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nothing to do with the "horror" genre--and for good reason!
Many who have seen Vampyr will remember--misremember--it as a silent movie. There is spoken dialogue, to be sure, but very little, nearly all of it inconsequential, and much of the film's brief running is taken up with still shots of a book about vampires. It would be very easy to guess that the film was a hold-over from a silent project, and that very little was done to bring it up to the expectations of a talking picture.
As we have been taught to do with early horror films, the proper thing indeed is to gush over the "atmosphere" presented here. Much of this atmosphere is unintentionally masterful and weird, such as the entire thing (a vampire film, I remind you) being shot in broad daylight. The first scenes are precisely Kafkaesque: sparse, claustrophobic, shadowy, and peopled with halting and confused villagers. The latter half of the film is incoherent, and no one will find the "horror" suspenseful--the titular vampire is a slow-moving old woman. The saving point of the second half is a long "burial alive" dream sequence that is suffocatingly slow (and, from a modern point of view, refreshingly unexplained).
What can we learn from this film? For one, even this too-late development of the silent film was remarkably anti-theatrical. There is hardly 40 seconds of this film that could be staged. Compare this with the Hollywood Dracula (Tod Browning) of the previous year, which began as a Broadway play. Sidenote: evidently the technically superior version of this Dracula is the Spanish-language version simultaneously produced by Universal Studios, which has, from what I've seen, far more dramatic and engaging camera work. Vampyr: only 70 minutes long, anti-climactic, confusing, and reliant on long stretches of explanatory inter-titles, barely knows what it is to be a MOVING picture, much less a talking one. But its ambition is less to be a filmed record of Aristotelian drama than to be *illustrative*. A few indelible, recurrent still images dominate the film: the man with the scythe, the hero's face under glass, a distorted feminine grimace, and an angel's silhouette.
While I cannot recommend Vampyr, with its narrative incompetence and long boring stretches, as entertainment, nor--for Dreyer was certainly on the "wrong side of history"--for its influence, the film asks an important question: why is it that we do not ask our horror films to any longer resemble, exactly and uncannily resemble, our bad dreams?
Voyna i mir (1966)
full-version is amazing
Having read the novel and seen the full version just now, in one sitting, in a theater (Film Forum in NYC), it is an incomparable experience and one of the two or three best novel-adaptations ever made. The cinematography and set-pieces are phenomenal (the budget was $700 million) and the story of course is one of history's greats.
Some stuff from the novel gets cut, and the "war" scenes are far more memorable than the "peace" parts, but the entire "Part Two," which focuses entirely on Natalie, would be a great romantic film entirely to itself.
In short, it is like "The Leopard," "Gone with the Wind," Abel Ganz' "Napoleon," and "Spartacus" rolled into one masterpiece. However, I don't know that one could sit through this on DVD. But if you don't live in NY this week, I don't know when else you will have the chance to see it on the big screen, where it really is jaw-dropping.
Not as good as "Fast Runner"
There is only one other movie I've ever seen that could vaguely be in the same genre as Apocalypto. That would be "Fast Runner," a low-tech revenge epic spoken entirely in Inuit, filmed in video, and released to critical acclaim and popular indifference several years ago.
Apocalypto is incredibly violent, has dubious historical politics, and is over-long, but for a brutal, "blunt force" action movie, it is quite good. At times it feels like it should be a cartoon, or a graphic novel, or a sci-fi movie; you don't know much about the protagonist; the scene in the Mayan capital is too short and not expansive enough; there are some laugh-out-loud dumb parts--still, it is effective and probably would have been more effective WITHOUT subtitles. That's right. None of the dialog in this film is important. You could (more or less) correctly guess at all the crucial bits.
I was entertained. Definitely not a classic like "Aguirre: The Wrath of God" or as good at capturing the epic feel as "Fast Runner," but hey...for 99% of viewers, this will be a film experience like no other.
Another State of Mind (1984)
One of three or so essential hardcore docs
Along with "Decline of Western Civilization," and (now) "American Hardcore," this is crucial viewing about early US DIY punk. What's weird is that neither Social Distortion's nor Youth Brigade's music has aged very well (Social Distortion being better known for their 1990s roots-punk), and Minor Threat, who are barely in the film, have become the definitive band of this scene. Nonetheless, the live footage of Social Distortion is interesting, because Mike Ness is so corny, and how inept the rest of the band is--he is just begging to be surrounded by ringers. Youth Brigade come across a bit better, slightly more tough, definitely more dedicated and principled: more suburban, but also less self-absorbed. The direction and production is not much to speak of, and the film is not edited for drama the way it would be now, rather telling a very simple story of things falling apart on tour. There are a dozen or so classic moments, the music is OK, and you get to see Mike Ness "get out and push" a bus.
Match Point (2005)
Good, but certainly not a masterpiece
If you look at the graph of voting on this movie, the greatest number of voters give "Match Point" at 10, which seems to me ridiculous. The movie has any number of flaws: a few awkward bits of dialogue, excessive length, and a premise which is sufficiently tired.
The casting is perfect, a number of individual scenes are masterfully directed, and the play of characters and situations is really quite deft. You don't leave the movie thinking about your OWN life (ugh!), but rather reconsidering and debating the options, motives, and mistakes of the characters. Which is to say, it is a fairly believable, adult film.
Maybe in this day and age, that is enough to make a movie seem like an all-time masterpiece, so let me say, compared to any number of films which came out in the past four years, this certainly is a "10," and in that case I'm not sure of the criteria on which one rates these things.
