Wednesday, July 9, 2014

three near misses, so close you can feel the wake of the bullet whizzing past you

Cosmopolis: (2012. dir: David Cronenberg) I like it when Cronenberg goes all heavily stylized; it's one of my favorite things about him. Sometimes (Crash, Naked Lunch) it works better than others (eXistenz), but even when the effort falls short, you gotta love the moxie behind it. Cosmopolis is a return to form in that respect after the more -- what's the word? not "normal", for sure, not when you're talking Cronenberg. "Traditional", I guess, until I think of a better one, -- approach to his last three (a Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises, a History of Violence). (All three of which, by the way, were awesome in their own individual and respective ways.)

Cosmopolis, alas, left me a little cold. I never fully breached the distancing trench he built into the stylization, although the camerawork and blocking were amazing (consider that most of the thing takes place inside a stretch limo), and all the performances very much arisen from the same stylistic world, no mean feat. I couldn't give a crap about the whole yuppie dilemma concerning the search for life's meaning once you've already conquered the world, and although I'm generally disposed to favor Robert Pattison, he faltered this time, crucially, in that protracted, climactic scene. He seemed lost, as if he had no handle, ultimately, on his character's final experience.

That's a minor gripe, I guess, and I do enjoy an outrageously metaphorical story, as long as it's boldly done, as this one is. The editing was crucially lean, dropping us right into the center of the action in most scenes; otherwise the methodical pace would have killed the venture off cold. As it is, Cronenberg gives us the sense that we are treading, slowly and surely, alongside his antihero, a coldly pre-destined path.

And I genuinely enjoyed three elements: Samantha Morton, the voice-activated gun, and the thing about the rats.

a Field in England: (2013. dir: Ben Wheatley) You've never seen another movie like this, I guarantee it. Imagine a cross between the Conqueror Worm and Waiting for Godot. Low budget but interesting to look at, with a soundscape which brought to mind Valhalla Rising (among other things that were just right with that movie), it keeps your attention without, how do I say this? without overly engaging you. It's not a horror film, although it incorporates at least one (protracted) image which fully creeped me out (when the alchemist's assistant finally walks out of the tent). In the spirit of old-timeyness, Wheatley uses tableaux-vivants (see the '70s Masterpiece Theatre miniseries Lillie or Terence Davies' House of Mirth for brief examples of that lost art-form) to separate his acts. In the spirit of Led Zeppelin, he uses psychedelic mushrooms to further his plot.

It's not a rousing victory, but you should watch it anyway, because well-done oddities like this one are sometimes the way everything changes.

Swamp Water: (1941. dir: Jean Renoir) It's Renoir's first American venture, and he goes flying right past the usual suburbs and city life straight into the vast Georgia swampland with its backwoods inhabitants. He's conjuring up a dark Southern Gothic, and goes a long way towards succeeding.

His opening shot is a baleful cross set up in the swamp and topped with a human skull. This, it turns out, is the boundary beyond which there be dragons, and if a wanderer loses sight of the cross, he will lose himself forever to die "gatored" or "snakebit". The grim fenland is filmed as a place of peril, almost a fairy-tale sinister forest in which princes become entangled and lose their powers. Walter Brennan is the convict on the run who survives in the place through grit and cussed determination. Dana Andrews is the good-hearted boy whose fortunes become entwined with his, and Walter Huston his old fox-hunting dad who becomes obsessed with uncovering the identity of his wife's lover (John Carradine in yellow-bellied weakling mode) and taking his revenge. Anne Baxter is Brennan's near-feral daughter, allowed to live amongst the townsfolk but little else, trying to find her way into adulthood without any love or guidance. Ward Bond and Guinn Williams are the lumbering, sociopathic Dorson brothers who wreak much of the havoc, but there's a separate underbelly of unthinking violence to this eerily insulated community, including ugly vigilanteism instigated by the wrath of a young woman scorned.

Although Renoir digs into the darkness with both hands, both cinematically and plot-wise, the characters in the end seem a little too simple, the story-ends a little too easily tied up, the two-dimensional happy-ever-after lacking that haunted taste which the best Gothics leave lingering on your tongue. (In the director's defense, apparently Darryl Zanuck wrested control away and condescendingly happy-fied the film for his American audience.) Not a success, but even so, an fascinatingly murky piece of Americana from a Gallic point of view.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

human desire: the femme's side of the noir


(1954. dir: Fritz Lang) This may be the coldest noir I've seen. It troubles me.

