Archive for June, 2013

June 27, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: The Palme D’Ork Awards

Since I mainly think about awards, if I have a film festival, it needs to have awards. I decided that for finishing the 20 movie marathon I planned, I would give it out awards just like they do on the Croisette, including following the rule that no movie can win 2 awards.

And without further ado,  the winners are:

Best Actress:

Annette Bening in The Grifters

Annette Bening – The Grifters
What can I say? It was love at first sight. Annette’s smokin’ portrayal of a super psychotic con woman is so electrifying that it carries this film. I also can not believe how sexy she is in this. She deserved her Oscar nomination and she deserves it here.

Best Actor:

Barton Fink

John Turturro – Barton Fink

As it goes with the rules, some movie has to win Best Actor. There were many choices of great performances in under directed movies. But none of those leading men were really giving award winning performances. I decided to go with a performance that is great that is only great because of the direction of this film. John Turturro is brilliant as Barton. His small quiet rage was so specific, he brought it to life. This performance is only possible though, with the specificty of the Coen Bros. writing and directing. They created a fantastic atmosphere for this unique performance, and that deserves to be noted. That being said. This is John Turturro’s award, and he deserves the hell out of it.

Best Screenplay:

The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides – Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola deserves so many points for clearly adapting a novel in to a fantastic unique film that stands on its own. The sense of a greater world is there. Every decision made in this movie was informed on the world of these characters. The specific world of this was brought in both representing Jeffrey Eugenides world, but also the unique world view of auteur Sofia Coppola. Her razor sharp wit and incredible sentimentality completely push it over the edge.

Best Director:

audition

Takashi Miike – Audition
Horror movies get so often over looked, but they are mainly a director driven field. As much as any arthouse world. And Takashi Miike is the Woody Allen of horror movies. He makes a ton, but only a couple of them are good. And they’re great. Audition is one of the greats and it is only great through the incredible tension built in this movie. I’m getting nervous just thinking about it. Well done.

Palme Dog:

Nina

Chloe – Tell No One

The movie had a lot of problems, but is completely worth remembering exists. Why? Because of the incredible canine performance given by Chloe as Nina the dog. This dog is a champion. She is super brave and often gets caught in the fray of her crazy owner’s life. She handles it like a pro and still manages to be an awesome dog. I want one when I’m 50. Also Chloe is the real life original book’s author Harlan Coben’s dog. What?!? This is just a real life dog who is super badass? Where can I meet her?

Jury Prize:

Citizen Ruth Quote

Citizen Ruth – dir. Alexander Payne

Often known as the third place prize at Cannes, the Jury Prize is just a place to honor a super excellent film. So I decided to make a top 3 of the festival, and no matter how deserving they were of other categories, who cares? This is way better. And Alexander Payne proved my expectations way wrong and made something so fun and pointed that I couldn’t resist. I also love a movie where the moral of the story is “everyone’s a nut job.” They just don’t happen anymore. Citizen Ruth deserves a permanent place in the new Cult Canon.

The Grand Prix:

The Arbor

The Arbor – dir. Clio Barnard

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m making a concerted effort to see more documentaries, but I’ve been finding that, for me, the staying power of a documentary is never too long. The Arbor completely bucks that trend and floored me with its combination of gender, class, and racial politics all topped with a high concept narrative style and a compelling emotional family story. The whole ensemble pulls off the lip-synced method with tremendous ease and it makes for one of the most unique documentary experiences out there.

The Palme D’Ork:

rosemary

Rosemary’s Baby – dir. Roman Polanski

I’ve mentioned before that this might be unfair, but this is known as one of the greatest films of all time and deserves every mention it gets. It’s the kind of film that goes beyond perfect into something totally new and defining. Film would not be the same without Rosemary’s Baby and all of its paranoid glory.

