Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What I've been watching

"I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work. But in this book of screenplays by Krzysztof Kieslowski and his co-author, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it should not be out of place to observe that they have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what's really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don't realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart."
Stanley Kubrick
January 1991

There's always been a tug and pull of sorts with my love of film. On one spectrum there's Toolbox Murders & Point Break. On the other end there's the filmmaker we're talking about now. Frank Zappa once said: "A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it isn't open." This is a view I have adopted into both film and music for quite some time. The only problem I have is the growing state of gray haired film criticism. On one corner you have someone declaring that Apatow is the king of the modern comedy. The next corner you have another person listing off 20 obscure foreign films and blasting American cinema. Even though it didn't have much to offer last year. Now there's a delicious dilemma for ya. I'm not trying to be prude, but I have more respect for the person who owns a copy of Cannibal Ferox and Nashville than a person who solely collects horror or the person who solely collects 'cinematic art'. Snacks and vegetables can both be on the menu.

Which brings us to today's article.

Flashback to 2003 when I was browsing the net and I came across an article written by one Roger Ebert. An article in which he name dropped Kubrick. But what was so interesting was not what was said about Kubrick so much as what Kubrick had said about another filmmaker. The film was The Decalogue and the Kubrick quotation was that it was the only masterpiece he could name in his lifetime.

There's a certain fascination on what films left an indelible impression on filmmakers' minds. For Lynch it was seeing Sunset Boulevard. For PT Anderson it was Network. You get a sense of the throughline that connects the themes and characters in those directors' respective works. Or at the very least, using bits and pieces as inspiration.

Getting hit with Kieslowski was alot like discovering Hitchcock as a kid. Like Hitch, it wasn't the plots that drew me in. It was the visual aspect. The vivid colors. The haunting scores in Decalogue, Three Colors & Double Life of Veronique. Enhancing the mood and atmosphere that exist within the framework of each story. Ambiguity can sometimes be used to a haphazard extent. Kieslowski uses it to create emotional jigsaw puzzles. Reveling in the unexplained but never to the point of becoming overwrought.

I'd write more on the films individually, but let's be honest. No amount of words can make up for the beauty within these works of art. For the uninitiated, start with Three Colors. Criterion has recently put out a fantastic blu ray/DVD set containing all three films.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Last Piece of the Puzzle

"Looking up at those stars in the sky. Those white clouds have turned to black"
-Norah Jones, "Black"

Don't those lyrics ring true. If the sky wasn't black enough this season, we'd think a friggin' solar eclipse occurred.

From that moment the camera zooms in onto a Lily of the Valley back to the moment Gus Fring makes his fateful walk to that nursing home, something happens in Breaking Bad that turns it into one of the true heavyweights of the art form. A 'flash-bang-wow' that changes our expression faster than Gus's when he finds out it is him finally on the 'hot seat'. Subconsciously, we kinda knew the moment would come sooner or later. The astounding attribute given to Season 4 is an emphatic bow given to the traditional villian. & willingly, the final puzzle pieces will come into play for the final season. As Walt White tells Jesse in End Times, it is him who is the last piece of the puzzle. This meaning alot more than being a cog in the wheel of Gus's plan.

Breaking Bad has already entrenched its feet firmly into non traditional storyelling. Don't try to stay ahead of it, cause you'll only lose your footing. The push and pull of family commitment vs. work has been a staple of storytelling. In terms of the long form, its most contemporary partner is The Sopranos. A show that paints a portrait of the modern family and its own head of the family circling down an existential drain. Breaking Bad, while not as ambitious as shows like Sopranos & The Wire takes a cue from the family vs. work type of story. Only to take that device and make it more complex.

The crystal meth drug trade in the universe of the show extends well beyond New Mexico. Yet its intimate and limited scope of characters complement the very subject it is dealing with. Another atrribute to be pointed out is that this is a show that, for the most part, is done in real time. A characteristic that only emphasizes the points driven home to us from the very beginning. When the camera zooms out of a gun barrel aimed directly at us. Not too different from another gun going off held by one Jesse Pinkman at the end of Season Three.

There are many disquieting sounds and static shots surrounding the show. A pair of pants flying through the air kicks things off. A pink bear with an eye missing. A pizza on a garage roof. A ringing bell that disrupts Walt & Jesse's plan to poison Tuco. By these shots alone, one would deduct that the world of these characters has spun out of control. The world of Walt & Jesse is woven together by false accusations, hollow truths and hard goodbyes. Everything lingers on a plan. Like pieces on a chessboard.

Drug trade aside, the triumph of the show lay in its character arcs of Walt & Jesse. Throughout the second season, Walt was cornered by Skylar into bearing the truth or continue spinning his web of lies. Now that the cat's out of the bag, the pressures Walt once faced from keeping his secret became pointed in the direction of one Gustavo Fring. A man driven by an unquenchable thirst for success. His detriment being the refusal to accept anything less than a 96% purity level and an even higher level of control amongst his employees.

