The Hangover

The Hangover (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Todd Phillips
viewed: 07/26/09 at the Oaks Theatre, Berkeley, CA

The funniest movie I’ve seen since Superbad (2007).

The Hangover is a great conceit.  A group of friends go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party.  They get so wasted that they don’t remember anything.  They awaken to a series of increasingly crazy mysteries, including primarily what happened to the groom, who has gone missing.  The mystery of unfolding a missing tooth, a baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom, a chicken in the kitchen, and unraveling as much as they can from the night lost to inebriation.

Director Todd Phillips doesn’t really have an estimable track record.  Though I know that there are a lot of people out there who like to reference Old School (2003), I haven’t ever seen it due to the Will Farrell factor.  I have seen both Road Trip (2000) and Starsky & Hutch (2004) and I can’t really say that Phillips has the making for an auteur.  But who knows?  Sometimes the funniest or best movies are just some alchemy of luck and timing.

Hardly flawless and vastly crass, it’s still a heck of a lot funnier than the first couple of trailers might have promised.  And oddly, I think it would make an excellent double feature with Wake in Fright (1971), another film about a bender and its resultant nightmare.  Vegas is the landscape here, the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mantra is there and it’s indeed a place for debauchery.  The Australian outback and Donald Pleasance make Wake in Fright more of a straight-up nightmare, a place of debauchery, but not so easy to escape.  It could be an interesting subgenre.  “The bender” and its results.  It’s certainly got a lot of room for comedy and chaos.  And in this case, largely “laugh out loud” gags and fun.

G-Force

G-Force (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Hoyt Yeatman
viewed: 07/25/09 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA

Did Disney’s 3-D mixed animation and live action film about a team of kick-ass guinea pigs catch your attention?  Even if it was just on the movie posters plastered in the Muni stations, on the buses, billboards, what have you.  In a time past, I would probably just groan and be glad that I never had to deal with such things outside of those advertisements.

I have a funny memory of taking a young nephew to see Beethoven (1992).  I can recall the experience of watching a pandering, dumb kids movie (yet one much better than G-Force), and thinking “Wow, this sucks.”

But now, I’m a parent who likes to take my kids to movies, and while I am relatively discerning, or try to be, I don’t dictate everything we see.  I know their mom can take them to some of the more dire garbage (Doogal (2006), anyone?), I’m also apt to try to enjoy whatever is out there with them too.  And here we go.

I knew some of what we were in for when the kids kept repeating a line from the trailer that they’d see, saying when one of the guinea pigs gets picked up in from a pet store and says, “What do I do?”  and the mice chant, “Poop in his hand! Poop in his hand!”  You know that the slovenly guinea pig who farts visible clouds is going to keep the bar lowered, too.  I have to say, it something like “Oh kids love fart jokes!”  Idiots.

The movie didn’t turn out to be quite as funny as we might have hoped.  It kept to the adventure angle, with the guinea pigs having to do death-defying antics to outwit the villainy and the giant robots.  Dude, this year is the year of the giant mega-bot.  Transformers: Rise of the Fallen (2009) might have been the tentpole, but we had big old robots in Terminator Salvation (2009) and now, even in a kiddie flick about guinea pigs, we’ve got a household appliance transformer monstrosity.

The kids were not overly impressed with the film, though they liked it okay.  I think they were hoping that it would be more comedic and less adventure.  And the 3-D thing, as I often mention, is just a weak-ass gimmick that is soooo tired already.  The best 3-D moment in the film was the preview to a re-release of Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999) in which the animators actually played with the concept and made for the most fun moment in the theater.  That and the trailer for Tim Burton’s coming version of Alice in Wonderland (2010) that looks to be trippy art design eye candy.

 

The International

The International (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Tom Tykwer
viewed: 07/24/09

The International is a silly thriller about an evil bank, run by evil people, who kill anyone who finds out about the fact that they buy and sell weapons from Asia and the Middle East, funnelled toward Africa, manipulating politics, and keeping a firm grip on the megalithic industry.  And while all of this stuff is coated in secrecy, one rogue agent for Interpol, played by Clive Owen, is set to bring them down.

The film is silly.  One of the quotes about why they are so powerful and why it’s not about money, per se, is one of the potential wise good guys tells Owen, “He who controls the debt, controls the world.”  And while I’m not going to argue that in some sectors of the world this perspective may be apt, it’s sort of also the hollow foolishness of this evil bank concept, though apparently, the film’s concept was based on a bank, BCCI, Bank of Credit & Commerce International, which did practice dubious and evil things, though not up to Hollywoodizational evil things.

