Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shutter Island



Perusing the various reviews and thoughts on Martin Scorsese's latest Shutter Island I found a lot of varying opinions among those I respect in the blogosphere. Based on these polarizing takes on the film I decided to needed to do something I rarely do and head out to the theater to see for myself what to make of Scorsese's film. Usually when something is this polarizing it means it's at least trying to attempt something beyond a mere genre exercise – which came as a surprise to me considering the film was advertised as nothing more than another example of Scorsese dabbling in a genre he was merely interested in only having fun with a la Cape Fear – and this had my interest piqued as I read reviews that claimed the film was an attempt at a horror film by a master, like Kubrick's The Shining; was another in a long line of Scorsese's favorite theme of guilt, a protagonist who is haunted by their memories; or, was nothing more than exploitative attempt by Scorsese who seemed out of his league with a story that contains a reveal not worthy of the importance Scorsese seems to think it deserves. Despite all of these varying thoughts – a lot of which, both negative and positive, I agree with – I really liked this film. I found it absorbing and hypnotic; powerful and affecting, successfully evoking the dread and fear that Scorsese aims for. I didn't think the big reveal ruined the film, I thought it added to it, and the only complaint I can think of is that film feels a bit repetitive towards the end; however, the aesthetics are so strong that they more than carry the viewer through the somewhat monotonous patches of exposition to create a film that has the energy and élan we haven't seen from Scorsese since Bringing out the Dead.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Revisiting “John from Cincinnati”, Part One: His Visit Day One and Two


David Milch's enigmatic and philosophically/theologically elusive (not to mention extremely mind-bending and short lived) follow-up to "Deadwood" remains one of the most misunderstood television experiences of the last ten years. "John from Cincinnati" is a show full of ideas, and in typical Milch form the fact that those ideas are never quite fully fleshed out or explored are beside the point…this is a show that is meant to be experienced, contemplated, and pondered for days after watching it. Sure the religious allegories and deep, twisting metaphors for the soul and life may seem like the least inviting way to spend an evening in front of the television; however, it never seems that Milch – who is a brilliant man almost to a fault – is interested in whether or not we "get" what we're watching (or more to a point that we're "entertained" by it), but is more concerned with our cognitive experience while watching it. Milch is interested in stretching our brains with a show that seems like the most basic of premises, but beneath its salt water surface are deeply profound themes about what we believe, how we came to believe it, and who told us to believe it.  To some that may seem extremely frustrating, but for me it's liberating. Here's a show that allows you to soak up the symbolism and questions, allowing them to marinate in your mind for days, like its surfers soak up the rays and waves.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Those were the days...


Essential reading alert: Jim Emerson (of course) of the fantastic and...oh what's the point...you all know by now.  Just head over to Scanners where Jim has posted an interesting question regarding why me may not see all of the "essential" or "classic" films (I added the quotation marks) we may desire to, or perhaps that we had the desire to seek out in our younger days.  It's an interesting question and one I felt compelled to respond to in his comments section.  The gist of the comment: I think the oversaturation of the marker (i.e. Netflix Instant View) is both a blessing and a curse.  Too many choices leads to stagnation for me in regards to watching essential films from world cinema.  In fact...it's got me thinking about dumping this whole blogging business, which I also think contributes to the lack of movie watching I do, as ironic as that sounds, because I'm too concerned with watching movies solely for the purpose of the blog where I hope to have something new to say about the movie...that becomes a problem when one tries discussing Bergman or Ozu or Dreyer...what is there left to say about those giants of cinema?  It's a dilemma that often weighs on me, and the task of writing about them is so daunting that it almost turns me off of wanting to see their films.  Where in the past I would have simply just gone down to the local library and grabbed seven or eight classic films from world cinema and drank them all in over the span of a week.

Don't get me wrong, I love the blogosphere and the dialogue surrounding contemporary films that can be found within it (I don't know what I do without Jim's superlative essays on No Country for Old Men or Keith Ulrich's insightful look into Miami Vice), but I also wonder if my hobby of blog writing has been dictating what kinds of movies I watch, neutering my film growth in the process?  Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of stuff to be learned about contemporary cinema and American cinema...but I do feel like my knowledge of world cinema has fallen by the wayside.

One glance at Tim Brayton's amazing Top 100 films of the decade list and I'm rushing to Netflix to add a ton of titles from other countries.  I wish I didn't have to do that, I wish I had already seen those films.  I know that geography has something to do with it -- being in Salem, OR isn't exactly the heartland for world cinema -- but really I'm only 40 minutes away from Portland, which has some pretty good options for non-mainstream/non-American film. 

Perhaps that's just the difference between being a young cinephile and being a little older, married, and having a job that isn't part-time.  I was more willing to rush to Portland to catch a film at the Hollywood Theater on a one week run, or I was more willing to drive the 40 miles or so to Cinema 21 to catch a revival of something like Bicycle Thieves.  I don't know...I don't think there's an easy answer here.  I love these kinds of questions, though, and I hope that you all will read Jim's piece.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Revisiting 1999: The Top Ten Films of the Year, #1 --- The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella)



Here's what I've covered so far...
 


