Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Funny Games Fhoughts

I've been watching movies all month (as you'll see when I do a post on my May activity tomorrow). I've wanted to blog more and have wanted to jump into the Funny Games discussion, but I haven't had much to say about the films I've seen...and then with Funny Games, I basically agree with Jeff. And no one wants to read that shit!

Funny Games is overtly cruel, to the point that it's absurd. As Jason once stated, he likes to put himself in the shoes of the "victims" in horror films; I think most fans would admit to doing as much. For that reason, it was smart to conceive of this film and to fuck with the audience in the way that Haneke does.

During the remote control scene, I admit, at that point, I had already surrendered and accepted the fact that it's just a movie and there's nothing anyone can do to stop these sadistic villains. Though I did love it when the wife shot "Fatty" through the chest. How can you not cheer for that kind of violence?? Some people deserve to be shot. That story about the zombie crackhead in Miami is making its rounds, and I think we'd probably all pull the trigger on that I right?

Anyway, I think Jeff and Brandon both make some great points, and I can understand why Brandon would take issue with Haneke and his pompous attitude. But mostly it doesn't affect me; I liked Funny Games. No matter what anyone has said about it or will say about it, it was a unique experience and one that will be hard to forget. I can truly understand why it's CR5FC's official dead horse. I've recommended it to two of my friends since watching it.

Brandon talked a bit about Jesse and Becca's experience while watching Funny Games. That sounds awful...under those circumstances, I'd probably hate it too. But one point I want to bring up, without offending Jason or Brandon, is the idea that a lot of horror fans are too blood and flesh starved. I mean, sure, every genre has its douchebags, but if you look at the main appeals of the horror genre, they are: 1) the kills and 2) sex. It's not always sexual assault, but the slasher films feature plenty of sex and nudity. And then, yeah, I can't truly get behind a genre that thrives on inventively sadistic ways to tear the human body apart.

I'm not saying that all horror fans go for this cheap entertainment (Jason and Brandon couldn't be any more intelligent and pleasant about movies; I love you guys), but that idea corresponds with one of the main reasons why I'm not a huge fan of the genre. There's an over-reliance on sex and violence in these films, and each year they up the ante. And again, violence doesn't offend me and I don't want to see it removed from film, but some people react to it inappropriately. So there's that. And then even worse than that are the dudes who watched Funny Games with Todd, Jesse, and Becca. Seriously, fuck those guys. Detestable scum.

Other notes...

I bought the Game of Thrones season one DVD. Perhaps I foresee a John Owen marathon in the future...but only if he doesn't try to be a john-trarian about it. Season two is brilliant; can't wait for the finale this Sunday...but it will also come with some heartbreak - don't want it to end.

Jeff's trying to get me to watch The Innkeepers. I'm not sure I'll be able to overcome my cowardice, though. Like John, I haven't read any of the spoilers in the hopes that I may watch it someday...during the middle of a sunny day. This will also help to explain my paragraph about horror fans...mainly I'm just a wimp.

So John has cancelled his Netflix, eh? Is this the end of the movie selection project? Well, it did last longer than the Director of the Month there is progress. 

Make Way For Tomorrow tomorrow. I imagine I'll love it as much as you guys, but who knows? We all know, probably.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Hypothetically, if you were hired by a studio to write a low-budget drama about a sex addict, what do you think you'd put in your script? I imagine we'd all come up with the same ideas pretty quickly. We'd write a story about a guy who's distant and incapable of maintaining any sort of meaningful relationship. We'd write scenes with him trying to date someone, someone he really gets along with. And then when they go back to his place, he's unable to "get it up." His date would say, "it's nothing to be ashamed of," as she walks out the door. Smash cut to our sex addict "getting busy" with a prostitute.

Shame doesn't work because it's all too obvious - from Brandon's sex life, to his personal life and his relationship with his sister. I would say that there is more to analyze and discuss with that brother/sister relationship though. Clearly there's long and strange history between the two, given how comfortable they are around each other with their bodies and their sexuality. Like Jeff argues, though, there isn't enough to truly care about these two characters.

