Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I'm Aware I'm a Wolf Soon As the Moon Hit

I'm working on another post right now that gives some thoughts on a couple other 2013 releases I haven't written about yet, but for now, I just want to get some of my WOLF OF WALL STREET impressions down.

It probably goes without saying (especially if you've seen my letterboxd) that I completely loved WOLF.  It's my number one film of the year by a landslide, and barring an enormous upset from either the Coens or Spike Jonze (killer cameo in this, by the way), it'll sit imperious and unflappable atop the 2013 heap like THE MASTER a year ago.  As Brandon said, it really is that good.

Scorsese's WOLF is one of the most scathing and darkly hilarious depictions of free-market Capitalism, commodity fetishism, and rampant addiction ever put on screen.  It isn't about the American Dream deferred, but the American nightmare realized (to borrow a phrase from Brandon).  The quintessential American narrative of prosperity and freedom through the acquisition of wealth is taken to the extreme edge and then thrown right off of it.  It's a headfirst dive right into the iniquitous wet dream of Reganomics, wholesale deregulation, and white collar invincibility.  If it pisses you off or disgusts you, it really should.  This is cutting satire, but also a pretty frank depiction of the American financial system we've created, one that depressingly is only getting worse.

Though the film is almost unrelentingly sharp and pulsating, I can completely understand someone not liking it for the simple admission that it was just too much for them.  As entertaining and downright incendiary as it can be, it really isn't easy to watch or digest with any level of comfort or gratification.  It's uncompromising and intentionally abrasive, almost daring you to laugh at some of the most atrocious and depraved behavior imaginable.  But anyone who thinks this cretinous lifestyle displayed by these thug stockbrokers is glorified is either dead inside or frankly not paying a modicum of attention.  As I saw Keith Uhlich mention on Letterboxd, this is satire, which of course means that if it's done well enough, it will separate the lazy from the astute. Black comedy is rarely understood initially by the masses, just look at the reception to THE KING OF COMEDY.  WOLF won't win any awards and the majority of audiences will hate it, but history will be kind to this gem. At least I hope so.

I'm pretty befuddled as to how anyone with any intelligence could think WOLF glorifies its characters' behavior.  Perhaps I just missed all the glory in being so monumentally fucked up on quaaludes that you are forced to crawl around in a more helpless state then your infant daughter?  Or maybe I missed all the shimmering splendor in being so vindictive and paranoid that you beat your wife and try to kidnap your own child while you're completely high on blow?  The film's dark humor and stylistic flourishes should not be confused for hedonistic approval (just listen to the dialogue for chrissake–it always undermines the revelry with real biting commentary).  Scorsese isn't celebrating these guys; he's making them look as absurd and degenerate as possible.  Not for one second are they made remotely likable or heroic–they are the biggest sleazebags you could imagine. It's insane how many people see this movie's only purpose and function as entertainment and have a hard time processing how it could possibly be both entertainment and a work of art, challenging and intellectually probing us.  You know what's also an incredibly scathing indictment of capitalism and greed while being entertaining as hell?  Mamet's play GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS.  That thing won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984.  It's got a lot of similarities to WOLF.  Both are essentially about the long con, the shifty peddling of bogus investments, and the false signifiers of promise and prosperity (the name Straton Oakmont is basically synonymous with Glengarry Highlands or Glen Ross Farms–all three are empty titles masking a lie, feigning respectability).  Both also absolutely refuse to pander to their audiences.  GLENGARRY never walks you through its complex maze of greed and betrayal; it struts its deadpan machismo without moralization or overt instruction.  Only the careful observer notes the dark irony and satire undercutting everything the characters say and do.  And yet GLENGARRY is largely understood in the theatrical world as not being a glorification of the real estate industry but as an acerbic commentary on its capitalistic weaponization.  Something tells me that if WOLF were written as a play, it would have no trouble being understood as satire...

Another criticism I've seen is that the film is only excess with nothing ultimately to say about it.  Again, I call bullshit.  To see the film as pure excess without any ultimate point is to precisely look beyond the point (and, of course, to utterly miss the satire).  This lifestyle IS pure excess taken to the point of absurdity.  This type of greed is a hollow indulgence with no aim other than the objectification and consumption of everything in its path–it should be depicted no other way.  This is where Scorese's satirical humor here is so much more critically on point than Stone's WALL STREET because the guys in WOLF aren't even pretending they offer anything to the world other than cruel manipulation and mass consumption.  Belfort may give rallying cries to his minions (so many office shots recall Vidor's The CROWD or Wilder's THE APARTMENT – glad Pinkerton addressed this in his piece) or shoot phony infomercials about how he's helping to lift people from their destitution and economic anxiety, but he's nothing but transparent about his desire to cheat, steal, and fuck over as many people as possible in order to serve himself and his band of thieves.  McConaughey (who's fantastic, like every other actor here) essentially lays out the entire philosophy of investment banking and the art of being a stockbroker in that exquisite early scene.  These Wall Street guys aren't captains of industry; they don't produce anything; they just scam people out of money.  Their entire enterprise is a fugazi, a false signifier for respectability, built on nothing but fairy dust.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

holiday quiz

1) Favorite unsung holiday film


2) Name a movie you were surprised to have liked/loved

I think I'm surprised by how much I love MARTYRS now.

3) Ned Sparks or Edward Everett Horton?
Ned Sparks is fun, but E.E. Horton's gotta take the cake here.  Such a good sport in so many flicks.

4) Sam Peckinpah's Convoy-- yes or no?
Haven't seen it sadly...

5) What contemporary actor would best fit into a popular, established genre of the past
 Hmm not entirely sure.  Michael Shannon would probably make a great noir lead/villain (or make a great anything for that matter)

6) Favorite non-disaster movie in which bad weather is a memorable element of the film’s atmosphere

THE TURIN HORSE is a great answer.  GROUNDHOG DAY, as well.  I'll go with KEY LARGO though.

7) Second favorite Luchino Visconti movie

8) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD/Blu-ray?
Theatrically: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR and loved it.
Blu-ray: re-watched THE WORLD'S END and loved it even more a second time around.
DVD: re-watched GRAND ILLUSION and still think it's the greatest movie ever made.

9) Explain your reaction when someone eloquently or not-so-eloquently attacks one of your favorite movies (Question courtesy of Patrick Robbins)
 Brandon's response was perfect, so I'll just go with that.

10) Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell?

Joannie's my girl.  God, I love her.

11) Movie star of any era you’d most like to take camping

I'll also go pervy here and say, emphatically, Claudia Cardinale circa 1960s. Mmhmm.

12) Second favorite George Cukor movie


13) Your top 10 of 2013 (feel free to elaborate!)

Not yet.

14) Name a movie you loved (or hated) upon first viewing, to which you eventually returned and had more or less the opposite reaction

INCEPTION seems to get worse each time I see it.  I never hated AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, but I was indifferent to it the first time I saw it as a teen.  I just didn't get Bresson's technique.  Now I think it's a masterpiece and worship everything Bresson.

15) Movie most in need of a deluxe Blu-ray makeover

Many, many, many.  THE DECALOGUE on blu through Criterion would be amazing (and extremely expensive, I'm sure).  PHANTOM LADY, the Boetticher/Scott westerns, DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST!

16) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?

Alain Delon.  I wish I could be him.

17) Your favorite opening sequence, credits or no credits (provide link to clip if possible)

Ah, too difficult.  I'm not sure.  The virtually silent opening sequence of THERE WILL BE BLOOD is incredible too.  I'll have to think harder on this one.

18) Director with the strongest run of great movies

Hitchcock, Ozu, Bresson, Ford, Kubrick, Lubitsch, Ophuls, PTA, Scorsese, Kieslowski, etc. You know, the greats.

19) Is elitism a good/bad/necessary/inevitable aspect of being a cineaste?

Again, can't say it better than Brandon already has.  I agree.

20) Second favorite Tony Scott film
Can't say that I'm a fan of any of the dude's movies or have seen enough of them.  TRUE ROMANCE would have to be my first and second favorite.

21) Favorite movie made before you were born that you only discovered this year. Where and how did you discover it?

This could be any number of great older films I've seen this year.  I guess Pierre Etaix's YOYO wasn't on my radar at all, until I randomly watched it for my 1965 top ten list.  It's a masterpiece.  Discovered this summer on Hulu's Criterion channel (God bless that thing).

22) Actor/actress you would most want to see in a Santa suit, traditional or skimpy

Veronica Lake in the skimpy and Orson Welles in the traditional.

23) Video store or streaming?

Streaming because of the convenience, but I do miss spending hours in a video store and taking home a bunch of gems.  A lot of my movie education was fostered that way.

