Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dope on a rope

"Your initial disclaimer before talking about PIRANHA pretty much told me all I needed to know about why you had such a dismal time."

Yeah, I know. I guess I'm trying to understand grindhouse/exploitation horror and why it offers anyone any pleasure at all. I just don't get it.

"Part of my enjoyment (as messed up as this is) was to see what happens when a bunch of Jersey Shore “hedonists” got eaten by killer fish. I savored every death and I‘m willing to live with the consequences. Call me immature. Call me immoral. I probably deserve it. At least I’m not a liar."

That's the main reason I love what we do here. None of us are "putting on airs." I'll never question the veracity of your response to a movie.

Still, I think that you missed something in Piranha. The just desserts that our party people receive never goes far enough. I think I might have enjoyed Piranha at least a bit if McQueen's character got ripped to pieces before the end. Everyone else gets what they deserve. We (as represented by our handsome onscreen surrogate) are essentially innocent and escape. We get to see and enjoy other people getting what they deserve. Our own transgressions remain unpunished. Sorry. That really gets on my nerves.

"As for DOGTOOH I simply don’t agree with your interpretation here. “Pop culture will save your soul?” Really? I didn’t get that at all. And honestly if that was the way you felt throughout the film I don’t blame you for hating."

Nope. That's not how I was feeling throughout the whole film. It's the conclusion I came to once it was all over. Throughout most of the film, I felt bored and indifferent at one sleazy shock comedy moment after another. SPOILERS AHEAD. The whole "pop culture will save your soul" interpretation has to do with the oldest daughter escaping her mental and physical prison after being exposed to Jaws, Rocky, and Flashdance. These Hollywood films give her the information and the strength she needs to rebel against the false system that has governed her life thus far. That she probably suffocates in a trunk is just one more sick punchline to end the film on.

"Inculcation seems like a strong word for passing important values and art from one generation to the next."

Maybe I shouldn't have used that word. I guess it does have negative connotations of forcefulness. The definition I had in mind was simply "to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions." For example, my girls know that Abbott and Costello are funny because we watch their movies repeatedly and they hear their father laugh uproariously over and over again, by repetition. That's the sort of inculcation that I was talking about as an inescapable part of parenting. Some children are inculcated in 6 hours of Nickolodeon a day. Frequent repetitions. It's an inescapable part of family life or of the life in which parents have abdicated responsibility to the television set and to the "experts" outside of the home.

Further, Lanthimos' film inculcates in the audience a distrust of family inculcation through its repeated (with variations) images of domestic perversion. It's inescapable. Some critics have said that Lanthimos avoids didacticism and is open to innumerable interpretations. I disagree. I pretty much think that there's nothing deep here. Everything is on the surface. I suppose that one could argue that Lanthimos never makes a moral judgment on the behavior of the parents. It's something we bring to the film. For all we know, Lanthimos is presenting the ideal society.

"I don’t get the home schooling interpretation either."

The film involves parents who are educating their children at home to prevent outside influences. What's not to get?

"If the director spouts off about home schooling or talks about how “pop culture will save our souls” then I’m with you buddy."

I've actually been reading interviews with the director since my last post. He doesn't use the same sort of arguments that I used in my post, but I don't think that my interpretation is that different than the director's own interpretation. The film started off as a reaction to Lanthimos' friends having children and how protective they became. He imagined a science fictional future in which families no longer existed and children were raised in other ways. He tried to imagine what a family rebelling against this would look like. Societal surrogates - good. Families protective of their children - bad.

"I’m not going to defend it. I don’t want to. I don’t care enough about it. I’ll never watch it again. I’ll probably ignore every film that director makes. I regret saying that I loved it. That was stupid. That was impulsive."

I've done the same thing before. Earlier this year, I told you that Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then was the best movie of the year so far. I'm still waffling over whether I like that movie or really, really hate it. Like you said about Dogtooth, there are a few moments/images that will stick with me whether I want them to or not and certainly that indicates some measure of success on part of the film/filmmaker.

And seriously, I don't even think that it's wrong to be impulsive. I kinda regret the way that I went to bat for Haneke's The Seventh Continent. I've spent way too much time defending Haneke when I really don't even like the man and only partially like his films. There's a part of me that is still moved by The Seventh Continent (which is how I imagine you still feel about Dogtooth), but it is ultimately an extremely negative film, allowing for no positive. In a way, that's what I admired about it, but really, the world doesn't need a Haneke or Lanthimos. It needs more funny fat men.

