Friday, March 31, 2017

Hunger Pains: A review of Raw

Telekenetics have Carrie.
Werewolves have Ginger Snaps.
Now cannibals have Raw.

Cannibalism in popular culture has a resurgence every decade or so. This dates all the way back to Robert Bloch's Psycho, whose Norman Bates was based of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. The 80's brought us the Italian cannibal flicks Cannibal Holocaust, Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox and the 90's gave us Silence of the Lambs. A film in which the villain was ranked #1 on the American Film Institute's Best Villains of All Time List. (Norman Bates was #2).

History has shown that cannibalism is more than just a cultural taboo, but was necessary for survival. Leningrad. the Donner Party. Medicinal cannibalism was practiced in Europe (particularly Spain and Germany) for decades. The practice is all over the animal kingdom. It's even in the Bible.

So what does Raw bring to the table? Well for one, it brings the coming of age genre into this subgenre of horror. That is not to say it isn't derivative or explores new territory. Quite the contrary.

There is a form of chaos that slowly pervades this movie. It starts out as a ritual hazing. A rite of passage for new veterinarians at the school that Justine (Garance Marillier) has just started. Her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) lets her know up front that the first weeks are rough. After the first weeks of havoc being wreaked upon Christine, her sister ends up giving her a piece of meat that ends up causing a rash on Christine's body. She gradually develops an insatiable hunger for meat.

Beyond just beyond about that primal, animalistic hunger, Raw also focuses on a sexual hunger. One that gets even more complicated when you add a character that is gay. Narrative choices like this show a true artist at work in debut filmmaker Julia Ducournau. Like the past couple debut filmmakers to come out of the last two years, Robert Eggers (The Witch) and Jordan Peele (Get Out), Ducournau takes the already intriguing premise and adds layers to peel back on rewatch.

The violence in the film is something that it is already becoming infamous for. In an age where we have become overstimulated with excessive violence in the media and the ineffective gore that purported movie bloodbaths promise to deliver, it is relatively tame. What is truly effecting is not the excess but the restraint. The realism. Yes, there are things in this movie that are boundary pushing. Taboo breaking, even. Yet, what will get under the skin the most? A madman cutting an arm off or the infection that breaks out on your skin? Or the bitten lip?

For further information on the history of cannibalism, look no further than Bill Schutt's Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

What I've been up to: January thru March 2017

1/3- La La Land, Zodiac
1/4- Krisha, Odd Man Out
1/6- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
1/10- Mean Streets
1/11- Obama's Farewell Address
1/14- Silence
         11/22/63 by Stephen King
1/15- Ugetsu
1/19- The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Hiroshima Mon Amour
1/20- From Russia With Love
1/21- Army of Shadows
1/25- Andrei Rublev
1/27- Beware the Slenderman
1/28- The Night Porter, Alien
1/30- A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben McIntyre

2/4- Toni Erdmann
2/8- Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
2/9- Goodbye Dragon Inn
2/11- It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (5 episodes)
         The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato
2/12- Legion (1 episode); Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
2/13- Day of the Dead, Claire's Knee
2/14- Blue Is the Warmest Color; The Room
2/22- I Am Not Your Negro, Cameraperson
2/23- The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato
2/25- Get Out
2/26- Frailty
2/27- Lincoln In the Bardo by George Saunders

1- Rushmore
4- Before Sunrise
5- Before Sunset
6- Before Midnight, Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny
7- Code Unknown, Moonlight
8- We Need to Talk About Kevin, Vagabond
9- Notes On Cinematography by Robert Bresson, Mouchette
10- Legion (3 episodes), Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis
11- My Own Private Idaho
12- Big Little Lies (2 episodes)
13- The Trial of Joan of Arc, The Passion of Joan of Arc
15- Hitchcock/Truffaut, Legion
17- The Wind That Shakes the Barley
18- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
19- Withnail and I
20- Black Coffee: The Irresistible Bean, The Soft Skin
22- Big Little Lies, MST3K: Time Chasers
23- Legion, Ikiru
24- A Serious Man, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, Touching the Void
25- Eyes Without A Face
26- Going Clear, Big Little Lies
27- Trainspotting
28- Trainspotting 2, Raw
29- Legion
30- Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
31- The Discovery, Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders

