Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Done

I've chased my last picture. Goodnight, boys.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Tales of Brave Ulysses

Here's what I think of Llewyn Davis.

Spoilers, so just stop reading now.

I think that the Coens were hanging out listening to old records and decided that it'd be fun to try writing some song lyrics. This led to talk of a movie.

Being the Coens, they got someone to put money behind it. Being the Coens, they got T Bone Burnett interested. They got actors who could sing. They thought up a few episodes in the life of a 60s era folk singer that would lead to singing.

Thinking about working with T Bone again, they started thinking about what a good time they had messing around on O Brother which got them to thinking about how they love riffing on their favorite work of all time, that wellspring of Western Lit. They decided to string the songs together with a meandering Odyssey motif, underscoring it by mashing it up with that other classic story, The Incredible Journey. This film is about a young cat trying to find his way home.

Except there is no direction home. There is no home. Dig?

Finally, the Coens wanted to hang out with their good buddy John Goodman so they wrote some crazy shit for him so he could ham it up and they could all have a great time together. And the audience gets what it wants, which is exactly this larger-than-life Goodman (and life-sized Goodman is already pretty large). Of course, his role is there for a reason beyond its immediate humor (he is the aged musician and he is the one who gets us the info about Mike Timlin in a way that undercuts the emotional horror with a good laugh).

For all of what I imagine was slap-dashery in its conception, it is also carefully constructed and executed perfectly. It works as a loving telling (I insist that the Coens are always loving) of one folk-singing jerk's story and it works as an examination of the broader cultural shift of which the Greenwich folk scene serves as microcosm.

It all adds up to a great film. It's a film that I respect. I wanted to love it and I almost do, but I've had to talk myself into doing so. The film just didn't pack the same punch for me that recent Coen titles have. I didn't immediately connect to it emotionally the same way I did with True Grit and A Serious Man. Then again, it took me a second viewing to really appreciate and love No Country for Old Men. And it took me over five years and a few re-watches to understand that The big Lebowski is a masterpiece.

I guess I'm in the "this is minor Coens" camp at the moment. The thing is, the Coens are so in control, so at the top of their game, that even their minor work is more important and more worthy of regard than just about everything else being made on film today.

The best thing that I can say about Inside Llewyn Davis is that I'd love to watch it again, sooner rather than later.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I hate ketchup.

I just realized that I'm behind on a few films here. Letterboxd has spoiled me. I feel like I've already written a little bit about all of these things on either Letterboxd or CR5FC-FB.

Re-watching World's End confirmed for me that I love the film.

I've already expressed my distaste for Frances Ha over on Facebook.

Ordinary People, our mandatory non-mandatory pick, is a solid film with great acting, even if the Freud stuff resolves it all too easily if not neatly.

Side Effects loses its way in the end.

The Kid with a Bike killed my iPhone. I enjoyed it anyhow.

Ender's Game gets some things right, but mostly it's like some grotesque puppet version of the book that appears alive but is obviously not.

I'll write about American Hustle and Inside Llewyn Davis soon.

Frostbitten

I enjoyed Frozen a whole heckuva lot.

Brandon wrote: "True princess love, set to song and not even slightly out of step with every other movie of its ilk, trumps all and sends its tumbling back into the closet."

And this is precisely where he's wrong. Not only is Frozen "out of step with every other movie of its ilk," it does them one better. It is refreshing to see a children's film that feature not "strong girls" but "mostly real girls." We get a powerful girl learning to harness her powers through opening herself to others and we get a young pixie girl maturing into a fixer-upper. The film examines how previous "princess films" have revolved around prince-princess romance. Here, when the prince tropes show up, they are subverted. When the pauper tropes show up, they are lovingly played with. The central emotional drama is between two sisters. The way that this is played out is superb. The "true princess love" on display is "out of step" with all previous Disney "princess" movies. In a similar way that Brave explored mother/daughter dynamics, Frozen takes a look at sister/sister dynamics. It is quite nice that Disney, under Lasseter's oversight, is making films in a feminine key.

And...

I thought that Olaf the snowman was funny. Which was as much of a surprise to me as to anyone else. I always hate Disney "animal friends."

