Two genre exercises: 3:10 to Yuma & The Black Dahlia

Between these two films, 3:10 is undoubtedly the "better" one. It's more coherent, slimmer, it has more complete characterization and plenty inside into people's motivations. It has Christian Bale perfectly cast as a humorless hero, and Russell Crowe naturally as a charismatic and manly villain. And hey, I liked it, was fully engaged by it, and it's a solid piece of genre filmmaking. I just can't really think of much to say about it.

The Black Dahlia, however, is the kind of film I can really get stoked about.

Oh yes, I know, it's a much clumsier, messier movie. Scarlett Johanssen looks perfect in those period costumes, but as soon as she has to move and speak she's awkward and slightly out of place. Aaron Eckhart tries his best, but gets far too little screen time. And not only does Hilary Swank not look a bit like the real Black Dahlia OR like Mia Kirschner, who plays her in screen tests, but she has an inconsistent accent and she overacts the hell out of her femme fatale part.

Still, this movie got a grin to my face, and I enjoyed it immensely. Partly, that's because the parts that are good are great: Mia Kirchner, for instance, who brings real pathos to her victim, but strangely enough also Josh Hartnett, who surprised me by truly embodying his boxer/cop, by overcoming his boyish (and rather bland) exterior. And there is a scene where he meets the Linscott family that'll make you gasp in disbelief: it's so over the top, but it's also hilarious - and more than a little creepy.

I'm not a de Palma convert. He's too much of a showoff, I think, too brash and too cocky. But he DOES love film. Maybe I liked the Black Dahlia so much only by proxy, because through it I was reminded of so many noir favorites. But I liked it, messy as it is, maybe even because of its flaws and not in spite of them.

Black Snake Moan

Just look at that poster. The tall, strong, older black man in a wifebeater holding chains tight between his hands. The tiny, disheveled young white girl in a tiny shirt and cut-offs, on her knees at his feet, holding her arm up to hold the chain like she needs it, wants it. And that chain going on around her bare midriff, too.

How could any movie live up to that poster?

The sad answer is that Black Snake Moan can't quite. Oh, it does offer some unforgettable imagery: Rae (that would be the girl) walking on a narrow road in front of an enormous tractor and giving it the finger. Lazarus (that would be the man) walking her through the fields, but who's really leading who? Rae trying to escape her wicked desires by wrapping herself as tight as she can in that chain and moaning.

In the end though, the film is much more sweet and, alas, much more tame than it has any right to be. See, they're just messed up people. The bible-toting Lazarus isn't religion-crazy, he's just been left by his wife and, you know, hurt. Rae might be a nympho, but she's really in love with Ronnie (Justin Timberlake, who actually turns in a decent performance). They even have watches that beep at the same time: ain't that cute? And in the end, everything turns out just fine - though Brewer, to his credit, doesn't make the resolutions too neat.

Black Snake Moan is a film worth seeing. But it's not the exploitation dream promised by the poster, and that's too bad.


Marie Antoinette

I watched Marie Antoinette for the second time last night. The first time, I liked it. Now, I think I even loved it, and found myself defending it rather fiercely to my lukewarm parents.

Yes: it's fluff. Yes: nothing really happens. Yes: it largely ignores the historical context. But Sofia Coppola is really subverting the costume drama here in a fascinating way. The movie might still be about the costumes and the thrill of seeing historic places come to life, but at the same time it is royally disinterested in the significance of the events or being accurate. It's even not really interested in the 'why' of the events, or in fact in what exactly happened.

What it is interested in is putting you there. Right there in the middle. The modern music, 'accidental' sneakers and the relatively modern use of language is not a device to put us at a remove: on the contrary, it forbids us to see the characters just as historical personae, it puts them on our plane. It makes us see Marie-Antoinette as just a girl. A rather shallow, not particularly bright girl, but no different from a great portion of high school girls everywhere, in fact, no different from a great portion of young girls in any time, in any place. Just a girl. It might not sound radical, but by not being a history lesson, by not caring about realism or accuracy, she managed to take a stiff historical character, someone mocked, derided, hated, but never really seen, someone who was only a figure in paintings and history books, and it turns her into a person of flesh and blood. I can't think of another movie that does this, and thanks to this Marie Antoinette is a film worth revisiting not just for the purely aesthetic pleasures that can be derived from it, but also as an investigation into a genre on par with Death Proof.


Noir night: The Postman Always Rings Twice & Kiss Me Deadly

The Postman Always Rings Twice

The wife-and-lover-kill-husband plot works every times, doesn't it? It certainly does here, very well even. The chemistry between John Garfield and Lana Turner just crackles. I sometimes wonder if we weren't better off in the days of the code, when sex had to be implied through a cigarette being lit or subtexts in dialogue: it can be so much sexier than the real thing. The introduction of Lana Turner is just great: the lipstick rolling on the floor, the shot resting on her legs, and the look on Garfield's face...priceless!

