Monday, March 30, 2009


I did it. I watched Twilight. And I'm speechless. I'll write a bit here, but I'm skirting around the movie instead of confronting it directly.

I'd rather watch Let the Right One In ten more times than watch Twilight even once more.

But, I can't bring myself to write that Twilight is a bad movie. It's not. It succeeds in pretty much everything it attempts to do.

I just can't find any access point. Twilight is a bizarre pop culture phenomenon that only too clearly illustrates how truly divorced I am from the mind of the average 21st century American teenage girl.

I disliked Let the Right One In, but I think that I understood it. It spoke directly to me, to the child that I was and to the man that I am now. There was a communion of sorts between me and it, even if we both reject each other in the end.

, I can only approach as an outsider. It is entirely alien to me. I can't even stand up to it to reject it. I just need to walk away and shake my head for a long while.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


3 Science Fiction films, more or less.

Knowing. Really bad. Sorry Ebert. It is. The heart of the movie is a paper with numbers on it, but this plot device serves no other purpose than to redeem our hero. I don't buy into the core premise. The alien agenda has nothing to do with this piece of paper and everything could be accomplished without it. It's a dumb gimmick. At least Proyas had the guts to follow through with total destruction.

Solaris. Not bad, but ultimately disappointing. I finally broke down and decided to watch this after reading Soderbergh say the following: The analogy that I use was that the Lem book, which was full of so many ideas that you could probably make a handful of films from it, was the seed, and that Tarkovsky generated a sequoia and we were sort of trying to make a little bonsai. I'm excited about Che. What could Soderbergh have contributed to his own personal Solaris adaptation? It turns out that his film is his own film and not some bad knockoff. It stands as its own little bonsai. Unfortunately, I don't think that it succeeds as an SF film in the way that Tarkovsky's so obviously does. There is just way too much emphasis on the romance. I generally dislike flashbacks and I dislike them here. They work wonderfully to reinforce the core romantic idea being explored, I admit, but they do little to develop the alienness of the Solaris space station and they don't adequately illustrate the metaphysical problem that our hero is facing. I won't write more, because in a grand cosmic coincidence, a great installment of "The Conversations," featuring Solaris, was posted the same day that I watched the movie.

Monsters vs. Aliens. It's not as bad as I thought it would be, but that's the best that I can do on its behalf. Seth Rogen continues to play the same brainless jellyroll character over and over again. This may be his best performance in that role.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fever Pitch

I've still got a mean cough I can't shake, but I'm feeling better and I've watched a few films while resting, even making it out to the Art Mission and to this week's Harpur screening.

First, a few DVD impressions:

The Grand really entertained. I normally dislike mockumentaries, but The Grand gave me the giggles. The entire cast rocks this one and Herzog has an awesome cameo.

Hancock is goofy and really doesn't work as anything more than a dumb laugh vehicle, but Will Smith's charms are not to be trifled with.

Blindness may be the most sickeningly irresponsible film I've seen this year, worse in its social malevolence (at least in scale) and pointless tortures than Stuck tried to be, which had up to now held this honor in the halls of my heart labeled 2009.

The Oscar Nominated Shorts are a mixed bag, as should probably be expected. I was pleased that some "honorable mentions" were included in the screening as I found all of these honorables more worthy than most of the nominees.

The Nominees
Lavatory-Lovestory - Meh.
La Maison en Petits Cubes - Really bad. Flashbacks don't do much for me, especially when the emotional resonance is so contrived.
Oktapodi - Earned its last moment chuckle. Quite fun.
Presto - Pixar is magic.
This Way Up - Serviceable vaudeville act.

