Monday, March 15, 2010

Punch-Drunk Love

Barry Egan is an isolated man who sits alone at a desk, dwarfed by the interiors of a giant warehouse he works at selling novelty toiletries, wearing a blue suit that seems out of place for his business setting. We are introduced to Barry in long shot as he is talking to someone on the phone about a loophole in a frequent flyer mileage promotion. After hanging up the phone we follow Barry out of the blasé warehouse and into shadows before we hear the sound of a steel door opening, and we're left wincing – like Barry – at the initial harshness of the daylight. Barry squints and reluctantly makes his way to the street where he finds a harmonium. After this weird discovery there is a car crash that sends Barry running back to the safety of his cold, empty and dark interior. Barry is a complex, socially inept person whose social skills seem completely utilitarian (he's not a bad salesman when he wants to be, and he can channel his inner rage at opportune times); he's also deeply disturbed and alien in a world that is inhabited by seven sisters that constantly nag him –needling him about remembering embarrassing past stories until his rage boils over – and wonder why he always wears the same blue suit. This is a tricky character, always on the verge of exploding yet delicate and in desperate need of some reciprocated love. So, who does writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson get to play such a character? Why, Adam Sandler, of course! In one of the most ingenious bits of casting in the past decade Anderson creates one of the most idiosyncratic and engrossing oddball love stories I've ever seen.

Much has been made about the casting of Sandler and how this was the first real "serious" role for the polarizing comic actor. However, Anderson stated numerous times in interviews that whenever he finds himself bummed out he pops in a Sandler comedy that cheers him up. I personally don't see how that would work, but what I think Anderson really saw was an actor who was being horribly misused by his directors. Here's an actor who constantly plays Barry Egan in every one of his films; only it's without the sincerity and introspection that Anderson allows Sandler to work with here in developing a deeply scared and tortured man-child. Sandler has always been an enigma, and it appears that Anderson figured out the riddle and unlocked the actor within that, instead of relying on immature behavior to elicit laughs, elicits winces based on Barry's unpredictability and violent tantrums.

After Barry finds the harmonium outside he is visited by an outside, a woman named Lena (Emily Watson) who is dropping off her car at a repair shop next to Barry's work. They awkwardly converse and we come to find that she ends up being the co-worker of Barry's sister, and that her dropping of her car was a plan all along in order to meet Barry. This infiltration into Barry's world has led some to believe that Lena is an alien. The alien theory derives from the fact that we meet Lena after the crash in the beginning, she enters his life and often is ushering him towards the light (enlightenment/love), and that curiously (or perhaps not so curiously) Anderson often uses lens flare when Lena is on screen, suggesting some kind of alien presence. I think this theory is stretching it a bit because I don't feel that Lena is literally an alien, but symbolically it works beautifully in a more subtle way than say something like The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Barry and Lena begin a courtship that pulls Barry out of his funk and inspires him to buy more pudding for his frequent flyer scam because as opposed to earlier in the movie where we see the hunched over Barry talking on the phone about the promotion – a promotion we get the sense was just something he wanted to exploit – we now see a dancing Barry in the grocery store elated that he actually has a reason to go somewhere. This leads to a beautiful and insanely romantic (in the P.T. Anderson context) moment in Hawaii, and there's a moment during Barry and Lena making love where Barry says something that would horrify almost any woman, but Lena seems to understand where such a wild statement comes from, and she's right there with him the whole way. The next morning we see Lena on the phone talking business, but she just sits there and stares at Barry in a way that can only be described as someone who knows they've met the person they're supposed to be with. Yes, Lena brings Barry out of his funk; however, if Lena were the protagonist of her own film we might be saying the same thing about the insertion of Barry in her life.

