I’ve been devouring movies lately, at home and in the theater, so I haven’t been posting much — I’m too overwhelmed. I’m going to give quick reviews of all that I’ve seen, old and new.
Play Time (1967; Dir. Jacques Tati) – This is a classic, so I won’t summarize too much. Needless to say, that, of all the movies I’ve ever seen — that would be a lot — this has been arguably the most innovative and well done. That’s not an obvious statement coming from me: my current film fetish is mumblecore (God save the label) which is the exact opposite of Playtime: intimate, emotional and rarely site-specific, with exceptions. But Playtime is pure innovation: not a close-up in the whole movie — okay, maybe one — relentless attention to detail in its direction, an almost sci-fi-esque commitment to set and costume (all gray and glass, save the end), and set action more engrossing than an action. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
To get a feel for it, here’s the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGv3FrXIToI
I’d only wish I’d seen it on the big screen, to get the full effect.
I can’t get into all the reasons I loved it — the gags, the inventive use of glass or lack thereof, the sets, the use of character — but I will say this: I love directors who take a single, ridiculous idea and carry it obsessively to its conclusion. It’s why I like Hitchcock (Rope) and Kafka (the Trial, the Metamorphosis). Tati is no different. That he went bankrupt filming this, what would become a flop, is all the more telling. Tati’s indictment of the modernism and modernity and their disdain for history, of sleek 60s yuppiedom, of Americans, is so all-encompassing and yet casual it’s pure genius. Simply watch it for yourself: and pay attention when you do!
Fame (1980, dir. Alan Parker) – I know I’m the last gay in the country to see this, but I just wanted to say I loved it. I loved seeing 70s/80s New York, I love that this was a time in film history when movies about young people were serious and political (Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the other prominent example). I was saddened by the fate of the actual actors — none of them became famous! The cute redhead (McCrane) still has a career, though, but has no hair :(. The black dancer (Ray), has died of a stroke (complications with HIV?). The rest are nowhere to be found. I suppose it’s in keeping with the film.
Wanted (2008) and Night Watch (2004) both dir. Timur Bekmambetov – I actually enjoyed Wanted, even though I mostly hate movies that are too bloody — it’s fun, blah blah, you read the reviews. So I rented Night Watch on iTunes to see if Bekmambetov could get me again. He didn’t. Night Watch I found a little too self-serious and gruesome, as opposed to Wanted, which is gruesome and fun. Maybe because he had a bigger budget with Wanted, Bekmambetov could have more fun. I don’t know. All I know is the kind of Russian, amoral, bloody-sucking action in Night Watch made me role my eyes and start playing a game of Snood.
My Winnipeg (2007, dir. Guy Maddin) — I really liked this one. It’s quick, it’s obviously inventive, surrealistic, realistic, and an innovative mish-mash of film styles. Maddin employs his signature, black-and-white fuzzy silent film-style, but incorporates some contemporary documentary footage and editing. The film has verve. But either I’m getting very slowly tired of Maddin or I just liked Brand Upon the Brain! more. Brand! is trippier, and, let’s face it, I saw it live: the music was better, the sound effects sharper, and the narrator more engaging (Isabella Rosselini). Maddin is decent as a narrator in Winnipeg, and I understand that his narration is deliberately forced and affected. But as much as he made me laugh, he also made me roll my eyes a few times, including during what I found to be an insufferable section on a hockey stadium. Last criticism: at times, in his effort to inject Winnipeg with magic and folklore, a task at which he’s largely successful, his fantasy becomes too overloaded, a bore in itself (born in a stadium? horses frozen in a lake?). This is the core problem with most magical realism: only so many things can be magical before the magic falls away.
Still, I’m being nit-picky. Maddin’s brilliant, and My Winnipeg, by any objective standard, is a small triumph.