Movie diary, 6/25/08-7/4/08

This will probably become a regular feature of this blog. How regular, I couldn't venture to guess.

Last night I watched two movies, "Teeth" and "Blast Of Silence". I had begun thinking about "Teeth" after I got it, in a way that was really freaking me out--I just didn't know if I could handle the vagina dentata imagery. So I ended up having to make myself sit down and watch it anyway, since I was tired of having it sitting there on the table and making any and all excuses not to watch it. Lo and behold, it wasn't nearly as traumatizing as I expected, specifically because every guy who got the teeth was completely unsympathetic to me at the time it happened. Hell, I would say that every guy in the movie was completely unsympathetic except for the girl's father, and he was partially unsympathetic. But yeah, I ended up liking it a lot. Very original film, and a very good one.

"Blast Of Silence" was reviewed earlier.

So, tonight, after watching disc 1 of "Firefly", I decided to watch "Pumpkin". My TV was tuned to IFC when I turned it on to watch the "Firefly" DVD, and I noticed that it was on, so I told my DVR to record it, and it was ready for watching after the "Firefly" DVD was over. I've been meaning to see this movie for quite a while, but haven't ever been able to take the plunge, because I was never sure whether it would be one of those "sounds better than it is" sorts of movies. I mean, Christina Ricci as a perfect blonde sorority sister who falls in love with a Special Olympic athlete and basically has her entire world collapse on her as a result? That certainly sounds awesome, right? But it could also be done horribly badly, and the reviews I'd seen were mixed (I mean, I don't pay much attention to printed movie reviews in general, but I'd talked to some people who saw it who had widely different opinions of it). So I wasn't sure what I'd really think of it.

Turns out, I really really liked it. I mean, it wasn't perfect--some elements of it seem less than believable, especially the state of Carolyn (Christina Ricci) in particular and her sorority environment in general at the beginning of the movie. On one level, I feel like there really are people and places like that out there, but on another level, it just strikes me as so unreal that it would be hard for me to believe even if I ran into it in real life. So in a movie, it was even tougher. Fortunately, things started to come down to earth a bit pretty quickly, and once they did, I fell in love with the movie.

THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS: I feel like there were some things that could have been completely blundered as the movie went on--Carolyn's awakening to a more realistic view of the world and its intrinsic harshness, and Pumpkin's inspired attempts to do the best he could to function normally, come immediately to mind. However, on several occasions, it was made clear that Carolyn couldn't completely break out of her prior worldview, and that Pumpkin really did have some important physical limitations that he couldn't transcend. The scene where he tries to drive his mom's car was handled especially well, in my eyes, because he was completely unable to do it. I've seen plenty of movies made in a style that would have allowed for Pumpkin being suddenly able to drive a car, and it would pretty much have ruined the movie for me if he had. I'm glad they handled it well. And I don't want to get too into the whole ending--some parts of it worked much better for me than other parts, though in the end I was happy with it--but one thing I thought was priceless was the very last shot of the movie. When Carolyn says something to Pumpkin about a question he asked her towards the beginning of the movie, asks him if he meant it metaphorically, and he just says, "What?", she turns and looks over her shoulder, straight into the camera, with this stricken expression on her face. It's as if she's just finally realized the potential downsides of what she's gotten herself into. But she turns back to Pumpkin and they continue to walk away hand in hand--as if she's considered it, but decided to try to make it work anyway. I felt like that dose of reality for Carolyn as a character was much needed and I'm glad they threw it in there.

So yeah, very good movie. Not perfect, but close enough to be a really enjoyable film experience. I would think this could be a really good alternative for all the people who found "Juno" and "Garden State" cloying.

I saw "Control" tonight, and despite the fact that I've heard almost nothing but bad things about this movie, I really really liked it. It struck a chord with me, not because I've been through anything like what Ian Curtis was going through so much as because I think a lot of the completely different problems I've had in life have stemmed from some of the same mental issues and feelings of disconnection that he was going through. I was really impressed by the way the actor who played him got across a lot of his own mental anguish without ever saying much of anything. So much of it was just buried in small subtleties of expression, but at the same time was communicated so well. And I felt like the direction and particularly the choice to do the film in black and white got the mood of the film across much more effectively than a myriad of other choices could have. I'm surprised that I'm impressed by Anton Corbijn as a director of moving images, but I am.