There are some other interesting moments here like Barry's daily operations at work (with always tremendous Luis Guzman playing the straight man to Barry's eccentricities) and moment where he makes a 1-900 call to a woman names "Georgia" who scams him out of some money. The pest part of this little detour is that we begin to see the evolution of Barry thanks to Lena as he begins to stand up for himself. After being shaken down by the self-proclaimed "Mattress King" (in a film-stealing performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman) Barry and Lena come home from a date and three of the "King's" hoods crash into his car to further send home the message. Barry flips out – finally having someone to protect and something to stand up for – and proceeds to beat the living hell out of two of the hoods with tire iron. It's a crucial moment because instead of punching walls or kicking in sliding glass doors Barry has learned how to appropriately channel and unleash his anger. After getting Lena to the hospital Barry sets off on a hilarious journey to Orem, UT where the "King" lives. There is a standoff – on the phone and face to face – that makes the film worth seeing even for the most casual of fan.

This is probably Anderson's most abstract and challenging film; it also feels like it's the one that's most clearly from his heart. The film follows more closely the avant garde, early Altman (and of course French New Wave) style of filmmaking than the more sweeping, latter Altman approach he's taken with his other films. The aesthetic appropriately matches the mood here (something Anderson is always conscious of) and in one of my favorite moments from the Hawaii vignette we get a beautiful use of an iris shot. I mean who still uses an iris shot! It is little moments like that one that make me so glad we have Paul Thomas Anderson. This is why the film feels likes it's so much from Anderson's gut, the inspiration and influence is still present, but this film – arguably for the first time in the young filmmakers storied career – feels aesthetically fresh with a narrative style that doesn't feel indebted to Scorsese and Altman. Anderson is inviting us to consider some of the abstract aspects of art that intrigue him, and he's placing these questions smack-dab in the middle of a 90 minute Adam Sandler comedy.

This is the film that Anderson said he wanted to make after his operatic and emotionally draining duo of Boogie Nights in 1997 and Magnolia in 1999. Exhausted from making two masterpieces that showed Anderson's love of all things cinema (both films are drenched with cinematic allusions), the auteur wanted to collaborate with Sandler, the man who often brought Anderson (like Barry) out of his funk. There are some cinematic allusions in Punch-Drunk Love like in the way Barry and Lena dress (Godard) and brilliant use of the song "He needs me" sung by Shelly Duvall in Altman's (Anderson's master) Popeye, but these nods are less overt than previous films (for example the tracking shot into the disco club from Boogie Nights that mirrors the track from Goodfellas).

The splicing in of abstract art pieces from artist Jeremy Blake suggest that Anderson really wants us to think about color in this film, and indeed it is the primary source of symbolism. Barry's blue jacket is as crucial as Holden Caulfield's red cap in that it is the singular thing we associate with Barry's mood. Barry is blue and cold; Barry also wears the jacket everywhere adding to the theme of displacement as Barry often looks out of place in his blue suit (especially in Hawaii), an alien if you will. Barry's blue is contrasted starkly by the harsh light that Anderson often bathers him in (especially that opening scene with the blinding morning light of L.A.) and the red dress of Lena; red being the primary color throughout that leads Barry to happiness.

Color isn't the only symbol that Anderson uses to give us insights into Barry's psychological warfare; the harmonium also acts as a key symbol for Barry's journey from loneliness and darkness to reciprocity, love, and companionship. Barry finds the harmonium on the side of the road, a piece of junk that some people were too lazy to deal with, but Barry finds it intriguing and that it's something worth saving (much like Lena finds Barry interesting, not the piece of junk that his sisters and other have given up on, and worth saving) so he carries it into his office and begins working on it (a metaphor for his life). As the film progresses so does the restoration of the harmonium (Barry's soul), so that by the end of the film when Barry and Lena are ready to embark on their journey we see Lena coming into frame as the camera pans with her to find Barry playing the harmonium, in tune.

The ending is one of the most satisfying of Anderson's in an oeuvre that is filled with masterful endings. That's one of the thing that I think people come to expect from Anderson is great, ambiguous ending s that lean more towards hope than doom (except for There Will Be Blood). As Lena whispers to Barry "here we go…" you get the same feeling you did watching the end of Magnolia when John C. Reilly tells Melora Waters tell her he loves her no matter what as Aimee Mann's beautiful "Save Me" plays over the dialogue. Lena and Barry are anything but normal, but sometimes that's okay in the realm of love, and I love the way Anderson's ends his film on the beginning of a journey, a journey I can't help but think will serve Lena and Barry well.

