Monday, October 7, 2013

You Can Actually Survive in Space Without a Suit for About 30 Seconds if You Hold Your Breath

I just poured myself a bowl of Lucky Charms, so I think I will be able to stay focused long enough to write something about Gravity while it's fresh in my mind.
Wow, what a ride! But in addition to being really entertaining, this was a really well-crafted film. I kept wondering throughout whether or not it was realistic. It felt so realistic, I was able to suspend my disbelief for pretty much all of the film. I still have't read the NY Times article Adrienne recommended, where a scientist says that most of it is possible, but I never felt like too much was being asked of me in that way while I was watching it.
It's kind of hard to know what to write about it, because the plot is pretty much not a plot. A woman gets lost in orbit and makes it back home. So what makes this movie compelling? Well, there's a lot of suspense--Cuaron's pacing is nearly perfectly balanced between moments of calm and moments of intense action. There's not really much middle ground. It's either really quiet or really intense. The part where ghost Clooney comes and gives her a pep talk borders on preachy, but by the time you get to the end of the scene it balances itself out.
The acting was great and it was beautiful to look at. It grabs you at your core--survival and life is beautiful and all that.
I honestly thought I'd have more to say about it. I think I suck at writing movie reviews.
The End.
P.S. I gave it 5 stars in Letterboxd, and I almost never give a film 5 stars that I've only seen once. That should tell you how good I think it is.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Back in the Saddle (briefly, probably)

After a relatively dry spell, I've watched 9 films in the last 7 days--a feat unmatched in any given month since March. I don't know that that warrants a blog post, but for those who don't count anything but blog posts as official participation in film club--this is for you (John).
Most of what I've watched in the last week was unremarkable. Particularly Dinosaur Island (1994, Olen Ray/Winorski), which was so bad I was too embarrassed to log it on Letterboxd (but I'm not afraid to admit it to you guys). But there were a couple that warranted a few extra comments that I will add here.

I know most of y'all aren't into documentaries, but I thought Wish Me Away (2011, Birleffi/Kopf) was especially good. However, I'm not always good at judging the allure of the material vs. the quality of the filmmaking (see Brother's Keeper), so I don't know if it was a well-made film or not. I appreciated Chely Wright's transparency in the interviews--she comes across almost innocent and naive--and it seems genuine. When the camera's rolling, it can be hard to be genuine, and either she's a spectacular actress or it's real. The most compelling argument for why she would allow herself to be so vulnerable onscreen would be for the sake of those who would watch the film, so I'm choosing to believe it. I can't imagine anyone in film club (except maybe Ben) wanting to watch a movie about a Christian country music star coming out as a lesbian, but I'd like to recommend it anyway.

I remember when JCVD (2008, El Mechri) came out it made quite a stir--it being not only a more complex role for the usually one-dimensional action hero, but one in which he plays himself, or possibly a caricature of himself. I got the DVD on discount when a Blockbuster was going out of business several years ago and only got around to watching it recently. I only gave it three stars because the bad guys were unbelievably lame, but Van Damme's performance was really good. Can you do a bad job playing yourself, though? I could imagine anyone from film club watching this one, and would be curious what others' take on it is.

Rubber (2010, Dupieux) is about a car tire in the desert that kills living things using psychokinesis. I don't know if anyone from film club has seen this, but I can imagine everyone watching it as well. I don't think everyone would like it, though. Maybe they would. It's weird enough that one could accuse it of being too self-consciously so, but also multi-faceted in its weirdness. It's unusual in that you're not sure where the story's going overall, but within a scene you can predict with some accuracy what's going to happen next because it adopts some classic tropes and uses them for humor more than horror because of the fact that it's a tire instead of, say, a homicidal maniac. The other element of weirdness involves a subplot (or is the tire the subplot) that includes characters who are spectators and characters who break character as well as the fourth wall. I've seen a trailer for Dupieux's more recent film Wrong and am hoping to check it out soon.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


1. What film hit you at the right place and right time, pertaining to and illuminating things that were happening in your life the moment you saw it? 