24) Best/favorite final film by a noted director or screenwriter


25) Monica Vitti or Anna Karina?

As an actress, Karina.  As eye candy, I have a bigger crush on Vitti.

26) Name a worthy movie indulgence you’ve had to most strenuously talk friends into experiencing with you. What was the result?

I think I was trying to get college friends to watch IRREVERSIBLE with me, and they rightly declined.

27) The movie made by your favorite filmmaker (writer, director, et al) that you either have yet to see or are least familiar with among all the rest

Haven't seen Hitchcock's THE PARADINE CASE yet.  I've seen all of Bresson's now and a good chunk of Ozu's.  I'm dying to see Bunuel's NAZARIN.

28) Favorite horror movie that is either Christmas-oriented or has some element relating to the winter holiday season in it

No idea.

29) Name a prop or other piece of movie memorabilia you’d most like to find with your name on it under the Christmas tree


30) Best holiday gift the movies could give to you to carry into 2014

Being able to see INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, and HER before 2014 is all I can really ask for.

Monday, September 30, 2013

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

I must confess that I haven't had the time to listen to all of John and Chris' Breaking Boos.  I started them and then just got intimidated by the sheer number of them and gave up.  I will still have to listen to them all and maybe chime in (boo in?) on their discussion in the future.  For now, I just wanted to wrestle with my thoughts over the finale and get some much needed blog writing down.  It may not be about a film technically, but BREAKING BAD is surely the most cinematic creation in television history, so it feels a worthy topic to break my silence.  Before I get into it, I just want to say that this final season of BREAKING BAD has been a marvel, and that Gilligan and crew have more than lived up to the brilliant foundation they established six years ago.  They hit it way out of the park.  BREAKING BAD, as a totality, represents the tightest and greatest narrative in television history.  Looking back upon the show as a whole, my eyes are completely open to this now.  Bravo Gilligan and crew.  Bravo.

I don't really have the time or patience to get into a full, detailed analysis of the entire episode, so I’m just going to cut right into the last few moments of the series because I think they are executed perfectly:

(SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS.  Seriously don't read if you haven't seen the finale and ever intend to).

Here at the end of all things, we have Walt as teacher/father to his two students/sons in Todd and Jesse.  He watches one die and lets the other go free.  Or in even more symbolic terms, he watches the worst side of himself die and lets the humanity he has neglected go free.  It’s a meaningful moment for Walt, but unquestionably an even more meaningful one for Jesse.  The poor guy as been through so much, and all at the hands of the ruthless, implacable force that is Heisenberg.  When Walt tosses Jesse the gun and gives him one last command, it may be the most expected though wholly essential moment of the entire episode.  Jesse, in his ultimate moment of spiritual unboundedness, refuses Walt’s final directive, and rides away a free man.  Perhaps some were wishing he would shoot Walt when given the chance, but there was no need to - literally or figuratively, as Walt’s wound will claim what’s left of his life momentarily regardless.  Besides, Jesse has already killed Heisenberg.  When he strangles Todd and breaks free of his chains, he has freed himself from the physical embodiment of Heisenberg’s cold, clinical ambition.  I’m sure others have noted Todd’s position in this latter half of season 5 as being essentially a surrogate for the retired Heisenberg.  He’s the meth kingpin, feigning public normalcy as he courts Lydia, keeping Jesse a prisoner for the sake of his product, callously destroying his rivals – replace Jesse’s physical chains with Walt’s psychological ones and you have the classic Heisenberg set-up down to a tee.

But back to Walt (probably the way an outrageous egomaniac such as himself would want me to proceed).  In killing the skinhead brotherhood, Lydia, and allowing Jesse to kill Todd and then flee, there is, of course, a sense of The Fall of the House of Usher here - a madman burning down the hell he hath wrought and letting whatever specks of heaven he ever had fly away to search for a new space to call home.  Is this redemption?  Probably not.  Walt’s still an inimical bastard merely finishing off what he started, leaving no loose ends, drawing everything full circle.  It’s less about notions of revenge or redemption per se and more about destroying the hideous simulacrum of his own rotten model.  He is asserting dominance over his own grotesque progeny, and doing it in his typically monstrous fashion.

And yet I can’t help but have a shred of pity for this wretch of monster, even as I know that he deserved much worse than he got.  Perhaps it is because in this final episode the monster has been slightly made human again, if only for a few fleeting moments.  As we sift through the wreckage that Walt has left in his destructive wake, it can be easy to forget the abject man from the first episode, struck down by the cruelty of aleatory time and handed a ticking time-bomb for a death sentence.  Earlier in the episode, when he tells Skylar he built the empire and piled up the bodies all for himself and that doing it made him feel “alive,” we utterly believe him.  Here is a man who more than he ever wanted to provide for his family or build an empire, at his most fragile moment of desire, wanted to viciously master life in defiance of the way it had so suddenly and viciously mastered him.  In a lot of ways, as others have mentioned, Walt embodies the nightmarish vision of the deferred American dream.  But maybe even more so, he tragically embodies the image of the rebellious ant, determined to fight against the indifferent, overwhelming forces of nature that seem hellbent on destroying his hill.  In the final moments of Walt’s death, when we see him standing at the heart of his creation (notice how in that last panning shot the pipes above him form the outline of an RV), it’s easy to see Ozymandias crumpling beneath his own path of cruelty, but also that little ant – shuffling pieces of sand as the rain comes down.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Lovely, eloquent write-ups for your 2002 lists, Brandon.  And to think you often disparage your writing ability...how wrong you are my friend.  Exemplary job.

I'll do my best to respond, but I'm sorry if I don't have a lot to say.  We are in almost total agreement here:

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, I haven't seen in a dog's age, but I appreciate your towering estimation of it.  I remember it being entertaining, but I'd have to see it again to dig deeper than that.

25th HOUR is a great, furious piece of work.  I also haven't seen it in a while, but I can still vividly recall its sense of cosmic frustration and overwhelming regret.  It's a movie about undesired consequences, the immobility of anger, and the impotence to erase this ubiquitous "fuck you" attitude of the world.  I'd love to see this again, but I already know that it's a major film in Spike Lee's oeuvre.

I want to see FAR FROM HEAVEN.

Speaking of major films, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE may be the greatest romantic comedy since ANNIE HALL.  It's certainly a momentous film amongst similarly momentous films in Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliant, diverse career.  I love how much of a transitional piece it is for him.  It finds him treading into newer, more bizarre, more avant-garde territory but also retaining his wonderful sense of humor, energy, and classical filmmaking.  I also love how strongly this film recreates that sense of invigoration and apprehension when we think we might be in love.  The more I think about it the more I can't imagine a movie being more singularly perfect at what it is.  Give me PTA over anyone else making movies in the last 15 years and now.

SPIRITED AWAY is such a marvelous feast for the eyes and heart that it's difficult to translate what makes it so special into words.  It just transfigures beyond expression.

I remain an enormous fan of MINORITY REPORT and think it's one of Spielberg's best, most entertaining yarns.  It's a terrifying concept realized in one of the most inventive, visually precise, and terribly antiseptic visions of the future that I can recall on film.

GANGS OF NEW YORK is still a bit of a mess, but to borrow a turn of phrase from John, it's a glorious mess at that.  Daniel Day-Lewis is at his most imperious here.

Despite owning it, I haven't seen TALK TO HER since it came out.  It was my initiation into Almodovar, as well, and I fell completely in love with it and him when I saw it.  I should give it a re-look...

I haven't seen TROUBLE EVERY DAY, but I've heard it contains a particularly gnarly scene that takes George Costanza's "having it all" dream of combining sex and eating to a whole new level.  Is that the scene you skipped, Brandon? I'm morbidly curious to see this one, though maybe count me out for that scene.

I haven't seen Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN since it came out.  I lent my copy of it to Craver and haven't seen it since.  I have no idea if it still holds up.

I love, love, love ADAPTATION.  It's as clever and funny as modern filmmaking gets, in my opinion.  I can understand people finding it annoying or self-indulgent to a fault, but I have to completely disagree.  I think it's just such an honest expression of desire, anxiety, and failure - almost painfully so.  It's self-involved (consciously), but it's never self-serious.  It's a purposeful laying the ego bare for the sake of consummate amusement.  Kaufman, along with Woody Allen, remains the ultimate chronicler of modern neuroses.

I like that Chris Nolan's INSOMNIA is just a well-made, no-nonsense thriller.  It's easily his least convoluted film, and it's reminder of the type of tight filmmaking he's capable of when not being bogged down by bigness and budgetary excess.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited, or at the very least curious, to see what he does with INTERSTELLAR, but part of me would like to see him return to smaller, more modest filmmaking like INSOMNIA.

I like PANIC ROOM quite a bit, and think it's still underrated.  Fincher paints textured gloss and decay like no other.

