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Sånger från andra våningen (2000)
"Slapstick Bergman" indeed
One critic described this film as being "Slapstick Ingmar Bergman"; it's a great joke, and in many ways a true one. I've never seen a movie like this before, and I haven't laughed so hard at one in years. Every single scene has something off-beat or funny happening in it, so that you may want to see it more than once. (I watched it twice in one day!) The best bit occurs when the businesspeople decide on a rash course of action to save the faltering economy. I won't spoil it for you but trust me, it's one of the blackest comic moments in all of film. Don't miss it!
Les liaisons dangereuses (1959)
A blazing good time
This hyper-cool French updating of the Laclos classic is a blast from start to (amazing) finish; its immorality can be a drag in the middle section, but there's too much fun to be had in it to abandon it for that reason. Jeanne Moreau does the full range of bad girl, and her performance alone would merit a viewing, but you can also enjoy the film for its sleek, French attitudes, its Thelonius Monk score, a handsome young Jean-Louis Tritignant, his suits, her wardrobe, and so on, forever. It's a nasty little film is some ways, but I enjoyed it immensely just the same.
Eban and Charley (2000)
This film takes the position that society has no legitimate interest in "interfering" in a romance between a fifteen- and a twenty-nine-year-old; I disagree, but more than that I was offended by the portrayal in the film of those who share my concern: bigots, drinkers, military disciplinarians. The film presents a repellent point of view: that those who advocate relationships with minors -- and the minors themselves -- are victims of society's intolerance; to make their point more profoundly, the filmmakers make their couple victims in many other ways: Charley's mother and best friend are deaf, his mother was killed by a drunk driver while he watched, his father is senselessly cruel, while Eban has been fired from his job (a boys' athletic coach) and is hounded by his ruthlessly "concerned" parents. At one point, a propos of nothing, Charley's friend Sunshine (whose parents kick her out of the house for dating a non-white) asks Charley if he's heard about a young man in Seattle who was beaten "just for being a gay kid." Where does the bravery in the face of injustice end? The film's composition and tone are spare; I was reminded of a Belle and Sebastian cd cover, and then lo and behold, the band was thanked in the end credits. For inspiration, I wonder? 1/10
An ugly, mean-spirited horror movie, directed in a detached, hallucinatory style, like "Phantasm." Klaus Kinski is repugnant as the sadist; his performance is garbage, but can you blame him? Just soft-core enough to make it to dvd. 1/10
George Washington (2000)
A lovely film. Meaning?
This film was lovely, and there was dozens of good ideas in it, but it didn't seem sorted out to me, and in the end I felt that I was being invited to take whatever meaning from it I wished. Doesn't that kind of art come rather too easily to the artist? If it were exuberant, you might have that to buoy you, but instead the material is treated very somberly -- it invites you to find meaning in it, and implies that there is much there. But is there? For instance, one scene near the end features a portrait of George Bush, Sr. hanging on a wall; in a film named "George Washington," you naturally look for significance. But later, a friend told me that he had seen an interview with the director in which he mentioned that the portrait was placed more or less arbitrarily in the shot. How many of us found something there that wasn't intended, and that wasn't an organic function of the film? I enjoyed watching "George Washington," but I can't say that I found it satisfying. I'll look forward to Green's next feature -- I only hope his meanings will be both present and better expressed.
