Monday, June 29, 2009
Claude Chabrol's The Flower of Evil is a very deceptive film, but, given the story Chabrol's telling, it would sort of have to be, wouldn't it? At the center of the story -- and virtually the only characters in the whole film -- is the Charpin-Vasseur clan, a family with a highly scandalous past (and not much less scandalous present) that is made public when an anonymously written leaflet about the family -- detailing everything from unsolved murders to Nazi collaboration -- is distributed to the public in the wake of Anne Charpin-Vasseur's (Nathalie Bye) announcement that she's going to run for political office.
Anne's husband, Gerard (Bernard Le Coq), is very much against Anne's political ambitions, though his reasons for this are never made entirely clear. He's also serially unfaithful to Anne, which is one -- but only one -- of the reasons that his son Francois (Benoit Magimel), who has just returned home after four years in America, dislikes his father. This dislike is shared by his step-sister, Michele (Melanie Doutey), who is Anne's natural daughter. Her natural father, and Francois's natural mother, died together in a car accident years ago. They were, respectively, married to Anne and Gerard, and their deaths brought those two together, although the Charpins and the Vasseurs had always been very close over the years, and intermarriage had bonded the two for generations. The families are so close, in fact, that Francois and Michele have long harbored a non-familial love for each other, which Francois's return to France has rekindled.
Rounding out the characters, and joining Francois and Michele in their dislike of Gerard, is the elderly Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon). It was Aunt Line's father who was the victim of the unsolved murder mentioned in the leaflet, and Aunt Line herself was actually tried for the crime, though she was acquitted. Though Aunt Line dislikes Gerard, I got the impression that she did so for no reason more specific than because Gerard is so very unlikable; generally Aunt Line wants to simply get along, and wants her family to get along, and to be happy. Although it's not her political campaign that is in danger of being derailed, the leaflet may trouble Aunt Line the most, as it dredges up so much anguish that she hoped had been buried.
The Flower of Evil plays, at times, like a mystery, the central question being "Who wrote the leaflet?", but that isn't really what it is. What the film really seems to be trying to do is explain its title, and I mean that as a compliment. I think viewers can be forgiven for not having a complete understanding of all the backstory laid out by the leaflet -- which, we're told by Gerard, is "all true" -- but that's not terribly important. What is important is the knowledge that this family, or pair of families, has been laced with deviance and, yes, evil for decades. What can such a past do to future generations, even as those deficiencies would seem to have thinned out over the years?
Earlier, I referred to Francois and Michele as step-siblings, but in the film, at one point, Francois refers to Michele and himself as cousins, which would make their relationship fully incestuous, as opposed to only technically incestuous. I don't have the family tree completely clear in my own head, but if they are indeed cousins, then the fact that they don't hide their intimacy from their family, and that intimacy is not only accepted by the family, but in some cases actually embraced by them, becomes a little alarming. I'm told France is more permissive than the US in sexual matters, but this is really pushing it. Which is, finally, I believe, the point. The Charpin-Vasseurs are so terribly casual in their abnormalities. Francois and Michele are very likable (and also very well played by Doutey and Magimel, but then the high quality acting in this film is formidably consistent, with my own favorite performance coming from Le Coq -- his Gerard is so exquisitely, humanly awful), but the ease with which they slip into their relationship, and the happiness that Aunt Line takes in seeing them together, is faintly chilling.
Not just that, but when murder finally occurs, as you sort of know it will, and two characters are attempting to hide the body, at one point they lose their grip on the corpse, and both break into laughter. By this time in the film, there are a great number of moral complications and grey areas revolving around this crime, but if two more normal people had found themselves in the same awful situation, I don't think laughter would ever be a feature of their evening. It is for these two, though, because in the history of the Charpin-Vasseurs, violence runs deep, as does secrecy and sin. If they didn't laugh, they'd go crazy.