In terms of generating anxiety and wonder, most of SIGNS is actually remarkable.  I can remember some scares in it being impeccably delivered and its brooding sense of terror and mystery being almost unbearably potent.  It is a shame that the ending is such an incorrigible letdown and so obliviously idiotic that it undoes so much of what came before it.  But it is still a worthy honorable mention.

I think that's all I gots for now.  Stellar list, dude.

In other news - ONLY GOD FORGIVES is unconscionably awful.  It makes me not want to see another Nicolas Winding Refn movie for as long as I live.  It's the epitome of meretricious, soulless, hopelessly inane filmmaking.  Not even the most merciful of movie gods would forgive this horrendous piece of shit.  Refn has unfortunately descended into self-parody.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It is August Already? Shit...

I owe Brandon some response to his 2005 list, as well as some extra horror talk.  I would have written '05 thoughts sooner, but looking over your list, Brandon, I realized that I either hadn't seen a lot of those movies or just hadn't seen them since they came out.  If y'all have learned anything about my movie habits since you've known me, it should be that I have a terrible memory for things I've seen.  I can hardly remember how most movies I've seen six months ago ended let alone 8 years ago.  I'm awful.

Anyway, let me start by finishing off some of our horror talk:

Again, I think we're in a similar spot on THE CONJURING.  We both recognize its myriad problems and particularly clumsy denouement.  Obviously, where we differ is that I'm mostly willing to forgive its mistakes in favor of applauding just how effectively frightening it is as a whole.  It's a bit similar to how I felt about THIS IS THE END, another flawed genre film with highs so sublime that they glossed over the considerable lows therein (strange that I'm the one defending flicks like these when usually it's the other way around).  I agree with you that the scene in the bedroom where we see the witch for the first time is exemplary.  It's one of the scariest and most well constructed horror scenes I can remember.  There are a several other scenes like this (e.g. Vera Farmiga alone in the basement - contrived but damn effective) that paid off beautifully for me.  I don't want to let Wan completely off the hook for his missteps here, but if the restraint and accumulating tension he builds throughout most of the movie start to catch on again in mainstream horror, I'd be pleased.  If he lets his unfortunate taste for pointless escalation consume him eventually here, it's too bad - before this he shows an uncommonly deft and patient hand.  Any hope the THE CONJURING 2 will correct these mistakes?  I doubt it, but well see haha.

I like how much the addiction metaphor in EVIL DEAD worked for you.  I think you make a strong case for it too.  It certainly gives the film more weight, or at least a fascinating undercurrent to chew on.  I definitely don't want to give Alvarez too much credit for being brutal either; the EVIL DEAD remake doesn't work purely because its vicious but because it remains appropriately amused despite its copious amount of bloodshed and brutality.  I guess what I'm trying to say here is that it never feels miserable even as truly gross and horrendous things are happening.  I appreciate that its unrelentingly intense (like THE DESCENT) while also keeping you somewhat removed by being off-kilter.

I think giving the ending of KILL LIST that interpretation is one of the only ways of saving it from being practically a gimmick.  If you consider it as more of a condemnation of Jay's choices throughout the movie than a gag for shock value, it becomes downright profound.  I'm starting to like that interpretation of it a lot, as well.

I apologize in advance for not having really anything to say about 2005, Brandon.  As stated above, I either haven't seen or haven't re-seen a vast majority of the films from your list since '05.  And interestingly enough, apart from THE NEW WORLD, our respective lists from that year have zero parallels.  I think that makes it harder to respond to anything since I'm not as familiar with most of the flicks from your list.  Maybe if you were a fan of L'ENFANT things would have been easier ;)

I haven't seen KINGS AND QUEEN, BEST OF YOUTH, MEMORIES OF A MURDER, NOBODY KNOWS, JUNEBUG, 2046, WOLF CREEK, or THE ICE HARVEST, but would like to see most of them.

Other than that, I have a minute recollection of MYSTERIOUS SKIN, MUNICH, GRIZZLY MAN, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, and GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK.  By that I mean that I remember liking them and that's about it.  I don't have enough of a foundation to make arguments for or against them.  Sorry man.  I should have re-watched some of these to better interact with you.  2005 just happens to be a particularly nebulous year for me.  I promise to have 2002 thoughts up today or tomorrow though.  I have a better memory for some of those on there.

Stray thoughts/updates:

 - I've updated my top 10 lists to include 1960-65.  That's as far as I'm going for now.  Someday I hope to add in the rest of the 60s and see a bunch of the films for '60-'65 that I still need to see.  What I've got is a decent start for now though.  General impressions?  I like the early 60s and think there some true gems there that are invaluable to cinema.  I still vastly prefer the mid '30s through 50's, however.

- I leave for Philly in little over a week.  Let's def do ONLY GOD FORGIVES sometime.  I've heard it's awful, but I'd be stoked to get together and see it with y'all.

- Great thoughts on BREAKING BAD, John. (SPOILERS AHEAD)  I also was slow to recognize the now abandoned and graffitied White household. Some terrific moments in this episode too - with the tense, painfully raw showdown between Walt and Hank being obviously prominent.  In a very solid review of the episode for the AV Club, Donna Bowman wrote about how this confrontation tragically plays right into Walt's hands: "Making meth was never what Heisenberg was all about. Having an enemy to crush, whether it be in business or in the struggle to survive—that’s the essence of Walt’s alter ego. And he seems to grow a foot taller when he’s able to set that side of himself free."  Well said.  I think this essential character flaw of unbridled ambition and the desire for dominance is one of the things that makes Walt's decline so gutwrenching.  The awful things he does become mere gratuitous exercises for his wounded ego.  Cannot wait for more episodes.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Horror Roundup

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I've been watching some horror films lately.  A friend who I worked with at school is a big horror fan, and we've been getting together every now and then to watch new and classic horror films for the hell of it.  Despite watching several films of debatable quality, it's actually been great getting to see so much newer horror stuff that I likely would have never gone out of my way to watch.  I'll start with MAMA:

To be as fair as possible, MAMA isn't a bad film; it's just not a particularly good one.  It unfortunately suffocates itself through some egregious adherence to the same old tired formula that has so much of mainstream horror profoundly stagnating.  There are a few decent scares in MAMA, some moments of terror that are well-staged and executed, and some incredibly eerie sound effects (I agree with Brandon about how frightening the noises Mama makes are. Yeesh).  I also agree with Brandon that the very ending is quite beautiful in its implications.  The trouble here is that in the buildup to this finale, MAMA again cannot resist some ridiculously contrived scenes of violence involving Mama in a poor effort to fit whatever overused mold studios seem to insist upon for every horror property they shell out (can anyone explain to me why characters in MAMA only visit the creepy deserted cabin in the middle of the night?).  It's just a shame that MAMA is shot, lit, and dialed-in in such a similar way to a film like THE POSSESSION (a horrible film that I'll get to in a second), and I don't think it's a coincidence.  This is the essence of formula without making it seem new again.

THE POSSESSION, I guess, I don't have a lot to say about now that I think of it.  It's complete amateur horror filmmaking.  Just terribly orchestrated in every conceivable way.  It's not even remotely scary (no tension is ever built before cutting to quick, disorienting violence), it's dull and stupid, and even has the temerity to tack on a pointless, undercooked divorce storyline in an effort to make the film "about" something.  There's probably no point in wasting more time on this one.  Just skip it entirely.

I re-watched THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and THE STRANGERS – two terrific modern horror films, in my opinion.  Seeing THE CABIN IN THE WOODS again reminded how fresh and exuberant it truly is amongst a very tired crop of carbon-copy horror films.  It's humor, intelligence, and sense of mischief stand out quite distinctly this time through.  I undervalued just how fun it was when I first wrote about it.  THE STRANGERS I'm not sure if I've mentioned on here before, but I remain a big fan.  It's a terrifying premise that is executed to maximum effect.  It also boasts one hell of an ending with a coldblooded creepiness that is only matched by the sorrow of its inevitability.

I think Brandon and I agree on more in THE CONJURING than we disagree.  But I think our one major point of disagreement is enough to polarize our responses to it.  I truly believe that despite some bumbling missteps in the final third of the film, it still remains one of the scariest films I've seen as an adult, and it is for this fact that I would give it a glowing response.  As a lesson in old-fashioned tension and dread, it really is that effectively wrought.  In a theater full of people, I felt sufficiently creeped out enough during certain moments to want to cover my eyes, and that almost never happens to me anymore.  The audience I watched it with was completely terrified too, which made the experience that much stronger.  Wan certainly makes the film unnecessarily loud and visceral towards the end (I could have done without the possession of the mother and the hair dragging, but I understand why they are there – things need to get amplified for our attention deprived viewers).  However, there are some truly exemplary scenes of terror in this thing that smooth out much of these rough patches (for me, at least).  Wan shows an intuitive sense of what's scary and what is not for much of the running time, and it all becomes increasingly taut and effective as the camera careens and cuts around every crevice of its environment.  I don't really have much else to say about it other than that it basically soars on the intensity of its scares alone.

