Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME (a.k.a. Not a Movie for the Tea Party... or anyone really?)

Ah, Jean-Luc Godard, a man so high-minded and - I'll just go for it - pretentious that he makes Terence Malick look like Steven Spielberg (which I'm sure would piss off everyone included in that sentence).  And he was a hip cat at one point... maybe still pretentious even then, but hey, he had cool French people smoking French cigarettes and walking around Paris or driving around the countryside looking hip and dancing around and doing odd crimes or walking around burning cars... ah, the 1960's.  But that's eons ago.  The Godard of today, or of the past thirty years give or take (probably since First Name: Carmen) is all about examining, like some obtuse archeologist, what "Society" is MAN, or "Humanities" or "Anything and Everything."  And with this he uses no longer a traditional storytelling approach.  That would be too 'easy'.

And hey, I'm all for an experimental filmmaker who might make an audience wake up and take notice at something different in the cinema.  Trouble with late-period post-motorcycle accident (1972) Godard is that he is an experimental filmmaker who will repeat the same shit over and over again in his psuedo-intellectual-poetic style (lots and lots of title cards, characters saying things that intentionally don't make sense in any kind of larger narrative) and to do with empire, history, and oh yeah, the JEWS.  I shouldn't harp on it too much, but to get it out of the way - I have the sinking suspicion (not helped by various comments in his late-period work) that he doesn't think much of them, or worse thinks they're "bad" in some way.

The worst of it, just as an aside, is that he'll make mention of them like in Film Socialisme when referring to the start of Hollywood.  That the Golden Age was started by Jews, and then he runs off a list of names of the first studio heads and moguls.... and?  What the FUCK is the point with that?  Nothing, I guess, except to point out that the ones who started Hollywood - and to some obscure comparison to a 'Black Box' or something - were Jews.  At least have some kind of point with that kind of shit that you're pouring out.  I could say that this is just because two characters are talking about this and that it's not *really* Godard, but of course it is.  His characters are mouth-pieces for himself, for the most part, as he feeds them lines on the spot or in a recording studio.

But where was I?  Yes, this film.  So there is actually some sense this time around in Godard's visual-aural essay style, inasmuch as locale is concerned: the first half of the film takes place on a cruise ship with an assortment of denizens (one of them Patti Smith? guess she was just there and he started filming her), and this first half is... I won't say totally 'coherent', but at least I knew where I was, the same assortment of characters kept popping up, and some of the conversations were interesting as far as what their little self-contained bits could be.  And something else to point out - no one can shoot water/waves like Godard; this is something I've noticed even in his most goddamned work like Hail Mary or Nouvelle Vague - the guy knows how to shoot water, and it's just nice to look at some waves from time to time, as the director often shows here.

 The downside to these cruise scenes is that Godard mixes up some gorgeously shot scenes of the cruise ship and some of the fine young/old folks on there with what I'd call "shitteo" digital video.  For some reason he chose to shoot with two cameras, one very high quality (not a Red but pretty darn close to what I could tell, maybe an HMC but whatever), and the other was just some bargain basement 100 dollar piece of crap.  The only time it becomes captivating is when he's shooting people on the dance floor doing clubbing, where the music and digital information overwhelms the camera (this inter-cut with shots of like the moon or sun out on the landscape).  But when it's just random people inside the ship, it's a competently done but unimpressive home-movie of a cruise ship.  Perhaps this might be enough just to break-up the monotony of Godard's semantic-poetry bits, that there's actually just pointing a camera and getting documentary truth.  But I dunno...

The second half of the film then takes place on dry land, in Odessa or Barcelona or Egypt or Whofuckistan, and then it's time to focus on a more solid set of people - a black camera-woman, a kid and his mom, a couple other women, and older man and his daughter.  There are hints, maybe just suggestions, that there are stories here, or some human interest, and I actually did find some interest in just the little minutae of what Godard had some of these characters do.  At one point the little kid embraces his mother in the kitchen, for no real big reason except to do it.  And then the same kid is watching a woman do a drawing and comments that it looks like a Renoir, and then the camera angle changes and all the color turns Mega-Vibrant-Vision, which is an illuminating touch to do.

But then for all the little moments that work, a lot of the film is just the same tired Godard pontifications about empire and language and how no one can communicate anymore and other shit that just flies over my head because obviously I'm not as brilliant and mind-blowing as him and oh no I'm bleeding from the asshole.... But yeah, Film Socialisme has plenty to say, and in terms of Godard's visual montage it is cool to watch, since he is still at the age of 80 a master at the gobsmacking-warbled montage of images, which goes into full effect in the last fifteen minutes of the film.  Oddly enough it's when he finally just lets it rip in those moments - including a visual comparison between Battleship Potemkin's Odessa Stairs sequence and the actual stairs and young visitors to the steps - that I started getting riveted... and then it just ended with a bullshit FBI warning and a "No Comment" title card.  Thanks, guy!

