Monday, August 30, 2010

Summer is nearly over

Batman Under the Red Hood is as good as anything else that the WB/DC animation studios have produced so far.  Which is pretty darn hood.  I mean good.

I like Treme after two episodes.  I'll keep watching and report back here eventually.

Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is fun enough.  The girls liked the invisibility tricks.

Beep, Beep is a classic Chuck Jones Roadrunner short.  Obviously, it's fantastic.

Now, definitely the best thing I've watched all month, maybe all year, is Teshigahara's short film Hokusai, about the artist of the same name.  I'll write about it if I watch it again soon.

Brandon, I don't know what that whole Ghost/Dragon tiff was all about.  I think I just wanted to argue about something.  I feel lukewarm toward both films, but of the two I do prefer Ghost.  And I did write positively about it when I was bashing Inception.  So I'm not sure why I started picking on you for defending it.

I haven't paid any attention to recent festival listings (I'm just now catching up with Cinema Scope's Cannes coverage), but I am aware of Tree of Life evidently being pushed back and have also heard a few rumours about Malick's next project.  I haven't heard much about True Grit, but it's all I want for Christmas.

I enjoyed your Greenberg thoughts and only want to comment on this one line: 
{I think your observation about the “life is wasted on people” is interesting but I don’t think it works only because, whoever that fetus was, it was never given the distinction of being considered a person.}

I agree that the fetus does not register as a person (and, by extension, does not even register as a life).  That's part of my point.  This life (the fetus specifically stands in for new life) is wasted (literally killed and trashed) on people (Florence and Greenberg show no understanding).

Basically, my point was that there is new life growing inside and the only response that our characters can think of is to kill it.  That's the obvious and only solution to them.  If that's not a striking metaphor for Greenberg's (and also Florence's) heart condition, then I'm at a loss to describe what this sequence is doing in the film.  I just don't know whether this is conscious or unconscious on the part of Baumbach.

I own a copy of Lake of Fire, but have been dreading watching it.  I'll get to it eventually.

Finally, I know I wasn't going to bring up Edge of Darkness anymore, but I wanted to comment on this:
{I think that those scenes shot on an abnormally nice camcorder are scripted in ways that felt phony. I wanted to be crying and anything less felt like a failure on the director’s part.}

I disagree.  I know I talked a lot about emotions in regards to Edge, but I never felt like crying during the film (okay, one exception almost had me in tears; when our hero first hunches over his daughter's body, he tries to pray, but his tongue trips over every prayer he tries to summon to his lips - that moment rang heart-achingly true).  I don't think that those camcorder scenes are meant to elicit tears.  They are there to illustrate our protagonist's interior state.  Even before his daughter's death, he was living with memories of her (instead of her) as his reality.  If I remember right, one of those camcorder scenes even precedes the daughter's death.  All that said, I agree that the Gibson-Winstone interactions are central.

Enough for now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Edge of buying Murder, She Wrote complete series on DVD

Yes.  Polanski's film is better crafted.  It would win in a cage match with Dragon Tattoo.

Still, Dragon Tattoo is consistently engaging for nearly three hours.  And this is because it is generally well made.  I think that you're definitely bringing baggage from having recently read the book.  Dragon Tattoo is certainly open to charges of perversity and sordidness.  The structure, script, direction, cinematography, and performances, however, are all solid enough.  In fact, they're good enough to make the film worth defending even when I don't like the film.  I think you're overreacting in not even granting it competence.

Of course, there are better episodes of Murder, She Wrote than this film.  You're fooling yourself if you don't think that there are episodes of Murder, She Wrote that not only look better, but are also much more compelling and enjoyable than Ghost Writer.

I've wanted to see Sweetgrass for almost a year.  Cinema Scope ran a couple of good articles on it last year that made me both aware of the film and excited to see it.  I'm glad you liked it.  I'll try to see it soon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Edge of you're completely wrong.

I think that we'll just have to disagree about Edge of Darkness.  I can't convince you that something works emotionally if you don't feel it.  I do wonder if it makes any difference that I'm the father of a bunch of daughters.  That could be the obvious reason why I'm more easily swayed by this material, because I'm bringing emotions to the film that you aren't.

