Thursday, July 26, 2012


I have watched the trailer for PTA's THE MASTER at least three times a day since it was released last Friday. I probably will not stop watching it until the film comes out on Oct. 12th. As expected, the footage looks incredible, and it has me more excited than even the prospect of a new Malick movie. PTA may be my favorite director working today. If you haven't seen it yet, behold the glory of his latest vision below:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Fire Rises

(Before getting into THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, I should admit that I'm a bit of a fanboy when it comes to Batman. It is one of my indulgent weaknesses next to what I hope is a more balanced cinephilia. I'm not even close to being objective when it comes to Nolan's Batman movies, which I honestly consider a dream come true for this life-long Batman devotee. So, take everything I say with a grain of salt and forgive the hyperbole if you can).

I loved reading your TDKR thoughts, Brandon. I'm stoked and relieved that you had a similar reaction to the film as I did. I think you and I are in the minority in thinking that this film is better than its predecessor, but I also think you and I are in the right. Jim Emerson, who John loves to reference for their shared THE DARK KNIGHT bashing, agrees with us that the film is an improvement on TDK. In his article, he says, "I haven't read other full reviews yet, but I've seen indications that people who really loved "The Dark Knight" are less satisfied with "TDKR" than those who found much to fault in the first two. I could see how that would be. I mean, if you already feel that "TDK" must be "the best movie of all time" or some such thing, what could compete ? I think "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" are mediocre movies, and "TDKR" represents a small but measurable improvement in several respects. So, yeah, if you're looking for the *like*/*dislike*: I think that, in comparison to its predecessors, it's the better of the three."

Though I disagree with Emerson that TDK is mediocre, I'd have to agree with him and you that BATMAN BEGINS is quite mediocre (I re-watched it last week, and it's just not that good), and that TDKR is the best film of the three. It's just a much tighter film then the first two and much better written. Some of the writing in TDK is awkward, especially in the dialogue between characters. A lot of it comes across as weird, forced, and unnatural. Also, some of the action can seem clunky/incomprehensible, and some of the acting is just downright hammy. With TDKR, I really think Nolan did a better job handling scenes of dialogue between characters. The writing is sharper, the acting more fluent, and the overall tone more organic. The action in the film is more focused, easier to follow, and I think more exciting. Also, he was able to wrangle better performances from just about everyone involved. Again, credit to Nolan and his team for crafting a better screenplay and to him for directing his actors better. Like I said in my last post, TDKR doesn't have Ledger's Joker, but it is a better film on every other level.

All right, I really would like to respond to a lot of what you wrote, and to do so I really gotta let the spoilers fly. SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM AND WANT TO, STOP READING NOW. Let's chat:

I think everything you wrote about the themes of TDKR and the common threads holding the entire series together is great and spot-on. I couldn't have said it better myself. You essentially got right to the heart of who Bruce Wayne is, what he embodies as Batman, and what is enemies try to destroy. Each villain in the series has served as a test for Bruce Wayne's commitment to the people of Gotham, and more largely, his belief in society as a whole. Bane is definitely an amalgamation of Ra's Al Ghul and The Joker. His plan is to both flat-out destroy Gotham (via nuclear bomb), but to get the people of Gotham to tear each other to pieces before it goes off (via manipulating class warfare). He's an admirable foe for Batman, both on a spiritual and physical level.

A friend of mine who saw the film wrote online that he thought the film sacrificed intimacy for explosions, and I think he's dead wrong. This is a very intimate story arch for Bruce Wayne/Batman. Like you wrote, he is really relegated to his lowest points in this film both at the beginning (crushed spirit, wounded body) and towards the ending (annihilated body) unlike we have never seen before. Bane provides a relentless force of pure nihilism that really pushes Bruce Wayne/Batman to his limits. I heard someone complain that the film didn't feature enough Batman, but that is because it focuses very heavily on the dichotomy between Bruce Wayne and Batman. To me, it is a highly personal story for both because it deals with the very soul of both characters. That is why I found the ending so moving. I thought the pay-off was beautifully orchestrated. A lot of times Nolan's penchant for repeating phrases and images can come across as trying to be too clever (as John would argue), but for me, the call back to Alfred's cafe dream seemed perfect and I was completely caught in its emotional sweep. For one, because Alfred's dream came true, and more importantly because Bruce Wayne was finally able to sacrifice Batman for a life of peace. Batman's work is done. He saved the city he has fearlessly defended for so long and sacrificed himself in the process. He can die giving everything to Gotham. And the Bruce Wayne "playboy billionaire" persona can die too, leaving only the real Bruce Wayne to finally live a life of emotional freedom that was taken away from him the moment his parents were killed. I'm all for bleak endings, but I thought Nolan's ending was smarter, more satisfying, and ultimately more triumphant than merely ending on a tragic note. Left with the new Batman (or just Robin, I guess) in JGL and Bruce Wayne living peacefully with Selina Kyle, I felt overjoyed.

