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Jeff Who Lives at Home (2011)

I don’t write on this thing as much as I’d like. Truthfully, I really only pick movies I feel like writing about at the time, or, on the rare occasion, feel like I can articulate something worth reading. This is one of the former, I guess. The Duplass Brothers have something and I can’t quite articulate what that is (see above). Here I go failing to do that: They made The Puffy Chair for $15,000+ and showed a bit of it. They made this very similar film for around $10 million, but wrote a better script. I have seen all of their collaborations together and think that they are gradually becoming better filmmakers with each film. While their previous feature, Cyrus, may share the same fate as this one (meaning that it was hated by a lot of people who were either mislead by the trailer or thought it was going to be something it is not), these brothers are carving quite a quirky niche for themselves in developing awkward dramedies about people who see very little comedy in their own lives. Like the above-mentioned first feature, this film follows characters who may not learn much about their own lives (or the film just doesn’t go beyond that point to let us see it), but it serves to allow us as viewers to process our own relatability through the emotions they display throughout the story. Despite that ridiculously convoluted sentence (see what I mean about articulation?), these are simple stories with simple problems. Whether or not you like the films depends on whether that’s enough for you, I guess.

This is the story of two possibly-perceived-as-loser brothers who seemingly have no direction to their life. Jeff is a 30 year old man who looks for signs in everything (even in the movie Signs) to guide his stoner Buddha-like existence while living with his mother and apparently not doing much else (He is obviously the character Mark Duplass would play, if Jason Segel wasn’t available). His brother Pat is played by Ed Helms with a kind of seriocomic naiveté that removes nearly any ability to laugh at or with him (I’m not sure if this makes me like the performance more or less). He is a man in stereotypical 1/3-life crisis who can’t see the forest through the trees, or whatever metaphor you want to use for his lack of attention to his relationship with his wife (played well by a noticeably more raw than usual Judy Greer).

I feel like I’m getting into plot summary here and that is not my intent. The whole point of this movie is following the emotions of the characters and seeing where it unpredictably takes you. The Duplass Brothers say they are influenced most by documentary filmmaking. While this movie does not try to be like a documentary in form (like, say, The Office), it makes use of a DV aesthetic that allows them to focus on the actors rather than the visuals. This is not a movie with great shots or camera movement. In trying to find some stills to add to this post, I had some frustration with getting a decent static image from the lack of attention to character framing or the numerous readjustments of shot length in the middle of a scene. The Duplass Brothers do not seem to be interested in a conventional cinematic display (though they do show occasionally that they are capable of beautiful images of their actors). They simply choose to film the actors in the loosest way possible to capture the emotion they are going for. Mark Duplass has said that, while there is always a traditional script to work from, he prefers that actors improvise, make up their own dialogue, and do whatever works best for the story. This is one reason why they are getting more exposure, because there seem to be a lot of people that want to work with them






I was suprised by how much I enjoyed The Puffy Chair, a film that became one of the first to be labeled with that post-millennial moniker of “mumblecore“. I’ve written about this term before, so I’ll spare you my tirades on the breadth of difference between all these filmmakers that are lumped together under this ‘movement’. This film is especially different than those that I have seen in that it chooses to focus on the mother (Susan Sarandon), an older woman, as its main subplot and it has a final act that is markedly not like any of the others (spoilers withheld here and ahead).
I liked the ending of this movie. It worked for me. Other people will be disappointed, or perhaps even infuriated, based on their expectations coming into it. This is not a traditional comedy. Despite it starring two actors who are mostly known for comedic roles, this film is on the other side of the dramedy coin, so to speak. I like that. I do not need to laugh out loud, if the film is trying to do something else. I won’t try to presume that I can tell you what to feel that this movie is doing, but I have my own version of what that is. While I have some distance from the film now, when it was over I did think it was one the best films I have seen this year. It still is, but I know that’s a personal choice and nowhere near an objective one.


