Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Collage 11: How We Do

Fyodor Dostoyevsky(2010)
Paul Gauguin(2010)
Dante Alighieri(2010)
Elated, Then Deflated, Then...(2010)
Compartmentalized Does Not A Whole Make(2010)
How The World Was Formed(2010)
Of Sirens And Muses(2010)
Cup Runneth Over(2010)
Another Quiet Afternoon(2010)
Ask Me, Ask Me, Ask Me(2010)
The Kundalini Bridge(2010)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mannequins On The Move

Directed By Gareth Edwards

The most impressive thing about “Monsters” is that it was made on a limited budget.

The plot involves alien creatures crashing in Mexico and evolving into giant monsters that resemble a Godzilla size cross between a squid and an elephant.

Bizarre as this sounds, the facts of the film are used purely as window dressing for a story about an unappealing duo, coming together as a couple (though the actors are married in real life, you'd never notice).

Millions dead and military and ecological chaos is just there to bring, to these very noticeably (all the more so in their "exotic" jungle locale) wealthy white folks together who Armond White does not inaccurately describe as "[those] who resemble Cameron Diaz and Ethan Coen wannabes, the kind of hipsters you see at the Independent Film Awards."

Though White's relationship to these "hipsters" in his criticism can often border a pathological resentment; they occupy the same shadowy monstrous/inhuman place that the Hollywood system occupies in the criticism of Jonathan Rosenbaum, to be fair.

Godzilla films have typically long involved romance sub-plots; the handsome scientist and the general’s daughter, the plucky reporter and cop in over his head, etc.

I always wondered what the purpose of these insect like figures scurrying beneath the legs of titans, was.

Do we really require these man-like puppets to add a “human core” to the impossible events?

I used to love these old monster flicks but I couldn’t tell you the names of any characters that were less than 50 feet tall.

They were not important to me as a viewer, and with a few exceptions in the sci-fi disaster genre it is humanity and our frail and petty desires which rightly take backseat as the monster/invasion/devastation/events begin and social well-being and selflessness replace individual concerns.

“Monsters” despite it’s title, tries for a reversal of a mechanism it does not fully understand (like similar dismal indie apocalypse “Time Of The Wolf), and is more interested in scenic road movie ambiance than action, horror, adventure, pathos, or being interesting.

The leads are unappealing; the boarder crossing metaphor was more half baked than “Sleep Dealer”, and the scenery and backdrop more appealing than anything that happens.

“Monsters” would be better if the leads had more personality than spoiled and out of touch or bland and generic, because this just leaves us waiting for “Monsters” who seldom appear.

Even if I were of the mind to agree with the consensus that monsters are better heard not seen (which I am not) there are better works featuring off camera scares like Pontypool”, “Session 9”, or the obvious, yet still underrated “Blaire Witch Project”.

That being said for the budget this is impressive. If director Gareth Edwards had even twice the funds he had here (still lower than the average film of it's type) the mind boggles at what he might be able to produce.

Crafting the sfx himself, he cuts out the middle man who are largely responsible for most high grossing films for the last few decades, and that would be the special effects and CGI teams.

The Ray Harryhausen’s of today are more anonymous today then ever before, but as technology becomes increasingly available these guys who can already cook themselves what Michael Bay has to order.

Greater availability and cheaper tech will hopefully allow these animators and designers to take the reigns from their lessers and let their imaginations run wild.

As a portent of genre cinema to come “Monsters” is excellent food for thought even if its not there quite yet.

On Such A Winter's Day

Arizona Dream(1993)
Directed By Emir Kusturica
It's weird, as a viewer, going from something as dense and epic in scope as director Emir Kusturica's "Underground", to the fairy tale tragic romance of "Arizona Dream". Weirder still is the cast of Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis, Faye Dunaway, Lili Taylor, and Vincent Gallo. The word "dream" comes up at least a dozen times in this movie, characters recounting dreams, or the film seamlessly showing them on screen, and appropriately it begins with a ten minute dream sequence (You only know it's a dream sequence because you're told it is afterwards), of an Eskimo in the snowy wilderness, catching a strange fish with both eyes on the same side, the Eskimo later becomes sick and is nursed back to health by his wife. From there we meet the dreamer Depp, who tags fish in New York, a job he loves because, "Most people think I count fish, but I don't. I look at them. I look at their souls and read their dreams and then I let them into my dreams." Then aspiring actor cousin Vinccent Gallo shows up, and asks Depp to come back to Arizona with him for his Uncle Jerry Lewis's wedding. Depp goes back and accepts a job selling Cadillacs, his uncles dream for them, until he meets an eccentric mother/daughter pair, the suicidal turtle obsessed accordion playing Lili Taylor and her vivacious, flighty, sexually aggressive mother, the latter Depp becomes immediately enamored with. Depp and Dunaway begin a very matter of fact and all consuming relationship (he leaves his job and uncles house and refuses to leave).
After hearing of Dunaway's dreams to fly as a young girl, Depp decides and spends most of the movie, attempting to build her a flying machine. Meanwhile, Lili Taylor is sabotaging the machine, and Vincent Gallo is busy practicing his acting chops (his recreation of the crop duster scene from "North By Northwest" is one of the best all time comedy moments anywhere).All good performances, but Gallo and Taylor clearly outshine the others.. The writing and especially voice over by Depp is excellent, it definitely has a Jean Piere Jeaunut vibe (all the little details and phrases); "My dad always said that work was like a hat you put on your head. And even if you didn't have pants , you didn't have to walk down the street ashamed of your ass as long as you had a hat... " or " what's the point of breathing if somebody already tells you the difference between an apple and a bicycle? If I bite a bicycle and ride an apple, then I'll know the difference."The latter quote sums of the naivete of the main character and the flaw that makes the tragedy. Depps relationships are passionate, sincere, but essentially child like, he doesn't know what to name how he fells about Dunaway so it must be "love".While Dunaway and her daughter are more two halves of the same person, stuck in an isolated country house, both with half the maturity and vitality the other needs. For the most part the movie is all comic smiles, and surreal shots of fish flying in the sky at random, but towards the end, the film takes somber tones, as the dream/relationships end.Not as dense and surreal as I had expected, but it does capture accurately the magical sensation of first love, especially with someone significantly older (without stepping on the toes of similar films like "Harold And Maude" or focusing too heavily on taboo).
There were a few moments of emotional disconnect where the characters actions make little if any literal sense (the Russian roulette scene), but do give a greater sense of the contradictory emotions which almost all of the characters deal with, except Gallo, whose clearly just there for fun.
Arizona Dream caught me off guard, the political allegory of Underground is replaced here with a very internal story of dreamy sensations, fleeting passions, conflicting dreams, conflicting loves, growing up, and magical fish. It's not great, but I definitely connected for personal reasons. If you liked Amelie, or Emir Kusturica, or any of the actors mentioned it's worth checking out.