What movie was that...?

29 November 2011


directed by Lars Von Trier

After getting broomed out of Cannes for being a Nazi (I am editorializing. The Cannes decision was and is ridiculous), Von Trier has gone incommunicado, but his newest film has much to say. Melancholia, though a bit initially groan inducing premisewise (the wedding fiasco, uber-aristocratic sad bastard people with endless wealth portion, not the truly wonderful hidden planet premise), succeeded, at least to me, in articulating the throes of a deeply imbedded trauma, a profound sadness and dysfunction as only Mr. Lars knows how to articulate. The second portion of the film does seek to bring the wedding portion into meaningless, trivial focus, and Von Trier’s grim view of humanity is more subdued here, less vicious and arrogant, but no less pointed. I usually love and hate Von Trier’s films, but Melancholia seemed only to fall under the former category this time around. The surreal and fantastical is depicted sans flashy sci-fi trappings in a very Charlie Kaufmanesque way, and the result is at once engrossing and devastating. Kirsten Dunst was outstanding (and I usually hate her), but for me the film belonged to Charlotte Gainsbourg, who finds the fragility and strength of every moment. Bravo. Melancholia is one of those borderline allegorical films, where every character and story element can be interpreted as symbolic, as I am sure was Mr. Von Trier’s intention, and his-let’s call it modest grandiosity- has found a way to strike a chord rather than pummeling it.
Plot hole problem: The one plot point in this film with which I cannot make my peace is the nature of Kirsten Dunst’s accent, or lack thereof. Her mother is played by Charlotte Rampling, her father is John Hurt, and her sister is Charlotte Gainsbourg. How, with family as British/French as this, does Ms. Dunst end up with not even a hint of an accent? This is my Goonies plot hole hang up for Melancholia, not the fictional planet, or the doomsday goings on, or the bizarre behavior of Udo Kier.

26 November 2011


directed by Martin Scorsese

John Logan can write the hell out of a film (Rango, The Aviator, The Last Samurai) and Martin Scorsese can direct the hell out of a film (all his effing films!), so it stands to reason that together again, the Logan Scorsese combo should be platinum classic stuff. And classic stuff it is, a film that swoons over the magic of film in a way that wraps you up. Scorsese is as in love with the art of filmmaking today as he was when he gave us Mean Streets, injecting his films with cinematic influences like a musician pays homage to his iconic predecessors. His influence here is more explicit, as the plot of Hugo orbits around the part factual part fictional life and genius of Georges Melies, a filmmaker and wizard who was, without question, one of the most amazing creative minds of all time. Ben Kinglsey is perfect as wounded titan Melies, trying to forget a painful past as he begins to find meaning in an orphan (Asa Butterfield is tremendous) living in a Paris train station and obsessed with repairing an automaton- Ok, even as I write this it sounds like a sugary, schmaltzy mess of a film that plays out like a 2 hour hallmark card, but Hugo is not the piece of filmic fruitcake that you may fear it is. Scorsese has created a magic with Hugo that warms the heart and whisks you away. You’ll feel like a kid again, wide eyed and buoyant as you escape into a Melies-esque dreamland.

23 November 2011

Snow Day

directed by Chris Koch

The geniuses behind one of the finest television shows ever created, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, originally intended for this to be a Pete and Pete movie, but the passage of time whilst Nickelodeon sat on its duff prevented this from becoming so. It’s still a treat to see another peek into Wellsville, courtesy of Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi. Using the same alchemy of nostalgia, darkness and silly logic, McRobb and Viscardi spin the tale of, you guessed it, a snow day and how it affects the lives of the town’s denizens, particularly Hal (read: Big Pete Wrigley), wonderfully played by Mark Webber (Dear Wendy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Hal is on a mission to declare his love for the dreamy Claire (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and the snow day is his perfect chance. McRobb and Viscardi have a knack for taking the nostalgia of childhood and transmogrifying it into something epic (another fine example is the Daylight Savings episode of Pete and Pete), and Snow Day seeks to help us find the magic of such childhood joys. It’s too bad that the film couldn’t actually have been a Pete and Pete film, but I will take what I can get. And plus it's never a bad thing to see Iggy Pop get his weird on (and pseudo-reprising his Mr. Mecklenberg character from Pete and Pete).

21 November 2011

My Week with Marilyn

directed by Simon Curtis

The name Simon Curtis may not ring any bells on this side of the Atlantic, and I’m guessing that his most recent feature won’t do much to change that fact with folks under the age of 70. Curtis comes from television, and it shows. I don’t mean that in any derogatory way, for television can be much more tremendous than many films out there (see Breaking Bad for a current example. That show rocks!), but My Week with Marilyn brims with lovely yet very traditional flair throughout when it should have been trying to give us all the razzle dazzle. At least The King’s Speech (last year’s most elderly beloved film) attempted to be visually interesting. I feel as if I am slamming My Week with Marilyn, which is not the case, for Michelle Williams (as much as I couldn’t picture her as THE Marilyn, though she has delivered two of the finest performances of the year in Blue Valentine and Meek's Cutoff) was wonderful, as was Kenneth Branagh as the late Sir Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike. But, for me, the film lacked anything inspired, the spark that keeps my eyes on the screen. Everything about the film was very “nice”, a reliable amount of cottony zingers batted betwixt thespians committing to roles more out of principle than genuine conviction, well crafted recreations of cinema’s glory of yore, and all this is well and good, but where’s the fire, the intensity, the raw appeal of Marilyn Monroe that has captivated nearly every film lover alive, to this day? I am fine with safe filmmaking, but don’t expect me gush over a reasonable meal when what I really craved was a feast. 

