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Monday Movies Hopes the Roof Flies Off and We Get Sucked into Space

I surprised myself, a few weeks ago, to realize that I was nothing but excited to see Moonrise Kingdom. After The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which I liked less and less the more I sat with it, I became suspicious of Anderson, suspicious enough to skip out on The Darjeeling Express. Continue reading

May 28, 2012 Posted by | film, Monday Movies | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

You Get a Series Four De-Atomizer and Monday Movies Gets a Little Midgy Cricket?

My writer’s group recommended that I look at Men in Black as a spur to rewriting the feature that I’m working on to submit for the Academy Awards’ Nicholl Fellowship. It was moderately helpful — I’ve been struggling for a nice punch at the end, and the sight of Will Smith stomping on cockroaches to infuriate the savage “bug” that had been previously hiding in Vincent D’Onofrio’s skin made me ask myself what would infuriate my own villain? (He’s a PUA who’s been possessed by a vengeful alien intelligence. The short answer is “a strong woman”.)

It was also clear that that final battle, like the movie itself, didn’t have quite enough, although there are some satisfying moments. It lacks a critical character moment for Will Smith–he’s smart and brave, but we already know that about him. He doesn’t surprise himself–or us. Entertaining movie, but somehow I was hoping for a little more.

It also was surprising to see how lightly the movie played the relationship between Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The bromance may have recently taken over action movies, but that’s a recent mode a long-latent (and often explicit) tendency, viz. Butch and Sundance, Lethal Weapon. J. and K. have a mentor/partner relationship, but it only has two small moments of emotional connection, one of which is centered on K. pining for a long-lost love and the second of which is good-bye. It will be interesting to see whether this summer’s entry in the franchise affects more fashionably labile expressions of friendship.

The movie does offer adequate testament to the immigration politics of the Clinton years. The aliens are quasi-legal-immigrants, regulated by a vast bureaucracy that imitates large public institutions but is completely secret. Although Tommy Lee Jones first announces himself as a representative of the INS, that’s a cover story that he subsequently changes. The bureaucracy exists to both allow refugee aliens safe harbor while conceal their existence from the public. In our world, this is not a governmental function, but a political one, a liberal-but-not-left Democratic position, trying to express compassion to one constituency while hoping not to have to talk about the issue with another. (Certainly not calling for amnesty, let alone open borders.)

I was reminded of a panel on immigration at the two-day AFL-CIO-sponsored Columbia Labor Symposium in 1996, a kind of labor-left revival for students and academics, in whose plenary session historian David Montgomery shouted “and this time, we’re going to grab on like Gila monsters and never let go!” We were in a breakout session about immigration, and some labor lawyer was nattering on about how whatever had befallen illegal immigrants (Prop 187, federal waffling) the Clinton administration had at least increased the number of legal immigrants, and perhaps that was the best we could hope for. He hadn’t quite gauged the exciting effect of the Prop 187 campaign on us. Somehow we were hoping for much more.

What did you see? Was it enough?

April 23, 2012 Posted by | film, Monday Movies | , | 1 Comment

Monday Movies Is Out Of Time

When a character on screen swims under water, do you ever try to hold your breath for the duration? If so, you may intuit without my help that the radical departure of Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video installation The Clock is that in it, one minute=one minute.

This clock has a very different use in The Clock than it did in its original setting.

The Clock is, in fact, a clock. Its minute and hour hands are clips of feature films that feature clocks. Some are famous, some recognizable, others next to anonymous. Some are critical moments — I had the pleasure to be there for 10:04 pm, the exact moment when the Hill Valley Courthouse was famously struck by lightning on November 12, 1955; cheers went up. Others suggest significant moments within a narrative–the changing of an hour, almost always; even a shot that shows one minute changing to another suggests that a transition is happening elsewhere in the world.

In the world of The Clock, this becomes startlingly true and not-true at once. Whatever momentousness the viewer feels is immediately stolen, as the film moves on to another clip. Indeed, some of the most telling clocks are those that are purely there as set dressing — the large, plain institutional clocks in police stations, the decorative tabletop clocks in living rooms. The force that those clocks exert on life is anterior to what we might naively imagine to be cinema’s chief force, narrative.

