The town of Dogville is filled with Trump voters. Not merely the aspect of their working class status, but their benevolent condescension to the one that doesn’t belong in the town. Their justification for abuse, for prejudice, for causing trauma, for turning a blind eye. Even the intellectual among them makes logical leaps to justify his actions, which seem all the more anti-intellectual. They are both beholden to a particular system of homemade bureaucracy as well as suspicious of it and anyone else that threatens their way of life. Read the rest of this entry »
Here are my new writerly offerings, because I am unemployed and I live a very exciting life.
Over at Movie Mezzanine, I wrote about one of the best scenes in film last year.
There were snickers in the audience when James Franco began warbling on screen, three balaclava-sporting young women surrounding him at the ivory piano. Such derisive, incredulous laughter is only justified if one hasn’t been investing their attention in what Harmony Korine’s madcap nightmare Spring Breakers has to say. When Britney Spears’s “Everytime” floods the speakers, it’s so gorgeous and alluring, the inherent sadness of the song subverted by playing it over horrific, dreamlike images of empowerment. It’s ironic and cynical and strangely powerful, and certainly one of the most captivating things about Korine’s hallucinatory treatise on youthful indulgence.
I tackled Lars von Trier and Rape Culture.
Lars von Trier wants to hold us accountable. His films sear and contain a rawness that’s rare in cinema. He shows a small town community protecting people who abuse a fugitive, sexually and emotionally, and a religious culture that allows its elders to be dispassionate towards a woman who expresses her sexuality in an unconventional fashion for the love of her husband, subsequently deeming it unworthy of being saved. His fictional congregations do not respect women. They do not abide by the idea that a woman owns her body. They allow men to get away with sexual assault and violence, allowing the women to be dehumanized. They perpetuate this dehumanization through subtle ways, feeling entitled to these women’s bodies. The seemingly meek female protagonists subject to this abuse, though, transcend the very culture that takes advantage of them, revealing its rotten core. The Danish auteur isn’t just being sadistic for his own sake; he confronts it. Lars von Trier is attacking Rape Culture.
I’ve started writing some review over at Under the Radar Magazine, first off with an AIDS drama…
As Pina Bausch once said, “Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost.” Set against the exponentially growing AIDS epidemic in San Francisco in 1985, Chris Mason Johnson settles his eye on the intimacy of dance, the irony of the body and its treatment in dance versus sex, and the gradual paranoia of the era in his film Test.
…and secondly with a cliched, but clever teen sex comedy.
The vague pleasures of Premature are intermittent and inconsistent and fairly conventional, and yet they are there. The story of a young man who gets stuck in a time loop that is only ever reset when he orgasms, the film will probably be tiresomely described as “Groundhog Day meets American Pie”, though this only slightly eclipses the latter for the sheer fact that it seems kind of sincere, despite its vulgarities.
And I’m really happy to announce I’ll be doing a bi-weekly column at SoundOnSight.org about music videos and film. I’m kicking it off with OK GO and a call to conversation.
Just over a week ago, OK GO premiered the video for their new single “The Writing’s on the Wall”. Appropriately, the Internet responded with the expected “oohs” and “ahhs”. But, of the dozen or so articles I checked out regarding the video, said articles were no longer than a couple hundred word blurbs that briefly mentioned that OK Go makes cool videos and this was another one of them. I would not call myself a music connoisseur by any means, but I do adore music and I adore music videos. I think we should talk about them with more respect. Let’s talk about their relationship to film, both formally and textually. Let’s talk about how film informed music video aesthetic and how, subsequently, music video informed film aesthetic. Let’s talk about how directors have jumped back and for between the medium and how that’s affected their overall style. Let’s talk about how music videos are just as interesting a short form cinematic medium as the short film, with a wealth of possibilities to experiment with narrative and style. So, I have this is statement: We Need to Talk About Music Videos and Their Relationship to Film.
Have a good week, folks!
