Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I have to admit that I was sort of delaying my viewing of VINCERE for several reasons. First, I had spent the previous three hours and change reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and I didn’t want to put it down. I’m trying to manage my Netflix and it made a lot of sense to watch the movie now, return it and wait for either THE GHOST WRITER or UN PROPHET. The other reason that I wanted to delay my viewing was my aversion to “bio-pics” which is admittedly a poor excuse considering that this film seems to be doing something interesting with that genre.

I began the film and was immediately surprised by its boisterous energy using newsreels, a loud and commanding score, and title cards to spice things up. The film opens with a gag where Benito Mussolini challenges God to strike him dead within five minutes to prove his existence. When the five minutes are up he calmly exclaims that it’s official, God isn’t real. The crowd reacts with expected acrimony and he fights his way to the exit where Ida Dalser stands impressed. It’s not long before they start shedding clothing in each other’s embrace, even his thrust have dangerous implications. He’s a madman, the one we know him today as but here he’s developing his dangerous obsession with power. His phobia of normalcy could have been his greatest asset, I suppose it could swing either way for anyone.

That worship of power, the ultimate narcissism mixed with blind nationalism led to the dictator that we are all aware of. If it was the intention of director Marco Bellocchio to simply tell us that which we already knew (Il Duce was an evil nut) we would have ourselves a far different film. This film expounds on the nature of that power and specifically the cowardice that the dictator exhibited when faced with the challenge of owning up to his sexual promiscuity. Like many men he was too scared to man up, even dictators get cold feet. He is the ultimate hypocrite, a flip flopper who claims that only donkeys refuse to change their path.

The score is a big part of the film’s success. I hate to drop the Hermann bomb but it works here, and the score isn’t out of line with the film’s constant energy. I guess you’ll have to see it to know what I mean. When was the last time that you say cartoon characters marching across the screen? I thought the film started to slag a little once Ida got locked up, perhaps because I’ve seen so many unlawful imprisonment dramas where a sane person is admitted to the crack house. They try so hard to get word to the outside world, we want so much for them to succeed.

Il Duce was a backstabber. He betrayed his first follower, the same woman who paid for his first syndicate and bore his first child. One should never trust his signature, it doesn’t mean anything be it a receipt or a marriage license. He’d deny his own birth certificate if it threatened his regime. Locked up, Ida is faced with a decision. She can either be buried by the past and specifically her bitterness towards the man who took everything and turned her into a ghost or fight for her son. To get back to her son she encouraged to be taciturn and for a moment she seems to embrace the idea. The moment is a beautiful one where she watches Chaplin’s THE KID, crying and cheering when the tramp overcomes the fascists to be reunited with the title character.

From this film alone I can deduce that Bellocchio is a hell of director. He has a love for cinema and for strong female characters. Ida’s dedication to the truth is her way of combating a maniac. Her strength, and perhaps his, lives on in his bastard son. He looks at a statue head of his father and mocks him before pushing onto the ground. Part of me wanted her to stand her ground while another questioned why she would even hesitate to be reunited with her son. The bedlam soon answered that question for me. To lie was to simply clear Il Duce and not be reunited, her fate was decided beforehand. It’s nice to know that Mussolini’s was as well.


Hey thanks John! I didn't really pour through that box before I gave it to you. I think there are plenty of great films to choose from. Most of the films that are on my list are actually films that my father showed me when I was younger. He's really great with classic film. The MR AND MRS SMITH omission was a blunder plain and simple. I liked the film a lot. I'm not sure that it would make the list but that would have been a nice tie for that tenth spot. I hope you enjoy the films in that box.

Jason, I started to read your post today and then quickly realized that I should take my time and then respond to it. I love SHAUN OF THE DEAD so I'm looking forward to catching up with your post.

Real quick, I watched MARLEY AND ME at work today and had a real hard time concealing my sadness. I thought that there were a good number of scenes that captured the essence of THE BOND. It's a cookie cutter film for sure but it gets the sad parts right and I found myself wanting to rush home to my Lou. I don't think the tears were entirely cheap but at the same time I'm wondering if they were fairly earned. I like what Stephanie Zacharek had to say:

"The movie is ultimately less about the pain of loss than about the way families often take shape around a pet. "

Of course you get your BEETHOVEN moments where the dog shits in the ocean or pulls an entire dinner table through a crowded patio but I expected that. What I didn't expect was scenes like the one where Jennifer Aniston returns from the hospital following a miscarriage. Owen Wilson can't console her, his friendly gestures aren't enough and he knows it. Helpless he leaves the room only to return to find the dog's head on her lap, crying ensues. I liked the film's lack of cynicism and I liked that it was willing to milk the dog's death for something more universal. The film goes too far with a pointless funeral scene but that wasn't nearly enough for me to forsake all that came before.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I wanted to see REVANCHE before I posted my top ten list for 2009. Too bad I didn’t wait, I’ll just have to revise this. The film opens with an object hitting a lake, the ripples disrupting a calm reflection. It’s a menacing image that is later revealed to be something far different than what I had expected. I have to admit that I am not even remotely aware of Gotz Spielmann’s work, this is unfortunate.

The story follows an errand boy/man named Alex who works in a Vienna red light establishment. This boyish man has fallen in love with one of the workers, a Ukranian named Tamara. Obviously neither is happy with their current line of work so a bank robber is in order. The robbery will take place in a small village near Alex’s grandfather’s house. Alex convinces Tamara to join him, he is after all just a boy (a forty something boy). The robbery goes smoothly until a Robert, a local beat cop, notices that Alex parked his getaway car illegally. Note, Alex’s gun isn’t loaded while Robert’s most definitely is. Robert bluffs his way into the car and begins to drive away. Robert fires at the tires and hits Tamara. She dies quietly.

This scene is incredibly powerful without being loud and bombarded with strings and wallowing. I sometimes like that approach but it was nice to see Spielmann challenge the prototype. Robert retreats to his grandfather’s farm and begins to chop wood. This is his coping mechanism. He chops like a machine and gains the attention of Robert’s wife Susanne. Normally I would reject what happens next: adultery with the wife of the man who killed your true love. Not here. Susanne visits Alex’s grandfather to mollify her nurturing spirit. She and Robert have failed to start a family and the death of Tamara has forced him into emotional hideaway. This facilitates the sexual relationship that develops as Alex becomes another child to care for. (I should that the sex in this film is fairly graphic.)

This all sounds complicated but trust me, it’s not what it sounds like. REVANCHE is far more concerned with the rites of work, loss, and forgiveness. We spend most of our time in the forest, in the barn, or by the lake. Alex’s grandfather might just be the character to untangle this type of complicated narrative with his simplicity and dedication to God and family (he knows that he will soon be reunited with his wife). There is a notable spiritual distinction between Vienna and the countryside.

The character’s nexuses work beyond contrivance and schmaltz to deliver something truly poignant. The plot allows for them to meet in a likely scenario, a town so small that folks can’t help to bump into one another. Notice I didn’t use the word crash. But it’s surroundings that hug the characters with “imitations of eternity.” I won’t spoil the ending but I will spoil the final shot which features the best winter apples in Austria. Criterion recently released this masterpiece I certainly recommend that you check it out.

Let's make this official. My favorite film of 2009:

1. Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
2. 35 Rhums or 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis)
3. Revanche (Gotz Spielmann)
4. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
6. Moon (Duncan Jones)
7. Up (Pete Doctor)
8. The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch)
9. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)
10. Next Day Air (Benny Boom)

Honorable Mentions:
24 City, Munyurangabo, Avatar, Sugar, Coraline, Still Walking, The Box, Treeless Mountain, Public Enemies, The Hurt Locker, Drag Me to Hell, Antichrist, The White Ribbon, and Extract.

netflix on wii

We recently hooked up our Wii to our Netflix account somehow, some way. I don’t know how these things work but essentially what it means is that Tara and I are able to rent a film without leaving the house and basically it’s all free. We pay ten dollars to receive 1 dvd at a time in the mail and to watch selected films instantly on our computer. Watching films on the computer sucks so I rarely do it. Now, if the spirit moves me, I’ll be able to lay on my couch and watch whatever I want. No, I wasn't paid by Netflix to deliver that service announcement.

ZOMBIELAND is a good time. I was initially turned off to the idea of even giving it a chance because someone I hold in very low esteem told me that it “blows SHAUN OF THE DEAD out of the water.” Not a chance. Even so, this film flies by and has a few decent laughs. The Bill Murray cameo is really funny even if Woody gets a little too loud and obnoxious. I like Emma Stone. Forget Megan Fox. Good movie.

I think we need to institute a “overrated” and “underrated” segment for our conjoined movie club. In honor of Jason’s dislike for BREATHLESS, John’s hatred for INCEPTION, and now my shrug for Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA beautiful colors aside. Dave Kehr said it better than I ever could:
“Argento works so hard for his effects-- throwing around shock cuts, colored lights, and peculiar camera angles-- that it would be impolite not to be a little frightened.”

