What I Peeped: Day Five

April 8, 2008 at 4:59 am 2 comments

Afghan Muscles!

Deadline U.S.A. (1952, Richard Brooks, USA): “Windy, self-righetous newspaper film,” sez Dave Kehr. Sure…but not till the final reel. Philadelphia native Brooks evolved into a purveyor of middlebrow issue movies like The Blackboard Jungle, Elmer Gantry, In Cold Blood and Looking For Mr. Goodbar. But this early into his career he apparently still knew the value of pure entertainment, or at least was suitably in awe of star Humphrey Bogart, who chews scenery and much else besides as your stereotypical newspaper editor. Upon learning that his New York paper has been sold to someone who wishes to dissolve it, Bogie decides to spend its last gasp trying to nail a local mob boss. The finale is a battering ram of monologues on the importance of journalism, whipping out not just a courtroom soliloquy but also an elderly immigrant who weeps through a spiel about how Bogie’s paper taught her to read, learn about America, yada yada. Happily, goodwill has already been earned and then some. With solid work from Ethel Barrymore, Kim Hunter, Ed Begley and Jim Backus.

Afghan Muscles
(Andreas Dalsgaard, Denmark):
Starts out as the gayest decidedly non-gay film since 300 – bronze-oiled gym bunnies clad in only Speedos flexing in front of an all-male crowd who sometimes actually throw out cash money, all in one of the most homophobic regions of the planet – but quickly turns into a perceptive doc that gets a lot done in only 58 minutes. Following around Hamid, a bodybuilder from a rural Afghan village en route to an all-Asian competition, Afghan Muscles dissects the mentality that values a powerful bod while tethering it to a genuinely moving story that finds its subject getting one serious humbling.

Jamie Bell, with eyeliner

Mister Foe (David Mackenzie, UK): When did David Mackenzie grow a sense of humor? The Scots director’s last two films, Young Adam and Asylum, were dour, humorless, glum, pretentious portraits of antiheroes with opaque self-destructive streaks ripped straight from Albert Camus. If Mister Foe is the sell-out, then here’s to whoring out one’s artistic dignity. The increasingly great Jamie Bell plays a rich boy voyeur weirdo who heads out to big bad Edinburgh, where he finds a hot young thang (Sophia Myles) who looks like his dead mom. If this were Mackenzie of only three years ago Bell’s condition would remain oblique and the whole thing would end in murder. But no: Bell’s grieving for his mom, all while dad (Ciarán Hinds) has married a gold digger (Clare Forlani). The film even winds up playing down the whole creepy Oedipal/Vertigo aspect almost completely. Strip Mackenzie of his artistic pretenses and there’s not much there, frankly, and even Bell’s freakier psychological tics receive some sentimental treatment. But Mackenzie’s also a clever lad and Mister Foe benefits from a fiendish sense of humor and the non-stop presence of Bell, who somehow remains likable without dialing down the intensity. Even when he’s smeared makeup on his face and sports a skunk-skin cap, he’s an okay guy.

The Sun Also Rises (Jiang Wien, China): For the second night in a row the day’s last film made just about no damn sense to me. This time I have an even better excuse: you try to tell me what’s going on in the film’s four intersecting stories, much less what’s happening from manic moment to manic moment. Set in the far-off provinces during the end of China’s Cultural Revolution, The Sun Also Rises has nothing at all to do with Ernest Hemingway. Even director Jiang Wen’s style is the seeming inverse of the author’s famous terseness, instead adopting a style that’s akin to a wind-up toy zipping around a room with no direction at all – just a need to move. The stories involve a young man dealing with his newly insane mother, a professor accused of public groping and a teacher who takes revenge on the young man from the first story. But narrative is so not Jiang’s concern that you could be forgive for getting lost in the film’s many absurd highlights – talking birds, a dirty prank call for the ages, a strange scene where a guy gets lost in a room of hung-up white sheets only to walk square into a white wall – and the way it blithely, refreshingly obliterates the traditional wax museum way with portraying the past. Ten viewings may not make the film make any more sense, but then, sense can be pretty overrated anyway.

Tomorrow (in…some likelihood): I Just Didn’t Do It, Alexandra and Secrecy.

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Entry filed under: Reviews.

Picks, Pans, All That – Day Five: Monday, April 7 Picks, Pans, All That – Day Six: Tuesday, April 8

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