Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Talking Heads singer David Byrne plays host to this bizarre patchwork of tabloid-inspired tales, set in the fictional town of Virgil, Texas.  Cruising the streets in his cherry-red drop-top, Byrne introduces viewers to the local eccentrics gearing up for the town’s 150th anniversary.  They include a community leader (Spalding Gray) with a thing for veggies, a woman (Swoosie Kurtz) so lazy she won’t leave her bed, a lovelorn country singer (John Goodman) and more!  (Google blurb)

Not the Indiana University Cinema blurb this time, for a change of pace.  But what can you say?  It was Monday night’s showing at the Cinema, and it was fun.  Except of course the tales in TRUE STORIES aren’t really true, but they almost could be.  They’re tales of middle American individuals and families that ought to be true, the eccentrics and characters you likely met yourself when you were growing up — and that you still might be now if you pause to look.  Well, maybe not quite the fashion show at the local mall, but even it sort of.  And it’s clean, gentle fun, enhanced this time, I thought, by seeing on the big screen in the theater partly because of the people around me, picking the humor up, laughing out loud at times but never raucously, always with its own kind of politeness.

It was a good film for an unseasonably warm day at its afternoon best, but for which the rains had come when we got out.  A residual warmness on the walk home, and even the rain more of a friendly drizzle.  And one thing I noted, but kind of strangely:  The film, really a series of vignettes, has at its closest to a plot the fictional town of Virgil, Texas preparing for its 150th anniversary, culminating in a parade and a nighttime talent show, the latter of which gave me a sudden reminder — and maybe a new understanding as well — of President Trump’s inaugural concert three years ago.  Small town acts in spirit, yet for the performers a kind of love too.  But in overall context still with a touch of weirdness that gave the feeling that this is a film that might be most enjoyed if one watches it having been mildly soused.

Four years before Wassily Kandinsky painted his first abstract canvas, Swedish artist Hilma af Klint painted the first abstract canvas.  Until recently, her contributions have been forgotten, overshadowed by narratives of male genius.  In BEYOND THE VISIBLE, the story of af Klint’s own genius receives the spotlight it deserves.  Inspired by science and spiritualism, af Klint created an astonishing body of work rich in symbolism and meaning; her brilliance has been compared with that of Leonardo da Vinci.  Halina Dyrschka’s fascinating documentary investigates how this exceptional woman was erased from art history and makes the case that it’s finally time for that history to be rewritten.  In Swedish, English, and German with English subtitles.  (IU Cinema blurb)

This was one not in the Indiana University Cinema catalog for spring semester, but rather added at the semi-last minute (cf., e.g., the black and white version of PARASITE, February 20), and a very interesting film for me.  As a writer and poet, I’m presumably some kind of artist myself, so I have a professional need, if one will, to know how other artists do their thing.  Painters.  Musicians.  What is abstract art anyway, for instance?  So, home from the film I feel possibly more inspired than enlightened, but in some way I think it spoke to me — it’s presumably one way of finding one’s place in the world.  Or maybe trying to “see” what the world is?  That is, it’s powered not just by aesthetics — some of af Klint’s work may be visually beautiful, but that’s not the point.  Or if symbolism (in part anyway), symbolism of what?

Some may come down to zeitgeist, the spirit of the time:  if af Klint was the first, Kandinsky and others were working along the same lines and ultimately with similar results, and they seem to have been working independently (e.g., it’s possible Kandinsky may have met or seen something by af Klint, but she wasn’t selling or generally displaying her work so it seems unlikely).  But both, along with other pioneer abstract artists, were into spiritualism to some degree — a popular belief in the early 1900s — while elsewhere scientists were discovering such things as atoms, and theories of relativity.  Things you can’t really see with your eyes, but now understood to be a basic part of reality.  So how do you express something like that?

As I say, I don’t think the film gave an answer as such, but it may have given some insight into how a particular artist searched for it.  And so, for me, maybe some hints for my own search.

At the movies again, with a new 10 p.m. Friday night “Not-Quite Midnights” Indiana University Cinema feature, Terry Gilliam’s 1977 JABBERWOCKY.  Says the cinema’s program blurb:  Terry Gilliam’s first solo directorial film — less than two years after directing MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL with Terry Jones — is a wildly imaginative tale that follows a young peasant with no taste for adventure as he is mistakenly chosen to rid the kingdom of a ghastly monster threatening the countryside.  Though inspired by a line from a Lewis Carroll poem, “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch,” the film is unquestionably a product of Gilliam’s creative genius.  Restored by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation.  Contains mature content, including nudity, strong language, and violence.