Thanks for sticking with me during this little project. I certainly had a lot of fun and discovered tons of great directors along the way. Some of the movies I watched were stinkers, others were masterpieces, most fell in between. But the idea of discovery that maybe THIS will be my new favorite movie is so exciting to me, that I don’t regret anything. Even Valhalla Rising. I definitely want to continue this tradition next year. Since the internet is a dark deep vortex, there are already predictions for what the 2014 Cannes Film Festival might bring. For me, that would mean catching up with P.T. Anderson, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, David Cronenberg, Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Joachim Trier, and Thomas Vinterberg. I already can’t wait.

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June 25, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Barton Fink

Barton FinkTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #20: Barton Fink

Director: Joel (and Ethan) Coen

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen brothers are arguably the greatest film directors of their generation. They have a phenomenal batting average, and at least half of their works seem to be major cultural touchstones. Ever since I saw O Brother Where Art Thou, my first Coen Bros. experience, I’ve done my best to go back and watch them all. Known as the work that really put them on the map, Barton Fink was an inevitable pitstop and the perfect final film for my DIY Cannes marathon.

The titular Barton Fink (played by John Turturro) is a twitchy nervous Jew, transplanted from a mildly successful theater career in NYC to become a screenwriter in Hollywood. While staying at the fantastically weird and dilapidated Hotel Earle, he encounters several larger than life characters who all are pushing him to write his screenplay, yet they only make him more nervous and increase his foreboding writer’s block.

For a movie about writer’s block, the Ethan and Joel surely never had it while writing this oddity. Each of the nut-bags Barton meets along the way is weird and crazier than the last and I honestly couldn’t pick a favorite if I tried. Barton’s next-door neighbor at the hotel, Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), is this incredibly cheery oaf who likes to wrestle and just shoot the shit with Barton. Johns Turturro and Goodman have such phenomenal chemistry, I could watch them talk for hours. Goodman’s commanding confidence is the perfect foil for Turturro’s meek insanity. Somehow, Michael Lerner’s performance as producer Jack Lipnick stood out to the Academy and he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. While his over-the-top hard-ball negotiations are hysterical (My god, when he kisses Barton’s shoe…. I’m dead.), Goodman certainly gets a lot more to do. Tony Shalhoub is giving the only performance of his I’ve ever liked as Ben Geisler, some other schmuck in the movie business who, if you hadn’t noticed, also likes to boss Barton around. And finally, John Mahoney gets to play the daffy author W.P. Mayhew and Judy Davis his younger assistant Audrey. When you add in a young Steve Buscemi and a never-young Jon Polito, this is one of the most stacked decks of character actors I’ve ever seen.

Fortunately, Turturro is able to ground this wacky cast of characters while also sticking out of the crowd. However, he constantly gets overshadowed by the setting of Baltimore on The Wire the curious Hotel Earle. Every time you hear someone shout or see shoes outside of a door, surely someone else must be in this hotel… right? But who would stay in a hotel with wallpaper that won’t stay on the walls. It’s anyone’s guess. But the Coen’s do such a great job of setting up a mood through this gorgeous set piece that it’s impossible to deny the cultural power of this movie and it’s aesthetic.

My ONLY complaint with this movie is that I don’t fully get it. What were we supposed to learn from watching this? I don’t have a thesis for it. At all. But that’s okay. I can’t wait to watch it again and hope to dig a little deeper.

June 16, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Tell No One

Francois Cluzet Tell No OneTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

 

Movie #19: Tell No One

Director: Guillaume Canet

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Blood Ties

If the title wasn’t enough of a give away, this is a film of secrets. Unfortunately, director Guillaume Canet doesn’t always listen to the title’s advice.

The film starts out as an incredibly taut mystery. We watch as Alexandre’s (Francois Cluzet) life falls apart. His wife is murdered and he is the prime suspect. Years pass and the case is reopened when two bodies are discovered and Alexandre receives a mysterious email. This is pretty standard man-on-the-run thriller territory, and for the first hour or so, it succeeds rather well at this. Canet takes his time with the mystery and lets us get involved with Alex and his unending grief.

