Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ocular Optometrical - Vol. 3: Stop! Rewind That!

Control (2008)
Joy Division is a band that I always kind of liked but shied away from because I was always turned off by their fans, a terrible stew of goths, asshole music critics, and indie rockers nostalgic for a period of music in which they wore diapers if they were lucky. Control, the excellent biopic about the troubled singer Ian Curtis, works overtime to cast an even light on the band, at once building up their heroic status, and simultaneously anchoring them in the humdrums of routine life. Based on the book by Curtis' ex-wife, the film tends to dwell on the darker chapters, like his troubled marriage and his battle with Epilepsy. In a lot of ways, the story is an attempt by Debbie Curtis to understand her departed husband, and she paints him in a very sympathetic light, celebrating his intelligence, decency & poetic soul even as she depicts him abandoning her & her child, and falling in love with another woman. Shot in black & white, with a superb cast, Control is compelling and emotional, and a fascinating depiction of the early Manchester scene & Factory Records era. It's hard not to leave the film without a greater appreciation for Joy Division's music. Control makes a great double bill with 2002's 24 Hour Party People, a manic film about the life of Manchester mogul, Tony Wilson which is slightly scattered in it's scope but fills in a lot of details of the time and place. 4/5 stars.
For an excellent Podcast discussing Control & 24 Hour Party People, check out Cue The Film's "Film Splice." (http://cuethefilm.blogspot.com)

Be Kind Rewind (2008)
I was prepared to hate this movie. The Science Of Sleep felt like a terrible mess after the brilliance of Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and I chalked that up to Michel Gondry writing his own script full of his energetic creativity but lacking Charlie Kaufman's attention to detail & structure. Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind worked because it operated according to the rules of its own universe, where The Science Of Sleep tended to eschew narrative for whimsy a little too often. So, when critics and friends alike criticized Be Kind Rewind for being short on film logic & story, it rang true. Throughout the 1st half of Be Kind, I tended to agree that the story was slight, the performances were weightless, and the whole film seemed to stand atop a mountain of contrivances, but something clicked with me as the movie prepared to embark on its conclusion. In a very improvisational moment where Jack Black playfully sang with a group of kids, I realized that I'd been taking the film entirely too literally. Michel Gondry wasn't making a flimsy, feel-good comedy. He was committing his manifesto for life to film. Gondry wants to live in a world where people aren't passively sucking down the entertainment coming off the conveyor belt. He wants movies, and music, and art of all mediums to inspire more creativity. He believes that the power of the creative mind can shape our reality. Why wait for a conglomerate of resources to dump their interpretation of Ghostbusters 3 on us, when you can act it out yourself? Why surrender to the march of technology, when you haven't finished wringing dreams from your old toys? Why live a life of despair & regret when every moment is an opportunity to redefine the world around you and celebrate? That all seems pretty obvious, and is sort of there in the story of Mr. Fletcher's video store, but it's actually more strongly in the essence of how the film was made. Gondry put his joy of filmmaking on the screen and simultaneously captured his characters of limited means at play with the process. I really think that Be Kind Rewind is going to find a huge cult following, and the critics are going to be slapping their foreheads for looking at Jack Black & Mos Def bumbling around on the screen and taking it all at face value. 4/5 stars.

American Revolution 2 (1969)
Another strong documentary from the 60's that features unnarrated footage of protests, riots and historic meetings between agitators during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It's always interesting to see how the importance of "The 60's" comes in and out of vogue depending on the political climate of the present, but having raw footage like this to see the victories & shortcomings of our passionate democracy is vital. 3.5/5 stars.

Vantage Point (2008)
Sometimes you just want to watch a shitty Hollywood thriller to make yourself feel smart. The problem is that while the trailer even challenges viewers to figure out the twisting plot as it unfolds, there's actually no discernable mystery. The movie basically takes a badly crafted Lethal-Weapon-cast-off ending and stretches it over an hour & change by playing it out over & over again, adding new information each time. You're only ever trusted with more details of the mechanics of the plot and the motivations remain unsatisfyingly empty. Watch Rashomon or The Italian Job remake instead. 1.5/5 stars.

Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring (With Rifftrax Commentary) (2001)
I never understood the Mystery Science Theater 3000 fandom. I liked the concept, and I gave it a lot of opportunities to win me over, but i laughed at an average of 1 out of every 30 jokes. Now that the same creative team is doing the same style of running commentary for big blockbuster movies, I'm equally intrigued by the concept & equally underwhelmed by the results. Having a Rifftrax commentary for the Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer may have been the only way I made it through that Hollywood clunker, but watching a movie that I've already seen with their bland humor just doesn't cut it. Although, It's still a tempting option when I want something running in the background while I work.

John From Cincinnati (2007)
John From Cincinnati was a frustratingly inconsistent Television series. Every episode seemed to be a battle royale between great character actors and the worst detritus of the star-machine. The story itself, about a famous family of surfers plagued by a litany of movie-of-the-week problems, felt like something swiped from a stack of Hallmark Channel spec scripts, except that there was also a dark undertone and cloud of supernatural occurences that hinted that something much deeper was going on. Every time Rebecca De Mornay or Luke Perry stumbled through a clunky monologue scribed by David Milch, of Deadwood fame, there was an expectation that in mere moments the actor would wink at you and the scant facade would drop away to reveal a dissertation on the nature of man's existence & the fragile concept of reality. I was endlessly frustrated by the show. Where the language on Deadwood had been playful & erudite, on John, it was cryptic & obtuse, and what I could parce didn't feel terribly profound. However, it was the show that I was most interested in every week. It was vastly different from every other TV show out there, and always seemed to hold the potential to race off in any direction it wanted. Plus, the opening, with the Joe Strummer song & Hi-8 footage is a thing of beauty. Rewatching the show on DVD, my opinion hasn't changed, and instead of finding new clues and nuances, I find the show is hurt because there's no promise of future episodes & shocking revelations, but something still tugs at me. Something suggests to me that there's some hidden knowledge just beneath the waves waiting to surface. 3/5 Stars.

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