"I find it funny that you think the anecdote here is joy. I never thought the day would come when a Haneke fan inculcates to me about joy."

I'm over Haneke. Remind me of what I wrote about joy the next time I'm suckered by some arthouse wanker who wants to punish us for loving life.

In conclusion, I'm just glad that we interact with each other here. Having to defend Julien Donkey-Boy made me have to really examine why it is that that film resonates with me so deeply. I am trying to change your mind about Piranha and Dogtooth. That's what arguing is about. In the process of evaluating the films further, you'll either refine and clarify the reasons you have for loving/appreciating them or you'll come to your senses and admit that I'm right. :)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Vessels of Wrath Fitted For Destruction

What I've Been Watching Lately


I've been surprised to discover how much I really enjoy Dexter. It's no Breaking Bad, but it is really compelling pulpy television.

I've watched the first ten episodes (of twelve) of the first season. I'm not feeling up to going through every episode individually, but I'll state bluntly that I'm generally very pleased with what I've seen so far. Dexter (the character) is an unusually rich instrument of vengeance against evildoers. His peculiar struggles make for an engaging spin on the police procedural.


Lake of Fire is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. While the documentary gives a fair hearing to the pro-choice crowd and shows quite a few kooks on the pro-life side, I can't imagine how anyone, after seeing this film, could continue to maintain that abortion is not the willful taking of human life. The graphic footage of an abortion doctor sifting through newly destroyed baby parts had me shaking in my seat.


The Parking Lot Movie was enjoyable, but pretty one-note. Working at the parking lot is great. Blah Blah Blah. Great. Blah. Parking. Blah. Blah. Lot.


I've already mentioned Mexican Hayride a couple of times. It's really only a so-so comedy with a few decent moments up until the comedy gets ratcheted up a few notches in the absolutely hilarious final bullfight. Really, really great. Brandon is totally right about Abbott being the best straight man ever, but I was on a high of complete dumbstruck awe toward Costello after watching that bullfight.


I watched half of I'm Still Here and hated it, though it did look like a lot of fun for Affleck and Pheonix. I probably won't finish watching it.

I also watched the first 20 minutes of Innerspace after reading Jason's post, but fell asleep because it was late at night. The next day? Netflix had taken the movie down so I couldn't finish watching it. Dang.

I watched the first 5 minutes of the first film Marlon Brandon ever appeared in, The Men. I wasn't even going to mention it, but I thought it would be funny if Abby ever wrote something about her experience watching movies at night after I've fallen asleep a few minutes in and am snoring loudly and stealing blankets from her.


I still haven't finished Woman in the Moon.


All aboard the friend ship

There are choppy waters ahead and I don't see any other ships around.

I ought to know better. Brandon himself pretty much warned me against doing it.

I watched a Piranha/Dogtooth double feature.

How could I not?

Here are Brandon's short summary judgments on these two films...

"I liked PIRANHA 3D a lot"

Besides Brandon's affections, the thing that these two movies had in common before I watched them was my disinterest in ever watching them. I do confess to having had extremely negative pre-conceived notions about both films. One looked like a popular celebration of hedonism with a twist of gore. The other looked like an art-house middle finger to the world.

Here's the thing. Brandon claims to really like Piranha and to love Dogtooth. I love my friend Brandon. If these movies are as good as he says they are, then I need to share the experience. If they are as bad as I fear, then I need to jump in the sewer and rescue my drowning friend.

As things turn out, this is a rescue mission.

Let's start with Piranha. Initial disclaimer: I hate this kind of campy horror and am extremely prejudiced against it. I do, however, kinda respect Dante's original Piranha, even though it crosses the exploitation line a few times.

If Dante's film crosses the exploitation line a few times, it's safe to say that Aja's film permanently resides across the line. I can't speak to the 3D aspect, but I assume that its use was as exploitative as every other aspect of the film. Seriously, the film bored me to the point of frustration with its insistent look-at-me-now-naughtiness.

I hate the type of "spring break" hedonism that forms the foundation of this film. Girls gone wild are about as interesting as staring at mud. I don't know if I'm just older or if I'm wiser, too, but this sort of sexual nonsense is not at all titillating; it's just plain tiresome.

