Saturday, December 31, 2011

The storm is coming.... of NETFLIX REVENGA!!

The Netflix-a-thon is back.... with AVENGEANCE!!!

So let's go... starting tomorrow. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Faces of Top ELEVEN of 2011 (see what I did there?)

... with honorable mentions at the end (12 to 25)

Now, just a note: there are a few films that could conceivably make my top 10/11 list of the year (i.e. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Iron Lady, though I doubt the latter, or A Separation, which made Ebert's top best-of-the-year pick), and if that happens... well, I'll either come back here and re-edit the list, or, I won't.  Simple as that.  So, just like last year, some faces of 2011 (and this time not all in full close-up, some more 'medium-close' as we say in the industry):

(PS: I DID!) 












Honorable Mentions (that is, movies I thought were awesome, but didn't make the cut):

I Saw the Devil
The Descendants
13 Assassins
Meek's Cutoff
Certified Copy
Into the Abyss
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
X-Men: First Class
Attack the Block
The Tree of Life
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Artist

top 11:  

11) Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)
10) The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg)
9) Tabloid (Errol Morris)
8) Rango (Gore Verbinski)
7) Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
6) Carnage (Roman Polanski)
5) Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
4) Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
3) A Separation (Asghar Fahardi)
2) Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
1) Melancholia (Lars von Trier)

So There.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


And while I'm on a Scorsese kick...

Why did Martin Scorsese decide to make a film about George Harrison?  Why did he decide to make a film about the Dalai Lama?  Or The Age of Innocence?  While this is another documentary about a rock-star icon, following along from Scorsese's own The Last Waltz, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan and Shine a Light, it's closest in style and tone to the Dylan doc, as a profile of a man of his time and how he lived through it.

Unlike Dylan, who is a mystery even to the most curious of fans (or just one of the more obnoxious, depends how you look at it), George Harrison seems to be, from accounts and interviews, to be a man of spiritual and artistic integrity who had various concerns and ideas, and he expressed them throughout his life - or, if not in the recording studio or as a producer of films, then with his garden.  One may not be able to find the link between the sarcastic (if 'quiet') kid from A Hard Day's Night with an old man in a garden (or for that matter the old man having to defend his life against a burglar, as he did, in 1999), but it's all here.

I may not have found Harrison quite as enlightening as Bob Dylan, but should he be?  Maybe in his own simple way though Scorsese finds a more direct path or personal link to him through the spiritual side.  Harrison was someone who found through the Maharishi, Indian music, transcendental meditation, some kind of path through the noise of Western civilization.

The clash is what's interesting here, and Scorsese knows it too.  While the director is fascinated with BIG emotions in his films (see anything with De Niro for more on that), he's also fascinated how someone operates with a calm demeanor on the surface burning with emotion underneath.  Harrison was the guitarist for the Beatles and then when the break-up happened, he had to break-off and find another way.  He was still a pop star, and his first solo album, the great 'All Things Must Pass' went into the top ten of the charts.  But how did he reconcile a working class British-Liverpool upbringing with the teachings of Haria Krishna?

Of course, the first hour of this massive three 1/2 hour films are dedicated to him and the Beatles, and it's wonderful to see the footage, hear the songs, find out some details about the songs Harrison wrote for the group (i.e. the first song he ever wrote, 'If I Needed Someone').  Then the second part is about the spiritual search, or what's close to it, mixed with the start of the solo career (and of course some of the famous tales of romantic highs and lows via Patti and Eric Clapton are included).

There's a section for the film-part of his career, where as a man of faith, though not exactly (it's complicated you see) he helped pay "the most ever anyone's paid for a movie ticket" for Monty Python's Life of Brian.  And then about his gardening, his second wife Olivia (and - kind of a shock to me - the candor which Olivia, who was a producer on the film and wrote the book spin-off of the film, talks about Harrison's infidelities in their marriage, something I really admired), and other things like friendships, the burglary in 1999, and his untimely passing from cancer.

It wouldn't be a Scorsese movie without music, and hey, it's George Harrison so there's lots of good stuff here (sadly, for me, no 'I Got My Mind Set on You'), and there's the director via editor David Tedeschi's marvelous way of navigating the story with music.  Watch the opening and how 'All Things Must Pass' goes over the WW2 footage, then mixed in with some of the more traditional music of the 1940's period to see some of the brilliance with which Scorsese does this.  And the interviews are mostly illuminating and nice, once or twice piling on the adulation (perhaps as one might expect) while still giving some moments for the quirks Harrison had - such as a story Tom Petty tells about ukuleles - and some of his flaws as a man and artist.

I'm not sure if for fans the film will shine a whole lot of new light, though for newcomers it should provide the bulk of know-how.  What's great about the film ultimately is the thread of the story, and how the filmmaker is not afraid to jump around, or jump ahead, and expect the audience to keep up.  It's not as straight-thru as, say, The Beatles Anthology.  We're seeing a life in various dimensions, time-spans, and it's as if not more post-modern than the Dylan doc.  It's joyous, meditative, somber, happy, funny, a little daft and a little less than perfect.  I can't wait to revisit the life and work.

