Friday, May 25, 2007

So many movies, so little time to write about them

Greetings from the rat race. It feels like an eternity since I've posted anything new on my fledgling blog effort. In reality, it's only been a couple weeks, but that's a long time in the competitive world of amateur Internet film criticism. What's kept me away from my first love this past fortnight? In a word, life. Between my two day jobs, my two screenplay collabo gigs, and my new (unpaid) internship with Screen Magazine, time for such frivolous activities as rapping about the 28 Days Later sequel has been scarce.

Which is not to say I haven't found-- or, rather, made-- the time to catch some flicks in the interim. I can handle not writing about movies for a stretch, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to feed my muse for half a month.

May is widely considered the beginning of the Summer Movie season, yet I've gone out of my way to catch off-the-mark alternatives to soulless sequels featuring ogres and pirates.

Of the half dozen new films I've checked out in the last two weeks, only two were Hollywood studio pictures: Judd Apatow's Knocked Up and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later. The former, Apatow's follow-up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin, is screamingly funny, raunchy and sweet-- a warm crowd-pleaser that, with respects to Hot Fuzz, will probably go down as the comedy of the year. The latter, by contrast, is a Feel Bad, apocalyptic downer. Though chillingly effective in spots, the sadistic 28 Weeks Later chokes on its own suffocating nihilism, using its unsophisticated political subtext as justification for a nasty, kill-em'-all mean streak. It also suffers from an affliction common to action/horror sequels: the irrational need to blow everything up. Sometimes less is more, Juan.

There's too much story in Ray Lawrence's Jindabyne. In his adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story "So Much Water So Close To Home," the Australian filmmaker stretches out and expands upon his source material, inadvertently diminishing its grace and power. Strong performances by Laura Linney and Gabriel Bryne aside, this is a story that simply works better in abridged form-- see Robert Altman's Short Cuts for proof of that.

The first entry in The Advance Party project-- a new filmmaking experiment from those Dogma 95 rascals-- is Red Road, Andrea Arnold's fascinating but ultimately rather conventional feature debut. An elegantly shot enigma, it rewards immersion in its poetic mood and aesthetic, if not investment in its ordinary and somewhat unsatisfying narrative. I'm interested in seeing what Arnold could make without the constraints of a Zentropa stunt.

There are shades of Errol Morris in Zoo, Robinson Devor's unjustly maligned, mixed-modes documentary about men who make love to horses. Some have confused Devor's refusal to sensationalize the material as a lack of perspective-- oblique as it may be, Zoo attempts, with some success, to understand its subjects and their taboo sexual obsessions. Strange and lyrical, it's an interesting antidote to the conventional, pop documentaries currently flooding the market.

And the Academy Award goes to... Julie Christie? The veteran actress' turn as an Alzheimer's patient in Away From Her is already garnering Oscar buzz from jumping-the-gun, pre-pre-award season junkies like David Poland. The good news: it really is a lovely peformance, though the film may actually belong to Gordon Pinsent, powerful and understated as her grieving husband. About as beautiful a love story as I could imagine, Away From Her is small and delicate and absorbing-- a gem of a picture, and an auspicious debut for actress-turned-writer-director Sarah Polley.

All and all, quite a good crop of films, yet they all paled in comparison to Jacques Rivette's 1974 masterpiece Celine and Julie Go Boating, which I finally caught a screening of at the Gene Siskel Film Center. A three-and-a-half hour French farce, this whimsical fantasia dissects, with child-like wonder, the art of watching films-- the way that our life experiences shape the viewing experience, and how great films change with us. It's an exciting ode to cinema, and a reminder of why I go to movies in the first place.

So what's next up for this overworked cinephile? A slate of new releases to entice and distract me from the 9-5 grind: Irish kitchen-sink musical Once, overstuffed omnibus Paris, Je Taime, and William Friedkin's psychological horror film, Bug-- sure to freak me out, given my intense insect phobia. Also, if I have the time, the late Adrienne Shelley's first and only feature, Waitress, and Guy Madden's latest experimental epic, Brand Upon the Brain! Hopefully, I'll also find the time to, you know, write about some these pictures. Fingers crossed.

Monday, May 7, 2007

'Spiderman' breaks records, fanboys' hearts

Is it fall yet?

Ushering in the Event Movie season with a deafening, colossal bang, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 opened this weekend to the tune of $150 million, besting last summer's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest for the #1 Opening Weekend box-office tally of all time. Good conquers evil? Hardly, for this overstuffed, over-wrought, over-everything latest entry in the blockbuster series has more in common with that Pirates sequel than it does with its triumphant, high-flying predecessors. It gives me absolutely no pleasure to report that Spidey 3 joins Batman Forever, Superman 3, and X-Men: The Last Stand in the pantheon of misguided third installments in popular comic book franchises. I've been rewriting the film in my head all weekend, trying to reconcile the sporadic sparks of inspiration (Sandman's awe-inspiring birth, that funky Peter-goes-bad montage) with the absurdities, contrivances, and pure excess of Raimi and Alvin Sargent's bloated screenplay. Any way you slice it, quite the disaster-- and this was supposed to be one of the good ones.

Look for a review soon-ish, assuming I can work up the enthusiasm to tackle this unruly disappointment. Spidey fans: see it for yourself and make up your own mind. Everyone else: save your money for Knocked Up, Judd Apatow's follow-up to The 40 Year Old Virgin. It's even funnier and sweeter and more charming than it looks. Maybe it won't be such a bad summer after all.