Thursday, December 1, 2016

November 2016 Watchlist

1- McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
2- Valeria and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires, 1970)
     Devils On the Doorstep (Jiang Wen, 2000)
     Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958)                                                                                    
     Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
    Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, 1966)
3- Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958)
6- The Wailing (Na-Hong Jin, 2016)
7- Los Olvidados (Luis Bunuel, 1950)
    Simon of the Desert (Luis Bunuel, 1965)
    Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai, 1997)
8- Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)
9- L'Argent (Robert Bresson, 1983)
    Journey to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1954)
   The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
10- Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)
11- Pale Flower (Masahiro Shinoda, 1964)
12- The Handmaiden (Park Chan-Wok, 2016)
14- Aguirre: Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
      Judex (Georges Franju, 1936)
      Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (William Greaves, 1968)
15- Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weersathakul, 2015)
      The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933)
16- Dreams (Akira Kurosawa, 1990)
      Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)
17- Alice In the Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974)
      The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962)
19- When A Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse, 1960)
      Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) (Rewatch)
21- Death By Hanging (Nagisa Oshima, 1968)
      Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014) (Rewatch)
22- The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939)
      The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies, 1992)
23- L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)
      Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) (Rewatch)
25- Overlord (Stuart Cooper, 1975)
      Zazie Dans La Metro (Louis Malle, 1960)
26- Au Revoirs Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987)
      The Fire Within (Louis Malle, 1963)
27- The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa, 1956)
29- The Honeymoon Killers (Leonard Kastle, 1970)
30- Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016)
      Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The State of Criticism

How do you know what movies to see? Where do you go to find these opinions? These are two questions that movie buffs are often asked. You could answer by saying "There's this blog such and such or video blogger such and such that writes or creates reviews. I usually go there if I want to find out what to watch." Personally, I browse a number of sites. There's letterboxd, a few movie blogs that I check from time to time, and a select few people who are interested in film who I talk to online.

Yet, there is one thing that is very important when reading a review or considering an opinion: that reviewer's singular voice and whether or not it translates to a genuine, honest opinion. This is something I always admired Pauline Kael and especially Roger Ebert for. Before Rotten Tomatoes, metacritic and imdb, Ebert was always showing how his view on a film could not be swayed by whether or not a movie was gaining critical praise or if it was not. He liked what he liked. He loved Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia but he hated A Clockwork Orange. He would champion smaller films like Chop Shop and along with Gene Siskel, championed films like Hoop Dreams.

Then the internet came along. With the internet, a free reign of blogs, youtube channels, movie news sites like Ain't It Cool and slash film, and so forth. Journalism has increasingly moved further and further away from print and onto digital. Much like film itself is making the transition. But if a person like me wanted to get their opinion out to the masses, shouldn't I be in praise of the online film community? Well, kinda not. The standards have just gotten lower. You see, like digital film, the sudden availability of the resources creates such a mass market for people who don't necessarily have an individual voice. Everyone and their dog could be a movie critic now. Now if I were to be against this very fact, it would be extremely contradictory. Since this IS a movie blog and I have reviewed several movies on it. What I will say is that, like any genre of film or music, when you get a massive influx of product, or in this case, movie reviewers, you tend to see a pattern: aggregates of reviewers that bleed into one another with their reviews on the newest movie that hit theaters. One site that sprouted in the wake of this was Rotten Tomatoes.

Consensus sites like Rotten Tomatoes have become a standard bearer to indicate what movie Joey and his date want to go see. What people sometimes don't realize is that 90% on the Tomato-meter means a lot less than you think. What it states is: 90% of the critics who gave reviews for the movie gave it a favorable review. Let's say half of the critics who gave favorable reviews thought it was above average. It averages out the consensus to give an idea of the quality. But why do people feel good about using these sites to judge the value of a work of art? It prevents any serious critical interaction between the viewer of the film and the film itself.