Martin Scorsese's HUGO (on 1st viewing)

I note above in the title that this is a reaction to my first viewing of Martin Scorsese's latest masterpiece Hugo.  This is because, frankly, I want and need to see the film again.  Unlike Pauline Kael, for example, I can't really base all my film experiences on the initial (knee-jerk) reaction.  While images and scenes keep permeating my brain, however, and I keep admiring it as a Scorsese fan, here are some of my thoughts and impressions on the film, which may perhaps not be as articulate as I'd like, but a review nonetheless:

Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Brian Selznick's inspired novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which itself was like a pop-up-graphic-regular-novel hybrid, which is the first clue as to why 3D was appropriate) is in just one word: wonderful. It has a lot of drama to it, and not just because it deals with deceased fathers, or supposed deceased father figures, and yet the film also carries the wonder of invention, for things seemingly fantastical (an 'automaton' that is kind of like a robot only with a specific task to be carried out), and overtly fantastical as cinema and the process of invention itself. It ostensibly follows its young hero, Hugo Cabret (a very talented young actor Asa Butterfield), as he hides in the clock-tower of a train station in Paris circa 1933, and how he slowly bonds with a crotchety old shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley) via his much younger relative (Chloe Moretz), and a discovery is made about who this 'Papa Georges' really is. 

Nothing less than beautiful as a "kids" movie (in quotes since it can be for anyone that just happens to have two kids as its main characters) and as an ode to film- how precious is it, how important artists are, and what the medium is possible for. In fact, this is what makes the 3D not only impressive - it is essential to the craft of the film; where usually 3D is a gimmick used for cheap effect, or when filmmakers don't understand proper visual spacial relations or what depth of field is, Scorsese and the superlative DP Robert Richardson does. Remarkably as well in scenes that showcase what 'Papa Georges' did with his film sets as the director Georges Melies created fantasy realms. 

Scorsese is one of the only filmmakers - maybe, arguably, the ONLY filmmaker - to understand how to use 3D to his advantage with the space he has. As the man who coined the phrase "Cinema is about what's in the frame and what's out", he takes this gimmick - and it still is a gimmick - and gives it a kick in the ass. And yet it's not just the technique that's impressive here, it serves as the tool for the story, which is about something precious and dear: the old and the new, and being able to make room for both equally. 

There are other factors that come into play as well, for why Georges Melies wasn't celebrated throughout time and space (and of course sound in cinema and WW1 did a lot for that), but it's really about how to find wonderment in art and life, how the two are more than compatible, they compliment each other. Art feeds life. And ultimately a filmmaker in his 60's like Scorsese connects strongly with the young hero, a figure who finds some comfort in the world of fantasy of the automaton and cinema, and in Papa Georges (not to mention the Michael Stuhlbarg character, who is a film preservationist in the days when film nitrate was the used to make women's shoes).

I also neglect to mention some other things in the film, such as Sacha Baron Cohen playing a quasi-bumbling police officer at the train station who with his big dog has a penchant for carting off stray kids to the orphanage. His parts are the stuff of the "B-plotline", but it's still entertaining stuff, and gives a little time to spare between the tragedy that is Hugo's early life (the death of his father played by Jude Law) and the tragedy of Papa Georges' life (when Stuhlbarg shows the surviving film reels to Hugo and others, it's a bittersweet, touching moment, so rare in films these days in general). 

Overall, it turns into a magical *cinematic* experience, and a deeply emotional one - for kids, since the story is primarily told through them, and for adults as it addresses universal concerns (as a filmmaker of the 'Movie Brats' by the way, Scorsese still makes the film for himself - and in this case, maybe his young 12 year old daughter, who knows). Thankfully amid the clock-towers and sweeping crane shots and the (swoon) dream-within-dream sequences, there's heart and human beings, and one of Ben Kingsley's most affecting performances in years. There's spectacle in the vision, grace in the action set-pieces (few but significant as they are), and the colors rich and textured in grades of blue, green, red, gold and white. Go see this one.


And that's... just fucking cool!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Charlie Chaplin's THE GOLD RUSH

In this tale of the "Lone Prospector" (aka the Little Tramp) coming in to the world of mid 19th century gold miners and trying to stake his claim, win the heart of the sweet (though not always nice) girl Georgia, and just survive in general, Chaplin gets loads of memorable moments out of his perfect comedy (and sometimes just dramatic, bittersweet) timing. I'm not sure if it really marks it as a "deep" film the way that City Lights, Modern Times or Great Dictator are. And you know what? Who cares? It's one of his most sheerly entertaining films, meant to manipulate the audience like puppets. I say, it's so much fun being at the fingers of a master-manipulator-artist like Chaplin.

And where's Fitzcarraldo when you really need him!?
 In this film we at first see how the Trampspector has to deal with Big Jim McKay and Black Larsen, big bears of men (though not bears themselves, one of those comes in from time to time), and the fact that there's very little food to be had - at one point he's viewed as a chicken, more than figuratively! Then he goes into town, meets Georgia (and her jerk of a man), and has a lovely dance one night that leads to possibly New Years Eve plans - also leading into one of the most adorable of all scenes where he does a smashing musical number with two dinner rolls. The heartbreak of this section (and to me it felt that way, a lot) leads into the final section of the film wherein the Tramp and Big Jim may finally get some of that gold and become millionaires... if they can survive an honest-to-goodness cliffhanger in their cabin!

Fun/scary trivia: Chaplin ate so much shoe (licorice) over three days and 63 takes he was rushed to the hospital with insulin shock

Chaplin as a performer is fearless with whatever stunts need to be doen (albeit he's no Buster Keaton, we'll get that straight now), but his comic timing was just impeccable. I loved seeing how he would move in a room, or how he would react to others in an awkward moment. He's THE lovable outsider, and as such he can also be a character who we might see ourselves in. There's a moment when he first comes into the salloon and is mistaken for thinking Georgia (Georgia Hale) sees him but rather it's the brutish Jack. But that's not the part that really works in that whole set-piece; it's following this, when he's at the bar and he tries ever so desperately (though not too over the top) to be noticed by her. Among this crowd he's a) not too special enough, and b) is just a little too odd to make it with them... except as a dance partner to get someone else's goad.

