Monday, December 30, 2013

The Tales of Brave Ulysses

Here's what I think of Llewyn Davis.

Spoilers, so just stop reading now.

I think that the Coens were hanging out listening to old records and decided that it'd be fun to try writing some song lyrics. This led to talk of a movie.

Being the Coens, they got someone to put money behind it. Being the Coens, they got T Bone Burnett interested. They got actors who could sing. They thought up a few episodes in the life of a 60s era folk singer that would lead to singing.

Thinking about working with T Bone again, they started thinking about what a good time they had messing around on O Brother which got them to thinking about how they love riffing on their favorite work of all time, that wellspring of Western Lit. They decided to string the songs together with a meandering Odyssey motif, underscoring it by mashing it up with that other classic story, The Incredible Journey. This film is about a young cat trying to find his way home.

Except there is no direction home. There is no home. Dig?

Finally, the Coens wanted to hang out with their good buddy John Goodman so they wrote some crazy shit for him so he could ham it up and they could all have a great time together. And the audience gets what it wants, which is exactly this larger-than-life Goodman (and life-sized Goodman is already pretty large). Of course, his role is there for a reason beyond its immediate humor (he is the aged musician and he is the one who gets us the info about Mike Timlin in a way that undercuts the emotional horror with a good laugh).

For all of what I imagine was slap-dashery in its conception, it is also carefully constructed and executed perfectly. It works as a loving telling (I insist that the Coens are always loving) of one folk-singing jerk's story and it works as an examination of the broader cultural shift of which the Greenwich folk scene serves as microcosm.

It all adds up to a great film. It's a film that I respect. I wanted to love it and I almost do, but I've had to talk myself into doing so. The film just didn't pack the same punch for me that recent Coen titles have. I didn't immediately connect to it emotionally the same way I did with True Grit and A Serious Man. Then again, it took me a second viewing to really appreciate and love No Country for Old Men. And it took me over five years and a few re-watches to understand that The big Lebowski is a masterpiece.

I guess I'm in the "this is minor Coens" camp at the moment. The thing is, the Coens are so in control, so at the top of their game, that even their minor work is more important and more worthy of regard than just about everything else being made on film today.

The best thing that I can say about Inside Llewyn Davis is that I'd love to watch it again, sooner rather than later.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I hate ketchup.

I just realized that I'm behind on a few films here. Letterboxd has spoiled me. I feel like I've already written a little bit about all of these things on either Letterboxd or CR5FC-FB.

Re-watching World's End confirmed for me that I love the film.

I've already expressed my distaste for Frances Ha over on Facebook.

Ordinary People, our mandatory non-mandatory pick, is a solid film with great acting, even if the Freud stuff resolves it all too easily if not neatly.

Side Effects loses its way in the end.

The Kid with a Bike killed my iPhone. I enjoyed it anyhow.

Ender's Game gets some things right, but mostly it's like some grotesque puppet version of the book that appears alive but is obviously not.

I'll write about American Hustle and Inside Llewyn Davis soon.


I enjoyed Frozen a whole heckuva lot.

Brandon wrote: "True princess love, set to song and not even slightly out of step with every other movie of its ilk, trumps all and sends its tumbling back into the closet."

And this is precisely where he's wrong. Not only is Frozen "out of step with every other movie of its ilk," it does them one better. It is refreshing to see a children's film that feature not "strong girls" but "mostly real girls." We get a powerful girl learning to harness her powers through opening herself to others and we get a young pixie girl maturing into a fixer-upper. The film examines how previous "princess films" have revolved around prince-princess romance. Here, when the prince tropes show up, they are subverted. When the pauper tropes show up, they are lovingly played with. The central emotional drama is between two sisters. The way that this is played out is superb. The "true princess love" on display is "out of step" with all previous Disney "princess" movies. In a similar way that Brave explored mother/daughter dynamics, Frozen takes a look at sister/sister dynamics. It is quite nice that Disney, under Lasseter's oversight, is making films in a feminine key.


I thought that Olaf the snowman was funny. Which was as much of a surprise to me as to anyone else. I always hate Disney "animal friends."

The musical numbers added an element of glorified speech, a heightened realism allowed by movie magic. The montages possible through many of the musical acts communicated quickly and efficiently attitudes and shifting feelings and the passage of time. And the Olaf summertime song was funny.

I thought that the animation was consistently lovely throughout.

Finally, I admit that I'm totally biased toward enjoying a movie when my lovely daughters are giggling all around me.

I do have criticisms of the film.

First, you're right that the songs aren't all that great.

Second, there is a whole lot of shorthand that's built up in those musical montage scenes. I wrote above that they are effective. I think that they are. I also think that they're a bit of a cheat.

Third, related to first and second, I think that the whole "conceal/don't feel" aspect was way too heavy-handed and the parents are portrayed as real idiots (and the troll king doesn't come out looking so wise either). Related to that, the "coming out of the closet" moment in which Elsa embraces her "repressed identity" is stupidly over-the-top. That sequence itself wouldn't have been that bad on its own considering how it is offset later by the need for the loving community of her family (her sister) but it's disturbing that it's chosen to play again over the ending credits as if the message of that song is the central message of the film.

So, Frozen is flawed. So what? I had a great time watching it and think that it might just be the best "Disney Princess" film so far. Brave (Pixar is basically Disney at this point) is the better film in terms of its craft and sustained narrative, but Frozen wins a whole ton of points for some of its final moments. These two movies together are the best two films that Disney has given to young girls. They both beat the hell out of the abomination that is The Little Mermaid.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Why Two, K?

Computer Chess, in which I copy and paste Brandon and then respond.

"I love your thoughts on COMPUTER CHESS though I didn’t get any of that from the actual film. For me the film’s crux was in the origins of artificial intelligence, and how computers are just extensions of our own flawed intellect."

Sure. What's interesting about the film, though, is that for all of its focus on super-smart nerds, the film explicitly explores relational identity and not specifically intelligence, flawed or otherwise.

"I loved the subplot of the computer that couldn’t play other computers correctly and all of the bizarre and paranoid theories that erupted as a result."

Sure. And I think that you are right that this computer should be seen as an extension of the human mind that built it. For me, one of the funniest lines in the movie is something like "What game is he playing?" when the computer starts making seemingly random moves. Chess is an orderly game, a logical game. Human relationships are rarely orderly or logical.

"These characters are a petty bunch and I wish the that CC would have explored the burgeoning relationship between Peter and Shelley rather than meander around the hotel in search of more idiosyncratic distractions, more food for thought. I thought that about half of these stories were decent while the others were just there to assist the finale. I didn’t much like the storyline involving the other group sharing the conference room and I felt that a lot of scenes were wasted on that, none more annoying than the scenes with Peter and the swinging married couple."

Sure. But, here's where the film is brilliant. Instead of following a single thread and developing it, it hops around its plots as if it's distracted by hyperlinks in a Facebook feed, always returning to the central story but stopping to watch YouTube kitten videos and getting a dose of pseudo-intellectualism by skimming some drug-fueled philosophical essay before returning to see what your other friends are up to.