The piranha storyline is twice as silly as anything in the original Sayles script. Which is fitting, I suppose, because this film isn't trying to be anything it's not. Every step along the way, the film lives up to the deranged fantasy ravings of a peculiarly All-American 12-year-old geek-boy whose malformed conscience must simultaneously deal with sexual awakening and death wishes upon the world all while struggling to preserve his place in his family. Piranha is Girls Gone Wild meets Geek Justice with just enough Family Circus to keep things sweet. In other words, Piranha is the Clambake of the 21st century, which, despite my earlier post to the contrary, is definitely not awesome.

Confession: I watched about half of the film and was absolutely disgusted. I then only half-watched the second half of the film on double-fast-forward-mode while writing the above.

Really terrible.

Brandon "liked Piranha 3D a lot."

I hate it. I'll gladly punch Alexandre Aja in the face if I ever get the chance.

So, that was no surprise to any of you. Brandon least of all. I'm fairly predictable when it comes to base pop-schlock.

But what about art-house schlock?

My defense of Funny Games and my love of Julien Donkey-Boy might indicate that I could possibly join Brandon in his appreciation of Dogtooth. I grudgingly respect the work of Carlos Reygadas despite despising the pseudo-spiritual worldview of his films. Might I defend Dogtooth?

Alas, no.

Pop culture will save your soul. That's the natural conclusion of Dogtooth. I even acknowledge the strength of some of the scenes which address this and the partial truth that this idea represents. What Lanthimos is depicting here is obviously a terrible thing. In fact, I'd call it evil. The problem I have is that Lanthimos seems to be enjoying himself so much and doesn't seem to know a thing about parenting. This is a movie "about" the dangers of withdrawal from the world and isolationist perfectionism, obviously warped by a commanding individual. Like Nolan's Batman, this father needs to lie to his people for their own good. (I bet I'm the only one in the world to connect Dogtooth to The Dark Knight). Nolan sees this as a good thing. Lanthimos rightly sees it as a horrific perversion.

One problem with the film is that it seems to encourage an audience response of distrusting any parental inculcation of values/opinions into their children. Are there sick individuals who will abuse their children? Yes. Does that mean that all families are suspect and should be replaced by other social institutions? God forbid.

I'm sorry, but inculcation of vision from one generation to the next is a huge part of what parenting is. I want my children to love what I love while developing their own tastes and opinions. I don't want some bureaucratic board of education or lowest common denominator trash on Nickolodeon to be the source of my children's education. That's the reason why my girls could talk to you about real historical events and people, but don't know much about "social studies" besides what they've actively learned while participating in the world. They love Lou Costello, but wouldn't recognize Hannah Montana. They have Psalms memorized, but have never listened to Wild104. Obviously, I'm a bit sensitive because at least a few people have seen this film as a polemic against homeschooling. I think that the critics who have pointed this out are absolutely right, but that Lanthimos completely misunderstands the idea of home education in particular and parenting in general, all while trumpeting salvation through film watching. After this and The Last Exorcism (another movie with a crazy homeschooling father, but a movie which I mostly liked) this year, I'm just tired of this sort of thing. Lanthimos doesn't seem to be attacking a specific perversion. He seems to be generalizing about parenthood. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I see it.

Besides my personal hang-ups with the film, Brandon has already pointed out a number of other perfectly valid reasons for not liking this film.

I can almost understand why he enjoyed the utterly tasteless juvenilia of Piranha. I'm really not at all sure why he fell hard for Dogtooth. Maybe it's a mid-life rebellion against his father's love for classic Hollywood studio films? Brandon needs to go beyond the gate and discover the world beyond the Hayes code?

I just don't know.

Whatever the cause of this madness, I know that my friend needs me through this, his darkest hour so far.

I may have to strap him to a chair and force him to watch the last ten minutes of Mexican Hayride repeatedly for a solid 24 hours. The antidote to crazy falsehoods isn't reveling in perversion. The antidote is joy, joy, and more joy. Something that Lanthimos gives us precious little of.

Brandon will learn, through the mediation of Lou Costello, how to rebel against his newly adopted father-substitute Lanthimos and so will knock out those false dog teeth he's wearing like so much gaudy bling.

Then, I'll play him a recorded message of my voice explaining to him that the word of the day is "dogtooth." Its definition is "excrement." Used in a sentence: "dogtooth is a human waste product that should be flushed down the toilet as soon as possible after cleansing oneself."