Caged (1950)

Despite being an multi-Academy Award nominated film (Screenplay Virginia Kellogg, Supporting Actress Hope Emerson, and Best Actress Eleanor Parker), this film has been relegated to the Cult Camp Classics label by Warner Brothers on DVD. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve had problems in the past with the “camp” signifier, especially for films not necessarily intended as such. Though this apparently was originally envisioned as a Bette Davis/Joan Crawford vehicle to be titled The Big Cage (according to IMDB), I don’t see much of that carrying over in its finished incarnation (though imagining Davis as the inmate and Crawford as the warden, or vice-versa, makes me want to see that movie!). There are plenty of moments of heightened acting in this film, and the most blatant Sapphic references of probably any Hollywood picture of its time, but it seems to play it quite straight most of the time. Maybe some of the more sober moments come out of give-and-take rewrites with the studio over its wavering morality messages? This is a picture that aims to depict the seediness in the Women’s Prison, while introducing the idea of needed reform. Though, I noticed with interest how blatantly the film suggests that a lack of progress in this area comes specifically from a divide in gender. Men hold the power and they are ignorant of its uses and abuses. While its Prison Matron Harper is portrayed as a corrupt power hog, indoctrinated into the male idea of abusive punishment as a kind of reinforced subservience, Agnes Moorehead‘s Warden Benton fights for a more humane approach to reform and rehabilitation (that I suppose can be coded ‘feminine’, since it is the marginalized one?). It is a clichéd dichotomy at this point, though I don’t know how novel it was for the genre at the time. The interesting part is the defeatist attitude the picture allows of itself. The coda to the film, while functioning as a bit of a Code-inspired justice tag, paints a rather bleak picture of the Warden’s progressive mindset. Bottom line: It is a borderline B-picture, but a B-picture elevated by the talent involved.




IMDB points out that Eleanor Parker’s role here is the tenth that John Cromwell directed to a Best Actress nomination. Though I haven’t seen much of her work (and when I have, like in The Sound of Music, I didn’t know who she was), she is clearly an interesting ingenue. I think I first admired her in The Man With the Golden Arm (in which she is crazily magnificent) and later in The Naked Jungle (a decent Charlton Heston action-adventurer that the last Indiana Jones film stole its ‘ant scene’ from). She is clearly over-the-top in some scenes, but even here her performance is spectacularly accomplished. It all serves the material and the film is better for the presence she brings to it. And not just because of the ‘haircut scene’. I wonder whether her or Cromwell might have seen Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc (I’m not sure how available it was before being discovered in that Norwegian Mental Ward closet in 1981). It’s been a few days now since I’ve seen this film, and I am still impressed (which is why I felt compelled to write something about it).

People frequently use the phrase that some films are ‘tame for today’s standards’ as some sort of pejorative qualifier, but you really cannot compare these pre-Method/pre-New Hollywood films with more contemporary ‘realistic’ acting. It is a continuum that has to be looked at in context (which is why it peeves me to no end when certain people complain about early Method actors looking ‘fake’). I guess my point is not that Parker is rivaling Method-like-ness innovation, but that her approach here is so above the need of the film. She (and her quasi-noirish direction) carry this film into an eminent watchability, that I would hope is more appealing to those less inclined to watch these so-called period pictures. I liked the fact that this really seems to have been intended as a “woman’s picture” more than an exploitation film. Films like Caged Heat or Chained Heat obviously came later. I found myself wanting to compare this to something like the Cagney picture Each Dawn I Die (an earlier, higher-budgeted WB male prison drama, granted with a more narratively complex story). I haven’t seen Ida Lupino in Women’s Prison, but that might be where to go from here…though I can’t expect there will be better lines than “Thanks for the haircut” or “Pile out you tramps, it’s the end of the line”….