A little more than halfway through, Canet lets too much slacken. Maybe we learn too much, maybe there are too many characters at play, but the mystery no longer feels 100% central. I certainly am not complaining if the problem is too many characters. This means that I finally get some fun Kristin Scottt Thomas as Hélène Perkins, Alex’s sister’s wife. She must be wonderful to work with because it seems like she is giving off so many different cues for her scene partners to play on and build their characters. It seems that everyone else in the cast is doing his or her best work when they are next to Thomas.

If Canet lets the line go loose halfway through, he drops the line off the side of a cliff for the film’s third act. In what might be the laziest ending since Shutter Island, a character practically walks in to the movie just to explain the central mystery for abou 20 minutes. The end. Sure, there is some housekeeping to do, but the film ends with such little cinematic or narrative interest, that it’s hard to call anything in this film successful, when for the majority of the running time, it is! I certainly won’t reveal what that ending is or how exactly it happens, but it feels like a let down and everyone’s motives seem unrealistic. A lose-lose for everyone.

What I learned through this movie is that Kristin Scott Thomas and Francois Cluzet are clearly some of the greats. They make the case for star power in characters, that intangible je ne sais quoi that brings a character to life. Now I’ll console myself by going through each of their filmographies.

June 16, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Citizen Ruth

Laura Dern Citizen RuthTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #18: Citizen Ruth

Director: Alexander Payne

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Nebraska

“Controversial” movies are usually a tough sell. Controversial comedies are usually even tougher. When I learned that Citizen Ruth was an abortion comedy, I was equal parts horrified and amused. Can Alexander Payne actually pull this off?

He did! When we meet Ruth (Laura Dern) she is one of the most desperate, strung-out, and pathetic junkies I’ve seen on screen in a while. Her drug of choice seems to be spray paint fumes, but will use cement sealant or good ol’ fashioned alcohol in a pinch. When she finds out that she is in fact pregnant (for the 5th time, no less) the judge suggests she gets an abortion. Then, as any good synopsis should say, Ruth finds herself in the middle of an all-out war about abortion.

What makes this movie work is the comedy rarely comes from abortion itself, but rather the weird people who support pro-life or pro-choice sides. While Payne probably shifts a little more towards pro-choice throughout the film, I want to delineate how well he balances the two sides out. Gail and Norm Stoney (Mary Kay Place and Kurtwood Smith) take Ruth in and are the local chapter leaders of their pro-life outfit. They have a whole series of songs and chants speaking out against abortion that are so absurd to be funny. When Ruth finally meets the pro-choice team, she thinks she has left the crazy behind. But a possibly lesbian couple drags her outside to sing a song in reverence to a moon goddess. So everyone is just a little bit nuts, and that makes everything way more fun.

The ensemble of this film is absolutely tremendous top to bottom. I understand that the Kurtz family needs to eat, but Swoosie Kurtz needs to find more audacious work like this. She is a true treasure. Tippi Hedren and Burt Reynolds are both given fantastic cameos, and the list of character actors involved includes M.C. Gainey, Kenneth Mars, Kathleen Noone, and even Kelly Preston! However, Laura Dern really steals the show as she always does. Her manic and selfish drive in life would probably get her places if she wasn’t always huffing glue.

I’m so glad to have caught up with this underseen gem, and maybe I’ll be able to forgive Alexander Payne for some of his other snoozefests. He’s not forgiven yet, though.

June 16, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Rosemary’s Baby

MiaFarrow11To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #17: Rosemary’s Baby

Director: Roman Polanski

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Venus in Fur

Here’s the part where I reveal why my whole little contest is a little unfair. When I designed this shadowing, it was meant as an excuse to watch world cinema. However, when it comes to some of the directorial juggernauts, I still have a couple of movies to track down. When I finally get to Barton Fink for the Coen Bros, it might feel a little unfair to compare a Palme D’Or winner with a random Steven Soderbergh documentary. But this is the price we pay. So I hadn’t seen Rosemary’s Baby and now this American classic is here to trample all of the others.