Fede Alvarez's EVIL DEAD remake (surprisingly) stands prominently alongside THE INNKEEPERS and THE CONJURING as one of the best American horror films release in the last couple of years.  It sort of pummels you into submission through the sheer forcefulness of its unabashed depravity.  Its excessively, hilariously violent and it seems to get off on intensifying its grossness.  It flits with trite formula and makes lame attempts at characterizations in the beginning, but eventually it just abandons all sense of conventionality in favor of unrelenting shocks.  It's essentially the complete opposite of something like THE CONJURING, but I think they are both effective in their way.  EVIL DEAD, instead of being a shot-for-shot remake or sycophantic homage, actually goes for broke in terms of upping the gore ante and damn if that isn't an admirable thing by the time the bloody credits start pouring on the screen.  I agree with Brandon that Alvarez might just have a solid career ahead of him.  He knows how to shoot moments of dread and visceral horror – and he seems to know how to have fun doing it too.  EVIL DEAD is a bloodbath of gargantuan proportions, but it's a rollicking one too.

KILL LIST is the most recent of these that I watched, and I'm still trying to process how I feel about it.  John called it a "mess" but a potentially "glorious mess." I would certainly side with it being sloppy, but would also readily admit that it has got some intriguing grandeur too it, so maybe it is a glorious mess after all.  To its great credit, KILL LIST is never boring even as it builds in piecemeal increments towards its bizarre, grotesque finale.  It's violent and cold, but also an absorbing mystery.  It lays a pretty solid character foundation before it starts to rock the boat, and eventually it just gets so weird and creepy that you are glued to the screen.  I still have to wonder what the purpose of the ending is other than the pure shock value of the reveal, and whether the reveal makes any sense other than the immediate effect of its disquietude.  It may all be a prolonged metaphor for slowly destroying the ones you love through the dangerous, immoral choices you make, but I'm not exactly sure.  For what is worth, this is a pretty damn riveting thriller even if it might not be certain of its motives.

I guess that's all I've got for now.  I was hoping I'd make this longer and more in depth, but I'm having trouble composing original thoughts right now.  Perhaps more later?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Caché Rules Everything Around Me

I wish I had more to debate with you about CACHÉ, Brandon.  But your post is just so eminently reasonable that I'm struggling to pick it apart.  I think you still resort too readily to ad hominem attacks against Haneke whenever discussing his work, but I understand where this is coming from.  I know you hate his smug guts, and I can't necessarily say that I blame you.  As a man, he really is one of the most sanctimonious, self-important pricks in world cinema.  He holds everyone and everything to an impossible standard that he somehow displaces from himself.  He's also guilty of one of my least favorite traits in an artist (apart from the lack of empathy for animals) by explicitly stating what his films are supposed to be about instead of letting the artwork speak for itself.  So, believe me, I more than understand where your inveterate hatred for this guy comes from.

But I do believe that, as a technical and intellectual filmmaker, he honestly is one of the best we have today.  I agree with you that he almost invariably seems to be a few heavy-handed moralizing scenes away from a truly rich masterpiece.  I too would love for him to make a straight thriller without sermonizing someday (I think he gets the closest to achieving true ambiguity in THE WHITE RIBBON), but I'm not sure that would ever accord with with his deliberate, uber-confrontational style.  He wants to shake his privileged viewers out of their complacency quite possibly to his own detriment.  You're very right - he lambasts so much of what is vile between humans yet is incontrovertibly guilty of subjecting his audience to his own vile whims.  He doesn't understand the height of his own privilege.

With that all being said, Brandon, in your last paragraph you touch upon exactly why I still love CACHÉ despite the overwhelming evidence that Michael Haneke is sadistic creep.  You ask: "should I commend the filmmaking first even if it’s smothered in a message that feels as though it comes from a self loathing contrite place?"  I would never tell you to answer yes to this question because you are obviously free to choose your response to what Haneke has laid before you.  All I can say is that I personally answer yes to this question.  I commend, hell laud, CACHÉ as a technically bravura anti-thriller about what it means to watch and be seen.  I think its one of the most sophisticated looks at voyeurism and its relationship to cinema since REAR WINDOW or BLOW-UP (though obviously not nearly as close to the singular perfection of either of those films).  The static shots that bookend the film are some of the most complex that I can recall.

I love how mobile the idea of watching is in these shots.  In the opening shot there is a trajectory of viewership and ownership that goes from you watching the image on your screen (giving it meaning, controlling it almost since it is your eye that gives it life), to the realization that the image is being watched and controlled by someone else (Georges and Anne watching it on their TV), to the further realization that that image is watched and controlled even more so by someone else (whoever is sending the tapes), and the even further realization that the image is ultimately watched and controlled by the filmmaker himself (Haneke).  It is the same image but every single viewer and owner of that image gives it a different meaning that is hidden from each other (welcome to cinema itself).

The final shot is similarly complex in how nonchalantly it displaces the eye and its own meaning.  We sit, watch, and wonder what we are looking at.  We ask: whose point of view is it?  Are we watching a recording or an actual image? Where is our eye even supposed to focus?  What does it all mean? The fact that Haneke can raise so many questions from what is essential a very aloof, seemingly banal image is a testament to how successfully he lures us in to his mystery and treatise on the act of looking or not.  If he is eliciting these questions from us, then he has done his job with precision.  And by eliciting these questions he has not only involved us in his mystery but also in the art of dissecting cinema.  He makes us question the very meaning and reality of an image, which is the purpose of cinema as an art form and the idea you try to instill in anyone who wants to understand film as an important, singular medium.  It's an image that's downright brilliant the more you unpack it, and I feel that way about much of the film from a visual and intellectual standpoint.  That's why I love it.  I overlook so much of the film's hangups and Haneke's own interloping hand, so that all I can see is the beguiling visual mystery he's delineated for us.

When I watched CACHÉ again I just took everything for what it was or for how it came across to me on the screen.  When the political subtext became apparent to me, I thought it added a provocative layer to what I already found was a great enigma of a film.  I can understand, Brandon, how it can come across as obvious and self-righteous in the context of Haneke as a person.  But for me, when I watch CACHÉ, I try to ask what the film is communicating to me, not what Haneke is.  His overbearing personality is not greater than his art despite how hard he may try.  Even if he is personally sanctimonious and confrontational, the way he shoots the film belies these traits.  The political subtext about France's hidden racism can easily be drawn from Georges hidden relationship to Majid.  But everything that generates this connection is shot at a cool distance.  There's nothing confrontational about the involvement of the camera at all.  For that, despite the knowledge one may have of Haneke's personality, he diffuses his own aggressiveness through a resolutely detached lens.  Again, his images are greater and more complex than he is if only for the fact that a cinematic image is not a fixed position but a multiplicity.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pop Quizin It

1. Is there a TV show that you'd love to see a movie version of? If yes, what? If no, think a little harder. If still no, sorry for wasting your time.

I think in terms of being a seamless transition from television to cinema, BREAKING BAD would probably make the best film.  It's already so well-made and intensely cinematic as it is that I think Gilligan could probably direct one hell of a movie out of it.

I previously would have also suggested ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT but after seeing the latest season of it, I'm not sure the format of the show would call for 90 extended minutes or so.  It's sharpest when being short, sweet, and efficiently manic.

Actually to answer your question seriously:  VERONICA MARS.  I want to see it so bad I pawned everything I owned and contributed $5,000 towards it on kickstarter.  Can't wait see my name in barely visible credits at the end of the movie!

2. What's your favorite place/setting to watch a movie (out of the choices listed below)? Why? ALSO, least favorite and why?

d) In a house, alone

If I had my own private theater I'd want to watch every movie on that.  Since I don't, I vastly prefer watching movies on whatever screen I can find all by myself.  I like the intimacy I can garner with a film by viewing it alone.  It's easier to transport myself into its celluloid world without feeling self-conscious in any way.  Plus, I'm used to watching most movies by myself, so it's become a habit.

My least favorite would have to be a drive-in theater or a small theater.  You can't hear or see shit at the drive-in and you can't really hear or see shit at a small theater (plus there's people too close to ya).  Not the best movie environments if you care what you're watching.

3. If you could be an extra in any film, what would it be AND what scene would you like to be in?

How much do extras make, ya think?  From a utilitarian perspective, I'd want to be in whatever got me the most cash, so like SPIDER-MAN or some shit would be ideal.