I mentioned Bane a little bit there, so I should definitely say that I found him to be a terrific force working within this film. I, like you, loved Hardy's decision to speak in a higher, more expressive voice. It always belies the cold stare of his eyes and his purely brute frame. As a complete package it makes him into a terrifying villain. He is coldblooded, calculating, and above all insanely intimidating. I agree that he's scarier without motivation, and that his love for Talia Al Ghul suddenly makes him appear sheepish, but before those moments, he is a fucking monster and I got excited/anxious every time he appeared on screen. I thought Hardy was (not surprisingly) fantastic in the role, and the character smartly handled by Nolan.

I'm glad you mentioned your appreciation for Selina Kyle and Anne Hathaway. I thought she gave a wonderful performance, and that the character was expertly delineated. Hathaway adds such charm and loveability to the role, and the character provides much needed sobriety amongst all the sociopolitical ambiguity. She is someone to root for, and I too was very glad of her inclusion and her depiction. Honestly, as a Batman fan (and a film fan), I think they nailed her characterization and the interplay she has with Wayne/Batman. Well done to all involved.

It's hard not to bring up the political and social ramifications of the film, especially the Occupy movement, if only because the story of class division and revolution is so pertinent in today's world. I honestly don't think Nolan had any intention of criticizing the Occupy movement nor in suggesting that it could lead to violent anarchy. In an interview he said, "We throw a lot of things against the wall to see if it sticks. We put a lot of interesting questions in the air, but that's simply a backdrop for the story. What we're really trying to do is show the cracks of society, show the conflicts that somebody would try to wedge open." I think this is precisely what he's trying to do with TDKR and what he did with TDK. He is putting the ideas of these fictional comic book characters within a very realistic, zeitgeist-y setting, exploring where they would fit into the existing social framework. Batman is a force of order, so of course he would be aligned with the police and the military. Bane is a force of disorder and destruction, so he is going to be in a sort of Stalin or Pol Pot position of manipulating others to achieve his own ends. I think Nolan deliberately tries to blur the lines between heroes and villains in these films so that questions are raised over their roles in society and no real definitive answer is given. And to be completely fair to Chris Nolan and his brother, they have said that they came up with the idea for the film in the summer 0f 2008, right when TDK was coming out and right before the big economic collapse in this country. They have both mentioned being largely inspired to make the film by A TALE OF TWO CITIES. I think this places the film more in a historical context instead of just a commentary on our current economic climate. I think comparisons to the French Revolution are more apt than to the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement has been about nothing but peaceful protest whereas the French Revolution quickly turned into violent game of paranoia and manipulation (what Bane tries to do to the people of Gotham).

Brandon, I'm really glad you mentioned the idea of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES being conservative entertainment because I've seen this mentioned elsewhere. I want to make something clear, and it is not directed at you, but just anyone who feels the need to specifically politicize Batman while ignoring the sociopolitical themes of other superheroes. To single out THE DARK KNIGHT RISES as uniquely conservative entertainment would be to overlook the fact that just about every superhero film (not to mention, just about every film about fighting crime, period) valorizes the preservation of order against a swell of chaos/anarchy/radical change. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, The Avengers–they all share a common goal, and that is to conserve the status quo against external threats of destruction. Since the arch of all these superheroes is to eradicate disorder, we of course are being told to side with the strength of order. Because Batman has no true superpowers, his story is told very much in a realistic setting where he has to interact with police and other levels of bureaucracy. In BATMAN BEGINS, he serves as a surrogate police force; in THE DARK KNIGHT and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, he serves as an ancillary one. His connection to the police is obvious because he has to work with them either as a precarious ally or a scapegoat. In Superman or Spider-Man, the police are irrelevant next to superhuman ability so you don't see them all that much, but these superheroes still have the same goals as the police, just different uniforms. If you want to criticize the conservative values of Batman, that is fine, but you should probably go ahead and criticize the entire idea of superheroism while you are at it. They are all basically preservers of an existing order (i.e. all express conservative values in a way). Again, this isn't directed at you Brandon, just anyone who is terribly inconsistent in his/her criticism.

(But, to continue to be fair to Nolan [or perhaps biased towards him], I don't think the film is purely conservative because it doesn't glorify the status quo. Batman tries to prevent the disorder and destruction Bane presents, but the order of Gotham before Bane comes is HEAVILY criticized in the film. That's why John Blake and Selina Kyle are there. Both serve as critiques to the greed and apathy of the wealthy in Gotham. So the film isn't praising the current social order and decrying change; if anything, the film is critical of the status quo, of radical change, and any form society can imitate. That's why I called it grim. It's a really fun, exciting, suspenseful film, but it is a very bleak look at our world and the structures within it).

