Wow. Almost a week and a half without an entry – I hadn’t realized; the last batch of days have moved in fits and starts, all told. The rest of the crew over at Chazz Lyon’s Cinema Gone Poaching are pouring over the new site’s layout and archival framework, while the writers both new and old flesh out our first entries in constant readiness – meanwhile, I’m also working out this new screenplay of mine in bits and pieces, and it’s interesting stuff, I think. People are just getting their arms hacked off left and right, man – with lasers. Well, alright – not really. But, it turning out to be a lot more kinetic than I’d originally thought it would have – when I’m comfortable enough with it, I’ll probably post some of it up here.
In any case, let’s get on with it, I s’pose.
Shane Acker’s 9 seems to act primarily as a visual show-reel, the same kind that animators all over the world put together to showcase their talents – an expansion of the director’s award-winning short film, it takes that same basic through-line and tries to expand it into something a bit longer, that would sustain an hour and ten-minute long film. It doesn’t quite work, though – there’s no real plot to speak of, and the film’s structure falls into a constant repetition of “character gets captured, Elijah Wood says, ‘we have to go find him/them/her/it,’ or ‘we have to go back there,'” for an hour or so, with it’s constant set-pieces becoming rote and uninteresting after a while. It seems like a collection of moments that Acker feels have to be included, just because – with the ending acting as the worst offender, here. However, as it is a film primarily concerned with it’s visuals, this is where the film shines – it is a beautiful film, rendered in dusty, murky browns cut through every so often with bits of stark color. Still, if this film is any indication, what a monotonous, unoriginal world it must be to live in – one that operates entirely by action film tropes, executed mechanically. And, man – is this dialogue terrible, and arbitrary.
Sophie Barthes’ Cold Souls sees the world as a fully realized existentialist quandary, put into literal terms – the central conceit of the film being that people can have their souls pulled out of them and stored for safe-keeping; one of the more common comparisons that seems to have taken root in a lot of the critical reception the film has garnered seems to be to the films of Charlie Kaufman, and it’s true that this shares that same mix of metatextual humor and formal witticism – but Barthes has a voice and a visual style that marks her far and her film far apart from anything Kaufman has done. Where the latter seems to usually find his stride just as he becomes wonderfully lost in the ideas and off-kilter nature of the world he’s created, Barthes’ seems to move in the opposite direction – becoming more and more human as it goes along, until in its final frame, it is the relationship between the fictional Giamatti and the Russian soul mule Nina (played by Dina Korzun) that has taken precedence over everything else. Of course, this isn’t to say the film is in want of intriguing existential questions – of identity and the role of the soul in art, and so on. Paul Giamatti’s character assumes the soulful trappings of several other people at one point or another, including a Russian poet – and, he finds himself constantly plagued by impressionist memories of the owner’s past life, even as such a thing enables him to find latch in to the characters in Uncle Vanya. At the heart of the film is Giamatti – as Giamatti, obviously. And, it’s his constant sad-potato face being pulled hither and yon – eyes subtly clouded red with tears, at one point – that brings the film a lot of its more human warmth. Yes, even in Russia.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story from which the film is inspired, Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio can seem very much like a more serious, fictional look at Howard Stern and his brash approach to radio, and his listeners. And, really – Eric Bogosian looks a lot like Stern, with his craggy, goofy face hidden behind shades, and framed in a mass of ever-shortening curly black hair. But, this movie comes from the story of Detroit shock-jockey Alan Berg – fictionalized, and relocated into the downtown Dallas area (and I’m more than alright with that, don’t you kn0w); it’s a film of near hallucinatory intensity, whose almost-claustrophobic undercurrents of urban nervousness and bad craziness combined with its constantly prying visual style give the film the air of a nightmare – in one of the film’s strongest sequences, Bogosian as the Berg-avatar Barry Champlain reaches his breaking point – he can’t take being exposed to the ugliness any longer, and he begins to rant into the microphone. The lights from the studio begin to stand out more against the wall, becoming garish. And, At first, it seems like the camera is rotating around him, but it isn’t – he and his module are standing stock still in the middle of the room. It’s the background that’s moving. It doesn’t seem like any of it could be real, and there is certainly a heightened quality to it all – but, we know it is; the fears and the vitriol Champlain encounters night after night on the radio sound far too familiar for us to be comfortable with. Bogosian is at the center of all this, coming from playing the character on stage – he knows this alcoholic, chronically misanthropic guy he’s created inside and out, and because of that, there’s a stronger reality to the man than is usually seen in Stone’s works. We can smell the nicotine on his breath, and the sweat gradually accumulating on his brow – breathing too hard perhaps from being closed within the film’s constantly changing frame. It’s also refreshing to see Dallas, in the few sequences where the film leaves the station, as a real city – this is one of the few films that does such a thing, and it does an old heart good, even as it puts a lot of our ugliness up there on the screen, for all to see.