The musical numbers added an element of glorified speech, a heightened realism allowed by movie magic. The montages possible through many of the musical acts communicated quickly and efficiently attitudes and shifting feelings and the passage of time. And the Olaf summertime song was funny.

I thought that the animation was consistently lovely throughout.

Finally, I admit that I'm totally biased toward enjoying a movie when my lovely daughters are giggling all around me.

I do have criticisms of the film.

First, you're right that the songs aren't all that great.

Second, there is a whole lot of shorthand that's built up in those musical montage scenes. I wrote above that they are effective. I think that they are. I also think that they're a bit of a cheat.

Third, related to first and second, I think that the whole "conceal/don't feel" aspect was way too heavy-handed and the parents are portrayed as real idiots (and the troll king doesn't come out looking so wise either). Related to that, the "coming out of the closet" moment in which Elsa embraces her "repressed identity" is stupidly over-the-top. That sequence itself wouldn't have been that bad on its own considering how it is offset later by the need for the loving community of her family (her sister) but it's disturbing that it's chosen to play again over the ending credits as if the message of that song is the central message of the film.

So, Frozen is flawed. So what? I had a great time watching it and think that it might just be the best "Disney Princess" film so far. Brave (Pixar is basically Disney at this point) is the better film in terms of its craft and sustained narrative, but Frozen wins a whole ton of points for some of its final moments. These two movies together are the best two films that Disney has given to young girls. They both beat the hell out of the abomination that is The Little Mermaid.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Why Two, K?

Computer Chess, in which I copy and paste Brandon and then respond.

"I love your thoughts on COMPUTER CHESS though I didn’t get any of that from the actual film. For me the film’s crux was in the origins of artificial intelligence, and how computers are just extensions of our own flawed intellect."

Sure. What's interesting about the film, though, is that for all of its focus on super-smart nerds, the film explicitly explores relational identity and not specifically intelligence, flawed or otherwise.

"I loved the subplot of the computer that couldn’t play other computers correctly and all of the bizarre and paranoid theories that erupted as a result."

Sure. And I think that you are right that this computer should be seen as an extension of the human mind that built it. For me, one of the funniest lines in the movie is something like "What game is he playing?" when the computer starts making seemingly random moves. Chess is an orderly game, a logical game. Human relationships are rarely orderly or logical.

"These characters are a petty bunch and I wish the that CC would have explored the burgeoning relationship between Peter and Shelley rather than meander around the hotel in search of more idiosyncratic distractions, more food for thought. I thought that about half of these stories were decent while the others were just there to assist the finale. I didn’t much like the storyline involving the other group sharing the conference room and I felt that a lot of scenes were wasted on that, none more annoying than the scenes with Peter and the swinging married couple."

Sure. But, here's where the film is brilliant. Instead of following a single thread and developing it, it hops around its plots as if it's distracted by hyperlinks in a Facebook feed, always returning to the central story but stopping to watch YouTube kitten videos and getting a dose of pseudo-intellectualism by skimming some drug-fueled philosophical essay before returning to see what your other friends are up to.


Initially, I felt the same way that you do about the conference group and the married couple. I spent some time thinking about WHY those elements are there. I don't think that the movie is just randomly slapped together. That group is there to emphasize that this film is "about" relationships, not artificial intelligence. These sleazy swingers are perfectly portrayed as pathetically searching for some next thing to jolt their relationship. They don't know how to relate to one another outside of bringing in new stimuli, whether it's a third partner in bed or some sort of ritualistic simulated bread sex. Contrasted with this are the nerds who carry their computers with them everywhere, staying up late with their computers, sleeping with them. The scenes of these guys (and gal) carrying the giant computers in are funny. They also serve as a cultural commentary because we're all nerds now, carrying our computers in our pockets or in our laptop bags into our hotel rooms to fall asleep to that wonderful blue glow.

"I admire any film---initially--- for administering an “anything can happen” aesthetic but this also brings me to the bland visual construct here. Initially it exists to evoke a time and place, wryly and for the sake of a laugh, but as characters start to lose it why wouldn’t Bujalski stick with the bland visuals. If this thing is truly set free why not switch it up? I know that might sound like a petty complaint but it bothered me. It’s interesting considering Cuaron’s “hackneyed and frustratingly empty” philosophical/theological attempts compared to CC’s visual ineptitude and what I guess I would considered half baked ideas I could go on but in the end I enjoyed it for the most part. I don’t share your enthusiasm obviously but I can see how you would go bonkers for it."