This isn't directed at you Brandon, but speaking of people who are inconsistent in their criticisms (as I did above), I've read a lot of negative comments about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES from people who absolutely loved THE DARK KNIGHT. A majority of their gripes are over shit they had no problem overlooking in TDK but inexplicably can't forgive in TDKR (e.g. plot holes, continuity errors, changes from the comics, etc.). Listen, I love THE DARK KNIGHT, but I would be the first to admit that that film is riddled with errors, holes, and downright bad moments. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES itself is not perfect and certainly has its share of problems. But, ultimately with both films I was able to overlook those smaller problems and focus on what I consider terrific overall achievements. And like Jim Emerson, with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES I found less holes, less moments to criticize because it is a better constructed and executed film. I think if you are going to tear apart TDKR for shit you ignore in TDK, then you need to just admit that you are not thinking about the film in any rational manner but are merely brokenhearted that Nolan didn't make the exact same film as TDK.

Okay, I've written and ranted a lot already, so I'll just leave it at that. Good talk!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A King Has His Reign...and Then He Dies?

Insanely good episode of BREAKING BAD last night.

The mirror scens of Walt, the emotional tyrant, subduing Jesse and Skylar under the guise of family and partnership are absolutely chilling. In one scene we see Walt gently massaging a sobbing Jesse's shoulder as he manipulates him into accepting the position of surrogate son and friend. In another scene we see Walt softly caressing Skylar's arm, kissing her neck, and waxing familial while she stares off in quiet horror. Two terrific scenes highlighting Walt's own sense of godlike power and the ever deepening moral midden he has buried himself in. The striking difference between the two scenes is that Skylar is privy to Walt's despotism will Jesse is still being duped. Does this set us up for an unexpected ultimate showdown between Skylar and Walt? At this point, anything is possible, including the potential for numerous red herrings. But I do think that there is something telling about the look on Skylar's face as she receives those kisses. It does not look like a face that will remain submissive for much longer.

As great as those two scenes are for continuing the issues related to the show's three main characters, this episode really belongs to my personal favorite character: Mike Ehrmantraut. He received a lot of great scenes and ingenious moments last night. In fact, every scene he was in last night was great, funny, exciting, and riveting. My favorite has to be his final scene with new girl Lydia as she pleads with him to be shot in the face or to not be "disposed" of. What other show would be so raw and uncompromising in its dissection of the moment between life and death? BREAKING BAD continues to be a show, in a lot of ways, about consequences, effects, results–so, of course, how Lydia's daughter finds her body is of grave importance and needs to be discussed so bluntly. Sooo good.

Can I also mention how enigmatic, strange, gritty, and ultimately badass that opening scene is? The show makes a habit out of scenes with characteristics just like this, and I can't say I'm ever disappointed.

In his recap, my new buddy Matt Zoller Seitz mentions how the episode is a masterclass in revelatory direction. I couldn't agree more. Like so many episodes of BREAKING BAD, it is shot with meticulous efficiency and harrowing creativity. My favorite shot has to be, as MZS describes it, "the slow pull-back revealing the murdered Chow on the couch, his bloodied head positioned center-frame." My only thought was, "God, that is such a great shot."

Anyway, like John and Chris before me, I don't think I can talk much more about the episode without diverting into pure Chris Farley type adulation. So, I will just say: It. Was. Awesome.

Can't wait for next Sunday.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not exactly a DRK review, but just some thoughts

(NOTE: It's obviously difficult to discuss THE DARK KNIGHT RISES with any sense of gravity after the unfathomable tragedy that took place in Colorado Friday night. But I do want to discuss my unfiltered reaction to the film, so please forgive any sense of hyperbole this post will have in the context of such real-life horror).

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is the crown jewel of the Nolan Batman trilogy. Many critics and fans are claiming that it doesn't come near the greatness of THE DARK KNIGHT, but I'm honestly ready to admit that it surpasses it with ease. It doesn't have the instant entertainment value of TDK, nor is it as iconic, but TDKR is a more challenging and impressive film on just about every level. It is a grim, elegiac, and beautiful pop masterpiece. It may be the darkest blockbuster of its kind ever made. Nolan has taken our current economic and sociopolitical fear and created a disturbing mirror for our own society unlike any I've ever seen in such a mainstream film. It's vision of modern chaos and corruption is more palpable than any action film; its ambiguity and ambition more complex than any superhero film ever made. It is, in a word, marvelous. I couldn't possibly praise it enough.

I'm really glad it is dividing some critics and fans, as I think it is far too challenging a film to be universally embraced. It's dramatic ambitions alone are bound to be offputing to those simply looking for the fun and jauntiness of your average summer blockbuster (or hell, even of TDK). It's a profound film that unrelentingly pursues its themes, burying you down deep in the mire only to deliver one of the most spectacular and satisfying conclusions to a trilogy in film history. I really wish Andrew Sarris were still alive to see it, as I think he would have undoubtedly loved its ambition and obsessiveness.

Anyway, perhaps I'll do a real review for the film soon. I just wanted to get the word out that I was floored by the film, and found it to far exceed every expectation I had for it. It is a truly moving, terrifying, and utterly thrilling experience.

