San Andreas (2015)

*. San Andreas is a disaster movie, a genre reinvigorated long after the glory days of Irwin Allen by the advent of CGI effects. As I’ve said before, one of the very few things CGI does well is trashing cities. Well, that’s a disaster movie for you.
*. Disaster movies aren’t known for scripts with lots of character development and complex plotting. Far from it. You expect generic characters and some sketchy set-up before everything goes to hell. There’s basically a two-part structure of before and after. To its credit, San Andreas starts off with some action (a helicopter rescue crew saves a young woman who is dangling in her car from a cliff, the Hoover Dam collapses) and keeps things going pretty strong throughout, but otherwise it follows the formula pretty closely.
*. Our lead is Dwayne Johnson, who is good in this kind of thing and certainly looks like he’s capable of fighting vast geological forces. An earthquake might take out California, but we can be sure that even as skyscrapers crumble the Rock will be the last man standing. He plays Ray Gaines, a helicopter rescue pilot with the Los Angeles Fire Department. When the big one strikes, he’s off with public property (the ‘copter) on a long journey north to San Francisco to go rescue his daughter. Because that’s what we expect of such a man.
*. That’s the plot. There’s not much more to say. I thought the CGI was pretty good, especially when a tsunami throws a freighter at the Golden Gate Bridge. Let’s face it, that’s why you watch a movie like this, and the FX department delivers. And while the script has some howlers, and makes a total hash of the science and geography, it has a couple of good moments too. I like how Blake’s newfound boyfriend uses the car jack to get her out of the car she’s stuck in. That was clever, and clever was unexpected.
*. I wasn’t expecting originality either, which was good because there was little on tap. A couple of clichés did seem to me to be worth commenting on though. I think I’ve talked about these before, but I think they’re worth flagging again.
*. In the first place, there’s movie CPR. As anyone who has trained in it knows, CPR is a violent process. Those chest compressions are dangerous, which is why you never see anyone in a movie doing anything that looks like a real chest compression. Dwayne Johnson would be breaking Alexandra Daddario’s ribs like bread sticks. I guess it’s hard to fake CPR but still, the way it’s presented in movies may give a lot of people the wrong idea of how to do it.

*. The other cliché is a male fantasy that gets a lot of play in movies like this. Basically, the hero is a divorced man, or a man going through a divorce, whose wife is shacking up with some new guy. There are a bunch of key elements in what follows: (1) no one is quite sure why the couple broke up in the first place, though it usually has something to do with the man being too dedicated to his demanding, heroic job; (2) the new guy is a moneybags but also a wimp and a coward; (3) there’s a crisis and the woman realizes how much she really needs/loves the man she broke up with, and how useless the new guy is; (4) there’s some kind of reconciliation.
*. It’s amazing how common this formula has become, especially in movies of this type. In Greenland and Moonfall, to take a couple of more recent examples, we see the same thing: a muscular, action hero who, with the fate of the world at stake, both saves the world and proves his superior manliness to his estranged wife, who realizes that trying to cash in with a higher-earning partner maybe wasn’t such a great idea.
*. Obviously this speaks to a real anxiety among men today, but my problem with it is that it is a fantasy. As I said in my notes on Greenland, this just isn’t the way things work in the real world. How many women want to get back together with a man they left? Not many, in my experience. I always think of that scene in The Squid and the Whale when Jeff Daniels is getting his hopes up that Laura Linney is going to get back together with him and she starts laughing. The only thing I find interesting about the whole idea is the question of where it got its start.
*. Otherwise, for fans of seeing cities stricken by earthquakes and tsunamis, San Andreas mostly works. I didn’t see the point of introducing the scientist (Paul Giamatti), as he doesn’t tell us anything we can’t gather from the odd news report, and he totally disappears at the end anyway. Aside from that, it’s a tight production. Checking out the special features on the DVD, it was interesting to see how short the scenes that were cut were, as director Brad Peyton really wanted to keep things moving along. Mission accomplished. Next up for Brad and Dwayne it would be a giant gorilla taking on Chicago. Clean up in aisle twelve!

