Thursday, March 3, 2011

Screening Notes #2

Secretary (2002): A work without a soul. This is clinical pathology on film, and it points to nothing greater than itself. Its characters are not human beings but rather a bundle of tics for the director to giggle at and judge. Worse, it suggests that the foundation for a romantic relationship (which the film hardly earns) is an endless power struggle, and that oppressiveness can be forgiven if one can ape the other into thinking there's something behind the bag of tricks. As for whether or not there's a built-in critique of its own content, I don't buy it because of the tonal confusion.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008): A hugely entertaining romantic comedy with a script of machine-like propulsion that makes you forget how dumb and predictable everything is. Machine, though, is a word that should only suggest the sprightly, economical assurance of the craftsmanship, not the acting. Jason Segel, Mila Kunis, and especially Russell Brand are uncharacteristically alive in rather cliched roles, and director Nicholas Stoller has some clever visual matches for the script's structural conceits. That another getaway-to-Hawaii movie from Hollywood actually possesses this much energy and wit is something to be happy about.

Trash Humpers (2009): Harmony Korine's made the kind of anything-goes potty film every 14-year-old rebel makes with their friends, only he's packaged it with more extremity in its haywire form and content than a youngster could ever dream of. At the end of the day, it's a pile of meaninglessness, but as always with these kinds of provocations, it's not the actual object that matters but rather the storm of opinions surrounding it. Hence why Korine is quick to admit his film is a juvenile piece of garbage found in the trash somewhere. Anyway, I had a good time and its garishly smudged VHS images have stuck with me.

Some Like it Hot (1959): RIP Tony Curtis. Billy Wilder's fat middle section to Some Like it Hot is near comic gold, for it seems there are endless sight gags in the zany gender-shifting and identity-swapping play between Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Before this kind of comedy became a tired cultural staple and cheap source of laughter in deplorable films like White Chicks, Curtis and Lemmon brought a spark to it. It's also one of Wilder's most playfully scathing critiques of image-based identity (i.e. the pop culture vacuum), an idea built into the fabric of the film in the shape of the unpredictable Marilyn Monroe.

Another Year (2010): Every time Leslie Manville's Mary graces the screen, you wish she'd leave. But at the same time, she's such a fully developed and rich character, such a convincing human being, that you feel obligated to watch her. And there are enough foils to her character to make the domestic tensions of each scene deeply dramatic. The film's structural blueprint (four prolonged episodes play out during the four seasons) remarks subtly on the inexorable passage of time, the way the changes and lack of changes in the characters are amplified by the weight of each new day. My only gripe is how stubbornly traditional Leigh is behind the camera; technically, this is closer to theater than cinema, but the final act set in winter offers some unexpectedly striking compositions, momentary detours from the banal ping-pong of close-ups and medium shots.

In Bruges (2008): Another film that often feels like filmed theater, only this time it makes complete sense given director Martin McDonagh's prolific stage background. Even so, there's something more cinematic about McDonagh's engagement with his characters and his setting. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are fundamentally movie types, and given the long cinematic lineage of disenchanted hitmen in foreign countries, they rank as two of the most memorable (they're certainly the most crass). An explosive third act underscores the fairy-tale aura of Bruges that McDonagh plays with throughout. It's a film to further prove that Farrell's got some of the best thousand-mile stares in cinema, and that there ought to be a micro-genre in which he keeps visiting and getting pissed at new countries.

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