Sunday, February 28, 2010
observation: "Everybody dies...It's a thing I've noticed."
All of which is to say that things sure could be worse. And along with that fact is the feeling, possibly inaccurate, that I've done a fair bit of writing on this blog lately, and so I don't feel terribly compelled to write anything of substance right now, as I didn't, you may have noticed, yesterday or the day before. But I'm cool with that, and I'm not usually. The difference today is that, unlike previous fallow periods, I feel pretty confident that the compulsion will return very shortly, like in say a day or two.
In the meantime, I'm going to take a page from Glenn Kenny's book and post a picture of a meal I ate today, one my wife cooked and which we both thoroughly enjoyed. It's called "egg and bacon pizza", or something like that, but there's not much "pizza" going on here -- all it is, is somebody's brand new way to make eggs even better to eat. As if such a thing were possible! But it was good, as you can probably imagine, looking at that picture, and now I think that The Devil's Rain sounds like a capital idea. Hope everyone had a good weekend, and I will talk to you in a couple of days.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Summer Hours (d. Olivier Assayas) - This beautiful and beautifully acted French film, about a wealthy French family, whose matriarch passes away in an early scene, struggling to deal with her estate (consisting mainly of a gorgeous country home, and a sprawling collection of artwork), is not actually about family strife so much as it is about losing your past, and how much more meaningful art can be to the individual than it ever will be as art. Charles Berling, as the eldest son Frederic, gets the top marks, but as I said, everyone is superb. And for a movie with such a small, intimate story, there's an incredible pace to it, of the kind that would utterly confuse your run-of-the-mill contemporary thriller filmmaker. Carried along, no doubt, by those performances. Top shelf.
Extract (d. Mike Judge) - Each of Mike Judge's live-action films (I'm excluding Beavis and Butthed Do America, because I remember that being a bit of a sensation at the time) has taken its own sweet time finding an audience. Office Space and Idiocracy were both dumped by their studios, and each has gained cult audiences of varying degrees of healthiness. His newest film, Extract, actually got a legitimate theatrical release, and still nobody went. Nobody who did go seemed overly taken with it, and my expectations were therefore low. But I really enjoyed it, as it turns out. It's not as near-perfect as Office Space, or as occasionally riotous as Idiocracy, but unlike that latter film it also doesn't run out of steam in the last third. It's consistently genial and entertaining, bolstered by a terrific cast of outstanding deadpan comic performers -- Jason Bateman, J. K. Simmons, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, and the inhumanly attractive Mila Kunis, to name a few. Mike Judge knows ordinary people, and he knows what's so funny about them.
Monday, February 22, 2010
The truth is that I believe many people will outright hate the ending. And the further truth, as I implied in my review, is that when reading the novel, I was quite disappointed at the conclusion. I thought, in a sense, that I'd been jerked around. But the film has me reconsidering my harsh judgment of said ending, and most of this is due to the fact that Scorsese foregrounds an aspect of the story in a way that, to people who know nothing about where the story's heading, will make the ending predictable, even a foregone conclusion...intentionally so, perhaps. Okay, I have no way of knowing quite how predictable the film's climax -- the solution to the mystery -- will be to people who don't know the novel. However, it seemed to me that, experiencing the ending as the final moments of a, I believe, masterfully constructed film, the ending, specifically the solution to a complex mystery, has been backgrounded a bit. It's pretty much the exact same ending as the novel (with one interesting jolt to it), but it didn't seem like Scorsese cared about it functioning as a "twist". I think he'd be perfectly happy if everyone predicted what was coming early on, and just wanted to see how the story and visuals built to it. Scorsese has said in the past that while he loves well-plotted films, as a moviegoer, as a director he doesn't have much sense on how to make them. I think he sells himself short a bit in that sense, but clearly his primary interest lies elsewhere. And I think it's hard to argue that his interest lay elsewhere when putting Shutter Island together -- every frame of the film practically shrieks that fact.
All of which, I acknowledge, sounds very much like an attempt to make excuses for what could be regarded as a big flaw in the film. But I wonder, if you do not pick up on Scorsese's clues -- which I think are quite blatant -- and find yourself as bugged by Scorsese's Shutter Island as I was when I first read Lehane's novel, what your reaction would be when and if you revisit the film at a later date. If, in other words, you go in experiencing the film as work of visual art, and not as an unfolding narrative. And by the way, I'm all about experiencing films as an unfolding narrative -- it's one of the main reasons I watch them -- but I also know full well what a given film's greater power can be in the long run. If narrative was all films were about, then very few films would have any rewatch value, and we all know that an overwhelming number of them do. So what I'm arguing for here is Shutter Island's rewatch value, something even I can't gauge, and I loved it the first time around.
But those of you who've seen it, ignorant of where it was heading...how did the ending strike you? Did you think, as I do, that Scorsese was relentlessly and deliberately signalling his intentions almost from the start, so that the ending was not quite the left turn that other takes on the story might have been, but entirely of a piece with the intense imagery that preceded it?