The Honorable Mentions
Varmints - Wow! This really made me wish for a world in which I could take my children to a cinema to see something this magical, instead of having to avoid going to the movies because our options include Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Madagascar 2. Of course, I could take them to this shorts screening, but that's not what I mean. I wish that Varmints had gotten the kind of release that Kung Fu Panda got. Maybe not with all of the hype and fast food toy tie-ins, but at least the national recognition that a great new animated film was coming out. The story has flaws, but the atmosphere is overpoweringly awe-inspiring.
John and Karen - Cute.
Gopher Broke - Nice gags.
Skhizein - Easily my favorite. It really got to me with its simple visual metaphor. Seriously, it may be silly, but I was near tears by the end.
Hot Dog - Classic Plympton. As good as ever.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss wooed me. I was set to hate it. I was resistant to its charms, but, by Midnight, there I was, ready for a kiss. And then, the morning after, I felt like I had lived something and learned something. It may seem inconsistent for me to fall for this film after thrashing out at Apatow and Smith. It does feature some excessively crude humor, but it also has a beating heart beneath the surface, grounding its humor in a reality of crassness disguising tenderness and raw pain. Smith and Apatow pretend to have heart, but they're really too cool to ever let their guard completely down. There's always still a veneer of hipster winking laying on top of the sweetness that they do let show through. But, in In Search of a Midnight Kiss, besides some moments when our two "misanthropes" first meet, the dialogue feels refreshingly real and the story earns every one of its emotional highs and lows. Go figure. Sometimes I'm really surprised.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Unsound design

I maintain that Let the Right One In is not nearly as well made as everyone wants to believe it is. What gets me the most is the sound design and the score. From Eli's laughable dog noises when she attacks to the swelling score, I can't take it.

Here's a clip that demonstrates why I think that the score is heavy-handed. Watch the following scene. Wear headphones if you have them. At the beginning of the scene, Oskar and his father are playing a game. Both are smiling and an upbeat blues song is playing on the stereo in the background. The movie is at its best when it allows for this sort of 'natural' sound design. Soon enough, one of dad's friends show up. The blues song begins to mute as the dad begins to ignore his son to get a bottle of booze. The last audible notes of the blues song ends when the bottle of booze hits the table. There's a moment of silence. As the two men raise their glasses to their lips, the score pops in to augment Oskar's loneliness, slowly building from a sad lament to a metal buzz as Oskar decides to hitchhike home. The score is artificial, instantly dragging us out of the natural scene that had been constructed, pushing for a feeling with sound instead of trusting the 'reality' of sound that has already been constructed.

I don't know. Maybe others don't see any problem here, but this sort of thing instantly pulls me out of a movie and it happens a lot in Let the Right One In.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

So farewell, hope; and with hope farewell, fear; Farewell, remorse! all good to me is lost; Evil, be thou my good;

I've been really sick. So, yesterday, while laying in bed, I watched Adaptation and Let the Right One In. If I ramble even more than usual, blame it on the fever.

I don't think that self-loathers like other self-loathers.

I actively dislike Adaptation and its primary auteur, that fat, worthless schlub (who writes insanely crafty scripts and is lauded by most of his peers) Charlie Kaufman. But, I'll give the movie some credit. I did laugh loud and hard when brother Donald's body is forcibly ejected out of a car window. Still, I'd rather watch The 3 than watch Adaptation again. I think that Hoberman nails it when he writes, "Narcissus may be a flower, but in Kaufman's earthier formulation, solipsism is synonymous with onanism."

Let the Right One In is another story of self-centeredness and self-loathing. Except that Eli, our 12-year-old Vampirella wants to claim the [a]moral high ground. She says something like, "You would kill because you want to" to Oskar and then says, "I kill because I have to," then asks Oskar something like, "Be me for a while, please."

Poor girl.

Except that I don't feel sorry for her or Oskar. Their effortless amorality is a dangerous message for the 12-year-olds who will no doubt see (and be comforted by) this movie.

The movie is subversive to the extent that it makes the audience feel happy for Oskar in the end instead of terrified of his future descent into slavishly murdering for his beloved. I've read a few critics that find the relationship and the ending horrifying, but I'd argue that this is based on individual moral judgments and not based on what the film presents.

