Sunday, December 11, 2011


The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976) 38
An discomfitingly misguided film, not to mention ludicrous and slow as molasses. Roger Ebert hit the nail on the head: if The Tenant weren't a Roman Polanski film, it'd be laughed off as total garbage. Clearly he's trying to one-up himself here and outdo Repulsion; to say he fails miserably would be an understatement. Repulsion was not a bad film, but it felt like a somewhat undercooked one; still, it was forgivable. It was the work of a younger and less experienced director. The Tenant is the work of a man who had just finished making Chinatown, one of the greatest detective movies of all-time, and as such it's just plain embarrassing. I suppose this could've worked as a simple paranoia story. It would've been predictable, but with Polanski's talent for conjuring up atmospherics, it still might've been decent. But when the main character (played by Polanski himself, no less) starts to dress in drag and trip out and basically go down the rabbit hole, the movie effectively reaches the point of no return. The slowness of the narrative is frustrating up to that point, but when it chooses to reward us with that nonsense, it becomes flat-out tedious. And then there's the ending. Oh god, the ending. As if it weren't enough to see Polanski in drag and makeup hurl himself through a third-story window, you get to see him -- bruised and bloodied -- crawl up the stairs and do it again. If this were a smarter film, I'd suspect some sort of tongue-in-cheek parody at work. But no. This is just fucking stupid. And to think this has the audacity to call itself a horror film. What a riot. The only thing that's scary is that it got made in the first place. The rest of it's just morbidly fascinating, like watching a trainwreck. You know it's awful, but somehow it's just impossible to look away.

Tenebre (Dario Argento, 1982) 57
There's a certain self-conscious ridiculousness surrounding this movie that I really got into. Whether or not Argento is actually taking himself seriously I don't know, but the film comes across as so completely campy and un-serious that it's hard not to find it just a little bit endearing. Plus, it has a bitchin' soundtrack that just screams 1982. So yeah: not great, but not terrible either. Fun. Unpretentious. Bloody. It's not scary in the slightest, of course, but I'm really not sure it's supposed to be. It's just, for all its murder and mayhem, a decent lightweight entertainment. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.

Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009) 59
It's a perfectly acceptable action flick. There's nothing especially great about it, but there's nothing especially terrible either. It's just an action flick. If you want to see kinetic fight scenes, things blowing up, and fast-paced car chases without any other pretenses, look no further. I guess I'm just kind of spoiled by the James Cameron films: Terminator 2 is among the best sci-fi/action movies ever made, and while it's ridiculous to expect Terminator Salvation to even come close to that film's greatness, it's still all too obvious what can be accomplished with these characters and this story if one tries hard enough. Still, it misses by a long shot being the trainwreck that T3 was, and -- like I said -- it's got some cool explosions and CGI stuff. Plus, part of it was filmed right across the street from my house. This doesn't change how good the film is, of course, but it kinda makes me like it just a little bit more. I'm shallow like that.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1989) 45
I suppose calling this the Japanese Eraserhead wouldn't be too far off the mark. While there is some semblance of a coherent narrative, it really plays second-banana to the fact that the director just wants to fuck you up bad. But David Lynch is an extremely skilled director, and he's capable of making brilliant films from elements that would be insufferable in anyone else's hands. So whereas Eraserhead is fucked up and weird and disturbing, it clicks with me. It works. Tetsuo, on the other hand, never rises above just being a series of surreal, hyperkinetic grotesqueries. Technically, the film is brilliant: the editing is virtuoso, to say the least. But the thing is, you get it rather quickly. I'd say that by the 30-minute mark at the very latest, you've seen what there is to see. Even though the film itself is a very brief 63 minutes, it still feels like it just goes on and on and on. There's no doubt Shinya Tsukamoto made the film he wanted to make (the ultra-stylish final product glistens with a sort of rough-edged, demented perfectionism), and the film does have its avid cult followers, but I can't really count myself among them. I am glad I saw it. It satisfied my curiosities. But it's not the sort of thing I think I'd ever need to return to.