Hamlet (2009)

*. I didn’t care for this production of Hamlet. It’s very much a filmed play, of the Royal Shakespeare Company for the BBC, and I didn’t like it as a movie or as a play. So there’s a lot of blame to go around.
*. At first sight of him I thought I might like David Tennant as Hamlet. He has a shaky, neurotic look to him in his inky cloak. Then, when he gives his “too, too solid flesh” soliloquy it seems as though they’ve set it up so that he actually will melt, resolve, and whatever into the mirrored black floor (apparently borrowed from a Vegas casino). The way he bends over and then kneels down was at least suggestive of such an idea. But nothing in the direction or camerawork, which is pedestrian throughout, tries to sell such an image and in the end I’m not sure if anyone was aware of it. It’s not mentioned on the commentary or the “making of” featurette.
*. Alas, Tennant wore on me very quickly. I found him antic and annoying when he (or Hamlet) wasn’t trying to be. Look at the way he works his face in the grave scene, for example. It’s all bug eyes and a stretched mouth, the sort of big emoting that works on stage but looks almost grotesque on screen.

*. Wardrobe also lets him down. It’s a problem presented in any modern-dress production of Shakespeare: how do you render important cues in the play for antique styles of clothes? What does it mean when Ophelia talks of Hamlet appearing to her with his garters undone and his stockings down around his ankles? Well, here it means he changes out of his mourning suit and into jeans and a t-shirt.
*. And it gets worse. The t-shirt has a really awful muscle-man print on the front, which I can’t imagine a modern-day Hamlet (or David Tennant) ever wearing. It makes him look silly and goes against the producers’ desire to not want the costumes to be “distractingly modern.” That shirt is as distracting as you can get (though it may be better than the Superman t-shirt they were originally thinking of). Then there are the jeans. I hate Hamlet in jeans. And he even has them on at the end for the fencing match with Laertes! Who fences in jeans? And he’s barefoot too! It’s like I’m watching a rehearsal for a Little Theatre production.

*. The fact that it remains a filmed play means the few somewhat creative decisions fall flat. There’s a use of CCTV cameras throughout, but to no good purpose aside from underlining the obvious point that everyone is spying on everyone at Elsinore. The idea of Hamlet using a handheld camera to film himself and others (notably Claudius during the Mousetrap performance) is good, but I didn’t think it worked well in practice. As with the security cameras they should have either tried to do more with it or not bothered.

*. One-way mirrors are used in several scenes, in the same way as they were employed in Branagh’s film. I doubt Branagh was the first to introduce them but I wonder who can make that claim. In any event, I thought the CCTV cameras might have been used here as a substitute in those scenes, but I guess they didn’t feel comfortable with that.
*. I don’t want to give the impression that this Hamlet is all bad, though even at a trim three hours I can’t say I enjoyed myself much. There were some nice touches. Ophelia finding a condom in Laertes’ luggage. Gertrude indicating that she knows Claudius has poisoned the drink she was offering to Hamlet before drinking it herself. Claudius’s wonderful shrug as he quaffs the same poisonous drink at the end. Because at that point Why not? I was reminded of Patrick Stewart’s turn at the end of Green Room, and he may have been thinking of how he played this scene there.

*. I thought the cast were quite good. Stewart is great playing both Hamlet Sr. and Claudius, which makes perfect sense (they’re brothers after all) but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done before. Oliver Ford Davies is excellent as Polonius, though he seems to be old enough to be Ophelia’s grandfather, an impression added to by his seeming to suffer from mild dementia. Penny Downie and Mariah Gale as Gertrude and Ophelia are both very good in what are difficult roles.

