Friday movie corner 9/30

I’ve seen some more movies. Let’s talk about it.

***Apologies for the length of this post…I’d like to turn this into a semi-regular feature, because it’s nice to write about something other than music from time to time, but I just kept letting the movies accumulate without publishing this post. That being said, I’m not really sure what the purpose of a semi-regular feature would be either. Oh well.

Of Gods and Men: A charming French drama that, despite a few issues, has some really powerful moments and leaves you with some interesting, lingering questions. In the story, nine Trappist monks living in a monastery in rural Algeria, in general harmony with the village around them, become threatened by an insurgence of terrorism by a radical Islamist group, and they must decide whether to flee, or to stay and remain devoted to their monastic life. The danger increases, and their faith in God’s plan for them is greatly tested, up until the shocking end, which — despite the fact that the film follows historical events — I won’t spoil here. Of Gods and Men tested my patience from time to time with it’s slow pace and subplots that didn’t seem to be leading anywhere, but the fog of moral and spiritual ambiguity that builds up by the end left the film lingering in my mind several days after watching it, which is a quality I always savor.

25th Hour: This was my second time seeing this beloved but slightly overlooked Spike Lee film from 2002. This is by no means some little-known cult film, but a surprising number of people give me blank stares when I bring it up with them. How can this be? Let’s examine the elements: it has a famous director and a visible star, Ed Norton. (He’s, like, very famous, right?) A supporting cast of top-rate character actors — Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brian Cox, and Barry Pepper (pictured) — with strong turns from Rosario Dawson and Anna Paquin as well. It has genre elements that people like (crime), a highly palatable, emotionally relatable storyline, and could hardly be called avant-garde — it’s direction is fresh and innovative in subtle, unshowy ways. It tapped into the zeitgeist in the role that the then-recent Sept. 11th attacks play in the story. Oh and it’s maybe the best film I’ve ever seen. Seriously.

So why isn’t this one of those Shawshank Redemption or Saving Private Ryan-type movies that everyone knows about, which will earn you raised eyebrows when you say you haven’t seen? For contrast, I can see why a film like There Will Be Blood, another one of my all-time favorites, is not part of that rarefied realm of cultural ubiquity–it’s very long, very dark, has a very weird soundtrack, and tells a story about the American psyche that doesn’t exactly make you want to sing patriotic songs. But 25th Hour really feels akin to those universal, everyone’s-seen-it movies to me. As it tells the story of a convicted drug dealer (Norton) on the last day before he goes to jail, it’s not a happy story, but neither is it grim; there’s something hopeful about it, something about essential human goodness and the triumph of the human spirit even as we do things that are less than commendable. In any case, it got very little attention from the Academy and, like I said, the majority of people I begin to gush about it to need a reminder to spur vague recognition or haven’t heard of it at all. I expect it might have something to do with the fact that the story doesn’t really have a conflict, per se — you know from scene #2 that Norton’s character, Monty, is going to jail, and the movie simply records the final hours before his sentence begins. Many of the scenes are quite long and contain unusual stylistic tricks, but the story is mostly conventional, other than that lack of conflict.

In any case, I’m exaggerating how overlooked this movie is — it appeared on many critics’ “Best of the Decade” lists, etc. My main point is: THIS IS A MOVIE EVERYBODY SHOULD SEE. The characters, their emotions, and their relationships all feel stunningly real, and there’s appropriate doses of nostalgia and regret as a phase of Monty’s life comes to a close. All emotions are heightened by Terence Blanchard’s absolutely wonderful soundtrack, which lends weight without being cloying or manipulative. On top of it all, there’s the famous “Fuck You” mirror sequence, which you should really see in the context of the film to truly appreciate it. And the film ends with a similar sequence of bravura performance, editing, and soundtracking. I won’t even say anything more about it other than it’s one of the most beautiful, moving endings to any movie I’ve seen, elevating from merely a masterful, entrancing character study to a story with something Big and Important to say about the human condition. If you haven’t seen it, push 25th Hour to the top of your list.

Y tu mamá también: I got home one night and my parents were about 1/3 of the way through this, so how could I not sit down and watch? I’ve seen this film four or five times, but it’s beauty does not fade. That is all.