Colonel Sanders approved

But aside from the romance stuff, which feels honest and true and helps give the film an emotional backbone, watch the film today and see how the comic set-pieces hold up. And not just Chaplin, but also how good Mack Swain as Big Jim gets into the swing of things. As he chases Chaplin around the room as a chicken it's a riot - when they're hanging on for dear life in the cabin on the precipice it goes from at first delirious slapstick to genuine suspense and then back again. But even the smaller bits, like when the Tramp shovels the snow from one place and builds it up to the next business place, is inspired.

"You were just a face in the crowd..."

See The Gold Rush for the big sequences, for how good Chaplin handles crowds and sets and (fake-studio-done) weather, and for how wonderful he takes his character to again, and also for the little touches he puts in there, how impressionable the townspeople are, and how awesome the ending is on that ocean-liner.

And as an aside: when I saw the film in the theater, a couple of kids were brought by their parents, and young ones at that. Specifically one five year old Asian kid and his parents sat in front of me (the kid was as well behaved as one could hope for in a five year old), and the kid loved the hell out of the movie - laughed hysterically at the slapstick, was awed by the big set-pieces, perhaps perplexed/bored by the romance bits, and sometimes bounced up and down when something excited him. It's a very fun movie on its own - seeing that, however, gave me a little hope for the future of humanity.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Roman Polanski's CARNAGE

When you hear the title Carnage, you might think something else, something really bloody and gooey and full of teeth and maybe that character from Marvel too (technically he's part of Spider-Man, don't ask me if he's in the new Marc Webb film in 2012).  But here, Carnage is what it is - a one act play adaptation.  But hey, if anyone's gonna do Carnage, give it to Polanski....

Roman Polanski's film of Yasmin Reza's play 'God of Carnage' would be just a simple (though uniformly strong) showcase for BIG acting talents doing BIG set-pieces, if not for the fact that the director has assembled some of the best and sharpest actors on the planet who speak English, and that for this material this director is not the correct choice, he's the only one (maybe Mike Nichols also comes to mind, thouguh that may be only because the story/characters resemble on the outside 'Virginia Woolf 2.0').  Polanski got his start making these kind of films - by this I refer to Knife in the Water, Repulsion, and Cul-de-sac, these "bottle" films that primarily take place in a confined location, only a few characters and some real mounting, dreadful, nail-biting inducing suspense as the audience is privy to the stripping away of not so much humanity but the facade of it, it's rules.

Sure, you can come on it, have some cobbler, fuck my wife... oh wait, last one was the wrong movie...

 Carnage is the Polanski I know and love from that period (and a smaller extent Death and the Maiden), tackling a 21st century domestic story of two sets of parents - one middle class (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster), the other upper-middle (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet, all ideally cast, though Waltz at first a slight surprise following so many villainous roles) - they meet to discuss an altercation between their two songs in a park.  More to the point (which we see in a swiftly brutal prologue as the opening shot of the film, one of only two exteriors in the film), one swung at the other with a club.

Why exactly did it happen?  Were they just kids being kids getting in a fight?  There is a little getting-to-the-bottom-of-this conversation about it, but not quite at the start.  At first, as civilized homo sapiens would, they're polite and cordial, and Reilly even asks Winslet and Waltz for coffee and apple cobbler (with some pears in it) as they're about ready to leave.  It's revealed one son wouldn't want the other in his gang (the word 'snitch' is used), and just watching this conversation part, where Waltz and Reilly talk about how much fun it was to be part of a gang or to be the leader when they were kids ("Like Ivanhoe!" Waltz exclaims) it's clear, not just from the womens' reactions but in general: this will not go well.  At all.

You said WHAT about Michel Gondry?  We both don't approve..

The underlying current of Carnage, made more than clear in the second half of the film, is that beneath the mask of human decency, of the 'thank yous' and 'sorrys' and 'please' and so on, people are vicious bastards, and class just makes up for part of the facade (another inspiration may-hap in terms of vicious social satire - Bunuel, specifically The Exterminating Angel where people arrive, and no one leaves).  How much have we come to as a species where swinging a stick at one another like the apes in 2001 was common practice?  Polanski and Reza seem to say, 'Not much, we're (kind of) afraid.'

It's a current through almost all of Polanski's films, even the seemingly sweet Knife in the Water where carnal lust is brimming at the surface and spills over in the third act.  Here, Polanski, via Reza, takes this into cringe-worthy comedy.  Dark comedy really, like 'Are they going to go THERE!' levels.  Indeed, while not as hilarious, if I was told Larry David wrote this as an unused bottle episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, I'd believe you.


And though Polanski as director, in terms of style, keeps things moving well and gets coverage that amps things up psychologically past its static setting (watch as Waltz is smaller in frame as Reilly is more in close-up across the room and when the latter accuses the former of something about his job, Waltz comes into frame, menacingly), not to mention the switch from steady tri-pod to uneasy hand-held in the 2nd hald, the cast is King (and Queen) here.

Good GOD, do they get to go at these characters!  I'm sure they would say it's all on the page, but I'm not so sure the could or would have played it this way on the stage (albeit occasionally Winslet does play 'to the balcony' as the saying goes, but this is part of the outrageous delight in the performance).  Waltz is less an intimidating Nazi here than just a prime example of 21st century doltishness, who can't be pulled away from his Blackberry and has a very particular (and all-too-common really) view of women.