*. Still, I can’t rate this as anything but a disappointment. Tennant doesn’t seem out of his depth so much as out of his proper element, and the rest of the cast get no help from the director. I think I might have liked this on stage, but for some reason they seemed to really want to make a filmed play and so that’s what they got. Given the talent assembled that’s an opportunity missed.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

*. Perhaps I’m too hard on the Marvel movies. Or, put another way, perhaps I come to them expecting too much. These are, after all, comic-book movies, so why should they be any more repetitive and formulaic than the source material?
*. Why should they be better? I think I’m justified in having some higher expectations. Because of the immense resources in terms of money and talent lavished on them. Because of the way they bestride the entire entertainment ecosystem like a colossus. Comics are no longer a despised art form. They’ve gone both mainstream and highbrow.
*. So I often go into these movies expecting more. As here. There were reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Sam Raimi was returning to the Marvelverse for his first comic-book effort since Spider-Man 3 in 2007. But then, Raimi hadn’t been directing much of anything in the years since, and his production credits were mixed. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch was back as Doctor Strange, and he’s a great actor who’s well cast in the part. But he’s playing opposite Elizabeth Olsen as the Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, and Olsen isn’t great. Not that her character makes any sense at all in the first place. I mean, she says she’s not a monster, but a mother. Do you get it? Because I didn’t.
*. Then there’s the story. I was looking forward to something a little off the beaten track with doors opening up into a multiverse that would be, well, madness. But instead we only a visit a single alternate universe, Earth-838, and it’s not so weird. The rest of the connecting tissue is just the usual CGI-land. The opening scene has Doctor Strange and a girl we’ll later learn is America Chavez jumping from platform to platform like Mario or Sonic grabbing gold coins in a video game while running from a monster level bad guy. Yes, we’re stuck in a video game again. I could have pulled the DVD right then.

*. Things don’t get any better. Once again the villain, this time the Scarlet Witch, is seeking an immensely powerful artifact (a Necronomicon-like grimoire called the Darkhold) that, if she gets it, will make her ruler of the entire multiverse. Bwahaha! The monks of Kamar-Taj try to stand in her way, with entirely predictable results. Then Doctor Strange hopes to stop the Scarlet Juggernaut by finding the Book of Vishanti, which is like a good version of the Darkhold, but it turns out to be absolutely useless.
*. There are some CGI slugfests and then Wanda figures out she doesn’t really want her rotten kids back anyway — which was the point of all this and I’d advise you not to consider it too deeply. And America Chavez awakens her woman warrior within. And everything’s right again. In a mid-credit sequence Charlize Theron in a truly horrible get-up makes an appearance and something in me died a little. Et tu, Charlize? How much are they paying you?
*. OK, I left some stuff out. But nothing important or even noteworthy. Except for maybe zombie Doctor Strange, who was kind of neat. Xochitl Gomez is good as America Chavez, the diversity hire (Hispanic with two moms, American-flag jacket with a pride pin). Bruce Campbell shows up in a silly cameo. But none of it adds up to anything. It’s not dark or funny, which is a bit surprising given Raimi being at the helm.
*. But was Raimi really in charge? This is an MCU movie more than a Sam Raimi movie, and there are rules. Rules which are, in turn, defined by a look. A look that, turning again, reflects a certain view of reality: a cosmos (or multiverse) that is infinitely plastic and without meaning.
*. The perverse thing about this sort of moviemaking/storytelling is that for all its big-budget flights of fancy there’s something in it that’s antithetical to the imagination. The world of imagination is now seen as something digital, formulaic, expensive, and fake. There’s a nihilism at the core of the MCU that makes it like a snake swallowing its own tail. These movies present us with uplifting (and clichéd) messages about overcoming prejudice and adversity and believing in yourself, while at the same time suggesting that none of this really matters anyway. The MCU does the same thing to morality or humanity as it does to reality: turns it all into a mush of pixels that aren’t meant to have any relation to life as any of us experience or understand it.
*. I genuinely feel sorry for young people who have been raised on this shit. It’s not escapist fantasy so much as it’s driven by the rejection, even hatred of reality, and by that I don’t just mean tossing the laws of physics out the window. But maybe I’m looking too hard into all this.