One of the other key silly points I noted is that when Owen returns to his apartment to “chill out”, he opens his freezer, which contains 5 or so bags of ice (and nothing else) and commences to fill his kitchen sink with ice and water, to allow for the shot from below, so we can see his submerged face in the ice and air bubbling from his nose.  It all happens kind of fast, and it’s a meaningless scene (other than his flashback attempts to recollect an assassination that he’d witnessed), but what the hell.  Why would anyone keep 5 bags of ice in their fridge like that?  I don’t know.  It struck me as funny.

A bloodbath shootout in the Guggenheim, well, if that didn’t attract attention to the evil bank, it’s hard to know what would.  But still, Owen has to go pretty far, back to Milan, I think, to confront the #1 baddie himself.  And in the confrontation the bad guy tells him, “If you kill me, there will be many more bankers just waiting to take my place…”  And this gives Owen pause for thought, “it’s an institution.  This is just a man.  What am I up against?”  Evil bankers across the world?

Director Tom Tykwer made a splash with Run Lola Run (1998) and has made a functional thriller to an extent, but one that’s based on such ludicrous and convoluted backstory that even the surface reflects its inanity.  It’s not unwatchable, but it’s just full of holes, and no matter the current backlash at the banking industry, it’s hard to imagine that a movie like this captures any sense of zeitgeist.

Snoopy Come Home

Snoopy Come Home (1972) movie poster

(1972) dir. Bill Melendez
viewed: 07/24/09

The kids enjoyed A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) so much that quick on the list of films to watch together was Snoopy Come Home, the second of four feature films to star the Peanuts gang.  I’d strongly remembered Snoopy Come Home from my childhood, remembering it to be one of those children’s films that made me feel very melancholy.  But I’d remembered liking it, too.

This viewing featured a surprise or two.  For one thing, it’s much more of a “musical” than other Peanuts films and shows, with several musical numbers, oddly enough written by the Sherman brothers, Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, most recently recognized in a documentary from this year that I have yet to see called The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (2009), which is said to be quite good.  I’d personally stumbled on them when I was listening to a collection of music from Disney films, television shows, and even Disneyland amusement park, noting that a huge number of the best songs were penned by “Sherman/Sherman”.  Little did I know that they had also created the music for Snoopy Come Home, though I’ve often found much of the music quite hummable, from the title song to “Me and You” or even the resonant “No Dogs Allowed”.

In reality, the film is quite a slow one, heaped in the tone of loneliness and loss.  The story follows Snoopy as he gets a note from his original owner Lila, a little girl in a hospital, who wants him to come visit.  She has one of those classically never named illnesses that can be magically cured by a visit from a meaningful friend.  Lila wants Snoopy to come back with her to her house and Snoopy is torn between his alliegences to the Peanuts gang and the little girl who first took him home.

We have many shots of Lila in her hospital bed and gown, wistfully looking out the window as the music gently plays tones of sad or thoughtful airs.  But more significantly, we have Charlie Brown, who is abandoned by Snoopy, miserable and not understanding what is happening.  And this is a theme throughout the story of the film, in between snippets of Snoopy and Woodstock’s hike to the hospital and various misadventures.  Even Snoopy and Woodstocks adventures are ones of rejection, misanthropy, and fumbling.  When they meet the unnamed girl who takes them in as strays and manhandles them brutally in her clumsy form of affection, she is a character who is highly unlikeable but in reality lonely herself.  You want the two guys to escape but she ends up abandoned as well.

The kids enjoyed it, but less so than A Boy Named Charlie Brown, which was far more funny and had a far less pervassive  tone of sadness about it.  It was kind of funny because through the late part of the film where it looks like Snoopy will indeed leave them and everyone is sad and crying, Clara was laughing in a way that sounded like crying, though she said that she “couldn’t stop laughing” until the very end when everything works out, in which she told me that she “was so happy she thought she would cry”.  Felix was a bit more unmoved by it all.

I have to say, it doesn’t effect me the way that it had in the past, but the familiarity of the music and the story do resonate in memories and a sense of melancholy.  It’s not perhaps as “good” a film, with its limited animation style, but it’s one of the more poignant of kids films, something that recalls some aspects of childhood, dealing with themes of abandonment, loneliness and loss.  I’ve always thought that Charles M. Schulz tapped into a complex psychology with the characters he developed and their emotional landscapes.  This is perhaps the cinematic peak of that, though I think that the television shows themselves, for what they were, were the most successful of the translation from strip to animation.

