Friday, April 30, 2010

April Recap

13 Features
The Howling (Dante) 1981
Alice in Wonderland (Burton) 2010
Where the Wild Things Are (Gondry) 2009
Werewolf of London (Walker) 1935
The Box (Kelly) 2009
She-Wolf of London (Yarbrough) 1946
Good Hair (Stilson) 2009
Kick-Ass (Vaughn) 2010
My Night at Maud's (Rohmer) 1969
Eaten Alive (Hooper) 1976
Beat Street (Lathan) 1984
Trapped in Paradise (Gallo) 1994
Mutual Appreciation (Bujalski) 2005

Peoples House (Bujalski) 2007

TV Episodes
Simpsons - Burns in prison
Star Trek - The Man Trap, Charlie X

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Adventures in sanctity.

I'm having difficulty figuring out how to write about My Night at Maud's.  I may just skip over it for now.

I have no difficulty writing about Eaten Alive.

Eaten Alive is the most depraved and reprehensible film I'm likely to subject myself to all year.  I'm unlikely to see the Human Centipede, Brandon, but it was fun hearing you talk about it and reading your post.

She-Wolf of London is still the worst film I'm likely to see all year. 

Eaten Alive is actually fairly well-crafted to deliver exactly all of the illicit thrills its title promises. 

I'm really trying hard to understand why anyone would enjoy or possibly benefit from the type of horror film represented by Eaten Alive and I just can't see any good here at all.  Horror fans, I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here.  What's up with this?   

Eaten Alive is a string of episodes of different folks showing up at a country hotel and being fed to a crocodile.   

It's not necessarily the subject matter.  It's how it's handled.  Eaten Alive is an exploitation picture from start to finish.  The character of Judd is over-the-top (and honestly the entire film could be magnificent if the POV was with him through the film instead of straying off with so many other weak characters).  The women mostly exist to take their shirts off and the men are there to act like they deserve to be painfully murdered.  Then, there's a little girl who is there to simultaneously provide suspense and comfort because the audience knows that no filmmaker could get away with killing off a cute little kid.  The crocodile is there for comic relief, maybe? 

Hooper may show contempt toward middle-brow wankers.  He also shows contempt toward life and people in general.

Brandon, you wrote:
One thing that sets some of these films apart (Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is their utter lack of regard for middlebrow acceptance plunging us into the worst of humanity without any chance of hope or redemption.

There are at least two types of narrative nihilism.  And maybe they are distinguished more by tone than content.  Or maybe I'm just splitting hairs.  

Haneke's The Seventh Continent is representative of the one sort.  Eaten Alive is representative of the other.  Or better yet, to avoid accusations of arthouse pretensions, I'll suggest that Kaufman's Synechdoche, New York is in the tradition of Eaten Alive.  (And Synechdoche, New York is by far the more terrifying horror film of the two).  

Synechdoche, New York is essentially an exploitation film in which Kaufman is just as happy to torture individuals and have girls take their shirts off as Hooper is.  One could argue that Kaufman doesn't enjoy it as much, but I think he giggles a lot.  He's just as much about fulfilling his juvenile fantasies as Hooper is.      

Haneke's film is different.  There is no easy entrance into the film.  But once you have inserted yourself into the film's way of seeing, there is no way out except through systematic dismantling and a metaphorical self-murder.

Haneke follows the argument of modernism to its logical conclusion, suicide.  This is the only narrative satisfaction we can have when starting with certain assumptions about life.  

Hooper and Kaufman may want to plunge us into a world "without any chance of hope or redemption," but they ultimately puss out by letting the little girl live or by giving life a glimmer of meaning or satisfaction.  In a sense, they justify a way for themselves to remain in darkness and confusion while Haneke at least shows the end of darkness, which points toward the Light.

[Note: I'm really not arguing for how great Haneke is here.  I think that he's stuck in his own rut of condemnation and hasn't figured out how to positively affirm anything yet, but all of my judgments on Haneke need to be taken lightly since I've only seen The Seventh Continent and Funny Games US.]

Back to Eaten Alive.

There are a few moments of greatness that transcend the exploitation.  Scenes involving Judd, the hotel owner, alone and listening to country music, come close to being great and emotionally honest.  There are a few times in which the gentle country music becomes a terrifyingly abstract and murderous background that is scarier than anything else in the film.  At times, the sound design is so close to brilliant that I'm angry that it was wasted on a film that I'll never watch again and can't really recommend to anyone for any reason.

[Note on ALL of the above:  I was just tossing out ideas and connections that popped into my mind.  Don't take any of it as reasoned, tested, or established analysis.  As always, I'm writing here to try to clarify my own thoughts, thinking anything out loud with the benefit of having a few readers/friends to possibly interact with and challenge my reactions.]