Initially, I felt the same way that you do about the conference group and the married couple. I spent some time thinking about WHY those elements are there. I don't think that the movie is just randomly slapped together. That group is there to emphasize that this film is "about" relationships, not artificial intelligence. These sleazy swingers are perfectly portrayed as pathetically searching for some next thing to jolt their relationship. They don't know how to relate to one another outside of bringing in new stimuli, whether it's a third partner in bed or some sort of ritualistic simulated bread sex. Contrasted with this are the nerds who carry their computers with them everywhere, staying up late with their computers, sleeping with them. The scenes of these guys (and gal) carrying the giant computers in are funny. They also serve as a cultural commentary because we're all nerds now, carrying our computers in our pockets or in our laptop bags into our hotel rooms to fall asleep to that wonderful blue glow.

"I admire any film---initially--- for administering an “anything can happen” aesthetic but this also brings me to the bland visual construct here. Initially it exists to evoke a time and place, wryly and for the sake of a laugh, but as characters start to lose it why wouldn’t Bujalski stick with the bland visuals. If this thing is truly set free why not switch it up? I know that might sound like a petty complaint but it bothered me. It’s interesting considering Cuaron’s “hackneyed and frustratingly empty” philosophical/theological attempts compared to CC’s visual ineptitude and what I guess I would considered half baked ideas I could go on but in the end I enjoyed it for the most part. I don’t share your enthusiasm obviously but I can see how you would go bonkers for it."

I think that CC is more carefully constructed than you give it credit for. And I don't agree that the film consists entirely of "bland visuals." The look is, of course, intentional and perfectly evokes (as does the acting and set design) the atmosphere of hope and longing that existed in an age coming out of the 70s and heading into the 80s. And I don't think that the ideas are "half baked" either. I do think that each digression circles around and adds to the film's center, the computer chess tournament. The film ends with a startling punchline that might just seem like another wacky thing for the sake of "anything can happen" but I think that it serves to underline the theme of the film, that so many people find it easier to relate to a machine (or other people mediated through a machine) than to other people. Every human contact is frustrated. Finally, we embrace the machine.

I may have been primed to see all of this in CC by having read this article around the same time that I watched CC:
"Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan's giant cities, are "spiralling away from each other". Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms "Pot Noodle love" – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality "girlfriends", anime cartoons. Or else they're opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes."
"Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can't get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers."

I might try to write about Gravity later. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Futures Past

I owe Brando a post. Here it is. Short and not so sweet.

I don't think that I have to write about Star Trek Into Darkness. It is a film with no integrity. There are a few thrills and a little bit of swollen excitement in the service of teen boy fantasies. Admittedly, I might have loved this steaming pile of spaceturd when I was 10 or so. There's enough in it to keep interest and I might have even been generous and given it three stars instead of two, but I can't forgive the blatant misogyny of having a shot of a woman undressing and standing in her underwear, which shot adds NOTHING to the plot of the movie. There is no reason for it except to titillate young boys. Bah humbug.

Computer Chess, I've mentioned repeatedly to Brandon, has captured my imagination. It is an alternative Terminator in which there is no violent Skynet robot uprising because the robots have already won. Computer Chess outlines the seeds of revolution that led to our current science fiction reality of constantly tending to our electronic masters, serving them feasts of electricity and showering them with our loving devotion. In a world in which everyone has forgotten how to look one another in the eye, we program our machines to play our games for us, hoping that the machines will win.

Prisoners is a good thriller. It reminded me of Tell No One and a couple of other recent thrillers like it; solid puzzle pictures that resolve nicely if a little too neatly.

Gravity was much better than I had anticipated but it has also been grating on me more and more. Cuaron's use of symbolism seemed hackneyed and frustratingly empty. Uhlich, on Letterboxd, nailed it: "Cuaron knows the theological symbols, but he can't imbue them with a true sense of spirit. He's almost always posing and you can sense it." Yep.

Madame De is a pretty empty film. A man has an affair. His wife has an affair. There's a pair of earrings involved. There's a lot of dancing and flirting. Sorry, Brandon, I stand by my "silly infidelities" comment. There's just not all that much going on here that's worth revisiting.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Haw Haw Hawnting

It's that time of year, I guess, for us to recycle all of our horror enthusiasms and horror disapproval. I want to like horror films. I want to be scared. I want to be shocked. Unfortunately, I'm more often than not bored and left scratching my head.

So it is with The Haunting.

Praised by many as one of the greatest horror films of all time, The Haunting failed to win me over. I respect it. I found the sound design excellent. I found the voiceover narration to be among the best I've ever heard in communicating an interior monologue running against and commenting on the visual action.

Mostly, though? I was unimpressed by the haunted house story. I was especially unimpressed by how it plays out and how it resolves. The camera tricks and sound design seemed too obvious at every time. Maybe it's because I'm hyper-aware of these things when watching an horror film, my mind's way of protecting me from ever actually having to be frightened by any silly old image. I don't know. I respect the film. I don't much like it.

All that said, there is one very effective moment that moved even me, horror skeptic that I am. When Julie Harris begins dancing among the statues, I could feel all the horror and hurt and strangeness that the film was trying so hard to communicate. That scene works.

Catching Up

Copying and pasting Letterboxd capsules (note the incorrect dates that I didn't bother to fix). As you guys know, I watched zero films in September. That is the record worst slump since I started this project. October's already looking a little better. I don't have the energy for a full post about any of these. It's at least a positive sign that I'm watching films and thinking about posting again. Finally, if any of you like Shakespeare (and who doesn't?) and like Joss Whedon even the tiniest bit, then do yourself a favor and rent Much Ado About Nothing as soon as you can. Right now, it's my favorite film of 2012.

The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942
★★★  Watched 21 Oct, 2013

Some good laughs. I' probably rate it higher if I wasn't distracted by how oafish and imbecilic the father is portrayed as, essentially coaxing the audience into feeling that the father deserves to be the victim. This is all tied up with how the antihero gets away with being a lovable rascal.

Stranger Than Paradise 1984
★★★★  Rewatched  16 Oct, 2013

Not quite a "my essentials" pick but was very important in my development as a cinephile. This and Overboard starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

Much Ado About Nothing 2013
★★★★½  Watched 15 Oct, 2013


Fortune Is a Woman 1957
★★★  Watched 12 Oct, 2013

A solid enough picture with some real tension in the last 2/3rds, almost but not quite ruined by a rushed and too obvious resolution.

The Goonies 1985
★★★  Rewatched  07 Oct, 2013

Goonies holds up just fine.

The Oregonian 2011
★★  Watched 06 Oct, 2013

I'm on the fence about this one. I respect it for fully committing to its dark comic logic.

Silver Bullets 2011
★★  Watched 05 Oct, 2013  5

Swanberg is sad but unrepentant. His movies don't matter. And won't matter.

Museum Hours 2013
★★★  Watched 04 Oct, 2013  4

Worth seeing. At its best, it is one of the best films I've seen in years. At its worst, it's too on-the-nose, self-contradictory, and loses its way in the final third.

Monday, October 21, 2013

4 Years Ago - Cassavetes Appreciation

All apologies for my lack of enthusiasm lately. As a trick or treat (you decide), here's something I wrote four years ago that I never went back and finished. I present it now "as is" in the hopes that it might shame me into writing like I used to write when we first started this blogging madness.


Killing of a Chinese Bookie has occupied my mind for the several months since I first watched it.  It has set up camp and seems to have no intention of leaving.  Nor do I wish it to.  This is a welcome invasion.