The Top 10 Films of 1999:
5- The Insider (Michael Mann)
4- Three Kings (David O. Russell)
3- Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)

2- Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorsese)


Perhaps some of you are conjuring up images from T.S. Eliot right now as you see a list end with a film that seems more like whimper compared to the 'flashier' films that precede my pick for the best film of 1999, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Anthony Minghella's Hitchcockian tale does seem a bit inert when compared to the more innovative and energetic films that challenged the Hollywood machine like Being John Malkovich, Three Kings, Magnolia, and Bringing Out the Dead; however, it is often harder to make something so seamless, so smooth, so wholly classic Hollywood that to label The Talented Mr. Ripley anything but a huge success is not only missing what it offers, but what it shares in common with those other more 'livelier' films. Here is a film that one level feels right at home in the 40's or 50's as an effective, noirish tale of jealousy and murder; but also on another level contains some of my favorite postmodern themes like doppelgangers, identity crisis, and pastiche. Sure, the film may seem static and pretentious -- too aware of what it's doing for its own good -- but The Talented Mr. Ripley is as aesthetically classic and pleasing as a film of its ilk gets. I make no apologies for my love of this brilliantly executed adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel. Every shot, every cut, every bit of pacing and acting is pulled off with a classical gusto while deeper and darker ambiguous undertones flow beneath the film's sheeny, seemingly safe, surface. It's just about as perfect as a movie experience can be.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Revisiting 1999: The Top Ten Films of the Year, #2 --- Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorsese)



Here's what I've covered so far...
 


The Top 10 Films of 1999:
5- The Insider (Michael Mann)
4- Three Kings (David O. Russell)
3- Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)


In a decade (specifically the years 1998 and 1999) most memorable for the new wave of American filmmakers, Martin Scorsese reminded all of us that even though the kids (Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, David O. Russell) may be sitting at the adult table, this old master won't be relinquishing his seat at the head anytime soon. Bringing Out the Dead is one of Scorsese's most memorable and manic pictures; filled with countless energy and the director's particular élan that reminded me of his 70's films that introduced the world to a crazy actor named DeNiro, needle drops, and a new way of looking at editing and camera movement. I admire a lot of Scorsese's films of the mid-80's (After Hours, King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ) and early 90's (Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, Casino), but it seems like Bringing Out the Dead is (arguably) his most energetic film since the 70's, and (again arguably) his most misunderstood and underrated film of the past 20 years.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Revisiting 1999: The Top Ten Films of the Year, #3 --- Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Here's what I've covered so far...
 

The Top 10 Films of 1999:
5- The Insider (Michael Mann)
4- Three Kings (David O. Russell)


Paul Thomas Anderson's overblown, operatic, and Über melodramatic morality play was one of the most audacious releases of the 90's. It took balls for Anderson to put so much out there unapologetically and for him to make a film that relies entirely on an ensemble cast to understand what he's trying to say and how he's trying to say it. Like Anderson's two biggest masters, Scorsese and Altman, his film is dripping with religious allegory and tragic downfalls; however, unlike the downward spiral of Dirk Diggler in the extremely Scorsese-influenced Boogie Nights there seems to be genuine hope here for the majority of the characters. Like an Altman picture, Anderson zips his camera from scene to scene filling with it interesting dialogue and even more interesting characters, always with music in the background to keep with the operatic theme. The constant use of music not only alleviates some of the unease of sitting through a talky three-hour film, but it gives the film the same kind of energy one would find in early Scorsese. There's a sense that we don't know where Magnolia is heading, and when it finally reaches it's very literal biblical ending you're either smiling as you go along, or you're rolling your eyes in disbelief.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

DVD Review: Birth

There's a great scene in Birth where Nicole Kidman's character Anna is sitting at a symphony and director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) just keeps the camera on her, letting the audience watch Anna's eyes as she tries to process the ridiculous notion that a 10 year-old boy is the reincarnation of her dead husband. It's a powerful moment in a film that contains layers upon layers of odd metaphysical goings-on. It's just one example of where Glazer and his screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière succeed in evoking the emotional slow burn that Kubrick did so brilliantly. Another aspect I liked about the film is that it didn't feel the need to talk these complicated themes to death. Instead Glazer's film is more an adult fairy tale about endless love with a heartbreakingly ironic coda. The use of a French screen writer and a French composer, Alexandre Desplat, proves that Glazer wanted to make an adult, French-like film – with its long takes of beneath-the-surface action and talky scenes – that teeters on the sexually absurd. The musical score is one of the highlights as the action always moves effortlessly (thanks to the fine editing) with the music. The film looks amazing, too, as DP Harris Savides (Zodiac) paints the film in drab, muted colors and sometimes appropriately drenches his characters in shadows.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Quick Thoughts on Scorsese's Cape Fear


The first 20 minutes of Cape Fear is hilariously manic and are some of the best sequences Martin Scorsese has created. Scorsese's A.D.D gives the viewer the sense that anything can happen in this remake of the classic thriller starring Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck (both who have cameos in this film). Like Scorsese did with his other early 90's film The Age of Innocence, he punches up this rather ordinary thriller with all kind of visual trickery that distract from the fact that what you're watching doesn't seem like a Scorsese movie. Scorsese uses everything from deep focus to smash cuts to tilted shots/Dutch angles, to low angles, to bird's eye view…everything seems lovingly homaged here by Scorsese as he gleefully picks his favorite parts from the likes of Hitchcock and Laughton and others to create a fun, exhilarating experience for any cinephile. I have the feeling this year's Shutter Island, another genre exercise for Scorsese, will have the same feeling.


More thoughts, with screencaps, after the jump...