Tuesday, July 21, 2009


If 2009 ended today, Moon would win the #1 slot for any list that I make for the year (just barely edging out Adventureland, which has held strong until this moment).

That's all I'll say about Moon. I knew nothing about it going in except for having seen the trailer (thanks, Brandon!). I had read no reviews and had little idea what it was about. I'm pretty sure that that's the best way to experience Moon, so I won't write any more because I can't write about it without spoiling it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Waltzing with Bashir

Ari Folman is absolutely clear in his depictions of the atrociousness of war. This is well and good and there need to be stories set against those that blindly praise the heroism of war. For every Sgt. York, we need at least two Waltz with Bashir.

For all of the dreamlike qualities of Waltz, the emotions and the lesson/message are straightforward and obvious. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes only a blunt hammer to the skull will do.

In honor of recently viewing and enjoying Waltz with Bashir, here is my…

Top 10 “Blunt Hammer” War Films List.

10. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Gordon)
Here’s where I immediately declare my intention to cheat. I don’t think that too many people besides myself would be stupid enough to classify King of Kong as a war film, but from the opening frames, it insists that it is a war film set within a war universe. There are sides drawn and there are battles won and lost by each side. I have a special interest in games of all sorts and I believe that social and competitive gaming (mental or physical) brings out the best of what war can be and frames the contest in a non-violent setting. If only every military coup could be decided by chess match, or Donkey Kong.

9. The Thin Red Line (Malick)
The Thin Red Line is my least favorite Malick film. I’ve only seen it once when it first came out, so I know I haven’t given it a fair chance. Murph, my college “art and history of film” teacher, claimed that it is the "second best war film yet made- second only to Grand Illusion." (note to self: I also need to re-watch Grand Illusion)

8. Joyeux Noel (Carion)
In many ways, Joyeux Noel plays out just like any typical Hollywood war film, but a good script focused on its unusual subject matter steers it away from typical war film satisfactions. The story of a Christmas truce between enemy soldiers is moving. Watching the breakdown of hostilities and the subsequent inability to wage war brought me to tears.

7. La France (Bozon)
I love the music, which is a good thing since the music provides the skeleton which the flesh of this picture hangs from. Almost makes me want to enlist, then desert.

6. Battleground (Wellman)
This is the only “traditional” war film of the list. Battleground celebrates bravery, heroism and self-sacrifice amidst the horrors of war. In working toward peace, it’s easy to forget that war often does bring out a certain kind of brotherly love among men that is hard to find elsewhere. Instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist, we should honor what is good and strive to cultivate similar virtues in the difficult practice of peace.

5. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Enrico)
This is a very specific examination of a very specific moment in a war - a hanging. What happens in the moment of a single man’s death is at least as important as the grand sweep of any war.

4. Ivan’s Childhood (Tarkovsky)
War, like Wu-Tang Clan, is for the children. War, like Wu-Tang Clan, ain't nothin' ta fuck wit'.

3. Shame (Bergman)
I’m not sure that it’s true that wars destroy relationships, but wars certainly stress them to the point at which if something’s going to break, it will probably break during the war. Bergman, as always, is unsparing.

2. Lessons of Darkness (Herzog)
Wars may end. The effects of wars remain.

1. Les Carabiniers (Godard)
Godard chronicles our absurdity. Probably the purest anti-war war film that I've ever seen. Coutard should be given a lot of credit for the film's cinematography, which is fairly unique to this film and serves the story so perfectly. I love the look of the film.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

3 at night.

I liked Changeling. It’s good, not great, in the way that most Eastman pictures are. The story is solid and the writing is good. Angelina Jolie is good in her role, which is a relief since her character carries the weight of the movie, driving it all along. I don’t understand the haters.

I’ve never been a big fan of "action hero" movies, but I’ve seen enough of them to recognize JCVD as the wonderful act of deconstruction that it is. Jean-Claude Van Damme is a good sport and maybe even a good actor. His performance here is at least as good as Mickey Rourke’s in the Wrestler and means at least as much for his career. Screw Rourke. 2008 was Van Damme’s comeback year.

For my 30th birthday, I bought myself a copy of John Huston’s now 30-year-old adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s masterpiece, Wise Blood. The story has always meant a lot to me and this Huston adaptation has stuck in my mind since I first saw it, nearly 15 years ago. I’ve been thinking of William Troeller a lot lately. He always treated me as a Hazel Motes, spotting the mark of Jesus on me while I vehemently denied it. The film’s tone is an odd echo of its source material, highlighting the strangeness and farce of it all while grounding things firmly in a Christ-Haunted South of shucksters and suckers. Read Francine Prose's essay.

Friday, July 17, 2009

To Boldly Go... Where Everyone Has Gone Two Months Ago.

