The Junk Food of Writing

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I dislike the new year.

2006? Psssh -- I prefer writing 5's to 6's.

As for these capsules which date back to the last week in 2005 -- I'm not lazy, I just take my time. Ok, that sentence is a bold-faced lie. Now that I am on Spring Break (yes, it is still winter in case you are wondering), I have a bit of time to scribble some chicken-scratch and hope it is coherent (which I'm sure most of it is not).


The Best of Youth (Giordana, 2005): B+, 7.6/10: [While looking at the six-hour running time in the theater pamphlet, I feared for the health of my ass. Fortunately, I am here to report that my posterior survived with nary a bruise. As a soapy-drama with a grand scope, it justifies its massive running time by being a rather monumental work. The film chronicles the life of two brothers, and sprawls out in the way their lives do. Along the way, it exposes the viewer to progressive, and yet stilted, history. Best of Youth is better at handling a moving plot than complex human emotions. (Oh, and positive points for clever use of art; particularly the moments where Picasso’s Guernica, Andy Warhol’s Mao-Tse Tung, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg slip into the frame/sound.)]

Scenes from a Mall (Mazursky, 1991): D-, 1.4/10: [Yikes, this is quite embarrassing. As if I needed another reason to hate the mall – I have to spend my time there listening to these vacuous characters bray at each other. Shame on you, Woody Allen (and what was with the rat-tailish faux-ponytail hairstyle – oh my!). This is abysmal filmmaking – filled with bi-polar screenwriting and the most obvious contrast and symbols I have seen in a film recently. A shattered family frame, a film about poverty in Bombay and the backdrop of the “joyous” holiday season. This is the type of film which should have had the big word “GOOD” on the DVD cover, as if to make on obvious contrast as to the quality of the filmmaking. There are also annoyingly unfunny and running gags – one in particular involving a mime. It is so refreshing to see Woody look him in the eye and say “Oh, fuck off.” I agree. If this self-righteous film thinks it has an iota of insight into marriage and divorce as “Scenes from a Marriage” (as the title evidently plays off of), then I am flabbergasted.]

Badlands (Malick, 1972): B, 7.1/10 [In most of Badlands’ marvelously framed wide shots, the vast sky occupies most of the space – and that is precisely where the heads of the characters remain throughout the film. The material, however, never justifies the strong themes within the production. The vapid voiceover was an interesting choice to expose the mundane characters, but the filmmaking never transcends the situation which it has set up for itself. Definitely one to rewatch sometime in the future – not because it is strange, but because it is so ordinary.]

Chuck and Buck (Arteta, 2000): B-, 6.1, 10: [This scenario had such potential, and the film occasionally succeeds most in being a creepy character piece about a terminally juvenile introvert. This film is a startling example of how acting can either make (Mike White’s scenes) or break (any second with Chris Weisz) a film’s dramatic momentum. It’s astonishing how much poor acting can destroy a film. Despite her comedic presence (and most of the film’s sardonic humor works), Lupe Ontiveras is kind (and unwelcome) enough to enter the picture and beat the subtext through in a highly inappropriate scene which exposes the director’s mistrust in the audience. My response is the definition of “mixed.”]

Radio Days (Allen, 1987): B, 7.3/10 [A nice bit of tasty nostalgia. Most of the characters, however, don't flourish outside of their introductions, and ultimately remain one or two-dimensional. Nonetheless, Woody nails the thematic last line, once again, Annie Hall-fashion.]

This is Spinal Tap (Reiner, 1984): B+, 8.3/10 [A satirical portrait of a gloriously mediocre momentarily-hair-metal band. Giddily enjoyable and sardonic – it both praises and judges the titular band through their kitschy fads (social commentary on trends poseurs, too!), indulgence, and obliviousness.]

Film Before Film (Nekes, 1986): C-, 3.3/10 [An utterly drab presentation of a potentially interesting topic. Instead of discovering inventive ways to introduce the audience to the pre-cinematic gadgets which contributed to the creation of modern cinema, the film tends to drift aimlessly, without an organized structure (it does not even follow the devices’ chronology). It ostensibly wants to defy the audience’s attention, yet occasionally tries to hook them with cheap flash games. This is an instructional video that dares you to learn anything.]

The New World (Malick, 2005): B+, 7.8/10 [I will not lie; I was excited for this. So excited, in fact, that I tripped up the escalator in the theatre lobby. Then, after I entered the theater itself, I stumbled on the stadium seating steps. Fortunately, Malick did not falter similarly. This is reflective and graceful filmmaking with several dichotomies at work here (most communicated through the – primitive vs. civilized, man vs. nature. At times it is both frustratingly opaque and fascinatingly so. Basically, you catch onto its wavelength, or become drowned in spacey views of landscape. What I found most enthralling was the character arc of Kilcher’s character. Oh, and the last 15 minutes of this film, with its blaring score adding to its hypnotic affect (hello, Wagner!), is paralyzing in its power.]

