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Monday Movies: Obscure objects

This week I decided that it might be wise to use at least part of my break as what some would call “an actual break” as opposed to “an opportunity to do even more work than usual.” As such, I began watching movies during the day, as The Girlfriend and I seem to be able to watch only TV episodes on weekends lately. Here are the results:

  • That Obscure Object of Desire — I really enjoyed this one, even moreso as I thought about it afterward. There was genuine erotic tension, there were plenty of WTF moments (such as when Mathieu details his futile attempt to remove Conchita’s chastity belt contraption and the camera cuts to the framing device and there are two kids listening intently to the story), and the ending was, in my opinion, completely perfect. Weirdly, though, despite liking this one and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, I can’t picture myself seeking out further Buñuel films.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — this was an immensely entertaining movie. The Girlfriend and I were at first intimidated by the three-hour running time, and we in fact watched it over two nights, but it moved quickly. We’re going to be singing that song for months.
  • Black Swan — The Girlfriend was in ballet as a kid, so this was non-negotiable. It turned out to be really, really good, although I’m still in shock that a ballet movie was in a lot of ways also the most graphically violent movie I’ve seen in a long time. (Incidentally, thinking back to Public Enemies, with its unrelenting close-ups: Black Swan, which focuses on the mental breakdown of an extremely introverted ballerina, is the kind of movie where you use a ton of close-ups, not a movie about a person like John Dillenger who appears to have no internal life at all.) Overall, I think this one is going to stick with me for a while.

At Black Swan, we also saw a preview for a movie with perhaps the least compelling premise in history: the king of England needs to give a speech to rally the nation in the face of Hitler, but he has a speech impediment! Oh dear!


December 13, 2010 - Posted by | Monday Movies


  1. “Oh dear!”

    More like “Oh Oscar!”–they love people with disabilities (physical, intellectual, developmental) and boxers. Fortunately for the Oscar watching set, we’ll have Marky Mark versus Mark Darcy for “Best Actor.” (Anyone else think that freakishly-thin “Batman”/bad-John-Connor looks like Will Arnett?)

    “Gentlemen Broncos.” While inhabiting the same aesthetic as “Napoleon Dynamite,” this movie was sui generis. Comparisons to the earlier film are ill-founded: this was much more serious and dry, although “ND” fans no doubt enjoyed “being thrown a bone” when the main character said “Dang!” Jemaine from “FOTC” was excellent, although he sounded like that ugly guy from the “Harry Potter” movies at times.

    Comment by Craig | December 13, 2010

  2. How could I forget? After watching an episode of “Criminal Minds” the other night with some new character in it, I said, “Her mouth is always open, she has a dough-ie face, generic blond hair, irritating personality… why not just put out “the big bucks” for Jennifer Finnigan?” While “Criminal Minds” wasn’t, apparently, willing to dish out like $1000 for her, the Canadian made-for-tv movie industry was. Imagine my surprise when “Shadow Island Mysteries: The Last Christmas” premiered this month on “W: The Network for Women Who Love Made for TV Movies–And The Men Who Love Them.” I encourage everyone to dig up my earlier review of the first installment in this series. It was, like NPH says in that terrible sit-com, “epic.” Take everything bad about Jennifer Finnigan and add in everything bad about Canadian-made-for-tv-movies-pretending-that-they’re-not-Canadian, plus a dash of Christmas, and you have “The Last Christmas.” Feel good holiday movie of the season.

    Comment by Craig | December 13, 2010

  3. I just got back from Black Swan. It was very good, but like Adam I was shocked at the level of graphic violence. No one — none of the reviews I read, none of the friends I spoke to — prepared me for how horrific the movie turned out to be.

    I thought it was funny that the movie recreated this youtube video about fifty times.

    Comment by jms | December 13, 2010

  4. I liked Obscure Object; not so much GBatU, but maybe it has just been around too long, and the hyperstyle too much parodied. As far as Bunuel goes, Viridiana and umm, dammit, umm, fuck, the Deneuve hooker movie are musts before you die.

