Friday, December 30, 2011

Le Havre

I didn't know anything about Aki Kaurismaki and had never seen one of his films before LE HAVRE, but after sitting through his hilarious and incredibly sweet ode to friendship and community in the titular seaport city of France, consider me an enormous fan.

LE HAVRE evokes the beauty and humanism of French poetic realism and the rose-colored joy of early Rene Clair, but it has a humor and heartbeat that is all its own. Kaurismaki often nods to his film elders, but he never wallows in contrived recreation. The heart and joy of this film is genuine. You sense that Kaurismaki really believes what he shows us. Or at the very least, he believes in not recreating for its own sake, but because he earnestly pines for the community, camaraderie, and human kindness that has often been absent in movies since the Golden Age. What he has created in the process is cinema magic at its most joyous.

The film is unabashedly retro and old-fashioned: the colors are striking yet dulled like 60s techincolor; the apartments look like sets; people still use rotary dials; Marcel is a shoeshiner; there are classical film movie cues for romantic scenes that are actually romantic and sweet. But again this never feels like pure quirkiness of style, but a real desire to inhabit the film world of old because of the way it made you feel and the way it gave you hope. Like with HUGO, in the age of irony and cynical postmodernism, this comes across as the most refreshingly benign and infectiously cheerful palate cleanser you could hope for.

And you know what the most retro and old-fashioned thing about it is? It actually believes in the goodness of humanity. It believes that given the chance people will rise to the occasion, that love, kindness, and teamwork are possible, and most of all, that miracles can happen. And it does it all without a shred of irony. Some may say that it trivializes an important issue like immigration, but I actually think it gives us the best solution we could ever hope for on the isssue: throw away your pretentious seriousness and bullshit cynicism and show some kindness and care to your fellow creatures, no matter what they look like or where they are from. If Kaurismaki wants to cherish the perfect world of classic cinema where everyone comes together he does so only to remind us that what is keeping us apart is only ourselves. Like John Lennon, he's got that big banner waving "War is Over, If You Want It."

The camaraderie this film embraces leads to the greatest sequence in the film and perhaps the greatest moment in any film all year. I cannot even describe to you the absurd joy of watching Marcel and his friends team up to put on a trendy charity concert starring the one and only Little Bob. It's pure bliss. The clip I posted doesn't even do it justice because leading up to it there is a wonderful side plot about reuniting Little Bob with his wife. The whole thing ends up being the most bizarre and downright awesome sequence of the year. All hail Little Bob! Friendship prevails in the end.

I'm running out of things to say because I truly cannot express to you how delightful this film is. I love the deadpan humor and visual gags; the love the pithy, poetic phrases the characters use like "money moves in the shadows"; I love the ballsy ending; I love the actors and all the weird looking characters; I love the compassion, warmth and good heart the film proudly wears on its sleeve. Most of all I love what is ineffable about it. To know what I'm getting at there, you'll just have to see it for yourself. This is one of the best films of the year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Moment of The Year



LE HAVRE rules!

Jeff the Christian

I love film club as well, and I'm really happy and honored to be a part of it. It's been amazing getting to share thoughts on films and getting to know everyone. Thanks for telling me I had to create a blog when I merely asked to look at yours, Brandon. Thanks for including me, John, Ben, and Jason, and thanks for joining Lisa and Chris. What a nice little nerd community we have here! You all rule.

Ben, thanks for posting that 2010 list. I didn't rank my list earlier this year and I wasn't pleased about the list of films I had on it. I have since decided to add all the films from 2010 Cannes to that list like CERTIFIED COPY, UNCLE BOONME, and 13 ASSASSINS. I think I'll see enough for 2011 that I won't need to include those, and my 2010 list needs all the help it can get. I'll post that soon.

Looks like TGWADT talk is dying down, and I think that is good for now. I probably shouldn't have said that the material is below Fincher. I think he does a terrific job with the material he has. And, truthfully, the material is not that bad; as Chris and Brandon both pointed out, it has its intriguing ideas and themes. It's just not that impressive to me, or at least not impressive enough for me to love, but merely like. Which is why the film felt quite good to me, but didn't feel great.

I saw BEGINNERS with friends the other night. It's sickeningly cute at times, at other times incredibly cliched, and mostly just annoying and glib. Not worth seeing.

John will either be proud of me or feel I'm being condescending, but the day after Christmas, I, quite unintentionally, watched THE MILL AND THE CROSS, Dreyer's ORDET, and Bresson's THE DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST. And I read some Flannery O'Connor. All my militant atheist buddies are gonna give me serious shit for this Holy marathon. Especially when I tell them how much I loved all the films (and, of course, how much I love me some Flannery).

ORDET reminds me a lot of the religious themed Bergman films that would come a few years later. I think it's fair to say that Bergman was influenced by this film and Dreyer in general. For all the reasons I love Bergman's meditations on faith, I loved this film's tale of spiritual crisis as well. And I loved the theme of "the word," as we question what good the word of God is for us when he remains silent. The ending is a beautiful moment of transcendence that could only be possible on film...which reminds me why I love film so much.

THE DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST is my second Bresson film in a week or so. Previously, I had only seen PICKPOCKET (good, but not near his best) and BALTHAZAR (can't remember it at all). I watched both in high school, and truthfully, I don't think I was intellectually or aesthetically mature enough to fully appreciate them or Bresson's style. I've overlooked him as a director for the longest time because I couldn't get into him then. Perhaps I've gained a greater sense of insight since high school (I would hope so), but I've really loved Both A MAN ESCAPED and PRIEST and am starting to really love and admire Bresson. Some things, I guess, are worth holding off for until you are ready for them.

THE DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST is utterly moving, beautiful, sombre, and somehow incredibly entrancing. Roger Ebert wrote this in his Great Movies review of the film: "The look seems dark and depressing at first, but his films live not in the moment but in their complete length, and for the last hour I was more spellbound than during a thriller." Ditto to that. I was entirely absorbed in the film and in the trials of this poor priest. Also in his review, Ebert talks about how Bresson was agnostic, but he found beauty in the way religion can provide meaning and hope in the face of inescapable death. I may have posted that whole faux attack on religion and God a while back, but I'm entirely with Bresson on this. Whatever you need to believe in to get through life (as long as it isn't harming others), believe in it.

THE MILL AND THE CROSS is visually astonishing and quite unlike any film you will see. John, I liked that you said that it could easily work as a silent film. You are absolutely right; the images tell the story and tell it very well. But I also appreciated the moments of language in it, like the mother's poetic, Malick-esque voiceover ruminations and Brueghal's description of the painting itself. They aren't fully necessary, but I liked them all the same. I especially found the latter to be great because it seemed to express a certain joy over the meaning that can be found in art. I think a lot of the film is focused on bringing cinematic life and meaning to an implied life and meaning on the canvas. In doing so, it celebrates what art can mean for us symbolically in a way only a film could. I thought the film was very genuine about this sentiment and seemed less contrived and more celebratory about the symbolic and imaginative wealth that art and film provide for us. It's simultaneously a love letter to art and film, as well as a meditation on God, Christ, political persecution, and human violence. It also has a great moment at the end where the villagers all do a dance that recalled the dance of death at the end of THE SEVENTH SEAL. Anything that suggests Bergman to me is automatically fantastic haha. But, seriously, this is very unique cinematic experience that is worth having. I'm just jealous that I didn't get to see it on the big screen with you John.

Up Next: Lots more classics and THE KID WITH A BIKE.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Brandon the skeptic

Dude, I am being extremely honest about my reaction to the film. I wanted to love it. I went into it thinking it would make my top 10. When it was over, I asked myself honestly how I felt, and the first sensation I got was that I knew I didn't love it. Then I had to think why I didn't love it. Obviously, the immediate thought I had was that I had just watched nearly the same movie as the Swedish one. You're right, I wish I had never seen that piece of shit because it completely marred my experience. I will gladly admit that I am being unfair to Fincher's film, if only because I am bored by remakes. Especially remakes of movies I hated where not enough has been changed for me.

You don't have to understand my need for a little surprise, but I'm surprised (haha) that you don't. Aren't we all looking for those little moments of humanity/life/warmth/magic that sneak up on us in movies? For instance, I wasn't at all surprised by what WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN had to offer me in terms of character and theme, which is why I didn't like it. But I was surprised by how absorbed I was in the characters and story of THE IDES OF MARCH, which is why I liked it. I was hoping I'd go into Fincher's film and he would surprise me with little things that would make me feel differently than I did when I already saw the same movie. But beyond the technical stuff, he didn't. A lot of it felt the same to me. And that feeling of sameness really didn't make me love it.

Before I joined film club, I might have loved this movie. Hell, a few months ago I might have loved this movie. But, I've really been trying to be honest with myself about my reactions to things. If I love something I'm gonna embrace the feeling. If I don't love something I won't pretend like I do. I can't pretend like I love THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO no matter how much I love the director. If you remain a skeptic, then that's fine, but I swear to you my reaction is pure honesty.

By the way, I don't know how much I trust your Fincher meter considering how highly you rank BENJAMIN BUTTON :)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

To love or to like

It's funny that we are arguing between whether the film is great or just good. Our biggest disagreement is that you love the film but I only like it. Wow, we're really reaching for scuffles on here haha.

Of course, I agree that a great film needs more than a good story. I really like all the things in the film that are not connected with the story–the directing, the acting, the lighting, the sets, etc. But I didn't respond to the story or the characters. I just didn't care that much. I couldn't find the warmth that you are so effusive about. And that's what's holding it back from being great for me. A great film should feel like a complete package, but there was something missing from this. Again, perhaps its my fault for feeling bored at times because I felt like I was watching a movie I had already seen, but I really couldn't absorb myself in strong feelings for the characters or become excited by the mystery. They felt flat, the mystery felt cliched, and the connection between Salander and Blomqvist seemed tenuous and rushed. They spend more time apart in the film then they ever do together; I couldn't really buy their emotional relationship. But whatever, that's just my own impression.

