Monthly Archives: October 2010

75: Waterworld (1995)

Not that I owe anyone an explanation, but I watched this one because they’re supposed to talk about it on Film Sack soon, and I wanted to air my thoughts about it while I’m still relatively unbiased.

So here’s what I liked about the much-maligned Waterworld:

  • The concept is actually a pretty cool one.  What would happen if all the polar ice caps melted and most of the world as we know it was submerged in water?
  • The sets are just amazing.  The boats range in size from little two-person catamarans to floating cities the size of aircraft carriers, and everything really does look as if it was built from salvaged bits of cars, buildings, and everything else we’d leave behind if most of the human race was wiped out right now.  The costumes are also pretty good, especially Jeanne Tripplehorn’s bangin’ fishnet-leather-bustier getup and Kevin Costner’s cool gauntlets and stripey pantaloons.
  • Dennis Hopper just doing his Dennis Hopper thang.  He has the only funny lines in the movie and he delivers them with as much creepy gusto as he does in Blue Velvet.  And the part where they try to replace his eye is priceless.

 

Here’s what I didn’t like:

  • Stupid, stupid dialogue.  It’s not just badly written (though it’s definitely that), it’s about the wrong things.  I’ll get to what they should’ve been talking about in a minute, but all the bickering between Kevin Costner and Jeanne Tripplehorn gets really tiresome.  And I was literally cringing during poor Tina Majorino’s (Deb from Napoleon Dynamite!) monologue where she enumerates all Kevin Costner’s fearsome qualities (“He doesn’t have a name so Death can’t find him!”).
  • I don’t mind that Kevin Costner’s character is a complete a-hole who makes a dramatic turnaround two-thirds of the way in, but I do mind that Jeanne Tripplehorn’s character is totally useless.  The only function she serves in the story is to look hot and to protect Enola (Tina Majorino) from being dumped overboard by Costner, who terrorizes both of them until he decides he wants to bang Jeanne Tripplehorn.  Then he bangs her, terrorizes her somewhat less, dumps them both off on dry land, and heads back for the high sea.  Ah, true love!
  • My main beef with this movie is that they create this crazy interesting new post-apocalyptic world — and then do almost nothing with it.  We don’t know what year it is, how the survivors survived, why their descendants are so dumb they don’t even realize there’s land at the bottom of the ocean (this is the movie’s big reveal), etc.  Tina Majorino plays a little girl who may or may not be psychic — she’s constantly drawing pictures of trees and birds and other life forms she can’t possibly have seen and she has a mysterious tattoo on her back that turns out to be a map to dry land, but we never find out where she came from or what exactly her role is in all this (Costner makes the big connection that she’s drawing stuff from dry land and informs Jeanne Tripplehorn that “she’s been to dry land.  She’s seen it,” whatever that means).  Supposedly a lot of these inconsistencies are cleared up in the director’s cut, but I don’t care: if you can’t explain all that in 135 minutes (the length of the standard version), maybe you should start trimming one of the many many long-ass battle sequences.

So yeah, not as bad as everyone says, but still not good, strictly speaking.


74: Conversation(s) with Other Women (2005)

I’d never heard of this little oddity before Netflix rec0mmended it to me based on god knows what criteria, but I was intrigued enough to give it a shot, and I’m glad I did.

It’s a bit hard to summarize the plot since so much of the movie’s drama comes from the gradual revelation of the couple’s romantic history.  But just to set everything up: an unnamed man and woman (Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter) meet at a wedding reception and start talking, during the course of which we find out that (surprise!) they’ve met before.  For such an understated movie, there are a couple of genuine surprises, so I don’t want to give too much away.

So the first thing you’ll notice about this flick, and the thing that will probably determine whether or not you like it, is that it’s shot entirely in split-screen.  It takes some getting used to and it does make the whole thing feel like a bit of an experiment, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to call it a successful one (it’s even more impressive when you find out that when the editor they originally hired quit, the director, Hans Canosa, taught himself how to use the editing software and cut the movie himself).  I was skeptical about Eckhart and Bonham-Carter as a romantic pairing, but they have tons of chemistry and the split-screen lets you watch them react to one another, which is surprisingly enjoyable.

What did occasionally bother me was the strategic reveals peppered at intervals throughout the movie.  It did keep the story moving along briskly, but it felt disingenuous to withhold information from us as the viewers that both characters knew and that there was no reason not to mention (you’ll see what I mean if you watch it).  But it’s still more believable than the long expository conversations that are more or less a fixture in other movies, so I won’t complain.  In fact, that’s one of the things I liked most about this flick: you never feel like it’s trying to sell you anything.  The dialogue is natural, the characters are believable and surprisingly well-fleshed-out, and as the movie draws to a close, you find yourself knowing how it has to end but still hoping it’ll go differently.