If you haven’t checked out the website Movie Mezzanine, you should. Great website with smart writing and wonderful articles. Today, they released a column with several critics listing their top 10 films of the 2000s, so, naturally, I wanted to jump on the band wagon. This time, I didn’t cheat. So, enjoy, and let me know what you think. I’d write my reasons behind each choice, but a) I’ve done it all for each film in the past (with the exception of, like, two films) and b) I’m super lazy.
- Dogville (2004) | Directed by Lars von Trier
- Mulholland Dr. (2001) | Directed by David Lynch
- There Will Be Blood (2007) | Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
- Memento (2000) | Directed by Christopher Nolan
- In the Mood for Love (2000) | Directed by Wong Kar-Wai
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) | Directed by Michel Gondry
- 4 Weeks, 3 Months, and 2 Days (2007) | Directed by Cristian Mungiu
- Requiem for a Dream (2000) | Directed by Darren Aronofsky
- Pan’s Labyrinth (2007) | Directed by Guillermo del Toro
- The White Ribbon (2009) | Directed by Michael Haneke
Honorable Mention: King Kong (2005) | Directed by Peter Jackson
I believe in “Intelligent Design”, which is to say I am somewhat a proponent of the Auteur Theory. (Holla, Andrew Sarris!) And when one becomes a semi-proponent of such a theory, they are often inclined to fall in love with the director as much as the work itself. Even if it’s only after one film, if one is so enamored by the precise style, the instantly recognize camera movements, even the name itself, Lord knows said cinephile will be in line for the next film by whatever director they’ve fallen in love with. Such was the case with Andrew Dominik, whose incredible film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford left me intoxicated. But what happens when that director, well, shall we say, seems to lose his mind in a bizarre mash-up of unclear ideas, hack-y visuality, and heavy handedness? Uh, well, you seem to get Dominik’s extremely disappointing Killing Them Softly, or, as I thought of it, I Have No Idea What I Want to Say or How to Say It.
In Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, which is based on the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, follows a hit man (Brad Pitt), as he follows a couple of people who turned over a card game and made it look like another guy did it (said fellow played by Ray Liotta, which makes one wonder where he’s been all these years). Meanwhile, as Pitt’s hit man talks with various people in bars and cars about the approach, the reason, and the morality of the hits, the two fellows who committed the crime, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelssohn), try, seemingly half heartedly, to avoid the new price on their heads.
I do not believe I have ever watched a film that was so incredibly heavy handed and yet had no idea what it was saying or how to say it. Prior to the official release of the film in the United States, back when it prancing around Cannes and competing for the Palme d’Or, Dominik and his team, whoever they are, decided on a fairly overt Americana theme. This Americana theme, which was not, however, very present in the trailers for the film, seems to try to set up some sort of thematic arc or thesis for the film, but, just as the film itself, it seems to be only vaguely related to the film. Throughout the film, there is a constant presence of some political figure on a TV or disembodied voice on the radio, whether it is McCain, Obama, or even W. Bush, talking about the economy. So, here lies the first problem: Less of a lesson or exercise in self reflexivity, Dominick goes for the heavy handedness outside of the direct dialogue (with the exception of certain scenes and certain pieces of dialogue), and feeds it to the audience in a very strange way. He feeds us his badly constructed lesson like a third party. A part of me would have preferred a Godardian lesson through the characters (knock on wood) as opposed to a fairly lazy attempt at chastising the American people. But, as often as these little sound bites from various political speeches featured on CNN and C-SPAN are there, and as often as they use buzz words like “Economy!” and “Fiscal” and “Community!” and “People!”, Dominik doesn’t really say anything about this. There are vague hints about why he’s trying to say something, with the hit man once or twice tip-toeing towards pontification about America being “a business” and the state of the country, but like an essay without an outline or any real thesis, the heavy handedness just seems loud, obnoxious, and vague. In a way, Killing Them Softly is like Andrew Dominik’s economically aimed, loosely neo-noir version of Dogville (whose thesis is far more clear cut, and yet excellently articulated cinematically). There’s some sort of attempt at juxtaposition in the film, with the gritty and slummy landscape of the gangsters (?) and the immaculate, expensive setting for the hit men. But, again, that try at visual cues does not translate well or effectively. There’s a hint of libertarianism, which left me sitting in the theater wondering, “Did Ayn Rand’s ghost possess Dominik or something?”