However, engaging with the spirit of the question, I think it would have been awesome to be an extra in BARRY LYNDON.  For one, I would have gotten to meet Kubrick.  For another, it would have been incredible to get dressed up and then have him prop you in a very specific location so as to contribute in some way to the precise beauty of  any one of those glorious compositions.  Might've been cool to eat lunch with Ryan O'Neal too.

4. Name a movie you loved as a kid that still feels special even when you watch it now.

There are a lot of them.  The first animated movie that springs to mind is THE SWORD IN THE STONE.  We never owned that one on VHS, but I can remember always loving it and being excited whenever I did get to watch it.  It still makes me so happy to watch it now.

For live action - RETURN OF THE JEDI.  EMPIRE is my favorite now, but JEDI was my favorite as a kid and I still feel like one when I watch it.

5. Best film decade (out of the choices listed below)? And tell us why, if you're so inclined:

c) 00s (aughts)

The 80s are essentially the dark age for cinema.  This was post-Golden Age, post-New Wave with no direction to go but down.  The 90s has some great stuff, but I am also more familiar with the kids and mainstream stuff from this time period due to being a kid during its entirety.  So I'd have to go with the aughts.  It helps that I started getting fascinated by cinema in the early 00s, so I know the some of the good stuff from this decade better than the other two.  Here's hoping the 10s end up being the best of the bunch.

Bonus: Hypothetically, your friends have rented out a theater for your birthday. You get to choose the movie that's screened; what are you going with?

Hmmm lots of great stuff to choose from.  I'd want to show an old movie considering a majority of my friends don't watch them.  So, I'd probably go with REAR WINDOW or SHADOW OF A DOUBT.  It just seems like everyone could get down with those the easiest even if they don't like classic film since Hitchcock is the best.  Maybe DUCK SOUP too for some lighter fare.  That's easy to love.

Notes From a Dashing Bachelor

Hey Brandon.  Thanks for the kind words, my friend.  It's always hard to admit to people when you're feeling depressed, but I figured it was worth mentioning so as to offer an explanation for why I've found it so hard to write lately.  I've been feeling slightly dejected for the past month or so, but in the last couple of weeks I've basically descended into some full-blown depression.  It's nothing new for me and certainly nothing to worry about (I'll get over it), but it is enough of a problem that I've had trouble being motivated to do things or to find pleasure in the things I usually do.  So writing has taken a back seat for a while.  We all have our ways of coping with depression though.  I think for me its all about re-establishing a rhythm and routine to follow and be comfortable with.  Writing has always been a healthy thing for me, so I think getting in a pattern of writing more frequently will ultimately be beneficial.  Seeing you and the family this weekend will also be great.  Let's make that happen.

Anyway, I'm glad you were able to write so much back to me (so much rich stuff that's conducive to discussion too).  I know I didn't really give you much material to work off of, but I appreciate how much you sent back my way.  I'll do my best to help ya out on my end too.

Toally fair enough on THIS IS THE END.  I don't think we'll ever reach common ground, and I'm completely fine with that.  I don't begrudge you for not finding it funny either.  I'm happy to stick up for it though.  At least we'll always have SUPERBAD and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS.

I realize I'm way too late to the game on BEFORE MIDNIGHT.  That's what happens when you wait so long.  I'm glad I finally got something written on it, but I'm more than happy to let it rest for now too.  You guys already said it all anyway in much more eloquent terms than I could.

After watching THE SON, I knew I'd be a Dardenne fan for life.  I was initially disoriented by it, as well, but by the half hour mark I was thoroughly riveted.  And by the end of it I was practically floating in thin air I was so touched and elated.  THE KID WITH A BIKE had a similar impact on me (in terms of being so emotionally floored), but it was obviously much less arduous to sift through from the beginning due to the fluidity of its construction.  I would highly recommend seeing ROSETTA to you, also.  It has the same quality of grace and compassion to it, and while maybe not as instantly moving as these other two movies, it's just as impossible to shake or forget.

Man, there's nothing to do but shake your head at those who find the message in THE SON to be simple and expendable.  What rock are they living under?  In a world where vindictiveness so often serves as the primary solution to a problem, one small act of forgiveness can reverberate like a thunderclap and glow like a miracle.  I pine for the day when our compassion has become so luxurious that the Dardenne's message is no longer necessary but redundant.  As things stand now, however, we unfortunately need that message more than ever.  I welcome their "simple" lesson on compassion, forgiveness, and mercy with open arms.  More people should too.

I love Eastwood as an actor and as a director of westerns (hell, I even got a picture of the guy on my wall).  So I've got nothing personal against him, despite some highly suspect political affiliations that I disagree with.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I like him a lot.  I've just yet to be impressed or even mildly interested in any of his recent output.  Again I haven't seen A PERFECT WORLD or MILLION DOLLAR BABY so my post-UNFORGIVEN worthless comment might not hold that much water.  I would be interested in seeing these two films though.  I'm not rooting against the guy.  I'm just waiting for him to win me over.  MYSTIC RIVER isn't totally worthless; I just don't really care about it.  The same for the rest of the movies I've seen of his from the 2000s.  They're all well-made, but uninspired, run-of-the-mill type shit to me.  I don't know what any of the fuss is about.  I also wonder if I'm just missing something?

To be fair though, I'm compounding my lack of interest in his recent work to full blown scoffing merely for the sake of argument.  I don't mind playing the "Eastwood hater" if only because it gives us something to disagree about.  I really don't feel that negatively towards him currently.  I'm just mostly indifferent.  But, I should say, you have Dave Kehr (and many other great critics) thoroughly ensconced in the Eastwood camp with you, so I think you've probably already won the Eastwood debate.

I would be interested in seeing MASTER AND COMMANDER if only because I trust you implicitly.  I'll add that to my ever-growing list.  I should see some of Peter Weir's 70s films too.

I'm glad you didn't exactly take it easy on my marriage comment.  Even with the wink, I did say it to be deliberately provocative and hopefully spark a reaction.  It was also said in jest.  I don't need to be married or even be in a relationship currently to know how painful it is to be betrayed by someone you love or even to have them stop loving you.  I've never been cheated on (at least not to my knowledge), but I have watched girls I loved lose all their feelings for me, and its basically the most painful non-physical hurt I've ever experienced.  So, I don't want to create the impression that I'm callous to adultery and betrayal when it comes to their representations on film because that just isn't the case.  I just meant that the relationship in LOST IN TRANSLATION didn't bother from a lens of adultery (same as with BEFORE SUNSET).  I think both of those films make it pretty explicit that their main characters are: a) not happy and b) not in love with their partners anymore.  This definitely has to be sad for their unseen or underdeveloped partners (I can sympathize with them, believe me), but they'll eventually have to realize that you can't change the way another person feels about you.  Those main characters just aren't in love them anymore.  And can they really help those feelings?  If Bob and Charlotte don't love their respective spouses, but find enjoyment and maybe even love in each other, is that totally their fault?  Sleeping together would be a decision and 100% their fault because they made that decision, but feeling something for each other wasn't necessarily a decision they made.  It just happened, the same way it just happened that they no longer love their spouses.  I'm not sure what is precisely meant by the term "emotional adultery" but it does seem less nefarious to me than a physical act of sexual adultery if only because one implies a deliberate choice while the other can be merely happenstance.  You can feel emotion or desire for another person other than your partner and still not act upon it.

With all that I'm getting at here, I just want to stress that I believe that if you don't love someone anymore, you don't have to be tethered to them forever.  It wouldn't be healthy for either party to stick together if there was no longer love between them.  To my understanding, this is what is happening in LOST IN TRANSLATION.  I feel for the neglected spouses, but I can also understand where Bob and Charlotte are coming from.  Being the spurned party fucking sucks, but it happens and there's nothing you can do about it.  People can be fickle, and if you want and care about them, you are unfortunately subjected to the uncontrollable reality of their freedom and individuality.  It's a terribly brave and terrifying thing to love someone.

I liked SWEENEY TODD, as well.  Though BIG FISH is far and away Burton's last great film.  I'm still hoping he's got a couple more in him before he's done.

Not a huge Van Sant fan either, but he works wonders on ELEPHANT.

I'm also hoping that Eli Roth has a good career ahead of him.  I think it's important to remind myself that he has only made three films (one of which was essentially a carbon copy of another), so he still has lots of time to set things right.  CABIN FEVER is visceral, funny, and inspired enough that I'm still rooting for the guy, even if I hated his last two films.  I did decide to add CABIN FEVER to the ten spot on my list.  I actually remember a good deal of it, which is way more than I can say for many films from 2003.  It had a positive enough impact that it's stayed with me all these years.  (P.S. I don't know if you noticed, but I also previously added THE DESCENT and MARTYRS to my top ten lists for their respective years.  Those are two other horror films that I've been unable to shake the impact of).

