From Georgi Daneliya’s “Kin-Dza-Dza.”
From Georgi Daneliya’s “Kin-Dza-Dza.”
There’s no way to even begin to talk about this film without talking about the ending, because that’s the entire point of the film. And, what a – retarded point it is. I wish I could be more eloquent, but there really is no way around it, or better word for it. What Gibson seems to be saying is that – and, I’m far from the first to say this – the Mayan culture was so evil, so rotten to the core, that it required saving. And so, the Spanish are seen offshore – three hundred years early – and their crosses displayed in highlight. I should reiterate that last part – the Spanish show up three hundred years earlier than historically recorded, after the last Mayan city had been deserted, because that’s really the crux on which any strength this message might have had lays. Gibson’s said previously that the film is primarily supposed to work as an allegory for the current state of Western civilization (and I’ll leave that alone for the sake of brevity), but with such a huge misstep along with everything else, any kind of value that might have had is muddled, in the context of the intended allegory and the film itself. OpenDemocracy’s Kanishk Tharoor states it succinctly: “Gibson’s supposedly anti-imperial critique of American involvement in the middle east is nothing of the sort, but a thoroughly imperial vision of Christianity. Faith will protect the romantic savage and faith will purge the sickness of the Mayan polity. Victorian Anglicists could not have written a better script.”
But, the film has to bend over backwards to paint the Mayans in a way that would support this thematic center even beforehand – skewering history with a large, large pair of scissors, and instead relying (by Gibson’s own admission) on the director’s cobbled together impression of the people’s cultural history – indeed, according to him, there was no research done before or during the screen-writing process. And, as with The Passion of the Christ, there’s a strange reliance on overly cartoonish hyper-violence, although here it seems to serve a far uglier purpose because of the impression it leaves, coupled with the ending of the film.
Speaking of which, to go off on a tangent for a second, if you’ll allow me – what is it with Gibson and his strange, almost fetishistic obsession with seeing bare-bodied human males getting battered, stabbed, beaten and whipped? At least in The Passion, it could have been construed to have a point, but here it serves nothing, save that final colonial riff. There’s naught artfully done, here. The film begins with the dismemberment of a boar (which is funny, because Mayans were agriculturalists, but Gibson doesn’t care) as the organs are pulled out and passed around, and used for some admittedly pretty basic yuck-yuckery. And later on, Gibson’s camera lingers almost lovingly on the main character Jaguar Paw’s father getting his throat slit, near the beginning of the film for no other reason that I can think of than because, well, he wants it to. People have called these last two films of his ‘big budget snuff films,’ and I’m beginning to see the logic in that.
This is a film that will make you angry. It made me angry, at first only because of the brain-thumping anticlimax that happens after the Spaniard sequence. The entire crux of those final sequences is Jaguar’s race to save his wife, son and son-to-be from drowning in the rain-filled crevice – and so, after pulling that last guy’s spine out through his nose, Jaguar races to the hole, rain still pouring down, and his wife struggling to keep her head above water. What can Jaguar do? How will this situation resolve itself? Cut to, Jaguar and his wife walking through the trees, looking at the Spanish ships. And, that’s it. We were given no indication beforehand that Jaguar had found a way to rescue them – not even a look, or a sly glance – and, the last we saw, his wife’s head was going under. But, that’s it.
Then the other stuff starts to get at you. And, it’s a shame, because if there’s one bolster in the film, it’s Australian cinematographer Dean Semler’s photography. There’s a master, and some of his frames – particularly of the silhouetted main character against a ravishing water-fall are breathtaking.
And, that’s it.
From Andrew Stanton’s “WALL-E”
Since I never bothered to fully set down my thoughts on the film, here’s a micro-small jot-down, and I’m probably in the minority, with this. The first half is intriguing initially, due to the lack of dialogue and it’s reliance on physical comedy of the Chaplinesque variety (I say it’s Chaplinesque. Other people seem to want to compare the character to Buster Keaton, but Keaton was a stoic in the midst of frenzied situations – WALL-E, the character, is not), but I was far less interested in that than I was on the second portion of the film, on the ship.
