Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shall We Gather at the River: How "Christian" is The Tree of Life?

A couple of months ago I attended a panel discussion in New York on The Tree of Life and spirituality. It was an interesting group of speakers, even though it sounded a bit like the first line of a joke – there was a minister, a Buddhist, a humanist, an atheist, and a film producer. Fox Searchlight has graciously made some clips of various speakers available from this panel and from a similar one held in L.A. around this same time. I’ve included some clips, as well as my own thoughts, below.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Outlaw Josey Wales: Mending a Patchwork Nation

I always find it hard to remember how The Outlaw Josey Wales ends. I keep forgetting there’s a big shootout at the end – when Josey’s longtime pursuers, a group of former Unionist militiamen led by Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney), lay siege to the ramshackle ranch house where he and his surrogate family of rootless Indians and failed pioneers have settled. I’ve seen the film something like six times – I’ve even read the script – and I pretty much never remember this ending.

Monday, July 25, 2011

8 Observations Upon Re-watching The Lord of the Rings

-- It now seems odd to refer to these as three films. Of course, most Tolkien fans I know don't refer to The Lord of the Rings as three books, but since I'm not a Tolkien fan (I liked The Hobbit but threw LOTR across the room about mid-way through. Literally. Threw it) that argument never did much for me. It is all one movie – written and shot at the same time – and when viewed as such, some surprising things (at least, surprising to me) begin to emerge:

For example, the positively insane amount of time the first installment spends at the Shire always felt a little strange to me – let’s get to the Cave Troll already! – but that balance is righted when viewed across the whole. Indeed, all that Shire business early on is absolutely justified by the longings characters express in the subsequent films for their simpler way of life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

SEE THIS MOVIE: Psychohydrography

We’re supposed to think of experimental films as being extremely complex, or challenging, or difficult, and not at all for the faint of heart. And surely it’s a sign of my own ignorance that I’ve usually chosen to appreciate them more for their surface virtues: Dog Star Man is, for me, a beautiful fantasy of light and color and texture; I begin to lose the thread when I try to wrap my feeble mind around the mythological ruminations Brakhage imposed on it. On some level, experimental films are the easiest films to watch: No pesky plots to follow, no character motivations to untangle, no deep themes to explore after they’ve been dutifully teased by well-placed metaphors.

Every once in a while, though, something does get to me. And Peter Bo Rappmund’s Psychohydrography, which opens at Anthology Film Archives this week, definitely put me somewhere unfamiliar. It is one of the most staggeringly beautiful things I’ve seen this year, and it left me with an odd sense of elated desolation. (And might I add that it's kind of a shame that it has one of those fashionably cumbersome experimental film titles that does no justice whatsoever to its poetic power.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How The Thin Blue Line Changed My Life

With the recent death of Randall Dale Adams and the release of Errol Morris’s new film Tabloid (which is amazing, btw), I was reminded of the first time I saw The Thin Blue Line, which proved to be a major teachable moment for me.

I was 15 when The Thin Blue Line came out in 1988. It was playing at the Outer Circle theater in Washington, D.C., a small and rather uncomfortable (but still absolutely awesome) two-screen arthouse that not only closed years ago but has since been demolished. The Outer Circle happened to be not too far off my bus and subway route from school, so I was in the habit of going to see movies there before heading home at the end of the day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What We Talk About When We Talk About Horror (Now Updated!)

[See below for Jason Zinoman's response]

Jason Zinoman had an interesting four-part series on Slate last week entitled “How to Fix Horror.” He’s the author of a new book, Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood and Invented Modern Horror – I haven’t read it, but the guy seems to know his stuff, and I'll probably get his book as a present for my wife, who's the horror-fiend in the family. Not being a particularly huge horror fan myself, I haven’t pondered much the notion that it might be broken as a genre. But here’s how Zinoman sees it:
Today the genre is bigger, more diverse, and more lucrative than it was back [during the ‘60s and ‘70s], but its films rarely shock or inspire as they once did. There are many good new scary movies, but few great ones.
Zinoman’s proposed “fixes” certainly got me thinking, but a couple of them also confused me. I think it’s fair to say that he generally seems to favor a particular kind of no-nonsense horror movie. (His first piece of advice is: “Stop trying to be so damn respectable!” The second: “Kill the back story.” The third: “Don’t be afraid of remakes.” The fourth: “Gore is good.”)  He believes that the genre has been “infected” by “a creeping – and not-at-all creepy – pretentiousness.” And he feels that horror is “more at home being impolite and gross and borderline unethical.”

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Apocalypse: A Brief Melancholia Story

It gets worse.

Since it’s a slow week, I thought I’d share this brief experience I had a little while ago during a screening of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, a movie which I will hopefully write more about as it nears its release date. The film itself is really good -- perhaps even a masterpiece -- but also quite upsetting, for a variety of reasons which I won’t get into but you can probably guess, given its ostensible plot.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

12 Films That Made Me Love America

I became a U.S. citizen a couple of years ago. Don’t ask me why it took so long. I had a Green Card for something like 25 years, and I always knew I’d eventually become a real citizen. Along the way certain films would reinforce that desire. I’m not talking about the kind of macho fantasies that pass for “patriotic” movies. I’m talking about films that convey America’s many complexities, while still somehow managing to reaffirm my love for it. Indeed, many of these films might be deemed “un-patriotic” by some people. To those people I say, “Phffft.” Here are 12 films that made me want to become an American, in no particular order.