Oh, and as a final side note: the meaning of the title with its weird parentheses completely eludes me.  The French title translates to Conversation(s) with a Woman, which makes much more sense.


73: Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

Speaking of genres I don’t know much about, how bout that French New Wave?

I’ve been reading lots of Pauline Kael’s movie criticism lately, which I highly recommend if, like me, you didn’t go to film school and you’re not quite sure what to make of movies like this one.  She’s very smart and academic without being the least bit snooty, and I love her because she’s not afraid to pan the hell out of art-house darlings if they deserve it.  I’ll try not to refer back to her review of Shoot the Piano Player too much, but I’m definitely glad I read it before seeing the movie.

So the titular piano player is  former concert pianist Eduard Saroyan, who dealt with tragedy in his personal life by giving up his career, changing his name to Charlie Koller, and going to work playing the piano at a Parisian saloon.  We also find out that his family are all criminals and that he only escaped that life by becoming a musician.  One of his brothers gets into trouble with some gangsters and inadvertently leads them to Charlie’s door, forcing him back into the life he fled from.

It’s hard to explain what I found so mesmerizing about this movie.  On a basic level, it covers a ton of ground in only 92 minutes,  so it’s no exaggeration to say you’ll miss something important if you blink.  And the piano player himself, played by a Kevin Spacey-ish Charles Aznavour, is both mysterious and completely likable as a hero.  His wife’s death damages him so much that all he wants is to escape from life; but without meaning to, he creates a new life for himself full of joy and pain and all the emotional involvement he was trying to avoid in the first place.  Truffaut was apparently a huge fan of American gangster movies, and it’s fascinating to see the way he takes that genre and puts his own tragi-comic spin on it.  Everything feels so casual and offhand that you don’t notice the meticulous framework holding the movie together — the shot I pictured above is a good example.  The dialogue and gestures feel so unrehearsed and the pacing so fluid that you have to look at a still like that one before you realize how beautifully the shots are composed.  It’s a very different world from the one most American movies inhabit, but one that you’ll want to go back and visit again and again.


72: The Descent (2005)

I plowed through lots of good movies this weekend, so I figured that was as good a reason as any to revive this here blog.

So I should mention up front that horror is probably the genre I know the least about.  As a kid I was prone to night terrors, so me + anything remotely scary was a bad idea.  So that means I’m getting to watch lots of horror classics for the first time as a grownup, which is actually pretty exciting (more of those to come).  The Descent is probably too recent to be considered a classic, but I have no doubt it’ll become one in a few years.  The story is nice and simple: six women go spelunking together in backwoods North Carolina, partly to help one of them heal from the deaths of her husband and daughter one year before.  It’s supposed to be an easy, “tourist trap” cave, but when the entrance caves in and leaves them trapped inside, one of the women admits she led them to an uncharted, unnamed cave instead, so they could discover it together.  Before long the psychological pressure of being trapped so far underground starts getting to the women, and they begin seeing and hearing some very weird things.

I know I talk a lot about cliches and the avoidance thereof, but I have to at least mention the easy horror stereotypes this movie skirts.  Casting the movie with all women was a bold choice in itself, but I was even more impressed with the classy way the women were characterized.  Everyone knows female characters suffer from the virgin-or-whore complex in horror films so I won’t rehash that rant; suffice it to say, you could replace all six women with men without changing more than five lines of dialogue.   I also loved that this didn’t fall squarely into any one horror category — it’s not really a creature movie even though (SPOILER ALERT!) there are some scary creatures; it’s not strictly man vs. possibly malevolent nature, even though nature is the main obstacle to the women’s survival; and while the real horror is psychological, we never get into M. Night Shyamamalalalan “it was all a dream/hallucination/multiple personality” territory either.  Interestingly, it ends up being a bit of a morality tale, which isn’t all that unusual for this genre but I think it’s handled more elegantly here than what we usually see.  Some not-very-subtle hints are dropped in the first few minutes that Juno has done something very bad to Sarah (the soon-to-be widow), and it’s the same irresponsibility that leads to them getting trapped in the cave.  As the two characters we’re supposed to be interested in, Juno and Sarah start out the movie as polar opposites  — poor virtuous widowed Sarah and careless daredevil Juno — but when the shit starts to hit the fan, they both go completely medieval on the creepy-crawlies lurking in the shadows while everyone else cowers off to the side.  The stress of the situation makes them more alike than different, and therefore just as dangerous to each other as the cave itself and all the horrors within.  Just don’t watch it alone like I did!