I needed something unambiguously life-affirming after the shifting moral sands of Maud's and the sinking quicksand of Eaten.  I found solid ground in Beat Street, a film that I know must inspire waves of happy nostalgia in those lucky enough to have seen it when they were young in the mid-80s.  

Alas, I was too young in the mid-80s (I was 5 when Beat Street was released in '84) and I missed Beat Street at the time.

Beat Street is a simple, straight-forward "follow your dreams" type of story.  What is great here is that mixing music, graffiti art, and breakdancing are all legitimized.  Illegally tagging trains may get you fried on the 3rd rail, but, sweet sadness, it's a better life and death than wearing a suit and crunching numbers.

There's an awesome Christmas concert sequence featuring a performance by The Treacherous Three that ranks high up there in any list of cinematic Christmas moments.

In the end, if Beat Street feels more like an after-school special than Linklater's Slacker, it can be forgiven.  It goes far in its own way to encourage dropout culture (specifically here hip-hop culture) as a valid and forceful alternative to the power structures that be.

Related to challenging power structures and tearing down strongholds, Trapped in Paradise is becoming cemented as one of my favorite films, raising in stature each time I watch it for two reasons:
1) It's funny
2) 1 Corinthians 1:27

It's a pretty perfect Christmas sermon if the congregation can excuse some harsh language.

Someday, in my fantasy world, I'll be showing a double feature of Blast of Silence and Trapped in Paradise on Christmas Eve in my little arthouse theatre in the woods.  See you there.

Finally, I watched Bujalski's 2005 film Mutual Appreciation, which in a way brings this entire post back around to My Night at Maud's.  There are the obvious reasons.  Both films have a lot of talk.  Both films have as their centerpiece a man and a woman spending a physically chaste night together and that night having emotional consequences.

Rohmer always seems to point toward something more true than any of his characters are currently feeling.  Even as they muddle about in their self-centered pettiness, there is a broader awareness that this is not all there is.  Bujalski stumbles over this in Mutual Appreciation and projects a more ambiguous acceptance of fleeting fidelity and interpersonal reckonings.  Maybe there's not something better than this.

I wonder how much Rohmer's early insistence on voiceover narration changes audience perceptions.  We're allowed to think with one person and see/hear/experience folly.  The lack of narration leaves things more ambiguous.

There are also some stylistic similarities.  Bujalski cuts more frequently than Rohmer, but both hold shots longer than others and favor medium shots that reveal two figures in the frame speaking with each other instead of a constant flow of cuts from speaking character to speaking character.  Most importantly, both make really compelling personal films on small budgets.

I'm impressed.  Bujalski is someone I'll be watching closely in the future.

Beeswax was a Bujalski film from last year that left a strong impression on me.  I dismissed it a bit at first even as I praised it, but it has totally stuck with me.  I've been thinking about re-doing my 2010 list now in the order that I'd most like to revisit the films of 2010.  Beeswax would easily place in the top 5.  Unfortunately, Redbox won't carry it and I'm still Netflix-deprived.

I forgot to post my last set of purchases from the last week that Hollywood Video on the hill was open.  Here's the list.

The end of binge discount shopping.
Hollywood Video -- 6 for $10

Audience of One (Jacobs)
Interkosmos (Finn)
Carnage (Glieze)
Lulu on the Bridge (Auster)
The Man Without a Past (Kaurismaki)
Gunslinger's Revenge (Veronesi)
The Work of Director Stephane Sednaoui
Peace Hotel (Wai)
I Can't Sleep (Denis)
Cutter's Way (Passer)
Gorky Park (Apted)
Memories of Murder (Bong)

Last Friday, I was driving through Cortland and what do I see?  Another Hollywood Video going out of business!  Of course I stopped.  3 for $10.  After about half an hour and a large stack of DVDs, I walked away without buying a thing.  I decided that finding this sale was not a blessing.  It was a temptation to be resisted.  I need to get rid of books and DVDs and read and watch what I already have.  I don't need more.  I do not.  No!


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Conversations 2010 #10

Conversations 2010 #10

Spike posted his 50!

I've only seen 58% (29/50) of the list.  

Not too long after my brief Ikiru post I read this:

That's how I wanted to feel about Ikiru, but I didn't and I don't and I can't fake it.
It's funny that you mention Fearless.  I saw it at a fairly young age (14/15) and "it wrecked me," to borrow a phrase from the Ikiru post I just linked to.  Fearless would probably just miss being in my top 50, too, but it might make the cut depending on the day.  

Peter Weir is one of my favorite directors.  I grew up loving his films way before I'd ever heard that silly word auteur.  Try to find a torrent for The Plumber.  I think you can find it if you search for "freakyflicks The Plumber" on the Pirate Bay or try to find the freakyflicks message board.