I think that CC is more carefully constructed than you give it credit for. And I don't agree that the film consists entirely of "bland visuals." The look is, of course, intentional and perfectly evokes (as does the acting and set design) the atmosphere of hope and longing that existed in an age coming out of the 70s and heading into the 80s. And I don't think that the ideas are "half baked" either. I do think that each digression circles around and adds to the film's center, the computer chess tournament. The film ends with a startling punchline that might just seem like another wacky thing for the sake of "anything can happen" but I think that it serves to underline the theme of the film, that so many people find it easier to relate to a machine (or other people mediated through a machine) than to other people. Every human contact is frustrated. Finally, we embrace the machine.

I may have been primed to see all of this in CC by having read this article around the same time that I watched CC:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/20/young-people-japan-stopped-having-sex
"Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan's giant cities, are "spiralling away from each other". Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms "Pot Noodle love" – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality "girlfriends", anime cartoons. Or else they're opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes."
"Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can't get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers."

I might try to write about Gravity later. 

Peace.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Futures Past

I owe Brando a post. Here it is. Short and not so sweet.

I don't think that I have to write about Star Trek Into Darkness. It is a film with no integrity. There are a few thrills and a little bit of swollen excitement in the service of teen boy fantasies. Admittedly, I might have loved this steaming pile of spaceturd when I was 10 or so. There's enough in it to keep interest and I might have even been generous and given it three stars instead of two, but I can't forgive the blatant misogyny of having a shot of a woman undressing and standing in her underwear, which shot adds NOTHING to the plot of the movie. There is no reason for it except to titillate young boys. Bah humbug.

Computer Chess, I've mentioned repeatedly to Brandon, has captured my imagination. It is an alternative Terminator in which there is no violent Skynet robot uprising because the robots have already won. Computer Chess outlines the seeds of revolution that led to our current science fiction reality of constantly tending to our electronic masters, serving them feasts of electricity and showering them with our loving devotion. In a world in which everyone has forgotten how to look one another in the eye, we program our machines to play our games for us, hoping that the machines will win.

Prisoners is a good thriller. It reminded me of Tell No One and a couple of other recent thrillers like it; solid puzzle pictures that resolve nicely if a little too neatly.

Gravity was much better than I had anticipated but it has also been grating on me more and more. Cuaron's use of symbolism seemed hackneyed and frustratingly empty. Uhlich, on Letterboxd, nailed it: "Cuaron knows the theological symbols, but he can't imbue them with a true sense of spirit. He's almost always posing and you can sense it." Yep.

Madame De is a pretty empty film. A man has an affair. His wife has an affair. There's a pair of earrings involved. There's a lot of dancing and flirting. Sorry, Brandon, I stand by my "silly infidelities" comment. There's just not all that much going on here that's worth revisiting.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Haw Haw Hawnting

It's that time of year, I guess, for us to recycle all of our horror enthusiasms and horror disapproval. I want to like horror films. I want to be scared. I want to be shocked. Unfortunately, I'm more often than not bored and left scratching my head.

So it is with The Haunting.

Praised by many as one of the greatest horror films of all time, The Haunting failed to win me over. I respect it. I found the sound design excellent. I found the voiceover narration to be among the best I've ever heard in communicating an interior monologue running against and commenting on the visual action.

Mostly, though? I was unimpressed by the haunted house story. I was especially unimpressed by how it plays out and how it resolves. The camera tricks and sound design seemed too obvious at every time. Maybe it's because I'm hyper-aware of these things when watching an horror film, my mind's way of protecting me from ever actually having to be frightened by any silly old image. I don't know. I respect the film. I don't much like it.

All that said, there is one very effective moment that moved even me, horror skeptic that I am. When Julie Harris begins dancing among the statues, I could feel all the horror and hurt and strangeness that the film was trying so hard to communicate. That scene works.


