See if you can spot it:
It’s not just the sound, but the editing that flows with it that carries over into other trailers. On first viewing, it’s kinda cool. But after a few occurrences, I’ve gotta ask: when’s the next big thing?
Rome vs. Spartacus: Blood & Sand / Gods of the Arena
Comparisons between television series are not always completely fair, because the scope of their goals and vision is always different, and never meant to go specifically where the other one takes their viewer. Sometimes, especially in the case of Rome and Spartacus, one was directly affected by the other. That said, as a viewer, it’s easier to evaluate a television series in remembrance of another, than it is to judge it in a vacuum. My reasoning for that is simple: if there were no Rome, and I judged Spartacus on its own merits, I probably wouldn’t hate it that much. In fact, I’d find it pretty benign, and simply ignore it.
I do not, however, find it benign. I find it to be a wretched criminal mugging of our sensibilities. It’s insulting and it’s ignorant gratuitous trash. I try really hard to not let art and entertainment color my opinion of people very often, anybody who does that should be shot, but when someone says they like Spartacus, I really have to question what the fuck is wrong with them in the head. Are they glib, or just deeply cynical? Because liking Spartacus is indefensible, unless you think of a television series as something to have on in the background while you read the Wall Street Journal or fondle somebody.
To elaborate the differences between each series, I’ll take a look at three areas that act as a marker of their relative failure or success.
One of the most brilliant things about the writing in Rome was in the linguistic play. To illustrate the differences in dialect between the classical “Ciceronian” Latin of the Patricians and the Vulgar Latin of the Plebeians (which was the ancestor of modern Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Romanian), they had them correspond to a manufactured “upper class” British dialect, that was more Westminster, verbose, polished, and retained many Latinate archaisms (words like “vim” direct from Classical Ciceronian Latin, and some extinct French-like verb formulations such as “I am come to see Caesar”), and a lower class dialect that sounded cockney, simple and yet ancient. There was license used to paint Rome with a 21st century brush, of course, but it nearly always had a reasonable explanation for its anachronistic usages. The series was clearly written by somebody who had “Semper Ubi Sub Ubi” scratched into their primary school wooden desk. For the most part, the syntax of the Patricians reflected the “proper” French ordering of grammar (never ending with a preposition) except in relaxed and dramatic moments, while the Vulgarians spoke with a more Anglo-Saxon grammar, as the history of the English language has since the time of the Norman Conquest considered the French way to be more noble than the peasant Germanic lexicon and grammar.
By contrast, Spartacus attempted to shoot for the stars and get something both true to Latin dialogue, and Shakespearean meter, yet instead of at least hitting the moon, they just fell right the fuck back down into a thigh-sweat and syphilis-laden bawdy hall. Whatever the fuck it was those idiots were saying, it was something that was painful on the ears, and extremely pretentious, violating every rule of dialogue ever constructed, not as a means to chain artists to tradition, but for their own safety. They wanted to structure sentences to reflect Latin rules, but that raises the question: why didn’t they just have it all in Latin? The creative aim is noble, and as an armchair classicist, I can only admire it, but all the same, if you construct a building, you have to have room for people to walk around in it, and similarly there’s simply no way much of the dialog makes much sense in English.
It seems every sentence was taken to the thesaurus and revised to look more regal, which wouldn’t have been half as intolerable if it were only the regal characters speaking it, and not the illiterate peasants, whores, slaves, barbarians and gladiators. I have no idea why they thought Arabs, Africans and Germans would be represented as having the same diction as Roman nobles, in the Republican era no less, when Latin was still a language mostly restricted to Romans, Italians, merchants, diplomats and nobility. The obvious attempt was to copy some of the ‘Rome’ design, but also to pay homage to the Shakespearean tradition of Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra. It didn’t work. Don’t try to re-write Shakespeare or Spenser or Marlowe or Donne or especially the Kings James Bible, because you don’t speak that language, it’s dead, and nobody is fluent anymore. Spartacus should be a profound warning for anybody except experts and professors to stay away from the idea.
