Saturday, February 16, 2008

Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero, 2007)


It was a pleasant surprise watching this and realizing the film's not working under the same conceit of raw "found footage" like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project. It is in fact edited, working under the premise that a main character has edited together their footage into the film you are now seeing. It is a mockumentary of sorts. Spliced throughout is footage from an assortment of modern-day video imaging devices. The film is part zombie movie, part non-fiction "essay film," by way of an undergrad student trying her best at a Chris Marker account of the Zombie Apocalypse.

The film is at times clumsy and goofy, and in the end it doesn't quite build to a satisfying whole, but it does cohere, miraculously, even while Romero pulls out all the stops to cram in all his musings about the contemporary world in this one film. Many times it is quite inspired and effective: political impudence is yoked under one single line, the inevitability (and arbitrariness) of social frisson withheld in a single scene (when the all-white lead cast run in with an all-black commune), critiques of characters communicated through one single set-piece... all impressively deft. And even with the handheld camera schtick, Romero finds ingenious ways to offer us striking, expressionistic imagery, like in one surreal scene where the director lead character's horror movie is finally brought to life, his juvenile notion of genre filmmaking finally coming to sleazy fruition, with the cute blonde finally, after being stuck wearing it for the entirety of the film, getting her virginal white anachronism of a dress ripped off.

The last scene of the film is also rather evocatively Chris Marker-esque in its narratively unconnected particularity. It's hard to know what to make of it, because for one, it is, on the surface, rather mundane nihilism that's straight out of his previous four 'Dead' movies. One might roll his eyes at it. But it works far, far better when you see it less as Romero saying "My, humans are quite the transgressive creatures" for his 5th time, but as "the last thing Jason uploaded" - it asks us what horrors (as a culture characterized by progressive information dissemination but for some reason not by actual progress) are we so determined to expose ourselves to - must we have to witness and take up burden of - in order to feel "plugged in" to the world around us, so full of it as it is.

'Diary of the Dead' - 7/10

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Company (Robert Altman, 2003) **Major Spoilers**

The moment the first end credit faded in onto the screen, I didn't know what to do. I floundered and billowed. A cognizable grimace entered into my face. If my roommates were not sleeping, they would have thought I had just witnessed something obscene and offensive, like what "2girls1cup" entails. A progression of the following emotions - realization, titillation, bewilderment, disgust, contempt, annoyance - swept through my visage in such a flurry it resulted in the malformed chimera of a facial expression I just detailed, while a whispered scoff, the kind a scorned valley girl would make, contorted my mouth in slow motion so that it more and more seemed like a groan of utter distaste. I didn't know what the hell I just watched. I plastered a smirk across my face, forcing it on, pretending as if someone (oh no, not me, of course!) had just been played a practical joke on and I was in on it. After I guffawed and floundered some more like a guy indignant after being ass handed by his girlfriend, I removed the DVD from the disc drive in lithe, flamboyant movements, as if I were patting the disc on the back: "Good one, The Company DVD, you really put one over on me!" Then I placed it in its case and put it firmly on my desk with an audible slam, feeling as if I were sentencing it to three days of harsh grounding. "Go to your DVD box and stay there!" Usually I am never conscientious enough to immediately remove a movie from my laptop's disc drive and put it away right after I finish it. But I needed motions to go through. And I still had that damned smirk across my face, trying to convince myself I got Altman's joke, that I wasn't put off by it, and I don't really have to think about the movie any more. It was done. Not that I was relieved about that! Psh.

I get the "documentary-like" exactitude and premeditated lack of any dramatic inflection - that the film is a steady look at the will, strength, discipline, and power in this, say, "athletic art," in which the skill of the body and the art of expression are combined... but is it just me or is there something sinister and insidious about the film? It might be just me. The Neve Campbell and James Franco characters creeped the hell out of me. Their stoic conviction, their clear-headed preoccupation: they are complete non-characters. It was fascinating the non-developments the film chose to do with these two characters. It presented possible threads for emotional analyses - a jittery mother, isolated crying, the ambiguous satisfactions of the chef profession, a dance company's pervasive atmosphere of whispered backbiting - but they just drift and accumulate, never to be picked up again and embellished. The ending totally threw me for a loop because I was waiting, very very anxiously, for Campbell and/or Franco to do something abnormal or fucked up, and I was certain it would happen... but then it ends on a positive note with them, with the big twist being the fact that they are perfectly well-adjusted. It does not compromise its matter-of-fact portrait of these characters, no matter how freakishly self-possessed and existentially accounted-for they are, and in the end, Altman pulls what is in fact the most subversive twist by asserting the dignity of their commonality: Campbell isn't a diva, or a perfect girl, or a victim, or a maniac - that is, a character fit for a movie - but a character as mundane so as to be fit for a documentary about dance, the art of dance alone, and the ideal investment in it... and so we follow a dancer that is doing in life exactly what she needs to be doing (with the usual give and take of life - such as needing a lonely cry, or dealing with an odd mother). Narratives play games with characters, and would exploit those moments like her isolated crying or her jittery mother. Altman's film is in wonder of those real-world people who don't need the drama.

An enigmatic and strange movie, and one to praise unequivocally. It's pretty much two hours of dance, not everyone's cup of tea, including myself, but it is nevertheless completely enthralling. Robert Altman, no doubt about it, is truly incomparable as a director. No one could have directed this movie and made it as fascinating and mysterious as it is. The dances do go on, but any complaints of the sort are in no way a legitimate fault of the film. Most of the time they are absolutely mesmerizing.

Now back to the trauma...

James Franco can get the fuck out. His character here might just be the most blankly frightening character I have ever confronted. When Campbell is preparing to cook breakfast for him and he's like, "Ehhhhh, no. Let me do it," and he starts cutting and sauteeing vegetables, all I could think is "HOLY SHIT what the fuck is this guy up to!?!?!" I was waiting for him to reveal himself a secret dancer who wants to sleep with Neve Campbell his way to the top (not a bad idea, until he ends up with Malcolm McDowell). But, that plot development not coming into realization (of course, it being stupid), Altman really sticks it to those who craved some sort of undermining of such pure, unadultered adult professionalism. Dance and cooking appear to be the ultimate professions - spiritual and physical, creative and empowering in equal measures. Many, I'm sure, like myself, would love the purposed, contented confidence that Campbell and Franco have for their professions in this film, and this film so admiringly rubs it in our faces.

'The Company' - 9/10