Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chat: Point Blank

 Natalie:  So, Soderburgh says this film inspired/s his work. Were you inspired?
 Tracy:  I was inspired to shoot my television after the longest walk ever down a hall. Did you like it? I just could not get on the Point Blank train. Though Angie Dickinson is quite pretty.
 Natalie:  Ha! I did not like it one bit. Angie Dickinson is pretty but she needed to be pretty with better material to work with. And, surprisingly, this was the second, supposedly miles better version of the screenplay. Lee Marvin took over and tossed the original and hired Boorman. Boorman later said Mel Gibson's Payback (based on the same source material) was probably made from the original screenplay Marvin tossed. Ouch.
 Tracy:  So "You're a very bad man, Walker!" was from the better screenplay? Ouch indeed. I couldn't decide if it was campy or sincere. I mean, what was up with that slap fight? And the naked spiral fall to the pavement?
     Natalie:  Yes! That's top writing there. I sadly think it was serious. Everything I read about it seemed to make it seem like we should take it seriously. While "cult classic" was tossed about, "camp" never was (which surprised the hell out of me). Even the book wants it to be serious: “as arrestingly and unselfconsciously stylish as the day it was released.” But that seems wrong because the film purposefully plays with color--filters and just interior/clothing color choices to make things mono-chromatic (I bet that's what Soderburgh took, hi there Traffic) and that's as far from "unselfconsciously stylish" as you can get.
 Tracy:  I totally agree. It's absolutely self-consciously stylish. Dickinson was constantly in yellow! And that spiral fall was hella-stylized. I also bet you're right about the Soderbergh borrowing. But yeah--I could not give two shits about the revenge plot or the betrayal or the absurd Alcatraz drop. It was trying so hard with the music and the Marvin but fell way flat.
 Natalie:  I think the whole thing was flat, too. All of the emotion seemed drained from it--but I also read it was French New Wave influenced so there ya go. So, the book also says this: that it is a  “masculine film—full of tough action and even tougher sexual situations” and then, about the only tough sexual situation I remember, “The long moment where she [Chris/Angie Dickinson] seduces Reese for Walker’s revenge remains an agonizing and perversely sexual love scene, erotic yet gut-wrenchingly distasteful.” Is the lack of emotion and presence of guns what is supposed to make it "masculine"? Because I thought it was actually one of the most neutered crime films I've ever seen. And, the prostitution for a good cause scene left me without emotion either--I didn't feel anything--probably because the most recent Mad Men had a similar situation that left me feeling dirty because it was handled so well. I certainly didn't think it at all erotic. 
 Tracy:  This movie had NOTHING interesting or even comprehensible to say about gender! It didn't give the audience different versions of masculinity to judge between. And the honey pot scene was, yes, completely whiffed because Angie Dickinson played it like a robot. Not that that was her fault (or an interesting performative choice) because everyone played everything like a robot, with the score doing all the emotional work. Oh, when she turned on all the kitchen supplies--that was I guess supposed to be an objective correlative for her insulted femininity but it was stupid and made no sense. Yeah--the gender arguments were completely muddled and almost felt like a bad collage of what crime films should have, but without any coherency.
 Natalie:  I agree. When she turned on all of those appliances I almost thought we might get something good for a minute but nope. And then when you think about it, it's just stupid and trite that she would turn on all of the appliances to protest whatever she wanted to protest after her "masculine" attempt at slapping a lot left her strangely exhausted. Is it just me or was everyone in this film easily exhausted and knocked out? I really doubt Angie Dickinson can swing a pool cue hard enough to knock Lee Marvin for a loop.
Tracy:  They were probably all bored out of their minds and looking for a reason to pass out! And that slap fight just Would. Not. Stop. Hence I was hoping for the camp. Oh my God, and what about that screaming singer??? 
 Natalie:  Oh. My. God. That singer. I wanted to reach through the TV and strangle that man. So, to wrap up what the book says, it concludes with the idea that this is the "perfect thriller in both form and vision" and talks about how Boorman used wide screen to his his advantage--tossing people from one end to the other, basically. I think we both think that's nonsense. Using wide screen isn't going to save the film.
 Tracy:  I hate it when people talk about camera angles and cinematography making an otherwise shitty movie "perfect." It was crap. Crap crap crap. Which makes my plea for it to be booted rather unsurprising.
 Natalie:  I know--shooting crap from a different angle just makes it crap from a different angle. I would boot it, too.
 Tracy:  But next week we get a movie that makes interesting cinematographical (maybe not a word) choices in the service of things like plot and character. And it's French! Can't believe it!
 Natalie:  Almost! Next week we have The Big Sleep--I forgot about it when I said Amelie was next before! So, next we have a crime film that's actually decent! And then we have the interesting French film