This is not even taking into account older films like Vertigo, whose initial reception was polarizing among critics and is now considered to be one of the best films of all time by Sight and Sound's 2012 poll. The 1958 reviews and it's now "reassessed reviews sit side by side on Rotten Tomatoes, causing a miscalculation of context. It pains me to see an entire shelf at Barnes and Noble dedicated to "Movie Certified Fresh By Rotten Tomatoes". A site that groups films into a binary of "Fresh" or "Rotten" and asks its audience to choose is doing more to hurt rather than help the craft of criticism. Don't even bother to read the full reviews.

In a video on film criticism, Siskel  and Ebert talk about wanting to be liked and how political correctness is the death knell to criticism. Wanting to go along with the group. This was in the 90's. Ebert went on to say the purpose of journalism is to break that type of thinking. In an era where "Social Justice Warriors" run amok and wanting to have an intelligent discussion has become nearly absent, summoning up the courage to say what you feel has become increasingly hard.

There's many youtube channels out there like Chris Stuckmann and Jeremy Jahns that are enormously popular. But when you watch a review, it doesn't feel like they are genuine. Take Stuckmann's review on The Blair Witch Project. In it he praises its realism but then says that the slew of imitators gave us more thematically and dramatically than Blair Witch did. Directly after that he says that that is it's strength. That it is grounded in reality. So here we have a review that is extremely contradictory and is weighed between not wanting to piss of its admirers and not wanting to piss off its detractors. Gene Siskel mentioned that wanting to be liked and go along with the group can be death to a critic. Following this type of thinking is tantamount to, as Ebert said, ventriloquism.

It's the same thing when you say you have guilty pleasures. You're just lying to yourself and anyone who will listen about that embarrassing phase you once went through in high school.
All art is subjective. So embrace it. Defend it. There's films like Tusk and Point Break that I will defend to no end.

Structuring your review or just throwing formalism out the window altogether and trying something new can be another thing that pulls the viewer in. There are blogs I have read however, who pull in hundreds of subscribers who structure every single review the same way: Plot Synopsis, Cast, Cinematography/Editing (the style of the film), Summation. It's a fucking chore to slog through these. There is no life in these reviews. Just imitating the film blurb key words of "dazzling, phenomenal, and spellbinding" that you find on the back of blu rays. It's on auto pilot.

Change things up. Think outside the box. Inject life into it. I'm happy you can churn out a review a week but put out something that doesn't continue to put me to sleep.

In this wasteland of appealing to the largest denominator through criticism, there are those that carry the flag as a bastion of hope. One such man is Mark Kermode. This is a man whose top ten films include The Exorcist and The Devils. Someone who doesn't just lambast a movie, he refines the art of doing so. Hatchet jobs, as he calls them. He's not an apologist for the movies he loves. The same way Kael didn't apologize for adoring Altman and DePalma.

Online blogging is not the death of criticism. Digital media hasn't inherently devalued the craft, it just made it harder to find the really good blogs that are writing with passion, honesty, and efficiency. When you love movies for so long, your tastes evolve. They are refined, sharpened. I'm not going to join blog number 156, 472 that only reviews the latest film that comes out or talks about what film they think should win an Oscar. But if a blog pops up about French crime films in the 50's and 60's or why Sterling Hayden is such a stellar character actor or Jodorowsky's films, then I just might join that blog. Because it's shit that I like.

In lieu of this rant, I thought I'd present a handful of sites that are good examples of the criticism I crave and the inventiveness I admire:

And So It Begins
Besides being a blogger Alex Withrow is a filmmaker to boot. He has come up with several ideas for lists that I wish I had thought of. His In Character segments are always a treat to read.

Bennett Media
The first film blog that I truly fell in love with. Stopped producing content in February but the That Moment series and article on 'better sequels' and 'adequate sequels' are worth the read. They are also really good editors to boot.