In terms of modern film, I like watching a movie and feeling surprised, even if just slightly. It adds a sense of magic to the experience. This is why I usually hate or find myself uninterested in adaptations of books I've read or remakes of other movies I've seen. I'm never surprised by them. I guess I just wasn't surprised by Fincher's film, and it hurt the experience enough to hold me back from loving it. But, again, I like the film, so let's be clear.

I'm glad you love it though and that you find something extra in it that makes it great for you. Maybe someday I will find it too. For now, off of one viewing, I just feel a little lost.

Why bear this cross?

Is there any irony in talking of bearing crosses on Dec. 25th? Not a chance.

I'm waiting for my eldest brother to get to my parents house, so I have some time to write. You better believe I'm continuing to neglect my nuclear family in favor of film club family.

Quickly, I'd like to ask you, what is it about the material that you find so fascinating or worthy of greatness? I feel like I'm in the dark about this. I'm sorry to assume that you were bringing your romantic reflections of the book to the screen, but it's the only conclusion I can come to as to why you are so smitten with this movie that is basically the same thing as the Swedish version, only made with more technical virtuosity. You have to be bringing some impressions of the book to the movie, admit it!

If I say that the Swedish version sucks because the material is uninspired and the filmmaking unimpressive, do you care at all? Yet suddenly if I say that the American version with a great director at the helm is good because the filmmaking is impessive, but not great because the material is still uninspired, you are shocked? The material hasn't changed between versions. It's still generic thriller fodder. I don't hate the material, but I certainly am neither surprised or shocked by it. The material is fine but it wasn't enough to warrant my love on both occasions. Not that I can't enjoy a good potboiler in this day and age (I did enjoy the film), but I've seen this thriller so much at this point in my life that I'm no longer capable of love for it. If it had surprised and really enticed me it would be a different story, but it didn't so its the "good not great" story.

I feel that Fincher is better than the material because he's already done this type of material better. I've already said that SEVEN is a much more shocking look at depravity and ZODIAC is a much more obsessive look at solving a mystery that refuses to be solved. I prefer them both to this movie because they are thoroughly effective and worthy of greatness. The mystery and the shocks in DRAGON are not as captivating–they just didn't spark my imagination or leave me drooling the way a great movie will.

I really don't understand why you find reviews like my patronizing just because we respect the level of craft that Fincher brings to the picture. His stamp on this picture is unmistakable and I appreciate what he brings to it, hence the fact that I like it. But he hasn't elevated the material because its the same fucking material! Oh, you know I love you Brandon. There's nothing like arguing your personal impressions against those of another.

This I'll admit freely–watching Fincher's version, I couldn't help but be aware of its similarity to the Swedish version. This made the film seem uninspiring because I was always conscious of watching a remake (or re-adaptation, whatever). Perhaps that's my fault. I wish I had had my memory of it erased so I could have watched this one fresh.

Sorry, I can't write more, but I gots to get back to Christmas. More arguments to follow, I'm sure.

Merry Christmas! Love you all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shotguns & Dragons

Merry Christmas y'all! I'm sure no one cares, but a MONEYBALL post isn't likely to happen until sometime post-Christmas. For now, I'll just say that I enjoyed it for many the same reasons I enjoyed THE IDES OF MARCH–it's entertaining, mostly well written, and a surprisingly interesting portrait of process about one of the most boring sports in the world. Unfortunately, it veers too often into cliched sports movie territory, which holds me back from loving it, but when it's on it's really sharp and, of course, Brad Pitt gives a typically great performance. It's not really top 10 worthy (the only thing I'm thinking about when I see a film this time of year, for better or worse), but it's solid enough for a nice time at the movies.

I've seen a plethora of classics recently, but I'm neglecting them all in favor of writing about two modern films I've seen recently. I guess because that's where the debates happen.

Jeff Nichol's SHOTGUN STORIES probably won't be too conducive to debate because I loved it. How could I not? Nichol's film, like BALLAST and WINTER'S BONE, is incredibly successful at elevating itself above mere poverty porn to the heights of moving, human microcosm. There are so many great scenes of warmth, humor, and humanity that give the film a real beauty and captivating sense of Life. The violence and doom are vicious Shakespearean circles that remind you that vengeance is always hollow and that what's always at stake are human lives, not just ideas. Nichols, as he does wonderfully with TAKE SHELTER, knows how to give you some life to hold onto so that you actually care about his story and his characters. He's a very smart and talented filmmaker. Can't wait for him to go the way of his once very talented buddy David Gordon Green and bring us YOUR HIGHNESS 2....No, fellow Jeff, don't do it! Resist the money! It's not worth it!

Moving on.

David Fincher is someone who, post-ALIEN 3 hardship, has remained true to his aesthetic whether working with passion project (ZODIAC–still his masterpiece), big budget Hollywood drama (BENJAMIN BUTTON), or enormous international best-seller adaptation. No matter the subject matter, budget, or screenwriter, Fincher's stamp is always unmistakably present. He is one of the finest American auteurs working today. I respect and admire the hell out of him both for his consistency and uncanny ability to make the most banal minutia or technical jargon thoroughly fascinating (it's that "Fincher touch," baby!).

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is undeniably a David Fincher film. I can't disagree with Brandon or any other critics who call this obsessive filmmaking from one of modern cinema's most obsessive and meticulous directors. Fincher's desire to dig through the details and include us in the procedure is very much apparent here, just as it is in his best films about finding the truth. Feel free to disagree, but no one shoots procedure better than Fincher (hell, few people shoot anything better than Fincher ). He's a master stylist and expert in collusion: his films are visually immaculate, but his real strength is in reaching out and sharing with the audience (he loves the details of his films and he thinks they will too). Kindness and consideration aren't words one would normally associate with Fincher's films, but he is a director who I think is capable of giving both. He absolutely trusts his audience; he knows how to entertain and absorb without pulling punches or condescending. In a sugar-coated world, Fincher gives it to you straight–and I love him for it.

Obviously, I appreciate THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO for all of Fincher's touches. He's the best man for the job, and he makes the film the best it could possibly be. Unfortunately though, I'm one of those people who can't get over the material enough to really be blown away by the picture. I saw the Swedish version and didn't like it because it was too much of a generic thriller–an empty potboiler without even the visual or tonal flair to distract you. Fincher's version gives an ample supply of the latter ingredients. It's immaculately filmed and tonally more ominous and absorbing. In terms of filmmaking, it's miles ahead of the Swedish version. But in terms of story, they are both right on par.

I don't want to completely bash the Larsson material and I certainly don't begrudge anyone for digging it–if it's good trash then awesome–but I didn't respond to it the first time I saw it on film, and seeing it again only reminded me how much I didn't like it the first time. Brandon, I think you obviously have more invested in the material because you've read the book. There was something in it that reached you and you are looking for it to be captured in the film version–I get that. But, I also think that having read the book, you bring a bit more romance to the material than I ever could (anything read as opposed to seen is automatically more romantic because of the differing levels of imagination). All I have is what I'm seeing on the screen. Perhaps if I hadn't seen the Swedish version I would have liked this a lot more or disliked it a lot more, I don't know. All I could do was think about how similar or different it was to this other movie that I didn't like; it felt like a better copy of something, but still a copy. And that's my main problem. Beyond the craft involved it is too similar to the Swedish version, which means they are both too similar to a book that I don't care to read.

I liked all of the performances. Mara especially, who rocks one of the best t-shirts in history in one scene, is really great in the title role. There are several awesome scenes of merely poring over the investigation that recall Fincher at his best. I didn't mind the brutality of the film either. The two big scenes are incredibly nasty (I actually think the rape scene here is worse than the one in IRREVERSIBLE–it's much shorter, but it's grosser for its suggestiveness, its use of sound, and for the dialogue the rapist utters before committing the deed). I think Brandon does a good job of explaining why this scenes are necessary and not just excessive. I also really like how the film oscillates between the extremely brutal and graphic and the exquisitely polished and ordinary. This juxtaposition is essential if you are making a mystery about digging through glossy exteriors to reach the seed of evil that dwells beneath. But again, the problem is that the story is not surprising or really absorbing the way you need it to be to really feel something special. I was intrigued but not fully hooked. And the ending drags needlessly. Like with the Swedish film, once the Wagner mystery is solved, the film looses a lot of steam unless you really, really care about the characters (I didn't so much, but I'm sure fans of the books do).

Overall, the film is good, not great. I rank it along side BENJAMIN BUTTON as a visually beautiful and at times very good Fincher work that is unfortunately overlong for its material and somehow lacking in the necessary immersion that makes a great film. I still don't think that Fincher has ever made a bad film, but I wouldn't this rank among his very best. ZODIAC is a better portrait of obsession and endless investigation, SEVEN is more shocking and gritty, And FIGHT CLUB is a better love story. Still, if you are a Fincher fan, then absolutely see it (his films are always worth seeing). However, I have to disagree with Brandon and say that unless the next two books in this series are exponentially better, I hope Fincher moves on to something else instead of completing the trilogy. He's the best man for the job (and the best the series could hope for), but he deserves better material to work with.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

1940 and maybe more!

I can completely sympathize with John and anyone else who isn't feeling the impetus to post. I just graduated a week ago, so I've been enjoying the freedom from writing for a bit. It's certainly refreshing. But I have been watching a lot of movies, and I'm really excited by all the new posts, so I figured it's time to get back into it.

One of the best films I've seen recently (in addition to Ozu's masterpiece LATE SPRING) is Bresson's A MAN ESCAPED. It deserves a place along side THE GRAND ILLUSION and STALAG 17 as one of the great POW films ever made. It's incredible, and if it weren't for THE SEARCHERS, it would be my top film of 1956.

Lisa, great to have you back for a bit!

Jason, I hope you got to see CHRISTMAS IN JULY at the theater as well. I watched it for the first time last night–it's supremely lovable.

Ben, I hope you can make the top 10 push. I'm tying to make mine at least respectable soon. We shall see. Brandon's way ahead.

