Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Weekend viewing

All or Nothing (Mike Leigh, 2002)
I have to admit, I was kind of afraid of Mike Leigh movies before seeing Vera Drake. But I loved that one, so I feel like my fear is conquered. Also, I generally enjoy really depressing movies, so it was probably an irrational fear all along. I didn't find this nearly as good as Vera Drake, but it's still a rich character study with excellent acting and really not as depressing as you might think. Unlike misanthropes like Todd Solondz or Neil LaBute, Leigh finds moments of genuine hope and humanity in the lives of his characters. They may all be working dead-end jobs and harboring seething family resentments, but at the same time they nurture genuine friendships and a strong sense of community. At times the bleakness is almost laughable, but Leigh deflates that by having the characters actually laugh, and allowing the audience to laugh with, not at, them.

Fear and Trembling (Alain Corneau, 2003)
I had kind of a vague interest in this, and then some people told me it was great, and my interest increased, and then I watched it and it was not great. I should have kept the vague interest because then I probably would have been satisfied. It's sort of an awkward cross between Lost in Translation and Secretary, and ultimately takes a pretty simplistic view of Japan. While Translation viewed Japan as a kind of mysterious, incomprehensible world, this film comprehends Japan very well, and sees it (or at least its dominant corporate culture) as sadistic and dehumanizing. The main character supposedly has this great love of Japan, but the whole movie just makes the place seem miserable and Japanese people seem stupid for conforming to its rules.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell, 1994)
This is exactly what I was talking about a few weeks ago with regards to intelligent, funny romantic comedies. Andie MacDowell's strangely flat performance aside, this is just a really entertaining, warm, enjoyable film that focuses on romance without shoving it down our throats. For some reason Richard Curtis (writer of this film, as well as Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary and Love Actually, which he also directed) is always able to make romance believable, even when his films are completely unrealistic. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but what I mean is that while his situations are often fairy tales, his characters feel like real people in love, if such people were confronted with such extraordinary circumstances. It's hard to make an audience really believe in love in the movies, especially in a comedy, and I think Curtis is one of the best at it.

Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995)
I have a good excuse: I interviewed Joe Eszterhas today, and I had to prepare. Showgirls is being screened as part of this year's CineVegas film festival, in a sidebar on Vegas in the movies. Truthfully, I already had the DVD from NetFlix sitting on my TV before I got the Eszterhas assignment. Why? Well, I suppose there's the value of seeing a cultural touchstone. There's my sometimes unhealthy interest in campy cult classics. Or there's this downright orgasmic review from Slant Magazine, which places Showgirls on its list of "100 Essential Films." I didn't quite reach those heights, but I did get some enjoyment from the camp value and I wasn't bored or annoyed even though the film is more than two hours long. I loved Gina Gershon's performance, because Gina Gershon is awesome in everything. I loved Elizabeth Berkeley's performance in a camp way, especially her ridiculously exaggerated movements that extend her poor dancing into every move her character makes. I'm not really buying into it as "the think-piece object d'art of its time," as Slant calls it, but I'm not about to heap scorn on it either.

The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)
Man, this film is really gay. Another result of my interest in camp classics, and I think I have discovered an unfortunate truth: Most people become enamored of such films because they catch them randomly on TV or in a video store and don't know what to expect, thus being surprised by the sheer amusing ridiculousness. When you seek out a movie specifically for that ridiculousness, though, it kind of loses its charm. So, yes, this movie is intensely, hilariously homoerotic, perhaps the least realistic portrayal of gang life in the history of cinema, full of stupid lines and awesomely awful costumes, but I was totally bored, since that was exactly what I expected. I think someone needs to randomly assault me with campy movies I've never heard of so I can experience that joy of discovery.

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