Screen shot 2014-05-10 at 00.41.01

It begins with memories. Two different kinds, actually: the cinematic shorthand of stock footage and home movies of Oslo and the verbal recollection of actual people and their first experiences with the city playing over top. People recall the excitement of moving to the big city and the parties and joys of bohemian life that followed. It’s possible to consign these statements as the prologue or the original sin of the main character of the film. He came to the city and was seduced by its exciting iniquity. The key themes, however, are glimpsed in other recollections: “I remember thinking, ‘I’ll remember this.’” “…How he insisted ‘melancholy’ was cooler than ‘nostalgia’.” The film is about an addict grappling with reintroducing himself into society after 10 months clean in rehab, but it’s more about the burden of memory and how it overwhelms the present than it is about addiction. Read the rest of this entry »

Under the Skin

April 16, 2014

under-the-skin-scarlett-johannson-skip

Despite a very, very limited feature film career (three, actually, with the last one being 10 years ago), Jonathan Glazer can comfortably consider himself the most self-consciously Kubrickian auteur working today.  It’s not an easy style to go after, obviously, and it speaks to his talents that on the basis of, really, two films (Under the Skin and Birth, though I haven’t seen it since it came out I feel Sexy Beast is memorable for a performance rather than visuals) that this quality can be considered a positive rather than an affront.  It’s all the more impressive when you consider the tonal consistency of Under the Skin considering it’s essentially three different films cut into halves.  Read the rest of this entry »

Bastards (La Salauds)

December 2, 2013

bastards_01

Claire Denis is one of my favourite living filmmakers, and while I’ll readily admit she’s not for everyone, she’s developed a distinctive aesthetic and approach that, when in the right mood, can be absolutely enrapturing even when the subject material is queasy or downright repulsive.  In her latest film, Bastards, Denis makes the switch from film to digital with her trusted long-time cinematographer, which is appropriate given the film’s visual insistence on darkness.  It is also her angriest film, I feel, and it’s fascinating to watch her abstract humanistic approach take on something so utterly despicable and hopeless.   Read the rest of this entry »

If you’re going to make a film that’s baldly poetic, you’d better be damn sure you know what you’re doing.  It can seem unfair to castigate anyone who drops all cynical pretenses to “let it all hang out”, as it were, but there’s a serious danger of inducing the kind of eye-rolling in the audience that can kill a picture dead in no time at all.  It’s why there’s a cliché about coffee house singer/songwriter types.  There are elements of the song and the performance – just the right lyric or turn of phrase, a melody, the sound and inflections of the vocal delivery – that must work together to push through the cynicism or, perhaps more correctly, the ‘bullshit detectors’ of the audience to tap into that zone of pure emotion for which the artist is striving.  Most, as anyone who has ever been to an open mic night can attest, fail miserably.  Really, though, I’m overstating it.  “Cynicism” isn’t solely the problem, or at least it isn’t the easy answer as to why this sort of work fails.  There are basic realities we live in – political, cultural, and social, etc – that are ingrained in us, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Arguably great art should take all of these into consideration and still reach that emotional place, but some can pull it off without all of that.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia begins with a series of tableaux that, like the opening of his previous film Antichrist, could be a demented perfume ad.  This time around, however, he’s putting his cards on the table at the very start.  The images reflect both the mental state of its two main characters and a portent for things to come. A bride is being ensnared by limbs and roots, a woman runs frantically across the 19th green of a golf course clutching a child, the bride is peacefully sinking into water like Millais’ Ophelia, and so on and so on.  Never one to hold back theatrical bombast, this is all set to a piece from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.  It ends with nothing less than the destruction of earth as a significantly larger heavenly sphere smashes through it.  This prologue is both beautiful and almost laughably overblown, but it is also turns out to be an incredibly useful mood-setter for events to come.  Read the rest of this entry »

Shutter Island

April 8, 2010

Beware of Spoilers of ‘The Twist’, even though it is obvious enough if you’ve ever seen the trailer or, in fact, any movie ever.

Read the rest of this entry »

Where the Wild Things Are

December 12, 2009

If you see enough and read enough about films, there’s a tendency to pigeonhole everything into a genre, be it as broad as ‘drama’ or as specific as ‘neo-noir’ or ‘mumblecore’.  This practice is fine as far as it goes, as knowing the history of a particular type of film and understanding its basic conceits helps with expectations and, to some extent, enjoyment level.  Take westerns, for instance.  You can watch any Leone film, or maybe Eastwood’s Unforgiven, and knowing the tropes, you can recognize what is there, what is subverted, and what is being done to comment on what has come before.  The downside of this whole approach to cinema is that every so often a film comes along that explodes its genre that you really don’t know where it’s coming from or how to take it.  I don’t mean this in the sense of American Dreamz, which is both audaciously ridiculous and so wildly miscalculated that it turns into an interesting misfire.  I mean this in the sense that the aim of the filmmakers to work in an area is obvious, and they succeed at getting across what they want to get across, and yet you’re still not sure how you’re meant to take it. Read the rest of this entry »