Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

When Western critics and audiences first made their acquaintance with Woo, the prevailing sentiment was that what they were witnessing was nothing less than the reinvention of the action film. – Manohla Dargis

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

Released in 1987, The Hidden makes no apologies for being what it is: a gritty genre flick out for a joy ride, replete with action set pieces and over-the-top violence (nine out of ten fans will use the word “flamethrower” when asked to offer a brief description of the picture’s content). We aren’t ten minutes in when the first big chase starts, complete with a car hurtling into a sheet of plate glass and the two men who are carrying it across the street. The high octane action of The Hidden is also anchored by that time-honored movie stand-by: a pair of mismatched buddy cops, reluctant partners who bond en route to saving the day. So what makes it special – more memorable than the dozens of other films in the same vein that loaded up video store selves in the 1980s, shiny guns and bright orange explosions splashed across cardboard sleeves on rows of VHS tapes? Part of the appeal of The Hidden is that it embodies these familiar genre tropes with great energy and humor, clipping along at a good brisk pace and topping everything off with a nifty sci-fi twist. Michael Nouri plays Tom Beck, an L.A. cop and family man investigating a string of crime sprees in the city. A young Kyle MacLachlan, fresh from his descent into the suburban hell of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and a few years away from his defining role as Special Agent Dale Cooper on Lynch’s TV oddity Twin Peaks, also stars as one of our heroes. Like Cooper, MacLachlan’s character here carries an FBI badge, but in this case it’s only a cover – his Agent Gallagher is actually a benign alien who’s hunting down the murderous body-switching extraterrestrial creature that killed his family. Beck and Gallagher’s uneasy partnership is the heart of the film and punctuated by great bits of winking humor (When Beck’s wife asks Gallagher where he’s from, he simply points upwards. “What’s that?” she asks, “North?”), but the body-switching villain that gives the film its title is well worth examining as well.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

When sitting down to watch The Dark Crystal, a labor of love directed by legendary puppeteer Jim Henson and his frequent collaborator Frank Oz, you know you’re in for something unique in the truest sense of the word: not merely unusual, but one-of-a-kind. There really hasn’t been another film quite like it before or since. A “digitally enhanced” sequel titled The Power of the Dark Crystal is rumored to be in the works, but even that film won’t match its predecessor for sheer daring and ambition. Released in 1982 after being in production for five years, The Dark Crystal was conceptualized by Henson and British artist Brian Froud as the first live action film to feature only puppets and not a single human actor. This was a dream project for Henson, an attempt to explore new territory and push his art further.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

“Times of transition are always magic,” the late Jim Henson is quoted as saying in Jim Henson: The Works, a hefty coffee table book chronicling the career of the visionary creator of the Muppets. “Twilight is a magic time and dawn is magic – the times during which it’s not day and it’s not night but something in between. Also the time between sleeping and dreaming. There are a lot of mystical qualities to that, and to me this is what the film is about.” Henson was referring to Labyrinth, the 1986 film that he described as being “about a person at the point of changing from being a child to being a woman.” Labyrinth indeed falls into a tradition of coming of age stories that straddle the line between the real and the fantastic, from family- friendly fare like the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz (one of Henson’s inspirations), to Neil Jordan’s grownup 1984 horror film In The Company of Wolves. It makes sense that this is so. Adolescence is certainly a liminal time in one’s life: neither childhood nor adulthood but a confusing in-between, and a film like Labyrinth populated by fantastic characters and possessed of an uncertain sense of time, place, and space perhaps more aptly conveys the outsized anxieties of adolescence than many realist films about young adults.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Jason Haas

The Muppet Movie is a timeless family film for a number of reasons, but it is also a product of its times. The film rejects much of the cinematic aesthetic of the 1970s, an era that began with pornography enjoying widespread mainstream success and ended in the birth of the blockbuster, which reveled in auteurloving “look-at-me” filmmaking and/or special effects. Throughout the decade, cinema was fighting with television for its audience, so it is odd to find that a production staff that came mostly from television created a movie bursting with a deeply innocent love for the movies and for a time when movies provided a more cheerful joy. It seems as if Henson and his collaborators (most notably Frank Oz) were dedicated to creating a film that reflected a love of all that made the golden age of cinema so fantastic. Simultaneously, Henson and company, not unlike their big budget and pornographer contemporaries, make clear that their movie offers something that cannot be had in the comfort of one’s living room: more Muppet action than viewers could get out of TV’s The Muppet Show.