The Mission. Though it does that pretty much every time I see it (I'm due for another viewing)

2. What would be your top 5 ranked Pixar films? 

1) Brave 2) WALL-E 3) Toy Story 4) Monsters, Inc. 5) The Incredibles
Yeah, that first one surprised me, too. Despite my issues with aspects of the film, Brave has a well-written strong female character that is a nice counterpoint to all those girly-girl princesses.

3. What movie/movies had the biggest negative effect on you?

Se7en and Fargo. I know, I know. But it had everything to do with where I was in my life at the time. Despite how good they are, they are both deeply disturbing films, you must admit.

4. What seasons seem to inspire you to see and write about films the most and least?

No idea. Depends on how busy I am. Maybe summer, because that's when all the superhero movies come out?

5. What are five movies that you love that you feel comfortable never seeing again?

To be honest, most films I never revisit. In relation to all I've seen, I have watched very few films more than once.

6. What anticipated 2013 film/films are you feeling the most uneasy about expectation wise?

This is blasphemy, I'm sure, but I don't really pay attention to what's coming out until I see a trailer for it. Or until someone in film club mentions it. I try not to have high expectations regardless.

7. Likewise, what former favorite actors are trudging down dangerous territory for you, also what actors have already strayed down the path to the point in which their name now means nothing? I’m realizing now that this is a mean sounding question.

I used to really like Nic Cage, but now...Well, you know.

8. What is your take on a screenwriter’s impact on a film’s success, in other words how much of an auteurist are you?

That's hard to say. If it's also the director, I'd say it has a huge impact. If it's not, it depends on how good the director is at translating a screenwriter's voice. Sometimes a good screenwriter and a godo director will cancel each other out because they can't morph their styles from one to the other.

9. What types of “provocative” cinematic trends/ideas still feel fresh, which seem to be losing their oomph in the modern age of self awareness?

I have no idea. Questions like this make me feel dumb.

10. What’s your favorite horror film of the 1990s (that isn’t SCREAM)?

Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge. Surprisingly good historical fiction/horror combo. You don't ned to see #1 or #2 to appreciate it, either.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Butting In

I didn't read Jeff's post, to which Brandon was responding, nor do I know to what film they are referring. But as a person who has committed myself to a religious order that eschews violence in all its forms, I feel compelled to butt in.

Depsite having attended Rochester Area Mennonite Fellowship for over ten years, I feel that every day I'm still learning what it means to be a Mennonite. So don't necessarily take my word as the word of all Mennonites, as it's filtered through my own experiences (before and up to joining) and personal understanding of pacifism.

First of all, pacifism in its strictest definition does indeed refer to refraining altogether from any kind of violence. I read a story about a Mennonite frontier family in America in the early 1700's who were slaughtered by invading Indians because the father refused to let his sons take up arms against them. At first glance, this might appear to be a complete waste of lives, and one could argue several compelling points against pacifism on this story alone. But what we don't often focus on is the impact such an act might have on others, namely the attacking Indians. Who knows what witness the family bore to that particular band of warriors on their journey back to their tribe? Who knows whether or not this act of determined principle didn't have ripple effects for years after? We don't, quite simply, so we act on the faith that what we do is right, even if we don't see the fruits of it.

All that said, my personal belief about pacifism includes not only refusing to act in violence (whether in word or deed), but to actively resist violence and speak out against it wherever it is being committed. It's quite the opposite of passive-ism. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an example of a wonderful organization that bears witness to violence between groups in strife-torn areas (Israel vs. Palestine, loggers vs Native Americans etc.) and reports globally about what is happening in those places. I went on a delegation to Palestine with CPT and was transformed by their approach to conflict resolution. There is a LOT that folks won't do when they think someone is watching.

Nonviolence is also about humanizing and deconstructing the aggressor. He is "us," not "them." When he is us, we reach out to help and heal rather than exact revenge. We respond with kindness instead of hatred, we forgive. Is this easy? Hell no! Is it above and beyond what a ordinary person should be expected to do? Hell yes! But is society going to change any other way? Violence begets violence begets violence begets violence. As the slogan goes, the only way to peace is peace. War only creates casualties and seeds beds of vengeance whose roots go down generations. The only way to stop this cycle is to stop committing acts of violence against each other, regardless of the reason.