I'm not going to be that much of snide ogre and bad mouth FINDING NEMO too hard.  It is, after all, just an endearing kids search-and-rescue movie. However, it strikes me as dull or uninspired (like CARS) when standing alongside the wonderful, brilliant Pixar output that would come later in the form of RATATOUILLE, WALL-E, and UP.

I also haven't seen THE BROWN BUNNY since it came out, so perhaps seeing it again would soften the pessimistic stance I have towards it.  I can just remember being exceedingly bored by its pretenses.  The blow-job at the end at least gave the film some character.  Before that, it's just a whole lot of nothingness (haha this movie hasn't even been relevant in years, so I'm glad we're bringing up the old arguments for and against it.  THE BROWN BUNNY lives! Gallo wins.)

Really, really great points/criticisms about DOGVILLE.  I actually agree with you completely, though I do find Von Trier's myopic finger-wagging to be important in its way and not entirely self-serious.  He does hammer a very specific, cynical point home about these characters and the nastiness they represent.  The nature of the film is conducive to this though because it's basically a fairy tale.  The characters aren't fleshed out; they are just one-dimensionally vicious and wanton because they are fitting an archetype.  Von Trier has created a fairy tale or parable about the overarching harmfulness of closed, xenophobic communities.  The chalked staging à la OUR TOWN should be enough to suggest that he's not actually trying to achieve realism with it but to suggest a very deliberate, generalized idea about human behavior.

It is funny that an unabashed Chaplin and Dardenne lover such as myself would find Von Trier's cynicism so personally indispensable.  I guess I'm just glad that both THE SON and DOGVILLE exist, even if they are basically polar opposites.  I think it's just that I want very badly to be the Dardennes, but deep down I'm afraid I may be Von Trier.  The fact that I carry both of their opposing views on humanity inside of me makes me appreciate both visions.  Long live both, I say.

Good talk, Brandon.  Thanks for encouraging me to write.  And thanks for the encouraging personal words too.  Looking forward to your 2005 list whenever ya finish it.


P.S. My friend Dan and I have been watching horror films fairly regularly these past few months.  I watched a few newer ones recently, so I'll try to get up a post on them soon.  I'll probably do a letterboxd roundup on here too sometime.

Monday, July 15, 2013

2003 & other things

I don't know if there's any point in arguing whether THIS IS THE END is funny or not.  It'd be like arguing whether each of us finds a certain food to be delicious or not.  As you mentioned Brandon, comedy, like our individual tastes for foods, is purely subjective.  I personally found at least 90% of THIS IS THE END to be flat-out hilarious therefore I readily forgive all of its faults and decidedly weak ending.  It made me laugh (a lot) at a time when I was experiencing some awful, debilitating anxiety, and for that I welcome it with open arms.  If you didn't like it or didn't find it funny, then that's cool.  To each his own.

I'm not sure what I can add to what's already been written about BEFORE MIDNIGHT.  I essentially agree with most of what's been laid out here.  It's definitely the best movie I've seen this year, even as it remains the most difficult to come to terms with.  The painful fissures on display here are undoubtedly the logical movements for these characters regardless of how emotionally taxing it is to see them reach this nadir.  If the first two films are more like miraculous, inebriated dreams then this is truly the sobering wake-up-call to the consequences and realities outside those dreams.  I'm inclined to agree with Brandon and Chris when they say that the ending does nothing to cover or nullify the cracks that have formed in Jesse and Celine's relationship. The ending is surely a call-back to the youthful insouciance of the first film, but like their one-night courtship in Vienna, this romantic hotel getaway is likely only to last for a night as well.  Just as they woke up in Vienna to a sunrise of transience and separation, they will wake up in Greece to one of calculated sadness and division.  Too many wounds were opened, too many problems laid bare for these two to simply pretend that all is forgotten and forgiven.  I don't think anyone would be shocked to find them divorced in another nine years.  Sad to see, but probably necessary in terms of their arc.

I was glad to hear John mention Rohmer and Brandon to mention Kiarostami because Linklater is definitely working within the realms of both masters here.  I can't think of too many other contemporary American filmmakers (apart from PTA) who would put so much faith in their actors and let their filmmaking be almost exclusively mapped by the intricate webs of personal relations.  I also can't tell you how joyous and refreshing it is to see a couple of people talking breathlessly in long takes in front of a static camera.  That, in itself, is a miracle.


It's great to see your 2003 list, Brandon.  And I commend you for posting as much as you have lately (you too, Chris) when things have been eerily quiet on the blogs.  If I weren't going through a mild depression and actually had the motivation to write, I'd be happy to join you more frequently on here.  As it stands, I just need to get out of whatever funk I'm in and start getting some shit typed up.  I'll start with your list.

I'm terribly pleased to see you take to THE SON so affectionately.  I knew that if you just gave it a chance and looked beyond the shaky-cam that you would love it unconditionally like me.  It's just too masterfully executed and powerfully resonant to resist, in my opinion.  The intense claustrophobia and rapid dizziness of the camera movements can be stifling at first, but once you realize that it serves a very exact purpose for the content of the film, it is easy to look past and eventually easy to admire.  I think the scene in the car when the boy is sleeping in his seat is one of the most harrowing I've ever witnessed.  And the ending is easily one of the most moving knock-outs I've ever beheld.  It's an unbelievable lesson in the power of forgiveness and the mysteriousness of mercy.  It's easy to see why Bressson gets evoked a lot when talking about the Dardennes.  "What does it matter? All is grace."

MYSTIC RIVER:  I've made my lack of interest in post-UNFORGIVEN Eastwood pretty transparent on here.  I still haven't seen MILLION DOLLAR BABY, but from what I have seen, I don't really think that a lot of what he's made over the last twenty years is really worth a damn.  I can't even remember enough of MYSTIC RIVER to expound upon why I don't like it though.  My memory for movies is terrible.  I'd say that I'd see it again, but I don't really care if I ever do or not.  Is that wrong? haha.

I haven't seen MASTER AND COMMANDER (never really got into Peter Weir much). Or BALSEROS, DEMONLOVER, THE FOG OF WAR, IN AMERICA, WINGED MIGRATION, RAISING VICTOR VARGAS, THE COMPANY, THE GOOD THIEF, LOONEY TUNES, or OPEN RANGE.  I have a lot of blind spots here, as you can tell.  Just wanted to get those out of the way.

LOST IN TRANSLATION:  It's been years since I've seen this, but I'll admit to still being a fan for the most part.  It still manages to charm despite some subtle xenophobic digs and an unmistakable orientalist framework (It would be easy to criticize the film for using Japan as merely a colorful backdrop against which an existential crisis and tryst brews between two affluent Westerners).  I'm much less concerned with the "adultery" argument against it, if only because I don't find the emotional relationship between these two to be all the problematic.  Do I need to get married first for shit like this to bother me? ;)

I still love BIG FISH.  It's a warm-hearted and generous little fairy tale of a movie.  The ending still gets to me too.

SCHOOL OF ROCK is charming and funny, but it also didn't stand out enough to win me over.  I like it, just not in love with it.  I also love ELF though, so what the hell do I know?

ELEPHANT:  I re-watched this a couple months ago.  It submerges you in this haunting, gut-sinking sensibility.  I love how every tiny gesture seems eternal and meaningful in the wake of the doom that lingers just beneath everything.

CABIN FEVER:  I'm actually toying with adding it to my own list.  I'd like to see it again to be sure, but as it stands I have nothing but fond memories of this one.  The ending has stuck with me so vividly that I still get a wry smile thinking about it even now.

28 DAYS LATER:  Pinpoint accuracy on what makes this so effective.  The film loves its characters and consequently so do we.  Killer ending.

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS is actually a surprisingly adept thriller.  I had to re-watch it for a class a few years ago and thought it held up well.  A smart lesson in drawing you in through strong characterization.

FINDING NEMO:  Still don't like it.  I don't doubt that it's heartfelt; I just wish it were more creative.

THE BROWN BUNNY:  Still hate it.  Dullness and stupidity under the guise of sincerity.  A blow-job is the least of this thing's problems.

Since I'm adhering my lists to John's rules, THE SON is now on my 2002 list. Writing about it above convinced me to put it atop that list, as well.  DOGVILLE is now my top film of 2003 because I'm a cynical little jerk.  But we don't need to open the DOGVILLE argument again...

Great, comprehensive list though, Brandon!  Are you planning any other years of the 2000s or is this just a one-off thing?

