Wednesday, December 28, 2011

i also love film club

It is fairly remarkable that John and I started this thing with no other intent than to argue and make our film viewing more meaningful. I'm thankful for that. You all can't imagine. It's a great way to suck more meaning out of life. I know that sounds heavy but watching movies is good enough, writing and discussing them with friends is the motha fuckin cherry on top.

To echo John's sentiment, it's such a pleasure to have all of you involved in this. You don't get paid. You mostly get shit on. For that I have to thank all of you for a great year. I can see this continuing for a long time.

I saw John today and felt immediate shame. I went too hard on my last two posts and feel like a complete asshole. I have to admit at the same time that part of my reading process is attaching motivation to the written word. It's a really bad part of me and I need to work on it. Part of interpretation requires well........ interpretation. I happen to get the wrong idea often.

But I had no right to make it personal. Rest assured that John and I will continue to have our memorable spats, I'll keep on farting on his lap so to speak. But it seems that at least once a year one of us makes the other mad (albeit very very briefly). I'm going to make it my year end resolution to consider feelings before writing. I have to admit that I thought (deviously) that some of my lines might send my friend through the roof. I was sore about the Fincher whore post and wanted to inspire similar feelings of discontent. Mission accomplished and yet it just made me feel even more sad.

Anyway, I'm fucking proud to have such excellent nerds for friends. Ben, I need to meet you and toss a few down the hatch.

Coming soon: reviews of Poetry, Tuesday After Christmas, Nostalgia for the Light, Contagion, I Saw the Devil, J. Edgar, and Midnight in Paris.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

my final word

Sorry. I didn't think anything I wrote would actually anger you. I was just trying to keep up. I DO read your posts all the way through even if I don't always interpret your ideas the right way. I was being honest about how I read (or misread) some of what you've written. No need to dig a bigger hole for myself. I'm in soooo many doghouses today.

Monday, December 26, 2011

let's keep the chris in xmas

Of course I’m aware of comparison/contrast essays. I guess I’m just surprised that you bring up these points to come into terms with your own already cemented opinions. My bad. I get a totally different vibe from your comparisons. I get the vibe that you like to knock films off their pedestal and use lesser appreciated films that you love to do it. I get the vibe that you get annoyed by these films because of the love they are getting while other films get largely ignored (indiewire poll anyone?). I’m not saying that it’s wicked or wrong, just pointing out the obvious.

To say “well a guy with a turtle bomb attached to his head is far better than a golf club to the face” pretty much ends the conversation for me. Yep John, you are right. “I much prefer an ATM falling on someone’s head to a metal dildo being kicked up a rapist’s ass.” I guess I’m a damn fool for having liked it in the first place. Example better understands pulp than example b. Ok, I guess you know best. Better not think of admonishing something pulpy before regarding everything that can be considered pulpy and better. Do you get what I’m saying here? I’m not saying that you don’t have the right to see connections in your head but rather that when you make them I could just as easily state “well I wasn’t aware that GWTDT was aspiring to be Breaking Bad.”

Nothing is taboo here. You aren’t being attacked. Read the paragraph again and you’ll see that I’m just pointing a fact out. That fact would be that your weapon of choice when debating something’s worth is often the use of comparison. Nothing wrong with it per say just not sure that I buy it all the time. But please continue to utilize this as maybe I’ll learn to connect the dots eventually.

“At the same time, I readily admit that the story is compelling in an "I can't stop looking at that anal rape" kind of way.”

I understand that you are joking here but this is what got me into this argument in the first place. The idea that the story is an easy target for those who believe that the director is above this sort of thing. I sort of cringe at the idea that they laugh off that part of this story. I know you could care less but I think that the story isn’t all about lifting its skirt up at the ball. If you can get all emotional about a moist napkin in that Denzel Bible movie then I can certainly find a heap of little non narrative driven moments that make this so much more than that movie with that nasty scene. But even that scene serves a purpose outside of the obviously perverse exterior. To me, a lot of people won’t entertain the idea. This is why I DO find it a bit of an underdog, at least to Fincherites.

All of this also makes me wonder what each of us think in regards to directorial emphasis. I can honestly state that since joining Film Club I’ve been more interested in those little moments than the overall story. I think a lot of that has to do with John’s influence here. I also let films pass or fail on the poignancy of a gesture or facial expression. I sometimes feel that it seals the deal. A director has to know to look for that. I don’t want to talk about the film specifically but I’ll say that I recently loved a movie with a tiny moment like this. It moved me enough to make me fall head over heels for it.

I bring up Fincher’s talent to point out his awareness of these things. John, you seem to think that I’m only taken aback by his “oh so gorgeous” framing or whatnot but I’m not referring to that. I heard someone say recently “so what! A screensaver can be breathtaking.” I am more enamored by his ability to show and teach by way of shooting, cutting, splicing, and editing. He’s not a big one take guy. He throws a lot of the film’s responsibilities on his shoulders but he often delivers. I think that this film is a great collaborative piece of art. I think Chris is agreeing on this point. There is a great union of actor and director here. Fincher knows what to shoot and his actors know how to breathe life into these characters.

I don’t know. I guess I’m still on the ropes here. At least I sort of have Chris by my side.

i'm hittin that corner for my pimp david

Yeah I must be carrying Fincher’s water. You know how I was so in step with everyone the last time he made a movie right? I thought that I mapped out my affection for this film pretty well but apparently I can’t be trusted. I just can't leave him no matter how hard he slaps me. I’m just paying the pimp so to speak.

But despite John’s insistence that I made up my mind before I walked into the theater I would say that I was quite nervous about the film beforehand. I wondered if in fact it would turn out ok given the narrative juggling that would have to happen in order to tell everything from the book. After seeing the TERRIBLE Swedish film that John can't seem to make up his mind about I was really nervous that this wasn’t meant to be. You can either choose to believe me or not but I assure you that I’m telling the truth. Of course I was rooting for it, I love the director just as I love the Coen brothers but I try to avoid blind love. I try to be honest. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder.

I’m not going to repeat my review about the film in question, I actually think my original post was quite objective. But I will say about John’s defense of the Swedish film (perhaps to avenge his nasty post) that perhaps he’s been watching too much television. That film could make CSI: Binghamton look like M. You boil craftsmanship and vision down to mere flashy. To quote Glenn Kenny “critics who call Fincher’s one any kind of copy of the original have 0 conception of framing, blocking, or editing. And this is a fact.”

But thanks for sitting me on your lap John. I farted before I got off.

Jeff, I totally believe you man. I wasn’t questioning your honesty just arguing that the argument that Fincher is somehow above this material (or any for that matter) is kind of weird. I think he knows what he’s doing, either that or he’s hunting down a paycheck so he can do shit like ZODIAC. I don’t think he is that kind of guy but then again what do I know I like that button movie right? Honestly I don’t question nor find offense in your honesty. I promise and I apologize if I’ve come off a little cantankerous here. I’m just going to bat for a movie. Hopefully this rope a dope will end soon. Go watch a movie or something guys.

Chris, where the fuck have you been my friend? These buzzards have been circling me for days now. I guess the whole “airport novel” argument is hip nowadays. I don’t begrudge it. Larsson makes some peculiar decisions but I think his aim is true. It is certainly pop art, and perhaps inevitably flawed for being such, but still it takes us remarkably deep into the investigative process via a reporter’s perspective. I was happy to learn about that point of view whilst being sheepish in defending it to people who seem to look down on it (even if those same people worship a young wizard). I will say in closing that argument that most haven’t read the said book in question sooooooooo.

“Sometimes we need these seedy underbelly stories to remind us that all some people have ever known in their lives is evil, and that much of the evil in our world consists of sexual violence against women.” I agree and I’m convinced that the only reason so many people are reading so far into this one is that they secretly take it very seriously especially now that “one of our best directors” has decided to adapt it. I just got Aldrich’s KISS ME DEADLY from Santa and I doubt that Hitchen’s can find any love amidst the sex or any heroism amidst the violence there (may he rest in peace). I happen to find heroism and love present in Fincher’s film. But do films need love and heroism to be good? Do films need humanity? I’m not so sure.

