Friday, December 30, 2011

David Fincher's Last Name is Like a Bird

I have not seen the tattoo movie and have held off on seeing the Swedish version so that I can go into Fincher's with fresh eyes. But by the time I see it, everyone will be onto something else, so I thought I'd write a special post so I don't feel left out. I have listed all the David Fincher movies I've seen with a haiku for each one. Enjoy.

The Social Network
Who is Zuckerberg?
He screwed everyone over
This movie's not true

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Pitt's an old baby
Just a backwards Forrest Gump?
Not in my book, pal

Violence at the start
Suspenseful at the finish
In between I slept

Panic Room
The next time someone
Breaks into your house don't for-
Get the insulin

Fight Club
I wish my other
Personality was as
Hot as Brad Pitt is

The Game
Need new perspective?
Next time take a vacation
It's a lot cheaper

What's in the box, Finch?
I will not watch this nightmare
Not ever again

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Other Films I've Seen Recently

Christmas in July (Sturges, 1940)--I don't know what to say about this except that it was throughly enjoyable. I don't know the actors well enough to name them, but whoever played the boss that wrote the first check was brilliant. Funny and angry--a great caricature. I definitely want to see more Sturges. It was also really fun to see it on the big screen, and to hear people laughing in the theater at the funny parts. It was almost like time traveling.

The Sentinel (Winner, 1977)--snooze-fest of a horror film but with a great ending. If I hadn't been restless late at night, I would have never sat through it to find out about the great ending. Other than that, though, it's almost completely devoid of horror. What was fun though was appearances by young actors Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, and Beverly D'Angelo. I love being surprised by well-known actors in crappy films.

Soutbounders (Wagner, 2005)--nice little low-budget indie film about a romance on the Appalachian Trail. Not sappy but predictable in the right ways. And I'm especially fond of the setting, so it would have been hard for me to dislike this film. Recommended for Ben and Lisa.

Black Swan

I loved this movie. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. Some said it tended towards melodrama, some said the gross parts weren't necessary, but it all fit for me. I'd maintained to this point that, while I'd enjoyed all of his films, Aronofsky hadn't accomplished anything like Pi since then. Black Swan may be more expensive and well-produced, but it is as thrilling a story of a descent into madness as Pi is. It has become my second favorite Aronofsky. Previously, I think Wrestler was tied with Requiem, but I thought Black Swan topped both of them. Fountain was beautiful but somewhat inaccessible for me. Portman's acting was exquisite, but she was supported especially well by the likes of Ryder (what fun to see her in this role!), Kunis, and Cassell.
I've gone back and read what the rest of you wrote and aside from John (did you ever end up seeing it?) it seems like it was received more or less positively. My film history knowledge is not as extensive as some others' in the club, but the film felt fresh to me. And a lot of that had to do with Portman's portrayal. I think the subject matter was very engaging to me to--I saw it as being a film about mental illness, and it was very thought-provoking on that front. In the special features several interviews commented on Aronofsky's desire to show his films from the perspectives of his characters, and I thought he did that exceptionally well here. I didn't know from one moment to the next what had actually happened and what was only her illusion. It is a tribute to Aronofsky that I thought the film had a happy ending of sorts; I was so sure she wasn't going to make it through the entire performance. And if she ends up dying, at least she dies feeling like she had accomplished what she set out to do.
Imagine how horrifying it would be to never be sure whether or not what you were seeing was real? To always be second-guessing yourself and those around you--to be paranoid and untrusting? I felt what Nina was feeling and I was also able to reach out to her and root for her and feel empathy and sadness for her. I love it when a character and a story sucks me in and makes me feel like I'm a part of it. Black Swan did that for me. I also agree with Brandon that it's horror film elements should not be overlooked as such. The moments of gross-out horror are, to a degree, what closes the sale for me--what turns Black Swan from a good drama to a film that defies genre. Aronofsky said something about making a "were-swan" movie in one of the special features and I thought it was great because I hadn't thought of it that way. One of the best scenes is the one where she grows wings. I don't know if I can talk about it effectively because it impacted me on such an emotional level. Great camera work and SFX, too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I Forgot!

I also watched My Lai: One of the Vietnam War's Darkest Chapters by PBS. Pretty harrowing stuff. It's hard to wrap my mind around how ordinary human beings can become capable of such atrocities. It's hard to wrap my mind around how the military can be so irresponsible when things like this happen. Invariably, the truth comes out and causes people to trust the military even less.

I saw about half of a Frontline documentary called The Wounded Platoon some time ago, about a platoon of soldiers from Colorado who saw the worst of the Surge and have suffered great psychological trauma (and committed some pretty serious crimes) since then.

You can watch it all online:  The Wounded Platoon, My Lai

The military uses young men for its warmongering and self-serving purposes. Then it spits them out to fend for themselves and disavows all responsibility when the war follows the solider home in the form of PTSD or other disorders, physical or mental.

A documentary like My Lai makes it easy to see who the real villains are (hint: it's not the soldiers). And I don't shirk my own role as an accomplice in all of this for accepting and embracing the comfortable western life I've been able to live because of our love of war as a nation and human race.

Sheesh. I didn't intend for this post to be so negative.

Straight from Flixster

Where you all read it already anyway, but that doesn't count. so here's a lazy repost, with a few additional comments. Bonus features for the blog edition, I suppose.

Chiller (Wes Craven, 1985): This was pretty boring, actually. The most horrific act that the villain does in the first 45 minutes of the film is fire his employee in a really mean way. The main thing I took away from the movie is that waking up from cryogenic sleep makes you a prick. I thought Wes Craven's influence would make it at least watchable, but I guess you can't win 'em all. This was apparently a made-for-TV movie, so I suppose Craven should get some leeway for having to work within those constraints. Still, the scene where the freezer-burned prick drags a priest whose gown has gotten caught in the car door down the road a ways and then turns around to run him over was pretty badass, but that's really the only good scene in the film.

Mountain of the Cannibal God (Sergio Martino, 1978): Some disturbing stuff here, but I thought that my first cannibal-themed horror film would be more shocking. Not that I'm complaining. It was entertaining enough, and as one reviewer noted, more like a National Geographic special for at least the first half of the film. As far as B-movie horror goes, though, the Italians definitely knew how to do it best. The most difficult stuff is the animal-on-animal violence, which is pretty clearly real and which some of my research indicated was staged for the film. No humane society approval needed here, apparently. 

It's still probably better than Milo and Otis's Island of Terror, though:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Weeds Season 6

I finished watching this last night. Some nice developments in Andy's and Silas's characters, but Nancy's shenanigans are really getting old. I'm finding it hard to find any sympathy in me for her character at all. She's just so self-destructive. And I hate how she keeps dragging Andy into her messes. He might be the main reason I keep watching the show. I'm pretty happy about how the season ended, actually. Overall it was interesting and kept my attention, despite the tired plot devices. The show is good at keeping you hooked from one episode to another, I'll say that for it.
We've been watching season one of Big Bang Theory as a family and are almost finished with it. I wasn't too keen on the show initially, but it's been growing on me. Sheldon is definitely the reason the show is any good at all. I'm behind on all your posts because you guys like to seem to have big discussions when I'm not writing and then shut up when I'm active for a few days. You're all leading me on. Just like Nancy with Andy!

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Effortless Brilliance and Troll Hunter

Lynn Shelton has caught my eye with this film. Anyone else seen anything else by her? I wasn't blown away by MEB, but I was moved. The setting for the film is absolutely perfect for its content. I don't know if this qualifies as mumblecore, but it seemed similar to me to other films in the category I've seen. It's basically about two male friends, one a semi-famous writer, reconnecting after a falling out. The writer--a city slicker through and through--tracks down his friend at his cabin in Washington and they spend a few days, along with a neighbor friend, talking and drinking and tracking cougars. There is tension between the two men and clearly incidents in the past that need to be discussed. But, in true stereotypical male fashion, none of this stuff gets discussed. Nevertheless, the relationship has healed somewhat by the end of the film, which leads you to believe there may be more to come. But even if there isn't, the moments they shared during those few days were significant for both of them.
Please don't read the summary of the film, however, and think you don't need to see it. First of all, the location is practically a character, it is so ever-present and obvious. Secondly, the dialogue, which is all improvised is sprinkled with humor, adding a counterbalance to the heaviness of the tension between the friends. I'd recommend this to all in film, but particularly Ben and Lisa.