Friday, May 18, 2012

Point Blank (1967)

Noir alert! This film is based on some prime pulp fiction--a crime novel by Donald Westlake. It stars Lee Marvin as a crook done wrong by his partner who embarks on a quest to take his vengeance. The movie also stars Angie Dickinson and Carroll O'Connor. Sounds like 70s cheese at its finest. Though the movie, which Marvin himself shepherded onto the screen, didn't exactly take the box office by storm when it was released, it has since become a cult classic. I'm really hoping for some overacting, an overwrought soundtrack, and a fun wardrobe. It is allegedly a big influence on Steven Soderbergh, one of my favorite living directors, so my expectations are high!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chat: Das Boot

Note: Although I don't think it matters to the chat, I watched the theatrical version because that's what we agreed upon; Tracy was saddled with the director's cut by Netlfix.

Tracy:  You know, I don' think I'd get super drunk the night before I was going to be on a submarine for multiple months.

 Natalie:  That's EXACTLY what I was thinking that whole opening scene! The last thing I want is to be hungover in a tight space that's submerged in water.

 Tracy:  Yeah. Gross. I don't know really where to start with this one. I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would, but I don't think it's that amazing either. It almost reminded me of Jarhead with the whole "war is mundane . . . until it isn't" thing, and then the overwrought ironic ending was pure cheese.

 Natalie:  I didn't hate it but I wasn't drawn in. Maybe I should have watched it in a closet with the heat turned on because I didn't really feel much of the tension except in the obviously tense moments (who wants to get hit with a bolt that has burst from the wall?) but I felt it should have been tense for the entirety. It's a thing to be in such tight quarters that you don't even get your own bed and crabs spread like wildfire while you're constantly damp and low on air. By the time they stop in Spain, I was over it. I figured they wouldn't live from the beginning so it just became a waiting game of when they would die. Not even that really because what else is the movie going to show if not them so I knew they'd have to wait until the end of the film to die.

 Tracy:  Right! There were some moments (like the bolt and the boat getting rammed all to hell by depth chargers) where I thought, huh, that's an unpleasant way to make a living, but I thought Wages of Fear did the whole tension thing better. And I wish, perhaps for the first time ever, that there had been more exposition. I couldn't figure out if, when they were descending lower than they were supposed to, if they could actually feel the pressure physically or if the dudes were wincing because they were scared.

 Natalie:  Yes! I could have used more exposition, too. The descent was lost on me because I have no clue how low those things can go. And, I read later that the submarine crews were some of the least political of the Nazi forces so that explains why they're not all Hurrah, Hitler. But I don't think the film does a great job of giving us the background information needed. Apparently the author of the book on which this was based was not happy with the adaptation, thinking the actors were overacting and the moments of camaraderie were disrespectful; but he wanted something like a 6-8 hour version. I could have done with a few more moments of humanity. The kid giving the love letters over so they could be delivered and then having them returned to him was heartbreaking--because I assumed he was dead in the water anyway. But I brought that to the film with my assumption that the kid would die. So, yeah, exposition and more moments like that would have pulled me in more.

 Tracy:  That's true! I think I wrote a note "dead meat with the French fiancee." And she's pregnant? With a half-German kid? And he's not even there to help her out after the war? Her life is over. I kind of wish the movie was about her. And that's interesting about the crews in general--I thought the movie was pretty apolitical, but I thought that might have just been more about the isolation of it. I like that it's historically accurate--but yeah, we need to know that. And maybe why. And after they get the boat off the bottom of the sea and are all like "we're going to be fine now and live such happy lives!" I was like okay, here's where the guy responsible for Air Force One is starting to show. could you project a tragic end more clumsily?

 Natalie:  I would have liked that movie better--I like things about France in the war. And then when the reporter finds the dead captain and was so freaking awkward and melodramatic? Ugh.

 Tracy:  So awkward!

 Natalie:  So, the book likes it because “Das Boot was nominated for six Academy Awards, a “mission impossible” for any foreign film. Capturing in authentic claustrophobic detail the sights and, most notably, the sounds of underwater warfare, the film sidelines issues of nationalism to focus on the dangerous task of manning a submarine in war-torn waters.”

 Tracy:  Well, it was in fact dangerous. And the sound thing was cool--I didn't realize sonar could pick up human voices. Actually, i didn't realize that from the movie. I "realized" it after my father told me that's why they were whispering. Exposition! I think it's decent, but could have been better. I wouldn't boot (no pun intended) it, but more because it seems to be sort of a seminal war film.