John is the king of stating he prefers one thing to another. We’ve already had this out several times but he likes to take one work of art (in this case a television show which is far different from a movie) and hold it over another to prove his point (Cold Weather vs Drive, The Green Lantern vs Melancholia, etc.). What can I say? I don’t know how they relate or where that point is coming from but I can’t really comment too much about Breaking Bad. It seems that it has universal appeal. Not sure how this relates to Fincher’s film but who cares right? John, I love you and I love Tarkovsky and the Coens and Katz and Korine and TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN and MURDER SHE WROTE so please don’t get mad. You have to admit that this is one of your indulgences and it often perks its little head up when you want to rub someone’s face in shit, specifically when they profess love for something (Jeff and Drive me and this film or me and Melancholia). So while I’m sure steam is shooting out of your ears please remember that I don’t mean this as a personal attack, just an observation.

I don’t think that anyone is arguing that ZODIAC is somehow lesser than this film. I don’t know how I’d rank anything at this point. I think that my argument is instead that while many Fincher fans seem to feel that this is one of his lesser achievements I would call it a major one, perhaps # two or three behind aforementioned movie. I WILL admit that I far prefer it to SE7EN. But honestly who the hell cares?

I hope I don’t sound negative guys. I am sensing a certain defensive tone that may or may not stem from a misunderstanding of what I’ve written. It’s hard to imply sarcasm when writing.

Chris, I love the review but in the future please rephrase “shit movies like IRREVERSIBLE and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE.” They are both turds in the same toilet.

jeff the quaker

This wasn’t a scuffle, just my need to hear you elaborate. I feel like I’m slowly chiseling an answer from you in regards to what specifically you didn’t respond to and I still remain a skeptic. It sounds like you made a huge mistake watching that Swedish film first. In fact I would argue that anyone who watched that film, myself included, made a huge mistake. I don’t understand the whole “I need to be surprised” argument but that’s ok. It sounds like the other film was far too fresh (or is it rotten?) for you to fully enjoy this one. I was kind of hoping to elaborate on the idea of bad stories (as perhaps you would classify this one) being made into great films but I guess it just boils down to where we place this on the Fincher meter. I’ll bet my meter is better than yours.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

merry christmas ya filthy animal

I think my first post mapped out exactly what I found great about the material. I like the mood, the setting, the sense of atmosphere, and the two lead characters. I like the emphasis on routine, adult routine. I agree that this is cookie cutter thriller that decides instead to focus on the process, the obsessive and sequential procedure of solving a crime that only exists in the present in the form of pictures, journals, subjective interviews, and codes. I like the cat. I like the idea that Mikael goes from father figure to sexual partner to love interest. I think that Fincher observes the source material as opposed to adapting it. He sees the flaws in character and simply presents them in more honest way. This is my point about the difference between mere source material and cinema; a script can be transformed if it’s in the right hands.

Also, we cannot ignore the performances here as opposed to the Swedish film. They are like night and day. I’m not only arguing Fincher’s authorial presence here but the collaborative brilliance that he evokes as director. I think this film is warmer than the original. The romance is there whether you are familiar with these characters in a written sense or not. Then again I haven’t seen this proven since the only other two people who seem to love this thing as much as me are Jesse and Graham, both being people who have read the book. We know that a film is more than its initial plot and if anyone would like to debate this it would be my pleasure. A great film thrives on more and as I’ve already written this film has so much more. Haha. Peace and good will towards Jeff.

patronizing at best

That's what most praise of this film adds up to. But it's much better. Don't watch it though because based on that post you obviously already know how you are going to feel about it. My point being that most people seem to hate the story so much that not even Fincher can deliver it from evil. They would prefer a story about facebook so they can compare it to Citizen Kane. My point would be that he elevates the material not only in a cinematic sense but also an emotional one. You argue that this is a bad world in which bad people do bad things to one another. I think that's a lazy interpretation at best. It's a dark world where dark people do dark things and then get caught by good people and revenge is exacted. Now if you are one to find offense in revenge or perhaps justice then this is not your thing. I can't say anything good or bad about the "front runnner" Breaking Bad so I'll leave that one alone.

You have never really sung the praise of Fincher which would imply that this film won't tip the scales so I won't try and sell this one to you. Lord knows we don't want to go back to Button territory. Go back to watching television. Love you John. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

my new cross to bear

I wonder what it is about the “material” that people seem to resist here. What is it about the story that bothers you specifically? I’m not asking because I doubt you but because I have read this argument several times and still feel in the dark about what shortcomings exist here. I can grant the one ending where Lisbeth takes down the corporation; it’s unnecessary but relatively brief. Is it the mystery? I have no allegiances to the book despite having read it and I can honestly say that I’m judging the film the same way I would judge say SHUTTER ISLAND. I bring up that film because I truly believe that if I had read the book I would have hated it. This isn’t literature, this is cinema. So when I write about Fincher’s film I’m judging it based on what he put up there. If I was concerned about the book I wouldn’t have hated the Swedish, it’s actually more in line with the novel.

To me the two films are incomparable. Fincher buries any memory of it. Forgive me for sounding defensive but I think that until somebody elaborates as to what about the story is below a director of this caliber I’m not sure what to make of their opinion and therefore have to step away from the discussion. Until then I’ll gladly state that I vastly prefer this film to SE7EN and THE SOCIAL NETWORK. ZODIAC is fairly incomparable; it’s not a piece of pop art like this and will always be Fincher’s BARRY LYNDON since audiences seem to avoid it like the plague.

But all of this is kind of pointless. I realize it is futile to try to talk anyone into sharing my very strong opinion. I guess I just feel that this film is a true underdog amongst the critical groupthink though many, like Jeff, seem to be willing to throw it a bone because it’s Fincher. I find it interesting that his last film was swooned over by so many when this one, to me, has much more heart and soul. Its scarlet letter would be the source material which most people haven’t read. In the end this movie is great, not good. Love you Jeff.

ps, I think I may have seen a film that will surprisingly crack the top ten. I'm not sure that I'll write about it until I make my list just to surprise everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

the girl with the dragon tattoo



David Fincher continues his cinema of obsession with Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. It’s a mystery; one set mostly on an island though characters occasional dip out to take care of personal business. The island is cold and remote with some very creepy inhabitants. We spend most of our time in the cottage with Mikael, Lisbeth, cat, and a spider web of photographs and stick it notes. But even with this icy atmosphere, the sense of evil lurking around in shadows there is still a remarkable sense of comfort and safety. Every time we follow the camera through that unprotected front door we are meant to feel a sudden calm, even when bullets could easily pass the barriers of glass and old wood. This is not the feel bad movie of the Christmas season.

I’ve read the book, the one that most distractors like to reference when claiming that “not even the talented Fincher can overcome such a stupid blah blah blah.” I can’t really defend it because I’m not really sure what they may be holding it up against. I thought it was good trash, an enormously entertaining pulpy yarn with a notable pair of lovers/gumshoes at its core. Larsson’s enthusiasm for his characters is often misperceived as quasi-feminism or a self-righteous male fantasy. I get the second charge if Mikael is indeed the author’s proxy. This story truly is his way of living out a naughty fantasy whilst only exposing the cool aspects of his flawed nature (likes sex, cigarettes, coffee, and booze but makes up for it by respecting women’s rights and taking down big corporate slime and woman killers).

