ethan & Joel Coen

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon

Having never seen the earlier John Wayne vehicle (shameful, I know), I entered in this film with a relatively open mind, excited to see how the Coen’s sensibilities would graft onto an ostensibly straight-forward genre film. What I saw was a film far funnier and, in fact, more tender than I anticipated. The stylized dialogue – largely taken from the source text – sits well in the mouthes of the Coen’s actors and is not out of place in their oeuvre. Steinfeld centres the film while Bridges and Damon give finely wrought character performances to flesh out the proceedings.

 

X-Men (2000)

X-Men PosterWritten by David Hayter, Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto

Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman

Disclosure: I’ve been reading comic books again. A lot. Since procuring an iPad the medium has been reinvigorated for me. After a youth filled with buying comic books and the subsequent heart-break of the market falling apart, I’ve returned. Singer’s first X-Men film sets some solid blocks in place to build the franchise on and the X-Men mythology continues as a malleable allegorical representation of any outsider culture, be it religious, racial, sexual, social, etc. The quality of Stewart and McKellen outshines every other actor in the film as they articulate the tension in Professor X and Magneto’s frenemy relationship.

 

X2 (2003)

X2 PosterWritten by David Hayter, Zak Penn, Bryan Singer, Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty

Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman

Singer’s second X-Men film builds strongly on the blocks established in the first (capsule continuity!) and he strongly juggles a large cast of characters. The established characters and relationships of the first film are given more room to develop to largely strong effect; back stories are fleshed out and the dynamic between Magneto and Professor X, especially, is admirably complicated. Singer leaves himself room for a third film – which he dropped out of to make the perplexing “Superman Returns” – with the Jean Grey Phoenix ending that would, unfortunately, get mangled in the thresher that is Brett Ratner.

 

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men Last Stand PosterWritten by Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn

Directed by Brett Ratner

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman and Famke Janssen

Yes, this is where it all comes apart; The Last Stand sounds apt. With Singer absenting himself from the X-Men in favour of the Man of Steel this film was passed around before finally settling in the less-than-capable hands of Brett Ratner. This film is a mess, killing intrinsically important characters seemingly without purpose. Where Singer handled the huge X-Men cast well, the third film is overcome with mutants, faceless and ambiguously defined; The Last Stand may, totally inadvertently, place the viewer in the position of the film’s government officials who would like to see the mutants removed.

 

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

X-Men Origins PosterWritten by David Benioff and Skipp Woods

Directed by Gavin Hood

Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston

Being a comic fan, trying to put aside the atrocities that this film commits against established comic characters – I’m looking at you “The Deadpool” – is hard. The debacle of the film’s leak notwithstanding, this is a poorly executed film, narratively scatter-shot, rushed and thin, with sometimes eye-rollingly terrible effects for a big budget picture. Where is the Gavin Hood who directed “Tsotsi” in all this? No doubt buried somewhere under the heaps of studio pressure and a undercooked script. Schrieber stands among the only bright spots in the film, bringing a certain relish to Victor Creed.

 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

 

Ok, there we have it. Hopefully now I can keep on top of things again by limiting myself to how long the screening log entries should be in future until my workload decreases. Or maybe things just pile up again until I have to write about another 30 films. Only time will tell.

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