Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Screening Notes #5

Cold Weather (2010): Aaron Katz completes the process of breaking off from the tired label of mumblecore with this low-key caper set in Katz's very own solemn and gray Portland, Oregon. The film casually drifts into its deadpan central mystery about the presumed disappearance of main character Doug's (Cris Lankenau) ex-girlfriend, but the presence of a solid and genre-specific plot isn't what gives Katz's third feature its legs; rather, it's the loose, comfortable chemistry of its cast. Katz excels at making films about subjects that are never quite clear until the film is over, never really recognized as the meat. Here, it's the touching sibling relationship of Doug and his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), a Karina look-alike who Katz makes a Godardian joke out of during the brief and indifferent climax. Cold Weather is a giant leap forward for this decidedly simple entertainer who remains among an elite handful of filmmakers who know exactly how to end a movie every time...

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): ...Which brings me to a filmmaker who doesn't know how to end a movie. Why Joseph Sargent decided to conclude this one on a close-up of Walter Matthau's goofy puckered mug in one of the laziest anti-climaxes I've ever seen is beyond me, but otherwise I can see what attracted Tony Scott to this dynamic and propulsive material. This kind of narrative cross-cutting - in this case between the hijacked subway train underground and the police department above ground - has scarcely been done with more skill and assurance even as it has proliferated in genre cinema, and the biting critique of a somnambulistic task force as well as the intimate feel for New York City is spot-on. Although the third act feels strenuously rushed, I certainly can't complain about the film overstaying its welcome. It's a briskly paced, often hilarious romp that never loses sight of the very dangerous civilian situation at its core.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011): The worst movie yet in the worst franchise in Hollywood, the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean is a bulky, lumbering mass culture trifle filled to the brim with idiotic subplots, cheap attempts at humanity amidst all the caricatures, and lousy, dim images of ugly pirates. It's no wonder Rob Marshall directed it, seeing as he's the King of making lavishly produced epics feel like junior high class plays. So canned are its intolerable butt jokes and sexual innuendos and so flimsy are its action sequences that the whole affair feels like some weird social experiment that so much of the audience isn't in on, an attempt to keep stealing from America's wallets even as it sticks transparently to the same formula over and over and over again. Bright and shining proof of Hollywood's uselessly self-perpetuating industry, an ouroboric process of using money and making money for no societal gain. And does anyone even like Johnny Depp anymore?

Tung (1966): An amorphous blue haze, refracted against the edges of the frame as if seen through a globe, washes over from the screen from right to left throughout Bruce Baillie's Tung, a hypnotic and mysterious 5-minute visual experiment. As the film continues, the haze is gradually disrupted by spurts of other colors, filmic blemishes, and fragmentary images of life: a woman (in negative black and white), summer, grass. With the exception of the girl, most of these glimpses are too brief and abstracted to really get a handle on what they are, yet the sensations of warmth and joyousness are unmistakable. The final feeling is as if waking up in the morning to find a woman you love playing around in the grass outside, and as far as I know, that's not a bad feeling to have.

Apricot, Some Static Started (2009, 2010): The past is a malleable presence in these two short films by Australian visual artist Ben Briand, something that must be talked through and actively mulled over before it can become remotely tangible, and even then it feels dreamy and incomplete. But that's exactly where the strengths of these works lie, in the probing and the reaching, in the wispy images of recollection. Apricot is a maudlin and predictable love story that somehow winds up being adequately moving by virtue of its own conviction, and Some Static Started is a brooding, Lynchian, and indeed incomplete scenario involving two bloodied guys in a motel room communicating about a seemingly tangentially related episode in the same space with a girl. With its gorgeous sun-bleached and unfocused images of youthful love and turbulent narrative, the former is definitely the more satisfying of the two, but both share unique commonalities: the clipped, enigmatic line deliveries, the fragmented and subjective compositions, the ambient soundtracks. These are very admirable short films that could pave the way for a strong feature from this visually adept Aussie.

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