The feminism is a little more complicated. My best bud Graham pointed out that he doesn’t think of Larsson as anything more than an old man who admires the youth of today. He’s refreshingly out of step with punk culture and feminism taking his time explaining what is on Lisbeth’s shirts or obsessing over her piercings and tattoos. He sees her sex life as something that she has control over and grants that same “freedom” to Mikael and anyone at the Millenium that he considers moral. He contrasts that with Nazi rapists or conservative social workers who like to lure girls to their lair where they do unspeakable things to them in exchange for virtually nothing. He’s obviously sickened by these men and has a hard time holding it back in service of his story. Fincher does not have this problem. He sees the actions of the evildoers as moments of power that can only be overcome by the taking back of power. Lisbeth embodies this, Mikael….. not so much.

The film starts by quickly establishing the Blomvkist character, specifically his professional downfall at the hands of an evil billionaire CEO. Simply put, he lost and must move on if he wants his paper to stay afloat. Luckily he is being sought out by another wealthy business man to solve a murder. This is intercut with Lisbeth’s loss of her beloved social worker and the subsequent man who will take his place. That scenario gives birth to the first acts of sexual violence. Let me warn anyone who is planning to see this that Fincher is not about to let us off easy.

The first act is less violent than vile. Jesse and Graham agreed that it is, in many ways, more disturbing because of two specific factors. The first would be the sound of a floor cleaner working right within earshot of the act. The menacing repetitious sound of a machine polishing is enough to get your blood pumping not to mention the idea that help or even an eye witness is right outside the door. The look of control on the perpetrators face is enough to make anyone want to jump through the screen. This is all rubbed in via an overhead shot of elation once the act is finished followed by the victim immediately cleaning the mess in the sink.

The second scene is exactly as vile and disturbing as anyone would fear. To say that it’s effective is probably beside the point. I can’t imagine how this moment would make a real life rape victim feel if they happened to see it. I don’t want to imagine. This is not to say that it shouldn’t be here but rather that I would not expect anyone to put themselves through it if it brought back feelings.

This is a mystery that deals with sick men’s need to dominate, humiliate, and scar their female prey. It’s about men who don’t ever think that they’ll have to face the consequences for their sickness. It’s about a girl who turns the tables without mercy. I will point out that Larsson made it awfully convenient for this particular character to possess so many valuable traits to combat these evildoers (mainly her photographic memory). But Fincher seems interested in the game aspect, the “who will slip up first” type of suspense, the kind where the cat and mouse often switch places. The pig from the earlier scene finds himself looking the “eye for an eye” straight in the eye.

Mikael’s investigation brings the two together. He discovers her via his own background check and decides to hire her for his own research. She’s immediately surprised by him, mostly the way he gives without needing to receive. Rooney Mara expresses so much here with her face, it’s truly a remarkable performance. Craig’s Mikael doesn’t react much to her prudence letting her be herself but reassuring her that he won’t ever let her entertain the idea that he could be one of the men from her past. He doesn’t patronize her and for that his stature starts to grow in ways that seem to surprise Lisbeth.

David Fincher does an excellent job telling this story in sequence. Everything is done with his trademark precision and sometimes it’s the little chores that feel the most important. We, the audience, are never left out of even the smallest detail, something that must have been chosen well beforehand when decisions were made about which actions should be taken from the source material. I was hoping that he would pay close attention to some of the smaller things (smoking, drinking, eating, showering, making coffee, scanning pictures, doing internet searches, feeding the cat, riding into town and returning over that ominous bridge making a fire) and I wasn’t let down. That sense of routine, of lifestyle, is what drew me to story in the first place. The idea that we could somehow vicariously become investigative reporters turned amateur detectives with all of the cigarettes, bottles of scotch, cups of coffee, and sandwiches at our disposal is enough to keep me baited for two and a half hours.

I was surprised by the love story, the way worked without much in the way of discussion of feelings or deliberate flirtations. It’s felt and acted upon, and the notion of sexual freedom is actually questioned in the film’s final scene. I didn’t expect this from Fincher but I’ve learned that though he has a very specific style and technique you can’t put anything past him. New territories lie ahead for sure.

I didn’t see a content pyramid here, all things worked together to get this thing where it needed to go. For instance the showdown between killer and investigator is handled quickly and efficiently just like everything else. I actually liked the speechified rant that followed the capture, not necessarily because I cared about why but for the smaller things. I liked how the killer sat for a moment to consider where to stab first, mimicking the motion a few times and then resting his arm while in deep thought. I also liked how the victim’s restraints were as modern as the technology they used to crack the case. The hydraulic hanging device was perfectly disarming, the way it moved so violently and swiftly. Likewise the killer’s fate is handled with similar speed and precision; a golf club to the face followed by the body hitting the floor with teeth spilling everywhere, Mikael is ungagged by his savior and said savior asks “may I kill him” to which he replies “yes” which is followed by a high speed chase that ends quickly enough for the epilogue. Everything can be charted; nothing is missed in the rapid pace. This is the cinema of obsession, the cinema of sequential efficiency.

Even as every action is a centerpiece I didn’t find this picture overwhelming. Instead of throwing useless information onto the puzzle board I found that everything eventually assembled to a satisfying whole. The camera often puts us behind the actions, big and small. We are often left looking at someone looking at something. We see only when they see, we feel only when feelings are sprouted. We fear the same things they do. We are implicated like a third wheel. This leads to rewards and punishments beyond your typical mainstream Hollywood film. The punishments are harsh, as in the scenes when characters are bound and gagged. We even get to see what it’s like to have a bag over your face; we get to hear the panic with each deep breath. But with great punishment comes great relief/reward.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTO is as smooth as it is brisk. It has the feel of a great slapstick comedy from the late thirties and early forties. It has great characters that come alive through great interpretations and performances. While it deals with heavy subject matter it rarely holds our head under the muck. Like any great mystery there is a sense of triumph and connection when the job is finished and like any great potential trilogy there is the strong sense of yearning for the next entry to hurry up and get here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

the skin i live in


The first thing you should know when entering an Almodovar film is that anything can happen. Not only can it happen but the characters and dialogue won’t wince, smirk, or even pump the brakes when it occurs. He loves his melodrama and, to be fair, he’s one of the few modern filmmakers who seem to know what to do with it. THE SKIN I LIVE IN is one of his zaniest films in a long time, it’s also one of his best. His typical auteur influences are there (Hitchcock, Sirk, Fassbinder, Bunuel, Cukor, and Ophuls) but also some new ones, Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE and Almodovar’s own TIE ME UP TIE ME DOWN being the film that I spotted the most. Like many of his films it moves around via flashbacks (the good ones that are shot in real time with long takes and a lot of juicy dramatic material) informing us of the present and hinting towards what might be ahead.

If you haven’t read anything about the picture yet I urge you to stay away from reviews. I wish I hadn’t read one big spoiler in particular. Go into it with no knowledge even if that means that you stop reading now. If you decide to keep reading I promise I won’t spoil anything major. The story is about Robert, Marilla, and Vera. Robert is a surgeon whose main interest is developing and manufacturing a new skin that won’t burn. If you really want to know why you’ll have to see the film, his past will light the way. Marilla is his loyal servant who watches over Vera his prisoner and lab rat. He loves them both for various reasons but mostly for their loyalty. He’s starting to lose his mind.

Through flashbacks we learn about Robert’s connection with Vera. This happens while the two lie in bed together; the camera pans slowly towards their faces and dissolves into memory. From there the already nutty plot gets even nuttier but thankfully our fair Pedro knows enough to play it straight, to allow the schlock to just be and to continue to intoxicate us with his incredible eye for cinema. He and cinematographer Jose Luis Alcane ought to be listed with the best director cinematographer collaborators in movie history. They have a true distinct look, style, and movement that will be aped for years to come. Also, Alberto Inglesias have worked well together in his past melodramas but here he does a great job adapting to the horror and thriller musical cues needed for certain scenes.

