Movie Roundup: Chinatown Death Cloud Peril Edition

I’m just about finished with The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, a novel by Paul Malmont recommended by the guys who do the Out Of The Past film noir podcast (see their link on the sidebar). It’s a lot of fun, set in the late 30s world of pulp novelists and featuring wall-to-wall name-dropping (including a spot-on version of Orson Welles and his ideas about film). It’s the book you’d hoped The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay would turn out to be but wasn’t. Great title too.
In the spirit of investigating where the real ends and the pulp begins, here’s some comments on some recently seen non-fiction films:

Billy Wilder Speaks
Woody Allen: A Life In Film – A pair of documentaries about to of the all-time great directors of comedies that aired recently on TCM and were rather underwhelming. Both directors are articulate and interesting about their work. The Wilder film, directed for German TV by Volker Schlöndorff, has some fun anecdotes about life directing films in the studio era but nothing I hadn’t heard before. There’s also the zillionth version of the Marilyn Monroe “Where’s the bourbon?” story, which was interesting the first, and only the first time.
The Allen film, written and directed by film critic Richard Schickel is only slightly better. Apparently a promotional bit for the Permanently Unseen Hollywood Ending, the film attempts a weak justification for Allen’s equally weak late career comedies. More interesting is Allen’s comments on his earlier work, mainly focusing on his 70s films. His take on Stardust Memories is interesting in his insistence that the character he plays isn’t the least bit autobiographical and that the bulk of the film is meant to be seen as a dream sequence (yeah, right on both counts). Allen claims to be misunderstood: he’s not an intellectual, he just looks like one, neither a particularly believable claim. The most interesting part is his explanation of where his talent lies: he says that just as some people are good at math, and some good at music, he’s good at telling jokes. He doesn’t know why or where it comes from, it’s just the thing he’s always been good at. Those who have seen Hollywood Ending, Small-Time Crooks, The Curse Of the Jade Scorpion, or Anything Else may disagree. The #23 film of 2002

Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt – Another documentary, this one about the country singer-songwriter that Steve Earle used to repeatedly claim on his radio show was a better writer than Bob Dylan. I don’t know about that (I have a good guess though), but Van Zandt certainly appears to have been a very good artist. The film has a lot of loving anecdotes about him, and a lot of stories about him being a crazy drunken idiot, but there’s not a whole lot about the music. The few bits here and there that we get to hear and are discussed are very interesting indeed. But for some reason iTunes has removed almost all his music (presumably some family rights issue). With only two songs from him in my collection, both of which are truly outstanding (that’d be Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold and Pancho & Lefty), it’s too early for me to form a coherent opinion on him as an artist. And this film didn’t really help matters, what with only providing bits and pieces of songs I really need to listen to in their entirety. An artist worthy of further investigation, but this documentary doesn’t help all that much. The #29 film of 2004.

My Dad Is 100 Years Old – Isabella Rosellini wrote and stars in this short film about he father, the director Roberto Rosselini. It’s directed by Guy Maddin in what I understand is his style (it is, as of now, the only one of his films I’ve seen, though there’s a 2 feature/1 short set that’s been at the top of my Netflix queue for months). Isabella plays all of the film’s characters (except her father), who are engaged in an argument about Roberto’s importance and aesthetic as a filmmaker. Roberto himself is portrayed as a gigantic belly, and Isabella plays herself, her mother (Ingrid Bergman), Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini and David O. Selznick. A loving and inventive tribute to her father that’s also an interesting and insightful debate about film theory, it’s a wonderful film and one of the better shorts I’ve ever seen. The #10 film of 2005.

Blogger ain’t letting me post pictures, so I’ll get them up in the morning. I’ve a book to finish.

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