Monday, June 09, 2008

Something New Under the Sun

Every so often, when I think I've seen just about everything, something comes along and knocks me on my ass. This week, it's (201.) "Muto," a short Argentinian film the likes of which I've never seen before. Seriously, it's a mind-blower. I hesitate to even describe it, so I'll just refer anyone and everyone to it:

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

My significant other was seriously creeped out by it, so I guess it's a horror movie of sorts.

In more mundane pursuits, and in brief, this is what I saw last week:

202. There's nothing like a pale imitation to highlight the virtues of a terrific film. Hence, 20 Centimeters (2005, directed by Ramón Salazar) makes Hedwig and the Angry Inch seem better and better as its running time unfolds. Where Hedwig was powered by rage, and by a ferocious score, 20 Centimeters seems a bit limp (if you'll pardon the pun). Perhaps this is a result of having a central character who's a narcoleptic, which is in itself a kind of desperation. I mean, really, a transsexual narcoleptic with an eight inch cock whose roommate is a dwarf? Right. That's reaching guys. Still, it's not all bad. The opening musical number is pretty good, as is the closing number. This last is a version of Queen's "I Want to Break Free," which, like most Queen covers, only serves to highlight how dependent they were on the bombast of Freddie Mercury's voice. But I digress. This gets docked a bunch of points for having yet another transsexual prostitute as a central character, which is not a good way to kick off gay pride month (at least not for me). Feh.

203. I can only imagine the impact that King Hu's Come Drink With Me had when it was originally released in 1966, but it still holds up remarkably well today (compare it, for example, to Chang Cheh's movies from the same period and it looks downright sophisticated). Hu was a master at composing the film frame, something not always a strength in martial arts films (in which framing the action takes precedence over most other elements), and this film is well-composed in depth. The Shaws spent the next two decades copying the production design of this movie. There are several sequences in this movie that take some of the novelty out of the scrolling battle in Oldboy, because Hu and his collaborators were there forty years earlier. There's also a touch of Fritz Lang in the way scenes transition from one to the next--my favorite being the scene immediately after Golden Swallow roughs up the bad guys in the tavern, in which we see them all sitting around the dinner table swaddled in bandages and nursing their hurts. Perhaps most interesting is the treatment of Hu's heroine, Golden Swallow, played by the great Chang Pei Pei. She is every inch the kung-fu badass and never becomes a fainting violet, even after being poisoned. Compare this to Chang Cheh's treatment in the sequel (Golden Swallow), in which she is the title character, but barely registers as support. The Weinsteins are atoning for a lot of sins towards Asian cinema with their Dragon Dynasty label. This is a terrific disc, and something of a revelation for me after knowing this film only from nth-generation bootlegs.

204. Garson Kanin's My Favorite Wife (1940) finds Cary Grant being tormented by his most persistent comic foil. Though they only made three movies together, no one got the best of the Grant persona more decisively than Irene Dunne. In this movie, and in the very similar The Awful Truth, she puts the screws to Grant's unflappability like no other actress (Kate Hepburn included). Mind you, this is a comedy of manners--a marriage comedy--and as such, it's pretty much candy. But it's a rich, dark chocolate of a candy.

205. Dunne and Grant performed together on Radio in a version of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1949, directed by H. C. Potter), but Myrna Loy is fine in the movie version. The movie itself is sociologically interesting as a portrait of the aspirations of Americans with the war and the depression finally behind them, but at its core, it's a sitcom, and a fairly obvious one at that. Grant and Loy make the whole thing appealing, but it's hard to take the sophisticated Grant as the kind of guy who gets rooked and rooked and rooked again as he builds his dream home. For that matter, it's strange seeing Grant joining the bourgeoisie. But the Grant persona is durable, and it works even here.

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