Archive for June, 2008

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Blue Planet

June 22, 2008

BLUE PLANET

I’d never heard of Franco Piavoli’s 1982 Blue Planet (not to be confused with the David Attenborough-narrated Discovery Channel series) until I saw an ad last week for a 25th Anniversary re-release with a pull quote from Andrei Tarkovsky: “[A] poem, concert, journey into the universe, nature, life . . . truly a different vision.” That, and a rave from Michael Tully, was all I needed to get me to the Pioneer Theater for the last day of its sparsely attended run (so sparsely attended thanks to a pan in The New York Times that a rep for the film—bless him—stood up afterwards and quizzed the eight people in the audience—one by one—as to how they’d heard of the film.)

At its most banal Blue Planet is a pretty bog-standard nature documentary with close-ups of murderous spiders and copulating snails and a fairly obvious season-to-season and day-to-night progression. Though Godfrey Reggio is a big fan, it is neither as original nor as bombastic as Koyaanisqatsi. But at its best it has some stunning passages: a sequence of light dancing on water reminiscent of Ralph Steiner’s H20; an Olmi-esque tableaux of an Italian farmhouse at dusk; an abstract sequence of motorbike lights flashing through a dark forest; a field pulsing in the wind à la Tarkovsky (and, yes, there is wind in the trees, of course); and a shot of caterpillars inching up invisible skeins (so that it looked as if they’re climbing the scratches on the celluloid).

Turns out Il Pianeta Azzurro was never released in the States, but played for a year in a theater in Rome in ’82. I found out about it too late to catch a Piavoli retrospective (he’s made five films) at Anthology the week before. Too bad.

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Movie poster of the week

June 18, 2008

BURN AFTER READING

Although I think the Saul Bass hommage in general is a little played out, this is still very fine, and a cut above just about everything else I’ve seen recently. And this Jarmaniac from way back loves seeing Tilda Swinton’s name up in lights with Clooney and Pitt. Derek is spinning merrily in his grave.

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It’s the trees, stupid

June 14, 2008

Two things I love: apocalyptic movies and Zooey Deschanel, so hells yes I went to see The Happening on opening day. Little did I know, or could even dare to hope, that M. Night Sham’s new one is a wind-in-the-trees movie par excellence. Nearly every other shot of the film is a shot of rustling trees, a ratio that Jean-Marie Straub would be hard-pressed to keep up with. And, even better, mid-way through the film there’s a complete steal from the greatest wind-in-the-trees shot of all time: from Tarkovsky’s Mirror (talking of which, the trailer right before the film was a Kiefer Sutherland movie called Mirrors, which I’m hoping is to Mirror what Aliens was to Alien).

Beyond trees and wind, The Happening is an entertaining enough little B movie that, were it signed by John Carpenter or George Romero, we’d be cutting a lot more slack, which is not to say that it’s any good. Marky Mark’s salary aside, it looks like it cost a few hundred thousand dollars to make, and on top of that it feels like it was made up as it went along. The premise is ludicrous and gets ludicrouser minute-by-minute (of which there are only 91), the acting stupendously bad (Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are two of the most unlikely high school teachers you’ll ever see, and the back-story of Wahlberg and Zooey’s relationship is awfully labored) and M. Sham makes some really odd choices in the simplest of set-ups. But, that said, and until it peters out at the end, I had a blast watching it. It’s no Philip Kaufman Invasion of the Body Snatchers, though it does its damnedest to rip that off, but it makes for an OK episode of The Twilight Zone, and an amusing companion piece to this happening.

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The Films of Others

June 10, 2008

After a bit of an argy-bargy with a friend the other day about how much he hated The Visitor, I thought I’d better go see the damn thing. Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor is that film that your neighbors who see a couple of films a year went to see and loved. And with fairly good reason: as a crowd-pleaser for thinking people it’s not bad. It’s well-made and well-meaning, it tickles the emotions, and it’s smart without being too challenging. And that started me thinking why my friend was so angry about it. There are plenty of far worse films out there deserving of his scorn. The Visitor may be safe, it may be predictable, it may be pandering to white, middle-class liberal guilt… but there are so few films out there for The Visitor‘s target audience that to complain about it seems selfish. And then that reminded me that said friend had also hated last year’s arthouse crowd-pleaser: The Lives of Others, a film equally beloved by pretty much the same audience. And suddenly it struck me that The Visitor and The Lives of Others are practically the same film! Think about it: a lonely, middle-aged man who has shut himself off emotionally from the world suddenly finds himself in the presence of a young, vivacious, artistic couple who are everything that he is not. Through cohabiting (in one way or another) with these strangers and becoming exposed to their passions (where The Lives of Others had Beethoven, The Visitor has Fela Kuti) and creativity he loosens up and starts to enjoy life. But when the dark forces of a tyrannical regime (the Stasi/the INS) intrude and threaten his new friends he discovers hidden wells of passion and goodness in himself. See?!

I’m not accusing Tom McCarthy of plagiarism (though given the character he played on the last season of The Wire that’s tempting), but he sure seems to have tapped into a perfect formula for middle-class, middle-aged, middle-of-the-road feel-good cinema.

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Happy Birthday Prince

June 7, 2008

PURPLE RAIN

Prince turns 50 today! I feel like re-watching the greatest concert movie of all time this morning.