ONLY GOD FORGIVES this weekend, y'all?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Quizard of Oz

1. Name your five favorite actors and actresses of all time.


James Cagney
Jimmy Stewart
(copying Brandon) Humphrey Bogart/Jean Gabin
Robert Mitchum
William Powell or Cary Grant

I could have easily found room for Max von Sydow, Joseph Cotten, Joel McCrea, Toshiro Mifune, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Charles Laughton, Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, or Dustin Hoffman.  Obviously, that list goes on and on.


Carole Lombard
Veronica Lake
Ginger Rogers
Greta Garbo
Myrna Loy or Arletty

Could have also made room for Gene Tierney, Joan Bennett, Maureen O'Hara, and Joan Fontaine.
My more modern affections are split between Laura Linney and Cate Blanchett.

2. Can you remember the first foreign-language film you saw that made an impact on you?  If so, what was it?

I can remember seeing RUN, LOLA, RUN as an early teen and it having a fairly substantial impact on me.  It fit right into the sort of "cool cinema" that appealed to me at the time – films that emphasized aesthetics and editing tricks like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and TRAINSPOTTING.  I think it also helped open the floodgates in terms of seeking out new foreign films to see.

As far as foreign art-house classics go, I think 8 1/2 and SEVEN SAMURAI were among the first I saw, and I thought they were both mindblowing.  They were like reading Faulkner for the first time – just completely changed my perspective on art and what "cinema" meant to me.

3. Favorite moment in a horror film?  Least favorite?

First, I should say that probably my favorite horror sequence takes place near the end of THE SHINING when Wendy is running through the hotel and sees a series of increasingly bizarre imagery from a bear suit sex tryst to a cocktail party of corpses.  My mom happened to catch the ending once, and when the blood started pouring from the elevator she turned to me and said "whoever made this is completely sick."  And I thought, "well done Stanley."

My favorite scene, however (off the top of my head), is divided between the night stalk scene in CAT PEOPLE and the seance scene in THE CHANGELING.  The night stalk scene has one of the best jump scares of all time and also builds tension better than just about any film ever made.  The seance scene just creeped the living daylights out of me.  I have a hard time even thinking about it without getting a chill.

Now that I think of it, I'm also quite partial to the crucifix masturbation scene in THE EXORCIST – if only for how truly outrageous and shocking it still is to this day.

There are probably many horror film moments that have rubbed me the wrong way.  The first that comes to mind is actually two moments in HOSTEL when we find the Japanese girl getting her eyeball drilled out and then her consequently jumping in front of a train.  It was just the bitter icing on one truly unpleasant cake, and even the prospect of revenge against these torturers couldn't redeem my sadness.

4. Pick a film for each member of film club that you’d really like for her/him to see.

Adrienne - YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (maybe she's seen this already...)

Ben - AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (I feel like pushing Bresson on Ben for some reason)

Brandon - BLUE/WHITE/RED (or THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE or THE DECALOGUE.  Just want him to see some Kieslowski).

Chris - LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (Been tellin' him to see it for a while now...)

Gentile - THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY (my favorite Bunuel)

Graham - PLAYTIME (feel like he might appreciate this being a Monty Python fan)

Jason - THE LEOPARD MAN (classic horror that still holds up)

John -  THE SON (Brandon's on board with it, now I just need Bing to join him)

Lisa - STARDUST MEMORIES (Not sure if she has seen this one or not, but it's great)

5. Is there a film(s) that you once loved (and maybe even purchased) that now makes you question what you ever saw in it?

Oh god...too many.  But I'm really not too ashamed of having bought shit like the THE BOONDOCK SAINTS when I was 13 because I didn't know any better then.  I was just a stupid little kid.  I think one of the slightly more recent films I always thought I loved until I watched it again a year or so ago is DARK CITY.  I bought that back in the mid-2000s and used to really dig it, but now I think it's pretty damn dull and that Kiefer Sutherland's overacting annoys the shit out of me.  I apologize to the memory of Roger Ebert, but I think DARK CITY is wack.

6. IFC has started releasing films on demand the same day they hit theaters.  Would you like more studios to do this or are you afraid it may strike the death knell for movie theaters?

I would love for more independent studios to do this.  I think it's a phenomenal idea.  As Brandon was saying, it brings availability for smaller market areas such as ours to see foreign films or other art house stuff that would never come near us.  I think it would certainly help these films and studios in the long run too because it provides a wide release at an essentially minimal cost.  I'm definitely not worried about an On Demand system like this taking over movie theaters.  Again to echo Brandon, the major studio systems and their overpriced, overblown blockbusters need a serious shake up.  I never want to see movie theaters become obsolete, but I have no problem trimming the budgets, exorbitant actor salaries, and unnecessary spectacle of the hundreds and hundreds of movies the studios shit out each year.  Most "big" movies are getting too expensive and too long and there needs to be some breaking point for this trend.  Also, if the wave of the future for movie theaters is digital, 3D, 48 fps projectors then count me the fuck out.

7. Favorite movie(s) set during the summertime?

I actually had three movies in mind when formulating this question:  SUMMERTIME, REAR WINDOW, and of course, DO THE RIGHT THING.  SUMMERTIME, as the name implies, fantastically represents the idyllic beauty of how we'd all dream a summertime retreat in Venice to be (and also the potential loneliness behind the facade).  REAR WINDOW and DO THE RIGHT THING are two of the best movies at making the feel of summer truly come to life on screen.  And honestly (apart from STRAY DOG), I don't think there's ever been a hotter movie to watch then DO THE RIGHT THING.  You can feel the sweat pour off ya just imagining it.  It's one of the finest examples of using a season as a setting to enhance and comment on the conflicts inherent in the storyline being portrayed.  Probably the quintessential summertime movie.

8. Which director working today do you think would make a great western if given the chance (assuming he/she hasn’t already made one)?  Or if you don’t like westerns, which director working today do you think would make a great sci-fi flick (also assuming he/she hasn’t made one yet)?

Given the right script, I do think David Fincher could make a great western.  I think he's a talented enough director that he could probably master any genre, even one so complicated as the modern western.  Nicholas Winding Refn could probably make a pretty spectacular, stylish, and violent western.  I also think Jeff Nichols could make the greatest western of the bunch.  Hell, he could even pull a Raoul Walsh and remake SHOTGUN STORIES but just set it in the old west and he'd have one awesome western right there.

9. Describe a perfect moment in a movie (courtesy of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule).

I think the restaurant scene in BEFORE SUNRISE where Jessie and Celine give fake phone calls to their friends (revealing their feelings for one another) is one of the great romantic moments in film history.  It perfectly encapsulates the transparency, emotional candor, and impossible dreaminess of their serendipitous relationship.  It's also one of the best moments at capturing the exhilarating and ineffable feeling of a burgeoning love.  It makes you feel the excitement of the lived moment and also the quiet melancholy of its transience.  Perfect movie moment.

10. Here’s a decent list of movies that came out in 1990: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_in_film
Can you name your top five favorites from the year?

Hate to be the hipster contrarian here (who am I kidding? I love it), but:

1. Close-up
2. Goodfellas
3. Metropolitan
4. Edward Scissorhands
5. Miller’s Crossing

I actually chose 1990 so as to encourage y'all to see CLOSE-UP and METROPOLITAN.  Great, great movies.

Younger version of me probably would have had these on the list:  DUCKTALES THE MOVIE, ERNEST GOES TO JAIL, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (agree that it's still great), THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, and TREMORS.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

New Quiz

1. Name your five favorite actors and actresses of all time.

2. Can you remember the first foreign-language film you saw that made an impact on you?  If so, what was it?

3. Favorite moment in a horror film?  Least favorite?

4. Pick a film for each member of film club that you’d really like for her/him to see.

5. Is there a film(s) that you once loved (and maybe even purchased) that now makes you question what you ever saw in it?

6. IFC has started releasing films on demand the same day they hit theaters.  Would you like more studios to do this or are you afraid it may strike the death knell for movie theaters?

7. Favorite movie(s) set during the summertime?

8. Which director working today do you think would make a great western if given the chance (assuming he/she hasn’t already made one)?  Or if you don’t like westerns, which director working today do you think would make a great sci-fi flick (also assuming he/she hasn’t made one yet)?

