Daily notes 2010-11

11-30
Just started: The River Wild
I can only assume this is not The River.

The drama is paper thin and that dopey boy from Jurassic Park is too prominent. I thought I liked Strathairn, now I’m not so sure, and I find I don’t give a damn whether Meryl stays or goes.

11-29
Currently watching: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
DeMornay reminds me strongly of Naomi Watts. Or is it the other way around?

Pretty sick film. Intensely painful. This puts Curtin Hanson in an entirely different light. This was a particularly difficult scene to watch.

Followed by a striking payoff.

And the house always wins.

Re-watched: Inception
I got around to rewatching Inception. 2nd viewing: same feelings as first. 3rd viewing: plot finally understood – because I finally put forth the effort – the effort Nolan requires of a viewer. I had to lower my standards, you see, and view the film in the way Nolan wants me to, which is largely “big loud quick cut Hollywood action kitchey dumbness.” I’m rather amazed at how little effort Nolan puts into aesthetic crafting (I’m speaking simply of mise-en-scene, frame composition… he’s like the ultimate Hollywood director). There’s still a tremendous amount of nonsense to endure, mostly in the melodrama and the conflicts with Mal. Dom is a monumentally dull man with nothing in his life but those damn children – the oldest narrative cliche, “Doing it for one’s family.” With all the effort Nolan fucking puts into the intricacies of his plots, you’d think he could attempt to transcend emotional convention, you know, just a little. And I still think it’s downright idiotic that 75% of the film is expositional, there’s always a new rub to be described – and in the lamest way, by a secondary character asking the main character to explain it to her. Nolan puts a great deal of energy into his plots but none into the fundamentals. And again, my biggest problem, he just doesn’t have any fucking fun. If you’re going to ask the audience to put forth so much effort into taking something so seriously, and to deciphering so much, and juggling so many characters, at least have a little fun. Godard knew how to do that. Fun is had when the method of storytelling becomes insouciant, casual, ironic. Nabokov knew it too. Dostoevsky dallied with it once or twice. Oh, and btw – if you want to take yourself seriously and put “fun” in the backseat, you can’t do better than to cast Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio.

But here’s my real problem. It’s called Inception. Inception first occurred when Mal realized “this world is not real” – that was her way out of limbo – and carried that idea into reality with her. In the film, Dom (Dom Cobb, wtf kind of name is that??) is only able to escape limbo by coming to the same realization. He “incepts” himself. It’s a cool idea. But – – – he gets back to reality, and thinks it is reality. There is no effort made by the filmmaker to play on the idea that Dom now has that virus that killed Mal. Dom is doomed, for sure. Yet the final moment is witnessing Dom holding his children. In the final seconds, we do see the top begin to topple – not that that makes a fucking difference – and Dom’s new life struggle, “this world is not real,” is simply forgotten. He hugs his damn kids. What a boring man! What a boring film! And at this moment I like it more than ever.

later
Watching for 4th time. At this point I understand it all and could actually explain it back to you – a feat I’m confident 90% of viewers could not match.

Just noticed that Nolan’s longtime cinematographer, Wally Pfister, started out shooting quite a few softcores… Blockbuster Video drama section fodder. This confirms my theory that we are seeing images put together by a person who does not know how to make a film. And Nolan is glaringly at fault for employing him.

Cillian Murphy rules. Love him. Tom Hardy, also highly impressive. Ellen Page leaves me scratching my head. Obviously Marion Cotillard is very good. And I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. DiCaprio interests me the least (much to the same effect as Bale). Ken Watanabe isn’t exactly wowing (wouldn’t be surprised if Saito’s name came from Rurouni Kenshin).

It’s not an argument worth having, this film. I’m being awfully childish by barking on about it. I know why people like it.

Final consensus: the film’s greatest problem is that it feels nothing at all like a dream. I guess when Nolan dreams, he sees action films.

11-24
Just started: Marie Antoinette
Never had anything in particular against Sofia Coppola, besides finding Lost in Translation phenomenally overrated. One shot in and I already hate this film.

50 minutes progress. Marie isn’t getting any dick.

This does sum it up:
“You’re considered superficial and silly if you are interested in fashion, but I think you can be substantial and still be interested in frivolity.” -Sofia, on this film.

11-23
Currently watching: Heat
At long last.

And it was love at first sight.

It’s a really delectable scene. It’s as if both actors are carrying their entire career histories along with these characters, and the scene itself is an epitomized cliche that requires heavyweights.

Re-watching: Munich
Papa was a rollin’ stone…

My perfect woman: Jeanette, the Dutch assassin.

Ciarán (Edward Parker-Jones!) looking like a clay mask.

