Monday, September 13, 2004

Days One and Two

These grades are EXTREMELY subject to change. I'm being totally sincere here when I say that watching lots of movies in a row can totally distort your usual abilities to read your own reactions... and in the festival setting I want everything to be really good considering the time and money spent.

CLEAN (Olivier Assayas)
Very low key effort from Assayas here which won Maggie Cheung (as Emily the wife of a former rock star) the best actress prize at Cannes. Early in the film the doomed rock-star husband whose fate sets the plot in motion remarks with abundant self-pity that his latest recording is "lazy, shoddy--I've done better than this." It's too harsh an assessment of Assayas' work on this film but the last part certainly applies. Maggie Cheung is blessedly not trying to win an Oscar and is fairly restrained but the film as a whole could've used a little more gas. One of the problems seems to be the screenplay which spends a lot of time with expository dialogue...that’s not entirely unusual for Assayas. He did the same thing with demonlover to an extent but the difference there was that the subject and plot was so labyrinthine that you needed it. This time we get lots of uneccessary info about a relatively simple story and characters. Things you can tell just by looking at them. What energy the film gets comes from its peripheral characters.The film perks up intermittently for its fine supporting cast. Beatrice Dalle is always watchable and is unusually warm here as an old friend of Emily's. Two other actresses unfamiliar to me also make notable appearances as fighting lovers. And there's all those great shots of international power-women charging through bustling offices talking or arguing with one another in corporate settings with glass walls everywhere. Maybe I'm making this up but that seems to something I've seen in demonlover and irma vep and the way Assayas and his DP shoot these scenes is gorgeous to me. I can't say why but i adore it.

CREEP (Christopher Smith)
Please note: I am not a fan of horror films so take this with a huge grain of salt if you are...

I went with a Franka Potente horror vehicle because I thought "why not?" The answer to that question is: totally derivative, gross more than scary --I mean I jumped several times but loud music cues will do that to me in any 'thriller', and so predictable I just couldn't bear it. Technically speaking it's no disaster of course. Good makeup effects, good sound work, creepy title sequence, etc... but I just found it boring and grisly for grisly's sake. Really really grisly. And so much for going the horror route with Franka. She was also phoning it in. If I see one more scary movie in which the hero or heroine has several opportunities to kill the killer halfway through the movie and instead drops their weapon and runs I am going to pick it back up and bludgeon the screenwriter with it. (kidding but you get my point) I mean, yes, people do crazy things when they're scared but let's say you have the guts/adrenaline/rage to take one shot at someone with the weapon they may have intended to kill you with. If you were brave/energized/mad enough to stop shaking in your booties at that moment and clobber them, wouldn't you also make sure you finished the job? Seeing as how you're already holding the weapon and you know that either you or it will be meeting a grisly end one way or the other.

MA MERE (Christophe Honore)
In the International Goddess sweepstakes of Saturday the 11th, the winner is the always riveting Isabelle Huppert. Is there another actress alive better able to capture perversity and depravation? I think not (though perhaps some will feel that that's a dubious compliment). As the titular character here, she's randy, drunk, and nihilistic... and wants to make sure her son is as well. This film is not for everyone of course ~neither was Huppert's last 'degrade me/make me bleed' film, The Piano Teacher. Enriched somewhat by a pitch black gallows humor (the ending is perfection as these things go) but still pretty tough to sit through. If I knew more about the author whose work this is based on I might have liked it more.

Maybe it’s not quite as visually ravishing as Hero but that’s kind of like bitching that not every DaVinci portrait is as mysterious as the Mona Lisa. Daggers is quite pretty enough thank you very much. It’s production is so polished and beautiful and large that it really makes you wonder how Hollywood spends $100 million on their films and they don’t look half as expensive as this. From the beginning it’s quite clear that they are very different films...even if both deal with rebel assassin alliances and their empircal enemies. Daggers in its first (indoor) act feels as joyous as a technicolor musical filling up a massive soundstage. It even has one complete music number and its first action sequence (The Echo Game) could qualify as a second despite the swordplay. I’m not going to give anything away because the development of the narrative is fun and far more accessible (if less 'where is this going next?' fascinating than Hero). But you can’t keep these martial arts rivals inside for long. The rest of the film is outdoors and you may well swoon from the beauty here too. Another marked difference betwen this and Hero is that it offers a healthy does of good humor but for me it still falls just short of Hero’s accomplishment. Close call in some ways though. Politically at least this one is far more innocuous. And its lots and lots and lots of fun to watch. Even if it does go so melodramatically baroque in the last 20 minutes that you may be tempted to hand Zhang some ritalin.

The highlight of the first two days for me. It’s not that I consider it a great film (still to fresh in the memory and too muddled up with all these other films) but that I was just totally involved with the storytelling. For frequent readers you know that plot is usually the least of my concerns but this drama about a Mossad (sp?) agent and his involvement with two German siblings whose parents may or may not be hiding an old Nazi was very interesting to me. It’s not as tightly written or concise as Fox’s last film, Yossi & Jagger. But the film seems to be in love with all of its characters, a surprisingly compassionate approach when you’re dealing with generations of hatred and political unrest. Somehow, despite frequent talk of bombings and death and an honest treatment of the difficulties of letting go and moving on, the film manages to feel appropriately sad but also truly optimistic. The optimism doesn’t even feel all that forced despite the *two years later* coda that’s a touch overemphatic about the happy ending... even if you’re glad for it all the same.

YES (Sally Potter)
Iambic Pentameter! It’s hard to summarize what Yes is about since Potter’s screenplay is an essay on a lot of things within us and on global politics. I’d be lying if I said I completely understood what she was getting at. It’s alternately annoying and really fascinating. And for once that ancient device of speaking directly to the camera seems to work wonders. Goes on too long though and Potter's messaging gets a bit messy indulgent and hard to follow. At least for me but maybe it's that after watching all of these movies already and knowing there are so many more to come... I need something easier ;)


Anonymous said...

Hi, Nat. It's good to have you in Toronto. YES sound as one could expect - could you please enlighten us with a few words on the wonderful JOAN ALLEN?

yours sincerely,


Anonymous said...

*jaw drops open*

Nathaniel! A "B" for "House of Flying Daggers"? But... but... the finale is appalling! I admit, it has a lovely, engaging first half (with several neat twists too!), but once the second hour kicks in, it simply becomes ludicrous. *SPOILERS* The film sidelines everything potentially interesting (the House of Flying Daggers itself, its members, the impending war - WHICH WE NEVER GET TO SEE!!!!, etc) to focus on this lamely acted love triangle. Zhang Ziyi is lovely to look at, but she lacked the charisma for this role. And the less said about her fellow two actors, the better.

Sorry to hear that you didn't like "Clean" so much. I loved it, especially Cheung and Nolte's beautiful work. It's one of my favourite films at the festival so far, but the only GREAT film I've seen is Ki-Duk Kim's (director of "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring") "3-Iron", which was four star bliss for me.

So I suppose "Kinsey" is the best you've seen so far?

- Ali


well, as I said the grades are extremely subject to change. Daggers isn't aging well (you're right about the ending of course) so it will probably become a B- but it's still so much fun that it's not going below that (and any love triangle that stars three actors that hot has my blessing -sorry ;)

Also feeling I overrated and underated here and there so I'm editing as I go. Mostly I didn't want to hate films so I think I was being too nice.

Particular to films in the B to C- range which is most of them.