Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #118-124


Pirate Radio
#118. The Boat That Rocked (aka Pirate Radio) (2009, Curtis)

I watched the UK version of this film which added an extra twenty minutes. I don’t have one good thing to say about this film. Not a-one. OK, one. The soundtrack is impressively extensive, so much so that though there are the cliched cues it is also chockful of excellent tracks.

Everything else about this incomprehensible clusterfuck is a major miss. Here’s a hypothetical; say BBC wanted to make a show using the days of pirate radio as a backdrop. The writers comes up with a fun wacky boys club of a radio crew. They shoot an entire season. But the show never ends up airing. They decide to use the footage and make a film. But which footage to choose? The film is eventually constructed by picking scenes out of a hat and randomly splicing them together. The original material wasn’t funny or entertaining to begin with. Now, chopped to all hell, it’s damn near intolerable.

This isn’t the story behind what happened with The Boat That Rocked, but it sure feels like it in a nutshell. It has zero interest in actually portraying the days of pirate radio. Kenneth Branagh as a stuffy Brit who hates rock n’ roll fiends is pure caricature. OK fine. So history not a priority. That’s fine. Maybe our raunchy radio crew made up of great actors, and let’s not forget that lesbian punch-line of a character, can at least provide some semblance of joy? Nope. No go. I love a lot of these actors, but they’ve got nothing to work with. They can’t even stumble onto something funny. There’s no saving grace.

The portrayal of women is despicable. No attempt is made to make any of them into anything other than harpy objects, two-timers and screeching backstabbers. It is truly horrifying; the kind of blatant mean-spiritedness that irks me more than any other kind of onscreen sexism. Richard Curtis decides to employ a slightly shaky camera to illustrate that they are on a boat!!! The Boat That Rocked might be the most haphazard production I’ve seen in years. I can’t even construct an articulate review about it. All flames on the side of my face.

Behind the Candelabra
#119. Behind the Candelabra (2013, Soderbergh)

Undoubtedly my favorite Steven Soderbergh film in a very long time (since Traffic?). Behind the Candelabra is biographical, campy, comedic, showbizzy, heartwrenching, bizarre and poignant all at once. You could watch it once and latch onto one of its parallel modes of design. Watch it another time and give yourself over to a different thread. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon have seriously never been better. And Rob Lowe is going to haunt your nightmares.

The film takes the conventional rise-and-fall relationship trajectory and uses that structure to examine toxicity and devotion. These relationships that Liberace embarked on were genuine for him, yet completely artificial in their almost unconscious ritual cycle. Douglas lets us see a little slime underneath the bedazzle, just enough to really grey things up. Scott on the other hand is supposed to be extremely young. As in, 19. As in, they obviously took liberties with the casting. But I’m completely okay with this because it’s Matt Damon! This relationship is new for Scott.  Also genuine on one level, but subtly duplicitous in the perks of living the life and the downward spiral he allows himself to go on.

The glitz, cosmetic surgery, PR work and pills make up this fragile veneer where everyone is going big or going home in a constant effort to keep up a transparent lie in more ways than one. Oh, and kudos for Cheyenne Jackson who kills every second of his tiny role. On a final note, the Matt Damon eye candy on at ridiculously high levels. So get on that people.

Point Break
#120. Point Break (1990, Bigelow)

One reason why Point Break resonates through the years, besides the justified Hurt Locker-inspired tidal wave of Kathryn Bigelow love resulting in another filmography assessment, is the unparalleled way it brings together blasts of cheese with jolts of visceral power. That kind of fusion is also in the story which brings together surfing, spirituality, bank robberies, undercover cops, skydiving and male bonding in a way all its own.

That committed spirituality gives Point Break a complex perspective because of the way a search for serenity is linked to Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi. The central friendship is deftly explored and while Reeves walks around with his pink surfboard and gives some pretty golden line readings, Patrick Swayze walks away with the film. His Bodhi is well-meaning but convoluted and desperate. He was written and performed with care, ambiguity and empathy. In other casting notes, Bigelow apparently pushed for Lori Petty. The writers were initially envisioning a thin blonde surfer chick. Instead Petty breaks out onto the scene, future cult icon stamping her presence with her brand of punk-rasp.

Back to the story, there is something really purely entertaining about Point Break but also arresting (like the on-foot chase scene) and often stunning (the surfing and skydiving scenes are breathtakingly shot and even oddly moving). It’s a preposterous film that goes beneath its potentially gimmicky plot to look at soft and hard masculinity and the search for peace through adrenaline while never being anything less than a complete scream.

