Friday, March 29, 2013

Mixtape: Spring Breakers




We wish you were here, really we do. It's so magical, so special, everyone here is just so warm.  We're making so many friends, we wish you could see them, could meet them all. The people are nice here, and we're gonna be good, grandma.  This time, we're gonna get serious.  This time, it's gonna be different.  A 21 song mix inspired by Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers.

Sprang Breeaak. Sprang Breeeaaaak. Sprang Break 4eva.

Yes, IRL friends, I fully expect you to judge me and my secret stash of dubstep, etc. But, I mean, really, you knew it was there...right?

Listen here and check out the rest of the L&S playlists on 8tracks. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Love: Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine has been around, sure.  It's old lore, at this point, that he wrote the script to the particularly eye-opening Kids when he was still a teenager. Since, he's been a presence in the land of the difficult indie.  I've long admired Korine's relative freakiness in the film community, his commitment to keeping things within the realm of the weird, the unpleasant, the artsy side of the distasteful. Until this point, though, I've never really loved Harmony Korine.  His films are ordeals, things you go through, rites of passage, and perhaps Spring Breakers is just that as well.  The difference, though, is that this time the film stock is electrifying and alive, burned up in glowing fluorescent colors and awash in a drug-addled haze of bitter, brutal, rainbow-glitter sex and violence.  This is the sickest part of Tumblr come alive, the apex of drug-culture hipsterdom metamorphosed into a grimy, brutal, merciless vision of a hellbent American Dream.
I love a thick coat of stylistically applied grime on any film with criminal intentions, and Spring Breakers offers up a level of color saturated loathsomeness that gives Tony Scott's spastic Domino a run for its methed-up money.  Korine has gifted us a piece of grade-A trash auteurism that commits to its highly stylized, fuck-up-your-evening without compromise.  Spring Breakers is pure id.  The plot is thin, and the film devotes itself to music video style cross-cuts and extended montage more often than not, but the characters stand out from their surroundings regardless. They force us to look at them, to see them and dare ourselves to hate them, to find them reprehensible as they live out every dark impulse we've ever spoken in moments of hyperbole. The film's only moral compass is the aptly named Faith (Selena Gomez), a church-going, baby-faced girl who defends her childhood friends from claims that they may be touched by the devil.  Regardless of her Christian leanings, Faith doesn't seem terribly fazed when she learns that Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) held up a chicken stand with squirt guns to pull in the extra hundreds necessary to get them to Florida for spring break.  Gomez, Hudgens, and Benson (to an extent, as she's on ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars) are all ex or current Disney girls, and middle finger lifts aside, you've gotta give them credit for the serious balls it must have taken to step up and go for the depravity depicted in this film.  All three of them just opened up an indie cinema door straight out of typecasting and into the cult hive mind. If they're lucky, a few years down the line they could work that into the clout of Chloe Sevigny. 

Disney tangent aside, in Florida, we learn about the girls in cyclical scenes. Korine uses repeated voice-over narration: phone calls to grandma from the girls talking about how special this place is, how much fun they're having, and how many friends they're making that loop over crowded, frenzied party sequences so crammed with drugs, booze, naked bodies, and carnality that Caligula would look on enviously.  They want to stay forever, to leave school and live in this other world. It's a filth odyssey, but enviably shot and matched to the Skrillex score (see? he's good for something...) to absolute perfection.  Before long, lesser sins begin to pool and the girls fall in with a grill-mouthed underground rapper and crime impresario who calls himself Alien (James Franco) because, of course, he's not of this world.  As Alien, Franco kills it. He single-handedly resuscitates his career so that his Oscar fumblings and god-awful short stories seem nothing but distant memories. While the girls work as raunch-goddess nymphets, Franco allows the film to step back from their postured porn shtick and regain its dark, disturbing sense of humor.  He's as magnetically vile as they are, but likable in a way that frames their future actions, that allows for a heightening of the already absurd context that reminds you, from time to time, that yes, this is a form of satire.
If Godard was right, and all a film needs is a girl and a gun, then it follows that when you have a trio of sun-tanned co-eds in neon tiger-print bathing suits wielding black market automatics... you may have stumbled upon exactly what we all secretly want from our entertainment.  Spring Breakers is seedy, loathsome, and without remorse. It gets worse and never better, and it has no interest in moralizing its actions on screen.  While it seems tough to say that Harmony Korine is some sort of covert moralist, the film functions in a way that is very much like a low-down, trashed-up, South Beach Bret Easton Ellis novel.  This is pure style, yes, a delirium the likes of which I haven't seen executed to quite this effect before. While Korine commits in full to his unlikable, dangerously unhinged characters, it could be argued that he forces you to evaluate what they're emulating. You have to look at the behavior, to actively participate in the most vile of conversations and activities while understanding, implicitly, that these characters are something other, that they are our own creations built off of video games, pop music, sun-baked photo spreads, and the consumption of mindless distraction after mindless distraction until we reach critical mass.  Interesting too that in a packed theater of real-life spring breakers, the bulk of the crowd seemed to be having none of it.