All in good fun,

Favor Request

Jason and Ben,

Could you guys do me a favor?

Go to the settings page for your blog.
Click on "email & mobile"
Add my email address (johnowentrout_at_gmail_dot_com) in the box that reads "BlogSend Address"
Click on "save settings"

Thanks! It's really a minor matter of convenience to me (I check my email multiple times a day; I check my rss reader a lot less often), but I'd appreciate it if you'd do this.

Siesta is Mexican for clambake! (I just finished watching Mexican Hayride) :)
Clambake is American for awesome!

I'll try to have a real post up later today.

Brandon: Lou Costello is brilliant.
Ben: You are obviously afraid to defend Lost in Translation.
Jason: I enjoyed your Cake post. I'm not familiar enough with any of their music to interact with what you say. You did make me want to check out their discography.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Black Christmas sucks.

Sorry Brandon.

(I did really want to like this movie and gave it all the way to the end despite wanting to turn it off frequently. Too bad, because the ending did not satisfy in any way. Total waste of my eyeballs.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ben bought Johansson's underwear off eBay...

...and dresses his life-size Bill Murray doll in them.

Ben wants to touch all of the feet in the world. Ben wants to touch your feet.

(thoughts on this to be finished later)

Come on, if you don't abandon your work and dedicate yourself to your blog, then Brandon and I will make up things for you all day long. Like the fact that you love Lost in Translation because you like seeing Giovanni Ribisi wear a scarf and sunglasses. I don't know if he actually does that, but you love it.

Faker than strange

I didn't like True Stories nearly as much as Jason did. I was actually a bit exasperated and annoyed by it, but maybe I was just in the wrong mood to watch it.

I was surprised at the end to see that Stephen Tobolowsky (of the Tobolowsky files, not to mention actor in about 200 different films and TV series) had a writing credit.

Foot to mouth

"Yes Bill does get called out. She is jealous and disappointed in him. She is going to him for marital advice and he is cheating on his wife with some cheap lounge singer. He is in the doghouse for a solid day. Come on man!"

"She is jealous" is key here. She's not angry that he's cheating on his wife. As irrational as it is, she's angry that he's cheating on her.

If you go on tour for a week, spend most of your time hanging out with a chick and spend a night sleeping next to each other (but you only hold her foot!); you're telling me that Tara would be okay with that? Or, similarly, you'd be cool with some dude holding your wife's foot? We're in serious Pulp Fiction space here, but, hey, it's a snow day.

I can't argue more because I'm watching this crappy movie True Stories that Jason is making me watch.

Hepcats on the prowl

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hipsterism"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is definitely that.

Brandon and Juno sitting in a tree

"I suppose that your sister forced you to listen to Dummy back in 94."

I tracked down every rare Portishead single and proudly wore a red shirt advertising Glory Box. Seriously. My hipster credentials are solid.

"As for the adultery I think you are missing the point commander and chief. They are certainly on the brink of adultery and if I recall correctly they do kiss at the end. Other than that smooch the only extramarital activity happening in this picture is friendship bordering on infatuation."

All of the activity depicted is extramarital activity. The relationship is clearly one of a blossoming emotional adultery. The Murray character commits physical adultery with the nightclub singer, but it's pretty clear that she's a cheap substitute for what his heart really desires. Then, there is the kiss (kisses, actually) that you mention.

"Murray’s character does a bad thing and our fair Scarlett calls him out on it."

Wait, what? No.

"They lay in bed and touch feet and hands briefly. I think those scenes are brilliant. It’s obvious that the two love other and in a perfect world they would have a miserable marriage together."

Those scenes are brilliant in a sense and there is a while where you wonder if this is a paternal/filial relationship, but it becomes clear that the relationship is supposed to be some sort of "soul mates" crossing in the night bullshit.

"The problem with Johansson’ character is her lack of empowerment."


"Coppola is fixated on the idea of fame=loneliness and from her perspective it seems that she has found her perfect imaginary friend in Bill Murray. Hell, I wish he was my imaginary friend."

You should talk to Ben about this. The two of them have been imaginary friends for years now.

"The word hipster, though I get really annoyed when I hear it, probably works best when describing her films. I don’t understand your line of thought here John. So by using Just Like Honey to end a movie is a hipster move and therefore a bad thing?"