February 8, 2007 / / Film Notes

Imagine that you’re an American director who – after ten years of helming popular television shows and working on the occasional film-for-hire – has become an overnight sensation. Your third feature, a sardonic war comedy with blood-drenched sequences and a passel of irreverent characters, has struck a chord with audiences who see the film over and over again. Critics hail you as an innovative force, breaking new cinematic ground with your observational style and inscrutable, yet perfect, new techniques. You’re nominated for the Oscar. What do you do to follow up?

February 8, 2007 / / Film Notes

by Stuart Kurtz

Art, whether it be the plastic arts, performing arts, or narrative has sought to pose riddles and produce answers to them for the satisfaction of the seekers. This has been the case, with the exception of mystical and Symbolist works of art, right through Modernism. The Post-Modern era is too fractured and complex to assume that the artist can find solutions to dilemmas and questions, including those of selfhood, identity, and reality. Robert Altman’s Images poses more questions than it answers. There are some possible answers in Images; however, they satisfy questions only within the context of the film. The larger ontological struggle of selfhood, identity, and reality are open. Life is a work in progress.

January 31, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Chris Kriofske

Robert Altman has said that the idea for the singular and utterly surreal 3 WOMEN came to him in a dream. He had just left another film he was set to direct at Warner Brothers because of a dispute with the studio. Shortly thereafter, his wife became seriously ill. While in the hospital with her, he spent a restless night where he claims to have dreamed up the film’s title, location and two lead actresses. He relayed a brief synopsis to Alan Ladd, Jr., head of production at 20th Century Fox, and encouraged him to make it (without a finished screenplay) for $1.5 million. The end result is surely one of the most challenging and personal films to ever come out of a major American studio.

January 31, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Peg Aloi

Perhaps one of Altman’s most timeless films, this Western is remarkable
for both its authentic, gritty tone and its anachronisms. The story is
straightforward enough: Warren Beatty plays McCabe, a crusty prospector
and smart-alecky entrepreneur who allows the ballsy, lovely Mrs. Miller
to run his brothel for a half-share in the profits. Tough, steely but
also sensual and decadent, Mrs. Miller embodies the Wild West femme
fatale with cool British capability. Beatty is marvelous as a man who
is smarter than he thinks he is, and the character’s emasculation is a
slow-burn conflagration that ultimately destroys him.

January 26, 2007 / / Film Notes

by Paul Monticone

“See, death is the only ending I know. A movie doesn’t end; it has a stopping place. That story, those people don’t die then: they live on and have terrible lives if it’s a happy ending, or if it’s a sad ending, they may survive it and recover and have happy lives. So death is the only ending and I deal with death as an ending. The people I have die are usually the wrong people, the ones you don’t expect to die. That’s the way it seems when people die.” (Robert Altman, 1992)

Altman’s quote, initially describing his resistance to narrative closure before digressing into the sort of modest wisdom that marked all of his interviews, sprung to mind on November 2oth. To anyone who takes American film seriously, the passing of Robert Altman was the sort of news that makes the world seem a little smaller and dimmer. Whether one thinks Altman the greatest American filmmaker since John Ford or a self-indulgent provocateur, the vitality and exuberance of each of his films is beyond dispute, to such an extent that the death of a frail, old man, who had just made the perfect swan song, Prairie Home Companion, came as something of a shock. The prodigious output of the indestructible Hollywood rebel had inexorably stopped, and a world without future Altman films is still hard – if not downright depressing – to imagine. To quantify what it is that we’ve lost, we can look to the works he left us, and his films of the 1970s – a decade of filmmaking that many identify with Altman – is the most obvious point of departure.