Let the neogoths have their tragic hero (hell, the title of the movie is taken from a Morrisey song!). The comfort she affords is fleeting and leads to the devil knows where.

What irks me is that so many serious critics love this film! Brandon, I dare you. Watch this movie again and tell me that the music isn't so much Hollywood manipulation. Seriously, we're in Bucket List territory here. My theory is that the music goes unnoticed by most, here and elsewhere, because we're never manipulated into crying, which is usally the only time a critic singles out the music in a film.

Also, the 'love' story between two 'lonely' creatures may be touching to you, but I find it the most horrifying aspect of the film. This isn't love. It's a Contract of Depravity.

If Twilight is for the mainstream girl who wants a little Mormon Mom naughtiness, then Let the Right One In is the same sort of fantastic romance for the alienated goth crowd, the remnant, the kind of kid that listens to old 4AD records or joins in Nitzer Ebb's chant without ever setting foot in a Hot Topic.

Which is maybe why I feel justified in trashing Let the Right One In. I was that kid.

At least Kaufman tries to get over himself and find meaning in allowing that "you are what you love." Let the Right One In allows only for unity of persons in suffering and revenge, without ever relenting in its seriousness. I don't know. Maybe this is just another expression of "you are what you love."

Let the Right One In never winks at us, which is a strength, but also the source of its perversity. Because it is serious in all of the wrong ways. All good to me is lost.

As Ebert says, it is a deadly serious vampire movie -
"Let the Right One In" is a "vampire movie," but not even remotely what we mean by that term. It is deadly grim. It takes vampires as seriously as the versions of "Nosferatu" by Murnau and Herzog do, and that is very seriously indeed. It is also a painful portrayal of an urgent relationship between two 12-year-olds on the brink of adolescence. It is not intended for 12-year-olds.

Ebert is naive. I agree that the movie should not be for kids. But, the very fact that it features 2 kids already breaks this prohibition. I highly doubt that the filmmakers would say that this movie is intended for 'adults only.' I watched an interview on Youtube with the the main actress and she gushes about the role and how she'd love to have this vampire girl as a friend if she could. This movie WILL be watched by 12-year-olds, which is both appropriate and scary because it has a malformed 12-year-old's understanding of the world and its pains.

It's no surprise to me that this is being remade by Hollywood. Besides some above average cinematography, there's not much to distinguish this from your typical Hollywood disposable art, except perhaps that at the moment our pop culture has only reached the Stephanie Meyers level of the abyss. Twilight has just shot up on my to-watch list. I'm at least going to wait for Let the Right One In 2: Van Helsing vs. Eli and Oskar.

No apologies - these thoughts come straight from the gut of a Buffy:the Vampire Slayer fan.

I'm waiting for a Haneke vampire flick.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hope nourishes.

It always feels great watching a string of powerfully good (in an aesthetic and moral sense) films. Still Life washed over me like the Yangtze, giving this alligator a much needed washing.

Before and after Still Life, I caught two screwball comedies, My Man Godfrey and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Both good for the heart and good for the belly (those belly laughs were probably the most exercise I'd gotten in a month). Watching classic comedies like these only leaves me more disgusted by the wave of raunch that Smith and Apatow and others are hurling at us like so much raw emesis.

Most importantly, I just finished watching Eric Rohmer's swan song, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon.

In the context of a cineplex full of raunch and a citizenry fed with filth, viewing The Romance of Astrea and Celadon is like trying to eat an expertly prepared gourmet meal after years of Big Macs and fries at McDonald's. Or tackling Rogue's Chipotle Ale (dang, that's good stuff) when all you're used to is Bud Light.

The audiences I have in mind will either
a) never hear of the movie (most likely)
b) hear of it and decide not to see it (too bad)
c) see it and condemn it (as a natural reaction to being condemned)
d) repent and believe (unlikely)

This movie's flavor assaults my taste buds with something so strange and new, but feeling so right. I celebrate its succulence and recognize hints of spices that I must know. This meal, so new, feels old and foundational, like maybe all other meals have been derivative and degradations.