I love this movie because of the genre elements toyed around with. Every Almodovar film in existence will somehow deal with broken hearts and complicated love affairs. There is also a lot of double crossing and a huge emphasis on sexual identity. Who would have known that all of this would go well in a mad scientist film? I’ll admit that without talking about specifics I’m not really getting anywhere in this post so I’ll wait until you guys see it to write something a little more in depth and perhaps personal. Go see it though, it’s a lot of fun.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

take up your cross John

I wouldn’t get too bummed on the Film Comment list. You know that critic’s polls rarely mean anything along the lines of vindication. Though to point five fingers right back at myself I cringe at the thought of how much people seemed to dig BRIDESMAIDS.

“It’s my favorite time of year for being a movie nerd.”

Me too. I am getting over my list fix though. Once I read a few of my favorite critics I get over it real quick. I’m getting excited to make my own list, I have about seven movies to go before I feel comfy doing it. I have accepted the fact that I probably won’t be able to see A SEPERATION before I make it. I just found out that MYSTERIES OF LISBON is on demand but it’s also over five hours long. Yipes.

As far as you saying that you aren’t excited about the films that you haven’t seen that are listed I can’t really blame you but for some reason I really want you to have a more positive outlook man. Turn that cinephile frown upside down.

I agree that CHRISTMAS IN JULY is up there on the Sturges list. I love the reoccurring cast.

“Hitler is now a joke. Chaplin has won. The subversive element here is undermined because we all now think that Hitler was a ridiculous little man.”

You better not let Lars Von Trier hear you say that.

I have to admit that I’m really excited that you loved HUGO. Part of me thought you were going to be the contrarian here. It seems that Scorsese is doing something interesting in his last two films, both being love letters to cinema.

I’m still convinced that Ben doesn’t exist.

I have seen three films since ESSENTIAL KILLING; POETRY, I SAW THE DEVIL, and THE SKIN I LIVE IN. I’ll hopefully get a chance to write about them soon.

Tomorrow I am going to enjoy me some Fincher.

Monday, December 19, 2011

essential killing



Similar to NAKED PREY and RUN OF THE ARROW, ESSENTIAL KILLING observes the complexities of being both the hunter and the hunted. That’s just a stupid way of saying this this is a chase film and a great one at that. It will please Jason to know that the surroundings were a large part of its inception. Most of the film takes place in the Polish Masurian forest, a snowy mountainous woodland with a heavy coniferous presence. Director Jerzy Skolimowski came up with idea after hearing a rumor that the CIA used a nearby airfield to transport Middle Eastern POWs (I read this on the internet). He lives there and had imagined the story in light of almost getting into an accident while driving home. The land is what evens the playing field, what allows the chased to alternate between prey and predator. He found his story in his home, in the woods.

Here’s the catch. The man being chased is what many of us would consider a “terrorist.” Here’s the funnier catch, he’s played by Vincent Gallo. The film opens in an undisclosed country; we could probably guess either Iraq or Afghanistan. From the get-go this man is being hunted and right off the bat we see him kill to prevent being either killed or captured. After killing three men with a bazooka he is captured and brought to yet another unidentified location. Here he is screamed at, kicked, and water boarded. From there he is transported (and freed via car accident) by van to the great Polish forests where we spend the rest of the film.

Once freed the man has no choice but to survive. He has no shoes and no coat and is alone in -35 degree temperatures. The chase is almost dialogue free, there is certainly nothing in the way of exposition or explanation. ESSENTIAL KILLING is proudly stripped of context and political motivation. It’s solely about a man being hunted like an animal. It’s a fantasy, the scenarios are big and dramatic. The moral implications are there (whether to kill or to turn the other cheek, to drink from a lactating tit or to starve) but Skolimowski remains fiercely dedicated to the simplicity of his story. The title says it all.

we need to talk about kevin and the ides of march

So Jeff and I made an afternoon and evening of watching films that could potentially make our upcoming top ten lists. John’s post about checking up on the indiewire polls is evidence of how weird we get when dealing with year-end lists. Jeff and I started with a film that has made many of them already, Lynn Ramsey’s WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. Let’s talk.

The first thing we need to talk about is how I missed the boat when writing about MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE. What I should have written to save you all time, if you indeed read my long winded post, is that the film’s characters and scenarios lacked any hint of complexity. What I meant is that every scene played out just the way we knew it would, catastrophically. Likewise this film suffers from a lack of intricacy, each character walking trancelike to their respective dooms. We’ve talked about the cinema of predestination; well these two pictures to me exemplify the worst of what that idea has to offer.

I wouldn’t dream of saying that either film is bad, in fact I can totally understand either winning over the best of us. I don’t say that to patronize anyone and in fact I freely admit that my own resistance may have something to do with where I am now rather than anything objective. So take it as a subjective and hopefully honest point of view. I didn’t like either film despite their skill and occasional value. This particular film is telling a contemporary story, one that hasn’t left our nation’s psyche since Columbine. The idea that one student could plan and execute a mass murder inside of the safe zone that is school has terrorized and intrigued writers and filmmakers alike as it should. This film handles the material from the family point of view, the idea that a mother’s greatest gift can in fact become her biggest nightmare. My problem is that the damn kid should have been locked up well before he brought his bow to school.

I couldn’t say with any confidence that we don’t have any characters worthy of our sympathy here. There are certainly gentle and warm moments with almost all of them with the exception of Damien Kevin. The father is a loving man albeit a completely oblivious dope (wonderfully played by John C. Reilly). The mother though tortured and obviously at her wits end, fuels her son’s fire when she should be instead plotting wisely against him. All of the co-workers are grotesque caricatures. The families of the victims are all blindly rancorous and unforgiving. What a wonderful world this film inhabits. Is it that far from reality? I fucking hope so.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN uses the spliced non-linear plot device to tell its story. The opening image is striking, a sea of people covered in berry juice and berry chunks. I would call it an orgy but I didn’t see much of the old in and out going on. From there we go to a house covered in blood red paint and at this point it would be wise to note the length of Tilda Swinton’s hair.----- Swinton is getting to the subhuman talent level at this point---- For the rest of the film we skip back and forth from three different time periods; infancy (medium hair length), teenage years (short and black), and post massacre (long and with bigger bags under the eyes to signify emotional fatigue beyond our wildest nightmares).

The film doesn’t grant anyone much outside of their respective broad personality traits. Mom is snooty and fed up (reasonably) with her son. Dad is unusually unmindful of obvious warning signs. Daughter is innocent, the polar opposite of her big brother. Kevin is evil, perhaps plotting this butchery very early on in his rich and spoiled life. There is absolutely NO sympathy for him here and I think it’s probably fitting. The problem I have, outside of insulting scenes where kids play violent video games and yell “KILL!,” is how constrained the scenes become. There were one or two scenes where Kevin defied my expectations and showed a little warmth and kindness towards his mother. Other than that it was a predictable art house thriller that probably thought it was being far more cautionary than exploitative.

George Clooney’s passion for politics works to his benefit in THE IDES OF MARCH, a dark and cynical film that FINALLY!!!! grants its characters some room to defy their respective natures. Here we have double crosses, suicide, surrender, underage sex, abortions, lying, cheating, smoke screening, and character assassination all living side by side with honesty, loyalty, progressivism, compassion, and morality. The picture itself is as clean cut as its director and it moves along nicely thanks to a lack of glut unnecessary elucidation. We are told only what we need to know and shown only what we need to see.

