Monday, November 30, 2009


Horror has been doing its part to save the planet by recycling. There has been a surplus of zombie, torture, and vampire films as of late and it’s starting to all look and feel the same. It was only a matter of time before Park Chan Wook delved into horror, his films have the right type of energy and violence. I liked his three vengeance films, especially SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE, and was looking forward to his take on highly sexualized blood suckers. The protagonist is a priest who receives a blood transfusion and becomes a vampire. The transfusion was needed because the priest decided to use his body as a sacrifice for science in order to save lives. He’s a good guy, but an insatiable lust for blood complicates things. On top of being repressed in the sack (he IS a priest), he now needs to find “moral” ways to drink from the living without harming anyone.

Wook has a good sense of humor, especially when depicting extreme violence. He is also very condescending at times, his villains are often caricatures worthy of the gory fate that lies ahead. My problem with this film isn’t in this condescension, it exists in the DOUBLE INDEMNITY subplot. The priest and his lover have a genuine problem worthy of an hour and a half of celluloid, there was no need to drag in the drowned corpse or the speechless mother. While I can respect Wook’s love for the absurd, the dead husband’s reappearance only annoyed me. I didn’t believe that the priest, who up until that moment had been relatively successful in sparing human life, would “sink” to such depths. Lot's of pun intended. I'm not saying that this man of the faith shouldn't have compromised his morality, but why did he do it to this particular person? Wook has an intriguing idea here, a vampire priest, but does very little with it.

The film starts to rebound in its final ten minutes. It seems that every good vampire has to die watching a beautiful sunrise. Before this finale there had only been one moment that stuck out for me, the romantic leaping from building to building scene has Spiderman beat in every department. The closing minutes are no less enchanting and surprisingly funny. This is the real charm of the vampiress, she takes doom like a champ. I like this actress a lot. She is cute when she’s trying to find shelter from the sun. Too little too late. This is a big disappointment and frankly a huge waste of time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

limits of control

It should come as no surprise that Jim Jarmusch’s LIMITS OF CONTROL is released by a production company called Point Blank. Why? Well the obvious answer is that the film is about a really cool lone man who doesn’t rule out the possibility of killing another human being. I would also offer out the following; Jarmusch looks like Lee Marvin and he sounds like him too. I’m baffled by the critical backlash surrounding this film. I think that those who hate Jarmusch are justified in holding their ground, but I’m not so sure about the rest.

We often talk about a code amongst criminals, a line drawn in the sand that exists outside of our own guidelines but nonetheless serves a higher purpose. Isaach De Bankole epitomizes this discipline, laying beside a naked beautiful woman without engaging in sex. He is cool in every sense of the word. Notice how I don’t use the word hip, there is a difference. Hip is here today, gone tomorrow. Cool is forever. Bankole, like his final nemesis (Bill Murray) is an actor whose greatest weapon lies in his face. Both actors use expression to convey those emotions that others can only evoke through words, therefore leaving them at the mercy of the writer. Like BROKEN FLOWERS, this solo flyer doesn’t much like talking.

It seems a cruel fate that he encounters a slew of chit chatters before reaching his final objective. He lets them know when they’ve said too much by throwing a matchbox on the table, this means shut up. He looks at paintings, the camera fades and he dissolves into these pictures, appearing on the other side. Christopher Doyle is doing his best work since IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE here. He goes to a flamenco bar and watches a performance rehearsal. This is my favorite scene, I smiled along with him. Outside of killing, he is a lover of the arts. When he finally reaches Murray he is killing a man who mocks and belittles art, you sense that he is angered by the American‘s insolence. This is a call to action, both political and existential. Like Boorman, Jarmusch experiments with the genre and the medium and this film paid off, regardless of what the majority of critics have claimed. The soundtrack is great too, Boris and Sunn 0)) especially. I’m a fan.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

another serious man

I just wrote a ton of stuff on A SERIOUS MAN on this new computer but it all disappeared. The computer and I haven’t gotten off to a good start. Long story short:

-Great Review John
-Larry isn’t whiny
-He is most certainly passive (his wife, his wife’s lover, his asshole neighbor)
-The Job comparisons come to mind whenever a character is plagued with shit luck.
-Isn’t it funny how Larry’s slip up comes only when the storm has passed?
-Isn’t it also funny how a much bigger and more literal storm suddenly appears once this happens?
-The dream sequence with the sex and the neighbor was the one I was referring to. No need to remind us that Larry wants to consummate with this woman.
-Great film.

-STALKER is a great film. Best breaking of the fourth wall I’ve seen in ages.
- WISE BLOOD is a good film with a horrible score.

I’ve got a lot of writing to do, a lot of reviews were lost with the last computer.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

cruel intentions: a serious man

I’ve been happy to see veteran directors go under fire from critics who want to play the role of naysayer not because I want to see these directors attacked but because they stood their ground and put forth some of their strongest work. Tarantino was accused of being too violent, desensitizing us all. He made INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, easily his most violent feature and his best and made a real statement about violence in film. Jim Jarmusch was accused of “hipster posturing” and then released LIMITS OF CONTROL, his hippest feature, scratch that, his coolest feature. Now we have the Coen brothers, accused of being mean spirited and having ill intentions in regards to their characters. 2009 has brought us A SERIOUS MAN, their cruelest film and one that won't leave my thoughts. Staying the course has proven lucrative for these masters, yet the naysayer remains.

I was always disturbed by the book of Job, not because of Job’s bad luck but rather God’s gambling. I never understood why God would give the devil the time of day more or less make a bet about one of His best servants. The Old Testament is a tough read and one that requires faith, I'm still trying to understand that book. I’m not sure that my brain has even begun to understand this film so a synopsis may be impossible. It’s all good, you don’t want to know anything about this film before seeing it. But it’s inevitable, I have to talk about Job when talking about Larry Gobnik because they both are plagued with horrible "luck." I would have to point out that Job handles it all like a rock while Larry is “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” I’m not referring to his faith but his personality, he’s not firm in his shoes making his problems that much worse. He doesn’t stand up to anyone, especially Hashem, and when the fan starts turning brown he is defenseless and whiny.

I’m still trying to understand the opener, John I hope you are able to read it and interpret it for me. It appears to be a Yiddish folklore, perhaps about an angry God seeking revenge. Surely this a lazy interpretation, but I’m at a loss here. The film is funny, but I’m positive that I shouldn’t’ be laughing. When people claim that the two directors are pair of smart ass cynics, it’s hard to disagree, especially when a film like this and last year’s BURN AFTER READING bursts into theaters. I think that many will dislike Larry and pretty much every other character in this film, much like their last batch of “characters” and I’m trying to understand why the Coen’s have it out for them. I guess I should also wonder why Chuck Jones had it out for Wile E. Coyote, or Chekhov for Pavel Sergeyevich? Sometimes it makes for good entertainment, and sometimes we learn from the pain of others.

