Friday, June 20, 2008

The Deer Hunter
The first hour and a half is some Best Movie Ever shit. The opening wedding sequence revels in male camaraderie with neither ironic distance nor romantic exaggeration. Michael Cimino's camera surveys the boisterousness without calling attention to itself or providing comment. Everyone is so vibrant and likable that, for the first time in film history, I even had affection for George Dzundza. When the movie suddenly moves to Vietnam, Cimino shows the POW nightmare with equal respect, knowing that the contrast expresses more than enough anti-war sentiment.

Following this powerful work, the last hour thirty feels like a flawed sequel by a different director. Everything's buried in gentle finger picking and violins, when the first half had almost no score at all (something I didn't even notice until the music began to intrude). The film devolves into convoluted soap opera as characters are put through repetitive, overlong scenes in hopes of reaching a grand climax, as if Cimino didn't think the film was an epic yet. He eventually settles on a shot of shattered friends singing "God Bless America," a move that almost capsizes the film, despite its masterful beginning. Cimino's sudden fall from grace isn't surprising after watching The Deer Hunter, but becoming aware of his potential now makes it tragic.

The Signal
Well-meaning adulterers search for each other as a TV signal causes its viewers, including the cuckold, to turn murderously delusional. I was already impressed by the movie's look (drained but not overbearing) and intelligence before I learned it was filmed by three young directors from Atlanta (each helming a third of the film) for $50,000. Despite the windy last third, the character work is unusually affecting for a horror film of any budget.

Drugstore Cowboy
Following a junkie and his gang from pharmacy robbery to pharmacy robbery probably felt a lot more edgy in the "Just Say No" era, but its the embarrassing, Lynchian interstitials that date the film. Even with those gratuitous moments and an overlong third act, the lively, nonchalant scumminess feels fresher than Gus Van Sant's later To Die For. The actors (even Heather Graham!) are uniformly energetic without descending into tweaker parody.

My Own Private Idaho
Hustler River Phoenix looks frustrated and wrestles with narcolepsy while hustler Keanu Reeves does his surfer Shakespeare thing. It's nuttier and more indulgent than Drugstore Cowboy, but I'll take that over the passive stolidity of Van Sant's later experimental works.

Be Kind Rewind
The film-shoot sequences are among the cutest I've ever seen (I love that the reference points range from Last Tango In Paris to Rush Hour 2), with Michel Gondry making his trademark visual inventions more affecting by showing their seams. But for the first half of the movie, everyone in Passaic, New Jersey appears to be functionally retarded.

Matt Damon and Edward Norton play poker sharks of varying self-destructiveness in an upscale Mean Streets. Excessive narration and Gretchen Mol keep the film from taking off, and we can probably blame Harvey Weinstein for both. John Malkovich has a lot of fun with a Russian accent.

Town & Country
In this fascinating conflation of late Woody Allen and the Farrelly Brothers, a bevy of thirtysomething sexpots (and Goldie Hawn) make it impossible for a geriatric Warren Beatty to remain faithful to Diane Keaton, while Garry Shandling (coming off like a Billy Crystal grotesque) wrestles with his budding homosexuality. Between the disastrous sex comedy and countless crane shots (the only visible display of the film's $100 million dollar budget), I want to believe this movie was actually directed by Johnny LaRue.

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