In a sense, I believe that Michele and Francois are the title characters. As the youngest generation of this diseased line, they are the ones who are most able to see all that is wrong around them and try to step back from it. But as I've said, they have their own problems, still inherited from their ancestors. If, perhaps, they could see past the ends of their own noses, and possibly try to, you know, not marry their own family members, they could have children who were still more cleansed than they are, and those children could have children, and on down the line. There could be a light at the end of the tunnel, maybe, but probably not the way these two are going about it.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Black ants are the wisest of all insects, teaching all their minions how to hunt and fish, build homes and plant crops, even to carry items that weigh 1400 hundred times their own weight, which is hard to do, if you've never tried it. Think of it like this: You weigh one pound, okay? Now try to pick up a refrigerator that weighs 1400 pounds. That'll mess you up. And yet black ants can do it like it's nothing. Do you have any AAA batteries lying around? Go pick one of those up. See how easy that was? Okay, a black ant would find it just as easy to pick up something that weighed 1400 times that, or right around there, anyway. And yet we crush them under our boots every day!
Dr. Barclay surrounded himself with lab equipment and potions -- everything he thought he might need to communicate with the fly. The potion (which was green) was intended, upon Dr. Barclay's consumption of it, to act as a conductor between one kind of lab equipment and Dr. Barclay, but unfortunately, like most science potions, it was full of sugar, and just as the scientist was lifting the beaker to his lips, the fly dove in.If the potion hadn't worked, there probably wouldn't have been a problem. The US government would have been down one housefly, but that's about it. Unfortunately, science once again "succeeded", and disaster enveloped Dr. Barclay in its icy cloak.
Needless to say, as soon as Dr. Barclay's colleagues could get their hands on a flamethrower, they burned him to ashes, because who wants that thing running around. But the potion works, which is the bright side of this whole deal. We are one step closer to being able to talk to flies. Thank you, Dr. Barclay.
So ends tonight's lesson on our insect friends. I hope you've learned as much as I've tried to teach you. If you take away nothing else from this, please remember one thing: insects are beautiful. As beautiful as the hottest, most beautiful woman. But the thing is, insects aren't going to make you buy them dinner first! Right, fellahs? No, but seriously, don't kill insects if you can possibly avoid it. I mean, come on.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The detective is a foolish man, not smart or pleasant, so, while he becomes even less appealing in these last days of his life, an angel will be assigned to him: the soul of an innocent child whose murderer he brought to justice. The angel is assigned to him to remind us that we are tormenting a man who is loved by God.
Anyway, Burgess seems like a pretty unusual guy, and although it doesn't necessarily follow that such a person would write a pretty unusual book, that's what he's done. It is, I suppose, a horror novel, though it doesn't really feel like one. It feels like an experiment, or maybe just a series of images that Burgess could only justify to himself by welding them to a pseudo-horror plot. Though even "plot" seems like the wrong word.
Monday, June 22, 2009
So okay: I thought the film worked, for the most part, and Noe's preferred method of arist-to-audience communication -- shocking sex and violence -- spreads the existential sleaze on just thickly enough. But I want to focus exclusively (and very briefly, as I'm back home now, and completely wiped out) on one moment that really drove me up the wall. With about fifteen minutes to go, a title appears on screen that says, roughly, Warning! You have 20 seconds to leave the theater. Danger! Then we get a countdown to the film's big, shocking climax, which then shocks us, and then the movie's over.
There are a couple of things that are supremely obnoxious about this bit of self-congratulatory post-modernism. One is that it drops its post-modernism into the middle of a film that primarily shoots for a naturalistic tone (with some mild exceptions). In that sense, the title card merely doesn't work, which is excusable. Less excusable is that it exposes Noe as someone who positively adores his own transgressions, and who seeks to shock his audiences so that he can pat himself on the back for his bravery and honesty. As if that wasn't enough, the title card -- like the rewind scene in Michael Haneke's Funny Games -- also saps his climax of nearly all of its natural, visceral power. While Nahon's performance (as well as that of Blandine Lenoir, with whom Nahon shares the end of the film) saves some of that power from draining away completely, an actor can only do so much repair work after the director has announced to the world that he doesn't care about his characters.