In Larry’s case, or the Coen’s, it’s his passive nature that keeps him down. He’s nice, honest, and hardworking. He looks out for his screw up brother, even let’s his bitchy wife have an affair without raising his voice, and is kind to her domineering lover. This is Larry’s problem, he doesn’t think that he deserves anything better and after a while you may find yourself in agreement. When it rains, it pours in Coen country.

Larry seeks the counsel of three rabbis, two of them are useless while the “wise” one is well… busy. His faith in orthodox is another one of his crutches. Why does he wait on these schmucks' every word? The film is supposedly based partially on the brother's upbringing, I can relate to the anger directed at organized theology. My family had some harsh encounters with heartless pious folk, I've been forever scarred by these memories. The bar mitzvah sequence perfectly captures the scary mass confusion of religious ritual to a youngster (although this kid is disoriented by a decidedly non-religious substance). This is a good time to give Roger Deakins yet another heartfelt shout out.

The film has a few too many nightmare sequences, though I hope with multiple viewings I learn more from them. The ending is still haunting me, I have to remind myself that this is just a movie. I won’t give anything away except to say that it reminded me of another 2009 film and I want to see if you can guess which one after you see A SERIOUS MAN. I want to point out that Jefferson Airplane is a fascinating band and that Grace Slick had one of the more powerful voices in 60s rock and roll. Jack Cassidy was a hell of bass player. They play a large part in this film. Go see and we’ll get the discussion rolling.

Friday, November 20, 2009

i'll be back sunday

I'll write about Limits of Control upon my return home on Sunday evening, maybe Monday afternoon. It's going to be a tough film to write about. It would have been easier if I hated it, but I didn't in fact I felt quite the opposite. I'll write about that film THIRST, RAGING BULL, and CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, or as Jack puts it CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF HAMBURGERS.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

movies we disagree on: apocalypto

In light of recent posts I thought I would start writing more about films that you and I agree to disagree about. If anything it will give you a chance to throw some jabs while I learn to detect sarcasm and stop being a puss.

I remember thinking that I had you in the bag, I had found a film that we would finally agree on. You seemed sympathetic to Mel Gibson, you weren’t quick to dismiss his Jesus biopic and if I recall you and I share a love for the first two LETHAL WEAPON films as well as THE ROAD WARRIOR. I don’t know what it was about this film, but you came back unhappy. We didn’t really get to discuss the whys so I was left baffled by your disappointment. I thought it was the perfect comeback for Mel the director. After making profoundly idiotic statements within earshot of the press, any normal celebrity would surround themselves with famous buddies and make a film about cancer or a light romantic comedy. Not Mad Max. He made another gory film about revenge, family, and FREEEEDOMMM!!! This time however the story is about a group of hunters and gatherers who cherish their privacy and work peacefully together as a unit. Their autonomy and love for THEIR forest is vanquished by their polar opposite, a sinful society full of rapists and sadists.

Gibson’s fascination with the glory of violence is troubling to some. It was William Wallace first, decapitating Irish and Englishmen to ensure his people safety and liberty. Then it was the Son of God, suffering and being tortured for the sins of mankind. Here I think he has found his most satisfying harbinger of pain in Jaguar Paw. Of course neither Jesus nor Wallace had facial tattoos and gigantic wooden spacers but that’s neither here nor there. Neither of those guys kill the final remaining bad guy with a tapir trap or shoot poisonous frog darts into the necks of their oppressors either. You have to hand it to the guy, he is a bottomless pit of gory creative deaths. But those other films, as fascinating as they both are, came with a certain baggage that this film miraculously escaped. What was Mel trying to tell us here? Were the oppressive bad guys a surrogate for America itself? Was he arguing that we've lost our love for independence and simplicity and through technology true contact with one another? I'm not sure, but I like where he's going with this.

When I first saw the film I was reminded of Cornell Wilde’s THE NAKED PREY. That film like this one was essentially one big chase, a race to safety, survival of the fittest. Gibson isn’t quite the director he should be, he can’t resist those chest banging dialogue sequences where the main character yells out something BIG and IMPORTANT. He also is stuck in the slow mo rut, but he keeps the camera impressively still during scenes of action. I grew up on Wilde’s film because my father would rent it frequently from Blockbuster video. There is something pure about a chase movie, especially ones that take us through jungles and terrains that we only see in nature docs. I thought that Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN did a fine job with similar material. I’m curious to hear your opposing thoughts (you big jerk), I’m aware that the films isn’t perfect but it worked for me.

I’m hoping to get MY ESSENTIAL back up and running. Next up will be SOME CAME RUNNING. I thought this would be fun. I will write reviews for CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, THE LIMITS OF CONTROL, and THIRST soon and bring in some good movies for you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

i can go! i can go!

if you get this in time I can go to the double feature tonight. The moving is tomorrow and Wednesday. Give me a call:
if it doesn't work out it's ok. I have Vertigo. But i'm down to go if you are.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

the hurt locker

Last night was strange for me. I got home from a playing two shows in two nights and got home sick as a dog with an angry wife awaiting. I used to be able to play shows (stay up late, down the hatch) but I seem to have aged since my glory days. I was in a lousy mood and then read a friendly post that seemed unfriendly, wrote a response, deleted it (apparently not in time), and wrote a review of the amazing STILL WALKING while coughing my lungs out. Again, sorry John.

One good thing that happened to me last evening was going to see THE HURT LOCKER at the Cinema Saver. I entered the theater and it was just finishing so I waited outside for a little while. I went back into the theater and it was pitch black. I sat down in the dark for about ten minutes which probably looked really creepy. The film started and my surmounting troubles seemed to be put on hold as I watched a bare bones action film from a director that I’ve grown to love over the years. The film isn’t perfect, in fact it contains a good deal of “I wouldn’t have done it that way” moments but the picture felt like a breath of fresh air. I have been reading the unanimous praise for this film and I fear that viewers will unfairly judge it based on the middlebrow championing and early awards talk. When a film gets over hyped, it becomes a target for latecomers like myself.

The film opens with three soldiers assessing a potential IED. Right off the bat you know you are in the hands of an action connoisseur. As predictable as the unraveling is, I still found myself wondering when or how. From that spectacular scene the film has no arch to work towards and I think this is appropriate. There is no central conspiracy, no kingpin Iraqi bad guy, and no underlying victory. It sounds a little like the war itself. Our protagonists are engaged in a battle that doesn’t seem to have an ending, with each dismantled bomb comes a more complex one made by a more angry and determined citizen.