Within a few days of watching the film, I stumbled upon a copy of the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus while at work.  One line caught my attention and lodged itself in my brain in the same far corners that Bookie had firmly established itself.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, Glowing Furnace of Charity…

There are no better words to describe Cassavetes.  Glowing Furnace of Charity.  In his generous creativity, Cassavetes participates in a firestorm of grace, actively reflecting, through a glass darkly, the source of all creative energy.  There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other master film directors.  None are as firmly grounded in love as John Cassavetes.

Paul Schrader has written a book on “transcendental cinema.”  Schrader also wrote a negative review of Cassavetes’ Faces and seems to dislike Cassavetes in general.  I think I know why.  Cassavetes did not make Transcendental Cinema.  He created Incarnational Cinema.

Cassavetes’ films all evince a mature awareness that we’re more than just souls awaiting deliverance.  Our enfleshed bodies require redemption here and now.  Our goal should not be to move beyond being human, but to become fully human.

Cassavetes brings the Heart of infinite love to the finite folk of our specific time and place.

Some other directors have clearly shown us the dis-ease of modern life.  For all of his faults, I respect Michael Haneke, but he’s only shown us the evil.  He knows no way out.  Cassavetes’ art is concerned with the reconciliation of persons to one another through the purification that comes from passing through the furnace of charity.  In short, his art is love.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The World's End is the best film of 2013

I was wrong
I was wrong to ever doubt
I can get along without
I can love my fellow man
But I'm damned if I'll love yours

In a bar that's always closing
In a world where people shout
I don't wanna talk this over
I don't wanna talk it out
I was quite impressed until I hit the floor
Isn't that what friends are for?
Pain looks great on other people
That's what they're for

Friday, August 30, 2013


Brandon, are you all caught up with Breaking Bad? I'm itching to argue over the racism of Breaking Bad. All of the "minority" characters have been killed and it's just a bunch of white dudes scheming at each other now. I've stopped watching.

As for the Ford kerfluffle, yeah, I'll agree that "we are essentially in agreement here". I don't have it in me to keep arguing. And Ford doesn't need me to defend him. I only wish he was around to punch Tarantino in the face. If Tarantino lost an eye in a fistfight with Ford, then had to wear an eye patch, I'd probably respect him a bit more and let him get away with saying whatever he wants.

As for Birth of a Nation, I re-read Ebert's fantastic Great Movies entry on the film. I get quickly tired of anyone who wants to dismiss the film because of its racism. Yes, it is obviously racist. It is also a powerful work of art. Ebert's review is helpful because he pokes around at this tension, exploring how "great art" can be "in the thrall of hateful ideologies." We've all struggled with this tension here on the blogs. I know that I have struggled at times to communicate why certain formally excellent films are abominations. 

I've got to go to work so I'll leave this all rather half-baked.

I've been having a hard time caring about watching films lately. Maybe my body is waiting for colder weather. I'm having a movie party with the girls tonight. Not sure if we'll watch some Abbott & Costello or maybe a western. Maybe I'll pull out Ford's Steamboat 'Round the Bend for a fresh watch.


Who 2

Getting through Season 2 of the Who reboot was often a slog. Too many filler episodes. But! At its best, it's about as good as TV gets. It is ridiculous and manipulative and I can't help smiling and crying. Again, I'm not going to write about any of these since none of you have seen it to interact.

Here's how I'd rank Season 2.

1) "The Girl in the Fireplace"
2) "Army of Ghosts" & "Doomsday"
3) "Rise of the Cybermen" & "The Age of Steel"
4) "The Christmas Invasion"
5) "New Earth"
6) "Tooth and Claw"
7) "School Reunion"
8) "The Impossible Planet" & "The Satan Pit"
9) "Love & Monsters"
10) "The Idiot's Lantern"
11) "Fear Her"

Not feeling it - Recent Letterboxd logging copied and pasted

Upstream Color 2013 ★★ Watched 22 Aug, 2013
I stopped watching after about 40 minutes. I blame myself as much as the film. I wasn't willing to put in any work at the time that I was watching it and the film wasn't willing to cater to my laziness. Carruth deserves all of his fans. I wish him well.

Only God Forgives 2013 ★★ Watched 20 Aug, 2013
I can't give it one star because I ended up having a lot of fun watching it. Five stars for the experience combined with -1 stars for the film averages out to about two stars. Hell, I almost gave it three stars when I started thinking about the pickles I was eating.

Apart From You 1933 ★★★ Watched 07 Aug, 2013
Okay melodrama with some nifty Narusisms (zoom and pan, baby!)

The Baron of Arizona 1950 ★★★ Rewatched 06 Aug, 2013 Not at all bad. This is my second time watching it and I think I'm done with it. The long con is interesting but the way the story is told is less than fluid.

Man of Steel 2013 ★ Watched 04 Aug, 2013
This film needs a strong dose of Richard Pryor.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Responding to Brando's Not-Yet-Published Boos

Brandon, thanks for entertaining me with your voicemails last week (or has it already been two weeks?) at work. I got busy and never responded. In fact, your Boos still haven't been uploaded! I'll fix that now. Consider this a preliminary rambling response. I didn't do any research or re-watching before writing these maybe ill-informed opinions. I think that my general impressions here are right. Correct me if I'm wrong.

John Ford would have been 20 years old when he agreed to a bit part in a film directed by one of the hottest directors in the world. Coming from Maine in a pre-media-saturated world, I doubt that Ford had any great notion about what a "Klansman" was. Ford had just moved to Hollywood the year before and was trying to break into pictures by working in his brother's shadow. Do we really need to think that he was a terrible racist to take a bit part in what was one of the biggest films of the time when he was just starting his career? Even if he knew exactly what he was doing, so what? I bet you also made bad decisions at age 20. If we're going to talk about Ford's treatment of "blacks" and "reds", then we ought to at least look at the man's own mature films.

I haven't seen as many Ford films as you guys have, but I have a hard time seeing him as any sort of black-hating racist. He gave work to Stepin Fetchit and others when others in Hollywood wouldn't go near any "black" material if it wasn't blackface or hard mockery. The Stepin Fetchit roles in Judge Priest and Steamboat Round the Bend are both sympathetic comic relief parts. They are not at all representative types of all black men. That would be like saying that all Oliver Hardy films are racist because they tarnish the image that we have of all white men. I'd have to re-watch them, but I remember Fetchit's character in both films (but more so in Round the Bend) as likable and decent. If Fetchit is a Coon, then Rogers is only a thinly veiled society version of the same. Maybe there's some stereotyping going on, but no more so than in any Laurel & Hardy sketch or Abbott and Costello routine. Neither of these films are focused on 'realism' in any way. I also remember reading that Priest originally had a scene featuring the Judge putting a stop to a lynching of a black man, but the studio took the scene out because they knew they wouldn't make any money in the South if they left it in. I would never say that Judge Priest is entirely uncomplicated in its treatment of "race relations", but Ford does have Will Rogers and Stepin Fetchit acting as friends in a time and place in which this wasn't the easiest of relationships.

As far as treatment of "Indians" go, I'd say that Ford's record is even better. It's easy for us to forget how terrifying it was for white settlers heading West to be attacked by Indians. Most average folk were innocent in their actions toward the natives. They were defending their lives and trying to make a new life for themselves in a new land. In a world before mass communication, they were living in terms of their environment based on the best knowledge they had, including often being told that the tribes were savage and ruthless. And, to be fair, the tribes often were savage and ruthless. Even the cavalry men were often honorable (though, of course, not always). They were following orders and trying to live up to an ideal. It was the U.S. leaders who were constantly breaking treaties and acting wickedly. The men with money in the game were the men betraying all others, both white and brown and black. Again, I don't think that Ford is often concerned with 'realism', but I do think that he was trying to explore what it meant to be an American forging an identity amid an often violent and antagonistic land.

