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what i watched last week

Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999). Audition is a difficult film to talk about, because it’s unfair to offer too many spoilers for those who haven’t seen it, yet everyone deserves to have some kind of advance warning about what is to come. So, to start with, if you are disturbed by extreme violence, stay away from this movie. If you like seeing a film maker go far beyond “normal” expectations, you might like Audition. It is a film that sneaks up on you, and there is little in the first half of the movie that suggests what will follow (although I suppose you can see the foreshadowing if for some reason you felt compelled to watch it again). Miike isn’t pussyfooting around, here … he wants to dig deeply into obsession and misogyny, and he is willing to accomplish what he wants, even if it means throwing narrative coherence out the window, closely followed by “good taste”. Even fans of Audition will admit that it is almost impossible to watch the long final segment of the film, which isn’t to say that segment is gratuitous (although it often is) or unnecessary. In the context of the film, it is the best possible ending. That it is also revolting, that it has inspired plenty of walkouts in theaters over the years, that it is entirely possible that there is less than meets the eye, well, let’s just say it is a complicated movie. I can imagine people giving this 10/10 … I can imagine them giving it 0/10. In light of that fact, I’m cheating when I don’t choose one or the other, but I’m just being honest when I say I think it’s closer to 10 than it is to 0, but it does indeed have elements of both. 8/10. #721 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

Viva Las Vegas (George Sidney, 1964). There’s a tendency to overrate the decent Elvis movies, just because they don’t suck. That tendency isn’t necessary here, for Viva Las Vegas is probably the King’s best movie. The plot isn’t much, but neither was plot the point in Fred and Ginger musicals. The acting is tolerable, if not excellent, and the dialogue only occasionally fails. I know this sounds like damning with faint praise, but I haven’t gotten to the praise yet. First, Elvis gets a few decent songs to sing. Not just the title tune, a Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman classic, but also “C’mon Everybody”, “What’d I Say”, and another Pomus/Shuman song, this one a ballad, “I Need Someone to Lean On”. Second, the musical numbers are actually staged with some thought (director George Sidney wasn’t exactly in the pantheon, but he knew what he was doing, and was given the time and budget to do it). Third, Ann-Margret. I don’t think of myself as her biggest fan, but she brings a lot to the table in Viva Las Vegas, and is the primary reason this one is better than the other Elvis movies. She works really hard … really hard … and while it can be a bit much in another context, it’s likely the only way to compete with Elvis Presley. She exudes sex appeal … that’s pretty much her act, although she somehow seems more like a human than, say, Marilyn Monroe. The chemistry between the two stars is electric, meaning that Elvis’ performance has a jolt he didn’t always offer in his films. Ann-Margret gets a couple of songs herself, does a duet with the King, and, when the two enter a talent contest, she ties Elvis for the top prize. You never get the feeling you’re watching ELVIS PRESLEY and some lady … Ann-Margret matches Elvis, and it’s quite something to see. So yes, the plot isn’t much, and the acting isn’t great, and the dialogue doesn’t always work. Viva Las Vegas still gets 8/10.