I deliberately try to recover the word in a non-pejorative sense and then you interpret me as saying that hipster equals bad?

I thought that the use of Just Like Honey was a smart and effective choice that perfectly captured the mood and idea that Coppola was trying to communicate. The choice is also perfect evidence of hipsterism.

"Your soundtrack issues are inconsistent brother."

If I haven't yet been clear enough, hear me now: JUST LIKE HONEY IS THE PERFECT SONG FOR THAT MOMENT IN LOST IN TRANSLATION!!!

If I wanted to criticize that moment, it would only be to say that the "mood and idea" that I think Coppola is going for works as an affirmation of the emotional adultery at the center of the film, which is something that I find dangerous and distasteful to put it mildly.

My soundtrack record is absolutely flawless.

"Jason I hated JUNO because hipster. Hipster, hipster, hipster. Moldy Peaches. Hipster. Snarky. Hipster. Cool clothes. Hipster. Pro Life. Hipster. Pro Choice. Hipster. Boring. Hipster. Nerd dude from The Office. Hipster. Diablo Cody. Hipster. Yellow headband. Hipster. Pregnancy. Hipster."

I mostly liked Juno. :)

"Don't let that adorable picture of me and dog fool you. I ain’t soft boys. I’m hard!"

You and your dog look a lot like Johansson's ass.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Too cool for Tokyo

Frozen was compelling and kept me awake through the night while I was feeling sick. Still, it joins the company of other films in which I imagine my own ending to replace the film's ending. In my version, the girl remains stuck under the fallen ski lift. The camera holds on the shot of her trapped foot while the rest of her body is off-frame. On the soundtrack, we hear wolves approach and the girl scream. The same shot is then held for the next ten minutes as we hear wolves making eating noises and occasionally glimpse part of a wolf in the frame. After ten minutes, a sharp cut to black with the white words, FROZEN. Roll credits.

We've finally gotten back to Smallville and have begun season 2.
Vortex - decent conclusion to the season 1 finale and start to season 2. Continues the lame cheat of an idea that anyone unfriendly who learns Clark's secret MUST DIE!!!
Heat - silly puberty episode.
Duplicity - real progress here. Pete discovering Clark's secret allows for new plot developments.
Red - just a fun episode. Abby nailed things by commenting something like "Red K Clark is even dorkier than normal Clark."

I watched American Masters: Jeff Bridges. A bit of a lovefest, but alright. Bridges is a great actor and deserves the recognition and praise.

I finally watched Lost in Translation.

Lost in Translation opens with a close-up of Scarlett Johansson's rear end resting on a bed. The last shot of her character features her walking toward the camera. Her head bobs happily out of the bottom frame to that most triumphal anthem: "Just Like Honey." Progress, right?

Really, the film is not much more than this generation's An Extramarital Affair to Remember. Coppola dishes up a heaping large plate of traditional Hollywood adulterous romanticism with a quirky hipster twist. I lose patience quickly with this sort of thing.

[side note: I know that Brandon is sick of the word "hipster." For the record, my use of the word hipster here is not necessarily as a pejorative. I simply use it to describe anyone who would end their film with a Jesus and Mary Chain song. The "too cool for school" mentality is also written deep into the warp and woof of this film and is one of the problems of our heroine. Also, for the record (who is keeping track of these pronouncements?), Automatic was one of my favorite albums when I was young (my older sister was and is ten years older than me. I was listening to Jesus and Mary Chain when I was ten in 1989 because I had to be cool like her). The J+MC version of Head On is still one of my favorite songs. I understand hipsters and embrace hipsterism (ironically, of course) because I'm not too hip to disdain the label hipster. I'm just hip enough to keep on using the word. The word hipster has become so uncool that it's cool again. I am hipster, hear me proclaim my movie nerd opinions.]

I know that Ben and Brandon both love this ridiculously overrated movie. What saith Jason?

2011 - the next 5 months (February-June)

My mother gave me a Regal gift card for Christmas! How am I going to spend it? Let's look at the next half a year.

First of all, Peter Weir's The Way Back should have gotten a wide release in December. Instead, it's getting a puny limited release at the end of this month. I'll definitely be seeing this one if it opens locally.

February looks like a wasteland. I couldn't find a single film opening that I'm interested in. Things do start looking better in March.

Here are ten films coming up that I'm excited about:

3/4 Rango (Verbinski, 2011)
I like Verbinski and the trailer made me smile.

