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:

Also, on Blogdanovich, there was a recent post on 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.