Metropolis (Lang, 1927): B+, 7.7/10: [Thought-provoking, yet ideologically problematic (it’s misogynous, and the first half advocates the need of benefits for oppressed workers, and second half nearly condones fascism – it goes from socialism to national socialism). Oh, and who is the ‘mediator’? Some upper-class kid who has never had a hard day in his life. The mediator business is also rather heavy-handed. Despite this, however, it is undoubtedly one of the most visually accomplished and appealing films of all time.]

R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet: Transcends ratings: [Transcends thoughts.]

Now I am going to further ignore the Oscars. Goodbye.


  • Love these capsules. Though I gotta say, you really won't give an A to anything, will you?

    By Blogger JavierAG, at 8:02 AM  

  • If a film deserves my highest honor, then I will bestow it upon such a masterpiece.

    If you look to your right, you will see that I did give the surprisingly conceptual Sherlock Jr. an A-.

    But yes, you're right, I'm very fastidious about my A's.

    By Blogger Nick M., at 12:58 PM  

  • I understand ;) I'm the same way about my A+'s. Last one was like... five years ago.

    By Blogger JavierAG, at 3:30 PM  

  • That said, isn't all of this a bit ridiculous? I can hardly imagine anyway trying to figure whether to give "Hamlet" (the play) an A or an A-.

    By Blogger JavierAG, at 3:31 PM  

  • Oh, arbtirary ratings are undoubtedly silly. That is why I always hope to include complementary thoughts. If thoughts are vague, however, it is always nice to have that guide (as signified by the grade) to help the reader understand whether a reaction was intially positive, negative or mixed.

    By Blogger Nick M., at 3:34 PM  

  • Get used to it Javier; he gives out about two or three A's a year (He's only given one film an A+, and that is Fellini's 8 1/2, right Nick?). A-'s are just as rare.

    Bah Nick, why have you started fine-tuning your numerical grades to point sixes and point ones? You are making things needlessly complicated. /whines.

    As for your reviews, I'm sad to say I can't discuss much, as I've only seen two of the films discussed here. Glad to see your love for The New World, although your comments don't really reflect the grade (should be higher considering your praise). Meanwhile, we've already chatted about Lang's Metropolis.

    I need to see The Best of Youth asap, but I'm scared that I won't make it through. So tempted to skip it...

    By Blogger Ali, at 9:10 PM  

  • "Needlessly complicated"?

    That sounds about right (although I would also say "precise").

    My friend recently tried to persuade me to undertake the 100-point rating scale, but I was having difficulty in the adaptation process. The decimals rounded to a tenth will have to do for now.

    As for The New World, my (admittedly hurried) capsule oddly focused too much on the positive. Usually, I tend to have my thoughts revolve around the negative and I take the positives for granted. In this case, however, I was willing to overlook the initially insightful ruminations which were communicated through the voiceover which became quickly repetitive and appreciate the visual narrative the voiceover was trying to overshadow, not complement (I had a similar problem with Badlands, but The New World was more aesthetically challening -- and therefore, it was more successful).

    Wow, that was a long sentence.

    I actually do not believe in A+'s, but I suppose if I was forced to dispense them, they would be given to only two films: and Annie Hall (perhaps The Sweet Hereafter, also -- but the fact that I use "perhaps" shows that it is probably not worthy of it).

    Oh, and Ali -- care to tell me why you reacted so positively to The World? My response was more of bafflement and disappointment. Simply by considering its locale and concepts, it had so much potential!

    By Blogger Nick M., at 1:42 AM  

  • I've got a project going on ... check it out! (Top 100 Performances of the New Mill)

    Tell me what you think. :D

    Oh, and link me!

    By Blogger Emma, at 1:04 PM  

  • Is this person everywhere?????

    By Blogger JavierAG, at 8:20 AM  

  • "This is the type of film which should have had the big word “GOOD” on the DVD cover"

    That's gold! Just today I saw the box for the remake of Bad News Bears with the quot "I Laughed A Lot" on it and it did indeed make me laugh, the movie, however, looks positively awful.

    By Blogger Kamikaze Camel, at 8:38 AM  

  • chuck and buck is a creepy film, i had no idea what i was getting into when i started it...i can't look at white again the same.

    --RC of

    By Blogger RC, at 2:13 AM  

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