The historical advisors for Rome aimed for a show that brought the late Republican Roman world to life, in such a way that it would be at times shocking to modern audiences, with its depiction of their social interaction between class, sex and ethnicity that was utterly foreign to us, and at other times instructively familiar in how their institutions mirrored ours. The main plot line was, in both form and content, true to the period: the narrative for Season 1 was rendered as an historical tragedy in the greek fashion, which is defined by reaching calamity specifically caused by attempts to avoid it (such as the case of Oedipus Rex); while the content also reached a respectably high degree of historical truth, in spite of almost entirely speaking on matters which history has left us no evidence, the show remained true to the spirit of the historical record.
Rome did suffer some glaring inaccuracies, however. They deleted certain figures from the narrative of the fall of the Republic who were inescapably instrumental to it, such as Portia, the wife of Brutus, and Caesar’s trusted lieutenant Labienus, who deserted him for the opposing faction. The writers created an amalgam of two women: Atia Balba (the mother of Octavian) and Fulvia (the wife of Mark Antony, who raised armies with his brother to fight Octavian). One purpose for combining them both was to illustrate a non-historical oedipal complex in Octavian, and to permit Atia’s extended life at least 12 years after her real death, in order to remain in the series. The series also ignored some key battles, and re-arranged the chronology of some events. The reasoning for all of this, however, was acceptable to me, because the errors did not display ignorance of events, but rather a dramatic arrangement of them.
Being night and day with the eternal city of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, which aimed for the almost Fascist aesthetic of the “Rome of the imagination”, in the HBO series Rome the world was colored by the grime, inefficiency, destitution, corruption, violence and filth that we know from history. Prior depictions in glossy Biblical spear and sandal movies from golden age Hollywood were trying to emphasize at once the earthly conceit of Roman luxury while basking in its glory as an antecedent to the modern West.
Where Rome couches itself in a fictionalized history, Spartacus fictionalizes the couch. Similar to Rome, the plot reflects plenty of realities from history, and fills in the gaps where our historical knowledge fails, but however much it tries to build authenticity in lieu of history, the events and motivations could just as easily belong in a Star Wars movie. The misplacement of the Amphitheatrum Flavium (named so for its dedication during the Flavian Emperors of the AD 60s to 90s) 150 years before it was built could be forgivable, if not for the dull motivation for such low effect as trying to make the setting more sexy. Furthermore, such an error makes one wonder if they got their history from the History Channel, which surely would have told them Hitler built it with the help of time-traveling aliens. The gladiatorial arena depicted briefly in Rome was more common for the period (Spartacus taking place only a few decades prior to the events of Rome): a small wooden galleried amphitheater where the combatants could easily reach their exclusively rich spectators with weapons. The Rome of the late Republic was a city of wood, which Octavian famously claimed to have transformed into a city of marble.
Needless to say, the characters found and events that unfold in Spartacus bear some resemblance to history, and the reasoning for their inclusion makes some sense, but the deviation and cartoonish depiction turns it all into little more than an anime visualization of history. I hesitate to say I’m opposed to that, but I also hesitate to give a fuck about this show.
From a diverse field of great attributes, the strongest item in Rome’s inventory has to be its acting. James Purefoy and Polly Walker provide two of the greatest performances these eyes have ever seen. Nobody will ever match his Mark Antony so long as we don’t have time machines to seize the man himself, Bill and Ted style. Max Pirkis creates an Octavian distinctive but also attributable to most other versions – he has all the airs of noble arrogance and self-righteous vengeance from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, but also the soulful alpha-ness of Brian Blessed’s more oafish Augustus in I, Claudius. And the kid wasn’t old enough to drink yet! The two main characters required less flamboyance, but more darkness and brooding. However, their casting was genius: Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevensen, two reliable action-movie supports who, through the course of the series, trade places to act as alternating foils to one another, and bring to life the brotherly chemistry we see in another HBO show, Entourage, but with far more dignitas than Turtle and Drama whining about hookers and weed.
As mentioned before, the narrative for the first season impeccably reflects that of a Greek Tragedy, and the second season, for which the writing suffered on account of a business decision to cut the series short, still manages to carry out an epilogue that completes the tragedy. Who remembers Oedipus at Colonus? Forget who likes it more than Oedipus the King. The visual structure was not always very interesting, and usually a pedestrian and classical, static glance at events. There were moments of pure genius, however: the adventure of Vorenus’ young daughter through the streets of Rome during martial law, Pullo in combat with his chestplate acting as the scene curtain, the pagan ritualistic splashing of blood, Caesar’s epileptic episode edited into the nude dance, the pageantry of the two Triumphs, the appearance of eagles at turning points in the story, the condescending third person scan from behind Octavian as he seizes de facto control over the Senate – all of these strum a lyre in one’s heart. My main complaint is the repetitive use of certain scores and narrative devices in the second season, lifting from the first. The use of sets at Cinecetta studios, conveniently made before it burnt to the ground, I found to be striking similar to the real ruins you can walk in today. No green-screens necessary.
