Tag Archives: just plain fun

Stocking Stuffer Reviews: Holy Motors

holy-motorsLeos Carax took 15 years to make his next film, but he fashioned one of the decade’s most alert contributions to the history of cinema in the process, fundamentally tackling the idea of fiction entertainment and providing the most damaging, cantankerous commentary on the perils of acting and voyeurism you’re likely to find this side of the 21st century.

This inscrutable, willfully difficult monstrosity begins with an old man (Denis Lavant) waking up in his archly stuffy, bourgeois home to ride a limo to work. Well, presumably to work. Well, it is to work, but that’s besides the point. His driver (Edith Scob) informs him he has nine appointments for the day, and with tepidness he skulks right in. Then he scrapes on some makeup with precision and vigor, pulls off his hair, and the fun begins. His first stop involves a motion capture hootenanny, Lavant dressed to the nines in lightbulb sensors and a fellow, female, participant doing a dance with him that alloys the sensual and the robotic. From there he’s a monster, decked out like the Lucky Charms guy gone bad and cheekily beckoned forth by Akira Ikafube’s original Godzilla theme. Continue reading

Film Favorites: Up

Ratatouille was in love with whimsy and fable and Wall-E with romance, minutiae, and slapstick humanism, but Up is at its proudest when it is having the most fun in the world being itself. It all begins with a boy, Russell (Jordan Nagai) asking curmudgeonly old drag of a man, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), to help him earn a merit badge, but it most certainly doesn’t stay there for long. Pixar’s trip through surrealism, Warner Bros’ Bunuel-inspired Wackyland, Road to movies, ’30s adventure serials, and filmic flights of fancy more generally, Up sees the then-world’s most recognized film production company end their residency with practically owning filmic invention in the 2000s by paying tribute to all that allowed them to be what they had been so well and so singularly for fifteen years.
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Film Favorites: Ratatouille

If Ratatouille suffers in any meaningful way, it is simply because it does not redefine the possibilities of cinema like its immediate successor Wall-E, a contender for film of its decade and one of the two greatest American animated films since the original Disney Golden Age (yes, the original Golden Age, the one that ended in roughly 1942 and saw Disney fundamentally reorganize the state of film no less than four times).  That aside, it is an impeccable work, and although I suspect the if is more definitive, that is damning as enormous, transcendental praise.

Brad Bird came to Ratatouille with two films under his belt, the incomparably underrated tribute to ’50s genre cinema The Iron Giant and the morally questionable but zippy and whiplash recreation of American comic book history The Incredibles (if I felt Bird was some sort of radical, subversive genius, I might claim this film a mockery of the rampant elitism and individualist bootstraps twaddle inherent in Superhero lore; they don’t call it America’s Modern Mythos for no reason). Yet, while Brad is not looking to stoke the flames of film technique to redraw the lines of the form, or to indict that which he invests time in to with the fury of a New Wave auteur, what he is absolutely interested in, capable of, and brilliant at, is having fun with classical cinema given to new airs. With Ratatouille, he channels his talents into classical Hollywood fluff and has a grin on his face so big it’s ready to jump of and kiss the audience while he’s doing it. Continue reading

Film Favorites: Love and Death

Love and Death sees Allen at a crossroads between his earlier slapstick farces and the soon-to-be whimsical, wistful flights of fancy that would mark his later, more “mature” productions, to use the conventional schematization. Faced with the choice of doubling down on the past or moving forward, he defiantly, quizzically rides two horses with inconstant passion and takes both directions to his heart’s content. For if Love and Death is a relentlessly immature, pointedly foolish construction, it is also perhaps more fun than any director has ever had knocking “maturity” down to size, playing with a burgeoning reputation as a “serious” filmmaker even before such a stature was set in stone. Love and Death saw Allen tired of mocking space opera and the state of the world. He decided to look to the only other place he knew, the past, his personal canon, and take a pitchfork to everything he loved: Tolstoy, Bergman, and everything that took Tolstoy a few inches forward over a hundred years so it could flower into Bergman. Not that Tolstoy and Bergman have anything to do with each other, but in Allen’s mind they can if he wants them to.
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Film Favorites: Some Like it Hot

Update late 2018:

Watching again four holiday-seasons later, Some Like it Hot is such a prickly affair, so spirited and yet so suspicious of society, so generous and joyous and yet so acrid and jarring, so innocent and compassionate and yet loaded so deviously with subterfuge. And, in some ways, so much less and more transgressive than some critics make it out to be, with so much less to say about gender in the traditional sense – it doesn’t really dispell any stereotypes or even advocate for fluidity per-se – and yet so much more to say about the intersection between social identity and achievement, and the intersection of desire, gender, and capital, more broadly, insofar as the two protagonists perform alternative genders to fill a role in society when their existing roles are questioned or eliminated.

