17 January 2009

2009 Notebook, Volume 2: Expanded

There's a scale I use to place a certain type of film - the micobudget, tongue-in-cheek horrorcomedy. The scale slides along a plane with Terror Firmer (or Citizen Toxie) at the highest pole and Gutterballs at the furthest. Most of these films flutter around the Gutterballs arena with their tasteless (and humorless) gore fests, but Yeti: A Love Story is probably one of the few that sits on high. It's intermittently amusing, particularly in its coining of the sexual term "Mellancamping," which is described by the douchebag frat guy who eventually falls in love with the yeti as "making one hurt so good." Though heavy on beastial sodomy, it never reaches the brilliance of Toxie giving birth to his mother in Terror Firmer, but color me amused.

Queer cinema has always been my focal point in writing about the medium, which forces me to endure some of the most scathingly awful pieces of celluloid (or, more likely, consumer-level video). Piccadilly Pickups is easily one of the most taxing endurance tests I've undertook in this realm. Starring a pre-op Alexis Arquette as a porno film director named Henri de la Plus Ooh Arrgh, the film crawls its way through thankless gender-fucking sex scenes like Bruce LaBruce's two-legged puppy. It doesn't deserve any of the words I'm using for it, which is about the biggest crime I can give any film, and if you need perspective, I dedicated at least twenty-five pages of my thesis to Another Gay Movie.

On a happier note, I finally got around to Christopher Larkin's seminal A Very Natural Thing, one of the first American films to explicitly deal with the love life of a gay man, played by Robert Joel who also starred in Russ Meyer's Up! Megavixen. A Very Natural Thing is appropriately flawed by its mix of documentary and fiction footage, the former of which containing interviews with individuals at the 1973 New York City Gay Pride Parade. However, its intentions are always just, and its vision is always surprising. In addition to the film's final, breathtaking slow-mo nude run across a beach, A Very Natural Thing hits so many right notes in terms of narrative disposition, a brilliant precursor to some of queer cinema's more recent high points (Presque rien being the most obvious).

Christophe Honoré is such a perplexing figure in French cinema. He's absolutely inferior to his co-patriot peers (François Ozon, Sébastien Lifshitz), and yet there's still some sort of attraction in his glaring failures. While Les chansons d'amour suggests he might be heading in the proper direction (his more recent film La belle personne was bought by IFC Films last year), his directorial debut, 17 fois Cécile Cassard, is a giant mess of a film. Supposedly divided into seventeen "moments" of a woman's life, surprisingly downplayed by the wonderful Béatrice Dalle, the film begins awkwardly with Dalle speaking to her dead, naked husband (Johan Oderio-Robles), rear-projected into her otherwise empty bedroom. Every "moment" in not just this film but all of his others excluding Chansons and Tout contre Léo has been done before more successfully by finer directors like Arnaud Desplechin and Jean-Luc Godard, whom he embarrassingly emulated in Dans Paris. And yet, there's still something mildly compelling here. With the benefit of enlisting actors who are too good for their material (Dalle, Romain Duris, Jeanne Balibar), Cécile's confusing journey to Toulouse after abandoning her young son seems guided by good intentions, even if the overall result is a bit lackluster. None of the characters make much sense in their life decisions. Why did Cécile abandon her son and become Toulouse's resident fag hag all of a sudden? What exactly does Duris see in his friendship with Cécile anyway? Like Ma mère and Dans Paris, it's easier to just allow for Honoré to thoughtless throw the occasional juicy sequence to hide the dramatic shortcomings.

The morbid curiosity of witnessing Tony Ward, model and former love interest to Madonna, expose himself in just about every way is the only thing that keeps Jochen Hick's Sex/Life in LA interesting. His attempts to name-drop the icon at every given moment, including a story about her burning him with a cigarette, are just as curiously desperate as allowing the director to film him jerk-off in a bathtub. Nothing about Sex/Life in LA, or its sequel Sex/Life in LA 2: Cycles of Porn, is particularly revelatory or enlightening, even though it stands as a weird Behind-the-Music exposé of many of the people involved with Bruce LaBruce's Hustler White. Along with Ward, performance artist Ron Athey, co-director and photographer Rick Castro and irritating surfer boy porn star Kevin Kramer are all featured here, alongside shitty sub-porn music and under no worthy direction at all.

Poor Anne Hathaway. She's just begging to keep that Oscar out of her grasp. After giving me (and probably many others) justification for liking her in Rachel Getting Married, she's following that up with films like Passengers and Bride Wars. Though I don't think I can bring myself to watch anything with Kate Hudson in it, I did sit through Passengers which finds Hathaway treating the reluctant survivors of a terrible plane crash. With Hathaway finally finding the shoe that fit in Rachel, her role choices of bland romantic leads and professional women feel even more out of place. Under the pretense of being a mystery, Passengers waits until the end to reveal its cop-out "twist," which almost pushes the film into Seven Pounds territory. Strangely though, Rodrigo García actually has dramatic reasoning for the shitty rug-pull he does, and even though it doesn't work on the dramatic level he wanted it to, the fact that he didn't just want to pull the strings of his audience keeps Passengers from being the utter failure it might have been. You've seen it before, trust me.

I'm not planning on speaking at length about any of the 2000-and-beyond films I'm revisiting, as many of them will turn up on my planned best of the decade list, but I've learned a thing or two about myself with another viewing of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I know Woody Allen has a pretty large fan base, and I know most of which has lost faith in the director's recent oeuvre, but falling in love with Vicky Cristina Barcelona all over again just proved that I will never have my finger on the pulse of America. I saw Vicky show up on plenty of top 10 lists this year and I've enthusiastically suggested many of my friends to go see it, and I have yet to find anyone I know personally that shares the relief and elation I felt with both viewings. It's so ravishingly complex in terms of characterization, narration (which is brilliant, despite many people's gripes about it), visualization and humor that I just can't wrap my mind around all the people I know who thought it was "good, but didn't blow me away." More on Vicky around the month of November, for sure. PS: It's my dark horse candidate for a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

No comments: