City of Hope (1991, John Sayles)

City of Hope is a raw John Sayles John Sayles movie. The camera follows the characters until it bumps into other characters, which is a simple, straightforward method, both a little more honest but also a little more amateurish. It introduces a gimmick into the film, which rarely does anything any good. It isn’t always the bumping characters–the most effective sequence is when, at the same time, separated by cuts, a bunch of characters decide to sell themselves out or not to sell out. But the bumping does pop again and it is noticeable. Maybe it’s a consequence of pan and scanning a 2.35:1 film (City of Hope, as far as I can ascertain, has never had a non-pan and scan video release). The pan and scan does hurt a little, but the gimmick would still be there, wider field of action or not. It’s not bad–films still do it today, good films, but they’re films made after Sayles (much like Sayles makes films after the Altman Nashville standard). It’s a raw artist in progress and it’s a thing sixteen years has made more noticeable. It doesn’t date the film, but City of Hope does have a visible place in Sayles’s body of work.

It’s also his most traditional story–one of the two primary storylines is Italian-Americans and their relationship to work and corruption. Sure, it’s political corruption–but the corrupt mayor is Italian. Vincent Spano’s character is also a very general lead for a Sayles film too–like I said, it’s all very raw. The other primary story, about Joe Morton’s attempt to be a successful and moral politician, is more radical. However, the Spano story, simply because Spano, and Tony Lo Bianco as his father, are so great. Joe Morton’s great too, but Sayles gives Spano a romance with Barbara Williams (who’s also fantastic). Watching certain moments in City of Hope, it’s obvious Sayles spent a lot of time figuring them out. There are some short car ride conversations he does beautifully, but also the scenes with Spano walking Williams home. Those scenes are amazing, pan and scan or not.

Where Sayles lifts the film from the norm is in the third act, when the viewer discovers it’s actually not all about people bumping into each other, or the titular City of Hope, which pops up three times at least, but is actually all about watching people corrupt themselves. There’s a wonderful juxtaposition of one woman telling her husband not to sell himself out, then congratulating him (that one’s from Macbeth, right?), with another not supporting dishonesty, after positioning herself to do so. Except every character in City of Hope, not just those four–with the exception of Williams, who’s a bit of a saint–eventually makes the choice to corrupt or redeem him or herself. Well, not redeem, but not further corrupt.

Besides the aforementioned, Tony Denison is great, so is Angela Bassett. Chris Cooper’s only in it for maybe four minutes, but in that time, it becomes clear his never becoming a leading man is a considerable tragedy for American cinema.

I’m probably less enthused about the film than I should be, but it’s only because I spent the entire time wondering how beautiful it must look in the right aspect ratio.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by John Sayles; director of photography, Robert Richardson; music by Mason Daring; production designers, Dan Bishop and Dianna Freas; produced by Sarah Green and Maggie Renzi; released by The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Starring Vincent Spano (Nick), Tony Lo Bianco (Joe), Joe Morton (Wynn), Angela Bassett (Reesha), John Sayles (Carl), Gloria Foster (Jeanette), David Strathairn (Asteroid), Kevin Tighe (O’Brien), Barbara Williams (Angela), Joe Grifasi (Pauly), Louis Zorich (Mayor Baci), Gina Gershon (Laurie), Rose Gregorio (Pina), Bill Raymond (Les), Jace Alexander (Bobby), Todd Graff (Zip), Frankie Faison (Levonne), Tom Wright (Malik), Tony Denison (Rizzo), S.J. Lang (Bauer), Chris Cooper (Riggs), Stephen Mendillo (Yoyo), Josh Mostel (Mad Anthony), Daryl Edwards (Franklin) and Lawrence Tierney (Kerrigan).