So let's make it personal. Say (God forbid) someone commits an act of violence against my family. First of all, were I to say that I would have any idea how I would react in such a situation, I would be lying. Here's how I would hope to respond. If I were in any position to prevent the violence from happening--i.e. tackling a guy or putting him "in a headlock," I would certainly do so. I personally wouldn't consider this breaking any vow of nonviolence. Beating the crap out of the guy after I tackle him is a different story. I'm trying to prevent more violence from occurring while causing the least amount of damage to all parties involved. HOWEVER, I must insert that my first recourse would be to try to talk the guy down, etc. Speak to him as if he were human. Undercut his own effort to create an us vs. them dynamic--which is part of what enables him to commit violence against me and mine. I've heard amazing stories of women preventing themselves from being raped using this approach (not that I'm recommending that approach across the board, but we do need to reckon with these accounts). Hopefully we could calm the situation down peacefully in this way. But suppose (again, God forbid) things escalate beyond anyone's control and something terrible happens to my family. I hope that I would seek reconciliation and forgive. It's not something that happens overnight, but revenge doesn't undo the harm that's been done. And, like Joseph told his brothers, "You meant it to me for evil, but God intended it for good." And, as I mentioned earlier, there are ripple effects that we will never see. If my aggressor is not transformed, maybe someone watching my response will be.

I must reiterate that that last part is the weakest of all of what I said. The truth for me might be the complete opposite: in a rage, maybe I'd kill the guy. I really have no idea. I imagine, though, that it would wound me as much as, if not more than, dealing with the harm to my family. But it doesn't change what I believe to be right, and that is promoting peace wherever and however I can. It's the only way out.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Another Clue?

Is it telling, do you think, that Korine is married to a woman 13 years his junior? Having not seen both of his films that she starred in, I can't speak to her role as a muse, but I will assume that she is. It's interesting to note that he and another one of his muses, Chloe Sevigny, were also romantically involved for several years. Will he keep trading for younger models as he ages?

I agree thoroughly with Brandon that regardless of what you think of his films, Korine brings something unique and somewhat unsettling to the film world, and it and we are all better off for it.

SB Response to John and Brandon

It's nice to see Brandon as much at a loss as to where Spring Breakers fits as I was (I think that's what Brandon was saying, anyway). I think that it's hard for us to get a clear message because Korine himself isn't really clear on where he stands with it all. So in one sense, John, I agree with you--there is definitely a celebratory vibe here. But I don't think that's all there is to it. Just off the top of my head, maybe each of these girls represents a part of him and how he responds differently psychologically to the temptations of spring break. Part of him is a guilty backslider who retreats before things get really serious, part of him is a thrillseeker who only bows out when the fantasy can't support the reality, and part of him wants to go whole hog until there's no turning back. Maybe that's where the honesty in this film is--we all have different responses to the world's temptation, often all at the same time. What's the same, though, what's always the same, is the heady allure of spring break--the possibility of complete unaccounted-for freedom--where you can get arrested and a stranger will post your bail so you don't have to tell your parents. Where you can rob a chicken shack and not only not get caught, but be taken seriously by the huge black dude who could likely disarm you before you knew it was coming. Where you can enter a druglord's compound and leave unscathed with his Lamborghini after killing him and all of his men. Who doesn't want that kind of freedom? But the reality is that it would never happen that way, right? So while it's nice to daydream, how are the more tethered parts of our psyche going to respond? There doesn't seem to be an absolute morality here--spring break is bad only when you get arrested or shot or fondled by a creepy white wannabe. Religion is external and provides outward structure but no inner peace. One can only hope that Faith found some when she got home after her harrowing adventure. Who knows if anyone else learned anything.