Here, the film takes a far broader turn, in terms of scope, and while some might say that the satire here is a bit too broad (and in certain places, I might tend to agree – yes, yes “stay the course,” okay), there’s more than enough ideas here to counter that, although it does seem to rely on a basic formula that does lose a little of it’s power by the film’s end, and there’s a resolution so convoluted that I still can’t wrap my head around it – with Eve somehow resurrecting WALL-E’s personality through a ‘kiss,’ after all seems lost. Emotionally, it makes sense, but there still needs to be some logic to it. A bleak ending, as some have suggested, isn’t the answer, as that wouldn’t feel organic in the overall context of the film – but, if they’d just found a way past this one contention —
Still, Pixar finally seems to have gotten over their visual hump, and have finally let their ‘camera’ loose to move, outside of the conventional measurements they’d set up for themselves previously. Lights and lines, here and there, and I’m sure this is thanks in no small part to Roger Deakins working as the cinematographer (or, the animation equivalent, as has been brought up to me before).
Interesting. This is basically a ramshackle collection of notes, and I’ll probably write something a bit longer later on, but this doesn’t do too bad a disservice, at the moment.
from Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”
Alexander Coleman over at Coleman’s Corner in Cinema elucidates on the film far more successfully than I might have been able to, although I do still plan to put down something on it, eventually.
“Sam Rockwell plays Bell, and contributes to Jones’ vision a performance of nearly startling emotional complexity and breadth. The words “nearly startling” should not take away from Rockwell’s turn; it is only nearly startling because for those who have experienced Rockwell’s performances, his starring tour de force performance in Moon will not be seen as altogether surprising. There is already a doomed existentialism to Rockwell, which at its fiercest is unshakable. Especially desperate moments in films such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Snow Angels are punctuated by Rockwell’s fidgety earnestness and convincing verisimilitude. Here is an actor who always possesses an air of doom and attrition. Rockwell’s isolated self is an amazing performance, worth seeking out.”
You can find it here.
from Jamie Uys’ “The Gods Must Be Crazy.”
Sven: Hello, my name is Sven. I operate the blog Sadness? Euphoria? at ijustknowit.blogspot.com . The Filmist here invited me to do a dialogue about George Miller, a filmmaker that both of us have claimed as among the greats. Forgive me if I come off awkwardly, but this is the first time I’ve done anything like this. (This is what we’re doing, right?) Should you introduce yourself? Then I’ll start with a comment/question about Miller himself.
The Filmist: Hey, how’s it going? I’m The Filmist. I operate The Filmist at ‘thefilmist.wordpress.com.‘ I’m currently engaged in this Miller-centric discussion. And, now the floor belongs to Sven.
Sven: So… Miller is one of those filmmakers that I found very early in my career as an avid film hobbyist, around fifteen or sixteen. I saw, duh, The Road Warrior and like just about everyone, I just about died from how great, how exciting, how fast, how fun, and how resonant film could be. I was pleased to find that Miller was able to keep his same formal dynamism, which is of particular interest to me and how I watch films, running throughout his less action-oriented films as well. What about you? How long have you been digging on Miller?
The Filmist: I came upon Miller when I was, I think, the same age as you. My brother – who’s one of the guys I really credit with introducing me to film – put on the first “Mad Max,” and I think that’s also what kind of intrigued me about the films initially, is there’s an orchestration about them. They build, like a piece of music. Later on, I saw “The Road Warrior,” and it was a marked improvement on that first film – the first “Mad Max,” I’ve always thought, was a film with a lot of great ideas, but there are times where it shows through through that it’s Miller’s first real film.
Sven: To prep myself for this conversation I recently rewatched The Witches of Eastwick and what you say about his image orchestration is applicable tenfold to that film. I’ve never seen a film that so consciously operated as a silent film as The Witches of Eastwick. The framing, pacing, acting style… it was very interesting.
The Filmist: You know, Witches of Eastwick really is the odd-man-out, in his oeuvre. There’s very little of the archetypal storyline that seems to run throughout the rest of his stuff – minus the first “Mad Max.” Which isn’t a bad thing, don’t get me wrong. But, among stuff like “Beyond Thunderdome,” and even “Babe: Pig In the City,” a black domestic comedy really pokes its head out. I do kind of wonder what his filmography would look like, it he hadn’t been scared away from Hollywood during its production.