Rosemary’s Baby manages to be a supernatural horror movie, a cult movie, a domestic drama, and a conspiracy film all at the same time. Upon moving into the most gorgeous NYC apartment that has ever existed, Rosemary, played by the stunning Mia Farrow, and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes acting), decide to have a baby. However, Rosemary can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong with her baby or her creepy neighbors.

I try to keep all of my plot descriptions so denuded of spoilers that it does make it hard to talk about the movie. (I like going into a movie 100% unspoiled – no plot points, thematic ideas, reviews, nothing. This is near impossible to achieve and I’m not at all hurt when something is spoiled, but I don’t want to perpetuate any kind of spoiler on someone else.) So with respect to that, let’s just discuss Rosemary’s Baby as a mood piece.

Polanski is so deliberate with every camera angle and tracking shot, that everything feels purposeful. In a comedy, this feeling can make a movie tired and strained. In a horror movie or a conspiracy film, it is crucial in making sure that every piece of the puzzle connects to the next. Now, every scene of Rosemary reading or talking to her neighbors seems important, fascinating, and just a bit scary. It only takes one long scene in which Rosemary thinks she learns something to set everything into motion. And this film scarcely takes a second to catch it’s breath after.

The two elderly neighbors next door are Roman and Minnie Castevet, deliciously played by Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon. While Ruth Gordon soaked up all of the attention and went on to win an Oscar, Blackmer and Farrow also deserve to get mentioned. Roman Castevet is in every way equal to Minnie in making this couple’s role in the film succeed. His quiet command is a great balance for her daffy officiousness. However, the real star of this movie is Mia Farrow. Good lord does she shine. The heft of the film rests squarely on her tiny shoulders, but she manages to take every punch with an underlying strength drowned in chaos and fear. Her face in this movie will haunt me for years to come.

June 13, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Dead Man

Dead Man 3To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #16: Dead Man

Director: Jim Jarmusch

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Only Lovers Left Alive

Whatever I was expecting, this was not it. Dead Man is the very bizarre story of a man named William Blake (Johnny Depp) who moves out West to take over a position as an accountant in a boomtown. When the position falls through, he finds himself on the run with a local Native American who is called Nobody (Gary Farmer). If I just told you the plot, you may think this was pretty straightforward.

But Jim Jarmusch casts all importance of plot aside to focus on the weird existential crises at play.

Existential Crisis #1: William Blake is the name of a very famous poet. Depp’s Blake has never heard of him. Nobody (the native) loves his poetry and recites it frequently, thinking he is accompanying a literary genius. Our protagonist then struggles with his name and his identity.

Existential Crisis #2: William Blake can’t seem to stay conscious for longer than 5 minutes. He’s constantly passing out or falling asleep. This makes the movie a series of 1 minute scenes with a blackout in between each and everyone. The effect is at once disorienting and almost comical. But what does this mean for Blake? What is real and what isn’t? What is he meant to see and what is left unseen?

Existential Crisis #3: He meets an Indian named Nobody. I rest my case.

I could talk on and on about these things, but I would just be wandering in circles, as it seems Blake may actually be doing as well. What I can say is that while I am up for any movie that tackles existentialism, it’s not always the most narratively compelling theme. If I were to compliment the pacing of the movie, I would say it  is bizarre and uneven, which further hurts an already dry topic.

I can’t let my discussion of Dead Man end without mentioning how absolutely crucial Neil Young’s score is to the successes of this film. His wild Western twang on a grungy electric guitar make every scene of the movie ooze violence and excitement. And at it’s best Dead Man can be an exciting, yet existential film. And if you can name another movie that is at all those two things, sign me up. They are hard to find.