(P.S. Tom Hardy's Bane is incredibly menacing and legitimately scary. He is one hulking mass of a monster. And Anne Hathaway is very terrific and lovable as Selina Kyle. Though it can't boast a performance as strong as Ledger's Joker, I think TDKR has got great character work across the board. And ultimately I think it's just the most coherent, natural, and well-written Batman film to date. It is not a perfect film, but it is very, very impressive).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Artist & Brave

I did exactly as Brandon said and went into THE ARTIST with as open a mind as possible. I tried to forget all the inordinate hype, acclaim, and awards, instead focusing on the film as just some minuscule French movie that no one really saw or had heard of. I also let down my cynical modern film guard for the time being and just sat there waiting for the film's humor, charm, and unbridled joy to wash over me like some carefree dream.

I waited...and I waited...and I waited. But it never seemed to come.

For all the crowd pleasing hype this thing has gotten, I am surprised by how little this film was able to make me feel elated. Its charms all seemed forced and contrived, never genuinely earned. Its lighter moments are a bit too manic and artificial, as if Hazanavicious and the actors are trying much too hard to replicate the natural charms of more talented performers from the past. Its darker moments are a bit too obvious and simplistic; real pathos is never achieved nor is there any sense of novel commentary on the passage of time and what is lost as our society seems to "progress." As a strict homage to classic film, it has none of the magic of the predecessors it imitates. It is a quintessential gimmick film, concerned more with how it wants to appear than it actually is. And do not get me wrong, I would easily forgive it for being a gimmick if it were able to be artistic and emotionally viable beyond its surface glam, but it is not. John, you are mistaken about BROADWAY DANNY ROSE. This is what a trifle looks like.

As if being a black-and-white silent film in 2011 weren't gimmicky enough, THE ARTIST feels compelled to steal the plot lines of other classics along the way. Narratively, it is basically just a rehash of both SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and A STAR IS BORN. But it touches nowhere near the enjoyment or even the emotional reality of either of those films. It's just a tarnished copy of them. Watching THE ARTIST, I honestly just felt like popping in either of those movies instead.

To be completely fair, I didn't hate THE ARTIST. It's ultimately too innocuous to hate. I will certainly give the film its due for both revering classic film and for potentially being a catalyst that will arouse interest in silent film, black-and-white, and the Hollywood Golden Age. I thank it for doing both. But I can't say that it ever rises above mere reverence to become its own artistic statement; therefore, I cannot recommend it. It all feels like hearing an old joke retold by someone who knows little about comedy or timing.

I had a much better time watching BRAVE than THE ARTIST, even with all the little kids around talking and yelling randomly for no reason. It's a pretty terrific film. I'd have to wholeheartedly agree with Brandon and Adrienne's praises of it. I think Adrienne did a great job highlighting what's great about the film, both in terms of visuals and emotional themes. It certainly looks gorgeous. It's also very sincere, exciting, and often quite funny. I think it does a skillful job of balancing its humor with a real sense of adventure and emotional stakes. I was slightly worried (SPOILER) as soon as Merida's mother turns into the bear (END SPOILER), as I was afraid it would enter too much into slapsticky territory, but thankfully, it didn't and instead maintained a high level of thrill and tenderness. The whole film very much stays centered around both. It's delightful.

I honestly don't understand the critical reaction to this claiming that the film somehow does a disservice to its first true female protagonist. No way. Merida is smart, independent, adventurous, compassionate, and she loves her family. I think boys and girls could both equally relate to and feel attached to her. She's awesome, and the story around her is the perfect adornment. I guess this is just another of those cases where the earnestness of a film (à la JOHN CARTER) goes completely over the head of the critics. And yet, they all fell for the contrivance that is THE ARTIST. What's the deal?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Belated 1964 Response

Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you on your '64 list, Brandon. I love reading your 60s lists, but I find them a lot harder to respond to than your 30s ones. This is mostly because I've seen a lot of the 30s movies within the last year and either haven't seen a lot of the 60s movies at all or haven't seem them in ages. Anyway, I think your '64 list is great, and thankfully, I've seen a few of them.

I haven't seen THE NAKED KISS yet; however, TCM had a 100th birthday celebration of Sam Fuller this past friday, so I recorded TNK and SHOCK CORRIDOR. Looking forward to digging into both. The only two Fuller films I've seen are PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET and THE STEEL HELMET. I love them both, and I'm sure that love will extend over into these two 60s films. I'm not even sure what TNK is about, but I really like what you wrote about it.

I haven't seen SEVEN DAYS IN MAY either. But Rod Serling and John Frankenheimer does seem a good match, indeed. Will add to my already colossal personal watch list.

