Log in

No account? Create an account
And our silver screen affair, it weighs less to me than air 
7th-Jul-2009 02:43 pm

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971). There are many who consider this film to be the quintessential Altman effort, and it's not hard to see why. The hallmarks of Altman's legend are all there: the overlapping dialogue, the moral ambivalence, the richly-conceived characters. Most importantly and impressively, the film is a thrilling example of the ways in which Altman pulls all these elements of his craft together to give the sense of a fully developed culture and society. The film is focused on the main characters, but the entire frame ripples with life. You feel as if you know the people and the world they live in just as assuredly as if you had spent a few days personally wandering through it. Warren Beatty plays John McCabe, a charming entrepreneur with a touch of huckster to him who presides over the burgeoning of a small Washington state mining town around the beginning of the twentieth century. His success attracts the attention of a larger conglomerate which dispatches representatives to make an offer, initially benevolent with an undercurrent of warning, to buy up the town. With meticulous patience, Altman shows self-impressed hubris in the face of this offer leads to terrible consequences. Altman's film is artful in every way. The stunning cinematography by the great Vilmos Zsigmond is especially noteworthy. The entire film is awash in golds and oranges and dim yellows, perfectly conveying the shadowy gloom of a world still illuminated by kerosene and candlelight.

I Love You Man (John Hamburg, 2009). And so the Comedy of Slack era rambles on. John Hamburg follows up Along Came Polly with the latest movie that borrows its thesis, tone and most of its cast from the Apatow laff factory. Paul Rudd plays a freshly engaged Los Angeles real estate agent who realizes that he has a pronounced lack of male friends. He endeavors to rectify this through a series of increasingly disastrous encounters before he unexpectedly develops a kinship with a Rush-loving, frank-talking layabout played by Jason Segel. The film is overly familiar, visually flat and, truth be told, pretty funny. By now, Rudd and Segel are comfortable as can be with material like this, bringing confidence and out-of-left-field inspiration to their roles. The film is at its most interesting and original when it is slyly satirizing the often insipid foundation of modern male bonding.

The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957). A stunning piece of classic cinema. It's hard to fathom how it must have felt to see this in when it was released over fifty years ago. It's not just because it's in Swedish that it is in a completely different language. After all this time, you can still feel Bergman shifting how filmmaking itself works. The metaphorical outranks the literal, ideas take the place of traditional narrative mile markers, and mood matters above all. Of course, Bergman wasn't the first one to approach film in this manner, but what often feels like experimentation in the hands of his predecessors becomes a fully formed, purposeful style with Bergman. Perhaps what's most surprising about The Seventh Seal is the way humor is interlaced with all the fabled gloom. The soul of the movie is a relentless cynicism, life itself is held up for scorn and mockery, the only appropriate responses to an endeavor so futile. Yet, it's leavened by wry comedy, most clearly manifested in the withering asides offered by the chess-playing knight's squire, but fully present in every corner of the film.

Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959). The stellar sturdiness of Howard Hawks carries this plain-spoken western about a hothead who gets arrested and the nefarious crew, led by his brother, that descends upon the town to extricate him from the hoosegow. John Wayne plays the local sheriff who stand against him with an unlikely band of allies: the recovering town drunk on one side, a hotshot kid sharpshooter on the other, and a limping, squawking old-timer with a shotgun leveled at the front door back at the jailhouse. It's pure Hollywood entertainment, locked into its technicolor era. Some elements haven't aged well--the love story, the colorful minor characters--but others demonstrate the enduring appeal of studio storytelling when the overarching assumption was that moviegoers wanted an well-told story above all else. Wayne's performance is nice, too, conveying the amused ease and agitated beleaguerment of a stalwart man doing his duty.

Baghead (Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, 2008). Providing fresh evidence that simpler is often better in horror films, the second feature from the Duplass brothers sets four struggling Hollywood aspirants in a remote cabin in the woods. As the quartet struggles with their own frustrations and the complicated paths of attraction that exist between them, they are impacted by the simple but menacing image of a man in the woods wearing an unadorned brown paper bag over his head. The thoroughly clever script effectively plays with the premise as the characters try to determine if this scary figure is real or imagined, while also taking advantage of the ease of impersonating him to play pranks on one another. Given the filmmaking background of the characters, the Duplass brothers even manage to mock the conventions of such horror films even as they borrow some of their jolts. The final twist is fairly easy to predict, even if it is executed with reasonable effectiveness. More than anything else, it's the playfulness of the movie that sticks.

(Posted simultaneously to "Drilling Holes in the Wall.")
(Deleted comment)
8th-Jul-2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
Yes, you've cracked the code. I've still got a couple more Bergmans one there, waiting for my full attention. I didn't take advantage of that Directors Month as well as I should have.

This page was loaded Aug 20th 2019, 4:16 am GMT.