The Inglorious Bastards

The Inglorious Bastards (1978) movie poster

(1978) dir. Enzo G. Castellari
viewed: 07/20/09

Not to be confused with Quentin Tarantino’s new film Inglourious Basterds (2009), The Inglorious Bastards is the 1978 Italian-made War film that Tarantino set out to re-make into his new film, though from what I understand, it’s now more of a touchstone than source material.  Still, I thought it would make interesting viewing.  Tarantino, for his many short-comings, annoyances, and drawbacks, had an eye for the quality B-movie of the 1970’s, or at least movies that had value raised above others of their ilk.  And though the last couple of films that I’ve watched based on his “recommendations” have been weaker, it’s still not a bad thing to see what interested him in his video store days.

Frankly, The Inglorious Bastards is the equivalent to an extent of a “Spaghetti War Movie”.  Though director Enzo G. Castellari is no Sergio Leone, he adds the characteristics that make the Italian genre films have an “outside” perspective, different than a film that would have been made in the U.S., in Hollywood or independently.  In this case, it’s an interesting narrative concept, a group of condemned court martialed U.S. soldiers in WWII escape on their way to prison, and try to make a run for the Swiss border.  They are wanted by the U.S. and still hunted by the Germans, a no-win situation.  And they are a true motley crew of small time thieves, absconders, and cowards.  But of course, their route for survival turns them into war heroes.

The characters are quite a bit of fun, especially the Italian thief collector who seems to have just about everything up his sleeve.  There is also an African-American guy, a racist thug, and a character that I read throughout to be gay, though later narrative turns made this perhaps a misreading.  The characters don’t at all seem like they belong in a WWII film, but rather are very much elements of their era, rebels, individualistic anti-heroes.  And eventually, as they are pulled into a military maneuver to destroy a Nazi train with a warhead on it, they become ennobled and heroic.  Apparently, this film is influenced heavily by The Dirty Dozen (1967) as well as Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron (1977).  Neither of which I have seen.

The film has charm, certainly, but it’s on the cheap, looking occasionally like the production values didn’t rise to M*A*S*H (television show) quality and even the artistry at the helm is very derivitive.  So, it’s not some true diamond in the rough, but perhaps more like a $100 bill in the rough.  Though I have very mixed to negative feelings toward Tarantino himself, I have liked the trailer for Inglourious Basterds even if I don’t imagine that I will like the movie.  I’m still game for it.

More to come on that.

The Unborn

The Unborn (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. David S. Goyer
viewed: 07/19/09

As I was sitting in the theater watching the trailers before Public Enemies (2009), one of the trailers was for a movie (as yet to open this coming weekend called Orphan (2009) which not only looks pretty bad, but also suffers from the trailer showing the entirety of the story problem.  Unsubtle at the least.  And I even said aloud, “That looks terrible, but I will probably watch it on DVD when it comes out.”

I have a thing for horror films.  That thing isn’t even pure enjoyment.  I think I actually prefer bad science fiction to bad horror, but I don’t mind watching certain kinds of genre films knowing that I have little expectations of them.  I joke often that “it keeps me honest” to watch bad movies, but I don’t know, that neither sums it up nor fully captures the nuances of the whys and wherefors.  And I don’t even think I need to analyze why.  I knew that I had The Unborn at home waiting for me.

The Unborn it turns out, is a really lame horror film.  The film is a sort of twist on the Rosemary’s Baby (1968) scenario.  Instead of having the spawn of Satan in your uterus, he was actually your twin brother in the womb, you just managed to strangle him with your umbilical cord so he became “the unborn”.  I guess I’m giving away a lot of the plot here, but no matter.  This movie is just plain crap.  The spawn is not of Satan, but a Dybbuk, the most interesting little piece of this highly uninteresting film.  A dybbuk is the spirit of a dead person who tries to return to the living by taking over someone’s body, emanating from Jewish mythology.

But the characters are non-entities, boringly sketched, not even stock.  And the imagery of dogs with upside down heads and evil-looking little boys in period wardrobe is all that director David S. Goyer has to throw at the audience.  While not a long film, the story is handled so abruptly that there is a great assumption that anyone should care about what happens to any of the characters in the film.  It’s just quick-edit endings to scenes with little explanation as to why it’s supposed to be significant.