Also, to be clear that we're talking about the same thing, I'm not talking exclusively about the actual moment of death as much as I am talking about Gibson's character's response to it, both initially and over the course of the rest of the film.

I am a bit surprised that you're so enamored with The Ghost Writer.  You took issue when I lumped it together with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  I would rank Ghost a bit higher, but I also think that Dragon does a bunch of things right (for example, the whole parade photo sequence) that you gloss over.  Both are competently made adult thrillers that are decent enough entertainment.  I just don't think either one really demands a second viewing.  This may be primarily because I feel that both are lacking the sort of moral heartbeat that I see evidenced in similarly smart adult movies like Farewell and Edge of Darkness.  We obviously disagree, but I'm already thinking of watching Edge of Darkness again while the only time I think about Ghost Writer anymore is when you bring it up.

Edge of Darkness has the same sort of lively intensity as the best late '40s b-level noir.  I just don't see the problem with the corporate corruption line that the film takes.  It's nothing new, but it's played straight and it's played well.  I'm not sure what your issue is here.

I'm not going to defend it any more until I see it again.

I've got nothing really new to add to the horror discussion.  I'll write something if I lose my mind and go see Piranha 3D. 

The only film I've seen since my last post is Hot Tub Time Machine.  It's no worse than the bad 80s films it is so adoringly paying homage to and structured after, but it's also not any better.  It's just barely worth watching for the running one-armed Crispin Glover gag.

I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Greenberg.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

With a little help from my superiors.


I just want to clarify a few things that got lost in my Greenberg post.  

Most importantly, I don't think that the Florence character is any more attractive as a person than the more obviously damaged Greenberg.  

I really didn't enjoy the film and am hostile to its assumptions and conclusions, but Baumbach certainly achieves his goals here regardless of whether or not I like his film.  I'm not sure if my distaste for the film is as evident as it should be in my previous post.  Then again, maybe I'm overstating things at this point.  I can't tell.

Also, my assessment of Gerwig was more of a gut feeling than any reasoned analysis.  It was good to discover since then that A. O. Scott has already communicated what I was trying to say about her performance in a much more informed and reasonable fashion than I was capable of.

"Ms. Gerwig, most likely without intending to be anything of the kind, may well be the definitive screen actress of her generation, a judgment I offer with all sincerity and a measure of ambivalence. She seems to be embarked on a project, however piecemeal and modestly scaled, of redefining just what it is we talk about when we talk about acting."

Also, I found a good Mick LaSalle article on director-actress pairs.

On Godard-Karina:
"No matter what nonsense Godard is spewing, if Karina is in the frame, he is expressing at least one true thing. She is his anchor. Likewise, it doesn't matter what Karina is doing onscreen. If Godard is watching her, she is always fascinating. Through her, he becomes the chronicler of a cultural moment. Through him, she becomes - and you really need to see her onscreen to know this is not just critical foaming-at-the-mouth - an embodiment of some hard-to-define eternal truth."

On why this dynamic only works with male directors and female stars:
"No, this phenomenon is a guy thing. But why? I have my theory, really just a guess, the sort of speculation that leads to a whole other discussion: I think male directors photograph actresses in a certain way, because men see women, at least to some degree, as a mystery. And I think female directors don't photograph actors in the same way, because women don't see men as a mystery at all - possibly because men aren't. Possibly because women tend to see men coming from a mile away."

Look before you leap.

Grr.  I've been happy enough writing on my iPod for the past year, but that last post of mine wasn't complete.  I had made some minor and some significant changes to what I wrote about Greenberg.  Festering dis-ease and other such rot.  Somehow I lost all of those edits to my iPod's digital belly.  Oh well.  At least I didn't lose the whole post.

Brandon, I hope you're still having fun.  Let's definitely have some On Demand parties when you get home.

Jason, have you still been posting to Flixter/Facebook?  I haven't been on Facebook in a while, but I know that you had still been posting mini-reviews there that you weren't sharing here.  If you're already writing for Flixster and can't give up that channel of writing, then by all means keep writing there.  BUT!  How hard would it be for you to copy and then paste the same content to your blog to share with us movie-lovin'-reluctant-Facebookers?  I've especially been waiting to hear your Scott Pilgrim thoughts.  And speaking of comic book movies, did we ever get a Kick-Ass opinion from you?