There is no doubt that this is safe Hollywood filmmaking but as such I found it an award season pearl. I don’t have much more to add to Jeff’s post, I also prefer it over WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. Then again, I’m a fan of this type of thing. I like the way we get to see the interiors, all of the things that happen before and after what ends up on our television screens. I like watching candidates talking with their staff. I like seeing the staff and team working to smear the opponent. I like the reminders that everything that is earned comes with a price, usually one that compromises the moral core of those who want to do the right thing. I like how it reminds us that our heroes are almost always flawed. I liked how everyone was implicated. In the end it argues that politics are the dirtiest game on earth and that we as the implicit spectators will almost always be in the dark.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

hang in there jeff

I'll post about those films real soon. Just got home from Cleveland. Got about 4 hours of sleep the entire weekend. Good times. Long live punk rock.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

fright night


FRIGHT NIGHT is not the kick back I was expecting. It’s more in line with something like the last film I watched, a slave to its own time. But damn if it doesn’t have a lot of fun despite that fact. It’s admirable and disappointing, it goes back and forth. It seems that most straight genre picks (Crazy Stupid Love, Cowboys vs Aliens, Fright Night) are stunted by the shallow audiences that they are being pitched to. It’s as if we are going slowly back to the studio age but with way less hope for artistry sneaking through. Then again, maybe I’m just hopeless but I’d throw down my enjoyment of this film as proof that perhaps someday I’ll adjust to our postmodern cinema, one that can’t seem to ignore everything that’s going on around us.

So if you don’t know already this is a remake of a fun 1985 vampire flick. It switches things around just enough to feel fresh; once again (as in Let Me In) it’s set in Las Vegas. This works well with the plot as the housing market works in favor of Collin Farrell’s head honcho who kills many of the locals and counts on people chalking their disappearance up to “just passing through.” Plot= former nerd dates popular babe, dude stops hanging out with old friends, vampire moves next door and kidnaps former friend, kid works with famous magician (the dude from Doctor Who) to defeat the suave bloodsucker.

Farrell’s casting is a really nice touch, and I’ll admit that I enjoyed the lead roles despite not knowing much about the cast. Aton Yelchin and Imogen Poots do a great job….blah blah blah. Good performances DO help movies. John, we'll have a little talk about this later.

I wrote a preemptive text to most of you saying “this movie is rad” or something. This occurred right before the disappointing CGI action sequences mashed in at about the 3/4’s mark. It’s not enough to sink the ship but it certainly slowed it down. Don't you hate it when characters speechify whilst battling? Luckily it only lasts about 15 minutes and then the movie finds its way once again.

The stuff that really had me hooked was the dynamic between Yelchin and both his girl and his former best friend. It was that need to evolve that ultimately causes his childhood friend SPOILER to die at his hands (a moment that begins hokey and stupid and barely redeems itself). High school movies have a wellspring of potential entertainment value. This movies mines that really well. I'm not going to bore you with comparisons to the old one, it really doesn't matter how it measures up. I liked it enough to recommend it to anyone interested in some fast and nasty entertainment. It’s the Hollywood horror film of the year, which may not being saying much.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

crazy stupid fucking love

CRAZY STUPID LOVE might as well by me least favorite film of 2011. It almost seemed like it was taunting me. Where the hell do I start? The film deals “openly” with adultery. A husband and wife go out to dinner, a good deal of visual emphasis is put on the husband’s attire, cheating is revealed…. cue the laughter. From there we have the process of divorce as seen through the eyes of the modern day romantic comedy. The husband moves out whilst the wife cries and talks of Twilight and whatnot. Meanwhile a young girl studying to become a lawyer meets a suave chauvinist in a fancy bar. The fancy bar is where we will spend a lot of our time as our aforementioned husband and lady’s man work together to get some mojo back.

Pop culture references are like oxygen, this shitty film can’t even imagine surviving without them for more than a few minutes. Jesse Martin and I counted over sixty. One of the most sickening aspects of the film is the way it implies that comfortable style of dress somehow warrants infidelity. “I wasn’t trying hard enough,” says our newly liberated square of a husband right before revealing that he had a wild night with his son’s teacher. Yes, keeping up with the times is very important if you want to deservedly keep your spouse from fucking their co-worker. This means maxing your credit card on clothing that makes you feel uncomfortable and getting a decent haircut because you, as you are, is just not good enough. You must not be “fighting” hard enough for them to treat you with decency.

If the film argues otherwise in the end I apologize but I’ll add that it’s too little way too late. The plot contrivances shouldn’t surprise anyone; we’ve been nursing on that tit for some time now. The modern day romantic comedy must send in their script to some warlock who checks it out and makes sure that certain things happen right on time (montages- check, awkward misunderstanding- check, big stupid speech to clear shit up- check, somehow every character ends up in the same fucked up family- check). The soundtrack is readymade for any poor soul who shops at Target and hits up Panera on their way home just in time for Glee or Grey’s Anatomy. This film is a sign of the end times.

And what of our beloved Ryan Gosling? He’s doing his worst David Putty impression from Seinfeld. Or was it Will Smith from Hitch? No, it must have been Tiger Woods. There is a scene where he and Emma Stone reenact a scene from DIRT DANCING (pop culture reference number 42 I believe) and all I could hope for was a scene from ROAD HOUSE instead. Ladies and gentlemen, we should demand more than this.

martha marcy may marlene



The problem with MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is that it has such a hard time finding a middle ground. It deals with heavy subject matter, specifically the troubles of being in a cult. Let me give you a brief synopsis; girl escapes cult and goes to live with rich sister and her husband, flashbacks ensue, troubles with sister and husband escalate, perhaps delusions occur. Basically Martha is having trouble adjusting to any sort of life be it one that exists in terror or one that exists in monotony. She has as much trouble at the dinner table as she did breaking into rich people’s houses or waking up to the cult leader (the always dependable John Hawkes) taking advantage of her. There is very little middle ground, nothing that can last or won’t be ruined by contrivance. The script and plot live to make us squirm in discomfort, they set these characters up just to knock them down.

Take one scene in which a nice day is nearly ruined by Martha’s inexplicable decision to laugh as loudly as possible. She’s on a boat ride with her caricature rich English brother in law having a grand old time when he tells her that they are planning on having a baby. She laughs loudly which sparks the question “why is that so funny?” The reply is a snide “I just can’t imagine it, Lucy having a baby.” If this was an isolated incident it might not matter but I have a hard time spending my night with characters that can’t seem to take a break when they get one. It’s that love for one’s own sadness that contributes to the perpetual down and out status and Martha most certainly has a thing for being bummed out.

The cult life is more interesting albeit in a “yeesh” kind of way. The community exists peacefully at first but we already know that this won’t last via the first scene. You can see why she is initially drawn in but once we skip back to her first night with the leader Patrick I wonder why anyone would stick around. Brainwashing is a tricky thing I’m sure but getting drugged and raped is certainly reason enough to leave. I know we are dealing with tricky stuff here and I’m not trying to be at all insensitive, the director here handles the harsher stuff with a decent amount of care and respect if there is such a thing when regarding this type of degradation. The problem isn’t in the way he handles the cult although I would have liked to see a little more reason as to why anyone would want to be a part of it. The problem I had was more with the scenes at the lake house with Martha’s family.

I suppose the motivation here is to juxtapose two entirely different extremes in order to give us a clue as to how and why Martha ended up in the clutches of such an evil group. The problem is that the director and writer use the laziest and most recycled clich├ęs to achieve this. The wife is your atypical sensitive rich girl, more concerned with boring social conventions than the wellbeing of her little sister. The husband is an entrepreneur whose hospitality is always one step away from becoming a total bourgeois asshole. The scene that really took me out of it was a dinner scene in which he just couldn’t help himself from asking her what her “plans” are for life. This is the easiest and laziest way to play out a dinner table dustup and it’s executed with even less inspiration. The film’s interesting bookends are let down by the junk in between.

There are some powerful moments and I particularly liked the ending for at least going down the thriller road both figuratively and literally. This film is certainly worth a look for the performances alone but also for the possibility that this type of this will appeal to you. Rest assured it’s extremely well made but that doesn’t seem to mean much these days.