Spielberg’s best scene?


Very good movie. And then…

11-21
Currently watching: Unforgiven
Wow. Liking it quite a lot so far. Clint can be wonderful. We also know what else he can be.

Currently watching: Schindler’s List
Do you realize that Spielberg made Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park in the same year? It boggles the mind. Do you have any idea how much money he must’ve made that year? Jurassic Park alone made over $900 MILLION, and cost under $100 mil. I just don’t know what to say. He’s a brilliant businessman. Brilliant.

God, even the Holocaust becomes another venue for Spielberg’s cuteness. Too much schmoozing, though the alternate perspective is not unappreciated.

I’m somewhat amazed at the amount of humor in this film.

Re-watching: Black Hawk Down

Currently watching: A Perfect World
I’m always so terribly happy to see Laura Dern. I wonder if that means I should marry that type of woman? A Laura Dern-type masseuse.

Currently watching: The Witches of Eastwick

11-20
Currently watching: A Good Year

Currently watching: The Pelican Brief
For two major stars, this is a pretty forgotten film. That geriatic on the right is Hume Cronyn, 82. Remarkably, he had another dozen appearances before his death in 2003. To me, he’ll always be Munsey.

Oh, those early 90’s. Hm, another Roberts role in which her character is successful in the law despite being completely unconvincing as a lawyer (though later that was the point).

This isn’t bad. Julia just now witnessed her lover decimated in a car bomb, and is too overwhelmed to react.

What’s throng with her? Ha, ha, ha.

Scored by James Horner. Soundtrack is near identical to the one for Sneakers, made one year prior.

Currently watching: Virtuosity
Classic 90’s disaster, 75% fault of script. The tragedy is the money that made it possible. This sort of thing doesn’t happen often. Russell Crowe is trying hard, but what’s more painful is Denzel’s role in the affair… He has Mo’ Better Blues, Malcolm X, The Pelican Brief (next to Julia), Philadelphia… these are major, respectable, artistic projects. I would venture that it’s a testament to Denzel’s personal taste that he took this project. Crowe, at least, had done very little up to now and needed some serious American coverage. After this he would have a large role in The Quick and the Dead, and then right onto his great performance in L.A. Confidential. The 90’s. We were all so confused. Too many idiotic adventures in this new, untrackably evolving technology, too many projects greenlighted simply to play with new digital technology… Johnny Mnemonic, Hackers, Lawnmower Man (also directed by the inimitable Brett Leonard)…

For the record, artistic control (of anything, really) should not be put into the hands of graphic designers.

I just can’t help myself.

11-19
Re-watching: The Insider
As part of my re-evaluation of Michael Mann. Don’t despise him like I used to. So far this has been pretty enjoyable. Some people have problems with Crowe – I find him to be extremely talented. I like him.

Final opinion: The Insider formerly held rank 19 on my fav films of 1999. Now it’s number 5.

11-14
Currently watching: The Village
Really wish I didn’t already know the twist ending – but my discontent is what Night gets for his characteristic gimmickry. Here, Judy Greer (a pretty but iffy specimen) does her best to convey Night’s contrived antiquarian dialogue. Phoenix is absorbing it correctly, I venture.

Jude Law was ubiquitous in the 90’s (and beyond, really) – Adrien Brody is Aughts Ubiquity. I’ve been trying to place the resemblance in his features for some time and I just got it – he looks like Vincent Cassel.

I think we’re supposed to believe that Bryce’s character is blind, but her eyes wander and focus far too often, and her body language is too assured. Do blind people often sprint across uneven terrain?

None of this dialogue is working. Night is trying hard to portray a general level of parochial ignorance, but really, the characters are just talking like children. The fault lies more with Night than these actors.

Cool!

Night has only done, and can only do, fairy tales – in other words, stories for children. He’s certainly gravitated in that direction since his child was born. I had a friend who noted that Night should work on eerie vignettes ala Night Gallery/Outer Limits/Twilight Zone, which I think sounds lovely, except that that’s what he already does. I think Night is a capable talent who should not be allowed to pick up a pen. See, lookit that image… that’s kinda cool! Of course, within its context, we know how silly it actually is. Hm… perhaps Night should’ve been a painter or photographer? Good with images, stills, ideas… not so much with extrapolated content.

We love you, Michael Pitt.

Here, for instance, is another example of Bryce’s misguided effort: Hurt tells her some hard truths and her unseeing eyes look away from him – a behavior only concerning those who have eye contact to avoid. One could argue that this is a reflex, as her character had not always been blind, but I think we can agree that that is highly unlikely.