As good as it is, with the camera making great use of train-yards and hot metal hurtling down tracks, not to mention the bleakness of the little house in the hell that was suburban America in the fifties, as good as Gloria Grahame (stunning) and Broderick Crawford and Glenn Ford are, this film is disturbing to watch.

Part of it is the sugary counterpoint: Ford is a train engineer just back from a stint in Korea, looking for a quiet, stable life (or so he says) and rooming with a Leave it to Beaver perfect family of good friends, a coworker and wife and nubile teenaged daughter who is in love with him and now physically mature enough to be a contender. This saccharine top-coat, with its casually tossed-off truisms about the jealously-enforced proper-placement of women, and with the women themselves spouting the most egregious lines ("All women are the same. We just have different faces so men can tell us apart"), feels poisonous in its browbeating cheeriness. It brings to mind that amazing scene in the original Stepford Wives, when, after Tina Louise gives her heartfelt lament over the sad state of her marriage, the discomfited replicants begin shrilly effervescing over the joys of household cleansers.

Gloria Grahame is our femme, and she is indeed fatale, or heading that way. We hear about her briefly before we see her, but she doesn't show up until a good twenty minutes in, after we've met everyone else and seen the "nice" side of things. When we do see her, it's her gams we get a load of first. She's on her back with one elegant leg stuck languorously into the air, and we know there's going to be trouble. What this noir does differently from every other I've seen is that it shows us her side of the story, shows us how even the "nice" guys mistreat her and mistrust her, and does so while still quite brilliantly keeping her a mystery until her endmost scene. It's a good trick, and well pulled off, and our sympathies abide with her in ways that we never allow with, say, Jane Greer in Out of the Past or Mary Astor in the Maltese Falcon, even Barbara Stanwyck or Lana Turner. In the end, when we at last get that long-anticipated, deepest look inside her psyche, because we've shared her journey, her darkness seems, in the circumstances, strangely reasonable.

I find this ending utterly chilling: Glenn Ford (driving the train as it plunges coldly, heedlessly along predestined tracks) smiles easily as he thinks of the teenaged girl he will take to the dance, waves in a friendly manner to strangers as he passes, and, meanwhile, the woman whom he has so recently sworn he loves is being murdered a couple of cars back on the same train. It took him about five minutes to get over her, with no consequences, no permanent damage. Meanwhile, she's getting dead over it.

Fritz Lang was a damn genius.

Monday, May 26, 2014

last night's double feature: out of the furnace and the covenant


Out of the Furnace: (2013. dir: Scott Cooper) This revamp of the Deerhunter has smooth editing and an even smoother sound design, sanding off those rough edges for an easy watch. Instead of Walken, we've got Casey Affleck, just back from his fourth tour in Iraq, and instead of Russian Roulette, we've got bare-knuckle fighting in the Appalachians. It's a northern industrial town where the mill, the only viable employer, will be closing, and life is hard. You all know how I feel about Christian Bale's mad skills, so I won't go on about how good he is in this, especially that last scene, where he's crouched down and watching, implacable but not cold, not at all, as his prey stumbles away across the field and his hunter approaches from behind. The cast is very good, and Christian Bale is so fucking good, and Woody Harrelson can be disturbingly villainous (Bale: "You got a problem with me?" Harrelson: "I got a problem with everyone").

Problematic and shaggy-edged as is the Deerhunter's greatness, the greatness is there, and much of it lies in those long, shambolic, raggy-assed gaps and awkward pauses and too-long scenes and no-musical-filler quiet places which only happened in the '70s. Now, here, everything is lovely and smoothed over with gorgeous music and silky edits. It makes it easier to watch, no question, and prettier, no question, but the greatness gets left out of the mix.

the Covenant: (2006. dir: Renny Harlin) It must have come from a graphic novel, because it's got that "deep backstory, shallow forestory" fault those generally share.

First, the good part: the production design is flawless, setting us in the middle of a completely integrated world, the rich-kid boarding school chiselled out of the same cold, decaying grandeur from which the central conflict itself rises. Even the dorm they live in feels like the old servant-quarters of a long-abandoned castle. Harlin emphasizes the effect with his camera-work, often encroaching from vast heights, and using close-up to good effect.

The crux of the matter, though, is that the story might have been interesting, but wasn't: the five old witchy families of Salem have escaped further persecution by swearing they will keep their magicks secret, magicks which pass down solely to the first-born male of each generation, coming into full strut on his eighteenth birthday. The other catch is that using the magicks is addictive, and will age the boy prematurely if he does not practice moderation, which is not the general forte of most eighteen-year-old boys.