Yeah, put me anywhere near Inglorious Basterds 2 and I'll punch you in the metaphorical uterus

Reilly gets to play it mostly straight as, at first, he seems to be the 'nicest' ion the room, until he snaps "I'm a short tempered SON ON A BITCH!" and rushes to the scotch - a performance like this from him shows his range from 1 to 10.  Ditto for Winslet, who is scabrously funny, even as she at one point has to vomit due to 'nerves' (and was it that cobbler?), and balances off Foster who gets to play the uber-liberal "with no sense of humor".  Then these women break down and go off - baby, watch out!

The film may piss off/rub-off the wrong way on some viewers.  This is the stuff of lets-make-em-squirm entertainemt where words, the tone of how things are said, and how one person just takes things too far when the argument seems to be over and people can move on, not to mention other bodily functions, come out in a fury.  I don't know how people will react, though the audience I was with let out gasps of laughter throughout.

To anarchy!
To me, it's a perverse joy seeing this director at the top of his game within a limited milieu: it makes no bones it's based off a play, and except for closing/opening shots it wouldn't have it any other way.  Urban comfort, the battle of the sexes, brutality in Africa, even a poor little hamster are not spared.  Carnage, through spectacularly good acting and existential horror, says 'You're ALL sons of bitches, the lot of you, but you have your moments, if you try.  Maybe.'

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I have a confession.... (keep reading)

So as it turns out, I have not been completely off the movie-criticism grid... I'm really sorry, honey, I don't know what to say or where to start except that.... well, I have been unfaithful..  Please, no, no, don't, stop, put down the knife, if I can explain....

Ok, I can't.  The fact is, I sometimes just don't have the energy to go all the way over here. is fast and quick and it's something there for me right away, and I don't have to put in the work that I do with the blog, which is great but requires more of my time.  IMDb's legs are wide open and its pages so... ok, I'll just stop, I'm digging the hole bigger and I know that's not a good excuse, but it's the truth.

Here is my face right now, if it's any consolation:

So, now you're throwing the frying pan over my head asking, "WHO IS SHE?"  Well... there are a bunch of reviews.  How far you want to go back?  One month?  Two, maybe three?  Yeah, three months.  While you look thru them I'm gonna count up how much I'll owe in internet-alimony payments:

William Friedkin's JADE

Andrjez Zulawski's POSSESSION (1981) - Holy shit this was a messed-up movie... and I don't mean that lightly.  This will fuck you up

Yasujiro Ozu's TOKYO TWILIGHT 

(pre-review) Friedkin's KILLER JOE

EVERYTHING MUST GO (aka Will Ferrell is back to drama and good at it)

Nagisa Oshima series:

Japanese Summer: Double Suicide

that shitty remake of THE THING

50/50 (surprisingly one of the best films of the year(!))

James Franco in HOWL

Kevin Smith's RED STATE (the most mixed-bag of the year, some of it's really damn good, and some of it... not so much)

David Lean's DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (aka stay for Rod Steiger, Klaus Kinski and the cinematography, and maybe for the rest if you feel like it)


NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS (one of the better "mumblecore" movies)

(I also half-assedly wrote a review of MARTIN SCORSESE'S HUGO, but I wont post that there cause you'll just get mad.  I'll re-write it to make it longer and more in-depth once I see the film a second time).

So... I'm sorry.... :/ I'll do better though! 


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Green Eyes Trailer #1

So apparently I make these things sometimes called films and, well... the teaser is now up for the feature film....


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Clint Eastwood's J. EDGAR

Yes, this looks pretty ridiculous... but hey, all that we're saying is give Edgar a chance...

"When morals decline..."

Like many good bio-pics (if not great ones), J Edgar makes me curious about the subject at its core, which may not just be its protagonist but also the idea(s) that it's looking at through its character.  I'm not sure how accurate this portrayal of the first and most notorious director of the Bureau of Investigations - later "Federal" - but it does portray obsession and control in some compelling ways.  This man as seeing in Clint Eastwood's film was made much by his the times he was in and by his domineering Mother, who was the only one he really listened to (sometimes even his own conscience could be so mixed-up as to what was "right" or "wrong").  For those going in expecting an 'accurate' depiction, I'm not sure what to tell you, except that Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black are accurate to what they see as their vision of the man and his times, and that makes for some good dramatic viewing.

As happens in some bio-pics - not least of which some directed by Eastwood (Bird, Flags of Our Fathers) - the story goes back and forth in time between the 'young' Hoover and the 'old' Hoover.  At first I wasn't keen on this framing device, mostly as it seemed to be a generic attempt to frame it with J. Edgar dictating the "Untitled FBI Story" to a series of stenographer-agents.  But this actually grew on me as the film progressed, not just because Black and Eastwood seemed to get a firmer grasp on how to go back and forth in time better (after the initial ten minute or so intro, which felt clumsiest), but because the information we were being given is later revealed to not be entirely reliable by its narrator.  The structure becomes part of the point, of how one looks at history of a man and an institution, which as Hoover tries to assert is one and the same (or at least in this case).

It's also a history lesson as a film, though occasionally here too the filmmakers stumble, but only slightly.  This is more of a case of personal preference than through a specific 'fault' of the film; I would have liked to have seen more about the period where the FBI became all about bank robbers (perhaps Eastwood/Black figured Public Enemies covered that much more, albeit it didn't cover it well), and that the Charles Lindburgh baby case was much more fertile ground for mystery and suspense-drama.  They may have been correct, though they kind of coat over the bank-robbery stuff a little too quickly perhaps, though there's a little time given to how inadequate Hoover felt in the face of Dillinger being caught/killer by Melvin Purvis, and not himself.