Goyer had directed The Invisible (2007), which while no masterpiece of genre film, was surprisingly interesting.  The Unborn is the utter opposite.  It’s not as bad as say an Uwe Boll film, but it never rises to any level of interest either.  And with its PG-13 target audience, this declawed, edgeless film lacks anything to recommend it.  And what Gary Oldman is doing slumming in this film, all I can say is, “Fire your agent, now!”

Public Enemies

Public Enemies (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Michael Mann
viewed: 07/18/09 at the California Theater, Berkeley, CA

After seeing the trailer for Michael Mann’s John Dillinger film, Public Enemies, I decided to prep by watching a couple of Dillinger films, Max Nosseck’s Dillinger (1945) and John Milius’ Dillinger (1973), as a primer in the lore of the notorious Depression Era gangster/bank robber.  Though, as I’ve noted before, my backwards approach to the Jesse James films turned to prove most interesting, this trope with Dillinger wasn’t nearly as much so, similar as they are in legend, criminality, anti-hero, and popular myth.

Michael Mann is certainly one of the more interesting directors working today.  Or at least, so a lot of people think.  I mean, even I was thinking that this material would be interesting in the hands of a notable contemporary director.  It’s ripe for the picking, legend, fact, fictions, hero and anti-hero.  And the film has perhaps its greatest comparison is Mann’s film Heat (1995), which the film has several potential parallels.  Many of Mann fans like Heat best of his films, and the notable comparison that I am aware of is the following of two major protagonists, the criminal and the cop who is trying to catch him, two notable actors who share very little screen time, one scene, while playing against one another throughout the film’s duration.  It’s clear that this is happening here as well, with Mann’s loyalties, while leaning toward Dillinger, are split in respect between the outlaw and the law.

I am not a Mann scholar, nor, do I think, a particular Mann fan, so I won’t go into this duality interest more than to recognize its presence.  In a sense, it’s a part of how I try to make sense of Mann’s film and its portrayal of the material.  A few things are blatantly clear: J. Edgar Hoover is a weak bastard and the creation of the FBI dubious at its birth, technology is changing both the criminal (interstate gambling and telecommunication) and the science of law enforcement, using more intellectual methodologies to ensnare and track wanted men, and that the 1930’s had style.  Mann gets most of his key ideas across in fairly clear, lingering moments, not to be lost on the audience.  Not really subtle to say the least.

The techonology angle is sort of interesting, as Mann does linger on the imagery of the mob and the growth of both organized crime and organized law enforcement.  But he sort of leaves it at that.  It’s a notable thing, leaving Dillinger’s brief time in the headlines as a soon-to-be thing of the past.  But it’s not his key focus, and so I don’t know that he takes it anywhere, though its a rich area to investigate.

Johnny Depp, probably the most charismatic actor of his generation, is remarkably lowkey throughout, perhaps paired with Christian Bale’s lawman Melvin Purvis, who seethes a bit less than the typical Bale role.  Dillinger, really, was a much more charismatic type, but also more of a character, toying with his pursuers, basking in his Robin Hood-like popularity.  Depp’s Dillinger is a decent man who does a dangerous job, but draws the line between outright violence and bank robbing.  He steals from the banks, who stole from the poor.  But he’s saddled with a love story, which becomes his main focus, through to his end.

The film is also, almost comically, obsessed with the sleek gorgeousness of Art Deco and 1920’s/1930’s style.  The men are all dapperly clad in nice suits and chic overcoats, bearing stylish Tommy guns.  The women, even wearing “a $3 dress”, still look like a million bucks.  And the location shooting is lavish in settings, each bank that is robbed looks like a palace or a church, huge, beautifully ornate, and powerful.  And this might have been a commentary if other things looked like shacks, but the cars are all sleek and gorgeous, even radio knobs have great style and character.  Shoot, just give them the Oscar for art design already!

I have to say, there is a lot going on and the film has a great parsibility, but what really is Mann’s point?  Some reviews I read of the film compared the breakdown in the banking system to the fall of the stock market that led to the Depression, a comparative point.  The banks are the bad guys.  The people that rob them are justified.  But that seems kinda shaky to me.  Mann seems most interested in the relationship of these two characters, going toe-to-toe, mano y mano, with only the briefest of actual time in the same scene.  Aesthetically, it’s balanced, but it’s not particularly fascinating to say that one can identify with two sides when decent men are at the core.