Sven: I would’ve agreed with you had I not recently rewatched Witches which definitely seems to have more in line with Babe Pig in the City and Beyond Thunderdome than does Lorenzo’s Oil. Graphically, it’s very strong, relying entirely on the weight of mythic imagery to develop the narrative and characters. Lorenzo’s Oil is a fairly strong medical procedural, but is lacking in the icon front. Mostly it’s just fairly typical shots of the Odones sitting around frustrated.
The Filmist: It is less kinetic than the rest of his filmography, I agree – those upstarts here and there notwithstanding. I can see the relation between “Pig In the City” and “Eastwick,” I suppose – there’s actually a couple of motifs shared between the two, I noticed. Like the balloons.
Sven: Yeah, the balloons was obvious. A very easy way to create a dynamic visual, and I’m not sure why it’s there in Eastwick. That scene of Nicholson dancing around with them is a pretty strange way to communicate the seduction, particularly since they’re already hooked at that point. Still, I love the look of it. Anyway, we both started with the Mad Max movies. Let’s talk a little bit about those. How would you relate each of them to the other? It’s a pretty strange trilogy.
The Filmist: Altogether, certainly. That’s one of the things I most enjoy, really – that they’re all so stylistically distinct from one another, as standalone films. “Mad Max,” like a lot of people have mentioned, is a lot more in the vane of things like “Dirty Harry,” or any of those kinds of films, while the other two have a far wider scope. There’s a gradual segue from the realistic, in “Mad Max,” to the hyperbolic and allegorical, in “Thunderdome.”
Sven: What I think is remarkable about their structure is that the last one essentially constructs the telling of the tale, which is the second film, which is based on the reality of the events in the first film. If that makes sense. It’s all varying levels of interpretation of of the Lone Hero theme, with increasing wit and formal dynamism.
The Filmist: Oh, sure. “The Road Warrior” is, essentially, the quintessential archetype, while “Thunderdome” actually examines it in the context of the children in the “Crack In the Earth.” It’s funny, while we’re talking about “Thunderdome,” because I was reading a piece by that French critic Rafik Djoumi a while back, and he brought up something that actually caught my eye – Miller’s latest film, “Happy Feet,” actually reuses many of the symbols and narrative iconography that appear here. He says:
“It includes the religious world, hierarchical folded its rituals (the Thunderdome – Emperor penguins), but with the master of ceremonies deprived, who dressed his suffering an aura of mystique (the dwarf “The Master” – the guru Lovelace ), but with the group of “small” which alone can lead to the ancient city of men (children of the tribe – the tribe of penguins). “
Sven: Hmmm… I have to admit that it seems like a bit of a stretch, though I don’t deny that Miller is applying a similar mythological rigor to both pieces. And really, let’s be honest… Mumble is no Mad Max.
The Filmist: I don’t know, I think it’s pretty conscious – in keeping with that, there’s also the physical look of some of the characters in relation with each other, like the elder character with Scrooloose. Also – Happy Feet 2: Beyond Mcmurdome. You know you’d go to see it.
Sven: Ha ha. Of course I would! At any rate, then, Happy Feet… why do you love it so much?
The Filmist: Oh, there’s a couple of reasons, I think – but, partly because it’s so astonishing that Miller was able to take what is essentially a screensaver concept and turn it into this broad-scale epic.
Sven: Cosmic-scale, I’d say. I love the way the film opens, with all those stars and nebulas and stuff. And when Mumble is screeching when he’s stuck in the zoo and there is that quick series of zoom outs into space. Love that..
The Filmist: The ‘space’ motif of the film is also really intriguing, I think – partly because of it’s finished application in the film, and because of it’s origin. In the finished film, it serves a couple of purposes – from the beginning, it really serves to underline the nature of the story, as a real ‘fable -‘ the faint outlining of a mother penguin in the nebula, and then the rotation of the Earth until Antarctica is on top of the world, where it stays front and center for the entirety of the film, whenever we get a good look at it. In the book, “Variety’s This Movie Changed My Life,” that astrophysicist Neil Tyson says of it:
“From its opening scene, you come at Earth from space and the Earth rotates so that Antarctica is on top of the world. From the beginning it establishes a point of view, and you are in the culture of the penguins whose food supply is disappearing, and they have to pray to the food gods.”