I can't knock you for including Sound of Music.  I'm trying to overcome my bias against musicals, but really I just avoid them whenever I can.  

C.S. Lewis wrote somewhere that he hated romances involving children, that he had an almost unnatural revulsion toward them.  He pointed out that therefore he was probably entirely untrustworthy when it came to reviewing any such stories.


Don't trust a thing I write or say about dudes singing and dancing.

I have to ask: Really?  New Hope over Empire?  Over Return?   

I just bought a copy of Gates of Heaven at the great Hollywood video closing sale.  I had no idea that you love it.  I've never seen it.  It's one of those films that gets mentioned only infrequently and even then usually only about its budget or length and not its content.

Never mind.  I just checked.  I was thinking of Hraven's Gate.  Gates of Heaven is the Errol Morris pet cemetary picture.  That's different.  For the record, I've seen and enjoy Gates of Heaven.  Which means I'm up to 60%.

M*A*S*H is the only film that I actively dislike on your list.  It has always felt a bit too mean-spirited to me.  Okay, I also dislike Royal Tannenbaums.  It annoys me.  Oh, and High Fidelity disappointed, but I haven't seen it again since opening night.  

I really need to re-watch Joe vs. the Volcano.  I loved it as a child, but I haven't seen it since.  I also loved Overboard with Kurt Russel and Goldie Hawn and I'm absolutely frightened to ever watch it as an adult.

I can't remember what our first film conversation was about, but I remember pretty early on being shocked at your devotion to Meg Ryan.  Around that same time, I saw her in HurlyBurly and I was flummoxed.  Meg Ryan?    

I'd love to read Spike's Appreciation of Meg Ryan.  In my mind, you've already written it.

Anyhow, I'm hoping for more film writing to appear on your blog.

I can't remember if you said you had seen it or not or if we even talked about it, but here's the link to my top ten (thirty) post from last year.

Brandon, I haven't seen Superbad yet.  My offhand comment was based on its reputation and me having seen a 10-year-old-or-so boy wearing a MacLovin (is that right? Something like that) t-shirt.  I might love it.  Based on what I know of it, I just don't think it's good for children.   

Jason and Brandon, I don't have much to add to your war posts at the moment.  I do think that The Hurt Locker is essentially an Army recruitment tool in the same way that almost all "anti-war" films are, but I don't feel like putting the energy into writing enough to back up that claim right now.  Buy me a beer sometime and I'll talk your ear off.  

It's been way too long since I've seen any of those Vietnam films and I've never seen Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket.

Rambo:First Blood may be my favorite Vietnam war film.

As far as "pro-war" films go, John Ford's When Willie Come Marching Home is one of the best films I've seen so far this year.

Jason, Brandon and I did put up Top 10 War Film lists last year if you want to check them out.

My list:

Brandon's list:

Finally, some one sentence reviews.

She-Wolf of London
I can't write about this movie without swearing.

Good Hair
Chris Rock lovingly exposes the insane hair practices of black women in one of the best ignored films of last year. 

I love and cherish Lost after episodes like Everybody Loves Hurley.

Star Trek: Man Trap
Is every episode of the original series about sex?

Kick-Ass succeeds as a summation of every wrong and stupid impulse in today's developmentally arrested middle age comic book culture and fails in just about everything else.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Daytime werewolfery, frabjous day, dying suns, struggling NASA paycheck to NASA paycheck, and other nonsense no one believes in.

At the end of this post, piling folly on folly: unreserved hope for the films of 2010.

The long title serves to warn that this is a long post.

I was going to start a Joe Dante marathon as soon as my Bergman marathon was over, but, as y'all know, I never did finish my Bergman marathon.

Good Friday morning I was up too early and needed a scare.  With werewolves on the mind, I brewed some coffee, pulled Dante's The Howling off the shelf, popped it in, and settled down for some pre-dawn lycanthropy.

The Howling's werewolves are both different and not so different from the Universal Wolf Man.  They can change whenever they want, full moon or no full moon.  That's a big difference.  An even bigger difference?  These werewolves have embraced the curse.  They love it.  They are wild, restrained only as far as is socially necessary to protect themselves from being hunted and exterminated.

Those differences noted, Larry Talbot would still be morally conflicted if he was bitten in this other world.  In the end, the only likable characters in The Howling are those who welcome death as a relief.

I loved the ending.

Saturday, a couple of the guys I work for wanted to see a movie and we came to the group consensus of Alice in Wonderland.  An 11:45 showing at the Regal.  We were the only ones there.

I should have written about the film immediately, but I didn't, so all I've got left are vague impressions.