Kiss Me, Deadly

Some films you just feel like watching again right after they finish. It was late and I was having trouble keeping my eyes open so I didn't, but this was such a film for me. It's so out there and strange that I'm not sure if I love it or hate it. I bought the DVD mainly because I heard Southland Tales references is over and over again, and I wanted to be able to get these references. What I didn't expect is a film as weird as Southland is supposed to be.

I was entranced by it, from the fantastic opening onwards. Many moments are simply unforgettable, some shots are amazing, and well... I fell for Mike Hammer. He's just so sleazy and mean, he's the ultimate noir anti-hero, and I loved it. Girls spontaneously kiss him for no reason at all in this film, but you buy it. I think I'll go towards love, but I do need to see it a second time.

Bottle Rocket

I'm on break, and that means: I have time to watch movies! Yesterday night I treated myself to a noir double bill which I'll post about later, but in the afternoon, still very much in the Anderson spirit, I re-watched his very first feature, Bottle Rocket.

It's rather strange, in a way. Bottle Rocket is clearly a Wes Anderson movie, but at the same time it doesn't have much of the characteristics we now associate with him. The camera work in particular is - dare I say it? - rather conventional, with some notable exceptions, and the frames leave a lot more breathing room. In fact, I had a rather hard time finding a screen cap that would show where Rushmore and the following movies came from.

The characters, on the other hand, couldn't have existed in any other world, especially not Dignan. Ah, Dignan. The guy who wants his friend to escape from a voluntary mental institution. The man with a 75 year plan. And his relationship with Anthony is, I think, the sweetest in all Anderson films: when Anthony insists on getting a ridiculous yellow jumpsuit like Dignan is wearing, it almost breaks your heart.

While Bottle Rocket is very Andersonion, there are several different things he could have done after this, several different directions he could have explored. He is sometimes blamed for going too precious, too emotionally remote.I kind of missed the richness here, and I have no complaints about where he's gone. It would be nice, however, to see him tackle relatively poor, not-so-highly educated characters again, because Dignan is both the most infuriating and most endearing of his characters so far.


I know, I know, I promised a year-end list..there's just a few films I still want to watch before that. In the meantime, I found this great list (via), and so here goes: films that make me look forward to 2008.

First, a few movies that have been released in the US, but not here yet

1. Sweeney Todd (January 24th)
2. There Will Be Blood (Febuary 28th)
3. Paranoid Park: I was supposed to see it at a press screening January 1st...then they canceled that. grrr. Will probably see it in February now.

Then, the truly new releases.

  1. Australia: this could be a total disaster. But it's Baz Luhrman, and sometimes I just really feel like high melodrama. The impossibly beautiful Aussies Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star. The story is something of Gone with the Wind-ish proportions, apparently.
  2. Babylon A.D.:just because it sounds so....awesomely weird. I mean, get this: Vin Diesel escorts a women who turns out to have an organism inside her that "a cult wants to harvest in order to produce a genetically modified Messiah." It'll probably suck though
  3. Be Kind Rewind: without a doubt among the most anticipated titles for me. I love me some Michel Gondry. Mos Def and Jack Black accidentally erase all the tapes in the videostore where they work...and they star reproducing them. Gondry's DIY imagination should make this one a treat.
  4. Burn After Reading: after a film at least as good as Fargo, one worthy to be the new Big Lebowski?
  5. Choke: I like the book, and it has Sam Rockwell AND Kelly McDonald. I'm curious, at the very least.
  6. Cloverfield: yup, the hype worked on me, too. Next!
  7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: it's Fincher reteaming with Brad Pitt. So, between Choke and this one, at least one has to be as good or at least exciting as Fight Club, right?
  8. The Dark Knight: I thought Batman begins was good, but I've never really felt like watching it again. But it looks like Heath Ledger's Joker might rival Nicholson's, and be a lot more scary to boot.
  9. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: ok, it has a lame title and a protagonist who's probably too old. But c'mon, it's Indiana Jones!
  10. James Bond 22: is it bad that this is here mostly because Craig might get nekkid again?
  11. Jumper: I hesitated over this one, but Doug Liman has yet to make a film I didn't like (yes, I enjoyed the heck out of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, sue me), and the premise sounds very cool: something about a guy jumping back and forth in time. The catch? Hayden Christensen, and hasn't Samuel L. Jackson played enough mentors by now?
  12. Son of Rambow: I didn't think the Hitch-hiker film was all that amazing, but I've heard nothing but good about Garth Jennings' follow-up, about a little boy who re-enacts with his friend their favorite film: Rambo! Might make a good double-feature with be kind rewind, come to think of it.
  13. Where the Wild Things Are: Ok, it's Spike Jonze, and it's a children's book I LOVED as a kid. Just look at these pictures: are you drooling yet? Oh, and Dave Eggers co-wrote.
  14. Zach and Miri make a porno: Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen team up!
Looks like 2008 might be a pretty good year for film. For me, the top 3 most anticipated of the truly new releases are those in boldface, but if I missed some obvious ones, let me know!