Much is made of Punch-Drunk Love because of the Houdini-like feat of Anderson pulling a good performance out of Sandler; however, that's only part of the film's charm. I think people who solely look at the film from that perspective are missing some of the filmmaker's most interesting themes. This is a film about Barry's escape from the isolated, dark and drab existence into a more fulfilling and exhilarating one. The film is quite cerebral for the 90 minute comedy Anderson claimed it to be as Anderson uses music and color brilliantly to study more deeply the psyche of one his most interesting characters. The release of the 2007 film There Will Be Blood kind of erased this film from the memory of those who were so quick to call Anderson's 2007 film his masterpiece. I love There Will Be Blood and think it's one of the 30 best films of the decade, but it doesn't come close to Punch-Drunk Love, as complete and utterly beautiful and brilliant a film that Anderson has made. Where Blood overstayed its welcome by about 20 minutes Punch-Drunk Love stays just long enough on screen – balancing beautifully the idiosyncratic and the poignant – but lingers long after, creating one of the very best, and most aesthetically pleasing, films of the past decade.


  1. I don't know, man. I must respectfully disagree. Though I did rank PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE among the best films of the decade, I still think it comes second to THERE WILL BE BLOOD. That car crash that the movie starts with, the harmonium, too many elements seem like weird non-sequiturs included for weirdness' sake (although your explanation of the symbolism of the latter is one of the best I've heard yet).

  2. Thanks for the comment, Tony. The car crash does (not to mention that oddball "chase" scene that ends with Sandler diving from out of frame and onto an empty street) seem like nothing more than a quirky non-sequitur, but I like the reading (symbolically) that Lena has "crash landed" on Barry's world, and from that point on everything changes for him. I would have said the same thing about this film and about There Will Be Blood being better had you asked me a month ago, but I've watched Punch-Drunk Love twice in the last month and I can't shake it. I think it resonates with me more than feels more alive and like I stated in the essay, it feels like it came from the most passionate part of Anderson's heart.

    I think the film has a lot more underneath its quirky surface than people may remember, or give it credit for.

    I love the symbol of the harmonium and I'm glad my explanation made some sense...I was worried I was reaching too much with that one (the Literature major in me coming out, hehe)! Haha.

    I'll be interested to see in ten years where Punch-Drunk Love falls when people consider Anderson's oeuvre, because I think it's pretty forgotten now and it's only been eight years or so since its release. I think that There Will Be Blood makes people think it's more epic and grandiose (that's not a knock on it, I love the film and how over-the-top it is) and important than it really is. It rubs me the same way a lot of Kubrick's films do: from a distance I can appreciate it on a slew of levels, but when I really try to nestle up to the film I'm left feeling cold...impressed, but cold.

    There are degrees of a filmmaker's movie feeling "alive" (for lack of a better buzzword) and I think Punch-Drunk Love feels more alive in the way Boogie Nights and Magnolia felt alive.

    Okay...I'm rambling now. I don't know if that made any sense, but there ya go.

    Thanks again for stopping by and for the comment.

  3. I absolutely love this movie, and it's great seeing someone giving it its due praise. I'll have to respectfully disagree with Tony, who respectfully disagreed with you (which means I'm respectfully agreeing with you!), in that while I like There Will Be Blood I think it's actually more needlessly dense than this film is. TWBB gives you a lot to chew on, but not a lot to swallow, if you know what I mean. And the Altman dedication at the end is so inappropriate it's funny.

    This whole review is absolutely lovely, Kevin, and I'll be pointing people to it when discussing this film in the future, but I just wanted to single out this passage particularly:

    Here's an actor who constantly plays Barry Egan in every one of his films; only it's without the sincerity and introspection that Anderson allows Sandler to work with here in developing a deeply scared and tortured man-child. Sandler has always been an enigma, and it appears that Anderson figured out the riddle and unlocked the actor within that, instead of relying on immature behavior to elicit laughs, elicits winces based on Barry's unpredictability and violent tantrums.