History is given some good time in the film, and several historical figures are given decent if less than stellar appearances (i.e. Lindburgh, RFK, Nixon is probably the more laughable, and even Shirley Temple pops up for a meet-cute/meet-awkward).  But it's really a character-piece most of all, and how this man saw this institution he sort of founded (I say 'sort-of' as he probably saw he was the numero-uno, but it was really much more complex than that), and the people in his life - his capable secretary (Naomi Watts), his doting/harsh/calculating/etc-fill-in-the-blank-here mother (Judi Dench), and of course Clyde Tolsom (Armie Hammer).  It's really in the last relationship between Edgar and Clyde the film feels more comfortable, and perhaps Black too at making a kind of anti-Milk story here.  Unlike in his 'Milk' script where a man was not only comfortable about his homosexuality but made it a point to which he made himself a leader for others, Hoover was completely closed-up about it, and it was probably obvious to everyone except himself that something wasn't quite right and was shady between him and Clyde.

It's there that I got some satisfaction out of the performances as DiCaprio and Hammer have solid on-screen chemistry, and it becomes fascinating wholly to see their relationship in the jumps between time.  I figured going in DiCaprio would be at least watchable in the film, and I was glad to see his make-up was actually believable... not so much with Hammer's old-man make-up, which makes him look like the grandfather from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies (maybe a skewed budget for its main star and less for supporting players? who knows).  But whenever those two were on screen, and DiCaprio and Dench (her scene about "Daffodils" is extraordinary in its creepiness), make the film come alive.  Ironically, it's only when Eastwood and Black go for the given controversy around Hoover - that he was a cross-dresser - that the film seems silly and out of place, as if addressing it in a really fucked-up manner that comes out wrong, more-so out of 'Psycho' than any actual reality.

As a portrait of a man and his deliberately skewed times (for his own gain), I found J. Edgar hard to tear away from.  It's far from Eastwood's best, but he is trying here, which is more than can be said for his last couple of pictures (Invictus, Hereafter), and he has a subject that is definitely *not* sympathetic, but he is a human being, and to make him such makes us try to understand him, a little.  I didn't feel any changes in how I thought/felt about the man, but through performance and art it made me look at him as... not just a caricature of bureaucratic horror.  It's a psychological head-game matched up with history.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lars von Trier's MELANCHOLIA, or: How I learned to stop worrying and accept my place in the not-so-awful demise of Earth

Lars von Trier, not perhaps the best chap to really be around if one wants sunshine and rainbows and lolipops and all those things (or to put it another way, he's less Singin' and more Lamenting Existentially In the Rain), has said that Melancholia, he feels, is his first film with a happy ending.  Yes, spoiler alert, the world ends, everybody dies.... and yet, in a strange but intuitive way, I can see what he means by the end of his singular tale of woe and understanding.  By the end of things, all things, we are alone, and we will die, and there will be nothing left of us when that 'thing' out 'there' happens that destroys us all... but will one be afraid?  Will it be a time for fear, or a time for some kind of peace with the way things are meant to be at that exact moment?  Maybe it's time for that 'Magic Cave' we always wanted.  Or, simply, to be with the ones we're close to while being all alone.

Melancholia is the work of an artist who is so confident in making us feel deeply for the demise of the world because he knows how to center it, on people who feel and fret (or don't, or pretend not to, or are too innocent to try), and who may be clinically depressed, deeply so, yes, but "know things" that are hard to explain outright.  In fact it's stunning to see the film in light of the director's previous effort, Antichrist, which also took a jaundiced view on humanity and with other-worldly elements, but with such a sour center and a lack of respect for its audience.  That jaundice is here, and there's still some of that wildly slow-mo film-speed in each films' prologues.  And yet where Antichrist failed so much, Melancholia soars as a piece that looks at humanity in a bubble, in what is sore about it, and what could be good and caring.  Or, if one wants to look further, Jim Emerson's assertion of the film as a depressed man's happy cry to the universe.

In fact von Trier sets up the two protagonists of the film - Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) - in direct opposition of one another in two 'parts' of the film.  The first details the very long night of Justine's wedding to a man (Alexander Skarsgard) who she probably loves, buy who cares when hardcore, clinical depression kicks in.  It's put together up by Claire and John (her husband played by a surprisingly good if two-note Kiefer Sutherland), and it's one very long night that starts with the couple being two hours late to the event due to a limo driving incident (take a look at this in your mind after you see the film again - think how you never leave this compound again really after this happens).

Justine goes away into her room and won't come out for stretches of time.  She pulls away from becoming intimately close with her new husband Michael, and he can't see why.  She wants to try and say something to her father (a great if brief John Hurt), one of the only people who seems to be genuinely happy in the film amid his old age and perpetual stealing of spoons.  Or Justine will just say 'fuck it all' and torpedo her job (Stellan Skarsgard), and it shatters us as it does her really.  Or maybe it does?  While I've never had clinical depression, I've known people very close to me (some of the closest in my life) who have had it.  It's so completely like this as Justine has it, and not simply that, but how other people react to such mood swings, with confusion, disdain, and bewilderment.  Depression on your wedding?  What kind of person is this?  Someone all too sane, and yet all too sad, by genetic make-up really.  Why do anything?  Why not stay in bed and sleep, or even bother eating that meatloaf that tastes "like ashes"?

