Apr 28, 2011

Viewing Log #5

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Robot Monster (Phil Tucker, 1953). What madness is this?! I knew of this film for having been an early feature on MST3K, and, similarly, for having won some award in the 1980s for worst movie of all time. This is probably more indicative of a developed taste in garbage than I'd like to admit, but, sweet Jesus, if Robot Monster is a bad movie, it is certainly one of the greatest bad movies ever made. Let those who care to do so debate whether the bare-bones absurdity on display is the result of wanting resources or audacious creative vision; I'd like to think the latter, but the result is most certainly a kind of cinematic nirvana. A family picnicking in a remote valley survives the annihilation of mankind; the invading titular destroyer, Ro-Man (performed by George Barrows, voiced by John Brown), spends the majority of the film marching to and from his cave headquarters (dig that bubble machine) in his effort to finally terminate the species. The mere sight of Ro-Man (whose species and planet are amusingly of the same name) - he would appear to be a man in a gorilla suit and diving helmet - suggests the pinnacle of 1950s sci-fi silliness, the film's title an impossibly perfect condensation of the archetype. Stock footage from One Million B.C. (factoid: D.W. Griffith served as an uncredited director on that film) suggests a Lynchian freak-out (spoilers ahoy), and in its own modest ways, the film is surprisingly cutthroat and unforgiving. Of course, in the end, love saves the day, and it's all a boys dream. Or is it? I've since tried, and failed, to watch this MST3K episode; the film deserves better than the lackluster commentary season one was able to provide. The ending - three times!!! - solidifies it as a masterpiece. All hail the Robot Monster. [Rating: A]



Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010). Supplanting obstacles typical to bubbly date movie formulas with devastations more apropos of real life, Blue Valentine reaches for heartbreaking truths and almost succeeds in grasping them. The whiffs of revelation (a sequence in a futuristic hotel room and an impromptu dance number among them) never quite transcend what is ultimately a very formulaic screenplay, one that comes down to a mannered connect-the-dots thesis whose real audacity is limited to a relentless if necessary downer attitude and a timeline that never makes explicit its nonlinear jumps (and a beautiful non-ending that's just about perfect). Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are Dean and Cindy, young parents whose relationship, once ripe with love and purpose, is in a downward spiral of disrepair. On a per-performer basis, this might be the best acted film of 2010. It's so close to achieving greatness it hurts, almost as much as the embittered relationship herein. [Rating: B]



Rango (Gore Verbinski, 2011). It's all there in the opening scene: Johnny Depp's titular lizard play acts with the inanimate objects that make up his life, until the moment a near auto crash sees him separated from his host family, his life as a pet now reduced to broken glass and rubble on a desert highway. When he finds a nearby, sun-scorched town in dire straights, his opportunity to create whatever identity he wants is put to the test, and Rango proves a thoughtful look at the ways in which drama can shape life. Sadly, this irreverent western gallery of personified animals can't quite sustain its gonzo verve for feature length (it's all too easy to see through the plot to the lurking Chinatown revelation, although a third act cameo sets a high water mark of awesome, especially for fans of Deadwood), but it's still as genuinely idiosyncratic and effortlessly entertaining as the best of big-budget family features. Actually, that's not entirely true: Rango routinely pushes the boundary of what's typical for PG animated humor, and your kids probably pick up on more of those racy jokes than you realize. Move over Shrek, you little puss. [Rating: B]



Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994). Cinema's coolest new kid has arguably gone further and deeper in his subsequent works (minus the standalone Kill Bill: Volume 1, I can see any of his films argued as his best), but methinks this zeitgeist-tapping miracle will always remain his most quintessential. Maybe it's just the subsequent seventeen years worth of jumbled narratives talking, but the non-linearity of Pulp Fiction seems almost quaint now, which is not to say it was ever THAT much to wrap one's head around to begin with. (Minus the opening scene and the last chapter, and Mr. Walken's hysterically restrained cameo, it's actually entirely straightforward.) More significant than its obvious infatuation with cinema past is the subtextual meditation on pride, faith, and redemption, at least for those lucky enough to come out on top when the bullets have flown and fists landed. Look deeply enough, and the universe emerges in full. [Rating: A]

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