Saturday, March 22, 2014


Class Relations (Jean-Marie Straub & Danielle Huillet 1984) - Critics seem distracted by that title and make claims for the film's politics that just can't be supported by watching it.  The depth of Straub/Huillet's thinking is that bosses can be mean and though that sounds like I'm joking it really is almost an exact description of the force and resonance of their analysis.  Well maybe that's overstating it since there is no analysis and actually very little that could be considered political.  I'd guess they were aiming for a Brechtian approach by having actors recite dialogue with little inflection or facial reaction, with off-center framing and with leisurely if not downright eccentric pacing.  At times this might be mildly interesting - many shots of a speaking actor are done in profile but occasionally the camera is positioned just a tad back so that a sliver more of their face isn't visible.  The overall effect isn't to generate thought (or appreciation of the images which they probably consider irrelevant though the cinematography is top-notch) but instead to make the viewer wonder how they were able to finance such a ridiculous film.

Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor 2013) - The first film was slight but somewhat amusing - Ebert correctly pegged it as a kids movie.  This is just a misfire with a somewhat unclear plot laden with Star Wars-derived effects, some decades after that would have been a good idea.  The flying battle shots and particularly the blaster sound effects almost could have been lifted from the Lucas film.  The biggest problem though is that the lead roles were given to two impossibly leaden actors.  Hemsworth has always been a kind of modern Victor Mature though in The Avengers Whedon at least knew how to use that to underline the character's not-of-this-world origins (and if nothing else that film didn't need more big personalities in it).  But Portman?  I thought she just might be having a bad patch but then realized I've never seen her do a good job in anything.  A quick check of her filmography confirmed it - no matter what her reputation she's wooden and ineffective.  In this film the leads' inabilities are thrown into relief when they're set aside Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings and even Chris O'Dowd.  Christopher Eccleston is unfortunately buried under a mask but imagine what he could have done.  With any luck this will either be the last Thor film or they'll turn to the Simonson stories for the next one.

Monsters University (Dan Scanlon 2013) - Has it really been a dozen years since the original?  This turns out to be an unnecessary follow-up in every way.  There wasn't anything left from the first film that needed resolving and University seriously could have used a story editor.  The set-up just flops around from event to event, mainly feeling designed to impart life lessons on courage, friendship and sticking up for yourself.  (And I suppose to emphasize being clever though that really can't be taught.)  As these animated kids films go it's at least watchable but Pixar's glory days now seem behind it.  And what is their problem with women?  This time there are two token women teams and a headmistress (why not call her the president like real universities do?) but it just points out how much a boys club Pixar has always been, at least on screen.

Uranium Boom (William Castle 1956) - A surprisingly effective b-movie about a couple of guys fighting over mining and a woman - the story is fairly complex for a 67-minute running time.  In an odd way a kind of critique on greed in the vein of Citizen Kane (Castle had worked on The Lady from Shanghai) or more closely Ulmer's Ruthless.  Castle shows efficient story-telling skills and if not much else then that's at least enough - this is a glimpse just before he discovered gimmick marketing and made his real name.