I have long considered BAND OF OUTSIDERS my favorite Godard film. I watched a lot of Godard in high school, but have really slowed down my watching production for him more recently–I think I've seen 2 new ones within the last 5 years. I got to re-watch a little of BAND OF OUTSIDERS when Chris had it on Netflix, and I'm glad to say it still held up for me. I have no idea if its still my favorite Godard (I would need to re-watch a whole bunch of them), but it's certainly one of his most entertaining and lovable films. I say that because it's very much grounded in his love for noir, musicals, and film in general. I think it's easy to appreciate Godard when he's being exuberant and playful with his artwork (LES CARABINIERS, A WOMAN IS A WOMAN) instead of morose and vindictive (CONTEMPT, WEEK END). BAND OF OUTSIDERS falls heavily in the former camp, while also containing a bit of that creeping darkness, as you mentioned Brandon. Still a very good film for me.

Need to see KISS ME, STUPID. Ditto for WOMAN IN THE DUNES.

All right, RED DESERT. Back to something I've seen. And recently, too. "I’m beginning to understand that to embrace the director is to embrace a painting and as such you have to appreciate the composition of colors, buildings, and people as well as the landscapes that engulf them." YES! Exactly. For me, Antonioni is almost exclusively a visual filmmaker. By that I mean, he is more interested in using images to convey real meaning instead of traditional modes of storytelling through dialogue and action. He basically exists as a pure director. He's not a dramatist, but a visual map-maker. His main purpose being how to tell or hint at everything non-verbal in the story through framing, blocking, and mise-en-scene. To me, he is a master at achieving this end. If reading the language of film interests you, then I think you will find a wealth of meaning in Antonioni's films, and RED DESERT in particular. The story of this film is told through images, and boy do they create a overwhelming sense of isolation, imprisonment, and somehow austere beauty. The colors are bold and gorgeous, but the framing cuts through this leaving everything at a cold distance. The film is a brilliant juxtaposition between both elements. And you're right to point out a potential for hope in the story, Brandon. I love the story sequence, as well. Even if there is an overwhelming sense of mental degradation and spatial suffocation, there is also a small sense of Guiliana finding agency and possibly direction. By the end, we at least hope, like the birds, that she has also learned to avoid the toxic smoke.

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS is exactly as you describe it. A colorful and unbelievably stylish remake of YOJIMBO set in the old west. Do you think Leone, Eastwood, and Morricone had any idea how fucking cool this movie was when they made it? You watch it now and it is just the epitome of confident insouciance. I'm obviously a huge fan of all the Leone westerns. This film is the start of something truly incredible. I don't know what else to say other than I love it unconditionally.

I'm not entirely sure if if I've seen ST. MATTHEW before. I can't remember it either way, so I guess it doesn't matter. Need to watch it regardless.

What blows my mind about DR. STRANGELOVE is that it was originally supposed to be this very serious nuclear thriller, but Kubrick found the logic of the material to be so absurd that he had to turn it into a comedy. That, to me, says nearly everything about Kubrick's genius. He had the most incredible instincts for what worked and the remarkable innovation to see it get done. You are damn right; there's some terrific irony in the fact that the notoriously cold and over-analytical Kubrick could make the greatest black comedy in history, and one of the greatest comedies period. But in hindsight it really isn't all the surprising considering the man absolutely mastered every genre he worked in. He just put everything he had into each picture he made and surrounded himself with all the best talent to see that his vision both came to life and was expertly executed. I could rhapsodize about Kubrick all day. He's probably the greatest director who ever lived. I love DR. STRANGELOVE. And I love Peter Sellers. Special mention should be given to his brilliance in the film, as well.

When I resume getting dvds by mail from Netflix, SOY CUBA is going to the top my queue. I'm dying to see it because both you and Ed Gonzalez have it at the top of your lists. I'm sure it's astonishing. The only thing I really know about it is that it has these deliriously elaborate camera movements, and that Paul Thomas Anderson stole a shot from it for BOOGIE NIGHTS (following the girl into the pool). That's enough for me to be incredibly stoked to see it. I'm sure I'll join you in gushing about it soon.

Sorry I haven't seen more from this year or didn't have that much to say. Still, another great list that I can't find anything to disagree with. Looking forward to 1934!

Friday, July 6, 2012

You Win, John

Some will probably say it's better than I didn't see John's post before I just posted my last one. If I had, I would have instantly deleted mine out of embarrassment. His MOONRISE KINGDOM thoughts put mine to shame. No blurring the divide between children and adults here–I know my place, and it's at the kids' table.

John, what an incredibly astute reading. You nailed it. I will admit that I had thoughts about the connection between the flood at the end and the production of NOYE'S FLUDDE where Sam and Suzy meet for the first time. It's a pretty unmissable thematic link. But I also knew that there was no way I could bring up any Biblical issues within the film without being taken to task by you John for either oversimplifying The Bible or just misreading it entirely. I live in fear of discussing anything Bible related on my blog, knowing a scolding is invariably around the corner.

With that being said, I would never have been able to draw the unique connections you were able to do. Your post is brilliant. I don't know what to say in response to it other than that I'm in awe of what you wrote. You win, dude.