Wild Things--I Mean, Spring Breakers

Okay, to be fair there's only one scene that specifically evokes the infamous threesome between Matt Dillon, Denise Richards, and Neve Campbell, but there's still a good-girls-gone-bad mentality that connects the two thematically. Spring Breakers does distinguish itself in other ways, despite playing with some familiar scenarios.

As usual, Korine can't help but be Korine stylistically--he plays around with the camera's built-in special effects like it's his first film (these kinds of things always seem fresh to Korine, and it's something I like about his style), moving from stationary to handheld shots to extreme closeups to intentional blurring like he's never tried them out before. Despite this, there are some beautifully shot scenes--the drive-by where we witness the robbery through the windows and the penultimate scene where the girls kiss Franco's dead body and the camera follows them upside down as they walk down the pier into the darkness. So, visually, it's definitely got his mark on it.

The plot weaves in and out of focus, which seems understandable to me since Korine tends not to bother much with plot in his other films I've seen (I have not seen Mister Lonely or Trash Humpers), so I would think a traditional narrative would be something that he might be less interested in. When Spring Breakers starts out, we think it's going to focus on Selena Gomez's character, and indeed it does for a good long while. Until Gomez decides she's had enough and is on a bus home and we never see or hear from her again. There were some interesting threads that had to do with faith and decision-making that Korine just leaves dangling. Korine then moves his attention to Franco, whose performance is both hilarious and terrifying, and his feud with his former best friend, a gangsta who thinks Franco's moved too far onto his turf. The three remaining girls get caught up in this lifestyle, but for the one who ultimately gets shot and goes home herself, it's still spring break. That is, until it isn't and, well, she goes home. Up until that point, I was struggling to find the structure of the film and I was able to settle a little easier knowing that he was going somewhere with the plot. He ultimately didn't finish that thread, but it was nice of him to have James Franco singing the plot repeatedly in case we missed how clever his story was.

During this second segment--the spring-break-for-those-not-faint-of-heart (to be contrasted with spring-break-as-an-escape-from-a-dead-end-existence, what we'll call the first segment of the film)--was my favorite scene and perhaps the most memorable. I am, of course, referring to James Franco pretending to play the piano and singing a Britney Spears song while the gangsta girls twirl around with guns in tier pink ski masks.

Wait, there was actually a much more memorable scene in the film, but I'll probably spend the rest of my life trying to get the image of James Franco giving a blow job to a couple of gun barrels out of my head.

Anyway, I thought there was something very clever about the Britney Spears scene, what with the Disney girls and their loss of innocence. I won't be able to phrase it right, but the whole Disney actresses do gritty gangstas was the most deliberately focused Korine was with this whole project. I'm guessing the point he's trying to make is somewhere in the vicinity of the whole innocence thing being an illusion to begin with, or maybe something about taking the symbols of late adolescent female innocence and deconstructing them as symbolizing nothing but the idea of innocence which is a fallacy to begin with. Except of course in the case of Gomez's character, who didn't really buy into that scene anyway. Something along those lines, but I can't word it right.

Ah, I started this right after I watched the movie and am coming back to it more than a day later, so I don't have my thoughts together as well. What else can I say...?

Overall, I liked it. No surprise there. But I think I liked it for some good reasons--arresting imagery (boy oh boy), a vastly entertaining performance by Franco, and what I think is some smart commentary about adolescent ennui. Though on that last point, I'm not sure whether or not I'm giving Korine too much credit. Actually it's something about his films that is frustrating and keeps me coming back for more--is he saying something important, or just trying to be shocking? It's really hard to tell. Does he have his finger in the pulse of teenaged restlessness, or is he just projecting his own inability to grow up--a unquenched desire for the freedom of an amoral youth that he himself never had? Or didn't have enough of?

There were some things that were ridiculous, too--elements of Franco's performance went beyond brilliant to silly and overdone. Spriiiiiing Breaaaaaak.... Spriiiiiiing Breaaaaaaak... What the hell was all that?

I loved that Franco got shot in the head before the big shootout took place. That was unexpected. Girl power, yo. But I'd never believe those two girls could take out all those gangstas without dying themselves.

Okay, enough of my rambling mess. Now to see what you all have written.