Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Celluloid #26

In Theatres

Milk (2008) van Sant - It's extremely difficult to review this film considering the circumstances under which I saw it. Last night, at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, surrounded by 600 bears and plenty of the rest of the gay community, in the aftermath of Prop. 8, watching Milk felt like a community event in solidarity rather than just a film. Needless to say, I felt a bit like a brat when not only did I not cry, but I found myself finding some faults with the movie (which I kept to myself until my roommate and I were a safe distance from the heart of the Castro). I'll start by saying that I do recommend this film about one of the key heroes in the Gay Movement, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay city politician. This is obviously a subject close to Gus van Sant's heart, which maybe explains why it also feels like van Sant's most mainstream offering (and I'm including Good Will Hunting in that assessment). My main complaint lies in the emotionally manipulative aspects of the film: melodramatic music, voice-over narration, and some gratuitous small character in a wheelchair. I just feel like this story is completely tragic on its own merit, and adding in the things mentioned above just makes the film feel less genuine, and out of step with the way van Sant usually handles his material. Anyway, Sean Penn puts in a great performance, and I encourage people to see this film if they get a chance despite my minor qualms. 4/5

Synecdoche, New York (2008) Kaufman - Caden Cotard is a theater director obsessed with dying. He has various medical ailments (some of which are probably induced by stress and hypochondria). His wife leaves him and a cycle of failed relationships occur. Cotard is awarded a genius grant which he uses to create an incredibly involved and self-reflexive play including characters to play himself, the people in his life, and characters to play those characters playing people in his real life. This feels like a Kaufman film with all of its interconnectedness, complexity, and plain bizarre factor. I enjoyed that as the audience we really can't be sure how much time was supposed to have passed or why that house is on fire. I cannot effectively articulate plot or my feelings watching this film other than the fact that I found myself loving the spectacle, the ambition, and wishing I would have seen it with another person if only to get a fuller perspective on what had just happened. 4.5/5

In Home

American Blackout (2006) Inaba - A documentary centered around Georgia Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney (who was also the Green Party candidate for president this year). First the film tackles the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida in 2000 by the state incorrectly identifying 90,000 people as felons. Then again cheating blacks out of the vote in Ohio in 2004. Next we learn about McKinney's questioning of the actions of the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11. McKinney is painted as anti-American and as a troublemaker, or derisively as a conspiracy theorist (all though she is somewhat vindicated later). In her own Congressional elections, she appears to be the victim of Republican manipulation of the open primary system in Georgia. 4/5

the Browning Version (1951) Asquith - The British seem really obsessed with their tradition of boarding schools. In this film, the most uptight of teachers has a seductive wife who is having an affair with a more well-liked teacher. She is a plain bitch and he seems to long for his earlier years; together they are a venomous couple. The old teacher is about to be transferred to another school, and is actually totally aware of his wife's affair, but this knowledge paired with the students' general dislike of him has seemed to crush his soul. Michael Redgrave puts in an amazing performance. 4/5

Oedipus Rex (1967) Pasolini - "You will kill your father and make love to your mother." Pasolini follows that summary, but places the characters in the desert where Oedipus becomes king, and his mother really doesn't seem to mind that she's sleeping with her son. At times I was reminded of Jodorowsky's films, although this is less outrageous. 3.5/5

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) Bergman - Bergman's first film was essentially a lighthearted romantic comedy. A man has a young wife whom he has been married to for two years and has yet to have sex with her. Before marrying his bride, he had been involved with a famous actress who now wants him back and sets up an elaborate plan for a dinner party where everyone is supposed to end up with the person they are really best suited for. 4/5

A Zed & Two Noughts (1985) Greenaway - A relatively experimental film about sex, animals, and death. A woman is part of an accident that kills the wives of twin zoologists, has her leg amputated, and then seduces both twins. The main plot is often interspersed with Discovery Channel-like footage of decomposing animals. Hilariously, the narration is done by Attenborough, famous for his nature documentaries. Super weird. 3.5/5


Damien said...

Synecdoche isn't playing anywhere in the South Bay and the closest showing of Milk is in San Jose. I've been waiting to see both of those for months!

rosietoes said...
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