    That's I think the most interesting thing about the movie to me, the way it recontextualizes Sandler's persona.

  4. Kevin, I tend to agree with you, if I had to choose I'd almost always pick Punch Drunk over There Will Be Blood despite how much I love it as well (your Kubrick comparison is a good one). However, I disagree with you that this is the film that got Anderson away from his fasination with Altman and Scorsese. In fact, I think Punch Drunk owes more to Scrosese than any other his other films minus, as you stated, the opening of Boogie Nights. I say this because this is the film where Anderson threw narrative out and and instead focused entirely on having the external environment of the film represent Barry's state of mind. In that sense, this film owes everything to After Hours, Taxi Driver, New York, New York and maybe even King of Comedy, all films that display the filmmaking as a state of mind approach. That's why I don't ever buy those Lena is an alien theories because every symbolic action that happens in this movie (from the lens flairs to the distinct use of colours) all explain something about Barry. Take the harmonium for example. It's a symbol of innoncence and purity, the most unthreatening of objects and yet Barry is scared of it, he cowers away from it at first, even pictures a violent car crash that is never explained, but he is curious about it and ultimately finds beauty in it. That's an overly simple analysis but hey, don't want to write essays in the comments section. I actually wrote an essay on Anderson in University and one of the films discussed was Punch Drunk Love. This post has made me want to dig that up and post it over at my blog. Good review.

  5. And the Altman dedication at the end is so inappropriate it's funny.

    How can you say that given TWBB's strong similarities with McCABE AND MRS. MILLER?

    Going back to PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, I forgot to mention that though I had some issues with its "weirdness," some of which I found pretentious, I did very much enjoy the subplot regarding Barry's Healthy Choice Frequent Flyer Miles scheme. It seemed just off-kilter enough, yet well reasoned, to have been thought up by an obsessive-compulsive like Barry. Ditto his final confrontation with Hoffman's character.

  6. Ryan:

    Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you love the film too. I love what you say about the "recontexutalization" of Adam Sandler.

    I do have to agree with Tony about the Altman tribute. I'd be curious as to why it ran untrue for you. I thought of it in the same Tony did...a nod to his master connecting it to the McCabe vibe of Blood.

  7. Tony, Altman was known to hate films that are big and gaudy and theatrical like TWBB is, for better or worse. I'm not saying he would have hated it, but if he was going to dedicate a film to Altman, PDL would undoubtedly have been more appropriate, I think. But outside of some thematic similarities with McCabe, do you think the film really encapsulates Altman's style at all? I'm open to that possibility and that could help me see the film with fresh, or fresher, eyes.

    If I was going to cite director's TWBB reminded me of, I'd say its sensibility is an amalgam of Kubrick, Huston, and Ford.

  8. Mike:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I love what the connection you make between this film and some of Scorsese's more oddball stuff like After Hours and King of Comedy. I think we're in agreement here about what you say about the influences being all over this film. However, what I'm getting at is that the influences aren't nearly as overt in the aesthetic. Where Boogie Nights and Magnolia are Scorsese and Altman filtered through the lens of Anderson, Punch-Drunk Love feels like the first time he's able to keep those influences at bay enough for him to produce something with his own voice.

    I liken it much to Scorsese's New York, New York, a film very much indebted to the classical Hollywood musicals that Scorsese grew up on; however, even though the obvious influences are there the film still feels very much like it's Scorsese telling us the story. Great filmmakers are able to take their influences and make them their own, and I think that Anderson made masterful films early on, even if he did wear his influences a little too much on his sleeve; but with this film he learns how to use those influences to get something across on screen that was a real passion for him.

    I think you can see the difference here in Scorsese's work when you look at a labor of love like New York, New York or After Hours that was also an experimental film versus his labors of love The Last Temptation of Christ and Gangs of New York that just felt flatter than they should have (the constant delaying of those films may have had something to do with that).

    I like the connection that this is Anderson's After Hours: a wildly idiosyncratic comedy that pushes the boundaries of what we have come to expect from Anderson.

