Saturday, May 07, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven, Or: Those Barbaric Christians

Well, Ridley Scott has concocted his most sloppy film to date, a cringe-worthy epic of the Crusades that says absolutely nothing about the Crusades. Rather than delving into the tremendously weighty moral, spiritual and emotional issues that must have plagued those of the time, Scott instead has crafted a muscular, confused paean to prick-waving.

The Christians (the majority of those in this film, that is) are blood-thirsty, vindictive brutes. Villainous theme music pounds the score every time the Knights Templar appear on screen, contrasted by the lovely, harmonious Eastern music that accompanies the Muslims of Scott's Middle East.

Now, there is no question that all parties involved with the Crusades took part in violent, outlandish actions. And the back-and-forth warring over the Holy Land continues to this day. But in casting the Christians as macho murderers, Scott has robbed his film of what might have been an insightful look at the misguided hatred that can be spurred by religious dogma. There is one scene and one scene alone that skirts this, and it involves David Thewlis (solid as always) as a priest. He shuns religion, saying he's seen far too much bad done in the name of God under the guise of religion. Pointing to Orlando Bloom's head and chest, he suggests that all God wants is man's head and his heart...from this is the soul derived.

Unfortunately, Kingdom of Heaven's insights end there, and the rest of the picture devolves into a spastically lensed collage of battle sequences, filmed in the run and gun style that has become so prevalent in modern war films. There is no sense of space or geography. Scott has become a stylist to be sure, but he has no inclination toward evolving into a formalist. His films have become marginalizations of a once-interesting filmmakers best works. Matchstick Men saw Scott return to a more character-based film, the kind he's best at making. He has taken several steps back now with this grotesque, incoherent film.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

F For Fake - Criterion Collection

This will surely be the DVD release of the year. Criterion has finally brought to DVD a wonderful transfer of Orson Welles' most playfully masterful film, the essay-film, F For Fake. Jonathan Rosenbaum's liner notes are, as is typical to him, insightful and informative.

The extras are all top-notch, but the commentary track featuring Oja Kodar and Gary Graver, and the documentary on Welles' unfinished films, One-Man Band, is a welcome addition.

This has long been one of my favorite Welles I feel as if I've seen it anew.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Kung Fu Hustle - Capsule

Stephen Chow has crafted a marvelously entertaining piece of pop art. Equal parts Chuck Jones, Buster Keaton, Bubsy Berkeley and Bruce Lee, Kung Fu Hustle tows every line perfectly. Chow recently had his Shaolin Soccer butchered by Miramax in the film's U.S. release. Luckily, Sony Pictures Classics has left Chow's original vision intact, and it's truly a sight to behold.

Musical interludes, violent duels, spastic comedy...Kung Fu Hustle is the genre-mashing delight that American audiences have needed. I hope it does well.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Review

I've never read Douglas Adam's uber-cult novels. I don't believe now that I'll ever bother, as I've been told that this filmed adaptation is quite faithful, and I found Hitchhiker's faux-quirkiness to be mannered, forced and inconsistent. The strongest performance is, luckily, the one at the center of the film. Martin Freeman is pretty terrific as Arthur Dent, the sad-sack Englishman taken off-world by his alien friend just seconds before Earth is blown to smithereens as a part of an intergalactic transit project of some sort.

They meet up with Zaphod (an unusually ineffective Sam Rockwell), the galaxy's President who has kidnapped himself. They clash with aliens who have no imaginations. Seems like they might have infected the filmmakers, to be honest.

Adams' screenplay is weak and underperforming when it comes to dialing up the absurdity. It can't quite seem to find the balance between quirky and satire. Garth Jennings, in his feature debut, proves to be a woefully uninspired director. His film has some visual pop, but it's a narrative and thematic mess, thrown together, lacking any authorial focus.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Ten Summer Films I'm Looking Forward To

See, I told you there would be lists. And there will be more. Here are ten films I MUST see this summer.
  1. George A. Romero's Land of the Dead - I want to see this more than anything else this year, let alone this summer. Romero is one of the ten greatest directors of all time in my view. That he is still making films is a blessing to us all.
  2. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - I've come to completely reinterpret what Lucas has done with his Star Wars films. Expect a lengthy treatise at The Film Journal in the near future
  3. Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch)
  4. Kings and Queen - The latest from Arnaud Desplechin (Esther Kahn)
  5. 5X2 (Francois Ozon)
  6. The Devil's Rejects (Rob Zombie)
  7. Night Watch (Timur Bekmambetov)
  8. Saraband (Ingmar Bergman)
  9. The Bad News Bears (Richard Linklater)
  10. Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan)

Pre-Summer Best of the Year List, or: How this blog will feature tireless listmaking, beginning with this one

So this has been an extremely week year so far. I could only come up with 7 list-worthy films.

One of them played for one week in one theater (All the Ships at Sea). Another hasn't been released yet (2046).

The Farrelly Brothers picture, which is currently my number one film of the year, is a surprise even for me, an avowed Farrelly devotee. They took a script that wasn't theirs, put the Farrelly stamp on it, and grew as filmmakers in the process. Fever Pitch is the best romantic comedy I've seen since When Harry Met Sally. That's 16 years, folks.

All the Ships at Sea, directed by film critic Dan Sallitt, is a spiritual character study on par with the work of Robert Bresson. A stunning study of the nature and fallacy of faith.

10 on Ten is a Wellesian essay film on the evolution of the filmmaker himself through digital video. It's a wondrous look into the mind of the auteur.

Dallas 362, directed by Scott Caan, is an amalgam of the good parts of Good Will Hunting (trying to escape the trappings of lower-class machismo), Mean Streets and Jesus' Son. Caan has a keen ear for off-kilter dialogue ("It's a whole thing.") and an eye for rugged composition.

Rodriguez's Sin City, Wong's 2046 and Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle fill out the bill.

Best of 2005
  1. Fever Pitch (Peter & Bobby Farrelly)
  2. All the Ships at Sea (Dan Sallitt)
  3. 10 on Ten (Abbas Kiarostami)
  4. Dallas 362 (Scott Caan)
  5. Sin City (Robert Rodriguez)
  6. 2046 (Wong Kar-Wai)
  7. Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow)
So, apparently, I started this blog quite a while ago and abandoned it almost immediately. I plan on remedying that.