Monday, November 26, 2012


I have to agree with Brandon, and there’s no point in prevaricating - LINCOLN is a wonderful film.  Loquacious, literate, and adeptly crafted, it flourishes as both engrossing political procedural and gregarious yarn.  I was engaged for the entire two and a half hours it was on screen, often with a winsome smile on my face.  It’s the most flat-out entertaining film Steven Spielberg has made since CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and MINORITY REPORT.  Ample credit deserves to be passed around to almost all involved here: Spielberg, certainly, for his cinematic wisdom and assured caretaking, Tony Kushner for his eloquence and ferocious intelligence, Jannusz Kaminski for his unadorned by resonant images, Daniel Day-Lewis for his superhuman ability to transfigure himself entirely into every role, and the rest of the cast for being so spirited and plucky (a robust Tommy Lee Jones and hilarious James Spader jump out most to mind here).  As Brandon has delineated, LINCOLN is by no means a perfect film, but it is a damn good bit of moviemaking.  To me, that simple fact alone trumps any of its problematic representations or political themes.  I am a film lover, so the art of moviemaking is, after all, what I’m most concerned with.  LINCOLN has this essential artistry in spades.

The best thing I can say about it (apart from how well acted it is) is how greatly it understands that words are weapons.  This is where Kushner’s skill as a playwright comes most assuredly to the forefront and where the picture thrives.  Words are brandished by characters throughout to challenge one another, to provoke one another, to gain the upper hand over one another.  The way that words are wielded in the film is so effusive and cutting, they soothe and lash in equal degree, and always with an aim and purpose in mind. I was reminded of good theater, but also classical Hollywood filmmaking.  Sometimes we forget just how absorbing it can be to merely watch people in a room talking to each other.

Another great thing about LINCOLN is that it understands that the best way to celebrate the man it depicts without resorting to excessive rhapsody is to have a strong sense of humor about itself and gentility about his character.  The humor is where the film most surprised me, and I believe also helped to give it more gravity.  It’s the lighter comedic moments that give the dramatic ones their weight.  And it's Lincoln's tenderness as a father, listener, and orator that gives him his allure and grandeur.  He's a shrewd political tactician and a not-as-altruistic-as-he-seems leader on human rights, but he's also a man who genuinely seems to enjoy interacting with others (even if he is harboring deep pain and regret).

I didn’t read those Lincoln articles that were linked, but I don’t think the film values moderates over radicals. I think it values the painstaking process by which synthesis is achieved.  It depicts in vivid and often amusing detail the sort of effort that went into (and still goes into) producing a desired result in the American political landscape.  Politics in America have always been more of a game than the earnest representations of its democracy.  But games can be fun to watch, even when we know how they will end.  LINCOLN itself is an elegant game played by experts that we know the outcome of.  The joy in watching is not in re-discovering who wins or loses, but in admiring the dexterity of the strokes involved.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Single Brandon

EDIT: I've taken out the "political talk" paragraph.  I must have made a misstep without realizing it.  I apologize.

Gentile’s piece on ETERNAL SUNSHINE is lovely and great; I don’t think I could have said it better myself.  This sentence is a gem amongst many other gems: “It's realistic in the fact that the romance is based around singular memories and doesn't put forth the claim of so many love stories that there is a blanketing divine value to the romantic relationship, or a romantic partner as a whole.”  Absolutely spot-on.

The aughts lists were definitely nice to see.  And the master list we ended up with is actually quite solid.  That’s a pretty formidable top 10 we were able to muster.  I haven’t seen MOULIN ROUGE or APPALOOSA so I can’t complain about their inclusion.  The only film in the list that gives me pause is LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, but it isn’t that irksome.  I’m surprised to see Brandon single out A SINGLE MAN (nailed that wordplay) and doubt its “cinematic impact” when he hasn’t even seen the film (homophobe ;)).  As a great admirer of Tom Ford’s film, I can unabashedly attest to the film’s emotional wallop.  It’s a gorgeous and lacerating amalgamation of sound and image, very much in the vein of IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.  If your eyes and heart are open, it cuts deep and it cuts true.  To me, it’s impact cinema of the purest sort because it effortlessly makes us feel.

Anyway, Brandon, thanks for writing back.  I was hoping you would.  These back-and-forths are always a pleasure.

Malick’s film just got confirmed for next year (rats!).  No word on Kiarostami’s, but I’m assuming it’s in the same boat.