Fantasia (1940)

*. I don’t think I’d ever seen Fantasia before this. At least not all of it. I know I’d seen the Sorcerer’s Apprentice episode with Mickey Mouse, but that’s it.
*. That episode was actually the germ of the film, as it was originally slated to be one of Disney’s Silly Symphony shorts but its production costs were so high they had to bundle it together with a bunch of other musical pieces and sell it as a feature. This turned out to be a smart move, as the box office was great, and would stay great for numerous re-releases over the years.
*. Critics ate it up too, as much then and now. It received two Academy Honorary Awards and regularly makes those lists of best and most important films of all time. Today, it’s status as a classic is pretty much undisputed.
*. So I was quite looking forward to the experience and was surprised to find it a chore just to sit through. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was still enjoyable, even if so familiar I wasn’t that interested in it. The Dance of the Hours with hippos, elephants, and alligators all doing a ballet was OK. Murnau’s Mephisto showing up for Night on Bald Mountain, same. But aside from that, I didn’t care for any of it.

*. I guess the animation was excellent for the time, but it doesn’t look like anything special today. It also didn’t seem to go with the music that well. I had trouble seeing the connection between Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and the progression of geological time, for example. And the My Little Pony vibe of the Pastoral Symphony segment was borderline sickening, making Pauline Kael’s overall point about the movie that “the total effect is grotesquely kitschy.”
*. David Thomson: “What happened — and I think it was predictable — was that the better the music, the more trashy, second-rate, and absurd the pictures seemed. I’m not sure if Hollywood has so naked an example of the unbridgeable gulf between high art and low art.”
*. Is the gulf truly unbridgeable? Well, at least they tried. And the thing does have a couple of interesting aspects. The sexuality, for one, with the nude centaurettes and harpies with nipples. I don’t think Disney would get away with that today. Also, the general structure, moving from creation stories to a kind of apocalypse, was ambitious. But that’s as positive as I can be.

Quiz the one hundred-and-ninety-first: Diner (Part three)

Whether it’s the breakfast special or a milkshake and a burger at noon, a diner is one of my favourite places to relax . . . and do movie quizzes. In fact, this might be our easiest and most relaxing quiz ever. What do you like that’s on the menu?

See also: Quiz the seventieth: Diner (Part one), Quiz the one hundred-and-thirty-second: Diner (Part two).

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House of Gucci (2021)

*. There’s a longstanding debate when making movies in English with a cast that’s supposed to be speaking in a foreign language. Not whether they should speak in the appropriate language and be given subtitles, that’s a preliminary decision, but whether, if they’re speaking English, it should be regular, “proper” English or English spoken in a thick (and usually laughably fake) accent of whatever language the characters are presumed to be speaking.
*. This can often be seen in World War 2 movies. Do the German officers speak in a posh British accent, or do they say things like “Ve haff vays of making you talk!” Do Russian and Japanese soldiers sound like they’re struggling to get English word order right? That sort of thing.
*. I couldn’t help but think of all this while listening to the cast of House of Gucci. Obviously, they’re Italian, and mostly speaking Italian to each other. But as an English-language production they have to be speaking English. Speaking English in an Italian accent is meant to indicate with a nod and a wink that this is-a what’s-a going on.