The only thing I will add is to this comment: "In the end, the church becomes the ark which provides salvation from the storm. This metaphor is then extended to the reconciliation of Sam and Suzy with the rest of the Body." Totally. A great thought. But with this, I again want to emphasize the very act of Willis' character reaching out and holding on to Sam and Suzy. Amidst the symbolic and physical stability the church provides during the storm, there is a very concrete human hand that ensures the two lovers are brought back within the Body. To me this gives importance to human agency within the symbolism of the church. The church provides a foundation upon which human beings must act. I don't say this to indicate that you are wrong–I'm just trying to point out where our differing belief systems make us emphasize certain ideas over others. That interests me.

"Moonrise Kingdom is where deeply disturbed children go to die for one another. The long day of bourgeois expectations is over and the rules of the game are left behind in order to chase Wisdom. An unexpected moonrise kingdom takes the place of the works of the day which have failed. The younger sun replaces the elder and shines brighter."


Yep, we're telling fart jokes and flinging peas at each other over at the kids' table. Just so you know.

Great post John!

Loose Ends

I realize that with all the sarcasm, we didn't really get to discuss some of the interesting points you responded to me with about MOONRISE KINGDOM, Brandon. So, let's do that now. I owe you a real response.

First, before I get into it, I will say that you are right. There's not point in splitting hairs. I love MOONRISE KINGDOM; it already looks like it will be one of the best films of the year. Let's talk some more about it. Anyone else–please join in too. This is a film worth talking about.

Responding to your "great moon rising" post:

There's a lot of physical and emotional isolation in the film. The island is an obvious metaphor for this, but there are also numerous other visual motifs that suggest rampant emotional seclusion through spatial distance. The single shots of Scout Master Ward and his tape recorder, the segregated layout of the Bishop house, the almost impossibly high scout tree house, Captain Sharp's isolated trailer, Suzy's constant reliance on her binoculars to bring distant things near–all of these visual cues create an overwhelming sense of detachment between characters. It's all impressively done with remarkable consistency by Anderson.

With this isolation, there are also numerous visual motifs of connection or reaching out. The most obvious of these is Captain Sharp's literal outstretched hand towards Sam and Suzy as they all dangle in suspension from the church. But there are others too like Scout Master Ward jumping across the flood to save Commander Pierce from his burning cabin, the scouts' rope extended down towards Sam to free him from his "prison cell," and the moment of Suzy and Sam crossing the open field towards each other. There may be many more of these moments than I can recall too. But the idea is there: Anderson uses strong visual depictions to create a sense of outreach that breaks through spatial and emotional separations.

You're right about the divide between children and adults too. I think you have adults that don't really understand kids all that well, and kids who uncannily seem to understand adulthood better than they should. Anderson puts the kids very much on an equal plane with the adults, in terms of understanding mature ideas and making these advanced decisions. For instance, you have the scouts making a very mature decision to rethink their relationship with Sam, and Sam and Suzy's rash but still highly adult decision to live together and get "married." You could say that Sam and Suzy are just being impertinent kids by doing these things, but once you realize that both decisions come from deep emotional wounds (e.g. feeling unwanted), you also realize that these kids are acting way beyond their age. They have basically been thrust into adulthood. I think you're also right that Anderson has a resentment towards stolen adolescence because even with the adult qualities Suzy and Sam have, they still have these many childlike imaginative qualities that Anderson loves to ground them with.

I agree that the "I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about" line is great one. Again, It's another reminder of real adult darkness confronting youthful idealism, as Suzy's romantic perception of being an orphan is challenged by Sam's real-life pain over it. In one of my last posts, I mentioned feeling uncomfortable over Suzy and Sam's sexual moment together. I think a lot of the discomfort came from this idea that these two kids were behaving in a more adult (and therefore sullied) manner than the should have been. You obviously want them to be unadulterated by sex at such a young age, but you also have to realize how grown-up these kids already are. I say all of this to remind myself that Anderson does not make them sexual to be gratuitous but to further demonstrate this uneasy balance between childhood and adulthood (made the more apparent by the childhood awkwardness and naivety of the sexual scene).

You're right that the film is definitely about seeing past surfaces towards interior worth, as well. To me, that's what makes the scouts' reversal so endearing. The main precocious scout who initiates the turnaround becomes one of the film's leading heroes through his ability to see past Sam's appearance towards the brother underneath. And, of course, the theme of looking past surfaces towards the heart beneath is a great lesson for anyone who thinks the film itself is merely glib, hipster chic. There's a real heart to this film that is unmistakable.

And to reiterate what I said in an earlier post, anyone who dismisses Anderson's "kingdoms" as being wholly synthetic and therefore closed off from real life is missing the point. Anderson's films do not strive for explicit realism, but for an expression of his personality. There's emotional truth and real humanism in his constructed personal world just like there can be in an animated film or a fairy tale. Do you ever hear people complain that WALL-E is emotionally inaccessible because its characters are animated robots? Hopefully not because, honestly, I think most people can take WALL-E for what it is and find the human traits within it. If they can't do that with Anderson's films, particularly this one, then I think they are being purposefully myopic. Exactly as you said–it's their loss.

