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The Falls (1980)
A Three Hour Shaggy Dog Story
I'm a big fan of Greenaway's works and I jumped at the chance to check out this early work by the director on video.
I can't add to what others have said here except to say that it's an excrutiating experience that doesn't have enough humor to keep your interest for the full running time.
At its best, "The Falls" is an interesting and sometimes funny curiosity that points to themes Greenaway would return to again and again in his later work; at its worst, "The Falls" is a tedious experiment.
This Is Elvis (1981)
Odd Docu-Something Hybrid
"This is Elvis" is one of the oddest "documentaries" I've ever seen. Using extensive archival footage, mixed with recreations shot to look like archival footage, the film looks at the rise of fall of Elvis.
The problem is that the recreation footage comes off as bad TV movie of the week, standing in stark contrast to the original, compelling material presented in the piece.
The success of "This is Elvis" was the impetus behind the current style of historical documentaries that attempt to recreate drama where no original footage exists to illustrate it. In that sense, "This is Elvis" looks a bit embarrassing at times, since it doesn't have the slickness of more contemporary "docu-drama-documentaries" in the genre.
What I'm waiting for is an Elvis documentary done with the taste and skillfullness of the "Beatles: Anthology" mini-series aired on ABC.
Fight Club (1999)
Style, Not Much Substance
I've seen many reviewers here and elsewhere wax poetically about the greatness of "Fight Club". Indeed, the film is one of the most fascinating visual and aural trips of recent years. Taking his dark, gritty style seen in "Seven", Fincher shows true vision in showing us a different world. Some sequences -- the IKEA catalogue come to life, Tyler inserting porn snippets into a family film, the plane crash -- are brillant little pieces of filmmaking that take editing, sound design, and image to another level in Hollywood film.
However, it's one of the most emotionally empty films I've seen in quite some time. One can compare "Fight Club" to Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" -- both are commentaries on aspects of contemporary society, both are violent, and relentless with the viewer. But, where "Fight Club" fails is in the humanity of its characters. The skill shown in "NBK" is making caricatures very real people; the failing of "Fight Club" is making anyone in the film approachable at all.
There's only one little glimmer of emotion in the piece, where Pitt and Norton first duke it out outside a little bar near the beginning of the film. If that theme -- guys who can, like big kids, fight and tumble just for the fun of it -- had been extended a bit further through the formation of the fight clubs, then showed how the clubs (and Norton's paranoid fantasy) went in a different direction, the film could have worked a bit better.
In all, "Fight Club" is an unfortunate example of the new breed of Hollywood directors who have a remarkable sense of visual style, with all the emotional range and storytelling ability of ... a bar of soap. I came away from "Fight Club" feeling as though I had seen the most brilliant and shallow film of all time. The film is a two-hour television commercial for teenage angst in developmentally immature twenty-somethings, Pitt and Norton transformed into ad spokesman screaming "My Life is So Empty". It will certainly dazzle you, but doesn't have much of a point and is, in the end, a waste of time. All I can say to the GenX'ers who liked this film: grow up. To the Hollywood execs that financed and distributed this mess: stop assuming that your audience has the intellectually capacity of a flea.
Controversial Document of Its Time
Viewed today, "Cruising" still elicits intense responses from both Gay and straight viewers alike. Mainstream Gays lament, as many protestors of the film at the time of its release, that it shows a homophobic image of Gay life, depecting them as sex-obsessed. Straights are put off by the frank look at the Gay sex "cruising" culture.
Interesting, however, some of the people involved in the Leather/SM subculture at the time this film was made have praised it for its accuracy of this particular lifestyle -- a pre-AIDS lifestyle concentrated on quick sex that was (and still is) pursued by a segment of the Gay community.
The film does not pretend to depict Gays as a whole. It is just a drama about a police investigation that uses the scene as a background and catalyst for an exploration into how one cop is affected by his work.
Not the greatest film ever made, but certainly a good springboard for discussion about the Gay community's politics, when one fully examines the controversy surrounding the film and the continued debate over public sex and body image in the community.
