Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Two Final Thoughts on Aspect Ratios, Golden and Otherwise...

The recent kerfuffle over the Barry Lyndon aspect ratio (my blog post is here but the real action wound up occurring over in the comments thread to Glenn Kenny’s post at Some Came Running) got me thinking about two things.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fear Factor

I reviewed The Hangover Part II for the Nashville Scene this week, and I mostly liked it. Mostly. Thing is, I actually loved the first film, even though plenty of fellow film buffs see in it the rough outlines of the Face of Evil or whatever. I’m not sure if Adam Sternbergh is one of those folks, but I certainly don’t get the sense he likes it much, based on his riff for the Times entitles “The Hangover and the Age of the Jokeless Comedy,” in which he argues that Todd Phillips and Judd Apatow have basically created a new genre of comedy in which there are no jokes (a “joke-genocide,” he deems it). He elaborates:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oh, I Guess I Might as Well Say Something About This...

 I was starting to feel a little left out of the current mini-debate going on over the upcoming (and, might I add, welcome) Blu-ray release of Barry Lyndon, which has long been my favorite Kubrick film. It's a little complicated to explain, but it mostly concerns the issue of whether Kubrick always intended for the film to be shown in a 1.66 or a 1.78 ratio. Jeff Wells fired the opening salvo. Glenn Kenny of the estimable Some Came Running replied. Then there was some further confusion. And now, it appears that Glenn has settled the matter by talking with Leon Vitali, who played Lord Bullingdon in the film and then went on to become Kubrick's assistant on subsequent films. Vitali said in an interview with Glenn:


As The Tree of Life’s release approaches, two pretty mundane thoughts keep nagging at me. Well, not “nagging,” exactly. More like random observations that I feel I must share:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

And In This Corner, A Heap Of Broken Images...

I haven’t seen the new Pirates of the Caribbean film, but my friend Ali Arikan’s review/refusal-to-review of it, colorfully entitled “A Fountain of Maggots,” is more than just one of the funniest pieces of film writing I’ve read this year, it’s actually a genuinely touching cri de coeur that rebels against a very specific kind of modern-day event movie. Here’s a sample quote:
One of the worst films of all time, On Stranger Tides has absolutely and utterly no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I wanted to say it's like watching an enema, but even that's a good thing: you get rid of the filth…It's as if you were cloned, and the clones shared the same consciousness, and then were turned into the human centipede, but instead of three, this centipede is endless. It's not so much pain, though there's that, too, but, instead, nausea.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

At the Violet Hour: A First Stab at The Tree of Life

“Sometimes I feel very old. Like my whole life’s over. Like I’m not around no more.” – Days of Heaven

The other morning my wife, my two-year-old son, and I were goofing around in our dining room, when I saw my son reach for an electrical outlet. Being the nervous, constantly worried parent that I am, I immediately yelled, “No!” at him rather firmly. This had the intended effect of preventing my son from electrocuting himself, and also the unintended one of startling and upsetting the boy. Lower lip quivering, he desperately embraced his mother as she tried to comfort him and gently told him that Daddy didn’t mean it. I, as usual, moped away, wondering if I’d done something wrong. Of course I hadn’t, but a parent constantly reflects on this kind of bizarre, ever-shifting calculus. It’s not just one thing, it’s one thing that leads to many.  The things that must be done and the things that must not. The things one wants and needs and the things one has. The things one gives and the things one takes, and the things that just are. And the things that wait, unknown and unseen until they too become a part of your life. All of it, ever-expanding -- spiraling out until the whole world seems to consist entirely of these things. The kid’s only two, and I can already see it unfolding before my eyes.

I toyed with ending this review right there, just adding, “And this concludes my review of The Tree of Life, which is the greatest film I’ve ever seen. The End.” Which would have maybe been hilarious, but also misleading -- because The Tree of Life isn’t really about these above things. But these above things are part of the reason why it hit me so hard. Let’s face it, there are times in life – be they seismic struggles with grief and love that take your breath away, or mundane matters of parenting that merely prompt subdued reflection -- when you begin to feel yourself a part of something greater and ever-turning.  To borrow a quote from Disney’s Peter Pan: “All this has happened before. And it will all happen again.” And then, from Eyes Wide Shut: “Until it doesn’t.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Anticipation of the Light

So, I’ve got a piece in this week’s New York Magazine about Terrence Malick and The Tree of Life’s thirty-plus year journey to the screen. The article in its final iteration turned out a bit different than what I set out to write, for a variety of reasons, but it was still interesting talking to some of the folks from the old Q crew. I have yet to see the film, but it just premiered at Cannes, it screens for some U.S. critics today, and  everybody and his mother is either talking about it or getting ready to talk about it. Many of us are still pinching ourselves, unable to believe that its release is almost upon us.

