Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bacon double cheeseburger

This week, I'm excited about the Sirk/Fassbinder double feature the Austin Film Society is putting on tomorrow night as part of its 20th anniversary series, especially for the chance to see one of my favorite films, "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul," on the big screen. I saw some great stuff last week, too, on the lesser but adequate home video format.
Esther Kahn (Arnaud Desplechin) is an underrated and unjustly forgotten film, though it's only four or five years old. Apparently, most critics didn't like it (except for the French), and it was poorly distributed. It's an odd movie, a little disjointed and awkward, and a few scenes don't work. However, as much as I hate siding with the French (they hate America and stink of cheese while forcing champagne down the barely developed throats of their infant children, don't they?), I have to wonder what kind of film-literate person dismisses this work. "Esther Kahn" is a flawed, fascinating, physical film (sorry for the alliteration--I hate alliteration) that is infinitely more interesting than any darling of the press I can call to mind. I don't know how to rave about an actor's performance without sounding like Peter Travers or a twat, so I'll just say that I could have watched Summer Phoenix's performance for several more days without eating or sleeping. I also think this film smartly handles the problem of convincingly portraying an artistic process by keeping it elusive and mysterious, shunted off to the side and obscured, so that it becomes the film's subject almost by accident. It's dangerous territory, full of deadening and stupid traps, but Desplechin knows how to move in it.
The Kid (Charlie Chaplin) Chaplin's first full-length film paired him with the then-unknown seven-year-old son of vaudeville parents, Jackie Coogan, who most of us know from his later years as TV's Uncle Fester on "The Addams Family." It blew my mind when I found that out. I love Chaplin. Of course, he wants to be loved, and sometimes he's pretty ingratiatingly vulgar about it, but I can handle the sentimentality and the mugging. There's some damn thing I can't put my finger on about his movies, some strange mix of order and chaos, elegance and poverty, comedy and tragedy that is still ahead of its time.
I also want to make a brief Halloween plug for The Return of the Living Dead (Dan O'Bannon). I've seen it three times, and it still makes me laugh. I think this movie should be taught to film production majors to show them what can be done with a tiny budget. The film is limited to three locations, practically a stage setting, and the camera barely moves, but there are few horror/comedies I like better. The script is witty and fun, the actors have great comic timing, and the zombie gore is completely satisfying. I have a soft spot in my heart for zombie gore. At ninety minutes, there is very little padding. This is a lean, economical, smart B-movie, and the fun the cast and crew are having is present on the screen. I'll take this goofy little zombie movie over whatever overhoopla-ed drivel makes it into the Oscar race this year, which probably will be 14 more goddamn bio-pics. Film biographies are like watching a Vegas impersonator fuck a stack of Cliff's Notes.


kristykay said...

Uncle Fester, you blow my mind....

Krouchdog said...

You guys should check out the movie "Darkstar" which was written by the director of "Return of the Living Dead" and directed by John Carpenter. It is about three dudes in a spaceship who have been on a mission for like twenty years, and they are so bored they just find unstable planets and blow them up. It's really funny.
FUN FACT: The band Pinback got their name from a character in "Darkstar"

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