I was hoping that if the story was lackluster and all over the place, that at least the visual style would be interesting. And I guess you could call it interesting. Interesting in that it is a train wreck. While The Assassination of Jesse James’ style was refined, gorgeous, and purposefully shot (by Roger Deakins, no less), Killing Them Softly’s cinematography felt like the bastard child of J.J. Abrams, Julian Schnabel, and Guy Ritchie. Granted, some of the scenes do look good, but there is, by no means at all, any kind of consistency to the images on the screen. Nothing seems coherently placed together, its editing just as lackluster. Yes, the slow motion scene where Brad Pitt shoots someone looks pretty great (reminiscent of some of the finer scenes in Guy Ritchie’s adrenaline pumped reboot of Sherlock Holmes), but… why? With Russell’s heroin addict, some of his scenes are straight out of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. And, OH THE LENS FLARE! It’s ironic that so many of the scenes should be dictated less by any real action or purpose or even character and more by music and sound, because a short film I recently made (which you can watch here) had just that as its thesis: editing has changed, and when used poorly, can send a film into jeopardy. There’s no purpose to this visual style. There’s no reason. There’s no perspective. It’s just messy. The incoherent mess of a political allegory paired with the hodgepodge visual style… gosh, that’s two strikes.
Stylistically, regarding the plot, we hit another bump in the road. A lot of it, I assume intentionally, feels like a neo-noir. But that tonality of the film shifts, fluctuates, and doesn’t know what to do with itself. There’s a switch to something grittier, which under normal circumstances would not be inherently bad. The switch seems to be nodding to films like GoodFellas (which is sort of ironic), where the realism of the violence takes the center stage, disillusioning the audience of the romanticism they became familiar with two decades prior with The Godfather. That would be fine, you know, if it stayed that way. There’s another shift to something talkier, less noir and more “I don’t know what style I’m working with, so this is like an interstitial”. There’s some dark comedy in there for, like, two scenes. If the film had been sliced and diced into a series of vignettes, each short dedicated to its own kind of style and tone, maybe the film would work. But, as is, we get something confused. Excited, probably, but unable to know its own pace and something easily confused.
My last hope would be performances. Richard Jenkins, as a man (named Driver, for the record) who has long conversations with Pitt’s hit man, is good. Brad Pitt is fine. James Gandolfini is not very good. Ray Liotta is pretty good. Scoot McNairy is the only one who gives an enthralling performance, primarily within the first 15 minutes of the film. But no one really seems to bring their A-game. Pitt’s hit man, with his “inconsistent” moral views (he kills people, and yet criticizes the United States) make his character more pseudo-enigmatic rather than one of true depth. There’s no real good study of any of the characters, when this kind of film from this kind of director would definitely call for it. Its script, as well, is all over the place, with big chunks of dialogue and monologue fairly unnecessary and doing nothing to a) illustrate the character in a more detailed way or b) articulate and elaborate on whatever thesis it may or may not have. But, hey, Brad Pitt looks good in sunglasses.
Killing Them Softly is a confused film: stylistically, thematically, and in a narrative sense as well. With little rhyme or reason for many of the creative decisions made, little attempt to give meaty and interesting characters, and a severe allegory that inexplicably doesn’t have any idea how to articulate its thesis well, what is their left to say? What is there left to comment? I haven’t seen Chopper, but Dominik doesn’t really establish a precise and clear voice like he did with Jesse James. It looks like Dominik, maybe trying his hand at post-modernism, spent less time killing them softly and more time killing his audience haphazardly.