Jeremy Renner is a good leading man, he deserves all the buzz he gets, his character actually enjoys his dangerous job. He is described as an adrenaline junkie, and the occupation fills his addiction. The film opens with a quote that states that “war is a drug” and the keeps in step with that idea. He is reckless, which seems cool at first but later has more serious ramifications. He is rightfully called out by a peer and he seems to understand the charge. The final conflict is a brilliant quandary for a war junkie, a man has a bomb strapped to him and wants it taken off before it explodes. You aren’t really sure if he is put the thing on or if it was forced on him, all we know is that he wants to go home and see his wife and kids. I won’t spoil the scene. As our protagonist returns home to see his wife and son, the real tragedy emerges amongst the millions of others staining the desert sand. He is a junkie and needs his fix. The casualties of war are many. The ending will seem troublesome to viewers like myself, I won’t spoil anything but I’m really interested in your take John.

Once again, I’m really sorry John that I misread your post (or your tone). I love your jabs and can’t wait for you to destroy me again. I love Benjamin Button, I’m not surprised that you don’t. I’m not sure how to defend the film except to say that I found it extremely disturbing. It may seem cliché or a cop out but I would consider the whole thing diabolically subversive. I know you like Fincher and perhaps he’s above this material, but I think that this wasn’t a misfire but rather a challenge. This is the type of material that Ron Howard and Nora Ephron are better suited for, I’ve always wondered what would happen if someone like Fincher took the reigns of a cheesy biopic. I’m excited to see him return to his cop and robber roots with his next film TORSO. I hear that the Art Mission is getting A SERIOUS MAN within the month. We should go see it together.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

still walking

John, you said that STILL WALKING is “all about life on the ground” and I found those words very striking. The film is grounded in the little quiet things, the sort of antithesis to many of Hollywood’s family films. By family films I don’t mean easy on content rather films about family. After REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and RACHEL GETTING MARRIED I realized that many American filmmakers cannot help themselves from taking familial turmoil far too deep into bad melodrama. SUMMER HOURS and now this film have beaten Hollywood at their own game. We love to see families interact, even if these interactions result in cold exchanges and find perhaps a mirror of ourselves within the characters. I know that I could relate to the son’s mixture of anger and helplessness, wanting to make your father happy and being angry when he stubbornly chooses not to oblige. Don’t get me wrong, my father is nothing like the one in this film, but I’ve certainly been to family functions when I felt the scornful stare from across the table. I wanted to call my parents after the film finished and tell them I loved them.

There is something deeply unsettling about this film. Lines of dialogue left me unsure of the mother, the sister seemed abnormally calloused, the son unwisely provokes his father in potential moments of catharsis. In many ways, the father and the son’s wife are the most reasonable. Despite the father’s immoral decision to reject his son, one gets the impression that he wants the feud to end. It goes to show that the scars run deep when you let the sun go down on your anger. The pride of not reconciling or apologizing can make you hate even your own. I was glad that Hirokazu Koreeda allowed us a moment of positive reflection, the image of a new family taking that long walk to the cemetery. It contains one of the few moments in which the camera leaves the ground via crane, a moment of true elevation. Koreeda has been favorably compared to Ozu and I have to confess to not having seen a single film by that director. If these comparisons bear any truth then I’m missing out.

I was impressed by the lack of content in this film and SUMMER HOURS (weed aside) wondering why I haven’t seen adult orientated films that could potentially be rated G. I’m not sure if this is a valid inquiry but I was waiting for someone to say “fuck” or show us their boobs and was happy when neither happened. I was also a fan of the score, it made me think of Eastwood’s score for UNFORGIVEN. I loved the interaction between father and stepson. The scene where the boy appears to be praying is one of the year’s crowning achievements. I have seen a couple of films by Koreeda now and can put him and Assayas on my list of directors who I will keep a close eye on. This is one of the best pictures of 2009.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

2002 the much less laborious year in film

I would have never though of 2002 being as good of a year in film as it was. It was a pleasure to watch these films for a second, third, and fourth time. There were a few disappointments (City of God, Adaptation) but mostly the exact opposite. I couldn’t believe how much I and other’s had underrated films like CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD, and SOLARIS. Maybe there will be a revival for these pictures someday, led on by the next generation of critics (hopefully many of which still exist in the world of print). I can’t remember much of 2002 except going to college, touring during break, and working at the Boys and Girls Club-- still the best job I have ever had. I DO remember having a website with my friend Mindy that had us both writing reviews on films we had seen in late 2002 early 2003. He named the website “Two Thumbs Up Your Ass.” I didn’t come up with the name. We had a lot of differing opinions but always kept it under control. It was the only writing I had done that I actually enjoyed, and here we are today. Let’s talk about the best films of 2002.

I don’t know that I would call Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN a sex comedy but that seems to be the word on the street. It’s funny, it has a lot of sex and sex talk but it doesn’t look or feel like most of the films in that raunchy genre. You have two young men obsessed with pot, women, and well I guess that’s it. They meet a beautiful woman and travel to a nonexistent beach, having sex, smoking weed, and getting a lesson in social inequality along the way. These privileged brats have never drifted too far from Mexico City and thus haven’t considered the past, present, or future of agrarian Mexico spending most of their time talking about how they are going to degrade the next beautiful woman they meet. It’s funny how Alfonso Cuaron takes a celebrated American movie caricature and cuts them down to size.

I’m sure you have heard, there is some real graphic sexuality in this picture. The films title is a derision basically stating “I banged your mother too.” But Cuaron consistently brings the sexual avalanche to a halt, forcing us to reassess the situation. He introduces us to regular, decidedly more respectable, humans that only make the glaring difference in disposition more devastating for our three protagonists. I’m not going to name any names, but I think that comedy tycoons should take a look at this film and start taking cues.

Another great comedy from 2002 is decidedly less discussed and revered. WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD is the type of old school comedy of errors that only the Coen brothers have the balls to make. It’s about a failed heist and the goofballs who don’t pull it off. The cast is brilliant (Sam Rockwell, Isaiah Washington, William Macy, George Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Luis Guzman, Gabrielle Union, Michael Jeter) each actor pulling their weight in a comedy that is decidedly anti-the realities of jail and consequence. “Jail’s easy you puss,” taunts Luis Guzman’s Cosimo, the son of a whore. I measure a comedy mostly by the amount of time I spend laughing, then how much I care about the characters making me laugh. In both measures this film succeeds.

As I was watching Steven Spielberg’s CATCH ME IF YOU CAN I secretly hoped to someday see Bordwell post freeze frame images of Janusz Kaminski’s exquisite cinematography with Mr. Bordwell‘s thoughtful frame by frame analysis. John, you and I have talked about how much credit is owed o the set designers, cinematographers, actors, writers, etc and I think that this film is a good example of collaborators uniting behind the vision of what some of refer to as an auteur. Spielberg is interested in the effects of a broken family, usually the cause of divorce. In this story, full of fictional liberties, a con artist becomes a doctor, lawyer, pilot, and substitute teacher while cashing millions of dollars in phony checks.

