Look, I’m not saying that Vampire Sisters is a “great” film in the usual sense, but I think it would make a great remake, and I want to make that remake. Get it? Unsurprisingly, this flick plays straight to my base, and if it’s overloaded with a lot of dumb humour - fart jokes, “Vampire lingo” swear words - it’s ultimately a resoundingly successful empowerment fable for tween girls about the importance of being oneself in the face of overwhelming social pressure. And it lands that ending, where the Vampire Sisters on question - Dakaria and Sylvania, each half-vampire, the former wishing to be full-vamp, the latter wishing to be full-human - must choose to stay exactly as they are. The lead girls, Marta Martin and Laura Roge, are perfectly cast, and cast at the perfect age. The script is structured flawlessly, even if a polish on the dialogue would pull out substantially more richness out than is found here. This film has the bones of a great story. Basically, this needs to happen: so let’s make it happen, Hollywood! Surely we’ve greenlit enough Twilight and Hunger Games knockoffs to let this one pass. Or more to the point: exploited properly, this has Harry Potter franchise potential. Don’t mess with me on math.Read more
Stepped out of the game for what was going to be a minute and turned into four months - four months in which I never visited the Lightbox, rarely went to the movies at all, and sat on the sidelines while the whole world flipped on its back like a drunken sea turtle. And then I went to New Zealand, and had one of the best moviegoing experiences of my whole life. And then I came back, and then the Substream died and then Ebert died, and absent an outlet or even a clear sense of what I’m doing, I’m a writer sorely in need of a content strategy; until then, though, there’s always the blog, and Watched, and here we are.Read more
Django Unchained was the last film I saw before closing down my 2012 for Top Ten list purposes; it had a decent shot at the list, but didn’t make it. Like a lot of films in 2012, it was a generally terrific piece of filmmaking that annoyed me just enough to miss the bar. In Django’s case, I never felt any particular scene “popped” the way Tarantino’s scenes have tended to in years past. This is the fate of old, master filmmakers: they must play golf against themselves.
The attendant furor around Django Unchained is better than Django Unchained itself - though again, Django Unchained is pretty damn good. Steven Boone’s piece is well worth reading, as are the triptych of interviews with Tarantino in The Root (parts one, two and three). As usual, Tarantino - who has made a career out of acting like a man-sized spastic kid with ADHD - demonstrates a fullness of thought on his material and its implications that will be startling to people who pay more attention to his public persona (or even, in the most recent example, his goddamned ludicrous performance in Django Unchained itself).Read more
Big Guns got my attention as a trailer at ActionFest this year… terrific little movie, though again I’ve no real idea why I bought it, other than that there probably was no other way to see it. It wins some sort of Unmotivated Camera award, certainly, as each setup is driven by “what’s the most visually distinct frame you could come up with using the elements in this sequence,” rather than any actual sense of in-scene motivation. The movie makes good with the chase sequences and better with the assassinations, particularly one on a train, where Alain Delon shoots a villain who is standing in front of the window - we are outside the window, looking in - BANG, one shot, the window is splattered with blood - BANG, another shot, the body flies back, breaking the glass and dangling out. Then we cut to a second angle shooting along the train as the body is buffeted against the various railway signals racing past outside.Read more
So: why, I wonder, did the Eiffel Tower scene in Zazie dans le Metro scare the shit out of me? Up until Mission Impossible 4 last year I never would have thought myself scared of heights; I still don’t. Yet with each improbable step off what seemed to be the top of that tower in Zazie, I could feel thousands of feet of open air tingle beneath my toes. It’s bizarrely kinetic. I’m also a big fan of the sequence of Zazie and the cabbie descending down the tower’s spiral staircase for what seems like hours, the camera languidly tracking with them, while they argue about this and that; the movie is a lot of argument between that foul-mouthed kid and the entire sex-besotted adult world.