As I say, it might have been interesting, and wasn't. The characters are interchangeable and rouse neither empathy nor interest. Harlin's main intent seems to have been to cater to the power-daydreams of high-schoolers. There is much beefcake eye-candy on display, the relationships are shallow and simplistic, the action scenes perfunctory, the supernatural stuff unimpressive CGI. He does not care to make these shallow rich kids real for us; they are dream-images, and so we never care, either.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

cat people: sex, death and repression


It's impossible to examine the body of Paul Schrader's work without touching on his early Calvinism. It is everywhere, manifest most fully in the intensity of sex and the strange and violent shapes into which it draws us, and in the effects of repression, and the strange and violent shapes into which THAT draws us. Think of Taxi Driver, Hardcore, Mishima, and now think of Cat People, which may, in fact, be the most emblematic of this central pillar of his oeuvre.

Yes, I saw it at the theatre when I was a teenager, of COURSE I did; I was uncomfortable with the Malcolm McDowell character's lack of subtlety and Schrader's unflinching over-reliance on both the coltish nubility of Nastassja Kinski and Annette O'Toole's girl-next-door hotness. In retrospect, the bold choices, although a good half fall flat, are refreshing for their sheer outrageousness.

The basis is this: in unspecified Olden Times, through nebulous means (we are told one story, but shown another), humans and great cats joined to form a new species, the genes of which pass down through a family line. The line is physiogenetically protected by the crazy but effective proposition that if a cat-human has sex with a regular human, the cat-human will change into his/her cat-self and cannot regain human shape until it has killed. This ensures a sort of ongoing Pharaonic dynasty of sister-brother couplings along with lots of partially-eaten corpses.

New Orleans is a perfect setting for such hyper-Gothic strangeness, and Ruby Dee is marvellous in her tignon-sporting, Marie-Laveauish, Priestess-of-the-Cat-God role. (The best line in the piece may be her parting advice to the just-burgeoning cat-girl: "Go and pretend the world is as men think it is.") As opposed to the unique Val Lewton original, this version uses real cats: gorgeous, sensuous black panthers (for that select clique of us for whom Passion in the Desert was made). It also has a heartily good supporting cast, led by the never-disappointing O'Toole and Ed Begley Jr, the two of whom provide a benchmark of good-spirited, normal-life, robust haleness away from which the dour, vampiric power-sex can blossom and spread like a poisonous vine.

The photography and editing veer so wildly between sinuous sylishness and utter banality as to inspire a mild seasickness. Likewise, Kinski seems at first awkward and uncomfortably exposed before the camera, but in the end it seems it was her character, clumsily pretending "that the world is as men think it is," because as she grows to accept her malkin nature, she is increasingly magnetic to its (and our) gaze. Look at this wonderful, weird moment: her human boyfriend (John Heard) has taken her to his cabin on the bayou to court her. She refuses his sexual advances, but in the night rises and, after looking hungrily on him, walks naked into the swampland to chase and kill a rabbit. We cut back to Heard, wakened by his screen-door shutting. He switches on the lantern and she, naked and bloodied, smashes it, screaming, "Don't look at me!"

And here is another: after she has allowed him to make love to her, she watches her body, wondering if the change will come, then walks into the bathroom and looks at herself in the mirror. I feel fairly comfortable in speaking for my entire gender in generalizing that most of us do this after losing our virginities. What's different is the next moment: she reaches down and finds blood between her legs, instinctively paints it across her mouth, then, realizing what she has done, wipes it guiltily away. This is all to say that, when released from the more pedestrian sections of the film, Kinski is fascinating, and not just in her much-vaunted sex appeal. She communicates a darkness and vulnerablity which together suggest a numinous, dark-goddess force trying to emerge from beneath centuries of repression. I'm not suggesting Cat People is a feminist tract, certainly; I remember even in my youth wincing inwardly at the final scenes of her sacrifice and his domination. Still, almost in spite of the script, there are strong women here, not just Kinski but O'Toole as well, in a time (the eighties) when women's power onscreen was faltering (OK, when is it not?) and trying to find new footing.