It is important to keep in mind that John Ford was an Irishman. His father was an immigrant from Ireland. So, Ford himself wasn't ever a slave like many other Irish in America (, but he lived in a land with a history of hating the Irish, in which Irish men, women, and children had been enslaved and were rarely thought of as anything but inferior, if they were thought of at all. Depending what part of the country you were in, to be Irish in America was not much better at times than being African or Asian. We can't imagine this kind of hateful "white on white" racism, but it was indeed commonplace. Today, the Irish have come a long way in that now we only dismiss them as fun-loving drunks instead of as subhuman inferiors. What is amazing is that John Ford loved America in spite of this complicated history.

In conclusion, Tarantino is a freaking idiot. I'm not sure if he's ever seen a John Ford film.

I'm now going to post Brandon's Boos, listen to them again, and re-read the Kent Jones article:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hello Carol

Spoilers will abound in any Breaking Bad post.

Call me slow. I didn't recognize the pool. Re-watching the episode, it is marvelous how the first few shots and specifically one overhead shot of the pool and backyard quickly and efficiently establish the devastation of the White home without being flashy or at all heavy-handed. I didn't realize what was going on until Walt unscrewed the outlet cover. Then, it hit me hard. Before I could properly register this, though, we get the nice comic beat of the neighbor dropping her groceries. Well played. That little moment communicates more than ten minutes of expository dialogue could have done.

These flash forwards are tough teasers. Why is the house abandoned? Where is the rest of the White family? How long has it been? Walt's definitely done with chemo since he's grown such a gnarly beard, right? Is he a dead man walking? What the hell is he going to do with that machine gun??? Is the ricin for personal consumption? Or will there be more children to poison?

What will be interesting to watch is how the leap is made from the contemporary story to the flash forward story. The way that the action ramps up in this episode is a good indication that there will be no filler ahead. There will not be any wasted moments in the next seven episodes.

More later. Stupid work getting in the way of my Breaking Bad obsession.

Tread Lightly: The Return of Breaking Bad Club

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven by William Butler Yeats
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
I've got to get to work. Later today, I hope to post a full recap/review of last night's Breaking Bad. Who else is watching? Jeff? Chris? Of course. Is Brandon fully caught up? Do we need to strap Ben to a chair Clockwork Orange-style? It's nothing but Breaking Bad for the next two months, gentleman. Heck yeah.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Is it August already?

As you guys could tell, my enthusiasm didn't last long.

I watched Wheatley's Down Terrace and fell in love with the movies all over again (I'll get to Down Terrace at the end of this post). Then, I watched The Last Exorcism Part II and gouged my eyes out with a dull pencil. Ed Gass-Donnelly, you got a screenplay credit for this one so I can't even pretend that you were saddled with a bad script. You knew exactly what you were doing when you let me down. To be fair, I didn't make it all the way to the end. Maybe there was something worth watching by the end, but I doubt it. At least Last Exorcism had me simultaneously loving and hating it the whole way through, provoking a response up until those glorious last few minutes made up my mind for me. Part II only had me bored and rolling my eyes. Blech.

I half-watched The Muppet Movie with my youngest kids while the others were out somewhere. It never gets old for me, even the running Hare Krishna joke still makes me chuckle.

And I tried re-watching The Avengers because I really wanted to see Mark Ruffalo say that he's always angry. I couldn't get into it. I fell asleep after about 45 minutes and never finished it. I watched this instead:

And this beautiful montage:
and this:
and this:
and about a dozen more.

Mostly, I wished The Avengers was as good as Dr. Who. I'm a few episodes into Reboot Series 2 now and still loving it. These are all re-watches for me. The last time I watched them was not long after they were first aired. I think that we first started watching after we moved down here in 2006.

Here's how I'd rank Series 1:

1) "Dalek"
2) "Father's Day"
3) "The End of the World"
4) "The Empty Child" & "The Doctor Dances"
5) "Aliens of London" & "World War Three"
6) "Bad Wolf" & "The Parting of the Ways"
7) "The Unquiet Dead"
8) "Rose"
9) "The Long Game"
10) "Boom Town"

I'd be willing to talk or write about any of these, but no one else has watched them except for Jason. Maybe this will get a post out of him.

Other than Who, I've watched a little bit of Breaking Bad to warm up for the approaching final season and I've watched a couple of other TV things, Fawlty Towers and My Little Pony. I'm still a Cleese fan and I'm still a Brony.

Finally, Down Terrace. It's one of the best films I've seen all year.

I'm really glad that Jeff (and Mike) have both recently watched and enjoyed Kill List. That movie stayed with me long after I finished it. I've finally come to terms with the fact that I'm a huge Wheatley fan. Maybe I'll watch A Field in England this afternoon.

Down Terrace is a remarkable family gangster film. Brandon and I have argued about how much certain films like Goodfellas still glorify gangster life despite their anti-gangster final messages. I'm convinced that those movies make gangsters look cool. Down Terrace does not make gangsters look cool.

Down Terrace is, I think, closer to the homespun reality of "gangsterism." There is family loyalty and there is family dysfunction. There is the closeness of camaraderie and the paranoia of doing something illegal in a situation in which anyone could betray you at any time to better their own life. I love the sense of intimacy that Wheatley creates. I love the humour. And I love his brand of constructed realism.

Wheatley's pacing is always right-on. I'm a bit nervous to see Hill's name absent as editor on Field in England, but I think that Jump having worked with/under Wheatley/Hill for Kill List and Sightseers is a good sign. I think that Wheatley's (maybe intuitive) editing chops come from two sources, his obvious love of music and his background in comedy. Timing is everything in both music and comedy.

The music in Down Terrace is central to everything. Wheatley uses traditional folk music as a rooting device. The music grounds the characters in history. They are not only enmeshed in local and family drama. They are actors on the stage of England, bit parts in the UK's grand narrative. They are folk heroes and tragic lovers and workingmen and yearning spirits. Alongside the way that music frames and undergirds the story is the way in which the passage of time is highlighted by title cards displaying the day of the week. One day is as the next and each day is guarded jealously. Murder is a fair and bright alternative to "doing time."

Let no man steal your thyme. And, of course, that's a pun.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Back to Blogging w/ Belated Quizzzzing Take 2

[I posted this once already and somehow Blogger ate a couple of my paragraphs and doubled other sections. I've cleaned it up some. Hopefully, everything is back in order. So much for writing out a post at my desktop. Next time, I'll be back at my trusty iphone.]

Film Club has NOT had my attention in the month of July. All apologies. I haven't watched much and I haven't been thinking much about film lately. I'm back now.

I bought a new Roku box. I've mostly been using it to stream Doctor Who (it takes me a long time to watch any episode because I've found that it's the perfect sleep aid and I usually only last a few minutes; despite this, I do love the show--I should have a post about it coming soon after I've finished watching Series 1 of the reboot) and The Colbert Report, but I'm pretty sure that I'll be watching more movies soon.