I quattro dell'apocalisse (1975)
Totally crazy--potential for enjoyment or boredom
This movie was not governed by the normal laws of film-making or narrative, and whether that makes Fulci a nut or a genius is pretty much what will determine your response to this film. The short documentary included on the DVD has the two principal male actors explaining that Fulci's technical expertise was continually undermined by his "bad taste" in scripts and tendency to "direct with his left hand," i.e.: without true effort. I never really got into this movie because my attention kept drifting during the several over-long and pointless sequences which occur every 10 minutes or so and contribute nothing to the movie but to slow it down. However, just as often would be a completely off-the wall, inexplicable crisis or character appearing in the film. So, while there was zero momentum, there was a certain episodic merit. The rape scene was depraved and definitely misogynist, and most of the violence in the film occurs either in the opening credits or the final scene. In between is a very strange, badly dubbed, poorly scored, but occasionally compelling picaresque/revenge tale. Definitely more watchable than some other Fulci I've seen, and obviously all his standard quirks/charms apply.
Batman Begins (2005)
I thought this movie had an awesome trailer, so I was really excited to see it. However, the movie takes way too long to get started, has some confusing character motivation, a tacked- on love plot, a patronizing politico-economic agenda, and a climax that feels like a video game.
Christian Bale is great as a tortured, wealthy man leading a violent secret life...makes sense. Katie Holmes and Liam Neeson are essentially wasted in this movie, as they exist solely to make Wayne do things--their own motives are confusing or silly. Why is the psychiatrist who becomes the Scarecrow so evil? He is by far the most entirely evil (rather than just bad or greedy) character, but this is never explained. I didn't think any of the bad guys were very memorable, certainly not in comparison to the Joker or Catwoman (in the comics).
So...good effort. Nice try at atmosphere, and good acting by Bale and Caine. The bat-mobile was dumb, and will look silly in a couple of years. As will most of this movie.
Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975)
Like most "cult movies," sorta boring
Ok so I have rarely found ANY movie to be "so bad, it's good." Mostly they are mediocre but inspired, or shocking but monotonous. This movie is also like that. Oh well. Maybe I would be horrified or appalled if the camp value (yes, this is a pun. you may laugh) was not in full force from the first scene. It is hard to feel bad for anyone when the makeup and acting is so horrible. If this were a higher budget, less comedic film, I could understand being outraged or offended, but as it is the film is harmless, and its own worst enemy. Boring, silly, and morally normalizing, this movie does "cult films" the disservice of being both tasteless and lame.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Don't Think Too Hard
Naturally, a film that tries to appeal to *everyone* is not going to satisfy everyone equally. While "chick flicks" and "teenage comedies" are genres defined by their demographic, the summer blockbuster, and especially *this* summer blockbuster, are designed to have the mass appeal of the french fry.
There are a few embarrassing moments of either unfunny comedy, or schmaltz, or strange ideas about what New York looks like, but overall I enjoyed this picture. The action scenes look good, and there is some believable emotional plot elements. In retrospect, people will find that the first film was indeed better, but hey.
Open Range (2003)
Solid Genre Picture
This movie could have been ruined in a number of ways, namely Kevin Costner's terrible acting, or the lame love plot, or political correctness, or whatever has happened to movies since "Unforgiven" came out. But, no, this movie is actually really good. What interested me is that the bad guy in this movie is the land-owner, whereas in the classic film "Shane," it is the freegrazers who are the evil ones, running roughshod over the homesteaders' lands. I like how either side can be drawn on for protagonists and stereotypes by Hollywood. Anyways, there is a superb gun battle, convincing rising action, and some great acting by Robert Duvall. Not likely to convince doubters and people who don't like westerns, but if you think this "looks good," you probably will like it.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
4 Hours too long
A sprawling, unlikeable movie with unmotivated, unlikeable characters. Most unbelievable is that, even after 4 hours of the movie, there are countless loose ends left over. While there are a few good moments, those alone are countered by the dreadfully exploitative sex scenes, while the baffling plot and sappy score will drain away any further interest. I love the other five Sergio Leone movies I've seen, and this was actually a bad movie.
If you want to rent an incredibly long film, rent "Gone with the Wind." If you want to see something where characters have no motivations, rent "Othello." If you want to see Robert DeNiro at his most gross and repulsive, rent "Raging Bull." This movie is best left unseen.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
I was watching "Odds Against Tomorrow" in the video lab at my school the other day, and "Gone With the Wind" was playing across from me, where a girl was listening on headphones. Even muted, and watching an already good movie, I ended up paying so much more attention to "Gone With the Wind."
The offensive politics, the pompousness, the bloated plot- none of it really detracts from the movie's undeniable power, which could rest (but doesn't) alone on the crisp, HUGE Technicolor vistas. Never have sunsets seemed so beautiful! If you can stay awake through one prolonged sitting, it is actually a very involving and emotionally tense experience. Nowadays movies are so fast-paced and self-referencing that they have the opposite effect: losing my attention in a blur...but HERE is a movie! Hollywood at its best.
The Alamo (2004)
I cried before the opening title
I was a huge fan of the Alamo as a kid, and I think almost any cinematic treatment of this powerful story would be moving in some way. So, I was very lenient towards the total Hollywood, focus-group filmmaking this is a result of, where for another movie I probably would rip it apart.
Billy Bob Thornton is amazing in his role as Davy Crockett, especially towards the 2/3 point in the movie. He basically carries the movie, since the other characters are pretty uninteresting. Jim Bowie's existential battle with a life of sin and final bout with consumption is more suggested (for those who know the story) than well-execute. So it worked for me. The battle scene could have been longer, and there were four or five laugh-out-loud bad parts, but I don't think there's anyway I couldn't have liked a movie with this title. I wish Ron Howard had kept it instead of the hack who finally directed it, but WHOEVER TOOK OUT THE "LINE IN THE SAND" SCENE SHOULD BE FIRED. thank you.