But Some Like it Hot confounds expectations at every turn. It’s practically baked into the film’s structure, beginning with a gorgeous prologue which rather seditiously feigns full-on gangster drama, and even though the protagonists escape that genre, the film never gets out of dodge: its always nervous, always serious, and never dethrones its characters or their anxieties for the sake of a joke. The famous final line, so hilarious in the moment, intimates a full history of tragedy and dashed expectations. Other scenes presage the vicious ecstasy of Wilder’s later One, Two, Three, but this film stages a truly mordant drama that always makes its empathy legible, frustrating any desire to mock the males’ foolishness for wanting to dress up or believing they can easily pass off as women without any understanding of the social codes of gender which until that point in their lives had been essentially preordained or written-off as “natural”.

Worthy of absurdity though their fumbling attempts to realize the performative nature of gender may be, the film never sabotages or demeans their inexpressible desires which are veiled in rhetoric and miscommunicated encounters. Instead, it frustrates their ability to express them clearly and cleanly. Thriving in the pragmatic space between internal dreams and external manifestations of those dreams, Some Like it Hot explores both the tragic and absurdist dimension of the fact that we must mediate desires through social roles which cannot fully explain or express those desires.

Original Review:

No one did Old Hollywood like Billy Wilder. And by did, I mean toyed with. He made Old Hollywood film stylings his pet. And if Billy Wilder was your owner, you were liable to succumb quite quickly to his oppressive, cynical charm. You’d grow up an ass, but you’d have a lot of fun in the meantime. He perfected perhaps the most Old Hollywood genre of all, film noir, in 1944 with his nihilist fable Double Indemnity, sent Old Hollywood off in fine style with his late period The Apartment, and generally dived deep into Old Hollywood and ripped it into little pieces from the inside out with his masterpiece among masterpieces, Sunset Blvd. But America never loved a Billy Wilder film like Some Like it Hot, and it’s easy to see why. Never before, and probably never since, has a comedy been so carefully assembled to walk a thin line between sauce and sweetness, between bouncy, lascivious swagger and prim-and-proper airs. And perhaps never before was Wilder so gosh-darned fun. Continue reading

Sound Waves? I Don’t Know. A Lame Pun About How Bats See with Sound: Batman Returns

In 1989, a little would-be blusterous rabble-rouser who fell deeply in love with classic genre film history made a little independent film about an inconsequential twerp of a hero named Batman. And he just about conquered the world in doing so. Problems aside – namely the fact that it wasn’t much of a Batman film – it was a competent bit of Gothic blockbuster fluff and well-deserving of a sequel by the same filmmaker. And, with the sheer quantity of money the film brought in, Warner Bros. wasn’t about to go and deny the opportunity for another several hundred million dollars their way.

Now. There is an old saying about what happens when you give hungry, passionate directors too much money and they become stagnant and bored with their success. That happened with Tim Burton, just as it always happens with unique voices of his sort in the all-devouring Hollywood machine. But it didn’t happen with Batman Returns. Correction: it absolutely did not happen with Batman Returns, one of the dreariest, gnarliest Hollywood blockbusters ever released, and dare I say one of the most anti-blockbuster.
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Old Wave: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

They say that Terry Gilliam was truly angry post-getting absolutely royally screwed over by a distributor that had no interest in his mind-melting glam rock  drunken rant on the internal contradictions of the literature dealing with totalitarian government (not to mention the contradictions in the US of 1985 that loved to thump their copies of Orwell at the Soviet Union and conveniently pass by the same arguments, and Orwell’s democratic socialism, when the oppressions of the US came to the conversation).