The boy, played with energy and poise by Leonardo DiCaprio (one of the year‘s best performances), begins his con game in vengeance in the hallways of his new school. As his parent’s split, largely because of the almighty dollar, he seeks to redress his idol/father (Christopher Walken). What starts as a hobby turns into a chase when a new father figure imerges in the form of an FBI agent (Tom Hanks). The film shifts in time from the early days of Frank’s game to the last, the contrasts in psychology range from oblivious to contemplative. The film has several yuletide scenes, one where DiCaprio does a wonderful batty Jimmy Stewart impression, each reflecting the cat and mouse’s loneliness which sets up the film’s “strange but true” final twenty minutes. I’m surprised to find myself buying every minute of it.

John Williams’ score made me feel like I was sitting in a bar lit with Christmas lights, I’m dressed in a white collared shirt with a black tie and I’m on my third sidecar. It sounds like Henry Mancini and Bernard Hermann‘s love child (playful and menacing), while throwing in appropriate rock and pop standards very sparingly (The Kinks, Old Blue Eyes, Nat King Cole). Spielberg’s jumping narrative is familiar(this IS the guy who brought us Indiana Jones) and so is the chase’s toe curling tension, here we do not have a director attempting to reinvent himself. This is probably why a lot of people consider this work to be minor, similar to the way people seem to view CHARADE, A WOMAN IS A WOMAN, or HATARI “minor.” I would actually rank this very high on my list of favorite films by a director who shows very few signs of slowing down. It’s pure American movie magic.

Man loses wife (suicide). Man is struggling to accept this reality. Man is hired by government to bring crazy crew back from mysterious planet. Man flies to planet. Planet knows he’s arrived. Planet knows it is being studied. Planet appears to fight back. Not with a crazy religious serial killer, a portal to hell, or aliens covered with grotesque phallic symbols. It fights back by recreating someone from man’s memory, someone dead. Man provides the formula, planet delivers the puppet. A puppet’s dream is to be a human, a real human. Steven Soderbourgh’s SOLARIS, like many of the film’s on this list is a rare Hollywood funded gem, a film that many of us would not think possible.

The casting helped. No doubt Twentieth Century Fox gave the green light based on actor George Clooney’s (amazing) involvement with the project. James Cameron would serve as producer, another plus. It’s funny that Cameron wound up producing this film, his TERMINATOR was one of the few modern Hollywood films that impressed the elusive Andre Tarkovsky, the director of the original film adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel. Soderbourgh, very much aware of the Russian auteur’s reverential fan base (myself included) was careful to distinguish the two films without blaspheming. The one noticeable difference is in the lighting, Tarkovsky’s film is bright and sylvan, this version is dark blue, purple, green, and extremely municipal. George Clooney plays a shrink in need of a shrink. On earth he reduced his patients and wife to mathematical probabilities (you were bound to happen). On Solaris he comes into contact with a being beyond his understanding, a “divine” oceanlike mass that cannot be understood by our concept of reality. This film is handled with a rare finesse from the breathtaking set design to the airy soundtrack. With MOON coming out this year I have to hope that Science Fiction has a bright future ahead.

Just as SOLARIS wrestled with the quandary of existence, Pedro Almodovar’s vibrant TALK TO HER ponders the idea of audition. The two male leads differ at first in their opinions on whether or not coma victims can hear us, by the end Almodovar is happy to oblige us with an answer. In the eighties this Spanish director made two incredible screwball comedies (Tie Me Up Tie Me Down, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), nowadays he’s in more interested in sweeping melodrama with intricate plots and very very very strong colors. He’s unabashedly in love with Cukor, Sirk, Fassbinder, Hitchcock, and Bunuel. One muse that he can’t escape is his love for women.

Also similar to SOLARIS, TALK TO HER is about rebirth. Two men, in love with women in deep comas. One of the men insists on communication, treating the relationship as if both are indeed sharing the same wave of consciousness. A troublesome act awakens one of the main character’s from a seemingly endless rest, she is saved. I don’t think I truly understand melodrama, having seen three or four Sirk films certainly doesn’t qualify me in any way as a trustworthy source, but I would consider Almodovar a worthy curator of the genre. Don’t take my word for it, the best evidence I can conjure up is Dario Grandinetti’s wardrobe.

Speaking of wardrobes, what do you think of Adam Sandler’s Duke Blue suit in PUNCH DRUNK LOVE? Early on we see him alone in a factory space with a white-blue-white paint job on the wall, nearly camouflaging the main character, a fella who often blends in with his surroundings. He has seven sisters. They call him “gay boy,” and bombard him every time they meet up. He loves them, but he’s afraid of them. He freaks out at the mere mention of childhood trauma, breaking things (windows, bathrooms, bad guys faces) and then crying. Otherwise, he’s a sweet and quiet guy who just wants someone to talk to and he finds just that in Emily Watson, a beautiful woman with a secret shared aggression. “I want to scoop your eyes out and suck on them.” His response “I want to smash your face in, smash it in with a sledgehammer you’re just so pretty.” “I’m sorry I beat up the bathroom at the restaurant.”

Paul Thomas Anderson had already paid tribute to his friend and mentor Robert Altman in his previous MAGNOLIA (a tribute to Short Cuts among other works). There is a phone sex operator in this film that may remind you of Jenifer Jason Leigh’s character in Altman’s brilliant tribute to Raymond Carver’s short stories from both What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral. The soundtrack is incredible, an avante garde piece by the great John Brion with a track from Altman’s underrated POPEYE, “He needs Me.” This is a romantic comedy for a very specific stripe. Count me in.

I haven’t seen Hayao Miyazaki’s SPIRITED AWAY since 2003 when I watched it with my much younger cousins. They liked it, which is surprising considering the type of entertainment their generation has been raised on. I didn’t need to revisit it to know that it belongs on this list.

Martin Scorsese has always been as much a historian as a director. His passion for both cinema and the past is contagious when the two become one. GANGS OF NEW YORK is the most ambitious picture he has ever made, a scary look back at NYC during its developmental stages. It’s flawed, ugly, beautiful, overlong, detailed, well acted, experimental, and exhilarating. Like many of the great director’s films it doesn’t know when to quit, the director feverishly throwing images and events at the screen in hopes to teach us something new about history or cinema. Like Howard Zinn’s A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, the facts aren’t very flattering. This isn’t the watered down patriotic bile that post 911 America wanted to see, where we stand united against a “clear” and present danger. The film’s disturbing finale leaves the viewer with an admittedly bad taste in their mouth, New York on fire. Scorsese loves his hometown enough to call it out. We’ve seen him do it time and time again and here it rings true.