SPOILERS. I agree with Jeff's assessment on Sissy's suicide attempt; it's lacking in the emotional tug on your heartstrings. And yes, to sound like a broken record, it's completely obvious to have the film end in that way. The only thing Sissy can do to get her brother's attention is to slit her wrists. Suddenly, he realizes what he's about to lose. But has it truly changed Brandon? Of course we need to end the film with a shot of Brandon thinking about whether or not he's going to follow the married woman from the train.

But I do want to pause for a second. I enjoyed the brief moment when Brandon and Sissy are waiting on the subway platform and she rests her head on his shoulders. In that instance, we have a sincere and loving moment between brother and sister. I also enjoyed Carey Mullgian's singing; the rest of her scenes are mostly forgettable. Michael Fassbender is the best thing going for this film. He's very expressive and does a great job with the character. James Badge Dale does a nice job playing the outgoing showed me a whole other side to the guy I had only previously seen in Rubicon.

Jeff and I talked about this, but did Shame ever feel like American Psycho to you, Ben?

I don't know what to make of the shot of Brandon snorting cocaine. We only see him doing it once, but are we to assume that he's also a drug addict? I don't know why I'm so caught up on it, but for whatever reason it feels like an odd choice to me.

Another positive I will take away from this film is the date between Brandon and his co-worker, Marianne. I thought it was well-done in an awkwardly charming sort of way. I don't know, it felt very authentic to me, but maybe that's just because I can be very socially awkward at times. But Fassbender and Nicole Beharie have a lot of great faces during those scenes.

Anyway, most of my critiques stem from the script. I have no real problems with McQueen as a director. Maybe I'll see Hunger at some point here. But I had wanted to see Shame because it was one of the more talked about films of 2011. Now that I have seen it, I realize that it's mostly talked about due to its NC-17 rating.


I didn't think our Following discussion would get this heated...

All right, fine, but it's about to get HOT now that Chris Nolan's biggest supporter is jumping into the mix. I was going to surprise you, John, but I'm changing my twitter handle to "PrestigeFan36" -- 36 being the number of times I've seen it. Who would've thought that a movie about magic would be so magical?

Now that I've got that out of my system...

As stated on the Facebook, I had seen Chris Nolan's Following before and I do own the DVD. Like many people that John and Brandon probably hate :), I was a big fan of Memento back in the early 2000s (and still am). I was such a big fan that I wanted to track down Chris Nolan's first film. Because Netflix didn't exist yet, the only way I could see it was to buy it on-line.

When I watched Following last week, it marked only the second time that I've ever seen it. So yeah, two viewings in the past ten+ years doesn't exactly sound like the greatest of endorsements. My feelings are sort of mixed. I would be slightly shocked if someone was blown away by it. And I do admit, the twists and turns aren't clever enough to get you too excited about the film.

Having said that, like Jeff, I would argue against the idea that Nolan tried to make it overly clever. I fail to see any sort of labored effort on his part. I feel that Following uses "smoke and mirrors" in the same way that The Saint Takes Over does...or yes, more accurately, the way a neo-noir does.

What we have here is a solid first film. Nolan is not talentless; I think we've all seen enough shitty movies to realize this. To call him competent would be putting it mildly. He knows what he's doing, and each film he sets out to make is slightly more ambitious than the last. I can admire that.

I can also appreciate his talents as a storyteller. Even John admits that the premise for Following is interesting...though I will grant you the point that it isn't executed as well as it could've been. In fact, now that I'm thinking about that, I believe that was my main complaint when I saw it for the first time.

But the movie does play with some cool concepts, and the story is still interesting; I can't see too many people bailing on the movie halfway through. Cobb is an intriguing character and I enjoyed the last shot of him disappearing on the London streets. The main character's aimless existence leads him down a dangerous path. It's partly rotten luck, but he does bring it upon himself after breaking one of his own rules. Cobb's con involved a lot of planning and thought, and I get the sense that Chris Nolan does as much when he's writing his scripts.

