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December 19, 2014

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george

The book "American Sniper" made for disconcerting reading because Chris Kyle was such an unreflective person. At least that's how he comes across in his book. He seems to have felt no guilt, no hesitation, no second thoughts about killing an estimated 160 enemy combatants. He was doing what he was trained to do, and loving it.

It gets monotonous after a while, to read a book with a protagonist who mechanically goes through his paces and never thinks deeply (or at all) about it. Kyle felt he was saving his guys' lives by killing the enemy, which is pretty much what Alvin York said (at least in the Hawks-Cooper movie).

Kurzleg

Took in 2 on your list today. I enjoyed Birdman even if it seemed contrived and self-absdorbed. Yes, actors are people too, and they experience the same things that we average folk do, but the difficulty of identifying with people who have a home in Malibu to refinance can't be overstated. Still, the execution was nearly flawless, and I'll admit that I consider it a treat to see Michael Keaton in a starring role.

The Immigrant impressed me far more, if only because of how incredibly well Gray maintains the tone. These days it's few and far between when a movie depicting a serious and emotional subject manages to avoid the seemingly inevitable cringe-inducing scene or three. The Immigrant succeeds in that regard, which is no small feat. That closing shot literally had me gasping for the sheer beauty but also for how long it was held.

Looking forward to checking out others on their list, not least being Inherent Vice. Also, hoping Grand Budapest Hotel doesn't suffer at awards time for its early-2014 release date. As controlled a film as The Immigrant, and with levity that belies its quite effecting (at least for me) bottom line.

Kevin H.

Kurzleg: "...the difficulty of identifying with people who have a home in Malibu to refinance can't be overstated."

Is this more than mere classism?

Also, while self-absorption is certainly a part of the film's DNA, I'd argue it's less just-the-water-it-swims-in and more a-subject-intended-for-reflection. (Maybe SELF-reflection, however, so perhaps you still have a point.)

Weirdly, it's "The Immigrant" that feels contrived to me. Never anything less than total admiration for what Gray has to show us, of course, but I always find myself chafing against the dialogue and over-simplified structure. There's something so casual or not-quite-sloppy-but-close (maybe improvisatory?) about his last two films, and it tends to push me out of them. It has the added effect, in this instance, of making the film feel anachronistic, and I don't know that I can entirely put my finger on why. The period detail is magnificently observed via design, but something about the writing and performances feels unduly jerked towards scenario and theme, rather than rooted in the film's period reality. Maybe it's just another case of "Hey, dummy, it's a movie!" and therefore expressive, not realistic, but I was so consistently distracted by it that there must be some reason it stands out here and not elsewhere.

Come to think of it, maybe it's another case of "self-absorption". Perhaps Gray (and his co-writer) is(/was) better at orchestrating a scenario, and highlighting its themes through imagery, rather than convincingly imagining their way into the language and behaviour of other people/eras. That seems an over-critical way of putting it, perhaps, but I always felt I was watching people play (absolutely stunning) dress-up, rather than convincingly acting out a dramatic narrative.

But maybe it all boils down to being "in sync" with the filmmakers' attitudes and perspectives: looking at the things they want you to look at, interested in the things they're interested in, and not getting distracted by the things in which they're not interested ... which are therefore absent. Anyway, that still doesn't explain my foundness for "Birdman" because, up to this point (much like Glenn), I've taken a powerful dislike to just about everything González Iñárritu has ever touched. Maybe he's finally developing a sense of humour towards all the self-importance....

Finally, yes, the final shot of "The Immigrant" is a complete stunner. Talk about cojones: Gray takes on a figure of no less eminence than Ford, and a final shot of no less eminence than "one of the all-time greats", and not only tries to outdo them, he tries to outdo them two- and three-times over. Hell, I'll probably go back for seconds just for that shot alone, and maybe that second viewing will help to settle (or at least clarify) some of my hang-ups.

That Fuzzy Bastard

"something about the writing and performances feels unduly jerked towards scenario and theme, rather than rooted in the film's period reality"

I'm so glad I wasn't the only one super put off by the constant this-the-the-theme dialogue in The Immigrant. I kept trying to just watch it as opera, but I constantly felt like the thudding writing undermined the period recreation, and the former was just so much less interesting than the latter.

Grand Budapest wowed me, though. I've been anti-Anderson since Rushmore (good christ I hated that movie so, so, so much), but Moonrise Kingdom was charming and Budapest seemed like the work of a vastly more mature and thoughtful writer.

Petey

"I've been anti-Anderson since Rushmore (good christ I hated that movie so, so, so much)"

I believe you have definitively failed the Voight-Kampff test, TFB.

Grant L

I never thought I would miss Owen Gleiberman, but the few times I've checked in with Chris Nashawaty's stuff over at EW I've mostly cringed. In his GBH review he writes what must be the one billionth version of a sentence in an Anderson review: "They're like hermetic, handcrafted dioramas in which every last detail, no matter how tiny, has been exquisitely attended to - often at the sake of real emotional engagement." By now this is beyond laziness, like maintaining that there's nothing but "coldness" and "misanthropy" in Kubrick. My feelings on the matter are that Anderson's style, maturity and level of emotional openness have barely changed since film one, and that's a great, great thing. Like all the best, he follows his own instincts. Though it's a close, crowded race, Tenenbaums remains my favorite, and it gets me choked up in a couple of places, with that same complex feeling the final scenes of Budapest do.

Evelyn Roak

My lord! Richard Brody championing the abstract idea of "the personal" as the be all end all, with shockingly inconsistent applications of his very own ideas and beliefs . Well, I'll be.

I will say this, the man rides a hobbyhorse like few others ever have and ever will.