 Natalie:  I guessed that's why they were quiet but telling us would be helpful. And they had a built-in reason to add exposition--little reporter dude didn't have a clue what's going on. They gave us some when he first boarded but then no more. Yeah, fine, I'd keep it but now I'm more interested in it for other reasons like these the book gives:  “Much of the nerve-shattering realism of Das Boot is due to the three scale-model U-boats built for the production. Taking up a large portion of the film’s $14 million budget, they were later used in Raiders of the Lost Ark. As much a sonic as a visual experience, the entire film was shot silent; it was impossible to record live in the submarine interiors. The subtitled version is considered definitive, with all German and English dialogue added later—many of the German actors dubbing their own voices for the spoken English version.”

 Tracy:  See, now THAT'S interesting! And also makes me want to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark.

 Natalie:  Yes! That's an excellent movie (also on the list)!
So we begrudgingly keep it. Next up, gangsters? I think that's what Point Blank is about.

 Tracy:  I keep reading "Point Break" whenever I see that. Yes! Should be a change of pace!

 Natalie:  Ha! Me, too.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Das Boot (1981)

In my head, Das Boot is an ancient relic of a film--sort of like All Quiet on the Western Front. I was pretty surprised to find out that I'm older than it is, and that the writer-director, Wolfgang Peterson, is also the auteur behind Outbreak, Air Force One, and Troy. I have a feeling this movie is a little different, though. This adaptation of a German novel follows the crew of a fictional U-Boat crew, depicting, and I quote from Wikipedia, both the "excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt." Tedium. Great. The movie is available in both a theatrical cut, running a brisk 149 minutes, and a director's cut, clocking in at 209. Guess whose Netflix account will only send her the latter? The film is pretty universally acknowledged to be among the best of all German film and it was nominated for six Academy Awards. It also comes with the My Dad Seal of Approval, who suggests Nat and I watch it in a closet, with the heat turned up. Don't think we'll be taking that advice.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Chat: Love Me Tonight

Natalie:  So, which is more "romantic": the whatever he was taking down the technical notes of the song in the cab or the street people singing it around a fire?
Tracy:  Hah! I vote for the gypsies. Really, any scene that doesn't feature Maurice Chevalier, who I find "romantic" so much as "creepy."
Natalie:  HA! Gypsies is a better word--I couldn't think of anything but "hobos." I'm with you on Chevalier. I don't dig him one bit.
Tracy:  And what was up with his "negging" the chick? Telling her how messed up she was and then she fell in love with him.
Natalie:  But it's so romantic to be told how terrible your clothes and hair are. Right? Especially by the crazy man who gets a stag to go into a random person's house during a hunt. Sigh. And was it me or was this the most boring rom com ever?
Tracy:  I KNOW. That bit with the stag was so bizarre! And it was completely boring. I liked the sexy sister, but she was barely in it.
Natalie:  The sexy sister was Myrna Loy who had a bigger career than either of the leading stars. I feel like I should have something more to say about this one but I don't. I was bored and I didn't even like the singing.
Tracy:  I know. "Isn't it Romantic" was disappointing. And what else annoyed me was the trend that has become omnipresent in romcoms now, where the woman has to humiliate herself at the end in order to get the dude. Why didn't she just go find him in Paris? Why ride the mutant horse?
Natalie:  Right--especially when apparently she went to Paris before because she was begging the Duke to give her money so she could return at the beginning. Sigh. I think, though, the humiliation may be part of the genre. Here, at least, the book sort of taught me something new (well, the book gave me a word to go look up so not so much "teaching"): “As with so many of this sadly underrated director’s finest films, the delightful things about this masterly variation on the romantic Ruritanian musical is the way Rouben Mamoulian manages to debunk, through an idiosyncratic combination of irreverent humor and technical innovation, the traditions of the very genre he is simultaneously helping to establish and expand." So this "Ruritanian musical" thing is, according to the super trusty wikipedia, first, a "Ruritanian romance" which is "a story set in a fictional country, usually in Central or Eastern Europe, such as the Ruritania that gave the genre its name. The popularity of the Graustark novels led to this type of story also being called Graustarkian Romances. Such stories are typically swashbuckling adventure novels, tales of high romance and intrigue, centered on the upper classes, aristocracy and royalty. The themes of honor, loyalty, and love predominate, and the books frequently feature the restoration of kings to their thrones."
Tracy:  Well that is interesting. Can we think of any better examples of that genre? Like Princess Diaries is the only thing that comes to mind.
Natalie:  Although . . . the racing the train on the horse and then standing in front of a train thing could be read as more of an act of bravery and sacrifice rather than humiliation. She's the one who brushed him off because of rank so she's the one who has to make amends. And, how many of us are going to stand in front of a train? If he'd been the one to race a train with a horse, it would have been brave. In terms of the genre . . . I'm not sure. Princess Diaries seems to work. Wikipedia says "Latveria, ruled by Doctor Doom in the Marvel Comics Universe" and The Adventures of Tin-Tin. And, in spoofs, the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup and "Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, the main narrator has the delusion of being the incognito king of a "distant northern land" who romantically escaped a Soviet-backed revolution." So, it's not strictly a romance in the kissy way but rather in the traditional hero narrative way.
 Tracy:  Oooohhhh. I see. I always wanted to read Pale Fire but never did. And yeah--I guess it's just the act of the chasing reminded me of 27 Dresses and Must Love Dogs. But standing in front of a train is better than falling out of a canoe.
Natalie:  I haven't read Pale Fire either. I guess maybe Borat would also classify since he's heavily fictionalizing the country. Falling out of a canoe is lame. Standing in front of a train takes balls. She's using said balls to stand in front of a train for a lame reason and man though. I think the book wanted us to see this one because it loves the director and that it thinks "what is really impressive about Love Me Tonight is how music, dance, dialogue, performance, décor, lighting, camera work, editing, and special effects are all combined to create a cogent comic/dramatic whole in which each element serves narrative, characterization, and theme. The “Isn’t It Romantic?” sequence, for example . . . is impressive.” I don't see the point (how it's especially different than any other work of narrative), especially with the less than illuminating example. I say ditch it.
Tracy:  Um, special effects? Even for the time--Meliere (or whoever) was doing much better much earlier. And why does everybody go nuts over the "IIR?" sequence? Even if it is technologically impressive, it does absolutely nothing thematically. Just like Avatar. I second the ditching.
Natalie:  Yeah, it doesn't do anything at all that would have been remotely innovative for the time. And, it has the creepy. Just like Avatar.
Tracy:  Officially the Avatar of musical romcoms

