Drag Me Up (Weekly Links)

up2Movies I reviewed for the Herald this week:

Up. “If you thought Pixar might cool off after ‘Wall-E,’ forget it.”

Drag Me to Hell. “Knee-deep in the muck of a newly-dug grave.”

Summer Hours. (dead link; review below)

by Robert Horton

A universal family experience is beautifully probed in “Summer Hours,” a new one from the eclectic French filmmaker Olivier Assayas.

That family experience? Deciding what to do with what’s left behind. At a country home in rural France, an estate must be dealt with in the aftermath of a death.

Three adult siblings, none of whom have lived at the place in years, have differing opinions about that. Their mother (the luminous Edith Scob) tended the place as a kind of shrine to her uncle, a well-known artist. The artist’s things are still all around the house, and so are the valuable art objects he collected. The oldest sibling, Frederic (Charles Berling), feels the house ought to stay in the family, the history of the place maintained intact. The middle child, Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), lives in New York, the younger brother Jeremie (Jeremie Renier) in Asia. Their notions of the house’s future might differ from their brother’s.

You could imagine this to be a dry premise for an entire feature film, or at least vaguely unpleasant. But Assayas (whose last one was the peculiar “Boarding Gate”) and his fine cast use the material as a way of examining the different reasons people have for holding on to things—or letting things go.

Assayas is scrupulous about letting the audience decide how we feel about this trio. Everybody’s got their good side and bad side. Jeremie might be a sellout for taking a job that involves manufacturing cheap athletic shoes in China, but Adrienne comes across as self-righteous when she calls him on it. It doesn’t hurt that a great deal of the movie is set at the country house, a gently declining but still quite beautiful place. We admire this home and the handsome objects that the great artist collected—a vase, a wardrobe, a couple of valuable paintings by Corot.

But Assayas is interested in more than enjoying pretty things. By the end of the movie we’re also wondering about the value of things like that. Is a vase valuable because it’s a work of art, or because it holds flowers really well? And just when you think the movie might be backing the wisdom of letting go of old things, Assayas includes a final sequence, involving Frederic’s teenage children (a sequence that nearly echoes a great party scene in an early Assayas film, “Cold Water”), that makes you re-think your conclusions yet again.

Seattle International Film Festival picks.

And this, a reversal of the usual review links in this slot: a Fangoria review of Rotten, the new comic book that arrives in stores next week (see tab at top of page for more).

Movie Diary 5/11/2009

Kid Galahad (Michael Curtiz, 1937). Fight promoter Edward G. Robinson and longtime galpal Bette Davis have a new fighter to promote, much to the irritation of rival Humphrey Bogart. Wayne Morris plays the boxer, and the actor is even greener than his character is supposed to be — Morris looks as though he’s not quite clear on whether or not there’s a camera in the room. Which somehow works for him.

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (David Russo, 2009) and Humpday (Lynn Shelton, 2009). Two Sundance-tested titles, both made by Seattle filmmakers, soon to play in the Seattle International Film Festival.

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1987). Haynes’ second-best film, done with Barbie dolls and plenty of theory. Prepping here for an upcoming talk in the Magic Lantern series (more info here).

iconfess2I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1953). I have long been intrigued by Hitchcock’s “problem” period, from The Paradine Case to this movie (exempting Strangers on a Train, which is not really a problem); I like the strange experimental stuff in Under Capricorn and Stage Fright. Re-visiting I Confess after many years, it feels like the least interesting of the bunch, stubbornly resisting the occasional flickers of vitality that crop up here and there. In theory it should have worked: Montgomery Clift’s priestly vows operate in the same limiting way as James Stewart’s wheelchair in Rear Window.  Plus, it’s Clift in his prime. But it doesn’t.

Seas Beneath (John Ford, 1931). The love story bit is bizarre, but the at-sea footage (and there’s a lot of it) is often mind-boggling.

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008) and Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2008). Family gatherings at the country home in these oddly similar new films by major directors. I’ll take the Assayas.