Brandon, great posts on KEVIN and IDES OF MARCH. I don't have anything else to add, as you basically said everything I was trying to say only better. I'm jealous that you've seen THE SKIN I LIVE IN. However, I did just see MONEYBALL, and I hope to have a post up soon. Tonight is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO; did ya watch it yet?

John, I'm excited for that year in review. My brother not named Chris gave me a chord to plug my computer into my dad's enormous HD tv, so I'm happy to report that I can watch THE MILL AND THE CROSS on the biggest screen I can find outside of a theater. Excited for it. Also, I watched I CONFESS and it's great. I'll try to post on it more sometime soon.

I saw your 1940 list on the site. I just finished mine as well:

1. The Shop Around the Corner (Lubitsch)
2. Christmas in July (Sturges)
3. Rebecca (Hitchcock)
4. His Girl Friday (Hawks)
5. The Great Dictator (Chaplin)
6. Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock)
7. The Grapes of Wrath (Ford)
8. Pinocchio (Lots of people)
9. City for Conquest (Litvak)
10. The Great McGinty (Sturges)

HM: The Philadelphia Story (Cukor), The Bank Dick (Cline), The Sea Hawk (Curtiz)

I, of course, cannot resist joining you and Brandon in absolutely adoring THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER. Nor can I resist joining you in ranking CHRISTMAS IN JULY so highly. The rest are all pretty great in my opinion. I haven't seen THE PHILADELPHIA STORY in a while so I didn't feel comfortable putting it on the list. My '44 list should be done soon.

Sorry I can't write any more than that, but my brain is Christmas mush.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Ides of March


WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN isn't a horrible film, I would just never want to watch it again. It partly suffered too because I had just been watching Ozu's LATE SPRING. After watching a beautiful masterpiece of character and humanity, you just have no patience for an art film that is neglectful of these two qualities.

THE IDES OF MARCH isn't an art film, but a very good Hollywood political drama. Perhaps it benefited from playing after something so spirit-crushing as KEVIN, but I thoroughly enjoyed its ability to engage you with its ideas and conflicts. It's a brisk, well-paced film that packs a lot into its running time and rarely if ever slips into unnecessary filler. Clooney (as co-writer and director) deserves a lot credit for getting down to the meat and bones of his narrative and telling it clearly and effectively. Here is a film, unlike KEVIN, that actually has a story to tell and is confident in that story. It doesn't need flashy editing to distract from its narrative self-consciousness, but moves along economically and progressively like a good political story should. Also, like a good political story, it engages you throughout and makes you feel as if you are being treated to something privileged and confidential. Clooney understands the game of politics so well that he knows how to engage us with all the deceit, compromise, and betrayal of it, but also absorb us in the little details that go into making a successful presidential candidate. The film basically focuses on the drama surrounding an Ohio Democratic primary, but it always lets us know the stakes and score behind everything. This way, we are drawn into its narrative and characters so that we feel all of its little twists and turns because we actually give a shit. Sitting there watching the film, Brandon and I were outspokenly reactive to the movement of the story because we actually cared about what and who we were watching. And, like children listening to secrets, we were very interested.

THE IDES OF MARCH obviously benefits from being smartly written, not needing to be flashy, limiting its scope, and focusing on a select group of characters. This sense of cohesion and lucidity helps it pay off beautifully in the end. It's very fine work from a smart director in Mr. Clooney. And it's very fine work from all the actors involved. Hey, remember when Ryan Gosling was in movies and not just meme-fodder for tumblrs everywhere? If you do (and you've forgotten about CRAZY STUPID LOVE but remember DRIVE) then you will appreciate how good of an actor he actually is. He has such a wonderfully expressive face and knows how to sell his emotions to you. He may not be a very smart person (as Brandon can verify), but he's a smart actor. And, of course, all the other talented actors from Hoffman to Giamatti put in typically solid work. This a very good film that knows how to entertain and engage in equal measure.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is too confused to know what it wants, but THE IDES OF MARCH knows exactly what it is. For that, I'd take it any day of the week over KEVIN.

We Need to Talk About We Need To Talk About Kevin


What an unfathomable nightmare it would be to have your child commit a massacre. I can't even imagine the pain, the shame, or the self-loathing it would produce in you. All of the responsibility for the killings would somehow be vicariously placed on your shoulders. The sins of the child...

And what dreadful time it would be having to deal with a child that is inexplicably and irrevocably callous, cruel, intractable, and violent. You would end up having to deal more with an idea of malevolence than an actual person. There would be no breaking through, no possibility for understanding, no possibility for change. It would be like asking fire to not be so hot and then sticking your hand in it only to be burned once again.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is right on point in depicting these two scenarios. It seems to thoroughly understand the nightmare that would be your child going on rampage and being a purely evil little shit to boot. If you are interested in being put through this nightmare, then this is your ticket and you won't be disappointed. It, like so many modern films, wants to bury you down deep in its mud and soak you in its blood until you are only left with a leaden feeling over the horrible depraved world we live in. Again, if this is your thing, then you will love KEVIN.

I, however, couldn't stand sitting through this. Now, I have no probably with films being nightmarish, depressing, or horrific. It all depends on how well they execute their ideas. INLAND EMPIRE is nightmarish and l love it. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is depressing and I really like it. IRREVERSIBLE is horrific and I like it (actually like isn't the best word..tolerate, maybe?). If you are going to make a film like this you need to be consistent, you need to know what you are making, and you need to make it well. It's a very fine line in nightmare art-films between powerful and pornographic. While, I wouldn't call KEVIN pornographic, I would call it a two-dimensional exercise in making you feel bad. And that's its biggest problem; its got its dial completely set to awfulness so much so that it forgot to turn on the humanity and complexity, two things this story desperately needs.

It would be awful to be the mother of a school shooter, indeed, but would it necessarily be this nightmarish? I can understand the personal torment, but I can't understand you being treated like a medieval leper by the community. Obviously, the community would be outraged that such a thing has happened, but I feel like there would be more pity for the parent of the school shooter than stigmatization and condemnation. The treatment of Tilda Swinton's character, who constantly looks like she has just finished running a marathon through the desert, just seems over-the-top and lazy. How is there not more complexity to this issue than mere condemnation? I think if we dealt more with Swinton's character's feeling that she was being stigmatized (than all the scenes of her actual abuse), the film would be much more insightful. Honestly, let's talk more about the psychological complexity of her predicament than simply putting her in a pillory and having the townsfolk throw shit at her.

And, of course, it would be awful to have to deal with a vicious and evil child that you can't reach in any way; but is he just just simply vicious and evil? The film seems to sway back and forth between trying to make Kevin a complete horror film monster and a troubled kid looking for love and parental guidance. Mostly the film plays heavy on the former, with Kevin just being incredibly malevolent. The finale of the film where we actually see his plan unfold is actually quite good because it plays him up as a thorough villain. But then there are scenes where he seems to blame Swinton's character for his behavior or where he just doesn't understand why he does the things he does. But these come off flat because he is just such a horrible monster. We fucking hate him the whole movie (the "fucking" is used for emphasis–he is completely fucking unlikable). If the film is trying to posit a nature/nurture debate, it doesn't do it very well and it suffers for not being able to pick an identity for Kevin. Either make him a black-and-white villain and have the film be a horror picture or make him complex and have the film be a character study.

Personally, I think the film wants to be more of a character study than a horror film, which is why it didn't work for me. For a film titled the way it is, there is no talking about Kevin. There are no scenes where he is confronted and the issues of his character are fully dealt with in an insightful way. Swinton's character simply bears the cross of his wickedness the whole way through, Reilly's character is oblivious, and no one else (no teachers, no principals, no doctors) seems to notice anything wrong about a kid that is incapable of behaving in any way other than unruly and cruel. And Kevin himself just becomes a cliché because of this. He's the embodiment I'm sure we all have of the Columbine and Virginia Tech killers: Angry loners who never have fun, love to play violent video games, and are always seething with psychotic nihilism. Maybe they have all these tendencies, but maybe they are also deeply wounded human beings who are hurt and confused and deal with a complex variety of emotions. Can that be possible? I don't know the standard DNA of a school shooter, but I bet they are all different, all complex, and rarely the complete inhuman monsters we portray them as. So let's try to portray them differently. We don't have to sympathize with them completely, but let's try to make them more of what they are: human.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN suffers from not dealing with the complexity of its characters or the complexities of its situations. It's so singularly devoted to one idea that it forgot that you can have several. And its disjointed editing through time only comes to mask the fact that it doesn't have a real story to tell. Maybe the point is that the nightmare needs to be over-the-top and maybe the point is that no one is really talking about Kevin the way they should. If this film is a comment on how our society doesn't understand troubled youths, then that's fine. I just wish it had more to offer then pure tendentiousness then.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Take Shelter


No matter how much we are willing to let them affect us or not, we live in a world of constant fear and anxiety. The fear can sometimes be large and abstract like the fear of death or small and fleeting like the fear of brief moment of embarrassment. And the anxiety can be enormous like extreme paranoia or simply the anxiety of watching a sports game. With the wider availability of news and media, we have in many ways a larger access to a variety of trepidation. There is always something new to be terrified about from terrorism to swine flu. And with the increasingly complex lives we grow into as adults, we are forever being exposed to new anxieties, from anxieties about our health to anxieties about the safety of our families.

I won’t go into an entire analysis of fear, but I will say that one of the reasons we are so afraid is that we never live according to knowledge but always by anticipation. Anticipation is how we organize reality and try to make the future knowable. Our understanding of the future is invariably built on our dreams, even the things that seem most certain to happen. We imagine such and such will happen in the future because x, y, and z.

As much as the “imagine” factor in this equation is important, so too is the “because.” It forces us to ask: what are we basing our dreams of the future on?