I bought the most recent copy of Film Comment. For several years (maybe late 2007 through mid-2012), I bought every issue. It was one of my favorite things to read cover to cover every (other) month. I got more movie news and reviews from FC than I did online. Somewhere along the way, I stopped reading new issues and then stopped buying them. BUT! I've already half-devoured this new issue, enjoying an Ebert appreciation from Bordwell and an excellent Midnight review from Lopate (a gifted essayist and often overlooked as a great film critic).

Jeff and Brandon have returned to the blogs. They're writing about films I haven't seen (Cache, Dardenne stuff). I can't respond to all that. Still, it's been a good spur to get me writing again.

So, I'm feeling the film bug nipping at me. Back to blogging.

Way back when, the day he posted it, I started Jeff's film quiz but never finished it. Here are my incomplete answers, posted as is instead of spending too much time on it. I answered the questions quickly, then put the quiz aside to answer the questions I hadn't finished or left blank. I never got back to it. Sorry. If I spend too long fretting about answers and being perfect, then inertia sets in and nothing gets done.

Here goes....

1. Name your five favorite actors and actresses of all time.

1) Peter Falk
2) Paul Newman
3) James Stewart
4) Randolph Scott
5) Daniel Day-Lewis

1) Marie Windsor
2) Myrna Loy
3) Anna Karina

2. Can you remember the first foreign-language film you saw that made an impact on you?  If so, what was it?

Wings of Desire. I'm not sure what year I first encountered it. Maybe '96. I hadn't seen anything like it.

3. Favorite moment in a horror film?  Least favorite?

The sad moment in which the Wolf Man reveals that he's yearning for death in The Wolf Man Meets Frankenstein. Least favorite is any jump scare in contemporary horror. Lame-o.

4. Pick a film for each member of film club that you’d really like for her/him to see.

Adrienne: The Lady Vanishes
Brandon: New Jerusalem (Alverson)
Ben: The Fisher King (Gilliam)
Chris: Collision (Doane)
Lisa: Sightseers (Wheatley)

5. Is there a film(s) that you once loved (and maybe even purchased) that now makes you question what you ever saw in it?

6. IFC has started releasing films on demand the same day they hit theaters.  Would you like more studios to do this or are you afraid it may strike the death knell for movie theaters?

7. Favorite movie(s) set during the summertime?

8. Which director working today do you think would make a great western if given the chance (assuming he/she hasn’t already made one)?  Or if you don’t like westerns, which director working today do you think would make a great sci-fi flick (also assuming he/she hasn’t made one yet)?

9. Describe a perfect moment in a movie (courtesy of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule).

The pre-credits sequence for the pilot of Breaking Bad. Three establishing shots of large unmovable rock formations speckled with the flickering shadows of unseen clouds rolling by. The first shot is almost five seconds. The next is about half a second shorter and the next about half a second shorter than the second. The fourth shot is an empty blue frame. Ambient outdoors sounds morph into a crescendoing musical drone as a pair of empty pants floats into frame from the top left corner. The camera pans down to follow the pants' descent to a dirt ground. As the pants hit the ground, a large RV enters the frame and runs over the pants as it speeds down a dirt road. Cut to a from-behind shot of a naked man wearing a gas mask driving the RV. Cut to a side view of the same man. Reverse shot of another man

10. Here’s a decent list of movies that came out in 1990:
Can you name your top five favorites from the year?

1) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
2) Miller's Crossing
3) Misery
4) Back to the Future Part III
5) Short Time

7) Joe Versus the Volcano
8) Dick Tracy
9) Green Card
10) Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Pump Up
Ducktales: The Movie - Treasure of the Lost Lamp
The Field


Moving on, I'll try to quickly answer Chris's Quiz


1. Is there a TV show that you'd love to see a movie version of? If yes, what? If no, think a little harder. If still no, sorry for wasting your time.

Breaking Bad: The Saul Goodman Story

2. What's your favorite place/setting to watch a movie (out of the choices listed below)? Why? ALSO, least favorite and why?

a) Small theater

b) Big theater

c) Drive-in theater

d) In a house, alone

e) In a house, with a group

f) Other

I love all of those places. I'll watch movies alone on my phone or with great big crowds watching great big screens. Even though I never get out there anymore, my favorite film place is probably the Cornell Cinema at Willard Straight Hall. It's a lovely place to watch films. Absolutely essential anywhere is a respectful audience. I don't deal well with chatty audiences.

3. If you could be an extra in any film, what would it be AND what scene would you like to be in?

I'd like to be one of the guys in the pool hall watching the game between Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats. Not sure why that was the first thing that popped into my head.

4. Name a movie you loved as a kid that still feels special even when you watch it now.

Hmmm... Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but I haven't watched it in many years.

5. Best film decade (out of the choices listed below)? And tell us why, if you're so inclined:

a) 80s

b) 90s

c) 00s (aughts)

I'd probably pick the Aughts because the end of that decade saw the birth of CR5FC.

Bonus: Hypothetically, your friends have rented out a theater for your birthday. You get to choose the movie that's screened; what are you going with?

Rubin & Ed. Hopefully, a 35mm print specially presented in person by Trent Harris.


Finally, I've seen the following films in July. I've been logging on Letterboxd. I need to get back to writing something here.

The Blue Umbrella

The Blue Umbrella is the new Pixar short. I was a bit disappointed that it felt more like an expensively produced student film than the polished gems we often get from Pixar.

Kick-Heart is fantastic. It ends abruptly. At first, I thought that this might be a flaw. It's not. The brevity of the film leaves one wanting more, which is almost always a better feeling than being sick from having had way too much.

The Lone Ranger
Monsters University
Trade Winds

Three of the 2013 films that I've seen so far this year have been Disney films! And they've all been positive experiences! Oz, The Lone Ranger, and Monsters University all prove that the Mouse Empire still knows how to make big and bold family movies with lots of heart.

Trade Winds has become one of my favorite movies despite a few flaws. I'll write an Essentials post if I ever get to see it again.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Again, Lazy

We should hang out sometime.

This is a quick response to Brandon. Like usual, we're mostly agreeing on this one.

I had just watched Sunset less than 12 hours before watching Midnight. I was (and remain) offended by its sensibilities. The audience is expected to smile and feel overwhelmingly happy that these two have united at last. The film ends with a shot of Delpy dancing and Hawke wolfishly grinning, suggesting that they're about to "black out the windows and have sex for three days" (or something like that, as it's described in Midnight). We are happy about this. Maybe, some in the audience, will reflect on the fact that we shouldn't be, but I fear that most of the peeps who like the first two films think of them as one great love story. There's this "romantic" notion of TRUE LOVE, all else be damned.

I think that you're right that Midnight does call much of this into question. Everything is more complicated and facing consequences is at the heart of the conflict of the film. Even so, the film never really seriously calls into question whether these two do or do not BELONG together. This is true love, all else be damned. We want these two to work things out. We don't want Hawke to leave his lover and reconcile with his ex-wife. It is only ever Jesse and Celine. And, of course, the film ends with another wolfish grin and we get to feel relieved that "love" has struggled through and won once again. It doesn't even matter what the characters want. What I'm trying to point out is that we, the audience, are only and always hoping for these two to succeed. The beauty of Midnight is that it goes out of its way to show to widen the scope of the story and explore how hard their romance is to maintain once it has become entangled in the lives of others.