Sunday, March 10, 2013

Like: Oz the Great and Powerful

Though I have a friend who may stomp on me for admitting this, I have to own up to never being much of a Wizard of Oz kid.  When I was small, I certainly watched the 1939 classic on several occasions, but L. Frank Baum's elaborate world was a fantasy that paled in comparison, for me, to the Victorian weirdness of Wonderland, or, for that matter, Neverland.  All of this is my lead in to saying, essentially, that there wasn't much chance of Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful insulting any delicate sensibilities of my own.  Where I loathed Tim Burton's over-decorated, Narnia-style mess Alice in Wonderland, I found myself surprisingly willing to suspend my disbelief and take in the scenery of the all too similar Oz.  As walks down the yellow brick road go, it's certainly not terrible.  And, though the film is certainly lacking a bit of logic, a bit of magic, and all interest in 'realism', I have to say: I have no problem accepting it as a contribution to that loosely oriented series.  
Baum published eighteen volumes of Oz tales, and since then innumerable authors have penned stories collected from the far reaches of this so-called marvelous land.  Though the characters continue and the terrain is repeatedly tread, I've always considered the Oz mythos to be one quite open to interpretation and experimentation.  It seems only natural that Disney should arrive on the scene; and for now they've wisely chosen to leave Dorothy alone.  This Oz follows the titular wizard decades prior to the events of the 1939 film.  Opening with a standard 4:3 ratio in referential black and white, we meet Oscar (James Franco), a sideshow magician in a traveling circus. Oscar is   quite the ladies' man - or tries to be - and as he tries to escape a cross section of messy situations, he takes off in a hot air balloon only to get sucked straight into a tornado.  As we know, this is a form of transport that can lead over the rainbow, and, of course, minutes later Oscar is fully immersed in a full-on, CG fantasy land straight off a Lisa Frank folder.   
Oscar meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a pretty, gullible witch who informs him of a well-known prophecy that states a wizard will arrive to vanquish the wicked witch and take the throne.  Since Oscar is a con man and a liar, he goes along with the charade in hopes of acquiring untold riches.  Soon enough, we've got flying monkey accomplices, talking china dolls, and a whole gaggle of witches who may or may not be conning the con man.  As a family adventure, the pieces add up well enough. The whole world is a spun sugar fantasy, a sun-soaked painting seen through a prism, speckled with glittering light, and rich with a wealth of immaculately rendered bubbles and rolling fog.  It's a charming adventure, and one with just enough narrative ingenuity to keep things moving steadily along. Young viewers, I'd imagine, will fall for this head over heels, especially if viewed in its rather dazzling 3D treatment (quite sure this is the only way to watch a film this fake).

That said, though I liked it well enough as a pretty bauble, as a raw fantasy, there are certainly a few issues.  Specifically? The characters are phenomenally shallow. Perhaps this is a silly thing to comment on given that, well, The Wizard of Oz itself didn't have too much in the way of super-stellar characterization.  Our troupe in that first go was made up of a girl who just wanted to go home, and three other characters summed up largely through single adjectives.  Now, though, we've reached a point where we expect a touch more psychological depth from the characters who populate our fantasies, and there's something a bit too cheekily vapid about these witches and wizards.
 Though Sam Raimi seems to play, at times, with the old school cheesiness of some of the happy-go-lucky elements of Oz, there's something about Franco's smile that never quite suits our collective idea of the wizard. As for the witches? They're a bigger problem. Though Rachel Weisz makes a decent go at the stereotypical baddie, Mila Kunis's Theodora is given an arc the stinks of something I'd have to call misogynistic. Baum, of course, was something of a feminist.  His protagonists, as we know, were almost always female.  With that in mind, the second string placement of all three witches (Michelle Williams's Glinda included) is already an oversight, and Theodora's crushed out fragility is downright frustrating.  Though the film loses a point or two from this writer on those grounds, I can't say I didn't generally enjoy it.  On the whole it was a lavish production, a welcome distraction from the grey days of a Chicago winter, and generally, a pretty decent Raimi flick. So, stuff your face with popcorn, keep 1939 out of your mind, and just take it in. At the very least? The opening credits are worth the price of 3D admission alone.