The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) 76
The premise itself hasn't aged especially well, but the cinematography is the stuff of legends. Harry Lime has arguably the best character introduction scene in film history. Also: it's really hard to go wrong Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. I mean, I'm just sayin', 'cause they were in that one other movie too.

This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984) 84
Eh, everyone's seen this. We all know how good it is. I don't think I need to say anything about it.

Time (Kim Ki-Duk, 2006) 76
A haunting and poignant film from South Korea, which -- at least in terms of what gets international distribution -- seems to be a powerhouse for haunting and poignant films. Upon further consideration and the inevitable second viewing, I may even raise that 76, because there are a lot of intriguing ideas here that are handled very, very well. The general idea runs thusly: a jealous woman, afraid her boyfriend may be getting bored and tired of her, has plastic surgery to completely alter her facial appearance. Then, as the "new" woman, she begins a relationship with the same boyfriend, who of course does not realize that she is the same woman. The film refuses to shy away from the difficult ethical and emotional ramifications of this, and the result is both unsettling and provocative. Ki-Duk (whose, well, haunting and poignant 2004 film 3-Iron is also well worth seeing) is, if anything, a master of subtlety: he plays the whole affair very low-key, develops his two main characters enough to make them utterly believable, and then places them smack-dab in the middle of a moral puzzle that, by nature, has no easy answer. It's not light entertainment, to be sure, but it's the sort of thing that crawls under your skin and refuses to let go. For that alone I admire it, but it also has something even deeper to say about love and human attraction, and the way it says these things makes it something of a triumph. It's definitely worth tracking down; I know I want to see it again very soon.

Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2008) 34
I'm not the kind of guy who loses his shit just because something is Japanese. I don't get people who do. Our Japanese friends, colorful as their culture may be, are just as capable of making a bad film as anyone else. To be honest, you kinda know what you're getting yourself into with a title like Tokyo Gore Police. It's a splatterfest, and its main goal is to showcase as many gruesome mutilations as its 110-minute runtime will allow. And I get that. I'm cool with that. I'm one of the least squeamish people you'll ever meet, so that's not my problem with it. My problem with it is that it's just a bad film. I suppose the ooey-gooey blood and gore is effective in some exaggerated way, but it looks fake. It looks like movie gore. To add to that, the story (highly trained police killer wants revenge for her father's murder) is pretty pedestrian and uninvolving, which in itself wouldn't be too much of a burden if the heroine wasn't so damn uninteresting. It's impossible to connect with her, especially when she's really not that sympathetic (she bloodbathes some random dude who feels her up on the subway). To round it out, poor continuity editing makes this seem more like an extended trippy dream sequence than a coherent story. But oh well. It definitely has promise (I like the general idea quite a bit: futuristic Tokyo, privatized police force with extreme crime-fighting strategies, and so on), but it doesn't focus that promise in a way I find satisfying. Audiences that just want to see people get gored and mutilated and hacked up and bloodied in ridiculously graphic ways will probably get into it; I wanted a little more emotion and a stronger plot to justify it. Or maybe there's just some cosmic law that states that a sane and ethical person is only allowed, based on moral principles, to like one film of this ilk. I found that film when I watched Miike's Ichi the Killer (which is just as grotesque and graphic, but has a certain something that the Tokyo Gore Police Club lacks). So just watch that one instead, yes?

Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) 74
The one thing I don't understand about this film (or more specifically, I suppose, about the Irvine Welsh novel it's based on -- which I do own a copy of and I will read whenever I get a chance, i.e. summer) is what the hell the title means. Is it slang? Is there some implicit, symbolic meaning? Is it just a pleasant alternative to Junkies Gone Wild? If I ever meet Mr. Welsh, I'll have to ask him. Also, I didn't realize until this viewing that Welsh actually has a cameo, playing the dealer who gives Renton the suppositories at the beginning. But these are just details. The big picture remains the same: this is still a good, solid, entertaining movie. It's not a great one (if you want one of those, I urge you look no further than Boyle's recent Oscar winner), but for what it is I say it does quite well. You could definitely find much worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

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