Spartacus … has very few redeemable aspects as far as its artistry is concerned. The backgrounds make it into a glorified and extended video game cut-scene. It tries desperately to copy from the film 300, in its aesthetic and its method of filming, disregarding the notion that 300 was originating in a cheesy comic book, not the lofty Shakespearean pretense of Spartacus’ dialogue. As if to overcompensate for the rottenness of its meat, it lathers it with saucy eye candy: gratuitous violence that strikes an awful similarity to half-serious Asian martial arts and horror B movies, and rather than using their more libertine sexuality as a way of introducing us to their Pagan society, it’s mostly just present to titillate, to which I ask: isn’t there enough porno in the world so that we aren’t stimulated by half-assing it in 5 second clips on skinemax? Seriously, give me a fucking break.
Few of the actors really come from anything worthwhile. There’s Xena the Warrior Princess, and that Scottish guy who’s in everything and yet nothing. But no performance stands above the failure that I detail above. If I had to be guessing what was going through the heads of the people who visualized Spartacus, I’d have to say they were first and foremost looking at 300 and Gladiator, but also steampunk stuff like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and industrial movies like The Machinist and Alien 3. It paints a picture of Rome as if viewed through a second-rate glass darkly manufactured in Tankograd for Ivan Drago. The Rome of Spartacus doesn’t look much like Rome, but a Sci-Fi comic book, I guess is the point.
To put it bluntly, you should only waste your time with Spartacus if you’re truly starved for entertainment, and don’t mind watching something that is at its core both incomprehensible and ridiculous. Rome, on the other hand, is a gem, and we’re probably worse off for not having been treated to at least a third season.
1980s, Aliens, Bergman, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Blade Runner, Cameron, Come and See, Cronenberg, Decalogue, Dekalog, Fanny och Alexander, Fassbinder, Full Metal Jacket, Idi i smotri, Kieslowski, Klimov, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Movies of the 1980s, Movies of the 80s, Nostalghia, Ran, Tarkovsky, Videodrome
I could have made this to be four movies: Aliens, Terminator, Predator and RoboCop, because those were the movies that were my ’80s (with Commando a close 5th). But that wouldn’t make for anything worthwhile, considering I’ve since seen a movie or two that made most of those movies look ridiculous. So here be my 10 favorites of the eighties, with the caveat that Arnold with an assault rifle should always, always be respected.
1. Aliens (1986) Cameron
I would be lying if I said this wasn’t my favorite of all time, despite its many flaws and shortcomings, and the fact it was directed by James Cameron, the Titanic and Avatar guy. But to be perfectly blunt, there just isn’t a single movie ever made that can top the claustrophobic terror, the pulsating action and beautiful monsters as this one. It carries much of the hard work in creating atmosphere and setting from its predecessor, directed by Ridley Scott and a team of great artists (led by H.R. Giger), who created a psychosexual beast in an unforgiving, frosty and solitary environment, and Aliens takes it in a different direction, which is more Vietnam movie in space than horror in space. This is the ultimate example of what I point to as being the ‘rollercoaster’ feeling necessary for a great action movie, and its combination of horror exacerbates your personal unhinging over its near 2-hour ride. This is the movie that colors most of my imagination.