The War Game (1965)

Peter Watkins made The War Game in 1965. This was only four years after the Bay of Pigs, yet marked 20 years since the attack on Hiroshima. And, as we know, retrospectively, we had decades more of the “Cold War” threatening Thermonuclear War. This film is a staged documentary (before such a thing was its own genre) made for the BBC to staunchly dramatize the realism of what would happen in the aftermath of a nuclear strike on Great Britain (specifically 40 miles away from its location around Kent). The cameramen, Peter Bartlett, was an actual news cameraman (occasionally being literally pushed around by the director with his telephoto lens to capture an air of shaky realism within crowds). The narrator, Michael Aspel, was an actual voice of the BBC. The film was self-banned from broadcast by the BBC, some say for its gruesome depiction of the situation; some say for political reasons (probably for both). It won the BAFTA for Best Short Film and, more noticeably, the Oscar for Best Documentary Film in 1967, despite being a document of events that did not actually happen. Even out of its historical context, it is probably one of the most intentionally damning documents I have ever seen.

Arguing not necessarily against nuclear armament (it seems to realize we are beyond any point of return), it highlights the utter ridiculousness of our assumption that it somehow comes out of a ‘civilized’ world. As the best of art, its purpose is to inform and compel thought. It questions the cultural “silence” on this issue that effects every single person in a war-fearing country. It attempts to persuade its audience of the wrongfulness of nuclear weapons by providing much needed factual information in the context of an emotional depiction. I think it still works.

At a point, one commentator mentions that while we were within the Atomic Age technically, we were (and still are) in the Stone Age, emotionally. The film uses a cross-cutting effect of having dramatization juxtaposed with talking head “interrupters” (as DVD commentator Patrick Murphy terms). This serves to further reinforce its documentary style. This tactic also aides in its realism by cutting away from showing certain actions that would never be shown on television. Though it still shows much more than anyone would ever expect to see on television in 1965; Burnt bodies, mangled limbs, shock and horror on the ashen faces of its people in the background, the film does not shy away from attempting a realistic portrait.








It uses simple effects like overexposure or shaking the camera to dramatize the blast, but they are no less effective than any more complicated contemporary special effect. The “firestorm” scene is created through a combination of effective editing and well-researched and directed movement of actor’s bodies. The makeup used to show burns and blood is that much more effective in the fact that the black-and-white does not need to be fully real, but rather more familiar as television and photojournalist ‘real’.

Before and during the still effective dramatizations, Watkins shows interviews with people to ask their knowledge of what the bombs are made of, if they would want retaliation, etc. It depicts a general ignorance and lack of forethought (and emphasizes this with the fact that readiness literature was not made easily available to the public). Watkins used unprofessional actors throughout. The interviewed people were acting too, but he began asking these questions without a script to prompt a more genuine response. Another stroke of genius in this masterpiece of its time. And I think this is still much more effective than a more blatantly satirical (and overtly political) work like The Gladiators (which is, in a way, like a proto-Hunger Games for adults). I haven’t seen much of Watkins’ work yet, but that will be changing shortly…


2011 list

I’ve finally given in and made my list of favorite films from 2011.
Below are a “top ten” that is admittedly a bit arbitrary and another ten, most of which could be in the top ten also if there was more room. As always, there is no ranking, since I find it ridiculous to compare completely unalike movies (If you want me to even try to do that, you’ll have to ask). With the exception of Drive (which I happened to see twice), this is all based on first impressions…

Akmareul boatda/I Saw The Devil (South Korea)
Gruesome, brutal, violent, bloody. This film is all these things, yet it is uses them within the context of asking a classically moral question: Can one truly confront evil without becoming evil oneself? Choi Min-Sik takes on the other side of the Oldboy coin here, in a way, while Lee Byung-Hun delivers his best performance since, well, the last Kim Ji-Woon movie he was in. This is the latest in a number of impressive films since his debut at the height of the so-called Korean Wave in the late ’90s (FYI: He has been recruited to helm the Schwarzenegger resurrection as his introduction to Hollywood).