That Fuzzy Bastard

@Petey: About two-thirds of the way through Rushmore, I turned to my friend on the couch and muttered "If this movie ends with the townspeople placing Max between two boards and leaping on the upper board until his eyeballs burst, then I really like this movie. If it ends any other way, then fuck this movie."

Oliver_C

I've got a lot of time for Anderson, even 'The Life Aquatic', but the character of Max almost leaves me wishing the Production Code remained in force.

Petey

@TFB: "If this movie ends with the townspeople placing Max between two boards and leaping on the upper board until his eyeballs burst, then I really like this movie."

Said like a true replicant. (And I know you've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. But arguments from authority tend to be weak.)

FWIW, I think it's pretty obvious that Max is not MEANT to be a sympathetic character for the first two acts. When he gets beat up, you certainly aren't rooting for him. His bildungsroman evokes notably more sympathy in act 3, as his character starts to grow up.

Don Lewis

Solid list, Glenn. The only glaring disagreement from me is LUCY which, while yes, "wacky" was also extremely idiotic. It was kind fun though. What I like best about your list is it's got things I haven't seen but also makes me want to revisit films I was lukewarm on. Sign of a good list for sure, in my opinion.

I'm bummed I can't do any kind of list because my suburban Northern California town doesn't get INHERENT VICE or SELMA until freeking January 9! It's a hell hole, I tell you! A HELL HOLE!!

Happy New Year everyone!

Kurzleg

Kevin H - Sorry for the late reply. Is an inability to identify with a character who made more in one film than I will in 5 lifetimes? I dunno. My point, though, is that it's a barrier for the viewer to overcome. I guess it's analogous to what have come to be known as first-world problems. You're rich but don't have critical acclaim? Golly, that's tough! Now, as you say, your mileage may vary depending upon your background, interests, etc. I can see how someone with connections to theater and film worlds would have a much different relationship to the subject matter and a much different reaction. All that said, I did enjoy Birdman as entertainment and will definitely see it again.

I think I know what you mean about The Immigrant. For one, the girl has the miraculous luck to get hooked up with the one pimp in NYC that didn't physically abuse his girls. For some reason, I was able to get past that. Viewing that film, it was far easier for me to imagine what it must have been like to come to America and confront all of the obstacles placed in one's way. The seeming location shoots (looked like Ellis Island to me) and period details and technical execution really helped in that regard.

"The period detail is magnificently observed via design, but something about the writing and performances feels unduly jerked towards scenario and theme, rather than rooted in the film's period reality."

I feel similarly to a film like Ford's The Searchers. That doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the film, but I have a hard time taking the characters seriously.

Anyway, thanks for the response. Looking forward to viewing both Birdman and Immigrant again to see what I missed on the first pass.

Kevin H.

Kurzleg: no worries. Many thanks to you, in turn.

Regarding "Birdman", I suppose the question is whether the film intends to hold Riggan up for our identification, endorsing or validating his experience and perspective, or for our examination, questioning and interrogating the same. Like Glenn (I think), I'm inclined towards the latter view, but I suppose I must acknowledge a history of some connection with the theatre, so, like you say, that doubtless makes the whole thing a lot more accessible, initially.

As for "The Immigrant", my discomfort has less to do with the events, as such (though you raise a good point about her luck), than with a feeling of disjunction between the film's world and its players. Roughly speaking, the tenor of the performances just doesn't line up with the film's tone; or, the visual sophistication (and sumptuousness) stands in some contrast to the strangely unsophisticated actions and behaviour of the people. But I can see this is going to defeat my powers of expression.

One example: Joaquin Phoenix plays his pimp MC with a tinge of sheepish reserve, as if to suggest (if only to the audience) the degenerative effects of his work, as well as the embarrassment (conscious or unconscious, social or spiritual) that comes with it. It's a fine bit of performance. The problem is that his presence reads so subdued, on stage, that it becomes impossible to reconcile with his success as this carnival barker of earthly, feminine delights: he simply doesn't exude the necessary charisma to achieve and maintain his position as such, despite all nudity and other pleasures. His show sucks. Similarly, he's such a sniveling, self-hating little shit (for obvious thematic reasons) that it's also impossible to buy him as this high-roller person-of-influence among the early New York City underworld, as well as its government/immigration staff. He just doesn't have the necessary confidence. And that's merely one example.

Still, I suspect a repeat viewing can only help to diminish these first-impression demands for greater realism, and I look forward to giving myself permission to take such objections more for granted next time.

Amen for repeat viewings.

Grant L

Kevin, though it's not an exact match, that reminds me a lot of my feelings watching Phoenix in "Gladiator," too.

Kurzleg

Kevin -

I never got the impression that Phoenix was a high roller. Nor did I think that it's necessary for him to have particular skill to "sell" his "wares". Yes, his show sucks, but then none of his clientele seem to be of conspicuous wealth, influence or sophistication. (The bribes he makes aren't with people at the top of the food chain.) Nor are any of his charges especially beautiful, though of course beauty is a secondary characteristic given the profession. My impression is that he is merely surviving, flying under the radar. This explains his need to skulk around Ellis Island and "liberate" Cotillard's character. Cotillard's Ewa may have originally represented his aspirations for a better life given her relative beauty, but even he recognize's that her willingness to participate in his game is limited by her ultimate goal of freeing her sister and establishing a "normal" life in America. In fact, it's the conviction he sees in her that motivates his sacrifice, I think.

Thanks for the dialog. As someone who engages film on a decidedly amateur basis, it's made me think harder about how I engage and perceive what I see.

Kurzleg

Lm

The movie "Frank" is an absolute masterpiece. Art rock anthem par excellence.

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