There's a part of me that really does respect this filmmaker today, that he can simply just say 'fuck it, and fuck you, I'll do what I want', which includes putting Navajo-English subtitles (that is, subtitles that are like a broken English like what Navajo translators would do) on to the theatrical prints of the film (as for me, since I watched it on DVD, I was like 'Hell NO' and went for the straight English subtitles since, frankly, I like hearing what people of a foreign French language are saying on screen).  He's got a daring and balls that is un-paralleled, and he still has a natural eye for wonderful cinematography.... but then he also has those ticks, like say his anti-semitism (which despite his denial in recent interviews is pretty clear, or at least a distinct discomfort with Jews as a concept if not a people), and that he is so locked into his own way of thinking, which is unlike anyone else, that only a small handful will even TRY much less break through.

In short, it'd be nice if once, just *once*, before the old fuck kicks the bucket he could mix together actual honest-to-goodness storytelling with his hard-on for title cards and philosophical-poetic tangents like in his prime period of the 1960's (and the occasional odd film like 'Every Man For Himself' or 'Carmen').  But I guess it comes down to just liking little moments, little scenes, and making that into movies instead of anything close to narrative.  It may just be my fault... but, nah, I'd lean closer to him.

And what would Godard respond with?  Well, his last title card says a lot - "NO COMMENT".  Thanks guy.

Aka... WHAT THE!?!?!?!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

And now for the SNUBS!

From the Oscars:

This is my own personal list, I make it up: 

Best Picture: 

Take Shelter 
The Adventures of Tintin 

Best Director: 

Lars von Trier 
Steven Spielberg (for Tintin, not War Horse) 
Roman Polanski 
Steven Soderbergh 
Nicolas Winding Refn

Best Actor: 

Michael Fassbender (Shame) and Michael Shannon (Take Shelter). Period. 

Oh, and also Choi Min Sink from I Saw the Devil was bad ass. 
And Joseph Gordon Levitt (50/50) 

Best Actress: 

Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) 

Best Supporting Actor: 

Albert Brooks, Albert Brooks, and Viggo Mortensen (Dangerous Method) 

Best Supporting Actress 

Carey Mulligan (Shame) 
Ellen Page (Super) 

Best Screenplay: 

Attack the Block 

Best Cinematography: 

and...actually this category is about right, though for Drive it would've been nice 

Best Score: 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (that's the ONLY snub for this overrated remake) 

Best Song: 

Los Lobos' song for Rango 


Anything by Errol Morris or Werner Herzog 

Best Editing: 

Oddly enough, The Tree of Life kinda got snubbed here for me. 

Best Animated Film: 

Adventures of Tintin (even more than for best regular picture really) 

Best Foreign Language Film: 

Certified Copy 

Best Sound: 

13 Assassins 
Attack the Block 
X-Men 1st class 

Best Make-up: 

Attack the Block 

Some random Oscar thoughts

"It's that time again!"

"To floss?"

"To make fun of the Disney Channel?"

"No!  It's time for the Oscar nomiations!"

Now, first thought out of the way - yes, this year is in part about the love of nostalgia, and for doing it well - Midnight in Paris with it's time-traveling trips to the Paris of yore and those towering figures of literature and art; Hugo with its also early 20th century tripping to the world of Paris and cinema via Melies; The Artist which is not even a love letter to silent/classic Hollywood film, it's a wondrous sex act that includes a cute dog and tap-dancing; The Tree of Liff is a trip all the way back to the beginning of everything, of the universe and of a life in the 1950's; same goes for The Help where it's a trip back in time to a, uh, not so good time in Mississippi (then again when is there a *good* time there); Moneyball looks back at, uh, ten years ago at the formation of baseball-by-statistics, and likewise Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (the latter an okay sap-fest, the former a straightforward and-all-the-better-for-it saga) looks back ten years ago at a fictional kid dealing in a rather extraordinary way with "The Worst Day" ten years ago.

