Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 in Film: Epic Failures and Modest Successes

Culture is graded on the curve. Attention is a resource parceled out minute for minute and year for year. And, it's not always a hot minute. Each year will have it's winner, sure, but when you line up each year's winners you tend to see a pattern of the undeserved and the missing. That's not to say there weren't a few great movies this year, but a few, i think, is all we got.  That being said,  I didn't get around to seeing everything I wanted to, namely: Turin Horse, The Skin I Live In, We need to talk about Kevin, Young Adult, Troll Hunter, The Artist, Certified Copy, A Dangerous Method, and a few others.  So, my data set is far from complete.

For me 2011 is the year of "Epic" Failures. I'm talking about Terrence Malick's Tree of Life and Lars Von Trier's Melancholia. While both films show just the kind of ambition that I love to see, neither of them meet that ambition at it's lofty height. Failures only by their own standards.

Tree of Life is the finest character work I've seen yet from Malick, perhaps due to it's autobiographical nature. His little post-war family is well drawn and acted to near perfection. With them, Malick says everything he needs to say about the dual nature of man. And, had the movie stopped there, it would have been flawless, however less ambitious. The human side of the story contains all the Malickesque touches we've come to expect and appreciate from the swooning sun bent cinematography to the heart felt existential voice-overs. But, despite lofty intentions, Malick's eye(and ear)-popping nature montage doesn't convey the raw wonder and epic feeling it reaches for.

In small doses in his other films a brief walk through nature seemed more an attempt to create atmosphere, suggest the pettiness of humanity, or was simply a nice poetic caesura.  Here he attempts to work a full blown abridged history of the universe directly in the psyche of his nuclear family in a single cut, or perhaps through osmosis.  It's stunning and beautiful at times, but falls short of the "sea contained within the fish" wisdom it portends as well as the Kubrickesque art/specticle it mimics. Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void is another film that attempts to unite the worlds of the avant garde and the traditional narrative to about as much success.

Melancholia takes some beautiful ideas about family, depression, apocalypse, and the process of art and sinks them into characters I couldn't make myself care about.. The depressed learn to deal with loss, art is a doomed process, beauty cannot function without pain and sadness. His themes are solid and provocative. We know Von Trier is a filmmaker capable of telling a captivating story with iconic characters. Yet, here he lets his ideas get the best of his story and the characters and dialogue are at times clumsy and forced.

Von Trier's assumption that the apocalypse is much more interesting when shown in the micro as opposed to the macro is dead on.  That's why it worked so well in John Hillcoat's The Road and Micheal Haneke's Time of the Wolf and a litany of other films before them.  What those movie's have that this one doesn't are characters worthy of empathy.  I really wanted a grasp on Justine and to lesser extant Clair, that I couldn't find.  I'm willing to take on sociopaths and depressives.  I think Anne Hathaway's Kym in Rachel Getting Married is one of the best characters in movies in the past ten years.  Is Justine a self-destructive infant, or a heroic savant?  Von Trier's wisdom seems to be that the two aren't mutually exclusive, and that when the shit hits the fan, it's the more cynical that can  keep it together.  I'm more than ready to believe this thesis, but Melancholia never really took the time to convince me. On the other hand, every bit of film containing his titular rogue planet Melancholia is haunting, beautiful, and conveys the emotional depth his characters don't. I loved the film for it's ideas before I had to sit through it's characters for 2 and 1/2 hours.

I was really expecting at least one of these films to rock my world.  Perhaps if one film had Malick's family and Von Trier's planet, 2011 would have had the masterpiece I'd hoped for.

In spite of their flaws, ambitious failures are still more interesting than a hedged bet. A few slightly less ambitious films, however, hit the nail right on the head and, more importantly, drove it all the way down.

First and foremost: Le Quattro Volte is a story told from the perspective of an old man, a goat, a tree, and a pile of ashes. Just how these four elements come together to tell the story of a sleepy mountain town is a wonder to behold. Much like the Hungarian masterpiece Hukkle the town goes about performing its well worn rituals while the vantage widens to a point where all is trivial, comic, and endearingly human.

The Future is the second feature from Miranda July. It's a film that will charm you in spite of whatever cynicism you may or may not have for it's twee director and her whimsical nature. Miranda July proves that she is not a fluke, that she is not going to bring the touchy-feely artsy shit down a notch, and that she is quite capable of expressing her real if peculiar genius through lovable fops and talking cats.  

Shame is the follow up to Steve McQueen's powerful debut Hunger.  And, like Hunger it earns it's stark moniker.  It's a deeply felt story of troubled characters in a flawed world on a path to redemption. McQueen seems to be on track to rival Kieslowski for dark, gritty parables.

A few great adaptations: Jane Eyre, Norwegian Wood, and The Descendants all get a proper cinematic treatment.  Some striking originals:  Drive, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives , and Meeks Cutoff  bring style and mood in spades.  The Interrupters and The Bully Project are a couple of powerful docs that attempt to take on violence in middle America.

