Monday, April 30, 2012

April 2012 Recap

11 Features
John Carter (2012) ****
Demon Messenger (2012) **
Seven Samurai (1954) ****
Cabin in the Woods (2011) ***
Garden of Evil (1954) **
Bedlam (1946) ***
Sergeants 3 (1962) **
Battleship Potemkin (1925) ****
Broadway Danny Rose (1984) ***
Young Adult (2011) ***
Kill List (2011) ***

Robin Hood

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

Brandon needs a new eyeglasses Rx

I wore my "go out and have a good time late Saturday night" "glasses" when I saw Cabin in the Woods. I was excited to have a good time. Chris and Jeff will tell you that I was excited to see it and that I practically twisted their arms so that they'd come along. I went in mostly blind. I had read part of something linked to on Mubi and part of Jeff Overstreet's review before I realized that I couldn't read anything without encountering a lot of spoilers.

 "I think John liked watching this movie but had a change of heart and I won’t tell you what I am suspecting is the thorn in his side to avoid WWIII."

I'm really not trying to be the contrarian here. I gave my initial reactions. Things only started to get "contrary" when you questioned the word "hipster." Then, I had fun, but now I'm done having fun because I now know that I have to put a smiley face after every sentence I write. :)

Nothing would please me more than to be able to join the rest of Film Club in saying "Whoohoo for Whedon!" Nevertheless, I came out of the movie with lots of problems. There is plenty to admire, sure, but as I thought things through, both in the parking lot with Jeff and Chris, and then back home, I realized that, even though I'm on the fence, I'm leaning toward the negative side of the fence.

For one thing, I didn't laugh nearly as much as you. I didn't think that the film was all that funny. Sure, I chuckled half a dozen times. I smiled here and there. That's hardly the guffaw fest that you describe. I don't doubt that you found it all so funny. I didn't.

"I can’t fault a film for being clever and perhaps drawing attention to its creators." That's fine. You can't. I can.

"I’m still struggling with the whole “walked away unchanged” complaint. I would argue that most films don’t “change” us but perhaps remind us or fortify our predisposed sentiments."

I've already addressed this on FB:
Sorry, guys. I've had trouble sleeping lately. So, I'm here and I'm rambling. Brandon's right to question "change" talk. But, it's also true that every piece of media we ingest changes us. I am not the same person I was before I watched Cabin in the Woods. Before, I was a person who hadn't seen Cabin in the Woods. Now, I'm magically changed into a person who has seen Cabin in the Woods. The act of seeing Cabin in the Woods has at least changed me in that small way. As Jason noted, Cabin will now affect the way he views future horror movies and will make him re-evaluate older horror movies. Cabin now influences how we feel about future Whedon projects. Etc. So, what of my stupid criticism that the audience leaves unchanged? I suppose that I did just mean that the movie sweeps us up in spectacle and gives the Ted laugher a good time. As much yapping as we've gotten out of Cabin, there's not much left to chew on. I'm not laying awake at night thinking about the ending of Cabin. I'm laying awake at night wondering who called Brandon a hipster once and hurt his feelings. But, maybe it has changed me. Maybe I am now prepared to laugh in the abyss as I roll another joint. I'm just rambling. This probably isn't coherent. I remain... Nonplussed.
Or this. When I watch a good or even just a decent western, I get up afterwards and think (even if don't articulate this), "Damn. I'm lazy. I need to be a better man." And incrementally maybe I do become a better man or at least I know that I should be. When I watch a "college kids getting killed" movie, I think, "It seems like there's nothing I can do to prevent getting senselessly slaughtered. I should go get high and get laid." But, Randolph Scott wouldn't get killed by some senseless oaf. He'd do something about it. Even if it proves futile in some situations, I'd rather set up camp with the "do something about it" folks. One movie encourages us, however subtly, to get up and "change" ourselves and our environment. The other movie discourages us, however subtly, from doing much of anything. Maybe. And the standard disclaimer is: I'm not writing off all horror, just this particular popular strain of horror.
In case it's not clear, I do mostly agree with your criticism of the way I phrased "walk away unchanged." I wasn't expecting anyone to turn into a butterfly after seeing Cabin. My point was actually the same as yours, that Cabin reinforces certain "predisposed sentiments" of its audience.