3/11 Jane Eyre (Fukunaga, 2011)
The cast looks good here and I'm intrigued that the director of Sin Nombre is doing Jane Eyre.

3/18 Paul (Mottola, 2011)
After Adventureland, I'm a total Mottola fan. I'm really optimistic about this one.

3/25 Win Win (McCarthy, 2011)
The Visitor was quite good and maybe even underrated and under-noticed. I'll check out anything McCarthy does.

4/1 Source Code (Jones, 2011)
I love Moon. I'm really skeptical toward Source Code. Based on the trailer, I'd skip this one. Based on Jones directing, I'd be a fool to skip it.

4/8 Your Highness (Green, 2011)
Is David Gordon Green stuck in a stoner rut?

5/6 Thor (Branagh, 2011)
Looks awful, but Branagh's directing.

5/20 On Stranger Tides (Marshall, 2011)
I've liked all three previous films. I'm especially excited for this one because Tim Powers will finally get all of the Hollywood wealth he deserves.

5/27 The Tree of Life (Malick, 2011)
Obviously. The only question is: will this play anywhere close to Binghamton? I'm hoping that it will show at Regal.

6/17 Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011)
Martin Campbell is directing this? I'm there.

So, in the end it's quite clear that I'm a flaming auteurist and get excited about directors. You should too. The next few months look like they might offer just enough good films to keep me satisfied through the typical slow months of nothing but garbage playing locally.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

For the record

That last post was based on having seen 43 feature films released in 2010, all reckoned to be 2010 films by the most authoritative source I'm aware of: IMDB. [IMDB dates films according to a film's first theatrical release, regardless of country of origin, AND SO DO I!]

Best of 2010

There is a ton of good stuff in your 2010 evaluation that I should respond to.

For now, I offer my...

Top Ten Cinematic Moments of 2010

10) The A-Team.
The flying tank. (I shouldn't love this as much as I do)

9) The Killer Inside Me.
Slipping in a puddle of urine. (the film is a perverted comedy. I mean, why else cast Alba and smash her face in? Disgusting and immoral, but effective nonetheless)

8) Repo Men.
The ridiculous erotic surgery climax. (only because of what comes next)

7) Edge of Darkness.
Grief immediately after a daughter's violent death. (because it worked for me)

6) Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then.
The angry rant. (nearly unintelligible and absolutely devastating)

5) The Last Exorcism.
The last few moments. (just watch it and disagree with me!)

4) The Book of Eli.
The KFC moist towelette bath. (also the best use of an Al Green song in the history of cinema?)

3) Shutter Island.
Max Von Sydow asking, "Do you believe in God?" (best "meta" moment of the year)

2) True Grit.
Cogburn placing a cross over the serpent's bite. (the powerful visual metaphor is so brief here that it could easily be missed or dismissed, but it's there and the Coens placed it there, so there. T-H-E-R-E)

1) Toy Story 3.
The incinerator scene. (I'm almost blubbering like a baby just thinking about it now)

If I was forced to make a Top Ten based only on what I've seen so far...

10) The Last Exorcism
9) Edge of Darkness
8) The Book of Eli
7) Exit Through the Gift Shop
6) Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then
5) Winter's Bone
4) Toy Story 3
3) Shutter Island
2) The Oath
1) True Grit

I love #1. I need to re-watch #2. I know I'm in a small minority, but I do believe that #3 is Scorcese's best. #4 is pretty perfect, but necessarily relies on emotions built on two other films. #5 is a good enough reason for Indie love-fests like Sundance to exist. I regret that I may never see #6 ever again. I don't care what Brandon says about #7. #'s 8, 9, and 10 represent the greatness exhibited in 'B' movies this year. These are three (techinically four) directors (Campbell, Hughes Brothers, and Stamm) who are doing some of the best studio work of the moment. Blessings upon everything these men shall set their hands to.

Outstanding CR5 movie club achievements...

In general: The Inception fracas was a lot of fun.
Brandon: His enormously ambitious 40s-50s project
Jason: His quest for critical self-awareness
Ben: His willingness to jump right in late in the game.
For example, December's post totals:
Ben - 24 (the clear winner)
Brandon - 21 (always prolific)
John - 20 (a good month)
Jason - 3 (pathetic, just pathetic) :)

That's enough reckoning for now. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In a perfect world

Everyone going in to Unstoppable should know that the title refers to Denzel Washington and Chris Pine and not to any silly ol' train.