Le Bruit des Glacons/The Clink of Ice (France)
Here’s the other movie starring Jean Dujardin that came out in 2011 (The Artist, despite being an enjoyable film, just doesn’t quite work the way I wanted it to as the mainstream po-mo “silent film” that was inevitably coming). From aging provocateur Bertrand Blier, this film concerns an alcoholic writer who is visited, and subsequently hounded, by a human looking representation of his own cancer (a kind of cancer buddy, if you will). A zany, kind-of-funny-even-though-some-of-it-shouldn’t-be romp that loses a bit of steam along the way, but is still as entertaining as nearly anything else I saw this year. Perhaps stereotypically “French” in ways that can either be seen as a positive or negative, depending on your own personal taste.

Cold Weather (USA)
Aaron Katz, uber-mumblecore auteur, brings a slow-burning regular-people type-mystery story that will either be annoyingly slow or freshly interesting depending on your interest in its interest in the slacker-type, Portland-set, late 20’s age stuck characters. Like in the films of Andrew Bujalski, another of the ill-monikered mumblecorers, the focus is less on driving a particular plot or character development than evoking an overall tone and situations of the characters (though Katz seems to have a much better eye for the visual). You may not find the characters all that particularly interesting, but that’s how most people are in reality, right?…

Contagion (USA)
Steven Soderbergh happens to make one of the best films of the year without seeming to infuse it with any sense of excitement or flair. There is a style here that comes from his superior craftsmanship, but it is a purposely detached one. The film is a percolating genre exercise that rides a line between horror-thriller-mystery in a way that can almost seem emotionless at times. The massive scale of such a plot and set of characters is handled in such a way as to include only the minimum needed to coalesce into one of the finest ensembles of the apocalypse of recent memory. I really hope the man doesn’t stay away from movie making too long.

Drive (USA)
Nicolas Winding Refn comes to America. This is what that looks and sounds like. An experience of a picture that is less about driving than it is about changing lanes. I think there is a level of corniness in this picture that exists right along side the “serious” violence it displays in its execution. It’s not quite laughable; it’s not black comedy, but it’s an otherworldliness that prods you into its movie-ness. It is a movie for people who like movies. Another genre exercise turned on its head: Pulp fiction at its best. Neon-noir, as it has been coined elsewhere.

Hugo (USA)
Scorsese makes a(nother) love letter to Cinema inside a children’s picture, shot in the adolescent technology of 3-D, based on a massive picture book by a man with the last name Selznick (yes, he is related to David O.), Scorsese gets a wonderfully clever story from John Logan‘s adaptation, about how Time and Technology effect our future that can also just be a simple adventure tale for all ages. This is a marvelous film that is an easy pick for one of the best of the year. If you don’t agree, you must not care about movies much. Or Méliès. [I admit there is a sentimentality here that may turn some people off, but imagine how horribly different this film would be if, say, Spielberg directed the story of a orphaned boy seeking out his father in the machine…yeah, exactly].

Submarine (UK)
It would be unfair to say that this is like a British Wes Anderson movie. It is the first feature by a very talented Richard Ayoade (probably best known from television show The IT Crowd) of which I hope there are many more. While not as overtly comical as his previous television work, this film is a quirky coming-of-age tale with a way-too-smart-for-reality teenage protagonist who has parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) who are way too much of a literary construction. But none of that keeps me from thinking that this is one of the best films of the year.

Tabloid (USA)
If people in documentaries could be eligible for Best Actress honors at the Oscars, I would nominate Joyce McKinney. I didn’t know anything about this story, part of which was apparently quite well known in the (British) tabloids in the late 1970s, so I was glad to be amazingly surprised by what is told of it, fact or fiction, in this Errol Morris film. Morris always chooses interesting subjects for his films and he always delves deeper to find something beneath the surface of what most have seen before. This has to have the most outrageous ‘plot’ of any movie I saw this year; stranger than fiction indeed.