As for your last paragraph, yeah, sure. I was only pointing out Jesse's words and how they are indicative of a mindset that is self-centered and not other-centered. It's one moment in the film in which Jesse admits that his problems right now are his social entanglements. Being bound to other people restricts his own life. He seeks to be free from these bonds and live with some sort of pure personal freedom. This is surely representative of many people in our general age group, trying to get by without any permanent bonds to anyone or anything. This is inhuman and harmful to one's self. I guess we could argue about this, but I'm not sure that we're really disagreeing.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

After Before

Before Sunrise. Before Sunset. Before Midnight.

I watched all three for the first time in less than 48 hours.

And I'm feeling too lazy to write much about any of them. But, here's a little bit...

I've always been a Linklater fan. These three Before films only solidify his reputation as an American Master for me. At his best, in these films, he is working on a continuation of the Rohmer Project, the documentation of a nebulous world of love and sexes and philosophies. In Before Midnight, I even felt a Cassavetes vibe. So, yes, high praise for Linklater from me if I'm describing his recent film as a Rohmer/Cassavetes mashup.

Still, I'm a little uneasy. Rohmer and Cassavetes never let their men off the hook easy. Selfishness and self-destruction and failures of nerve and failures of love are dissected and laid bare.

The best thing that I can say about Linklater is that he loves his characters in the same way that Rohmer and Cassavetes loved their characters. This shines through.

My problem with Linklater is that I think that Linklater might be too soft to do more than wink at the selfishness of Jesse (or Celine). He doesn't quite have it in him to portray them in a negative light. For all of the talk of perspectives, we are never given one crucial perspective, that of Jesse's ex-wife. For all of their fighting, the two of them are still the "soulmates" that we *know* belong together.

I call bullshit.

Jesse and Celine are big kids who have failed to grow up. They are self-centered. The key line in Midnight is when Jesse says that the best time in a person's life, the only time in anyone's life in which they are truly free, is the time between when they are away from their parents and before they have children. In other words, the time in one's life (often over-extended to a ridiculous degree in today's man-child environment) when one can be most selfish, free from any and all relationship cords, bonds, duties, responsibilities toward anyone other than self.

I ranted a bit to Ben and Jeff and Chris after the movie tonight. My main beef with Sunset and Midnight is the way in which the adulterous affair is portrayed. Brandon has agreed with me in the past that the offended spouses in these situation are often given short shrift. This is the case here. In Sunset, the wife is referred to as a frigid bitch that Jesse could not love. Jesse only partially owns up to this being his fault. Instead of loving his wife, he leaves her. Now, in Midnight, the offscreen bitch is described as an abusive alcoholic, an angry woman, and a bad mother. All of this serves to reinforce the audience's cultivated prejudice in favor of Jesse and Celine and against this terrible woman that stood in the way of their pure love and its continuation. It is also notable that Jesse and Celine's love is expressed by non-marriage. Contrary to Brandon's post, the movie does make a point of saying that the two have not married. Jesse, ever the man-child, does not want to be put in "institutional bonds put in place by someone else." It's clear enough that Jesse has problems. The thing about the film, though, is that Jesse's man-child charm wins the day. He talks his way through any objections (including dismissing a casual infidelity from the past with not much more than a wave of the hand and some smooth talk) and comes up with a nice little time traveler persona as a way to win his way back into a night of steamy sex. The audience is happy for him. I'm not so sure that we should be happy.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Garlic is as good as ten movies...

Catching up....

Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers is a fantastic documentary. If you don't watch it because you love garlic, watch it for the young Herzog cameo.

To Be or Not to Be is a deserved classic. More than anything, I admire its bravery in brilliantly mocking Hitler near the height of his power. I've got to wonder if Adolf ever watched this one and what he thought about it.

I've gone over my thoughts on Sightseers in the previous two posts. It's definitely not for everyone. And I won't even go too far in defending it.

Androcles and the Lion was a stinker. It never finds its comic balance and has no real moral center despite all of its blathering on about proper ways to die. Its also overly long for such a slight story.

I wrote the following on Letterboxd about Like Someone In Love:
I agree with everything in Jeff's excellent review. All the same, I'm not as sure that it's as complex as Jeff thinks it is. Or, rather, it is visually complex in a very straightforward way. I don't feel like I need to return to it to get any more out of it. That might sound cocky or ignorant or both, but it's how I feel, yo.

Besides those few films, I've moved on to Parks & Rec Season 5 with Abby and have resumed watching Robin Hood with the girls (I couldn't find the discs and then there was a technical glitch that kept us watching for a while, but we're back at it now). Both shows, in their very different ways, continue to entertain.

Rough Rumbling - Response to Brando

Thanks, Brandon, for responding to my 2012 rant. I'll briefly respond back at ya below.

I agree with your assessment of The Comedy. I think that it's strength is also it's big flaw, like many of the other works that I listed; it is unwilling to fully commit to denouncing the empty lifestyle it depicts. Like so many gangster movies that inspire devotion from gangsters, I can see this becoming the rich hipster's manifesto movie instead of the eye-opening life-changing call to change that it could have been. I don't think it's necessarily Alverson's purpose to condemn. The Comedy is a character study and Alverson presents his deeply flawed character with love (without ever excusing vice), which is all that I can ask of a director. If this life isn't presented as negatively as I would have liked, well, the film also doesn't present it as anything more positive than it is.

You've seen Sightseers now. Based on our text conversation, I'd say that we're agreed on Wheatley's talent and his fruitful collaboration with his editor and DP. I think that the Sightseers script is much better than you give it credit for and I also think that almost all of the gags land. That could be chalked up to differences in our senses of humor or it could just be a result of the differing moods we were in when we watched it. I went in blind and was very gracious toward the film as it continued to surprise me. I think that you knew more about it going in and felt that the premise grew old quickly. I'm sure that we'll both be continuing to follow Wheatley's career.

We're agreed on Killing Them Softly. I need to get around to seeing Assassination.

Mostly agreed on Django.

I knew you were going to call me out on the Friedkin comment. I almost put a little disclaimer in there. Oh well. I've only seen The Exorcist and Killer Joe. I've been meaning to see The French Connection and Sorcerer for a long time. It hasn't happened yet. I have no interest in the rest of his filmography. Anyhow, I won't deny Friedkin's directing chops. But, from what I've seen and from what I've read about his other films and him, I'm not all that big of a fan of Friedkin. And even without all of that getting in the way, Killer Joe stands on its own as a "vile and disgusting" film. You're worried about The Comedy? I can only imagine how many KGB listeners have had Killer Joe parties.

I don't know about Seven Psychopaths. I want to see it the way you're seeing it. But, I don't.

Cosmopolis might be even better than I gave it credit for. I'm not sure that it amounts to all that much, though, and I know that I have little interest in watching it again.

Yeah, Lawless is a big ol' mess of a disappointment. I included it on this list over a couple of other movies because of the common thread of all of these films having directors worth watching even though I have problems with either the content or the delivery in all of their work. Hillcoat is more frustrating than all of the other directors above. I don't share your love for The Proposition. I haven't seen The Road. My impression of Hillcoat is that he can't quite deliver. He's worked up a certain style and atmosphere, but hasn't quite found the right balance in execution. The Proposition gets a feeling right, but is sloppy in the way its story develops and ties up at the end. Lawless is sloppy in both the feeling and story departments, meandering back and forth between a hard seriousness and a slapstick cheerfulness.

I do think that you were too kind to Dark Shadows in your initial response. I still respect Burton, but I haven't really cared strongly about any of his films since Big Fish (though I did like Alice more than any of you).