13 November 2011

Nine Pound Hammer, a Frank Fairfield music video

directed by Keith Musil

I have been puzzling over this young man for the past year or so, trying to figure him out. The personae. The stylistic immersion. The dogged devotion to tradition. Part of me wants to love him so, to shout his praises from the rooftops. And yet part of me wonders why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Mr. Fairfield has yet to release an album of original songs, which means I am left with a collection of new recordings that sound as if they were discovered on the shelf of a West Virginia root cellar. Authentic though they may sound, I wonder if the inspiration is genuine, or if this is a case of simple, albeit astounding, parroting of the ethos of a era gone by. Anyway, I thought I would share this and ask you all these questions. What do you think?

Regardless, the music video is stellar. Wonderful work, Mr. M.

While I'm at it, I'm going to share Mr. Fairfield's live performance of one of my very favorite songs, Rye Whiskey. Those of you who share my affection for this type of music can hear a wonderful version from the great Lee Sexton in the amazing doc, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. It's one of my favorites films.

11 November 2011

Very Bad Things

directed by Peter Berg

Before there was The Hangover, another group of guys spent a little time trying to cope with their own debauched Vegas bachelor party weekend. Set the hot tub for 1998, when the great rivalry between Back Street Boys and ‘N Sync was at its zenith, and a young actor turned writer/director named Peter Berg made his volatile debut with the pitch black comedy known as Very Bad Things. Berg, while a solid actor (Fire in the Sky. The Great White Hype. Collateral. Effing Cop Land.), has proven to be an even more talented filmmaker, boasting a resume that features the true sports classic Friday NightLights (he produced the television series as well), The Kingdom and the Sunday afternoon action jewel The Rundown. Very Bad Things tells the story of groom to be Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau), who heads out with his buddies to Vegas for a wild night of bachelordom. Things go from effed to totally effed when an extreme mishap causes the group to consider their options. This is one of those wacky ass downward spiral films that, by the time it ends, you wonder just how the hell it got to that point. Christian Slater, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Cameron Diaz, Leland Orser and Favreau all shine in this batshit gem. Give it a whirl. What’s the worst that could happen?

09 November 2011

Blue Velvet

directed by David Lynch

Much more palatable than Eraserhead, much less confusing than Lost Highway, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is perhaps my favorite of the more straight forward variety of Lynch films (other such examples being A Straight Story and the wonderful The Elephant Man). This is not to say that Blue Velvet isn’t complex and disturbing in classic Lynchian fashion, but it isn’t overtly surreal, which makes certain moments all the more shocking. Blue Velvet is one of those “peel back the surface” kinds of films, where the hero (Kyle MacLachlan) discovers a dark and disturbing underbelly to his quiet slice of suburbia, but the tricky thing is that the film itself is just like the genre it exploits. As you begin to look beneath the surface of an otherwise not so wonderfully lit, cheesily scored (on purpose, of course) film, you find yourself sucked into a world of dread, unease, and evocative stylistic choices that stay with you. Exhibit A: The sequence when Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern are walking down the street, and Lynch cuts from a standard 2 shot to a kind of slow dollying point of view shot, as if we are walking just ahead of the characters but cannot see them. Nicolas Winding Refn did something similar in fine style in Drive, when Ryan Gosling is driving Refn positions the camera where the gear shifter traditionally is, and all we see is Gosling looking out the windshield though we cannot see what lies ahead. Exhibit B: The scene when Dennis Hopper vacates Dean Stockwell’s house after Stockwell sings into that garage light, when Hopper just vanishes as he laughs maniacally. Exhibit C: In the beginning of the film, when the man falls dead on his lawn and the camera dips down, down, and into the ground where insects rumble like freighters and the grass towers over us like trees. These surreal elements linger, mixing with the pseudo-thriller nature of the film and making it seem indescribably uncomfortable. Blue Velvet is a film that must be watched with the right kind of eyes, but the rewards of such an experience are vast, indeed.

I also find that Blue Velvet is a good introduction to Lynch for film lovers who are not familiar with his canon. Often, people want to throw a novice right into the deep end with Eraserhead or Inland Empire in a kind of “oh, well you gotta get a load of this” attempt to shock them, or punish them, I don’t know. But Blue Velvet has all of the elements of a classic Lynch film, and it serves well as a starting point for those who want to delve deeper.

BTW Dean Stockwell should have received every award in the book for his tremendous one scene performance in Blue Velvet. It doesn't get much better than seeing him croon a Roy Orbison song into a metal utility light. Bravo, Mr. S.