Westerns may reinforce certain "predisposed sentiments" that I have toward honor and sacrifice, but they also challenge "predisposed sentiments" that I have toward being lazy and watching too many movies. You could probably make a case that Cabin offers more to chew on than "stoner thrills," but it seems like you're just as happy to call it a nice ride.

 Those FB posts brought about Jason's "Horror is like a Roller Coaster" apologetic. I still don't like roller coasters. And I still (mostly) don't like Cabin in the Woods.

You write that the "punch line isn't as good as the setup." I agree, except that I was disappointed by the setup, too. Most of the action in the movie felt hollow and perfunctory (Whedon/Goddard attempt to dodge this criticism through the script's insistence on the characters following a script and all of the other "meta" stuff going on) and I was really bored, waiting for a big payoff to justify the time I'd just spent watching just another "kids in the woods" horror movie (with a minor sf twist), but instead I get a rushed, hectic showdown that ends in lots of fireworks and Ryan Gosling's hand. It's like Whedon/Goddard felt that if they rushed us with enough "awesome," we'd just be wowed into acceptance of all that has just occurred.

I'm probably done with Cabin now. I've got to get ready to write about Cabin's 1925 predecessor, Battleship Potemkin.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Response to Jason

There be spoilers.

Jason, you win this time.

I stand by my response, but I can't argue with yours.

You make good point after good point about why this movie works as it is and how it fits within the genre you love.

Well done.

On to a little bit of nitty-gritty...

"Aren't meaningless deaths a part of horror's general worldview?"

Sure. And maybe this simple fact is why I have such a hard time connecting with this sort of material. We can and should flesh this out further some time in the future. Maybe I'll try another mini horror marathon this year and catch up on some of your recent favorites. Maybe not. :)

My Piranha mention probably seemed like it was out of left field. I was only comparing the fact that we have an audience surrogate that survives that allows us to enjoy characters getting their punishment doled out to them while audience transgressions are winked at. It's more pronounced in Piranha, but I tried to point out that something similar happens in Cabin.

me: "those...who think that this cliched ridiculously boring don't care much for commentary"

Yeah, I'm just not all that interested in the "college kids getting murdered in the woods" scenario. I can't think of a single movie in which this plot has interested me, but maybe there are several of them out there that I just haven't seen.

"If I were invested on an emotional level, I doubt I'd watch much horror. It would be far too upsetting."

That's one of my primary complaints against horror. It is rarely upsetting. It's all surface thrills. Heads rolling doesn't do it for me. Watch In the Company of Men. :) That's a "horror film" that I can get behind.

I haven't read Silence, but I read an Endo novel called Deep River. Did you know that Scorcese is adapting Silence for the screen?

"He proposed a contstruct that tied together in one mythology all the horror films that have ever come before it. I can't think of any horror film I've seen before that attempts that."

After I wrote out my review, I started reading lots of other reviews (I had skimmed a few before the movie before realizing that they were all leaning toward the spoilerific or at least warning about spoilers, which is a spoiler all its own). A.O. Scott mirrors your thoughts here, but frames things a bit less positively:
There is a scholarly, nerdy, completist sensibility at work here that is impressive until it becomes exhausting. Not content to toss off just any horror movie, Mr. Goddard and Mr. Whedon have taken it upon themselves to make every horror movie. I, and they, mean this literally, but to say more would be to reveal too much and spoil the fun. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what the movie does in the end.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Continued Cabin Spoilers

I don't know, Chris. I found it refreshing that Marty refused to play the utilitarian situational ethics game. Shooting your innocent friend in the head, even to save the world, is not okay. It's just not. You're not actively causing the destruction of the world by. You are actively murdering someone. Marty opts out of the game because the rules suck.

I don't think that Marty necessarily wants the world to end with him. I think that he doesn't want it to continue under the conditions that have been outlined for him. There's not much point in saving a people that gets by by ritually murdering its own. There's not much point in saving humanity when humanity has become inhuman.