9. Describe a perfect moment in a movie (courtesy of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule).

10. Here’s a decent list of movies that came out in 1990: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_in_film
Can you name your top five favorites from the year?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pigs and Apocalypses

UPSTREAM COLOR left a strange, glacial feeling inside me.  It just kind of sat there like a hulking slab of lead. Its chilly impact may have been enhanced by some unrelated and untoward anxiety I was experiencing while watching it (this is probably the case). But leaving my own personal problems aside for the moment, purely as a film to be consumed, it left me feeling a bit cold and lifeless inside.  It's a mostly impressive film, from a technical standpoint, and it successfully elicits the kind of melancholia it portrays while also piquing our curiosity through its abstractions and diffuse narrative structure.  It also does feel like it sways somewhere between the transient beauty of THE TREE OF LIFE and the fear and loathing of ERASERHEAD (both pluses).  But it gets bogged down by its overly abstracted aloofness and some serious, eye-rolling indie cliches.  As smart and impressive as a lot of the filmmaking is here, I can't help but feel that Carruth overburdens himself in a gargantuan effort to appear deeply poetic and solemn.  He adheres too much to so many self-consciously indie images and tropes (isn't every fucking indie movie about joyless people trying to rebuild their ruined lives or does it just feel that way? And doesn't every self-serious indie movie create an image like two people cuddling in a bathtub that essentially occurs no where outside of indie movies?).  I'm not consciously trying to be too hard on Carruth.  I just think that for as talented as he is, he has a few cliched hangups to get over, and for as smart as he is, he still makes some glaringly contrived missteps.  I'm still not entirely sold on him as a filmmaker, even as I applaud him for essentially doing everything to get this movie made and released.

To Carruth's credit, he has created a film that is much better than his last effort and infinitely more successful than the similarly-themed sci-fi indie flick ANOTHER EARTH (which I really disliked).  He has an ephemeral editing style that remains intact throughout and doesn't make us pine for scenes to drag out longer than they should.  We know the rhythms of the film right from the opening, and that's a positive.  He also generates some thought-provoking and genuinely cool ideas, like the suggestion that these mealworms can create a connective fabric between two of their carriers (sharing memories or feelings) and sort of lifeline between two species (loved the last shots with the pigs).  And decidedly, there's a lot to unpack in the narrative because it is so enigmatic and equivocal.  I thought Brandon did an admirable job breaking down a lot of what was happening in the film, and I don't really have much more to add.  I think it's entirely possible to figure out much of this film after one viewing, as long as you are connecting the dots and following along diligently.  So, in that way, it's not so abstract that its indecipherable.  Anyone who thinks this is simple obscurantism is wrong.

I'd say overall I was impressed by UPSTREAM COLOR, though I'm hardly in awe of it.  It's perhaps too elusive and somehow stunted for me to fully connect to.  I greatly prefer the complexities of LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE to it (and, yes, for the record, John, it is indeed as complex as I described - probably more so :) ).  Still, I can see why it has its many stalwart advocates.

I have a pretty strong affinity for THIS IS THE END already.  It's easily my favorite film of the year so far (beating out the only other two I've seen in UPSTREAM COLOR and STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS).  It's frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious and, at the very least, pervasively amusing throughout.  It's definitely up there with best genre/comedy mash-ups of recent times.  It's also the spiritual twin of PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and it delivers the same amount of hysterical banter, self-deprecating meta-awareness, and endearing male bonding that made PINEAPPLE so much fun.  Honestly, if you enjoyed PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and SUPERBAD, then you'll love this.  If you didn't like either of those or can't stand the guys involved, then just skip it entirely.  It doesn't tread radically new ground for Rogen and Co. but continues in a lot of the same patterns they've been developing for years.  Yet, for lovers of this pattern, it's terrifically executed. It's definitively hilarious and probably one of the best times you could have at the theaters this summer.  I've got nothing else to really say about it, other than to encourage those interested to see it with some friends and cut loose.


In other film news, I'm worried about MAN OF STEEL.  I'm still going to see it soon, but all the negative reviews (especially those suggesting it falls into generic blockbuster and run-of-the-mill superhero territory all too easily) have really cooled my excitement.  We shall see.

I'm infinitely more excited for BEFORE MIDNIGHT.  Next weekend, y'all?

Brandon asked me to do another film quiz.  I've been slacking on coming up with questions, but I'll have one up soon hopefully.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beyond the Hills Into Darkness

Brandon, great post on BEYOND THE HILLS.  I'm glad you found it as rich, complex, and engrossing as I did.  I deserve that little dig for giving a caveat over the film's length and deliberate pacing haha.  It doesn't move any more leisurely than your average art film, and truly there isn't a lot of dead space where nothing's happening to warrant such a warning.  It remains intense and searingly complex through just about every scene.  I was just worried its length and pacing might turn some people off of it.  I'm glad that wasn't the case for you.

Your analysis of the film's content is basically spot-on, at least in terms of how I similarly read what was happening.  We seemed to attack it from a homogenous angle.  Obviously, our biggest initial disagreement was over the nature of Mungiu's "condemnation" of the institutions he portrays (or lack thereof).  When I first finished watching it, I didn't get the sense that he was really condemning anyone or anything.  I just felt his frustration and maybe his despair over the muck he finds pervading our modern societal disposition.  But then as I've thought more about this, by the very fact that he suggests that we are all in "muck," there would have to be some condemnation.  The final shot (which is certainly deliberate, and brilliant, in my opinion) is a sort of definitive visual condemnation; it's also intensely, painfully aware.  I think he's saying that we are in a hell of a quagmire concerning the incompatibility of our institutions, and there's no apparent way of escaping it.  The problem is not just this orthodox religion that seems antiquated and backwards within modernity, but the modern society that can hardly accept it.  Medical institutions don't come across any better than the religion here.  Neither shows any real capacity to handle the problem of Alina.  You are completely right and succinct when you say here: "Both parties struggle to THINK up rational resolutions in the suffocating blur of emotion clouding each character’s judgment until tragedy finally strikes."  Well said.  I was gearing myself up for a solid discussion with you about how the film is not condemnatory, but I see now that you were right all along.  There's no invective here; Mungiu is by no means preaching or trying to proselytize; he's just upset and frustrated, and he expresses it through a general outcry against the various guilty parties involved.

I think it's truly fascinating that at the heart of BEYOND THE HILLS we have a thwarted love story between two women.  The religion, the hospital, the cops, the entire world surrounding the orthodox compound – they are all caught by Alina and Voichita's central, incommunicable predicament.
The religion and the nuns involved in it aren't evil; they just doesn't understand Alina's problem nor do they understand how to deal with her.  The hospital isn't any different.  You're right in saying that much of their irrationality towards her stems from their fear of her.  They are much too powerless to have a reasonable or helpful solution for her.  And Alina's reaction towards them is just as much irrational.  She is also guilty of not understanding or for not willing to be.

So, yeah, there's definitely condemnation here.  There is also a distance from the material in the way much the film is shot and framed, as if a "laying things bare and leaving you to ponder their consequences" type thing were happening.  Mungiu's clearly frustrated by what has taken place in the film, and I read that last shot as him basically throwing up his hands in bewilderment, asking us all, "what the hell do we do?"  I think he's an immensely talented and intelligent filmmaker, and that BEYOND THE HILLS is even better than 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS.  I too am glad that he shows so much bravado in choosing provocative and controversial subject matter for his films.  He's definitely not shy, and he's incredibly confidant based of the sheer artistry and audacity involved in his first two films.  I already can't wait for his next one.

In other recent film news, I thought STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS was a solid continuation of the first film.  It's silly and contains many outlandish set pieces and narrative contrivances, but it's mostly thrilling throughout and, very importantly, it recreates much of the first film's sense of insouciance and playfulness between characters.  I wasn't looking for much else from it other than to avoid boredom, and it didn't disappoint in this regard.  Good, weightless fun.

THIS IS FORTY was largely disappointing, but to be honest, I wasn't expecting all that much from it.  I'm still a huge fan of KNOCKED UP, but I'm about ready to give up on Apatow as a director after FUNNY PEOPLE and now this mess of a film.  THIS IS FORTY is just as bloated and cloying as the worst parts of FUNNY PEOPLE, but it was somehow less funny and more aimless.  It has no real sense of narrative cohesion or direction, and hardly anything compelling to say that isn't already obvious from observing most families.  Also, as Brandon mentioned, it suffers irreparably from being nearly impossible to connect to unless you are incredibly wealthy.  Apatow has written so much of his privileged status into his films lately that he's lost sight of what makes a story compelling.
There is, however, a single profound shot in the movie with one of the daughters playing with her keyboard while her parents are arguing in the next room, and apart from a few decent Paul Rudd jokes, it is easily the strongest moment of this otherwise dull, futile film.  Apatow needs to step out of the coziness of his mansion and mingle with the people again real soon.

I don't really have a lot to write about LIFE OF PI.  I enjoyed most of it, and there are even a few moments that I found in it to be quite beautiful and moving.  It looks sharp, and it's a decent adventure story.  That's really all I've got to say about it haha.

School is all done in a week or so.  I don't leave for Philadelphia until late August, and I won't be working for the time in between.  That should give me plenty of time to get more blogging in.  Hopefully you'll see more from me on here.