Saturday, October 02, 2010

Penny Thoughts: Sept. 24 – 30

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009) **
Director: Werner Herzog
Writers: Herbert Golder, Werner Herzog
Starring: Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Chloë Sevigny, Udo Kier, Grace Zabriskie, Michael Peña, Brad Dourif, Irma Hall, Loretta Devine

This is the first film I’ve seen by that great German cinematic poet Werner Herzog that I did not like. It’s also his first collaboration with American master of weird David Lynch, who has the main producing credit. It has that Lynchian presentation of the most oddball of humanity, and it has Herzog’s obsession with the obsessed and a plethora of his wonderful pictorial compositions. What it lacks is any sort of direction or drive. Unlike most of Herzog’s obsessed driven characters, Michael Shannon’s mad man here is unfocused, through no fault of Shannon’s.

We’re really not sure what his obsession is. At first it seems to be about God, then about Greek dramatic catharsis, and a good deal about his mother, but none of these obsessions are ever revealed to have any sort of strong meaning to him, as say Fitzcarraldo’s determination in that early film of Herzog’s, or Dieter’s will to survive in Little “Dieter Needs to Fly” and “Rescue Dawn”. The story lacks the definitiveness that usually grabs you and pulls you along in Herzog’s strange subject matter. It’s no wonder why his “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”, released around the same time as this movie, received much more recognition.

I’m Here (2010) ****
Director/Writer: Spike Jonze
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sienna Guillory

There is no love like robot love. Spike Jonze has to be just about the most original filmmaker out there, and in the age of names like Guillermo De Toro, The Coen Brothers, David Lynch, Charlie Kaufman and Darren Aronofsky that’s really saying something. Who else could make a love story about robots that look like a 1990 era PC and a crash test dummy and make us feel as strongly for them as if they were members of our own family? “I’m Here” is a strange and gentle and humane love story that shows us how we should love each other rather than how we actually do.

Watch it here.

Robin Hood (2010) **
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Oscar Isaac, Mark Strong, William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, Eileen Atkins, Mark Addy, Angus Macfayden, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, Danny Huston

The 15 extra minutes of “Robin Hood: The Director’s Cut” does little to fix this drag on the legend of Robin Hood. It clarifies a few relationships maybe, but doesn’t stop the ridiculousness of the film’s over the top with clichés finale. And it seems nothing can lift this tale out of its own depression that begs the question, “Weren’t Robin’s men merry?” Actually, I suppose they are, but their roles are too small, and nothing else in the movie has any joy.

Read my original review here.

Me & Orson Welles (2009) ****
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Holly Gent Palmo, Vincent Palmo Jr., Robert Kaplow (novel)
Starring: Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay, Zoe Kazan, Eddie Marsan, Ben Chaplin, James Tupper, Leo Bill, Kelly Reilly

Rarely do you see a movie these days with such simple and pleasant sensibilities as “Me & Orson Welles”. Richard Linklater’s examination of the stage production that made Orson Welles’s career may seem a little off subject from the director of “Slacker”, “Waking Life” and “School of Rock”, but in many ways it fits right in with the misfit dreamery that makes up much of the filmmaker’s oeuvre. It has his slacker in its hero who skips school to get a part in the Mercury Theater’s debut production of “Julius Ceasar”. It has Welles’s endless philosophizing on theatre, Shakespeare, and just about every aspect of life. And it indulges Linklater’s fascination with performance and the psyche of the artist. It’s a wonderful period piece to boot, executed with perfect pitch to reflect it’s 1937 setting. It’s just a great little film.

Night Moves (1975) ***
Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: Alan Sharp
Starring: Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark, Edward Binns, Harris Yulin, Janet Ward, James Woods, Melanie Griffith

This week we lost another of the great film director graduates of TV playhouse productions. Along with such directors as John Frankenheimer and Robert Altman, Arthur Penn got his feet wet directing live television productions before moving onto feature films. In a career spanning from 1953-2001, Penn was best known for such movies as “Little Big Man”, “The Miracle Worker”, and “Alice’s Restaurant”, but it was his groundbreaking “Bonnie and Clyde” that placed him among the greatest of American directors. Often cited as the film that ushered in Hollywood’s greatest decade of film, “Bonnie and Clyde” changed the rules followed by Hollywood filmmakers and open the doors to more visceral and human stories for American audiences.

“Night Moves” was among Penn’s lesser efforts in terms of its influence on filmmaking, but it embraced the elements Penn introduced to Hollywood in “Bonnie and Clyde”. It showed a grittier world with real people. It didn’t bow to convention. It is his unique interpretation of the noir genre. Playing a lot like the laid back L.A. noir world shown by Altman in “The Long Goodbye”, “Night Moves” is less interested in the conventions and structure of the noir than it is in the characters and their motivations. It’s an interesting example of how the films of the seventies explored a much broader vision of the director as author of the world his character’s inhabited. 


SD said...

I'm happy to see you mention Alice's Restaurant in talking about Arthur Penn. I think that's a totally underrated movie and just as important as Bonnie & Clyde in its own ramshackle way.
I just watched Night Moves for the first time a couple of months back. Gene Hackman in his prime was pretty much untouchable.

Andrew D. Wells said...

Well, to be honest, I haven't seen Alice's Restaurant. In fact, it was between AR and NM the night I watched the latter. Me and a friend decided to watch a Penn movie in honor of his passing, and those were two neither of us had seen. I was in a noirish mood, so we went with Night Moves. AR seems to always be mentioned among his most noted films, and yet it does seem underrated.

Netflix felt that AR would be my least favorite of his films. Some it thought I would like more, I know I don't like. So, I'm hoping to get around to it soon. Prove Netflix wrong, hopefully. But not until Horrorfest is over.