Love: Stoker

Stoker is a film primarily concerned with aesthetics. Specifically, the aesthetics of the unnerving and, perhaps, the awe of the sublime. Its focus, before narrative, before any shred of believable characterization, seems firmly rooted in the painting of an intensely Gothic picture. Not mall goth. Not dyed black hair and a ripped up Siouxsie t-shirt. Victorian Gothic, the sort that bleeds its penny dreadful characters towards a descent into madness, which allows the rich to decay on their estates, the villain to brood vampiric, and the persecuted, misunderstood heroine to waste her hours on the moors, grappling with her thoughts.  Stoker immerses itself in this world and commits to its atmospheric artifice in a way that blocks out the sun and lets the film exist according to its own deeply melodramatic principles. It's beautiful, vile, and suspended in a slow-burning Technicolor milieu somewhere between Hitchcock and Douglas Sirk.
As Stoker opens, we're introduced to young India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), and faced with the off-screen death of her father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney).  Already quiet and withdrawn, India seems to visibly retreat further upon the realization she will be trapped in the family's labyrinthine home with her psychologically weak mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman).  India and her father were bonded, and it becomes immediately clear that her rather eccentric gifts were supported and fostered in no part by Evelyn, who she seems to churlishly resent the mere presence of.  Before either of the Stoker women are given a moment to grieve, their lives are further disrupted by the arrival Richard's mysterious brother Charlie (Matthew Goode), a charming, blood stranger who seems to take an immediate interest in India's well-being.
As is appropriate in these sorts of tales, Evelyn invites Charlie to move in and, immediately, the triangulation of this new family unit creates a palpable tension. Yeah, it's sort of that kind of tension. There's a push pull of fascination and revulsion, of the appropriate versus the undeniable, and Charlie draws the women in like a particularly seductive, smartly dressed spider.  Of course, the key to all of what follows can be found in the curious nature of the film's dark heroine.  India is no victimized nymphet, and Stoker isn't particularly interested in granting her less agency to make you more comfortable.  Instead, we peak into the family's jewel box of a home to find a gothic tableaux complete with a quick-witted, dead eyed young lady who has cultivated interests just outside of the social norm.  India is a pianist and huntress, a girl whose taxidermy kills dot her deceased father's study. When we meet her she's popping blisters from her beloved saddle shoes and when in mourning she buttons shirts to her neck and glares over a copy of The Encyclopedia of Funerals.  As we slowly learn more about Charlie, as we uncover his dangerous past and potentially sociopathic present, we are dragged into India's chilling perspective.
Stoker is, of course, something of a suspense tale (many have already suggested it shares DNA with Shadow of a Doubt) and psychological thriller beneath its moody atmospherics, and as we become further aligned with India's teetering grief and heavy-handed sexual awakening, the possibilities of the film open beneath already quaking feet.  There are periods where we may hope that all the simmering is being manufactured by our imaginative heroine, that she has taken a cue from a million and one nineteenth century novels or soap operas to set up the playing field just so.  There's a dreamlike quality to the visuals, a painterly, oil saturated tactility that divorces each perfectly arranged space from anything close to reality.  Something very sinister is happening on the Stoker estate, and as her uncle moves in and the people close to them begin disappearing, a protagonist already comfortable among dead things makes for an unsettling twist on several familiar refrains.
We must note, of course, that Stoker is the first English-language film of a director who certainly isn't a stranger to doom and gloom freakiness.  Park Chan-Wook, who previously directed Oldboy and the brilliant vampire film Thirst, brings Asian cinematic sensibilities and pacing to an otherwise curiously Anglicized creepshow. The visuals alone are extraordinary, from the colors of the walls to the perfectly lit, sharp contours of the pallid figures that pass through the lurid landscape.  I'd watch this film a dozen times to soak in the deftly manipulated, tonal qualities of the cinematography alone, but the perfectly frank, just-so quality of the story makes the film all the better.  The script, written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, isn't anything terribly new, but is exactly what the visuals call for. There's a darkly comedic, almost surreal timbre to Stoker's dialogue.  We listen and we know that people don't speak like this, but it seems only appropriate that here they do.  Early on I was reminded, oddly, of the voice overs in a Hayao Miyazaki film, and somehow, that seems apt.  Stoker has the quality of a very dark fairy tale, a simplicity and "other"-ness that makes its twisted meanderings all the more effective.  I'm ready to watch it again.

