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The Belko Experiment

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Congratulations to those who survived BI Employee Appreciation Day!

What do Rollerball, Death Race 2000, The Stars Our Destination, and The Belko Experiment have in common?

Answer: They’re all metaphors for capitalism. Yes, metaphors. Movies, believe it or not, can be metaphors.

Seriously.

Usually, filmmakers don’t state their intentions and they definitely don’t say their film is a metaphor.

However, if you’ve seen any of his films, you’d know James Gunn is an unusual guy.  And in the Q & A for the screening at which I saw the film last night (3/3/17) he said his film is a metaphor for capitalism.

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L to R: moderator Geoff Boucher, actor Tony Goldwyn (Barry Norris), actor John C. McGinley (Wendell Dukes), writer-producer James Gunn, and director Greg McLean

He also said it here:

Growing up in a family of lawyers and having that, looking at that and looking at my own career life, and what that’s like. How competitive I can be at times. How competitive people around me are forced to be. I think that it is a difficult part of our lives, living in a capitalist country.

Gunn, at the screening, said he loves capitalism. Makes you wonder what the film would be like if he hated capitalism.

The film is well made, funny as hell (mostly in a sick sort of way which sometimes is the best way) so see it and judge for yourself how accurate this film is as a metaphor for the society you live in.

Gunn, raised by a Catholic family, appears to be saying capitalism brings out the worst in human nature. But is there an alternative? Not in this film.

Belko‘s just a bit predictable, mostly regarding two “obligatory scenes,” scenes the film makes us want and expect after being set up in Act I.

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The film delivers these promised scenes, and when it does, the audience cheers.

But with their cheers the audience may be proving the film’s (and Gunn’s) dark view of human nature (albeit a human nature shaped by a cruel environment).

A dark view shared by the filmmaker who shot this:

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Written by pronountrouble2

March 4, 2017 at 11:42 am

Posted in Films

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Poll: Toni Erdmann or Up in the Air?

Note: you have to go to Youtube to watch the following Up in the Air clip.

 

Just kidding. Not a poll.

Note: the Up in the Air clip  is a (very) shortened version.

Written by pronountrouble2

March 3, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Films

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Review: The Last Word

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  • First, a confession. I saw The Last Word before a Q&A with director Mark Pellington and Shirley MacLaine. If MacLaine had stayed a few minutes after the talk to interact with her fans, just a little, I might not be writing this review. That’s the way the world works. But she didn’t. “If I sign for them, I’ll have to sign for a lot.” This, despite her telling a woman she was with, “This was a good crowd.”
  • Second, another confession: I hate reviews.
  • So… Let’s begin with the story. In general, it’s a very familiar story. We’ve seen it a zillion times. It’s a cliche. Recently, a film telling this type of story was nominated for an Oscar: A Man Called Ove. A curmudgeon that no one likes turns their life around. In fact, both The Last Word and Ove begin with their main character’s attempted suicide.
  • For the most part, because we’ve seen this story a zillion times, it’s a predictable film. We know that the Scrooge-like character is going to turn out to be lovable. We know that she will die. We know that the obit will be read. There are a few surprises along the way. (Even fewer than there would be if you see the trailer first. I try to avoid trailers, but it’s hard. The theater showed it at an even we attended a week earlier, and the guy behind us played it on his phone before last night’s screening.) But there is one scene that stands out as something unexpected: MacLaine’s reaction after seeing her estranged daughter for the first time in many, many years. If there’s one good scene in the film, it’s this one.
  • My guess is the film’s writer is under the influence of Neil Simon. Too much under the influence. Either that or too many screenplay guides. Dialogue consists of would be zingers. Even the kid speaks as if she’s in a well rehearsed play. In other words, it doesn’t have the feel of life, of authenticity, but of play acting without much fun.
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Moderator Jim Hemphill, Shirley MacLaine, and director Mark Pellington

