David Lynch Week 2009
INLAND EMPIRE discussion (Colvin, Hansen, Shoaf, and Williamson)
Lynch's Television Commercials (Williamson)
Mulholland Drive (Hansen)
Twin Peaks (Colvin)
Colvin in Paris - Part One
Colvin in Paris - Part Two
Deja Vu Melodrama: An Iconographical and Iconological Analysis of Jeanne Dielman (Lund)
Diegetics of the Close Up: Reygadas' Battle in Heaven
Magnolia's Metaphysical Melodrama (Colvin)
Poetry and Prophets: Mekas, Brakhage, and Mothlight
Preserving the Delta's Voice in Ballast (Colvin)
South Park: Older, Wiser, and Better Than Ever (Hansen)
Migrating Forms 2009 (Hansen)
New York Film Festival 2009 (Hansen)
Telluride Film Festival 2009 (Colvin)
New York Film Festival 2008 (Hansen)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Colvin)
Black Narcissus (Colvin)
Cries and Whispers (Colvin)
Eat, For This Is My Body (Lund)
Kicking and Screaming (Prime)
Last Year At Marienbad (Colvin)
The Mirror (2009) (Hansen)
Monday, December 31, 2007
David Lynch Week 2009
Mike Nichols has been on a roll since 2001 when he directed Emma Thompson in a wrenching role as a terminal cancer patient in Wit. He then moved on to the astounding Angels in America (2003) miniseries and followed that with the intense Closer (2004). His latest effort Charlie Wilsons’s War finds him continuing that streak by portraying Congressman Charlie Wilson and his “war” against the Communist forces that invaded Afghanistan in the mid-80s. With this film, Nichols teams up with writer Aaron Sorkin to invite us into the sanctum sanctorum of political offices where the real wheeling and dealing takes place. Nichols has pulled off quite a feat as politics is rarely displayed as entertainingly as it is in Charlie Wilson’s War.
Tom Hanks stars as the titular Congressman Wilson, a man who enjoys the finer things in life: scotch and crotch, tail and ale, etc. One day the lascivious representative is contacted by Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), a wealthy Houston-ite with a moral inclination to fight the invading Communist forces. After a romp with Herring, Wilson is persuaded to stop in Pakistan during his next trip to discuss US funding of the skirmish with the country’s president. The president of Pakistan convinces Wilson to visit an Afghan refugee camp so he will fully grasp the situation. Wilson and his secretary, Bonnie Bach (the wonderful-as-always Amy Adams), arrive to find a massive amount of wounded Afghan refugees (for scale: imagine the injured soldier shot from Gone with the Wind except a hundred times bigger). His heart having grown three sizes that day, Wilson returns to Washington to start getting funding.
But spending the appropriated funds on the appropriate things won’t be an easy task. Enter CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (an interestingly mustachioed Philip Seymour Hoffman). The equally-drinking, just-as-skirt-chasing-but-not-quite-as-successful Gust combines with the pre-established Wilson/Herring alliance to form a new anti-Communist triumvirate. Through a myriad of meetings, the trio gains the support of Egypt, Israel, and Pakistan (odd bedfellows that they are) and they start to see results in their covert war against the Communist forces.
Performance-wise, everyone in this picture is successful. Hanks does well as the Texan forced to juggle his political and personal lives amid sundry drug allegations and international beratings. Roberts doesn’t really get to display any chops with her character, though she does manage to squeeze in icy (to everyone but Wilson) and a little zealous intensity. Hoffman has become one of my favorite actors and he doesn’t disappoint. In this film he gets to mix intensity with hilarity, a combination which suits him well.
The film occasionally employs what appears to be actual video footage from the skirmish. While this gives those particular shots an extra sense of reality, it is also somewhat distracting. Everything starts simply enough with video of ascending Communist helicopters, but then it cuts to a view from the cockpit as said helicopters mow down Afghani villagers. It wouldn’t be as jarring a cut if it went from video to video or film to film, but it jumps from grainy video quality to a clear filmic quality which matches the rest of the preceding movie. Think Dancer in the Dark but without a point for mixing the media. On top of that, the machine gun fire seen from the cockpit looks a little too much like lasers that were displaced from some random sci-fi film.
The opening of the film is also interesting. It shows a Middle-Easterner silhouetted against an evening sky. He then picks up a rocket launcher and a big fireball shoots toward the camera, then the title shows up. It’s a black background and the letters are made of an American flag backdrop. The black background then fades into a shot of the giant aforementioned flag a la Patton. It’s a ceremony honoring Wilson for his success against the Commies. Wilson is introduced and receives his standing ovation. From this scene it jumps to the beginning of the story and we meet Wilson sitting in a hot tub with strippers and a TV producer. This seems to be a pointless temporal framing, sort of a “How did I become so successful? Well, let me tell ya.” The only foreseeable reason for starting the film with undying adoration for Wilson is so the audience isn’t shocked during initial scenes of his drinking and cavorting with questionable characters. He may be doing “bad things”, but he’s been established as the “good guy” (collective audience wipes the nervous sweat which has accumulated on their brow). But then again, maybe it’s just a “here are the main players” intro. As the former is mildly insulting to an audience that doesn’t make knee-jerk, close-minded opinions about what they’re initially shown, let’s assume it’s the latter. Or we can assume that society requires the former.
One thing that should be noted is that some of these Afghan forces to whom the US supplied weapons went on to become anti-American extremist groups. Some viewers may be miffed by the film’s lack of current-day ramifications, but as the focus is on a mid-80’s Afghanistan and not turn-of-the-century America, this isn’t necessary and shouldn’t even be an issue. There is no “And they gave all the weapons back and 9/11 never happened” epilogue. But the film manages to hint at the fickle scales of political leaning by noting that time and perspective can change things which seem final and apparent. To get this point across, the film invokes a parable about a young boy and a Zen master delivered by Gust to Wilson after their successful campaign. My attempted re-telling:
A little boy prayed for a horse and one day he received a horse and everyone said, “This is a great thing!” And the Zen Master said, “We’ll see.” Then the boy was thrown from the horse and broke both of his legs, and everyone said, “This is a terrible thing!” And the Zen Master said, “We’ll see.” Then the country went to war and everyone but the little boy had to go fight. And the people said, “He’s still here! This is a great thing!” to which the Zen master replied, “We’ll see.”
The situation/intentions of people can change. What was good at the time (us giving weapons to the Middle East) might not be good now. This also casts the introduction with the rocket heading toward the audience in a different light. As it is shown outside of any timeframe, it becomes a rocket fired at the (implicitly American) audience by a Middle-Easterner. So it’s easy to guess as to which way the scale is currently tilting. It’s not every film that starts by attacking the audience.