But – and I posted about this a while back – I’ve also been doing a little digging, here and there.
It seems that there was an entire half-hour or so cut out of the film, actually, and an entire plotline cut out of the film, featuring honest-to-bob aliens that looked a lot like the penguin god that we saw at the beginning of the film. From what I’ve been hearing from some of the animators, it was actually a pretty big deal. But, the only thing that remains in the final film is the space shots.
Sven: Whoa. Weird. And all that stuff was animated? Or was it taken out in an earlier stage…?
The Filmist: Some have told me that it was animated, finished, and cut out at the last minute. Others have said that it was cut out, earlier. So, I’m not particularly sure, but I’d probably put my money on it being cut out at the last second, given the presence of the space shots in the film. There was even concept art and footage shown from these segments at a presentation about the film in 2007, but so far that’s the only time.
Sven: …I wonder if that angle will be incorporated into the hypothetical Happy Feet 2.
The Filmist: That’s what I’ve been thinking, actually. For my part, I’d rather see this original cut of the film, wherever it is.
Sven: If it exists, sure, but I think I’d be hard-pressed to think that such an addition to the film as it is would be at all an improvement. I love the way the cosmos are used expressively. It would feel somewhat banal to re-register those shots as foreshadowing the arrival of aliens.
The Filmist: Well, I can agree with that. Most especially in that wide-pull out in the zoo scene that you mentioned.
Sven: And I would think that it would be hard to rewrite the film’s message on an even more macro-scale than it already is. What would aliens have to do with overfishing?
The Filmist: Apparently, it was going to be a three-layered story, as this goes. One of the animators wrote up a short summary, let me find it:
“The aliens themselves looked rather like ethereal penguins. Glowy and slender… translucent. And by observing what happens on Earth and seeing Mumble and his interactions with the humans, they withdraw their weapons and leave us in peace. The story was setting itself up for this and if you’ve seen the film, this is the reason why it seems as if something was missing. The decision to ditch the aliens was made towards the final stages of production. As I said before, the suits from WB just didn’t get it. They insisted on it’s removal from the film. Perhaps they were right but I always felt the original story was going to be three layered and not two. As it stood, the Humans were harvesting the fish and it was affecting the Penguins… when at the same time, the aliens were harvesting the planet and Mumble was to save all of us. The end version worked although it seemed to be missing something. Probably this is why it felt there was a hole in the general flow of the story.”
If this were to be somehow released, I think it would be a case similar to the multiple cuts of “Blade Runner;” I’d probably enjoy them both, for different reasons.
Sven: Well, I certainly would leave it to Miller to make such a strange concept work. We’ll see what he does with Happy Feet 2.
The Filmist: Oh, indeedy. Even if it does take a couple of years. What intrigues me is the aliens resemblance to the penguin god – now, what could that mean?
Sven: What that reminds me of is the pig-looking judge in Babe: Pig in the City. That always baffled me.
The Filmist: That’s what I thought, actually. The first time I read it. So, you’d said you just finished rewatching “Lorenzo’s Oil?”
Sven: Yeah. It was one of my favorites a while back, but upon rewatching it, it seemed a bit weak. I say Bravo! to Nolte for doing the Italian thing, and it’s a very compassionate film–I particularly like the way Ustinov’s character is poised on the edge between scientific detachment and humanistic empathy. But I think it may be a bit too simplistic, formally. Sometimes it felt like a made for TV film. Which made the occasional flourish of the camera kind of jarring.
The Filmist: The only time I really got that kind of impression was during the montage, over the end-credits, which really did feel unneeded. I mean, certainly – show the impact the Odones have had, but that seemed like such a televised way to do it.
Sven: Well, it’s tough, I think, because the impulse is to let a little bit of the non-fiction seep into your interpretation, and how best to do that then to conclude with documentary footage? It reminded me of Schindler’s List a bit, and I don’t know if I would claim that the epilogue on that on is all that tacky aesthetically. But then, that one was filmed a bit more expressively, whereas in Lorenzo’s Oil it’s just a montage of pretty flatly shot talking heads.