In another film, Dunst's character might be a mopey-dopey mess.  Here... she may still be as well, but there's an extra, fuller, deeper dimension von Trier brings to it.  Perhaps it's from his own experience, or it may just be an aspect of representing the much larger drama on display - plus, as mentioned, a contrast to Claire, who is the more "normal" one, or rather as studio people say the "audience" - a character who, as a nearby planet or large orb of some kind come colliding into and destroying Earth, can't seem to really fathom it, and keeps deferring to her husband John's seeming expertise (or reliance on those who seem to have it), and doesn't bother with Justine's own lack of will-power to give a shit about it.  Why care about it?  The Earth's evil anyway, right?

There is an extreme with Justine's character, though this comes out more in the second half of the film.  What's so amazing in the first half with this very long wedding sequence is that she is someone we can, if not exactly identify with (though perhaps some will in this nebulous 'audience' of the world), see as fully human.  She does have some joy, she does like being at this wedding, and she does appreciate what is being done for her.  I didn't find her lying (or at least too much) to herself when she tells this to Claire, who thinks Justine is just "making scenes" where she shouldn't.  Maybe it is too overwhelming for her, or anyone, with such a bourgeois crowd.  When you got Udo Kier freaking out as a wedding planner, you know not everything's right in Denmark.

I loved both of these characters, and how they saw the world, because von Trier shows follow-through as writer AND director here.  He uses this planet destruction as a way to probe, in a similar (though much uglier) way that Terence Malick did earlier this year with Tree of Life, how people see themselves in the scope of the universe.  Claire, as the sort of "us", is awed by it, can't help but look through the telescope to see up at the sky... and also can't seem to get to the truth that for all she might try to do for her sister (ultimately she does try to care for her, usually to no avail), she's helpless, or helpessly hoping for something as she looks through a hoop.  And Justine... poor, poor Justine.  She may see things clearer than anyone, which is frightening and enlightening in some respect.  Put against each other, there's a pretty strong argument for how we try, and fail, but keep trying... and may just fail forever, to find something worth living for.  Wine?  Beethoven?  Fuck that noise, Jack, let's just stick with that planet, shall we?  Misery loves tolerates company.  Maybe.  If she's naked on a ledge somewhere.

Performances go a long way, and here Dunst somehow comes not quite out of nowhere but with a quasi-comeback after not being in the spot-light for a number of years (from what people tell me she too suffered from bouts of depression in the past and took a break from Hollywood for a few years).  Because I felt for her when she was in contentment and with some surprising humor, such as the opening of 'Part 1' with some wackiness ensuing with a limousine going up a hill, I felt even as/more strongly when she goes into downfall mode.  She doesn't go too wild or melodramatic on it - she's believably sad all the way through, and shot through von Trier's documentary-style eye, she can't hide away from the emotions.  She lets it all out, particularly those scenes where she is mostly staring off, or staring with deadened eyes at Gainsbourg - she too, I must say, really gets to shine here in a way she really did not in Antichrist, probably because she has more to do and has a three (or more) dimensions - and it's staggering to watch them work.

Everything with the character-drama is so natural that is what brings out the jarring, profound nature of the material so well.  By the end of Melancholia I felt depressed too, or could understand where that place came from, and could understand deeper what I would feel or react to in the face of doom.  When end times come, the big "Up-There" is so vast and horrible that what we have to know is what will come of ourselves in it.  Or what do we say to the little kid that's there in the midst of it all.  Amid this depressive feeling, I felt elated and enlightened by von Trier's filmmaking, which follows-through on such awful feelings with ecstatic cinema.  I want to see the film again almost just to see the opening in the context of the rest of the film and is so full of images loaded with psychological and astronomical forbearing that it becomes all part of a piece.  It is, in its own warped, fucked-in-the-head manner, a hopeful film about personal and world-wide demise.  That's rare - even rarer to be done to breathless effect.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Audrey Lorea's HEAVEN IS NOW - on IndieGoGo/Youtube

It's not the end... it's just the beginning.

Check out this page - it's being directed by a good friend and collaborator, and it's technically a co-production with my film group, Whiplash Films, so it's some exciting times coming up ahead.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bruce Robinson's film of Hunter S. Thompson's THE RUM DIARY

sweet Jesus, has it been five weeks?  six?  it feels like a lifetime...

Well, here's to it:

The Rum Diary - as "straight-forward" a Hunter S. Thompson adaptation as we're ever likely to see - which means it's damn good, and damn understands what the goddamn Hunter S. Thompson was getting at with his work as a whole, even as this is a sort of prequel to his life and work in general (see for example the introduction to LSD and the disgust at Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential debates on TV).  It may be a little hard not to compare it to Terry Gilliam's Fear & Loathing film from 1998, mostly as it's Thompson again given life by his Hollywood-alter-ego Johnny Depp (and oddly enough has not seemingly aged a day since then even as he's now in his late 40's, good God man what well did he drink from I want it!)  

But where Gilliam's film was a madcap, grotesque cartoon on the American dream, this takes a mostly more sobering approach, with Dariusz Wolski's cinematography giving Puerto Rico a pretty and pretty dirty look (as, one supposes, it should be) and Bruce Robinson being a wonderful director of actors (being once one and director of one of the great comedies about actors and those on the outside looking in, Withnail & I) it takes on a different shape altogether.  Obviously it will attract that group of fans as, frankly, I'm one of them.  I can report that this is a film that gives a lot of awesome respect for Thomspon's work (having, ironically, not read this book but most of his others it seems to capture a lot of his thematic concerns in general well enough too), and makes up its own risks as it goes along.  