The Tree of Life (USA)
Yes, this movie is divisive (It apparently forced many theatres to revise their ticket refund policies). I recommend it at my own peril. It is not for everyone in a similar way that 2001 is not for everyone. But to say that either of these films is “bad” would be a disservice to Cinema. A grand experiment in narrative and philosophy, Terrence Malick gives us a movie about, well, EVERYTHING. I was in awe in a way I know I will probably not be experiencing from a film for quite some time…The most apt word I can think of to describe it would be ‘glorious’.

Womb (Hungary/France/Germany)
A great piece of conceptual sci-fi that touches on the subject of human cloning in a way that I have never seen depicted before. Starring Eva Green and Matt Smith (filmed before he became the Doctor). Despite its slight obtuseness, it is both thoughtful and provoking, as science-fiction should be. I wrote a bit about this below, but I prefer to say as little as possible. Certainly not mainstream fare, though. Just warning you.

Here are some more titles that I liked (I saw 140 or so movies from 2011, so I have to be allowed to like more than ten):

Another Earth (USA)
Conceptual/lo-fi sci-fi as a backdrop for a picture about the curiosity of the Unknown and seeking out a life outside oneself; Meaning that the sci-fi is very minimal. However, it is ultimately a piece the very terrestrial concepts of regret, forgiveness, and redemption. A couple of truly great scenes make this worth seeking out. And it has a man who will probably forever be referred to as Tom Cruise’s cousin as the male lead. (I really wanted to see Sound of My Voice, Brit Marling‘s other more overtly sci-fi from this past year, but it apparently hasn’t been properly released yet).

Le Havre (Finland/France)
Aki Kaurismäki gives us yet another tale of awkward people who emote very little and are unaware of the (sometimes very funny) comedy of their situations. I haven’t seen a lot of his films, but he is known for an immediately distinct visual palette with a style that adds a bit of social commentary and, sometimes, like in this film, a couple rock n’ roll songs in concert. An acquired taste, but a good place to start if you’ve never seen him (He and his brother, at one point, apparently accounted for a third of all film production in Finland).

Jane Eyre (UK)
Mia Wasikowska deserves some sort of award for being most prolifically better than the films she was in this year (also see Restless and Albert Nobbs). Michael Fassbender could possibly be the male equivalent to this (eventually). So, this gets a spot here for them. And it made me cry, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen. The story is great from a great book and has been told/filmed countless numbers of times, yet Cary Fukunaga still manages to make it seem romantically modern (romantic with a capital ‘R’ and modern with a lowercase ‘m’?).

Jodaeiye Nader az Simin /A Separation (Iran)
I am assuming this will win Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year. I sought it out because Scorsese and another filmmaker that I like (but can’t recall who) recommended it as excellent. It is. A couple in Iran, with a child and an elder who needs home care, separate because one wants to get a divorce. To go into any more of the plot might be too much. This is a family drama, a look into the legal system of Iran, and, perhaps, a commentary on the universal self-servingness of the adult individual. Surely soon to be remade into English so certain people don’t have to bother with the oh so horrible burden of subtitles and exposure to different cultures…

Like Crazy (USA)
A surprisingly effective drama about the impact of immigration on young love; A mature look at the emotions involved in a long distance relationship. Your level of appreciation depends on your emotional connection to the portrayals of the two leading young actors (Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin) who are said to have improvised a majority of the dialogue with the director. Probably because of this the film story is told in chunks, with what could be seen as having particular important parts missing, but it still works.

Meek’s Cutoff (USA)
This has the other great Michelle Williams performance from 2011 (the other being Marilyn Monroe). This is basically a stab at ‘Oregon Trail: The Movie’, if you want a blurb-like description. Yet, it is shot by a filmmaker, Kelly Reichart, who is focused on atmosphere and construction over traditional narrative. It is a digitally shot, anti-Cinemascope landscape picture that looks spectacular in the right viewing conditions (as I was privileged enough to see it in). It is a Western that plays with the idea of what a “Western” should be.