Great distinction between taking your art seriously versus taking yourself (your image, persona, etc.) seriously.  I completely agree.  I have tremendous respect for artists who let their work speak for itself and demur to the sidelines (John Ford was notorious for doing this, almost to an absurd degree).  Haneke is definitely an artist guilty of excessive self-satisfaction and an apparent lack of introspection.  But I would certainly admit to being taken by his formalism, craft, and techique.  And I would disagree about the nature of his last two films (excluding FUNNY GAMES, since it wasn’t a “new” film when it came out).  I see less finger wagging and audience intimidating going on in CACHE and THE WHITE RIBBON than in anything else previous in his cannon.  I think with these two films he’s moved away more from trying to beat answers over his audience’s head towards opening up more questions for them to contemplate and discover.  In short, he’s being a smarter director and it’s showing.  I know you aren’t quite taken with the man’s work yet, but it sounds like AMOUR might be the “unobstructed masterpiece” you’re looking for.  If not, then maybe he’s incapable of one.

I think you and I could both agree that INLAND EMPIRE is pure Lynch, for better or worse (depending on which of us you ask).  That may mean nothing to someone already skeptical of or disillusioned from his style, but to the initiated it means the comfort and embrace of a well-known companion.  IE looks and sounds like everything Lynch that came before it, but it’s even looser and more ephmeral than any of his previous films, giving it both a sense of welcome familiarity and uneasy wonder.  In some ways, it plays like the lesser but more freakish little brother of MULHOLLAND DRIVE (and it is), but it’s also more a document of Lynch’s conscious and subconscious than anything he’s done since ERASERHEAD.

IE is in no way a perfect film (and I emphasis the word “film”).  But it is a diabolical and inspired experiment from one of cinema’s great experimentors.  It is purposefully sloppy and disjointed, and I don’t use that as an excuse for any flaws it has, but as a testament to its unwillingness to unify.  I don’t tangle with surrealist or avant garde cinema all that much, but when I do I can sometimes find it has a strong, unforced connection to a lot of the postmodern philosophy I enjoy reading and thinking about (I apologize for using the word “postmodern” in a defense on David Lynch – someone please kick me in my hipster balls the next time you see me).  Thinking more about IE, it feels remarkably Deleuzean, which only makes it seem richer in my estimation.  I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Deleuze is my favorite philosopher.  He’s also incredibly difficult to comprehend.  Anytime I can make connections to his work, it helps me understand it better, and helps me appreciate what I’m connecting it to more.  Basically, I see a lot in IE that connects to Deleuze, and I think that's cool.  That's about the best defense I can conjure without just resorting to the "personal preference" argument.

But I do accept your hesitation towards IE and won't try to dissuade you from it.  One criticism I will definitely entertain about IE is its look.  Lynch does some neat tricks with his digtital camera, but it still produces an ugly, unconscionable image to these eyes.  I wish it had been shot on film.  And for the record, yes, I find most Lynch mobbers unbearable, even as I spiritually must stand beside them.  A lot of his most fervant fans know nothing about film, and only care about how loving his work makes them appear.  This is annoying.

Anyway...this is a roundabout way of saying that HOLY MOTORS is something I’m interested in seeing, as well. haha.

I think we can forgive YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, and ABE LINCOLN OF ILLINOIS for neglecting to represent “alternative readings of history.”  I don’t think the idea of “alternative readings of history” even meant much of anything before 1960.  Of these, I’ve only seen YOUNG MR. LINCOLN and, yes, that one is an undeniable masterpiece.  I’m sure PRISONER is one too.  It’s Ford, after all.

I do love Spielberg and I have high hopes for LINCOLN.  I certainly don’t knock the man’s sentimental flourishes.  There’s something pure and classical about them (I love Capra, ya know).  I loved the brazen schmaltz of WAR HORSE and drank it up with relish.  I won’t mind too much if there’s some in LINCOLN, but I’m hoping we're getting the brawnier and more incisive Spielberg for it.  I just think the material might call for it.  We shall see.  Hopefully soon.

I would absolutely like to see POINT BREAK and NEAR DARK.  Gotta fill those cinema gaps.

Speaking of gaps, I would also like to see CASINO ROYALE and eventually SKYFALL.  I just haven’t had the opportunity to see the former yet and probably won’t rush to the theater to see the latter.  Still, I’m hoping too see them at some point.

