February 21, 2019 at 10:22 pm #12260
A couple of things I’ve finally been able to pull out of the huge pile of discs beside the TV recently, all of them worth at least a quick look.
THE CREEPING GARDEN (2014): You wouldn’t necessarily think that a documentary about slime moulds would involve a lot of chats with artists and robot-builders, or that it would involve some of the best music I’ve ever heard from Jim O’Rourke, but there you are. It starts with a British guy poking at logs, takes you through a museum’s astonishingly large collection of fungi, drops in at a weird European science-art-design-whatever institute to see what happens when people simulate the behaviour of slime moulds for fun and t-shirts, and includes a bit of the history of nature documentaries along the way. It’s not the most focused documentary, then, but it’s got all kinds of brilliant time-lapse footage of things that ooze and wiggle, and interviews with a couple of artists whose curiosity and technical know-how make me feel like a huge dunce.
DESIERTO (2015): A dozen people trying to cross the border from Mexico into the US are hunted down by what’s-his-evil-face from The Walking Dead. There’s nothing particularly subtle about the movie, but it’s terrifyingly efficient: twenty minutes in, you know that one or two props are going to be key to the plot later, and you know exactly who you’re supposed to like and hate, and then three-quarters of the cast has been shot and you’re scrambling through rocks and cacti with the survivors. It’s tense, it’s quick, and it didn’t involve anyone breaking their leg in a horrible way until right at the end, which was a relief because those scenes always freak me out. Made when it was, it was also refreshingly free of MAGA hats, but you know the guy would be wearing one today.
DARK RIVER (2017): Are there HAPPY British movies about someone going back to the family farm after years away? This certainly isn’t one. It’s got a pair of excellent performances from Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley, though, who wring every last bit of anguish out of their beaten-down brother and sister who don’t talk much because of Circumstances. Gorgeous landscapes, a really pretty PJ Harvey song that pops up a few times, a surprise appearance by Dean Andrews as one of the few genuinely decent people in the movie, and one of the most Sean Bean roles of all time: his character is already dead when the movie starts.
THE GILLIGAN MANIFESTO (2018): This one didn’t come off of the DVD pile, and it wasn’t very good, either, but it really stood out when browsing through some streaming options. Having grown up on Gilligan’s Island re-runs, the idea of a documentary showing that it was Communist propaganda made me smile… it’s just never anywhere near as interesting (or fun) as the actual clips of the show. There’s a decent assortment of commie-nuke-fallout-shelter background provided at the beginning — about ten minutes too much of it, even — and then it swats away a bunch of half-assed “what the show was REALLY about” theories before trying to demonstrate (ineptly) that broad satire was meant to make us overthrow the awful capitalist machine. It would probably work better as a three-minute read on Medium with a couple of embedded clips.April 4, 2019 at 8:38 pm #12472
BELOW (2002): This is one odd duck of a movie. Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky, directed by David Twohy, starring Olivia Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Zach Galifianakis, and Boyfriend #2 from Felicity, it’s a maybe-haunted submarine movie set shortly before the end of WW2. Graeme Revell provides the score, so there are moments where you’re extra-forced to think of Dead Calm, and it’s just old enough that I can’t decide now if it was shot in a bizarre way, if the iTunes rental was brutally compressed, or if the CG simply hasn’t aged well at all. The script is sort of clunky in places, and a lot of important dialogue gets buried in the mix, so you have to go back every now and again and freeze-frame something or switch on some subtitles to figure out why somebody just got hit with a hammer or whatever, but it goes to a few interesting places and certainly didn’t deserve to be such a massive flop. (IMDB quotes its budget at $40 million and its global box office as just over $2.6 million.) Plus, so many good connections for your next Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.April 9, 2019 at 10:36 pm #12483
TWIXT (2011): Francis Ford Coppola’s 21st-century output hasn’t exactly blown anybody away. The trailer for Tetro was a pretty demo when I worked in a computer store, and if you’re really reaching, you could say that the black-and-white scenes in Twixt borrow a little from that aesthetic; the tone is a lot more ’90s CD-ROM game, though, except it’s deliberately — I hope — hokey to create the feel of a messed-up dream. Val Kilmer is actually kind of charming at times as a crappy horror writer who drinks too much on a book-signing tour of small towns that don’t care, and Young Han Solo makes a couple of quick appearances in full goth makeup for… no particular reason. The actual “mystery” of the plot won’t baffle anybody, but I enjoyed the WTF? quality of Kilmer’s dreams (and how he eventually started using them to consult Edgar Allan Poe for writing and life advice) and there are plenty of surreal details to enjoy when you end up seeing this two-thirds of the way through a Coppola retrospective and there are only a dozen other people in the theater; eight of those people will go home shaking their heads. Enjoy the Tom Waits narration and the weird clocktower and you won’t have to be one of them.April 17, 2019 at 8:44 am #12488
I remember Twixt. What an odd film. Talk about style over substance…
I don’t think I liked Kilmer in this. But I liked Bruce Dern and Elle Fanning (although her role amounted to nothing much, IIRC).
The story behind this is much more interesting than the film itself. Coppola shot lots of different takes of various scenes, in various different tones and styles, with various different endings, etc. He wanted to make it a touring art project, with audiences reacting to one cut of the film, and him re-cutting it within hours based on the reactions and then showing the re-cut version, and so on. So audiences could shape the film, determine whether it was going to be lighter or darker, horror or tragic love story, supernatural flick or a film about a mental breakdown, etc.
In the end, the project did not happen. I think it was either cost-related, or the technology for fast re-editing was simply not there. Either way, the film that we can buy on DVD is just one cut out of many possibilities, which feels weird – you are basically watching an abandoned project.
I can’t recommend this film. But there are lots of interesting stylistic elements and a lot of great-looking scenes, so I guess it is one of those films that could be useful for film students to watch?
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