Friday, February 19, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
On another, more personal, this-blog-related note, I think I'm going to unveil yet another series in the next couple of days. It's called "Deep Cuts", and it's quite uncomplicated. I simply watch a film by a notable director and write about it, but in each case it will be a film that, for whatever reason, is not that well known. For instance, first up will most likely be Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case. Not well known, and not well liked, either, although that last element doesn't necessarily need to apply to all the films in this series. Anyway, look for it on Friday or Saturday.
Monday, February 8, 2010
I realize that all of this means less than nothing, but there are a couple of other clues that, while also meaning nothing in themselves, contribute to my belief that maybe Fassbinder was behind the camera during shooting of The Tenderness of Wolves more than anybody is letting on. One bit of evidence is nothing, a mere trifle: on the DVD commentary track, which Lommel shares with Willim Lustig, Lommel says, over a particular shot, "Isn't that a beautiful shot?" Now, yes, he could very well be tooting his own horn, but the tone in which he says it makes it sound more like he was admiring someone else's work. The cinematographer, Jürgen Jürges's work, quite possibly, though I don't remember him being mentioned.
Meaningless, I know. But early on, when Lommel is explaining how the film came about, he says that Kurt Raab was fascinated by the film's subject, serial killer Fritz Haarmann, and through German tax shelter/film funding laws, Fassbinder had a surplus of cash, and wanted to make a movie fast. Raab pitched the idea to him, but Fassbinder demured, saying the material was "too controversial", and took the producing position instead, passing the directing reins off to Lommel. And I'm sorry, but when did Fassbinder ever give a shit about appearing too controversial? I'm hardly an expert on the man, but it has always seemed to me that Fassbinder always made precisely the kind of movie he felt like making, controversy be damned, and, in fact, knowlingly courted that kind of reaction not a few times. So why in the world would this material suddenly make him blanch?
Of course, there is precedent for this sort of thing in Fassbinder's career, although going the other way. Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is credited to two directors: Fassbinder and Michael Fengler. However, I've been told by people more educated than I that Fengler really was the director on that film, and Fassbinder was happy to co-write the script and then occupy the sidelines. And that film, even if it was helmed solely by Fengler, looks and feels exactly like a Fassbinder movie, as well.
So who knows? I don't, but do any of you?. It's curious, and is made even more so when I think that a case could probably be made that Raab directed the damn thing himself.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Meanwhile, over in Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg's A Face in the Crowd, Andy Griffith (in a scorching performance that I'd wager a fair amount of the population isn't even aware he ever gave) plays Lonesome Rhodes, whose first moment on-camera shows him giving such a nasty, mean-dog look to his wards at a dusty old Southern jailhouse, that it's not hard to see that his good-old-boy demeanor, when faced with interested journalist Patricia Neal, hides a pretty grimy soul. Like his spiritual cousin Stan Carlisle, Rhodes is about to rise to the top, putting on a sweet face and exhuding down-home charm, and rising up through radio and into television, as a beloved, influential Will Rogers-type, with a heart of coal. What's interesting is that Tyrone Power had such an open, nice face, when he needed it, and he's such a gregarious fellow in the early going of Nightmare Alley. Carlisle is one of those guys, like the anti-heroes (which is being kind) of Donald E. Westlake's novel The Hook, who are more or less perfectly content to live their lives as decent human beings, until the opportunity for advancement forces them to realize that they're actually pure bastards -- they'd just never gotten their shot before. One is tempted to say the same thing about Andy Griffith and Lonesome Rhodes, but A Face in the Crowd actually preceded The Andy Griffith Show, after which point Griffith was nationally embraced as a sweet father and wise and funny Southern gentleman. Prior to his turn as Rhodes, Griffith did have success as a comedian and actor, and this was played on for A Face in the Crowd, but what a bombshell it would have been had the film come out in the mid-60s, when his hit (deservedly so) TV show was in full swing. The point is, Power feels like a gentle soul in Nightmare Alley's first half, and Griffith doesn't. We know Andy Griffith, of all people, is no good in his film. Power's shift towards casual amorality is more of a shock, though Nightmare Alley's colorful, shading into grotesque, early carnival setting does almost act as that film's version of Griffith's feral expresion. In any event, both men, Carlisle and Rhodes, do maintain a level of humanity, or try to, throughout each film, but they need a hot piece of ass to kick their hearts in gear (this works better for Carlisle than it does for Rhodes), and even then they have to throw someone else over in order to get started. But mainly, they want power, and money. Each is willing to pervert, or manipulate, grand American themes -- faith in Nightmare Alley, basic human values as it applies to the political process in A Face in the Crowd -- to do it, and each man gets their hash settled pretty good as a result. At least they got to enjoy their place at the top of the carnival for a little while.