I watched Leap Year last night.  I confess that I am not at all the target audience for this film, so I won't make the claim that this is worse than Jonah Hex.  I will say that by the time I made it to the 3-4 minute mark, I knew that it was going to be a painful 80+ minutes.  There's a moment near the end when Amy Adams runs out to the edge of a cliff and for a brief moment I really thought she was going to throw herself off of it and I was prepared to forgive the film everything that had come before for this one gloriously destructive moment.

She didn't jump.

The real problem with Leap Year isn't that adults use the word "poo" when talking to each other.  The problem is that every scene feels exactly like it's supposed to.  Here's where we laugh.  Here's the madcap part.  Here's the tingly kissy part.  Here's where we feel uneasy about future romance.  Here's where we stab ourselves in the eyes with a spoon.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Life is wasted on Noah Baumbach

[On Greenberg with a bit about Edge of Darkness at the end.]

Is that post title similar enough to White's "retroactive abortion" comment to get me banned from future Baumbach screenings?

I hope not.  (not that I'd ever get invited to such a screening in the first place!)

One of the best lines in the film is the titular character Greenberg's quip that "they say youth is wasted on the young.  I'd go further.  I say life is wasted on people."  That line is great, but it's Stiller's delivery that marks it as a moment of clarity in communication on the part of a person instead of coming off as the attention-grabbing showmanship of a smug screenwriter.  Baumbach does fall into this showy screenwriter trap at times (I'm looking at you party scene!).  Even so, Stiller consistently saves the script by making it real.  

Ben Stiller is always great and he's great here.  His best performance to date may be his cameo as the Academy Award Na'vi, but his performance in Mystery Men is my favorite.

I do declare that Greta Gerwig is someone to keep track of in the future.  Jason, watching Baghead was actually great preparation for Greenberg.   I hope Gerwig can get future roles that go beyond the limitations of these two roles in which she basically plays variations on the same character, the hip young object of desire (the characters are just different enough, but it's interesting to think of her character in Greenberg as the sequel to her character in Baghead).

Looking at her IMDB page doesn't have me too confident about her future, but greatness is still the most plausible possibility.

Gerwig's face is a gross landscape of innocence and experience, an icon of moral and aesthetic possibilities; demanding the obsessively exacting explorations of a Griffith with a Gish or a Godard working with a Karina.  I applaud Baumbach for holding the camera on Gerwig's close-up profile for some relatively long shots.  Maybe Baumbach will adopt her as his muse, but it seems not to be.  IMDB suggests plenty of upcoming work for the lass, but, as of yet, no auteur smitten enough with her to make her immortal.

Despite my enthusiastic praise for the performances above, I had an initially strong reaction against Greenberg.  Still, it's the only film I've seen in a week and I can't stop thinking about it.

If I don't like it, then I at least respect it. 

Greenberg is essentially a character study.  An anti-Inception.  

[Tangent:  Have you guys read the Bordwell/Thompson Inception post?  Inception is praised as a formal experiment in the limits of exposition as structure. ]

Here's the plot of Greenberg:
Greenberg comes to Los Angeles to house-sit for his brother while his brother's family is on a business/vacation trip to Vietnam.  While in LA, Greenberg takes care of a dog, meets up with old friends, and begins an affair with his brother's family's personal assistant.  Other events occur as a result of these three basic situations, with a youth party thrown in for good measure.

So, what's my problem?  Greenberg the film features Greenberg the character. Greenberg the character is frustratingly self-centered and unlikable.

"So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods." -John Calvin

The problem with Greenberg the character is that he doesn't know and can't know who he really is because he never looks beyond himself and his own needs.  He doesn't take the time to look to others, let alone look "beyond the earth."  Life is wasted on Greenberg.

I could enjoy this as a character study of the damned, but I think that Florence (the Gerwig character) is our audience surrogate and we're made to feel about Greenberg the same way that she does, always giving one more chance, always resulting in our own hurt.  It's not that we love Greenberg in spite of his flaws.  It's that we pretend that he's really a better person than he's given us any right to expect him to be.  He acts like a jerk all of the time, but he has a pure heart.  Bullocks.