I finally caught up with Star Trek at the Cinema Saver and I'm glad I did. It's fun in the best summer movie way, but there's really not much substance. I let myself get caught up in the fun, but the movie's also as dumb as it is fun.

The time travel/alternate reality plot irritated me, but the performances and the care-free silliness of it all was enough to keep me in my seat. I'll probably rent it on DVD so that Abby can see it in some form (now that I've created a TNG junkie), but then I'll mostly forget it as the expensive disposable entertainment that it is.

That's about as excited as I can get for a Star Trek universe in which Amok Time never happens.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Passion of Naked Irish Men

I don't know how many of the critics that hated The Passion of the Christ for its brutality are among the crowd praising Hunger. If there are any, shame on them.

Hunger is, at its most grueling moments, an unflinching look at some of the worst abuses against Irish political prisoners during the late 1970s to early 1980s. Shit on the walls, involuntary anal probing, raw scrubbing, old-fashioned head poundings. The images are there. The strangeness of this film, to me, is that I was never really emotionally impacted by those scenes. Neither was I moved by the images of Bobby Sands wasting away from hunger. There was a distance despite the immediacy presented.

That said, I was absolutely on the edge of my seat for the 15 or so minute shot of Sands consulting with his priest. It's a single long shot of the two sitting across from one another at a table, casually jesting, then getting down to the serious business of arguing the morality of a hunger strike. Exhilarating! When the cut finally comes to a close-up of Bobby's face, it's earned and the emotional impact of what he says next is real, worth more than every image that lead up to it.

In the end, I didn't care for Hunger. Maybe the detatchment was my fault and not the film's. Maybe it's because I'm ignorant of much of the historical context, but I just didn't care. Suicide by hunger strike just doesn't seem noble to me. I side with the priest and that's probably why I can't enjoy a celebration of Sands's "martyrdom."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is our children learning? Am I learning?

Oliver Stone loves George W. Bush. I know. I was surprised, too.

I submit as evidence the film W. It is a generous and affectionate portrait of a unique individual. Bush is portrayed as a deeply flawed man, but he is never reviled. Maybe pitied; always loved. He is portrayed as arrogant, but tormented internally. Charming, but tongue-tied. Determined, but insecure. Smart, but naïve. Always sincere.

Stone’s Bush is complex. He is not a buffoon and he is not a personification of evil. He is a conflicted man who did the things he did and made the choices he made in good faith, not always for the right reasons, but for the reasons consistent with his own personal beliefs and worldview.

There are many funny scenes. Satirical to an extent, but never cynical. I was impressed by how tactful and respectful Stone is. The impersonations are all great and each actor seems to be giving his and her best. The personalities veer into caricature at times, but that even seems appropriate for a biopic examining current lives and events.

The music in the film is perfect, establishing an undercurrent of levity and humor. The music solidifies the tone of the film, working counterpoint to the images, often adding an additional subversive layer of commentary to the narrative. I’d argue that Stone does all of his criticizing with music while he’s telling a story that gives Bush more than a fair representation.

I do believe that the “real life” Bush ‘s administration was damaging to our country (though it’s arguable whether it was any more or less so than other recent administrations). I’m fairly certain that Oliver Stone believes this as well. What Oliver Stone has taught me here is to remember to be gracious toward every man, especially toward those who may least deserve it.

Go figure. I loved an Oliver Stone picture.

“Politics is not a library. It’s ass-kicking skull-crushing war and I’m losing.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer Job

I thought that it was a wonderful coincidence that Adventureland screened twice my first night on the job. It holds up.

My Summer Schedule:
19th: Sunshine Cleaning and Z
26th: The Soloist and Tokyo!

I'm not sure yet whether I'll keep doing this in the Fall (Who am I kidding? This is the best job I've ever had with the best pay I've ever had. I can't quit!).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lazy LI, and Lies That Tell the Truth

We had been on vacation for about a week. It was lazy and nice and included some films...

With my folks as babysitters, Abby and I were able to catch The Brothers Bloom. Like Brick before it, Bloom is formally impressive and inventive. Rian Johnson is one our more interesting young directors and he may grow up to be one of our best. Like some other US "indie" directors, I think that he's actually hurt by only filming his own scripts. I'm hoping that he'll soon try his hand at someone else's material.

The Brothers Bloom
just doesn't work as a Con Man movie. Too many little twists left me unwilling to ever trust Johnson. And a confidence man needs to earn my trust. I liked the story and the characters and the complete unwillingness to engage in any sort of realism. But, the inventiveness and playfulness of the first half of the film just sort of dry up and disappear by the end and I walked away not caring.

It might not matter because Bloom doesn't feel like a Con movie. It's a story about storytelling disguised as a Con movie. But storytelling and confidence tricks are not the same thing, nor should they be.