Wilde.Dash's 15 (um, 16?) Best of 2012



This entry is overdue. Not by a little bit, but by almost three months. We're so far into 2013 already that I very nearly skipped this completely. I mean, really, what's the point? Everyone's completely exhausted by the ranking and awarding of last year's films, and I certainly have better things to do. That said, this thing just keeps gnawing at me.  So, I'm putting together the list if for no other purpose than for my own records. As mentioned, I found 2012 to be a year of solid films, but often fairly uninspiring ones from my vantage. Strange, perhaps, since there were so many films that read as real artistic risks on paper (Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas, Anna Karenina, for example) that somehow wound up seeming rather mundane in actualization.  The movies that made my list, it seems, are the ones that broke beyond the balanced 'good' and gestured towards greatness in ways, I think, different from the Academy's narrative standard. 


A film I'll admit I didn't particularly "like" in the conventional sense of the word, but which I've puzzled over and grown to respect quite a bit.  Holy Motors resists your gaze. It is not interested in engaging you. It does not care to piece together a plot for your convenience.  It does not want to make the reasoning behind its form at all transparent. Of course, given compelling elements, this kind of film can be tremendous fun to unpack, particularly when it teases at its own possibilities.

14. OSLO, AUGUST 31ST
When I describe Oslo, August 31st as a film about a recovering junkie (Anders Danielsen Lie) who takes a day trip into the city from his rehab program to take a job interview, I suspect you get the wrong idea. This isn't one of those 'guy struggling with addiction' movies we've seen time and again.  The expected form has been emptied of that content and rewritten, recast as a wandering, deeply human drama about what happens when a person wakes up from a chemical daze and discovers, strangely, that the world has continued, that people have moved on. 

13. COMPLIANCE
A startling example of barely moving indie drama, Compliance is a film that will make you want to crawl out of your skin, beat its gullible characters to a pulp, and yell at people for hours on end.  What it asks us to watch, what we are coerced into participating in seems impossible even as we know, somehow, that the car crash before us is based in fact. When fast food manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) receives a phone call from a police officer claiming one of her employees (Dreama Walker) is guilty of an earlier theft, she and her co-workers take the girl into the backroom for holding and listen to the voice on the other end, willing to do anything to remain in compliance. The results are shocking and upsetting, confusing and cruel. This is a true story, and one you'll have trouble looking away from even though you may desperately, desperately want to. 

A film that seems oddly like a trifle in memory while at once reading like an instant classic.  While it’s true that Brave fits comfortably into the fairy tale world of the Disney brand, and many will cite an adherence to ‘convention’ as a reason why it doesn’t quite meet their expectations for Pixar’s emotional rollercoasters, I’d urge you to give it a close look and admire all the small details that are contributing to the very sense of something effortless that many are scoffing at.  Where past Pixar outings have offered us glimpses into imaginative spaces that challenge elements of the world as we see it (inside the toy box, inside the aquarium, behind the child’s closet), Brave will undoubtedly be discounted for its grounded, human elements. 

 11. PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
A film that has been building in my esteem since the viewing, Perks is a perfectly wrought, very real account of the highs and lows of high school; of a time when the wounds cut deep. Perks is committed to the lonely realities of adolescence, and the film presents itself in earnest.  This is the new new sincerity, a place where indie-movie sentiments never read as ironic but become heartbreakingly honest.  Stephen Chbosky took the directing reins on his own material, and he's cast his story well.  It reads like an indie from a decade ago, something that works in its favor as a strange dose of nostalgia for the book's first generation readers.   

I found it pretty tough to throw one of these films on here without the other. There's a phenomenal amount of work involved in both of these under-appreciated animated gems, and each has been gently twisted towards darkness in a way that doesn't play down or underestimate what its young viewers are capable of processing.  Frankenweenie and ParaNorman are sweet little horrors that dilute the strange joy of their parent genres to capture the nostalgia of different periods (Universal Monsters and Toho Studios for Frankenweenie, 70's and 80's zombies and slashers for ParaNorman), mixing in sparkling bits of humor with surprising amounts of substance.  They're the perfect Halloween double feature.