  • Two scenes stand out as especially poor. The first, in which MacLaine’s character attempts to kill herself takes forever to get to the point. She stares out windows, stares and stares and stares. If you want to know how to do this, watch A Man Called Ove. It gets to the point and does it will skill and humor. Before The Last Word had really begun, for me, it was pretty much over. But I stuck it out and endured it through MacLaine’s last scene, which was also less than good. We know she’s going to die because her heart is overworked. So, when we see her dancing and dancing and dancing, we expect that she will croak at any moment. She does croak, eventually, but first she sits, then she climbs the stares, gets a picture, comes back down the stairs, sits back down, then dies. It seems as if the filmmakers were dead set on MacLaine dying with that picture in her hand but couldn’t figure out how to get it in her hand without having her make an epic voyage to get it. Even MacLaine said she didn’t know what happened in this scene. “Did she kill herself? Did she die or just fall asleep?” Those were MacLaine’s questions for Mark Pellington, the director, who was sitting right next to her. Valid questions because the scene is poorly written, poorly staged, poorly edited, poorly thought out. In a word: bad. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be instructive.
  • Kubrick said he was inspired more by bad movies than good ones, and others have said they learned more from bad movies than good ones. The Last Word, as a whole, is more mediocre than bad, but it can be instructive just the same. For example, MacLaine’s character is also a bit like Huppert’s in Elle. Compare the two films. You cannot help but admire Elle (and Huppert) all the more. Even MacLaine, last time we saw her, said she admired Huppert’s “audacity.”
  • My last word on The Last Word: how much sense does it make for someone who doesn’t care what people think of her, to suddenly start caring what people think of her? I’m referring to the start of the movie, not the end. In other words, the movie’s premise is hooey.

Written by pronountrouble2

March 3, 2017 at 11:44 am

Posted in Films

Elle: the Poster

 

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My wife won this Elle poster in November. Then we heard nothing. We almost gave up hope, but then it suddenly arrived via Fedex yesterday. As it turned out, it was very timely because Isabelle Huppert was nominated early this morning for Best Actress by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Even though the Academy was wrong to overlook Elle in the Best Foreign Film category (time, once again, will prove them wrong), the actors’ division got it right. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no contest. However, for me, this poster (which by the way is signed by both Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven, and adorned by an “I Love Huppert” button which my wife and I received at the AFI Festival Elle event last November) doesn’t just represent a prize won. Now proudly displayed on the only bare wall in our apartment, it’s a symbol of a personal year of lows and highs, a year that could easily have been my last, but, as far as moviegoing goes, thanks to filmmakers such as Huppert and Verhoeven, turned out to be a year that gave my wife and I some memories that we will always cherish.

By the way, Elle is not a revenge fantasy. If you want a revenge fantasy, try Moonlight.

Also: thank you Sony Pictures Classics and The Playlist.

Written by pronountrouble2

January 24, 2017 at 11:11 am

Posted in Films

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I Want To Live in LA LA LAND!

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La La Land just set a record for Golden Globe wins (7). Does it really matter to cinephiles? Yes and no. Yes, because if you like the film, it helps get the word out and reward the kind of filmmaking you like; no, because what matters is your own standards and tastes. (Note: it’s worth remembering that just because a film wins a lot of awards does not mean everyone agrees. Winning a Golden Globe or an Oscar probably means 20-25% of the votes went to the winner. Hardly a majority. Hence, those who think the winners deserve the win more than the other nominees are almost always a minority.)

But we can still ask: Is it really that good?

Answer? Yes!

Here’s why:

  1. Opening/Overture: it starts with one of the best long takes in the history of cinema, perhaps best in nearly fifty years (since Sixties master of the long take Miklós Jancsó made his best films, including the musical Red Psalm (Még kér a nép). Yes, better than the famous long takes in Russian Ark and The Player. Plus, the entire movie is in the opening scene, even the opening lines: “I think about that day, I left him at a Greyhound Station… I knew what I had to do, ’cause I just knew….”
  2. “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.” My English teacher always said that. Apparently Chazelle’s said it, too, because that’s how this film is structured (with a twist for the last part).
  3. The ending one-ups the ending of Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. It’s a cross between that film and the ending of An American in Paris. It’s a triumph of visual storytelling and imagination, imagining what could have been as opposed to merely showing what is.
  4. It’s cinematic. According to the dictionary, anything suitable for motion pictures is “cinematic.” If that’s the case, setting up a camera, hitting record, and playing back whatever you capture is “cinematic.” Maybe. But to me it means something that’s mostly missing from most films which come off as little more than filmed theater, people talking, and talking, and talking. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s clever talk, but it’s still talk and it’s not cinematic. Cinema is capable of so much more than what Hollywood usually allows, and La La Land is proof. Hollywood money is not the only thing holding cinema back from realizing its full potential. It’s also audiences and critics. We need more films like La La Land. That doesn’t mean more musicals; it means more films that explore what films can be. Musicals came in with sound film, but something was also lost. The promise of cinema as a distinct art form that was so promising during the 1920’s disappeared and film seems to have become a medium to translating books and plays for people who for whatever reason cannot read the book or see the play. This is not cinematic. La La Land is.
  5. It’s realism. Not phoney or melodramatic, lugubrious realism of a film such as Manchester by the Sea, but the realism that most people experience every day. (Incidental thought about Manchester by the Sea: Comedians are making a living with jokes about how depressing this film is. But can a film that tells you what you want to be told, i.e. it’s really OK if you can’t change, be that depressing?) La La Land is a light escapist romp through musicals past.” This appears to be the preferred description of La La Land by online hipsters, that is, people who think they don’t need to watch the movie. They already know what it is after reading wikipedia and watching the trailer. If they did watch the film, they were probably unable to break free of their phones.
  6. It’s fantasy. Fantasy in the cinematic sense of using visual means to express emotion, making visible something that not only is invisible but doesn’t really exist, i.e. emotion: love, joy, depression.
  7. It’s rhythm. In his book, In the Blink of an Eye, Walter Murch writes about a hierarchy of values to respect when editing a film: emotion above all else, then story, then rhythm, etc. For me, a great narrative (i.e. story) film does not know the difference between these. If it does not have rhythm, it can’t have emotion or story. La La Land‘s rhythm is the rhythm we long to live by. It’s a utopian rhythm. A utopian vision. Utopian not in the sense of pipedream, pie in the sky, but of a vision of a better world, a world that we long for, dream about, and never give up dreaming about. La La Land is not about people living in the clouds, in Never Neverland, but about a world where everyone dreams of making the world a better place for everyone.