June 11, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: White Material

White MaterialTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #15: White Material

Director: Claire Denis

Her Cannes 2013 Movie: Bastards

If you are the one person reading these, then you’ve probably figured out I have a lot of blind spots in my filmography. Anything from Claire Denis is another shameful one. Well, White Material was a searing introduction to her filmography.

The “white material” in question refers to all of the stuff that white people bring to Africa. Watches, lighters, whatever. But now that foreigners are there, it can’t be undone. The luminous Isabelle Huppert is Maria Vial, the owner of her family’s coffee plantation in an unnamed West African country. I missed this detail when I watched the movie, but it turns out that she was born and raised on African soil and really identifies with it as her home. Her son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) was also born there, but he is a bit of a lazy bum and doesn’t have the same connection with the land and the people that Maria seems to have.

As a civil war starts slowly erupting, the two sides quickly form, leaving Maria and her family a bit trapped in the middle. The French government implores her to leave. Her husband Andre (Christophe Lambert) is also set on evacuating. She denies efforts to be rescued and thus starts a long battle to keep her business afloat and stay alive.

This description makes the movie sound much more harrowing than it really is. Don’t get me wrong, there are some tense scenes, and there is a constant sense of danger. You truly never know if or when things are going to get heated. But my usual problem with movies that take place in Africa is that I can never get my bearings. Where are they? Is that far away from where they were before? But Denis manages to give you a great sense of not only the continent and the landscape, but also the towns, the plantation, the people. Her work is so specific that it becomes instantly accessible.

Huppert is infinitely watchable as always. She can command a scene simply by standing still. Everyone brings their A game and it really pays off. My one… piece of non-praise, because it isn’t an insult, is that I feel that I will forget this movie in 5 years. There was no one scene that grabbed me and the ins and outs of the plot at some point became irrelevant to the thematic sensibilities.  While some of the movies in my mini festival have just entertained and some have just made me think, White Material manages to do both seamlessly, yet the ripples made while I watched are now only infinitesimal vibrations in the back of my head. And that’s okay.

June 11, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Audition

auditioneihishiinaTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

 

 

Movie #14: Audition

Director: Takashi Miike

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Shield of Straw

When I went to the fest in 2011, Takashi Miike had some other forgettable movie playing during the midnight screenings. In order to prepare for it, I decided to watch one of his movies. However, I was given a difficult choice. I took the coward’s way out and I selected 13 Assassins which is a good deal of fun, but nothing to write home about. Now 2 years later, I had to face my fears. I sucked it up and I watched one of the most famously scary and horrific movies of all time.

I love scary movies, but I’m a bit of a chicken, so at 11:30 AM on a Saturday, I fired up Netflix and went to work.

I already knew a little bit about the plot, so I will spoil only as much as I knew before hand here. I feel like everyone knows that it’s about a man who is auditioning women, but when he falls in love with one of the girls, it turns out that she is totally fucked up and likes to kidnap and torture people. What I didn’t expect was how fun it was in the beginning. It starts with a super light tone as Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) and his buddy Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura) are pretty much in a rom com. They laugh, happy music plays, they make funny comments about all of the women they are auditioning. Everything’s a laugh a minute!

Then enters Asami, wickedly played by Eihi Shiina. She is quiet, beautiful, and demure – the model of Japanese perfection. The audience is shown a seen of her alone in her apartment that reveals to us that she is bat-guano evil maybe about… halfway through. Then for the next 45 minutes, Miike delivers some of the most excruciating tension I’ve ever had the horrible experience of going through. It’s never ending tension with only the tiniest releases. It’s truly masterful, but boy did it leave me shaken. My go-to “I’m too scared” move is to just keep pausing a lot. The longest I ever had to pause was a solid 2 minutes to regain my composure. Stop judging me!

For the last 20 minutes, the spit hits the fan and it turns into what the movie is known for – some good ol’ fashioned torture porn (and before torture porn was really a thing even!). While this is the famous part, it’s not nearly the most effective for me. I can watch the gore, just show it plainly and move on. For me, Aoyama’s search for love, truth, and sanity is what manages to succeed emotionally, yet it can all still scare your pants off.