At the halfway mark of the year, you may have expected to see Prometheus all the way at the top of the heap.  Time and repeated criticisms, though, have managed to wear away some of the raw glee I experienced while watching Ridley Scott's so-called "prequel." It's true, yes, that it's a tremendously flawed film packed with logical leaps which, when considered, wear away at the fabric of the film. That said, Ridley Scott's sci-fi pictures have a history of arriving on the scene with a thud, only to be reappraised and appreciated far later as a step towards something. For my money, Prometheus gets the space exploration blockbuster right, and beautifully so.  It's a film very much like its resident android, David (Michael Fassbender).  It's invitingly cold and seems to take a certain jolt of pleasure from curiously tampering with the lives of the mortals in its care. That means, too, that while it's an aesthetic improvement or technological advancement on an old idea, it's still a familiar trope at heart.  For those seeking a 'more' substantial amount of pure originality from a panic room bit of sci-fi: I wish you luck. 

8. ZERO DARK THIRTY
Though not a film I enjoyed watching as much as Prometheus, Zero Dark Thirty is one of this past year's solid, Oscar-buzzed movies that managed to impress me with its quieter merits. You will note that Katheryn Bigelow's controversial, too serious film made it where Argo did not, and while one may be more entertaining than the other (a feat in itself), it seems to me that Zero Dark pulls off the more intriguing coup (at least from an academic standpoint). Zero Dark is patient and cold, a procedural that asks you to commit to a character  realistically bound by government bureaucracy    and which resists, time and again, the trappings of a thriller. Evenly tempered, brilliantly paced, and tough as nails.

7. SKYFALL
Yes, there's a place on this list for a really solid, really superior action film, and yes, I believe that film is Skyfall and not Argo.  It's a perfect entry in the long history of 007, the proof that sequels can and will keep kicking, and a movie that seems to have single-handedly resurrected a groundswell of interest in the franchise's past. Sam Mendes has found the raw beauty in the Bond mythos and Skyfall has a love letter of a set-up, an elegant construction built up around a deep, abiding homage payment to traditional formula. Where Skyfall begins with a verbal denunciation of "the old ways" it winds up cleverly employing them for a new generation.  Where the last two films have worked at digging into the psychology of the Bond character, Skyfall succeeds in finding a way to marry a more dimensional version of the character to the potentially cheesy formula elements that make up "a James Bond picture." 

6. KILLER JOE
A deliciously depraved journey into a full set of very dark hearts and very small minds. Killer Joe is as pitch black as comedy gets, and crosses far beyond the limits of good taste at nearly every turn.  Its bottom feeding exploitative plot elements become frighteningly compelling art that challenges its viewers to keep watching with a knowing smirk. This is an art film, and the phenomenal cast feeds us the film's poison without breaking a sweat.

5. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
A pure, resonant comedy everyone seemed to love until it was time to actually put numbers on the so-called 'best' of the year.  Silver Linings plays things light, and at the end of the day it's easy to pass it off as nothing more than a smartly crafted romantic comedy.  But...if the material is sharp, the energy kinetic, the performances real, and the feeling you get from it makes you want to return...what's so bad about that? 

Amour possesses a placid assurance, a strange calm which -when broken- resonates with a power unlike just about any damn thing out there.  There's not a hint of melodrama here, no sentimentality, nothing to latch on to for support or which will allow you to remind yourself it's "only a movie."  The score is absent, silent, and music is used only to evoke memory.  Haneke shows us something that feels unbearably real, that sits with us and lingers as the one true universal. This is an inside glimpse at what it's like to be heartbroken over and over and over again, to feel helpless as death comes rushing on. You will grow to care for these people. You will understand these characters in ways you did not think possible. You will appreciate the film even as you desperately want it to reach its inevitable end.

As a director, Wes Anderson has always seemed to hold the bittersweet simplicity of children's literature close as a source of inspiration, and it occurs to me now that he seems to be equally intimate in his understanding of their literary construction, of what it is that appeals to us as children and what brings us back to a world time and again.  He knows how to position a camera, how to cast a spell on even the cheapest luxury that removes it from any definite temporal placement and makes it desirable and just a little sad. Anderson's films manage an alchemy.  They close the distance between childhood and adulthood and treat everyone within their world, regardless of actual age, as the same confused equal on a daring, everyday adventure. Moonrise Kingdom is perhaps Anderson's most purely realized original 'storybook', a world so comfortably lived in that it seems like magic. 