Perhaps I saw all the right movies last year, 2010 seemed to me like another watershed year like 1999.  This year big audiences rightfully tried to embrace two films that were unabashedly artsy on the merits of previous directorial work, and in my opinion both films, while still definitely fine films worth seeing, missed their own mark.  I hope audiences are willing to take those big risks in the year to come.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Telephone Sketch @ the Comic Jam

The rules of this sketchbook are:  1) If you're looking at a drawing, turn the page and describe what you saw.  If your looking at a written description, turn the page and draw what you read.  2) Pass it on. Thanks be to all the folk who participated last night at the Homegrown Comic Jam, and stay tuned as I'll be attempting to fill the rest of the book at the next Con/Jam.  Enjoy.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Here Come the Pun

After much negotiation, Jordan continues to ignore new nations borders.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


A new silent animation made for "Dream Sequences"--Part of the ongoing Dreamscapes exhibit at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tree of Life - An interpretation.

*Spoilers, obviously.

A lot has been said about the film's daring montage sequences. Many comparisons have been made to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 for the film's scope and ambition. Leaving the theater I was less impressed with the all the dazzling natural wonders and their breathtaking epic-ness than I was with the earnestness of the lives portrayed and the amazing performances all around.

At the center of the film is its working thesis. There are two ways of living. There is the way of nature, and the way of grace. Nature cares only for itself. It seeks pleasure, and in doing so it is a destructive force. Grace is meek. In the face of nature it takes insult and returns only composure.

In the film these two forces are personified by Jack's Father and Mother respectively. More importantly, though, they are embodied by Jack himself as he comes of age. In his innocence Jack is meek under the heavy thumb of his father. He offers him fear and respect in the face of impossible expectations and harsh reprimands. Jack cannot understand his father, only his permissive mother makes any sense to him.

But, as nature would have it, Jack cannot be innocent forever. As adolescence sets in Jack's grace fades in the wake of his nature. By the end of the film young Jack concedes that he is more like his father than his mother, implying his fall from the grace. His young brother, presumably the one who is dead at the film's outset, remains disarmingly gentle and compassionate last we see him.

Seen through the same thesis. The ambitious montage near the beginning of the film, which begins as Jack's grieving mother questions her faith in the wake of her sons death, takes the form of the nature which she cannot fully contain. She chafes under well meaning bromides as her friend attempts to help her cope, knowing the answer to her grief lies in some darker corner of herself. In this interpretation, the montage which is the films devisive centerpeice is both an earnest representation of the makings of life on earth, as well as an impressionistic representation of Jacks mother's emotional state, and by way of her, the viewer and anyone else faced with such a natural and unavoidable occurance.

In the film's Felliniesque resolution Jack imagines or perceives his mothers acceptance of his brother's death as she symbolically releases him. This final scene I believe attempts to finally unite the films two divergent approaches. If Mallick's stunning natural wonders are at first implied emotional states, here they are fully reconciled, as people from Jack's life(including his younger self) inhabit this seemingly imagined landscape where they make peace with their earthly struggles. This purely subjective setting, while it might be a place in the sky where Jack's mother says "That's where God lives", is most likely the workings of Jack's subconscious where the two forces that "wrestle inside", through his empathy, find some reconciliation as well.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Summing Up.

Over the past 6 years I've been writing poems and making animations. Recently I've been compiling these efforts into a couple anthology projects.

Baby is Mama's Favorite Toy
is a selection of short animations made by myself and my good friend and most frequent collaborator Matt Bryan.

The DVD contains over 2 hours of hand drawn and computer animation.

You can preview more animations and obtain this DVD at:

2847 Cherokee Street Saint Louis, MO

Receipts is an anthology of poems written for the Internet. The thirty-two selected poems cherry picked from Myspace blogs and Facebook notes range from serious to comic, with many sitting comfortably on the fence.

Aug 28, 2006 10:35 AM

snake-oil placebos

the machinema hamlet

gave rise to the backlash

some 50 million luddites

with pitch fork and torch

they poked holes in the tires

of the toyota camry

and set fire to the wires

of the N64

but it was this day in history

in the year 2050

when a scientist finally discovered the soul

and he scribbled his notes

on the front of every newspaper

publication and tv station

in every home

and as it turned out

the souls only found

in a species of worms

found in beirut

and they extracted them out

and put them on ice

but when the worms died

the souls had died too

and 50 million viewers

reached for their electric blankets

as they listened to the statement

of the scientist that day

and 50 million cell phones

rang together in a prayer

but they weren’t sure if

the signal could be heard

that far away

Looks for these in the local section at:

6275 Delmar In the Loop St. Louis MO

Friday, April 1, 2011


My long in the making concept album "5" is finally officially finished. It's not so great. So it goes. On the other hand, I made the following landscapes to accompany each song, and they came out pretty ok. Enjoy.

In the mouth

A friendly race

And there you were

The devil knows your name


Bitter blood

Within an inch

Rules of the game

The way you came