On another plane, there is Jesse. His arc going from careless methhead to the one we are rooting for. This can best be explained by these important episodes that I predict will be cornerstones in the blueprint for Season Five's storyline.

Phoenix/ABQ: These last two episodes of Season Two are crucial to the series. Walt spilling the beans to Jesse about Jane's death is a nuclear device kept in reserve. Suffice it to say, Walt should be expecting alot more than a flask thrown at him if the truth about Jane does get out.

Fly: To make the transmission even more 'fuzzy', it is the episode Fly that pronounces an undercurrent of regret/sadness that Walt harbors. Effectively tapped to the point of tipping the scale. Or in this case, the ladder Jesse's standing on. It's not what was said in that episode but what wasn't said.

All this came to a clusterfuck that paradoxically resolved one issue and began another. Face Off is the episode that crystallized what Walt said earlier on: He is the danger.

& on top of this whole mess, Walt's intentions to get into the game the first place have got lost in the chaos of trying to maintain his own sanity. Walt has cast himself into his own private hell. With a road paved with Lillies of the Valley.

Other curious sidenotes: That same bell that once foiled Walt & Jesse's plan to poison Tuco has now finally worked in favor of Walt's plan. Turning Gus' face into one not too dissimilar from a half burnt prop on Gale's shelf. Or for that matter, a half burnt teddy bear floatin' in Walt's very own pool. All the more fitting that a 'floating object' in a pool would fit into the scene of Gus' own personal vendetta against Don Salamanca. Take take a cue from another blogger, there are events and people that are all becoming cyclical. Ourobouros is you will.

To this day, I'll never understand why people long for movies about TV shows like this. Season Four as a whole reminds me, as it should several others, of what the format of long form storytelling should be. Ironic isn't it, that some of the best writing and character presentation is coming from the small screen as opposed to the big screen.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Strange...what Love does

11/11/11. Somebody out there was thinking a bomb would fall from the sky. In 1964 that fear of a bomb falling was not too far out there.

Satire, that is, sufficiently accomplished satire, can be the stuff of comic legend. A large part is of course the subject you are skewering over an open fire. Well, in '64 the fire was a kindlin'. & it's heat could be felt all the way from Russia. The Cuban Missile Crisis had just been averted. Nuclear deterrance became a hot topic.

There's something about the time period that always draws sheer fascination from me. The whole absurdity of the duck and cover routine was ripe enough for satire. But moreso is the fear born out of a generation who had just coped with the repressed air of safety during the 50's. An era where the nuclear family didn't have to be a double entendre and M.A.D. was associated with Alfred E. Newman instead of Mutually Assured Destruction. It took a a director to not only muster up enough courage to tackle the situation head on, but with sheer wit and ingenuity.

Strangelove is located somewhere between mad satire and cautionary fable. In a genre filled with many films tripping over their feet and falling backwards, this one has the tact to look into our faces and shout blast off. The concept of being a button away from worldwide nuclear disaster is nightmarish enough. Everything is crystallized when Strangelove gets up and shouts "I can walk!" Only for it to be all for nothing and gone in a flash. I don't think we'll ever get back to satire this daring. This devastatingly clever.

Kubrick would ride that little nuclear warhead all the way down to its target. Where we would meet him again one sunny day in 1968.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A trip to the boondocks

I chose to sharpen the knives for a film that has repeatedly, in the past week, been brought up to me as 'a good movie'. The standard response to a Boondock fan is that it is redundant of Pulp Fiction. Which, at its core is a mineral that is still being mined to this day with the likes of Smokin' Aces.

It took a director to plunge the adrenaline shot into cinema for a new look on the crime genre. Needless to say, it was fuckin' trippy what transpired afterward. In its wake, hundreds of screenwriters tried to mimic its formula. Dressing characters up in a suit with shades. Or having two Irish hitmen spout religous diatribe while their rivals meet the business end of a pistol.

The heart of Pulp Fiction lay in not what we've seen in movies a hundred times before but what we haven't seen. The stuff that would get left on a cutting room floor. The kind of scenes that would have two hitmen go on a dialogue about toes before they enter. It's also the kind of scenes where the comfortable silences are suddenly punctured by a shot to the face. The violence is fast and quick. The wit twice as fast. There's no Dafoe running around in drag re-enacting a 'firefight'.
The plot of two religous hitmen declaring their own brand of vengeance turns out to be, as one reviewer so eloquently noted, a serial killer movie. Not a vigilante movie.

A fan of Boondock Saints should be familiar with its director Troy Duffy. In that sense they should also be familiar with Overnight. Here is the story of a man who became bartender to movie director. Though his oversized ego would destroy his career. Someone handed a huge opportunity and flushes it down the toilet.

The problem with the film as it stands? Saints feels like it was written by a bartender who has seen his share of movies. As opposed to a former video store clerk who already wrote two scripts called True Romance and Reservoir Dogs. & if I ever needed proof to that, the man would 'come back' with an an even worse offender: Boondock Saints: All Saints Day. To quote Duffy "As for my film career, get used to it. Cause it ain't going anywhere. Period."

Overall Grade: D