If “they” are right about Gilliam’s rage, it had clearly subsided in the three year interim before his next film. Or, if they hadn’t, Gilliam had at least developed an ability to poke fun at himself while mocking the censors in the process. This work, 1988’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, passed by the censors with much less eyebrow raising. And it’s easy to see while: although it is, in its own genial way, as radical as Brazil, it is much less obsessively difficult and intentionally obtuse, and it is less proud and open-faced about shouting its own radicalism right in the faces of the censors and rubbing their noses in it. Continue reading

Screw New Wave, Break Out the Maiden!: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

bill-and-tedUpdate June 2019: Another watch-through in light of the internet love for Keanu Reeves these days, and I still find Bill and Ted’s earnestness and innocence, their undying and seemingly unawares appreciation for a way of life that doesn’t even seem to register as a choice for them, to be ludicrously intoxicating all these years later. Sometimes this works to the film’s detriment: almost none of the scenes where Bill and Ted themselves aren’t on-screen work at all. Still though, the slightly elegiac tone that undercuts the otherwise spirited slapstick fracas is the real surprise here. The year-long delay in the film’s release date practically stamped it as a time-capsule of a bygone era even for its initial audience, and that sense of wistfulness is perhaps more evocative today in light of rock music’s own existential conundrum just two years after the film’s release (when grunge melancholy soundly ripped hair metal earnestness to shreds). Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure feels less like a time capsule than a dream that seems to know that its own era is already passing, and for that reason, it can’t but refuse to admit its own premature burial in order to salvage its soul and preserve its sanity. 

Original Review:

Most, and too many, reviews of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure focus on the contrasting futures of its two main stars. That Keanu Reeves went on to temporary mega-stardom while Alex Winter is just “the guy who’s not Keanu Reeves” is one of those endlessly befuddling, perplexing mysteries of pop culture that people love to ponder on about without rhyme or rhythm. Perhaps it was luck, or some vague sense that Keanu was more attractive, but discussing their futures misses the point. For in 1989, we only had Bill and Ted to go on, and in 2014, we should judge Bill and Ted on the merits of Bill and Ted, not the future careers of its two stars.

In particular, this time-lapse avenue of criticism misses the point for this film, because there really isn’t, nor is there supposed to be, a difference between the two performers. Based on their performances here, neither seem long-lost talents as individuals. What both performances are, however, is completely and entirely fit for their roles here, which is all that matters in an immediate sense. The point has been made about Reeves on end: he is effective when the role requires him to be himself, and that was never more-so true than here. And the same could be said about Winter, assuming anyone knew anything about his personal life.
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Genre Riff New Wave Animated Edition: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Long-time coming for the ever-hungry child-in-a-toy-store director that is Robert Zemeckis, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was his repayment for bringing the monstrous box office success of Back to the Future to the screen with pop and pizzaz aplenty. If Back to the Future was a delicious cotton-candy confection with a hidden rambunctiousness filtered into deconstructing space and time, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was Zemeckis’ ultimate tribute to cinema as a visual art form. It’s also the film he’d been building toward, Back to the Future having couched his clear dreamer’s eye technicality in a more subdued package. For, nowadays, when one thinks of Robert Zemeckis, one thinks of technology and advancement, in that order. He’s always been more interested in cinema as a plaything than anything else. It was a means to an end for him. If in recent years this has seen his reach exceed his grasp as he pursued avenues less filmically formed, he never achieved an “end” more loving and lovely than Who Framed Roger Rabbit, his 1988 dissection of genre and reality all curled up in just about the snuggest, most effervescent package you can find.
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Genre Riff New Wave Episode III, The Return of the Storybook: The Princess Bride

By this point, it would seem apparent that if ’80s popular cinema was at an all-time low in larger-scale narrative creativity and form, at least ’80s genre cinema often knew it was as chintzy and fake as all hell and tried its damnedest to use this as an asset rather than a detriment. By 1987 we find this trend at its absolute apex with one of the few true unambiguous comedies to seek to re-energize tired genre filmmaking: Rob Reiner’s arch-fantasy parody The Princess Bride. And like most of the best films to come out of this trend, it approaches its chosen poison-pen love letter topic, fantasy, from a place of love rather than the smug self-superiority that would engulf and cloud any such genre riff post-1995. For this reason, more than any other, it attains the sort of genial fluffiness and ebullient effervescence most fantasy films can’t even dream about.
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