This picture suffers from a lot of the same ailments I find in any given Michael Haneke film. Big moral issues are important here most of them played like a game. One scene finds Patrick telling Martha to shoot a cat because it’s dying of cancer. The only difference is that the ice king would have actually shot a cat on camera to get his lame self-righteous kicks and to make his target audience cringe and then pat themselves on the back for “learning” something. But what do we actually learn? Sometimes people get caught up in bad things? Sometimes biological family is just as bad as weird homicidal covenant family? I think the lesson I took from this is that some people think they are predisposed to sadness while good things sit right in front of them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

the machine i'm raging against

Jeff, your post on TAKE SHELTER is great. I really like how you also saw the little hints and reminders peppered in to lure us into Curtis’ anxieties. I forgot about the gas pumping scene, I remember stressing out while watching it. Also, the crayon scene is great because it shows us what’s at stake here. He could lose a beautiful family if he doesn’t play his cards just right. In the end it would imply that he loses, he bet on tails when it was heads all along.

The film is all about fear and anxiety. It’s about the broad spectrum of terror from embarrassment to death itself. I guess the ending worked for me because the film is, in my opinion, a proud horror picture. Jason would probably argue otherwise and I think he’d be more knowledgeable in that area of expertise but I’m throwing it out there. The finale is the classic gotcha moment. I really love what Chris wrote in regards to the ending or rather what Jessica Chastain said. It’s true that the dreams are notable for that feeling of abandonment, the feeling of hopelessness. Perhaps the scariest aspect is the fact that when the storm begins he and his daughter are all alone. I really love that movie.

I have seen few films lately but don’t really have it in me to write much so bear with me.

CRIES AND WHISPERS is a beautiful thing to look at. It’s also the coldest and most brutal Bergman film that I’ve encountered thus far. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like it, I felt quite the contrary. I couldn’t help but feel that if the film had been directed by a different man or woman I might have loathed it. This perhaps illustrates my own weird sense of comfort in regards to certain filmmakers. Does this happen to any of you? I wonder what Bergman was facing in his life when he directed this one.

Robert Zemeckis’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL is the best adaptation I’ve encountered of Charles Dickens’ novel. It’s also extremely appropriate for these greedy years. It teaches not only how to give but also how to receive, with grace and gratitude. This is not the Bah humbugidydooo romp that I thought it would be, it’s remarkably dry and straight making the finale all the more merry.

I’ve been hot and cold when it comes to Brian De Palma. When he’s good he’s damn near great and when he’s struggling I find his work almost unbearable. THE BLACK DAHLIA is fairly lukewarm albeit in a grand way. It goes for it all the way the entire time. I appreciated this but I also wanted it to end. I’d seen it before and had fond memories of certain sequences. In the end I think it’s a noble failure if there is such a thing. The casting and the convoluted nature of the script contribute to this reaction.

As I said before COLD WEATHER is a very nice holiday surprise. I think that after I got out my initial snooty remarks aimed at John Boy I felt a lot better. But I still need to explain myself. I think I sort of cringe every time someone implies that current cinema has a low number of director’s worth getting excited about. I don’t remember when or if you actually wrote this but I seem to recall reading it fairly recently. To imply that Kurtz or Nichols are all we have to cherish is to ignore a long list of directors both famous and underappreciated making good to great films year after year. The fact that all of us are able to put together top ten lists is a testament to that. I find the idea very irrational. Sorry if you haven’t made any such claim I just attached that idea to you for some reason and decided to play the role of the troll and to attack you in full to see if I could pull at your soul and force you to take a stroll down my train of thought which you stole.

Friday, December 9, 2011

take shelter




Curtis LaForche is afraid of many things. He’s a protector and as such has much to fear. He’s unstable at times. He makes irrational decisions. He loves his wife but could live without her if need be. His number one objective is to protect his daughter, and who could blame him? Like many great Cronenberg films TAKE SHELTER is also about the fear of what our bodies are capable of. Curtis wonders what beast is coming out from within, at the same time holding onto the belief that his “delusions” will someday come true. Paranoia is a powerful energy as Curtis will soon find out.

The picture opens with a nightmare. It seems that we can be tipped off to our protagonist’s conscious state by the size and structure of the clouds in frame. If the sky looks weird we know that he’s sleeping. His dreams don’t fade quickly after waking; sometimes the pain he encounters lingers long after. He is dreaming of a storm, one that brings the potential end of the world. Of course he’s the only one having these dreams and those around him begin to see his sanity wither away. The storm brings a rain like motor oil falling from the sky; the rain and the air make mammals crazy and bloodthirsty. He is Noah but instead of an ark he builds a storm shelter.

He’s trying to protect his family from the impending disaster, this thing that is “not right.” He’s also actively aware that his brain may not be a thing to trust. So this makes for some problems as well. He must also think about protecting his family from that possibility. It’s hard to banish these types of thoughts completely, the seed remains and the prospect slowly grows stronger and more powerful. I’ve dealt with this from time to time and it seems that the more time I have to think the worse it gets. This is why sitting alone in his sanctuary is a dangerous habit to form. And keeping these visions to himself doesn’t help matters.

I like how director Jeff Nichols makes a huge emphasis on money here. I felt the bank account draining slowly. The vacation envelope is shown several times being filled and emptied; sometimes it’s the only thing in frame. Curtis’ co-pay, his psychiatric appointments (downgraded to psychology), his meds, and all of the other necessities are all just outside of his reach. The storm shelter is a terrible investment from the point of view of the non-believer. Once he loses his job his mind might as well go with it as almost everyone he knows abandons him, even his wife briefly.

It comes to a sort of apex at a local dinner where he’s faced with the men and women who once considered him a friend and a neighbor. Then out of nowhere it seems that he may have been vindicated as the town siren howls in the distance. That storms leads to an incredibly tense moment involving something as simple as a padlock. I’ve been very impressed with this and COLD WEATHER, specifically the power they possess with such frugality. These are good minds at work.

I can’t really blame John for his feelings towards the finale but I think I actually liked it quite a bit. I wonder if there is a decisive point in which we can see the film burrow exclusively into Curtis’ beaten brain. Or perhaps he’s a prophet after all and not just chicken little. Either way I’m not even slightly disappointed by this picture. Let’s start talking TAKE SHELTER.

i kid i kid

Before I write about TAKE SHELTER I wanted to let John and everyone know that I don’t have any beef. I’m just trying to be antagonistic for the sake of being antagonistic. I love the guy. COLD WEATHER rules!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

lose the attitude john

Sounds like we mostly agree with each other in regards to COLD WEATHER minus the genre statements only because that brings us back to the previous posts which almost made me not want to watch the movie in the first place. I loved the score. It’s been written before but it reminded me of NORTH BY NORTHWEST a lot. It’s the second score this year to evoke Herman, the other being the underrated SOURCE CODE.

I saw TAKE SHELTER tonight with the incomparable Howard brothers. I’ll be posting a lengthy review tomorrow.

I’m disappointed in John’s participation or lack thereof in our director of the month. You’re lucky you aren’t being graded.

Read the subject and adhere.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

cold weather


I don’t see how COLD WEATHER is considered mumblecore. I also don’t think it’s revolutionary though I have been tempted to use the word new. Still, I loved it. The characters are fully fleshed and interesting. I like watching them interact even if I knew they were reciting lines. They are loveable and as the tension builds (and I was very surprised at how much it actually did build) I found my heart beating rather fast for a film thrown carelessly into this stupid subgenre. Why? Because I cared. No budget constraints can stop a good director from making my toes curl at the sign of danger for characters that I’ve grown to love. With the proper skills an auteur can take a simple suspense scenario and rank it with the best and most expensive. That’s how I would rank the final fifteen minutes of Katz’s film, damn near the best. The finale is one of the best things to happen in cinema all year.

The film is also consistently dealing with amateurs. The detective angle is great and carefully developed. I felt that it may have been a little too obvious in the beginning but that’s not even a valid concern. I felt invigorated when our pair of slapdash sleuths went digging around the hotel room looking through garbage cans and scribbling on notepads. It’s appropriate that our lead actor isn’t much of an actor at times. He actually reminded me of my next door neighbor Kevin, socially awkward in the best possible way. I loved the brother/sister dynamic. I loved Gail. Consider Trieste Kelly Dunn officially on my sites. It’s hard to take your eyes off of her.