Django Unchained is operating according to a set of guidelines that only Tarantino can make work. It's a big, overblown, labyrinth of a film that seems to constantly turn inward on itself or grow a new appendage where the dust of a previous denouement has only just settled.  It chooses the elements of past genres and pre-existing films and artfully, lovingly arranges them to create something that never feels anything but brand new.  It has a soundtrack that splices hip hop into the soundscape of the spaghetti western and we don't dare roll our eyes because, well, there's nothing here that falters or gives us pause to second guess what we've seen.  It's a damn shame Django couldn't snatch Best Picture away from the expected. 

Moonrise Kingdom and Django Unchained were all in a row, and deciding which to push where was, well, tough. Ultimately, though, it seemed unreasonable to run with anything other than The Master, a film I haven't been able to shake from my memory since seeing it last September.  Beautifully photographed and breathtakingly acted, The Master is an intricate puzzle, a thing that warrants patience, discussion, and revisiting.  Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted what I believe is the most literary of this past year's films. It's a work that immerses itself in the raw language of cinema, which builds scenes at times just to captivate us with their poetry, and which devotes itself to the crafting of characters so unlike those we have seen before that we are unnerved.  The Master invites interpretation, immerses us in a world, and challenges its viewers in the most wonderful of ways.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Let's Talk About Holy Motors, Guys

Holy Motors is one of those "thing" films. You know, the kind where it defies any sort of categorization and instead becomes a sort of inanimate bauble, an art object that you look at and go...what is it?  Holy Motors resists your gaze. It is not interested in engaging you. It does not care to piece together a plot for your convenience.  It does not want to make the reasoning behind its form at all transparent. Of course, given compelling elements, this kind of film can be tremendous fun to unpack, particularly when it teases at its own possibilities.  Holy Motors is intriguing, but my trouble, I found, was that I didn't find it particularly engaging. French director Leos Carax has filmed a frustrating, disjointed joyride many have claimed is meant to serve, ostensibly, as a death rattle for the great, big, art of the cinema. It breaks away from our understanding of cinematic grammar, drifts into muddled absurdity, and hopes, perhaps in vain, that we are hypnotized.  I can't tell you that I liked it, but I certainly respect it.
In the easy to forget opening scene, we see the director himself awaken and wander, presumably in a dream state, through a secret passage in his apartment that leads into a movie theater where an audience sleeps silently through a silent film (The Crowd).   It's a beautiful moment, but perhaps an easily misleading one. From there, we move completely away from the physical presence of Carax and into the raw narrative content.  We meet an actor, Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), who steps into a limo to embark on any number of "appointments" over the course of the day.  The appointments are, essentially, character gigs, though they are atypically performed. Oscar generally does not engage with a visible crew, he does not address people outside of character, and there is no way to mark the passing of time over the course of this supposed day. Between each new tableaux he prepares himself, puts on his make-up, becomes a new person, and issues laments for the lost days when cameras were visible (and presumably when film was a more risk taking, grandiose medium and not tabloid fodder). We watch him act, over and over again, through scenarios mundane and jarringly surreal. There's a palpable interest in acknowledging things past, yes, as well as an apparent desire to say something about the art of acting and becoming, and what that grows to mean as we enter a period where human presence is replaced by mo-capped renderings or diluted to merely the voice over on a talking car. Because Holy Motors so immediately seems to pick up the idea of cinema as its unifying theme, nearly every review I've glimpsed at has declared Carax's monolith as definitively about film getting smaller, moving away from craft and art and onto a digital, uniform plane, and while there are shreds of evidence to hint at that, I have to say I actively resist that reading as far too dependent on outside information and context to keep the loosely connected threads of Holy Motors together.
I would instead posit that this is a film not about the evolution of entire medium, but about the slow decline of a career. Holy Motors is interested, it seems to me, in what is intangible and ethereal in the process of making art. It's concentrated on the production of dreams and on the frustration of attempting to realize them; the act of watching as they become mangled, grotesque, and nonsensical though they appear so beautifully in the creator's dreams. The production of art remains imbued with spiritual properties, a hold over from the Romantic period that we can't seem to shake no matter how much postmodernism told us to give it up, and I'd argue that the title references not merely the loss of those heavy cameras and projection wheels, but really reveals the interest Carax has in exploring that strange spirituality and positioning the director as a god of that world. The opening sequence, in my reading, draws us directly into Carax's headspace.  This is Carax's 8 1/2, a film where he stands overlooking a movie theater filled with people who just don't give a damn anymore and realizes that there is no space for what he does, that he cannot make it, that his efforts are squashed and squandered, that the audience is not present.
The film then reads to me as a sequence of other films. These are ideas and possibilities picked up and dropped, the things that could have been, mixed with the annoyance of the things that are instead and plagued, constantly, by the agony of influence (hence the varied allusions).  The director disappears, as the director does, as a god does, and all that's left is an actor set to wander a wasteland of supposed films that, as noted by the dialogue, he will never see the cameras for or the audiences of. You know, cause he's strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage, or something. So, film becomes life becomes creation becomes blind faith, and the director watches as his ideas back up against each other, struggle against mortality, and retreat into the obscurity allotted them by the film's constant movement. Could you read it as a thesis on consumption? Maybe. Can you still force it to fit into the treatise on a lost age mold? Maybe. But, it seems to me to be largely the product of personal vision and frustration, something that understands its end result for mainstream audiences will be exactly that opening scene (though what to make of the girl and the dog, I'm not sure), but which fights against obscurity anyway.    