    I hope that makes some sense. Thanks again for the comment!

  9. Ryan:

    I agree that the style doesn't much match Altman (although the parallels are there with McCabe, but I think considering he took over directing duties on certain days for Prairie Home Companion and studied the master on-set, Anderson felt he needed to dedicate his magnum opus to him.

    I agree that the film feels more Kubrick than anyone else.

  10. While I think the physical landscape of the film is large or epic, I think the emotional landscape is very minimalist.

    Like in McCABE, TWBB is essentially the story of self-mythologizing man who builds an empire out of nothing, the main difference being that he despises the church (and more precisely, Eli) for trying to carve out a stake for itself at his expense. McCABE didn't have the same issue with the church coming to town, tolerating it as a necessary "evil" that would foster the commnity that was forming around McCabe's whorehouse.

    The film owes more to Kubrick in that it seems almost obsessively controlled rather than freeform like Altman. But thematically, it is virtually the same story.

  11. Miraculous summation, Kevin. Punch-Drunk Love managed to make my top thirty of the decade. I think you're right on the money when you say that it's P.T.'s most original work. It's certainly to him what After Hours was to Scorsese.

    That being said, like Tony, I prefer There Will Be Blood by comparison. It's interesting how you say that The Last Temptation of Christ doesn't deliver for you because, in my opinion, that is the greatest of all of Scorsese's films. Myself, I'd say P.T.'s best is a tie between TWBB and Magnolia.

    That probably says more about my own definition of what makes a filmmaker's ultimate masterwork: I think the best film in a filmmaker's career is the film that literally makes the Earth tremble under its glory. So, therefore, for me, Coppola's best is Apocalypse Now, Spielberg's best is Schindler's List and Scorsese's best is Last Temptation. As for somebody like, say, De Palma? Good question. He hasn't really made a film with the dominating resonance of those last three titles I just mentioned (the closest he's ever come to it is Scarface!). I know, I know: everybody says that Blow Out is his finest film. But I just can't say that it has that RESONATING POWER I need to locate a director's masterpiece.

    That's how I feel about Punch Drunk Love in that, yes, it's a film from the bottom of P.T.'s heart... but not necessarily a great demonstration of him as a master craftsman. It's easy to say that Lolita was Kubrick's most personal film- it may or may not have been a subject dear to him- but then again those same people who say such things probably haven't yet made up their mind on 2001 or Barry Lyndon.

    And as for Altman, people will say that A Prairie Home Companion is one of his best because it's so personal. But I still wouldn't put it above a less personal Altman classic like 3 Women. Or, better yet, my own favorite: Quintet. Yeah, I said it!

  12. Quite the debate that has broken out here since my first post! I tend to agree though that the Altman tribute is not inapproriate, although probably doesn't help Anderson in avoiding those constant Altman comparisons. Just wanted to let you know Kevin that I actually did post on Punch Drunk today as well and gave you the props for it so if you want check it out:

    As a sidenote at Adam, I think de Palma's best is Carlito's Way. Something about that film just touches me deeply. Otherwise, I'd agree, de Palma has had a hugely inconsistant career and has never really found a voice of his own. He still makes (made?) solid genre pictures though.

  13. I've been thinking of this movie lately, so it's especially a pleasure to read your terrific review. I'll never forget seeing this with a packed audience on the first day of its release. Punch-Drunk Love came out at the height of Sandler's career, and the crowd turned from anticipation to confusion to hostility over the course of the film. I thought it was bizarre, alienating, and wonderful, like nearly all of Anderson's films. And it's only gotten better over time.

    I would disagree that Sandler was "misused" prior to Punch-Drunk Love. I think he's a very limited actor who had his persona deconstructed by a brilliant filmmaker. Nearly all of Sandler's films have this odd mix of raunch and treacle (which I find almost always unbearable); he plays man-children whose temper tantrums -- when they arise -- are meant to be endearing. Anderson scrambles the deck so that the rage is actually quite scary and the innocence discomfiting. (That's how I take the opening car-crash -- as a symbol of what's roiling beneath Barry's surface.) I'm not taking anything away from Sandler: it's a ballsy performance. It's also one I believe he'll never equal.