Every Frame A Painting
Tony Zhou has created several helpful videos for those interested in the mechanics of filmmaking and storytelling.

A Fistful of Films
Want an alternative to The Oscars? This blog has its own awards: The Fistis.

House of Self Indulgence
Erotica, exploitation, and the art of Jess Franco.

Not Coming To A Theater Near You
Your resource for exploring the fringes of cinema. Want essays on Russ Meyer, Andy Sidaris, Lucio Fulci and Samuel Fuller? Look no further.

Observations On Film Art
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's blog. Authors of books, writers of countless essays that are as educational as they are fascinating

Paul Schrader
His film criticism on the works of Ozu and Bresson are something to behold.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Night Of

"I can't be alone tonight."

There's a scene in season one of The Wire where paperwork is being filled in order to secure a wiretap from the court. Showrunner David Simon jokes on the commentary that this is the only show that stresses paperwork. But he touches on something that draws me into these types of crime dramas: the process. The horror of watching an individual get churned through the gears of an indifferent system. The Night Of is another one of those shows that stresses that very process.

The director Steve Zaillian has made a handful of features, some very underrated (Searching For Bobby Fischer, A Civil Action), but nothing really prepared me for this. Right at the start of Pakistani college student Nasir 'Naz' Khan's journey through New York in his father's cab, we are shown through various perspectives of surveillance. All timestamped. The toll booth, the gas station, the police stop later on. You get the sense that you are being prepared for something or Naz is unknowingly being prepared. Things lock into place. Wheels set into motion.

So much so, that after an event like a girl wanting to have him stab her hand has one thinking "how will this ripple outward into this man's life? How will it effect later events?" Zaillian wisely takes that notion and ratchets it up throughout the rest of the hour.

We've had plenty of true crime dramas play out in documentary form: The Thin Blue Line, the Paradise Lost Trilogy, Making A Murderer, The Jinx and most recently O.J. Made In America. What keeps me coming back to The Night Of is Zallian's directorial choices and Richard Price's writing. It's not a perfect opener but it's a hell of a lot better than many other crime shows.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Notes on Notes

"I am a sick man. I am a wicked man."

This is how Fyodor Dostoevsky begins his novella Notes On Underground and what a way to kick things off. The novella is neatly cleaved in two. The first containing most of the novella's philosophical import and the second section reinforces the first through narrative. Now it's important note the footnote toward the beginning of the text.

"Both the author of the notes and the Notes themselves are, of course, fictional. Nevertheless, such persons a the writer of such notes not only may but must exist in our society, taking into consideration the circumstances under which our society has generally been formed."

The Underground Man is not Dostoevsky himself. He was a devout Christian who fought against feudalism. He couldn't have possibly advocated the narrator's views.

Or is it? Dostoevsky does something clever at the end of the book. He directly contradicts his claim at the beginning of book that the Notes are fictional. Now he presents them as if they are being copied. "The notes of this paradoxalist do not end here. He could not stop himself and went on. But it also seems to us that this may be a good place to stop." It keeps in line with the parodoxical claim to love all things and then destroy everything. It's watching an intellectual ping pong between two polar opposites.

As far as philosophical novels go, it precedes Albert Camus' The Stranger and Sartre's Nausea as what is looked upon as the first existential novel. Friedrich Nietzsche would go onto rate reading Dostoevsky as "among the beautiful strikes of fortune in his life," Interesting in that the Underground Man's thought process works off of something akin to a Master Vs, Slave morality. Something Nietzsche would take further in his worldview.

Fyodor was someone whose works were banned in Russia after the Communist Revolution. They were taken to be highly subversive to Stalin's worldview. Being that Dostoevsky was a conservative.
When he was young, he was a socialist and stood in front of a firing squad when at the last minute, a note from the Czar commuted his sentence to labor. So he was sent to a labor camp for four years where he would form most of his thoughts and views.