Charlie Wilson’s War is a fantastic marriage of politics and entertainment. It gives the viewer a decent synopsis of the events (and those who aren’t sated know they can always get the complete, unadulterated story from wikipedia…) while being propelled forward by a fuel concocted of humor and heartstring tugging. Though this cinematic package may arrive with a few dents in its box, the contents arrive intact and just in the nick of time.
by Jacob Shoaf Continue reading...
Sunday, December 30, 2007
It’s true, what they all say. The first fifteen minutes of Jason Reitman’s sophomore feature, Juno, are nearly unendurable. Diablo Cody’s seriously overrated script seems to paint its flaws red and send them out on Main Street in a parade as the “quirkiness” factor of the film’s dialogue is cranked to eleven (yes, this quirkiness goes to eleven). Juno, the eponymous pregnant 17-year-old chats with store clerk Rollo (an embarrassingly pointless cameo performance by Rainn Wilson) and her BFF, Leah (Olivia Thirlby) about her recent pregnancy after chugging a ton of Sunny D (how specific and cutesy!) in order to pee and take various pregnancy tests. Phrases like “Swear to Blog?” and “fertile myrtle” and thrown around with irritating self-awareness in an attempt to attach the film to a burgeoning youth slang that holds some secret coolness, while, in actuality, nobody talks like Juno, Rollo, and Leah. The film starts off as an immature every-indie-film-ever impersonation. However, whether it was Cody reining in her screenplay or Reitman injecting more character into Cody’s words, the film miraculously takes off, mostly, because of excellent, excellent performances from the stellar cast.
There is perhaps no other film this year (maybe No Country For Old Men or Margot at the Wedding) that is more perfectly cast or more brilliantly acted. To start at the top, there is the incredible Michael Cera as Juno’s “part-time lover and full-time friend” Paulie Bleeker, a dorky, track team member whose mother disapproves of Juno’s “edginess.” Paulie is the father of Juno’s baby and Cera plays him magnificently. Cera has a particular acting style, also present in another gem from this year, Superbad, that replicates the efforts of an amateur actor. In no way is this to Cera’s discredit; in fact, Cera’s acting is utterly jaw-dropping in its complexity and effectiveness. Rather than hold to traditional acting standards, Cera’s work is almost transcendent of acting. He eliminates his professionalism, creating character’s that feel natural and real. Cera seems to be aware of the fact that all people, everywhere, are amateur actors, performing, playing parts, unsure, embarrassed, and leaky, allowing the interior to always accidentally leak through the exterior. Cera plays his parts with this vulnerability, without the confidence of a booming Al Pacino or Marlon Brando. He allows himself to fill the holes in his characters and his approach feels amateur and real, remarkably real. When Cera’s character tells the many-months pregnant Juno that she is beautiful, his language and tone aren’t mawkish or indulgent, they are scared, tentative, and subtle. Bleeker is an actor throughout Juno, hiding the untouched hysteria no doubt bubbling within regarding the fate of his child and his seemingly estranged lover, attempting to be strong and supportive. The acting employed by Bleeker is no doubt confessed when Juno states that he is “cool without even trying at all” and Paulie replies, somewhat relieved, “Actually, I try really hard.” Bleeker is a performer of a role, much like any person, and Cera, both in Juno and Superbad brilliantly capture his awkward attempt at being an actor. Another brilliant example of this type of performance can be found in yet another great supporting performance from this year, Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Affleck, like Cera, portrays an individual attempting to create and exude a particular person, although without any great skill. The magic of these two fantastic performances can be traced to this amateur approach that feels markedly different from the other actors surrounding Cera and Affleck, allowing them to stick out like unpolished, grainy, reality.
Second to Cera is his former fellow "Arrested Development" cast member, Jason Bateman. Bateman plays Mark Loring, husband to Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner) and one-half of the couple that seeks to adopt Juno’s accidental baby. Bateman carries an immense sense of disappointment and disillusionment in Mark, a former rock ‘n’ roller turned commercial jingly composer, who grows increasingly more distant from his wife as the weight of the responsibility of fatherhood encroaches on his dissipating dreams of artistic success and personal fulfillment. Bonding with Juno over some rather obscure common interests (old horror films and hipster indie music), Mark finds himself caught up in an inconvenient nearly-romantic relationship with her, resulting is some rather dicey sexual tension that left me, and most of the audience squirming, revealing a dark, startlingly plausible character that is played calmly and convincingly by Bateman. Garner, playing Bateman’s child-obsessed, assumedly infertile wife, Vanessa, is also rather impressive, although perhaps weaker than the other actors in the film.
J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney are also remarkable as Juno’s heartwarmingly supportive parents, Mac and Brenda. While both have their distinct idiosyncrasies, seemingly inherent in Cody’s world, they form a very plausible duo, as Juno’s father and stepmother, and their wisdom is incredibly useful and delivered without sentimentality or cynicism. They are so convincing that it’s easy to lose them amongst all of the other characters, as they simply fill their parts to just the right amount, being so solid that nothing is exaggerated or forgotten. The much-discussed Ellen Page as Juno, seems a little iffy to me. While sometimes being spot on, she often approaches hyperbole with her whiz-kid smart-aleck comments and too perfect delivery. Admittedly, this could be a problem with Cody’s script. Page’s acting approach and Cody’s words no collude in creating a nearly unapproachable character for much of the film. However, Page does shine in a few brilliant scenes, including the one in which she admits her love for Paulie.
While Reitman’s direction is certainly adequate and often impressive, it really takes a bake seat to the quality acting in Juno, which rescues the film from a rather spotty script. If anything, Juno is essential because of Michael Cera’s masterful supporting performance and for the fuzzy residue it leaves in the viewer’s chest as the credits roll. Juno will no doubt be quoted and quoted by kids seeking to enhance their “unique” lingo, but I’m sure none of them will say “wizard” with the stunning conviction of Michael Cera.
by Brandon Colvin Continue reading...
Saturday, December 29, 2007
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Which of these films not nominated for Best Picture in the Golden Globes was most deserving?
I'm Not There
Away From Her
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
Assassination of Jesse James
By The Coward Robert Ford
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Many films within the career of director Tim Burton have oftentimes been problematic. His elaborate set costume design as well as art direction have often been the most inspired aspects of many of his works. Even when he has attempted to go into suitable fantasy premises and material, there has always been a missing link between the pristine imagery and lacksadaisical storytelling. While he has made some good films, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Ed Wood especially, with bulk of the story coming from an alternate source, Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is his greatest achievement to date.
For those unfamiliar with the story, here is a quick run down. Sweeney Todd follows the tale of Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), a barber who was married to a beautiful woman named Lucy and had a daughter named Joanna. Their lives were peaceful until Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) begins lusting after Lucy and has Benjamin falsely accused of a crime and banished from London. The film (and musical) start many years later as Benjamin, under the alias of Sweeney Todd, returns to London to have his revenge on Turpin and to find his daughter. He wanders into Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) pie shop, infamous for being the worst pies in London. She recognizes him for who he is and tells him that his wife is dead and that Turpin now keeps Joanna locked away from anyone. With Mrs. Lovett at his side, Sweeney seeks vengeance on the judge and attempts to reclaim his daughter from the brutal society that took him away from her.
