Velvet Goldmine

Velvet Goldmine (1998) movie poster

(1998) dir. Todd Haynes
viewed: 05/27/2005

Recommended to me by a friend, Velvet Goldmine fantasizes about David Bowie and Iggy Pop, as lovers, rock stars, and Glam Rock as a site of the blurring of gender. It’s hard to know where the blurred line between the facts and fictions of these fictionalized characters starts and ends regarding their real life counterparts. The film fantasizes further, posing Oscar Wilde as the original glam rock star, as well as being from outer space. It’s easy to see the metaphor here, the specialness, the otherness of these fabulous ones.

Christian Bale plays the fan turned analyst of the story, a perspective that one could place with the director, though it’s all sort of weird in its narrative flow and flounces pretentiouly (as is appropriate for the subject matter) throughout. The pretention did weigh on me, and though I think one is meant to not fully understand or know the characters, I didn’t really connect with any of them.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) movie poster

(1969) dir. George Roy Hill
viewed: 06/14/05

Watching a film on an old VHS tape might be the second worse way to watch a movie. Regular TV broadcasts of movies, edited for language, violence, nudity, and time elements hack movies to bits and roll them in advertising, which is even worse than VHS.

The worst thing about VHS is the poor quality of the image, which degrades seemingly over time to a point that it just looks like the movie was shot horribly. And the cropping of the image to meet the full-screen television aspect ration feels like you are close up to the image and missing most of the composition as well.

I mean, it was a breakthrough in its day, allowing access to older films that previously one could only see in screenings or revivals. And you do get to “see the film” so to speak. But really, this is no way to see a film. I usually avoid it like the plague.

The poor viewing of the film makes it hard to really estimate the qualities of the visual aspect and keys one in to focus on the story and characters, performances, etc. And in that sense, I feel like I have now seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a cinema classic that I had never managed to see before. Still, it feels a bit cheapened.

The film was a smash hit in 1969, putting Robert Redford on the map and reaffirming Paul Newman’s stature at the time. They both bring a genuine charm in their rapport, though ultimately they also are essentially two-bit criminals and not entirely likeable.

There is a Pop quality to the movie, with the Burt Bacharach pop music (especially the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” sequence, which just seems like a very surreal moment and out of step and context with the rest of the film). As well, the light air that the film takes in tone, is an interesting contrast with the serious quality of the Western as a genre. It’s very strange.

But it’s plenty entertaining, with a few flashes of classic scenes and some good character actors in smaller roles.

The character of Etta, played by Katharine Ross, is particularly odd, too. Being the somewhat shared girlfriend of both title characters, she also tosses out painful lines about joining them on their foray into Bolivia because she, at age 26, isn’t good for anything being a single woman. She says that she’ll darn their socks and cook for them, she might as well go along. It’s hard to know if this was a comment on the period, 1895-1905, or weird sexism of the late Sixties. I assume perhaps the former, since she later participates in the robberies and teaches the gringos Spanish to help with their lives of crime.

It’s a weird mixture of things, this film.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Garth Jennings
viewed: 05/06/05 at Loews Metreon Theatres, SF, CA

It was a getting off early day from work and what movie that I was interested in that was starting at the right time and POW!! here I am revisiting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, no longer some quirky low-budget 1980’s BBC show, but now a special effects-laden anachronism with a largely American cast.

I had a moderately soft spot for the original tv series, and as a teen had read the first two of Douglas Adams’ books. And I have friends (some who would proudly be called “nerds”) who still are quite ardent fans of this cult of sci-fi humor.

And the first time around, in its time context, I think this was pretty clever and amusing. However, this time, even with all the more sophisticated visuals and effects, this whole concept, pacing, and humor seemed out of place. This story is a story of the early 1980’s, not something that feels very contemporary. As true as it attempts to be, the vision of Adams’ was a uniquely English perspective, with themes that truly commented on the time that it was written.

I tend to like dated Science Fiction more than the real thing, but this film just felt sort of wrong (and it wasn’t particularly clever or funny.) The largely American cast varied in the quality. Though Mos Def turned in the best performance as Ford Prefect, hands down. Still, other than him it all seemed to have the wrong flavor.

That, and it just wasn’t very funny.

Saw

Saw (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. James Wan
viewed: 04/31/2005

Saw starts off promisingly enough. Two characters awake to find themselves shackled in a dark disused basement bathroom with a bloody body lying in the middle of the room between them. They spend the first half of the movie reconstructing how they got there (They were kidnapped but don’t remember the kidnap well). It reminded me of a similar transposition of random characters in a situation in which they have to suss out where they are and what is going on in Cube (1997)

This technique works to set an immediate mystery (and it works), engaging the audience right off the bat. There is, however, a lot of pretense in it, because the situation is so bizarre that it seems more hypothetical than real. It is, after all, the pretense of the movie, is it not?