TAKE SHELTER is largely about the fear and anxiety of uncertainty and anticipation. It is also about what influences our imagination and produces fear within us. Curtis LaForche is an adult man living in the modern world with a wife and deaf daughter to provide for. Much of the film is focused on the daily anxieties of just being this. There is anxiety over finances, over keeping your job, over keeping your daughter safe and well cared for, etc. Nichols does a wonderful peppering in little details to remind us how much anxiety can dominate our lives. From a simple shot of gasoline being pumped to a poster on HIV testing in the background of a health clinic, Nichols keeps his mise en scène (I just got 10 film buff points for using that word) attuned to anxiety. And then, of course, there is the larger anxiety in the film of dealing with intense premonitions and the possibility of mental illness. Nichols also does a great job of keeping us absorbed in the perpetual nightmare that is consuming Curtis. We are always aware of the torment and fear and what is producing it. This is all extremely important. For a film dealing with anxiety, it seems obvious that it should produce an anxiety in us too. But this isn’t so easy to do. You need to have a strong attention to detail, you need to be intelligent, and you need to know how to absorb us in the characters so that we feel something strongly for them. Luckily, Nichols skillfully meets all three.

The first impression I had walking out of the theater is that Nichols is a very talented filmmaker. He knows how to build tension and empathy in equal measure. The film is obviously very ominous and riddled with anxiety, but it is also deeply attentive to character development and has moments of real charm and warmth. I think the scene with the “crayon lipstick” is just as important to the film as any of the incredibly eerie and generally terrific nightmares. It’s nice moment of relief from the anxiety, but also a real window into the heart that is fueling a lot of the anxiety. One definitely gets a sense of how much this family means to Curtis, and because of this, they come to mean something for us in return.

There are some absolutely absorbing emotional scenes in this. Two of the biggest (and presumably obvious) are the scene at the Lion’s club and the climax in the shelter. At the Lion’s club, after Curtis explodes before his neighbors, he sees his frightened daughter and there is real pain in his eyes. Here is man who is desperately trying to protect his child from an overwhelming sense of danger and he ends up terrifying her. It’s an emotional moment to see because we sense how painful Curtis’ position really is. There is a similar sense of emotional pain in the climax in the shelter, but also an almost palpable dread. My heart was racing the entire time in the shelter. Part of this was because I knew the film would end soon and I was anxious as to how it would do so, but the other part was the fear of what Curtis might do to his family. I kept thinking, “if he kills his family or keeps them locked up down there...holy shit, then I would know why John hates the ending so much.” That fear for the safety of the family is certainly there. And then, of course, I was anxious that Nichols would end the film as soon as Curtis opened the shelter (I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought we’d get MEEKS CUTOFF’d). Not that I would have minded this (I probably would have loved it), but I was just so anxious to see what he was going to deliver for us, which is another testament to the film’s dexterity. It builds beautifully towards something, and that something always keeps us intrigued and guessing.

As to the film’s actual ending, the one thing I can definitely say is that it makes you reflective. As the credits started to roll, I was glued to the seat for a moment trying to think over how I felt about. Whether it is a good or bad ending, it got me thinking deeply, so it did something right. I think Brandon could probably do a better argument for the ending then I could. All I can really say is that I didn’t feel disappointed by it. Maybe because it doesn’t come down either way completely. There is still the obvious possibility that it is another vision, which may be the case. Or it is the real thing and the premonitions have been true. Certainly, it seems we are lead to believe that this is the case. I really don’t know, but I do know that the shot of the storm in the reflection of the glass doors is splendid.

This film will easily be very high on my 2011 list. I can’t complain about any of it. I was deeply impressed by all of Nichol’s choices as a filmmaker. And I haven’t even mentioned the acting, which is terrific across the board. Shannon is one of the best actors around. There is such an incredible intensity to him even in his quieter moments. And Jessica Chastain is so beautiful and naturalistic. I look forward to seeing more of her work.

Of course, now I want to see SHOTGUN STORIES. And I’m really exited to see what Nichols does next. His work with TAKE SHELTER is very impressive and incredibly promising.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Director of the Month: Preston Sturges



I should have announced this six days ago, but Sturges is indeed the man I'm going with. To kick off this celebration of the man and his work, here's a link to an article Peter Bogdanovich wrote about him in 1973: http://www.clivejames.com/peter-bogdanovich/preston-sturges

Also, on Blogdanovich, there was a recent post on HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO: http://blogs.indiewire.com/peterbogdanovich/hail-the-conquering-hero

Of Sturges' films, I've seen SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, THE LADY EVE, THE PALM BEACH STORY, HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, and just recently UNFAITHFULLY YOURS. They are all deeply funny and incredibly intelligent with Sturges' trademark wit and rapid-fire dialogue. They are among the most enjoyable and effortlessly entertaining comedies ever made. Also among the most imaginative. I love 'em all. I'll do a post on UNFAITHFULLY YOURS soon.

THE GREAT MCGINTY is on it's way through netflix. We should have a gathering sometime soon to watch CHRISTMAS IN JULY.

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO and THE LADY EVE are on NWI for anyone who hasn't seen one of his films and would like to.

"There's a lot to be said for making people laugh."

Monday, December 5, 2011

1939 Revised

I revised my '39 list a little while ago after I had some time to think over all the films a bit more. They are all so terrific that it's hard to really choose between them. I suspect this list is in store for several more revisions over the years. Here's the new one:

1. The Rules of the Game (Renoir)
2. Stagecoach (Ford)
3. Ninotchka (Lubitsch)
4. The Roaring Twenties (Walsh)
5. Le Jour se leve (Carné)
6. Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks)
7. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming)
8. Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford)
9. Destry Rides Again (Marshall)
10. Gone with the Wind (Fleming)

11. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Capra)
12. Another Thin Man (van Dyke)
13. Each Dawn I Die (Keighley)

THE WOMEN has still alluded me, which I'm disappointed about.
I have a copy of JAMAICA INN, and will try to get to it soon. Glad it made your list because I'm excited to see it now.

I loved reading all your thoughts on these films dude. I've been writing too much for school, so I don't really have the energy or brain capacity to add anything more right now. I wouldn't be able to offer any worthwhile insight, and I basically agree with all you wrote any way. The only things I will say are that THE RULES OF THE GAME deserves all the praise and reverence it receives. It's astonishing filmmaking. I'm glad you got to re-watch it. And I absolutely recommend seeing LE JOUR SE LEVE, of course. It's right up there with the very best of this year and pretty much any year. You'll love it.

Great list. Hopefully when I get some free time soon I can interact more with it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hugo

One of the best things about the Binghamton Classic Films site that John created is this little doozy of a line, "We exist to educate and edify, spreading the unadulterated joy of a time when the movies were magic." I don't think Scorsese could have come up with a better line to describe his intention with HUGO.

HUGO can't beat the magic of a Melies or Lumiere brothers film, nor the magic of the golden age in early cinema history, but it can let us share in the joy of these films and the wonder they have induced in us for over a century. Ostensibly a story about an orphan trying to find someone connect with (and it is), but really a story about the importance of celebrating film and its innovators, about a silver screen that shares our collective dream space, and the need to cherish and preserve its history. The first half of the film is devoted to establishing the world of Hugo Cabret, and the second half just becomes a celebration of the work of Georges Melies and other early film pioneers. One great sequence has Hugo and Isabelle literally digging through a book on film history and it coming to life before us. Another has Hugo and Isabelle sneaking in to see a brief moment of SAFETY LAST! And another has all the characters sitting around a premier of Melies' A TRIP TO THE MOON–all magical moments.

The recreations of Melies' films are really spectacular, and the bits we get to see of the actual films themselves will give you chills. You just sense how earnest Scorsese's reverence is for his work and film in general; he's like a kid sharing his favorite toy with you. I hope non-cinephiles can appreciate what Scorsese is doing here. Lots of people go to see movies, but do they ever take the time to reflect on how truly magical they can be? My hope is that you get an enormously diverse film audience, cinephiles and philistines alike, all sitting with childlike wonder at the power and magic of movies, celebrating the medium with a filmmaker who idolizes and adores cinema like no other. I recommend that everyone in our little club see it. It will remove all that postmodern irony and cynicism that is wearing you down, at least for a couple of hours. Glenn Kenny is right, this is one of the least cynical movies you could possibly see.

There are some obvious similarities to MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (had to do it, John), but I think this film's references are more genuine. Nothing here really seems self-serving. And it's not about wanting to live in another era but about not forgetting other eras. In a modern culture that seems increasingly less interested in history, this is a welcome and genuine reminder. The great and probably only irony of this film is that it draws you in with the purported magic of the most advanced modern film technology, only to blow you away and warm your heart with the magic of films made over 100 years ago.

I found most of the non-Melies/film history parts endearing as well. It's also a film about the desire to connect with other people and the need to share with them. By the end of the film you see all these connections between characters being made, and you realize that what draws us to the cinema with others (and to start film clubs) is to connect with other people and share our passions and dreams with them. If I'm sounding mawkish here, it's only because this film is so sweet and encourages you to feel the same.

I hope you all get the chance to see HUGO and that you can really appreciate it. It's holiday time; we all deserve a break from cynicism, even me, the guy who called MELANCHOLIA not cynical enough.

Also, I'll just be clear about this. I'm a strong advocate against 3D. I think it's a useless money-grabbing gimmick designed to destroy film (or at least turn it into an amusement park attraction). While I wouldn't say that HUGO justifies the recent trend towards 3D and its absurd price gouging, I would say that it at least represents the format in its highest quality and value. I haven't seen too many 3D films, but this is the best looking one I've seen. AVATAR looked great in 3D (everything else about the film was terrible), but it was a strain on the eyes after a while. Thankfully, the 3D in HUGO is so crisp and focused that my eyes didn't have trouble at all. And it is used effectively, adding depth of field without gimmicky ploys that make you roll your eyes. I still deeply revile 3D and can't wait until it dies, but what Scorsese and his team have done here isn't half bad at all John, nothing justifies the recent 3D price hike, but this is as good as it gets.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The stuff that dreams are made of

Everything you have heard about HUGO's unabashed love for the cinema is true. It is Scorsese's ode to the magic of motion pictures. It is also about the importance of film restoration (a topic very dear to Marty's heart, as it should be) and about finding others to connect and share with. It is a very charming film, a very beautiful film, and a journey into the world of 3D that is actually worth taking. It is a must for film lovers. Scorsese's infectious joy over the movies, and the dreams that they reflect and engender within us, reaches out to us in more than three dimensions. Get lost in the cinematic warmth.