Bong Joon-ho’s THE HOST would have done made Ray Harryhausen, Larry Cohen, and Willis O’Brien proud. MOTHER opens with one of the greatest revenge scenes in film history (spoiler: nobody gets hurt). It’s constantly interesting, an elderly woman (the title character) says something along the lines of “I like your poop pen.” I’ll write more about it later, perhaps the end of the year. I owe it more thought and consideration.

Roman Polanski’s FRANTIC is interesting. It takes it time, almost too much time. The initial effect works but the director takes too much liberty and sets the plot in motion just a little too late. By the time we realize what the whole ordeal is about you can’t help but be under whelmed. There’s a lot to admire, a nice synergy between Harrison Ford and Emmanuelle Seigner and a great rooftop scene. I’d say too little too late but the finale is actually pretty boring.

EDGE OF DARKNESS was a letdown only because of the man at the helm. No I’m not talking about loopy Mel but a veteran Movie Club champ Martin Campbell. His direction is as no nonsense as ever before and constantly engaging. The story is complete nonsense because it somehow convinced itself that it has a higher calling. After watching REVANCHE I admit that this film needed to do something new with the revenge scenario and all this film can think of is to play games with government/corporate corruption. Gibson is fine and Campbell is still one of our best action directors but the central plot depends on us caring for the father’s loss.

I should never fault a film (especially a Mel Gibson action film) for jumping right into it but I didn’t have much to empathize with. A lot of filmmakers are using what Steven Boone described in INCEPTION flashbacks as “stock images you would find in a brand new wallet.” The film has an odd intensity as far as violence is concerned, it’s actually quite grisly and strangely uneven. The daughter’s death made me think of HISTORY OF VIOLENCE-- goopy and slimy-- while the bad guys’ demises were far less icky. That was an odd choice if you ask me.

Far be it for me to write about Campbell without pointing out that he is an expert craftsman who is able to keep even EDGE OF DARKNESS from being a total waste. We are lucky enough to chase down every scene in which the cliché nuclear fallout mystery expositions with a conversation (Winstone, a friend of Mel’s daughter, his would be son in law) and a great action scene. Campbell has worked some magic over the past 14 years (The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale) but this will do for now. He might become our Henry Hathaway or our Joseph H Lewis.

Friday, July 23, 2010

a titan

Last night Tara and I snuggled up and popped in our recently purchased SHUTTER ISLAND dvd—we bought it last week and I’ve been eyeing ever since. The second viewing is extremely rewarding given the fact that my knowledge of the big twist allowed me to observe various hints, mostly through facial expressions. This is a really great cast each given the tough task of acting like amateur actors. Giving Teddy the run of the place for two whole days requires all of the parties involved to play along, some do so with resentment. One of the major successes that Scorsese and Lehane have accomplished is to make the film just as scary the second time around by noting the importance of Max von Sydow as Dr. Naehring and the always creepy Ted Nevine as Warden. Both men are rooting for lobotomy; both are archetypes of a system where electro shock (and in many cases resenting them) was the lazy norm, and they win in the end! What could be more frightening than that?

Probably the most rewarding scene in my second viewing was the encounter with Bridget Kearns. I wonder if she was a patient or an orderly disguised as a patient. Either way, that scene is notable for showcasing, among other things, Schoonmaker’s unmatched talent. No offense to the brilliant Sally Menke.

Robert Richardson shot this film very similar to INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Many of the scenes where “Teddy” and “Chuck” ride around with John Carroll Lynch reminded me of the second chapter of Tarantino’s film, he has a way with trees. Richardson and Scorsese certainly affirm their love for Powell (married to Thelma Schoonmaker) and Pressburger with a rich and bright color scheme. The dream sequences are brilliant, always creative and yet always building up to the film’s pass or fail moments.
The film can certainly brag two of the best scenes of the year. Both I’ve noted before but it’s worth bringing up again because of our recent INCEPTION discussion and specifically what John had to say about these two films in comparison:

“Shutter Island is a Titan standing next to Inception. Inception talks big and walks big, but it's all bluff and bluster. Shutter Island is the real deal. Both star Leonardo DiCaprio. Shutter Island may be his best performance. Inception doesn't give him anything to work with besides mouthfuls of exposition. Shutter Island has some of the most beautiful, daring, and disturbing dream images that I've seen in a movie. Inception felt less like a dream and more like I was stuck listening to someone else tell me at length about their dreams over breakfast. Shutter Island explores living in a shifting psychological reality in a much more emotionally satisfying way. Inception barely scratches the surface. Related to all of this, Shutter Island effectively explores grief and living in the wake of loss. Inception cheapens every relationship in it. None of the characters feel any more real than the tidy dreamscape that they find themselves in.”

I agree with a lot of this. I think that watching this film again doesn’t do Nolan’s film any favors whatsoever. This is not to suggest that the films are even remotely the same but in dealing specifically with themes of loss (both films use dreams as a vessel to convey this) Scorsese’s picture towers over INCEPTION. There is an undeniable superiority in the dream sequences in SHUTTER ISLAND (and I echo John’s sentiments in that by superiority I mean in comparison to almost every film period), a film filled with them as Teddy’s Chlorpromazine begins to wear off hurling him back into a string of flashbacks and delusions. If you noticed, the dreams begin to put the pieces together as the meds evacuate his system.

First we have the dream beneath the leaking pipe. Leo and the incredible Michelle Williams sit in an apartment raining ash, childless and in love. Scorsese disguises the water coming out of Williams by a shot of water dripping on Teddy followed by a shot of his face looking up followed by a shot of a leaky pipe. Simple. Brilliant. The next dream that I can recall is the one with Elias Koteas as the arsonist, that character is essentially a hybrid of Teddy and his wife (his name and her pyromania). It’s a projection of his battered consciousness/conscience, his guilt about not getting her help following her attempted suicide hence that imaginary character taking his own name. It’s followed by the first open acknowledgement of his children, covered in blood beneath the feet of the supposed escapee. The kids are laid out side by side (we learn later that he laid them out that way after discovering them in the pond). I believe that we also see his daughter (named Rachel) popping up all around Dachau which serves as the catalyst for all of SHUTTER ISLAND’s nightmares.

The scenes, shot without the flash and style of the actual dream (Teddy asleep) sequences, aren’t fractured or obscure. These are events that affected Teddy’s conscience/consciousness but because of his “justification” (war somehow makes murder justifiable) they haven’t been suppressed. This give Scorsese an opportunity to show off with an incredible tracking shot. I can see why you were so bummed on Nolan’s aversion to moral accountability in regards to brainwashing. You would think that with all the talking going on in that film that they could sneak in a “oh by the way, it’s really not ok to invade someone’s memories.”

This leads to the reveal that the entire film has been a game which leads to the truth. This scene had been referenced to several times in dreams and once again Scorsese knows the importance of its success. The earlier scenes are deliberately loud; the colors, the music, and performance. This film is mostly silent, the loud colors are restricted to cloth, and the shots last longer. This passive lingering effect gets under the skin before we even see the bodies floating in the lake. The ominous dread is countered by a beautiful clear sky. Leo takes it from there.
The two traumatic catalysts (the execution of the German officers and the grand pond finale) are taken very seriously by Scorsese. When this particular director decides to spend more time and energy on a particular scene the results are always special. The final line, which is not up for debate as far as I’m concerned (he is choosing to send himself back into “limbo), resolves perfectly with Teddy enjoying one last look at a sunny day in reality.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

1941: year in film

It’s going to be hard to ward off accusations of contrarianism here but I have once again go with the great Howard Hawks for that top slot. BALL OF FIRE is, in my book, Hawks’ quintessential comedy smarter and funnier than masterpieces like HIS GIRL FRIDAY, BRINGING UP BABY, and TWENTIETH CENTURY. Gary Cooper’s persona as a man who “gets drunk on buttermilk” is perfectly exploited here when he meets his “sugar puss” who is a “yum yum” on all accounts. I might seem like a flashy crab apple because in all honesty CITIZEN KANE is everything its champions claim it is, but I honestly love this film more. Perhaps I have a slight case of Andy Hardy.

I couldn’t even begin to expound on Orson Welles’ trailblazing masterpiece. I would run out of superlatives fast, est. I couldn’t even tell you the best place to go if you wanted an in depth analysis, maybe Rosenbaum or perhaps Wood. I don’t know, the best way to go it is probably to watch the film about three hundred times and perhaps then you could add something new to the conversation. Let’s be honest, this is not one of those films, it’s THAT film which dares you to try and deprive it of its stature. I haven’t bought a single naysayer, its foundations are too solid and airtight. What a debut!