Initially, one of the things I wanted to discuss in my NY Mag piece was how Malick’s style changed over the years. Those of us who adore his work have obviously talked endlessly about the similarities between Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and The New World. But we often don’t do enough to acknowledge the very tangible and specific differences between the films, particularly those before The Hiatus and those after – as if to acknowledge such differences would be to concede ground to those who don’t find the later films to be all that. Obviously, we can all agree that the later films are more ambitious and expansive, but it seems to me the differences go deeper.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In Defense of Stealing Beauty. Yes, Stealing Beauty.

 So, anyway, perhaps you’ve heard that there’s this little film festival going on in France right about now. I’m not there, but that will (hopefully) not keep me from commenting on some of the goings on, especially since most of my favorite filmmakers currently working appear to be in the spotlight. Malick, Von Trier, Sorrentino, Winding Refn, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Bertolucci…Seriously, a well-placed bomb on the Croisette could basically destroy all my cinematic hope for the next decade or so.

As anybody who’s read more than one thing I’ve written can tell, I’m particularly happy that one Bernardo Bertolucci is getting an honorary Palme this year (he's never gotten an actual Palme), in the wake of an international touring retrospective of his work and winning the prestigious BBC Four World Cinema Achievement Award last year. And, oh yeah, the Blu-ray release of Last Tango in Paris a couple of months ago. All this activity around Bertolucci is probably why I found myself in a debate the other day about the relative merits of one Bertolucci film that likely did not factor into the honorary Palme decision, which also ironically happens to be the last film he actually had in Competition: Stealing Beauty, one of those movies people like to trot out whenever they want to argue that Bertolucci has lost a step, or two, since his '70s heyday. On one level it’s hard to argue that Stealing Beauty is in any way the equivalent of masterpieces like The Conformist or 1900, so it’d be foolish to try. Nevertheless, I love it dearly, madly, tragically, and perhaps I should say something here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

City of Life and Death (But Mostly Death)

There have been a number of films in recent years tackling the Rape of Nanking (apparently even Zhang Yimou and Christian Bale are getting in on the action), and it’s been hard to review them, as the enormity of the crime they depict is breathtaking -- obliterating any attempt at critical evaluation. In some ways, The City of Life and Death takes things even further in that direction. For all its aesthetic flourishes and epic scope, there’s a strange asceticism to Lu Chuan’s drama that feels right: Its refusal to treat us to traditional narrative almost seems to bring us closer to the madness we’re watching onscreen.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"When life gives you razor blades, you get a baseball bat, and you cover it in razor blades"

I figured Hobo with a Shotgun to be many things – tongue-in-cheek, gory, nutty, over-the-top, etc. And it was, but it somehow wound up being something more than that, too – taking me to a way darker place than anticipated. Last year’s iteration of the postmodern grindhouse ethos, Machete, just missed making my 2010 Top Ten List, but for all its mania and gore it was, at heart, a wish fulfillment fantasy – a hilarious and exciting candy-colored fantasia of violence as a kid might imagine it, with a bit of extra long intestine added in. That’s basically what I thought Hobo with a Shotgun might be.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Slow and Behold: On Pacing, Patience, and Taste

Several days ago, before I got distracted by the Michael Mann film now on the world’s TV screens 24/7, I was at work on a response to this essay by my pal Dan Kois in the New York Times Magazine. Dan’s piece discusses his newfound skepticism over what he calls “aspirational viewing” – watching certain films and TV shows (among others. he singles out Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, the 2008 Kazakh shepherd film Tulpan, and HBO’s Treme) because of a need to feel like a more sophisticated viewer. “As I get older,” he says, “I find I’m suffering from a kind of culture fatigue and have less interest in eating my cultural vegetables, no matter how good they may be for me.”

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Me Talk Herzog One Day

I’ve spoken to Werner Herzog twice in the past year. Most recently, for this Vulture interview about his intriguing new documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. (The earlier one was this chat for IFC.com, pegged to the DVD release of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?) The guy is obviously a very engaging fellow, and my big regret with both of these interviews is that they happened on rather short notice, not giving me enough time to revisit some of the films and think up interesting things to ask him. (I do think, however, that I’m on to something with my comparison of Cave of Forgotten Dreams to Bells from the Deep.)