More soon, but must go to sleep now. Jeff no function with sleep well without. Have a nice thanksgiving y'all!

Respondin'

For next months director, I'm toying with the idea of either Leo McCarey or Preston Struges. McCarey because it would be great to get everyone to see MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW and because TCM is showing several of his films on Christmas day. Not that I expect most of us to watch these on Christmas instead of spending time with family, but I just saw it advertised the other day and it made me think he might be a good choice.

And Sturges might be a good choice because Chris is getting SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS through netflix soon and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO and THE LADY EVE are available on instant watch. He would be someone we all could potentially see and talk about together.

We could also do screenings of either director at someone's house? Let me know who owns what of either fella. That would be fun.

Thanks, for responding to the list, Brandon. Always fun to hear your thoughts. haha I guess telling would be more economical in that it would take two seconds for an actor to say "I am a tough guy" as opposed to showing a scene where he is beating a couple of guys up. I guess I didn't really mean to throw that in with the economy argument, more to emphasis that it is just a key part of effective storytelling. And certainly one can show economically too. It's not a classic, but DRIVE understands the importance of showing economically, as evinced by those evocative staring contests between Gosling and Mulligan. I know you were just trying to fuck with me, but it was good to bring that up.

CHILDREN OF PARADISE is indeed called the French Gone With the Wind, mostly because of how beloved it is in France. I remember in high school, after watching the film and reading about its reputation in France, I asked a French exchange student at my school about it, and she had never heard of it haha. I remember being so let down because I was so excited to talk to someone about it.

I don't like the old-fashioned argument either. I've seen that as the largest criticism leveled at SPELLBOUND. Of course it's dated! It was made in 1945! I totally agree, entering the old-fashioned world of classics is huge part of their charm. Anyway, I understand that this film isn't so highly regarded, but I'm calling for a reevaluation. And if not, at least I'll still like it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

1945

1. Children of Paradise (Carné)
2. Spellbound (Hitchcock)
3. Mildred Pierce (Curtiz)
4. Scarlet Street (Lang)
5. The Southerner (Renoir)
6. Brief Encounter (Lean)
7. Rome, Open City (Rosselini)
8. And Then There Were None (Clair)
9. I Know Where I’m Going! (Powell, Pressburger)
10. The Lost Weekend (Wilder)

HM: Detour (Ulmer)

Really need to see: Leave Her to Heaven and The Fallen Idol.

CHILDREN OF PARADISE - A friend of mine watched this last year and the first thing she said was that she couldn’t believe that it was actually three hours long. It had just gone by so quickly that she hadn’t noticed. I had the same reaction. I remember it being such a delight that I didn’t even care about the running time. Utterly alive, poetic, and brisk storytelling from a truly great director who understood what it meant to completely wrap you up in the majestic landscape of a film. I haven’t seen this in a while now, but it left such an indelible impression on me that I feel confident of its stature. Often considered alongside THE RULES OF THE GAME as the greatest of all French films, CHILDREN OF PARADISE is pure magic and impossible to resist. I’m really glad we agree on the top spot for this year, Brandon. I don’t think it could be any other way. Between this, LE JOUR SE LEVE, and LE QUAI DES BRUMES, Marcel Carné has quickly become one of my favorite filmmakers.

SPELLBOUND - It’s probably extremely unfashionable to like this film so much, but I don’t care. It was one of the first Hitchcock films I ever saw. I rented it from the library when I was 16 and I just loved it (I ended up buying that same VHS copy from the library a few years ago). It was seminal in making me interested in classic films. It may not be perfect, but I think it just continues to prove how great Hitchcock was and how superior his films were to just about everything else. I love Bergman and Peck so much in the film. The Dali sequence is awesome. It’s got Hitchcock’s usual stylistic flair, and to me, it really works as a mystery and a thriller. All the psychoanalytical jargon and plot devices can seem old-fashioned and annoying, I’m sure, but I think the film is just great entertainment.

MILDRED PIERCE - Man, what a little brat the daughter is. Just makes you want to reach into the screen and ring her neck. But her awfulness makes the tragedy of the film. Once we’ve reached the end and we realize that everything Mildred has done and fought for has been for the sake of such a little worthless shit, we are in the dumps with her. This is an incredible film-noir though. It’s completely engrossing from the beginning to end. Joan Crawford gives one of her finest performances. Zachary Scott is great as a real sleazebag, and Anne Blyth is great at making you hate her so much. Curtiz rules.

SCARLET STREET - The second film of Fritz Lang’s to team the beautiful Joan Bennett with the talented Edward G. Robinson (and the great at slimeball-portraying Dan Duryea). I love the tragic noirs like this where the unassuming and lonely man gets caught up in an underworld of deceit and disaster. This is one of the bleakest noirs I’ve ever seen too. The final images of Robinson’s character are simply chilling.

THE SOUTHERNER - What a completely different role for Zachary Scott here. This is a very fine film from one of the cinema’s greatest humanists. The poetry and warmth Renoir puts into this film makes it really powerful and emotionally resonant (and very unique). Moving your family and struggling to start a life for yourself can be an unforgiving experience. But the closeness of your family always compels you foreword. This film understands the importance of bonding when times are tough.

BRIEF ENCOUNTER - Ben wrote some nice thoughts on this recently. I agree with him. The purity of the storytelling in classic films is what makes them so effortlessly enjoyable. They had a much stronger connection to theater and literature than most modern day films do because they understood the necessity for strong storytelling and character development. They also largely understood the importance of economy. Less is more, show don’t tell–all that good stuff. This film is a great example of all the things I just said that make classics so enjoyable. Lean was a born storyteller. Be it small scale like this, or enormous like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, he knew how to tell a good story.

ROME, OPEN CITY - An utterly uncompromising and tragic film. Another one I watched several years back, but still can remember its vivid images (the entire finale is just devastating). An important film, not just for rushing in a new era in Italian cinema, but for trying to depict some of the horror of the still very fresh WWII and its effects on Italy.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE - I almost can’t believe that Rene Clair directed this. It’s nothing like his extremely light-hearted French musical-comedies of the early 30s. It’s interesting to have two French greats in this list directing foreign films (for them). I vastly prefer the 30s French work of both, but it’s cool to see them still making terrific films, and in another country and language entirely. I love the oft imitated premise here. Mansion house guests getting knocked off one by one (I loved the CLUE movie as a kid, and MURDER BY DEATH is really funny); it’s awesome. There are some truly suspenseful and creepy moments in this, and the ending is just terrific.

I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! - This is a genuinely sweet fairy tale about two people meeting while trapped on a Scottish Island. We know from the beginning that her determined ways will be challenged and waylayed, but Powell and Pressburger make it charming the whole way through. Two very talented filmmakers who had a great and fruitful career together.

THE LOST WEEKEND - I haven’t watched this in a while, but I do remember that it’s remarkably adult for Hollywood film in 1945. Portraying alcholism with a real blunt honesty for the time, the film is really ballsy. Wilder is basically dissecting the illusion of alchohol. And Milland is fantastic. I need to see this again, right after I go grab another beer.

“Oh, Lisa, you and your stories. ‘Bart’s a vampire;’ ‘Beer kills brain cells.’ Now let’s go back to that...building..thingy...where are beds and tv...is.”
- Homer Simpson

directors

THE FISHER KING is a great pick for Gilliam. Also, one of my favorites of his.

John, stop being so racist and watch PATHS OF GLORY. Everything Brandon says about it is spot-on. I think Brandon likes it the most because the final scene is actually...emotional. Who knew Kubrick had such a tender heart?

For the other directors Chris added,

Howard Hawks: B: The Big Sleep, W: of the ones I have seen, probably Sergeant York I like the least, but I don’t remember it very well.

Christopher Nolan: Same as Chris had.

Cameron Crowe: Same as Chris had.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet: B: The City of Lost Children, W: Probably A Very Long Engagement, which I liked.

Mike Nichols: Same as Chris had.

Same Mendes: B: Revolutionary Road, W: American Beauty

Hal Ashby: OS: Being There and it’s great.

Elia Kazan: B: On the Waterfront, W: of the ones I’ve seen, Gentleman’s Agreement isn’t as good as the others, but I still like it.

Sidney Lumet: B: Serpico, W: Network

Sydney Pollack: B: Tootsie, W: The Interpreter, but I haven’t seen a lot of his films.

I haven't decide who December's director will be yet, but I'll be thinking about it. I have one in mind though.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"This punishment is not boring and pointless"

I was excited to do the director list when I first saw that Brandon had posted the suggestion. Then, I agree, it become unrewarding once I realized I didn’t have the knowledge to answer it properly. Give me a couple more years, and by then I should have better responses. It’s really hard to pick a director’s low point when you haven’t seen enough for his/her films. Also, watching a lot of directors’ bad films (or low points) isn’t really on my list of priorities yet. I’m still trying to catch up with all the good stuff! I guess I could have picked the worse one of the ones I have seen for each, but I didn’t know that’s what we were shooting for. Oh well. Sorry my list was largely unenlightening. I’m still a work in progress when it comes to film because, truth be told, I’m not a “film buff” by any stretch of the imagination. I’m still just an amateur.

Brandon,
I like PANIC ROOM quite a bit; it’s just the least effective of Fincher’s films (not named ALIEN 3).

I thought the TWIN PEAKS film was largely pointless, but it’s probably not his worst. I haven’t finished his version of DUNE, which a lot of folks think is his low point. ERASERHEAD is not pleasant to watch...but it’s damn effective.

Do you dislike BOOGIE NIGHTS or is it just not as good as the others? I’m a huge fan.

