Monday, October 20, 2014

Obvious Child (2014)

Going into this film, all of the press was about how this was “the abortion movie” and the "anti-Juno". All that hype had me prepared for a turgid and impassioned defense of a woman’s right to choose that would be scarce on laughs and border on preachy. Had this film not starred the amazing Jenny Slate I might have just waited for video. I’m really glad that I didn’t wait. Sure there’s an abortion in there, but this film is about so much more. It’s about relationships, it’s about family, it’s about friendship, and it’s about growing up. It’s also one of the best on-screen depictions of stand-up comedy that I have ever seen and absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious. Just as a woman should never allow herself to be defined by the fact that she chose to have an abortion, this film boldly refuses to allow itself to be defined by the fact that its protagonist chooses to have an abortion. It’s a wonderful film that defies easy definition about a wonderful woman who isn't easy to define, and I love it for that!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Quote: The Black Cat

"Are we men or are we children? Of what use are all these melodramatic gestures? You say your soul was killed, that you have been dead all these years. And what of me? Did we not both die here in Marmaros 15 years ago? Are we any the less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder? Are we not both the living dead? And now you come to me, playing at being an avenging angel, childishly thirsting for my blood. We understand each other too well. We know too much of life. We shall play a little game, Vitus. A game of death, if you like..."

The Black Cat (1934)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Inception (2010)

Filmmakers have been obsessed with magicians and con artists since forever. Directors ranging from Orson Welles to David Mamet have remarked that they feel a sort of kinship with these various "professionals" who make a living by "putting one over" on an audience/mark. And in the end, that's what film is: a large, elaborate trick intended to make someone feel something without noticing all the moving parts that go into it. You're casting a spell over an audience and allowing them to share in a collective dream while also lightening their wallets the price of a ticket. The subtlest misstep and jig is up, the illusion is pierced.

Does Cobb's totem keep spinning or does it tip over? The mere fact that you care is really all that matters. It means that you have bought into the dream. The mission was a success.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Best Dressed Movie Vampires

Werewolves. Monsters. Mummies. Vampires. Which do you think has an upper hand when it comes to their sartorial mark on cinema? More than any other type of movie "monsters," vampires have style. They're glamorous. They're cool. They live forever, they can shape-shift, and for the most part, they look fabulous. Here are a few noteworthy and very fashionable movie vampires for your enjoyment and appreciation.

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, Dracula (1931)
Let's give it up for the original debonair vampire! Even without his signature cape, that's one dapper fellow. 

Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as Lestat and Louis, Interview With The Vampire (1994)
Let me take a minute to clarify that this list is purely about fashion, as this movie is kinda silly. But those vests! Those coats! The costumes in this are to die for.

Gary Oldman as Count Dracula, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

I actually hate this movie, but I absolutely adore Oldman's costume in this scene. It takes talent to work an all-grey ensemble, and the details of his top hat and tinted glasses really complete the look. His red robe as old heart-headed Dracula is pretty awesome too.

Catherine Deneuve as Miriam, The Hunger (1983)
Look at that picture. No explanation necessary.

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as Eve and Adam, Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
The robe above is actually what inspired this post. Swinton and Hiddleston look so COOL in this movie. We're used to vampires looking like they belong to the distant past, but these costumes take the rock and roll vibe of The Lost Boys (who I didn't feature here because they all look like a bunch of damn fools) and chic-it-the-hell-up. Who wouldn't want to be these two?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

When you think of David Fincher the first word to pop into your head is probably, "darkness". Both aesthetically and thematically that's an accurate description of his cinema. He knows what he likes, but more importantly he knows what we like. Let us not forget that his last two films in particular have been based on HUGE best sellers. Say what you will about the declining numbers in the publishing industry, a whole lot of people read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. Those books are/were everywhere: airports, beaches, bathrooms, convenience stores, etc. I'm pretty sure that your parents and your grandparents have read them. I'm also pretty sure that they enjoyed each and every smutty/gory sentence just as they love all the various incarnations of CSI, Law & Order and NCIS. And let's not forget how eagerly they are awaiting the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. So who's the dark one again?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Quote: Scream

"There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: you can never have sex. BIG NO NO! BIG NO NO! Sex equals death, okay? Number two: you can never drink or do drugs. The sin factor! It's a sin. It's an extension of number one. And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, 'I'll be right back.' Because you won't be back."

Scream (1996)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Touch Of Sin (2013)

Though set in a completely different country and time period, this film would make an interesting companion piece to I Am Cuba. In the earlier film you have four stories illustrating the rampant capitalist corruption, repression and exploitation that necessitated a revolution in Cuba. With this film you get four stories illustrating how the gradual incursion of capitalism into China's economy has lead to crime, disenfranchisement and ultra-violent rage. I'm sure that when the Nationalists were overthrown in 1949, many assumed that economic greed would suddenly become a relic of the past. But as this film acutely demonstrates, that was not the case. All systems get corrupted because all systems are run by greedy, petty, flawed human beings. Violence, misery and death permeate every frame of this film. I'm really surprised that this film was allowed to be made. Perhaps another revolution is on the way?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beware the Moon!

Early this morning, the early birds were treated to a "blood moon" eclipse! What better way to celebrate the full moon than enjoying our favorite cinematic werewolves? I personally like to watch a double feature of The Wolfman (1941) and An American Werewolf in London (1981). Both are very different but very enjoyable takes on the iconic lycanthrope...a pitiable individual turned into a horrible monster by means beyond his control, who can only be stopped by death. Lon Chaney Jr. stars in the original legendary werewolf film, a sad tale of a cursed man. He's so sympathetic and your heart goes out to him, even as he kills again and again. He can't help it. In An American Werewolf in London, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne star as victims of the werewolf attack. It's scary and sad, but also has these brilliant moments of black comedy. It's highly entertaining and fun to watch with a crowd. So if you're looking for something to watch tonight, make it a werewolf flick. Just make sure it doesn't involve Taylor Lautner, alright?