All right, good talk.  Can’t wait for the Ford lists.  Wonderful seeing ya last night too.  We need to have another movie night soon.  Has been too long.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

top 30 aughts

Here ya go:

1. There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007)
2. Synecdoche, New York (Kaufman, 2008)
3. Mulholland Drive (Lynch, 2001)
4. The New World (Malick, 2005)
5. No Country for Old Men (Coen Brothers, 2007)
6. Zodiac (Fincher, 2007)
7. In the Mood for Love (Wong, 2001)
8. Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)
9. WALL-E (Stanton, 2008)
10. You Can Count on Me (Lonergan, 2000)
11. A Single Man (Ford, 2009)
12. Werkmeister Harmonies (Tarr, 2000)
13. Punch-Drunk Love (Anderson, 2002)
14. Adaptation (Jonze, 2002)
15. Inland Empire (Lynch, 2006)
16. The Son (Dardenne Brothers, 2002)
17. The Fountain (Aronofsky, 2006)
18. Tell No One (Canet, 2006)
19. Dogville (von Trier, 2005)
20. The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)
21. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry, 2004)
22. Before Sunset (Linklater, 2004)
23. 28 Days Later (Boyle, 2003)
24. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001)
25. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Spielberg, 2001)
26. Ratatouille (Bird, 2007)
26. In the Bedroom (Field, 2001)
27. Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001)
28. Dancer in the Dark (von Trier, 2000)
30. The White Ribbon (Haneke, 2009)

Friday, November 9, 2012

The rest of the year

Hey gang.  I don't discourage political or religious talk on the blogs.  We should all feel free to write what we want, when we want.  There's no rigid standard to follow when it comes to posting, at least  not in my mind.  Personally, I don't really want to get into the political or religious talk anymore if I can help it, but don't mind y'all want to.  I think it's safe to assume that you all know my political and religious views by now, and if you are still curious about my take on some issue, just ask me in person.  I'm always happy to clarify when we can actually converse face-to-face.  I just don't want to get into anything heated and tangential online because I just don't care enough and hate all the misunderstandings that arise.  I'd much rather be talking film - something that makes me happy.

So, I'm gonna talk film.

Brando, there's plenty of films waiting in the wings this year that I'm still excited for too.  You pretty much named them all.  The only ones I would add are ones that I'm not sure are even opening this year (at least not in the US).  Everything else, you covered well.

COSMOPOLIS - I was disappointed that this had to come out around here right about the same time as THE MASTER.  I was always eager to see it, but it was never beating THE MASTER in terms of what I'd drive to Ithaca for.  Still, I'm hoping it comes out on DVD relatively soon.  I'm a Cronenberg dilettante.  I have seen most of his recent work, post-A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Unfortunately, I think the only two films of his I've seen before this are VIDEODROME, NAKED LUNCH, and M. BUTTERFLY.  I can't remember VIDEODROME, I didn't like NAKED LUNCH (prefer the novel), and I like M. BUTTERFLY (but again prefer the play).  He's a really intelligent and talented director - there's no denying this.  I just wish I were more fluent in his work.  COSMOPOLIS looks and sounds great from what I've heard.  I haven't read the DeLilo story, but I like the idea of it being this nightmarish critique of capitalism.  Right up my alley.

AMOUR - I don't fault anyone for taking their artwork seriously.  I think it's important for one to
have an internal level of respect and deliberation over the work one is doing, especially if it is expressive and meaningful to he or she.  However, I will agree with Brandon that I am annoyed by folks who express this self-seriousness in a very public and sanctimonious way.  There's a newer band out today called Lower Dens that a lot of people seem to love.  If you look them up on you can see that they self-describe their first record thusly: "The record as a whole begs for an assessment of all the flaws inherent in our existence, and to imagine a better, more suitable, logical way for humanity to live." I haven't heard the record, and I can't say that I find the idea behind that statement to be untrue, but the fact that they needed to express it in such a smug way is so vexing to me.  When did their music become a philosophical thesis?  Let it be what it is without the intellectual posturing bullshit.  I believe in the importance of intellectual thought and rigor, but I would never use it to pigeonhole something I had created artistically.  Let the art speak for itself. (RANT OVER).

There's no doubt Haneke takes himself and his artwork seriously.  He intellectualizes his art unabashedly even as he succumbs to moments of violent and sexual spectacle (typically seen as unrefined representations).  I haven't really seen or read an interview with him, so I haven't gotten the chance to be as annoyed by him as Brandon.  All I can say is that he's toned down the finger-wagging and holier-than-thou attitude in his most recent films.  CACHE and THE WHITE RIBBON both exist in a sort of ambiguous nebulous unlike some of his other films that are more explicit.  AMOUR appears to be his furthest step away from any previous self-righteousness.  Many have called it his most emotional and humane work to date.  I already think he's a brilliant director and an assured formalist so I'm excited to see what he does when working on a more intimate and emotive scale.  Should be as great as everyone seems to say it is.

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE - Kiarostami is one the greatest directors working today.  He's still on top form even after all these years in the business.  CERTIFIED COPY was a genius ripple in his career and perhaps a sign of even more fascinating and singular work to come. This film probably won't come out in the US this year, but whenever it does, it'll be near the top of my must-see list.

