Friday, December 23, 2011
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.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Sunday, June 12, 2011
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
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
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
In the mouth
A friendly race
And there you were
The devil knows your name
Within an inch
Rules of the game
The way you came