I wanted to write one real quick thing before I go to bed, and it's about the movie "Breathless", which I saw tonight. Actually, for a second time, since I saw it in film class in 1994 when I was still in college, but I slept through half of those classes and all I really remember from that first viewing is that the female lead, Patricia, is an American girl who sells copies of the New York Herald Tribune on the street. So essentially it was like I was seeing it for the first time.

I guess this was Godard's first film, and now that I've seen both it and another of his early films, "Band Of Outsiders", I can really tell what motivated him in his choices on these early movies. "Breathless" is obviously influenced by American gangster and noir movies of the 30s through the 50s, and I feel like the crucial difference between Godard's small-time crook Michel and the characters in, say, "The Asphalt Jungle" or "Out Of The Past" is that Godard isn't making the movie from the perspective of those earlier American directors, who seemed to be making a movie to tell us what happened. Godard looks at a story like the ones in those movies, but he asks "Why is this happening? What's motivating these characters to make these choices?" And what's funny about it is that the characters aren't exactly making deep, heartfelt choices with the actions they take. They're barely thinking ahead of the moment they're in. For example, Michel, the car thief, shoots a cop in the first 5 minutes of the film (sorry if anyone feels spoiled by that, but you'll learn more than that by reading the back of the DVD box). He just doesn't want to get pinched for stealing the car. The only reason he even has a gun is because he finds it in the glove box of the car he stole. There's no way he could put any less thought into the decision to kill the cop. But of course, because he doesn't think about it, it gives him nothing but problems. Meanwhile, Patricia, who seems to want the lifestyle of a carefree American student studying abroad, gets herself into a weird situation with Michel precisely because she refuses to think ahead in her decisions where he's concerned [NOTE: I'm trying to avoid spoilers here... sorry for the vagueness.] It's really hard, in the end, for me to have sympathy for either of the main characters. I have a little bit more for Patricia, because she seems to want to do the right thing most of the time, even though her more hedonistic impulses sometimes pull her in a less moral direction. It never lasts for her, really. Michel, on the other hand, just wants to be the type of gangster he sees in American movies. He idolizes Humphrey Bogart and guys like that, and sees himself as another one of them. But he's really an ineffectual, small-time hustler without much of any intelligence. Which, of course, is what sets him on the downward spiral that the film documents.

I think it's pretty brilliant, honestly. I might have liked "Band Of Outsiders" a little better, but that's probably just because "Breathless" was Godard's first crack at filmmaking. "Band Of Outsiders" might be a little more accomplished, but "Breathless" is no less well-constructed and intricately detailed, especially in characterization.

I continue to think that the French new wave is pretty goddamn sweet.

"Detour" tonight, on a super bare-bones DVD that could play the 67-minute film or skip to one of 8 chapters; nothing else. I'm thinking at least 3/4 of the DVD was left blank, and that's on top of the fact that the print was dodgy and at times the sound and picture would get downright atrocious. It was all good enough quality to watch and understand, though a better DVD transfer is begging to be created--not to mention some bonus features.

Anyway, about the film--I think this might be the most obvious precursor from the American noir genre to the French new wave genre that I've seen yet. This movie had no real crime/suspense plot--it was just about a guy hitchhiking cross-country to reunite with his girlfriend, and getting into a jam when the guy who picks him up hitchhiking drops dead on him. Of course, he reacts by panicking, hiding the body, and assuming the guy's identity, but you can almost understand why; he's convinced that if he went to the cops and told them the truth, they'd think he killed the guy. But that's just the beginning of the mess the guy gets into. And I don't really want to go into any more detail about the plot, as I hate spoilerific movie reviews (even when the spoilers are whited out), but I will say that it seems like hiding the dead guy's body is the only really actively wrong thing that the main character does at any point during the movie. And even that, you could argue, wasn't that bad. Everything else that happens to him--and a bunch of stuff happens to him, all of it bad--happens almost completely at random. This feels like a movie about living poor and living hard, and how that sort of lifestyle often puts people who'd otherwise never run afoul of the law into bad situations. And it also feels like a movie about that cliche phrase, "the fickle finger of fate." It seems like life, for the main character but really, for EVERYONE, is held together by the most tenuous connections, and it can all fall apart on you so easily, and without rhyme or reason. The existential bleakness of "Detour" seems like a really obvious precursor for a movie like "The 400 Blows", to me, and I can understand now more than ever what French new wave directors were taking from cheap American crime/noir B-pictures like this one. Not a perfect movie, but definitely a diamond in the rough. I'm glad I saw it.



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