The "real world" parallels to the Underland reality are funny and I found it refreshing that it wasn't quite the 1:1 correspondence of Oz/Kansas.  I found myself smiling through the entire garden party/proposal sequence.

The whole "return to Wonderland" idea allows a lot of wiggle room for playing around in Carroll's universe without being unfaithful.  Like Return to Oz, one of my childhood favorites, in its playing loose but respectful with sources, this Alice in Wonderland is an amalgam of Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-glass, Carroll's poetry, and also all of the adaptations of Alice so far and our cultural expectations of Alice.

What I found most refreshing was the innocence of this 20-year-old (!) Alice.  

In a cinematic culture of raunch and ruin, in which too many of today's children have had their imagination formed by the likes of Saw and Superbad, or, maybe worse, sitcoms and Spongebob, I choose and champion the beautiful naivety of innocent and lovely Alice.   

Or the savage grace of Max.

In this context of enjoying Alice, I caught up with Where the Wild Things Are on DVD.  WtWTA is as good as all of its defenders have said it is.  

Here is youth that carries the dying sun in its heart.  

A heavy burden indeed.  Max here is as innocent as Alice, but wounded and grieving.  If Alice is an ideal from the past, Max may be closer to our current reality or at least the reality of my generation, the dying sun generation.

Both films go far in capturing the spirit and sensibility of youth.

Note to self: the Sun of Righteousness has risen, is even yet rising, and shall never set.  

I suppose I knew I had to experience disappointment eventually after a solid run of films like the above.  The next film I watched was 1935's Werewolf of London which is pretty bad by most standards.  I don't even care enough to trash it right now.

Not at all what I expected, but not at all a disappointment, The Box is magnificent.  Not quite Shyamalan The Happening level magnificent.  All the same, entirely to be celebrated uniquely magnificent.

I hope I'm clear in comparing the two.  I described The Happening as a noble failure and am now placing The Box right beside it.  The Box doesn't work as metaphysical suspense thriller.  It falls flat and is often more than laughable, bordering on outright lunacy.  We're a race of greedy murderers and judgment will come.  Either through a lightning-inspired superior being or killer plants.   

But, there is a sincerity and intensity and honest craftsmanship here that should not be mocked.  

I need to stress... The Box is so much better than any typical Hollywood studio picture.  I totally support The Box.  I mean it when I describe it as magnificent.  It's amazing that a film like this got made and seemed to have a good advertising campaign and strong studio support.  I hope for a long and happy career for Richard Kelly.  He's proven himself to be extremely talented and wildly inventive even when restraining himself.  I want more.

In TV land, Lost keeps on disappointing.  I wish I could care more.  I'm almost ready to stop watching (stupid empty threat).  I fell asleep twenty minutes into the Desmond episode.  Don't worry.  I watched it later in the week.  It sucked.  

Even worse than a parallel timeline is a parallel timeline in which parallel folks start discovering that they suck.  Because I know they suck.  The solution is not to make the characters aware that they suck.  The solution is to just STOP already.  Okay?

So, now I've worked myself up into a frenzy of negativity.  

You'll just have to believe me that I remain cheerfully optimistic.  Even about the direction of Lost.  Especially about 2010 in film.

2010 may end up being really, really great.

We're probably getting True Grit by the end of the year.

We're definitely getting a Jonah Hex adaptation with a great cast.


Kelly Reichart may have a Western done by the end of the year... Meek's Cutoff.

That's three Westerns.

It seems almost certain that we'll get Tree of Life in November.

Iron Man 2 will be shocking if anything other than the most fun movie of the summer.

So, even before the Cannes lineup announcement, here is a 2010 anticipation list...

This list is based mostly on me having read tiny blurbs on each film and getting excited over a director, a cast, or just an idea.  I'm sure I've missed some worthy films or may be giving some of these films too much credit, but, hey, I'm still excited.  Tell me about what else I should be excited about.

20 all-American films expected to deliver AWESOME!!!  I'm feeling patriotic.  

1) True Grit (Coen)
2) Tree of Life (Malick)
3) Meek's Cutoff (Reichart)
4) Jonah Hex (Hayward)
5) Iron Man 2 (Favreau)
6) Survival of the Dead (Romero)
7) The Town (Affleck)
8) Toy Story 3 (Unkrich)
9) The American (Corbijn)
10) Get Low (Schneider)
11) The Last Airbender (Shyamalan)
12) Robin Hood (Scott)
13) The Green Hornet (Gondry)
14) The Fighter (Russell)
15) Your Highness (Green)
16) Kick-Ass (Vaughn)
17) The Last Exorcism (Stamm)
18) Cyrus (Duplass)
19) My Soul to Take (Craven)
20) You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Allen)