2. Full Metal Jacket (1987) Kubrick
When I first began playing hockey at 7-yrs of age, I complained about my coach being a big fat meanie, so my dad thought it best to give me a little perspective, and showed me the first third of Full Metal Jacket – typically the only third most people like, but my viewing was cut short not on account of taste, just the minor detail that the framing Kubrick utilizes to separate the three acts is the presence of hookers. I don’t think I’ve ever complained about a coach since then. R. Lee Ermey’s performance was so good and authentic, that it supposedly changed many real Marine drill instructors’ take on the process. It also provided me with better one-liners than I ever would have come up with on my own. But contrary to popular feeling, this film’s genius doesn’t really end at boot camp. It’s the anti-war movie to end all anti-war movies – it forces into direct conflict the essential contradiction between the anti-war movement’s take on Vietnam and many of the participants who went through that era without ever understanding the counter-culture. The jarring final scene with Marines singing the Mickey Mouse Club song, immediately after a costly battle, bookends the narrative perfectly by leaving the viewer with a glimpse of the motivation of cold-blooded warriors who don’t want the sympathy of Jane Fonda. “I am in a world of shit, yes, but I am alive, and I am not afraid.”
3. Dekalog (Decalogue 10-part series) (1989) Kieslowski
Kieslowski’s work is always very, very lush viewing, and it’s really a wonder how that developed in the drab Communist Poland. But in Decalogue and his earlier Polish films, we can understand quite easily that his colorful vision exploded as the only resistance he could muster to the soul-crushing environment (his work was postponed for many years by the martial law instated as a response to the Solidarity movement). Though the series of 10 short films are not theological per se, their themes draw from the 10 Commandments, but in an abstract enough way so as not to be suffocated by Middle Eastern moralism. What they lack in visual color that was not permitted to exist in the equally suffocating Communist bloc, this series more than makes up for it in narrative color, many of the 10 shorts (2 of which were expanded to feature length-films) leave you heart broken and mesmerized. I believe Bergman when he says that Tarkovsky made movies he couldn’t begin to imagine, and I also believe Kubrick when he says that this series is the only masterpiece he could name in his lifetime.
4. Blade Runner (1982) Scott
My favorite sub-genre in film will always be cyberpunk, and this movie might as well have created it. Everything that came after it was an iteration on either its theme and aesthetic, or an extrapolation thereof. Harrison Ford mails it in sometimes, but he does not in Blade Runner. In the midst of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, he pulled this performance out of his pocket, and shocked many people who would later see a theme in Witness and other choice roles that would convince he wasn’t just a two-bit action star like the others in Star Wars. There have been volumes spilled in analysis on this movie, and I just have to say that if you don’t read Philip K. Dick, then it’s all idle speculation, because Ridley Scott isn’t very sphinx-like in his methods. I’m kind of shocked when I hear that this is a “cult film”, because I always just assumed it was a huge hit. It really should have been, in any case. I like the version without any narration far more, for the simple reason that I can watch a hockey game without any color commentary because I’m not fucking stupid. Kubrick and Tarkovsky can do that shit, Ridley should just back the fuck off, and he was right to modify.
5. Nostalghia (1983) Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky’s father was a poet, and much of Tarko’s filmmaking incorporates read poetry and is an illustrative attempt to make film into a sort of visual poetry, but never before Nostalghia had he gone so far as to make it his central object. This movie has no plot discernible to the pedestrian or rookie viewer of a Tarkovsky film, not even the loose plot you see in the more accessible Solyaris. However, its filmic structure is ostensibly how you’d imagine a poem to be paced and read if it were a film. The events and occurrences throughout it aren’t what to look at, but rather the sights themselves. This isn’t my favorite Tarkovsky, by any standard, but holy shit is it pretty to look at, and you feel washed over with emotion just peering through his camera for a couple hours.
6. Idi i smotri (Come and See) (1985) Klimov
The title refers to the refrain in the Book of Revelation, spoken by the four beasts. After watching this, you will truly never see war movies the same again. We in the West have it relatively good: World War I was pretty disastrous for Western and Central Europe, leading to millions of lives senselessly lost, World War II left deep scars on France and Germany, the darkest of all historical acts in the industrial murder of Jews and other ‘undesirables’, and the Vietnam War turned American against American in such a way that we still haven’t got over (the Tea Party might as well be Nixon voters). But of those, only the holocaust (which blended seamlessly into the Eastern Front) even remotely compares to the apocalypse seen on the Eastern Front during World War II – by itself constituting the largest and most destructive war in history, larger than the rest of the war combined, and that slightly hyperbolic eye-caught phrasing doesn’t even make mention of the ruthless psychopathic hatred that the combatants had for one another and their people (sometimes their own people). Gruesome rape, institutionalized extra-judicial murder, forced slavery and wide-spread theft and looting were not the exception, but the rule, by both sides. Come and See depicts all of that, vividly. It is solely by the merits of genre classification some literary critic made-up that I’m not also calling this a horror film.
7. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1981) Fassbinder
Though this is a slightly long endeavor (15hrs in total, separated into episodes for television broadcast), if you’re not a fan of Rainer Fassbinder’s movies or have never heard of him, I really urge you to give him a second chance with this movie, arguably his masterpiece. It doesn’t hurt that his source material has achieved critical praise as one of the best works of the 20th century (though I haven’t read it yet). The grimy depiction of Weimar Republic-era Berlin is a treasure unto itself, but the story is worth the commitment too. Imagine The Wire meets All Quiet on the Western Front during the lost-generation.
8. Videodrome (1982) Cronenberg
Cronenberg’s finest hour, with some iconic imagery seered into your mind for the rest of your life, and not to mention some goddamn funny and surreal scenes (“See you in Pittsburgh”). Cronenberg has made a lot of great movies that play around with ontology, in the same manner as Philip K. Dick novels, but what adds to this picture is what also added to Alien as a horror film: up the ante by throwing in some sexual fetishism, in this case, merging unreal fleshless television media with the real (“Long live the new flesh!”). A great way to spend a few hours, even if you don’t like weird, because it’s so distinctively humorous.
9. Ran (1985) Kurosawa
My only complaint about this Shakespearean adaptation by the then-nearly blind and ageing Kurosawa (after finding himself nearly forgotten and then brought back to life by the grateful American directors he deeply affected like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola) is that it could have been one of the greatest films ever made, if only they had better god damn cameras. These cameras belong to some god damned Godzilla director, not Kurosawa. He wanted to make use of Japanese watercolor techniques – creating conflict between foreground, midground and background that matched the conflict in battle scenes. If only George Lucas could have chipped in a bit, what a cheap bastard. Anyway, the movie is still marvelous beyond belief, and merits more than one viewing. Without question, my favorite version of King Lear.
10. Fanny och Alexander (Fanny and Alexander) (1982) Bergman
So by the early ‘80s, everyone thought Bergman had burnt himself out, and was aiming for the same trajectory as Kurosawa and Fellini by failing at re-invention. Unlike Fellini, but like Kurosawa (see above), Bergman took one last adventure behind the camera that would change the book on him. Fanny and Alexander is perhaps Bergman’s most personal film, depicting the lives of two children during early 20th century Sweden, after their lives are uprooted and forced to be brought under the yoke of oppressive Lutheran austerity while living with relatives. The kid’s ability to grow despite circumstance quickly reminds of Machiavelli’s warning to prospective Princes everywhere, that if you grant freedom to your people, they won’t soon forget it.
1990s, A Pure Formality, Abbas Kiarostami, Angelopoulos, Barton Fink, Bruno Ganz, Coen Brothers, Emir Kusturica, Eternity and a Day, Eyes Wide Shut, Favorite movies of the 90s, Giuseppe Tornatore, Greenaway, Kiarostami, Kieslowski, Kubrick, Kusturica, Le temps retrouvé, Malick, Mia aioniotita kai mia mera, Movies of the 90s, Peter Greenaway, Polanski, Prospero's Books, Proust, Raoul Ruiz, Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick, Ta'm-e guilass, Taste of Cherry, Terrance Malick, The Ninth Gate, The Thin Red Line, Three Colors, Time Regained, Tornatore, Trois Couleurs, Una pura formalità, Underground
The nineties were the last decade when you could make a decent movie on a low budget, without many expectations for business, truly in the spirit of ars gratia artis. Without a handheld shaky-cam, the results posted on youtube that is. Below I’ve strung together eleven movies I find to be exemplary nineties movies that I would immediately point to being my favorites of that time, the list going on much longer than eleven if I had the gumption.
1. The Thin Red Line (1998) Malick
In the leadup to the release of “The Tree of Life”, the latest film by Terrance Malick, I feel the need to push his previous greatest achievement like an enterprising drug dealer. There’s Tarkovsky, there’s Malick, and there’s everybody else (who all suck in comparison). The movie is not about war, but the transience of war and all of man’s endeavors. We come from the earth and return to it, and try as we might, the earth is not effected by us. Our nature is the creature of the nature we blindly wade through, ignoring it, usually at our peril. This movie goes a long way toward making you appreciate it. You’re gonna fuckin die some day s0n, so why don’t you start taking account of time, and feeling every moment of life.
2. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Kubrick
This movie will always be hit or miss, but if you know Kubrick, and you love his movies, this will feel like an old shoe more comfortable than any you’ve ever worn. This is the erotic noir Polanski wishes he’d done. An adaptation of the Austrian Traumnovelle, you follow Tom Cruise as he explores the darker sides of fantasy in an attempt to destroy his normalized domesticated existence, and cope with the loss of fidelity in his marriage. Every time I watch this movie, aside from getting more out of the experience, I get less enthusiastic about relationships. Two pitbulls in one cage.
3. Le temps retrouvé (Time Regained) (1999) Ruiz
It’s hard to put into words how brilliant Marcel Proust is, because he wrote so god damned many of them, it would be like trying to convey a Caravaggio with MS Paint. However, Raoul Ruiz finds a better way to do this with film, and holy shit, I’m willing to say I think this movie does more than enough justice as a translation of the spirit of Proust, as it becomes its own remarkable entity. Ruiz runs with editing and scene framing like a genius violinist, everything is immaculate, just beautifully perfect. Shot to shot, it all flows like fucking Mozart, it’s just too fucking good to be believed. As a quick, simple elucidation of the ambitious multivolume series Remembrance of Things Past, one could say that it’s about the lightning rod shot from everyday occurrences that reach deeply into your past with involuntary memory, and the wonder that arises when your memory launches: what could have been, what was, what will be. The final scenes I can deeply relate with: seeing all of these significant people from your past together at once, and feeling underwhelmed with where all that time has gone, and the character of the people you’ve invested so much in, and before you know it, it’s too god damn late to do anything about it.
Kieslowksi is one of the greatest big picture thinkers in filmmaking, but he is definitely the greatest small picture thinker. His effortless use of filmmaking techniques, technology and symbolism are simply awe inspiring (for instance, the reflected image in the pupil of an eye works all three of those at once). I really believe Kieslowski would have made some tremendous movies if he had lived longer and taken advantage of new film technology, more than anybody else. Misleading though it may be, these aren’t symbolic of the French nation, Kieslowski said the titular symbolism would have left the films mostly unchanged if they were financed by another flag. But he was upfront about Blue being an anti-tragedy, White an anti-comedy, Red an anti-romance. This series is for everybody who’s mistakenly ventured into the Foreign section on account of getting lost in the video store, or wanting to hail down and convince their girlfriend of the merits of Nick Nolte in Blue Chips and being arrested mid-sentence by the three hot chicks in a row ominously looking like pornos. Trust me, this is the best mistake you’ll ever make.
5. Barton Fink (1991) Coens
If you want to get to know the Coens intimately, this is your first stop. Everything else by them is an extrapolation of their genius put on display with Barton Fink, a movie that defies many of its common explanations. It builds a narrative within the narrative, it references many people and works in film and literature history, it’s fully loaded with symbolic devices that speak louder than its actions, it is pervaded by a dark and subtle humor, and it peers occasionally into the surreal and tedious. That is to say, it has everything that makes the Coens great, and this is the movie they accomplish everything while singing brilliantly in tune. They even have all of the actors they work constantly with, John Goodman giving the performance of his life.
6. Una pura formalità (A Pure Formality) (1994) Tornatore
Giuseppe Tornatore made two movies that work not unlike a combination of Federico Fellini and Woody Allen in his highly acclaimed Cinema Paradiso and Malena, but A Pure Formality is held in stark contrast. It’s Kafkaesque and yet its inclusion of Polanski is not coincidental. Gerard Depardieu is a reclusive author and now his greatest fiction is unfolding before your eyes. Two very commanding performances that make it worth seeing by their own virtues, but this movie is further evidence of my theory that when the light hearted go dark, sparks fly. I’m no fan of twists, but this movie does it well, with just enough ambiguity to remain seductive.