Vanishing of the Bees: This 2009 documentary chronicles the spread of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which, if you’re not familiar with the phenomenon (and you should be, as the health of our bees is vitally important to our food production), entails the sudden disappearance of nearly all the worker bees from a hive. The characters and the information contained in the film are fascinating and essential, and anything that forces us to think twice about our country’s agricultural methods is important to see, but from a filmmaking standpoint, this documentary is laughably shoddy. I won’t get into the micro and macro editing mistakes or the ridiculously cheesy intertitle effects that they use, but don’t expect to be blown away by Vanishing‘s filmmaking. Still, if you’re in need of a primer on CCD and you’re feeling too lazy to do some reading, this’ll get you started.

Blue Valentine: Yeah, I’m a little late to the game on this one. But what a stunning movie! I’m sure you all have heard about their unconventional, improv-heavy method for developing dialogue and the general emotional chemistry of the central relationship, so I won’t get into it too much.

I’ve read some reviews that frame the movie as “woman trying to lead a normal life finally gets fed up with petulant man-child,” but I think that reading fails to take into account just how cold and distant Michelle Williams’ character is right from the get-go — the way I see it, she has basically driven Gosling’s character to his current state of decrepit drunkenness by shutting him out for years. At least give the guy some credit (SPOILER ALERT APPROACHING) for raising a child that isn’t his! Really though, one of the things I like most about the film is how, in the end, neither character comes off as the villain, kinda like in, hey!, real life, where relationships most often fail because of flaws on both sides. Oh, and last but not least, great use of Grizzly Bear tunes (and one by Department of Eagles) in the soundtrack.

Drive: Oh hai again Mr. Gosling. I got my ass to the movie theater to see the movie that People On The Internet are quite enamored of the past few weeks. And what I found was a film deserving of the praise and also…surprisingly upsetting. It asserts itself as a Style Above All sort of film from the wonderfully tense opening scene and the 80s-referencing credits sequence and soundtrack. (The 80s has to have almost run out of stuff for us to cherry-pick by now, right? Right?!) And when things start to get violent (and oh do they), the violence occurs in brief, percussive bursts of a most stylized nature, showing just enough guts to gross you out but hiding just enough to force you to confront your own perverted desire to see more.

What I really find myself thinking about when I think about Drive is Gosling’s character, whom Gosling and director Refn handle in such an interesting way. They give him a great deal of depth and ambiguity by taking the opposite route of many memorable characters: giving him very little to say, revealing almost nothing about his life before the film starts, and simply letting his actions speak for themselves.

Marshall McLuhan has a theory about “hot” and “cool” media which, like most of his ideas, is crackpot and useful in equal measure. To oversimplify it, hot media pretty much fill in all the sensory gaps, while cool media require a bit more participation on the viewer’s part. I thought of applying these terms to content rather than form while watching the fantastic 13 Most Beautiful DVD, which consists of Andy Warhol’s short film portraits of people like Dennis Hopper and Edie Sedgwick, accompanied by some atmospheric music composed by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (of Galaxie 500 and Luna). These portraits, while “hot” in form (McLuhan argued that film is a “hot” medium), are decidedly “cool” in content, giving the viewer some relatively static stimuli and letting our thoughts wander and try to guess what the person we’re watching is thinking for 4 or 5 minutes.

This is a very longwinded way of saying I thought Drive took the same approach to Gosling’s character, with spectacular results. We never have any idea what his real motivation is (especially at the end, which is insanely ambiguous), so we’re left trying to figure out why he does the things he does, and if he even knows why he’s doing them (my answer: probably not), which all results in him seeming much more mysterious and dangerous and compelling. I apologize if I sound vague, but I just don’t want to give away any plot points as the film is relatively new. If this sounds interesting to you, and you can stomach a little blood and dread, check dis movie out.

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~ by toren on September 30, 2011.

One Response to “Friday movie corner 9/30”

  1. Some good movies you’ve been watching, and excellent job highlighting them!

    Of Gods and Men I thought was a bit slow, not for me.

    I agree, 25th hour was great, one of Ed Norton’s best roles since Fight Club. The B Springsteen song at the end was really powerful stuff. I believe there’s supposed to be some hidden comments about 9/11 in the story. See link:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2002/12/back_door_blues.html

    Must admit I had problems with Drive for the extreme violence, though I can’t praise the soundtrack enough. Gosling’s character sure is mysterious, but his quietness may just be because he has nothing to say.
    If you liked Drive, I’d recommend Taxi Driver (1976). Will be reviewing that 70s film soon.

    Blue Valentine I found was a bit uneven, yet still has some wonderful scenes sprinkled in here and there. That’s an interesting interpretation you offer, and maybe its worth a rewatch some day.

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