I can only interpret your silence on Here Comes the Boom as disgust that I've brought up this film once again for CR5FC's consideration. You're welcome. :)

Thanks again for the interaction. I'm still hoping that there are 2012 films out there waiting to convince me of how wrong I've been about the year.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Not feeling this quiz

Brando's most recent quiz....

1. What film hit you at the right place and right time, pertaining to and illuminating things that were happening in your life the moment you saw it?

I don't know. Every film does this.

2. What would be your top 5 ranked Pixar films?

I've seen every Pixar film and can safely say that they have not made a dud yet. This list is plenty arbitrary. The top three could be swapped around. Toy Story has lost some of its power over me, but it remains an important historical film for me. It was the first film that I ever went to see three times at the cinema. That was 1995. The next time I would do that would be Julien-Donkey Boy in '99. Then, not again until There Will Be Blood in 2008. Then, Adventureland in 2009 (though this repeated viewing was due to a double showing while I was ushering at Cornell). Those are the four movies that I've seen three times at the cinema. But, I'm getting further away from the question. Here's the list:
2) Ratatouille
3) Brave
4) Toy Story
5) Toy Story 3

3. To reiterate Cheddar’s question…. What movie/movies had the biggest negative effect on you?

This is a good question. I think that you meant it as "which movies have emotionally wounded you?" but I'm taking it as "which movies have actually changed your life for the worse?" Maybe seeing Monty Python's Meaning of Life or so many Rodney Dangerfield films (Back to School, anyone?) too early in life shaped my humor in a negative direction. I'm sure that there have been films that have had me contemplating a life of crime and violence. I could probably come up with a good list of "negative effect" movies if I looked at a list of all the crap I watched from the 80s.

4. What seasons seem to inspire you to see and write about films the most and least?

I don't even know. It'd be interesting to look back over stats. Oh, wait; I did that once and no one cared.

I think I have a natural ebb and flow throughout the year in which I'll binge on films and then take a three week break without watching anything, then binge again. I do know that Breaking Bad inspires me to be a raving lunatic fanboy.

5. What are five movies that you love that you feel comfortable never seeing again?

This question is not for me. The movies that I love are, by definition, the ones that I want to see again. They're also the ones that have settled deepest in me, though, and that I don't always feel the need to see again soon because I feel like they're with me even though I'm watching other lesser movies.

6. What anticipated 2012 film/films are you feeling the most uneasy about expectation wise?

Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing. I have high hopes, but I get nervous over any contemporized Shakes adaptations.

7. Likewise, what former favorite actors are trudging down dangerous territory for you, also what actors have already strayed down the path to the point in which their name now means nothing? I’m realizing now that this is a mean sounding question.

Maybe my answer is meaner than your question. I've never really cared about actors as much as writers and directors. So, the career decisions of Nic Cage and Johnny Depp, for example, don't really bother me. I think that both are still enjoyable actors who are fun to watch. The problem I have with the movies they've been in have to do with writing and direction more than their performances. I can't think of a single actor who has "strayed down the path to the point in which their name now means nothing." These actors are just waiting for the right writers and directors. I like The Gos, but that doesn't mean I'll watch him in Crazy Stupid Anymovie. I like Bryan Cranston a lot, but only because of what Gilligan and the BB team have given to him and received from him. Cranston as cameo in Rock of Ages doesn't interest me. Cranston as director of Modern Family doesn't interest me. And so on. I'm basically a Bressonian actor as model kind of guy.

8. What is your take on a screenwriter’s impact on a film’s success, in other words how much of an auteurist are you?

The script is the most important part of a film, but it's still the director that takes the script and puts flesh on its bones. Ideally, the director has written the script or has worked closely with the person who has written the script.

9. What types of “provocative” cinematic trends/ideas still feel fresh, which seem to be losing their oomph in the modern age of self awareness?

I'm not sure what you had in mind here. Just shock cinema? Porno tricks? Those were old before they were new. Maybe ironically, I think that the "self awareness" (or interiority) of a Bergman or a Rohmer or a Tarkovsky (etc) is still fresh and provocative and their heirs continue to stand out in an age of mass spectacle.

10. What’s your favorite horror film of the 1990s (that isn’t SCREAM Cheddar!)?

Probably Misery. I haven't seen it in several years, but I'm pretty sure that it holds up.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Dis-ease: The Perversity of 2012

2012 continues to defy me. 2010 gave us a few movies I consider masterpieces--True Grit, Meek's Cutoff, Cold Weather, Arrietty--and several other strong titles besides those. 2011, like 2010, was a strong year with more great films--I especially loved The Mill and the Cross, Take Shelter, and Damsels in Distress--and 2011 was also a year that I praised for its strong cheerful comedies. Notes of hope and expectation had emerged from the dreariness that was all too often the status quo.

2012, following 2011's lead, was also full of strong comedies. The unsettling difference between these and the ones that I highlighted from last year is that each of these comedies is perverse, unnerving, and generally burdened by the weight of its troubles. 

I hope that Brandon doesn't think that I'm just engaging in some Armondian wankery here. I'm not going to compare/contrast films (though I could). I think that all of the films below are extremely well-crafted and very personal visions from these directors. At least the top few are worth struggling with even if I can't ultimately make my peace with them.

One doesn't need much more to prove auterism than look at this list below and see how obviously these specific films fall into the broader body of work of each of these directors.

This is not a Top Ten of 2012 List. I do hope to have one of those up before 2013 is over!! Inspired by my recent Sightseers viewing, the following is my:

Top Ten Respectably Repugnant Comedies of 2012 List.

1. The Comedy (Alverson)
2. Sightseers (Wheatley)
3. Killing Them Softly (Dominick)
4. Django Unchained (Tarantino)
5. Spring Breakers (Korine)
6. Killer Joe (Friedkin)
7. Seven Psychopaths (McDonagh)
8. Cosmopolis (Cronenberg)
9. Dark Shadows (Burton)
10. Here Comes the Boom (Coraci)

Alverson's The Comedy is far more confidentially directed than his excellent previous film, New Jerusalem. Though the content is vastly different, The Comedy follows New Jerusalem in its exploration of male friendship/interpersonal bonds in a world shorn of meaning and purpose. Jerusalem is quiet and holds out hope. The Comedy is a scathing bare-all denouncement of the vapidness of contemporary cultured leisure. It's successful in what it does because it never caters to its audience, existing as a film in that same space of entitlement ennui that its protagonist occupies. The Comedy serves as a documentary witness. It doesn't offer any way out.

Wheatley's Sightseers is nothing less than an ordinary romance gone awry. It's a solid relationship dramedy turned slapstick horror. It sits nicely as a companion piece to Kill List. Both are unsettling accounts of seemingly ordinary people participating in ordinary events. Except that none of it is ordinary and madness keeps bubbling up and breaking through, until the real and the unreal settle together and are indistinguishable. Horror becomes a way of explaining the world. The horrors of relationship anxieties are externalized. Sightseers ends with a gag, a feel-good shrug that maybe provided catharsis for anyone who has been in a damaging relationship.

I'm not sure how Dominick's Killing Them Softly fits in with his Assassination of Jesses James, but I'm sure it does (never afraid to toss out my uninformed film opinions). Softly is a not-so-subtle takedown of the myth of capitalist efficiency. It's also a deconstruction of gangster films and the Lone Gunman archetype. Softly is often crude and ugly with a nice sheer gloss, just like its subject matter. Softly indicts all of us who are complicit in this system at whatever level.