Although it's got the typical '80s synth-soundtrack going on, there's also a haunting theme song by David Bowie, which Giorgio Moroder uses as a pulsating underscore throughout to mesmerizing effect.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

sexism run amuck: prime cut and 800 bullets

Prime Cut: (1972. dir: Michael Ritchie) What a pile of prurient, woman-hating horseshit, and the damnable part is that it's so infuriatingly badly written. Who knew that Sissy Spacek could be this stupefyingly bad? She was young, yes, but she was young in Badlands and nailed that one into the ground, so I have to look to the director to place the blame. This is the guy who made the Candidate, so he's not without skills, but, wow. Look at Spacek in those early scenes: she is fully, breathtakingly dreadful, all wide-eyed, cartoonish naievete with a pragmatic overlay of fuck-me. Then again, listen to those godawful lines she has to speak, and who could carry off such bullhonky? This is malicious, misogynist fantasy, from beginning to end, possibly funded by vegans, since you also see enough of the wrong side of livestock turning into food to make you give up meat and dairy products forever.

I'm going to mull this over some more: it's the early seventies, and it's Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman and Sissy Spacek. How do you even manage to make a screenful of crap out of those particular raw materials? This movie has one thing on its mind, and that's to SHOCK and TITILLATE you, just like all the millions of over-the-top serial-killer things we have to wade through today. Back then, in those more "innocent" times, white slavery (of WHITE American girls, IN America!) could be played for viripotent arousal while wrapped in the thinnest veneer of moral indignation.

The plot is absurd; the lines are bad. I have nothing good to say about this. Although there is one scene where a car gets chewed up by farm machinery, absolutely decimated, and I understand some twelve-year-old boys enjoy that sort of thing.

800 Bullets: (2002. dir: Alex de la Iglesia) An aging stuntman who once doubled for Clint Eastwood runs a ramshackle, Old West tourist attraction in Almeria, Spain, home landscape for many of the classic Spaghetti Westerns. Haunted by his drunkenness on the day his son was crushed beneath horses whilst performing the Yakima-Canutt-stagecoach trick, his ghosts are magnified when his young grandson shows up.

This movie left me with the same uncomfortable sadness I had when I finally read Cannery Row, which I'd romanticized for many years: that its gist boiled down to men only existing happily when left to tinker and gallavant alone and in packs, but unfettered by women, who always spoil the fun, unless they're prostitutes, in which case they may still try and spoil the fun, but because the relationship is bounded and defined by an exchange of money for services, the man can walk out the door at any moment without repercussion. Unlike the Steinbeck, here the implication that these men are still boys and avoiding adulthood is not entirely shunted aside, but the Peter Pan life is glorified, made shiny with quirks and humour. In this movie, the actual hard work of raising the grandson was done by women, a feat not given its due. There are two sympathetic women in the piece: one is the madam, whose job is to listen without judgment while providing booze and beautiful girls for consumption, the other a beautiful whore whose job is to smile while she makes her fake tits bounce, gleefully initiating the little boy into their joys. These are the fantasy women. Any woman who is hardened with cares or responsibilities or a job in the non-fantasy realm is reviled, as the abandoned mother and grandmother are, even as they provide the money for the careless men's lifestyle.

Misfit men who don't belong anywhere else gather in the tumbleweed ghost-town, telling stories about having done Raquel Welch and enjoying topless conga-lines of whores. When a woman intrudes with an actual request for adult behavior, she is disregarded and shouted down. Sancho Gracia is very good as the abuelito in question, but the plot makes little sense, and the manic fun these man-children have is patently ephemeral (he makes the whore promise not to tell that he cannot fuck her) and thieved from others (most of it charged to the boy's mother's credit card), and most of the glory days so obscured by lies that even the true, good parts are blurred and uncertain (he's been saying so long that Clint Eastwood is his friend, the only proof being a phone number scribbled on a bar napkin, that he even doubts it himself).

The climax depends on despicable, black-hat behaviour from the Suits and Power-Bitches, the opposite of these romanticized slackers and users, and ventures far, far into lalaland. De la Iglesia doesn't have much stake in the real world, though, and, in the end, his only interest is in giving the man-children a romp around the corral.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