I try to always note when a director has multiple jaw droppers in one year. This year that honor belongs to Preston Sturges who made SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS and THE LADY EVE within 365 days. It was a wonderful year for comedy, ST joined Capra’s MEET JOHN DOE and perhaps jabbed it a little in the earnest social message films. Sturges concludes with a decree, a message that a lot of filmmakers have blatantly ignored, to make em laugh. Sullivan’s heartfelt but deeply sanctimonious effort to make O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? ends with him in prison laughing at a Pluto cartoon. Capra’s film rejoins Cooper and Stanwyck and despite all the grumbling that his films receive ends with the beautiful words “There you are, Norton! The people! Try and lick that!”

THE LADY EVE is just sexy, Stanwyck once again sweeping a scientific dweeb off his feet, Henry Fonda this time. Gary Cooper, who was in MJD and BOF joined Howard Hawks to lament the American hero. What a year for both of these stars.

Raoul Walsh released three films in 41, the best easily would be HIGH SIERRA. I wrote that it was my favorite gangster film and I think I was being a little too kind at the time as a few films seem to easily outdo it (Godfather 2, Goodfellas, Once Upon a Time in America, The Roaring Twenties). But I still think there is a purity to this film that wasn’t in even the greatest crime dramas, a laying out of the rules and terms. The remarkable thing is that Walsh was able to redo the film in 1949 with just as much power and punch. Hawks did a similar magic trick with RIO BRAVO and then EL DORADO. Rich themes earn the right to be reconsidered. I like THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE and can’t get behind MANPOWER.

I remember going to Boscovs with my grandmother and picking out two VHS pictures. One was THE WOLF MAN and the other was BUCK PRIVATES. I haven’t been secretive about my love for Abbott and Costello and this film is one of their best. I watch a lot of their films and realize that things sort of fall apart by the end, this film is probably the most controlled of their efforts. They worked fast, made a whole lotta films from their debut in 1940 to their final film in 1956. This was their second feature and it’s easy to see why they reigned supreme for 16 years.

John Ford’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is one of the stronger films to deal with religion. Walter Pidgeon’s speech on prayer is beautiful and followed by a small miracle. The preacher is the most grotesque character in the film, a true villain with a voice that could peel paint. It wouldn’t be a Ford film if their wasn’t humorous fight sequences, like in the scene where the narrator’s teacher catches a beating from his father’s friends:
“I’m afraid he will never make a good boxer.”
“No aptitude for knowledge.”
I felt like I could color in the landscapes. I guess it’s no coincidence that I feel the same way about a lot of Kurosawa’s black and white features.

THE MALTESE FALCON is the stuff that dreams are made of.

DUMBO made me appreciate my mommy.

SUSPICION’s protagonist gets off the hook a little too easily. I guess when you get caught embezzling you should scare your wife into believing that you intend to kill her. Her relief when she realizes that you have no such intentions will cause her to forget your dishonesty. Hitch could sell anything.

I guess one of the themes from this year would be that Barbara Stanwyck is a force to be reckoned with.

My Favorite films of 1941:

1. Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks)
2. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
3. High Sierra (Raoul Walsh)
4. Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges)
5. Buck Privates (Arthur Lubin)
6. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)
7. How Green was my Valley (John Ford)
8. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges)
9. Dumbo (lots of people)
10. Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock)

It’s important to note that Jean Renoir’s SWAMP WATER would most surely be on my list if the tape I recorded it on didn’t stop with about thirty minutes remaining. It would have ranked high.

It was really hard to leave off Abbott and Costello’s other stellar HOLD THAT GHOST, Fritz Lang’s WWII thriller MANHUNT, THE WOLF MAN, THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (a truly bizarre film with a killer last line), Hawks’ SERGEANT YORK, Capra’s MEET JOHN DOE, Walsh’s STRAWBERRY BLONDE, and the Bowery Boys in SPOOKS RUN WILD.

I didn’t get a chance to see: Rage in Heaven, Penny Serenade, Caught in the Draft, The Devil and Daniel Webster, They Died with their Boots On, A Woman’s Face, The 47 Ronin, 49th Parallel, Hellzapoppin
The Little Foxes, and Hold Back the Dawn.

I thought we could use a break from the INCEPTION brawl.

inception: i am the darkness, i am the light

I haven’t joined any side. I am lukewarm. Spew me out.

Nice HALLOWEEN II dig. Every time you bring that film up I feel like a worthless waste of time.

Samson was a meathead, his jawbone doesn’t scare me. I'll bet that if he were still alive he would like JONAH HEX. Redemption by building collapse.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

inception: i love movie club

One of the silly things about limbo is why the hell Fischer Jr went to the basement level of Cobb’s subconscious for limbo. Why couldn’t he get his own limbo? I’ve always thought that Nolan often fumbles his final acts only to end with a really pungent scene. I loved that goofy speech that Chief Gordon gave, hating everything that led to it. I can’t remember MEMENTO that much, I didn’t think he was reveling in his own cleverness. Instead I thought that he was a smart up and coming director who knew that in order to make his stamp in a busy film world he would need to do something nobody had ever done up to that point. It was one of a kind and the gimmick supported the final reveal. Why not? I don’t understand why the animosity towards that film. Armond White is the one reveling in his own imagined cleverness, a pig wallowing in his own shit every week in the New York Press. I still love him. He hates us all, but I read him every week.

That said, I am aware of the negative and I definitely leaned positive here. I appreciate your view more than everyone else I’ve read. Many of them complain about the Nolan cult (an annoying bunch) because they are unwilling to permit failure from their beloved demigod. Meanwhile the resistance aren’t able to point out a single strength in all of his films. John, you were willing to do this and still hate the film. Other’s have only pointed out the supposed lack of emotions and the hype, they use words like hack and bring up how much better Lynch’s dream fantasies are (again Jason, wonderful midget dig). I don’t buy it.

Nolan isn’t a hack. He’s gifted with the camera and smarter than most of his detractors would like to think. The hype isn’t his fault. (opinion alert!) He also didn’t bring the second coming of SOLARIS or 2001. I don’t think this film takes enough risks to run with that pack but I lean much further on the positive side here. I think Nolan should continue what he’s doing, focus more on the human face (make John Ford proud) and try to work less exposition into his next film. DiCaprio is a master of making a screenwriter’s job easier.

Read Steve Boone‘s negative review. It‘s the best I‘ve seen thus far.

I have to admit that I’m a complete jerk when it comes to questioning the motivations of critics. I read someone who loves a film that gets extremely popular and sparks a lot of ugly debate (THE DARK KNIGHT). They seem a little ashamed of liking this film, their colleagues are split into sects that force them to reconsider. In other words, it’s much easier to line one’s self up with a ________ than say a Roger Ebert or a Kenneth Turan. You certainly don’t want to be caught sitting at the lunch table with Pete Hammond or Peter Travers so you walk into INCEPTION terrified and inevitably influenced. A bad review will wash away the sins of liking a popular film that was viciously defended by message board assholes, a good review will further tarnish your “serious” critical reputation. You won’t get to do freelance for Film Comment and that coveted job over at Salon or Village Voice gets further out of your reach.

That’s why I’m glad we are all foolish and nerdy enough to do this blog without pay. I can like INCEPTION, John can like ROBIN HOOD, and Jason can like 2012 without fear of being ostracized. I’m sad to see this discussion end but it does seem to have run its course. We seriously need to do this for every film. That was so much fun.

Ps- Jason, I liked THE BOX a lot. I was really disturbed by the son’s fate, could you imagine waking up in deaf and in the dark wondering how the hell I got there. That’s horrifying. It’s also cruel. Kelly’s a sloppy guy who can be charming but I absolutely hated SOUTHLAND TALES. John’s hatred for INCEPTION has got nothing on my hatred for that film. Outside of ALEXANDER I can’t remember being more depressed at the realization that I can’t get that time back.

also: John I can't believe that you have posted 98% of your posts on an iTouch. That is seriously impressive. I tried to post something on that once and I nearly had a panic attack. My fingers were too large and I literally started to sweat. The post looked something like this:

i luked ________ alot$ it wqs reilly go9d. fyck th1s.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

this is the last post today i swear

Hey Jason. I’m not sure what the tour dates are just yet. We leave on the 6th and will probably play The Bug Jar when we get up near Rochester.

Yes I have seen RED EYE and I thought it was really good. It was Wes Craven’s better comeback.

I have seen THE PRESTIGE and I really liked that film too.

I just watched the INCEPTION trailer again. Wow!

The more I think about INCEPTION the more I like it and (ear muffs John) begin to love it.

Sorry Jason, I hated JUNO.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt IS adorable. Have you seen MYSTERIOUS SKIN? Great film.

Don’t think that you’re going to pacify my snow scene hatred that easily.

Let’s hope that John returns tomorrow spewing more hatred. This is the most fun I’ve had on the computer since Duke Nukem.

epic typo

When I wrote: "I hope you back out of this discussion. You get to play the “villain.” Or is it hero? Either way this is fun man!" what I really meant was " I hope you don't back out of this discussion." Sorry about that.

inception: jason lives!