I recommend it!  I admittedly went with a slightly doubtful feeling, having seen MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL before, the first time enjoying it well enough, but more recently realizing that it was really more a series of skits, any of which could have been good alone on the old MONTE PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS TV show, but which became tedious strung together into a feature length movie.  That is they may have been agreeably silly, and all on a medieval theme tied into a sort of quest plot, but ultimately not really rising to much more than a series of jokes.  Indeed, the docent pointed out before the film that Gilliam himself was anxious to not just produce a repeat but to put his own stamp on JABBERWOCKY, and now having seen it I think he succeeded.  There’s silliness, yes, a lot of it, but now of a kind that grows out of the situations in the film as opposed to being there just for its own sake, and giving the whole a sense of more depth.  A fleshing out of, yes, a still fairly simple plot, but combined with much better production values as well, giving for me a greater sense of completeness.  And, attempted explanations aside, still a lot of fun.

No, the Goth Cat Triana once again stayed at home, concentrating on her important work of holding down the bed.  After all, if she didn’t it could drift away — and then where would either of us be!  Be that as it may, “CatVideoFest 2020” (cf., for 2019, June 8) was also sold out at the Indiana University Cinema, though again I had bought my ticket early.  And it’s for a good cause, as notes the IU Cinema blurb:  A percentage of the proceeds from this event will directly support Lil BUB’s Big FUND, the first national fund for special-needs pets.
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We are excited to welcome Yorick and Grace from the Monroe County Humane Association’s V.I.Paws program to CatVideoFest 2020!  V.I.Paws is an MCHA program intended to share the support and success of the human-animal bond and provide animal-related therapies in the community.   V.I.Paws is a specialized group of volunteer handler and animal teams.
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Yorick and Grace will be positioned in our lower lobby prior to the CatVideoFest 2020 screening from 3:15–4 pm.
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The Ranch Cat Rescue will also be be present for CatVideoFest 2020.
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(In particular, we may recall the late Lil Bub, Bloomington’s own special-need cat and video star who passed, at the age of 8, on December 1 2019, having spent her short life, among other things, publicizing and raising money for animal rescue groups.)
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And of CatVideoFest in general:  CatVideoFest is a compilation reel of the latest and best cat videos culled from countless hours of unique submissions and sourced animations, music videos, and, of course, classic Internet powerhouses.  CatVideoFest is a joyous communal experience, only available in theaters, and is committed to raising awareness and money for cats in need around the world.
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Even without Triana’s presence, this afternoon’s presentation was great fun.  Lil Bub was represented too, in one of the videos, as well as a comeback of Henri, le Chat Noir (who in a way we owe for the whole thing), this time with “Part Deux.”  And otherwise, drama, action, thrills, and lots of humor — including a sequence on cats’ relation with beds!
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For an idea of the Fest for yourself, to see the “official” trailer press here.

It’s not a pretty film, dark, dingy, a low-level industrial machine noise permeating the soundtrack. Interesting, though, and I’m not sure whether I like it or not. A man has made his girlfriend pregnant and now they must marry. She moves in with him in his slum apartment along with the already prematurely born baby, a creature that looks more like a reptile’s head sticking out from a cloth-swaddled body. It also cries — not a baby’s shrill cry but more a constant whimpering sound — until the mom can no longer take it, moving out and leaving the baby with hapless pop.

So pop muddles along, has a brief affair with the woman who lives across the hall; there are several dream sequences, one with a puffy-cheeked woman who “lives in a radiator” and sings a song.  In another dream sequence the man’s head flies off; it falls out the window and a boy finds it, takes it to a pencil-making factory where it’s made into erasers.  Thus the name of the film:  ERASERHEAD.  When he wakes up(?), he finally unwraps the baby’s full-body diaper to find there’s nothing beneath to serve for skin. . . .  Ick!  But eventually may find some kind of salvation, somehow, with the radiator lady.

As the film ended, a girl in the row behind me blurted, “What?”  But, yes, ERASERHEAD is nothing if not surreal.  I’d seen it before, but on DVD, and a lot seems to make more sense (symbolic and/or actual) when seen on the large screen — and some parts are quite good on any level, the awkwardness of a dinner with the man’s girlfriend’s parents as one example, though others to me seemed perhaps a bit drawn out.

To quote the IU Cinema’s blurb:  A dream of dark and troubling things, David Lynch’s 1977 debut feature, ERASERHEAD, is both a lasting cult sensation and a work of extraordinary craft and beauty.  With its mesmerizing black-and-white photography by Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell, evocative sound design, and unforgettably enigmatic performance by Jack Nance, this visionary nocturnal odyssey continues to haunt American cinema like no other film.  Contains mature content, including violence and disturbing imagery.