Based on the incredible musical by Stephen Sondheim, the essence of Tim Burton’s art is discovered with the creation of a true filmic adaptation of a stage musical. While many have claimed a resurgence in the movie musical, most of the new film musicals have come from the stage and seemed, well, stagey. While some of these adaptations have been dreadful (The Producers, Rent) and some have been better than average (Hairspray), few film artists have been on board to attempt to fit these musicals into true film form. Tim Burton’s has made some daring choice in redefining Sweeney Todd, including the cutting of many beloved songs, but they all work for the betterment of the film and still preserve Sondheim’s source material.
Many of these decisions work because of the tuned in performances by all of the performers. Although not a “trained” singer, Johnny Depp’s version of Sweeney has a dark resonance and mad passion behind the lyrics. Depp makes Sweeney seem on the brink of collapse and disaster throughout the film and his voice channels this emotion. Even more striking is the performance of Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett. Even though she helps Sweeney along on his path for vengeance, she brings a certain tenderness to the character which makes her Mrs. Lovett a more powerful force within the narrative. More than an accomplice, Mrs. Lovett works as Sweeney’s shadow and kind of mentor. However, when Toby enters the picture, Mrs. Lovett slowly begins transferring her admiration and relationship with Sweeney. Although Act Two in the musical takes only about 40 minutes of screen time, where most of the killing takes place, it builds contains the two most perfect numbers that illustrate how well Burton’s film is executed. When Sweeney Todd is blasted with bright color in “By the Sea”, it deepens the comic effect of the song and how impossible any such solution is for Sweeney. When the camera circles the characters and transfers from color back into the damp and dark world, any hope for a peaceful conclusion is shown to be impossible. There certainly is no place like London.
Something also has to be said for Burton’s sense of comedy. While there darkly comedic elements in Sondheim’s musical, Burton turns to the modern horror genre as the source of laughs. Based on a cinema of excess, Burton overdoes the blood and gore when Sweeney kills to use it in the same manner as The Evil Dead. More than just that, Sweeney starts killing with a sense of rhythm that fits with the music and speeds up as he becomes completely obsessed with killing the judge and completing his violent quest. However gruesome the material becomes, Burton makes it hard to become overly disgusted even as blood squirts directly into the camera.
Throughout the film, there are various characters who come in and our with varying degrees of importance. Sacha Baron Cohen is excellent as the rival barber Signor Pirelli, but even more excellent and important is his young apprentice Toby played terrifically by first time film actor Ed Sanders. Toby brings about a turning point in the relationship between Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney. Toby calls into question what Mrs. Lovett has gotten herself into and their connection is essential in understanding the final impact of the conclusion of the film. There is so much comically repetitive violence in the final hour of the film that, at first, the film seems to burn out before its climax. However, when observing the subtleties in character more closely, the final act and closing shot of the film can be comprehended as a devastating revelation.
While Burton’s films have had their problems in the past, there has never been a story like Sweeney Todd that has so perfectly matched everything that defines Burton. For the first time, the storytelling is finally on par with the visuals and there is definite substance behind Burton’s always impressive style. Even when the end of the film escalates to a astonishing pace and nearly derails, the great, emotional performances keep it on its tracks. While keeping intact Sondheim’s intentions and themes, Burton relishes in the material and takes careful steps in reinventing this perennial music for cinema. Pardon the overbearing cliche, but there is no doubt that Sweeney Todd is a triumph for Tim Burton and is the new benchmark for future stage to screen adaptations.
by James Hansen Continue reading...
Monday, December 24, 2007
With Margot at the Wedding, Noah Baumbach accomplishes what Woody Allen never could. Having an excellent script and featuring passionate, sharp direction, Baumbach’s fourth feature clearly and mercilessly depicts the convoluted milieu of Northeastern intellectualism that Allen constantly tried to capture in films such as Annie Hall (1977), and, most successfully, in Manhattan (1979) and Husbands and Wives (1992). However, Allen’s work always lacked the incisiveness necessary to effectively dissect and examine the psychology of his literary types and semi-artists. Bypassing the romanticism that cripples Allen’s mostly fluffy films, Baumbach favors a pulsing immediacy full of palpable contempt and perfectly imperfect relationships.
One of the most startlingly distinct aspects of Margot at the Wedding is its brazen visual scheme, based on handheld, but very confident, camerawork and beautiful natural light cinematography. The intimacy and familiarity of the film’s setting is amplified by the “realistic” style in which it is photographed. This ultimately creates a very comfortable, acquainted tone, which is extremely useful in enabling emotional and psychological connections with the films various flawed characters. Did I mention they were flawed?
The premise of the film is very simple. Margot (Nicole Kidman), a domineering, self-centered fiction writer, travels with her bright, submissive son, Claude (Zane Pais) to stay with her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in order to be a guest at Pauline’s wedding. Her beau, a failed artist of multiple fields and “coarse” wanna-be-intellectual named Malcolm (Jack Black) earns Margot’s enmity, as most do, resulting in various rifts that are wedged wider and wider by Margot’s incessant jealousy, insecurity, and condescension. The most pathetic victim of Margot’s caustic behavior is her son, Claude, the true protagonist of the film, played brilliantly by Zane Pais. Claude’s innocent, nearly objective perspective serves as a lens for the rest of the film, enabling the inconsiderate, frustrating behavior of Margot, Pauline, and Malcolm, among others, to be observed without the taint of subjectivity. Perhaps most importantly, Claude’s consistent point-of-view provides a healthy dose of sympathy for nearly every character in the film that truly helps shape them into full human beings. The psychology in the film is incredibly subtle and nuanced, extending past the inaccurate, but telling, musings that each character makes about the others. In this way, Baumbach, unlike Allen who merely had his characters offer up overly technical amateur psychoanalysis, builds honest, realistic psychological structures for his characters, too real to be completely apprehended and full of the mysterious and inexplicable irrationality of actual thought.
Acting-wise, Margot at the Wedding is rife with touching, strong performances, communicating the unspoken and the secret with incredible accuracy. The most obviously stunning of these numerous fantastic portrayals in that of Nicole Kidman as the nearly unendurable Margot. Throughout the film, Kidman exudes a coldness and shallowness that is terribly convincing, but even more convincing when Margot’s deep, repressed fear and mutated compassion are revealed in small, vulnerable bursts. A chronically critical individual, Margot is revealed to be ultimately a slave to criticism rather than a purveyor of it. The hidden subjugation of Margot is no doubt due to her hinted at family history and, most interestingly, due to her role as an artist.