I also saw Troll Hunter (on NWI), a really fun fake horror documentary in the vein of Blair Witch (but better, I think). It certainly is following a tradition established by BWP, continued by films like Cloverfield and Quarantine, but it stands on its own and adds to the genre as well. In this film, three college students working on a project start trailing a mysterious character who they believe to be a bear poacher. Turns out, however, it's not bear he's after, and very quickly the kids find themselves in over their heads in a reality they thought only existed in fairy tales. I was able to watch it with my wife and son as well, so it wasn't so scary that they couldn't enjoy it, but it had enough suspenseful monsteryness to satsify my horror lust. Also recommended. It's Norwegian, by the way, and frequently features the spectacular beauty of the landscape there.

Given this film and MEB, I've been noting how the use of location can add different textures to different films, even given the same type of scenery. Hey, here's a thought--can anybody else think of any movies where the setting really makes a difference in a film's success of failure? Meek's Cutoff is another good example of location as character. Also The New World (or anything by Malick, really). Are there other directors who are particularly good at using setting to tell their stories? Discuss.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I wouldn't say that nostalgia is bad, and when I saw MiP I loved it. I still think it's a good film. I'm just saying that the nostalgia in Hugo is so much more pure and less self-involved than Woody's nostalgia. Part of it is children vs. adults--kids are less cynical to begin with and so have an advantage when it comes to being able to see the past with innocent and appreciative eyes. It's true that Wilson's character didn't stay in the past, but he also didn't completely face reality in the present, either. You don't solve all of your problems by running from one relationship to another. That part was actually the part of the film I felt was the weakest--I would have had a lot more respect for it if Wilson had just decided to be alone. I mean, he'd had this great revelation about his life--take some time and mull it over. Rediscover who you are and what you want. THEN go find someone to share it with. So he's acknowledged some realities but is still avoiding others. Otherwise your big revelation will have a smaller impact because you're not giving it time to sink in.

Hugo is Only Half Racist

Maybe Scorsese hates the French?
But seriously, it's funny that after re-watching Hunt for Red October with the fam last week (which holds up surprisingly well after 20 years, except for Connery's Scottish-Russian accent) I was thinking that movies these days, even mainstream ones, are less afraid of subtitles as they used to be. The lack of use of Russian in HFRO is fairly distracting and disappointing. It kept taking me out of the film. But it's a great story, and my son said it made an impression on him.
So of course I noticed the plentiful English accents in Paris in Hugo. Amazing that so many people were so fluent in English back then! I know it's because it's a kids' movie, and some of them can't read. And it really wasn't that bad. But it does take the viewer out of the film a bit.
Otherwise, it was a beautiful, brilliant film, nearly perfectly told. Has anyone else read the book? It, too, is fantastic (and a quick read). I wonder if my general knowledge of the plot helped me to be able to pay attention to other elements of the film more closely (something I sadly rarely experience since I'm so reluctant to watch a film more than once). It also made me less wary of the plot, since I knew how it was all going to end (though we'd read it awhile ago and I'd forgotten some key points).
Performances are all solid and thoroughly enjoyable. SBC as the inspector rides the line between kid-and-adult-friendly comedy and overdoing-it-slapstick skillfully, reining in the physical humor just as it's about to become too much. I love that his character is multi-dimensional as well; it's almost shocking when he reveals to us his own struggle to become who he is had similar origins to Hugo's. It's true that there are no true villains in this story; save that of war, which makes more than one appearance as a killjoy (the inspector's leg, Mortimer's character's brother, the death of imagination in a generation). I loved both the child actors' performances and was thoroughly pulled in and enchanted by both of them.
I disagree with those who say that the film is "about" film history and preservation. I think Jeff is more accurate when he says it's a story of connections lost and found. Think about how many orphans there are in the film, and how many of them end up with someone to love them (except the poor street urchin from earlier in the film). And not only orphans in the strictest sense of the word, but emotional orphans, like the fat man and Emily Mortimer. People who have suffered losses and disconnection. Because Scorsese is so skilled at what he does, his vast knowledge of film and film history informs and fleshes out that part of the story in a unique and lovely way. But the focus remains on reconnecting--and that includes us as an audience reconnecting to our film past, and connecting simultaneously with the characters because our past is the same is theirs. And again, because of his artistry, Scorsese is able to turn the film preservation aspect of the film into a subplot that makes several valid points but never distracts from the stories of its primary characters.
I found there to be few connections to Midnight in Paris, apart from location. I honestly didn't even think of it until Jeff and Chris mentioned it. Midnight in Paris feels like a selfish movie compared to Hugo. Midnight is about escaping while Hugo is about facing. The lesson learned at the end of Midnight turns the protagonist inward, while the lessons learned in Hugo turn him outward. John will love to hear me say this, but Hugo actually makes me like Midnight in Paris less. Nostalgia redirects away from but doesn't completely obscure the cynicism in Allen's film, but Hugo is devoid entirely of any kind of cynicism, even the subtle cynicism that appears in more children's films than Hollywood would like to admit--the cynicism of overkill.
I thought more often of The Dreamers in the context of Hugo. Both involved people connecting over a love for film, both inspired me to want to learn more about film history. Both resulted in their protagonists going outside of themselves and getting involved in the larger world. The big (and obvious) difference is that The Dreamers deals with innocence lost where Hugo embraces innocence and reinvigorates it with healing and imagination. Pitt's character's relationship with the brother and sister shows promise but ends up being a false connection that ultimately drives him out into the street, outside of his claustrophobic inner world, but still alone.
I appreciate Brandon's observations about the parallels between the film clips and actual events in the film. I noticed it in a back-of-my-mind kind of way, but thinking about it again it makes the film seems even more brilliant and clever.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Birth of a Nation is Only Half Racist

I'm quite behind in reading your posts. I'll confess that I feel less motivated when I haven't seen what everyone else has. BUT I watched Hugo tonight and am anxious to catch up so I can join the conversation for the first time in months! Hooray!
That said, I had to stop my catching up to say in an alarmed tone to Chris: You have the wrong idea about Birth of a Nation! The first half of the movie is actually a Civil War film that makes little to no racial commentary. It's the second half that's pretty much atrocious, and then not even the whole thing. But at that point you're invested in the characters and so sorting out your responses is more challenging. The reason to watch Birth of a Nation, however, is the cinematography, which was decades ahead of its time. It is definitely a masterpiece. A masterpiece with woefully misguided politics, but a masterpiece nonetheless.
As far as the stuff it's notorious for, it comes across more as a commentary on the times than a direct attack on my modern ethical sensibilities. At least to me. It's a treatise on the reasons Reconstruction failed (again, woefully misguided and utterly ignorant) which resulted in the disintegration of the traditional South, which Griffiths lamented and the loss of which permeates the second half. It's true that when I called my wife and son down to watch the courtroom scene, my son left before it ended, angry and upset. But that's because I made the mistake of showing it to them out of context. It's no less upsetting, but it becomes a part of a larger whole.
I don't know if I'm making any sense, but I'm tired of typing and retyping because I'm worried about coming across the wrong way. Just watch the damn thing, and see what you think for yourself.

Also, I didn't bother with the director's list because I've seen maybe one or two from a lot of them, if I've seen any at all. Here's my short list of directors whose work I've seen enough of to warrant rating them by preference (+) Favorite (-) Least Favorite (!) Underrated

Coen Brothers: Hudsucker Proxy (+), Intolerable Cruelty (-), Miller's Crossing (!)
Jarmusch: Mystery Train (+), Broken Flowers (-), Ghost Dog (!)
Gilliam: Brazil (+), Brothers Grimm (-), Tideland (!-woefully so)
Burton: Edward Scissorhands (+), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (-), Big Fish (!)
Allen: Love and Death (+), Melinda and Melinda (-), Scoop (!)
Scorcese: Taxi Driver (+), Gangs of New York (-), Bringing Out the Dead (!)
Kurosawa (I've only seen five): Seven Samurai (+)...well, I loved all of his that I've seen
Bergman (I've only seen six): Seventh Seal (+), Smiles of a Summer Night (!)...I've loved all I've seen
Spielberg: Schindler's List (+), Munich (-), Twilight Zone: The Movie (!)
Kubrick (I've only seen five): Full Metal Jacket (+), Eyes Wide Shut (-) anything of his underrated?
Tarantino: Kill Bill 1&2 (+), Sin City (-), Death Proof (!)
Cronenberg (seen six): Existenz (+), Spider (- liked it but didn't get it), Existenz (!)
Carpenter: The Thing (+), They Live (- I thought it was stupid and boring), Escape From NY (!)
Eastwood (seen six): Mystic River (+), Space Cowboys (-), A Perfect World (!)
Miyazaki: My Neighbor Totoro (+), Kiki's Delivery Service (!)...I loved all I've seen!

Okay, I guess there were more than I thought, but still... and they're mostly modern directors!

Back to catching up!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


My schedule hasn't allowed me to watch many films lately, so it's not likely that I'll have watched many more by the time you post in depth about Meek's Cutoff. Post it soon, though! I thought it was a great movie and would love to read your thoughts/respones to my thoughts! I've been chomping at the bit for a two-and-a-half hour time block to watch Melancholia so I don't completely miss the discussion, but everyone's latest posts indicate that you're all done talking about it, so I guess there's no rush now. I does open at the Little on the 23rd; maybe I'll catch it then.
I've seen Kieslowski's color series and loved it, but it was many years ago. I watched them at Houghton, where my eyes were first opened to the world of quality film. I would say that White was my least favorite as well, but I cold no longer tell you why. The Decalogue has been on my list for ages; I don't know why I've never gotten around to it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Freud's Cutoff

I've gone back a read as many of film club's Meek's Cutoff posts that I can find, and I have to say that I disagree with the assessment of Meek as a serpent. He never came across to me as being intentionally misleading. In fact, on more than one occasion, he defers to the judgment of others in the group. He presents himself with a lot of bravado, but the moment he's challenged, he backs down. Not like the Serpent of Scripture, always "seeking whom he may devour." I think that Meek is as lost as the rest of them. I've been playing with a theory that poses the entire wagon train as representing humankind's search for meaning. Different characters represent different parts of the psyche. I see Meek as the id, propelled by pride and instinct, but destined to be lost, regardless of its intention. Emily is the superego, seeking truth that places it outside of its comfort zone. Solomon is the ego, trying to reconcile the id and superego, focusing on the practicalities of the journey. The Indian is the Holy Spirit, or for those not inclined towards such specificity, the hope for salvation. But the way to salvation in the high desert is not something easily attained. It requires trust and patience and faith. It is often silent and doesn't explain itself. Sometimes it seems like it's not even all there. But in the end, humanity is led to the tree of life, which is actually the beginning of the real journey. And I wonder if the end of the film is not meant to represent that beginning of something--enlightenment, spiritual awareness, self awareness, salvation... The id's response is to cover for itself--"oh, we couldn't have avoided it, it was all planned out in the beginning, etc." It's fatalistic in its response, as it has to be, driven by its impulses. Emily looks for a long time at the Indian. She knows he's more than what he appears to be.
I wonder if the Genesis 3 reading in the beginning is meant really to refer to the end of the film, as opposed to what happens in between. I can't help but wonder if it's intentionally misleading, as if to challenge the audience to look beyond the obvious symbolisim to something deeper and more complex. Reichardt's having a little fun with us, and I love her for it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meek's Cutoff (stream of consciousness review)

It's every bit as good as everyone is saying. I found in it shades of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Waiting for Godot, Lifepod/Cube (essentially sci-fi remakes of Lifeboat, which I haven't yet seen) without the murderer, and (visually) Days of Heaven. I was amazed that the aspect ratio was so effective at conveying the large empty spaces. In fact, I wonder if the aspect ratio is somehow responsible for suggesting the ironically confining nature of the wide open spaces. I loved the sound editing. The rumble of the wagons was so often like thunder. Did anyone else besides me wonder if the Native American was mentally ill? Everyone knows someone like Meek, don't they? Some of the emigrants thought he was evil and leading them astray on purpose, but he seemed more to me like one of those people who doesn't know when and how to admit that they're wrong (or lost). That said, it's interesting to read that in the actual historical version, at least one person (Tetherow, actually) felt that Meek was succumbing too much to the whims of the people, and then they were criticizing him for it. Of course, the movie is very little like the historical account. From the little bit I know about the westward expansion, it was rare for so few wagons to travel together. Also, Meek brought a new wife along for the infamous journey.
Michelle Williams: wow, what a performance! I've seen a few of her films, but Incendiary, a much different role, was the only I recalled without looking it up. I loved Wendy and Lucy, but, you know, the brown hair threw me off and I didn't recognize her.
I knew it has a "what the heck" ending, but endings like that still throw you off, even if you're expecting them. I have a habit of watching the time elapsed on some movies (tense ones especially) to try to predict what's going to happen next. And when there were only 15 minutes left in the movie and they didn't seen anywhere close to any kind of resolution, I had a feeling we weren't going to get an easy ending.
Of course I thought of Tree of Life at the end--it was a literal connection, obviously, but I'd already had Malick in mind throughout the film due to the quiet and contemplative attention to detail. The end is also when I thought of Waiting for Godot (I'm referring to the play, by the way--I haven't seen any of the film adaptations).
The sense of foreboding without any obvious danger present was very real and effective--this is what reminded me of PAHR, one of my all-time favorite films (and overdue for another viewing), which also ends with a lot of unanswered questions. Any writer/director/cinematographer who is able to produce a sense of dread in the viewer when the sun is shining and there's not a cloud in sight (literally or figuratively) has a corner on my attention, and, in my opinion, has master an aspect of filmmaking that few have been able to master. I have a lot of respect for that.
I'm sure I would benefit from watching Meek's Cutoff again, but we'll see whether or not the new and unknown wins out against it (it usually does, sadly--when I see films again, it's almost always because I'm showing them to someone else). But it will be around for me to see when I'm ready, I'm sure. Unless the world ends in a cloud of yellow gas because there's no Green Lantern to save us.

I'm having a hard time catching up to all your blog posts because I'm so far behind--I haven't seen Drive, Cold Weather, or Melancholia yet. I don't want spoilers so I don't want to read your posts. And when it's not the latest new movie, you all go back to black-and-white where my knowledge, experience, and motivation is scant. Yes, there was that nice little horror foray around Halloween, but I was out of the country and missed it. And the Meek's Cutoff discussion was so long ago, I'm sure no one will be interested in discussing it anymore. Sigh.

I anxiously await John's insulting sarcastic response to my pathetic pity party.

Monday, October 17, 2011

No Wonky Internet Here

So I really don't have an excuse for not posting except that I haven't been watching too many films lately, between trying to catch up with my comics reading (I've caught up with Marvel, almost done with DC--which probably gets me halfway there) and packing for my trip to France. If I haven't mentioned this yet, my family is going to France for my cousin's wedding; we'll also check out Switzerland for a few days as well.

Here's the not-so-impressive roundup from the last few weeks:

The Back to the Future Trilogy: Watched all three with the family (Amy only watched the first two). Enjoyed them thoroughly all over again; I probably haven't seen the third one since the early nineties. It's by far the weakest, but still a solid entry (if you can forgive the stupid ending). The first one is just brilliant. I confess to my judgment being clouded by nostalgia somewhat, but it's definitely a substantial film. All three, in fact, adhere surprisingly well to the time travel rules that have been set up (whether or not I think those rules make a logical case for a time travel scenario. We are, however, talking about time travel, so it's not like anyone knows any better than anyone else how it would work) for the films. A few points I questioned in the third film we cleared up by one of the special features. I appreciate that kind of attention to detail, especially for a third film in a trilogy. I also got a kick out of the very Empire-Strikes-Back-like ending to the second film. You kind of have to watch the third after that (though my wife didn't think so).

Overall, I feel like I'm doing my duty as a parent by exposing my son to what I consider to be the best of pop culture from my childhood/adolescence. Amy actually suggested getting Back to the Future, but I'd been meaning to bring it home for awhile.

Everything Must Go: This was pretty solid. I liked seeing serious acting by Ferrell, though in a way his comedy is very serious anyway. So it's not surprising that he can act like this. I liked the film and liked its open-endedness, but at the same time, you're not sure where to go emotionally once the credits start rolling. I think I would have liked a little more information about what happened to the characters, especially Kenny. I also didn't like the adultery angle, but I guess I'm a little sensitive to that particular subject. It made me lose respect for a character I'd really liked up to that point.

Halloween 2 (Zombie): This was put together well, but was still missing something. I'm not sure what. I don't buy the connection between the little boy and the psychopath; we would have seen evidence that something was wrong with the kid by the time he was 10 or 12 or however old he was when he was in the institution. That said, you could get away with saying the whole sequel took place in Myers' mind while he was dying in the first film. I'd buy that...
I also had a hard time with the scene where he bashes the stripper's head against the mirror. It makes sense that we're supposed to understand that he's indiscriminate about who he kills, but between trying to get us to sympathize with Myers via flashbacks and via his occasional selectivity (why doesn't he kill the trick-or-treating kid and his sister?) concerning his victims, I find it hard to believe there's absolutely no moral compass in his head. This turns the stripper scene into a violence-against-women-in-particular-for-no-reason scene, which I always have a hard time with. Notice he also leaves the sheriff's daughter alive so we can have a heartwarming scene between her and Angel. I could be wrong about this; I'm trying to find a reason for why a scene disturbed me when similar ones didn't, and I may not need to. In fact, I'm probably a total hypocrite because I don't take issue with Jason's indiscriminate killing. This still seems different somehow, though. I see Jason as being a lot more mindless than we're being led to believe Michael Myers is.
If Zombie doesn't try to make any more, the two of these together will stand as worthy remakes of the classic series. It was an interesting (and somewhat successful) experiment on Zombie's part (I keep bringing up Zombie's penchant for trying to get the audience to sympathize with unrepentant killers), but let's not tarry here any longer.

I also want to mention again how lovely my conversation was with Brandon about Antichrist and its connections (and disconnections) to horror. I really hope he will write more about it since I'm to lazy to do so right now. He'd do a better job than me anyhow.

That's probably it for me for the next couple weeks at least. If I have internet access, I'll probably pop on Facebook here and there. I doubt I'll be watching many movies though. Mentioning that reminds me that the first time I saw Starship Troopers it was when I was last in France, and I still got the gist of the film despite it being dubbed entirely in French.

I skipped a lot of the discussion about Cold Weather and Drive because I haven't seen either. I'll definitely be watching the former, but still on the fence about the latter.

And, John, you'll never let me live down saying you're not a mumblecore fan, will you? I made an assumption based on a few offhand comments; clearly I was in the wrong. You've seen more than I have, so I'm not one to talk. Though I notice Duplass films don't warrant as much attention from you--am I right about that at least?

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I cannot say that I understood Dogtooth. That is not to say that I didn't appreciate it. What makes me appreciate it is its original idea, creative cinematography, and muted and detached mood. It was pleasant to watch (most of it) from a purely visual perspective.
But the content...
What can one say about the content?
It was difficult for me to settle into the film in some ways because it required for me such a huge suspension of disbelief.
I tried hard to think about what might motivate parents to raise their children in such a way. The father talked about protecting his children, but there was nothing rational about the way he went about it. Unless the mother and father were conducting some kind of top secret government experiment, or they were aliens or from the future, or some such. But that requires adding a layer that is never alluded to in the film.
I couldn't help but remember references to homeschooling in some of the conversations about the film when it was a Hot Topic. This doesn't connect in any way to my experience with even the most conservative homeschoolers. I may not agree with their methods or even their underlying assumptions, but at least its all held together by a worldview that has a measure of internal logic. The film didn't seem to have any of that.
So when the violence and the incest happens, it doesn't impact on more than a visual or surface level because it's not held together by anything. I didn't even find myself disturbed by it (well, the dead cat, yes) because it just all seemed so unbelievable. To clarify, emotionally vs. intellectually disturbed.
This includes the apparent inability of the "children" to recognize that things are amiss. Granted, the oldest does eventually, but the other two seem unaware that what's going on is everything but normal. Again, it's pushed to an extreme that makes it unbelievable.
There were interesting elements, no doubt. The brother over the fence, the monotone manner of speaking, the airplane business. But it didn't convince me.
Now maybe I'll go back and re-read the debate from earlier this year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Quiet City

You know that one spot in the hallway, or the corner of the room--the spot where you decided to put that little framed picture you really liked? And then once you put the picture there, you knew in that moment that the picture could never go anywhere else and that nothing else could ever go in that spot? And you don't know how you missed that potential for so long? That's what Quiet City was for me. I don't want to say anything more about it, because if you don't know about it, you shouldn't before watching it. So I hope you do watch it and let me know what you think. Lisa, I'll especially need your validation on this one (Ben, too, perhaps), because I'm not sure how the rest of the cynics and atheists in film club will interpret it. And if nothing else, maybe calling them cynics and atheists will pique their interest in the film. 

I don't want to hear it, John. I know, I know, you have a mild and grudging something-approaching-respect for mumblecore.

Dance Party USA was also a very good film, but it reminded me too much of Kids, though it wasn't nearly as depressing. Not nearly, thank God. However, if there's one kind of character I have a hard time sympathizing with, it's the womanizer. I have little to no respect for womanizers, and if one decides he's suddenly going to develop a conscience, my instinct is not to feel happy for him, and supportive of his journey towards wholeness, but to say to him, "Welcome to the f%$#ing human race, you neanderthal." Gus was far too despicable to me for the movement his character made over the course of the film to mean much to me--especially for me to think that he even remotely deserved someone like Jessica, who, rootless as she is, already knows what she doesn't want for her life, at least. Then, the other part of me kicks in and reminds me that everyone deserves a chance to change for the better. And I can appreciate Gus's visit to Kate and his desire for real contact with his friend (who, while seeming to be the more evolved of the two initially, turns out to be just as much a neanderthal, albeit one with less opportunities to indulge it than Gus). But if you disrespect women so much that you would do to one what Gus did to Kate, you've got a loooooooong way to go before I'll give you some credit for your growth. I'll admit that I am judgmental about this, and I'm not proud of it, but it's where I am.

So now I've seen two Aaron Katz films and I have to say I like his stuff better than the Duplasses' thus far. I really, really, really want to see Cold Weather now. I got Puffy Chair for cheap at Record Archive a week ago, so it looks like I'm wading deeper into the mythos and mystery of this style of filmmaking.

I also saw a Film Movement film, Fraulein, with my wife a few nights ago. It was your standard moody/heartwarming/brooding European film, which I'm typically a sucker for. But I actually kind of hated the ending, and it caused me to distance myself from Ana's character, and almost undid all the positive things the events of the film had accomplished thus far between her and Ruza--as well as among all the characters, generally speaking. There's got to be some middle ground between bleak European realist endings and syrupy American optimist endings. A few films get there, but I don't see it nearly as often as I'd like.

Oh, wait--Quiet City, anyone?

"If you like...
...gratuitous strings of vulgar language (for the sake of cheap laughs rather than honest character exploration), pseudo-science, nerd ignorance and prejudices, cheap shots at fundy evangelical caricatures, anal probe jokes, notorious product placement, hit-you-over-the-head-obvious-because-you're-stupid film and pop culture references, dumb road trip conventions, bromantic deconstructions of male friendships, cardboard characters, and a lame plot that doesn't do much to transcend any of the weakest of the above...

If you like all of those things, you'll love Paul."

John, I LOVE all those things, especially when Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are participating in them! I'll have to see Paul right away! Thanks for the recommendation!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bits and Pieces

Check out Adrienne's review of DBAOTD

I want to officially recommend Win, Win. I don't know that I have a lot to say about it other than it's a great feel-good story that doesn't seem cliched or unrealistic. There are some genuinely-emotional tingly moments. Both my wife and I loved it and want to show it to the boy. It's rated R, but seems to be barely R (a lot of F-bombs). It's about an everyman lawyer who takes on an elderly man with dementia for less than ethical reasons, and ends up in the middle of a very complex moral dilemma involving the elderly man's daughter and grandson. The acting is great (Giamatti almost never disappoints me), and there's a fair amount of humor peppered in that feels very natural despite the dramatic tone of the film.

The night after I watched DBAOTD, I saw Bava's Kill, Baby, Kill. It was decent enough, but it was so late I kept falling asleep. One thing that was interesting was that the ghost was played by a girl without any special effects (aside from makeup), and she still managed to be superbly creepy.

I watched Wrong Turn with Eliza Dushku 2 nights ago. Solidly entertaining hillbilly slasher film a la Hills Have Eyes/Deliverance (but not nearly as good, as it's a lot harder to justify the hillbillies' murderous behavior--though at least there's no rape in this one). Can Dushku play anything but a tough girl? she does it well, but there's really no mystery in her performance for me anymore. Jeremy Sisto is underrated.

I read some reviews in Entertainment Weekly recently that made me interested in a few recent films that I added to my wanna-see list: Miranda July's The Future, the documentary The Interrupters, Another Earth, and The Whistleblower. Yesterday, Adrienne recommended to me Stephen Merritt's (Magnetic Fields) documentary Strange Powers.

And that is all for today.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Scary Isn't Everything, But When It Is, It's Wonderful

I don't get outright scared often at horror movies, either. Like I said, I've been spoiled by the movies I keep mentioning. And you probably won't find them scary because what you take into the theater really affects your experience. It's true for any film, but it seems to be more polarized with horror. If I go in with the wrong expectation, I can have a terrible experience. You have to be willing to let your guard down and go along with the ride to truly appreciate horror. Most of the time, I expect to have fun and get startled a bit. And I still get tense even when I know what's going to happen. I'm thinking of a roller coaster ride, actually. Do you like roller coasters, John? I'm usually pretty good at guessing what's going to be a more quality horror experience vs. a more campy one. But once in a while I get thrown off like I did last night. And it's a real bummer. So this exercise of "what's the scariest movie" is ultimately doomed to fail, because it sets you up to not be scared because you're expecting it.

You like lists, right? I'll make a list of elements that go into what makes a horror movie scary for me. It won't be exhaustive, because it's off the top of my head.

1) The characters don't make stupid decisions, one after another. In Insidious, the wife says, "we need to leave this house" and the husband says, "okay" and they leave. What? When does that happen in horror movies? It really surprised me. So I'm thrown off a bit and don't quite know what to expect, leaving me open for a good scare. Horror that relies on people making stupid decisions makes it too easy for the viewer to disconnect. It can still be fun to watch, but not necessarily scary.

This reminds me of a video I posted to YouTube a few years back about the movie Rest Stop, a classic example a film with a character that makes asinine decisions repeatedly:

2) You don't see the bad guy until the end, if at all. The reason we're afraid of the dark is because we can't see what's there. The unknown is terrifying, whether it's a monster or a job interview. If you can see something, you can kill it. Even with the best special effects and the most talented character designers, no monster will ever be scarier than the implication that there might be a monster and you don't where it is. The Others was a great film, not only because of the twist ending (which I didn't anticipate at all), but because you couldn't see anything. This is why the Paranormal Activity films work, and why I suspect they won't for much longer. I think that every horror film director wants to be responsible for the next Jason or Pinhead or Alien and finds it nearly impossible to resist the temptation to try to make their monster scarier than all the rest. But unless your monster is a human being (which are ultimately more terrifying than all the others put together), once I see it, I'm not scared of it anymore. It will still make me jump, but you know I'm thinking, "If I were there, I'd do this and this and this and KILL IT." I know the parameters, I've got some control back. Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and it's because you never know what really happened there. It's also why I like The Happening, despite its flaws. I've got a soft spot for nature-is-evil horror movies. I also thought White Noise was scary, even though it didn't get great reviews. There's a scene at the end where Michael Keaton is getting thrown around by some ghost creature, and it's freaky because you can't ever quite see it.

3) A good twist of some sort, or several. I can't think of a lot of examples of this where it's done well, probably because horror tends to be predictable by nature. The Orphanage comes to mind, as does The Devil's Rejects. But it's nice to be surprised every now and then. I've probably seen more examples, but I've been interrupted a lot in writing this post, and my mind is scattered. An original premise can make at least the first half of a horror movie scary (until it comes to time to resolve everything, of course). Reincarnation and Pulse didn't work entirely as scary movies, mostly because of plot resolution issues, but they had unique ideas. The Ring was also scary for this reason, and not as good as it could have been because it didn't know how to resolve itself. It's honestly one of the biggest challenges of the genre--knowing how to finish well.

4) It knows the difference between "gory" and "scary." Slasher films are scary when the teenagers having sex in the woods are being stalked and they don't know it. Once the machete pins the two of them together, or the chainsaw grinds them to pieces, or the axe hacks off their limbs, the viewer actually experiences a sense of relief. Okay, they're dead, but the tension is over. Now, if the director decides to show in great detail the separating sinews as the monster pulls an arm out of its socket and blood is spurting and pouring out everywhere, and the dude is throwing up bile because he's in so much pain--well, that's not scary, that's just gross. A good horror director knows that scary does not equal gross. Both scary and gross can be horrifying, but a movie with a lot of violence does not make it scarier. Implied violence is often scarier than graphic violence. Not that I don't enjoy a good bloodbath every now and then; again, it's just not scary. Insert here our discussion of torture porn.

Okay, I'm going to put this thing to bed now. I also forgot to mention that I saw Winter's Bone last week, and it was excellent. Scarier than Don't be Afraid of the Dark, incidentally.

Responses to Dark

John, I agree that in another setting, I'd really like these creatures. I was actually rooting for them, hoping (I knew in vain) for there to be some sort of twist in which they slaughtered all the characters in the film and danced merrily on their broken, bloody bodies. Fantastical monsters is one of Del Toro's strengths, and you see it much more in Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies. Remember the thing with eyes in its hands? Creepy.
Chris, this was not a good horror movie. It should have had a PG-13 rating. Don't be so nice to it.
I hate to be such a curmudgeon (you guys know this is rare for me), but I was pissed that I didn't get scared. I've been spoiled by movies like Paranormal Activity 2 and Insidious lately (I know I keep mentioning them but they're really good) and was settled in for some real thrills. If my expectations hadn't been so high, I might have enjoyed it more. I'm serious about watching another horror film tonight. I'm going to do it right now. And eat a couple of ice cream sandwiches.
We want YOU! Arrrrgh!

Don't Be Afraid of This Movie

Spoilers be damned. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a colossal disappointment. First of all, it is NOT. SCARY. AT. ALL. Lisa, you may as well catch the next available showing and join the discussion, if there is much of one. After the first 5 minutes of the movie, NOBODY DIES. It takes like an hour for there to even be any more blood, and even then none of the characters clues in that all is not as it seems. The man pulled a pair of scissors (or whatever) from his shoulder. THAT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT, THAT IS WEIRD SH** GOING ON. CHECK IT OUT. LOCK THE BASEMENT. There comes a point in almost every horror film where the characters are making so many stupid decisions that you cease caring what happens to them. Since it took OVER HALF THE MOVIE for there to be any horror whatsoever (I wasn't actually looking at my watch), my apathy for the characters took longer to set in. Even the little girl, bless her heart, made ridiculous decisions that were completely out of character. You know they don't like light, so when they attack you in the bathroom, don't try the handle for ten minutes when you know you can't open the door. TURN ON THE #$@%! LIGHT. Kim, dear, when the handyman tells you to get the girl out of the house--the handyman who clearly has a history with the place--get the girl out of the house, THEN GO TO THE #$@%! LIBRARY. Yes, I know this sort of thing is standard for horror, but so much of it happened, I couldn't suspend disbelief for that long.
And the little ancient evil creatures must have been locked up so long that they were out of practice with the whole "one life must be taken" thing. They spent more time screaming and posturing (Adrienne said that the one "looked like a wrestler") than doing any actual killing. They had plenty of opportunities to take the girl, plenty of opportunities to kill Dad and Kim. And Apple Pie Granny to boot. Dad and Kim didn't have a night light. What's the deal? Get 'em out of the way. Later on, poor Kim is lying on the floor, completely vulnerable, and for some reason they leave her there to fashion a complicated rope and pulley system to get Sally down to the basement. Kill 'em both first, then drag their asses to the basement. It's a lot more economical. Oh, and by the way, it was really nice of them to detach the wire they put across the stairs before Sally came down. And it didn't occur to them to disconnect the power to the house until everybody decided to leave. These creatures are idiots. No wonder they're hungry.
Okay, I did like a couple things. First, it's nice to see Katie Holmes on the big screen. It's been awhile. Though it probably wasn't difficult for her to relate to a film that required her to be trapped in a house with maniacal screaming creatures. We have no way of knowing if these creatures jumped up and down in a frenzy on a couch on national TV, though. I wouldn't put it past them.
Also, the little buggers are pretty cool looking when they're scampering around the house, waving sharp objects in the air. We got a little too much face time with them, and they became less and less scary as the film wore on. By the end, I was thinking, "I could take these suckers. Fling a few against the wall, stomp on a few, scream right back, etc."
There is no way this movie was denied an R rating because of "pervasive scariness." Again, to quote Adrienne, "he begged for an R rating."
I'm going to read the other posts now and then go watch another horror movie to get the fix I didn't get at the theater. Then I'll eventually need to rewatch Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage to remind myself that Del Toro does actually know how to make a horror movie.
By the way, I'm not even going to get into the ending. The stupid, stupid ending. So Kim, in death, is now taking care of the poor orphaned imps? Does this sound familiar at all?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Exactly That, John

Thanks for the clarification about your status as an appreciator of mumblecore--and for the heads up about Cold Weather. I just put Quiet City and Dance Party USA on hold at my library. Bring on the film revolution! Or just some pizza and chips. I really don't feel up to it right now.

Sadly Overdue Post

I've watched a few entertaining (mostly) but throwaway comedies lately. One I expected much more from. Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses are the kinds of comedies that you don't expect much from, except a few laughs, and they both delivered on that count. Kristen Wiig's performance in Whip It is still my favorite, though. When she's playing serious, she's actually pretty good. I hate to say it, because I'm a fan, but her range of funny voices is somewhat limited, and over the course of her career at SNL, a little played out. And I really hate myself for saying that. I love you, Kristen! Rochester rules! It's not that I don't think she's talented, she maybe just needs to expand her repertoire a bit. Performance is not an insignificant part of my job, and I know what it's like to get to an acceptable plateau and then get lazy. It happens. Charlie Day was the best and funniest part of Horrible Bosses, and the two Jasons performed on par. Wiig has more range than Bateman, I'll say. Though I still haven't gotten tired of his only character. I love you, Jason!

Your Highness was a BIG disappointment. The endless string of crude jokes barely held the plot together and they weren't even trying at their English accents. I may regret saying this, but Portman looks good in medieval leather. So sue me, but I bet at least half the population agrees. It's fun watching Natalie Portman kick ass. David Gordon Green is a VERY talented director. George Washington was very compelling (from Flixster, 3 years ago: "Great storytelling. I'm interested in what Green would have done with his characters without the help of the 'dead kid' plot device."), All the Real Girls was intense and emotional, Pineapple Express was funny and original (Flixster, 2 years ago: "Danny McBride stole the show. He's worth a star all by himself. The rest was funny but the plot was disappointing. Franco was really funny too."). So what the hell is Your Highness? It looks like they probably had fun making it, anyway. They should have sent the money to Africa instead.

I would like to say a few things about Hannah Takes the Stairs. I know already that John isn't a fan of mumblecore, but what about the rest of you? I think there's something endearing about it. I love what it means: anyone can make a movie that's worth watching with a limited budget. I like the emphasis on the present in the plot, the open-ended finish, the moral ambiguity, the lack of smooth transitions between scenes. It's all very down-to-earth. But I will acknowledge that it is an acquired taste. As John knows, I was also quite fond of Baghead (thanks again, John!) and Cyrus is on my list (I'd like to see what Duplass does with a budget). Hannah herself is not really a likeable character, but you still find yourself rooting for her to get her sh** together. I liked her character less as the film progressed, but didn't necessarily blame her for her lack of self-awareness. Gerwig played the part very well. I really hope we get to see more of her (well, more roles anyway. We've already, um, seen quite a bit of her in pretty much every movie she's been in).

Very interesting and entertaining discussion about violence in horror movies. I have to confess I'm largely past my torture porn stage. There was a resurgence in the subgenre around the time Cabin Fever came out (still one of my all-time favorite horror films) and a few films did a decent job "reinventing" the style that became popular in the seventies or thereabouts, before Halloween and Friday the 13th made gory horror mainstream. I've mentioned them before: House of a Thousand Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, Hostel, probably Wolf Creek (though it really was too much for me), and the first couple of Saw films were noteworthy additions to horror's sordid history. But it was when Captivity (2007) came out (which I didn't see) that I remember thinking, okay, this is not about filmmaking anymore. It's moved on to raising the ante in shock value. As much as Hostel is maligned, Roth was referring back to the exploitation films of the seventies, not trying to compete with the glut of torture porn films that now flitter across the screen several times a year. That's why I think it stands out. 2005 was the last good year for torture porn, in my opinion. I will probably not watch A Serbian Film or Human Centipede. I'm not sure I want to see how far the envelope can be pushed.
Antichrist, on the other hand, is not torture porn. Not even close. The violence is shocking in part because it's so sudden and extreme. The shock is as much about the contrast to the relative "quietness" in terms of physical violence to that point as it is about the violence itself. The violence in Antichrist is a vehicle more than a player, unlike your typical torture porn film.
I'm still very interested in horror, but my interest has moved somewhat towards supernatural horror, which has been revitalized by films like Paranormal Activity and Insidious--I still think it was really scary, Brandon! I'm really looking forward to seeing Don't Be Afraid of the Dark tomorrow night.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Black Death

First off, this is not a horror film. Drama? Sure. Action/adventure? Ok. But not horror. Even though there's a witch it in. Still probably NSFL, but if she were to watch it with someone else, maybe it'd be okay. Did you watch Braveheart, Lisa? This is less violent than that.

I loved your reference to The Wicker Man, Brandon. It reminded me of how much I loved the original and HATED the remake (you should have never left Las Vegas, Nicholas). What a creepy film. I need to see it again, and so do all of you.

Okay, so I enjoyed Black Death. No surprise there; I enjoy most of what I see (except for Godard, that bastard). But there are specifics: great setting, nice cinematography, wonderful mood. I agree with Ben about the first part creating tension and setting the stage. I almost enjoyed that anticipation more, when we didn't know what they were going to discover in the remote town. SPOILERS next.
So, a part of me was thinking, maybe they're not really pagan and this is going to be one of those mistaken identity/bloodthirsty Christians kind of films. But then they were pagans. So then I thought, maybe they'll be peaceful pagans and will be contrasted with the bloodthirsty Christians. But then they were bloodthirsty pagans. I agree with (?) that our sympathies are meant primarily to lie with the Christians; I honestly don't see any redeeming qualities presented for the pagan side, especially when the narrator pulls the rug out from under their secret to staying healthy by saying that they were just remote. Their paganism didn't save them from anything, any more than the Christians' religion saved the Christians.

So I suppose then that the message is plague (and whatever it's meant to represent) destroys us all equally, pagan or Christian. That we're all subject to the same pits and snares as human beings, whatever our religion. Which is a fine message, if you subscribe to the Christianity that is presented in the film. Which I don't. And I don't mean the violent side of it (which is about its historical context), but the defiant, never-say-die, Mel-Gibson-freedom side of it. If you believe them, there abound stories of martyrs who sang and called out to God when they were about to be burned or quartered or flayed or whatever. They submitted peacefully. These guys swore and yelled and beat their chests (or the equivalent) but never called out to God once. My recollection could be wrong, but even the first guy who was singing was singing a drinking song, not a hymn. I thought that seemed odd. So even though these guys were supposed to represent my kind, and seemed noble enough, I didn't feel a kinship with them. It's true that I now ally myself with a fringe group of Christians (Mennonites) that themselves were persecuted by Christians back in the day, but I didn't even recognize that much of the more evangelical or fundamentalist strains that I came from, which in addition to holiness and purity also emphasized a personal connection to God (yes, it's true, not all fundamentalist Christians are hateful assholes. Imagine it!) that none but the novice priest seemed to have, which itself is even called into question by the end of the film.

Which brings me to the next part, where I agree with John that the most compelling aspect of Black Death is the young priest's transformation from a man who protests the murder of a young woman to a killer himself bent on vengeance. I actually have to go to work now and am out of time, but I don't know that I'd have more to say about it except to talk about the things that lead him astray and perhaps relate them to the things in life that lead us astray in similar ways: guilt, unforgiveness, lack of confidence in our beliefs, etc. It was really a sad and tragic film for me, but not for any reason other than the one young man's downfall. Other than that, it was an entertaining period action film.

Side question: why are witches in films either super hot or damn ugly? You don't often see normal-looking people as witches in these kinds of movies. It's the patriarchy again, isn't it? Dammit.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Oh, and Also

I loved the Village and never saw the ending coming. Too bad all you cynics have to try to figure everything out before the end of the film. You missed a great picture. And I will maintain that The Happening is totally underrated. Nature Strikes Back? That's freaking brilliant, if you ask me. Kirk Cameron isn't worthy to wipe M. Night's ass, if indeed he even wipes it himself.

La La La

I cried during The Passion, I thought Crash was really clever, I laughed a lot during Sideways, and I own the Garden State Soundtrack as well as three albums by The Shins. So screw all of you. 

I also hate change and don't post in protest/out of despair each time a new member gets added. Nothing personal, Chris. I've linked to you on my blog now, see? There is going to be a point where I'm really not going to be able to keep up with all the posts, but that's not yet. You guys write a lot. Damn.

Brandon, I'm so sorry you didn't like Insidious. Maybe I played it up too much. But I also have an uncanny ability to lose myself in even the worst storylines, so I don't always get distracted by the same things you all do, I think. A movie has to be really bad for me to dislike it, unless it's by Godard. Speaking of which, I think I may understand a little better why I don't like him. But more on that later. Maybe. I thought Insidious was really fun and scary, except for the very end which disappointed me. God forbid anybody make a horror film with a happy ending. I agree the demon looked like Darth Maul, but I didn't let it distract me. And I agree that once you see the monster, it takes away some of the fear. That's why I liked the second part of the movie so much. We moved from being afraid of this demon creature to being afraid of this spooky netherworld. The "monster reveal" didn't end the threat and I liked that a lot. I also liked that the film changed from being a creaky-door ghost film to a alternate dimension (Hellraiser, anyone?) demon film. It was interesting to a guy who's seen far too many horror films.

I watched Tree of Life a second time and it was actually a lot easier to understand. He really does lay out his premise right at the beginning. The line "Mother. Father. Always you wrestle inside me. Always you will" underscores the theme. Not grace, not nature, but the two of them battling together in each of us, producing good and evil. "I do the things I don't want to" and all that. And I think the ending is not heaven but perhaps a dream. The first time we see the older Jack, he's waking up and he gets flashes of the landscape we'll see more fully later. The creation scenes were even more stunning the second time around. I really love this film. Especially the penis fish.

Here's what I've been watching lately (pulled straight from Flixster, because it's easier).

Captain America: This movie made me feel good, even though I'm a pacifist. The story was well told, and aside from a couple things here or there (not counting that super soldiers are even possible), I didn't have to suspend my disbelief too much. I especially loved the evolution of the costume. It fit well in the story. Chris Evans may be perfect as Captain America. I loved that Dum Dum Dugan was in it but not named as such. It felt like a little treat for us comics fans, and there were a few others, like Agent Carter (Sharon Carter's mother, perhaps?) and Tony Stark's father.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II: I liked part one better, for the same reason I like Empire Strikes Back better. The scenes in the first part where they're just waiting and it's quiet and beautiful are amazing.

Green Lantern: I was disappointed, I'll admit. Too much going on. Parallax was too big for a first movie and Mad Thinker was too distracting. Reynolds makes a good GL though, and I'm glad they're planning a sequel.

Cold Souls (2008): Great concept, muddy follow-through. Barthes spent too much time trying to sell a complicated plot when she should have trusted the strength of the premise more (and Giamatti's always fantastic acting) and worked with that. Too many unanswered/unsettled matters at the end. It wasn't satisfying.

No Impact Man (2007): Challenging and thought-provoking. The whole baby subplot seemed really unnecessary. I live with constant guilt that I don't live up to my values when it comes to being green. My ass is so lazy about some things.

Fail Safe (1964): Very interesting watching this after Dr. Strangelove. Two unique takes on a similar situation. Strangelove is superior, but this one definitely has some powerful moments. I had a hard time with the quick explanation for the computer glitch that sent the attack order; I found myself distracted by wanting more information. It just seemed so improbable to me, given the complex process by which an attack order wound be made.
It's impressive that a movie that is almost nothing but a bunch of people talking in rooms could be such a nail-biter.
After a crazy opening dream scene, the film slows way down for a half hour or so, until the glitch and jamming signal cause the planes to head for Moscow.
One of my favorite scenes is the first conversation between Hagman and Fonda with the Russian premier. The way two were on either side of the frame, with the phone in the middle and the blank wall behind them, made it a powerful moment in the film.

Mary and Max (2009): Beautifully animated and acted. Great dramatic timing and voice acting. PSH is not even recognizable as himself! Sad ending, but not as sad as it could have been, I suppose.

Transformers Dark of the Moon: 20 minutes too long, at least. It was like a 5 scoop hot fudge peanut butter and strawberry sauce sundae. It seems like a good idea at first, and it tastes good going down, but then you get a little belly ache and you have to take a massive dump a few hours later.

Sleeper (1973): Really funny in parts, but uneven. I got it (except the Miss America scene) and I liked it, but it didn't work as a sci-fi film. I understand that's not the point, but as a fan of sci-fi, I felt the genre deserved a *little* more respect. For the sake of comedy, Allen asks us to constantly suspend our disbelief, and it gets to be a lot after a while. All that said, however, if I watched this again, it'd likely get an extra half or whole star. It made a mildly good first impression on me. 

I'd be interested, Jeff, in where you think Sleeper stands in Woody's oeuvre. 

Ben, I'm excited about Season 2 of Walking Dead as well. Have you read the comic yet?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tree of Life--Also, Days of Heaven

Well, it took me a couple of hours (and a loss of sleep two nights ago) to catch up on the big Tree of Life discussion and here are my nutritional facts:

80% of your daily allowance of Apologizing
110% of Discussion about the Discussion about Tree of Life
55% of Defending/Disregarding the general filmgoing public
15% of Actual observations about the film Tree of Life by Terence Malick

So don't feel bad, Ben, you didn't miss much. I would still like to hear more specifics about what film club members think of the film itself, without all that other stuff. Of course I missed the in-person discussion, so maybe I'm just SOL.

A couple of things stick in my mind from what I read, however. I really liked John's analogy to a symphony. I actually thought that myself while I was watching it. I like the idea of repeating themes and movements. I'm not a big classical music fan, but I have listened to classical music that felt like a story. Tree of Life was a multimedia symphony: music, lyrics, and visuals.

I also thought Jeff's first post about the film really captured a lot of what made the film meaningful to me, and this bit here almost said it all for me:

"I think it might be unfair to lump Terry Malick in with someone who would shoot a 10 hour film of a brick wall or something. I think he’s too genuine and sincere for something like that. If someone like Hanake (who I really like mind you) made a film like that, I wouldn’t be surprised because he’s an asshole and he likes to pontificate. Malick isn’t like that to me though. He really is sincere, almost naively sincere you’d think at times. He’s just a kid with a movie camera who is in love with everything he sees. He treats every image with reverence. He’s Ginsburg at the end of Howl shouting “Holy Holy Holy Holy Holy Holy.” He’s got an earnest poetic spirit that is just rare for a filmmaker, which is one reason I love him so much. He’s one of the only people who can shoot an image of grass swaying and REALLY REALLY mean it."

Not bad for an atheist. Are atheists spiritual, by the way? How exactly does that manifest itself?

In terms of it being accessible, it really was for me. I didn't understand it all, but my mind is only one part of me that I bring to a film. My eyes were glued to the screen the whole time. I actually held my pee for about a half an hour longer than I should have because I didn't want to miss a single frame. Not bad for a film that has been criticized for not having a story. Besides, Malick told us exactly what the film was about right at the beginning. Nature vs. grace. Granted, there's a lot you can do with that, but the film was a meditation on those two themes and how they relate to and oppose each other, as far as I could tell. I didn't need any more than what I was given. I was (and am still) okay with not understanding.

And in terms of the narrative, I was actually able to connect quite strongly to it. I know Lisa took issue with the emphasis that was placed on the whole father-son aspect of the film, but that was very powerful to me. Here's a little personal tidbit, too. I felt that it validated me as a father. I inherited a son when I got married and have struggled with legitimacy as his father because I came into his life later on. But we struggle in some of the same ways Jack and his father struggled. And I ached for them both because I know hard hard it can be to connect and to guide, to be both transcendent and imminent to your son. And then to try to be human yourself. Tree of Life made me feel like I am a real father. 

I have never seen anything like Tree of Life. I don't even think I can categorize it. I watched it with my wife (who also was moved by it) and felt closer to her because of it. We had experienced something important together that was beyond words. I am trying to figure out when I can see it again in the theater. I feel sad to think of what it will lose confined to a smaller screen. Malick was able to capture something that I have seen few other filmmakers able to. It's true that being genuine has a lot to do with it. A lot of auteurs can come off being a little cynical or detached, even if they don't mean to be or don't want to be. You become a good director because you can see things that others don't, and unless you have a lot of faith, there's a lot in this life that can get you down. But there is no pretension in Tree of Life, no guile, no double entendre. There is hope and doubt and faith and loss and life and relationships and death. I loved it. And I want to write more about it after I see it again.

I watched Days of Heaven tonight, and I'm sorry to say but I was disappointed. Crazy, I know, but do you blame me? After being spoiled by Tree of Life and The New World, it's hard for Days of Heaven to compete. Don't get me wrong; I liked it, but it was a shadow of what was to come for Malick. I also wish that dramatic movies didn't always need to have someone important die in order to be dramatic. It's why I liked King of the Hill so much. There was real suffering, but the family got to be together at the end. The end of Days of Heaven, as my wife said, seemed to fizzle out. She also said that she felt that the Shepard's character seemed out of character when he went crazy. The burning of the field makes sense, but not tying up his wife. So I liked it, but it was a little too sad at the end for me. And maybe it's just the mood I was in. Tree of Life made me feel uplifted by the end, and so did The New World (I mean, we knew how Pocahontas died already anyway). But I kept hoping that Days of Heaven wouldn't end like I had a feeling it was going to. And, Lisa, you might appreciate this, but I think I would have enjoyed it more had I not known it was by Malick. I had higher expectations than the film deserved. I really hope you see The New World, Lisa, I have a hunch you will like it and it might help you to understand Tree of Life better. Or at least make it more accessible.

I haven't seen Thin Red Line in a long time, so I only have a vague impression of it. But it still seems like there's a definite progression in Malick's films, moving away from traditional narrative into a more visual (symphonic?) narrative style. I think he'll have a hard time topping Tree of Life in that regard.

Also, I don't think Tree of Life was anything like any of Kubrick's films. Even the most obvious film to compare it to (2001) doesn't have a heart like Tree of Life. It has beauty and evolution and even awe at the vastness of the universe, but the killer robot ship kind of makes it the opposite of Tree of Life. I'm sure I will be taken to task for that simplification, but I just don't see Malick as being like Kubrick in many ways (except for the last three letters of their last names).