Friday, May 4, 2012

Love Me Tonight (1932)

It's a ***musical***!!!! We've got music by Rodgers and Hart. We've got Maurice "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" Chevalier. We've got a plot straight out of a fairy tale. Chevalier plays a tailor pretending to be a nobleman, who falls in love with someone of his own class who poses no complications. Kidding. He totally falls in love with a princess. The film features the standard "Isn't It Romantic?", which was featured in the AFI's 100 Years . . . 100 Songs list, and the film made the institute's comedy and romance lists as well. It'll be a nice break before Das Boot.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chat: Silver Lode

Tracy:  I'm surprised the town wasn't just called Witch Hunt.
Natalie:  Ha! It would have been more fun had there been witches or even if they threatened to burn someone at the stake.
Tracy:  I know! I much prefer The Crucible as a McCarthyism allegory. Everyone in this movie was a total cartoon.
Natalie:  Which was beyond infuriating. This is the umpteenth film we've seen with a pretty great premise where the movie completely undermines, doesn't live up to, and makes absurdly boring said premise.
Tracy:  Hah!!! Totally bizarre. As was the dress that she kept inexplicably changing into and out of during the movie. The concept of it--sort of real time--reminded me of the 3:10 to Yuma short story, but rather than have a condensed time frame make it seem more urgent, it just made everyone's reactions seem really forced and unnatural.
Natalie:  Yeah, she had a hard time staying dressed but even that wasn't all that interesting. I agree about the unity of time. It's a grand idea but it rarely actually works because no one is ever worth watching for even all of an hour unless it's a performance--which kind of kills the point of unity of time.
Tracy:  I also thought it was funny the actor's name was John *P*ayne. Sort of in keeping with the low-rent Western it was. But like I said in the blurb, at the presentation my dad and I saw, dude had a clip of Martin Scorsese drooling all over it. I just don't get it.
Natalie:  It's boring and doesn't do what it could do. So, the book says, first and most inaccurately, that it's a "gripping Western." And then continues with “Silver Lode is the Allan Dwan film par excellance: concise, plain, inventive, fluid, ironic, unspectacular-but-beautiful. No Western, probably, has more shots through windows . . . and few make such splendid use of the familiar architecture and décor of the Hollywood Western town. In a single stunning shot, Dwan’s camera tracks with Payne as he runs four blocks across town. Thanks to the director’s visual assurance . . . Silver Lode is one of the best of the American cinema’s many underrated Westerns.” I don't think it's any of those things. and that last sentence is one of the most convoluted, qualified pieces of nonsense ever.
Tracy:  Hah! And how can something be plain and ironic? And yeah, this is one of the best of the Westerns everyone thinks is crap. The script and acting were terrible, I thought, and the execution of the concept was a disaster. I'm also officially sick of everyone swooning over tracking shots. Verdict: boot it.
Natalie:  Completely agreed. Boot it.
Tracy:  So next: Love Me Tonight. I really hope it doesn't also shit all over a somewhat good-sounding premise.
Natalie:  HA! We're kind of due a good one. Or at least a decent one.
Tracy:  Yes. Especially with Das Boot looming.