This is also beautifully shot. I love it when a director takes pride in each composition, especially with his or her use of color. This film matches better than my aunt Mary. The beautiful northwestern bionetwork isn’t wasted on Katz and crew. The shots here are mighty fine.

There John, I agree with you. To take it a step further I’ll say that I sort of resent the notion that this is in any way a slight film. I think it’s actually pretty major, even if the history books don’t recognize it. But as I agree with any fan of this film as to its quality I also wonder if we are coming at this for the same reasons. I guess it doesn’t matter. I just hope more folks get a load of this.

a dangerous method


David Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD is about many things. It’s about the friendship of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung tracked all the way down to that final severed tie. It’s also about Jung’s extramarital relationship to his patient Sabina Spielrein as well as her ties with Freud as well as the way her condition and consequential “healing” began a new form of treatment. Throw in Jung and his wife for good dramatic measure and finally Jung and Otto Gross, a degenerate doctor turned patient turned psychologist. With all of these powers combined we have the birth of psychoanalysis from one of cinema’s modern masters.

The relationship between the Arian Jung and the Jewish Spielrein is the glue of the film. She is the first person we see; screaming, quailing, jolting, and distending in obvious torment. Her mouth is the most notable part of her during these scenes of hysteria; it’s as if unspeakable things are being suppressed. Suppression is one of the most important elements of this film. As we see her transformation there is still the hint of panic beneath her controlled appearance. Whatever has been healed still waits to be released, a fitting theme for the man who made us afraid of our physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological capabilities.

She is studied by Jung, a man who hints at his discontentment with monogamy quite obviously. His wife is rich and sweet and I suspect slightly insecure. I’m guessing that this comes as a result of being married to her husband, a man who can’t help but make her his occasional guinea pig. He soon finds that his patient suffers from triggers, things that allude to her past most of which deal with her father. She feels vile because of her sexual responses to punishment and eventually finds a partner in Jung. Jung’s break with monogamy comes with the aforementioned Otto Gross. He openly admits to having multiple partners outside of marriage and even sleeping with patients. He even coaxed those who didn’t think it was the right thing to do into his bed.

Through the enthralling Gross Jung contemplates the dangers of repression while forgetting the dangers of freedom. -----The film doesn’t need to emphasize the atmosphere of repression as the period itself looked and felt constrained enough (look at the clothing).----- Jung forgets that one man’s pleasure and happiness often comes at the price of other’s pain and torment. This begins a downward spiral for Jung and those he loves (his wife, his mentor, his lover). Conscience and consequences play a large role in this film. In some respects there is the repression of the first, the way our good doctor justifies his actions in light of his guilt.

Much of our guilt comes with the presence of something or someone greater, a teacher and father or mother figure. This is what Freud represents here. Through the manifestation of guilt come the famous rivalry and the ultimate breaking of ties. Cronenberg obviously loves and admires Freud (his previous films also hint towards this notion) as his character as played by Viggo Mortensen represents a calm and unbending integrity, one based on careful thought and fact. Jung is the romantic, a man chasing after meaning and losing himself along the way. Freud is the voice of reason, the constant reminder that science should remain such.

But he is not without his own burdens. Throughout the film he is seen as someone haunted by his ethnicity. Jung was a Christian German, a good looking man and a good ambassador for psychoanalysis. But he then goes and joins with Spielrein, reminding her that they are both Jews. She was killed later by a German SS Death Squad while he was exiled and live to see the deaths of four of his five sisters in concentration camps. Jung spent the war in comfort probably enjoying his boat.

This all probably sounds academic and I’ve heard that a lot of grippers have complained that the film is a fancy version of Masterpiece Theater. That’s bullshit. I was never bored by this one and the tension, though mostly dealing with words and theories, is continuous and exhilarating. The acting is great even if you feel that Knightley is “overboard.” I think it’s quite the opposite. The camera is always interesting, especially during the sequence in which Jung, Spielrein, and his wife are involved in the questioning. Watch the choice of lens and camera placement, watch the scene where Knightley puts her hands where Jung’s wife just had hers. This is cinematic stuff for sure.

Cronenberg is an extraordinary filmmaker, a man who seems to have perfected his craft. He knows how to show us perspective, how to SHOW subjectivity. He has proven many times that he can shoot action and guide the best performances out of his actors. He is a student of film but I more often than not he avoids the pitfalls of homage. He cares more about the intellectual and emotional impact of his subject material. He takes great care establishing fact and atmosphere through research and collaboration with his cast and writers. A DANGEROUS METHOD is a great introduction to this part of history and psychology. It’s a continuation and evolution of his themes and a great teaching mechanism for dummies like myself who missed the boat on the subject. Obviously I feel that it’s one of the year’s best.

Monday, December 5, 2011

1939: year in film

Ben, I have been happy reading your recent foray into classic film. I’m not trying to imply that you haven’t seen older pictures but that I’ve been reading more and more about it and so I thought I’d get back to yearly lists whenever possible. 1939, it has been said, is one of the best. Though my list only contains one foreign film (I was really hoping to see the Carne and Mizoguchi movie at some point) I feel fairly confident in it. I didn’t have to wrestle with many films on my list though one three and a half hour juggernaut gave me uncomfortable pause.

GONE WITH THE WIND requires no introduction. Its legend is part of our history and its history is the thing of legend. Like I said, the film is burdened with racial and historical inexactitudes. The South is portrayed as a cheerful Eden where slaves and owners lived happily until the evil bearded devil waged war and turned it into a paradise lost. Of course we know that slavery is no such walk in the park and that hooded underground societies hoping to resurrect the old South are not exactly the French Resistance. To overlook the film’s evils is to not actually see the film; blind love is for the weak. Like the vile legend that is BIRTH OF A NATION this picture views the South through two transitions. The first being the idealized and the second being the torn and reconstructed. But history is not the primary focus here. That would be the villainous Scarlett O’Hara.

It’s a testament to Vivien Leigh’s beauty and acting chops that I still rooted for her despite her attitude and ruthlessness. I’m one of those schmucks who fell for the otherwise bleak ending, one that would probably alert a sane person to the fact that our fair lady is losing it. I’ve always put perhaps too much of the fall on the director because I mostly buy into the auteur theory. This film however-- perhaps more than any that I’m aware of-- negates the absolution of that theory. Sure, the first half of the film (reportedly directed by Cukor) features most of the great stuff (the crane shot, the burning of the King Kong set, the journey back to Tara, and the beautiful backdrops) but the second half doesn’t imply much of an artistic departure. So where should the credit here go? Let’s get socialistic with it and maybe divvy it up equally. Let’s give a little to the great William Cameron Menzies, a little to the cast and crew, a good deal to Victor Fleming, and perhaps the most to David O Selznick. GONE WITH THE WIND makes my list for many reasons but mostly because three and half hours go by quicker than most cartoons. I’m sure I’ll catch some grief for it but that’s what Film Club is for. Perhaps I should have just posted this Sarris link instead: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/73mar/sarris.htm

Onto to more historical fiction, this time from the great John Ford who made at least two monumental films in 1939. I’m sure he’d disagree with me. The invisible villain of GWTW is in fact the humble hero of YOUNG MR LINCOLN, a murder mystery/court room drama shot in lovely black and white. The film first fictionally recounts honest Abe during his early years in New Salem with Ann Rutledge, it then moves to Springfield for some Ford Americana and a chance to show our protag learning his way around the law, and finally ends up examining a crime. YML makes sure to reestablish Lincoln’s mythos as a relentlessly keen and just man of integrity, one who knows to check an almanac before sending an unpopular bum to the gallows. It’s a “work of true harmony” as Sergei Eisenstein once wrote. A call to morality and a portrait of a man who sought to live out his ideals in hopes to inspire others to live better. It’s also shot to near perfection, each montage in perfect unison with its surrounds be they a creek, a forest full of conifers and whippoorwills, or a fair full of idyllic pie eating men and women. Despite having read Zinn I would say that this is hagiography at its very best. Print the legend.