Melancholia (Denmark)
I was initially underwhelmed by this film, thinking it was a step back for Lars Von Trier. One could see it, in a way, as a more passive companion to Antichrist, with its introverted depiction of Depression that he has been personally wrestling with.  The plot point of a planet named Melancholia potentially, devastatingly colliding with the Earth and all its life is yet another grand metaphor Von Trier uses to depict his take on Humanity. I ended up liking this film much more a few days after I had seen it, but I need to see it again before making any personal conclusions. It’s is perhaps unfair to ‘downgrade’ the film because it doesn’t match up to his previous work for me (this is clearly no Breaking the Waves or Dogville), but I include it here because some people don’t care for him at all and that is a shame.

Midnight in Paris (USA)
Near the start of the year, this was the only picture I had seen that I knew would show up on this list. This is one of Woody Allen‘s best films in the past couple of decades. To some, that’s not saying much, but for a man who has consistently made a film EVERY year or two for over 40 years, it should be celebrated when one turns out as well as this. A magically simple tale of love and art with an flightily acerbic Owen Wilson marvelously standing in for the filmmaker in his first great role outside of a Wes Anderson movie.

Le piel de habito/The Skin I Live In (Spain)
This movie is like a mashup of Hitchcock, Eyes Without a Face, and a bit of Last Year in Marienbad. So, basically, it’s another Pedro Aldomovar picture (complete with references to even his own past films like Atame!). He always makes great looking films with great looking women. He also tends to provide really good roles for those women in a way that the majority of other filmmakers do not. I initially thought the plot was a bit too off somehow, but I like it just fine anyway. I regret not championing his previous film higher last year, so I’m hoping I don’t regret the same with this (or any of the other choices) when I get a chance to see it again…

Tyrannosaur (UK)
This movie starts out with a man kicking his own dog to death in a fit of alcoholic rage. And then he moves on to other humans. But he’s not a completely unsympathetic character. At least not in the end. Paddy Considine‘s debut feature as a director shows the possible redemption of a harsh life through  the power of kindness from those who have no kindness given to them (Olivia Colman is amazing). A punishing character study made more interesting by Peter Mullan‘s performance (Warhorse this ain’t). And, yes, the title is explained, but it’s obvious early on that if there are dinosaurs in this film, they aren’t from the prehistoric era.

Special Mention:
Kill List (UK)
I was completely bored with the entire first hour of this movie, so it doesn’t really belong here. However, it might have the best ending I saw all year. It’s like three different movies in 90 minutes: a troubled marriage drama, a hitman documentary, and a I-wouldn’t-even-dare-spoil-it (in case you actually want to see it). Well, it’s not great, but it was completely unexpected, since I had no idea what this movie was about at all. And now I am inclined to think there might be more to it the second time around, if I ever were to watch it again…

Special Mentions of movies with notable lead performances (aside from Polanski‘s film, all by women perhaps not-so coincidentally) that all stand out better than the films themselves: Albert Nobbs, Carnage, L’Crime D’Amour, Hanna, Svinalängorna, Trust, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Whistleblower.
I also have a whole list of movies I did not get to see. Most notably among these are A Dangerous Method and Take Shelter, which I have wanted to see since I heard about their existence over a year ago….and I am still waiting.

I wrote this quickly, so let me know if you care to have me expand on any of these movies. Or feel free to leave your own comments, etc.