It is, again I should stress, a more conventionally shot picture, shot-reverse-shot, not too much crazy lighting, only one very noticeably deranged special effect, which makes up one of the uproarious moments of the picture (hint: They give it to Communists!)  And yet there's some daring here and there, and some of my favorite moments of the year are in this picture.  

For example, Robinson takes the time amid the plot - which is mostly concerned with Depp's disillusioned journalist covering astrology bullshit at a local paper that's going under while tangled up with a shady businessman played by chin-dimple magnet Aaron Eckhardt - to take his sexy co-stars (Depp and Amber Heard) in a sexy red corvette on the road.  It's one of those dangerously erotic scenes where it's mostly about how the actors look at one another, and how they look at their bodies, and then the car speed goes up more, and more, and more... and then THERE'S A DOCK!  They screech to a halt, and the shot helicopters away from them into the ocean... and the shot doesn't stop at the point one expects it to.  And the two stars get out and look out at the ocean, feeling what exactly?  It's one of those moments in movies one goes to the movies for.  

PS: Giovanni Ribisi steals his scenes, which is absolutely stunning since I don't think I have come away feeling that in so many years of watching him in films.  He comes in much the same way Ralph Brown does in 'Withinail', as a grungy, wacked-out supporting character, but who will leave a damn-BIG impression (particularly in this case as he asks for venerial disease examinations in exchange for drugs and plays records of Hitler... you know, FOR FUN!)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A large catalog of my Ingmar Bergman reviews

My how time flies.  I think it's almost bizarre, and sad, that I haven't seen an Ingmar Bergman film I've yet to see in a long time - there was a period where I saw a film of his what seemed like every week or so - and I know Summer Interlude isn't one of them.  I'll get to it, eventually, I swear.

But in the meantime I thought for myself (and for you, you dozen readers or so) that I'd catalog my Bergman reviews from my (former?) hot-cine-gina'd mistress from over the years, going all the way back to 2002 when I first saw The Seventh Seal fresh out of high school.  It's interesting too to see how my reviews, as they often were at the time, started out kinda simple and amateurish (and/or the good possibility I was stoned while writing them, to which some may not make sense grammatically), though there are a few from my college years I'm prouder of - whether they're of any real "professional" quality I don't know.

But as he is still, for my money, the single greatest dramatist of non-American cinema (or just cinema of the 2nd half of the 20th century, period), I gotta give him props. Chronologically, of course, and feature his non-directed scripted films too (i.e. Best Intentions, which is the only of his projects to get the Golden Palm, and Torment, his first script at the age of 25)

And of course, he is somewhere (or nowhere), doing the dance of the dead.

Saraband (2003/2005)
Private Confessions (1996)
Fanny and Alexander (1982/1983) (maybe my longest review, for his greatest effort)
The Touch (1971)
The Rite (1969)
Shame (1968)
Persona (1966)
The Silence (1963)
Dreams (1955)
To Joy (1950) (review written the day Bergman died)
 Thirst (1949)
Torment (1944)

Documentaries on him:

Films he's written and/or directed I haven't seen (so I still have a long way to go till I am a 'completest' by any stretch): Faithless, Sunday's Children, Crisis, Port of Call, Summer Interlude, It Rains on Our Love, Music in Darkness, A Ship to India, This Can't Happen Here, Secrets of Women, A Lesson in Love, All These Women, Brink of Life, Prison, and The Devil's Wanton. 

So there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nicolas Winding Refn's DRIVE @Film-Forward

"I give you five minutes and I'm all yours." - Driver

That doesn't sound suspicious, does it?


(sorry, it's been a while, had to be corny there)

Friday, August 26, 2011


This second feature film effort from Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer (but not the same film's writers) is ostensibly an "original" comedy, but borrows heavily from the true case of a pizza delivery guy who got kidnapped by two crooks, strapped with a bomb and forced to go and rob a bank.  In his case it was not a comedy at all, and the guy did die (the bomb was also strapped to his head, kind of a different and more fucked-up scenario this film wouldn't touch even if it could try).  But for Fleischer and company, who needs to make it all dramatic?  Or even make much sense in terms of plot?

The movie carries its moments, mostly through improvisation (or what would appear to be just going off on small tangents by actors like Danny McBride and Jesse Eisenberg, the latter the pizza guy who gets the bomb strapped to him by McBride and his co-hort).  And there were even those few moments where I found myself laughing hard at the actors' repore, especially when Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari get into a good groove riffing off each other about, say, their foolishness in fucking each other's respective ex-girlfriends and/or sisters.  And the actual bank robbery carries some real thrills (if capped by a mediocre car chase aided by some weak 80's car-chase parody).

Ultimately I couldn't get over how needlessly complicated the plot was in McBride's plot to knock off his father, played by Fred Ward (who actually steals his scenes completely as a crazed ex-Major who won the lottery), as a plot to make millions comes down to a pizza delivery boy.  Perhaps if Elmore Leonard was brought in for a rewrite it could've been made brilliant.  As it stands it's a stupid story perked up by a stupid series of comic-suspense set-pieces as Eisenberg and Anzari prepare for the robbery.  For some the crazy hijinks will be enough.  For me, it could have done a lot more, despite the principal cast members doing their best to bring it up to something better.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Petition you ALL should sign!

