As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Watching Log, June

Posted by Hedwig on July 21, 2009

Ok: so, I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the fact that I’m no longer writing, and that this blog is dead. Furthermore, participating in the terrific TOERIFC discussion of Black Book reminded me that there is some tremendously insightful, engaging, thought-provoking writing about film (and all kinds of other things) being done, but not by me (unless you count twittering).

So: on this thunderstormy night I sent the boyfriend to a poker tournament, and told myself I’d write. Just write. No idea what it’ll be, but let’s start with a round-up of what I’ve been watching recently. 100 words per film. I can’t promise it’ll be worth reading, but it’ll at least be something. Ready? Set? Go.

June 2nd: The Misfits (Huston, 1961)

I’ve never really understood the Marilyn Monroe cult. The fascination with her life, I mean. She was a tragic figure, but in my opinion not so intriguing. As an actress, I find her alternately infuriating and fascinating. In The Misfits, she’s the latter: child-like but obviously damaged in some way, beautiful but frail and flighty. Eli Wallach and Montgomery Clift are great too, but to me it’s Clark Gable who elevates this movie above its rather unfocused plot, which meanders quite a bit on its way to the very poignant ending.

June 5th: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, 1991) and June 7th: Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009) – seen in the cinema.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is pretty much everything you want from an action sequel. It takes everything that made the first movie great, turns it up to 11, and adds some delightful elements to boot. Linda Hamilton, whose Sarah Connor was a ditzy Mary-figure in the original, is fierce here: obsessive, verging on crazy, and BUILT. The bonding between JC and Arnie as his surrogate father figure is dopey and somewhat corny, but it works. And Robert Patrick is scarier and seemingly unstoppable as T-1000. There’s even a nice undercurrent about morality, and if you can punish someone for something they haven’t done yet. In one word, it’s awesome.

And then there’s Terminator Salvation. I’ll admit: I was in a good mood and was going along with it for the most part. My expectations were low, and while I don’t believe in shutting off your critical faculties entirely even for a popcorn flick, I was just trying to enjoy the ride and the wham-bam effects, despite Bale’s boring glowering, the effects-for-effects’-sake, the lack of nuance and humor… and then came the ending, and I realized just how bad this movie is. “The power of the human heart”- seriously? Worst of all, the new movie never made clear why exactly John Connor was so crucial to the Resistance. *spoilerish* in my eyes Marcus was the more valuable asset *spoilerish*. I won’t even get into the whole nonsense with Helena Bonham Carter. I think this is best treated like the sequels to The Matrix.

June 8th: Mala Noche (van Sant,1985)

I have a confession to make: for the last couple of month, roughly until I saw L’Avventura (more on that movie later), I had a hard time concentrating on movies. I was watching quite a few, happily checking off movie from the “They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?” list, but my netbook was always close by, and I rarely managed to immerse myself in movies. All this to say to Mala Noche: it’s not you, it’s me. I’m sure I’ll give the movie another shot: it was beautiful to look at, and I usually find van Sant’s fascination with, and observation of, young boys (cf.) fascinating. But this time around, it was a letdown.

June 8th and 9th: The Woman In the Window (Lang, 1944).

Even “minor Lang” (to use a The Squid and the Whale-via-filmspotting expression), like this rather straighforward little noir, is worth watching. Especially, of course, if it stars the amazing Edward G. Robinson. I’ll admit his role, as a stodgy professor who feels just a little confined in his comfortable life, is not one of his most interesting, and he makes some head-desk worthy decisions… But those are explained by the ending, which is a bit of a cop-out but not an unsatisfying one. It’s not among the great noirs, but its a testament to the genre that even the lesser films are very entertaining. Then again, with this director and star, anything else would have been surprising.

June 10th: Birth (Glazer, 2004)

Based on the premise of this film, I dismissed it. Seemed too mystical and new-agey, But I kept hearing good things about it, and I love Glazer’s Sexy Beast, so when I saw it was on television (and on one of the few channels without commercials, to boot) I relented.

I’m glad I did. It’s an odd little movie, but while I can’t say I love it completely as a while, it’s pretty much perfect on a scene-by-scene basis, from the stunning credit sequence through the modulated reactions of everyone around Nicole Kidman’s Anna to the ending, which is anticlimactic but somehow not really disappointing. I can’t wait what Glazer does next.

June 11th A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven (Powell & Pressburger, 1946)

Come to think about it, this is not a bad pairing with Birth. Does love transcend death? I don’t think it does, but Powell and Pressburger do make a convincing case. Powell is great, I loved the fact that Heaven was in B&W while the earth was Technicolor, and the Britain vs. US discussion is hilarious.