Much of Margot at the Wedding deals strongly with the costs of art and the toll it can take on relationships and communication. One of the primary disputes between Margot and Pauline (the two hadn’t spoken for some time before Margot’s visit) revolves around Margot’s past use of information from Pauline’s life in a short story that appeared in "The New Yorker", resulting in the destruction of Pauline’s first marriage, leaving her as a single mother to her daughter Ingrid (Flora Cross). Margot’s art wrecks her real life, as further exemplified by her break down when asked during a public conversation about her work as to how much it is dependent on her actual life. It seems Margot is forced to choose art or family, and in the film’s finale, it seems Margot ultimately makes her decision.
Baumbach’s film is also rife with excellent metaphors, cleverly placed and generally unobtrusive. The most remarkable of these is the enormous tree in Pauline’s yard, which is, significantly, also the yard of Pauline and Margot’s youth. Margot is described by Pauline as loving to climb things and Margot’s eventual adventure up the tree to prove herself is brilliantly symbolic of Margot’s lonely, insecure journey upward to her aloof, uncaring position. Perhaps the most stunning line of the film occurs when Claude asks, wondering why his mother won’t come down, “What’s the matter?” and Pauline knowingly replies, “She’s stuck.” This statement reveals the actual tragedy inherent in Margot’s situation and paints her with complex strokes that reveal her victimization and weakness rather than her cruelty. Margot is ultimately stuck in her unpleasant state, almost powerless to escape, desperately needing help. She waits alone, with her magnificent, misused intelligence as Claude and Pauline slowly disintegrate around her. Margot at the Wedding is certainly not without hope, however, and redemption and genuine love underlie all of the film’s harshness, mostly in the prominent objects of Margot’s bile, Claude and Pauline. The real goodness of these characters more than compensates for Margot’s markedly bad example, providing a definite, complex, and honest exemplification of sympathy and unselfishness.
by Brandon Colvin
Anthony Mann’s harsh 1958 Western, Man of the West has been shamefully ignored since its initial theatrical release. The film barely had an opening and notoriously bombed, mostly due to its unrelenting brutality and its disfigurement of Gary Cooper’s wholesome image. Full of incredible compositions, second only to the work of John Ford in the genre, Mann’s film is the culmination of the string of tough Westerns such as Winchester ‘73 (1950), The Naked Spur (1953) and The Man From Laramie (1953), all of which revealed an extremely dark edge to Jimmy Stewart long before Hitchock’s reworking of Stewart’s clean cut image in Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958). Similarly, Man of the West presents a completely fresh take on Gary Cooper, as his character, Link Jones, a former outlaw attempting to go straight but inadvertently gets forced into joining up with his old gang, displays many sadistic qualities among his many moralistic, positive traits. In one particularly startling scene, Cooper’s character can be seen giving his cousin, Coaley (Jack Lord), an extremely intense thrashing. Link Jones crosses over into extreme territory in the violent fight scene, revealing hateful and vindictive aspects of Cooper’s range that are left untouched in most of his signature performances in films like High Noon (1952), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Sergeant York (1941) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936).
The real star of the show, however, is Lee J. Cobb as the leader of the outlaw gang and Cooper’s character’s uncle, Dock Tobin. Cobb’s performance, though a bit sensational, is incredibly engaging. Cobb secures his position as one of the finest actors of the Classical Hollywood era with a masterful performance that approaches the level of his excellent turns in On the Waterfront (1954) and 12 Angry Men (1957). In addition to Cobb’s memorable performance and Cooper’s fascinating playing-against-type, the film’s worth in increased by the interesting way that it serves as an inverted counterpart with John Ford’s The Searchers (1958). In many ways, Man of the West presents a character arc in Link Jones that is the reverse of Ethan Edwards. Rather than a confrontation with civility and advancement by a generally outlaw-like figure, as with Ethan, Link’s journey is one from an attempt at assimilation to the temptations of criminality and reversion. The two films serve as excellent compliments to each other, revealing a brilliant dialectic relationship whose synthesis ultimately defines the Western genre.
Godard’s feeling regarding Man of the West certainly highlight this relationship in that while he felt “The Searchers” to be the greatest of Westerns, he claimed that Man of the West “revinvented” the Western, as can be read in the excellent piece about the film featured in “Godard on Godard,” an absolute must read (notice the Godard trend in the past couple of posts). Man of the West is sadly absent from any DVD shelves, mostly due to how it was ignored upon its initial release and therefore overlooked. However, it can be found for under $10 on VHS from Amazon.com and frequently appears on Turner Classic Movies. Good luck finding this marvelous Western from a true master of the genre, Anthony Mann.
by Brandon Colvin Continue reading...
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Billy Wilder often spoke of being serious about making comedies, applying craft, subtlety, and complexity to a form whose origins lie in the brilliant outlandish slapstick of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charlie Chaplin. Slapstick, however, is a silent form and in the sound era, only one man, Jacques Tati, has been able to handle slapstick with proper care, telling the outrageous with whispers and nudges. In recent years, comedies seem to have been attempting to tell slapstick stories with screams and explosions. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, the most recent effort by Jake Kasdan (a lesser member of the Apatow comedy circle) continues this same forgettable, harmless, pseudo-shock trend. The film is so insignificant, witless, and boring that I’m sure Billy Wilder wouldn’t bother to take a piss on it.
Attempting to parody the biopic genre, whose award-winning All-Star team includes films like Ray (2004) and Walk the Line (2005), Walk Hard compiles a series of immature, predictable gags that reveal nothing fresh or remotely interesting. Mocking the overabundance of drug abuse, predictable moral resolutions, and melodramatically mercurial shifts between success and the dumps is like shooting fish in a barrel and is just as useless. Once you shoot the damn fish, there isn’t much left, which is essentially the problem with Walk Hard. The film’s innumerable trite puns and jabs are so dominating and emphasized that is seems the writers (Kasdan and, sadly, Judd Apatow) forgot they were making a film and decided to create a second-rate stand-up routine.
Walk Hard lacks all of the tact and truth of Apatow’s other projects, particularly his directorial credits, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin (2005) and Knocked-Up (2007). The humor in the film is so obvious and sophomoric that it’s almost painful, particularly when a penis enters the frame, just so all of the homophobic, insecure assholes in the audience can yell, “gross!” and make comments about one another’s manhood. It’s not funny. It’s only humorous to those who see a man’s genitalia as cheap gag to be exploited for shock value. The constant flashing of breasts, penises, and various drugs becomes almost indulgent and the satire is lost completely. The restraint exemplified by great cinematic satirists such as Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, and Luis Bunuel is markedly absent in any form from Walk Hard, which would probably have Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) jump into the audience and whack someone with a 2 x 4 if it could get a chuckle from a 15-year-old who just saw his first silver-screen boobies.