It’s almost comical how much Daniel Day Lewis pours into any given performance. Nothing could have prepared audiences for this transformation. It came before Daniel Plainview, the similarities are inescapable, and was the first time that we were able to see this actor mess around with vocal alteration. The rest of the cast is just trying to keep up, and they do it well. The dvd came with a really interesting History Channel special about the historical accuracy/inaccuracy of the film. I recommend you check it out, it’s fascinating. It was nice to see two of the “movie brats” have a good year, though I tend to think that Spielberg came out on top in 2002.

Spielberg’s best film in 2002, in my opinion, was CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. This shouldn’t slight his adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s MINORITY REPORT in the slightest. Though it wavers, you get a sense that the director is making a statement about the misuse of technology in every image. His ships and various structures are unable to elude dirt and grime despite their technological advancement, mirroring the society’s inability to see their past their spotless crime rate and get to the root of the problem. We are unable to escape human error, it’s part of life after Eden and we have to find a way to fight it even as we accept it. Stanislaw Lem found a worthy peer in Dick, who didn’t return the sentiment, and likewise science fiction auteurs have found Spielberg a true voice in the genre. The picture ends in a peculiar way, though it would be predictable given the director’s history of polished endings. He likes to ignore the shunned details for his own sake and here it’s a shame. But I think that between this and his previous A.I. he has proven that he is not finished with science fiction and I’m eager to see where he takes it next.

After watching Spike Lee’s 25th HOUR I dreamt of escaping the law, driving with my brother deep into the Midwest, careful not use my debit card and looking for used water bottles to store bathroom faucet water in. We had a moment when we had to say goodbye and I was almost in tears as I woke up. Whether or not Lee was unfairly sympathetic to Montgomery (Edward Norton) is up in the air. He certainly doesn’t portray the DEA with anything resembling humanity, but the rest of the film is not interested in casting judgment. There is an impending cloud of doom hanging over every frame of this film, a cloud full of rusty nails. Monty has 24 hours of freedom, he knows, we know it, and his closest friends and family know it. Jail is never shown, only described and the nightmare that we hear of is all sadly true.

The film is unabashedly heavy, punctuated by two monologues. The first is a “fuck you” poem to the citizens of NYC (the Upper East Side housewives, the wall street brokers, priests, Osama Bin Laden, himself). There was a similar enumeration in DO THE RIGHT THING. Later in the film we see the same folks he lambasted, all smiling and seen in a decidedly different juxtaposition with bleached out backgrounds. This leads to the films triumphant finale, a fantasy sequence narrated by Monty‘s father (Brian Cox). It describes in detail what could happen if Monty eludes the law and hides in some random desert town, where people go to hide. The potential redemption is torturous, the “life that almost never happened” indeed will never happen. The gravity of this destroys me. Terrance Blanchard’s suffocating score doesn’t help the matter.

I am only skimming the surface here, pointing out the big scenes. There is so much to this film; the opener and closer in which dog gets beaten and then owner recieves a similar beating, the girl, the friends, the father/son dynamic, the teacher student dynamic, Barry Pepper’s incredible performance, “champagne for me real friends,” Russian gangsters, the twin towers, etc-- that I feel I’m not doing it justice. It certainly did not work for everyone, the same things I consider strengths other’s (John) considered glaring weaknesses. I understand this. Lee juggles too much (especially the awkward and annoying subplot involving Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Anna Paquin). But as Monty drives towards prison, and the possibility of a better life lies ahead and we hope for this, does this mean that we don’t think he deserves to be incarcerated? This is the true triumph of Spike Lee’s best films (Do the Right Thing, Crooklyn, Jungle Fever), they force us to think about and feel things we are never asked to consider by breaking down barriers that we the viewer are rarely able to break down leaving something decidedly human and therefore unifying. It’s my favorite film of 2002.

Hollywood was on top of its game this year giving us some honorable mentions in SIGNS (great build up to a really bad ending), BROWN SUGAR, THE TWO TOWERS (the weakest installment in an otherwise great trilogy), THE BOURNE IDENTITY, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, INSOMNIA, FEMME FATALE, and PANIC ROOM (proof that A-list directors shouldn’t feel so pressured into making “A-list” films). I liked CITY OF GOD though I understand and partially agree with the charges brought before it. I thought BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF came pretty close to having its cake and eating it too. THE PIANIST was better than I thought it would be, but I’m not sure why I thought it wouldn’t be good in the first place. I didn’t’ get a chance to see THE PIANO TEACHER, RUSSIAN ARK, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE?, or DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. Perhaps I’ll talk about the rest of the films of 2002 at another time.

Watching these films didn’t turn out to be a chore, like 2003. Out of the 10 films I listed, only one (Spirited Away) was not viewed in the last three weeks. This felt good as my perspective was fresh and I feel that the films got a fair chance of vying for their spot. 2002 restored my faith in Hollywood’s potential, at least when a good director gets a hold of decent material. I could see most of the films on this list ending up completely differently in different hands. Thank God they didn’t.

The best films of 2002:

1. 25th Hour (Spike Lee)
2. Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg)
3. Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson)
4. Solaris (Steven Soderbourgh)
5. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg)
6. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki)
7. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese)
8. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar)
9. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron)
10. Welcome to Collinwood (Anthony and Joe Russo)

11. The Two Towers (Peter Jackson)

Honorable Mentions: Signs, The Bourne Identity, Insomnia, Panic Room, Femme Fatale, Brown Sugar.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

2003 year in film

In 2003 I spent half of my year living in Cortland with my brother. We had a comfortable two bedroom apartment “downtime” above a leather shop. I would walk to class everyday and from class walk to work at the local elementary school. I hated my classes, hated my peers, and spent all of my time with my three friends (brother included) drinking and trying deepen my knowledge of the arts. We would read books and then buy food and booze and discuss them. We would buy underground albums and listen to them while making chips with jalapeños peppers and nacho cheese. We would rent films by Scorsese, Kubrick, Peckinpah, Romero, and Kazan and watch them on Tuesday night, officially named “movie night.” After the films would end we would get out my camcorder and make our own movies, nearly every one silent and a lame attempt at noir. On the weekends we would drive back home to Binghamton to practice at my parents house and go to the movies. We would take the back roads just to appreciate the scenery, especially in November and December. The old art theater was still open (it burned down the following year) and Tara and I would often go to see the popular independent features. I have a special place in my heart for every film I saw there even if they haven‘t withstood the test of time.

