Thursday, September 29, 2005

Seen Lately

I was probably too optimistic about having the time to update this blog as much as before, now that I run a Swedish blog, but I will try and squeeze out these small capsules every once in a while.

Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made (Mika Kaurismäki, 1994) - pro
Sam Fuller takes a trip to the Brazilian jungle to revisit a remote part of the Mato Grosso, where he was supposed to shoot a movie for Darryl Zanuck back in 53-54 called Tigrero, starring John Wayne, Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner. The movie never happened, for insurance reasons, but Fuller kept the footage from his personal location scoutings (later, he inserted parts of it in one of the more bizarre sequences of Shock Corridor!). With said footage as guiding light, Fuller tries to find his way back to the small Indian village he once visited, to see how much of it is still there. Along for the ride is Jim Jarmusch, who as it turns out is a perfect travel companion - his trademark cool and genuine interest and knowledge of Fuller's career matches Fuller's straight-shooting intensity. The film is bookended by a couple of ridiculous scripted scenes: Jarmusch pretending he doesn't know where Fuller is taking him, and so forth, in a half-hearted attempt to make it seem like a fictional film. Unnecessary and silly, but apart from that, it's a very interesting documentary.


Four Brothers (John Singleton, 2005) - pro-
This is probably the closest thing to a serious blaxploitation movie we're gonna get in this year of 2005. And I'm not talking about the pimping, funky, jokey school of blaxploitation, but the socially conscious, crime-themed ones, like Across 110th Street and Detroit 9000, almost completely stripped of any jive swagger. The cold city of Detroit is ripe with corruption, black and white cops are on the take, and there's a certain naïve outlook on power structures and hierarchies in the film - everything is sort of levelled and accessible, like in a modern, flat, project-oriented organization - which I find sympathetic. And there's plenty of gunplay. The soundtrack - consisting almost exclusively of Motown tracks from the 70's - incredibly enough doesn't feel tired but is employed in a rather loving and fresh way. Singleton even has the good taste to let Marvin's Trouble Man - an iconic piece of music, written for another movie to boot - play over most of the opening and credit sequence. It's too bad the movie surrenders to action clichés about two thirds in, but overall this is Singleton's best movie since Boyz N The Hood. Or, if you're not a fan of that one, his best ever. (Maybe not saying much, but still.)


Death Line (Gary Sherman, 1972) - mixed-
Eccentric London Police Inspector Donald Pleasence is investigating several cases of missing persons at the Russell Square tube station, when he unearths a plague-ridden colony of underground cannibals, in this cheap exploitation flick, which is relatively low-key and emphasises creepiness over gore. Big plus for Pleasence's grumpy performance and all the authentic underground locations, but the film doesn't deliver in the scare department. Equally unimpressive is a subplot (heh) concerning an American/British student couple who get tangled up in the goings-on. Christopher Lee makes a cameo appearance as an MI5 official. Known as Raw Meat in the US.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Back to My Roots

As if I didn't have enough to do, I've been pressured into creating a new blog, in Swedish. The reason for this is primarily the fact that although maintaining a blog in English is fine and dandy, it hardly puts the spotlight on my chops as a writer in Swedish, which - in all sincerity - is where my strengths lie (if anywhere). I'm still stupid enough to believe that there might be a future for me as at least a semi-professional Writer of Stuff, and then it's good to have a forum to showcase any talent I might have. The new blog will be more of your "typical" blog, with everyday thoughts on important matters such as movies, music, food, drinks, and so on. Don't worry though! Detoured will live on, I will continue updating it whenever I have something worthwile to say. I'm sure all of my (five? seven?) regular readers will appreciate that.

The new blog is located here. Check it out - but remember, it's entirely in Swedish.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Film Days IV

Just to wrap up the Film Days entries, a few words on the last two movies I watched. At this point, I was more than pleased with the amount of films seen, if not completely satisfied by their quality. The last two didn't exactly raise the average by much. Doxa (Leif Magnusson, 2005, con+) is a new Swedish movie shot in my home town of Malmö, which in and of itself made me a more alert viewer. I think they used the locations reasonably well, including a run-down abandoned lot which I instantly recognized as a location our film crew used back in 2001, when we shot parts of a failed feature there (buy me a drink and I'll tell you all about it).