*. Performing in such a way can’t be easy. I imagine it as acting with a handicap. Jeremy Irons is an old man now, and to be honest I felt like about halfway through this film he was sort of giving up on the pretense of the Italian accent and just falling back into his regular voice. Meaning that as Maurizio Gucci gets older and sicker he starts to sound more British. Which felt odd.
*. It’s also hard not to let such voices slip into parody. Which actually works for characters like Aldo (Al Pacino) and especially Paolo (Jared Leto) who are more caricatures anyway. I read the book by Sara Gay Forden that the movie was based on and was struck by how Paolo is really set up here as a total idiot as well as an only son, and he wasn’t either. He had no head for business, but then neither did Maurizio (played by Adam Driver).
*. In any event, this movie is a star vehicle for Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani anyway, and Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) is at least of Italian descent (though her accent was criticized as sounding Russian by a dialect coach who actually worked on the film). I think she’s very good here at expressing a sort of wide-eyed earnestness ripening into something feral, and she makes the movie what it is. It’s not an easy part, having to allow for us to question just how much Patrizia was always a woman on the make and how much she really was in love with Maurizio.
*. On the other hand, I’m still not convinced Adam Driver is much of an actor, but he does bear a resemblance to Maurizio Gucci, who seems to have been a shadow of Patrizia in real life anyway.

*. Aside from just watching Gaga do her a-star-undone thing, I didn’t think there was much to see here. The Gucci family are an Italian snake pit in a tradition that runs from the Borgias to the Sopranos. That’s entertaining enough, but after a while I thought it all started to seem a bit like a fashion show. Director Ridley Scott can really do this kind of thing (production design, art direction) well, but the story probably would have worked better in the long format of a cable series as the business ins-and-outs have to be compressed to the point here where they’re more a distraction than high-stakes drama. And do I think the InvestCorp brain trust would be having meetings in team sweats? No.
*. Speaking of wardrobe, I’m sure they did a terrific job, but Lady Gaga’s lingerie did strike me as being anachronistic. At least I’m pretty sure thongs like that weren’t worn in the 1970s. They look very 2020.
*. In brief, I would have enjoyed it more if they’d played it up as full camp, which is obviously the tug that’s being felt throughout. Unfortunately, the talent involved meant they had to try for something more, and to be sure the camp road might well have ended in disaster. So in the end what they got is a muddle: a slickly produced but empty picture that’s part romance, part biopic, part crime picture, part business story, part music video. Some of it is trashy fun, but I’m hard pressed to think of what the point was.

O (2001)

*. That’s O as in OJ. Or Orenthal James Simpson. That Odin James, the star athlete here, has the same initials is surely just a coincidence.
*. I jest. The parallels between the Simpson case and the story of Othello were obvious and much remarked upon at the time this film came out (the Simpson trial concluding in 1995). It’s clear that the makers were plugging straight into it. And yet . . .
*. And yet listening to the commentary by director Tim Blake Nelson and the interviews with Nelson and the cast included with the DVD there is no mention whatsoever to O.J. Simpson. I find this to be a conspicuous omission and I’m not sure what explains it.
*. The other big headline tie-in for O was the school shooting at Columbine, which happened in 1999. That’s after this movie was filmed, but since it happened just at the time it was going to come out, the release date had to be pushed back over a year.
*. This (school violence) is a subject Nelson does talk about, and at one point during the commentary he even specifically compares Odin and Hugo to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the Columbine killers). The thing is, where the O.J. Simpson connection is obvious, and I think significant, I don’t see anything meaningful in viewing O as a story relating to school violence. Is that really what this story is about? I don’t think so.
*. Whatever the subtext, I think this is an intelligent adaptation of Othello that works on most levels. Othello is Odin James, a star high school basketball player. Iago is Hugo, son of the coach (“Duke” Goulding, “or The Duke, as he is called”). Desdemona is Desi. There’s a handkerchief. Some of the lines are closely followed but translated into the vernacular. Like: “Reputation? Who gives a fuck about reputation?”
*. There are of course some changes, but I thought most of them made sense. Hugo, for example, is motivated by jealousy over his father’s love of Odin. This is believable and helps simplify the play in a way that was probably necessary. And while Hugo’s plan at the end is overly complicated, at least he has one. I’m not sure Iago had any vision of where all this was getting him.