Watched: Miami Vice
Has one of the worst soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Filled with gorgeous digital “photography.” The film digresses every ten minutes or so into extended sex[ual] scenes – these moments are when the soundtrack becomes most intolerable. Gong Li, one of those most attractive women out there, is a bit hard to believe… her character’s confidence and flip attitude are hard to buy with her broken english. But with thighs like those, who’s counting?

Colin Farrell’s grumbling is nearly as ridiculous as Christian Bale’s. I enjoy watching this, to be honest, as social phenomenon, prettiness… but what frightens me is when I think of this film’s actual target audience… those who would love the crime, the drugs, the soundtrack, Farrell’s raspy voice, the clubbing, whoring. There isn’t an intelligent person in sight and it’s pure depravity, hedonism… Frankly so far I’m enjoying it. I think Mann knows what he’s doing – but I wonder if I would like spending time with him in person.

I’m amazed, actually, at how much of this film doesn’t involve action. The entire thing is about a mood – sex. It’s about hot sex in the Caribbean. Sex, drugs, guns, technology, crime. The film itself is largely moody. Many many shots, to music, of attitude. Great deal of attitude. What do attitudes do? They deal. Frequently on phones, standing around having earnest conversations, sizing up, bluffing… Get two buff American sex objects and throw in the minorities that would inhabit Miami. Hot fucking sex! It’s actually largely a procedural, and that’s the best part. Lots of silly technical talk (with attitude). Hmm. It’s interesting.

a quote that I like
“By nature I am no dramatist; I am not even a hack scenarist; but if I had given as much of myself to the stage or the screen as I have to the kind of writing which serves a triumphant life sentence between the covers of a book, I would have advocated and applied a system of total tyranny, directing the play or the picture myself, choosing settings and costumes, terrorizing the actors, mingling with them in the bit part of guest, or ghost, prompting them, and, in a word, pervading the entire show with the will and art of one individual – for there is nothing in the world I loathe more than group activity, that communal bath where the hairy and slippery mix in a multiplication of mediocrity.”

-Nabokov, from the introduction to his Lolita screenplay

11-13
Currently watching: The Truth About Charlie
Whomever is responsible for this script is too well-read for the people involved. Wahlberg’s delivery of “fairly sophisticated surveillance system” was labored, as he would never say “fairly, surely, quite”… like I would! That’s DA parlance, a DA script! Wow – – in fact, I now see that Wahlberg actually winces when he utters the word “fairly” – as in, “please forgive my pretension.” Everything is communicated whether we like it or not!

Also Thandie’s friend conversationally drops the word “nascent” in the following dialogue, and speaking as somebody relatively well-read, I will say I’ve never once heard that in a statement that was not prepared in advance.

What on earth happened to Thandie Newton? Casting her as the lithe, soft-spoken gal of means wasn’t a terrible idea, and fits except for the reputation Hepburn carried with her. Thandie is here seen looking pretty, which is all her role calls for (actresses must be furious that so many roles leave them with so little to do but perpetuate dated gender roles), and Mark, concentrating hard, which his role does not call for – the role was Cary Grant’s, for chrissake, how much more insouciant can you get? But I don’t dislike Wahlberg, really. He’s challenged himself a great deal (relatively speaking) and come very far. So when he falls flat, it’s not a huge deal – and this typically happens when he has attempted to overextend himself, when he’s cast in some sort of “American Leading Man” role. Like in The Happening. Or Max Payne.

OH BOY BUT THAT BERET IS RISKYYYYY.

Man. Tim Robbins was on top of the world in 1992. Truth About Charlie is 2002. I’ve never seen a person age more in a decade. He’s always been great at playing an asshole (playing..?), but now he simply looks like The Opposite of Fun.

I also have a hard time believing a single word he says. Again, is it the script? Maybe. But I think its Robbins. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself anymore. Dying to be taken seriously?

That was surreal. Is that Agnes? Why yes. This is a really wonderful idea for a celebrity cameo – not Agnes, specifically, just the idea that she plays a character that gets stared at, whose very presence is out of sync.

The actors are powerless. Charade was stupid, this is stupid.

Another big cameo, not nearly as surreal as it intended, is Anna Karina – 40 years after the big bang.

11-11
Watched: Swing Shift

Watched: Indiscretion of an American Wife
Very weird and dated chamber musical number preceded the film. But I find this part particularly hilarious: The woman singing the song stands from her piano and stops playing, but the song continues. Then she walks across the room and we realize she’s in the middle of Manhattan. THEN she reaches a burning fireplace. So many efforts toward sentiment must surely yield a product.