I mean, the guy wrote/shot a movie about people who hack into someone's mind in order to plant an idea...and we're trying to curb him from filmmaking?? Sure he's overhyped and his films are over-analyzed; sure there might be moments when you get the sense that he's looking for a pat on the back (like most directors). But I admire what he has been able to do over the past fourteen years. I'm not sure why Nolan and Aronofsky get singled out. Maybe if I knew more of their fans I would understand.

Anytime I see one of the Joel Schumacher Batman movies on the TV, I thank the gods (the old and the new) for Chris Nolan. He turned what was one of the campiest, lamest piece of shit franchises and transformed it into something gritty, realistic, and enjoyable. I know many people say that all comic book movies are the same, but I don't get that sense with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

I do agree with a lot of what Jeff wrote about Following, but mostly I'm just speaking for myself here. I'll probably come off as the most defensive Nolan guy, unless Jason wants to be the Robin to my Batman. Also, I didn't really say a lot about the movie because I want leave room for others to jump in and talk about it.

But wait...

The final twist of this post is that I don't actually like any of Chris Nolan's films. I just support him because we have the same first name.



Can't wait to see The Dark Knight Rises with you, John. I mean that sincerely. I love you.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Damsels in Distress

No one walked out of the Art Mission while I watched Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress. I'm still not sure if that surprises me or not. The average moviegoer might find it to be too original, strange, and quirky...or they might walk out because they have no sense of humor. The married couple that sat in the row behind me laughed at ninety percent of the jokes. And when Zach Woods showed up on the screen, the husband whispered, "Look, it's Gabe from The Office." Anyone who is still watching The Office definitely has a strong sense of humor.

While I might've laughed once or twice, I mostly smiled throughout the film. Ben's right, there's something to the charm of the characters and the dialogue; it's easy to get swept up in Whit Stillman's style, and the actors do an exceptional job of achieving likability. With the damsels, you essentially have three female Homer Simpsons walking around. Most of what they say is silly, but every now and then, they'll give you something brilliant. And all the while, you'll enjoy their company.

I'm not too familiar with Stillman. The only connection we share is that Metropolitan has been in my Netflix instant queue for the past six months. It's among a small group of movies that I might choose when it's my turn to select something for all of us to watch. After having seen Damsels, I admit my interest in his films has certainly piqued.

I can appreciate his dialogue and its tone. The humor in Damsels is very dry and deadpan; I can always support that as long as the screenwriter is intelligent. And Stillman is. Whit's got wit...and he isn't the only one ;)

One of the reasons why I wanted to see the film was because I had a feeling it would help move our Girls conversation to a new phase. Now that I've seen the film, I'm not exactly sure where it move us; I have nothing new to add. Sure Damsels feels more honest and interesting than Girls, but that was never going to be difficult to pull off. John's investigative findings on Stillman and Dunham are pretty intriguing. I wonder which character Dunham was supposed to play. If it was Violet, then I'm glad Girls exists. I sit here convinced that no one could've done better than Greta Gerwig.

Truly, you can't say enough about Gerwig's's brilliant and loveable. Every word she says, every look she gives seems almost too perfect. She's so much more than an actress reciting dialogue and it's a lot of fun to watch.

Not once did I think of Eric Rohmer while watching the film, but that's mainly due to the fact that I've only seen Claire's Knee. I need to watch more Rohmer anyway, but now there's an added bonus of being able to see how he's influenced Stillman. Thanks for linking that review, Ben.

You'll probably take this as an insult, John, (it's not meant to be) but in some ways Damsels in Distress feels like a sophisticated version of Napoleon Dynamite. Mainly I'm referring to the comedic tone. The characters display plenty of weird behavior in both, but the respective weird behaviors do seem to reside in different worlds. It's not to say that I picture Napoleon walking through one of the quads at Seven Oaks, but there are slight similarities in the overall strangeness of the two films.