    That said, jeez, all this debate about Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood seems kinda silly. They're both great in wildly different ways and can coexist just fine in my book. Regarding PTA's Altman tribute -- it's in the latter film because Altman had just passed away, and because Altman had seen a rough cut of the picture and spoke admiringly of it to Anderson. He loved Punch-Drunk Love too. In the Altman oral biography (I've been reading it lately), Anderson mentions watching it with Altman and describing his joy when "He Needs Me" came on the soundtrack and Altman started waving his arms like a conductor.

  14. Tony:

    I agree with your assessment of There Will Be Blood. I also agree with Craig down below that all this talk seems silly because these are clearly two of the best films of the decade. I did mention that I would put Blood in my top 30 of the decade, right? Just making sure it's clear that I love the film...just not as much as Punch-Drunk Love...but really we're just talkin' personal preferences at this point and the larger point remains: we have a filmmaker in Paul Thomas Anderson who is freaking fantastic and always a joy to watch at play.

  15. Adam:

    Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment. I like what you say there about Scorsese's film. I just don't like it as much as some of his other more "personal" works.

    Oh, and I only mentioned A Prairie Home Companion because Anderson was over Altman's shoulder, learning from his master, for much of the process of making that movie.

    Thanks again for leaving such a great comment!

  16. Mike:

    I'm going to print out your review and read it tonight. I look forward to it. Thanks for linking it here and bringing it to my attention...and thanks for mentioning me on your blog! I appreciate it!

    This has been a great conversation, everyone, let's keep it going...

  17. Craig:

    Thanks! I'm glad you liked the review. I agree with you that all of this talk of which is film is better than the other seems a tad pointless considering they're both staggering works by arguably America's most interesting living filmmaker, but I only brought it up in the review because it helps distinguish how personal tastes push art that tends to be "forgotten" over more revered works. Do I think people are wrong for claiming that There Will Be Blood is the best film of the decade? Hell no! But I am interested in why people tend to disregard Punch-Drunk Love as not being on the same level just because it's template is a 90 minute Adam Sandler comedy. Anderson is still doing some insanely great filmmaking here, it's just not as overt as his opera pieces like Magnolia and There Will Be Blood. But you're right...they can coexist just fine.

    Also re: Sandler being "misused"...perhaps I should have worded that differently, because it's true that he was being used for what he is, and to assume that he can always reach the depths he reached under Anderson's direction is silly...and all one has to do is point to something like Reign Over Me (although I did like him somewhat in Spanglish). Anderson saw what was in there that would work for one of his films, and the only reason he saw that was because he was such a big fan. Does that make sense?

    Thanks again for the great comment here, Craig, and for checkin' this out.

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  19. Fascinating piece - maybe I should give Punch-Drunk Love a third viewing afterall!

    Yes, at least despite losing the great Altman, we have the great Paul Thomas Anderson to keep us Mike has stated on his blog, every one of his films is an event.

  20. Burning Reels:

    Thanks for visiting! I agree with ya: every one of Anderson's films is an event. I hope you revisit Punch-Drunk Love soon. Thanks again for the comment.

  21. Of course, Kevin. We are debating the relative worth of two great films by degrees. But isn't that what movie buffs do?

    Here's another principal reason I admire TWBB over PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (which I'll remind all of the commenters here I still placed in the top 100 of the decade). PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE feels like the summation of a particular West Coast-vibey film that Anderson was very expert at creating. It seemed like the culmination of his exploration of that culture. To draw a parallel that you might understand more than most, it was his JOHN FROM CINCINNATI, a short intriguing and offbeat sidetrip which has some pretensions that aren't quite successful. TWBB seems inspired if only because it was the first time Anderson so radically departed from his comfort zone, reaching into the distant past to fashion an almost classical style epic piece of Americana.

    If I admire that film a bit more, it's because as much as I've always loved Anderson's movies, I really never thought he had such a film in him. It's easy to forget in retrospect just what a departure it is from the rest of his filmography. It's like if Noah Baumbach turned around and made a science fiction film.

