Sunday, April 26, 2009

Night Shift Differential

It is written in the Buddhist Canon, “The flag is still. The wind is calm. It is the heart of man that is in turmoil.”

My Blueberry Nights is a delightful surprise! It seems like every other film I catch up with from last year convinces me more and more that 2008 was more of a good year for movies than most critics gave it credit for.

There isn’t much to My Blueberry Nights so it's easy to dismiss, but it's saving grace is that it doesn’t try to be much more than what it is, a small-scale trifle about love and loss. I found it to be really endearing, easy to watch, and easy to love, filled with lots of visual pleasures and a nice story, which instead of feeling cliched felt refreshing.

This past Thursday night, on TCM, I caught The Long, Long Trailer, a comedy about a newly married couple deciding to live in a trailer that they’ll pull across the country, first on their honeymoon and then as the husband travels from city to city for his work.

This being a comedy starring Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, you can bet your last dollar that things go from absolutely bad to worse to worst, but all is resolved nicely in the end.

There aren’t too many hilarious moments, but there were a few moments of Desi acting frightened thinking about the trailer brakes that were priceless comedy gold.

Silent Light might have been a lot better if it had been titled Damn Whore! That might have been a movie worth seeing. This one wasn’t.

Poor Johan. Poor Marianne. Poor Esther. Poor me for sitting through this poor film.

A Mexican Mennonite man struggles with whether to stay with his wife and family or run off with his mistress. He’s a faithless husband, but we’re supposed to feel sorry for his misery. We get to see him cry a lot. The entire film revolves around this one decision, but, by the end, no decision is made. The wife dies (of a heart attack, got it?), but is then later resurrected after being kissed by the mistress. Johan will be okay now. What the?

The photography is gorgeous and the setting and people are well realized, but Reygadas’s strange notions of religion and sexuality (sexuality as religion) continue to dominate (strangle) his films, even if this one is tame compared to his previous two features. I haven’t seen the Dreyer film that Reygadas is supposed to be riffing on, so I’m not sure if I’m missing some additional layer here, but the resurrection seems more or less undermined here, robbed of any real effect. I’ll keep reading about the film and Reygadas is still someone I’m watching carefully, but I was left cold by Silent Light.

Cadillac Records was what I’d expect it to be. Not much more, but also no less. Music, drugs, women. Wash, rinse, repeat. There are some good performances (I especially loved the guy playing Howlin' Wolf, Eamonn Walker) and some good music.

Miller’s Crossing is a great film. I’m not sure how or why it’s taken me so long to see, but yesterday was my first time seeing it. The Coens perfectly capture the spiritual heart of noir, all the while turning the genre inside out with a really funny script. Once you begin the slide toward moral compromise, you deal with the consequences. Everyone is corrupt. No one gets out. Our protagonist doesn’t get a Hays Code death to punish him for his sins, but neither does he find any satisfaction or peace. He’s now a man alone with a heavier stain on his soul. One can’t easily imagine what he’ll do from this point on. Maybe he’ll open up a private investigation office.

I hadn’t seen Mean Streets in about ten years. It’s better than I remember it being, which is obviously a sign that I’ve changed, not the movie. What stands out is the use of music, but there are also some “Godardian” visual touches that I wouldn’t have noticed ten years ago. It’s also interesting to me to look at what Scorsese is doing in these early films in relation to the many gangster films that we know he had to have seen. Like Godard, Scorsese was/is a movie man, a cinephile. His movies are just as often influenced by other movies as they are by anything else. One might think that all directors are cinephiles, but I don’t think that it is all that common.

What’s interesting about Scorsese is that his characters are more “gangster” than the gangster pictures. While Godard’s characters are always trying to ape gangster lifestyle tropes that they‘ve learned from the movies, Scorsese’s characters effortlessly breathe the air of crime and family and honor without any pretense at all. There is no affectation besides natural affectation gained on and by the streets. All the while, Mean Streets remains (self-consciously, I think) within the gangster/noir paradigm, even while pushing and expanding its boundaries.

Ashes of Time Redux is as bewildering as it is beautiful. This is the heavy entrée to the light dessert of My Blueberry Nights. Both are concerned with the same themes of love and loss. One is playful and small, though still serious. The other is large in all of its grandeur, but pauses to wink at times. Oftentimes, I can forget that I’m watching a DVD, but Ashes of Time repeatedly cried out to me that it needed to be projected large across an enormous screen. I’d pay the Regal $100 right now if I could get a ticket to see Ashes of Time there. It’d be worth every penny. This current restoration (redux) was done not out of vanity or dissatisfaction, but because of unusual circumstances that almost destroyed the master copies of the film. While restoring the film, Wong Kar-Wai could not refuse the opportunity to offer up a new definitive version. David Bordwell knows more than I'll ever know about film. At this point, I need to bow out and point you toward him: Ashes to Ashes (Redux)

Watching the Three Stooges execute a flock of infected sheep is oddly moving. Abe Lincoln is hilarious at all times. While others have argued in the past that Korine mocks and ridicules those he films, I’ve felt since Gummo that Korine is one of the few champions for the different and the marginalized that we have at the present time. Yes, he has played the prankster, but I think the joke is on the men in suits who want to laugh at what they don't understand, not on his characters. It's crazy that Korine started in film so young. We've really been able to watch him mature over the course of his past three films. I'm not going to psychoanalyze him here, but Korine is a misfit among men and his cinema is even still the cinema of misfits. Mister Lonely might be the purest and best (though Julien Donkey-Boy is still my personal favorite) Korine film that we have yet. I can’t help but think that it’s with sincere motive that Korine ends this film with the song “Standing on the Promises.” I started crying the last time that nuns are seen flying in the film. Father Herzog says, “We’re going to the Vatican. This is a legitimate miracle.” Mister Lonely bears witness to the miraculous.

I, too, want to have a drink with the Pope.

1 comment:

Summer People said...

Wong Kar Wai is a great filmmaker. 2046, Chunking Express, and In the Mood For Love are also great films. I have to see Ashes of Time Redux.

I'm not sure why, but i'm happy to see you shrug your shoulders over "Silent Light." I think this director has somehow gotten on my nerves. I'm not sure why, considering that I haven't seen any of his films.

Mean Streets and Miller's Crossing are both in debt to the past. I am beginning to realize that I don't penalize art for being derivative. I think that influence, when paid careful and respectful homage, becomes something of an original idea through this veneration. The Coen's and Scorsese are great because of their passion.

I'll be sure to check out Mr. Lonely as it sounds like it may change my mind on Korine. I really want to like this director and I need a lot of help to do so.

I can't wait for "The Limits of Control!" I'm pretty sure it will be an early favorite. The Coen's are remaking "True Grit!"