Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Moralistic Debauchery anyone?

Okay, lovin' double features recently. Today, I treated myself to a matinee ($4.50) screening of Johnny Depp's eternally delayed The Libertine, just to see if it really deserved all of the abysmal talk it's been getting. Please allow me to be perhaps the first to inform you that all of the negative cred and disastrous claims that reviewers have been piling up are all very well earned. The Libertine is certainly one of the laugh-out-loud funniest films I have seen in a very, very long time. That it intends to be taken all-too seriously is perhaps what makes it go that extra mile. From the film's very opening moments, when our very G-rated libertine (Depp, of course) informs us of all of the debauchery and scandal that he is capable of (yet nary partakes in on screen), jabbering on and on about cunts and cocks with the silliest stab at seriousness, we smell the characterization quite familiar to Depp. This is the figure whom we have seen time and time again... so many times, even, to require parody. This is certainly why Jack Sparrow was so appealing. Johnny Depp was not taking himself so Edward-Scissorhands-seriously. To think he could return to a dramatic role after parodying his limited dramatic range was a huge mistake.

Yet Depp is not the only one to blame. In what must have been a contractual obligation, John Malkovich yawns his way through as King Charles II, grotesquely bad false nose in tote. At one point, apparently enraged, he picks up a chair to smash. The apathetic force with which the chair taps upon the surface of the table - shattering like the prop in a fifties western - is perhaps a great metaphor for the film, so confused in its intents, yet so intent to fall apart. Samantha Morton is the biggest stinker of all. In her scenes of "Acting," one cannot help but laugh mercilessly, as if this were American Idol: Debuke, Iowa. Even the indecisive production team lacked any originality or vitality, racking the focus on the lens more than all of the masturbating Depp claims (yet never seems) to do. This is the sort of creative crew you imagine thinking things like, "the muddier it is, the more real 17th century London will seem!" And just when you think it can't get any better, believe me, the last line of the film, which, don't worry if you miss it the first time, as it is repeated not once, not twice, but FOUR times - for poetic resonance, one must assume - is so trite, that you will leave the theater roaring with laughter, primarily because the film would have you drying your eyes.

Hot on the heels of The Libertine, I dashed on over to my favorite ghetto moviehouse in downtown LA (endearing ghetto, not scary ghetto) to see Haute Tension director Alexandre Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes which, comparatively felt like Citizen Cane (oh yes, The Libertine was that bad!). Aja, a French director, is well known for his horrifically graphic violence and absolutely crippling, nail-biting tension. And though all are present, Hills drops all of the critical elements that made the original Carter family's attempt at survival so harrowing. Without the twisted bait of the original's climax, nor its wonderful final freeze frame, Aja's film merely becomes another remake, though one of the best in this slew of reiterations. The giddy glee he takes in rendering limbs from their frames or gouging holes where there should not be (all of course resulting in torrents of spattering blood) is a bit of a treat, and rather (but not wholly) absent is the exploitational feel that usually accompanies such extremities. The tense moments are near unbearable, though not as excruciating as the bathroom scene in Haute Tension. He has nothing to really new to say about Americana, though he bashes us over the head (and in one case, through the throat) with it, where more subtle fair like A History of Violence proves more concise. Though the casting of Ted Levine (dubious for his portrayal of Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs) as the all American father is wonderfully off-putting - all the more so as he fits the mold so frighteningly well.

The film ultimately fails, like all of its predecessors, as it necessitates an explanation as to why these people do what they do. In The Hills' case, it is revenge that the radiation mutated inhabitants of a small mining town seek. But who cares. In our era, Leatherface has facial cancer and the Amityville house is haunted by a crazy Quaker. That's not scary. What is scary is Leatherface careening out of the house with womens' make-up on his flesh mask for no apparent reason. The real fear lies in not knowing, yet in an information driven society, where we have 20,000 songs on our ipods and answers to every question at google.com, it would seem we are unable to suffice with not knowing. The last film that comes to mind that played on that idea was The Blair Witch Project which, however it might hold up now, was scary as hell when it first came out. It was scary because you never saw a goddamn thing. EVERYTHING was left to the imagination. But who needs an imagination when you've got TiVo?

Speaking of TiVo, coming to DVD this week, we have David Cronenberg's Americana masterpiece, A History of Violence that critically gushed over, Oscar ignored(hmmm...) treat about a man who may or may not be the mobster a creepy Ed Harris accuses him of being. Catch Cronenberg's best film since Existenz and a wonderfully hammy performance from William Hurt. It comes with a generous smattering of deleted scenes, commentary and docos...

Also on shelves today is the "Ultimate Edition" (if I had a dime every time I heard that, I'd be dead) of Basic Instinct, just in time for the sequel starring the every ravishing Charlotte Rampling, along side snatch-y-poo of course...

Louis Malle have lots to piss themselves over. Criterion has just put out a lovely boxset which includes Au Revoir Les Enfants, Murmur of the Heart and Lacombe, Lucien.

And god knows there must be another soul out there whose grandma forced them to watch countless reruns of Columbo. If so, take a trip down memory lane with Columbo: The Complete Fourth Season.


Blogger J said...

YUCK! You actually said 'History of Violence' was Cronenberg's best film since 'eXistenZ'... well he's only made one ih betweeen -- it would have been better if you just said... "well, it's better than 'Spider'."

And you claim Samamntha Morton to be the most disasterous of the film -- I can't argue with you there, as I haven't seen 'The Libertine', but please please please see some of her other work before you judge her so harshly.

6:18 AM  

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