Jason, your dreams are awesome. Mine suck. I’m a neurotic dreamer. The only exciting dreams that I have are the ones that involve Freddy or Jason. Seriously. I’ve had reoccurring dreams since I first laid eyes on that crispy face and hockey mask, dreams where I am being chased down or trapped in a house while those two jerks wait around for me to walk into them. It sucks! To Nolan’s credit, I wake up every time I get killed so there’s that.

As for that damn snow sequence I just can’t concede. Actually, on Sunday after we got out of the theater we started to talk on the porch. An hour passed and my wife went inside, she cam back out thirty minutes later and said “you’re still complaining about that snow thing? Get over it.” Never!

I should note that I really like Nolan’s films up to this point (with the exception of Batman Begins). I was sort of closeted about my love for MEMENTO because John made it clear within days of our first encounter that he hated that film as well. I’ve grown braver over the years and now I look forward to John hating a film that I like or love. I stand behind THE DARK KNIGHT (minus the final act), and I believe firmly that Ledger’s performance was perfect (lip smacking and all).

The pacemaker analogy was brilliant.

So you’re an idea guy? That’s cool. I’m looking at my book shelf and my DVD shelf and I’m starting to realize that I’m pretty partial to great ideas myself. But I think that a great gimmick should still strive to create characters we care about. I cared about Cobb and most of his team. I have to admit that I credit that to the actors which in turn should be credited to Nolan because he assembled this team after all. Actually, my favorite weapon in Nolan’s arsenal is his casting ability.

We might have to try out the M. Night debate sometime soon. John can serve as the middle man in that battle. Sham’s ideas, especially post SIGNS, are precisely reduced to rubble by his insistence in being considered a “serious filmmaker.” THE HAPPENING was unintentionally hilarious, but I agree I loved it too. I think that he’s sticking up his finger at the movie industry because he’s a whiz kid turned crack head. I know, harsh words but would you believe that I kinda love the guy for it? Actually, I think that his great films (SIGNS and UNBREAKABLE) are two of the most visually and structurally refreshing films of their respective years. SIGNS falls just short because of that stupid “swing” scene but that’s a minor squabble.

Nolan also insists on being taken seriously which is why the Joker’s punch line is so fitting. I think that eventually he needs to break away from that stigma because honestly how long can the guy keep this up?

I hope you’re beginning to realize that I share your love for trashy sci-fi and horror. I think Nolan needs to make one without the after school special nonsense. Imagine if he got suckered into trying a grind house film.

You’re right man. This film has had us busy over the past two days and for that I’m thankful. John and I had it out with a pair of films in early 2009 (Let the Right One in and Funny Games). That wasn’t nearly as much fun as this three way battle. Your standards aren’t low. Neither are Johns. I’m a CRITTERS 3 fan so I’m pretty sure I win.

I'm about to go on tour full time so I will be near the Rochester area very soon. It would be cool to hang out. John, that goes for you too. If you guys wanna know what you're getting yourself into then check this out:

Summer People - "Broken Bones" from Ashley Connor on Vimeo.

inception: back to john

Wow. I was wondering about which moral accountability you were referring to never thinking it was mind rape. That’s a really interesting point of view and you are 100% right that Nolan doesn’t call into the question the ethical dilemma of raping and impregnating one’s mind. I did think that at one point Michael Caine criticized him for being a thief but maybe he said criminal. This is another shortcoming for this film because they try and show how the implanting of an idea in evil Mal led to her madness/suicide. She was unable to find her bearings. But the idea that traveling into someone’s subconscious to either extract or incept IS never questioned. Cillian Murphy’s mindfuck is celebrated in a quasi-2001 bedside scene. It’s a cheap trick on Nolan’s part, letting us believe that because the asshole father forgives the son and tells him not to follow in his footsteps that brainwashing is justified.

But honestly, who wouldn’t want to rape Cillian Murphy? I’d take his no for a yes any day. Sorry, that was really inappropriate. What will my wife say?

The other manipulative strategy that Nolan tries is to make us root for this rape to impregnate only so that Cobb can get back to his kids. That’s the oldest trick in the book.

So given the fact that I can acknowledge what your arguing here should make me denounce this film and be done with it but I won’t do it. Rape, as defined by you here is the implanting of an idea or the removal of a secret by way of “shared dreaming.” Of course when anyone hears the word rape you cringe, and rightfully so. There isn’t much worse in this world than the sexual action we have associated this term with. To overpower and penetrate is unquestionably vile and certainly worthy of moral consideration at the very least. But rape is used in other terms: deforesting and other environmental atrocities, fascism, etc.

I remember when Armond White used the word rape loosely when describing the Navi’s method of training their dragons. It made sense, even the tentacles on the end of the Navi’s hair had phallic connotations. But White expected me to associate that with the sexual act and I wasn‘t able to do that. John, you’re observation far more applicable and certainly brilliant, I’m being completely honest here. But I don’t equate inception to date rape, I don’t consider that idea the same as a child, and I don’t think that you have considered what is possibly the worst facet of rape which is the emotional aftermath. Murphy’s character didn’t even know what happened to him.

Of course that doesn’t excuse Cobb and his team. They invaded a man’s most private space for advantageous reasons. I could relate to Cobb’s motives, he would do ANYTHING!!!!!! to get back to his kids. But what about the rest of the team? They were just doing it for the rush and the cash. Naughty naughty. So the plot is built around a morally reprehensible core and I totally understand why you want to skull _____ this film.

I hope you back out of this discussion. You get to play the “villain.” Or is it hero? Either way this is fun man!

side note:

The fact that Mal has become the annoying usurper was clearly laid out for the audience. She is the psychological materialization of Cobb’s guilt. The same way guilt (that isn’t tended to) becomes a virus, Mal pops up the worst times to shoot someone or stab someone. I’m equally baffled by Nolan’s decision to show us Mal pre-psycho phase. I think this is where those “no emotional core” comments are coming from. It was hard to feel anything during both of her deaths.

Also I would argue that from what I’ve seen in the preview that Ridley Scott is no longer Ridley Scott and his visual technique (that ugly silver and yellowish hue) is among the blandest I’ve seen in any modern filmmaker. I’m not going to mock this movie anymore until I see it (I really don’t want to see it). We wouldn’t want this to become our 2010 version of BANGKOK DANGEROUS.

Seriously John, go a few more rounds just for fun. Nolan has already won. Have you read Jason’s post yet? Get on it Mr. Glass.

inception: jason's turn

John, if you really want roll your eyes then you should go listen to a certain podcast’s take on INCEPTION and marvel at the gross misuse of the silly terms Kubrickian and Lynchian. Then laugh at how they favorably compare it to Bond, CASABLANCA, and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. I love those guys but they seriously need to strengthen their film references.

Jason, your formal challenge to find a film succeeded in the big three (special effects, well developed characters, well developed complex philosophical premise) is pretty difficult. Special effects are probably the least important of the three when I weigh these things. However, I get extremely frustrated when I listen/read individuals who completely write off that specific talent. You see bad action sequences or bad special effects side by side with the real deal and you can appreciate the care and precision implemented by the superior visual director. I didn’t think that INCEPTION was nearly as impressive visually as something like SHUTTER ISLAND but that is to be expected. Scorsese has a few decades on him. I think Nolan’s biggest problem visually is his inconsistency, the Joker’s head out of a police car window with those beautiful blues, reds, and consequently purples compared with the infrared nonsense during the finale. Here he allows the visual splendor of virtually every corridor of that hotel to trump the bland snow fortress. The shots of Cobb’s children, Leo washing up on a beach, and some of those moments with Mal are all simple and the color arrangement isn’t too busy. The finale in the fourth level of sleep with the shoddy CGI stuff is unnecessary. You have to be really careful when you use natural light and natural setting, CGI can be glaringly out of step. I think that the spinning top (and it sounds like you agree) and that incredible revolving set fight are visible evidences of his talent while some of the other action sequences are the exact opposite.

A well developed complex philosophical premise probably comes in second place for me. I could have done without the narrative gimmick in SHUTTER ISLAND but it didn’t stop me from drooling at everything else. For INCEPTION this is the highlight. I think a lot of people wanted those midgets (great dig by the way) or something along the lines of WAKING LIFE but that didn’t seem probable or even necessary. Essentially the dreams in this film, all shared, are too linear and sensible to really blow my mind. As nifty as this plot is, it would have been something much more impressive if it managed to fly off the tracks from time to time. I liked the little details like when they talk about how every dream seems to begin in the middle, we the dreamer are dropped in on something already in progress. I also liked the scene where Page’s character took those mirrors beneath the bridge and made them face each other. Little things like that impressed me a lot.