It may be unfair to compare Walk Hard to cinematic legends like Ernst Lubitsch, but with films like Knocked-Up, Apatow and his assortment of comedic minds have proven themselves capable of mature, excellent, tasteful filmmaking. Walk Hard is a serious misstep and not even the irresistible charm of John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer (as the June Carter character, Darlene Madison) can save the film from a horrible script and limp direction. More akin to Scary Movie 3 than any other Apatow project thus far, Walk Hard forces its competent cast to drag out what should’ve been a ten-minute sketch on SNL. Because of this, the film is always reaching and grasping, without any footing. It’s a shell of a film and it’s lack of anything substantial ultimately makes it disposable.
by Brandon Colvin
Monday, December 17, 2007
We usually stick to writing our own stuff around here, but I felt compelled to post a link and let everyone know about a fascinating article written on David Bordwell's blog. Bordwell should be familiar to most everyone (and if he isn't, start asking for some of his books for Christmas) and although I don't always agree with his perspective on things, his blog continues to be one of the most insightful ones I have found on the web. His most recent post about Jean Luc Godard and the cropping of his films aspect ratios. The case is very pertinent considering the DVD releases we receive today and the images that we are being shown with no validation as to what format they should actually be shown on. More than just a fascinating article on Godard, Bordwell gives some major insights into what we should expect of the cinematic image and provides a constant questioning of the images that we receive.
I encourage everyone to check out Bordwell's blog, and specifically this new entry if you are interested in Godard or the importance of the correct aspect ratios and the cinematic image.
Happy holiday season!
-James Hansen Continue reading...
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Making New York City empty is damned near impossible, but the opening shots of “I Am Legend” depict NYC as a jungle-like wasteland full of stampeding deer and grass-split pavement. What’s most amazing is that the film’s post-apocalyptic vision of the Big Apple is absolutely convincing. The opening shots establish the barren, decrepit landscape in which military scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith) prowls, searching for anything to help him find a cure for the KV virus (to which he is one of the few humans immune), originally thought to be a cure for cancer, that mutated and killed 2/3 of the humans on the planet, turning all but 12 million of the rest into bloodthirsty zombie-like creatures that are inexplicably vulnerable to UV rays.
The computer generated dilapidation of Robert Neville’s lonely Long Island is awe-inspiring and director Francis Lawrence (“Constantine”) and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (“King Kong,” “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) handle their land o’ special effects with care. Brooding, atmospheric shots investigate the lonely environment with graceful push-ins that emphasize and make concrete the abstract concept of an uninhabited metropolis. The dread and paranoia inherent in the thoroughly existential surroundings are elucidated by Will Smith’s solid, confident performance. Unlike the tongue-in-cheek, “I say funny shit that 13-year-olds laugh at” performances of “Independence Day” and “I, Robot,” Smith acts with depth and purpose in “I Am Legend,” leaving the “Aw, Hell naw”s behind. Smith’s incredibly natural rapport with his pet dog in the film (canines are immune the airborne strain of the KV virus), Sam, is inspiring and evokes enormous pathos in many scenes. In many ways, Smith creates a rounded human being for the first time in his career. Robert Neville actually thinks about large problems and faces genuine drama, rather than just being a semi-comedic navigator of elaborate set pieces with exploding crap (although there is some pretty cool exploding crap in “I Am Legend”). The film combines Smith’s past strengths and action film chops with a new, deeply human facet that enables Smith to carve out a complete and fascinating protagonist.
In fleshing out Smith’s character, the film takes time to detail Neville’s past as a fighter of the virus during its early days, before it became airborne. The film accomplishes this explanation of Neville’s past in well-placed and brilliantly realized flashbacks that reveal the fate of his family and the fate of NYC in the wake of the disease’s spread. Perhaps most stunning about these flashbacks is their interesting resonance with the events of 9/11. During one flashback scene, military helicopters bomb Brooklyn Bridge in an effort to quarantine the island. This violent image is combined with the depiction of a traffic-jam full of New Yorkers attempting to leave the island before the quarantine to create a terrorized city, brimming with fear. Sound familiar? This frenetic destruction is further grounded as a strong political metaphor by Robert Neville’s repeated proclamation, “This is ground zero. This is my site” when confronted about leaving the city. The introduction of the extremely loaded term “ground zero” when describing a severely damaged New York City strikes a connotative chord that is no doubt intentional and Neville’s resolve to remain in the city and continue his work in trying to cure the KV virus, intending to (like Bob Marley, his idol) spread love and positivity, is certainly a sort of optimistic rallying cry for political change through cooperation and kindness (it might be unrealistic, but still admirable). Neville proves himself to be a hero through his various courageous actions and his bravery in the face of extreme hardship. His heroism is particularly apparent once he meets up with two fellow survivors, Anna (Alice Braga) and Ethan (Charlie Tahan), from Maryland who stop in NYC to pick him up on their way to an alleged survivors’ colony in Vermont.
In Robert Neville’s confrontation with Anna and Ethan, matters of faith and science meet in a head on collision that seems to be resolved by an interesting and very humanistic synthesis of spiritual irrationality and pragmatic reason, which is perhaps the film’s central message. This irrational faith in a positivist future, a sort of indefatigable optimism, seems to be the separating factor between the human and the inhuman in “I Am Legend” and is the factor that transforms the purely scientific into the humanistic. This is evident is the initial scene in the film, which seems indicative of the survivalist realm the film takes place in, seemingly lacking humanity. In this scene, Neville is hunting deer through the city streets, littered with abandoned vehicles and weeds, in a Shelby Mustang with a high-powered rifle. He is a human predator with maximized potential. Once the deer enter a frozen block of abandoned traffic, Neville tracks them on foot, but his prey is overtaken by a small pride of lions, presumably escaped from the zoo since the devastation. Neville watches on respectfully as the superior predator wrangles the deer.
In this opening sequence the survival-of-the-fittest, harsh environment is illustrated perfectly and Neville’s place, as an individual attempting to not only survive, but save others through his work, is presented as a contrasting, distinctly human quality amidst the competitive, self-interest of the lions, and, most importantly, the infected humans, referred to as (check out this morally-tinged nickname) “dark-seekers.” The value of selflessness is reiterated in the film’s finale, which accentuates the value of faith and the transcendent nature of optimism, as well as (man, is it trite) the healing power of love and care. For a doomsday film, “I Am Legend” packs a very hopeful punch, full of what some would call a naïve sense of morality, particularly considering that the film’s morality is only justified by many miracle-like coincidences that almost certainly attempt to validate the existence of God, or some creative/controlling external force. This is a hell of an ambition for a sci-fi/horror/action film, but at least it’s an ambition.