John,
I certainly don’t write off Griffith. The man practically invented the feature length film and made it an art form. I would like to watch BIRTH OF A NATION and INTOLERANCE at some point, I just don’t have the impetus to do so because I’m not making any 1910s lists yet haha. I know you are joking, but you certainly aren’t a racist for liking BIRTH OF A NATION. Or if you are, I am too for liking so many films in the 30s and 40s where black people were relegated to the thankless roles of ignorant servants and whatnot. Film history is ripe with racist portrayals. I doesn’t mean we should excuse these films, but it doesn’t mean we should disavow them all either. We should just recognize racism in film when we see it and always keep in mind that the golden age of film for us wasn’t the golden age for people who weren’t white.

I’ve seen all of the full-length Chaplin films but two (A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG and A WOMAN IN PARIS), and a number of his short films, so don’t completely thrown me in with Chris on that count haha. However, with that being said, I’m sure both of your daughters know their Chaplin better than me, for which I’m equally impressed by them and ashamed of myself.

I’d love to see JULIEN DONKEY-BOY to know what all the fuss is about. Make that happen!

Yes, I should see Miyazaki something...

I’d love to see TAKE SHELTER whenever and wherever you go. Let me know.

Also, I’m jealous that you have seen THE MILL AND THE CROSS. I first heard of it through Ebert a month or so ago. Looks great, and your esteem of it only makes we want to see it more. Thanks for inviting the rest of us! Jeesh....

Host a screening of Scorsese’s PERSONAL JOURNEY. That would be the tops.

Jason,
your thoughts on MEEK’S CUTOFF are great. Makes me want to see it again because I probably couldn’t interact well with your fresh viewing experience. But the WAITING FOR GODOT comparison is really apt. And one of the best things I’d say about the film is its ambiguity. It’s ripe for multiple readings.

THE THREE COLORS trilogy and THE DECALOGUE are works of modern genius. Just had to reiterate.

To everyone with access to PBS, don't forget the Woody Allen doc tonight!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I know nothing...

Playing along with Brandon. The first title I give I consider the best and the one after it I consider the worst. I really need to fill in my missing gaps here. I haven't seen enough of most to give them a worst film. Oh well.

(NOTE: I did this before reading Brandon's list, which I'm just seeing).

Lars von Trier - Europa. Manderlay (need to see Breaking the Waves, which many consider his masterpiece, but it is not available on dvd).

Alfred Hitchcock - Vertigo is probably his masterpiece, though my favorite is Shadow of a Doubt. Haven’t come across his low point yet (i.e. he probably didn’t make a bad film).

Martin Campbell - I’ve only seen GoldenEye. I liked the film a lot as a kid, mostly because of the corresponding video game for Nintendo 64.

Curtis Hanson - Only seen L.A. Confidential, which I barely remember.

Woody Allen - His masterpiece and my favorite is Hannah and Her Sisters. His low point is probably Melinda and Melinda or Anything Else. Though many of you will probably say his low point has been the last twenty years. Jerks.

Martin Scorsese - Taxi Driver. Haven’t seen a film by him that I didn’t like, but I haven’t seen them all.

Neil Jordan - The Crying Game. Don’t know.

Fritz Lang - M. for his German films and The Big Heat for his American ones. Haven’t seen a bad film by him.

George Stevens - A Place in the Sun. Don’t Know.

Max Ophuls - Have only seen The Earrings of Madame de... but I’m working on him. Come back to me in a couple of months.

Clint Eastwood - Unforgiven. Hereafter (somebody go see J. Edgar and tell me how it is by the way).

Stanley Donen - Singin’ in the Rain. Don’t Know.

Frank Capra - It’s a Wonderful Life, of course. I’ve liked every film I’ve seen by him.

Carol Reed - The Third Man. Don’t Know.

Robert Altman - McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Popeye? haha Haven’t seen it.
Francis Ford Coppola - The Godfather. Probably Jack with Robin Williams. Shocking I know.

Werner Herzog - Unoriginal but Aguirre, The Wrath of God. Haven’t seen one I didn’t like. Am dying to see Heart of Glass.

John Ford - The Searchers (Stagecoach and Liberty Valance are masterpieces too). Haven’t seen one I didn’t like.

Joe Dante - I haven’t seen The ‘Burbs....so....Gremlins. Don’t know.

Wes Craven - Music of the Heart. haha Haven’t seen that. Probably the first Elm St. or the first Scream. Take your pick of his many low points.

John Carpenter - Halloween. Haven’t seen enough of his films (Sorry horror fans!)

David Cronenberg - I really haven’t seen much Cronenberg (Sorry horror and film fans in general!). Don’t remember Videodrome, Naked Lunch, or Crash. Liked the last two films he made. That’s all I’ve seen.

George Romero - I guess Night of the Living Dead because I can’t remember Dawn of the Dead.
Haven’t seen any others. Let’s get out of this horror section and fast.

Bob Clark - Have only seen A Christmas Story, which, like many of you I’m sure, are sick to death of.

Stanley Kubrick - Here we go. From Paths of Glory onward, the man made nothing but masterpieces and he certainly never made a bad film. However, if you twisted my arm, his masterpiece is 2001, but my favorite is Barry Lyndon.

The Coen Brothers - No Country for Old Men. Haven’t seen one I disliked.

Wes Anderson - It’s probably still Rushmore, but my fav is The Life Aquatic. Haven’t seen one I disliked.

Tim Burton - Ed Wood (Edward Scissorhands is real close). Alice in Wonderland was garbage, but he’s got quite a few low points to choose from.

Preston Sturges - It’s gotta be Sullivan’s Travels, though I just watched Hail the Conquering Hero and I’m with John–it might be my favorite of his. Didn’t make a bad film.

Ernst Lubitsch - Tough call, but I’ll agree with Brandon here. To Be or Not to Be. Didn’t make a bad film (it’s that Lubitsch touch!)

Michael Haneke - haha the original Funny Games. It might not be that bad, but I couldn’t stand watching The Piano Teacher.

Sergio Leone - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (though they are all pretty amazing). Didn’t make a bad film.

Pedro Almodovar - I haven’t seen enough of his early work, so I’ll have to go with Talk to Her. Haven’t seen one I didn’t like.

Robert Aldrich - Kiss Me Deadly (maybe The Dirty Dozen). Haven’t seen one I disliked, but need to see more.

Michelangelo Antonioni - Blow-up for sure. I don’t really know what his low point is. I couldn’t dig on L’avventura, but that doesn’t make it a low point. I’ve liked his other films, that I’ve seen. He’s really not THAT boring!

Ingmar Bergman - A tie between The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, but they are all incredible. Never made a bad film. MASTER.

Jean-Luc Godard - Band of Outsiders. Haven’t seen his latest stuff, which is probably his low point.

Francois Truffaut - Shoot the Piano Player. Haven’t seen a bad one.

Henri Georges Clouzot - Tough call. I’m going to go with The Wages of Fear, but I’d certainly entertain the idea of Quai des Orfevres. Didn’t make a bad film.

Olivier Assayas - Need to see one of his films. I’m bad.

Mario Brava - Ditto.

Frank Borzage - Ditto.

Jacques Tourneur - Cat People, but I really dig Out of the Past. Haven’t seen a bad one.

Jim Jarmusch - Down By Law. Haven’t seen one I disliked.

Robert Bresson - Diary of a Country Priest is the only one I’ve seen that I remember. I’ll go with that. I need to re-submerge myself in his work at some point.

Luis Bunuel - The Phantom of Liberty. Didn’t make a bad one.

Claude Chabrol - Need to see one.
Charlie Chaplin - The Gold Rush and City Lights. Didn’t make a bad film (short or feature length).

Jean Cocteau - The Blood of a Poet. Don’t know.

George Cukor - Need to see The Women, which I assume is his best. Probably go with David Copperfield for now. I’ve liked the few films I’ve seen of his.

Brian De Palma - Blow Up. Scarface (haven’t seen his 2000s films).

Claire Denis - Haven’t seen one.

Carl Theodor Dreyer - Vampyr. Don’t know.

Federico Fellini - La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. Amarcord.

David Fincher - Zodiac. Panic Room (haven’t seen Alien 3, which is probably his worst).

Terry Gilliam - Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but solo I’d go with 12 Monkeys. The Brother’s Grimm.

DW Griffith - Well, Intolerance is certainly his finest work but...haha I haven’t seen any of ‘em. For shame.

Jia Zhangke - Who?

Buster Keaton - Have only seen The General.

Abbas Kiarostami - Certified Copy is pretty great. Have only seen Taste of Cherry besides this. Also pretty great, if you have the patience.

Brad Bird - Ratatouille. Hasn’t made a bad one.

Harmony Korine - Haven’t seen one.

Akira Kurosawa - Ikiru, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo. Haven’t seen a bad one.

Kenji Mizoguchi - Sansho the Bailiff. Haven’t seen enough.

David Lean - The Bridge on the River Kwai. I’ve liked ‘em all. I like Doctor Zhivago more than anyone probably ever should. It’s incredible.

Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain. Hulk by a landslide.

Jerry Lewis - Haven’t seen any of ‘em. Nice lady!

Joseph H. Lewis - ditto

Henry Hathaway - yikes, need to see one of his as well. All this list is doing is exposing me.

Richard Linklater - The “Before” films. Bad News Bears? I don’t know, haven’t seen enough.

Joseph Losey - Haven’t seen any.

David Lynch - Mulholland Drive. Probably Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Terrence Malick - All of ‘em are masterpieces. Days of Heaven though.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz - All About Eve. Don’t know.

Anthony Mann - Winchester ’73. Don’t know.

Michael Mann - Heat. The Public Enemy haha. Fuck that camera.

Leo McCarey - Duck Soup...but Make Way for Tomorrow is his best non-Marx Bros. film. I’ve liked ‘em all.

James Cameron - Terminator 2. Avatar (too easy).

Jean-Pierre Melville - Bob le Flambeur or Le Circle Rouge. Have liked all that I’ve seen.

Paul Thomas Anderson - There Will Be Blood. Hasn’t made a bad film.

Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds. Death Proof (sorry Brandon).

Danny Boyle - 28 Days Later. The Beach or Slumdog Millionaire.

Vincent Minnelli - Meet Me in St. Louis. Haven’t seen enough, but have liked all that I’ve seen.

Sam Peckinpah - The Wild Bunch or Pat Garret and Billy the Kidd. Need to see more.

Arthur Penn - Little Big Man. Don’t know.

James Whale - The Bride of Frankenstein. Don’t know.

Todd Browning - Freaks. Don’t know.

Edgar G. Ulmer - The Black Cat. don’t know.

Robert Zemeckis - Back to the Future. All of his CGI shit.

Powell and Pressburger - A Matter of Life and Death. Have liked ‘em all.

Yasujiro Ozu - Have only seen Tokyo Story, but will be seeing more soon.

Otto Preminger - Laura. don’t know.

Nicholas Ray - In a Lonely Place. Have Liked all that I’ve seen.

Jean Renoir - The Grand Illuison. Never made a bad one.

Nicolas Roeg - Don’t Look Now. Don’t know.

Eric Rohmer. Have only seen My Night at Maud’s, but I’ll get back to you soon.

Roberto Rossellini - Rome, Open City. Don’t know.

Douglas Sirk - All that Heaven Allows. Have only seen two...so don’t know.

Steven Soderbergh - Traffic. The last two Ocean films.

Steven Spielberg - Minority Report or Raiders or Schindler’s List. The 2nd Jurrassic Park.

Andrei Tarkovsky - Solaris. All good.

Jacques Tati - Mon Oncle. Don’t know.

Paul Verhoven - Haven’t seen one.

Jean Vigo - L’Atalante. Didn’t make enough to make a bad one.

Raoul Walsh - The Roaring Twenties. Have liked all I’ve seen.

John Waters - Sorry...have only seen Cry Baby and don’t remember it.

Peter Weir - Haven’t seen enough of his films, and barely remember the ones I have seen.
Orson Welles - Citizen Kane. Have only seen the good ones.

Wim Winders - Wings of Desire. Haven’t seen enough.

Billy Wilder - Stalag 17. Have liked all I’ve seen.

William Wellman - The Ox-Bow Incident. Don’t know.

William Wyler - Dodsworth. Don’t know.

Wong Kar-wai - In the Mood for Love. Have only seen that.

Zhang Yimou - House of Flying Daggers. Don’t know.

Victor Fleming - The Wizard of Oz. Don’t know.

Mark Robson - Have only seen The Seventh Victim and it’s great.

Robert Wise - The Curse of the Cat People. Don’t know.

Josef von Sternberg - The Scarlet Empress. Have liked the ones I’ve seen.

Sam Fuller - Have only seen Pickup on South Street. Dying to see The Steel Helmet.

Roman Polanski - Chinatown or Rosemary’s Baby. The Ninth Gate.

John Cassavetes - Have only seen Faces and A Woman Under the Influence. Liked them both. Need to see Shadows.

John Boorman - Point Blank. Don’t know.

Tobe Hooper - Poltergeist. Don’t know.

Robert Rodriguez - Sin City. Haven’t seen enough of his shitty movies, but there are probably plenty.

William Friedkin - The Excorcist. Don’t know.

John Huston - The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Have liked all I’ve seen.

Mike Leigh - Another Year. Have liked all I’ve seen.

Kathryn Bigelow - Have only seen The Hurt Locker. Didn’t like it much.
Oliver Stone - Don’t care.

Spike Lee - Do the Right Thing. Haven’t seen enough of his bad ones because I knew they’d be bad.

Gus van Sant - My Own Private Idaho. Don’t know.

Hayao Miyazaki - sorry nerds, haven’t seen one.

George Miller - I haven’t seen Babe in a long time. Can’t recall any others.

Darren Aronofsky - The Fountain. The Wrestler (not for Mickey Rourke though–one of his best).

Spike Jonze - Adaptation. Where the Wild Things Are.

PHEW!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Way Out Jeff

Thank you MELANCHOLIA for getting me posting more regularly.

I've been thinking that it is easy to write arguments for or against modern films. Arguing either side on MELANCHOLIA wouldn't be a stretch for any of us on here. But writing about classics is difficult because they don't conform well to words (at least not for me). WAY OUT WEST is really funny and enjoyable, but those generic adjectives don't really do it justice. You had to have been in the theater with that beautiful print playing to really feel the impact of it. It was just a blast. And Chaplin's THE PAWNSHOP before hand was an unbelievable treat. A blissful evening. That's what classics do for me. It's the experience of them as well as the content that makes them among the very highlights of existence.

Anyway, WAY OUT WEST has some really great sight gags. It's brisk, awfully funny, and filled with visual lunacy. It's no Marx Bros. absurdist circus, but it is a damn good time.

This must have been classic comedy weekend for me because I also caught THE BANK DICK this morning. I started it on TCM many years ago but fell asleep. I'm glad I got to finish it now because it's a comedic gem. Fields's persona was so ridiculous, but of course hilarious. Egbert Sousé is one of the great names in all of film (accent aigu though not grave–does anyone who has seen this know if that is an intentional mistake?). There's so many great gags in this that I wouldn't know where to begin.

Also, been thinking more about CITY FOR CONQUEST. Cagney character's tragedy in the film hits home hard (no boxing pun intended) because he is being carried towards his doom on the dreams of another. His dream is to live simply and be happy. His goil's dream is to transcend the City, and she encourages him to do the same. It's the sadness of the scene I mentioned in the last post that really holds the whole film together. We see the two intertwined characters going off in separate directions at this point and nothing will be the same. As I've gotten older I've really started to come around to the dream Cagney expresses here. When I was younger it was all about ambition and reaching the top (the top of what? Who knows). Now I'm like Cagney in that I just want to carve out a little niche for myself somewhere where I can be happy and enjoy my time. Movies and film club are helping with that.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

haha I need to learn how to accept change. I suspect that my next viewing of MELANCHOLIA will be more than favorable. Whereas you guys were looking for transcendence, I was looking for some aggressive discord to stir me from my sleepiness. I was tired, sitting in an uncomfortable position, and looking for a middle finger in a film that decided to keep its hands to itself. Also, we didn't mention this, but from where Chris and I were sitting, the sheet/screen had a huge fold in the middle that made the film look like a house of mirrors. Did this warp our perception of it?

Just to clarify: I don't want to argue that all depictions of depression are inherently flawed. It certainly does depend upon on the character who is depressed. Depression can take many forms; it depends on how well you can empathize with the portrayal. Justine's depression is unsympathetic in the first act, but as Chris was explaining to me (and I agree), it does become something more in the second. More sympathetic? No, it's not as if she is sympathetic, more that she is...admirable. Perhaps that isn't the right word still, but she does take on a sense of quiet resignation (and even a midnight summons that does suggest everything you all have said, a sexual connection, a spiritual calling, and a naked mirroring–I see you Melancholia, now you see me!) that I find worthy of respect. There is indeed a vindication of her depression at the film's conclusion. And even a sense of gravitational unification between the planet Melancholia and the planet Justine. I can't recall if we ever saw her struggling for breath as Melancholia came near. It is instead the meeting of two caliginous sets of lips. One indifferent mass joining another. There is beauty in their union and mutual dissolution.

I'm slowly starting to come around to this picture, even as I write this post, and I suspect that its crusaders are on the winning side. Dare I say that I actually am starting to like it now the more it registers with me? I do dare. I'm starting to more or less agree with all its supporters here. Call it pussin' out if you will, but I am being compelled by more than just your encomiums. In my mind I'm laying naked before this film and I believe we are on a collision course.

My definition of punk does not mean adolescence in the way you probably assumed I meant it. I should have put the word"juvenile" in quotations to suggest that I am not accepting the term as given. I consider punk to be a negation that takes on its own affirmation (to use philosophical jargon). I think punk is in many ways against ideas of adulthood that suggest the acquiescence to authority and the status quo. I think punk says that if adulthood means conforming to certain rules or ideas of behavior, then long live adolescence. It's a juvenile mentality that is not pejorative but has been reappropriated to mean a state of mind against blind acceptance. It's "I don't want to grow up if growing up means selling the fuck out–and selling yourself out." Does that make sense? Punk can be many things, but I think one of it's strongest positions is to stir you from your comfortable ideological languor. There is a knowledge to it because it negates acceptable forms of knowledge to create its own. It's spitting at something not just for the sake of spitting but because you don't like what you see. It relates a lot to one of my other favorite movements in the 20th century–Dadaism.

Does DOGVILLE take itself too seriously? Not in my opinion. In a great conversation between vT and Paul Thomas Anderson, PTA tells Lars how much humor he found in DOGVILLE and Lars seems quite pleased. This is right after Lars was discussing how much humor he finds in Kubrick. I think there's humor in DOGVILLE, it just depends on what you find humorous. The citizens of Dogville are insular pieces of shit, and they get wiped out at the end. Then we hear Bowie's Young Americans over pictures of American poverty. Do you really think that is taking itself too seriously? It's a carnival ending (they shoot the baby for christsakes). I guess it depends on how you are looking at it (doesn't everything), but I was looking with a big ole grin, the same way I looked at FUNNY GAMES and the same way I look now as I just beat that dead horse.

There may be more humor to MELANCHOLIA than I even suspect. There may also be less irony then I was anticipating. Brandon, I think the reason you love Lars' last two films is because there is a creeping suspicion (or full-blown awareness now) in you that the irony has been replaced by something genuine. In an age of irony, I guess I can't blame you for being relieved.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Buck Conquest

Everything you wrote about CITY FOR CONQUEST was great and spot-on, John. I completely agree, so I don’t really have much more to add. Cagney owns this thing every which way. And he does scream authentic common man. He lets it bellow out from his bones. The scene with his goil where he explains his desire not to be a fighter but just to live simply in the city and be happy is one of his finest moments. As is the seemingly schmaltzy moment where he is listening to his brother’s concert on the radio. It should be just over-the-top sentimentality, but it ends up totally endearing. Cagney doesn’t have to sell it to you; you buy it because it’s the real thing. I love everything Cagney, and this film is no exception. It is a great ode to the City.