But as impressive as the narrative complexities were in INCEPTION, I would have tossed em all aside for some good old fashion character development. But I guess I need to ask myself what that actually means. To develop is to allow something to grow gradually, to bud, or to immerse. I think the film had too many characters for this to happen. Most films have a lot of actors popping in the problem with this film is that we are expected to care for at least seven of them (Cobb, the point man, the architect, the thief, the employer, the target, and the dead wife). I guess you could make the argument that Thomas Hardy’s character is comic relief but that still leaves six leads competing with one of the more intricate plots we’ve seen this year. Actually, I can’t think of anything since Charlie Kaufman’s cluster cuss that had my mind working this hard. I think a lot of the Nolan detractors haven’t acknowledged the skill required to pull this trick off.

John, I’m still trying to understand your difficulties with Cobb’s morality. He’s a mad scientist; perhaps you think he wasn’t mad enough? If so that makes sense, Nolan desperately wants to cash in on Leo’s cool and poise. I know that you were mocking White’s writing style but I didn’t find the character even close to despicable. He was an opportunist and a thief but he eventually learned to overcome that selfishness when he decided to take his fourth nap within a nap in order to rescue the two men.

Again, I agree with you about the central narrative being fairly weak. The idea of inception doesn’t excite me as much as extraction. And why is extraction so much easier than inception? People plant ideas everyday. I liked the diagram that show the brain activity as a whirlpool, the team had to cut in through the middle to enter. I don’t know what that means exactly but the simple diagram was neat.

I think that Ellen Page was alright, I liked her a lot more than her most famous role. Perhaps I’m cutting her some slack because I still love WHIP IT so much. Jason, I’m with you in being impressed with the cast. They weren’t working with much, a heap of tropes. Another thing that I loved about this film was its clear point of reference as far as the camera was concerned. Nolan is good at establishing where people and objects are right before they get blown up. Sometimes it’s boring (again snow) and other times it’s exhilarating (again rotating set or elevator shaft).

The gravity scenes allowed Nolan to experiment with imagery. I loved the image of the five people tied together and floating. That was cool. I’m not sure that I’m eager to see it again any time soon but I’m stickin to my guns. Grumpy or not, John is going to destroy us. Peace.

Monday, July 19, 2010

how would you like me to get mr. t in here?

While I'm pretending to be out of my mind with anger I need to tell you that I visited Hollywood Video on Friday and dropped twenty bucks. Your sins are contagious John. I got in trouble. I was scolded and quickly reminded that teacher's have summers off and that our budget was extremely tight. I pled the fifth but I think I caught the fever. Everytime I drive by a HV I get the sweats and my once spotless mind starts a scheming. I bought the following:

I Can't Sleep
Down to the Bone
The Passenger
The Dreamers
All or Nothing
The Long Goodbye

inception: round 2

Touché! We may have our first debate of the year on our hands. I figured that you wouldn’t like the film and by the way you kept this so secret I figured that it was gonna rank mighty low on your shit list. I’m not much for comparing apples and oranges but I’ll play this game Mr. Owen, I’ll play.

You are 100% correct when you say that nothing in INCEPTION comes close emotionally to the incinerator scene and I know you’re a fan of audaciously awesome but come now John Boy you can’t always have your way. What was audaciously awesome about ROBIN HOOD? Everything you said about SHUTTER ISLAND applies, the comparisons are applicable and Scorsese wins in a knockout. I’d wager that nothing this year packs the power and passion of the pond sequence, it’s a case of great artists all at their peaks. Scorsese’s knowledge of film, Schoonmaker’s snipping, Williams nuttiness, Robertson’s score, Richardson’s eye, and of course DiCaprio’s bravado converge to make real magic. Nolan doesn’t come close.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, geez man I really didn’t like that film minus the dance at the end. There wasn’t anything this year as lame as the battle with the Jabberwocky, bah humbug and piss in your eye. (ps I know that I shouldn’t need to put a disclaimer here but obviously these insults are phony and meant to be funny. I love you man).

But you’re wrong, Cobb’s selfishness IS questioned and taken care of: the moment everyone realizes that death in the dream will result in mushy brain syndrome, the reappearance of his dream apparition, and possibly the spinning top. You’re right about Alice and the same can be said of Hiccup, both are saints. Tony Stark is not a saint and he is just as selfish and far more reckless. KICK ASS… damn. Where are the moral examinations in that film?

I haven’t seen the other films but I can’t imagine that even the chain mail can save ROBIN HOOD from being a far more solemn bum out than INCEPTION. The trailer put me to sleep. Did you honestly feel that the set design was bad in this film? That hotel was perfect and those staircases had plenty of soul (whatever that means-- more on that later punk). The snow sequence on the other hand….

Ok, the central heist is generally uninteresting and Nolan fumbles a great opportunity to play around with images and ideas. Other than waaaaaaaaaaay too many characters this film’s biggest problem is its insistence on looking perfect and moving along without any risks. You’re right, I could have used a lot more audacious fun because we are talking about dreams after all.

Perhaps it was just a skillfully played con game but I had a lot of fun with it. It sounds to me that your feelings or lack thereof for INCEPTION are similar to the me and ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
But what is this soul everyone keeps talking about? The same was said about THERE WILL BE BLOOD and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Soulless? Fuck that.

Bring it.

Ps. I didn’t read White’s review but I’m pretty sure that the basic gist is that INCEPTION is hackwork and anyone who liked it is stupid and should stop watching movies because WE are to blame for the current state of cinema. May we all burn in hell.

inception: take one

So I got to work today and immediately checked your website to see what you had written but nothing was up. I wanted to write about INCEPTION immediately after seeing it but I ended up talking about it with my friends on my front porch afterwards. I read the first sentence of your post at around 2:30pm today and immediately clicked the X and stood up. It was tempting John. So here goes my post which will be followed by a reading of your post and then another post about your post. A post within a post within a post.

INCEPTION opens with a dream within a dream, a routine extraction ruined by the botching of a minor detail by current architect and former kingpin. I’m pretty sure that guy gets thrown off a building but that doesn’t seem to bother Dom or his point man Arthur. Tough luck, if only he had put more thought into that damn carpet. The scene, which all takes place in the dream world, lasts for a decent chunk of time and tells us a couple of things about our characters and the world they inhabit. The first thing is that Dom is efficient and often ruthless, he takes his job seriously and his crazy deceased wife likes to pop in and sabotage his assignments. The second thing we learn is that Extraction is a common threat, leading powerful men and women to train their dream warriors to detect and deflect thieves from stealing valuable information.

Why am I telling you this? You already saw the movie.

I would get straight to the point because I’m sure that we’ll play a little ping pong with this movie as we read and post and read and post. It seems that a lot of the trouble folks are having with this film centers around its lack of emotional punch. I understand the charge and I mostly agree with it. It’s hard to sympathize with Dom especially when we learn his dirty little mad scientist secret. It’s even harder to feel empathy towards Mal, a woman we mostly know as the villain in virtually every dream sequence. A little more incentive to like these characters may have helped me to feel more when she jumps to her death, not even DiCaprio’s cracked scream and Hans Zimmer’s score could entice me. Nolan struggles with this, I’m not sure why.

I hesitate to use the word cynic because the awful finale in THE DARK KNIGHT basically claims that everyone but the Joker is capable of self sacrifice. The assembled team were tricked by Cobb to take the inception assignment so that he could return to the States without being imprisoned, he forgot to tell them that if they die in this dream they become a vegetable. I have to admit that I got really worried when I learned this. The stakes, which were almost inexistent before, became uncomfortably high all of a sudden. Suddenly dream bullets and dream shrapnel become the equivalent of a baseball bat to the brain. But soon we realize that these dream invaders know how to shoot dream guns really well and drive dream vans even better. So essentially bullets go where Nolan tells them to go, one into the chest of Ken Wantabe and three into the chest and stomach of Cillian Murphy (thanks Mal).

Somehow this means that Dom and his new architect Ariadne need to enter the fourth dream level to find them, they have to simulate a drop which somehow allows the deliberator to work in the third level which allows the elevator hitting the ground in the second level to wake them back up in the first level where they can somehow be woken up in real life with the help of Edith Piaf.

Nolan’s take on the dream world don’t have anything in common with my dreams. My dreams lack continuity, rhyme, reason, and my clothes disappear suddenly at inconvenient times. I’m often looking for a urinal but no matter how much I pee when I find one I still have to go. My familial relations are funky too, I have sisters whereas in real life I only have brothers. In other words Nolan’s dreams are essentially action movies.

I was impressed by the amount of detail in Nolan’s puzzle. I would say that it’s realized, though opportunely realized, and even though its predictably solemn and mopey you have to admit that it’s a pretty impressive concept. It’s tempting to ask “why so serious” hoping that the director will eventually lighten up but it seems silly to expect anything else from him. A bigger problem for me is his insistence on pointless and boring action sequences. The entire James Bond icecapades sequence, which is actually an entire level of sub consciousness!, quite frankly pissed me off. He doesn’t do that type of action well, he’s better in confined and familiar spaces. The 2001 homage where Levitt battled anonymous dream agents in a rotating set was incredible. He’s a talented guy but I’m starting to think that maybe he played too much Bond on Nintendo 64.