The Filmist: Well, here and there, I suppose. But, I do think Miller works better on that mythological scale, “Witches of Eastwick” notwithstanding. Although, then again, there’s The Dismissal, which he also directed.
Sven: I do not know The Dismissal. I would like to see it at some point.
The Filmist: The Dismissal is great, but it’s damnably hard to find. I’ve only seen the three episodes once before. Personally, what always stood out for me, with “Lorenzo,” was the use of stark angles and the way Miller adapted his trademark kineticism (my word), throughout – most of the time in a two-room house.
(End of Segment One. In Segment Two, which should be up relatively soon, we’ll be looking at the recurring themes and visual motifs, throughout Miller’s filmography. Or, at least that’s the jumping off point.)
While I may never, ever agree with anything she’s written down, Kael almost always makes for a good discussion starter, particularly on the subject of Stanley Kubrick. I imagine if these two were ever placed in a room together, were they still alive, they’d lock eyes and make a mad dash to see who could reach for their guns first, Kael making fun of Kubrick’s glasses and Kubrick giving her that Benjamin Linus-esque stare of his.
Then, Kubrick would call in Paul Thomas Anderson, and it would become El Mariachi. Which she also wasn’t that fond of, if I’m remembering correctly.
On Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange:
“When I pass a newsstand and see the saintly, bearded, intellectual Kubrick on the cover of Saturday Review, I wonder: Do people notice things like the way Kubrick cuts to the rival teen-age gang before Alex and his hoods arrive to fight them, just so we can have the pleasure of watching that gang strip the struggling girl they mean to rape? Alex’s voice is on the track announcing his arrival, but Kubrick can’t wait for Alex to arrive, because then he couldn’t show us as much. That girl is stripped for our benefit; it’s the purest exploitation. Yet this film lusts for greatness, and I’m not sure that Kubrick knows how to make simple movies anymore, or that he cares to, either. I don’t know how consciously he has thrown this film to youth; maybe he’s more of a showman than he lets on — a lucky showman with opportunism built into the cells of his body. The film can work at a pop-fantasy level for a young audience already prepared to accept Alex’s view of the society, ready to believe that that’s how it is.”
On The Shining:
“We go to The Shining hoping for nasty scare effects and for an appeal to our giddiest nighttime fears — vaporous figures, shadowy places. What we get doesn’t tease the imagination. Visually, the movie often feels like a cheat, because most of the horror images are not integrated into the travelling shots; the horrors involved in the hotel’s bloody past usually appear in inserts that flash on like the pictures in a slide show. In addition, there are long, static dialogues between Torrence and two demonic characters — a bartender and a waiter — who are clearly -his- deamons: they are personified temptations, as in a medieval mystery play, and they encourage him in his worst impulses. (They also look as substantial as he does.) The taciturn bartender is lighted to look satanic; he offers Torrence free drinks. The loathsome, snobbish English waiter goads Torrence to maintain his authority over his wife and child by force. During these lengthy conversations, we seem to be in a hotel in Hell. It’s a very talky movie (a Hell for movie-lovers). Clearly, Stanley Kubrick isn’t primarily interested in the horror film as scary fun or for the mysterious beauty that directors such as Dreyer and Marnau have brought to it. Kubrick is a virtuoso technician, and that is part of the excitement that is generated by a new Kubrick film. But he isn’t just a virtuoso technician; he’s also, God help us, a deadly serious metaphysician.. . .”
Some notes I’d jotted down, while watching it again – spic-and-spammed up, here and there.
“There was something about the film that had been nagging at me since I’d written my initial review for the film, but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until just recently, and particularly in the opening scenes, the confrontation between V and the Fingermen at the beginning of the film.
The staging feels – artificial, somehow. Not in every scene, but it’s a streak that seems to run throughout the film in certain scenes. In the aforementioned confrontation, for example, there are several moments that really exemplify this – when the Fingermen have Evey up against the wall, all that happens (that we, the audience, can see) is the ‘head guy’ lightly ruffling her clothes a little bit, while the entirety of the set behind him just looks ’empty,’ and not in a deliberate way – it’s as if some piece of set or structure, like a dumpster or even some rotting wood, something that was meant to fill the space behind them, went missing just before they began shooting, but they’d decided to forge on, anyway. It gives the whole thing a weird sort of unintentional ‘theatre set’ vibe.