*. One change I didn’t care for, or understand, was the business with the doves and the hawk. This struck me as laboured and unclear. Odin is a hawk (because he’s not like the other birds, being the only black student at this school), but Hugo is also a bird of prey among the innocents. Whatever. I never cared for John Woo’s birds either.
*. Another thing I didn’t “get” was the introduction of the date-rape scene. There is no corresponding event in the play, and it’s presented so awkwardly here that it makes me wonder why they bothered.
*. Here’s the set-up. Desi and Odin escape on a planned getaway to a motel. In order to have sex. In case there is any doubt about consent, Desi makes herself clear before things get started: “I want you to do what you want with me. I want you to have me however you want. I want to give myself to you the way you want me. Don’t hold back.”
*. They do have sex. Desi gets on top for a while, then they settle into some basic missionary. At some point she asks him to stop, though it isn’t clear what he’s doing that she objects to. This later leads to a discussion over whether what happened was date rape.
*. The interpretation of all this is difficult. For what it’s worth, Desi is emphatic that it wasn’t rape. But I couldn’t figure out why they introduced such muddy waters in the first place.
*. The cast is decent, with the exception of Josh Hartnett’s performance. That’s not to say Hartnett does a bad job, it’s just that the way he plays the part of Hugo seems wrong to me. And I’m assuming that was by design.
*. Is this just a matter of taste? After all, many reviewers found Hartnett’s understated approach impressive, and Nelson praises the performance as expressive of “charm and intelligence.” But I still think it’s a mistake. The thing is, Hugo really has to come off as someone who is well liked and capable of inspiring trust in others. Think of how often Iago is described as “honest” in Othello. Does Hugo seem honest to you? I can’t believe anyone would trust him for a minute. Even the hapless Roger should have seen right through him.
*. This restraint is also expressed in the direction. At one point on the commentary Nelson refers to how “the feel of the filmmaking here is very determined, careful, deliberate, and rational as well,” in order to mirror Hugo’s plotting. That’s defensible, but again I think it works against what the film needs, which is a faster rhythm, pulling us along in the fateful undertow. Despite not being a long movie, it moves through a lot of plot at a sedate pace.
*. Julia Stiles seems to have been the go-to girl for Shakespeare adaptations at this time. She was in the Taming of the Shrew rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and a modern-dress Hamlet (2000) around the same time. I wonder if that was all by chance.
*. There’s a scene in English class where the kids are being taught Shakespeare. Obviously if they’d been reading Othello that would have been a little too obvious, so instead they’re doing Macbeth. But when the teacher gets upset at Hugo and Odin talking in class, she rounds on them and asks “Would either one of you care to name one of Shakespeare’s poems?” Why? Why would they be talking about Shakespeare’s poetry in a class on Macbeth? And while Shakespeare wrote two long narrative poems that had titles, his best-known poems are his sonnets, which didn’t have names, only numbers. This seems an odd slip for such an otherwise literate script.
*. It’s a hard movie to fault when you look at it piece by piece. As I’ve said, it’s a smart, literate adaptation. The performances are capable. The racial angle is effectively presented. Odin’s final lines, making a passionate appeal for some respect and not to be seen as a stereotype, are very strong and underline what I think should have been the main theme of the film. Hugo, however, sucks a lot of the life out of the proceedings and Nelson just doesn’t bring any spark to the direction. It’s definitely worth a look, but at the end of the day I can’t call it a success.