Smell the steaming jungle
Let's see: there's a civil war, a lost city, a talking gorilla, some regular gorillas, a previously unknown species of killer albino gorilla, the most powerful laser ever known to man, a *lot* of diamonds lying mined and loose in the sand, attack hippos, an active volcano, and a hot air balloon packed in a suitcase in a downed plane. That's not too much, is it? I've had more coherent fever dreams ("... and then the Romanian guy picked up a bunch of diamonds, because this was a lost city that he had been looking for or something, but then the mean gorillas that we had seen before came out of nowhere and ate him. Now somehow the talking gorilla was back from visiting the regular gorillas, and, as a kind of earthquake or volcano started, the woman industrialist/doctor built a gun using a laser and this big diamond she had just found in her dead fiance's hand..."). It's a blast if you're looking for more ammunition against the pernicious influence of Michael Crichton in American entertainment (and hence world entertainment), and if you keep firmly in mind the extent to which this cynical and half-hearted attempt fell on its face at the boxoffice. But, sadly, the men responsible -- Crichton, sceenwriter John Patrick Shanley, director Frank Marshall -- probably never lost a dime. Shame on them, and I mean that. 1/10
Black and White (1999)
...and grey all over
It's like a millennial "Zabriskie Point": the characters take turns making skin-deep observations about youth today in "conversations" that are all exposition and nothing else. They may as well address the camera directly. There are no heroes here, but the whites come across the worst: there's a sycophantic documentarian and her predatory homosexual husband, a hired murderer who will do anything to fit in with the black rap crowd, an unbalanced detective whose game is entrapment and blackmail, his cold-blooded ex-girlfriend (an intellectual who begins one conversation by saying, "Did you know that Paleolithic women...?"), a crooked, publicity-hungry D. A., a band of slick Italian stereotypes, and so on. Street life is idealized here as being somehow more virtuous, and the blacks in the film are more self-aware and honest, but the message inadvertantly sent is not flattering to anyone, and no real issues are explored. It would be harmless enough if it didn't pretend to such gravity; it's offensive as is. 1/10
High Fidelity (2000)
It's a cop-out, and it has no dramatic structure. John Cusack plays Rob, the unappealing protagonist who owns a record store and loses his girlfriend to his own apathy and fear of commitment; he maybe is too believable in the role, and I ended up resenting him almost as much as his girlfriend must have. By the time the ending rolled around, I was left with no one to root for, and no conflict to resolve except the non-dramatic one in Rob's head. (The film, incidentally, starts over about three quarters of the way through, stranding the viewer in Rob's neuroses -- how much fun is that?) There are a lot of likeable moments, especially when Joan Cusack is on-screen, but there's nothing to hold you, unless you identify with the protagonist -- which a lot of guys must. It's also dismaying to hear the screenwriters name-checking bands from Serge Gainsbourg to Stiff Little Fingers. It goes far beyond demonstrating the characters' erudition. It's there to divide the audience into the hip and unhip: "street cred." 4/10
"This makes no sense"
Director Joe Berlinger is better than this, and terrific films like "Brother's Keeper" prove it. What happened here? Maybe he was reaching to a younger audience than his documentaries might attract and, not trusting his judgment, made compromises. (I notice he has a writing credit, too.) Maybe his ideas were watered down in re-write. Or maybe there was studio pressure. Regardless, "Book of Shadows" is a shambles, either as a stand-alone or as a follow-up to the inventive original.
(The original, by the way, scored its success in part because it didn't pander; "Book of Shadows" is nothing if not pandering, from its Goth chick to its "Deliverance"-like treatment of the locals to the death rock on the soundtrack. The subtext of this multi-million dollar production is that it understands those on society's fringe and those who imagine themselves to be on the fringe, and that it sympathizes; really, though, it just wants their money.)
So much is wrong here that I don't think there's any reason to go into it. Is there? One thing, though: the actor portraying Sherriff Cravens (I can't find his name here) gives the worst performance I've seen in a major film in a long, long time. It's too awful to blame the actor entirely, and I think it's symptomatic of everything that's wrong with "Book of Shadows": What script calls for this? And where was Berlinger?
Another white buffalo
A ludicrous horror film with a young, handsome Armand Assante as a native American (with a five-o-clock shadow and a sprinkling of chest hair poking out the top of his shirt). The monster, when it appears, is one of those 70s kinds that moves on a dolly, like in "The White Buffalo." And to show how well the film has aged, consider the hero: a bearded white guy from the EPA. 3/10