Cinematic narrative found its language contemporaneously with the great Modern novelists, Woolf, Forster, Joyce, who (along with Bergson) portrayed time as it elapsed within the self. We’ve received this as a revolutionary dawn, but it was also a fairly quick rebellion — time had only become an impersonal and rigid global latticework in the previous generation, when the need to schedule trains led to the imposition of commonly set clocks.

Marclay’s clock atomizes the cinema’s endlessly malleable putty of time. The minutes are revenants, hungry ghosts unglued from their narratives, friendly snakes eating their tails. I can’t separate the brutal reimposition of impersonal time from the sheer fun of seeing grandfather clocks, clock towers, bedside alarm clocks and wristwatches all finally get one looping dance extravaganza, where Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are just two of the innumerable guest stars. The Clock is strangely fun to watch. I’ve done it twice now, last Saturday from 9:40 pm for about an hour, and last year from about 10 to 11 am.

[Update: I removed the embedded trailer for the clock, now at the link. As the youtube page points out, it should technically only be watched at 12:04 pm. I don't want to mess up your sense of time.]

I’ll keep going back if LACMA keeps showing it. I’ll stop if I learn to time my dreams. What did you spend your time watching?

March 26, 2012 Posted by | boredom, film, innovative technologies that shape our lives, meta, Monday Movies | , , | 7 Comments

Monday Movies: True Grit

Thank you, Jesus, America, and Adam, for the honor of bringing you movies on Monday. Please know that I am and will always be adorned by my tiara as I discharge my duties.

***

Winter’s Bone, discussed previously at The Weblog here and here, tells you up front what’s going on. Watch this short scene, which comes only seven minutes in, after a series of scenes that dramatize that seventeen-year-old Ree is the head of her very poor household. (I wanted to embed it, but youtube sniffed copyright.)

A stark dilemma is invaluable to a screenwriter. Ree has two unpleasant choices: she can find her father and turn him over to the law, or she can lose her house and her family. The former seems impossible (she’s not lying to the sheriff when she says she doesn’t know where he is) and the latter is disastrous. Action is as perilous as inaction, infusing every scene with urgency.

I expected a paint-by-numbers Hero’s Journey, and there are elements of that. John Hawkes (as Harry Dean Stanton, verdad) is Ree’s initially reluctant, dangerous ally. The climax is reached through a quiet boat ride into death’s kingdom. But what surprised me was that Ree has no character arc, so beloved by Hollywood. She’s more of an Indiana Jones figure — she has everything she needs at the beginning of the story, and her journey will test all of her resources, but it never requires her to change, just to persevere.

The way her journey unfolds surprised me in the exact way it disappointed stras. I expected a detective story, a personal transformation, and a concluding bloodbath. None was on offer. Ree’s engine is not the hermeneutic code of detection but her unflinching determination. The last line of the dilemma scene, “Never ask for what ought to be offered,” is precisely Ree’s mission; her kin, all of who to have at least one more clue than she about her father’s whereabouts, ought to offer her help, but instead they put up roadblocks. All she has to wear them down is persistence and what is known in some quarters as grit.

Rango is a funny, clever trifle. There’s a great Hunter S. Thompson reference (executed with a sweet Ralph Steadman quote), extended tributes to Chinatown and Apocalypse Now and all the Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone nods you could ask for. There’s a shot in the saloon where we view the action from the ceiling, broken up by the blades of a slowly spinning fan — does anyone know what that’s from originally? Neither the conspiracy plot nor the self-referential elements ever quite land perfectly, and the story doesn’t really sing like a Pixar flick, but it’s worth watching, and has some pretty high body count for an animated feature.

***

Statistics!

