return to the park
the return of arsenio hall

what i watched last week

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012).  Impressive, and Haneke knows it. Amour is an unrelenting look at old age, and he cuts straight to the point: not long after the movie begins, Anne (Emmaneulle Riva) has what seems to be a stroke, after which we get two hours of her fading gradually until she is barely there. The title comes from the fact that Haneke thinks he’s telling a love story, between Anne and her husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who cares for her as she dies. Indeed, Riva and Trintignant have a great rapport, and it is not hard to believe they have been together for a very long time. There is heartbreak, and even horror, because we all know this fate awaits us, too, whether as the sick one, the caretaker, or (eventually) both. Haneke doesn’t turn away from the realities that are so often passed over in more congenial films about old codgers. As I say, it’s all quite impressive. Yet I think the title is a misnomer, for Haneke’s control of the material is so severe that we feel distanced, even when seeing the most personal aspects of the characters’ lives. Riva and Trintignant are magnificent, and Amour really is unforgettable. Yet somehow it feels bloodless. #77 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century, and winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. 8/10.

Attack of the Crab Monsters (Roger Corman, 1957). My wife is in Nebraska, and I’m sitting at home wondering how to pass the time. So I dredged up this classic from the Creature Feature days of my childhood. Nothing in the movie makes sense, although you can probably guess that from the title. Giant crabs eat humans and absorb their brains, after which they retain the memories and can speak in the humans’ voices, telepathically. Virtually every scene has something completely unbelievable, even without considering the premise. You can’t compare it to, say, Amour … if that film was 8/10, Attack of the Crab Monsters must surely be 1/10. But compared to various other cheapo 1950s monster movies, Attack of the Crab Monsters ranks reasonably well. Every scene has action, an order Corman gave to screenwriter Charles B. Griffith. So the picture moves quickly, and it’s over in 62 minutes, so you don’t really have time while you are watching to consider how dumb it all is. On the other hand, the need to make something happen in every scene is one reason the movie is such a mess: there is no time for logic when each conversation must be quickly interrupted by a rampaging crab monster. Inspirational quote: asked why the brains inside the crabs have turned against their former friends and colleagues, Richard Garland explains, “Preservation of the species. Once they were men. Now they are land crabs.” 5/10.

Battle in Outer Space (Ishirô Honda, 1959). Honda had a fascinating career. In America, he’s best known for movies like the original Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and Attack of the Mushroom People. (Pacific Rim included a dedication to him.) But he started as an assistant to Akira Kurosawa, and five years after his final movie, Terror of Mechagodzilla, Honda went back to work with his old mentor on Kagemusha, Ran, and Dreams. Battle in Outer Space, like Attack of the Crab Monsters, was a fixture on the Creature Features of my youth. It holds up a bit better … there are some lovely visuals, and the space battles have a cheesy goodness. (Luckily, the humans’ ray beams are squiggly, while the aliens are straight, so you can always tell who is shooting.) I’d rather watch it than watch Armageddon. 6/10.


Charlie Bertsch

I know quite a few people find Haneke's work bloodless, a characterization I understand for some of his films, but Amour didnt' feel that way to me at all. Maybe because I have spent the past two-and-a-half years caring for my increasingly disabled parents, with my mother being worse off, it resonated for me on a deep emotional level. Because the horror of the situation isn't just the approach of death, but the difficulty of communicating effectively. Dealing with that every day with my mom has me very attuned to the complicated feelings that result for the caregiver.

Steven Rubio

I wonder if that emotional resonance came more from your own experiences than from the movie. Reading you over the last couple of years, I've felt a deeper connection to the complications of caregiving than I felt from the movie, which seemed too much like a science project. But I don't want to go too far with this ... I liked the movie quite a bit, maybe not as much as I liked White Ribbon, but it's funny, I don't have a clear picture in my mind of that movie, while I suspect Amour will stick with me forever.

Charlie Bertsch

To be honest, Amour felt like an essay on all the things I experience on a pretty much near-daily basis. I'm not sure it was affirming, exactly, but it sure felt real. The acting helped of course, but there were also little details in the film -- Haneke's doing, at least to a degree -- that powerfully enhanced what the actors were giving. Like the bird, for instance. White Ribbon is pretty great. Time of the Wolf and have also stuck with me.

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