By VierasTalo 15 Comments
And I'm here to post about them! Before you even say it, yes, Screened is THE place for this, but buh gawd that site has gone downhill as of late. Anywho, so I totally had about four days this week when I had nothing to do. The girlfriend went off to visit her family, and I was left alone on my holiday with the dog. Basically all I did was loiter about my PC and the TV, watching films and playing an hour or two of those PS+-games. Naturally I occasionally took the dog out for a walk. Anyhow, since I think it's cool to talk shit about my film-watching, I figured I'd blog about what I watched.
I knew from the second I heard about having all this free time what I'd do the very first day: Watch Béla Tarr's Sátántangó. I had had this film in my shelves for years now, and I have absolutely never been able to watch it. The thing with this movie is that, well, it's kind of long. To be specific, it's about 7 hours and 15 minutes. The director has always urged people to see it as a single whole, so I had absolutely no intention of watching it in segments despite being split into three convenient discs on the Artificial Eye DVD I own. But when on earth was the last time you had like eight consecutive hours all to yourself? I can't even remember, probably back when I was in school, if even then. But anyhow, I finally had it. The time was in my grasp, so I woke up at 9am, took the dog out for a long walk, then came back and popped the first disc in. And oh boy, this sure was a Tarr-movie. The opening shot lasted about nine minutes and consisted of cows walking from one building to another. According to Wikipedia, the film has about 150 shots in it overall, meaning few are short.
What the hell can a movie spend seven hours on, you may ask. Well, Satantango is about a small Hungarian community after WWII. The farmers have just received money for the cattle they've raised during the last year, as a man thought dead returns to the village and promises them the world if only they grant him the money. In reality this is all a revenge scheme. This is all revealed in the back of the DVD case, but in actuality the movie takes about four hours to get to this point. Indeed, one may say the story is hardly the point here.
Indeed, it's really all about the mood and atmosphere. You're presented with a carefully constructed selection of imagery and anecdotal situations where all manner of human emotion is encompassed in a way that is equally romanticizing as it is analytical. This is why the best way to review this film would be to simply recite all these things and talk about why the things that happen in them are particularly impressive. I however find some problem in doing this as there are already several very good reviews doing the same online, and I will instead simply state that this film is one of the best works from the 90s I've seen, using it's length to it's absolute maximum benefit, providing a unique, touching experience about human frailty.
So that was all I watched on the first day. It was indeed quite a grueling experience, and I managed to fit the seven+ hours into about ten, which included me cooking food and taking the dog out twice. Second day, I was all prepped to basically reset my entire brain from the severity of yesterdays experience. How would I do this? Time to go to the library, I say! And what treasures I uncovered. I've noticed that the easiest way to recoup from something very artsy is by watching something very, very poor in quality. Hence, I picked up what seemed like the worst movies in the entire shelves there, and took them home, eager to watch them.
The first film was something that is certainly a novelty to hear of for most of you who aren't Finnish: Pekko Aikamiespojan poikamiesaika, a horrible comedy from 1993, based on a TV-show of the similar name. Pekko is a character built for retards. He's the eternal man-child, driving around a forest-surrounded village in an ugly moped and making a complete ass of himself as much as possible. He's essentially our own little Ernest. I feel no particular need to analyze or discuss this film, as it contains a scene where one of the characters says, in rhyme, that it's better to get AIDS than not get laid. That says it all. AIDS. Laid. I'm so sorry.
Second up I had picked up something that looked rather entertaining: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop. And he sure can't. The documentary follows Conan around during his live tour after the whole Tonight Show-debacle, displaying his increasingly burnt-out persona try to deal with doing almost daily live shows involving a lot of physical performance. Towards the end it becomes almost macabre to see him torture himself by doing fan meet and greets after each show despite complaining constantly about how much he hates doing such things. He just has to do them. There are a great deal of scenes here where Conan first complains about having to do autograph signings and other compulsory promotional methods, then someone comes in, explaining that there are fans outside the room waiting for him, explicitly saying that he should not go meet them, and then Conan runs out and takes photos with them and whatnot. Despite this great material, it never becomes a great film. I felt like director Rodman Flender may not have had the best idea of what to do with all this footage, and he ended up just putting them in a chronological order. There are also some issues with Conan himself, as he never seems to put his guard down when the camera rolls, making the film's rep as a character piece somewhat disputable.