Blood
#121. Blood (2013, Murphy)
Full Review on Cine Outsider: http://www.cineoutsider.com/reviews/films/b/blood.html
I chose not to post this review on my site because although I’m very happy with the end result, it doesn’t quite feel like it’s mine because much external editing went into it. But of course I urge anyone to read it!

PointBlank3
#122. Point Blank (1967, Boorman)

Lee Marvin, single-minded zombie in purgatory, is on a mission. He’s been double-crossed and he wants his $92,000. Point Blank is a  time-old tale of betrayal told with a sparse dream-fevered futile air. Walker isn’t a character but a blank slate. It’s not about the mission but its emptiness. Within the rabbit-hole grip of corporate crime, nobody ever sees money in the unbreakable daylight streaks of L.A.

Tangibles like the monochromatic color schemes and Walker’s single-mindedness collide with bursts of kaleidoscopic rainbows and a sustained feeling of Alain Resnais-lite deja vu. No wonder John Boorman’s French New Wave-cum-Antonioni inspired sensibilities didn’t come off with audiences in 1967. Characters rarely face each other, most often talking into the vast open space before them.

Boorman predates a ton of formal techniques later to be defined within the American New Wave; precision-like zoom, asynchronous sound, fully utilized lenses, playing with time through editing and acutely thoughtful and highly stylized composition. The opening credits alone are a series of Lee Marvin poses, memorable in silhouette  and hulking mass. Boorman was ahead of his time within American cinema with Point Blank and it still comes off with a burst of fresh experimental energy almost half a century later. I found engaged to the hilt by this film. Another new favorite (I have a lot of those). As it moves back and forth through time and as memory, ennui, and listless violence bleed into each other, the elliptical Point Blank captures you in its suspended atmosphere of free association. Neo-noir as innovative existential tone poem.

A New Leaf
#123. A New Leaf (1971, May)

A riotously dark screwball comedy that marked the beginning of Elaine May’s contentious relationship with studios due to perfectionism and an apparent inability to ever finish her work at any stage. This aside, A New Leaf is one of the funniest films I’ve seen, finding its humor through an unabashed commitment to perspective of Walter Matthau’s potential fall from wealth. It’s my favorite performance from Matthau, a perverted distillation of long extinct class customs. The joke is that he hasn’t built a life around his wealth; his wealth is his life.

When Elaine May enters as bespectacled oblivious waif Henrietta the joy comes from seeing these two characters clash. Their repartee is different from the banter game-play of various screwball twosomes.  First of all, May isn’t aware of said clash; from her perspective she is simply stumbling into a perfect match. The clash exists, oh does it exist for Matthau, but he has to do everything in his power to hide this conflict of interest towards her. Where she sees Prince Charming, we see a man seething from within, pulsating with repulsion, just waiting until he can off her. A New Leaf does its best to veer away from sincerity which could threaten to undo the somehow lovably nasty streak Matthau leads with throughout. May writes her dialogue with such a matter-of-fact drollness that on first glance belies its instant quotability and staying power. But there’s just enough redemption at hand for it to earn its conclusion without the film betraying itself.

– The ‘I’m poor’ montage took me completely by surprise and had me crying and howling with laughter more than anything I’ve seen in years. ‘Goodbye’

le-cercle-rouge
#124. Le Cercle Rouge (1970, Melville)

Jean-Pierre Melville is someone whose films I’ll always look at with the detached appreciation of a lover of film; not necessarily with a comes-from-within feeling of vitality. Although who the hell knows. I remember really being very fond of Bob Le Flambeur when I saw it long ago. As for Le Samourai; I need to see it again. I don’t trust my opinions on anything when I was 17.

So that detached appreciation comes in many forms and Le Cercle Rouge kept my interest throughout. It has Melville’s reliable stark sleekness, that essence of Parisian cool where its down-to-business at all times. Careful visuals and the use of cinematic space phase out the need for words. Alain Delon remains a physical representation up against those cool blue surroundings (with touches of forest greens) at every turn. Melville uses him as a statuesque icon, transferring his indelible persona to a state of poker-faced steadiness. Le Cercle Rouge in particular is stripped down to a skeletal story, uncluttered by character development or plot detours. It’s a prototype of cool that countless filmmakers would alter build off of. Characters slowly but surely make their way towards that fictional red circle, collaborating through an innate unspoken pull to each other and their heist.

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