And whether one likes the film or not might not really matter.

Well, okay, this is another movie list from THE-LINE-UP.COM, “Growing Pains, Growing Terror:  11 Best Teen Horror Movies” by Hezra Martinez.  Subtitled “[b]eing a teenager has never been more terrifying,” it starts and ends with genre classics, 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH and, just four years later, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  With one exception, the remaining nine titles are more recent, four even from the just ending decade, including such possibly less-known entries as HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) and JENNIFER’S BODY (2009), along with such staples as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997).  The one pre-’80s one: 1976’s CARRIE.

To reacquaint oneself with one’s youth (if one really wants to), including links for Amazon rentals, for all eleven one need but press here.

Traditional silhouette animation as invented by Reiniger is a subdivision of cutout animation (itself one of the many forms of stop motion).  It utilises figures cut out of paperboard, sometimes reinforced with thin metal sheets, and tied together at their joints with thread or wire (usually substituted by plastic or metal paper fasteners in contemporary productions) which are then moved frame-by-frame on an animation stand and filmed top-down with a rostrum camera – such techniques were used, albeit with stylistic changes, by such practitioners as Noburō Ōfuji in the 1940s and Bruno J. Böttge in the 1970s.  (Wikipedia, “Silhouette Animation”)

Say what?  The “Reiniger” is German director Lotte Reiniger, in whose entry Wikipedia also has to say:  In 1923, she was approached by Louis Hagen, who had bought a large quantity of raw film stock as an investment to fight the spiraling inflation of the period.  He asked her to do a feature-length animated film.  There was some difficulty that came with doing this, however.  Reiniger is quoted as saying “We had to think twice.  This was a never heard of thing.  Animated films were supposed to make people roar with laughter, and nobody had dared to entertain an audience with them for more than ten minutes.  Everybody to whom we talked in the industry about the proposition was horrified.”  The result was THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, completed in 1926, one of the first animated feature films, with a plot that is a pastiche of stories from ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS.  Although it failed to find a distributor for almost a year, once premiered in Paris (thanks to the support of Jean Renoir), it became a critical and popular success.  Because of this delay, however, THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED’s expressionistic style did not quite fit with the realism that was becoming popular in cinema in 1926.  Reiniger uses lines that can almost be called “colorful” to represent the film’s exotic locations.  Today, THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED is thought to be one of the oldest surviving feature-length animated films, if not the oldest.  It is also considered to be the first avant-garde full-length animated feature.

Or in other words Saturday afternoon’s Indiana University Cinema feature was not exactly your average, Disney-style kiddie cartoon.  It was okay for the kiddies though who, brought with their parents, could get in for free.  In silhouette the prince and his rescued-from-the-demon-isle girlfriend were likely just kissing, as were, later on, Aladdin and the prince’s sister.  Of the latter, in fact, with the father of the prospective bride looking on, it may not even have been quite that sultry — especially what with pop being the Caliph!

But then again maybe that was the point, with the limitations of the technique deliberately used with its also suggested exotic backgrounds to force one to exercise imagination. The two stills with this post perhaps will help give an idea. To give the IU Cinema program blurb the final word, I’ll only add that the latish afternoon presentation was different — and fun.

When THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED premiered in Germany on September 23, 1926, it was hailed as the first full-length animated film.  More than 75 years later, this enchanting film still stands as one of the great classics of animation.  Taken from THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, the film tells the story of a wicked sorcerer who tricks Prince Achmed into mounting a magical flying horse and sends the rider off on a flight to his death.  But the prince foils the magician’s plan and soars headlong into a series of wondrous adventures.  This cinematic treasure has been beautifully restored with its spectacular color tinting and with a new orchestral recording of the magnificent 1926 score by Wolfgang Zeller. 

We had been thinking about “point of view” (cf. December 3, et al.).  Now imagine this.  Imagine a being from another planet disguised as a human, wearing a woman-suit, or a “skin,” but functionally a sort of vampire.  Her job* is to lure lonely men, men who will not be missed, into her lair where they’ll be “transmitted” to her home world (never mind the details, they just sink as it were into a dark pool) where they’re presumably considered food(?).  Ick!  But here’s the twist.  The film is shown almost entirely from the “woman’s” point of view, that of an alien who only gradually gets used to Earth and the ways of its people — who slowly becomes an Earth person herself, at least in her own head, including becoming a victim in turn (yes, there’s some sexual satire here, but wait for the end).  As such the film moves slowly:  she’s slowly absorbed, one might say, into “Earthiness” just as in their own fashion her victims are absorbed through the dark pool into peopleburgers.