I felt that the film weakened as it strayed from this perspective, focussing on the prisoners and their unravelling of the mystery as their desperation grows. Because there is this parallel story of the cops who are trying to catch the kidnapper/killer that is outside of this room, outside of this closed world of information, which is also done a lot in flashbacks, but it is a separate narrative trail, if you will.

All in all, Saw was above average as a thriller largely due to creativity. A friend of mine remarked that the film’s cleverness and twists at the end were not necessarily predictable, but that you could see what the filmmaker was trying to do, leading one through by the nose. While, I can see that, I wouldn’t say that that was any more criminal than most Hollywood flicks. Even if you know a surprise is coming, it can still be effective if you don’t know what it is.

Bad Education

Bad Education (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Pedro Almodóvar
viewed: 05/22/2005

It’s been a long time, more than a year, since I tried to write one of these things. So, I’ll keep it simple.

It took me a few tries to get through watching this film, but really that was due to tiredness. I found it interesting and engaging, as is typical for me with the films of Pedro Almod

Thirteen

Thirteen (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Catherine Hardwicke
viewed: 02/25/04

I’d read good things about this film, which chronicles the bad things that young teenage girls can get up to. It’s almost like an exploitation film in a sense, rife with things meant to read as shock value, I think. And I am certain that for those old enough to identify with the mother’s character, played by Holly Hunter, rather than with the teenager Tracy, played by Evan Rachel Wood or Evie, played by Nikki Reed (who also co-wrote the script with director Catherine Hardwicke), I think this film might even be like a parenting version of those car crash scare movies that they used to show in Driver’s Ed. “This could be you. Beware.”

This said, I think that the film does attempt to show the teenagers’ world with some veracity via the creative input of Nikki Reed. I guess that it says something about my age that I was more in tune with the mother than the daughter. Or maybe not just me, maybe that is still the slant of the film.

My main problem with the film was a combination of its sort of exploitative nature was the horrible hand-held camerawork and general cinematography.

Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire (1987) movie poster

(1987) dir. Wim Wenders
viewed: 02/09/04 at The Red Vic Movie House, SF, CA

Great movie. Bad print. It was raining green spots throughout this largely black and white film, and while that was a sort of interesting effect, it wasn’t really supposed to be that way.

Aesthetically pleasing. Rich and interesting metaphors of observance and experience. Very much a film about Berlin. With beautiful, almost classic Hollywood cinematography. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Peter Falk. It’s great.

It’s actually pretty funny to even begin to compare it to the god-awful American adaptation of it City of Angels (1998) because it is so incredibly bad and hilarious in comparison.

Ghost World

Ghost World (2000) movie poster

(2000) dir. Terry Zwigoff
viewed: 02/21/04

I’d seen this film before in the theater back in 2000 when it was released originally. I have been a fan of Daniel Clowes and the original comic from which this film was adapted. I remembered liking it when I saw it the first time, and in comparing it to American Splendor (2003), I was saying that I thought that it was a fairly effective adaptation. So, I thought that I would watch it again to see if I still felt that way about it.

It is still good, though I guess that I liked it less than I had originally, and I think this is somewhat due to having reviewed the comic to some extent prior to watching it this time. I mean, the film still feels very much like something familiar and real and easy enough to relate to. But it lacks the pauses and silences of the comic, which I think has a simple poetry to the images, which is much more communicative.

Anyways, this film still captures the late teen, early 20’s doldrums of small town life and boredom better than most attempts.

Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Eli Roth
viewed: 02/18/04

Pretty lame horror film/homage to 1980’s slasher films (despite being about an Ebola-like virus rather than an actual slasher). This film seemed to have too high of a budget or something. It wasn’t horribly executed, but I kept thinking how much more interesting horror films are when they are low budget and the directors really have a sense of shock value and extremity. I know, what was I really expecting from this, right?

Spellbound

Spellbound (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Jeffrey Blitz
viewed: 02/17/04

Pretty interesting documentary about the National Scripps Spelling Bee, following eight different kids on their way through the experience. The first half, looking at their lives, their varying experiences and degrees of preparation, I found much more compelling than the actual bee itself. Overall, though, a good documentary that speaks to larger subjects than which it is more literally about, which is almost always a good thing.