Anyhow, it was time for mankind to move aside and Make Way For Goslings.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Elder Gods Don't Need a Punchline


Thanks, Jeff, for starting off the Cabin talk. I've been playing up disliking the film, but the truth is probably that I'm closer to ambivalence than any sort of active disgust. I'm having a hard time mustering up the energy to write anything at all.

I'll also admit that I haven't seen most of the horror films from the last decade (or any decade). In the abstract, I'm a huge horror fan. Once we get into specific films, though, it turns out that I hate most of them. This is also the case with RomComs. These two genres hold such promise yet are also the most constantly flubbed up.

I can't "just enjoy" losers being hacked apart in the same way that I can just enjoy a silly swashbuckling adventure romance. I don't think that John Carter will hold up as anything more than a solid 3-star entertainment. I'll look back on it fondly the way that I look at Willow or Star Wars, but I won't really care all that much if I pop the DVD in. I might have it on in the background while writing a blog post about something else. But, it's still a marvelous entertainment. The message/moral may be simple (fight for a cause, get the girl), but those simple things resonate with me in a way that clever hipster horror doesn't and can't.

Like Adrienne, I want my horror to mean something. Otherwise, watching simulated deaths, no matter how ingeniously executed (pun!), is a waste of time.

Horror films want to be transgressive, but they often just reinforce comfortable smugness. Cabin doesn't fail here. Its target audience is smart hipsters who fancy themselves as seeing deeper than others and being more clever. They're Buffy fans, after all; of course they know what's what. Is it no surprise, then, that the hero of the film is finally identified as the one who questioned appearances and dug deeper? That he's the only one who refuses to compromise his principles for some nebulous greater good? The film really is no different than Piranha 3D at this point or any number of recent films that I haven't seen, but nonetheless feel safe generalizing about.

Transgressions must be punished in these types of horror films, but the audience gets a pass. We get to enjoy others being punished while we sit safe and smug and identify with the folks getting away. We squirm a little, but walk away unchanged.

On to some of what Jeff liked:

"Definitely commenting on how horror films can become rote or over-processed to the point of being pure formula."

Yet Cabin celebrates this formula by framing it as an ancient play-acting pre-ritual-sacrifice ritual. As somehow essential in satiating demonic appetites (like Jason's) [yes, that's a joke, Jason, unbunch your panties already]. Those of us who think that this cliched horror movie set-up/scenario is ridiculously boring don't much care for commentary on it. I love some "formulas" (about a dozen oater plots spring to mind). This isn't one of them.

"I loved the introduction of the Japanese footage"

Maybe the only things worse than modern American horror films are Japanese horror films. I admit that these parodies were funny.

"The multiple screen shot where we see all the various monsters torturing the employees of the company."

I wanted to like the whole "batshit crazy" ending. I didn't. Maybe because everything was rushed. There's a flurry of monstrous violence, but no real stakes. I didn't care about any of those employees and, as I've already stated, I don't really care about "interesting kills" apart from a greater context. (and, please, let me remind everyone that I'm a fan of Breaking Bad, which has an astonishingly high number of "interesting kills" that never fail to delight).


Yup. Sure. I won't argue.

I won't really comment on your dislikes. That'd be too easy to just agree with you.

In the end, I never connected emotionally with the film and that's a big deal. I didn't care about any of the characters and the action felt clever and contrived instead of a lived reality (which is important even in fantasies). John Carter struggles with his identity. Even if we know that he is fated to be the Hero, he seems like a real person with a real personality. The Fool and The Virgin do what Whedon tells them to do. They are not so much creations/characters as they are automatons at the service of that most ancient of evil horrors, the clever screenwriter drawing attention to the man behind the curtain instead of the drama on stage.

Ryan Gosling's Cabin in the Woods

No. I don't have anything written yet. This is just a test to make sure that Ben is getting an email. Ben, did you go see John Carter the other afternoon?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Top Ten RomComs

Because I'm feeling more contrary than usual...

1) Adventureland
2) Adventureland
3) Adventureland
4) Adventureland
5) Adventureland
6) Adventureland
7) Adventureland
8) Adventureland
9) Adventureland
10) Adventureland

I love this movie so much that I don't care what you haters think.

