Jul 092017
 

This movie refuses to pretend to be anything other than precisely what it is: a camera that stares. In practice that means it risks being mistaken for a beautifully photographed but stuffy exhibit of period costumes and decors.

It’s not. It’s a camera staring with limitless curiosity at the face of Jean-Pierre Léaud.

A good example of this is an extremely long-take from early in the film. The movie sets its gaze upon a moment of Léaud’s performance, shooting him in profile in extreme close-up as he holds a smile for the members of his court attempting to entertain him in his bedroom. At first the smile is natural and pleasant. But then subtly the joy drops out of it, and it becomes a mask for fatigue. Nothing—and yet everything—has changed. And then a tiny muscle lying under the loose skin of Léaud’s cheek begins to twitch, intermittently at first but then insistantly. The smile never drops, the eyes continue to shine, but by the time the courtiers leave, the cost of the performance—the king’s and the actor’s—has registered.

More generally though, the film stares at a face made famous when it was young. The face has aged, but the movie and those of us watching it remember that it once looked like this:

The movie stares at this face, studying how it has changed with age, and searches for what of the youth remains.

The beauty of the film is that as it stares at the aged face, it discovers (and shows) that all of that remembered beauty is still there. Changed but there. And still compelling.

 Jul 9, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Apr 242017
 

Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks was one of the first films I fell in love with when, in my first semester of film school, I started watching American Underground film from the mid-century. After saw it, I spent a good five, six months obsessing over his small body of films.

Over the years, I’ve seen and liked a lot more underground films of the period, some of them better, but none of them have managed to dislodge this film from it’s pride of place. It’s too knowing and too young at the same time to be anything but wonderful.

At home and in a mood I found myself watching it tonight alongside Genet’s objectively better Chant d’amour.

 Apr 24, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Apr 222017
 

I stumbled across this short dance film years ago. I hadn’t seen it since, but for some reason, tonight I sat down and watched it, and I was as moved by it now as I remember being then.

The film, a montage of long shots, close-ups and tableaux organized by a shared dance and the rhythms of the soundtrack, has a cast of six dancers in three couples: a man in a suit and woman in a dress, a gay couple in sweats and marcels, and a young straight couple wearing underwear.

The film aims to be beautiful, romantic and sexy simultaneously. It rains continuously, so how could it possibly miss its mark?

 Apr 22, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Apr 062017
 

I was never tempted to watch Rogue One in the theatre and wasn’t sure I’d even watch it once it was available for rent. But then Tuesday night on a lark I did. Then last night, I watched it again.

This is the best Star Wars movie since the original trilogy. I actually don’t think there’s any competition for the spot. In fact, this may be the first good “movie as movie” in the series since The Empire Strikes Back.

What I admired most here was the way it breaks the stranglehold of the original story by imagining in a creative and compelling way a world that is larger than Luke, Lea, and Han. The familiar story is there, popping up again and again in visual references and narrative links. (My favourite was the initial shot of Felicity Jones that echoes a similar shot of Carrie Fisher in A New Hope.) But unlike in J. J. Abrams’s weak stab at the franchise, these references operate primarily as sign-posts indicating 1) that the familiar story is nearby; but 2) that the present story is decidedly not that familiar story.

I have no idea if the movie will stand up over time, but I think it is wonderfully effective variation on an established generic formation. And killing everyone off was brilliant and unexpected. Doing so declares bluntly that not all stories in this world have to be serial narratives.

 Apr 6, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 222017
 

According to cliché, there’s no “I” in team. There is however an “i” in “poise” and that “I”—let’s risk pretension and call it an eye—makes a “pose” something admirable and beautiful.

Tom Ford’s second film is magnificent and moving. It offers a cool and expansive but also a carefully self-conscious regard upon popular and art spectatorships.

I loved this movie and truly don’t understand what (other than bile) could have kept it from being a darling of the award season alongside the equally ambitious but very different (because sincere) Moonlight.

…maybe that was the problem: this is a personal movie about “the personal” but without ostentatious sincerity.

Exhibit A: this is how Tom Ford dressed for work:

 Mar 22, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Mar 182017
 

The Beav: “C’est n’importe quoi…”

Me: “Yep”

I’m not at all sure what the appeal of this story is supposed to be. What pleasure does it think it offers? To my eye, it’s just carefully shot wretchedness from start to finish.

And speaking of shots, that last one? Leonardo is no Jean Seberg.

(Yes, I’ve clearly found this movie extremely annoying.)

Mar 142017
 

Oddly boring and ponderous movie. Yet its style—the color, the editing, the script—is all over the map. Everything but Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s performance feels one misstep shy of out of control and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour (2014) is the better film by orders of magnitude.

I miss the Oliver Stone of Natural Born Killers. Nothing he’s done except JFK has ever come close to its level of lucid insanity. And nothing he’s done—nothing at all—comes close to the earned confidence of its anarchic beauty.

 Mar 14, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Mar 082017
 

When first writing about Hell or High Water, I skirted talking politics except for an oblique reference to Trump’s supporters, but the movie wears politics like a badge. Billboards and graffiti announce the horrors of debt like a drumbeat through the first hour of the film. Characters ruminate over the situation in conversation. The point is clear. Jobs are gone in small-town America. The financial crisis has pushed families to the brink of poverty and is tearing them apart in the process. Smelling blood, the banks, mad with greed and shameless despite having caused the financial meltdown, have rushed in to snatch people’s homes and land. Losing these, the families lose the last of their hope.