Right here, regarding Movie Theater Etiquette from IFC

(PS: I will be back sometime soon with more reviews; pre-production on a feature film and writing another feature film script has kept me kind of back-logged)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

RW Fassbinder's WORLD ON A WIRE (1973 - 2011)

"I am. I am." (World of Wires)

"What is 'real', Neo?  How do you define 'reality'?  If you mean what you can see and smell and taste than really 'reality' is nothing but electro-magnetic impulses going through your brain." (The Matrix)


World on a Wire is one of those film discoveries that boggles the mind: so much should seem to come out of this film to influence others, chiefly The Matrix and Inception (and to a smaller but significant extent Minority Report), in how it tackles simulated reality and what happens when people create the worlds, inhabit it, and then minds become nothing more than electro-magnetic impulses riding through the brain. And yet for many years it was never really seen anywhere, outside of Germany at any rate, as it was an epic made-for-TV movie that only just got US distribution through Janus films (they're still around eh?) and Criterion, who will no doubt make a killing on DVD.

So what to say then about one of the best science fiction films of this year AND 1973? Well, it's a mind-fucker, plain and simple. And if you had told me that it was adapted from a Philip K. Dick novel I'd not have doubted for a moment (ultimately it's from Daniel F. Galouye called Simulacron-3). It's protagonist is a Doctor Fred Stiller (Jack Nicholson double-agent Klaus Lowitsch), who takes the place of a Doctor Henry Vollmer, who died suddenly under some suspicious circumstances. That is, suspicious to only Fred, who takes on the role as head scientist at the Simulacron-Cybernetics division, which is, in short, making up a virtual reality that is complete once 'plugged-in' via electrical wires hooked up on a helmet into the super-computer. Stiller, however, starts to go crazy... or is he, once he takes this position as he keeps seeing a man named Guenther Lause who no one else seems to have heard of, and is uncertain if the world he is in *is* the Simulacron.

Now, to fans of cyberpunk and, again, Inception and The Matrix and, of course, The SIMS videogames, this is nothing new. But take it into some context: in 1973 this was some ahead-of-its-time stuff, probably a good few years before Gibson got to writing his books on the subject. However I don't throw around the Phillip K. Dick comparison lightly; as an admirer of his work I had to speculate watching the film unfold, with a lot of it (the first half at least) being mostly dialog and under-the-surface gestrues amid a cold but eye-catching futuristic landscape that is all too familiar. And more than that, like something out of 'Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said,' World on a Wire has that Dickian sense of palpable paranoia and total up-is-down down-is-up and in-between sense of a world gone awry through one point of view. And frankly, it's probably the best summation of the kind of work he and his ilk (probably the author of Simulacron-3 as well) that could have made it to the screen.

It's through Fassbinder's sense of the world, how specific it is to him, that brings this out as well. He was not throughout his career a, how should I put it, 'genre' director (unless you count melodramas as a genre, which is totally fair), but this is a science fiction film through and through, with its pulp-narrative character parts for the dangerous and sexy women on the side, the obvious but still creepy villains (one of whom is played by Kurt Raab of "Herr R Runs Amok", bald head and all), and a creative usage of technologies and cinematography that reflects an altered world and perspective.

But at the same time that Fassbinder experiments in the genre, he still brings his sensibility to what on the surface is still a typical "B-movie" narrative. He's operating much like Godard in Alphaville: take real locations and swets (or at least what would appear to be so on such a low budget) and make evwerything stand-out through depth of field, spacing in hallways, how a camera moves across a cafeteria, or just that fuzzy POV angle when surely "in" the Simulacron (and to top the cake with some icing, Eddie Constantine makes a cameo!).

The film is long, this should be noted, and the first half is good and intriguing and has some bizarre (intended?) comic elements like an extended shot at a party with a Marlene Dietrich look-a-like singing as doctors talk business, and other bits of business (I can imagine the DP Michael Ballhaus having a lot of fun designing some of these shots just to bring out the 'extra' element of rising paranoia), but it can also drag in some spots with characters' exposition or just how cold Fred Stiller can be sometimes. All of this mostly changes for the best/better in the second half as the shit gets deeper and weirder, and ambiguity adds to the terror happening for this character - albeit there are some moments, consciously like a super-hero or an agent like James Bond, that Lowtisch's performance takes on an air of 'yeah, even if this is all happening, or I am crazy or a murderer, who cares' - and in the last half hour especially a growing sense of dread and mayhem ensues that has some of the director's mosty inspired beats of cinema.

You know it's sci-fi because there's a close-up of an eye-ball.  Or something

I should also note that World on a Wire may not move "fast" enough for some viewers qwho suddenly see a mention of Inception or The Matrix and think it'll be like that. Not really. That is to say, there IS action and violence, but when it bursts out it's often shot in takes that don't really cut away or around as much as more post-modern sci-fi films do. And in a way Fassbinder is smart to do this, to let the character(s) drive this narrative, or that a zoom in or out can do a lot for this edgy material. A shot of Fred driving through a garage with the ceiling whizzing by is exciting. And once the pace is caught on by the viewer, seeing Fred's moments of clarity shattered by the madness around him (and punctuated by some truly bizarre music cues like a pre-TRON test by Gottfried Hüngsberbg), it's rhythm is mesmerizing.

Dare I even say it, with its wonderfully careless occasional bits of homo-erotic tension (hey, it IS Fassbinder after all, aside from Querelle the guy has great fun in doing poker-faced camp), and its mystery around the nature of how we make worlds for ourselves and destroy them, that it's possibly *better* than a big trumpet noise of a movie like Inception. And, last but not least, considering it's one of those 'in-the-past-looking-at-the-fu​ture-we've-caught-up-with' films, it holds up as challenging, subversive entertainment based on its ideas and how the shots and cuts lure a viewer in cooly, like a lover with an alienating grip.