When I said that I was meh-ing at the film's song-and-dance ending, I was mostly joking. I don't think there was any other way to end the film. Although I did feel as if the story was dragging on a bit too long toward the end. I don't have specific cuts in mind, though.

I read a short review somewhere that griped about the level of stupidity displayed by the frat boys. Personally, I had no problems with it. If anything, it was justified (is it at all obvious that I agree with Brandon's feelings on frat boys?). But sure, John makes a nice point about them being loveable without seeming desirable or cool. Though we'd be surprised as to what certain people think is cool.

So it would seem that we're mostly in agreement on this one, fellas. I'm a little surprised that John was so impressed with the film, but then I read the "glorious waste of time" line in his review and everything made perfect sense to me. I agree with that statement. My "meh" attitude mostly stemmed from the fact that the film doesn't hold as much power as many of the others in my top ten from 2011. It's a poor man's Le Havre. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate it. Hygiene is important. Seeking growth/potential is important. Laughing/smiling is important.

And so, Damsels in Distress is now among my 2011 honorable mentions. I'm really fond of my top ten; it's become a hard nut to use a cliched/hackneyed phrase. But there's no shame in being grouped with The Mill and the Cross, Midnight In Paris, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; I like those films a lot. Honestly, I was slightly disappointed to find out that Damsels was a 2011 film...had it been a 2012er, it would've been interesting.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Brothership Potemkin

If only Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin featured a tale about self-entitled youths...or starred one of Brian Williams' relatives...then we'd have more to discuss and argue about.

I enjoyed the film for the same reasons that every cinephile seems to identify in his or her review. It's an extremely powerful film that captures both your attention and your emotions. Maybe there's hope for me with regard to watching some D.W. Griffith films now, but I'll probably just stick to Chaplin, Keaton, and Eisenstein. Comedies and Commies seem to be my thing.

This was my first Eisenstein film. Alexander Nevsky used to be on NWI. I wish I could watch it on there as a follow-up to Battleship Potemkin, but for no apparent reason it was taken down; supervillian Reed Hastings strikes again.

Anyway, no doubt, Battleship Potemkin is an extremely effective film. In Roger Ebert's review, he notes that certain scenes are so ingrained in people's minds that they're interpreted as being historically accurate. Many sequences from the film (especially the opening scenes on the ship) definitely have that "documentary" feel. Of course, a propaganda film needs that in order to accomplish its goals. But it does feel as if Eisenstein's ambitions aren't just limited to making the Tsarist regime look like a bunch of soulless fucktards.

Looking back on the film, I can't help but think of the word, "crescendo." I envision Eisenstein directing/editing the film the way a maestro conducts an orchestra. This a film that builds and builds; it's very skillfully done. And sticking with the idea of music, the score perfectly matches the power of the visuals; it's no surprise that the smallest members of the Owen clan rose up against John The Terrible (sure that reference is pretty old by now, but I really enjoyed that part of your post, John).

Like Jeff, I'd have to praise Eisenstein more for his technical abilities than his storytelling abilities. In fact, I'm sure most of us would agree with John's assessment that, in cases like these, the well-crafted nature of the film does trump the meaning and message.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I Think I Love My Life

My original title for this review was, "The Last Temptation of Chris Rock". When the issue was published I figured that my editor changed it because it could be viewed as controversial. Now I'm starting to think it was changed/shortened for layout purposes. Either way, I'm still not happy with that title. Reading the review again, it's clear that I didn't have much of a voice as a critic. Five years later and my critical writing is still pretty dull.

I was really hoping that I mentioned Eric Rohmer in this...not that I knew of Rohmer's existence at the time I wrote the review. BUT I can recall seeing on wikipedia that I Think I Love My Wife was a remake of Chloe in the Afternoon. Who knows, maybe I did mention it and my editor took it out; I'll stick to blaming her.