Monday, January 28, 2008

Movies for 1/21-1/27, 2008

19. Much as I love the Marx Brothers, no one in the world can convince me that they made more than two good movies. For the most part, the "good" movies are thought to be their early movies, but on the evidence of Animal Crackers (1930, directed by Victor Heerman), I must respectfully disagree. This sucker creaks. Oh, Groucho still gets in a few good ones as the redoubtable Captain Spaulding--and even he occasionally delivers his lines in a deadpan that suggests he'd rather be at the track--but the shenanigans surrounding the theft of a painting are woefully lame, and neither Chico or Harpo manages anything inspired. Was Zeppo even in this one? I guess he was, but he doesn't make an impression. On the plus side--or maybe the plus size--Margaret Dumont is at her most Margaret Dumontish.

20. Regarding Rambo (2008, directed by Sylvester Stallone), I have this to say: Red. Meat. City.

Sly has been looking at Eye-Talian cannibal movies, it seems.

I have a certain fondness for Rocky III. It's not the serious-minded film one finds in the first Rocky by any means, but when I saw it again for the first time in decades last year, I was struck by how absolutely perfect it was. In so far as it was calculated to manipulate the audience, it hits every calculated note. Stallone tried this out again with the sequel to First Blood, and lo and behold, it was a monster hit, too. Of course, this approach can only take you so far, and the blatant manipulation absent any artistic pretense of movies like Cobra and Rocky IV becomes risible over time. Stallone's career followed suit. Was Rocky III a fluke? As I was walking out of Stallone's first Rambo movie in twenty years, I came to the conclusion that I was looking at exactly the same kind of film. It's perfect of its type. It knows exactly what fans of the Rambo movies want in a movie and it provides it. All I could do was laugh at the audacity of it.

21. I fell asleep while I was watching Fred Niblo's silent Ben-Hur over the weekend, but when I woke up, the tape was queued up for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921, directed by Rex Ingram). This was one of the first blockbusters, a World War I epic in which a family finds itself on both sides of the conflict. This was the star-making film for Rudolph Valentino, whose nonchalant libertine in this movie was a fantasy for both men and women. The highlight of the film is a literal presentation of the four horsemen of the film's title.

22. Wild Side (2004, directed by Sébastien Lifshitz) finds a transsexual prostitute returning home to care for her ailing mother. With her come her two lovers, Mikhail, a Russian immigrant who speaks no French, and Djamel, a street hustler. This is, to say the least, awkward. But the film doesn't make excuses for these characters, each of whom is presented as damaged. They don't fit into the traditional relationship structures, so they're building structures of their own. There's a calculated existential desolation and loneliness in this movie, but I'll say this for it: if I ever make a film in which the human body is an object of the camera's gaze, I want Agnes Godard to shoot it. No one captures light on skin the way she does. I'm more than a little bit disappointed to see yet another transsexual who makes her living as a prostitute, but at least actress Stéphanie Michelini is herself a transsexual.

23. Harold and Maude (1971, directed by Hal Ashby) is one of my SO's favorite movies, but to my eye, it hasn't aged well. I think it's all the Cat Stevens. I like Bud Cort in this, but I've never really warmed up to Ruth Gordon. I just keep recasting her in my mind as Minnie Castavets from Rosemary's Baby, which is death to sympathy, methinks. Mind you, that's my problem, not the movie's.

24. Seven Seas to Calais (1962, directed by Rudolph Mate and Primo Zeglio) is a pretty lame Euro production that attempts to make a swashbuckler out of the career of Sir Francis Drake. Drake's biography would lend itself to a crackerjack swashbuckler, actually, but this film isn't it. Rod Taylor is pretty good as Drake, as is Irene Worth as Queen Elizabeth, but the story is flat, the film was edited with a chainsaw, and the comedy relief sequences among the native Americans were cringe-worthy. And can one stage the defeat of the Spanish Armada in a swimming pool? This film makes the attempt.

No comments: