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.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

No One's Getting Kicked Out

Lisa, Lisa. Nobody cares what any of us thinks about movies except for us (and maybe a few lurkers). There is no criteria for film club except the willingness to spout your opinion on the internet about what you're watching so we can read it and spout our own equally useless opinion in reply. You should have seen John and Brandon go at before the rest of you joined. If there was any kind of criteria for the club then, they likely weren't meeting it either.

That said, I LOVED your assessment of Before/After Sunset. Particularly enlightening was the female perspective on what the pressure to be the "perfect indie movie girl" is like. Because you're right; there's a lot of male idealization and objectification going on. We're used to the pressure of trying to find a girl like that, but it can't compare to trying to be that girl. Thanks for the reality check. I still love those movies, but you make me want to watch them again with your observations in mind.

I can't make any distinctions myself between "best" and "favorite," so I'm with you there. Top 10 lists totally stress me out, which is why I make it clear when I make my lists that I'm always talking about favorites.

Speaking of which, I'm currently working on a "favorite instrumental film scores" list, so stay tuned. And if anyone's got one ready already, feel free to share.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer of the Blockbuster

Looks like you and I will be headed in different directions for a couple of months, John. I get to see films in the theater so infrequently I decided I've had enough and am going to see as many big budget blockbusters as I can this summer. It helps that there's a lot of comics-based stuff; okay, it's the main reason I've made the decision. To boot, I've got a 13-year-old son who wants to see them all with me--score! Say what you will about the blockbuster film, but BIG EXPLOSIONS sound so much better in the theater than they do at home, even with my $10 garage-sale speakers hooked up to the TV.

Brandon, I loved the first Hangover, but the second was just (yawn--I can't even finish that sentence). As for Super 8, I would recommend it because, as I said, the kids are the stars and they make the film what it is. I could watch them interact with each other for another two hours. Homesick aliens, whatever.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Super 8

What makes this film fantastic is the kids. Their dialogue, their spunk, and their interactions with each other all felt so genuine. They reminded me not only of some of the best qualities of your classic eighties film kids (ET, Goonies, Explorers, Stand By Me), but also a little bit of my own early adolescence. The alien, the explosions, the was all fine and good, but it would have been no different from any other Hollywood summer blockbuster were it not for those amazing kids. That's really what the film is about, anyway. Yeah, that's a little cliched, but it's okay to be a little cliched if you do it right. I was even able to forgive an excessively shmaltzy end scene. I think this may be destined to be a classic coming-of-age film. Well, done, Abrams.

Friday, June 10, 2011

X-Men First Class

I'm on board for the thirties thing, too. I haven't watched The Blue Angel yet but I hope to soon. Maybe later tonight. what exactly are the parameters of the week? Sunday to Saturday? How long do I have left until the next assignment is given?

I saw X-Men: First Class last night and really, really liked it. It wasn't perfect, but it reminded me of the new Star Trek movie in that it wasn't trying to be what came before. It was telling a new story, with a lot of classic (and more recent) elements of the comics mythology artfully and cleverly arranged. I think because it was so different from the comics in terms of blunt narrative, I didn't find myself making comparisons, only smiling to myself when a reference was made to some aspect of comics lore. For example, in the film Beast becomes blue and furry because of a serum he creates to disguise his physical mutation, which has the opposite effect of amplifying his beast-like qualities. He extracts some of Mystique's DNA which explains why he's blue. In the comics, he becomes blue and furry because he takes a serum to intentionally change his appearance, but waits too long to reverse it. Much later on (after he is blue), he is tempted to take a serum that will "cure" his mutant gene, but ultimately opts against it. And of course, his being blue has nothing to do with Mystique. I like how they combined those different elements of the story together to create a scenario that makes sense and fits in well with the storyline. I love the X-Men--I've been reading in order over the past couple of years the classic Claremont back-issues, and appreciating even more the depth and complexity of the characters. However, it's a long narrative that to some degree gets made up as it goes along, with revisions and retcons galore all along the way. X-Men: First Class has the advantage of 40 some-odd years of story to draw from and tighten up, and it does a very good job of pulling together a lot of what makes the X-Men story so compelling. And, honestly, I expect a lot of superhero claptrap in blockbuster movies like this, but there was really a minimum of it here.
And Kevin Bacon is fantastic. I expect that history may well regard him as one of the best actors of his generation. He may not have always been in great films, but the guy has incredible range.

Other than that, I've seen Hangover 2 (John's right, it's a dim reflection of the original, sad to say) and POTC 4 in the theater (fun, better than the third, but ultimately shallow entertainment) and a string of terrible horror movies that are not worth mentioning except for a few, for recommendation purposes.

Lisa, I would recommend Roman to you--it's not a great film, but it's a quirky indie romance-oriented film with some unique and appealing elements. I often suspect that you like indie films for some of the same reasons that I do. Even in a film muddled with inexperienced production there can still be some lovely gems of original moments and ideas unsullied by the cynicism of the more established movie industry.

Brandon, I would recommend Live Animals to you. Again, not a great film, but another take on the torture porn genre that's a little bit original and a little bit ridiculous--and does have an exciting final 20 minutes.

I also saw a couple of Tobe Hooper horror non-classics: Mortuary and The Toolbox Murders, a couple of highlights from my B-horror extravaganza. The Toolbox Murders was apparently a remake, but with some added elements that led me to believe it was better than the original. It was part slasher, part supernatural, and part mystery. I'd almost watch it again. Mortuary was inferior to Toolbox, but still fun and tongue-in-cheek. And both films reinforced Hooper's reputation and a guy who likes to feature misshapen freaks in his films.