The strengths of "Cruising" are its use of locales and documentary-style cinematography, as well as the interesting performance from Paccino. In the end, it is hampered as a drama by problems with the narrative structure of the piece that seems to fizzle out in the last act, leading to an intriguing, but inconclusive, finish.
The Postman (1997)
A Promising Start
I'm not a big fan of Kevin Costner, but I saw the trailer for "The Postman" when it was originally released in theaters and was genuinely interested in seeing the film. I saw all the bad reviews, both here at IMDB and in the press, but this film kept nagging at me. It seemed like such an intriguing concept. So, I rented the DVD recently and decided to check it out for myself.
I wanted very much to like this movie. The concept of taking elements of a post-apocalyptic story and combining with what is essentially the Pony Express and, to some extent, the Civil War seemed like a very good idea.
The premise, to me at least, seems quite logical. If there were such a series of events, it would probably knock us back to, more or less, the technology of the 19th century. The dictatorial leader is not that far off -- unlike other readers who find it unbelieveable that a manical copy machine salesman would take off with right wing hate speech and a self-help book to create a movement isn't really that far off. Just browse around the Web or listen to shortwave radio to some of the disestablishmentarian material coming from fringe groups these days.
While watching the film, there's a strange dividing line somewhere around the one hour mark where the film just loses it. I've considered what happens to make the film not work in the end. Throughout that first hour, we see a great deal of humor and little touching moments -- the scene in the camp where they show "The Sound of Music", the makeshift stage presentation of Shakespeare, the Postman's little scenes with the mule.
What makes that part of the film work is Costner's characterization of Shakespeare/The Postman as a bit of a bumbling intellectual, hanging on to the simpler things in life. Suddenly, however, at the point where he takes a bath and shaves in the small community where he delivers his first batch of mail, Costner, the Director, takes a back seat to Costner, the Actor.
Despite a script which depicts the Postman as "reluctant hero", Costner's portrayal of Shakespeare/The Postman after that first hour leaves behind the nice grungy bumbling nature of the character in favor of a depiction that screams "I'm the Hero, See My Glow." The humor disappears. The pace slows down to a crawl. The characters get more and more ridiculous. The film starts taking itself too seriously as an epic, rather than a science fiction piece.
Cutting would have helped -- I noticed many sections in the second half where characters basically do or say the same thing twice in one scene, as if we didn't get the point the first time. What would have really helped, however, would have been for Costner to have simplified the plot of the last half of the piece, stripped out alot of the love interest, eliminated Tom Petty's character (and I thought some of the acting in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menance Was Bad", but Petty really takes the cake), and strengthen the ending -- to keep with the theme, it needed to be the people of the small repressed communities that had a direct defeating the tyrant in the climax, not some little wrestling match between Costner and the Bad Guy.
In the end, that would have made the scene where a statue is erected to the Postman filled with -- dare I say it -- irony. Costner could have kept the character simple, a little bumbling, and truely reluctant, making the eventual "myth" of the Postman a nice little statement about, well, myth.
But, all we are left with is the myth of Kevin Costner. Too bad -- in that first hour, Costner, the Director, shows a very promising start. Isn't it ironic that the story of a reluctant hero is eventually completely undone by the Actor that is far too enthusiastic about being a hero?
Can't Stop the Music (1980)
A Surreal Car Wreck on a Road of Broken Dreams
Watching "Can't Stop the Music" is somewhat akin to the experience of passing a twisted wrecked car on the side of the road, the passengers thrown about on the asphalt, moaning in agony.
All you can do is shake your head in disbelief and ask, "Why?"
Why did Bruce Jenner appear in this film? Did he really want to end his career in the entertainment biz? Did he get another agent after this role?
Why is Steve Guttenburg in this movie? Why does his musical numbers turn into a quasi-Dr. Pepper commercial?
Why did talented character actress Nancy Walker direct this movie?
Why does the Leatherman sing "Danny Boy"?
Why does everyone in the film NOT know that the Village People are gay?
I can't decide which is more surreal or painful -- watching "Can't Stop the Music" or "Xanadu" or realizing that there are people who actually enjoy these two films.