If the film suffers from anything, it is the CGI “dark-seekers.” Frankly, they look worse than the monsters in a “Resident Evil” videogame. It’s astounding that a film that uses such convincing CGI to create the disaster zone New York City would have such horribly rendered creatures. The monsters open their raging jaws to unrealistic extremes and leap around clumsily, without any concern for actual physics, seeming more like props than actual characters or people (albeit mutated). While it’s fairly standard to have such shoddily-created creatures in horror films, a film as good as “I Am Legend” is severely crippled by these special effects, especially when it has such an excellent script, visual design, and art direction. Here’s hoping that Will Smith decides to continue this whole “good acting” thing and that he helps get some equally impressive projects off the ground.
by Brandon Colvin
Friday, December 14, 2007
A great film to introduce people to the director and also one of his best films, Abbas Kiarostami’s Life and Nothing More... is a critically essential film that is stuck, for the time being, on VHS. While many people consider the lure of Iranian cinema an acquired taste (who doesn’t love slow moving allegories?), this film is more approachable for those unfamiliar with the director or the region, but also provides key insights into how the struggles of daily life combine with cinematic “storytelling.”
The second part of his Koker trilogy (comprised of Where is the Friend’s Home, Life and Nothing More..., and Through The Olive Trees), Life and Nothing More... follows a father and son as they travel through Iran to find the two boys who starred in Where is the Friend’s Home after an earthquake hit the region in 1990. Kiarostami constantly blends fact with fiction, and intersperses documentary elements with those of traditional narratives. Those qualities and obsessions are no more clearly identifiable than in this film. An earthquake really did hit Iran in 1990 and killed almost 30,000 people, so Kiarostami’s desire to find the boys is a real one. Still, the journey through the devastated areas shifts Kiarostami’s focus into an attempt to comprehend the complexities of life. The film finishes with an incredible final shot that represents the uphill battle that the anyone has when faced with obstacles and is, in many ways, an attempt to redefine the things that humans find most important.
The video quality may be poor, as it was on my viewing, but even that cannot hold back the visceral power of this film. Kiarostami has made many great films (Close Up and Taste of Cherry are definite masterpieces. The Wind Will Carry Us is also really worth seeing), but Life and Nothing More... is equally as impressive and an incredibly undervalued and under-seen film in Kiarostami’s vital oeuvre.
by James Hansen
YouTube Video Warning: This is the only video I could find and is, in fact, the last 8:38 of the film. Although it gives away nothing in terms of plot (as there isn’t really a traditional plot to be found) I felt like this should be mentioned for those who want to hold out to see the end in the context it needs for full appreciation. Watching this certainly won’t ruin the movie at all (otherwise I would not add it) but I want to protect the die hards who are already on Ebay looking for this VHS.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Everyone here at Out 1 loves Christmas because it is the #1 time of the year to get new DVDs. However, every year there are a lot of titles that we wish for that still haven't come out. These are our Christmas lists dedicated to them. The films that we love, or would love, if we were only given the chance to see/own them. Much like our Forgotten VHS Series, the standards for what is "available" is different for each writer, but these are certainly not the titles you expect to find at Blockbuster. These are our lists of the films that we want the most for Christmas that are (mostly) impossible to have as of now. Step one to ensuring that we get these titles ASAP is to purchase a multi-region DVD player, which is essential given the state of video distribution these days. Nevertheless, one with the lists. Add your own wish lists in the comments and happy holidays to all!
James Hansen’s Christmas List
1. Out 1 (Jacques Rivette, 1971)- I got to see the full thing at MOMI in New York and have been thinking about it ever since. It fully grasps Rivette’s conspiratorial, wandering “narratives” and defines his postmodern sensibilities. Hell, I named the damn website after it and the more Rivette I watch, the more he becomes one of my favorite filmmakers. (Be sure and check out the wonderful BFI Region 2 release of Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) which came out earlier this year otherwise it would be on this list as it is one of my favorite films) Out 1 is considered, with good reason, the cinephile’s holy grail, and this cinephile wants this film in his collection more than any other.
2. Khrustalyov, My Car! (Alexei Gherman, 1998)- Maybe it’s just that this was one of the “walk out champs” of Cannes and NYFF, which usually means that I will like it. Maybe it’s just that this is listed as one of J. Hoberman’s top films of 1998 and a special mention for best film of the 1990’s. Maybe it’s just that I don’t speak Russian so a Region 5 DVD with no subtitles will do me any good. Anyway you look at it, this needs a DVD release with English subtitles and I need that DVD.
3. From The Pole to the Equator (Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi, 1987)- Filmed at the start of the 20th century in exotic locations, this is another film that I have only heard of because of its mention on Hoberman’s top 10 of the 1980’s. This is said to be a landmark in documentary film production with imagery that will haunt and fascinate the viewer. This may be an ambiguous choice since I don’t know much about it, but I would sure like to know more and see this in all of its glory.
4. 24 Hour Psycho (Douglas Gordon, 1993)- So maybe I wouldn’t watch the whole thing in one sitting, but this experimental film, slowing down Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho so that it lasts 24 hours, has to be absolutely fascinating. These kinds of reflections on memory, repetition, and sculpting of time are one of my greatest interests and this has to be the penultimate modern example.
5. *Corpus Callosum (Michael Snow, 2002)- Snow is one of the most important experimental artists in the last half of the 20th century creating the structuralist masterpiece Wavelength (1967), however this piece (supposedly) signals the experimental move into digital in the 21st century. The explosive imagery and Snow’s ever present discourse with modern society make this an essential work. Again, this could end up being heresay, but from all I have heard this has to be a great statement on the state of art and cinema making a digital transition.
Brandon Colvin’s Christmas List
1. The Trial of Joan of Arc (Robert Bresson, 1962) – I am a HUGE Bresson fan and this is one of his films that isn’t available anywhere. It follows the story of Joan of Arc, much like Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), which is one of my favorite films of all-time, but in a much different way. Bresson reportedly disliked Dreyer’s version and created his cinematic interpretation of Joan of Arc almost as a rebuttal to Dreyer’s monumentally great film. Allegedly, Criterion owns the rights to the film, which inspires great hope in my little cinephile heart.
2. Last Year At Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961) – This one of my favorite films of all time and it is in desperate need of a DVD release, considering the old DVD is out of print and runs for $125. Rumor has it that Criterion might release the film within the next couple of years. Last Year at Marienbad + a new, improved print + special features = a happy Brandon Colvin.
3. Made in USA (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966) – One of the many Godard films that are notably absent from anyone’s DVD or VHS collection, “Made in USA” is one of the final films in Godard’s “cinematic period” and is one of his brilliant color features. I wish I could see the master in action!
4. Face to Face (Ingmar Bergman, 1976) – There are so many Bergman films without a decent DVD release that it’s hard to find a place to begin. I’ve heard this one is especially great (check out Jeremy Richey’s piece on “Face to Face” at Moon in the Gutter – see links).
5. Chimes at Midnight a.k.a. Falstaff (Orson Welles, 1965) – This Shakespeare adaptation in one that I’ve been pining to see for quite some time. Welles claimed he felt this was one of his best films, along with The Trial (1962). Hopefully, it will get a release some time, but prospects look dim.