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Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994, Yamashita Kensho)

To say Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla has it all is an understatement. It has more than that. It has dirt bikes, black holes, a “Muppet Babies” version of Godzilla, a superwoman, walks on the beach at sunset, and, apparently, the first butt shot in a Godzilla movie. It’s a wacky mess, proving having no story is sometimes a good thing. The 1990s Godzilla series was so dependent on continuity, at one point during the film, I thought Joss Whedon wrote it. Space Godzilla has a bunch of little details, but the thing moves at such a fast pace, they’re not used for any reason other than storytelling brevity.

I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be a comedy. While the writer did go on to do other Godzilla movies, the director only did this one, which probably means Toho wasn’t happy with his performance. How could they be? He’s created a perfect Godzilla movie. It ends with a U.N. anti-Godzilla military guy opining, “Godzilla’s not that bad, is he?” After he’s just destroyed a city–of course, so has the Japanese anti-Godzilla military guy, in a giant robot (from these films, I’ve learned the Japanese solve all their problems with giant robots)–during a pointless fight with Space Godzilla. Maybe the lack of purpose–the film flip-flops between being about the telepathic control of Godzilla and the Space Godzilla’s origins in a black hole–is what makes Space Godzilla so good. It’s a bunch of scenes strung together, some of them really big–there’s some great matte shots in Space Godzilla, probably the most impressive in any Godzilla movie–all connected through the five main characters. Oh, I forgot–in my list up above–there’s a mad scientist too. Dirt bikes, black holes, and a mad scientist. Not much else offers you those three items.

There’s also the “Muppet Babies” Godzilla, which is cute and totally absurd. But really, it’s the cast. At one point, I got thinking about Yoshikawa Towako’s performance–when she’s standing around talking about mind-controlling Godzilla–she’s actually taking this absurd acting job seriously and making it all believable. All the other principals, Hashizume Jun, Yoneyama Zenkichi, and Odaka Megumi are good. Very likable, people you want to spend an hour and a half with. The best is Emoto Akira, playing a soldier obsessed with killing Godzilla. The film treats him as a goof-ball, running around on foot trying to catch the monster. It’s hilarious.

Technically, I already mentioned the sometimes great composites (usually when there’s no urban destruction involved). There’s also a really good score in Space Godzilla, something akin to a 1970s John Williams disaster score (except the two scenes I’m convinced are homage to From Here to Eternity). The most impressive thing about Space Godzilla, besides its approach to storytelling, is its sound design. The final fight scene has little weight, since no one’s really fighting for anything (the earlier fight, when Space Godzilla is trying to beat up Little Godzilla, is much more effective), but the sound design is amazing. Some great editing in the last fight scene too.

Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla is a big dumb mess and it appreciates and understands it’s a big dumb mess and does everything it can with that condition. It’s constantly delightful.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Yamashita Kensho; written by Kashiwabara Hiroshi; director of photography, Kishimoto Masahiro; music by Hattori Takayuki; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki and Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Hashizume Jun (Shinjo Koji), Yoneyama Zenkichi (Sato Kiyoshi), Emoto Akira (Major Yuki), Yoshikawa Towako (Dr. Gondo), Saitô Yôsuke (Dr. Okubo), Sahara Kenji (Minister Segawa), Nakao Akira (Commander Aso) and Ueda Kôichi (Deputy Commander Hyodo).


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Delusion (1991, Carl Colpaert)

Delusion opens poorly. It opens like an independent film (not a Miramax release or a Fox Searchlight, but something a guy who owns a chain of car washes invested in) and it opens poorly, like most independent films open. The acting is bad, the writing is bad (the direction is fine). I’ve seen Delusion before (I own the laserdisc), probably four times and the opening had me embarrassed. Based on those first seven or eight minutes, I would have said Jim Metzler was bad and Jennifer Rubin was bad, and Kyle Secor was good. Secor’s got a really goofy, dumb hit man role and then, at times, the character will all of a sudden have some profoundly affecting moment.