And the film itself, while entertaining and stylish, how good was it?  Taste is a quality unique to each individual, so take my opinion for what it is.  I thought the film was good, interesting, and slick, but dead somewhere, lacking somewhere, though I couldn’t entirely say where.  Not that that matters either.  It looks good, the gangsters are stylin’, and it is what it is.

Push

Push (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Paul McGuigan
viewed: 07/16/09

In this day and age, subgenres beget subgenres to levels of potential minutae that really only make sense if we’re doing a biological categorization of movies.  I don’t really mean that it in a pejorative way.  Does it matter?

The only thing that would really matter would be originality, brought to bear on genre or non-genre film.  And as far as I can tell, Push isn’t based on a novel or a comic book or a video game.  While the source material may be originary, the whole of the concept isn’t particularly “out there”.  The concept is one that there are people out there with psychic powers (all kinds from precognition, telekinesis, healing powers, mind control, etc.) and they are being chased by some government group that wants to harness them for weaponry.  While Push creates its own nomenclature for each gang and gets a relatively engaging story and characters moving, it fails to really be anything new.

Like perhaps the television show Heroes or even last year’s Jumper (2008) and going back to Stephen King’s Firestarter (1984) and the book that film was adapted from.  Heck, if you get into it, the whole X-Men franchise is essentially the most robust of the concepts.

Push stars the 14 year-old Dakota Fanning, who is all big-head, skinny legs teenager, cute and gawky, with some interesting facial features.  Her character has charm, but isn’t wholly interesting.  Actually, none of the characters is as interesting as you would hope.  So much so, that the female adult heroine, played by Camilla Belle, isn’t interesting or likeable enough to care about.  And while villain Djimon Hounsou looks kinda dangerous and speaks with a somewhat creepy voice, we really don’t know shit about him or anything, enough to care beyond knowing he’s the bad guy.

I get this sensation every once in a while, when watching a science fiction film, that I yearn for a story that is less spelled-out, a narrative style that doesn’t try to make sure that the audience understands everything, something more experiential.  This film starts with an opening scene and then the title sequence has Fanning narrating the complex back-story about the psychics and their government history and persecution.  The classic “telling not showing” approach that is short-hand for too much information to try and spread out through the story.  The filmmakers just drop it on you and then go running.

Maybe I am imagining a narrative style that doesn’t exist or maybe I am not imagining it.  Are the films (for all their flaws) THX 1138 (1971) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) less clear narratives?  Or even Alphaville (1965).  My point is more about narrative clarity, an approach to disseminating story.  I don’t know that it improves quality, but it just makes it less about the complex, convoluted narrative, and much more experiential.

It’s just a thought.

Lady of the Pavements

Lady of the Pavements (1929) movie poster

(1929) dir. D.W. Griffith
viewed: 07/12/09 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

The final of three features that I caught at the Silent Film Festival this time around, D.W. Griffith’s Lady of the Pavements turned out to be a much more interesting experience as part of the festival than it could have been merely on its own.  While Griffith is well-known as a father of cinematic techniques and a vastly influential early filmmaker, I came to realize that I don’t even know that much about his career arc.  Lady of the Pavements was Griffith’s first sound film of sorts, despite having tangled with sound in a much earlier film, this film was made in the transitional year of 1929, and the back-story provided by the Festival, made for a pretty rich contextualization.  Apparently, the film was shot mostly as a silent, and then, musical numbers were added, shots re-shot, and process of recording on was records actually exemplified the problems of a burgeoning tecnhology.

Additionally, Griffith and his style had fallen out of favor, and this film, unlike his major works, was one in which he was pretty much a “hired gun” of sorts, with much of the script and casting and so forth in place.  And the film itself, suffering from mixed reviews and a commercial failure, lost its soundtrack along the way.  The soundtrack was not just some fluff, but featured a theme by Irving Berlin and some other notable pieces.  For the festival, along with the piano accompaniment, a singer was brought in, to sing some of the sequences for which the music could be identified, and that experience elevated the film in many ways, not to its original state, but perhaps even better still.  What would Griffith have thought?  Who knows?

