Friday, July 23, 2010

Here it is (at last) !!!

Ladies and Gentlemen... I give you "All the Time," the song by Forces of a Street, who is Justin Schmidt. He's a friend of mine from Philadelphia- he now lives in South Carolina and I in Cambridge- and a while back he asked me to do something visual for his songs. This was supposed to take a couple of months and ended up taking a year. Basically other things got in the way, like my actual job. But here it is.

I would like to thank Justin for writing the song and providing some of the key ideas, and thanks also to my wife Jamie for encouraging me and giving me another artist's perspective. Some day I may actually incorporate her advice into something I do, somehow. For now I just smile and nod... no, heh heh, just kidding my persimmon!

Anyway, it feels very good to stick a fork in this project. This is the first major thing I've made since the invention of Youtube, so hopefully it will have legs.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Final Notice

To my dear wife,

Our Netflix copy of Holy Mountain has been buried, between the DVD player and "Religion for Dummies," half-watched and unloved, for some time now. It is time to power through the rest of it or send the ridiculous thing back.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Angsty Kindergarteners

Highly recommended: Cria Cuervos... , a ghost story- sad, sweet, and brilliant.

In one moment I thought suddenly of Todd Solondz- no, it's not really as obsessive, nor is it ugly or even despairing, ultimately- but like Solondz's work, it can startle you by shifting among sadness, horror and humor, all in a small and quiet moment. The moments are the key here- this is outstanding neo-realism, built of its very strong moments (but with a true narrative thrust as well, and a creeping sense of danger).

The way Ana plays the record of "Porque Te Vas" over and over in this film- look at how angsty she is in this clip, mouthing the words- I instantly remembered Enid listening to Skip James in Ghost World.

You can't tell for the compression in the clip above, but this is one of those 70's films with a hushed, delicate brown palette and close-ups with intense shallow focus... gorgeous. What a great find this is.

Is "Inception" worth seeing?

I might want to see a summer thriller that isn't a trash dump.
Maybe all the good stuff I saw already in the preview.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What a Mess

Ararat. This came and went 8 years ago. Conversation with the video store clerk: "Oh, do you like Atom Egoyan?" Me: "Well, I don't... um, no." But I still wanted to give it a chance.

Well, what a mess! It's about a genocide, so all the emotional chips are in and I feel bad criticizing it, but honestly it's exasperating. I'm not going to make a laundry list. Here's what bothers me the most: why are so many movie villains made into unfathomable monsters? People who do bad things are fascinating because of how similar they are to everyone else, not because of how alien or inhuman they are (or so we try to make them). The scenes of genocide in Ararat are presented as a movie being made within the movie, and its principal antagonist is an officer commanding the Turkish forces who commit the atrocities. Why did they make him a Bruckheimer-grade redneck version of a mustache-twaddling bad guy (not unlike that guy in The Rock who mutinies against Ed Harris)? In a movie with this subject matter, why does there seem to be zero curiosity about evil itself? About how anyone from anywhere is capable of this kind of campaign of executions, rapes and dismemberments- how when no one is watching and there seem to be no consequences involved, this is actually what human beings tend to do?

A friend of mine who teaches English said that his students laughed when told about Nazis hurling babies into ditches. And I thought, sure, that is funny, simply because you can't imagine it. The more you try to understand a tragedy, the more affecting it becomes. You achieve this with sympathy, not with glossy fantasy and stereotypes. (The best example of the former I've seen is United 93.)

The best part of Ararat goes by quickly: we occasionally return to the studio of Arshile Gorky in the 1930's as he works on his famous painting of himself and his mother, and in these fleeting moments we get to watch the French-Armenian actor Simon Abkarian portray the artist. It is a silent performance, and Abkarian is fascinating to watch. (Did you see Casino Royale? He played the contractor who finds the bomb specialist for Le Chiffre, the fish-looking guy, and he puts up his Aston Martin in the poker game, and then they run to the Miami airport, and... etc. See that movie, it rocks!)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies

Yesterday the rain washed the air clean and we breathed it in and walked to Harvard Square to see Cyrus.