7. Ta’m e guilass (Taste of Cherry) (1997) Kiarostami
Like the Soviets, Iranian cinema is depressingly deserving of a better country. Movies like this will get you thrown into a dark cell and tortured these days, and after watching it, you’ll just have to ask how on earth one could find it politically incorrect, and not a universally beautiful tragedy of one man’s life winding its way around the final paths of its journey. The filming within cars is a theme of Kiarostami’s that he continues in Ten, and creates an intimate positioning whose intent is consummated in the final scene, which renders the connection to real life that reignites disbelief both distant and irrelevant. A high wire act, to convince the watcher that it’s not reality and yet it still is.
8. Mia aioniotita kai mia mera (Eternity and a Day) (1998) Angelopoulos
This is not for everyone, and is extremely chill and meditative at almost Tarkovskian proportions, but I’d just like to point out that if you’ve watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or The Bucket List, and felt that both left you with a bad aftertaste even though you went in expecting more, this movie could very well please your aims in the respect of trying to delve into balkan culture, and absorb the emotions of an old man trying to find meaning before he shuffles off his mortal coil. The first time you watch this, you’ll think this belongs better in the ’60s, in some collection of Antonioni films, and you’d be partially right, because the screenwriter was Tonio Guerra, the go-to guy for many of the neo-realists when they began exiting that niche. Bruno Ganz is incredible in anything he does, and this movie is no exception.
9. Prospero’s Books (1991) Greenaway
Greenaway and Shakespeare, that’s either a combustible potion or vodka in the creme brulee. If you’re willing to get art house as fuck, go straight for this. If you’re willing to get modern Shakespeare as fuck, go straight for this. If you want gun battles and fist fights and motorcycles, go straight for this. That last one, you might be a little disappointed, but I want you to see it anyway. John Gielgud being in this is outstanding, because of his extensive knowledge of Shakespearian works, this combines the old with the new in such a brilliant way that binds both to a higher vehicle.
10. The Ninth Gate (1999) Polanski
Many of my friends have watched this and been bitterly disappointed with the ending, and I’ve never for the life of me understood why. It’s unexpected and ambiguous, it has no payoff, it has no goat horns, it has no hell, it has no moral clarity, but all I can say is that the Spawn movie had all of that and you should probably watch that piece of shit if that’s what you’re after. There’s no noir like the noir’est subject of them all, and if there were any filmmaker in the world more suited to tell this story, Polanski sold his soul to usurp them. Not Johnny Depp’s greatest performance, but certainly up there. Watching this movie today, you really start seeing parallels between the Luciferian morality and Ayn Rand (and Paul Ryan)’s take on libertarianism, which is pretty funny because most of the advocates of such are pretty goddamn Christian.
11. Underground (1995) Kusturica
Is it possible to make a slightly avant garde, comedic and yet serious war epic, depicting the history of Yugoslavia through the Nazis, the Communists and the Civil War, right during the immediacy of the genocides, the NATO bombing of Bosnia and Serbia, and the rolling waves of retribution? Yes, it is, and Emir Kusturica did it. It’s hard not to love this movie, and to western eyes, it’s really not as foreign as you’d expect. The ties to the west are profuse throughout it metaphorically.
Eyes Wide Shut – Art 6/5 Ent 5/5 Worth 6/5
11 years later, this movie only gets better with age. I remember watching this for the first time: I had decided against seeing Phantom Menace yet again once I was at the theater, and through the first ~45mins, after hearing the sound differential between both films pouring through the supposedly sound-proof walls, I was beginning to suspect I had made the wrong decision. The second half delivers, and feeds into the first half. Now, there was supposedly controversy over R. Lee Ermey’s comments that Kubrick had talked with him before his death, and was worried he’d made a crap film, and Tom Cruise had taken over his baby and abused it. People fired back that it couldn’t have been further from the truth, insinuating the comments by Ermey (whom Kubrick had befriended during the production of Full Metal Jacket, I heavily suspect because Mr. Ermey is the genuine article, not a trait he shares with many people in the art world) to be falsehoods, pointing to the close relationship he developed with Cruise and Kidman during the movie. I think this perfectly illustrates the complexity of Kubrick’s personality: a self-hating jew, a contrarian and iconoclast who sees meaning in the inexplicable. He probably did think this movie stunk, but I sure as hell don’t. And far from usurping the auteur, I firmly believe Tom Cruise to be the greatest casting decision for any Kubrick movie, because his character is a high-strung douchebag living straight and narrow, but always behind a mask. Of course he wants to be Sidney Pollack’s character, a rich schmuck who can afford to throw around cases of 25-yr old scotch like they’re cases of Kleenex, and fuck expensive prostitutes during soirees with the rich and powerful, but Tom’s character can’t aspire to that in anything but fantasy. He engages in a noir gallivanting after realizing how little fidelity exists in the anchor of his marriage, and winds up overstepping his limitations and making a fool of himself. If I could think of anybody more appropriate for such a role, I’ll let you know.