The film itself, as I’ve been prepared to expect, is disjointed and Monty Clift doesn’t ever seem comfortable in an Italian’s skin. But this reminded me that there was really something special about Monty, some potentiality in his gaze, almost nervous, like he’s a model American Man on the outside but terribly vulnerable at the same time. Yes, there’s a sense of insecurity about him which is out of the ordinary for talent, frankly, as attractive as he was. It’s very refreshing! He’s real.


Watched: Vinyl
Must say I had no idea it had anything whatsoever to do with A Clockwork Orange until I read about it afterward.

Arrivederci, Dino.

I took part in an interview with Dino in 2007. View it here.

Watched: Mona Lisa
I don’t know much about Neil Jordan. Never saw The Crying Game. But based on a few scant pieces of space dust, I will present the basis for a theory: The Good Thief conaints homages to Jordan’s own first film, Mona Lisa. In a few ways, anyway. Maybe this type of story is what Jordan does best – and then there’s that tranny stuff on the side.

First we have this shot, the first shot of Jordan’s professional career. Familiar? Scroll down to this month’s entry on The Good Thief and the first picture you’ll see will be similar.

Then we have Robbie Coltrane (he and Hoskins are quite young here), the siderunning hatchetman who is bathed in that particular shade of green… which, if you’ll look again, is very similar to Emir Kusturica (physically), his role in The Good Thief, and the mise-en-scene.

This pet theory of mine could be complete nonsense, but I’ve enjoyed myself. Also – – I had no idea Coltrane was a scot. He hides the accent very well these days.

God, so strange. Genesis’s “In Too Deep” features prominently into the film at the halfway point. I guess now and then even little indy films lasso superhot pop songs, and it always works… these days the quality of such films and the songs seem are just lower.


This, amazing, is Hoskins delivering a leaping headbutt. He’s a cockney Pesci.

Watched: The Killers (1946)




Anybody else sensing a pattern? Jesus Christ, Ava. Tone it down. Hey. HEY! AVA!

11-10
Currently watching: The Killers (1964)
Anybody else think Cassavetes looks ridiculous here? And yes, that is Ronald Reagan – the actor.


And here’s Lee Marvin doing the best “shot man” I’ve ever seen.

Currently watching: Hidalgo
Viggo chants/sings American Indian to summon the spirits of his ancestors. See? It borrows extensively from Lawrence of Arabia and Raiders of the Lost Ark, even in the scoring.


11-8
Currently watching: Oliver Twist (1948)



Still watching: Playtime
Tati, the master.

Just finished: Drag Me to Hell
Half of this was a cartoon and unendurable, but color me very surprised to see Justin Long do the only real thing in the film in the final shot. He was worse than useless to her.

11-7
Currently watching: Playtime

Currently watching: Mo’ Better Blues
A step in the right direction, content-wise, for another looong opening.


Ernest Dickerson, Terrence Blanchard.

Just finally clicked – it’s all really syrupy American melodrama.




And then he does this. What a freaking boob.

Currently watching: Crooklyn
Anybody else notice how every damn Spike Lee film has a really, really long opening credits sequence (usually to some pop tune?). I mean this just won’t end. First time I noticed was Do the Right Thing – gets your adrenaline pumping very appropriately, but its four minutes long. And I can’t forget the piece of “world music” that needlessly opens and closes Inside Man. Lee is a little less intelligent and talented than Tarantino.

Sigh. And perhaps Lee’s justifiable racism is getting a little tired.

AND he’s literally done this “characters-track-identically-with-camera” in every film of his I’ve yet seen… and I venture all the others, too.

This shot celebrates the 20 minute mark. Much accomplished so far.

Five years after Do the Right Thing and we’re back in the neighborhood for some less conceivable reason. Or is this Spike’s Amarcord/Small Change?

Done. Yes, I was pretty much spot on: Fellini has Amarcord, Truffaut has Small Change, Spike Lee has Crooklyn. Way too sentimental for me, but that’s Spike, dammit.

Currently watching: Troy
Very hard to watch this at all, really. Lots of battle sequences and I don’t give a damn about a single moment of any of them. Oh, and in the picture below, this weepy, adorable melancholy thing that Rose Byrne is doing… that’s why people hired her in the aughts.

11-6
Currently watching: Something Wild
Still more Demme.



Currently watching: Stop Making Sense
More Demme.

11-5
Re-watching: Eastern Promises
Have I mentioned how much I adore David Cronenberg? How far he’s come!

Currently watching: The Good Thief

Emir Kusturica’s visceral cameo.

These two are priceless.

Currently watching: Godsend
More like God-awful? Awful applies to Mark Bomback, the pitiful scripter (whom we can also thank for Live Free or Die Hard), the cinematographer (who thinks he can get away with this film-school shot), and the casting director responsible for that wretched child actor and the other principles.