  • Netflix queue, DVD: 66, 9 saved, 3 television. In hand: Paprika
  • Netflix queue, On Demand: 117, 14 saved, 11 television

***

Please forgive the late posting hour — I’d hoped to have a timed post at the top of the chute, but a work assignment up against a mini-vacation have forced me to complete this entry poolside in a meticulously-Moroccan themed Palm Desert desert oasis. So much themed that Casablanca is playing on a loop in the sitting room, occasionally replaced, I am told, by Hope and Crosby’s Road to Morocco. What movies would you add to the loop — and what did you see, and what did you think?

 

March 28, 2011 Posted by | film, Monday Movies | , , , | 11 Comments

Impossible remakes

Of late, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of anachronistic remakes, ones that would either improve the film in question or else shed new light on a familiar actor. I’d like to lead with two, and I hope you get the idea enough to participate in the game while you’re getting a break from family:

  • Dirty Harry starring (the young) Jack Nicholson: Clint Eastwood seems to me like he’s trying to do a Jack Nicholson impression, except without the in-the-bones nihilism that would make it convincing. Every single scene, Jack Nicholson would’ve done qualitatively better — especially the part where the killer is making him run from phone booth to phone booth. Jack Nicholson’s “I sincerely don’t give a fuck but I’m going to do it anyway” would’ve been much preferable to … whatever it was Clint Eastwood was doing. By the way: what an absolutely shitty movie. This is what passes for an iconic classic?
  • Raging Bull starring Jimmy Stewart: What sums up Jimmy Stewart better than impotent rage?

November 26, 2009 Posted by | film | 4 Comments

Inglourious Basterds

My expectations could not have been lower when I walked into this movie — the premise seemed ridiculous, and the preview is frankly terrible and obnoxious. Yet by the end, I was convinced that it was among Tarantino’s very best, perhaps even his best since Pulp Fiction. Certainly it’s one of his funniest, and it also didn’t fall prey to the pacing issues that made me keep checking how much time was left in Jackie Brown and Death Proof. It’s two and a half hours, but it didn’t feel unusually long at all. I recommend it highly.

August 22, 2009 Posted by | film | 28 Comments

Small press success story

Via IMDB, I stumbled across the following fun fact: Shane Jones’s Light Boxes, published by Publishing Genius, recently had its movie rights purchased by Spike Jonze. This is a huge deal for Publishing Genius, which my friend Adam Robinson founded a few years ago, and will hopefully give PG and small presses more generally closer to the amount of credibility they deserve.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | books, film, Solidarity | 7 Comments

Strategy in French New Wave Cinema

A few nights ago, I watched Last Year at Marienbad. I enjoyed it, but I became morbidly fascinated by the game that keeps coming up. It consists of taking objects such as cards and laying them out in four rows, with 1, 3, 5, and 7 objects, respectively. Players alternate picking up objects; they can take as many as they want, as long as they take them all from the same row. Whoever picks up the last one loses.

What makes it so interesting to me is that the character who introduces the game never loses. He says it’s possible for him to lose, but he just never does. When people start to suspect that whoever goes first automatically wins, he lets the other person go first and still wins. I suspect that he wins every time because his opponents are always distracted by extrinsic things, like the suspicion that he must be running some kind of scam, and don’t really think about the strategy. That’s a major advantage, but he still must have some particular strategy, right? What am I missing (other than the point of the movie)?

UPDATE: Minimal research indicates that they’re playing a version of Nim.

July 1, 2009 Posted by | film | 5 Comments

Favorite movies

If you had to name your five favorite movies as of right now, what would they be? Let’s say you don’t have to put them in a particular order unless you want to.

Mine, unordered, would be as follows:

  • Scenes from a Marriage (Bergman)

  • Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)
  • 8 1/2 (Fellini)
  • Magnolia (PT Anderson)
  • Synecdoche, NY (Charlie Kaufman)

(Tomorrow, maybe they’ll be different.)

June 28, 2009 Posted by | film | 49 Comments

A quick thought on Woody Allen’s latest

Who knew that Woody Allen had time to sit around watching House marathons on cable?

June 28, 2009 Posted by | film | 5 Comments

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