Thursday, April 29, 2010

Film Gauge - Fletch, The Archers and Orson Welles Kick Cinema's Ass

I watch too many movies, and I want to write about all of them. This impulse usually results in me feeling overwhelmed, and by the time I have sorted out my feelings on new releases like Kick-Ass I'm worried that the national conversation has moved on (or stalled completely).

Suffice to say, I feel that Kick-Ass tried to have its cake and eat it, too, and ended up betraying the spirit of the comic with a boring action climax that squandered the movie's pretty strong start. I like Christopher Mintz-Plasse a lot, and the Hit Girl character plays to my affinity for angry but resilient fictional kids who are awesome in spite of a cruel adult world that is trying to destroy them at every turn. I just would have liked it had the movie not shied away from the sociopathy of Nicolas Cage's character, and Hit Girl's by proxy. Nicolas Cage was certainly playing Big Daddy as a kook, in yet another amazing feat of scenery-chewing. I just wish the script would have followed suit.

Anyway, from now on I'm going to narrow my focus and write up three movies a week. I'll try to keep it balanced between mainstream fare (depending on the release schedule) and one of the "film school" movies that I slept on and that are currently clogging up my Netflix queue. Finally, I'll round off the week with a left-field genre surprise like Christopher Smith's mindfreak thriller Triangle, which I loved and will write up soon. It's on Netflix Instant right now.

In the meantime, I'm catching up on the classics:


I gave this movie a spin recently, flush with goodwill for Chevy Chase from his creative resurgence on NBC's Community and after reading an Entertainment Weekly article about the Fletch reboot currently languishing in development hell. Wow. A major studio nowadays wouldn't allow a movie of this kind to be so unfunny for such long stretches. I was surprised by how straightforwardly hardboiled this movie was, as it is mostly remembered for Chevy Chase concocting ridiculous aliases and daydreaming about playing for the Lakers. That's how I remember it from my childhood, anyway. If this were a Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller vehicle, Fletch would be a fucking moron much more often than a competent reporter. That being said, Fletch doesn't quite work for me. It's cool that Chevy Chase is often revealed to be the smartest guy in the room, but why is he also such an incompetent master of disguise? Is it just because he's an unrepentant smart-ass? But why would he endanger his investigation by hiding behind such a thin ruse? Why am I looking for verisimilitude in a Chevy Chase movie? It was interesting to watch this movie as an adult. I kind of respect it, but I can't really say that I liked it very much. Its disdainful view of the rich scores big points with me, of course. Put it on the Underhills' account!

I Know Where I'm Going

Watching I Know Where I'm Going, I was shocked to realize that this movie could very well represent the nexus point and pinnacle for modern opposites-attract romantic comedies as we know them. It bears a striking thematic resemblance to 2009's Leap Year, in particular. The film, an early effort from The Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), follows a goal-oriented, upwardly-mobile young woman on course to marry a wealthy industrialist only to find love with a Naval Officer in a magical land called Scotland. Sure, that kind of plot was around long before The Archers made this movie in 1945. Furthermore, it's not exactly high-praise to compare it to an Amy Adams vehicle (which most likely traffics in regressive gender stereotypes staler than those on display here). The point is that 65 years later I Know Where I'm Going still feels fresh, infinitely fresher than the latest iteration of Katherine Heigl as a plucky single gal who falls down a lot. Powell & Pressburger were so ahead of their time both visually and in the way they directed actors that I Know Where I'm Going transcends the formal disconnect modern audiences feel when watching old movies. In many ways, it presages the "indie-quirk" of the post-Wes Anderson landscape. Again, I'm damning this movie while trying to praise it. Basically, it feels not like a product of 1945 but rather some sort of elaborate, Steven Soderbergh-ian pastiche. Star Wendy Hiller resembles Michelle Williams in period garb. I can't recommend Powell & Pressburger enough. Seeing The Red Shoes at Film Forum recently was a landmark movie-going experience, and Black Narcissus is next on my list.

F for Fake

What a delightful and, like much of The Archers' oeuvre, oddly prescient movie. F for Fake is a surprisingly ahead-of-its-time meta-essay film. Orson Welles re-edits and re-contextualizes documentary footage of famed art forger Elmyr de Hory and biographer Clifford Irving shot as Irving's exclusive biography of Howard Hughes was very publicly revealed to be a hoax. Welles paints Elmyr and Irving as magicians, charlatans, and the filmmaker spins this examination of fakery outward to include Welles' film itself, classifying film editing as a form of sleight-of-hand. Welles imposes himself upon the narrative, casting himself as a rogue-ish conman wandering the streets in a long, black overcoat. He discusses his own career as a cinematic charlatan in lightly egotistical fashion, but he is ultimately a charming and ingratiating host. He's like a fascinating, if overbearing party guest. Turning the camera on himself, Welles animatedly recounts to his dining companions the tale of Irving's meticulously-crafted hoax, occasionally stopping mid-sentence to ask the waiter to clear away some dishes. Bits of obviously-staged reality like these, while amusing, also subtly remind us that we're watching a movie, cleverly skewering the presumed veracity of documentary film. Unfortunately, the movie's lightning-paced editing and florid narration is so entertaining that it may have accidentally given birth to the lightweight pop-documentary bullshit of people like Morgan Spurlock.

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