the epitome of a decade, a drunken piano-player, and another flawed sequel

Desperately Seeking Susan: (1985. dir: Susan Seidelman) One of the few undisputably totemic movies of the 80s, Desperately Seeking Susan is a major player in that "girls-just-wanna-have-fun", cautiously pre-Lipstick-Feminist movement, and it's the one that redirected Madonna from superstar into movie star. (It's the best role she ever had, because she's playing herself, and using her own wardrobe.) Boasting cameos from '80s cult luminaries Richard Hell, Ann Magnuson, Rockets Redglare, Annie Golden, John Lurie and Stephen Wright, it is the place to go if you're looking to learn anything about the pop culture or aesthetics of that decade. It also, though, has a charming story to tell and an anemic, nascent-but-fetching, pre-Thelma-and-Louise girl-power dynamic. In its original ending, in fact, the Roseanne Arquette and Madonna characters disappear to travel the world together, leaving their respective girl-toys (Aidan Quinn and Robert Joy) pining at the lunch counter, waiting for them to call. It's hard to believe now, but in that pre-Courtney Love era, Madonna was busy redefining sexuality for a generation of girls just coming of age, with her mix of lingerie and men's boxer shorts, her controversial hybrid of Boy-Toy and power-bitch. The scene in which she blow-dries her armpits in the subway station restroom reminds me of a moment in Jane Campion's strange and unforgettable Portrait of a Lady in which the delicate heroine sniffs her own shoe before putting it on, a wonderfully jarring reminder of the earthy pungency of female flesh which so often gets fastidiously obscured onscreen.

Everyone is young and gorgeous, with Quinn never sexier, Arquette never more adorable (did I say this was a feminist venture?), and young versions of John Turturro and Giancarlo Esposito in minor roles, both already fully in charge of presence and charisma. Will Patton is there as a truly slimy villain, but my favorite moment belongs to Laurie Metcalf as a rich woman who catches her brother and her lover comfort-eating in a time of stress and rails at them, "Why don't you take a valium like a normal person?"

Black Angel: (1946. dir: Roy William Neill) It's noir time in Los Angeles, and Dan Duryea is just perfect as a heartbroken drunk of a piano-player scorned into despair by his fatale, estranged wife. Peter Lorre is, likewise, about perfect as the droll, unflappable club-owner who may or may not have murdered aforesaid wife. Alas, that's about it for the perfect. It's based on a Cornell Woolrich book, and so needs to be much darker from the outset. Any Woolrich book is a long descent down a mirthless stairway into hell, as is this one, and the tone Neill sets is much too light to communicate properly the thick, tenebrous heart of the thing. June Vincent fails to fascinate in the female lead, a chanteuse-housewife trying to clear her falsely-accused, two-timing husband's good (well, mediocre) name by teaming up with Duryea to collar the real bad man.

This was director Neill's last venture, having made his name early in cinematic history and found later, steady work helming the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series. As far as the noir goes, he gets the lighting right, and a certain aloofness of delivery, a certain cold, jadedness of character, but ultimately misses the target by allowing too much metaphorical daylight in through those slanty, noir blinds.

Alien Resurrection: (1997. dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet) The first Alien movie was one of the best films ever made. The second was a whole different beast, a blockbuster epic adventure, but masterfully done, managing while staying true to the original to expand it into something which, if not as great, is still a rollicking and lasting success. The third, cobbled together like a Frankenstein's monster from various scripts and fallen-away directors, fell into David Fincher's then-cinematically-virgin hands and was an undeniable failure, but an interesting one, with a lousy script, a phenomenal cast, and some interesting choices.

The fourth is another bold failure. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (City of Lost Children previously, Amelie afterwards), it imposes his quirk-and-style-over-substance sensibility over a script by a pre-Buffy Joss Whedon. You wouldn't guess it was Joss' without knowing, but once you do know, you can see the Betty as an early sketch of the beloved Firefly-class boat Serenity, as well as the beginnings of Jayne Cobb in Ron Perlman's Johner. (After Ripley tearfully destroys a lab filled with tragic proto-Ripley cloning experiments, Johner is genuinely puzzled over the waste of ammunition: "Huh. Must be a chick thing.")

