Sunday, April 11, 2010

Films I've Seen in the Past 5 Days (and why I didn't finish Colossal Youth)

"Ossos" (1997) directed by Pedro Costa
"Che: The Guerilla" (2008) directed by Steven Soderbergh
"Magnolia" (1999) directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
"Brick" (2005) directed by Rian Johnson

I'm not writing full reviews of any of these films (I will, however, elaborate on them in the comments if anyone wants), but "Brick" is by far the best, followed by "Che, Part 2," then perhaps "Magnolia," and lastly "Ossos," which was very, very slow (and "challenging") but still decent due to its awesome compositions and a good performance as a charitable nurse by Isabel Ruth.

And I tried, first with a friend, then by myself, to watch Costa's "Colossal Youth" (which oddly came from Netflix before "In Vanda's Room"). My friend begged to stop after about 12 minutes, but I was determined to finish it today. No dice. I only got to about 1 hour, 10 minutes. This was not only because of the miserable tone of the film, but because the main character, Ventura visits Vanda Duarte (who plays his daughter) three times, for long shots that take many, many minutes. These were long, tough scenes. By the end of the first one, I thought he was going to do other things, but he comes back twice (and probably more after that moment).

Let me tell you why this is so boring. The camera is positioned towards the two, sitting on a bed. They're watching TV. They're distracted by it. We can't see it, so we can't be. Large portions of discussions #1 and #3 are consumed by the TV. #2 is one of those "monologues on camera" that the Onion AV Club mentioned, where Duarte describes how she gave birth to her daughter and then was forced to stay in her own room for a long time. Also, how she kicked her drug habit. This, I'm pretty sure, is the subject of "In Vanda's Room." I'm wondering if the birth happened post-"IVR," because if not, this is just rehashing what happened in the previous film. I haven't seen it, so I actually have no clue.

The cinematography here is done by Costa himself (just like Soderbergh does his own). Emmanuel Machuel (who did the camerawork on "Ossos") accentuates his compositions a lot more than Costa, who does less obvious stuff. He still captures the squalor, but nowhere near as neatly as Machuel. I think he should hire him back as his guy. Also, I agree with my friend: I'm a little disappointed that Criterion decided to touch up the "Ossos" print but not this one. It's really grainy and you can't see as much.

I just feel really disappointed because I was thinking "Colossal Youth" was going to live up to the hype: both Film Comment and Sight and Sound said it was among the best/most representative of the decade. I have to say I feel let down by my favorite film magazines. "Youth" may not be a terrible or even that bad of a film, but trust me: unless right off the bat it sounds as if you can get through a 156 minute (that's 2 hours, 36 minutes, folks) piece that involves a guy talking to his grown up children (his son twice, his daughter Vanda thrice, and his daughter Zita twice as well) and some guy who works at an art museum, as well as "cardplaying" and saying the same letter over and over and over again for this other guy to memorize, all of this on a below-average print and with "static camera shots" (as Onion said) of 5+ minutes, then don't try it. Looks beautiful in spots, but "not good enough." (To explain: As my friend says, if there's not enough good imagery to balance the slowness of what Sight and Sound calls "Slow Cinema," then you might as well pass.)


Stephanie said...

It's a shame Colossal Youth didn't live up to the hype. I watched Magnolia years ago. I thought the intertwined storylines were interesting and deftly done, and I was impressed by the acting. The ending left me scratching my head, though. :-)

Nick Duval said...

Yeah, the frogs falling from the sky are strange, apparently a "biblical reference." The device of having John C. Reilly help William H. Macy instead of arresting him due to the falling frogs was interesting. But I agree, the ending was a head-scratcher, and the last shot kind of made me wonder. And yes, the acting was good, especially Tom Cruise, Macy and Jeremy Blackman, who were both good as "quiz kids."

And Colossal Youth, eh... it really is a shame. It's not that bad of a film. Maybe it is even better than "Ossos," but unfortunately it's pretty much intolerable. If "Ossos" had been 2 and a half hours, I might not have been able to finish it. And the fact that "In Vanda's Room" (the middle film in the trilogy) is nearly 3 hours long means that I'll probably not be able to get through it.

--- Nick