Shock, as a means to an end, and developed organically in the story, is perfectly fine by me. But shock as the point in and of itself, accompanied by a smirk, is extremely offensive to me. And its offensive as an artistic philosophy, moreso than any of the images that philosophy tries to rub my nose in. Its like telling a dead baby joke and then chastising those who couldn't "handle" it.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Until I return to my normal daily rut, allow me to offer a hearty Happy Father's Day to all you Dads out there (and to my own, to whom I've said this is person, but it would still be wrong not to include him).
But I offer those sentiments sincerely, on behalf of myself, as well as everybody's favorite movie stepdad, Harry Powell.
Now go watch golf, or whatever!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
UPDATE: Er...ignore that whole "10:00 AM" business. The discussion is going on now...!
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
This is my favorite film that Mamet has ever directed, and that's saying something. It's a fascinating, strange, gripping thriller, with an ending that is both hard to swallow, and dead-on perfect, which is a pretty neat trick. It's never been on DVD before, so if you haven't seen it, your chance is fast approaching. I can't wait.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Saturday, June 13, 2009
The first kind of story uses time travel as a means to an end, but the second is actually about time travel itself, and is therefore, to me, inherently more interesting. Nacho Vigalondo's 2007 film Timecrimes -- and I know that title sounds like it belongs to a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie, but oh well -- is a time travel paradox film, and it's a refreshing curiosity right out of the gate, in that it clearly was made for very little money, and didn't need to be made for any more. Like Shane Carruth's earlier time travel paradox film, Primer (which, I'm going to admit right now, utterly baffled me), Timecrimes is a science fiction film that is about a concept, and Vigalondo gets around the problem of all those expensive bells, whistles and light shows that jack up the budget of movies like I Am Legend by realizing that they don't matter. The time machine in Timecrimes looks like a round sunken bathtub, over which fits a very heavy lid. The time travel special effect itself consists of a very cheap light and camera trick that is exactly as effective as it needs to be.
To summarize the plot of this film -- stopping, as is customary, before we get into spoiler territory -- is very simple. One day, Hector (Karra Elejalde) is home with his wife, Clara (Candela Fernandez). For a while, their day is pretty uneventful, save for one odd phone call, until Clara leaves to run an errand. At the time she leaves, Hector is sitting in their backyard, looking into the trees with his binoculars. While doing so, he sees a woman take her shirt off. Curious, he enters the woods to investigate, and finds her completely nude, and either unconcious or dead. While approaching her, a man with bizarre, pink-stained bandages attacks him and stabs him in the arm with a pair of scissors. Hector runs from the man, and soon finds himself in what appears to be a house, mixed with an office building, mixed with a laboratory. A short series of events leads him to a young scientist (Vigalondo), who tells him he can hide out in what turns out to be, but which Hector doesn't realize is, a time machine.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I've heard very good things.Because sometimes you just want to turn off the ol' brainbox!
Possibly a mistake.
So that's what's on deck for this weekend. Maybe I'll write about one or more of them. Wouldn't it be amazing if I did? I agree: it would be amazing.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
But in some ways their love story is incidental, because Weerasethakul is just as interested in showing snippets of random life, set-ups with no pay-off. Tong searches fruitlessly for a job, a quest hampered by his social awkwardness and illiteracy. He adopts a stray dog, takes it to the vet, where he finds out it has cancer. The vet offers him different treatment options, though we're never told his decision. In the film's first scene, a group of Thai soldiers (a group that doesn't include Keng) find the body of a naked man. Later, the camera lingers on a young woman on a bus, sitting across from Tong, while she talks on the phone. We never see her again. How does any of this relate to what's to come?
Friday, June 5, 2009
So, in essence, I took this particular bull by the horns all on my own, and I therefore have no one to blame for the subsequent difficulties I've suffered in trying to put together a post but myself. It's not that I don't read movie books, or that I don't consider any of the ones I've read to be "favorites" or "important. I do -- sure I do! But I actually haven't read that many film books, and those I have read tend towards the obvious, or at least they seem so when compared to the books listed by Glenn and Ed. This is Orson Welles. Danny Peary's Cult Movies. Harlan Ellison's Watching. That sort of thing. I mean, what, who's going to click over to this blog and shout "Stop the presses! This fucker's going to talk about Adventures in the Screen Trade!" Who needs that? Not me, I can tell you, and it's my blog!