    Ozu uses close-ups, usually medium, more than the other directors, but perhaps in a way opposite to most directors:close-ups not to show or communicate intense emotion but for moments of calm ordinariness. The intense shots are medium, to show context, the room, and the entire body. The only time I think you should show only a face is when context doesn’t matter, like maybe Dreyer’s Passion

    Tonight:Shimizu, Nobuko, 1940, Mieko Takamine, probably Hideko’s sister. Young schoolteacher at UMC girl’s boarding HS. Troublemaking uber-rich student is troubled. Side plot about poor girl being trained as geisha. Everything ends well. No men at all, until very end, when authority reinforces wisdom independently achieved.

    A little forced and melodramatic, but with two very nice extended search sequences within forests and modernist school architecture, separated by a third comic chase. Structure and visual language come effortlessly. Themes of duty and compassion conquering class prejudice. Shimizu’s usual easy-going humanism and joie de vivre.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 13, 2010

  5. Belle de Jour! or du. I knew it would come to me

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 13, 2010

  6. I’ve also seen Belle du Jour.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | December 13, 2010

  7. I saw Winter’s Bone, and while John Hawkes was great in it and the film had a nice brooding atmosphere, the story itself was pretty disappointing. What could’ve been a pretty great, despairing sort of Appalachian noir just turned into a series of increasingly one-note character interactions/exposition dumps, as the heroine confronts one stubborn neighbor after another and either receives information about events that have already happened off-screen or gets blown off entirely. There are a few good dramatic moments, and, to be fair, a pretty gut-wrenching climax, but it felt like they filmed an uneven first draft; I kept waiting for tension to build that wasn’t there.

    Comment by stras | December 13, 2010

  8. I will have more to say about Black Swan presently, but this was very good.

    Comment by k-sky | December 13, 2010

  9. I, too, saw Black Swan recently (last night, in fact) and enjoyed it a good deal.

    Adam should now watch Duck You Sucker! and Once Upon a Time in the West.

    Comment by ben | December 13, 2010

  10. Duck, You Sucker! (forgot about the comma) has some great closeups of people eating in the opening scenes (a bit reminiscent of the way food is handled in Little Otik).

    Comment by ben | December 13, 2010

  11. So by “great” you mean “unsettling”?

    Comment by stras | December 13, 2010

  12. Ozu, Ohayo, aka Good Morning 1959; broad gentle comedy. Usual Shochiku cast, quite large.

    Two children in a middle-class neighborhood wage a silence strike to get a tv. Also:farts and diarrhea. And:retirement, money, romance, miscommunication, generational issues. Fullness of midlife.

    Every Ozu is different. This has a very busy and humorous musical soundtrack. The “pillow” transitional shots usually have people in them. I go nuts looking for the red “signatures.” Almost every shot has a red highlight like a mat or saltshaker or teapot or lettering. This may be a reference to Edo-era artist signatures used a small red stamp that looks a little like a cartouche. Once you know to look for it, it can freeze your attention on the setup and art direction, saying “This is a composition.” And it usually is. Not the most beautiful late Ozu, but very fine.

    Allusions to Early Summer also a fullness of midlife movie. There is a young man, laid off, who works as a translator and tutor. Competition to pass the the best school exams is brutal, and starts in grade school. There are peddlers. The importance of this tertiary economy is usually overlooked. Salarymen in large corps are a small part of the political economy, determined much of the elite ethos, but community orgs of this tertiary, driven much by women were also important. Anyway things unspoken become important at the end.

    Fine late Ozu.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 14, 2010

  13. So by “great” you mean “unsettling”?


    Comment by ben | December 14, 2010

  14. OH I FORGOT the most amazing thing about Black Swan, which is that one of the prints that hangs in the Sayers’ apartment also hangs in my childhood home.

    Comment by ben | December 14, 2010

  15. Kurosawa,Sanshiro Sugata, 1943

    Pretty good Meiji judo movie, with a attractive lead, ok fight scenes, and some pretty shots.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 15, 2010

  16. Black Swan was powerful and disturbing but not quite as important or moving as The Wrestler. Longer version here.

    The Fighter is two different movies laid over each other. Christian Bale gets to be in one with Melissa Leo and the Eklund-Ward sisters playing themselves (16 years later) as working-class grotesques. Amy Adams and Mark Wahlberg get to be in the other movie as good people. Russell nods at this — there’s a pivotal moment when Bale asks “what kind of movie are you making anyway?”