I'm the real deal standing up for the genre in the face of manifold corruptions. RomComs, I AM YOUR CHAMPION!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bryan Cranston's 2012

How did I forget to mention that Bryan Cranston has a great cameo in John Carter? He's onscreen for less than 10 minutes, but he's as awesome as ever the whole time!

He's in a few projects being released this year. The one I'm most excited about is probably Ben Affleck's Argo. I'm a fan of Affleck as director and have unreasonably high hopes for Argo.

That movie is not coming out until September or October.

In the meantime, here's my list of Ten Most Anticipated Summer Movies, Listed by Release Date...

Sound of My Voice (2011)
I liked Another Earth enough that I'm excited about Brit Marling's involvement in this.

Bernie (2011)
Linklater is back! I may be one of the few people that thinks this looks great.

The Avengers
It's the Avengers, stupid. It's Joss Whedon, stupid. Of course I'm going to see this.

Men in Black III
I'll probably wait for a DVD release, but I am foolishly optimistic about this one.

Moonrise Kingdom
I'm ready to give Wes another chance.

It's Pixar. I'll take the girls. 'Nuff said.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
I followed some of the Sundance buzz on this one. I'm interested.

The Amazing Spider-Man
It's Spidey. I was never a big fan of the last three films (and probably like the third the most, which I know is the minority fool's position), but I liked them enough. I don't have high hopes here, but it's Spidey.

The Dark Knight Rises
You guys know I feel lukewarm toward Nolan. It doesn't matter. I can't resist the hype.

The Wettest County
I'm on the fence with this one, but Hillcoat made a decent Western. I think he's definitely capable of making a decent gangster film.

That's it for the Summer. I won't worry about the Fall just yet.

In other news, well, there is no other news. I've been watching BSG Season 4 and Justified Season 2. I may or may not write up something about one or the other.

No movies watched since John Carter. As a matter of fact, John Carter might just last me the whole year long. Or maybe I'll see it again. I'm sure something artsy-fartsy from 2012 will lumber along eventually this year and steal its #1 space, but I'm enjoying thinking of it as the BEST FILM OF 2012 right now.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Planetary Romance

I was born in '79. Many of my favorite movies were the obvious ones that a little geek of the time would gravitate towards. Empire Strikes Back. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Willow. Labyrinth. The Neverending Story. Return to Oz. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Back to the Future. For a while there, "sense of wonder" reigned at the box office and certainly reigned in this child's heart. Roguish adventure was in fashion and the stakes were always high.

These things do seem to go in and out of fashion. Dwan and Fairbanks in the 20s. Curtiz and Flynn in the 30s and 40s. The steady stream of matinee idols. Many that I'm surely neglecting. Ford and Lucas and Spielberg and Zemeckis and even Ron Howard all peddled in adventurous wonder in the 80s. It might just be me being a grouch, but I feel like we had a long dry spell of wonder through much of the 90s and into the 00s. What was there was either ploddingly overwrought (the LotR movies) or too ironically self-aware (anything with Brendan Fraser in it) or maybe a bit too stylish and cool (Hellboy, many of the Marvel movies).

Last year, that all changed with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Once again, I felt like a little boy, mouth agape. And so I feel after spending time on Mars with John Carter.

I went into this knowing that it had received mixed reviews, but not having read much about it. I hope that I'm not raising expectations too high here. Nevertheless, I confess that I was giddy leaving the theatre.

I can't rave enough about how smart this script is, about how lovely the visuals (and effects) are, about how just right the actors are, about how confidently Stanton pulls it all together.

I know that I'm being vague here. I don't want to spoil specifics. What really made the movie for me was how many "apes on horses storming the Golden Gate bridge" moments there were. You'll either smile ear to ear like I did or you'll groan and roll your eyes. I hope that you won't mock the sincerity of Stanton's wondrous worldbuilding.

J.J. Abrams may be posturing as Spielberg's heir. That's all it is: posturing. The real deal has arrived and his name is Andrew Stanton.

I'm really excited about any future Stanton live-action projects. Unfortunately, we probably won't see any Mars sequels.