Anyway, by the fifteen-minute mark, Delusion‘s completely different. Rubin’s great, Metzler’s great and the writing’s good. There’s no distinguishable reason for the change, except maybe the first act ended or something. Then for an hour, the film’s on track toward something, with all goodness along the way. Where it’s going is never quite clear–so, in the end, where it ends up feels a little odd, with the characters talking to each other about things the viewer should have seen and should understand, but did not see and does not understand.

Another possible reason for the big change is Carl Colpaert’s direction. He really knows how to move a camera, whether Delusion‘s in its thriller mode, its drama mode, or its spaghetti western mode, Colpaert’s composition is really unbelievably good. Especially for an independent film. He knows how to use Panavision. That knowledge is rare among independent filmmakers.

Colpaert and co-writer Kurt Voss run Delusion as a road movie with the little adventures as vignettes. The most successful is the one with Jerry Orbach, who’s absolutely fantastic. The worst–the one where Delusion becomes a Miramax independent for a moment–is when a female biker picks up Metzler and tells him about her time as a soldier in the sexual revolution. Amusingly, it’s like Colpaert realized how badly it played, because it really seems like that section is cut all over.

In the end, it’s really all about Rubin. She’s funny, sad, thoughtful, tragic, smart, dumb; Colpaert and Voss throw all these things at her and she comes out shining. Watching the film, it’s difficult to believe she never made it big, because there was no one else back then who could do all the things she could do.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Colpaert; written by Colpaert and Kurt Voss; director of photography, Geza Sinkovics; edited by Mark Allan Kaplan; music by Barry Adamson; production designer, Ildiko Toth; produced by Daniel Hassid; released by I.R.S. Releasing Corporation.

Starring Jim Metzler (George O’Brien), Jennifer Rubin (Patti), Kyle Secor (Chevy), Jerry Orbach (Larry) and Robert Costanzo (Myron Sales).


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The Long Goodbye (1973, Robert Altman)

From the first scene in The Long Goodbye, it’s obvious Robert Altman was on to something with casting Elliott Gould as a character (Philip Marlowe) most famously personified by Humphrey Bogart. It isn’t just Gould not being Bogart and Gould not being a traditional noir detective in any way (Gould’s Marlowe is more concerned with his cat), it’s also very simple–it’s Elliott Gould. Gould’s performance in Long Goodbye is certainly the most different from his traditional performances (the ones he still does today); the most actorly, even though “actorly” isn’t a word. But part of Gould’s initial effectiveness–before the mystery aspect takes off (and it’s Chandler, so it’s never about who done it but about the detective trying to find out who done it)–is seeing Gould play this role and not give that traditional performance. For the first few minutes, it creates some disturbance, but Gould’s almost immediately successful in his part. Altman waits a little while–giving Gould the initial adventures–to ease the audience into it, but then he runs with it.

The Long Goodbye is most stunning through its sound. Though Altman’s got an almost constantly moving (even if it’s just slightly panning) camera, the sound design sets it apart from everything else. The mystery aspect is, like I said before, not so mysterious, but the rest of the film is convoluted in that Chandler way and Altman will bring up the sounds of the waves to further confound understanding. Much of the Philip Marlowe commentary on the human situation is kept, but it’s lowered in volume–Gould mutters it when he walks along, the people he encounters either asking him to repeat it or to explain it.

Of all Altman’s films, certainly those he made after Nashville, The Long Goodbye seems to be the one he’s most visibly excited about. Even when it’s a film he loves, he’s always slightly bored with the filmmaking processes–even when he’s doing his famous (self-loathing) crane shots or when he’s doing interesting sound work. The Long Goodbye is the least Altman-esque film I’ve seen and probably his best.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Altman; written by Leigh Brackett, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by John Williams; produced by Jerry Bick; released by United Artists.

Starring Elliott Gould (Philip Marlowe), Nina Van Pallandt (Eileen Wade), Sterling Hayden (Roger Wade), Mark Rydell (Marty Augustine), Henry Gibson (Dr. Verringer), David Arkin (Harry), Jim Bouton (Terry Lennox) and Stephen Coit (Farmer).


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