But dry your eyes, my children, because there was one book that I always planned on placing at number one, a book that is, in almost every conceivable way, more interesting than any of those others. And I've decided to dispense with the whole list idea and just write about this one book, because it really is my favorite film book, and because rules and promises are made to be broken, and you have to follow your heart, and also individuality. All that stuff. The book is also a work of fiction, which I haven't yet seen represented on any of these lists, because remember what I said before about individuality.
I have no idea where or when I first heard about Theodore Roszak's Flicker. All I know is that whatever description I read immediately pissed me off, because I needed that book, I needed to read it now, but it was out of print, and I couldn't find the sucker anywhere. It was years before I finally got my hands on it -- thanks to a reprint by Chicago Review Press -- and when I did, I read it at once. It was everything I hoped it would be, while being quite different from what I expected.
The plot, essentially, is this: in the 1960s, a young cinephile named Jonathan Gates spends much of his time at dingy movie theater called The Classic. He meets a budding, strong-willed film critic named Clare, who teaches him all she knows about films and life, and with whom he searches high and low for prints of classic movies. Over time, they come to hear about a forgotten director named Max Castle, who as an uncredited writer, co-director, or etc., worked on such films as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Nosferatu, Mad Love and Citizen Kane. He also made his own films, with such titles as Ghoul of Limehouse, Queen of Swords, Simon the Magician and Judas Everyman. Clare and Jonathan are able to track down some of these films, and the effect these films have on them is quite unusual. After they've watched Judas Everyman, Jonathan -- the novel's narrator -- reflects:
We had no name for what we'd seen. We couldn't be certain that we'd viewed the whole film or that we'd seen it in anything like its correct sequence. What we'd watched was obviously a rough cut with all the ragged edges still showing. Yet, we knew that none of this mattered, for, after several minutes of talk, it was clear that the film, just as we had seen it, had worked. It had left us all with exactly the same experience of absolute, numbing horror. Not the horror of fear, but of revulsion.
And such is the case with every other Castle film they're able to track down. The fact that the films burrow so deep into the viewer is actually a bit frustrating for Clare, because she can't figure out why the films get to her the way they do. Nothing she knows about the art, craft or mechanics of film seems to apply to Castle's work.
Add to this the fact that Castle is, of course, missing, and has some bizarre connection to a frightening religious cult called the Orphans of the Storm, and the reader might find him- or herself not minding so much that Roszak's novel is pushing 600 pages. Because while Clare grows up to be Pauline Kael, Jonathan keeps digging for answers, and what he finds is singularly unpredictable and exactly -- narratively and thematically -- right. Also, Orson Welles is in it.
It's hard to write about a 600 page book I read three or four years ago, especially as I didn't foresee that I would one day be writing this post, and therefore didn't mark passages I thought might be illuminating to others. But I've described this book to others as a metaphysical horror novel about the secret history of movies, and I'll be damned if that doesn't just about sum it up. Castle was in films almost from the beginning, and he understood a deep truth about the subliminal power -- the potential of the flicker -- of the artform. And he used that knowledge, and that knowledge has been passed on to a cult that doesn't worship Jesus or Mohammed, but what it worships I won't tell you, and what it hopes to do I won't tell you either, or where Jonathan's discoveries take him, or what the last line of the novel is. That line would be such a wonderful title for this post, but I wouldn't dream of doing that to any of you.
Also, not incidentally, this book is positively drunk on movies. Ultimately, one might wonder how in love with cinema Theodore Roszak really is, or if, possibly, he's renounced that love (out of fear, perhaps), but he sure as hell knows his stuff, and he needs to for the whole thing to work. This book was written for cinephiles, so that, in print, we can wallow in what we normally just stare at in the dark. And it might make you flinch a bit, by the end. You might wonder about some of the movies you've spent time with over the years, and how they effected you. Maybe a movie made you feel bad, beyond what the narrative, however effective it might have been, could reasonably be held accountable for. Maybe a film made you angry, and you've never been able to pinpoint exactly why. Maybe a movie ruined your day, and maybe you don't even know that it was the movie that did it. Well, you weren't supposed to know, so just move along, and forget I said anything.