  22. Speaking of Baumbach and being off-topic for a moment, does anyone else think Greenberg feels a little off or maybe i'm just a little scepticle regarding the Stiller casting...

  23. So many ideas still going on. @Kevin, glad you will be reading the review. As I said in the intro it is just a small piece of a large essay but now that I have posted that piece and been reminded of my absolute love of all things PTA I think I will be posting the other two sections on Boogie Nights and Magnolia within the coming days as well.

    I also agree with you, or maybe someone else said it, that Sandler will never top this role, although, I did like him in both Spanglish and Reign Over Me (although I mostly hated both of those films). He seems to excel most in non-Adam Sandler movies. Even after this one, I appreciated the kinder side he displayed in his own films 50 First Dates and The Longest Yard before he regressed in Now Pronouce You... If I did learn one thing from Reign Over Me though, it's that, if there is ever a straight biopic of Bob Dylan, Sandler should play him.

    @Tony, I am just curious what you find pretentious about Punch-Drunk Love, especially considering your admiration for David Lynch's Lost Highway which many also criticize for veering widely into pretentious terriroty? Just curious.

    @Burning Reels, I am looking forward to Greenberg and I'll tell you why. I saw a trailer for it for the first time play before Crazy Heart. I had never heard of the film before but within the first 20 seconds I said to myself, this looks like a Noah Baumbach movie, the rest explains itself. At that moment I realized what a distinct filmmakers Baumbach has become over the course of his last two films and now look forward to this new one as well. That's just me though.

  24. I hope so Mike...I muchly enjoyed his previous two features:)

    Maybe this will be Stiller's Bill Murray moment?!

    Will also be rather interesting to see how the James Murphy soundtrack compliments the film.

  25. What a great piece, Kevin. I've only seen this one, upon its release. I always mean to go back to it but for some reason it never happens. It's going in the Netflix queue NOW. Parts I remember well; others not at all.

  26. @Mike,

    I'm not sure admiration is the right word for how I feel about LOST HIGHWAY. I do have a strong personal like for the film that I would separate from any critical appreciation of its merits. In fact, I'm not sure I disagree with the accusations of pretension levelled at that movie either.

    As for PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, I think I explained it best and most concisely in the first comment on this thread.

  27. I saw this and reviewed it back in my simpler days, but I've been quietly rewatching it ever since and really loving it even more than I did the first time. I'm probably going to get around to writing a second, more in-depth piece about this at some point, though I'd be going over so many of the same points you brought up I might just hang on. It's slowly catching up to my opinion of TWBB, which is great for essentially the opposite reasons of this emotionally complex and engaging film.

    Great review

  28. Tony:

    Sorry this took me so long to reply. I agree with you that as film buffs we take two great films and find SOMETHING that may be a t fault with them in order to rank one above the other. That's the fun of doing this, I agree. I also love your analogy to "John from Cincinnati" I love what you say here:

    a short intriguing and offbeat sidetrip which has some pretensions that aren't quite successful. TWBB seems inspired if only because it was the first time Anderson so radically departed from his comfort zone, reaching into the distant past to fashion an almost classical style epic piece of Americana.

    Amen. I'm with ya on the fact that I didn't think Anderson had a film in him like There Will Be Blood and that's why I think a lot of people were initially blown away by it. However, on repeat viewings I'm still able to admire the hell out of it, but I prefer the "sidetrip" of Punch-Drunk Love more than the venturing into uncharted territories of There Will Be Blood.

    I like your Noah Baumbach line, too. Hehe. Thanks for the great response here.

  29. Burning Reels:

    I haven't seen the trailer for that movie yet so I can't speak to it. I know they're reviewing it on At the Movies next week so that will probably be the first I hear anything on it.

  30. Mike:

    I agree with Tony that his initial comment sums up his thoughts on the film best. I also don't think pretentious should be synonymous with bad. A lot of Bergman is pretentious, and he's my favorite filmmaker. A lot of the novels I read are considered pretentious...but sometimes that's why I love them, because they embrace art movements and aren't afraid to make something worth discussing within that highly intellectual context.