I feel like the bad food critic who neglects writing his review in favor of lingering longer with the aftertaste of such an exotically familiar offering. When it does come time to write, there are no easy words to use to describe such an (in both the archaic and modern sense) original feast.

Then there are others, cinephiles, those who seek challenges, who will disagree with Rohmer's audacious pedagogical attempts to teach us pure love, but will hopefully still have the honesty to admit that Rohmer is true to his moral vision to the very end.

There are some who think that Rohmer fails in his moralizing and in his period staging, which is okay, as long as they don't condescend to calling the movie 'silly' or 'bad.' There are many stylistic choices that are jarring to modern audiences, but all is staged appropriately, as if an old film director in the 21st century had somehow traveled through time with his recording equipment, making a film about the 5th century in the 17th century, firmly grounded in the concerns of the 21st century.

Astrea and Celadon also engages in an interesting conversation with Still Life. Astrea and Celadon is about two persons, engaged in pure love, becoming one inseparable person. Still Life, on the other hand, is about two separate couples who have been cleaved apart, leaving behind each individual as a separate half instead of as a separate whole; impurity reigns and heartache is natural (though at least one character fights this). Astrea and Celadon and Still Life both hold up a mirror to our current paradigm of casual sexuality, shaming us all to whatever degree we participate in it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

We can't forget who we are.

You're a nostalgist.

We can't forget who we are.

You know... We're not suited for this modern world. The reason is, we're too nostalgic.

Who are you imitating?

Chow Yun-Fat! Brother Fat.

I hope I can count on you.

The exchange above is one of my favorite moments in Still Life. There is a tenderness and a sense of humor that permeates all of the sadness in this minimalist epic. Epic, not in its length, but in its treatment of an atrocity.

Still Life is my favorite science fiction film from last year.

Here's the plot.

An alien culture has conquered contemporary China from within and has begun a program of change that will destroy all of the traditional ties that bind. At the heart of this destructive plan is the construction of a large dam that will transform the natural landscape, creating a large source of electrical power while simultaneously achieving the desired end of eradicating Chinese heritage.

The chaos of this planetary engineering is the background for a more intimate story of two separate people, both of whom have lost a spouse, for different reasons, and have come to a small Chinese county of Fengjie. The two stories never converge, but they overlap and each adds a bit more detail and nuance to the effect of the other. Time is short, though, because Fengjie, a county with 2,000 years of culture and tradition behind it, is being demolished and will soon be underwater.

Okay, Still Life isn't science fiction. But, it sure feels like it. Really, it's science fact. Most of the film is shot in a documentary style during the actual period of relocation and dissolution, chronicling Fengjie's destruction as it was being prepared to be sacrificed to the Three Gorges Dam.

The most beautiful image, though, is probably the one of a strange tower in the background of an apartment, suddenly blasting off from the ground like a NASA spaceship, an alien artifact leaving the zone that it had previously occupied. In an interview included on the DVD, Jia Zhangke acknowledges that this was the intended effect. The tower had been a strange vain government project that was abandoned. A true alien artifact set up in an ancient village. It's only fitting that it flies away.

I loved Still Life. When I was finished with it, I started raving that it was the best film of 2008 and that I had been wrong about all others. It may not be, and I'm sure I'll revise my opinion, but the truth remains that it feels good to see something magical and come away enthusiastic about a piece of art.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The post in which I offend homosexuals, middle-aged black women, and earnest Israeli film directors, then stick up for a foul-mouthed nun.

While poking around for Milk-related stuff, I found this silly group:

I'm only linking to them here because of this amazing image:

That image pretty nicely sums up how I feel about Van Sant's Milk. We're given a secular saint. It looks as if at least one group already recognizes him as such.