Jacob Shoaf’s Christmas List
1. Napoleon – I’ve heard great things about this film by Abel Gance. It was selected by the Vatican (cinephiles that they are) as one of the 15 most artistic films of all time alongside 2001, 8 ½, Citizen Kane, Metropolis, and The Leopard if that gives you any clue as to how awesome it probably is. I was about thirty seconds in when my VCR started making funny noises and so I spared my professor’s tape.
2. Nostalghia – I keep expecting Criterion to announce the release of this title any day now. I believe the rights to it initially belonged to Fox-Lorber (who also had the rights to Andrei Rublev before it was lovingly released by Criterion), and the original DVD is now out of print. This is one of the scant few Tarkvosky films that have eluded me. I have an .avi rip of it, but I consider it some kind of blasphemy to watch it that way. Someone please release this and save my cinematic soul.
3. The Phantom Carriage – I know nothing about this film, but the fact that it was one of Ingmar Bergman’s favorite films is more than enough to justify my seeing it. It was directed by Victor Sjöström (who later starred in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries). That is seriously all it should take to convince you to see this film if/when it gets released.
4. Santa Sangre - Alejandro Jodorowsky’s most recent mind-f*ck (Let’s be honest, The Rainbow Thief stars Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and Christopher Lee. It’s probably not that crazy.) is the story of a boy who witnesses his father cutting off his cult-leading mother’s arms only to commit suicide. Years later, the boy “becomes” his mother’s missing limbs and havoc ensues. Roger Ebert rated this as his sixth favorite film of 1990, so that’s worth something. But can anyone really pass up a Jodorowsky amputee-fest?
5. Satantango – Arguably Bela Tarr’s masterpiece. This film is a massive, meandering Leviathan of Hungarian awesomeness. It follows the inhabitants of a small village as they are swindled by a mysterious man and his cohort. According to a Facet’s employee, they are waiting for Tarr to finish supervising the transfer and then it should be ready for production, but they don’t know when that will be. If you’ve got 7 ½ hours to kill, this is a great way to do so. Continue reading...
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Alain Resnais’ iconoclastic, internationally acclaimed film, Last Year at Marienbad (1961), introduced a brand new conception of time, spatiality, and a narrative structure to the language of cinema. Last Year circumvented the generally accepted chronological nature of cinematic temporality, formulating instead a temporal system rooted in memories, impressions, and their imperfections: elements that leave time mutated and confused.
Last Year at Marienbad revolves around an encounter between an unnamed man, noted in the screenplay as X, and an unnamed woman, A, whom he believes he had an affair with one year earlier at the location of their encounter, a lavish and mysterious estate called Marienbad, where they are attending a bourgeois party.
The film begins with a beautiful collection of images from the architecture of the Marienbad estate. A haunting, poetic voice over, part of the immaculate screenplay written by prominent French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, describes the devastating montage from the past-tense point of view of X. The words attempt to illustrate with language the irreducible intensity of the images, which are far beyond the limitations of linguistics. X narrates, “corridors succeed endless corridors – silent deserted corridors overloaded with a dim, cold ornamentation of woodwork, stucco, moldings, marble, black mirrors, dark paintings, columns, heavy hangings – sculptured door frames, series of doorways, galleries – transverse corridors that open in turn on empty salons, rooms overloaded with an ornamentation from another century, silent halls . . . ”
Last Year at Marienbad maintains a lyrical tone throughout, weaving poetry, both visual and lingual, through a web-like framework of jumbled memories, frozen spaces, and half-remembered conversations as X tries to convince A that she promised to run away with him and leave her husband, who may or may not be the third primary character in the film, a strange man called M in Robbe-Grillet’s script. A three-character cinematic waltz sweeps gracefully across the screen, painted with equally graceful masterstrokes of Resnais’ nimble camera.
During many scenes, Last Year presents instances frozen in time that are placed in the midst of kinetic images, altering traditional conceptions of time and narrative. In one such scene, a group of guests at Marienbad watch a play in an auditorium-like room. The camera pans around and through the crowd – which is completely motionless, suspended in the timeless space of an impressionistic memory. The scene is visually breathtaking and it exudes as almost metaphysical, otherworldly atmosphere that looms over the entire film.In addition to the isolation of specific instances, Last Year manipulates time by repeating different moments over and over, often in direct succession. This occurs in one particularly effective scene in which X and A have a drink at the bar in Marienbad. A static shot of the two at the bar is repeatedly shown throughout the scene, which alternates between shots of A in an empty bedroom and A and X together in the same bedroom, as well as the static shot from the bar which is constantly intercut between the various images in the scene. Often times, repeated moments are shown with alternate endings or different consequences, reflecting the creative, destructive, and manipulative power of subjective memory when combined with strong emotions.
Resnais explored many of the themes surround time and memory that are present throughout Last Year in earlier films such as Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), which tracks the experiences of a French actress and a Japanese architect as they try to maintain a relationship in post-war Japan amidst the ghastly history of death and destruction. The film originated many of the editing techniques and temporal experiments that Resnais perfected in Last Year at Marienbad, including time-shifts that occur in mid-scene, as well as flash-forwards and flashbacks. Last Year is undoubtedly the artistic apex of Resnais’ trademark techniques of temporal manipulation, which he continued to utilize in films such as Muriel (1963), but later abandoned for more traditional narratives.
Confounding cinematic sensibilities of time with a more subjective, poetic temporal design, Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad changed the face of film by contorting that face into a fading memory. It is a film beyond chronology, yet time is its heart and soul.
by Brandon Colvin
*Editor's Notes: This review was originally published in "Rise Over Run" magazine. Also, for New York City residents, a new 35 mm print of Last Year in Marienbad is showing at Film Forum from January 18-31. Mark your calendars! Continue reading...
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Recently, on the IFC podcast, Adam Singer and Allison Wilmore discussed a few of the glaring, shameful omissions from their viewing histories. Some of the films they confessed to having not seen included “The Seventh Seal,” “Seven Samurai,” “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “8 ½,” and “Eraserhead.” These gaps in cinematic experience were shocking to me, particularly coming from two individuals who work at IFC. Prompted by Adam and Allison’s openness, I felt compelled to divulge some of my own extremely inexcusable overlooked films. Don’t be too harsh in your condemnation. I’m only 19!
1. “Gone With the Wind” (1939) dir. Victor Fleming
Although this film is #6 on AFI’s Top 100 list, I’ve never gotten around to it, mostly because it’s nearly four hours long and I don’t care much for melodrama (unless it’s Douglas Sirk). However, this film is certainly essential for cinematic literacy and I plan on getting around to it this Christmas break.
2. “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) dir. Frank Capra
Many moons ago, I was an avid Jimmy Stewart hater. I experienced a miraculous conversion experience last year and now “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Vertigo,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” rank among my favorite films. I am now anxious to see this warm-hearted classic and hope to catch it during some sort of holiday-themed screening.