The point is, when it was over, I thought, "Why is this a bad movie?", since it has much of interest in it. The actors are intriguing (Sigourney Weaver, Michael Wincott, Perlman, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif, Jeunet staple Dominique Pignon), the story is told in potentially interesting turns. What it lacks, in the end, is any sense that the universe of the film stretches beyond the edges of the screen, beyond the parameters of each scene. It is a conglomeration of set-pieces, with no jarring visual or aural dissonance to pull us out of the production design, and yet the ensemble, for all its talent, never sparks into life. In the first movie, on the Nostromo, there is no question from the first waking moments that the crew-members have previously interacted, with recognized friendships and interpersonal frictions and all the bedevilments which arise from the forced intimacy of long-term space travel. Despite an effort to create it, that's what's missing here. The amities and enmities seem contrived, the interactions lacking that elusive spark of divine fire which would lift an otherwise fair-to-middlin' venture into the realm of the lasting. Because Whedon is involved, it brings to mind the crushing discrepancy between the candescent life of Firefly and the awkward misfire that was its cinematic sequel, Serenity. It's possible that Joss needs the continuity of a series, that he doesn't have the necessary expositionary talents for a two-hour movie. (Alright, Avengers was OK, but we all know much of that stuff already. Nobody needs to have Bruce Banner explained to them; he walks onscreen and even little kids and grandmas know what's up.)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

jazz noir, a disturbing halloween, and the chronicle of a french revolution

All Night Long: (1962. dir: Basil Dearden) Criterion has lately recognized English director Dearden's groundbreaking work in a series called "London Underground", works which explored and documented London's seamier underside during the fifties and sixties, the shadow London which went unacknowledged by the BBC. Dearden's bolder ventures included the important Dirk Bogarde films the Blue Lamp and Victim, dealing respectively with crime and homosexuality, and Sapphire, which dug into racism and anti-miscegenation.

All Night Long is a portrait of England's jazz community using the plot of Othello to surprisingly good effect. The setting is an all-night jam in honor of the first-year anniversary of esteemed piano-player Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and his retired singer-wife Delia (Marti Stevens). As the music and champagne flow, faux-Iago and drummer Johnnie Cousin (Patrick McGoohan) tries to convince Delia to front his new band, and, when that fails, sets up a complex of machinations to break up her marriage. The characters are interesting,and both the photography and performances are good (special mention to Keith Michell as the good-hearted and wronged pot-head band-manager Cass. Michell would a few years later become my own template for the royal wife-killer in one of the very first Masterpiece Theatre productions ever, the Six Wives of Henry VIII). Most surprisingly, the script is a good one, incorporating lingo of the time without becoming slave to it, and tamping the high melodrama down into a jumping pulse building to a believable climax.

On top of it all, the music running constantly behind the action transports you back in time. This is the kind of jam session where a guy who looks like your junior high science teacher sits down at the piano and you realize it's Dave Brubeck, and the cat on bass is called Mingus.


Satan's Little Helper: (2005. dir: Jeff Lieberman) Alternating between the lame, the funny, and the downright disturbing, this ultra-low-budget horror outing is strong on suspense and character, probably leaving behind a good hunk of its natural audience. When the gore came, I found it upsetting. The mime abilities of the mute villain are unsettling. Kathryn Winnick (Lagertha in the Vikings) is already a full-fledged movie star, very good in a difficult role, and Amanda Plummer brings her usual eccentricity to provide the needed depth to the maternal figure. This is a family under siege, and the women have to take charge, although not as successfully as one might like. It's also a satirical statement, not only about the debilitating power which super-desensitizing computer games wield over pliable, young minds, but also about the ready agency which we afford to the clothing a person wears. (It's Halloween, and the little boy believes that the guy dressed like Satan really is him, then the same guy dressed as Jesus really is God, then the same guy dressed as a cop... you get it. It's unsettling.) When this director gets a little money thrown his way, he's a fellow to watch.

Something in the Air: (2012. dir: Olivier Assayas) I get it. It was a brilliant time to be alive and an intellectual, the 60s and early 70s in Paris. Now every French director of an entire generation is making his film about coming of age during that heady time of anarchy in the streets, opium in the pipes, and free love everywhere else. (If you want to have a film festival, see also Phillippe Garrel's Regular Lovers and Bertolucci's the Dreamers.)

The trouble with making a movie based in your own (highly romanticized) experience is that you don't know what to leave out, so all these movies are too long. This one, Apres Mai, to use its original title, is my favorite. I particularly like the ending (very minor spoiler alert here), with the main character moving to London to work as gopher on a film about Nazis fighting dinosaurs.

The good thing about these films is the care that goes into the details. You really do feel you're walking through a different age in France. The bad part is that political anarchist kids are, probably by definition, grossly self-righteous and humourless. (And the kids in the Dreamers are just too smug to be borne. Too damned French, perhaps. I couldn't finish it, so it's possible that life cuts them down to size by the roll of the end credits.) Still, solely in the interest of time travel, these films taken together are a fascinating experience, with occasional, exhilarating highs alleviating the more consistent sense of petty annoyance.