My problem with Milk isn't its agenda or its ideology (though these are problematic to me). My problem is that the agenda becomes the main character, with even Milk himself there only in a supporting role, all of his actions and dialogue in service to something greater than himself. Which makes for a good spur to social action, but poor narrative. The only reason that I think that Milk succeeds is because it portrays Harvey Milk as a man who would be happy with this subsuming of himself into the movement. To Milk, good storytelling doesn't matter. The Gay Movement Matters. By any means necessary. And so, half the time, I felt like I sat through a rather transparent sermon and history lesson, not a motion picture worthy of the accolades it's receiving. But, there were hints of Van Sant moments that showed some visual truth even while the script was struggling to strangle those images.

I've made a short video commentary about the beginning 12 minutes of the film, but I'm hesitant to post it here because of copyright crap. Brandon, I'll probably burn a copy for you and drop it off at the same time that I return Hot Fuzz (hopefully some time this week).

I got paid to see Madea Goes to Jail. I have to admit that I would have never gone to see it otherwise. I'm just not the target audience. Going into it, I hadn't seen anything else that Tyler Perry has done. I don't know anything about him except that he's become extremely popular in the past few years doing his Madea thing.

The film is really two stories, one comic farce featuring our folk heroine and one sincere and well-meaning melodrama that you may have already seen in one form or another on the Lifetime Network. The two stories converge late in the film and everything resolves tidily, just as it should. It's all fun and good intentioned, but, more than anything else, it reminded me of Billy Graham movies that I was taken to as a child and bad Lifetime movies that I've had to be around at work. The only real difference is that Madea provides a salty humor to offset the earnest preaching/moralizing. And Perry does know how to have fun and how to please his audience, including me.

I don't think I've seen any critics examine this connection yet (I'm a trailblazer), but I have to insist that Milk and Madea are close cousins. And both share core similarities with bad Christian movies.

Please, check out Battleship Pretension. I just finished listening to their episode discussing the Christian film industry:

Milk and Madea share at least this with bad Christian films: The message gets in the way of the movie.

I just got back, a few hours ago, from tonight's Harpur film, My Father My Lord.

I hated it.

My Father My Lord is the worst film that I've seen in 2009. And I've seen Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

A lot of it was the music. I can't always articulate the way I feel about music in movies, but often, if I can notice the music and I hate the music, then I hate the movie. That's just the way it is. I don't understand the music choices in this film. The violin and the piano destroy what little truth the images work toward. I just don't understand.

There's no surprise. The first scene before the title screen features the father grieving near his son's casket. Title screen. Flashback.

The movie has its joys. The father obviously loves his son. He shares his entire world with his son.

The movie makes Wendy and Lucy look like an Action flick.

But, that's okay. I like slow cinema.

The movie is too obvious. The father's name is Abraham. The son receives lots of instruction, in his school, about the Abraham/Isaac story. One scene, in particular, features the boy in school. They've made craft pictures representing the story and the boy is asked to hang up the ram on the board. He adds glue and keeps trying to hang it up, but that substitute ram won't stick to the board. This scene is prolonged and that ram just won't stick. How obvious can we get? There's going to be no substitute ram this time. Abraham's son is going to be sacrificed because of Abraham's spirituality. It almost gets comical, but I think that I was the only one laughing in the theater. I just wanted it all to be over.

I was happy when the boy finally died. I knew the film couldn't last much longer.

I had no emotional reaction to the film except boredom and frustration.

The above two films were really clear in their respective messages. I'm not so sure here, but the message seems to be that prayer kills. And it might be a good thing that there isn't a message that gets in the way of the story, but it still feels like it wants to be a message picture, exposing the terrible excesses of ultra-orthodox faith and devotion. The son dying is just too convenient. The father loves his son. The son loves his father. But, there ARE still difficulties that would be interesting to explore. The death only throws blame on the father when he's done nothing truly blame-worthy. It feels like a cheap storytelling cop-out; a way to make a point without working through any difficult material.

While I've been writing all of this, I've been half watching Sister Helen, an interesting documentary, worth the time to watch, if only because she swears enough (and is miserable enough) to make us uncomfortable with her doing so much good.