Kazan’s little part is great too. He gets that really fine moment in the car, and it’s just fun to see him act. So damn young here.

I also caught BUCK PRIVATES on TCM this morning. Hilarious. I love the craps game gag. Especially for Lou’s line “They wouldn’t let me I was too young...starting Tuesday I’m going out with girls.” I burst out laughing. I’m excited to watch more A&C from the 40s.

Juveniles

Okay, I've had another night to think over MELANCHOLIA, and I've come to the absolute conclusion that I need to see it again. I liked the Emerson review, especially for leading me to the film's website where vT (or just T if you are an Emersonian) is asking viewers to look underneath the "nice" and the "polish." I'm now determined to do so.

As much as it pains me to imagine a "grown up" Lars (thanks for the Nazi comments at least to stop that argument), I'm curious to see how he is adapting his humor and nihilism to new forms. Maturity is a hard word to swallow. It's like our friend Todd settling down. But if Lars has found a new way to channel his cynicism or to mask it behind things then I want to dig down with him.

I'm already starting to like the film the more I think about as a whole. I agree with you John that it's better in retrospect than it was watching it. Part of me still wants to dislike it for being too likable. Part of me wants that infantile rejection of maturity and tastefulness. But the other part of me realizes that there are other ways to make art, and that an artist, like everything else, is in constant flux.

I feel a little like when an underground band you love puts out a more mainstream album and people start getting on board. Your first instinct is to recoil. But this is all focused on externals. I need to sit down with the film again and watch it for what it is and let Brandon's approval be damned haha.

Still, if indeed my punk juvenile has "grown up" as John suggests then I'm going to need a moment of silence followed by some Tom Waits to help me through it:

Friday, November 11, 2011

MELANCHOLIA is not cynical enough

Am I the only one in the world making this argument?

Love the posts so far.

I think the lack of any vituperation coming from John and Brandon completely proves my point that this is one of the safest von Trier films yet. You know, something really is different with this one. It does seem less cynical, which surprised me.

And it’s just not that risky by his standards. Not that it had to be completely risky, but for an apocalyptic comedy-disaster movie about depression, I would have expected a bit more from him. It’s not as depressing as it could have been haha. That sounds ridiculous, but that is my most legitimate criticism of the film. It’s just not mean enough.

I told this to Chris already, but I really wanted there to be one final shot after Melancholia hits earth. I wanted to see a nice cold, empty shot of space. That’s it. Perhaps very faintly in the distance one could make out the collision of the two planets like the tiny flicker of an ember. But mostly focused on the empty and yet completely vast space of the universe. A universe that feels this destruction no more than a statue would feel a particle of dust landing on it. If the film had cut to this, I probably would have stood up and clapped. Because that subtle change would have been such a beautiful little nihilistic joke. I would have laughed, I would have clapped, I would have been happy. Maybe I’m just a weirdo, but I like jokes like that. And I feel like Lars does too.

I only say all this because I was waiting the whole time for these nihilistic jokes to come out in the film. I wanted those subtle digs that pack such a mean visceral punch, like a lot of his other films. I was quite pleased to find Kiefer Sutherland’s character dead and Melancholia coming back towards Earth just after he had promised it would all be okay and had shown Clair how it was shrinking in the distance. I agree with the assessment on how terrific a suspense device that wire thingy is. And it sets up a great joke–perhaps the best in the movie. Once the planet started coming closer to Earth, I was getting excited. I liked a majority of the ending, but I was waiting for more jokes! Maybe I missed some subtle ones, but mostly I felt like there was room for more provocation and black humor.

Here’s a telling point: Before I saw the film I read something saying that Lars called this ending the first time one of his films had actually ended negatively. Based on that, I was expecting big things from this ending. I thought we’d get something insanely provocative, nihilistic, and harshly comedic. By the end I knew we weren’t getting something so provocative, so I just wanted something subtly funny like the shot of space. Anything to give it that little cynical twist.

I don’t need all my films to be cynical (wait til you hear my love for the Dardenne’s THE SON–zero cynicism there and it’s blissful), and I don’t even want most films to be cynical. But I’ve come to expect a cetain aggressively nihilistic punk rock attitude from Lars. I just find it funny and oddly pleasing, especially in a world that takes itself too seriously. His films always feel like a great ego check to me. But with MELANCHOLIA, I feel like my man toned it down too much for a film I was expecting to be a nihilistic masterpiece. Most of y’all probably disagree, but I need my nihilism in art from time to time. It’s an outlet. Lars is one of my sanctuaries.

As I said earlier, I can’t wait for THE NYMPHOMANIC to come out and be awful and gross, and for everyone to hate it. Then I will be smiling.

Quick note: I want to see this movie again, by myself. I’ll admit that I have trouble emotionally connecting to movies when I watch them with other people (and when I’m really sleepy, as was doubly the case last night). Movies are always less intimate for me around others. Like I wrote before about THE TREE OF LIFE, I usually need just myself and a tv for real film love to occur. I need the film to speak right at me and no one else. Anyway, I owe it to Lars to try and reconnect on my own. I'm not willing to write this off as a total disappointment yet.

The planet is called Melancholia...

...and it's a symbol for melancholia.

Okay...so...MELANCHOLIA.

I’m going to have to come out and admit upfront that I was disappointed by it. I was expecting more from Lars von Trier. This one plays it almost too safe, which is why I think that so many critics who previously have trashed LVT have got on board. It’s beautiful and meditative, the worst that happens is what has been guaranteed by the beginning, there’s no clit snipping, no controversial moral claims, nothing too crazy, nothing too explicitly anti-American. It’s about depression, and it’s a disaster movie. Simple enough for most critics. But not what I'd come to expect from LVT. It's just too tepid throughout most of it.

(Question: Can a depression movie ever be well done without making you hate the character(s) who are depressed?)

The prologue is genuinely terrific. Beautiful, cryptic, and haunting. Anytime there was a scene recalling the prologue or recreating parts of it (the music with dramatic shots of the sky or the planet in the distance) I was interested. But I suspect mostly because it recalled 2001 and THE TREE OF LIFE. There is much style to this picture. A style that LVT seems to be harnessing from the similarly beautiful ANTICHRIST. But there isn’t too much else beyond this.

I have no problem with the film’s bleakness. Anyone who knows me should know that I’m a sucker for anything nihilistic and...hmmm...what’s the word....oh yes, melancholic. I didn’t really find the film all that depressing or bleak. Sure, nothing good happens, ever. But I was expecting a more intense experience. If I’m gonna be swimming in bleakness, then dunk me in the deep end. Shock and surprise me a little bit. Get my blood pumping. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK is a film that sinks you down deep into the mire so much so that it takes on an incredible beauty of its own. This is just riding the surface.

I guess one major problem is that I wasn’t really engaged. I didn’t care about any of the characters–at all (are we supposed to care?). The opening act with Justine’s wedding actually bored me a bit. It reminded me too much of RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. The second act is much better because at least with it we are able to anticipate the disaster coming instead of just wallowing in Justine’s depression. There’s a great moment in act two where Justine is laying naked (yep that’s great in itself but there’s more!) with the image of Melancholia floating above her. That’s the LVT I love. Making her fascination with this impending disaster sexually stimulating. I can almost see her laying there yelling “Let Melancholia fuck you! Let Melancholia fuck you!” It’s an interesting moment, but it is all too short. That hint of something more interesting going on is often there in MELANCHOLIA, but it rarely comes to fruition.

There was nothing that really shocked or excited me in any real way. This is likely a result of feeling emotionally distant from the characters. Certainly, MELANCHOLIA is beautiful, well-made, and better than most fare you will find around (If you want to see a modern disaster picture, this is easily a better bet than the latest Roland Emmerich apoco-porn). And it’s depressing–but who cares? I’ve been more depressed and more intrigued by LVT’s other films because they at least challenged or excitied me into caring. This just didn’t engage me.

However, I remain a believer in Lars von Trier. I’m a big fan. I think he’s at his best when he’s being a mixture of super creative, provocative, and urgent. MELANCHOLIA isn’t really any of those three for the most part of it. But I have faith in him for next time. He’s worked through his depression movie, got it out of his system, now he can move on to the tactfully titled THE NYMPHOMANIC. Hopefully that fucks MELANCHOLIA to death.

Monday, November 7, 2011

colorado territory

I remember that this was one of the first films John talked about when I joined film club, and it reminded me that I had a lot of catching up to do in my classic film viewing. Especially classic film that wasn't AFI-certified. I think one of the best things I am learning about going back and watching films according to their years is that there are so many great films around that no one ever hears about. COLORADO TERRITORY is one of 'em.

What an inspired idea to take this noir-ish story of love and doom and turn it into a western. It works just as well in this setting (maybe some would say better even) as it does in HIGH SIERRA. And what a great story it is too. Even though I knew I was watching the same basic story as HS, it still always seemed fresh and exciting. It helps when you have really fine performers like McCrea and Mayo to breathe new life into their characters. It also helps when you've got someone like Walsh who knows how to make the film distinctive enough to its own setting that it actually stands on its own.

And you are right Brandon, this ending is an improvement on HS, if only because it focuses more on the two leads together as opposed to singling out just one. Mayo's character is more rugged than Lupino's, so it makes sense that she would go down shooting. But they are both just as loyal to their lovable outlaws, so having them both go down with their men, as the doomed lovers they are, makes sense as well. CT seems to understand this connection between the two characters better. But HS's ending is still great–it's just more tragic.

Also, I watched JOHNNY GUITAR and it is equally awesome. You are hooked right from the intense opening moments when Vienna literally has her back to the wall, surrounded by an angry mob and one of the most odious female villains in all of film. From there it is just terrific entertainment, a pervading sense of uneasiness, and the wonderful eye of Ray. Another great one.