Friday, May 28, 2010

The Goonies

1985, US, directed by Richard Donner

The Goonies seemed to be on television every other week for a while when I was growing up, and my brothers and I watched it more times than is entirely healthy through our teenage years. The rest of the Friday night audience at the Brattle Theatre had clearly done much the same thing as the screening had very much the feeling of a reunion with an old, perhaps slightly timeworn, friend. Of course, by 2010 standards The Goonies is positively quaint, with no CGI effects and camerawork that actually allows the viewer's eye to focus for a few seconds on each shot.

The ending is even more saccharine than I recalled, and a betrayal, in a sense, of all that has come before, as a group of youngsters navigate the world in the absence of their harried parents, but the young actors are generally charming (for a couple of them, this was a career highpoint), and the film is nicely paced, quickly establishing the coastal setting and getting down to business (the credits efficiently introduce us to the villains of the piece). It's interesting to note in passing that the film is exceptionally cynical about the kind of boosterish development associated with the Reagan years: the youngsters spring into action to prevent their blue collar hometown from being overrun by that worst of business insults, a golf course, and one of their (inadvertent) triumphs involves the creation of chaos at the tennis club.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

2009, Sweden/Denmark/Germany/Norway, directed by Niels Arden Oplev

I haven't read the phenomenally popular books which prompted this film and its sequels so I've no sense of their faithfulness to the original material, but the movie version is a classic example of attempting to have it both ways, ripping open the seamy underbelly of Swedish life and condemning the misogyny that lurks in these chilly landscapes while also showing us, in often stomach-churning detail, what bad men do to women.

There's certainly no instinct to tell rather than show on the part of director Niels Arden Oplev, which is a shame because the parts of his film that deal in microfilmed chases are often more compelling than those that reveal artfully created depictions of death, while he also benefits from two excellent lead actors, most obviously Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, a brittle, punky cyber-detective.

Despite the references to broader political machinations, the intrigue is essentially a closed mystery, with a limited cast of characters and a Poirot/Marple duo to unmask the criminal mastermind. Almost inevitably, the film reveals a long-gestating series of crimes and while there's some satisfaction in seeing the tentacles of justice emerge, I wouldn't have minded if the explanation had turned out to be as mundane and yet inexplicable as the film initially suggests, more Homicide: Life on the Streets than P.D. James; what, after all, is more terrifying than the idea of a truly random, unpremeditated attack that emerges from nothing and disappears again?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Meet Me In St Louis

1944, US, directed by Vincente Minnelli

Vincente Minnelli's films are one of my biggest (American) cinematic blindspots: I'm fairly certain I'd only seen two of his pictures before my encounter with this stunningly beautiful print of Meet Me in St Louis at the Brattle Theatre, and neither of them prepared me for this extraordinary film, a deeply moving evocation of family and place on the verge of transformation by the coming of adulthood and economic boom respectively.

Set over the course of a year, with intertitles designating the passage of time, the film dramatizes the idea of a path not taken, as the family patriarch makes a decision on whether or not to move his family from St Louis; indeed, the film reminded me very much of the 1946 It's a Wonderful Life, which makes the forked road proposition more explicit, with the life that has already been led ultimately proving the richer, more meaningful option.

Of course, Minnelli camouflages many of the more adult themes very effectively, using a riot of colour and music - and Judy Garland at the absolute peak of her powers - to conjure up St Louis as a beguiling place to grow up (privileged). Still, it's hard to not to imagine that contemporary audiences must have found other resonances in the film - as Jonathan Rosenbaum suggests, the bonfire sequence, one of the film's most atmospheric and alarming scenes, surely evoked the contemporary spectacle of book-burnings.

Minnelli's recreation of family life is wonderfully appealing too - a crowded dinner table crammed with opinionated and humorous family members, reminiscent of mealtimes in Hitchcock's Young and Innocent - except that mother/wife is firmly in place here in St Louis, where such an absence would cast an unsustainably dark shadow over the flirtatious goings-on.

Monday, May 03, 2010


1977, Japan, directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi (Original title: ハウス Hausu)

House defies my rating system - mainly instituted at the request of family members who can't tell whether my musings are positive or negative on occasion - since I wavered between rating it as a deranged masterpiece and a complete mockery of the idea of a feature film. The extraordinary 90 minutes certainly seem to be the product of a coherent, if very singular, imagination, and yet there are moments when the shifts of tone and filming style are so outrageously strange you wonder whether the whole thing was planned or concocted in a giant cinematic blender.

Obayashi certainly throws every possible idea up there on the screen to see what sticks, with flashes of animation, slow-motion, freeze-frames, unexpected singing sequences, girl-eating pianos, buttock-biting heads, and a dreamy teacher with a coterie of admiring schoolgirls. There is a plot of kinds - the schoolgirls plan to spend part of the summer with one girl's aunt at the titular house - but the film is only marginally interested in storyline, playing instead with tone, atmosphere and crafting eye-catching effects (although near the end the fevered atmosphere makes it very hard to distinguish what's actually occurring on screen). While I suspect that a few of the laugh moments weren't in the original script, the film has a unique verve and momentum, as well as some brilliant non sequitur moments where everyone acts as though the bizarreness is really nothing to get worked up about even though the audience is attempting to collectively close its gaping jaw.

(It's hard to really capture a film like this in words: imagine the trailer extended to 90 minutes and you're on the right track).


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Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States