My expectations were unusually specific going into this film. I knew about the premise, the grown son protecting his mom from the new suitor- and I had seen two other movies that the Duplass brothers had participated in, each of which unfolded in some way that I didn't anticipate. But Cyrus never did. I don't want to say that it was predictable- that wouldn't be fair, because the characters really were multidimensional and there were small surprises along the way. But, the basic outline, the Cliff Notes version of this, you could come close to writing before even seeing it.

Basically, I think the plotting gets in the way. This movie is totally alive in its first act, when it takes more of an interest in the funny pedestrian details of its performances. The attraction between the leads feels completely genuine (a rare accomplishment, come to think of it), perhaps in part because, while the characters are required by the plot to fall in love, the plot has not yet truly arrived.

The plot, of course, is Cyrus- he is the Tartuffe, the incarnate difficulty, the very premise of the film- and once he arrives, there is an opportunity for the modest universe of the film to become yet richer, but the needs of the plot soon take over. I felt a little stranded- I kind of wanted to go back to the party in the first act and see what other interesting people I could find there.

The strangest moments in the film are when the conflict between the two men of the house turns to angry verbal confrontations, all of which are played for laughs. These scenes attempt an uncomfortable balancing act- both characters must maintain their reality, yet to serve the film's concept and in the name of comedy, must also be reduced to cartoons. I was a bit stunned that the sweet John (John C. Reilly) was so hateful, and I ended up not really believing it. Then late in the film there is an excellent scene in which John lets Cyrus really have it. At that moment, at least, the anger came into focus for me. I finally believed it when the actor just belted it out like he really meant it.

Cyrus can at least claim better acting than The Puffy Chair (an earlier Duplass brothers film), and better characters with more potential. I would definitely watch a sequel about the further adventures of these people. Yet I prefer The Puffy Chair, and I also prefer Humpday, a film starring Mark Duplass that I have assumed for some time was also made by the Duplasses, but is not. (I haven't yet seen Baghead). These films each build to something, the kind of ending that movies should have- the catharsis that you don't completely anticipate. Humpday's climactic sequence in a motel room was worth the entire partially-baked first and second acts- it had more thought-provoking dialogue than many films manage in their entirety, yet at once it felt alive and energetic, like sketch comedy. And The Puffy Chair, as much as the characters have gotten on the nerves of nearly everyone I've seen the film with, contains scenes of lover's quarrels that make so much sense to me, I still replay them in my head. Somehow, Cyrus seemed less ambitious. But I enjoyed it, and it was still miles better than most romantic comedies. Bottom line, what I respect most about the Duplass brothers is that they want to tell love stories that hinge on people resolving their differences after falling in love, not about people who gradually discover over the course of two hours that they have a mutual attraction.

(Correction: A previous version of this post referred to the film Humpday as a Duplass brothers film. Incredibly, it is not. It was written and directed by Lynn Shelton, who must be related to them or something.)

(p.s. Don't you love saying that expression, "hump day?" You don't? Okay, I'll stop.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Aaahhhh... 80's. (Oh and welcome, read my first post!)

Last night's feature was The Legend of Billie Jean, which Jamie's been pressing me to watch for a while now. Jamie had seen it long ago, first time for me.

Main thoughts: complete foolishness, and truly evocative of summer.

What is there in life to comfort us as reliably as 80's cinema can? What other flavor of film is so familiar, so consistent, and has so many titles with boxes that stare at you at the video store, trip after trip, for years, that you never rent but that one day you finally do, and what you see ends up being so completely what you get?

Biggest revelation: Keith Gordon is in this movie and he actually comes off as kind of hardcore! He has this bookish vibe, which he also had in Back to School and Dressed to Kill, but in this thing he also actually seems confident, smooth, and even dangerous. Whoa!

His is also the only character in the film who recovers quickly from getting kneed in the crotch by Billie Jean (he wears a Halloween mask while receiving the infliction). Knee-to-ball emasculation by attractive ladies is a theme running through all of 80's cinema, and it is also employed without reservation here. I believe Peter Coyote and Christian Slater make it through the film without getting kneed in the crotch, but I could be wrong about that.

Back to Keith Gordon- our next stop was imdb, where my eyebrows went up again- he was the writer and director of A Midnight Clear, a very solid flick from the early 90's that I haven't thought about for a long time. And he directed Mother Night- heard of it, never saw it. That is now on the queue. We love discoveries!