But seriously kids: moules et frites? That’s a thing? And what to make of the moules et frites scene, where Zazie gamely tells a story with some key details left out, but which seems to be about the time her mother caught her father trying to have sex with Zazie, and shot him dead on the spot – all told with the protagonist’s nominal carefree style. I quite like the visual gag of the crowd of people slowly mounting in the window behind the table as Zazie talks, a pack of mussels themselves, and when Zazie leaps up, her story done, and jumps on the table, smashing the mussel shells as she takes off, it’s like the end of a magic trick. I think the scene is somewhat like the movie for me – I didn’t really figure out I liked it till it was done.Read more
I saw The Birds the week before last, and had Hitchcock bearing down on me, so I figured I’d better hunker down and watch The Girl – though now, more than anything, I just want to watch Marnie, and am kicking myself for not seeing it at the Lightbox last year. (Though: really, Lightbox: why not a return engagement, given Bond fever? Seems like a missed opportunity.) The Girl isn’t a particularly great film, as can be generally expected whenever the brief is to make a Hitchcockian biopic about a Hitchcock subject. (Wait’ll someone gets it into his head to do the definitive Steven Spielberg biopic.) I’m also not a huge fan of Sienna Miller, who plays Tippi Hedren, though I must admit the film develops a lurid sense of grotty pleasure as it goes along – the best word I could use to describe The Girl is “unseemly.” It’s hardly high suspense, but decent trash, perverse enough to stick. “The gulls are the people, you see,” Toby Jones’ Hitchcock says with exactly the right congestion of wattle-flesh in his frog-like purr, “and she is the bird.” The film does an able job of presenting HItchcock as a loathsome creature, and then wondering what it would feel like to have sexual desires peering out from within his blubberous bulk. Cheap shot, but marginally effective.Read more
My lady is off circling the globe in search of documentaries for YOU fine people, so I’ve taken it upon myself to try to drive to the bottom of the slushpile - that inevitable stack of DVDs that accumulates over time, which one has purchased, but not yet watched. I started with Harold & Maude, which I’ve seen once before but wanted to revisit immediately, and was released by Criterion earlier this year. It’s the film that Wes Anderson has been patiently trying to make throughout his entire career, and it is one of the rare films that is downright painful to watch – because each and every scene so completely overachieves what you expect of it at the outset that the film as a whole makes one feel quite completely incompetent, creatively speaking. I can’t imagine a better-written script; but then, I can’t imagine a better-exploited script, either, with every supporting performance arriving note-perfectly, and each visual gag, from the very large (Harold’s death scenes) to the abjectly trivial provoking a large-scale guffaw. The… tentativeness… with which Harold puts his head into the giant wooden vagina! How does one even conceive that?!Read more
I didn’t care much for Argo. I didn’t dislike it, and found it competent in every major detail, but ultimately pretty standard. I wonder if we’ve gotten so far away from basic crowd-pleasing thrillers in the last ten years that when something shows up that would have been just another mid-level Hollywood caper back in the ’70s, it is now treated like a totemic work of Art Cinema? Argo is handsomely crafted but thematically substandard; even a gigantic thematic clusterfuck like Munich has a more sensitive take on its time and place than Argo. Argo is, of course, the cleaner, more digestible thriller, but between this and The Town my enthusiasm for Affleck the Director is waning. Both films were largely well-executed and oh, so very uninventive. Neither matched the lightning crackle of Gone Baby Gone.
Here’s an idea: film grain has replaced black and white as the conferrer of “realness” upon cinema. For a long time if you wanted to create a documentarian style for your fiction film (paging Mr. Spielberg again, circa Schindler’s List), you filmed all or some in black and white. Now, with laser-sharp Skyfall or, more pointedly, the recent works of Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, Haywire and Magic Mike) all but eliminating visible artifacting in favour of nearly spooky plasticine images, a film like Argo can be excused for shoveling big, pumpkin-sized chunks of grain back into the picture like so much coal, just to make the engine run. It’s rooted in its period, certainly, but also in a more immediate, post-Bourne “thereness” of the new documentary-ish cinema by way of H’wood. Just a thought.Read more
Everyone can relax - I’ve finally seen The Royal Tenenbaums, and my opinion of Wes Anderson’s work is therefore now based on the entirety, rather than a patchwork composite, of his films. And I liked it! Of everything Anderson made before Fantastic Mr. Fox, Tenenbaums is my clear favourite. Part of this is simply due to my longtime fascination with the incest problem in sophomore work (yes, I know it’s actually his junior work), which Tenenbaums solves handily. And this in turn makes me wonder what happened to Luke Wilson - although I was quickly reminded that when he’s not working for Anderson, he sorta sucks. I’m racking my brain trying to find the exception to that rule.Read more
Tony Scott’s death hit me harder than I might have expected - suicides always do. It pulls me down with it in even a moment’s contemplation. But the man himself, who had a career so wildly variant that it could contain what I would call one of the worst films I’ve ever seen (Domino) and yet bear all the hallmarks of a capable director, left behind fiery signature works. Under the circumstances, I set to work clearing my backlog pile.Read more