In his novella, we see that he deals with the concept of freedom and our need to seek happiness out in rational ways. Dostoyevsky's underground man objects to this need. His belief is that for freedom to be genuine, the entire spectrum of possibilities must play out. It shouldn't just be those that give us gratification and happiness. If only happiness and gratification were the case, the automatic choice to choose the pleasant experience would result in us being more mechanical than genuinely human.

Dostoevsky's character celebrates the choice to choose to do something destructive.  To sabotage yourself. Choosing to do something harmful or negative out of pure caprice. Human beings, he puts it, are not reducible to a mathematical algorithm. 2 + 2=4 but can also make 5.

The human capacity to want is another theme explored. Our narrator posits that if one day they find the formula according to precisely how these wants are spread and "what they strive for in such-and-such a case and so forth" that man will immediately stop wanting. Man without desires or wanting is nothing but a sprig in an oil barrel. Is it impossible, then, while preserving reason, to want senselessness? Certainly not according to the underground man. It's a battle against reason.

Notes From, Underground demands your full attention. It dares to show us alternatives to our lives that we never knew existed. Like the best literature, it forces us to confront our darker selves.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Movies I Love: The Godfather

It's a staple of American popular culture. It's been quoted, parodied and spun off a video game. It usually ranks 2nd on the IMDB Top 250 and currently number 2 on the AFI Top 100. Every Thankgiving, AMC marathons the first two films back top back. It's a classic. Sure it is. But I want to dig deeper. Coming up to people and asking them why they love The Godfather and their only response being "It's a classic! It's The Godfather!" Which makes me wonder, do they really like it are do they feel obligated to because of all the aforementioned accolades that has been bestowed upon it?

The first time I ever heard of The Godfather, to my knowledge, was at my grandparent's house. I was in the back bedroom and looking for things to do. I came upon the Mario Puzo novel. I would scan through the novel and come to read major portions of the text. A viewing of the film cemented the idea of what a perfect movie can be. Or to be more succinct, a complete movie. It didn't tell any more story that it needed to. We would get all the backstory in II.

As a teenager, I became infatuated with the movie. I would watch it as many times as I could. Dissect it. Print out a timeline of the Corleone family and a Corleone family tree. Geneology was something I took interest back then which correlates to my love of history. The family sitting around the table. The traditions that was a part of their Sicilian heritage. It felt like opening a door and spying on a family of a completely different ethnicity from me. It was and still is captivating. The first words uttered are "I believe in America." Even though the family hails from Sicily, this story can be applied to America and power systems within. No surprise when it pops up as a favorite among politicians.

More than just that, this was a saga that allowed the viewer to go back even further. Right up to the point where news breaks of Paolo being gunned down during Antonio's funeral.

The Godfather was the first movie that I saw that really captured that feel of generational struggle. Steinbeck's East of Eden would give me this same love of generational struggle but in an entirely different way. Being that it was a saga about a family entrenched in the mafia underworld, it took on the notion of domestic family vs. the Corleone family circle.

I don't know how many movies I can say this about, but it a piece of art that seduces the viewer into paying attention to every detail. Carmine Coppola's score that adds a spell of grand tragedy to the saga we are witnessing. The Prince of Darkness Gordon Willis' photography and the warm yellow and brown hues. Clemenza explaining to Michael how to "cook for twenty guys one day", Sonny writing the time out on the cabinet, the horrific sound of Carlo's foot smashing through the car window as he is being garroted.

The quick zoom in Coppola does while this man is singing. No one talks about it and it has stuck with me from my first viewing.

"Sit down. Finish my dinner."

Michael putting his hands over his head right before he goes to kill Sollozzo, 

The horror of watching this scene play out 

This scene and its mastery of inevitable doom. It's been referenced dozens of times but never quite duplicated. As soon as the toll booth attendant drops that quarter, you know Sonny's fate is sealed.

It's a film that holds me in its grip each time I watch it, finally choosing to close the door on me, an outsider of its world.