In Doxa, a young woman called Jessica (Eva Rexed) is watching her father slowly fading away in a hospital, terminally ill with cancer, which he may or may not have gotten at his former working place, an industrial site. Ridden with personal troubles of her own, and increasingly prone to conspiracies, Jessica begins to trace the tracks back to her father's employer, only to find that more people have become ill. The plot thickens, but at the same time it doesn't; the protagonist's deteriorating mental state and paranoia is used by the director to blur the line between truth and fiction, which is a good idea until you realize how lazily written the script is, and how ultimately wasted all the good ideas are. Characters come and go, leads are never really developed, scenes materialize and fade away without reason. There is a larger picture looming here, dealing with the decline of Sweden's social democratic welfare state and the sense of confusion caused by it; a very interesting thing to explore, to be sure, but unfortunately it's rather clumsily executed.

I will gladly admit that the primary reason I watched In Her Shoes (Curtis Hanson, 2005, mixed) was because of its director. Curtis Hanson's post-LA Confidential projects have been rather puzzling - Wonder Boys was amazing but then he picked up the Eminem showcase 8 Mile for some reason like a regular director-for-hire guy, and now he's at the helm of a Cameron Diaz rom-com bestseller-adaptation chick-flick thingy. Funny that. But since he actually injected some quality into 8 Mile I was curious to see what he could add to this - and I was pleasantly surprised. In short, In Her Shoes is about two sisters (Diaz and Toni Collette) living very different lives - one has a career, is tidy, reliable, and boring; the other is a flaky, irresponsible slut without job or education. Guess who plays who? The sisters are despite their differences very tied together, but when the shit hits the fan one time too many, courtesy of Diaz, they part ways. The End. Or is it?!

Despite being filled to the rim with cheap symbolism and countless life lessons for people of all ages, for the most part, the film actually works. Not in a flawless way - it's a bit too long and the narrative suffers from its literary roots (an assumption on my part, since I haven't read the novel - long-winded split narratives tend to work much better in a novel than in a film), but we're spared many of the tired rom-com clichés, or those associated with overly weepy families-come-together dramas. The cast is decent all around, but although servicable, Diaz is simply unable to reach that higher level of acting that Collette so effortlessly achieves whenever she is onscreen.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Film Days III

I got a much needed break from the onslaught of current/upcoming movies on Wednesday morning, when I watched the Garbo classic Camille (George Cukor, 1936, pro-). It was screened as part of a package of classics which the Institute is promoting this fall (others include , Touch of Evil and 1900). I was perhaps foolishly expecting a new print; turns out it was neither new nor even fresh - instead rather dusty and dirty all the way through. And unfortunately for us viewers, the movie was apparently shot in a format which few if any modern projectors can handle these days, especially not multiplex projectors (don't ask me to get technical, cuz I don't know the details). This resulted in severe top-and-bottom cropping, so either all the heads of the actors would be chopped off, or the subtitles would be out of frame. One would think that's an easy decision (begone subs!) but the projectionist made a fatal compromise: half of the heads were chopped off, and one subtitle line was missing. The occasional brilliance of the movie shone through anyway though. As is so often the case with these old movies featuring people with fancy costumes playing high-risk emotional games with each other, it's an old grouch who gets the best scenes: Henry Daniell as the bitter Baron that Garbo shacks up with and eventually leaves delivers some truly acidic remarks which are both sincere and amusing.

Next was one of the most anticipated movies of the entire four-day line-up: the brand new Aardman feature Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Steve Box, Nick Park, 2005, PRO-). This is the first W&G adventure made into a feature-length film; it is also the first thing that's come out of Aardman since teaming up with Dreamworks. And it's well worth the wait. Some of it has a cutesy feel that the early work didn't have, and some might interpret that as Aardman sugarcoating things in the name of Dreamworks, but all the familiar stuff is there, they are definitely staying true to the originals - retro-futurism and Old England imagery is all over the place. The only problem that I can see is a slight repetition of scenes and settings; maybe it's because we've seen W&G so much in the past, but some bits do feel like rehashes of older routines - but it's still amazingly well done, insanely detailed and for the most part very, very funny. The climactic battle scene/chase sequence is on par with the model train chase in The Wrong Trousers. The voice talent is also good - Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes join Peter Sallit and the others.

