Thursday, October 6, 2016

September Pre-Hurricane Movie Update 2016

             I guess I have to apologize twice over today; one for the fact that this is later than expected and once more for rushing to complete this post before Hurricane Matthew takes out my Wi-Fi connection. So without wasting too much time, here is what I saw in September

Young Frankenstein/Blazing Saddles
            August ended on a tragic note—as every month of 2016 seems to do—with the death of comic legend Gene Wilder, which ultimately leads to a bittersweet beginning of September with a re-introduction to two of his funniest comedies. In Young Frankenstein Gene Wilder plays Frederick Frohnkensteen, a passionate and childishly mad scientist who becomes obsessed with late grandfather’s work after inheriting his fortune and castle. This film shows Wilder’s brilliance as a comic actor as he shouts lines like “My grandfather’s work was doo-doo” with an forceful command that not even Laurence Olivier could pull off. Nobody really plays a comic role like Wilder anymore; he hardly relied on mugging or improvising one-liners until the camera stopped. He would disappear into his role like a method actor, embracing the absurdity of the heightened world he traveled in, which makes moments like when he stabs his knee. Certain elements of Young Frankenstein do not age well (the scene when the Creature meets Madeline Kahn is irksome) but it is a masterful showcase of Wilder’s masterful comic acting.
            Blazing Saddles on the other hand has aged surprisingly well. It is a defiant satire that rips on the racist themes of the Western genre and Hollywood filmmaking as a whole with brilliant simplicity. Blazing Saddles only features Gene Wilder in a secondary capacity but no less a hilarious and valuable part of an already legendary cast of comedians.  With actors like Cleavon Little, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens and Harvey Korman—plus Richard Pryor and Mel Brooks—Blazing Saddles seems like a time capsule 1970s comedy scene but it still feels relevant today.

Cemetary of Splendour
            From the Taiwanese director Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul, Cemetery of Splendor is a drama—of sorts—about a sleeping epidemic that has afflicted the soldier in a contemporary rural village. At first the film focuses on an elderly woman, and relationship with an afflicted soldier and a seer who can communicate with the sleepers. Beyond that however, the mystery evolves into a mood piece of psycho-surrealism. The film is a visual riddle, subtler than films like Under The Skin and Embrace of the Serpent but more than capable of messing the mind. Like a new spot on the skin, Cemetery of Splendour is inscrutable and haunting enough to be unforgettable.

Rachel Getting Married
            Anne Hathaway stars as Kim, the mentally unstable sister of Rachel, who is given a couple days leave from her clinic to attend her sister’s wedding. However this is not My Big Fat Greek Wedding, this film is a raw affair about a family that is trying miserably to hide the cracks of their foundation as personal grudges and tragedies are revealed. It is a solid drama that showcases Anne Hathaway’s powerful range and spontaneity; however, the film fumbles hard when it actually showcases the wedding, which is an overlong mess that seems more appropriate in a Baz Luhrmann musical than a neo-realist drama.

            A 1950s Japanese Heian period horror film about two women whose souls return as vengeful black cat demons after being raped and murdered by samurai warriors. This film is certainly haunting and atmospheric but its brutal criticism of samurai culture is film is what makes this film so fascinating. From the very beginning Kuroneko portrays samurai as barbarians who exploit their social status to rape and pillage people whom they were suppose to protect. As the film continues, it reveals how this exploitation is systemic; their honor code is so powerful, that it blinds them of their own inhumanity they cause. Kuroneko is both a cathartic and poetic exercise of revenge but also an allegory about systemic exploitation, which is sadly still relevant to this day.

Only Angels have Wings
            Certain films have the benefit, or curse, of being so dated that they become a window of their period. Only Angel Have Wings, a Cary Grant led action drama about aviators who deliver mail in the Andes Mountains, could only be made in 1939, but it is still thrilling because of that reason. These are pilots who must risk flying on rickety at best planes in terrible weather without GPS, which is all sorts of horrifying. The film is an intense experience not just because of the ride itself but also the cast of characters riding the planes. This is a group that intends to live in present, they are fueled by the adrenaline and forget about the dead, or at least try to forget. While it never provides much in plot Only Angels Have Wings is still striking character drama about thrill seeking, and fatalistic masculinity. It is certainly a better choice than watching the Point Break remake again.

The Royal Tenenbaums
            The Royal Tenenbaums is an adult family comedy about the internal strife of the artistic Tenenbaum family, who must deal with their dying estranged father, who is kind of a jerk but still means well. Like all of Wes Anderson films, The Royal Tenebaums has a quirky aesthetic blend of dry French new wave, the farces of Hal Ashby, and old dollhouses. His style may seem absurd initially but once one gets acclimated, the costumes reveal symbolic meaning, the dialogue begins to pierce, and the characters reveal their soul with graceful restraint. While The Royal Tenebaums does surpass his best film: The Grand Budapest Hotel, it certainly one of Wes Anderson’s most effective and emotional works.

The Last Man On Earth
            The idea of a Vincent Price led vampire movie loosely based on I Am Legend sounds rather exciting but it falters under wonky pacing and stiff drama. The biggest fault is that features an overly long flashback that is almost nothing but exposition that is delivered with the verve of a smoking PSA. Vincent Price is certainly the best part of the film, and it is refreshing to see Price playing a ordinary man in danger instead of a frightening clever schemer, but his charisma is not enough of to keep that second act from feeling like a lecture. Those who can plow through that brick wall of exposition will be rewarded with a more admirable adaptation of I Am Legend than the hammy and wrongheaded Will Smith film, but not by much.

A Woman Under The Influence
            The upside to college is getting introduced to a new great filmmaker that does not get circulation anymore. John Cassavetes is probably better known as Rosemary’s husband in Rosemary’s Baby or the arrogant private The Dirty Dozen; beyond acting, he was a quietly talented filmmaker that independently directed these loose—almost improvised—day-in-the-life dramas. Among them is A Woman Under The Influence, a film about a mentally unstable woman (played masterfully by Gena Rowlands) and her relationship with her husband (Peter Falk) and three kids. The film looks rough, modern films of its type—like Rachel Getting Married—seem polished in comparison, but it ultimately does not matter because it is such a devastating and powerful experience that it can leave even the most cynical viewer stunned.

            The plan was to write something longer about this film, but since I might get swept away by this hurricane, I’ll just say this: it is a David Fincher murder mystery/journalism story about the Zodiac Killer, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, go see it. Already did? See it again.

Well that is it, some of these were pretty bleak, so click here to see Paul Newman on a bicycle.

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