Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some films watched and reflected upon (the nature of how this place works....)

TRIAD ELECTION is a fine piece of artful modern gangsterism from the Hong Kong auteur Johnnie To. A sequel to a film I’ve not watched, it holds up well as a stand alone work, though I look forward to re-watching this after acquainting myself with the original ELECTION. To’s style is tough, vivid, compositionally precise and focused on momentum: He’s an action director par excellence. I look forward to delving deeper into his work, the better to examine the recurring themes that are noted regarding his oeuvre.

Lucrecia Martel’s THE HEADLESS WOMAN is a prolonged meditation on class, allegorical in nature and perhaps difficult in its unconventional (lack of?) structure. The story presented here could work as a big-budgeted Hollywood suspense film, but in Martel’s hands it’s profoundly post-modern, a bit like Akerman and a touch like ‘80s Godard, but also with flashes of an almost Bunuelian sensibility. Yeah, this baby crawls to its conclusion, but it does so like a budding young genius in a colorful cloth diaper. Uncompromisingly major, it would work well in a double bill with Todd Haynes’ underrated and misunderstood SAFE.

Jim Jarmusch is one of my faves, maybe my personal tip-top American director post 1980 (his only real competition being Wes Anderson and Dave Lynch). THE LIMITS OF CONTROL continues his unabated string of mastery, and I found it to be a sweet little accidental bookend to Martel’s WOMAN, in that CONTROL feels sorta like a movie about a hit-man made in 2009 by Antonioni circa 1962, all the suspense beaten flat and replaced with studied deliberateness, ennui, and a predilection for the integrity and beauty of small gestures. All shot wonderfully by Christopher Doyle. Along the way, observations are made, characters arrive and fade out, and an agent of imperialism comes to the end of his foul journey. I love happy endings.

I think the strength of Jason Reitman’s UP IN THE AIR actually rests on the strong abilities of its cast, since the directorial style at work just largely looks (to me) like television. That look isn’t really a bad thing, since these days TV doesn’t really “look” “bad”, but I guess my point is that it seems “undistinguished”. Maybe I just need to see more Reitman. The bigger picture Re: AIR is how well acted and powerful its story is, how that story is complex and ambiguous in the way it tackles the subject of the alienating effects of life in late-Capitalism, and by extension how that alienation bleeds into every aspect of our personal lives. And, y’know, I’m not even sure if that’s what the filmmaker’s intended. With a stronger visual approach it could’ve been a flat-out masterpiece. As it stands, it’s merely great.

THE BOOK OF ELI, on the other hand, is drenched in visual stylization, with varying degrees of substantive achievement. As far as post-apocalyptic westerns go, it’s got some good things going on, but it also has some big plot holes, or maybe more specifically gaps. There are some fine shots courtesy of the digital Red camera, Denzel and Oldman are both very strong (Jennifer Beals, also), but overall it can’t shake being just slightly above average. The Hughes Brothers are capable of so much more…

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