I'm going to actually tag some people for this meme, because I'd love to read their answers. So Greg, Fox, Arbogast, Dennis, Rick, Ryan...get to work. Then tag all the people I wanted to tag but couldn't.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Greg, as he tends to, kept the rules of this already pretty loose meme very open. You can write about whatever the fuck you want to (and I think you can even swear!). You can go on at length, or you can just write a sentence or two. I'm pretty sure the only rule is that you should probably make your observations movie-related. Other than that, you are as free as the hawk in the breeze.
* When I started reading movie blogs a few years ago, I didn't even know what I didn't know. Now I do. This is progress.
* I learned that discussions about Lars von Trier can get pretty heated. Go figure.
* I learned that, in the world of film, there are some things called "mumblecores" and "joe swanbergs". The world, she is mysterious.
* I learned that pretty much every cinephile worth their salt, no matter how long he or she can go on about Rivette or Tarr or Ozu or Brakhage or Roehmer is, at heart, a genre hound. Which makes me happy.
* I learned that nobody doesn't like Werner Herzog. This is as it should be.
* I learned that with film -- and all art, really -- it really is often better to look back, rather than forward, and to wallow in the past.
* I learned that some people will exalt just about anything. I probably already knew this, but the Film Wing of the Internet Institute of Studies has really driven it home. It's okay to love movies, but can we stop pretending that Lucio Fulci was something he wasn't?
* On a more positive note, I've learned that the received wisdom about certain older directors, the kind of wisdom you find in actual, physical magazines, like the idea that Scorsese has lost it, The Departed was his first good movie in more than a decade, and so on, has not been as readily and blindly received by film bloggers.
* I've learned that it's okay if you think that David Lynch's films don't make sense. Seriously, I didn't know that before.
* I've also learned that a lot of people claim to have, say, Inland Empire figured cold, and if the film didn't play to you as clearly as Yankee Doodle Dandy, then you simply weren't paying attention. Those people are fools, by the way.
* Related to my earlier "genre hound" observation, the number of serious film critics or bloggers who are also full-blown horror geeks is off the charts.
* I've learned that film bloggers are like honeyed-sunshine dappling the seas of my...or no, the waters of my...ah, what I like about film bloggers, is that their discourse is of the rarest spun heaven metal...oh fuck it. I think I probably have enough.
Now you go!
Monday, June 1, 2009
This is how I've been feeling lately
I'm writing this not to announce any kind of momentous change around these parts, so the world can let out a collective sigh of relief. I guess this is just more of an attempt to explain myself, and to keep the blog from lying fallow. More the latter, really, because who cares that much about the former? I also offer no plans to reinvigorate myself or this blog, because I honestly assume that will eventually take care of itself. Everybody has moments like this, after all. Although -- and maybe this is a bit early, especially since I'm not prepared to commit to anything -- I have been considering going back on my word, and kicking off another The Kind of Face you SLASH!! for this October. Last year, I said I was never going to do it again, but now I'm not so sure. It was hard work, but I'm glad I did it, and I also have no idea what else I would do this Halloween. So I guess if this place is still bland and lifeless through September 30, just wait one more day, because things might possibly get marginally better after that. Though I promise nothing.
Also, Star Trek was good! It was a fun time at the theater, and I have no particularly strong gripes beyond the belief that next time around they should maybe rein back a little on the comedy. Especially if the stakes are going to be as high as they were in this film. A story of genocide should maybe not include a scene where Kirk is running around with cartoonishly big hands (the result of an injection from McCoy) trying to warn of imminent danger, but unable to make himself clear because his tongue is numb (ibid). But that's honestly not as bad as it sounds (or not quite, anyway), and overall I had a blast with the film. Special praise goes to Zachary Quinto as Spock, who more or less nails every moment. All the actors stepping in to play these iconic characters must have had a pretty bad case of the jitters, and, honestly, all of them stepped up and delivered, but none moreso than Quinto.
And look, that's going to be my entire review of Star Trek!! I told you I've been half-assing it lately.