What's sad is that Disney had such little faith in this film. Why are we not flooded with Thark action figures? Where's my John Carter t-shirt? Where's my super-sized John Carter Burger King collectible cup? Where's my Dejah Thoris Halloween costume?

I'll leave you with the thought of me in that Dejah Thoris Halloween costume.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's all good.


I just don't feel the need to defend myself. With the exception of To Catch a Thief, I am a huge fan of each film on my list. I ranked them in the order in which I'd like to re-watch them. The order in which I am most fond of them at this moment. It's long been known that I appreciate Mr. and Mrs. Smith more than you do. Maybe, though, we haven't hashed out our Suspicion differences. Suspicion is a masterfully uncomfortable film, subverting RomCom expectations with a startlingly suspenseful genre mash-up. I don't understand what's not to like. Defend yourself, back at you, you rotten scoundrel. As you acknowledge, I thoroughly love all of those other films. What's your beef? That I prefer early Hitch to later Hitch? They're all good. You know this. Quit your whining.

In the mood for love

I don't have the energy right now to make up a new strictly RomCom list.

Instead, here's my "romantic love top ten - hesitant explorations toward a dignified sexuality" list from almost three years ago.

1) A Woman Under the Influence
2) Samurai Rebellion
3) The New World
4) Mr. and Mrs. Smith
5) Solaris
6) The Fisher King
7) An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
8) Roman Holiday
9) The Hustler
10) Minnie and Moskowitz

"It’s not a perfect list, but those are the movies that quickly and easily came to mind. Without defending each choice, I’ll just say that I recommend each of these films for what they have to teach us about love."

Ranking Hitch

Every single Hitchcock film I've ever seen, ranked roughly in order of preference...

1) The Lady Vanishes
2) Rope
3) Mr. and Mrs. Smith
4) Suspicion
5) Blackmail
6) Strangers on a Train
7) I Confess
8) The 39 Steps
9) Foreign Correspondent
10) Dial M For Murder
11) Psycho
12) North by Northwest
13) The Trouble With Harry
14) To Catch a Thief

1962: For Brandon

A list of all of the films I've seen from 1962, ranked in order of preference...

1) Cleo From 5 to 7
2) The Trial of Joan of Arc
3) Ivan's Childhood
4) Lonely Are the Brave
5) The Manchurian Candidate
6) Lawrence of Arabia
7) Jules and Jim
8) Knife in the Water
9) Long Day's Journey Into Night
10) How the West Was Won
11) State Fair
12) Trial and Error

On Rating Films

Jeff, I doubt that your standards are lower. I do think that it's possible that you haven't defined your system well enough.

My ratings scale is pretty simple and totally subjective.
* Hated It
** Didn't Like It
*** Liked It
**** Really Liked It
***** Loved It

More specifically...
* Never Want to See It Again
** Could Be Convinced to Give This Another Chance
*** Enjoyed This Thoroughly, But No Rush to See It Ever Again
**** A Favorite. I'd Like to Revisit This Often
***** A Masterpiece That I Don't Want to Live Without. I Regret That I Don't Re-watch This Often

* is for dreck and special offenders
** is for all those Midnights in Paris out there.
*** is a respectable rating. It's my seal of approval. Recommended.
**** means that I Highly Recommend this film
***** means Essential. These movies are my core collection of necessary titles. Narrow Margin. Roman Holiday. I don't want to spoil future "essentials" posts, but you can bet that Tarkovsky will show up eventually. Those films that have somehow changed the way I view the world or expressed an idea that I cherish in such a perfect way. I'm unlikely to rate a film this high the first time I see it, but it's possible. Love in the Afternoon might be *****, but I need to watch it again. Recent ***** movies would be Cold Weather, Meek's Cutoff, The Mill and the Cross, Take Shelter, and True Grit. Five ***** films is a lot in two years. I'd place each of these against the very best of the past.

I just think that you have to distinguish between films you may be enthusiastic about now (my ****) and your real ultimate favorites (my *****). Otherwise, maybe you need a ****** category.

It's a nice, slow day at work today.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Dry Season

I haven't much cared about film the past couple of weeks. Cinefest must have burned me out.

I didn't like Blood of a Poet. The "poetry" here is ham-fisted and stretched thin. Bleh.