The film’s solution to the characters’ economic problems is simple: if people could only get out from under the thumb of the banks, if the debt that is crushing them were wiped away, they could fend for themselves. This libertarian world view is perfectly suited to the western as a genre, and the film plays out its story in these terms. The brothers—talented, industrious, and clever enough to accomplish wonders if given a chance—rob the bank swindling their family out of their ranch and pay off their debt to that bank with the money they steal. Their debt paid, they live off the fat of their land. (Well, it’s oil, “Texas T”, not fat, but same difference.)

Unsurprisingly, the film insists upon the morality of the brother’s actions. They may be violent, but that violence counts for little: one brother is a bit crazy and has been ruined by childhood abuse and prison; the other doesn’t want the violence even if he points a gun around. Likewise, their string of robberies is defined as somehow not quite theft: they steal only what they need to be free from the bank’s clutches. At one point, they share a bit of it with a single mom struggling to pay rent, but they don’t waste it on prostitutes, and they aren’t looking to accumulate personal wealth. In other words, they are not really thieves. They are doing what they have to do to save their family and to give their kids a chance at the American Dream.

The western is a genre perfectly suited for this clannish, libertarian view of the world, and this film is as pure a western as I’ve seen in a long time. The sheriff even rustles up a posse at the end. And so, despite all the talk in interviews and reviews about the interesting moral ambiguity of the film, I don’t buy it. The moral stakes of this film are generic and clear: eastern interests and their local agents are ruining families and the law can’t solve the problem. So a virtuous gunslinger has to step in and do what he can, and the local law-man understands, whatever his office compels him to say or do. This is Pale Rider/Liberty Valance 101.

The problem with all of this is that however satisfying the idea of the solitary man taking matters into his own hands and doing what needs to be done is (and it’s very satisfying, especially when filmed as well as it is here), the problems these characters face are bigger than a bank loan, and their solution is more complex than paying it back.

Part of the film’s achievement is that it seems to know this on some level. The oil found lying under the family ranch waiting like a miracle to make the protagonist’s sons wealthy and secure is a lucky break. The fact that it is luck highlights the fact that the ranch itself is just fields of grass too dry to raise cattle. The protagonists aren’t robbing banks to save a family farm. They’re robbing them to hold onto a winning lottery ticket.

The early presentation of the mother’s deathbed likewise undercuts the political fantasy. Her colon cancer gave the the bank an opening to swoop in and gives emotional grounding to the sons’ efforts to save her land. But it’s fair to ask if paying off a reverse mortgage offers a reasonable solution to the problem of falling sick? Obviously it does not.

The film flatters viewers by suggesting they’d be fine if left alone, but in reality cowboy libertarianism encourages them to ignore (and perpetuate) their misery by escaping to a world in which real solutions—universal healthcare, improved infrastructure, human-scale agricultural practices—don’t exit and would appear horrific if they did.

Generic Hollywood fictions are entertainments. They have few political obligations and when they address the political, their “politics” will often be risible. By motivating character with economic frustrations and reaching aesthetically toward “seriousness,” Hell or High Water invites consideration of the political underpinnings of the western. These generic politics are a dream and are beautiful, but if you look carefully through the cracks in this film, you can also see they are exactly the opposite of a way forward.

 Mar 8, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , , ,
Feb 282017
 

I was worried this movie would be melodramatic and sentimental, but it’s not.

Not counting credits the film is only a bit over an hour and a half long, which means it’s all the time busy getting things done. There’re no wasted moments, no detours into side plots. The clock is ticking down to disaster, and the story marches clearly forward at a steady pace.

Because events not people are the focus here, the characters don’t really need to be more than believably sympathetic outlines. Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg both play to type to great effect giving performances that suggest imperfect but admirably reliable men. Dylan O’Brien, inexperienced and eager, is well cast as the boy among men. You’re rooting for these guys once everything goes up in flames and genuinely nervous when fear plays across their faces.

On the other end of the spectrum, John Malkovich looks like he grew a new set of teeth to play his loathsome BP exec and his Louisiana accent is near perfect. I expected him and his pudgy colleagues to throw people out of the lifeboat at the end but they didn’t.

So I’m pleasantly surprised. The movie’s a real jaw-clencher and I think it will stand up to repeat viewings. So I’m adding it to my informal list of great disaster movies.

Feb 272017
 

A tightly scripted and beautifully photographed western set in the America a subset of Trump’s voters think they’re living in. Maybe they are.

The only part of the film that felt off was Chris Pine’s performance. Viewed in isolation, it’s strong. But viewed without blinders on, it comes across as an uncannily accurate impersonation of Timothy Olyphant playing Raylan Givens—his hair, size and posture, even the pacing and intonation of his line delivery—and that echo is distracting.  You can see the visual aspects of what I’m talking about in the poster image above.

The resemblance caught my attention enough times to have “What?!? Oh, it’s just Chris Pine” running through my mind like a refrain as the movie played.