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ADDENDUM ONE: Some More Comments About Rhythm

I like variation in all artistic forms, and especially in the cinema for the evocation that it implies in the unconscious. Rhythm and synchronism make the magic of cinema. Jim Jarmusch

Jarmusch’s comment applies perfectly to Paterson, a film unfortunately dissed by the Golden Globes and many critics. To me it’s obvious that a film without rhythm is a hopeless film. But apparently not to some other people. One such person is A. S. Hamrah, a film critic who wanted to see the farmers market where Paterson’s wife sells her cupcakes. This might seem a valid idea, except it would rupture the perfect rhythm of the film. Yes, A. S. Hamrah did not like the film, but did this critic watch the same film as me? Did this critic not notice this film’s perfectly structured rhythm? Based on this wish for the farmers market scene, it appears not. This leads me to wonder if some people have a blind spot for film rhythm, like some people are tone deaf or don’t like music at all. To them, film (and probably graphic art in general) can never be musical without literal music. To them, film is drama, not music. And so they will never get a film such as Paterson. But here’s a quote from someone who would get it:

A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. — Stanley Kubrick
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ADDENDUM TWO:
La La Land is playful. At least some of this playfulness probably derives from the French New Wave of which director Chazelle says he is a big fan. Not just Demy, but also Godard and Truffaut. The playfulness of the French New Wave included quoting films. Not just dialogue, but titles, characters, entire scenes. La La Land obviously “quotes” several musicals, but non-musicals also get referenced. For one, there are the movie posters. Movie posters are all over French New Wave movies. Then there’s the obvious Rebel Without a Cause references. But there are also nods to other non-musicals such as a nod or two to Billy Wilder’s The Apartment,  including this one:
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ADDENDUM THREE:
Double bill: La La Land and The Neon Demon. Both titles refer to Los Angeles, (there’s even a reference to “neon glow” in La La Land‘s overture, “Another Day of Sun”), but the two films have very different takes on that town.
If you want to emphasize the theme of partner supporting partner in creative endeavors, Nocturnal Animals, which shows what happens when support is not forthcoming, would also make for an interesting pair-up with La La Land.
In order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie. — Jean-Luc Godard
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ADDENDUM FOUR:
Nostalgia: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also :  something that evokes nostalgia. That’s one dictonary’s defintion of “nostalgia.” How about this one: nostalgia is what happens when a social system, namely capitalism, succeeds in getting people to accept a short expiration date for far too many things so that if someone comes to like something past its expiration date they are seen as sick, i.e. suffering from “nostalgia.” Perhaps they aren’t sick. Perhaps they just love what they love, are passionate about something irregardless of its “expiration date.” These lovers are not afraid to be out of step with the mainstream of their society. They know capitalism depends on people buying into the myth that the latest is the greatest, that they must buy the latest model because everything else is “old fashioned,” “inferior,” “out of date. But they don’t buy it. To them, good is good. Seb is not trapped in the past. He just likes something that everyone else thinks is dated.
While we’re at it:
Escapism:
an activity or form of entertainment that allows people to forget about the real problems of life (source)
If this is what La La Land is trying to do, it failed. At least for me. In fact, films such as Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea and Hidden Figures play more like Walter Mitty-ish, wish-fulfilling, escapist fantasies than La La Land. Why? Moonlight: how many picked on kids daydream of getting even with a bully? I certainly did. Not only is this what happens in this film, after it happens comes his reward in the third part of the movie. That’s all I’ll say. Manchester? It’s the daydream of someone who everyone is asking to change, but he doesn’t. He stays the course and returns to his life. Change? What change. It’s another daydream made real. Hidden Figures? At a post-screening Q&A with the director/screenwriter and co-screenwriter of the film, the audience heard them say, “It’s a movie!,” so many times that we finally got the point. Yes, “It’s a movie!,” as in, “It’s not real. It’s a fantasy.” Just because it’s “based on real events” doesn’t mean it’s not a fantasy, a fantasy that few people will or can achieve, except in fantasy, whether by daydreaming or watching a movie. (One may wonder if this particular fantasy is innocent. After all, the space program was part of the arms race and the technology developed, in addition to putting men in orbit, was used to kill people. This little tidbit is actually brought up, albeit ever so briefly, and not exactly as I’ve stated it, in the film by Kevin Costner’s character but never developed or emphasized beyond his offhand remark.)
Of the bunch, is La La Land really the movie living in La La Land?
“Escapism” and “escapist” are largely negative in connotation. It implies entertainment is nothing more than escape from the “real” world. But there’s another way to look at it and those who do prefer to use the term “utopian.” As in, not escape, but the imagination of a better world, a world that can be realized by changing the world that is. See Ernst Bloch, Frederic Jameson, and Richard Dryer.
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ADDENDUM FIVE:
You can’t make a good film without pissing off someone. As they say, haters gonna hate. It’s almost certainly a universal physical law. That is, haters hating. For these haters, La La Land has one of the best ever lines. Short and sweet, it’s often heard in our household:
Fuck ’em.
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ADDENDUM SIX:
Here’s a scene from Top Hat, likely inspiration for La La Land‘s “A Lovely Night:”

