Monday, January 28, 2008

You are alive!

Takashi Murakami sums up the teenage experience via an alien in a series of Japanese commercials. Go figure.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weeks 2 & 3.

5. 3:10 to Yuma [Mangold, 2007, DVD]
6. Away From Her [Polley, 2006, DVD]
7. Halloween (Director's Cut) [Zombie, 2007, DVD]
8. Syndromes and a Century [Weerasethakul, 2006, theater]
9. Helvetica [Hustwit, 2007, DVD]
10. Alien: Resurrection [Jeunet, 1997, DVD]

I finally like Westerns. This is a big deal for me as I couldn't stand the genre when I was a kid. I think this is largely based on my being forced to watch grainy z-grade westerns with my Grandfather on Sunday afternoons, when I could've been watching My Secret Identity. Like most film nerds, I imagine, things changed when I discovered the classics (Red River, Stagecoach, etc.), and my love for them has grown in this era of excellent modern westerns (The Proposition, Jesse James/Robert Ford).
Despite the hype, I can confidently report that James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma does not fall into that latter category. I'm not going to deny the film's pedigree (Elmore Leonard DNA, hammy-great performances from Christian Bale and Russel Crowe, Ben Foster queering it up), but goddam-- James Mangold cannot stage a comprehensible shootout to save his life. I dare you to try to make sense of that opening Pinkerton sequence. It doesn't get much better after that. Passable, but nothing special. Don't let them tell you otherwise.
Oh and and for all this bitching and moaning about how 2007 was the year of unsatisfying endings (cf. There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, Zodiac, et. al), where is the outcry over 3:10's third act? Seriously, talk about jumping the rail.
I've not read any Alice Munro, but from what I understand her fiction doesn't easily lend itself to cinematic adaptation. So, I guess, good for Sarah Polley. Away From Her is largely moving, beautifully acted, tastefully made. That said, I find it hard to get too worked up over it. Call me heartless and flippant, but I much preferred Tamara Jenkins' tart and quasi-similarly-themed The Savages. But that's just me.
One day I'm going to vomit out a post about my muddled and confused attitude towards violence in films. But that's not happened right now. What I will say is: for some reason I give Rob Zombie's grotesque reimagining/prequel/reboot of Halloween a pass. There's no doubt that it's too long by 40 minutes (I did watch the "director's cut," so I'm unsure if the theatrical version clipped along at a better pace... I somehow doubt it) and filled with a lot of unnecessary ugliness, but I'm a sucker for slasher films with excellent papier-mâché masks.
On a side note: I'm not sure if it was the four Jack and Cokes or actual talent, but I thought Sheri Moon Zombie was terrific. I'm hoping that some enterprising director other than her husband realizes this and casts her in a film. And in said film, he also casts Aimee Mann as her sister. Tell me that wouldn't work. That's all.
Remember when I was bitching about how my sorry ass has seen Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and not Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century? Well, that's been remedied. (Thanks, Cinefamily!) While I watched it, I kept thinking of this conversation I had with my friend Morgan, shit, eight or so years ago. He was talking about an essay he'd read for a film class that was about "sublime" vs. popular cinema (I'm probably butchering this concept, but bear with me). The crux of it being: there are films that are purely enjoyable pieces of entertainment and then there are those that are sublime, that may not be quote unquote entertaining, but are transcending, that are... well, art. And while you might not emotionally respond to them immediately, you have to accept that you're a more culturally literate person for having seen the sublime.*
I'm not trying to say that Syndromes and a Century wasn't entertaining or engaging. Weerasethakul allows his actors to engage in rambling conversations that are simultaneously delightful/eccentric and banal/authentic. But his fractured narrative and taste for the oblique certainly made me work, stretched me. Even as my mind wandered and I started to lose my way, I knew that I was watching something special. Something that was going to stick with me. It has.
The documentary Helvetica goes like this: some talking heads discuss the origin of the typeface, some others praise its versatility and the design revolution that followed its introduction, some haters hate, then there are lots of montages illustrating Helvetica's ubiquity. Does this sound even remotely like something you'd enjoy? Yes? You're going to love it. If typographical nerdery isn't your bag, probably best to skip it.
My love for David Fincher's Alien3 grows every time I watch it. It's certainly flawed and clearly bares the scars of studio-tampering, but it remains a fascinating early-'90s AIDS allegory masquerading as a Hollywood franchise sci-fi movie.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien: Resurrection on the other hand-- oof-a. I hadn't seen the fourth installment in the Alien Quartet in years and was hoping to... well, I don't know. I was hoping that it'd work as camp or as an interesting example of screenwriter Joss Whedon's early work. Yeah, not so much. All that suffocating whimsy that Jeunet crammed in Amelie is front and center here. All the nuance that Sigourney Weaver brought to Ripley in the first three films has been replaced by a broad Mae West schtick. And Whedon's script is all glib rehash. It's depressing that after three classic entries, the series devolved into this. (Don't get me started on Alien Vs. Predator. Don't even get me started.)

*=Morgan, if I'm butchering this, please correct me in the comments. And while we're at it, what was that essay? Is it some really obvious Laura Maulvey shit? Should I be ashamed for not having it memorized?

Saturday, January 26, 2008


New posts in the works. Back shortly.
Also, if you've had an unbelievably long week at work, you're in a shite mood, and it's raining and cold and miserable outside... allow me to suggest a remedy: two Jack & Cokes + Katt Williams standup. I promise, it'll cure what ails you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

History repeating.