I didn't like Trouble in Paradise. Honestly, I got distracted while watching it and started playing games on my iPhone. I don't care. I didn't see or hear anything that demanded my attention.

I've been falling asleep and not finishing Smallville episodes. Clark is still a whiny jerk and every other character is more interesting than he is.

I did enjoy sitting through Anatomy of a Murder on TCM the other morning while sitting in a hospital for work. I missed the last ten minutes, though, so I don't know whether the panties made a difference or not. It made me feel like I was getting punk'd by a Brandon Cut of the film. [update: Chris and Jeff filled me in]

The Paleface is one of my favorite Keaton shorts. I'm glad that the Howard bros liked it.

I agree with previous comments about The Trial of Joan of Arc. Especially Jeff's comments about the smoke in/through the cross. It's obvious, but I'll state it here anyhow, that Bresson is making the strong visual suggestion that Joan's suffering/death is now being united to the suffering and death of her Savior, becoming an acceptable Ascension Offering and rising to the heavens.

As expected, I fell asleep during The Narrow Margin. I should have put on a pot of coffee instead of busting out the Ruthless Rye. Ah well, y'all know how I feel about this one. It's a tight little piece of work. I'm sorry that the speakers sucked. I do think that the sound design is one of the greatest elements here.

Chris suggested we end the night with Homer the Heretic. Good call.

After the auto adventure, I couldn't get back to sleep so I finished the rest of the Season 4 disc 1. I watched part of disc 2 last night.

Treehouse of Horror III is uneven in the same way that so many of these Halloween episodes are. The zombie portion is a lot of fun, but the rest is forgettable. I loved the beginning nod to Hitch, but the party stories and the Kong homage were both stupid.

Star Trek XII: So Very Tired is probably my most anticipated film of 2012.

Scwarz does seem to be the writer I enjoy the most.

Really sick of Smallville, I've returned to BSG and watched the first four episodes of Season 4. Things are tense. I'm sensitive to spoilers here, so you guys get nothing, even though there's lots to discuss.

I'm thinking about a Breaking Bad marathon, re-watching every episode at least one more time before season 5 arrives.

There has been one true gem in the past month, Rohmer's Love in the Afternoon. What a fantastic way to end the Moral Tales!

I'm most interested in a crazy dream sequence that happens fairly early in the film. The protagonist daydreams of a magic amulet that gives him control over the hearts and minds of all of the women in Paris. This is Rohmer's purest expression of what comics artist Jeffrey Brown has so aptly named "Every Girl is the End of the World For Me," the overwhelming fact of modern urban and suburban life that each time we go out we see hundreds/thousands of attractive strangers of the opposite sex each day. How do our hearts navigate such a sea of anonymity and the little contacts each day, the fleeting smile of a passerby or the brushing finger of a sales clerk?

Love in the Afternoon is "about" adultery. A married man has an affair. As usual, Rohmer doesn't preach, but he does instruct as he explores communication and miscommunication, fidelity and infidelity.

I'd like to discuss the end, but I'll avoid spoilers until at least someone else in the group tackles Love in the Afternoon. Jeff? Chris? Ben?

I changed my mind:

What I didn't fully think through until reading an email from a friend is the way that Rohmer uses time in the film (and, of course, Tarkovsksy aptly noted that cinema is "sculpting in time"). The husband carves out a piece of time (the afternoon) in which to be unfaithful (everything short of sexual intercourse) to his wife. To "spoil" the ending, the husband in the end resists/flees immorality and returns to his wife IN THE AFTERNOON. He redeems the time which he had previously set aside for estrangement. A slice of time which had been named loneliness and lust is renamed LOVE.

I wrote all of the above about a week ago. I haven't watched anything but TV since. A couple of episodes of BSG. A couple of episodes of Justified. An episode of Robin Hood. Nothing really worth writing about.

I'm in that "contemplating quitting the blog" kind of funk. No, I'm not going to. No, this isn't a cry for help. I'm just being honest that I haven't been really excited about Film Club lately. Even Brandon's return hasn't been able to break the funk yet.

I am going to re-watch Breaking Bad. Screw Film Club. Breaking Bad Club is back.