John, you’ll have to start rolling your eyes now. I’m unabashed in my love for Peter Jackson’s epic, inevitably flawed, but finally triumphant adaptation of the greatest fantasy novels of all time. Though half of the film’s production involved storyboards and computer screens, there is a real urgency in the details. You are always going to suffer the pains of adaptation with big expensive epics like this, but Jackson’s output comes as close to meeting expectations as I could imagine. Bring on THE HOBBITT. Peter Weir’s MASTER AND COMMANDER is equally impressive; long and tedious but full of love for the sea. There are a few straggling performances and some questionable politics, but all in all it also withstands the pains of being an epic. The late Anthony Minghella’s COLD MOUNTAIN is far better than I expected it to be while still being pretty lousy. There is a lot of spunk to add to the grandeur and interesting side players help breath life into the humdrum main characters. Nice try anyway. THE LAST SAMURAI is laughable for most of its duration, I still think its Zwick’s best film. Then again, I don’t really like Zwick.

All four of those pictures were not short on action, which is fine by me considering that most of the action pictures of 2003 should have gone straight to DVD. Ang Lee’s THE HULK has gotten a lot of late in the game praise from critics, but there are much better films worth championing. BAD BOYS 2 offended lots of people while I just marveled at the slow motion scenes of people walking while buildings burnt in the background. THE MATRIX series ended on a shit note. TERMINATOR 3 looked like it was filmed as a Sci-fi channel pilot and THE ITALIAN JOB was pointless. On a brighter note, X2 is easily Singer’s best film (another filmmaker I can’t really get behind but doing a pretty good job here).

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN is a good film that suffers from protuberant excess. I think the opener is the best installment (I hated the third and could only tolerate the second). I’m not sure why this picture is so long, it could have ended like five times. I shouldn’t like ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, especially after that straight to DVD comment about BAD BOYS, but alas I’m guilty. Johnny Depp’s performance in particular makes it worth it, or those boner comments rather. I would argue also that the film was made with as little thought and second thought as possible, a truly organic effort that doesn’t pretend its going to win any praise beyond a few chuckles. I’m not sure I should be encouraging such apathy. KILL BILL is the best action film of the year by default, but admittedly the weakest and least focused of Tarantino’s efforts. Still, it’s a good practice for the director to hone his action skills. He proved here first that he was up for the challenge.

There were a million horror films made in 2003 and somehow I managed to see all of them. Let’s start with the bad. For some reason, perhaps a positive review from an unlikely source, I sought out WRONG TURN with high hopes only to discover a film so boring and disjointed that I barely made it to the inane finale. UNDERWORLD, like many post Matrix films, looks and feels more like video game than cinema. I’m not sure if this is a valid criticism, but I‘m sticking to it. DREAMCATCHER is almost admirably bad, the kind of picture Ed Wood would have made if he was still with us. I Dudits! Along those same lines I would like to point out that John Waters is not off his rocker in considering the FINAL DESTINATION films to be a gory hoot. The second installment is essentially a greatest deaths collection with a boring plot at the center. It shouldn’t be that hard to succeed when the bar is set this low. By far the worst film of 2003 had to be Rob Zombie’s deplorable HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. Beyond the rape, torture, and misogyny one had little to cling to when watching this travesty. It reminded me of a shitty film called MOTEL HELL, except that film had the decency to make fun of itself. Zombie, as I’ve said before, is far more talented than his track record has proven.

The year had some above average horror features most of them compiling a similar greatest deaths aesthetic to FINAL DESTINATION 2. Where I felt that film failed is exactly where FREDDY VS JASON and, get ready for it, Michael Bay’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE capitalized. Both were highly anticipated franchise reboots and in each case delivered most of the despicable goods with no delusions of grandeur. I’m probably giving them more credit than they deserve but I had a blast either way. Although the film unravels in its erroneous climax, Alexandra Aja’s HIGH TENSION is good enough to make us wonder “what could have been?.” IDENTITY is yet another variation on Agatha Christies Ten Little Indians (the best adaptation is still And Then There Were None). I remember loving it when I saw it in theaters, but I wouldn’t trust myself six years ago. OPEN WATER brought my worst fear to life, being stranded in the middle of the ocean without a boat. It’s an effective little gimmick. The three best horror films of 2003 were WILLARD, CABIN FEVER, and the mighty 28 DAYS LATER. CABIN FEVER’s roots are easily traced back to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, RABID and of course EVIL DEAD. There is a plausible human drama beneath the deteriorating skin and plenty of genuine comic moments to keep the film afloat. I hope director Eli Roth gets back on track someday. WILLARD rises or falls with the title character. Luckily it happens to be Crispin Glover and this film is one he was born to act in. 28 DAYS LATER is simply brilliant.

Comedy in 2003 begins and ends with Richard Linklater’s SCHOOL OF ROCK. When people complain about the omission of comedy from “serious” awards/top ten lists, I hope they are referring to this film in particular. Good job John for recognizing it. A MIGHTY WIND has trouble playing it straight. It gets sentimental--unsuccessfully-- and loses a hard fought battle. I admire it but can’t quite get on board. OLD SCHOOL has its moments, still I can’t help but feel like this is the type of inadvertent anthem that sparks a meathead revolution. The kind that involves roofy’s, frat boys, and Limp Bizkit. SHANGHAI KNIGHTS is underrated and reminded me of the lesser efforts of old comedic duos. Chan and Owen are good together and the material aspires only to play off their chemistry. My friend Steve has always been an unashamed champion of both films and I support his odd choice. I don’t remember anything in ANGER MANAGEMENT and would like to keep it that way.

I liked LOVE ACTUALLY when I first saw it but I think this may have something to do with me trying to be more optimistic. Bah Humbug. AMERICAN SPLENDOR seconds my bah humbug, and one ups it. BAD SANTA takes an easy potshot at good tidings and joy to the world. Billy Bob Thornton seems to welcome his pigeonhole but I think he‘s usually a waste of talent. The Coen’s released INTOLERABLE CRUELTY and they could have fooled me. It has its merits but such trouble comes with the territory of being a pair of great filmmakers.

Dramatic features were above par this year with the major exceptions of HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (awful), and the second worst film of 2003 THIRTEEN. All three pictures tried hard to challenge our perceptions of hot button issues, they failed. Lifetime movies have been known to carry more intellectual weight. THIRTEEN tried to do what KIDS thought it had done before, scaring us into caring about the future of our youth. Both films instead became voyeuristic tirades from hack directors, the only compliment I can offer THIRTEEN’s director is that she doesn’t appear to be a pedophile like Larry Clark.