    I guess what I'm saying is we shouldn't be so quick to call something that's pretentious (essentially another word for being showy about your intelligence) bad. Sometimes that pretension (as is the case with Noah Baumbach films) can be funny and make for great comedy (Squid and the Whale) or can be cringe inducing (Margot at the Wedding)or can be really good at sparking a discussion about the deeper themes and context that a lot of good filmmakers strive to talk about in their films.

  31. Jason:

    I look forward to your thoughts upon your re-visitation of this movie. Thanks for stopping by.

  32. Jake:

    Yup. It's great, isn't it? And like you and Tony and others have said here it's great and complex in totally different ways than There Will Be Blood...which is also great and complex. I look forward to your thoughts on the film whenever you choose to post them.

    Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by!

  33. This movie was magical. 'nuff said.

  34. I agree, Starmummy. Thanks for checking this out.

  35. Excellent point raised in regards to pretentiousness Kevin - it's often a lazy phrase aimed towards art..give me that over safe dull cinema most days of the week!

    Plus I have to agree, as Bergman is your favourite director!:)

  36. Kevin, Bergman is also one of my favourite filmmakers (although he will never eclipse Fellini for me). That makes me want to take a detour and ask you what you think of Serpent's Egg? I just saw it and kind of hated it. Just wondering what your thoughts on it are as a Bergman admirerer.

    @Tony, right you are about your first comment. I just we just got so deep in a discussion I lost track, which I guess, is a good thing. My bad.

  37. BR:

    Thanks. Yeah, experimental cinema is great...I don't always love it, but it's freeing.

  38. Mike:

    I've actually never seen The Serpent's Egg. It's one of just a few Bergman that have eluded me over the years. I do understand that it's quite the poklarizing film. I should check it out soon. I'll add it to my queue.

    My 5 favorite Bergman films:

    Cries and Whispers
    The Silence
    Fanny and Alexander
    Winter Light

  39. Excellent choices Kevin - you can feel how personal Bergman's films are, without becoming obtrusive. Winter Light is a great example of this. Hardly an original statement but Persona really does get greater with every viewing. I think it's very hard to place favorites with Bergman, as his filmography is so rich but for today i'll go with a top five consisting of:

    Scenes From a Marriage
    Wild Strawberries
    Fanny and Alexander
    Winter Light

    I saw Seventh Seal many years ago and it didn't do much for me - be interesting to see how I reacted to it now. Bergman is a filmaker one has to familarise themselves with before you can fully penetrate his world but once you do, I believe it's a wonderfully rewarding experience.

    Serpents Egg has also evaded myself Mike (i've only really seen Fellini's first half filmography - I do enjoy his playfulness).

    One last question, has anyone ever seen Bergman's Face to Face? (and will it ever be released on DVD?!)

  40. @Burning Reels,

    I recommend you check out Criteron's newest release of SEVENTH SEAL. Not only has its image been cleaned up considerably compared to older prints. The subtitles are more accurate translations than in the past, liberating it from some of the stifling darkness of the mood and allowing some generous helpings of black humor to peek through.

  41. @Tony, I'm curious if you are comparing the new Criterion release of the Seventh Seal to the old Criterion release or if you just mean older prints in general. I'm just curious because I have the original release and felt the picture quality was acceptable so I'm wondering if it is worth upgrading?

    @Burning Reels- Face to Face is owned by Paramount who apperently plan to release it but no date has been set at this time. I haven't seen it myself so I can't comment there but I know Criterion has the rights to a lot of unreleased Bergman films like The Magician and Monika, which I was able to catch in theaters a few years back when it was rereleased. I agree with you that you need to get familiar with Bergman's work before you can appreciate his brilliance, but once you are there, few compare.

  42. @Mike, Read my review for SEVENTH SEAL here.

  43. Thanks Tony - shall keep that in mind, when I have some spare change again:)

    Nice rhyming Mike;)

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  45. It is an odd and at the same time interesting movie, so out of his usual characters.