The film is a romantic comedy in which a Prussian nobleman dismisses his French noblewoman bride-to-be when he discovers her to have other lovers.  He tells her that he would rather marry a “woman of the streets” than her.  So, in her conniving, the lady sends one of her men out to find a “lady of the pavement” to disguise her as a “lady”, have him fall for her, and therefore fulfill his statement, shaming him.  The man doesn’t find a true “woman of the streets”, but rather a cabaret singer, played with great verve by Lupe Vélez.  It’s one of those stories that you can pretty much map out without having to see the rest of the film, knowing that they’ll fall in love, he’ll discover the trickery and be upset, but in the end will come to take her away.   And it does all happen that way essentially, but yet…it’s still very successful.

Vélez is terrific, fiery and energetic, almost too much character for silence.  Actually, the whole film almost “feels” more like a sound picture.  I’m not sure why I think that, but it may just be the character of the cinematography.  Vélez apparently stole the show back in the film’s initial release, reaching her brief height in fame rather close to this point.  And she is definitely the best part of the cast, though Jetta Goudal, the villainess is a top-notch ice queen in contrast.

While this film is certainly not one of Griffith’s masterpieces, it has amazing charm, enhanced no doubt by the performance of the musical score at the festival.  It is remarkable that even challenged by a pretty stereotypical narrative trope, played out against evolving cinematic technology and the marginalization of one of cinema’s original masters, that 80 years later, this film charms as it does.

Kudos to Vélez and Griffith.  And kudos to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival!

 

The Fall of the House of Usher

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) movie poster

(1928) dir. Jean Epstein
viewed: 07/12/09 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

This version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher was not something that I was familiar with prior to this year’s Silent Film Festival.  And I have to say, that on reflection, as I read through the well-researched and interesting program that came from the festival, what it is about the festival that is so rewarding.  The festival is not just a celebration or simply showings of films, nor is it simply preservation or historical information, but it is a very intelligent conglomerate of an organization, constructing a wide, diverse program of films from the silent era and showing them with erudition and context, with the written program, the diverse selection of knowledgable people who introduce the films, and the interesting and informative slideshows that are made for preview to each showing.  This is a fantastic festival on so many levels, and I feel so lucky to be able to attend it every year.

There was a time when I was less interested in silent film, and that time wasn’t even so long ago.  I have watched silents since I was a child, being interested in Expressionist cinema (not knowing that it was anything more than the earliest “monster movies”) since I was quite young, so I have been more open to them than the average person.  But I think it’s been in the last five years or so that this has changed and my interest has developed and diversified.

I selected the films that I wanted to see from the program (limited by other scheduling obligations) based on a quick glance at what “looks” interesting.   I chose Underworld (1927) because it was a crime film.  I chose The Fall of the House of Usher because it was both a “horror” film and looked from the still images to be on the more avant-garde side.  My final selection was Lady of the Pavements (1929) because it was a D.W. Griffith film.  And I also took the kids to see the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts because I like animation and like to take the kids to things that are appropriate and different (I won’t be writing about the Oswald films here because I write mostly about feature films, not shorts).

Interestingly, due to a last minute change in schedule, they showed The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), a short film by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webster, which was even more abstract (and vaguely familiar to me, perhaps from an Avant-Garde Cinema class that I took as an undergrad).  It was an interesting contrast, in that the short was far less clear in its narrative, though it stuck more with the plot of the short story.  The film was perhaps Surrealist, but clearly strange and dream-like, with interesting uses of multiple image layers repeating images of coffins or buildings or people.

The Jean Epstein film was quite the avant-garde piece, if still more clearly narrative in its telling, mixing a few different Poe stories together to expand the storyline.  Made with great visual panache, the constructs of the mise en scene almost all could be captured in still images to make fascinating deconstructions or simply arresting images.  The narrative is of a doomed relationship, set in a Gothic mansion, home of Rodderick Usher and his slowly-dying wife.  Usher is painting her portrait and seeimingly sucking out her life in the process.  Of course, the disease is all mysterious, the causality open to intereretation, which ultimately leads to her “death”.  Her “death” leads to spectral visions, haunted thoughts, and madness for Usher, finally revealing itself to have been a premature burial.  The cataclysms bring the house down around their ears, though they escape across the moors.

Full of psychological angst, love and obsession as a near vampirical relationship, and an ill-defined “corruption” of the souls of the Ushers, the film is much like a dream itself, a fever dream in Gothic setting, and a rich and effective piece of cinema.  This was probably my favorite of the films that I saw from this festival.  A surprising film, an unusual film, a remarkably artful feature film by a very interesting filmmaker.