3. “Rome, Open City” (1945) dir. Roberto Rosselini
The ultimate neo-realism film has never interested me much, like most neo-realism. It is certainly essential, however, and I plan on taking it in sometime when I’m feeling very chipper so that, by the end, I’ll be at a happy medium.
4. “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (1966) dir. Sergio Leone
I know it’s supposedly the ultimate Western and all that jazz, but I have a good reason for having never seen it. I’ve always wanted to watch the Man With No Name trilogy in the correct order, in a semi-marathon fashion. I really like “Once Upon a Time in the West,” so I anticipate that this film will tickle my fancy. Maybe I’ll have the proper amount of free time soon. Oh, and don’t fault me for having the theme as my ringtone. I can’t help it. It’s just so cool to hear that song in random social settings.
5. “Nosferatu” (1922) dir. F. W. Murnau
I’m not nearly as well versed in German Expressionism as I should be. I’ve seen most of the major works, but this one somehow fell through the cracks. I’m not a huge fan of Herzog’s version, but I really enjoy E. Elias Merhige’s “Shadow of the Vampire,” which is a fictionalized account of the filming of “Nosferatu.” Hopefully, I’ll get the impetus to move it to the top of my Netflix queue soon.
What are some films that you’ve overlooked that you are particularly embarrassed about? If you think of any notable ones, leave a comment detailing your omission.
Also, if you want to hear the IFC podcast, go here.
By Brandon Colvin Continue reading...
With all the new film releases out this weekend (reviews of "Atonement," "Juno," and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" are in the works...stay tuned!), it's a busy time for everybody, but there is time enough to mention that Brandon Colvin's earlier post was accepted on Scanners, Jim Emerson's wonderful site, for their Opening Shots Project. A big congratulations to Brandon and a special thanks to Jim Emerson for taking the time for consideration and the addition to the project. There will be many more entries from Out 1 to come!
There is a link for Scanners on the side, but you can also get to here. Continue reading...
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Expressing anti-religious (not anti-spiritual!) sentiments in child-oriented films is a tough and hazardous stream to navigate. Miraculously, director Chris Weitz and crew have found a balance of dangerous social commentary and fantastical thrills in “The Golden Compass.” The film, although diminishing the anti-religiosity of Phillip Pullman’s 1995 novel, maintains its anti-authoritarian convictions without becoming overly preachy (get it?).
For those who aren’t acquainted with the source material (myself included), “The Golden Compass” traces the exciting path of a young girl, named Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), as she finds herself deep within a power struggle between the authoritarian, conservative Majesterium (an entity VERY similar to the Catholic Church) and a renegade group of intellectuals seeking to understand the nature of “dust” (I’ll let you figure out what it symbolizes) by toying with some aurora up north and maneuvering around with a golden compass, or alethiometer, which enables anyone who can read it (basically, children, having the almighty innocence necessary) access to the direct truth. The Majesterium fears public access to truth (imagine that) and seeks to co-opt the golden compass, which has found its way into young Lyra’s hands by way of her gallivanting uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), who is the spearhead of the intellectual “dust” movement. Following her tense, repressive stay with the icy Majesterium representative, Ms. Coulter (helluva last name), who attempts to surreptitiously capture Lyra, employing her as an “assistant” for her travels to the north, Lyra begins a quest, using the alethiometer, to solve a recent string of kidnappings in which many of her friends have been taken and which may or man not involve Ms. Coulter. All of these figures, of course, dwell in a parallel universe to ours, as the opening narration clarifies, where people wear their souls on the outside. These souls, called “daemons” are represented as animals that can talk and interact with others and that have a voodoo-doll-like relationship with their respective humans. If a person’s corresponding daemon is killed, they die, and vice-versa.
The imagination illuminating the source material is fantastic and the film thrives from having such an excellent and well-crafted mythology to explore. The CGI animals in the film are particularly astounding as wonderful examples of literary imagination turned into cinematic reality. The daemons in the film are impressive, especially the children’s daemons, as they are still shifting since the souls of the children haven’t settled yet. Lyra’s daemon, named Pan (short for Pantalaimon), morphs interchangeably between a ferret, a cat, a mouse, and a sparrow – maintaining an incredible amount of cuteness, no doubt a result of Freddie Highmore’s endearing vocal work. When watching the film, one is left desiring a daemon of his/her own, a steadfast friend who is cute and cuddly. It’s a marvelous concept. Likewise, the ice bears in “The Golden Compass” present a visual feast. The ice bears are gigantic polar bears that live in the artic regions. Keeping with the incredibly imaginative nature of the source material, the ice bears talk and have a complex, warlike society in which status is gained through armored combat. One ice bear, a dethroned and exiled former prince named Iorek Byrnison (Ian McKellan) who has turned to alcoholism and is quite the curmudgeon, encounters Lyra on her journey and is eventually led back to the ice bear kingdom, where he challenges the bear (yes, they all have Scandinavian names) who took his throne, Ragnar Sturlusson (Ian McShane). Their battle scene is a triumph of CGI and is one of the ballsiest sequences I have ever seen in a child-oriented film, featuring an incredibly grisly finale.
Acting-wise, the film is very strong, led by the performances of Nicole Kidman as the complex Ms. Coulter and the effortless magnificence of Sam Elliott as the Wild West-styled aeronaut (person who flies around in a badass ship) named Lee Scorseby. Kidman’s character is certainly the richest in the film and her depth increases as the film progresses, creating a very torn, confused individual who simultaneously evokes terror and sympathy. Kidman is pitch-perfect in the role, exuding the cold confidence and calm ruthlessness that matches the character’s stark blue eyes and immaculate appearance. Sam Elliott practically IS his character, a wise old cowboy whose goodhearted smile and caring eyes guide Lyra with a soft-spoken paternal influence. Just as in “The Big Lebowski,” Elliott finds a way to fill the screen with an ineffable warmth that feels like Christmas.
The major problem “The Golden Compass” has is the massive impact that the compression of the novel for cinematic translation has on the film’s pacing. Many sequences feel rushed and compacted, with information glossed over and emotions unearned. This is probably a result of having to shrink all of the information from a 400ish page book into a two-hour film that is viable at the box office. Also, the elimination of many more blatantly anti-religious aspects of the novel no doubt has an influence on the awkwardly rushed narrative. The effect of this is quite obtrusive and one may feel a little cheated by ending, which seems forced. However, considering that the actual ending of the novel, which is quite substantial, is left out, probably so as not to offend Catholics and such, it would be nearly impossible to have created a logical ending that felt correct. I would love to see an extended edit of the film, maybe with an extra 30 minutes or so, which includes the ending and probably some significant deleted scenes.
The theoretical “The Golden Compass: Director’s Cut” would surely rock my world and while the version in theaters now is certainly adequate and in some instances brilliant, it is lacking the proper pacing and narrative cohesion that Phillip Pullman’s novel has.
by Brandon Colvin