And finally, you are again very right about the ugliness undercutting all of the humor and quirkiness. The killing of the dog (hard scene to handle) is a brutal reminder of the violence, darkness, and pain that threatens the potential sweetness of the story and the lives of all the characters. In some ways, Anderson is able to provide his own version of the Lubitsch touch here because he so effortlessly mixes humor and darkness like the great master before him.

All right, so as I finish writing this post, I realize that I've started to lose all my hang-ups over Sam and Suzy's romantic union and any minor hang-ups I have with the film, period. I can honestly say that I love MOONRISE KINGDOM without reservation. Let the "I told ya so's" begin.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What are some other "moon" or "kingdom" puns?

"Here I am saying all these really nice things such as 'you said it beautifully' and all you seemed to focus on was my supposed quarrelsome inquiry."

To be honest, your post could have used more nice things about how beautiful my post was.

"You claim that I’m trying to bait you here so I can turn your minor gripes into enormous ones and unfairly conclude that you hate the film. Isn’t that tantamount to taking a nice guy’s post, in which he addresses all of your positive points and tries to respond to them optimistically, and focusing only on the supposedly diabolical queries that serve only as bookends? "

How about taking a reasonable and well-written post from one of your most loyal friends and only focusing on the fake personal attack instead of all the rich and profound intellectual discussion? ;0) (I've got a big nose). Half of my post was focused on addressing your sinister trap and the other was focused on ass kissing. Did you read this part, "With that being said, I do agree with everything else you wrote back to me"? Could I have possibly written a more flattering or sweeter comment to you? Jeesh, try to butter a guy up and he thinks about socking ya in the glasses.

"I know that it’s petty to want you to raise the arbitrary/lazy star grade up a hair but it’s only because I was trying to hear what made you drop that extra half star, plus that was kind of sarcastic (my official film club alibi)."

Yes, it was petty :) and I was aware of the sarcasm. My post was sarcastic too. I just didn't use any emoticons. Perhaps I should have :( :*

I actually thought 4 stars was a great rating. Any modern film should be proud to get that. And in the 3 seconds it took me to give it that grade, I honestly thought that John would give me hell for granting it such a high rating. Little did I know that Brandon Petty would be the one to chastise me for not having it half a star high enough. Should I have given PROMETHEUS 2 and 1/3 stars instead of just 2? ;)

All right, just in case anyone couldn't tell, I'm being quite sarcastic here (duh, Jeff). And in all seriousness, I really like and agree with what you have written about MK, Brandon. I think, at this point, I'm just reserving all my unconditional love for THE MASTER (I may be a little biased towards that Anderson). I'd give those two teasers 5 stars already.

Let's Shoot the Moon

"I wonder however why we are even splitting hairs...."
-Brandon Musa

Yes, the man who only yesterday said that thinks I should have given MOONRISE KINGDOM 4 and 1/2 stars out of 5 instead of just a measly 4. My response is that I'm glad he cares about my star ratings enough to even split such hairs, considering it took me a whole 30 seconds to arbitrarily give those star ratings and post them. I would gladly give MOONRISE KINGDOM a 4 and 1/2 star rating. It deserves it. I like it a whole lot, and in fact, love most of it. It's a really strong film that should hold down a high position on my year end list.

As much as I love most of it, the truth is, I definitely do not love it as much as you do, Brandon. I would never give it an A+ grade or even a 5 star rating. For it to receive either, it would need to be on the same level as SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, CERTIFIED COPY, and THE TREE OF LIFE. In my opinion, though it is pretty great–it just isn't on that level. Chris brought up LE HAVRE after seeing it, and at first I didn't even think it was on that level, but now I feel that both films are quite comparable. Two moving comedies about the importance of community. I have strong feelings for both and really respect and admire them.

You asked me to explain why I don't love MOONRISE KINGDOM as much as you, and I almost don't want to. To do that would be to focus on minor negatives in a film I feel very positively about. I know you. If I give you a few quibbles, you will turn them into enormous gripes and unfairly conclude that I hate the film. It happened with THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, and it will absolutely happen again here. I basically love MOONRISE KINGDOM and think it's terrific. If I don't love it as much as you do, it doesn't matter. You don't love THE TREE OF LIFE as much as I do, and I've accepted that. Different tastes, homie.

But to give you answer anyway, I think most of the problem for me is not connecting to Sam and Suzy's relationship like I felt I should. I understand the importance of their relationship as two outsiders finding solace in one another, but I didn't really feel the nascent love or blossoming romance between them. I thought they would work better as friends, and in fact, was hoping things would stay platonic. I felt genuinely uncomfortable during their underwear make-out scene. This may have had something to do with watching two 12-year-olds acting sexual, but it was mostly a desire to just not have their union ruined with sex or even romantic feelings. As you can tell from my last post, I cared more about the spirit of friendship in the film than any of the romance.