June 13th: The Brothers Bloom (Johnson, 2009) – seen in the cinema with my dad

Like all good con movies, this one is a con on its audience, too… But not in the way you’d expect. The events aren’t that unpredictable: what’s unpredictable is that – as, according to the movie, in all great cons – you get exactly what you want in the end. I loved how Johnson played with the notion of storytelling being a con-job (though he did lay it on a bit thick at times). Also, like Wes Anderson before him, he makes great use of Adrian Brody’s long limbs and sad-clown face. The grasp he has on the movie’s tone isn’t as firm as with Brick, but when an opening scene already makes me giddy, I don’t feel like complaining too much.

June 14th: Imitation of Life (Sirk, 1959)

I liked this much more than I thought I would, and was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of race and sexism as topics… But is it bad that I enjoy the homage (specifically Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven more?

June 18th: In the Heat of the Night (Jewison, 1967)

I think this is the first Sydney Poitier movie I’ve ever seen… I know, I’m terrible. He’s amazing, obviously. The movie… well, the atmosphere is great. The mystery? Let’s just say I’ve already forgotten most of it. It seemed a bit too much like a message movie to me, but since the message is unfortunately still relevant, it’s hard to blame it for that.

June 20st: Bottle Shock (Miller, 2008)

I lost some serious movie-nerd cred with this one: I picked it as a safe rental for the whole family (always difficult to find, seeing how diverse and strongly opinionated my family is)…and they hated it. I didn’t quite, but let’s face it, even Rickman can’t save this formulaic, maudlin mess. Pretty postcard pictures, though.

June 21st: The Trial (Welles, 1962)

Remember I said I had some trouble concentrating on movies? This one suffered most. Will report back one I feel I’ve actually watched it, instead of just vaguely registering some scenes. The opening is aptly unsettling though, and Perkins is well-cast.

June 24th: L’Avventura (Antonioni, 1960) – seen in the cinema

The movie that ended my funk, and the last one I’ll discuss here. As readers of this blog might know, I’m quite an Antonioni-aficionado, but since his films aren’t exactly widely available, I’ve only seen a rather narrow selection of his films. In fact, I’d only seen the four I own on DVD: L’Eclisse (my only Criterion, a lovely film), his first fiction feature, Cronaca di un Amore, which is a surprisingly inconclusive variation on the wife-and-lover-conspire-to-kill-husband theme, and two english-language films I love, Blow-Up and The Passenger. I was understandable psyched when a retrospective of his work was announced, but unfortunately I could not make it to either Red Desert or La Noche.

However, I did see L’Avventura in all its glory, up on a big screen in a dark room. It was exactly what I needed: a slow, deliberate film in which very little happens, which is absolutely worthless and uninteresting if you don’t pay it your full attention. It reminded me of why films are worth immersing yourself in, about how much you miss if you focus only on the overall plot. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t love L’Avventura, not as much as Blow-Up and The Passenger in any case, maybe not even as much as L’Eclisse. But I love that it re-invigorated my love for film.

It’s quite amazing, really, how much Antonioni’s movies pull you in despite keeping you at a distance. They lull you into a sense of security with their everyday, ordinary details, their often uninspired, pedestrian dialogues. And then you fall into the big emptiness that lies beneath his pretty surfaces. Monica Vitti had the perfect face for his movies, really, impenetrable and cool but promising something more.

That’s it for now – I’m tired, it’s late, and this post is way too long. I know the writing is very workmanlike, but I hope to build up to insightful and sharp gradually. Most importantly: I wrote. Writing something good… well, let’s see if I can do that again soon.

11 Responses to “Watching Log, June”

  1. Yay! Hedwig wrote! This makes me happy.

    I can’t comment on all of these since I haven’t seen them, but let’s pick a handful, shall we?

    The Misfits. It’s funny you mention not being into the Cult of Marilyn but that you liked her in this film. I never really got her in terms of a screen presence before I finally saw Misfits a couple of years ago. With her performance here (I’d argue she holds her own with Gable and Wallach and Clift) she finally clicked for me and I went back and watched almost all of her movies. I saw things I’d never seen before. It’s frustrating because I don’t think she ever quite got to shine as a dramatic actor the way she could have and the way she gives glimpses of in Misfits, but all along she was pretty terrific with the right light comedy. I even liked Seven Year Itch, a movie I’ve always kind of loathed. I even started a blog post called The Night I Fell in Love with Marilyn Monroe, but like so many others it never really got off the ground. Maybe I’ll have to dust it off some day. Jeez, I’ve already written more about it than you wrote in the first place. I guess that means it’s time to move on…

    Terminator 2. I enjoyed this one when I first saw it, but have liked it less and less as time goes on. You’re right, it provides everything you expect from a sequel except more, but that’s one of the thing I hate about it. It’s a rehash turned up to 11 with a lot of extra one-liners and comedy thrown in because they’d lost confidence in the simple greatness of the original story. The last sequence with Arnold giving the thumbs up as he descends into the molten metal is laughably bad. Having said that, Terminator Salvation makes me quickly forget all the bad things about T2. Talk about awful.

    Also, am I the only one who isn’t looking forward to Avatar?

    Woman in the Window. Love it, but then I love Edward G.