Tarantino's Django Unchained fits in nicely with his current program of historical revisionism. After tearing apart Nazi Germany in Basterds, Tarantino co-opts Germany's national myth, The Nibelungenlied, and re-purposes it as a story of black empowerment, an act of narrative taunting that is surely as offensive to the "master race" as anything in Basterds. Tarantino enjoys his revenge a bit too much and is too reliant on the worst of the 70s exploitation cinema that he has soaked into his bones. Django is, at its core, a "save the princess" tale, marred by Tarantino's excess.

Korine's Spring Breakers is an obvious continuation of the themes of his previous films. The real surprise this time is that now the MTV mainstream has become the freak in the spotlight. What privileged rich kids do with their free time turns out to be not so far from a semi-sanitized fantasy version of a trip Ol' Dirty could have given these kids for half the price and twice the grit. What's odd about this picture is that the second half fantasy sequence is less surreal than the "reality" of Spring Break. Korine, by the end, wants to have his Spring cake and eat it, too.

Friedkin's Killer Joe is at least as vile and disgusting as any of his other films. I admire Friedkin's craft, but have a hard time giving any sort of blessing to what is essentially a rape fantasy from beginning to end. Maybe it's all an ironic joke. If so, that only makes the whole thing more worthless and indefensible. What's the takeaway from this film? Stay in the city where you're safe from Redneck mayhem like the kind you find in Sidney, NY.

McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths has all of the vulgarity of In Bruges, but it doesn't quite have the same beating heart. There's something gone corrupt in McDonagh's vision; maybe cynicism has won out over sincerity. I find myself failing to remember much about this one. All flash and nothing to come back for.

Cronenberg's Cosmopolis is one of the better science fiction films of the last few years. Its humor is built around the loneliness unique to the connectedness of our current cultural/technological situation. The way it builds to its final showdown is a masterful display of epic non-suspense, which is maybe the right mood of the moment.

Hillcoat's Lawless builds on themes of masculinity and brotherhood that Hillcoat began to explore in The Proposition. There is a jaunty humor that keeps this thing afloat (what other word but jaunty to describe a gift bag of testicles?), making it easy to watch even as it overstays its welcome and undercuts what seriousness it did have by turning the whole into a good ol' boy's reminiscing. It waffles in what it wants to be.

Burton's Dark Shadows picks up on Burton's obsession with macabre melodrama. The humor here is that human behavior doesn't change much over the centuries. If anything, witches and vampires have a better society in which to engage in their specific predatory practices. Burton is clearly just having fun here, but it feels like he's laughing at someone else's expense. The goth kids have won and Dark Shadows is a major motion picture. The world has been turned upside down.

Coraci's Here Comes the Boom is centered squarely in his tween-boy fart-aesthetic. Add a giant pinch of wishful thinking and all is right with the world. While many of the above films diagnose ills and then either wink or throw their hands up in the air, Coraci's solution is to sprinkle Hollywood fairy dust over it all. Magical thinking will make all of us fat men into honorable UFC champions with the desirable foreign girl on our arm while the music of children resounds through the whole wide world. This dangerous lie may be worse than all of the despair and aimlessness evidenced above.

I don't know.

I can't help but feel that 2012 has been a sad and lost year in film.

I'd love to read/hear responses, either on blogs or via Boo or whatever.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Going in to work late today.

So, I decided to put up a new blog post instead of watching more YouTube kitten videos.

TV Club Update

The League S01E03-05. I'm officially sick of immature man-child storylines. The humor works on the same level as That 70s Show, focusing on a group of bros out to succeed at life without really trying. The barrage of sex jokes is mostly lame lowest common denominator crap. The focus on fantasy football is probably where the show is at its funniest and most endearing. The problem with the show then becomes overcoming how lame fantasy football is and how the jock-geeks that participate in it are usually just jerks who don't realize that they're playing Blood Bowl without the cool elf minis.

Kroll Show S01E01. Not funny. The humor relies heavily on crappy pop culture.

Maron S01E01. Meh. Mehron? I'll keep watching for a few episodes. The humor is self-deprecating and also very self-indulgent. I don't need to know anything at all about Groucho Marx or Bob Newhart or George Carlin to laugh at their jokes. I don't want to know so much about Marc Maron or his comedy creation, Marc Maron.

Rectify S01E01-03. I mostly like Rectify. It develops at a nice, slow pace. The story sprawls inward, if that makes any sense. It's not afraid to be a little odd (though never cute) while hitting all the right Sundance Indie human interest notes. 

Parks & Recreation Seasons 3 and 4. The best comedy on TV right now. Season 3 is my favorite season so far. We'll probably start Season 5 soon.

The Vikings S01E01. The two impressive things in this pilot are Viking tech and Viking culture. Both are skillfully presented as the backdrop for a story of one man's rebellion against his Chieftan. This conflict isn't all that interesting in itself, but allows for wonderful moments that reveal more of the historical context.

Hannibal S01E01. America loves serial killers; the smarter and friendlier the better! Hannibal is a pretty standard police procedural with the twist that one of its (so far supporting) characters is a charming cannibal.

What about movies? Do any of us really watch movies anymore? I'd guess not, based on the extreme scarcity of new posts lately.

Here's a quick rundown of what I've seen in the past few weeks besides Mud and Pines.

The Hobbit ruins a great children's book by turning it into a mediocre action pic.

Oz: The Great and Powerful isn't good enough to sustain a third viewing (especially one without any children present).

Coming to America is charming in its way. I'd like it lots more if it wasn't as potty-mouthed as it is. Then again, that might be part of its charm. What do I know?

Shane is okay. I watched it with the girls and it was fun watching them get emotionally attached to the character, so I can see why this could be a favorite, especially if watched earlier in life.

Elevator to the Gallows is a better New Wave crime film than most of the New Wave crime films that followed it.

Punch-Drunk Love completely floored me this viewing. I hadn't seen it since its first release and I didn't really like it at the time. Now, I think it's one of the greatest romantic comedies of the past thirty years.

Road to Morocco is just silly fun. And Iron Man 3 is everything I was hoping for in a big, stupid summer action flick.

And that's it. I'm all caught up.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Brief Mud Post

Minor Spoilers below...

I wanted to love Mud. I still want to love Mud. But, I don't love Mud.

I merely like it. To be honest, I'm a little surprised by the 98% on Rotten Tomatoes that Jeff told me about. There are no dissenting voices? The film is on-the-nose often. The score/soundtrack bugged me, even when it was something I liked playing in the background. Instead of bombastic swelling, we get The Dirty Three, but it's there to serve the same purpose, right on point giving emotional cues. Not sure why it bugged me so much, but it did. Also, on-the-nose foreshadowing. Snakes? Yup, someone's gonna get bit. A gun? Yup, someone's gonna get shot.

Even the boat in the tree kind bugged me as too cute.

I do admire the film for its exploration of in/constancy in love in a world where everything has become unstable, especially love. Nichols is great at taking small stories and making them feel connected to a wider river of myths/stories/songs that we're all wading in. Also, the performances are mostly great (I'm not so sure about Reese Witherspoon).

I'll watch every film that Nichols makes. He's still one of my favorite living American filmmakers. I just didn't love Mud. :(

I'm willing to blame my response on the giant Italian hoagie from the Ithaca bakery. It's a few days later now and I'm still not sure if I've digested that beast completely.