One more thing. The ending of Tree of Life took me out of the the film a bit, because it was so abstract. It's not that I didn't like it, though; I wasn't expecting it. I think I might appreciate it more the second time around.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tree of Lots of Blog Posts

I'm going to have a lot of catching up to do on Wednesday after I see the film. Yikes. In other news, I saw Cave of Forgotten Dreams over the weekend and absolutely loved it. I'd say more, but I think my post would get lost in the Malickfest that's going on right now. Hopefully I'll be able to join in soon.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Four Things

1) John, you pick on my feelings, but you're secretly jealous that I can genuinely enjoy even the worst movies while still acknowledging how bad they are. I can find light in any tunnel. It's a gift, I know. Don't feel bad.
2) from now on, Jeff, you can argue for me. You said a lot of stuff I was trying to say way better than I did.
3) Brandon, thanks for the props. John is a tough debater. I'm definitely out of my league. That said, the truth (ordinary and moral) of the matter is that the beauty and mystery of art is that no two people like exactly the same things. The most brilliant critics can be on opposite sides of the same work and both be right.
4) At the other end of the spectrum, I have only a Masters' degree after 8 years of college and well over 200 credits. But I loved every minute of all of it. And I loved what I've learned because of, apart from, and despite my college education. Whatever your degree or pedigree or lack thereof, the most important thing is to be humble about what you know (or think you know), because there's always more to learn.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You Win, John

I have to confess that your debating skills are better than mine. I can't continue to defend Midnight in Paris on the particular grounds we've been debating it. You're right about Allen manipulating us into sympathy for Gil. And you're right about challenging my particular wording of the message of the film. I was a bit too general, I think. But as I said to Adrienne in my comments, my enjoyment of the film was 80% story and 20% message. It made me laugh, it stimulated my imagination, it reminded me that the present is good (which I don't think is a shallow message), and Gil left his fiancee before he cheated on her. That's why I liked it.

As for Tree of Life, I'd really like to see it this weekend, but it's my wife's birthday, so what she wants to do trumps. I'm also stressing out because Meek's Cutoff and Cave of Forgotten Dreams are both playing locally this week and I don't know when I'm going to get to see them.

I did see The Lower Depths a couple days ago, and pretty much agree with both Jeff and John on various points. I liked the friendship between the baron and the thief, but the rest of it didn't really speak to me in any way. I also realize it was the thirties, so maybe it wasn't as tired a plot device then, but I myself am tired of suicide as a plot device. In this case in particular, it didn't really seem to fit the rest of the film. I am not familiar with the play, however. But if it's true that Renoir adapted the screenplay significantly, then he wouldn't be blamed for changing that part either. I would be interested to see Kurosawa's more accurate rendition.

I also saw Green Lantern. I was disappointed. But I don't want to talk about it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I Made a Distinction (And Then I'm Done)

You responded to my question about whether or not every movie has to be challenging  with "No. ought to ring of some moral truth in order to satisfy." I would have said that Midnight met that qualification. "Learn to be happy where you are and with what you have" is a moral truth, as far as I see it. Yet you seemed to differentiate that with some other concept of moral truth, which I assumed to be a higher order of moral truth (and which I distinguished by using the phrase "ordinary truth" to refer to what I saw as Midnight's underlying message). So are we talking about "all moral truth" or "moral truth that is important to John"? Transformers (and, yes, you acknowledged that it wasn't the best comparison, but let's go with it) makes no effort to promote any kind of message other than your overused be-a-hero-and-protect-the-ones-you-love message that every action movie promotes. And that doesn't challenge us Americans because we already have an unhealthy obsession with that particular value. Midnight in Paris challenges those of us who tend towards romantic or nostalgic idealism to acknowledge that there is potential for greatness and mediocrity in any age (and any situation?) and that running away from the present does not let you escape your own restlessness and dissatisfaction. That it comes from Woody Allen, who is practically the king when it comes to dissatisfied and restless characters in his films, makes it that much more powerful a message. When Buddha says, "Be at peace," I say, "Easy for you to say." But when Woody Allen says, "Be at peace," I think, "This man knows what it's like to not be at peace." And I listen a lot more intently. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that what I got out of it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere (more response to Midnight)

John, you call it flattery, I call it Allen's invitation to the less informed to enter into his fantasy without too much difficulty. How could someone less in the know enjoy the film if it contained too many obscure references? Yet, the portrayals are not so dumbed down as to be insulting. So, the fantasy is convincing. And I did go into it blind, so I was delighted when I figured out what was going on.

Gregory Beyer (Huffington Post) says a little differently what I was trying to express about Allen's accessibility in earlier posts: "...Allen has been the focus of much positive attention in academia, and it's been said this is due to his mix of high and low culture (beavers that take over Carnegie Hall, Kafka references alongside men who long only to sit waist high in gravy)..."

The pedantic guy was not disdained because he had knowledge, he was disdained because he was not humble in his knowledge. But that said, I don't feel that he was meant to be portrayed in an entirely negative way. Some of what I read leads me to believe that Allen may have been pointing a finger at himself in that role, while Wilson represents the doe-eyed, awed person that he either used to be or wishes he could be. A few writers have commented on the lack of darkness in this film, relative to Allen's usual cynical edge. It's a part of what I love about the film.

I'm not criticizing your desire for moral truth in films, John, but I do wonder why it's so important as to trump ordinary truth. I mean, is not the film's message about learning to be satisfied with and make the best of what you have not moral enough? Does moral truth in films justify more for you the western privilege and expense of the film industry? I could be convinced by that argument more than any other probably. I find movies that ring of truth to me more appealing than ones that don't. But I can still sit back and enjoy a crappy Transformers movie because I love watching %$#@! robots fighting.  Ultimately you're right, though--when it comes to feelings and art, there's no accounting for taste.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

John Is Wrong About Midnight In Paris

...but I will likely not be able to convince him of it. And probably won't be able to defend it adequately enough for his satisfaction. And am not sure I want to try too hard because the beauty of nostalgia is that it is a feeling. If you analyze a feeling too much it isn't a feeling anymore.
But let's see how far I get, shall we?
I think that if this were directed by almost any other director, I might be inclined to accept your "carefully crafted to appeal to our pseudo-intellectual selves" comment. But, in my limited experience with Allen, I have never gotten the impression of pretension from him. At least not deliberate pretension. I tend to see his filmmaking as genuine, even if it is from a perspective that a minority of Americans can relate to. But the reason he has been so successful despite this is that he makes that perspective accessible and relatable (somehow--but who knows how? It's a part of his gift) to a pretty wide audience. Like I said, I didn't get all the references. I have the most basic knowledge of the famous characters Gil interacts with, which was why the exaggerated portrayals were not just funny but helpful to some degree. If you had never heard of Hemingway (God help you), you would still find his character entertaining. If anything, the film does the opposite of what you claim because of this. Had I indeed never heard of Hemingway, might I be inclined to pick up one of his books after having seen the movie, curious about the man's writing because of the entertaining and accessible way in which he was portrayed?
Does every movie need to be challenging? Isn't it okay to simply remind us of a simple but timeless message--that there's no time like the present? And in a way that's lighthearted and fun? I'd prefer Allen's message any day to any of those taken from a couple dozen of your most popular romantic comedies of the last ten years combined.
Lighten up, John. Rodin's wife was Rose. I'm sure of it. I read it in a two-volume biography the other day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson doesn't really have great range, but if you can find the right role for him, he's fantastic. Midnight in Paris's Gil is a right role for him. He captures the pathos of your typical Allen-like lead, but without the neurosis that usually comes along with it when Woody himself plays the part. I genuinely enjoy his films, but the stammering and relentless self-deprecation wears thin on me after awhile.

I had no idea that the film was a fantasy, so I was tickled pink as the plot unfolded. I love time travel in non-sci-fi films because it associates itself with the plot and characters differently than in standard sci-fi. It's refreshing.

It was interesting to me that the moral was so overt. It's nothing unusual for Allen to project himself fairly obviously in his films, but his moralizing is usually more subtle, if it exists at all. I haven't seen a lot of his films, but what I've seen is fairly well spread out over his career, and I can't say that I've seen anything that comes as close to preaching as this does. Not that I mind it; it's a good messsage. But all I could think of was, "Woody's feeling his age and is starting to get nostalgic." Because, of course, one can get as nostalgic about the present as any other time period.

The acting was terrific. I loved the self-referential portrayals of so many art and literature icons. It's a bunch of inside jokes, sure, but if you get them (and I didn't get all of them) it's really funny. Heck, it's funny even if you don't get them. And Wilson played the foil for these characters really well. Cotillard was lovely and understated as usual. If you want to see her in an unusual but compelling role, check out Love Me If You Dare.

I also appreciated that the budding romance between Wilson's and Cotillard's characters didn't play out in a stereotypical Hollywood way. The final scene did for sure, but it also completed the circle to the first scene quite pleasantly.