Saturday, October 23, 2004

Don't Call It a Comeback 

So, life interfered at the end of this summer, and I didn't write anything for two months. Taking on a lot of commitments will do that to a fella. But I've still been seeing movies, and now it's time for me to go into recap mode:

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) - The most prevalent argument I've heard against this rock doc is the old one about how rich and famous rock stars are hardly deserving of our sympathy. I admit I've never understood where this kind of reaction comes from: does the mere presence of wealth and fame suddenly render a person's problems invalid? Doesn't this line of logic wind up invalidating the emotional arcs of most of Shakespeare's tragedies? Whatever. Some Kind of Monster has some pacing problems (Metallica's "creative process" is interesting for about ten minutes), but the long haul is worth it for priceless bits about the group visiting with their therapist, James Hetfield in rehab, and Lars Ulrich's weird-ass father. Berlinger & Sinofsky take a fan's view of things, which is probably good; it keeps the film from taking a smug, mocking tone towards the band (who do often veer into self-parody), and coming out emotionally richer for it. Finding the humanity in modern-day icons is not a new thematic tack, but when it's done well, it's good stuff. B+

Coffee and Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch, 2004) - It's been two months, so as you may imagine, the individual merits of Coffee and Cigarettes' respective sketches have become awfully fuzzy in my head. As is to be expected, the whole thing is pretty uneven, but the good sketches are (barely) worth the price of admission. I vaguely recall the ones involving Cate Blanchett and Alfred Molina/Steve Coogan to be the best of the lot. I guess I'm going with . . . B-

The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004) - I marginally liked The Bourne Identity -- it was a sold, unpretentious action film with a refreshing lack of dead spots -- but didn't feel it was anything memorable, nor anything that demanded a sequel. Fortunately, The Bourne Supremacy is a far superior effort, due to some excellent character work from Joan Allen, Brian Cox, and Julia Stiles (yes, you read that right, Julia Stiles!) and a general heightening of intensity. Sometimes Paul Greengrass' affinity for the hand-held shakycam goes a bit overboard (there are sequences in which it seems someone had literally dropped the camera on the floor and allowed it to be kicked around), and they should probably just hold the damn thing still in quieter, dialogue-driven scenes. But the improvements on the original Bourne film are well-appreciated; this one contains more earned pathos, a more involving story, and makes a heck of a lot more sense. (For those wondering what the heck Clive Owen's "headaches" line in the first film meant -- finally, something resembling an answer!) B+

Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (Takeshi Kitano, 2004) - I'm not even sure how to talk about this film. It's definitely one of those films of the Badass Cinema, so it's got the violent revenge story, but then it slips into broad comedy (why the heck does Zatoichi paint over his eyelids?) , and at the end it becomes some kind of musical. The only thing it definitively is is a Takeshi Kitano film, created by someone who makes artistic decisions based simply on what his muse tells him to do, whether it can be explained or not. At times, the film's strived-for "epicness" is undercut by its low-budgetness (anyone else notice that the swordfighting in the rain was actually happening on a sunny day?), and rendering all of the bloodspray in CGI doesn't work at all -- but most of the film's problems are overridden by Kitano's presence in the title role: more than any actor working today, Kitano simply embodies cool, thoroughly and effortlessly. Two hours in his presence? We are not worthy. B+

More to come . . .

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