Under the Silver Lake (2018)

*. I really enjoyed Under the Silver Lake, though I feel guilty saying that.
*. I think my guilt arose from a sense that it was a good-looking, meaningless tease that works hard to give the impression of being about something deep or important or serious, of having “something to say,” when it really doesn’t. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s anything under Silver Lake. But it’s still a lot of fun just for its aesthetic-intellectual veneer.
*. It’s beautiful on the surface. Huge credit to cinematographer Mike Gioulakis and production designer Michael T. Perry for creating such a fantastic alternative L.A., with locations ranging in their fancifulness from Sam’s enormous apartment (which looks the size of about three L.A. apartments in such a complex) to the Songwriter’s San Simeon/Xanadu. The camera seems in love with all of this, from tricky long shots like the entry to the club where the girl is singing to the magical walk Sam (Andrew Garfield) and Millicent (Callie Hernandez) take by the mesh fence around Silver Lake. The lighting on the fence is truly beautiful, turning the fence into a glowing membrane separating us from dreamland.
*. A movie that looks this good could get by just on being so nice to look at. But the design and the colour and the way the camera moves are only parts of what is an elaborate striptease. Now a striptease is fun as it happens, and that’s really the whole point of it, but should we be disappointed at the payoff here, the absence of any final reveal?
*. Because I don’t think Under the Silver Lake makes any sense. People, including some of the people involved in its making, testify that there’s much more going on here than can be deciphered in a single viewing. Or even multiple viewings. I’m sure that’s true. Perhaps if you play the parrot’s squawk backwards it’s actually saying something. But these hidden correspondences are just more layers to be peeled off the onion without taking us anywhere aside from the basic idea, common to such plots since the 1960s, that we have a need to find pattern and meaning in a world that we perceive to be increasingly chaotic and meaningless.

*. I see Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 as being the ur-text of this kind of story, and while Lynch is the obvious comparison to make for this movie, I still found it more Pynchon than Lynch in that it more directly interrogates conspiracist thinking and theories. There’s been a multiplier effect though in these kinds of fantasies given the reach and intrusiveness of the Internet, and Under the Silver Lake offers up a warren of rabbit holes to duck down. But do any of them connect?
*. I’m sure connections can be drawn, but they remain tenuous at best. I was left having no real idea what the Songwriter was up to, how the Owl’s Kiss fit into things, or what Sam’s relationship to his ex-girlfriend signified. The idea that billionaires were being buried alive in the Hollywood hills with nubile lovers was something I couldn’t understand the point of. The Comic Fan (a wonderfully creepy Patrick Fischler) seems to have some vision of how all this fits together, but he’s not talking.
*. Wasn’t there something just a little sexist in the way all the young women became indistinguishable and were treated as props to be dressed (or undressed) in creative ways, by both the men and the movie itself? I don’t usually call movies out for this, but here I was wondering if it was deliberate.

*. So nothing added up for me. Perhaps there was an explanation for it, but writer-director David Robert Mitchell (who did It Follows) isn’t going to tell us what it is. Just for starters, what exactly does Sam do, or even want to do with his life? Has he come to L.A. to make it as a musician? Is that something he’s working at? How long has he been coasting before getting bounced from his huge apartment and having his sports car repossessed? I guess none of that matters.
*. I don’t know if Mitchell, who I think is one of the most impressive new talents going, had a point, buried it too deeply, or just wanted to have fun playing with the whole ball of yarn. What is expressed, I think, is less a search for meaning in modern culture than the desire to somehow establish that all of modern culture — the pop songs, the video games, the magazines — isn’t just a crushing waste of time and bottomless pit of shit, like the full toilet bowl we stare down in one scene. You can indulge in that kind of fecal haruspicy if you want, but isn’t that a hole you’d rather not go down?
*. Despite my reservations I think Under the Silver Lake is a terrific little movie and comes close to being a great one. A big drag on it though is Garfield, who looks the part but just doesn’t sound right. He may be even more miscast here than he was playing Peter Parker, and the character is just a little too shallow to relate to as well. At least I couldn’t figure him out. My sense is that at the end he’s on his way to becoming a new version of the Comic Fan, and that he might just be OK with that.
*. If the whole thing was meant as a parody of a David Lynch movie, which it may well have been, it might be enjoyed on that level. Even at 140 minutes it doesn’t feel long. But I was just there for the striptease. Does it all add up to anything but a pile of discarded clothes? I didn’t think so, but that doesn’t bother me.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