My list of grievances may have given you the wrong impression, I liked this film. The cast is incredible, especially Levitt, DiCaprio, and Thomas Hardy (an actor that I’m really rooting for after seeing this film). I seem to stand alone in loving the Hans Zimmer score, even if it ripped off Robbie Robertson’s brass boat horn vibe from Martin Scorsese‘s immensely superior SHUTTER ISLAND. This film will surely suffer comparisons but I never once took it as anything other than a complex yet hollow summer blockbuster. I had fun keeping up with the rules and plot twists and I respected the film for trusting its audience to keep up. It’s clear to me that the Nolan brother’s are much smarter than I had perceived them before. I thought the maze they set up was refreshingly sturdy in the sense that it followed its own rules much better than you would expect.

I think that people often blame Nolan for his reputation amongst message boarders. He is shrouded in hype since his last film made three hundred trillion dollars but it’s hard not to roll your eyes when you read the words masterpiece and Kubrickian. It’s just as easy to mock his straight faced, dim lit projections of reality. The final scene is wonderful, a cliffhanger that trumps everything in the entire snow fort shootout. It doesn’t need snowmobiles or snow tipped mountains. That spinning top was the film’s best touch, it had everyone on the edge of their seats. I think now more than ever Nolan’s strengths and weakness are glaring enough that it should allow him to grow into the director that geeks want him to be.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

1952: year in film

I waited until the last minute to see the #1 film on my list. Once again I have Jonathan Rosenbaum to thank, his insistence on challenging uniformity when considering oeuvres has unveiled a number of my favorite works. When you hear discussions of Howard Hawks you hear about RIO BRAVO, THE BIG SLEEP, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, and SCARFACE and for good reason. All of those films deserve to be seen and considered and in most cases I would take Hawks over anyone but there are a few films like EL DORADO, MONKEY BUSINESS, HATARI, and this film that fall under the radar. Thank God for TCM otherwise I would have no way of seeing this film and while I’m at it I might as well put it at the top of the list of films that desperately need a good re-mastering.

Arthur Hunnicutt is an extraordinary actor, he pulled off the impossible by playing Walter Brennan’s Stumpy avatar in EL DORADO. Russell Harlan’s cinematography is still and innate, the perfect lens to view Hawk’s ideal or America unspoiled and unforgiving to those who seek to misuse it. Because it’s a Hawks’ adventure film we become company with a group of tight knit tough guys. Their camaraderie wouldn’t be complete or perhaps as pure without the presence of a good woman, and purified even more by the threat of a rival group of corporate hacks. It’s a perfect film and easily deserves to take top honors here.

The only film that I truly believe could have rivaled it would be THE LIFE OF OHARU but I can’t find a copy of it anywhere. Let’s hope Criterion is working on it.

Despite the ease of my decision the rest of the positions are impossible to rank without regrets. On one hand you have what could very well be the greatest musical of all time, on the other hand you have UMBERTO D.

Along with SINGIN IN THE RAIN you have two of the best films ever to deal with showbiz. Charlie Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT, like most of the icon’s work, isn’t remotely cryptic. He has confidence in honesty and he speaks passionately of the limelight in a conversation with Clair Bloom:

“this is my home in the theater.”
“I thought you hated the theater”
“I do but I also faint at the sight of blood yet it runs through my veins.”

Vincent Minnelli’s THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is much better than you would think, I’ve really learned to love Kirk Douglas.

Along with directors like Ophuls, Ray, and Mizoguchi Movie Club has essentially taught me the importance of discovering and championing great directors. I’ve always known about Fritz Lang because of METROPOLIS, little did I know about the incredible films he made in the post silent age. The 40s and 50s were strong decades for him and CLASH BY NIGHT deserves to be mentioned with the likes of THE BIG HEAT. He’s easily one of the five favorite directors.

There isn’t a single misfire in the Mann/Stewart collaborations, but how often do you hear BEND OF THE RIVER mentioned in the company of WINCHESTER 73 or THE NAKED SPUR? John you hit the nail right on the head. Jason, check this one out.

Arthur Kennedy is good at being the villain because he slowly becomes the villain. That slow transformation makes the final battle all the more painstaking in both BEND OF THE RIVER and THE LUSTY MEN. I fuckin hate rodeos.

George Cukor proves that a great director can make a hell of a difference. Hepburn and Tracy failed to impress me in George STeven's WOMAN OF THE YEAR, that quasi-fem piece of junk. Watch Hepburn beat the shit out of Charles Bronson and you know you're in better hands.

John, I have you to thank for the many pleasures of THE NARROW MARGIN. I honestly didn't see the twist coming.

Othello is the story of a man who loved not wisely but well, a man who threw away a pearl, a slave to the green eyed monster. Add this film to that aforementioned list of films that need a good cleaning.

Howard Hawks exposes our desire to remain in adolescence with MONKEY BUSINESS. Carey Grant is a genius, he was one of the great comedy masters.

--correction: When I first posted this list I totally forgot a film so revision is a must.

My favorite films of 1952:
1. The Big Sky (Howard Hawks)
2. Umberto D (Vittorio De Sica)
3. Singin in the Rain (Stanley Donen)
4. Clash by Night (Fritz Lang) and The Bad and the Beautiful (Vincent Minnelli)
5. Bend of the River (Anthony Mann)
6. Limelight (Charlie Chaplin)
7. Monkey Business (Howard Hawks)
8. The Narrow Margin (Richard Fleischer)
9. Pat and Mike (George Cukor)
10. Othello (Orson Welles)

Honorable Mention seems condescending when referring to IKIRU, THE QUIET MAN (the matrimony business is a little too freaky but the film is otherwise masterful), SON OF PALEFACE, ANGEL FACE, DANGEROUS GROUND (a weak finale in my opinion), JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, and Carson’s underrated KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL.

Everyone hates THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH for winning the Oscar. I like the film and I’m a little embarrassed to admit this. I omitted HIGH NOON because I haven’t seen it in ages. Abbott and Costello made two ridiculous marvels LOST IN ALASKA and MEET CAPTAIN KIDD. I ate a bunch of jalapeños and drank about six beers whilst watching ALASKA, heartburn happened. IVANHOE is ok. THE CRIMSON PIRATE is ok too.

Ima see Le Plaisir, The Black Castle, Carson City, The Crimson Pirate, The Importance of Being Ernest, Jumpin Jacks, The Life of Oharu, Rancho Notorious, Red Ball Express, The Sniper, The Stooge, Viva Zapata, We’re Not Married, and The World in His Arms.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

now i've got brains all over me

The Punisher is really good at climbing ladders and killing men exclusively that is unless you count that one woman whose head he twists around, she looks like she is around 60 but she was trying to shoot him so I guess it’s ok. The director of this film relishes every opportunity to linger on mutilated bodies and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I think this film has more carnage than any other film I’ve ever seen. In fact I would venture to say that this is the most violent film I’ve ever seen. One death scene in particular actually made me wake my dog up with laughter. There are these acrobatic dudes who look like they listen to No Doubt running around jumping from building to building. A dude with a goofy Mohawk does a back flip and is hit by a bazooka missile, exploding in midair. ---ps the explanation for their energy is simple, Meth, I’m serious they are able to jump around like Peter Pan because they do Meth 24/7. --

I could go on and on about the ungodly body count, but trying to recall all of the exploding heads and compound fractures would give me a headache. I should be appalled but instead I’ve got a stupid grin on my face, I still can’t believe that bazooka scene. In all honesty John you are absolutely right in hating this film but I want to point out a few things that I noticed perhaps just to play the contrarian. First, I would take the actor playing the title character over Christian Bale any day, he has a natural steely intensity and isn’t straining his voice in order to sound intimidating. He doesn‘t need to sound intimidating because he is gigantic. I also thought that a lot of the bit actors and the main villain were true to the comic book feel, a lot of the lines were delivered in a refreshing way. For the record, I hated the actor playing Jigsaw’s brother, easily the worst “performance” I’ve seen all year.

Also, I thought the scene in the church was shot and lit beautifully. In fact, I don’t think I heard a single thing that was said during that entire exchange because I was too busy admiring the lights. I guess what I’m saying is that I found the whole ordeal comically bad and maybe because a Christopher Nolan movie is making its glum way to our theaters this weekend I’m sort of relieved. PREDATORS couldn’t make up its mind, the script shifted between mindless and ostentatious (Hemingway line anyone?) while PUNISHER:WAR ZONE, like its hero, understands and accepts its place in movie hell. There is no ambiguity here, the director believes and nails her defective point into our foreheads. Don’t let the accidental killing of an undercover officer fool you, Frank Castle has every right to stab, punch the brains out of, impale, and yes shoot mid cart wheeling Methheads with bazookas just because.