Then I moved on, going all the way to Africa. Ahh yes, Machine Gun Preacher. Gerald Butler stars in a Marc Forster-film about a real life-figure who went from drug addicted biker to Ugandan partisan in a few years. This fucking movie though. Probably the worst film from 2011 I've seen. There is just such an immense number of problems on display here, I don't know where to start. Basically, the pacing and editing is plain fucked. Major events occur within seconds of each other, making this more of a slideshow than an actual movie. Within the first ten minutes Butler has been released from prison, shot drugs, killed some dude, found God, started a company, built a house for his family, and had great success with his firm. It takes less than a minute for Butler to rehab his best buddy (played by the magnificent Michael Shannon in his worst role thus far) and make him a faithful servant of the Lord too. Eventually the guy decides to go to Uganda and build houses there, and he ends up visiting some wild areas of the place, runs into orphans, and decides "Hey, this is an awesome place to build an orphanage!" so he builds one there in about two minutes. Evil dudes (lead by that KONY-fella) attack the place however, and the orphanage lies in ruin. No trouble, Butler calls his wife who says something along the lines of "They tried Jesus so now they try you too" and he builds a new, better orphanage within about thirty seconds.
If you can't see anything wrong with the stuff I've described, I have failed you. I can't do any better a job at describing the complete lack of understanding that movie displays towards the entire art of film making. It is quite abominable. I ended the night with Steven Soderbergh's Haywire. It's a rather typical film for him, although this time he applies his trademark analytical style to the genre of action with rather mixed results. The entire film feels very analytical with it's cold, clinical way of displaying things, but the analysis bears no fruit in the minds of the viewer nor the maker, at least none that he would put on display. The action is mighty gorgeous though, but everything else feels like cannon fodder due to the impersonal presentation.
Finishing up my library films was The Kiss of Evil, the third film in the Finnish Vares-series. It's basically your run of the mill PI-film series, nothing too interesting. It's an alright film, hardly reinvents the genre but maintains the nationalistic idiotisms to a minimum such as stupid dialogue, of which there are fleeing amounts of. After this I pulled another movie from my own shelves I'd been meaning to watch for at least a year or so, Salesman by the Maysles Brothers. It's a rather ingenious and at it's time quite groundbreaking look at the life of a group of bible salesmen, who go door to door selling obscenely overpriced bibles. The biggest shock to modern audiences probably comes from the price of the book. 50 dollars doesn't sound like much, but adjust that for inflation and we're talking 330 present day dollars! After Googleing this amount while watching I grew increasingly loathsome of this wolf pack that runs around suburbs trying to push lonely housewives into spending their little money to such idiocies. Thankfully I was able to extract some humor from the fact that one of the salesmen has obviously been used as the primary inspiration for the Simpsons-character Gil Gunderson. The film unfortunately feels a tad outdated nowadays, as several other documentaries about similar subjects have been made (such as the Finnish Suckers about vacuum salesmen), making this ones output seem a bit slow. The conversations between the salesmen about their days rarely hold any particular meaning aside from familiarizing them to the audience as human beings instead of downright predators, a goal I think could be achieved easily without filling half the film with idle chatter.
Then I ended the third day with a Criterion DVD, and it sure looked fine. The film was an old Pressburger/Powell feature, Black Narcissus. It's a story about five nuns who move into the Himalayas to start a convent in a mountain village. The movie follows their struggles with getting in touch with the natives and dealing in their ways. It's thankfully very toned down in the aspect of talking about God and whatnot, instead focusing any religious aspects more towards the general concept of having faith and feeling some sense of purpose in the world. All the nuns are wonderfully characterized, but I couldn't help but feel somewhat let down by all their escapades in their new convent. The middle of the film somewhat drags as not much seems to happen, aside from the great Sabu making an appearance in a completely throwaway-role. The story thankfully takes some very dark turns towards the end, and turns downright tragic by the credits.