Criminal, a film by Soderbergh's shadow man, Gregory Jacobs, is a Con movie from start to finish. There's not an ounce of fat on this lean little film. It reveals Brothers Bloom for the pretender that it is. Brothers Bloom's greatest Con on the audience is having had anyone believe that it was a Con movie. Criminal has no pretensions, but modest ones, and it succeeds with its advances even while they strain credibility. What it does share with Bloom is that it looks like all of the actors are having a lot of fun.


The Good Fairy is a perfect example of how much smarter comedies could be 70 years ago. Directed by William Wyler with a script by Preston Sturges and a cast that could pull it all off. Sprinkle in some discussion about beards and you have everything that I could want in a movie. Honestly, everyone can keep their Hangover. I'm not interested. There's a scene in The Good Fairy in which our heroine sneaks into the movie theatre where she's working as an "usherette." The movie playing within the movie is hilarious. Abby and I were both laughing so hard that we stopped breathing properly and were keeping my parents awake wondering what was so funny that they could hear us through the floorboards (we were down in the basement).


In the past 3 months, I've read 13 novels by Michael Connelly. I've been reading other things, too, but 2009 has definitely become the year of Connelly as far as I'm concerned. I'll be caught up with everything he's written pretty soon. One of his better non-Bosch books was Blood Work, a novel about an ex-FBI agent, Terry McCaleb, who had to stop working because of a heart condition. While recovering from a heart transplant, he's approached by a woman who wants him to investigate her sister's death. This woman knows that McCaleb has received her dead sister's heart. McCaleb can't say no. Things are always interesting and the twists that keep coming nearer to the end make for quite the thrilling read.

So, of course I was interested to know that Clint Eastwood had directed a screen adaptation of this novel. Now I've seen it and I think that it's good. It suffers for not being as good as the novel, but it is mostly faithful to its source and the changes that it does make are better for the purposes of the film. I grew to really like Jeff Daniels as Buddy. Daniels' take on the character is definitely faithful to the source, but it is also different than how I had imagined the character, not the least reason being that the character's story arc is so drastically changed in the film. Once I got used to the disconnect between my imagination and this interpretation, I found that I really loved Daniels' lovable earnest goofiness.

The best moment of the film comes from an editing decision made by Eastwood or someone else involved. Eastwood's character, McCaleb, has brought a box of donuts to a police station to share with a couple of detectives that he needs to talk to about a case. At one point in the conversation, McCaleb grabs a donut. Then, the friendlier police officer takes one. Then the not-so-friendly one takes a donut. There's silence as the three eat donuts and the camera holds the shot, lingering on them eating donuts long after there probably would have been a cut in any other modern police/action movie. Good stuff.


I finally got to see A Scanner Darkly. While occasionally truly interesting and definitely the best of all Dick adaptations, it still fails gloriously alongside every other Dick adaptation. I do think that A Scanner Darkly succeeds in conveying the mental and spiritual disorientation of its protagonist fairly well, which is certainly something that can be difficult to convey in visual terms. Indeed, it's a common Dickian theme that is often lost in translation, but shines clearly here.


I had Netflix on hold for the past couple of months, but I just reactivated my account. Portable DVD player viewing is less than ideal, but it's enough for me for now.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Public Enemas

I got carded at the box office. I could hardly believe it. It's the first time I've been asked for an ID in a theatre since the times when it was just barely legal for me to get into an R-rated film on opening night. Somehow I managed to sneak in this time, forced to think about how excited I would have been to see a new gangster movie when I was 10 or so. Good luck, I say, to all the youth buying tickets to Up and stealthily sneaking down the hall into Public Enemies. My sympathies are with you.

Public Enemies itself was a disappointment. It is a big movie, barely able to contain itself. What makes it strain at its seams is that it doesn't seem all that sure what it wants to be. There are several different visual styles at work. An almost Dogme-like minimalism and purity contrasts with grand polished studio images. I couldn't make out any discernible pattern, but maybe that's my failing, not the film's. I want to give it the benefit of the doubt for now. (I need to stress here that some of the best shots in the film are among the best images I've seen all year anywhere. When the movie's good, it's great). The music and sound design wavered from silence to silly to stupid, operating somewhere in between inspired and insipid. Some of the transitions seemed lazily inept instead of carefully constructed. And I always hate being talked down to. "What's she doing up there?" "She's still listening to the radio."

The acting is solid, but I need to hate on Christian Bale a little now. I don't understand what's happened to him or how or when or why. I think that he needs to step down and take on a small role. He's become somehow less than human in my mind as he plays over-the-top and larger-than-life characters. I couldn't help but think that his Purvis was another George W. Bush act. It's probably a holdover from The Dark Knight, but all of Bale's mannerisms now remind me of W. I only want to know if it's conscious on his part or not. Or is it all in my head?

It might seem like I didn't like Public Enemies. That's not true. I did like it, but I wanted to love it so much more. I can only express frustration at the moment. At least I'm already thinking about seeing it again.