*. Over the years, there’s been significant interest expressed in remaking the Italian film Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion for a North American audience. At one point Paul Schrader wrote a script and Al Pacino or Christopher Walken were tabbed to star, but the project was shelved (and Schrader and Walken went on to do The Comfort of Strangers, which was at least set in Italy). Then Jodie Foster’s production company was said to be interested, with Sidney Lumet set to direct, but that didn’t go anywhere either.
*. There are various reasons for wanting to remake a foreign-language movie. Probably chief among these is the idea that it will play well in domestic markets. But I think for the talent I just mentioned it was more likely that they either thought it was a great idea that would translate well to a North American setting, or because they felt the original left something on the table.
*. I think both of these were in play. There’s a great premise here, whose satiric message about political corruption and the bureaucratic madness of the justice system would play just as well in the U.S. in 1970, or, for that matter, today. But at the same time, it’s an idea that has more potential than is realized here. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion was well regarded when it came out, winning the Grand Prize at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, but it’s a movie where I think people saw a lot of room for improvement. It had a great story, but the execution was off, and quickly dated.
*. Pauline Kael found it off-putting: “The film is extremely dislikable. Petri is a highly skilled director but he doesn’t use suspense pleasurably; he doesn’t resolve the tensions, and so you’re left in a rather foul mood.” I don’t really agree with this, but I can understand Kael’s feeling of queasiness. It has to do with the question of tone. Just what kind of a movie is Elio Petri making?

*. One with a political message, to be sure. But the satire and general sense of loopiness muddies the water, much as it did in The 10th Victim. It’s hard to take the proceedings seriously, especially with Ennio Morricone’s score playfully going boing-boing in the background. But most disconcerting of all is the dream ending, which takes a perfect ironic climax and just tosses it aside. Why? By that point it was clear we were no longer watching a movie that was trying to be realistic, however serious its themes.
*. Gian Maria Volonté plays a chief homicide inspector (“Dottore”) who decides to kill his lover in order to prove, perhaps only to himself, that he is untouchable. But his actual motivation is as obscure as it is perverse. He may just be bored. It’s hard to see him as a Roman Raskolnikov, trying to prove that he is beyond good and evil. And it’s equally hard to see him as a fascist zealot, because what would his scofflaw attitude be proving then, to himself or anyone else? I understand Petri’s point in all of this, but what is Dottore’s? Exposing police corruption? Roger Ebert thought he was driven by a compulsion to find out just how powerful he really is, but I think he’s more consciously self-destructive than that. He’s been a master of the game and now he’s sick of it. He’s an artist, with a fetish for staging crime scenes, and what he really wants to do is direct . . .

*. We’re left with a line from Kafka and he may be the real presiding spirit, with his sense of the absurd and that we are all somehow victims of the law, whichever side we’re on. But this is another thing that undercuts Dottore’s big speech about how tough the police have to be on crime.
*. I don’t think Petri was trying to be suspenseful, which is something else that might have attracted Hollywood. This is really a sort of reverse of The Big Clock, with the killer wanting to be caught. You could also connect it up with the American cinema of paranoia of the 1970s, only this time seen through the eyes of the Man.
*. Even more perversely, to my eye, is that it’s not a movie that scores many style points. Poliziotteschi usually have more signature moments in them than this. The only grin I got was the art gallery of oversize hand- and fingerprints. Which was gloriously silly in the best Italian way.
*. So I can see wanting to remake it ten or twenty years later. And indeed I can see it being remade today. I think it would work. Just think of how many times The 10th Victim has been remade, under various titles, and the ideas being explored here are equally as contemporary and pressing. Dottore is really just a phoney who has never had anyone call his bluff, which has only made him bolder and more degenerate. Those guys are still with us.