But watching this movie, I could feel the story not to be why so many love it. Black Narcissus was shot in Technicolor, and this is certainly something you can see by watching it. The colors of the mountain peaks mixed with the blue skies and the flowers the nuns grow in the greatly textured soil create a hypnotizing palette, giving the entire film an utterly gorgeous look. It truly is hard to believe that this was all shot in a studio instead of on-location, as the end result is beyond vivid. After this little classic I truly tried to go on by watching Speed Racer, but the horrible visual look of that movie coupled with my stomach acting up simply made me want to turn it off an go to sleep.
Day Four, AKA Right Now
And here we are. Today. Or actually, the time just hit 2am here, so I guess it's the fifth day. The missus is home, but I managed to squeeze in four films before she showed up! I was feeling actiony today, so I started the day with Safe, a new Jason Statham-vehicle. What I found was surprising. I've been no particular fan of Statham's films, but this one really thrilled me. The story is balls-out stupid in a positive way. Statham is an ex-supercop/secret agent/MMA-fighter who wins a fixed match when he's supposed to loose, so the Russian mafia kills his wife and threatens to kill everyone he ever grows to care about, starting with his landlady if he doesn't move out. He becomes a bum, and talks to a man in a homeless shelter. The next morning the man he exchanged a few words with is dead! How the hell does the Russian mafia have the resources to monitor this guy like this? They really take their shit seriously. While this is going on, we're seeing a young Chinese math-genius get kidnapped by the Chinese mafia, who use her as a living calculator because the boss doesn't trust computers. Soon enough she runs off, ends up with Statham, who then has everyone after him from the Russians, Chinese and the entirety of the New York police force, headed by the mayor himself. The going gets real insane with expensive-looking shootouts, great crowd scenes and an absolute minimum of jump cuts, which is utmost refreshing in a film like this.
I followed this up with a documentary, God knows why. This one was called Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, a doc about the titular famous director and his more or less lewd relationship with a 13-year old girl in the 70s, seven years after the murder of his wife in the hands Charles Manson's cult. Yet again, I felt as if the material would've deserved a better director. The case in itself, at least to me, raises some serious questions about whether or not I'm prone, as a person, to somehow bend the law in the case of such a great artist as Polanski. The problem is that these questions are raised even if I just read the Wikipedia-page of the case. All the right people appear in front of the camera, but it all feels a bit useless. There's little point to be made here other than presenting the facts.
Thankfully after this I watched a documentary where everything just clicked perfectly. My Best Fiend is Werner Herzog's hating love letter to Klaus Kinski, where he tries to his best ability describe their relationship while working together. The film is littered with humor as Herzog recounts several anecdotes about him and Kinski. My favorite was definitely the one about shooting Aguirre, as he explained that he had lived in the hut of a native Amazonian hunchback midget who had nine children who fed on hundreds of hamsters who scurried about the hut all the time. This all the while Kinski was beating people with swords or shooting at them with rifles when he wasn't too busy pestering Herzog about his coffee going cold. As I'm a huge fan of both Werner's and Klaus' work, this doc mostly feels like great fan service to me.
Then I decided that I had time for one more film before the girlfriend came home, so I popped in the debut directorial effort of Ralph Fiennes, a modern day Shakespeare-adaptation titled Coriolanus. And uhh. That kind of sucked. In the vein of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, the story is set in our time, however in this one I must doubt that it is not set in our world. Rome is an independent state in a constant state of war with a neighboring country, the name of which I have already forgotten. Rome is headed by Fiennes himself, but he is banished by his own people and forced to seek refuge in the neighbor's arms, where his nemesis, played by Gerald Butler, takes him in with open arms and launches his own attack on Rome. Despite sporting a great cast, the film is such a mess I found it an utter pain to sit through after the first fifteen minutes.
There is a constant, depressingly gray color scheme, making the visuals of the film very reminiscent if City 17 of all things. When you combine that with the dialogue, directly lifted from the original play, you have a jarring contrast between the visual and the audio. All the actors deliver their lines as if they had sticks up their asses, in proper theatrical prose, making the otherwise action-based output seem very absurd. Butler is especially bothersome, as he seems to be directly lifting from his role in 300. All this eventually led to me feeling as if I was watching the video of one movie while listening to the audio of another.
So there you have it. That's how I spent my weekend. It's a very long text, looking at it now. I hope someone bothers to read it. Since I'm all up for discussion, have you seen any of these movies? If so, what did you think?