"Repetition compulsion is a big item in art these days. It's as if the structural exploration of Warhol's films, Glass's Music in Twelve Parts or Reich's Come Out or Deleuze's Difference and Repetition had worked their way into popular culture and blossomed in the age of chemical personality adjustment. Barely perceptible change within a field of sameness: the perfect form for a depressed age, from Atom Egoyan to Tsai Ming-liang, from Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us to Oliveira's I'm Going Home, from Roth's American Pastoral to DeLilo's Underworld, from Seinfeld to Ghost World to In the Mood For Love to trip-hop. [Wes Anderson] has mastered the form to perfection, making warm movies about angry, disassociated people who never arrive at reconciliation but always stumble upon it on their quest to recover what they've lost."

--Kent Jones, "Family Romance," 2001.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Week 1.

1. Into the Wild [Penn, 2007, DVD]
2. Atonement [Wright, 2007, theater]
3. I Know Who Killed Me [Siverston, 2007, DVD]
4. There Will Be Blood [Anderson, 2007. theater]
I didn't intend my first post of 2008 to be about my favorite film of 2007, but here we are. Why not?

I first saw Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood in mid-November and I knew I'd seen something great. That's not to say I wasn't thrown, I was-- the tone of it was not what I was expecting; certain performances didn't quite mesh for me; fuck, it just felt alien. But in the hours and days and weeks that followed, I couldn't get the damn thing out of my head.

Nearly two months later, I saw the film again, this time without anticipatory jitters and with a roadmap of where the movie was headed and it's an even greater, and more paradoxical, film than I remembered. When I say that Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of the greatest screen performances I've ever seen, I'm not being hyperbolic. Daniel Day-Lewis disappears so completely into Daniel Plainview that for long stretches I forgot that I was watching an actor. And yet the performance is huge, grand, at times completely over-the-top... so actorly. How can [a] coexist with [b]? I dunno, but it does.

Just as after a second viewing, the film's cinematic heritage is even more apparent (Kane, 70s Kubrick, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and yet it feels even more organic, original, like it sprang fully-formed from Anderson's brain all Athena-stizz.

And without giving anything away (as all four or five of you faithful readers probably have yet to see the film), let me just say that the, uh, controversial ending feels exactly right to me. Anderson has always been one for the big, jolting finale followed by a declarative statement (cf. Boogie Nights: "I'm a star"; Punch-Drunk Love: "Here we go") and Blood is no different. It's also clear (especially after that repeat viewing) that the film is building to this release.

And that's that. I'm finished. For now.
I've read Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild twice: once in 1996 and again in 2001. So it's been a while, but I'm fairly certain that Sean Penn doesn't get it. The story of Chris McCandless is tragic, no doubt. Here's a kid who seemingly had a lot to offer, had much on his mind, but was so full of that early20something hubris (mixed with an unhealthy Thoreau/Tolstoy/London obsession) that he walked into the Alaskan wild woefully unprepared and, well, died for it. There's no glory in that. As much as Krakauer romanticized McCandless, I think he fundamentally understood this. Penn doesn't. Was he worried that if he made the McCandless character in the least bit unlikable the ending wouldn't resonate? That it'd be less tragic? Emile Hirsch is great as McCandless, but could've been richer if Penn had allowed us to see that the kid was not only charitable and in love with life and a searcher, but also clearly selfish and stubborn and, well, stupid. You know... human. Penn's problems aren't limited to the screenplay-- as a director he's way too fond of slow motion and golden shots of sun-dappled [fill in the blank: wheat, waterfalls, waves] and really shitty original songs by Eddie Vedder.
I Know Who Killed Me: yup, it's that bad. I actually feel kinda bad for Linds, because, you know, she's giving it her all... but her all includes, well, this.
Am I the only one willing to admit that I really don't like Ian McEwan's Atonement? Saturday, On Chesil Beach-- I'm way down with those. (Sadly that the breadth of my McEwan familiarity.) Atonement... not so much. But as a big glossy melodrama starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy? There are worse ways to try to beat le malaise than by watching Keira's modest bosom heave.
About the blog's name... It was either this or "funerals and snakes," but someone had already taken it.
  • My Best of '07 list. (As always, world cinema is woefully absent. Somehow I managed to see the second Fantastic Four movie but not Syndromes and a Century. Sigh.)
  • Glenn Kenny on fathers and sons in There Will Be Blood. (Plus the greatest LOLmovie bit ever.)
  • Memo to Paramount Vantage marketing: you're doing a lovely job with There Will Be Blood. (Love those new TV spots.) But I think you've missed a really excellent pullquote. Here it is: "[Daniel Day-Lewis's] Plainview is the most remarkable movie performance since Eddie Murphy's Norbit trifecta."--Armond White, NY Press.
  • Editing: the invisible art.
  • Theater directors on film directors.
  • The Wire's David Simon says "Fuck the average reader."

Saturday, January 5, 2008

By means of an introduction.

Oh hai.

It goes like this: I used to blog about movies and pop culture, I loved it, I got fried, and I quit blogging without ever really meaning to permanently quit. However, I never stopped updating my nerdy experiment in tracking every movie I watched in a given year... so this year I decided to change the format slightly. Every week I'm going to update this site with a list of the films I've consumed and write a little or a lot about them. Or maybe use it as an excuse to write about my love for the new Wu-Tang record or Siracha or The Rest Is Noise. More soon.

Happy 2008.