There's the tiniest glimmer of hope for Greenberg at the end, but it's situated in the midst of an horrifically unexamined act of destroying life.

The following is a minor spoiler - the film's muted climax is an abortion.  The way in which this all is handled is matter-of-fact, with a twinge of mostly unspoken sadness (which looking back on this now I'm not sure if I'm bringing this emotion to the film where it's not present).  This portion of the film reminds me of In Search of a Midnight Kiss, which ends in a similar situation, but handles the material much differently.

Greenberg is all too eager to help with the abortion (the baby is not his) as a way of supporting his would-be lover.  There is such a clear reflection here of Greenberg's philosophy that I have to wonder if Baumbach was conscious of it when he had this action fulfill Greenberg's words: life is wasted on people.

I'm rambling a bit.  In summary, I still don't know what I think about Greenberg.  It's either among the best films of the year or it falls in the bottomless mud pit of so much stylized rich white privileged complaining, beginning to comprehend their despair and depravity, but unable to do anything about it.

At the very least, Greenberg made me want to listen to TMBG's Youth Culture Killed My Dog.


Since writing the above I've seen Edge of Darkness.  Brandon, you're too reserved in praising Martin Campbell's efforts in this film.  Maybe I liked the film so much more than you did because I did feel the emotional impact of the daughter's death.  I might be able to agree with you about the postcard-perfect memories if they weren't used to such a consistently ghostly purpose.  The final shot [SPOILER!] of the father and daughter walking away together is both honestly moving and completely earned.  This is about as far removed from Inception's pseudo-familial evocations as we can get.  Maybe I'm just a cranky contrarian, but I'd argue that Edge of Darkness is better than almost anything else 2010 has given us so far.  I may need to watch it again to be sure.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Guerre froide

Christian Carion has become one of my favorite directors. His Joyeux Noel was a favorite of mine in 2005 and now L'affaire Farewell (2009) proves Carion to be full of abundant promise.

There's a moment early in the film when I knew I had already fallen in love with it. A teenage boy is ignoring his father and listening to Queen. Under Pressure.

And of course this cold war espionage tale is about a couple of men under enormous pressure.

"It's the terror of knowing
What this world is about"

The sound design, the score, and especially the use of Queen songs on the soundtrack mark Farewell as a notch above the rest. [I just looked it up. Clint Mansell who did the score for this film also was responsible for the amazing Moon score from last year. He's someone to watch/listen for!]

This film is the intelligent adult thriller that The Ghost Writer and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are striving to be. The biggest difference between Farewell and these other two films is that Farewell never feels safe or familiar even while being a fairly straightforward narrative that stands solidly in a tradition. There is one scene in particular in which Carion intercuts footage of Freddie Mercury on stage with the Russian boy listening to Queen on his Walkman; that sequence is absolutely daring and refreshing and could be borderline laughable and stupid if handled wrongly. Instead, it is just right.

All of Farewell has a quiet and gentle humor that makes it human and humane. It feels alive in the best sense while the other two films mentioned above feel suffocatingly anti-life in their intentions.

Besides Queen's music as a touchstone, the film visually quotes The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence twice, having Ronald Reagan be a little obsessed with the film. I haven't seen Liberty Valence, so can't quite comment intelligently here, but I think that the obvious connection between Farewell and Valence is the idea of truths buried under official needs, a theme explored briefly here.

Finally, I think there's something going on in the film with the Cold War as metaphor for strained marriages or vice versa. The lies and mounting distrust are sure to end in either nuclear war (separation/divorce) or in peace talks leading to disarmament (reconciliation).

Really highly recommended.

Can you tell by all of the YouTube clips that I'm having fun with unlimited Internet access while on vacation?

Crazy for trying - a lame short post.

The Crazies is frustratingly not good enough. I need to check out Romero's original.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

More Arr!

Hat tip to my friend Mike.

Elmer Kelton

What kind of world do we live in when Elmer Kelton dies and it takes a guy on the East Coast nearly a year to find out about it? You'd think the news was delivered via pony express.