Oh god. Every moment is pain.

11-4
Currently watching: The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
A remake one would have no hope for whatsoever – except that it’s directed by Jonathan Demme! 10 minutes in and it’s already just downright enjoyable to watch because of him. In fact, Jonathan Demme is probably the kindest, bravest, warmest, most selfless human being I’ve ever known.
And well well. Some real craziness for a mainstream film.



Oh gosh, it’s actually excellent. Demme 4eva!!

Currently watching: Suspect Zero
Strange one, this. All of the details within the story, the production design, are very impressive, intricate, and intellectually stimulating. I imagine this is largely the work of E. Elias Merhige. But the film’s execution seems quick, glossy and too conventional – too conventional for the care going into the rest of the production, I mean. Somebody was smart enough to cast Eckhart, and that’s good. Also, Eckhart’s federal agent counterparts are played by Carrie-Anne Moss and the stand-in for Barack Obama (who incidentally only seems to play bureaucratic roles), both fresh off of their Matrix infamy. Hmm, just lookit this shot. Do you think it’s possible that Chris Nolan watched this film just before he wrote The Dark Knight, and thereby decided to cast Eckhart and use this red newspaper scrawl in his own film?

Ha, ha, ha.


Kinda really liking this…

Currently watching: Secret Window
Haha. It’s corny as shit and oh so Stephen King, but I can’t help but enjoy this a little.

Hm. Sure got ahead of myself with that one.

11-3
Just watched: Dark Blue
Whoa. That’s some Day of the Locust-level LA apocalyptic melodrama.

11-2
Currently watching: When the Levees Broke
An elegy from Wynton Marsalis. And before this Terrence Blanchard was an interviewee (his score is again excellent).

Once again, Terrence Blanchard and his beautiful and highly characteristic dissonant melancholy.

I think I’m finally coming around and starting to appreciate HBO for all the good programming they provide. At least they’re not Showtime, comprised of little more than starfuckers.

11-1
Currently watching: Jungle Fever
An earnest conversation about zulu dick in the bush. But seriously. I imagine this movie was very important to black people in 1990. It’s also populated with half the Italians who starred in the same year’s Goodfellas (including Samuel L. Jackson). I also can’t stop thinking about nice it must be for black actors to work on films with black cast & crews. If I were black I wouldn’t be able to stand the fucking white world either. It’s a great film so far, a luscious jazzy chamber New York… joint. Samuel L. Jackson’s blissed out crackhead is wonderful to watch.

Ha. Wow. Snipes has found himself in Crackland – it is NYC in 1990, after all… the peak! This is just another arc to one of the film’s ceaseless music video sequences. Lee is the black Scorsese, for real. By which to say I mean there’s a great deal of raw talent (the fact that they came from the exact same place at the same time is, I’m sure, coincidental). I guess that’s what Scorsese and Lee and most definitely best for… communicating the vibe of a time and place. The artistry only ever goes so far. And I don’t think many would deny that they’ve each aged in a curious fashion.


And loving Terence Blanchard’s score!

Currently watching: Red Eye
The plane is about to take off so I check the time – 20 minutes. OK. But next to that it says 1 hr 5 min – the film’s remaining time. OK. That’s a problem. We should’ve been on this plane by minute 5. I can’t get enough of Cillian Murphy, though I feel I haven’t yet seen his greatest potential. Though even he wasn’t enough to save Sunshine.

It’s also great that Brian Cox was called in to have an entirely ordinary night of falling asleep in front of the television.

a few thoughts on 300
…of all things. Zach Snyder turned out to be not quite as worthless as we would’ve liked to have believed (doozy sentence). But back when we had 300 and Dawn of the Dead, things didn’t look quite so promising. I found 300 to be an embarrassment. My prejudice told me I wouldn’t like the film, and I didn’t, but it was less intelligent than I had expected. I recently uncovered a page of notes that i wrote when I watched the film…

“Patriotism is the highest virtue. Barbaric warriors are prized above all. Desire/lust is the greatest indication of love/union. Insane, leprous, avaricious monsters dictate destiny. Life is battle. An army of abs! “Duty,” “glory” – nationalism. Heavy metal dudes in ultimate battle. Sexy bitch queen. No men – just nations. War is man’s greatest expression. A lot like a video game. Pride in being part of a swarming mass. Literally, nothing more than a fantastic, spectacular battle sequence. Perspective: if all is epic, nothing is epic. Spartans are male models, enemies are literally monsters. LOTR on crack. Freak show. LOTR meets Running Scared.”


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