(Next: final Film Days entry!)

Monday, September 05, 2005

Film Days II

(Great, now I'm two weeks behind. Stay with me.)

Tuesday morning kicked off big time, with The Aristocrats (Paul Provenza, 2005, PRO), a film I had eagerly anticipated ever since reading about it a few months back. In case you don't know what this documenary is about, let me put you up on the scoop: in the world of comedians and entertainers, one particularly nasty and crude joke has been making the rounds for generations, without ever really reaching an audience other than the entertainers themselves - it's been deemed too out there, too offensive, too much of everything to be performed in front of an unsuspecting crowd, and as such it's been living a sheltered life, a life of its own. It has become an inside joke amongst comedians. The joke is called The Aristocrats. Structurally, it's a perfect joke for comedians to put their personal spin on, and that has probably contributed to its longevity in the business. With an easy set-up and a clear punchline, it contains a middle-section which is more or less a blank sheet for the comedian to paint his or her picture of what is, ahem, happening.

The movie about the joke is fairly simple in its form. Director Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) meet up with a heap of comedians and ask them about their relationship to the joke, and most of the time ask them for their version of it. The result is a staggering cavalcade of crudeness and laughter. The joke is, in its best incarnations, outrageously offensive in every way imaginable - but that's sort of the point. The punchline can be used in an effective manner, but The Aristocrats is basically an anti-joke, which many of the participating comedians also acknowledge in their renditions of it.

After this great start (8.30 am!) it was off to safer, more boring and predictable horror territory. The Amityville Horror (Andrew Douglas, 2005, con) isn't really worth saying much about, except that Philip Baker Hall was utterly wasted in a small role as an incompetent priest. Nothing is new: stupid people stay in creepy ghost-infested houses despite all signs pointing towards doom and gloom, family members don't talk to each other about strange occurrences, and quiet little dead girls are just not good company for your daughter. I kept thinking of Eddie Murphy: "When a fucking haunted house says, Get out!, I'm gone!".

Next up was the world premiere of Josef Fares' Zozo (2005, con+). Fares is one of the golden boys of Swedish cinema today, having previously made the cute but ultimately disappointing Jalla! Jalla! and the action farce Kopps, both critical and box office hits. Zozo moves him into more serious and dramatic territory. This semi-autobiographical tale follows a young boy (the Zozo of the title) from the war-ridden streets of Beirut to the promised land of Sweden, sometime in the late 80s. It's a straight-shooting movie, occasionally sprinkled with some magic realism but otherwise lacking in any sort of subtext, just like Fares' previous films. And that's fine; it's all very well done, but strangely unengaging. The Beirut part works best, but it's filled with standard boyhood scenes as seen in thousands other movies, and crucial, character-defining moments just slavishly serving the plot. When little Zozo comes to Sweden, things get worse, as the supporting parts are reduced to thin stereotypes - the bullies, the loud cheerful immigrant grandfather, the passive teachers. Zozo opened nationwide this past Friday (Sept 2), not surprisingly to massive critical acclaim.

Finally, I watched Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005, pro), which finds Jarmusch back into old-school territory circa Stranger Than Paradise. Bill Murray plays a man who reluctantly sets out on a road trip, looking up old flames to see if any of them is the mother of a son he just found out he might have. By the chuckles from the audience, I gather people were expecting another "Bill Murray as an alienated quirky guy in a fun movie" à la the films of Wes Anderson, but this isn't Anderson, or even Sofia Coppola - this is Jarmusch, and he has never been one for cheap laffs, especially not big belly ones. The movie is funny, yes, but it warmed my heart more - without ever stooping to sentimentality. Perhaps it's not one of his best, but it feels good that Jamusch in this way reconnects with his early works, without sacrificing any of the style and deadpan humour he's known for. Plus, the signs of a great filmmaker is there from the start: the use of music, the assured cuts, the confidence to hold on to certain shots for maximum effect.