Everything in this scene – from the clothes to the street and the surrounding set – feels far too ‘clean’ and set. It’s the same problem I had with Snyder’s “Watchmen,” although it was a much larger detriment there. It doesn’t feel like a section of city, it feels like actors on a set, which it is. This impression isn’t helped by the Fingermen’s dialogue, either. Far from the naturalistic flow of Alan Moore’s dialogue, this scene is replete with lines like:
“-that means we get to exercise our judicial discretion.” “And you get to swallow it.”
And, later on:
“What do you think, lads?” “Spare the rod, and spoil the child!”
With a few evil cackles thrown in, here and there as Evey screams “Oh, won’t somebody please help me!” behind all of it. Of course, the artificiality could have been intentional, but – to me, at least – it doesn’t seem that way, as this only seems to occur in certain scenes. Another example being example being V’s last stand against Creedy’s men, where the question then becomes – “Even if he’s moving at an ungodly speed, what were the seven or eight other officers doing while he was taking his sweet time mowing them down, one by one?” It reminds me a little of that nineties Ninja Turtles cash-in, “Surf Ninjas,” riffed on semi-famously by that guy, with the glasses, whatever his name was – where, Leslie Nielsen’s foot soldiers just seem so dumbfounded that they’ve forgotten how to use their guns and just fling themselves at Ernie Rayes.
Mainly, this seems to be a problem with the more action-oriented scenes, as it all but disappears in th more intimate scenes between V and Evey, or Finch and Dominic, or V and Ms. Surridge. And, I’m really starting to take a shine to the “Valerie” portion of the film – that ten minute section is just perfect.”
Oh, and who remembers this weird-looking thing, from early 2005 or thereabouts?
Thanks in no small part to the dubious and greedy little pricks that are Time Warner Cable, I’ve been away from a keyboard for almost two weeks, it seems – until I manage to settle in and into a review, here’s what I’ve caught, since then:
Duncan Jones’ Moon – I saw this just a couple of days ago, while it was running down at the Angelika on Mockingbird. And, it’s probably the only time that I can think of where a trailer’s actually advertised a film as more cryptic than it actually turned out being. The film itself is relatively upfront, sometimes to its’ detriment – neither the characters, nor we, have to do much rooting around for the answers to the questions we’re being presented, and more than once, it’s laid out in bare dialogue. The element of humor is a lot more pronounced than I’d expected, between the two Sams, which really works in in the favor of their developing relationship. Certainly, there’s more to come about this number.
Steven Spielberg’s A.I. – My opinion on this hasn’t really changed. It’s a great film until those final fifteen minutes, which introduces a weird new plot element to the mix – while the initial visuals of the robotic vehicles going over the ice-covered Manhattan are stark and stirring, it really would’ve benefited from cutting off just at their discovery of David in the ice, if Spielberg really felt the film needed that sort of bookend. And, my lord – it’s been a while, certainly, but that Blue Fairy model! If ever there was a more egregious example of a live-action/CG blend, I wouldn’t know it.
Tom Fontana’s OZ: The First Season – Well, this caused me to have a panic attack. That’s what I get for watching it all in one go.
Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience – No matter how you try to incorporate it into the story, a bad actress is a bad actress, and Sasha Grey is a terrible actress. This felt ‘unfinished,’ kind of – superfluous shots, sprinkled here and there throughout the visual monotony that Soderbergh sets up. How do you segue directly from something so well put-together as Che into this?
Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited – I’ve never been a particularly large fan of Wes Anderson. I liked Bottle Rocket, sure – but, that’s about it. Still, the second half of the film in the village and afterwords when the trio go to find their mother is probably the finest I’ve seen – outside of Bottle Rocket – from him, if you can look past the ubiquitous zoom and other weird, unintentionally (it seems) jarring editing techniques that he sees fit to incorporate, for some reason.
John Embom’s Party Down – …Is quickly becoming my favorite TV series, in this empty space between Lost seasons. But – and let’s be honest, here – I’m not the only one who can’t help but go “I’m gunna make you take yer’ medicine, Danny Boy!” when I see Steven Weber, am I?