That said, Unstoppable is a nearly perfect piece of mid-winter entertainment. Honestly, I can't think of all that many better ways to spend $85 million. I'm glad that someone is still making smart action thrillers like this in Hollywood. Movies like this are few and far between.

As an old fuddy-duddy father, I only wish that they had eased off on the four-letter words. This could have been a thoroughly appropriate family adventure, which is a rare thing these days.

Wax On, F*ck Off with Ralph Macchio

This is for Brandon. And for Jason. And maybe for Ben, too. Enjoy.

Also, I linked to it a while back, but I'm sure you all ignored it...
Check out Comedy Film Nerds Episode #27. The Sklar Brothers explain why Karate Kid is a masterpiece.


"Though they are habitually described as snotty formalists with nothing on their minds but cinematic gamesmanship, the Coens' body of work is one of the most sneakily moralistic in recent American cinema." -Matt Zoller Seitz,

Matt Zoller Seitz has been one of my favorite film critics since I discovered his work in 2007.

I think that it was one of his early New World posts that first brought him to my attention earlier in 2007, but it was the post that I link to above that made me take notice. I've been following his work ever since, though I miss a lot of it now because I'm not online as much as I used to be and because he always seems to be writing (and doing video projects) at 4 or 5 places at once.


"I find it interesting, John, that you frame so much of your movie watching in moral terms."

Yeah, guilty as charged. I can't help myself.

If my posts about the Coens in particular tend toward "moralizing," it is because the "moralistic" is ever-present in their work.

I just finished watching the Hathaway/Wayne True Grit. Like you, only in reverse, I'm too close to the other True Grit adaptation to give it a fair shake. I liked it, but kept comparing and contrasting in a distracting way.

What is interesting to me is that, at every opportunity, the Coens chose to make their film more moral than the Hathaway adaptation.

Though I differ in a few particulars, I agree with Stanley Fish's summing up of things:
The new “True Grit” is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up.

I'm not just talking about the narrative trappings of the film either, but the entire construction of it. I'm not willing to put in the work to show that how the film is constructed validates my gut feeling that the film is "a truly religious movie," but I essentially agree with Godard's playful statement that "tracking shots are a question of morality" or Moullet's "morality is a question of tracking shots."

Rohmer: And on the grounds that I found some elements in Hiroshima less seductive than others, I reserve judgment. There was something in the first few frames that irritated me. Then the film very soon made me lose this feeling of irritation. But I can understand how one could like and admire Hiroshima and at the same time find it quite jarring in places.

Doniol-Valcroze: Morally or aesthetically?

Godard: It's the same thing. Tracking shots are a question of

I know I like the Coens True Grit more than most. I have a feeling that if I live to make another "best of the decade" list in 2020, True Grit will still be hanging around. I like it at least as much as any of my favorite films of the last ten years.

Godard has also been quoted (but I haven't seen the source) as saying that "All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun." He's probably right, but I'm always personally more satisfied if a movie has a girl, a gun, and a God.

Put that in your snuff film box and smoke it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bold as Lions

(Ben and Jason, if you've seen A Serious Man, read my Serious Man post first. If you haven't seen A Serious Man, skip that post and go ahead and read here, but only after you've seen True Grit. Major spoilers.)

(Sorry that it's been so long since I've posted anything. I was on vacation for a while. I've also been enjoying discussing True Grit on an email group that I belong to and have benefited from the discussion there. Most of the following was written there first. Sorry. I'm back to CR5FC now.)

A few notes on True Grit.

First, let's get something straight. True Grit is really funny; probably the funniest movie of 2010.

Second, True Grit is most definitely a Coen brothers film with Coen themes in a Coen style.

I've read a lot of reviews now and critics/reviewers tend to get confused about this, loudly crying that this movie is not at all like the previous Coen films, for better or worse. I maintain that the large majority of critics have misunderstood the Coens, especially their last few films, and so cannot possibly have a proper handle on this film. If you think No Country for Old Men is a nihilistic joyride, then of course True Grit makes no sense. But, of course, No Country is the opposite of nihilistic and here in True Grit is the flowering and graceful maturity of all that the Coens have been building toward.

