The Week in Moving Pictures











Wild Reeds/Les Roseaux sauvages. André Téchiné, 1994. ****
It Happened One Night. Frank Capra, 1934. ****
Recount. Jay Roach, 2008. ****
The Long Good Friday. John Mackenzie, 1980. ****
Ikiru. Akira Kurosawa, 1952. ****
Hamlet 2. Andrew Fleming, 2008. ***
Autumn/Automne. Ra’up McGee, 2004. ***
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, 2008. ***
Mildred Pierce. Michael Curtiz, 1945. ***
Choke. Clark Gregg, 2008. **
Sukiyaki Western Django. Takashi Miike, 2007. N/R

The Non-English Language Film Survey


Ah, lists! Like all fans, film aficionados are collectors, and every now and then, all collectors enjoy sifting through their stash to trot out their favorite baubles, arranged one way or another, to show them off to the world. Look! I’ve got three of the ultra-rare green kind, and oh, how that marbled one catches the sunlight just so! Toying with the objects of our affection in this way makes us feel happy and safe. In the world of movies, that’s what we call a list.

The movies we’ve seen (and can remember) are our stash and currency, and the best and shiniest of them will have to bear the scrutiny of any passers-by. As members of NYFCO, Marcy and I do this once a year, and recently, I’ve been asked, along with a number of bloggers and critics, to help put together a list of best films made in a language other than English before 2002. The list of nominations is out now at Edward Copeland’s site, and it’s a good one. You can go vote on your favorites, and a final tally will be published soon.

For the goal-oriented, that should be the end of the story, but I always find that democracy and criticism make an uneasy fit, and to me, the final result is somewhat beside the point. Instead, you might be happier taking a look at the individual ballots (or adding your own) here, at Jim Emerson’s site, at the House Next Door, or on your own damn blog. The fun is in the arranging of the marbles, the weighing of their comparative beauty, the debates over which ones have been overlooked or could be traded in for shinier ones. (It’s also a terrific way to fatten up your Netflix queue.) For the avid collector, the list is never an end in itself — it’s just a way to spend a little bit more time with some of our favorite things.

So here’s the snapshot of movies I considered worthy of inclusion according to this particular set of parameters on this particular day–culled from a much longer list of close contenders while LH 182, after three hours delay, finally began its initial descent on Berlin-Tegel, a fact I mention only because it may help explain the heavy Teutonic emphasis: I literally found myself in the Himmel über Berlin. Feel free to add your 25 favorites in the comments, and don’t forget to vote at Edward Copeland’s site. In alphabetical order:

8 1/2 Federico Fellini, 1963
Aguirre, The Wrath of God Werner Herzog, 1972
Akira Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988
Au Hasard Balthazar Robert Bresson, 1966
Band of Outsiders Jean-Luc Godard, 1964
Black Orpheus Marcel Camus, 1959
City of God Fernando Meirelles, 2002
Day for Night Francois Truffaut, 1973
M Fritz Lang, 1931
Nights of Cabiria Federico Fellini, 1957
Run Lola Run Tom Tykwer, 1998
Seven Samurai Akira Kurosawa, 1954
Solaris Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972
Spirited Away Hayao Miyazaki, 2001
Stolen Kisses Francois Truffaut, 1968
The Lovers on the Bridge Leos Carax, 1991
The Man Without a Past Aki Kaurismaki, 2002
The Rules of the Game Jean Renoir, 1939
The Seventh Seal Ingmar Bergman, 1957
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Jacques Demy, 1964
The Wages of Fear Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953
Wings of Desire Wim Wenders, 1987
Y Tu Mama Tambien Alfonso Cuaron, 2001
Yojimbo Akira Kurosawa, 1961
Zur Sache, Schätzchen May Spils, 1968

Macbeth

The Internet Movie Database lists 48 adaptations of Macbeth–give or take a few TV versions–but Geoffrey Wright’s contemporary gangster take on the Scottish play doesn’t resemble any of them as much as a low-budget remake of Scarface. There’s lots of gunplay between drug dealers, the witches are a bunch of doped-up goth chicks, and some of the Bard’s best soliloquies are abbreviated in favor of extended orgies (some literal, some merely orgies of bloodletting.)

Fresh off of Slings & Arrows pitch-perfect second season, in which the New Burbage Festival takes on the cursed play, Marcy and I were more than eager to see a fresh take on Mackers, but there’s precious little to praise here. In the title role, Sam Worthington gives most of his speeches in voice-over without changing his expression at all, and Victoria Hill looks like she would be more comfortable in a prime time soap than as literature’s most cruelly ambitious woman. She gets to do “Out, out damn spot” topless.

The contemporary updating–Duncan and his men are Melbourne drug lords–is supposed to make the drama more accessible but only distracts instead. (Macbeth’s gated estate bears a sign identifying it as Dunsinane, Banquo likes to ride motorbikes just so he can ride something when he gets whacked, and Burnham Wood is a logging company.)

Worst of all, the direction lacks the go-for-broke pomo gusto that made Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet such a success: everything about this adaptation, including the slow-motion finale, feels unconvincing and lackluster, and the beauty of the language never takes wing. How could it if you cut “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” before the punchline? Stick with Orson, Roman, and Akira. Opens July 6.

Macbeth. Geoffrey Wright, 2006. *

Videos: Geoffrey Tenant takes on Macbeth at the beginning of Slings & Arrows S2E2, newsreel footage from Orson Welles’ 1936 all-black stage version, and trailers for Polanski’s 1971 and Kurosawa’s 1957 adaptations.

Cleopatra, Sith, Death Proof

Prompted by the grand finale of Rome, we took another look at Cleopatra, which is one of those movies I can rewatch every few years. Compare-and-contrast is a fun enough game, and Marcy, who was never entirely sure which of the HBO characters were fictional, was entertained by noting differences in motivation and plot. Every frame of Cleopatra must have cost more than an entire episode of Rome, but the storytelling is much more contemporary on HBO. The movie nearly bankrupted Fox because it was designed to trump TV by outspending it. Forty years later, it has been shown up by… a TV show. But the images are still twice as wide, and the characters twice as grand.

Here’s what fascinated me, though: the palatial sets, outlandish backdrops, and outsized drama of Cleopatra resemble another, much more recent epic about larger-than-life figures. Along with forties serials, The Hidden Fortress, Ray Harryhausen and all the other usual suspects, there is no doubt that the Cinemascope epics of the fifties and sixties, and specifically Cleopatra, served as a blueprint for the Star Wars films. Archetypes in ever-morphing hairdos and caped costumes acting out eternal tragedies and reciting awkward, overwritten lines of dialogue — especially Revenge of the Sith, the episode in which the galactic shit hits the fan, is the spiritual and cinematic heir of Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s four-and-a-half-hour epic.

Read on for more about Star Wars, Grindhouse, and why Jar-Jar Binks is cooler than Stuntman Mike. Also, lots more screenshots.

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