Under 250: Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths was a film I'd hoped for the best from, but watched prepared to find the worst. There was a chance that its self-awareness could wind up heavy-handedly tipping it off the metafictional deep end into cheeky redundancy. While it may be a touch derivative, the truth of the matter is that Seven Psychopaths handles its shit like a boss: it's a glib, raucously violent, delightfully enjoyable comedy that shakes up its twisted self-criticism with a surprising amount of pathos in ways you just don't see coming.  Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (of In Bruges), the film follows its creator's proxy, Marty (Colin Farrell), a screenwriter struggling with an action script who is aided, for better or worse, by his manic actor friend Billy (Sam Rockwell).  Billy is the kind of guy who supplements his income by stealing dogs and then returning them to their wealthy owners once reward money is offered. When Billy and his partner Hans (Christopher Walken) pick up a psychotic crime boss's (Woody Harrelson) prized pup, things go south and Marty finds himself at a cross section of the real life psychotics he's desperately attempting to put on paper.  If it sounds simple, it isn't. If it sounds complicated, it's so much more than that.  As the film marches on, it makes any number of oddball turns, oscillating wildly between graphic, physical violence and deep pockets of trippy cerebral impulses. While sloppy at times, the characters are drawn well enough to keep even the timidest of viewers engaged, and you'll love Hans for, at the very least, calling out the film on one of its biggest flaws...

Under 250: The Paperboy

The character one-sheets for The Paperboy announce the film as, primarily, "sweaty" and "pulpy," and those two adjectives are right on the money.  The story is Southern Gothic by way of a dime store noir that's been left next to the toilet for prolonged bathroom reading. Lee Daniels, who last directed the gritty Precious, tries his hand at drawling, deep fried filth, and the results, honestly, are mixed.  Zac Efron heads up the ensemble cast as Jack Jansen, the film's straight-man.  Jack is a run-of-the-mill slacker. It's the 1960's, and the most exciting thing Jack can think of to do in his Florida town on most days is, well, to laze about and jerk off. All that changes when his big brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey), a reporter,  returns home to investigate a murder with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo).  Jack gets swept up in their mission, particularly once he realizes they're being assisted by the tawdry, hypersexual Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a woman madly in love with the death row inmate (John Cusack) the team hopes to learn more about.  If you add to those various players a setting with a humidity index off the charts, cold blooded killin', conditions ripe for jellyfish stings and gator infestations, and a constant interest in having Kidman reenact the orgasmic screams of Satine's bourdoir flirtations, you get a good sense of the general timbre. That said, for all the pulp, The Paperboy's biggest problem is that it's just not that interesting.  It aims for baseness, trash, and camp, but it can't escape the hopes of somehow turning around the makings of a good-bad movie into a prestige picture.  Basically, it fails where Killer Joe succeeds: it takes itself too seriously, steps back when it shouldn't, and never gets its hands dirty enough to make something new. There's a glimmer, occasionally, of the film it could have been, but mostly The Paperboy is just too boring to...deliver.

  
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