EXTRACT has its fair share of morally challenged characters: adulterers, con artists, gossips, lawyers, grind metal guitarists, and gigolos. Mike Judge has now made two good films about the division in labor, OFFICE SPACE took a closer look at the worker bees and the way they toil without complaint until liberate (oddly enough through hypnotism) from their monotonous and groveling routine. This time around we get to see the drones perspective, or is it the queen? I’m not sure how I would classify Jason Bateman’s character in this hive analogy. His workers, like a colony of worker bees, are manual laborers collecting and distributing extract. They, like bees everywhere, rightfully fear the effects of big business clearing the hedge grow or so to speak. An accident that brings about the loss of a testicle sends our conflict into motion and I was very pleased to find that Judge’s film didn’t have a clear cut villain.

Characters do bad things such as Mila Kunis’ character who cheats people for a living or even Bateman’s character who pays an empty skulled mimbo to sleep with his wife in order to justify his own desire for infidelity. But all of the characters have their moments of vindication (unless you count the incessantly annoying neighbor) as it seems that Judge is a firm believer in the idea that most of us will eventually learn from our mistakes. I haven’t seen much good in the comedy world over the past year so this film came as a breath of fresh air. Plus, it has one of the best pot gags in film history.

John, we really need to do another top ten list. Any ideas? Jason, I also love THE DREAMERS and I don’t think that you should feel bad about the NC-17 stigma. You brought up a lot of things that I never thought about when watching the film, for instance the idea that Pitt’s character was incestuously enamored by film. Another thing that I loved about it was the way we were able to witness college cliché discussions on film from a non-judgmental perspective. The Chaplin/Keaton argument could have easily been actors in Bertolluci drag with one being the obvious victor and the other conceding. Their relationship to film, much like mine, is extremely adolescent and impressionable as all three characters seem to lack the ability to bring anything new to the table. I liked this, it was almost as if the director was saying that discovery is the purest and most exciting moment in any art lovers intellectual life. He was celebrating their enthusiasm in a way that almost implied his own desire to go back in time, before the garden was compromised.

Reading the book before you see the movie and vice versa always depends on who is involved. I know John would contest it but I thought that Peter Jackson did a fine job with THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Of course I think the books are much much better but that seems to go without saying. Then you have something like THE ROAD or WATCHMEN where the director’s frankly don’t seem inspired enough to do any justice. A few that matched up really well would be SHORT CUTS and WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE, THE THIN MAN, and I would be one to consider Kubrick the author of the definitive version of THE SHINING while LOLITA belongs to Nabokov. Good adaptations all depend on the director, auteur theory aside a writer’s work can easily be botched by a poor adapter, just ask Isaac Asimov.

I haven’t seen THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE but I noticed that you said that you haven’t seen a film use science fiction to tell a love story. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND immediately popped into my head when I read that. Also, 2046 is a good one too. I’m glad to read that you are a BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN fan, I think we are dwindling with time. I haven’t responded to Ang Lee much over the years but I think that he really expanded that short story in ways that could have so easily been labored. I can sympathize with the film’s detractors (homophobes aside) who feel that the film is too solemn and tame but I love that film.

Monday, July 12, 2010

to shank a predator

I’ve never seen anyone as angry about a film being “bad” as my friend Akin. When exiting PREDATORS he warned several people not to see the film telling them that he was tempted to yell FIRE just to stop it from ruining our lives. He then said that if the next film he paid to see wasn’t amazing that he would never watch a film again. He went on and on, talking about how he’s seen 80’s porn films with better acting, story, and directing. Though I may be painting a churlish image for you he is one of the nicest dudes you’ll ever meet. He is a passionate guy but I have to admit that I’m nervous to pay the film any lip service just in case he ever stumbles upon this blog.

Akin is mostly right because PREDATORS remains mostly a piece of shit but I admit to really liking the first hour. It convinced me that I wasn’t witnessing the latest geek parade ala ALIEN VS PREDATOR or WATCHMEN but it was only able to sustain itself for about an hour, the rest = everything Akin said.

Nimrod Antal is a talented director, it’s evident in several sequences that he has higher aspirations than this. He films the various topographies with surprising patience, after AVATAR it was nice to see a sci-fi film low on green screen sets. Antal was wise to shoot the film outdoors and on soundstages and he made mostly good use of any computer generated images required of him. He also staged a few decent action sequences, careful not to disorient the audience always being clear about what’s going on and where it's happening. Unfortunately the script is extremely stupid and after a while not even Antal’s artisan panache can hold the picture above the quicksand.

By the end of the film Topher Grace’s character suddenly decides that he wants to rape and torture the only woman onscreen (it's like a scene out of THE BONE COLLECTOR), meanwhile Adrien Brody is busy taking his shirt off and rubbing mud on himself. ---His name is Royce and we decided that whenever one of us gets drunk and takes off their shirt they WILL be called Royce and laughed at.--- Perhaps in honor of the original film (which I like) the writers and producer (Robert Rodriguez) decided to stage a shirtless battle between man and alien not considering that the Governator’s biceps and pectorals were slightly more proportionate and convincing when facing a much larger killing machine. I like Adrien Brody which is why I’m genuinely sad to report that he has gone Christian Bale on us and decided to overcompensate the fact that he is skinny by talking in a solemn raspy voice.

I keep an open mind when it comes to cheesy action films, I rejoice at their lack of pretention and I like the fact that Rodriguez and Antal "respect our dollars." But with monetary factors aside, why can’t studios pay writers to come up with a fresh original idea? Why all the sequels? Why all the origins? We have the templates, sure I understand, but are we so low on Gigers, Winstons, and Bottins that we can't hope for a new sci-fi horror franchise. I better tell Akin to check out CRIMSON GOLD or he won’t be joining us on Stoner Movie Sundays anymore.

I listened to a band called The Books today and I recommend you check them out. They use a lot of audio samples of people talking and then build up their music around those pre-recorded samples. I was truly moved by this answering machine message where an older man is telling a woman how much he misses her. I really like them. I also like Sleigh Bells.

Don’t see PREDATORS.

Friday, July 9, 2010

1940: year in film

How do you choose between Howard Hawk’s and Ernest Lubitsch? I flipped a coin. No I didn’t, but I have changed my mind three times already by the time I finished writing this sentence. I still regret giving SHADOWS the edge over RIO BRAVO, one was fresh in my mind and as I thought about it more I have definitely changed my mind. Perhaps my love for Hawks ultimately handicaps him but I’m going with Lubitsch here. This means that he has topped two of my lists thus far and, hint hint, will once again win out in another list.

I was/have been under whelmed by certain classics made in 1940. I should probably be scolded for admitting that I simply like THE GRAPES OF WRATH. I should also be scolded for being lukewarm towards THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD and THE SEA HAWK.

One film that is fresh in mind, but that I feel could lessen in stature with time, made my list. The fate of a Czech scientist and his daughter is hashed out in Carol Reed’s NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH. Some of my favorite WWII films deal with acting (TO BE OR NOT TO BE, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) and infiltrating, tightening those screws as far as they can go while I grind my teeth. You know the gig will be up soon and our heroes’ fates will be left to impossible escapes, gunfights, and acrobats on cable cars. You’re simultaneously aware of the implausibility and convincing yourself that the stakes are rising. Along with Hitchcock’s underappreciated FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT and Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR (another role playing film) 1940 brought us a trio of exceptional war films in the heat of the conflict.

It was a great year for comedy as well. Hawks, Sturges, and Cukor stuck with screwball while Lubitsch, like William Carlos Williams, forged his own path. This is not to say that the screwballs were taking the easy road, and I’m not likening them to beat poseurs, because all three films (two films featuring a commanding Carey Grant) easily made this list. Instead I like to point out that whatever that Lubitsch touch really is, it’s nearly impossible to mimic.

I want to also point out that Abbott and Costello released their first film in 1940 (A Night in the Tropics) and that MY FAVORITE WIFE (Carey Grant again), though inferior to McCarey’s THE AWFUL TRUTH is actually really good. I guess I should point out that McCarey wrote this film.

Hitch had a great year, I remember losing a toenail while watching REBECCA. It just fell off for no reason.

My nose would grow if I pretended not to love PINOCCHIO.

My favorites from 1940:
1. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernest Lubitsch)
2. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks)
3. Pinocchio (Hamilton Luske and Ben Sharpsteen)
4. The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin)
5. Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock)
6. Christmas in July (Preston Sturges)
7. Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock)
8. My Favorite Wife (Garrison Kanin)
9. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor)
10. Night Train to Munich (Carol Reed)

It was torture leaving off Raoul Walsh’s THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and John Ford’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH. I also had a hard time forsaking THE WESTERNER, A NIGHT IN THE TROPICS, NORTHWEST PASSAGE, GO WEST and THE MARK OF ZORRO. I wished I like THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD more as well as FANTASIA and THE SEA HAWK.