Womb (2010)

Here’s a film that surprised me.
Knowing a bit about it beforehand, but not quite enough is definitely recommended. Known factors: Its lead actors are Eva Green (Bertolucci protege) and Matt Smith (yes, The Doctor). That would be doubly enough for me, but Womb is also classified as a science-fiction film (though only in narrative; there are no futuristic set-pieces or anything of the sort). To provide a minor spoiler, if you must know what the film is “about”: It has to do with effects of human cloning. And the film is not at all concerned with using its subject matter to intrigue you. It is not a film about technology.
I mention this because, despite not being a “sci-fi” film on its face, it brings up more in its staging of events about this topic than I have a seen in any other film of its type that I can think of. It does all of this within the narrative itself, which is to say, there is no expositional dialogue or “lesson” entrenched into the sci-fi aspect. Yet, the film gives you plenty of space in which to contemplate the matter. I won’t say much else about it, except to mention that it is lugubriously slow and quite intentionally blunt in its presentation. From the sea blue-gray color palette to the isolated beach setting that truly does at times look how one of the characters describes it; like “the end of the world”, I was still drawn into the film and the “controversial” situation it puts itself in. I found myself asking all sorts of questions about the ramifications of such a possibility when the film was over, which one assumes is entirely the point. It’s not entirely clear to me if the ending is supposed to be as clear as I saw it, but from what I can tell, remembering the beginning is crucial to understanding a complicated facet of the topic. Man’s influence in natural selection does make for interesting (r)evolution.

Since I don’t like to spoil movies here, that’s about all I have to say at the moment. I would like to apologize to myself for having been lax in my posting, though. I have become part of the Google Image Search results fairly recently, so I present some more stills from this film in the hope that people will find them and seek it out.


Inferno (1980)

So, I watched Dario Argento‘s Inferno last night as my annual Halloween night flick. This was the second time I’d seen it, kind of. I first watched it years ago on a 3rd or 4th generation VHS dub that I traded for in the mail from some random dude  on the Internet. That was how we did it back in the day of low bandwidth when people where still saying “What’s this bittorrent thing about?” or even “Do you have a DVD player yet?” etc. We would email each other our lists of stuff and trade tape-for-tape across the land far and wide. I freely admit to this, because we traded titles you simply could not find anywhere to buy retail. Inferno being one of them (I still have a composite print of Profondo rosso as well, where in one scene the actor is speaking English, but dubbed into Italian, with English subtitles that don’t match his lip movement. And, yes, this is barely discernible, because the video quality is horrendous).
ANYWAY. Inferno.

This is Argento’s follow-up to his usually regarded masterpiece Suspiria and his continuation of his “Three Mothers” obsession. Although, even early on in this film you can see that he’s confusing even himself and pushing the other two into this film instead of planning out the belated and eventual failure of a trilogy (and his attempt to move on from the witchcraft angle was a misguided one that just even confuses the issue more). There is a complex backstory to this mythology and there seems to have been some very fine research into alchemy and such, but not much of it makes it to the screen (or at least to the narrative).

The film basically consists of sequences of someone walking around in the dark and then stumbling into being killed with some other eerie sections that include more than one actor in the daylight. If I’m making this seem dull, that’s because the execution of the idea of the film is. Yet, as any fan or Argento will tell you, it’s not the story that you watch his films for. With the possible exception of the aforementioned Suspiria, Tenebrae or Phenomena (my personal favorites), all of his scripts are terrible. Yet, he is, at times, a master visualist. Yes, he can be showy with his long tracking camera shots and famous hand-of-the-killer inserts, but his use of light and color gels rival his late, great inspiration Mario Bava (who actually ended up making Inferno his last film, by working on some of the effects and matte photography without credit, because he just wanted something to do at the time).

The underwater sequence near the beginning of this film is a highlight. If you don’t marvel at it, you probably shouldn’t bother with the rest of the film. It occurred to me that I probably haven’t seen such an intentionally surrealistic representation of New York outside of Eyes Wide Shut. And the scene with the cat in the classroom is insane. And the other scene with the cats too. Oh, and that other one also.

There’s no narrative cohesion whatsoever, but the some of the sequences themselves are just amazing. Overall, it really is almost just middling Argento, simply because the best parts of this are mere extenuations of what made Suspiria so great. Most of the rest is, as they say, retrospectively blah. Although Eleonora Giorgi is nice to look at, as well as the much-more-competent-than-she-seems in this Daria Nicolodi. I’m still convinced she is the main reason for Argento’s obviously best “period” from 1975-1987 (from her being the lead actress in Deep Red to their real life break-up sometime before? Opera). With the exception of The Stendhal Syndrome, starring their daughter Asia, Dario really has not, in my opinion, made a ‘good’ movie since.