OPEN RANGE is an underrated film with one hell of a shootout finale. RUNAWAY JURY is one of those “watch it for the hell of it” movies that you actually end up liking, kinda, sorta, maybe. 21 GRAMS doesn’t need its split fragment plot approach, it‘s a gimmick. The performances in this film deserve a better writer than Arriaga. The best mainstream dramas came from two weathered masters and a woman who had only one previous film in her resume. Sofia Coppola understands loneliness within the confines of one’s room and instead of moping around and complaining about it she told a beautiful story about two foreigners who become platonic lovers in Japan. It’s been mocked before, but you have to admire the ending in which everyone is discussing what Bill Murray’s character whispers into Scarlet Johansson’s ear. Tara and I were your cliché couple coming up with our own verdicts as we walked out of the old art theater in Binghamton. I’ve said my peace about its shortcomings, but I still eagerly await her next project. PS I also was disappointed by THE VIRGIN SUICIDES.

I know that many would disagree with me, but BIG FISH has held up over the years. Tim Burton has made a career out of tall tales, expressionistic artifices with misunderstood heroes. Finally with BIG FISH, he pulls back the curtain in order to pay tribute to his father. The story is at times annoying and certainly derivative of the endearing but somewhat shallow FOREST GUMP. I don’t know how to defend BIG FISH other than to say that it’s final moments had me in tears. MYSTIC RIVER has a lot of contrived plot twists convenient enough to pull off the unlikely finale. But the steady direction, the heart tugging score, and the amazing performances persist. I still remember the debates, heated ones, that followed the screening. We were flabbergasted, angered, and confused, for the first time in our young adult lives were faced with the real question of vigilantism. Eastwood is not afraid of losing the popular vote and for this I trust him more than almost any other director.

It was a good year to take the kids to the theater. I went with my family to FINDING NEMO and it felt like a dream come true. I was underwater with all of the colors and creatures and in the hands of a PIXAR rookie who would go on to direct one of my favorite “cartoons” of all time. PETER PAN was fun and a little creepy. WHALE RIDER is a solid film about the rites of passage, I recommend. HOLES feels at times like a Disney Channel Original Feature and has one too many slow motion sequences, but it’s really fun. I hate to be the naysayer on ELF because a lot of it is really funny and the Christmas theme is great. I felt like it misused Will Ferrell, trying to make him cute all the time and I grew weary of it within a half an hour. I know, I’m a jerk.

Independent features were solid with a few exceptions, MONSTER and PIECES OF APRIL. The first is a biopic with a swollen face and the second looked like it had been shot on a cell phone. Gus Van Sant had a good year with GERRY and ELEPHANT, the latter being the better feature. THE STATION AGENT is a nice surprise, a minimalist feature that got some well deserved praise. THE BROWN BUNNY felt like a student film made by a mad genius, much of it isn’t worth your time, including the blowjob scene in which Vincent Gallo’s horse dick is revealed to the indie masses, but overall it worked for me. OLDBOY is overrated. It also happens to be an excellent revenge fantasy. John, skip past the next sentence. IN AMERICA is an honest film about a traveling family with bad luck. It has bad musical selections (perhaps I mean cliché), but it has the decorum to stand by its convictions and deliver an unabashed sentimental third act without getting red in the face. Robert Altman snuck a film by us in 2003. THE COMPANY is an obvious proxy to THE RED SHOES, but less theatrical and multihued. I loved it. The best independent feature is RAISING VICTOR VARGAS, a film that John Cassavettes would be championing if he was still with us.

Last and probably least is the documentary features. I only remember three of them and they were all pretty great. THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL felt staged but it also made me think of Robert J. Flaherty and for that it gets my vote. THE CORPORATION is just about as good as it gets when it comes to political action in documentary features. It features the commentary of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn to name the most famous talking heads, but also has an in depth perspective on the unknown dangers of corporate takeover. My favorite doc of this year and pretty much any year is WINGED MIGRATION. Enough said.

Need to See: The Son, All the Real Girls, Spellbound, Fog of War, The Best of Youth, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, The Triplets of Belville, Dracula: The Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, In the Cut

The Top Ten Films of 2003:
1. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle)
2. Winged Migration (Jacques Perrin)
3. Raising Victor Vargas (Peter Sollett)
4. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Peter Jackson)
5. Mystic River (Clint Eastwood)
6. School of Rock (Richard Linklater)
7. Master and Commander (Peter Weir)
8. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton)
9. In America (Jim Sheridan)
10. Big Fish (Tim Burton)

11. The Company (Robert Altman)

Honorable Mentions: The Corporation, Cabin Fever, Elephant, Kill Bill, Willard, Dirty Pretty Things, Open Range.

Monday, November 2, 2009


John your “chore” post has been running through my brain on this boring monotonous Monday, a day that has dragged on and on and on. I’m sorry to hear that your Cornell experience, due to the poor film selection, is waning more and more these days. I come home from this job with little energy and motivation to leave the comforts of my apartment. I cherish the company of my wife and dog after being stuck in a stinky room with my patience being tested at every turn by both staff and participant. I wouldn’t have been able to understand how you do it if it wasn’t for this wonderful post. I have a lot of ground to cover.

I also miss our Core Room 5 Movie Club, though I am reminded monthly of why we stopped it altogether. I find that I have seasonal movie depression and that summer is the month in which it flairs up the most. If some poor soul were to chart my film watching I’m sure that they would find that I watch far less art house and foreign language films from May to August. The same thing happens with my musical creativity. Summer is typically a slow period for me, my mind slows down and I’m way more in tune with my surrounds. It’s almost as though I’m storing observations for those winter months that board us in our cozy homes. During the fall and winter my brain starts to work again and I’m in a far better position to view/read/hear/write with an inspired perception.

To be “forced to watch a movie that I didn’t pick to watch” is something that still happens despite our brief encounters. I check your blog up to five times a day, eager to read a new post or to hear a new recommendation or to be told to avoid a film like THREE MONKEYS. Truth be told, I don’t have a single other friend who enjoys film as much as you and it is the first time in which I’ve been encouraged to write and analyze film. My friends love film (especially Steve, Justin Mann, and Jess) but we take it a step further. I don’t feel comfortable going on public websites ie The Auteur’s Notebook or various other blogs and post my thoughts and feelings. I don't feel comfortable with laying myself out like that for complete strangers. You and my friend Steve are the only people who read this thing, and that’s two more people than I had before. I used to write about film every once and while and just leave them on the computer, lost in space, this blog actually finds an audience of two and that's about all I need. This IS Core Room 5 Movie Club, just in a different format.

I’ve still seen films that I don’t like, the ones that “force me to react and clarify my tastes and examine my prejudices.” I’ve seen GUMMO, a deeply immoral but artistically impressive film, because of your love for Korine and was even able to find a Haneke film that didn’t make me want to fly to Austria and kick him in the balls. I would have been reluctant to get into Tarkovsky, Bresson, and even Godard if it wasn’t for those five months of “forced” watching. What I’m trying to say is that the groundwork has been laid and now your wonderful CHASING PICTURES is continuing the tradition. I’ve grown to trust your tastes, even when I vehemently disagree with you, I am entertained and pleased with your thoughtful analysis. Your reviews, especially the ones in which your laud a film, serve as a fire lit under my ass, a reminder to be adventurous when watching film. Watching bad films or, according to Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of the films released every year only makes me want to borrow STALKER, PICKPOCKET, or WEEKEND and rack my brain a bit.