I've argued before and assert now that the Coens are engaged in a radical American fairytale project, starkly laying out for us the ways of the world. Eating an apple in disobedience ruins a man and all men suffer. The Coens understand this.

The strict moral accountability of the Coenverse is finally made explicit in True Grit.

The Coens also repeatedly either explicitly or implicitly point toward the need for some sort of grace. I've been thinking lately about the similarities between A Serious Man and Drag Me to Hell and the Coens and Raimi being friends. While the Coens often are playful jesters in interviews, Raimi is more serious and also quick to use loaded terms like sin and forgiveness. I don't know of many Hollywood people willing to explain their films in terms of sin. Raimi is bold to do so.

And now we have True Grit. Nothing is free except for the grace of God.

Everyone must pay for every sin. Again, this is literalized in a clear fairytale way. Again, the Coens create a highly stylized narrative world and highly stylized, elevated speech to declare the distinctness of this story as a story for us.

The key moment and climax of the film is when little Mattie Ross shoots and kills Tom Chaney.

It's unclear whether or not Mattie Ross is acting in sin when she finally shoots Chaney. The first time she shoots him, she's clearly within her rights as he advances on her. And there is a brief indication that even though she is not quite deputized, she is acting with and on behalf of the law while in a lawless land. When she shoots and kills him at the end, though, I'm inclined to think that she's acting as Mattie Ross and not as an agent of justice of the State. It could be argued that her action is justified, but the way she says "Stand up, Tom Chaney" and refuses to even attempt to hold him and capture him alive while she has a gun trained on him all point toward her wanting to kill the man. She takes vengeance in her own hands.

Stanley Fish (whatever you may think of him) has written a decent appraisal of the film for his NYTimes opinion blog. More than anything else, I appreciate him pointing the following out even though I don't agree with his interpretation of events as meaninglessness: "This is what happens to Mattie at the very instant of her apparent triumph as she shoots Tom Chaney, her father’s killer, in the head. The recoil of the gun propels her backwards and she falls into a snake-infested pit. Years later, as the narrator of the novel, she recalls the moment and says: “I had forgotten about the pit behind me.” There is always a pit behind you and in front of you and to the side of you. That’s just the way it is."

"I had forgotten about the pit behind me."

And so Mattie pays for her action. But then there is grace and redemption. And even this is an answer to prayer. LeBoeuf's whispered "oh lord" before firing his rifle is answered with a perfect shot, saving Cogburn and so saving LeBoeuf and Mattie. Mattie's determined reliance on God ("leaning on the everlasting arms" is the constant musical theme) wins out in the end (in fact, she loses an arm in order to lean better!). The pony ride climax of the film is among the most beautiful sequences the Coens (and their DP Deakins) have ever shot.

The humor is outstanding. I never expected the film to be this funny.

As far as being traditional or "revisionist," it's clear that Grit skews toward traditional, but there are funny jabs at the history of the genre. Having an Indian silenced during a hanging is a clear indication that this is a White Man's Movie. Mattie naming her pony "little blackie" in front of a young black boy who nods and comments approvingly is outrageously funny.

Matt Damon is awesome in his role. The casting is brilliant, a bit of subversive commentary on pretty boy Hollywood actors acting in a rough and tumble action adventure. LeBoeuf is an essentially good man who can't recognize how silly he looks and acts. Damon plays this perfectly. A bit silly, but imbued with dignity.

I'm interested in exploring further how the four films that the Coens have adapted from other sources fit in with their eleven other original stories, but I don't know that I'll be willing to put in the work. I'm thinking of having a Coens marathon this year, but I'm sure y'all remember how that worked out for me last year with Bergman and Rohmer; both marathons still incomplete.

I saw True Grit for a third time on New Year's Day with my father. True Grit was the last film I watched in 2010 and the first film I watched in 2011.


I probably won't have a Top Ten of 2010 list up anytime soon. Maybe I'll post a Top Two list or a Top Ten Moments So Far list.

I've enjoyed all of the recent film club activity. I probably won't get around to responding and interacting this time, but I've read it all and enjoyed it. I haven't watched anything since January 1st, but I think that I'm going to see Unstoppable at the Cinema Saver tonight.

My highest priority right now is getting Woman on the Moon watched. I'm setting a personal record for the longest I've ever kept a Netflix disc. Even so, I'm excited about the upcoming year. Happy 1929! Um, I mean Happy 2011!