Catching Up

Copying and pasting Letterboxd capsules (note the incorrect dates that I didn't bother to fix). As you guys know, I watched zero films in September. That is the record worst slump since I started this project. October's already looking a little better. I don't have the energy for a full post about any of these. It's at least a positive sign that I'm watching films and thinking about posting again. Finally, if any of you like Shakespeare (and who doesn't?) and like Joss Whedon even the tiniest bit, then do yourself a favor and rent Much Ado About Nothing as soon as you can. Right now, it's my favorite film of 2012.

The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942
★★★  Watched 21 Oct, 2013

Some good laughs. I' probably rate it higher if I wasn't distracted by how oafish and imbecilic the father is portrayed as, essentially coaxing the audience into feeling that the father deserves to be the victim. This is all tied up with how the antihero gets away with being a lovable rascal.

Stranger Than Paradise 1984
★★★★  Rewatched  16 Oct, 2013

Not quite a "my essentials" pick but was very important in my development as a cinephile. This and Overboard starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

Much Ado About Nothing 2013
★★★★½  Watched 15 Oct, 2013

Delightful.

Fortune Is a Woman 1957
★★★  Watched 12 Oct, 2013

A solid enough picture with some real tension in the last 2/3rds, almost but not quite ruined by a rushed and too obvious resolution.

The Goonies 1985
★★★  Rewatched  07 Oct, 2013

Goonies holds up just fine.

The Oregonian 2011
★★  Watched 06 Oct, 2013

I'm on the fence about this one. I respect it for fully committing to its dark comic logic.

Silver Bullets 2011
★★  Watched 05 Oct, 2013  5

Swanberg is sad but unrepentant. His movies don't matter. And won't matter.

Museum Hours 2013
★★★  Watched 04 Oct, 2013  4

Worth seeing. At its best, it is one of the best films I've seen in years. At its worst, it's too on-the-nose, self-contradictory, and loses its way in the final third.

Monday, October 21, 2013

4 Years Ago - Cassavetes Appreciation

All apologies for my lack of enthusiasm lately. As a trick or treat (you decide), here's something I wrote four years ago that I never went back and finished. I present it now "as is" in the hopes that it might shame me into writing like I used to write when we first started this blogging madness.

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Killing of a Chinese Bookie has occupied my mind for the several months since I first watched it.  It has set up camp and seems to have no intention of leaving.  Nor do I wish it to.  This is a welcome invasion.

Within a few days of watching the film, I stumbled upon a copy of the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus while at work.  One line caught my attention and lodged itself in my brain in the same far corners that Bookie had firmly established itself.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, Glowing Furnace of Charity…

There are no better words to describe Cassavetes.  Glowing Furnace of Charity.  In his generous creativity, Cassavetes participates in a firestorm of grace, actively reflecting, through a glass darkly, the source of all creative energy.  There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other master film directors.  None are as firmly grounded in love as John Cassavetes.

Paul Schrader has written a book on “transcendental cinema.”  Schrader also wrote a negative review of Cassavetes’ Faces and seems to dislike Cassavetes in general.  I think I know why.  Cassavetes did not make Transcendental Cinema.  He created Incarnational Cinema.

Cassavetes’ films all evince a mature awareness that we’re more than just souls awaiting deliverance.  Our enfleshed bodies require redemption here and now.  Our goal should not be to move beyond being human, but to become fully human.

Cassavetes brings the Heart of infinite love to the finite folk of our specific time and place.

Some other directors have clearly shown us the dis-ease of modern life.  For all of his faults, I respect Michael Haneke, but he’s only shown us the evil.  He knows no way out.  Cassavetes’ art is concerned with the reconciliation of persons to one another through the purification that comes from passing through the furnace of charity.  In short, his art is love.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The World's End is the best film of 2013

http://open.spotify.com/track/0aKZjYCe4fedgwFFTXypYj

I was wrong
I was wrong to ever doubt
I can get along without
I can love my fellow man
But I'm damned if I'll love yours

In a bar that's always closing
In a world where people shout
I don't wanna talk this over
I don't wanna talk it out
I was quite impressed until I hit the floor
Isn't that what friends are for?
Pain looks great on other people
That's what they're for