I disagree with you when you wrote about the “classics,” but only slightly. I would say that the percentage of films that earn the distinction is more like 75% to 25% where you would argue it’s a 50/50 split. Perhaps I’m swayed more by the public opinion or maybe I have a more lenient grading system. But we DO need to look beyond the titles that appear on the lists, we need to see films like SOME CAME RUNNING, CRIMSON GOLD, VAMPYR, SHORT CUTS, F IS FOR FAKE, and IVAN’S CHILDHOOD as much as we need to see MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, TASTE OF CHERRY, JOAN OF ARC, MCCABE AND MRS MILLER, CITIZEN KANE, and ANDREI RUBLEV. This is where the Auteur Theory, in either the Sarris or Truffaut version, becomes incredibly important. John, you and I seek out directors first and this is why we have greater success in finding great films and exposing them. Though filmmaking is indeed a collaborative medium, you find that great directors are consistent in calling upon the best talents available to turn their visions into a work of art.

You move on to talk about how the desire to “keep up” with the “chore” makes you feel guilt. I can completely relate to this very feeling. Although we are not getting paid to do this, we both have the drive and passion of most paid film critics. I don’t think your use of the word “vocation” is even slightly pretentious because in both of our cases the drive to watch and write about film is completely outside of our control. You and I can’t help ourselves from seeking these pictures out, watching them, and then writing for hours about the themes, direction, acting, and the overall feeling of them. To FIRST call us nerds is an understatement, but to SECOND say that “we care about movies more than most people” is an even bigger one. I used to feel guilty about this, that film had become my golden calf and that the medium itself was for “lazy” types who didn’t have it in them to pursue sports or priesthood. But I’ve given up on the idea of feeling guilty about one’s preference. I love art. I love literature, poetry, music and film. They make me feel alive, and there is no way I would come home from an eight hour shift and partake in artistic endeavors unless something greater could come out of it. I also love nature walks, beer, animals, Christmas, and Big League Chew(I'm warming up to sports too). None of these pay very well.

It’s a shame that we don’t belong to that lucky group of individuals who get paid to watch and write about movies. I think you could get a job in that field. These posts that you and I write may be lacking in perception and general knowledge of film, but they are done after a hard mental workout, when others would be napping, updating their Facebook profile, or watching TWO AND A HALF MEN. If you had more time you could easily catch up. In fact, I think that you are a better read than eighty percent of what’s out there. Sure, guys like Hoberman, Sarris, Rosenbaum, Bordwell, Kehr, and even Ebert could write circles around us but they have been in this business for thirty plus years. I think there are great young critics (young being under sixty) like Glenn Kenny, Ed Gonzales, Keith Uhlich, Jim Emerson, Manohla Dargis, and Michael Phillips who are a great read even when I’m shooting steam out my ears. While these critics have a real sense of cinema, you and I aren’t doing too bad ourselves.

You have a real gift of combing film for subtext. If you were writing for a weekly syndicate your readers would be taught not only to understand film from a cinematic perspective, but also from a spiritual, historical, and thematic point of view. A good critic is well rounded and observant of everything around them. They are not sheltered in their perspective. No idiot savants. I like how you said that Ebert and Bordwell “gently taught us to see better.” If you and I lack the knowledge of these critics, it’s because we spend most of our day at the service of others, not ourselves. I’m not sure if cinema is “the most powerful and important medium of our time” but it is a baby in the early stages of development which is to say its still capable of purity and innovation. I felt that good modern literature was completely dead until I read THE ROAD. Music is in a weird spot but we still have the privilege of hearing bands like Godspeed, Animal Collective, and Dead Prez. We also have innovative famous acts like Lil Wayne, The Flaming Lips, and Jay Z selling millions.

Your words on the “passive spectator” were particularly resonant. It exists beyond television, though the boob tube is the primary source. The radio encourages the same inert pleasure (though I have to admit to being more partial to this type of lazy bliss). As a musician I’m deeply hurt by the public opinion cringing every time I see my wife’s ipod selection. I couldn’t imagine how depressed a director like Jafar Panahi gets when TWIGHLIGHT reigns at the box office. Or how upset do Cormac McCarthy or Neil Gaiman get when they visit their local Barnes and Noble? Music, in my opinion, is still thriving because it has record labels like Sub Pop, Anti, and Matador. Likewise, cinema still has Sony Picture Classics, IFC Films, and KINO to keep us on our toes. But distribution is certainly the root of the problem.

I think that on top of the “comfort of the familiar” these comfort junkies thrive for constant stimulation. This DOES lead to lazy thinking which leads to all sorts of unpleasantries; a lack of communication, a lack of independent thought, a weekly addiction. Watching brainless television on a nightly level is like snorting cocaine, it lessens the effects of other forms of art. I’m not as concerned with people being smart as not being addicted to something so incapacitating. I’m also concerned with the idea of Paula Abdul, Sean Hannity, Katherine Heigl, and the assholes at MTV teaching us and our kin about politics, talent, sex, and artistic merit. I would much rather look to Zinn, Twain, Monk, or Renoir for guidance and instruction even if it I was too tired from a long day at work.

So I may not always get to the “chores,” doing the occasional line of brainless diversion from time to time, but I am excited to get to work.

Ps. Your words on Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN were wonderful. I’ve been so happy to read your appreciations for films that I hold dear to my heart (It Happened One Night, Dawn of the Dead, The 39 Steps). I think that Whale should be credited for the film, but you have to also credit Arthur Edeson, Jack Pierce, Charles D Hall, and of course Boris Karloff. The list of credits certainly extends to all involved but these guys had the most visually potent hand in putting this masterpiece together. This is the main beef I have with the Auteur Theory, the lack of credit given to those who put their own creative touches on a film.

As for my words about films not needing to answer to a higher moral calling, I think we are mostly on the same page. I think what I was trying to say is that some have a gift (yourself) for seeking out subtext and I am not as perceptive. I would have included DRAG ME TO HELL in my "stupid" horror film description because the films message (bankers who deny gypsies loan extensions deserve to burn for eternity)is buried beneath the splendid weight of "slapstick physicality." I'm sure that most of the films I love have a conscience, but sometimes I can't see them as clearly. This only further proves my point that CR5 Movie Club is alive and well. I am learning new ways to approach film and art altogether. There is still fun to be had indeed.