What's your opinion on movie werewolves? Do you have a favorite?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rent This: The Innocents (1961)

Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is employed to be the governess of two precocious children in a large old house that appears to have more inhabitants than she originally thought, and they are not of this world. After she sees multiple signs of hauntings in and around the house, she decides to take matters into her own hands to protect the children and expel the spirits

This movie is scary. On more than one occasion while watching the film, I got goosebumps. I've always preferred creepy, atmospheric horror to gore and obviousness, and this movie was right up my alley. Deborah Kerr's acting is some of the best I've seen from her, as she goes from delight in her new occupation to wide-eyed terror and begins questioning her own sanity. It also looks great...the film makes very good use of space in the frame. Something that's really effective in a horror film for me is when the film exercises restraint in showing us the object meant to frighten us. Something chilling seen from a distance can be much scarier than a close up every time. This film doesn't answer every question, and leaves things up for debate long after it's over, and I LOVE that. It shows confidence in the audience, letting them decide for themselves what really happened. Criterion just released this and I'm hoping to find it in my Christmas stocking...or should we perhaps make Halloween stockings a thing?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Nymphomaniac: Extended Director's Cut (2014)

I've seen Gone With The Wind and I’ve seen The Chelsea Girls, but this easily takes the cake. Barring an unexpected screening of The Clock, Shoah or Berlin Alexanderplatz this will easily go down as my longest theatrical experience. Sure I've marathoned an entire TV series in a just over a day, but this is another matter. This is five and a half hours in the dark, alone, with no cell phone. Some films you can watch passively while doing errands around the house. A Lars Von Trier film is not one of those kinds of films. Undertaking Nymphomaniac in a theater rather than at home, on demand requires five and a half hours of actively giving your attention to one thing. But is it worth it?

Though the most extensive addition in this new version of the film is a graphic depiction and thought provoking discussion of abortion, I feel that the most important addition is that of Von Trier himself on the film's poster. This, along with the deliberate inclusion of a shot where the camera crew is reflected in a mirror, only helps to further my feeling that above all else this is a film about Lars Von Trier and his life in cinema. Substitute the word sex with cinema and you could easily re-title the film Cinephile.

The only real "new thought" I had on this go-around was contemplating whether the "next generation" represented by the character of P was meant as a stand-in for any young filmmaker in particular. But seeing as that thought could just as easily have come from a re-watch of the original cut of Vol. II, it's nothing really to write home about. If you saw the original two-volume incarnation, you didn't really miss much. Still overall a fascinating film worth chewing on.

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Not everyone can be Martin Scorsese. By this I mean that in the current filmmaking climate, it is extremely difficult for a director to find the proper budget to realize a project of any significant scope. Some auteurs like Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg have had to resort to making small movies where the lack of budget is plainly visible in the so-so effects and underpopulated crowd scenes. They seem to understand that most people will not be seeing these films in a theater and have adjusted to a more TV-friendly aesthetic. David Lynch and John Waters aren’t even able to drum up budgets at all. But thankfully there’s Lars Von Trier.

While everyone else is getting smaller and smaller, the man who made two films where the sets were merely outlines on the ground, has opted to get bigger and bigger. Beginning with Antichrist and continuing with Melancholia, Von Trier started implementing what he has referred to as his, “monumental style”. This style consists of extremely precise, high definition, slow motion photography that runs contrary to the more handheld, run and gun style he was known for in the 90's. But like Miles Davis at his height, once you've perfected something, it's time to move on and try something new.

Though he seems to have abandoned the, “monumental style” for Nymphomaniac, Lars has miraculously found a way to get even bigger by putting together a two-part, four-hour, widescreen epic, with all sorts of visual tricks, a huge cast and explicitly graphic sexuality. He even implemented the head-replacement technology that David Fincher pioneered in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network to make it seem as though the movie stars onscreen are actually copulating with one another. So what if the majority of viewers will be watching this on flat screens, in the privacy of their own home? Lars doesn’t care. He’s put everything he has into this funny, sad, erotic and thought provoking magnum opus. He’s attempting to fill all of your (aesthetic and emotional) holes, and for the most part he’s successful.

*      *      *

More than any other filmmaker I know, Lars Von Trier loves to work in trilogies. There's the Europa Trilogy (Element of Crime, Epidemic and Europa) The Golden Heart Trilogy (Breaking the Waves, The Idiots and Dancer in the Dark) and the incomplete USA: Land of Opportunities trilogy (Dogville, Manderlay and the un-produced Washington). Nyphomaniac has been described as the culmination of a Depression Trilogy following the director's well publicized 2007 breakdown. Yet, while the other films of this trilogy (Antichrist and Melancholia) are content to wallow in the morose muck of a depressed state, Nymphomaniac seems to be about emerging from that mire via perverse humor and playful provocations.

After his breakdown, Lars was quite literally Joe, laying bruised and beaten in some forgotten alleyway. Fortunately audiences/critics were there to play Seligman and sympathetically listen to his tales of woe (ie: the other films in the trilogy). At first Lars/Joe was receptive to our kindness, but gradually he came to resent us for it and started to kick back against the compassion with tiny verbal barbs and cinematic provocation. By the end of Volume II we have a fully recuperated Lars Von Trier who is back in fighting form and itching to bite the hand that feeds...even if it kind of shoots his own film in the foot. So then why do it you ask? I guess the best way to describe that is with a Seligman-esque digression:
A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is reluctant as he fears the scorpion will sting him during the trip. The scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, they would both sink and drown. Reluctantly the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks, "Why?" the scorpion can only reply, "It's my nature!"