HOLY MOTORS - Sadly, I know nothing of Leos Carax's work either.  This one has be interested, but I concur with Brandon's trepidation over it.  Could be an unsettling piece of surrealism or could be a big mess.  I found INLAND EMPIRE to be the former though, so I guess you really can't trust me when it comes to avant garde art ;)

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS - See this one, Brandon.  You won't regret it.  It's a soul cleanser.  See METROPOLITAN while you're at it too.

DEEP BLUE SEA - I want to be more acquainted with Terence Davies too.  His most acclaimed films (DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES and THE LONG DAY CLOSES) are both unavailable on DVD in this country, so that's stymied any courtship.  I see that this one is on NWI, so I should really give it a chance.  Also reminds me of IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.  I've heard Davies described as a real poet from some, so I'm really interested in sinking my teeth into his work.  Vampire Jeff needs the blood of film poets to live forever.

LINCOLN - I had high hopes for this one the second it was announced that Daniel Day-Lewis and Spielberg would be teaming for it (who the hell didn't?). The first trailer looked awful and seemed to confirm any of the worst fears we could possibly have about it:  it's gonna be too sentimental; it's gonna be too patriotic; it's gonna be too exalting while glossing over alternative readings of history, etc.  It may still be all of those things, but at least the second trailer seemed to hint more at what I hoped it would be: a chatty procedural (I can't get enough, you know).  The early reviews seem to also confirm this.  I still won't mind any Spielberg flourishes, but I'm hoping here he's just nurturing things along like the elder statesman he is.  We'll find out soon enough.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY - Gritty crime film that uses the 2008 election and financial collapse as its backdrop to comment on the effects of capitalism, greed, and poverty?  You bet I want to see it.  Add in Brad Pitt and it's a lock. Would likely make a solid double feature with COSMOPOLIS.  Hope it isn't another LAWLESS either, but I have higher hopes for it.

ZERO DARK THIRTY - The trailer looks consciously dramatic and intense.  I hope that is the case and it isn't just the standard trailer affectation.  I don't know enough about Bigelow to be a fan.  I've only seen THE HURT LOCKER and found it to be well-made but disappointing (letting all that hype get to me again).  I probably won't see this one until it hits DVD, unless someone can convince me otherwise.

SKYFALL - I haven't seen any of Daniel Craig Bond films.  I agree with your thoughts on action and making us care though, Brandon, which makes we want to see CASINO ROYALE and this film at some point too.  Not high on my to-see list, but I'm intrigued.

DJANGO UNCHAINED - Obviously my most anticipated film for the rest of the year.  There's no way it'll disappoint.  All we gotta find out is where it ranks alongside THE MASTER.  Finally we get a Tarantino and Anderson film in the same year, pitting two American titans at the peak of their powers.  No matter who wins, we win.  Can't wait.

TO THE WONDER - Last one. I don't know when this is coming out, but it's Malick so I'm excited for it.  I'm guilty of loving the man unconditionally, so I'll probably love this one blindly too. Sorry in advance.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

October Recap

Didn't get to see as many horror films as I had originally planned, namely BLACK SUNDAY, but KILL, BABY...KILL! proved an ample Bava substitute.  Also, I re-watched several old favorites, as well as re-evaluated E.T. which is obviously a whole lot better than I've ever given it credit for.  The big winners of the month for me are ME AND MY GAL, MANNEQUIN, and CANYON PASSAGE.  Three great flicks (from Walsh, Borzage, and Tourneur, respectively) that deserve more attention.

Deep Red (1975) ***
Me and My Gal (1932) ****
A Man’s Castle (1933) ****
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) ***
Canyon Passage (1946) ****
Mannequin (1937) ****
Curse of the Demon (1957) ****
Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) ***
Audition (1999) ***
Martyrs (2008) ***
Looper (2012) *** 1/2
The Uninvited (1944) ***
Dead of Night (1945) *** 1/2
Five Graves to Cairo (1943) ***
Carson City (1952) ***
The Mummy (1959) ***
Santa Fe Trail (1940) **
Bringing Out the Dead (1999) ****
Kill, Baby...Kill! (1965) ****
Frankenweenie (2012) ***
Virginia City (1940) ***
Red Dust (1932) ***
My Favorite Spy (1951) ***
Bedlam (1946) *** 1/2
House of Wax (1953) ***


Dawn of the Dead (1978) ****
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) ****
Sleepy Hollow (1999) ****
Key Largo (1948) ****
Cat People (1942 ****
The Master (2012) ****
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) ****
The Shining (1980) ****
North By Northwest (1959) ****