Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Musings #3: Close-Up, Air, Age of Ultron, Scooby, & Beethoven's 3rd

So I'm waiting for this Shia Labeouf live-stream to load and figured I'd drop a few ducats on all that cinema I've devoured the past 24 hours.

When I think of Iranian cinema the first name that pops up is Jafar Panahi who's films I've quite liked but now I finally got to see one from his mentor Abbas Kiarostami. Close-Up (Kiarostami, 1990) is widely considered one of the best films of the 1990's and in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll was voted by critics onto their "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" list. It's a docufiction where real events are restaged for the purpose of the film utilizing the actual people involved in the original happenings. A man named Hossain pretends to be famed director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and preys upon the gullibility of a family to fraud his way into their home which he pretends he's scouting for an upcoming film. His lies begin to unravel and his facade falls apart. He's arrested and taken to trial. The actual story itself of Hossain's deception is fascinating but I wasn't sure if it was enough to sustain a film but similarly to how Hossain sneakily weaves his deceit the movie also sneakily bowls you over. A lot of the run-time focuses on Hossain's trial, his defense of being a cinephile and so deeply infatuated with cinema and its ability as an art to show suffering of everyday people as an excuse for his harmful fraudulent behavior is both perplexing and patently sad. Where the movie really shines is in the reenactments as we see Hossain and the Ahankhah family he duped staging out and reliving their experience for Kiarostami's cameras. It's really a bewildering meta study that's positively fascinating. The last few minutes push this thing over the edge into certifiable classic territory. I won't reveal what happens here but Hossain's fantasy world wherein he's a famous beloved director comes full-circle in a powerful and emotional way. I gave it 4/5 and wouldn't argue against it being rated higher.

Air (Cantamessa, 2015) is a rubbish post-apocalyptic yarn done on sets that resemble a junior high production of Alien. All dim corridors and boxy monitors littered with lines of green text as we spend  95 minutes in close-quarters with two engineers. Norman Reedus is a "chronic masturbator" (utilizing the movie's own vernacular here) with an attitude and seems to be doing his character Daryl from The Walking Dead for the most part minus the chivalry but adding a predilection for old nude pin-up posters of the '70's. Djimon Hounsou, a two-time Oscar-nominated actor also phones this in playing the slightly more schizophrenic Boatwright, who happens to be in love with a woman in their bunker who's in stasis so can only requite his love in the form of a specter only he can see (and be chided about by Reedus' Bauer in-between bouts of Farrah Fawcett fueled masturbation). The whole thing feels like a sci-fi short story or sketch spread far too thin and the actors who have done lively work elsewhere breath little life into this limp story I scored 1.5/5. I don't want to go into much detail about Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015). I saw it opening night, was numbed by its relentless CGI carnage and expository pummeling, then again later in IMAX, which also left me cold. Wanted to give it one more crack at home to be fair to it since I appear to be one of the few outliers who wasn't in love with it. This third watch did help its case mildly as I had an easier time watching it through than previously and could focus more on things like the types of shots and edits the filmmakers utilized and less on the contrivance of its overstuffed plot. I raised my score slightly to a 2.5/5 but I still don't think it's anything to get excited about.

Lastly, my youngest, just 3, is a bit of a film buff in her own right and we'll usually watch a few movies together each week. Scooby-Doo! Music of the Vampire (Block, 2011) is the first (and to this point only) of the 25 animated Scooby-Doo films to be a musical. Strangely, the musical elements aren't what's lousy here, in fact one of the early ones is wackily inspired, seeing the Mystery Machine with the whole gang inside bounding perilously down the side of a snowy mountain risking serious injury or death all the while singing cheerily and not missing a beat. It relies heavily on referencing the already dated Twilight phenomenon to poor effect and deserves 1.5/5. Call me a masochist but we're also working our way through the Beethoven franchise and hit Beethoven's 3rd (Evans, 2000). This is the first direct-to-video Beethoven film and also the first that saw Judge Reinhold replacing Charles Grodin. And I might be in the minority but I prefer Reinhold's unhinged enthusiasm to Grodin's crotchety exhaustion. The plot is preposterous seeing two bumbling spiky-haired punks who are after a DVD copy of The Shakiest Gun in the West (a '68 Don Knotts Western surely Musings supporter Toby and family own) that's encoded with top secret info which winds up in the camper the Newton family are taking cross-country. This plays like a mix between Home Alone with the inept burglars and National Lampoon's Vacation with the family road triple angle -- and sometimes both simultaneously like when father Richard empties the mobile home's sewage tank covering the conniving thieves standing roadside in excreta. Having seen five of the eight Beethoven films so far I can say this one is alien from the pack and quite fun in an absurd way earning it a dog drool-covered 2.5/5.

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