Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Weekend viewing

King Kong (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)
I saw this movie a long time ago, when I was maybe ten years old, so it seemed reasonable to revisit it before seeing the upcoming remake, and this is also a brand new DVD reissue. What impressed me most, actually, is how well the special effects hold up, especially the sequence pitting Kong against the T. Rex. They're nearly as fluid as CGI at times, and always complement the story. Which, naturally, is an exciting adventure yarn, as popcorn as popcorn flicks get. Fay Wray's sexually-charged performance is outstanding (she doesn't get enough screen time), and Robert Armstrong's quick-talking movie director is far more entertaining than Wray's boring love interest. It's hard to imagine how Peter Jackson plans to turn this into a three-hour epic, although I imagine it'll involve expanding the Kong in New York scenes, which are the most famous but only represent about 20 minutes of this 100-minute movie.

Twentynine Palms (Bruno Dumont, 2003)
I rented this mainly because of its place on Slant's 100 Essential Films list, and because I've been doing my best to get into French minimalist cinema (Claire Denis, Catherine Breillat). I do think there's something in the genre that's worth working toward understanding (I've sort of had it with Breillat but I'm planning to see more Denis), but whatever that is it's definitely not in this movie. Dumont follows two incredibly irritating and unlikeable protagonists as they fight, fuck, fail to communicate effectively and drive around aimlessly in the titular California desert town, utilizing the long (long, long) takes, banal or nonexistent dialogue and sudden, inexplicable explosions of violence that are the hallmarks of the French minimalist genre. The sex is incredibly graphic and equally unerotic, and while it may be realistic, it doesn't convey anything. There are some striking images of the desert landscape, but Dumont seems to be doing all he can to strip away all traditional moviemaking elements and replace them with nothing but empty pretension.


Katie said...

Hmm. I'm intrigued by that Slant list. On the one hand, it seems off-putting and annoyingly obscure (would most people even put The Crime of Monsieur Lange or I Confess in their directors' top ten?) And I think a bunch of those films are actually deathly boring and overrated. On the other hand, I can't hate something that includes Les Vampires, Point Blank, and A Short Film About Killing all on one list.

(Sorry, Josh, for complaining about some other list on your blog!)

Josh said...

It's definitely deliberately obscure, as they explain in the intro, purposefully picking unconventional choices by big directors like Hitchcock and Renoir. Although they definitely have sometimes overly contrarian taste (they revere Showgirls and Verhoeven in general unto godhood), the Slant bunch are generally smart and well-versed and iconoclastic enough that I find things they recommend worthwhile, even if I don't always like them (like Twentynine Palms). I've seen 14 movies on the list, far fewer than the number I've seen on the AFI list, for example, but it's a guide that I keep returning to.

Katie said...

I think it's a good idea to make unconventional choices... it's just that some of those films are less famous for very good reasons. They're definitely taking an auteurist perspective, as the vast majority of the works are by big-name directors that no one would question the importance of. But sometimes great directors make mediocre movies.

But then there are the occasional ones thrown in for controversy, like Verhoeven or Jerry Lewis. Their provocative later choices (and accompanying reviews) seem the most interesting and daring to me. They might be sometimes inexplicable, but it seems like important criticism in the vein of the early days of Sight and Sound.

So it's a compelling idea for a list (though a list that concentrated more on one-offs might be more fascinating), it's just that a number of films on that list are ones I saw because film students and critics are always raving about them, and they just weren't that good. Sort of like your experience with Twentynine Palms.

But there are great films on the list too... So I guess it is an interesting, very smart list, just one that would get annoying for practical purposes.

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