    The Brothers Bloom. I’m pretty much alone in hating this one. So much so that I wonder if I didn’t just completely misjudge it.

    Imitation of Life. “Is it bad that I enjoy the homage (specifically Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven) more?” No. I agree though you’d never find me arguing Haynes’ film is better. It just fits my time and place better.

    In the Heat of the Night. For a man with such magnetic screen presence, I don’t think Poitier mad a lot of great films so it’s not a shock you were late in coming to one of them. I find even some of his most popular films, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for example, to be kind of unbearable. In the Heat of the Night is probably my favorite of the lot. Not QUITE as heavyhandedly messagey as Dinner and oozing with a sense of time and place. Plus Rod Steiger.

    L’Avventura is one of my favorite examples of the kinds of European movies that make so many Americans hate European movies…but I kind of love it. On paper, it’s pretentious as hell, but in practice there’s something so beguiling and haunting about it. A perfect film to shake a girl out of her funk.

  2. Hedwig said

    Yay, Craig! Thanks for reading (good to know there’s someone out there who’s actually willing to read my ramblings), and for the elaborate reply.

    I need to get more into Marylin’s work… I’ve seen her in small parts (in the Asphalt Jungle, All About Eve), and in a few bigger ones (Niagara, in which she was pretty great, and in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, where I thought Jane Russell outshone her), but while I’ve seen parts of the Seven-Year Itch and Some Like it Hot, I’ve never seen them from start to finish. I should, I know 🙂

    I hope T2 stands up to repeat viewings better than in did for you (this was my first time). I know it’s corny… But I appreciated that a lot compared to the dourness of TS.

    As for In the Heat of the Night, it does have a very firm sense of time and place… but if you say Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is even more heavy-handed when it comes to its message, I think I’ll postpone seeing that one for now.

  3. I’ve always enjoyed your ramblings Hedwig and you’ve tolerated mine longer than most.

    Your results may vary of course, but I’d recommend checking out some of Monroe’s films again now that you’ve seen Misfits. Maybe you’ll warm up to her a bit as I did. And you should definitely see Some Like it Hot just because. It’s one of the few Tony Curtis roles I enjoy watching more than once…he does a pretty solid Cary Grant impersonation and Jack Lemmon is…well…Jack Lemmon.

    Make no mistake T2 rules over Salvation even if it has since worn out its welcome with me.

    I think Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was important in its day and you have to like the cast but…I don’t know, maybe I’m in the minority on that one.

  4. Kaj said

    You should give the Trial another shot – it’s wonderful, although there’s too much dialogue. If you have a hard time concentrating, though, I can see how you would enjoy it less than you perhaps would if you were fully up to it.

    Loved Woman in the Window. If that’s minor Lang, than what’s major Lang (of his American movies anyway)?

  5. Hedwig said

    Well, The Big Heat, definitely. And I kind of love Scarlet Street, though it’s messier than Woman in the Window. I confess I haven’t seen much of his other American films.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Kaj said

    Always a pleasure.

    The Big Heat and Scarlet Street are indeed, definitely major Lang noir. But I’d consider Woman In The Window major also, if only for the reason that it has a big star and is just a great movie. Ministry of Fear and Human Desire would be minor American Lang in my opinion, although the first is great, the latter being the only one of two Langs I didn’t really enjoy that much, even though it’s kinda ok. I’d advise you, however, not to seek out his Indian adventure movies, except for completist reasons.

  7. Kaj said

    Oh, and I’ve had a completely different experience at the same screening of L’Avventura where we last met. You can read about it here (In Dutch) if you’re interested.

  8. Hedwig said

    @Kaj: I’d already read it (I visit Salon Indien on occasion). I can understand your reaction quite well: I wasn’t 100% focused on the film either, not all the time anyway. But it unleashed a flow of associations and thoughts, so while I did not love the film unconditionally, I loved the experience of watching it, if that makes any sense at all.

  9. Daniel said

    I must agree with your thoughts on T2 and disagree on Craig’s. I’ve always found T2 to be in many ways the most watchable of all four Terminator movies. The action alone (not to mention the special effects) is SO much better than the others, and to the extent that it does continue the story from the first one, it’s also more thought-provoking than either Rise of the Machines or Salvation, the latter of which I thought was a black mark on the franchise. Of course there couldn’t be a T2 with an original, so The Terminator deserves some credit for laying the groundwork for the fun of #2.

  10. Yeah I know I’m in the cold minority on T2 and that’s ok. What it delivers in special effects, it takes back in groan worthy-dialogue and a largely recycled-but-jumbled story. Plus…”Bad to the Bone?” COME ON!!

    OK, yeah, the liquid metal is ground breaking but I need more than clever special effects…hence my worries about the upcoming Avatar…

  11. Daniel said

    Yeah, “Bad to the Bone” was pretty bad. As is Furlong’s weirdness and the stupid slang throughout (“Hasta la vista”, etc.”). But the liquid metal was awesome. I hope Avatar has more to offer, too, but Cameron usually doesn’t disappoint me.

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