The movie:  UNDER THE SKIN, i.e., what’s beneath the Earthwoman surface, Saturday night’s science fiction fare (sorry) at the Indiana University Cinema.  To quote the catalog blurb:  Programmed by IU Cinema Lead House Manager Elizabeth Roell.  UNDER THE SKIN examines the human experience from the perspective of a mysterious young woman (Scarlett Johansson) who seduces lonely men in the evening hours in Scotland, luring them back to her strange, dark lair.  However, a string of events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.  Contains explicit content, including sexual violence, strong language, and violence.  The trick, though, as a couple of Amazon reviewers have suggested too, is to see the movie as a kind of documentary, but one made for the aliens — to take for oneself an alien point of view and learn, with the woman, what’s going on with this strange new world.

But pay attention:  the film may move slowly, but even the smallest details are important.
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*With sometime assistance by a man with a motorcycle.

One way to tell a story is through its characters.  But suppose the characters are seen more as character types, as abstracts for the most part, more than as particular individual people.  Such is the case with Monday night’s IU Cinema fare, OCTOBER or (as originally released in the US) TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD, by Russian master Sergei Eisenstein to celebrate the tenth anniversary of 1917’s Russian Revolution.  And add one more touch, that of point of view (cf., for example, the Chinese film YING XIONG, October 27 below), so that the characters may be presented objectively, almost dispassionately, from the outside — in this case literally “camera eye” — the effect on the viewer is deliberately subjective:  that is you’re not going to learn objective history from it (in fact it’s helpful to read up a little in advance on events leading up to the Russian Revolution).  Rather as one Amazon reviewer, “PolarisDiB,” put it, [t]his movie is so good, in fact, that it makes me proud to be a Bolshevik… and I’m not, not in any way or form!
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As the Indiana University Cinema catalog has it:  Commissioned as a propaganda film to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, October is another of Sergei Eisenstein’s brilliant experiments in film structure and cinematic language.  The film introduced the concept of ‘intellectual montage,’ juxtaposing disconnected images to draw comparisons.  His use of montage also delivers the explosive spirit of revolt and resistance in St. Petersburg, leading up to the Bolshevik revolution.  Using non-professional actors throughout, the film is considered an ambitious historical epic and powerful tribute to Eisenstein’s creativity and artistry.  Silent film with English intertitles.  And as last night’s docent put it in introducing the movie, some people may shy away from silent films in general, thinking of them as “boring and slow.”  But this one isn’t.

This was another trip to the movies, a Sunday matinee, this one related to questions of remembering and forgetting (see October 23 below) but with emphasis on the point of view of the person who might be telling the story.  Events may be altered — or at least the way one relates them — according to the teller’s agenda, purposely in the case of this film, but it also could be just a matter of interpretation.  One of a series labeled “The RASHOMON Effect,” the film was YING XIONG, translated as HERO, directed by Zhang Yimou, and is somewhat about an actual historical event, an attempted assassination in 227 B.C. of the king of Qin who subsequently united seven warring kingdoms to form the empire that became China.  But it is a “wire fu” fantasy too, a martial arts film where fighters fly through the air as they do their deeds, and a single assassin not being enough there are at least three here, not to mention at least two or three versions of what actually happened.

To let the Indiana University Cinema explain:  In pre-Imperial China, during the Warring States period, a nameless soldier with supernatural skill embarks on a mission of revenge against the fearsome army that massacred his people.  To achieve the justice he seeks, Nameless (Jet Li) must first take on the empire’s most ruthless assassins — Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Broken Sword (Tony Leung).  Once his mission is complete, he is granted an audience with the ruler of the most powerful of the seven warring kingdoms, and he relates to the King (Chen Daoming) the tales of how he defeated each of the three of the ruler’s adversaries.  Despite what Nameless has told him, the King presumes his score with the assassins was not all it seems to be and weaves his own tale of what he believed is at play.  In Mandarin with English subtitles.  Contains mature content, including violence.

The film has been criticized on somewhat political grounds, as placing emphasis on the idea of “state,” which brings up point of view again; it is at least a film to make one think, regardless of the action/adventure aspect.  And the fights themselves are more like dance sequences, the film being amazing in places in terms of beauty, my favorite being a battle between Flying Snow and another woman, both dressed in red, within an autumn forest of swirling leaves in bright yellows and oranges, deepening as the fight ends to its own red.  Other scenes are in blues or in greens, others in more natural colors, even a couple of brief dream sequences of sorts in black and white. . .

Or, story completely aside, YING XIONG is still stunning.




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