So, I guess the point of writing this, for me, is to point out that I originally thought this movie was hard to follow because the quality of the tape from my original viewing was so horrible. Having seen most of Argento’s work since then I knew coming into viewing this perfectly decent Anchor Bay DVD that I’ve had for quite awhile that it was simply the construction of the film itself.
Let’s hope his Dracula 3D (purported to be even less faithful to the source material than his Phantom of the Opera adaptation) will have a decent script and that he can follow it. But I’m a sucker for Argento, so I’m sure I’ll watch it regardless. I mean, I sat through Giallo and it was horrible (even though Adrien Brody tried his darnedness to make it interesting, who was, granted, replacing one of the three main actors to have left before shooting even started). Perhaps some good luck/karma will come Argento’s way after, or in spite of, a Romero remake of Deep Red or when David Gordon Green ever gets to his long planned version of Suspiria.


The Ides of March (2011)

One of the first things I thought as the credits were rolling was ‘This must be Clooney’s definitive answer on why he says he will never run for political office’.
Based on Farragut North, a play by co-screenwriter Beau Willimon, the film revolves around the political campaign of a Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) during a well contested Democratic Presidential Primary in Ohio. Though Clooney has less screen time than some theatergoers may like, he purposefully embodies the recent ideals of his Party (with some clever nods to actual policy that should perhaps be in the public dialogue currently). The plot spends most of its focus on up-and-coming political advisor Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) who has to balance his loyalty to the campaign with his loyalty to the cause it/he is fighting for among a variety of players in and around the campaign. To say anymore would be verging into spoiling the particulars. Suffice to say, decisions are made and consequences are had.
However, this film is really about the the dichotomy between personal and public integrity. What makes a candidate worthy of office, or rather, what makes him or her unworthy? I came out of this film thinking about things that anyone with a brain for politics has surely pondered before, but they are ideas no less relevant for the film them bringing up again in our recent political climate (where many are dissatisfied with the choices on either “side” of the spectrum). The film asks you to consider situations where you have to personally judge whether, as they say, the ends justify the means. Leadership is needed, even from fallible people.
Like most films in which Philip Seymour Hoffman is a supporting actor, his character (the senior political advisor) spells out the moral core of the film: Trust and loyalty are paramount in a business where everything is played for political spin. If you can’t trust someone, they have to go. Like Gosling’s character says another in the film: ‘This is the big leagues. If you make a mistake, you’ve lost the right to play the game’. Yet, there are ways to try to play the game against itself.

I’m writing in generalities, again, because I don’t want to spoil the impact of the specific drama of the film (even though it should not seem unique at all). However, like with his previous Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney may be expecting you to go beyond to film and question its place in our current political/social reality. This is where the weight of the picture comes in.
Does a John Edwards or an Anthony Weiner really deserve to “lose the game” for their individual indiscretions (or keep going back in time for countless examples)? Keeping in mind the future that they could have achieved in/for the Party? On one hand they could have had the personal responsibility to simply not do the things they did (or at least have people around them keep them from being exposed), but on the other are these really things that keep these public figures from being trustworthy leaders in executing policy for the national interest?
I do not wish to take a “side” here, I’m simply pointing out that the answer isn’t as easy as you might think it is/was. If you feel like you already have a definitive answer to that question, this movie might not be for you. If you don’t, it isn’t going to answer it for you. I like it that way.
From a comparative standpoint this film really isn’t any better than a more excellently lensed and scored epsiode of The West Wing, but it is better than almost everything else at the cineplex right now. A mental Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, if you will….

featured Short film (9 min)

Blue Shining (Richard Vezina, 2015)

great scene from a great film

Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

May 2018
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