Written by pronountrouble2

January 10, 2017 at 6:53 pm

Silence

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Some films that came to mind watching Martin Scorsese’s Silence.

  1. The Searchers (similar plot twist; see also Taxi Driver and Hardcore.)
  2. The Silence (Bergman’s silence is also Scorsese’s.)
  3. Sophie’s Choice (dilemmas, dilemmas.)
  4. The Bridge on the River Kwai (parts of Scorsese’s film recall this film’s WWII Japanese POW camp and its commander.)
  5. Andrei Rublev (vallis lacrimarum, i.e. vale of tears)
  6. Saving Private Ryan (these kind of quests never end well.)
  7. Star Trek: “Bread and Circuses” (The Searchers plot twist, again.)
  8. Manchester by the Sea (similar Job-like story.)
  9. Arrival (communication problems, alien and domestic.)
  10. Shōgun (TV mini-series. Fish out of water, culture clash.)
  11. 7 Women (what is it with missionaries?)
  12. The Passion of Joan of Arc (burn, saint, burn.)
  13. The Last Temptation of Christ (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”)
  14. The Keys of the Kingdom (more missionaries)

The rest is silence.” Just a smart-ass way of saying: You’ll have to see Scorsese’s film to see why these other films popped into my head.

 

Written by pronountrouble2

December 22, 2016 at 10:37 am

Posted in Films, Uncategorized

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Knowing Thyself: Another Top 10 List

The other day I asked a comic book writer, “What is your favorite comic book?” His answer? “Ahh… ummmm.” In other words, he didn’t know.

The ancient Greeks said, “Know thyself,” that is, know what makes you tick, know what turns you on, know what turns you off.

Recently, the BBC published the results of a poll which answered the question: what are the greatest films of the 21st century. Of course, they didn’t ask me, but that didn’t stop me from answering the question because I find lists are great tools for helping me “know myself.”

The BBC’s list names 100 films. I’ve only seen a bit more than half those titles, so perhaps I’m unqualified to make a list. However, of the ones I have seen there was no question of ever including most of them. They just weren’t interesting enough. Or at least not nearly as interesting (to me) as the following:

1. In the Mood for Love
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. The Big Short
4. Drive
5. The Hateful Eight
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
7. La Commune
8. The Avengers/The Avengers: Age of Ultron
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
10. The Host (2006)
11. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
12. Los Angeles Plays Itself
13. Where to Invade Next

These are the new films I’ve seen since January 2000 that knocked my socks off. Others, at best, were “OK.” For example, Mulholland Drive, which tops the BBC poll, is a film I find inferior to other works by Lynch, mainly Eraserhead and Twin Peaks. But it’s “OK.”

So, having done this list, do I know myself a bit better? Yes, status confirmed: still a weirdo.

 

Written by pronountrouble2

September 19, 2016 at 12:02 am

Posted in Films

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