    White Material I need to sit with a while longer.

    All three are recommended.

    Comment by k-sky | December 15, 2010

  17. Short notes on Ohayo inspired or stolen from the Web

    1) Farting is art on command (touch forehead, fart rendered as almost musical note). The movie ends with the forlorn kid unable to produce art, only shit

    2) The actual movie ends with “dirty laundry” exposed to the neighborhood

    3) Two scenes back or so you have the young couple unable to communicate at the train station. They discuss the weather. (I don’t remember any moving trains in this movie, which would radical for Ozu)
    Anyway, again, this is likely a another allusion to Early Summer which also has an awkward cautious “flirting” scene at a train station. That one is a little more substantive, involving a Nobel Prize winning book the young doctor is reading. The difference between the two scenes (and there are other differences) could be making points. (Bordwell and Thompson are full of shit with their abstract formalist interpretation)

    Ozu & Noga spent their three months writing a script with their other twenty years of scripts in hand. Is this called “intertextuality” now? And I am not sure if they cared if the audience could play their game. The movies were good enough on their own.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 15, 2010

  18. Farting on command

    After the horrible box-office failure of the dour Tokyo Twilight was Ozu told to lighten up by Shochiku? There is the 3-year gap after Tokyo Story (was Ozu sick, or depressed because the negative was destroyed by fire?) followed by Early Spring, and then a series of comedies, getting increasingly dark until we reach the black hole of Hell that is Autumn Afternoon

    Anyway, the farting/shit could have been an injoke to Kido/Shochiku saying “Get off my back, bitches”

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 15, 2010

  19. Ozu, A Hen in the Wind , 1948

    A wife prostitutes herself to get medicine for her child; her husband gets home and they must deal. Melodramatic, very intense, probably misogynist, if not viewed as allegory for the sins and regrets of war.

    The environment looks like the mid-thirties social dramas but less despairing. This feels to me like a cinematographer and director were reaching a oeak, Lots of “pillow shots.” Very very fine movie

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 17, 2010

  20. Mizoguchi, Ugetsu Monogatari 1953

    Everybody knows Ugetsu like everybody knows Rashomon Ok, very pretty, no actually the Criterion b/w transfer was fucking stunning. Parables. War sucks, men are skunks. Kinda perfect, but there are at least 3-4 Mizos I have liked better.

    I’ll have to catch the commentary track pretty soon.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 18, 2010

  21. Mizoguchi, Ugetsu, this time with the excellent Tony Rayns commentary track. Rayns knows his stuff.

    Notes:305 movies released in Japan in 1953, the year of Ugetsu 190 imports. No Golden Palm in Venice that year, which ticked Mizo, but Ugetsu did get the top prize, beating films like Ophuls Le Plaisir

    2) Machiko Kyo performing a Noh dance onscreen was radical. To this day, Noh female parts are played mostly by men

    3) Mizo, IIRC, again only gives his best and very rare closeups as final statements to women. I think Kyo, huge star, gets some, but the great one by the ghost of Miyagi at the end is typical. Mizo so often ends with a woman’s face

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 19, 2010

  22. I Live, But…A Biography of Yasujiro Ozu. Japanese documentary, with subtitlers.

    Talking heads and location shots, short selections from works. Nothing radically insightful, just emphasis that might adjust my interpretations. Actors emphasize how utterly controlling Ozu was, allowing them zero freedom to interpret or improvise any inflection or gesture. They try anyway.

    “Can you just do it the same way twice in a row,” Ozu asked. Is it interesting that it is apparently so hard to repeat a 15 second sequence?

    One theory I found appealing is about presentation vs representation. You feel the actors trying to get out from under the direction in Ozu’s late movies which adds a layer of…something. They are presenting the characters.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 20, 2010

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