With that being said, I do agree with everything else you wrote back to me. I love that Anderson is able to create these signature "kingdoms." It's the stamp of a true auteur to be able to reflect your personality outward into a constructed world. I don't find his worlds closed off, and can't really understand that argument. In fact, I think it's a bad one.

I also agree that there is some darkness that undercuts all the cuteness and quirk. It's the darkness of loneliness, sadness, violence, and even cruelty that is always threatening to creep in on Anderson's little sequestered island. This keeps the stakes real.

I guess I wasn't referring to anyone in particular with the comments about the quirk and dry humor. I just figured those were the easiest targets for dismissing the film. And I don't think the film should be dismissed on those grounds. I think it has too much to say at its core.

John, can we get a completely dismissive review from you soon? Brandon's clearly looking to go at it with someone over this one. It shouldn't have to be me considering how strongly I feel about it. I'd truly much rather focus on the positives of this film than the negatives because the former HUGELY outweigh the latter. It's the best film I've seen all year. It deserves to be praised, not criticized.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Kingdom of Grain

Sometimes you just gotta make it for yourself. Sometimes, darling, you just need someone else.
- Hellhole Ratrace by Girls

I tried to write a proper review of MOONRISE KINGDOM last week but kept running into a blank wall and nothing interesting came from it. Sometimes writing flows effortlessly, other times it plods, kicking and screaming.

Brandon, I obviously dig your review and have many similar positive feelings towards the film. I definitely don't love it as much as you do, but that's splitting hairs. I like it a lot and that is all that matters.

MOONRISE KINGDOM is easily one of Wes Anderson's best films. I don't know where it ranks exactly according to his others, but I think it's one of his most fully realized visions of beauty, humor, and personal longing. It's certainly his best looking film. Anderson's meticulous attention to framing, colors, and period details is something truly remarkable to behold. With all the copious tracking shots and visual idiosyncrasies, he seems to have finally mastered his sense of inner space rendered photographically. Visually, this film feels very much like an artist expressed outwardly in his most quintessential form.

I think the thing that makes the film really strong though, is its highly relatable themes about wanting contact with other human beings. At the emotional crux of the film, we have a group of lonely people desperately seeking connection and understanding. That wounded desire for human relation is what really drives the story forward. The love story between the kids is fine and all that, but what won me over was the sense that friendship trumped divisiveness in the end. One of my favorite scenes in the film is the moment when Sam's fellow scouts learn the error of their hostile ways and decide to embrace him as a friend and comrade. It's a moment to smile and be thankful for. There are several other moments in the film where characters try their best to step forward and reach out a helping hand to others like this (Willis and Norton's characters have their moments, in particular). Obviously, none of the characters seem perfect or wholly altruistic–just weird and potentially very sad people trying to do what they think is good and right under the circumstances.

Even if none of it is totally communal or pure, as you say Brandon, I think there is an earnest desire and attempt for community in the film. I think that desire and that striving for community and connection is what's commendable in the film, emotionally. Strip away all the quirk and cutesy-ness in Sam and Suzy's union and you have a highly vulnerable pair of outsiders taking steps in the dark towards the only thing that makes sense to them–each other. For anyone who has ever felt alone or like a loner, I think their union is at least a positive representation of what friendship and even family can give us if we need it. That's why I have the quote from the song above: sometimes you just need yourself, and other times its important to know when you need someone else. To me, this film is about those crucial points when you just need others. Even if I'm an unbelievable hermit who mostly dislikes being around people, there is still an idealist or romantic in me who recognizes the value of such fellowship between kindred spirits. Even I need other people sometimes. Having a film in this modern era that recognizes that desire for connection is truly something to be grateful for, your hang-ups over the quirk and dry humor be damned.

June Recap

The Descent (2005) *** 1/2
The House of the Devil (2009) *** 1/2
Black Sabbath (1963) ***
Paisan (1946) ***
Two Women (1960) ***
Tokyo Chorus (1931) ***
The Hitch-Hiker (1953) ***
Island of Lost Souls (1933) ***
Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde (1931) ***
Sylvia Scarlett (1935) ****
Girl Crazy (1943) ***
Los Olvidados (1950) ****
Bonjour Tristesse (1958) ****
The Marrying Kind (1952) ***
Gigi (1958) ***
Les Carabiniers (1963) ****
Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942) ****
Dark Victory (1939) ***
Prometheus (2012) **
Born Yesterday (1950) ****
Lancelot du Lac (1974) *****
Street Scene (1931) ***
While the City Sleeps (1956) *****
Passport to Pimlico (1949) ****
Stella Dallas (1937) ****
The Letter (1940) ***
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) ****


Friday the 13th (1980) ***
Boogie Nights (1997) *****
Pickpocket (1959) *****
Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) *****
Vertigo (1958) *****
Modern Times (1936) *****
Shadow of a Doubt (1942) *****
La Strada (1954) *****


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