Oh, and of course War Horse, which looks back fondly (sort of) at poor English folks and World War 1 via John Ford homage (and by homage I mean 'You're Not Even TRYING To Be Subtle With That' via Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski).  And then... what else am I missing?  Oh yes, The Descendants, the one film that takes place in present day, but even that too looks back at the past just by way of its title and how the character is torn between the personal life he's lived (his wife cheated on him and is now in a coma where she won't wake up) and business (his family legacy going back generations in Hawaii and the split in the family as to what to do with the multitude of Samolians in land ownership that can be sold or kept).  So this was a year about looking back, perhaps as an odd roundabout way to look forward, particularly as Woody Allen for the first time used digital color correction on one of his films, Spielberg used an AVID to edit one of his live-action films, and Scorsese went gaga for 3D - and in a good way, thank God - not to mention Wim Wenders with his own Oscar nomination.  It's an exciting time for films, even as it appears from the crop of works that it's about going forward in retrospect... or finding some solace and entertainment and meaning in the past via escapism.

Oh, as an aside, what CRAP that Errol Morris and Werner Herzog were shut out for what were the three best documentaries of the year - Tabloid, Into the Abyss and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the latter being something that could've snagged the Great Duke a golden one where he could have then gone on stage to declare it is not a significant award.  I understand Paradise Lost is a good doc series (sadly I've yet to see any of the films), but then what about other much acclaimed docs like Buck or Senna?  Sigh, academy, sigh.  And don't get me started on the foreign Oscars, however A SEPARATION, the third best film of the year, has a lock on that (or it should anyway).

So... some more random thoughts (this first part is in reference to a friend who was frustrated that there were no nominations for women directors or cinematographers):

About women directors/cinematographers - frankly, these categories didn't surprise me and it is what about what I expected (Spielberg might've been the 'Dark Horse' so to speak but got shut out, and rightfully so as War Horse was kinda overrated, much preferred Tintin which sadly got shut-out of animated).  There were some good movies made by women this year but none that got major Oscar buzz to start with, and certainly no female cinematographers.  Of course it's not fair, but that's Hollywood for ya.  I don't think Malick has a real chance, it's between Scorsese and the Hanavavavicious dude from the Artist (it'd be really nice if Woody Allen won, but they'll give him best screenplay and that'll probably be it unfortunately).  I was surprised actually that Tree of Life got a best picture nomination - it's a fantastic film, though not what I'd usually picture the academy nominating (then again with the 'between 5 and 10' rule now, it's anybody's game).

I found Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close just OK.  I saw it this weekend, had some moving moments, Max von Sydow was great, and the climax helped clear up some things, 
but it was mostly pretty contrived and the film needed a Tom Cruise to counter the little kid's Dustin Hoffman.  

Foreign Film - hells yes, A Separation, my 3rd favorite film of the year.  

Actually I'm sad Melancholia didn't get a couple of nods, even just in like technical categories like cinematography (Janusz Kaminski's work was nice, but just nice and not much more), but then I might be biased as that was my pick for film of the year (that wasn't by Allen or Scorsese or whomever).

The two big shut-outs for best actor were Michael Shannon and Michael Fassbender.  I haven't seen this 'A Better Life' movie, it seemed to just quickly come and go in theaters, but it seemed kinda like pap.  Maybe the work by the two Michael's was too daring for the Academy, who usually skewers safer (i.e. Clooney, who was amazing in the Descendants, and Pitt).  However among the nominees Oldman is my favorite, but he probably won't win as his role would be seen as too "quiet" by the academy.

While I really really want Hugo to win a lot of awards, since I'm a Scorsese nut, Harvey Weinstein is never to be underestimated when it comes to Oscar campaigning, and there's a good chance he could get two wins back to back (after The King's Speech last year) with the Artist, which was a very good movie, just not a MASTERPIECE like Hugo or Midnight in Paris.  

Animated Oscar goes to Rango, end of report, next case.

Very happy to see The Muppets get a song nomination.  Can't wait to see Walter tear it up in front of millions watching.  

If Planet of the Apes doesn't get visual effects then they should just shut down the category.  That, and Andy Serkis, made that movie as wonderful as it was.

Frankly, while I understand the praise for Bridesmaids since it was the First Gross-Out Women's Comedy Like The Hangover(TM), I wasn't won over by the movie.  It had it's moments and some of the acting was fine, but honestly best supporting actress doesn't bother me as much as it's nom for best screenplay - most of that movie was *improvised*, as are a lot of Apatow productions, and it kinda ticks me off that Kristin Wiig gets that kind of attention while other better Apatow stuff like Knocked Up got shut out in years past.  

Christopher Plummer hands down

The Help will probably get a best supporting actress win for one of the peoples, though I haven't seen the film yet (!)  so it's hard for me to comment on that.

Um... at the moment I don't have much else to say.