In the end, Audition is a love story. It’s about two lonely lost souls who are just looking for love in a different way. No, I wouldn’t call it romantic. But the cruel balance between levity and gut-wrenching tension is unparalleled. Just make sure you’re up for the challenge. I’m still recovering.

June 8, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: And Everything is Going Fine

Film-EverythingFine-570To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #13: And Everything is Going Fine

Director: Steven Soderbergh

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Behind the Candelabra

As one of the most prolific directors of this generation, Steven Soderbergh’s “retirement” has caused everyone to take a moment and look back on his career. In the spirit of Cannes, I try to watch a movie from that director that I have never seen before. This was a bit of a challenge with Soderbergh. I’ve seen all of his famous stuff. I’ve even seen a few of the second tier schlock (The Informant, anyone?). So to find something new (that was also available on Netflix) I needed to find something obscure – and a Spalding Gray documentary seemed to be just the thing.

To compare it to another Soderbergh, And Everything is Going Fine plays a lot like sex, lies, and videotape… except just the videotape. The documentary weaves together some 20 odd interviews, performances, and recordings of Spalding Gray just talking about his life. There are a couple talking heads throughout, but maybe 98% is just grainy footage of one man talking. While I could listen to Spalding Gray tell a story for hours, the movie making of this project got in the way of any enjoyment.

If what makes a film special is the combination of moving pictures and sounds, Soderbergh certainly had a challenge. The sounds were just one man’s voice and the moving pictures were one man on a stage. Soderbergh, unfortunately, never injects anything new or exciting into the presentation. He just lets it sit there, like play dough left out of its jar. To be quite honest, about half way through, I opened a new tab on my computer and started looking for recipes and playing flash games while I just listened to Spalding Gray talk. This was equally effective in consuming the movie, if not more so. I was able to come in and out and enjoy the dry humor and the profound melancholy pumped throughout Gray’s life.

If Soderbergh’s goal was to pique my interest in Spalding Gray, he certainly achieved. But it certainly would seem that his idea was better served when he tried it the first time in Gray’s Anatomy (I haven’t seen it, but Wikipedia tells me it’s the dramatized version, which is a lot different than this aggressively un-dramatized version). Now I guess I have to track that down.

June 4, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Valhalla Rising

Mads-Mikkelsen-one-eye-400-2

To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #12: Valhalla Rising

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Only God Forgives

Put on your galoshes because it’s about to get messy. And fuck elegant intros. Valhalla Rising doesn’t deserve a personal intro. This is easily one of the worst pieces of garbage I’ve ever seen. It’s loaded with so much overblown pomposity and religious hoo-hah, that I’m sure Refn thinks he constructed a masterpiece. Instead, a film that is bloated at 93 minutes just hopes that you like images of Mads Mikkelsen in mist while titling chapters “The Holy Land.”

The plot is nearly irrelevant. Mads Mikkelsen plays a mute demon nicknamed One Eye by his moppet child friend. They travel together while forcing everyone around them to die, through either ceremonial mud wrestling or archery. This happens slowly and with so much pomp and circumstance that there is virtually nothing else in the movie. Except for the 20 minutes where they all sit on a boat and bitch about how long they’ve been sitting on a boat.

I have no kind words to say about this movie or anyone involved with it. Well, Mads Mikkelsen is perfectly adequate in this movie. There! A COMPLIMENT!

The use of imagery is also so heavy-handed I felt like he made it for an audience of octogenarians with cataracts to see. There will be violent flashes of red images to symbolize evil and hell. Beyond the fact that it’s cliché and dumb, it also happens approximately 50 times in the movie. To encapsulate some of the worst 93 minutes of my life, I made this pie chart on Excel to show exactly what this movie is to me. Enjoy.

Valhalla Rising Pie Chart