That's life without the Internet, I guess. I know it's unrealistic in a time in which the Western is out of favor, but I would have liked to have heard a news story about it at the time. Michael Jackson got a few months. Kelton can't even rate a day?

In the course of the morning/mourning, I've discovered that The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada wasn't the first film Tommy Lee Jones directed. His first film was a Kelton adaptation for TV, The Good Old Boys. There's no DVD available and I can't find any torrents, which is a bummer. In better news, I discovered that Tommy Lee Jones's next directorial project will be an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited, a great McCarthy book that I loaned to Justin Mann and never got back.

Completely unrelated, I'm watching The Crazies tonight.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lazy LI Days

- I'm obviously a couple of years late on this, but I really enjoy this Violent Femmes (always my favorite band) cover of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy:

- I mentioned Twilight Struggle recently. Interestingly, the game is being used as part of the promotional advertising for an upcoming feature, Farewell, which (because of this GMT connection and because it's from the director of Joyeux Noel), I'm hoping to see this Friday night at Sag Harbor Cinema.

- I saw Despicable Me last night. I really wanted to love it. I didn't. It's by-the-books from beginning to end. All the jokes feel safe. Everything feels safe. It's a fine kid's movie, but there's nothing in it to rival the glories of Toy Story 3. It may seem unfair to compare the two, but one will survive as a worthy classic and the other will be mostly forgotten in 20 years.

Maybe more later.

Conversations 2010 #19

Conversations 2010 #19

In 2006, I was new to working at the Pond. On my lunch breaks, I'd go sit out at the tables in the lobby and turn on TCM on the giant TV. I'd get to watch 25 minutes of whatever was on.

One day, I caught the beginning of a silent film, The Red Mill. After watching for 30 minutes, I left the table long enough to go back into my room and let my co-worker know that I was taking an 80 minute lunch break this day. I had an instant crush on Marion Davies and was willing to risk losing my job to finish watching this film.

At the time, The Red Mill was completely unavailable and I still haven't seen it again since. I just learned tonight that it's now available via the WB Archive, but I'm being good about not buying DVDs and can't give in to this temptation.

Earlier this year, I finally caught up with Show People, which confirmed for me that Davies was one of the best (definitely among the funniest) actresses of the 20th century.

All of the above as context to link to a great post about Davies at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, evaluating Show People in the light of Citizen Kane and its unflattering (to put it mildly) portrait of a Davies type character (Davies was real-life mistress to Hearst, the character that Kane is so clearly based on).

Have fun on tour and let me know when you're back in town for good. It's a real crime that we still haven't been out to the cinema together.

I haven't seen Shaun of the Dead. :(
I've saved Baghead from the rubbish box and will send it to you if you send me an email with your snail mail address.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Overdue post - the end of July.

I watched The Wolf Man (the 2010 one) with low expectations and was still disappointed. You know why? I can't imagine this Larry Talbot meeting Frankenstein's Monster or Bud and Lou. It's not Del Toro's fault. The script is too serious and the father stuff is stupid. The gore is ridiculous. Almost the worst movie of the year; The Wolf Man, like so many others, is saved from that spot by Jonah Hex.

I've been building up Jonah Hex so much that you guys are going to love it when you inevitably see it.

I've been watching films from 1941. The original Wolf Man movie is one of the most important films of that year, introducing a truly great character. I've seen Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I prefer both of those other two to the original, but the original deserves a ton of respect.

Last week, I watched my first two Preston Sturges films and one Walsh film; all three from 1941.

The Lady Eve has a great cast and a few great moments, but I was uninterested in the central romantic dynamics/cons/games between Fonda and Stanwyk. Maybe Barbara Stanwyck is too naughty for me.

Sullivan's Travels impressed me much more. The chemistry between McCrea and Lake is contagious. Whenever they're both on screen, there's no way to not be interested. McCrea holds his own all alone during the prison scenes. The church/movie scene is perfect.

I loved all of Walsh's Manpower except for the end. [Spoiler]Gimpy dying seemed inevitable and definitely seemed like a cheat.[/Spoiler] This is more the script's fault than Walsh's fault, but it's too bad because the rest of the script is so smart.

I've been on vacation since last Friday afternoon and it's great. More soon.