I should be scolded for not seeing The Long Voyage Home, The Bank Dick, Waterloo Bridge, The Great McGinty, Virginia City, Black Friday, Strange Cargo, Vigil in the Night, and The Mortal Storm.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

eve, aliens, and artisans

ALL ABOUT EVE is a deeply cynical film. It supposedly shines a light on the theater and all of its cast of liars; the critic, the director, the writer, the writer’s wife, the producer, and of course the actress. Joseph L. Mankeiwicz proposes that everyone involved is crooked, manipulative, mean spirited, and snobbish all either looking out for themselves or leaching off the theater’s supposed life force, the leading actress. All of this despondency could have made for one miserable experience if the film wasn’t as entertaining as it was effective.

I couldn’t pretend to know enough about the theater to weigh in on the film’s accuracy. I haven’t even lived in the Big Apple but I have seen this type of vindictive backstabbing even in the DIY music scene. Eve often gets billed as the main villainess and I can’t contest that construal, she’s an awful human being, but I think that Margo Channing and her gang of backward children get off the hook too easily. The last scene or the what goes around comes around finale suggests as much. Channing’s clan are a vicious bubble of highbrow pricks who rarely question the validity of their prima donna. I never questioned Eve’s idolatry of Margo and her deep understanding that to become her she would have to do heinous things. These are the kind of folks that send Haneke and Von Trier on a murderous rampage. I was really surprised by this film, it’ll be hard to set this beside SUNSET BOULEVARD when 1950 comes rolling around.

In preparation for PREDATORS, yes I’m actually looking forward to that film, I checked out ALIEN VS PREDATOR REQIEUM. The film is awful. There are a plentitude of scenes where I truly couldn’t make out what was onscreen, just an ugly black mass that looked like someone was illegally recording a movie screen with their cell phone. There is no reason to actually wonder “who would win?” when these franchises go head to head. I remember when it was a comic book phase, quickly turning into a Nintendo phase and then disappearing. Us kids would be subjected to games like TERMINATOR VS ROBOCOP and then would hear about a FREDDY VS JASON. AVP was the one I was most interested in and I remember reading one of the comics and being astonished by the amount of blood and guts.

There is a show where warriors are “scientifically” evaluated and then matched up in a faux battle where their strengths and weaknesses will supposedly declare a victor. SPIKE, that homoerotic sweaty dude station, knows damn well that guys wanna see Capone vs. Jesse James even if the results are complete nonsense. Well this explains away AVP except that they have to bring in the slasher setup in a nice Colorado town where the punk kid wants to date the hot blonde but the tough blonde rival who happens to be dating her gets in the way. Throw in a mentor older bro, an Iraq War veteran and mother, a “you know he’s gonna die” husband, a dumb cop, and about a hundred future victims and you have AVP.

The film is by the numbers unless you could the amount of pregnant women that get killed. Tasteful. Luckily I was able to wash it down with a nice cold glass of DOOMSDAY. You won’t mistake Neil Marshal’s primary influences here, he won’t let you, Carpenter and Miller. Everything from the eye patch to the car battles is derivative in the cheapest way and yet I found it fresh until the horses and chain mail drop in. I’m not really with Nathan Lee on this one but I liked a lot of it and that kinda brings me back to PREDATORS because I also happen to like Nimrod Antal.

Like Neil Marshal he seems completely content to work in grime genres, he doesn’t appear to be in it for the accolades. Both are influenced by grind house fare but each has a healthy respect for the masters, just enough to take their often silly material seriously. VACANCY was far from perfect but I was surprised by the technical efficiency and the little personal touches, it was an artisan popping out a script and giving it more than it deserved. Marshal falls in DOOMSDAY because his script frankly falls apart at various points throughout the film, Antal is at the mercy of the studio. There is no need for me to rave about the guy yet, just enough to ensure that I’ll see PREDATORS eventually.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

the killer inside me

I’m not sure that I buy the idea that THE KILLER INSIDE ME is a noir film. I guess the reason for this is my lack of knowledge of the genre or perhaps genre ambiguity. My belief, whether mistaken or not, was that the doomed main character had to have some shred of decency to him/her before the shit hit’s the fan, that the shit hitting the fan was a result of a faulty decision. Of course you have to consider the German Expressionism because a lot of noir aficionados are sticklers for lighting technique (any why not?), but it seems that many color noirs would get the boot automatically. To me noir is a compromised person’s doomed battle with fate (usually as a result of a crime or a sexual encounter), or as Jim Emerson puts it “the undeniable consequences of following your own overpowering desires.”

Lou Ford is never anything but a wolf in sheriff’s clothing, a remorseless killer whose headspace we are forced to occupy and as Emerson points out “there‘s nobody there. The original occupant is long dead.” What killed him? Lou won’t tell us which leaves Michael Winterbottom to dispel the details. This means that we get plenty of flashbacks, nasty ones where kids are molesting each other and getting molested. Nothing too surprising other than some mother/son spanking scenes that somehow tie into Lou’s rough sexual preference and eventually the scenes that seem to have put this film on the map.

The scenes I’m referring to both involve the women in Lou‘s life, his lover and his girlfriend. Both are beaten mercilessly which has spurred some legit controversy about whether or not Winterbottom takes it too far. The scenes are really disturbing, the women both lay lifeless and neither fights back as Lou punches or kicks them. The reason for this is surprise. Alba’s scene was harder for me to watch mostly because of the way she initially reacts, her confusion and disappointment are sincere enough to make the prolonged beating excruciating to bear. To me it would be far more misogynist if the scene allowed for even a hint of humor, gratification, or if either relented. The second scene where he beats Kate Hudson to death isn’t nearly as effective.

I think that anyone bothered by the idea of violence against women should stay away from this film. I part ways with Emerson on a few points, one is the sentence where he claims that the ending which reminded him of KISS ME DEADLY was completely earned and the other is with his GROWNUPS statement (reflexive hyperbole).

I have no desire to see GROWNUPS but physical comedy, even the stupid stuff where overweight dudes bounce off trees, is most certainly less offensive than women getting their heads caved in. Obviously Emerson loves this film and wants desperately to defend it against allegations of misogyny but Kevin James is hardly the way to go. In fact Emerson did a splendid job earlier in his review when he talked about how ghastly the scenes are, reason enough to believe that the director’s intent was to show the audience how horrific abuse towards women truly is.

But don’t blame viewers, especially female viewers, for not caring to hear your vindication. The scene is so effective that I couldn’t imagine watching it with anyone who has experienced physical abuse. I couldn’t imagine the way it would make them feel, the fears that would come rushing back. This is a credit to Winterbottom’s talent and a legit reason for anyone with a queasy stomach to stay far away. Even if I find Rosenbaum’s cries against INGLORIOUS BASTERD completely ridiculous I wouldn’t make HOME ALONE comparisons and in the end I would have to grant him his conscience.

I felt the opposite about the ending, but I thought his comparison the Aldrich film was dead on. That film sustained a pace and atmosphere that supported its fiery finale, this film is uneven in that regard. Imagine if NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN suddenly ended with a gigantic explosion where nobody smelled the gasoline they were standing in.

I wish I liked the film as much as he did. I thought that the cinematography was really good, I guess Marcel Zyskind was the DP on MISTER LONELY. The performances were all good, Elias Koteas is great once again. The soundtrack was really fun and predictably offbeat although I wonder why Winterbottom didn’t learn anything from the Coens silent McCarthy adaptation. Perhaps the comparisons are all in my head but I couldn’t shake and consequently compare them when watching this film.

I guess that eventually I grew exhausted of Ford’s headspace more and more as his pathetic house of cards tumbled down. By the time he was staring at pictures of his mother’s you know-what I had enough of the guy. The characters seem to be trapped in bleak world that they have no control over, a purgatory that only Ford is aware and in control of. I’ve seen one other Winterbottom film, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, and from what I’ve seen so far I like him. This film really is worth a watch, I could easily see why Emerson is such a fan. For the record I really love reading Emerson’s viewpoints. He’s one of the best but I guess I respect him enough to wonder what he was thinking when he wrote that silly sentence. It happens to the best of us.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

what a fox!

Hey John. I walked out after 25 seconds of the BREAKING UPWARDS trailer. TEMPLE OF DOOM is easily the least of the Jones’ films Short Round and all. I still like the dinner scene though. The only scene I remember from PIRAHANA was the hilarious scene where the boy and his father are fishing and the school feeds on the father’s arm as geysers of blood shoot out of the water. Did you read Armond White’s review of JONAH HEX? Yes THE BIG HEAT is brutally good! Touché on the Val Lewton purchases. It’s funny to read your resolve to stop buying dvds and then only weeks later buy more. It was nice seeing you today pal. Part of me still wants to see JONAH HEX but if Fox looks like a glossy alien then I’m not interested. Go rent THE WHITE RIBBON from the Red Box.