A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Tuesday, April 24

Spring Movies: Part 2

I feel like there have been a lot duds so far this season, but maybe that will change now that the weather's finally doing what I want it to do. Anyway, here's a look at my four most recent movie-going experiences.

The biggest surprise for me this spring has to be Black Book, Paul Verhoeven's WWII thriller of a young Jewish woman who, while working for the Dutch resistance during the last days of the Nazi occupation of Holland, falls in love with the local Gestapo chief. Sure, it's all terribly melodramatic (especially that bombastic score!), but there were more than enough thoughtful twists, genuine tragedies, and sinister betrayals to keep me fully engaged through the whole 2:25 running time. The cast is good, too: playing it to the hilt but mostly pulling it off, especially Carice van Houten in the lead role. And Verhoeven is honest enough to give his heroes flaws, and his villains strengths. Plus, there's something sort of I-Love-NY about sitting in a crowded Times Square theater watching a subtitled, Dutch-language film.

There were several moments during Richard Gere's turn as con artist/author Clifford Irving that The Hoax seemed on the verge of becoming a great movie. In the end, however, I found that the surprisingly draggy, repetitive nature of the action (this is a movie about writing a book, after all) and Irving's basic unlikeabily as a person made this not much more than mediocre. Yes, Alfred Molina is excellent as Irving's doting friend and sucker/researcher, but I wish the rest of the supporting cast, particularly Hope Davis and Stanley Tucci, had been given more to do. And though Gere/Irving can be charming in a desperate kind of way as he's scamming McGraw-Hill, he's much less so when he (repeatedly) cheats on his wife and basically blackmails his best friend. I wasn't convinced by the whole how-Irving-brought-down-Nixon angle, either.

The trailer makes Year of the Dog seem like a quirky romantic comedy, right? Wrong. Both Debbie and I thought this was a completely depressing film, mostly because the Molly Shannon character is so lonely and people-pleasing pathetic even before her dog dies (that's her with Pencil, above, in "happier" times). So the whole premise of the movie—her quest for love after Pencil eats poison teaches her that humans only disappoint, and so it's OK to be your own person with a life devoted to expressing your love for animals—is rendered slightly ludicrous. And, frankly, those scenes when she has all those "replacement" dogs living with her are just gross. There are some good performances here, especially Josh Pais as Shannon's boss, and John C. Reilly as her neighbor, but really, this was pretty much just a downer.

I hated Grindhouse. Maybe I should have prefaced that by saying that I loved and laughed with and totally admired the creativity of Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bills. But to put out a note-for-note homage—however technically brilliant—to movies that were incredibly stupid and boring in the first place just strikes me as self-indulgence of the worst kind. Honestly now, does anyone really like those 70s flicks, or is this all a case of false nostalgia? Maybe if the whole thing—both Tarantino's Death Proof and Rodriquez's Planet Terror and the (very funny) fake trailers—had lasted, say 90 minutes, tops, it would have had an appealing energy... but at three-plus hours? Total torture.



Anonymous David Marc Fischer said...

So, hater of Grindhouse, we meet again!

As someone who thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I still think that one's appreciation of it may depend largely on one's tolerance for the subgenres "covered" in the film: gore, zombie, car, stalker. Enough people liked the film to have given it an 8.2 rating on IMDB and a ranking of 154--lower than Children of Men but higher than Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt!

As for whether anyone genuinely likes '70s grindhouse flicks (and their homages), the short answer is yes. Even Kill Bill can be said to be an homage to the martial arts subgenre, which has become one of the most respected. (Arguably, Pulp Fiction and other examples of the directors' works could be said to build upon and draw heavily from grindhouse fare.)

What people like about grindhouse would have to include the edgy atmosphere of the theaters (including the rowdiness and funniness of the audience), the possibility of finding gold (or at least something to mock), and (not least) the titles, the trailers, and the posters. Out of the muck came terrific martial arts movies, blaxploitation flicks (with great soundtracks, acting opportunities, and story lines and language and situations that mainstream Hollywood wouldn't support as much), kickass women's roles, some well-regarded car movies, and today's florid zombie and gore and horror and stalker genres--for better or for worse. Also (not least), grindhouse fare helped to pioneer (often clumsily and crudely) the post-Code world of what could be exhibited in commercial theaters in the United States. Not everyone liked it--in fact, it has never been thought of as mainstream--but it certainly has redeeming qualities that aren't based on false nostalgia.

And heck--the first time I saw The Harder They Come was in college, and the first time I saw Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (soundtrack by Earth, Wind & Fire) was at "the MOMA."

12:17 PM, April 27, 2007


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