John and I were talking about how hard it was for us to stay awake for RULES OF THE GAME even despite its quality. It’s true that a film’s success has much to do with our viewing circumstance and fatigue can battle even the greatest works of art. Sleep is the ultimate siren to great cinema; it tempts me astray far too often. ----note: this film is in no way difficult or boring. Any fatigue was strictly work related---- So I gave it another honest shot, this time with an adequate amount of coffee running through my body and immediately realized that I was watching it the wrong way. I didn’t pick up on the comedic elements at work here. This is a very funny film that handles rather grave subject matter in light way not unlike Lubitsch. Dave Kehr wrote “ “The rules of the game,” said Jean Renoir, “are those which must be observed in society if one wishes to avoid being crushed.” His protagonist, a pilot (Roland Toutain), breaks the rules: he believes that his love for a wealthy married woman (Nora Gregor) is strong enough to lift him above society, above morality. At a weekend hunting party, he learns it is not—that nothing is.” Enough said.

Oh the horse opera. I’ve been under its spell since I first laid eyes on one. I can’t be sure which it was but I’d wager EL DORADO. I don’t remember when I first saw John Ford’s STAGECOACH, I think it must have been fairly recently (by that I mean in the early aughts). It’s the kind of film that makes me want to ride off into the sunset with my new prostitute wife and be safe from the blessings of society. Natani Nez (the tall leader), as the Navajo once called Ford, had a specific adventure in mind, a treacherous ride through Apache territory that’ll bring a small group of opposites together. Like YOUNG MR LINCOLN, this is a film about harmony. The aristocrats must respect the proletarians, the pure must accept the unclean, the law must respect the wanted, and the sober must respect the drunk. What’s more, they must depend on one another if they want to reach Lordsburg alive. I would argue that Wayne’s Ringo Kid is the star here. Indeed the verbal beating that Wayne endured paid off in close up after close up and a role that would up his pay grade quite a bit. Here once again the location (Monument Valley) played a large part in the atmosphere. The stagecoach looks mighty helpless in the presence of such epic opulence. But vengeance drives our kid and in the face of even the most calamitous circumstances we know that there are some things a man can’t run away from.

The thing about gangsters is that they all used to be a big shot. The rise and fall of the gangster (especially the doomed Warner Bros kind) could embody a certain reviewer’s complaint about A SERIOUS MAN. I believe it went a little something like cinema of precise predetermination, the kind that lays out the cards before you even get to your seat. I’m acknowledging the cycle here and saying that in the hands of a great storyteller and cast it doesn’t matter what you think you already know. THE ROARING TWENTIES is a great example of the flaw in that criticism. These “unbendable” characters still manage to live and draw out hope for bloodlust resolution but to no avail. I like how the war sets things into motion, much like this year’s HUGO. The returning soldiers find themselves like a lot of returning soldiers, forsaken. Well you know when you got a job to do, get somebody else to do it. Cue the liquor and we got ourselves a decent racket. Sure THE ROARING TWENTIES unravels without a snag but that doesn’t dwarf it one bit. The characters fall is realized fully in a discussion about life in the suburbs, where a house with flowers and kids is just a dream that’ll never come true.

I need to thank John, Jeff, and Chris for introducing me to DESTRY RIDES AGAIN. I almost didn’t watch it. This is one of my big problems with adhering to that damn auteur theory, if I haven’t heard of the director I throw him/her on the backburner. ---note: the problem is not with the auteur theory but rather with me---- Well George Marshall gets a posthumous apology from this guy. This one really gets the job done starting with the pacifist sheriff whose dilemma eerily mirrored the dawning of 1940 and the elephant in the room that came with it. You don’t usually see a good western hybrid (though John would argue mistakenly in favor of Cowboys vs Aliens) but this one remarkably harnesses it all in. DESTRY has all the right ingredients for its three principle genres (musical, comedy, western). It has a great barroom brawl, a character that orders milk at the bar, Marlene Dietrich’s voice, a good shootout, etc. Hopefully more people will get behind this one.

John, I’m so happy that you’ve gotten off without a hitch with Lubitsch. Whenever I see a film with what we’ve come to know as his “touch” I find it hard not gushing over it and I’m sure you guys have rolled your eyes a few times on my account. Well comrades it’s time to roll em again. NINOTCHKA is lovely. Advertised with the two words “Garbo laughs” it was pitched as such "Russian girl saturated with Bolshevist ideals goes to fearful, Capitalistic, monopolistic Paris. She meets romance and has an uproarious good time. Capitalism not so bad after all." This beaut was written by Wilder, Reisch, and Brackett with the intent to playfully mock the “why so serious” attitudes of Russia whilst slyly admonishing them at the same time. The only complaint I have is actually not a complaint at all. Melvyn Douglas looks a little too much like a person I don’t like. I could barely shake it whilst watching him. This didn’t stop the movie at all, it didn’t even slow it down. It’s nice to see Garbo let loose, seeing her act drunk is intoxicating (get it?).

Lisa recently wondered if we had posted our “no girls allowed” sign on the door. Hopefully not and to prove it I humbly offer my love for George Cukor’s THE WOMEN. I think it takes a special guy to make a film like this. Most of us don’t have any right or idea in regards to the uninhabited world of women. Many have written that this picture “teaches” us dunderheads what is really happening behind closed doors. I’m certainly not an expert on the subject (though myself and our guitarist Alex earned the nickname “lezbros” from our terrific female touring companions) but I still can appreciate it. Cukor knew how to pay tribute to these women without overemphasizing the whole “catty” nature of their union. I feel that Almodovar does a similar thing today; I guess you could say that it’s the love of women that really makes it work. I will admit however that the ending here is a bit problematic for me even if it’s specifically addressed in dialogue. Simply put, I didn’t want Mary to go crawling back to that invisible entity known as her husband. But that’s just me. I really enjoyed the structure of the picture, the way we are thrown into a room with these characters and not immediately asked to immerse ourselves in what will soon be revealed as the plot. I like to just listen and laugh sometimes, to get to know the characters on the power of the actresses and writers alone. The plot really does a great job exploring the effects of adultery, how devastating and selfish it is. I’m not sure if the ending demeans what came before but for now it’s number .

JAMAICA INN begins as a horror movie. A ship has crash landed on a stormy night, out of the rocks emerges a group of monsters out to kill and rob the destitute crew. From that point I would say that the picture becomes something like an absurdist horror picture with a hilarious performance from Charles Laughton. I’m running low on steam so I’ll just tell you to watch it a and find out for yourselves.

I’ve posted much about my #1 pick and most of you have seen it so I don’t feel the need to elaborate at the time. The number 11 speaks for the quality of the year as a whole. If you think I’m crazy for leaving THE WIZARD OF OZ off the list then I would be inclined to agree. I completely understand and agree with anyone that thinks the world of that film or even MR SMITH. I’m not refuting this. I’m just reacting to bad nostalgia. All of the 11 spot films deserve an adult viewing and rest assured that they will get their due justice.

1939:
1. Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks)
2. Stagecoach (Ford)
3. Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford)
4. Ninotchka (Lubitsch)
5. The Rules of the Game (Renoir)
6. The Roaring Twenties (Walsh)
7. Destry Rides Again (Marshall)
8. Jamaica Inn (Hitchcock)
9. The Women (Cukor)
10. Gone with the Wind (?)

11. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gunga Din, Love Affair, The Wizard of Oz, Another Thin Man, Wuthering Heights, Drums Along the Mohawk, Dodge City.