A Prophet, An Education, Antichrist, best movies of 2009, best of 2009, Capitalism: A Love Story, Carey Mulligan, Christoph Waltz, Das weisse Band, Haneke, Inglourious Basterds, Jeremy Renner, Jesse Eisenberg, Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, Michael Moore, Quentin Tarantino, Tahar Rahim, The Hurt Locker, The Messenger, The Road, The White Ribbon, Un prophete, Viggo Mortensen, Willem Dafoe, Woody Harrelson, Zombieland
As far as I’m concerned, of those that I actually watched, these were the films made/released in 2009 that I enjoyed the most to call the best. I consider them such for many reasons: some cerebral, some nonsensical, and some completely devoid of logic, but they all felt right. Some I will not be revisiting any time soon. Others I’ve already watched 4-5 times and would love nothing more than to watch as soon as I’m finished writing this. Obviously, the point of this exercise is to provide recommendations for you, dear reader, so make use of the hyperlinks.
1a. An Education
rt summary : Author Nick Hornby turns from novels to screenplays with this talent-driven drama. Carey Mulligan (BLEAK HOUSE) stars as Jenny, a young woman full of promise and intent to study at Oxford. But meeting an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) leads Jenny to believe that she can learn things outside the classroom, casting doubt on her future plans. Directed by ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS’ Lone Scherfig, AN EDUCATION also stars Alfred Molina, Rosamunde Pike, Dominic Cooper, Olivia Williams, and Emma Thompson.
my take : Coming of age stories are usually sentimental garbage … usually. If this movie is rife with sentimentalism, I must be blind, be I cannot see any. As a matter of fact, this movie makes as its central issue the rite of passage all children must undergo to become adults – the destruction of the infant ego. Based on an autobiographical novel by the lead character, and adapted in a screenplay by Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity), this story is in no short supply of wit. It serves as a great microcosmic allegory for the 1960s in Britain, and the arrival of the baby boomers. I really like this movie for its uncomplicated story, but most importantly for Carey Mulligan, who turns out an amazing performance.
rt summary : Only two actors, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Defoe, inhabit the space of this supernatural thriller directed by Lars Von Trier. The stars play a couple who attempt to grieve for their dead child by living in seclusion in the middle of a forest. But their story does not end there: in the forest, they encounter pure evil in Satan. With Von Trier at the helm, ANTICHRIST promises to be a challenging, intelligent film that doesn’t adhere to the conventions of cinema or religion.
my take : What a fucking punch to the gut, and the heart. This movie is an abomination, would that there had ever been an abomination in a good way. This is possibly the best film of 2009 and yet simultaneously, the worst. A pastiche of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky rerouted into horror, it lives up to the ambition of Lars Von Trier by matching what I had figured to be Tarko’s unparalleled graceful imagery. You could safely reduce this to a “shock film” without offending fans of Von Trier, and in fact most people who saw this were revolted by it. The affront to women, and supposed misogyny is easy to see through – Von Trier loves fucking with his audience, don’t be fooled, it’s all part of the act, though I wouldn’t doubt there’s a kernel of mystification with the fairer sex throughout Von Trier’s work (so goes Fellini), it only places more raw honesty in his art. You aren’t going to seduce any audience with lifeless emotion. Forget hackneyed gothic art and douchebags with fangs in capes, this is dark baroque in its truest and purest form. It provides a representation of the natural evil that exists in all of us, and religion attempts to explain with mythology, coming full circle from upside down crosses and other ironies of religion.
1c. Das weisse Band
rt summary : Controversy-courting director Michael Haneke (CACHÉ) earned the Palm d’Or at Cannes in 2009 for this arresting drama set just before World War I. In a small German village, a number of unexplained accidents beset the schoolchildren and their parents. Though they at first appear coincidental, it begins to seem that they are not, in fact, accidents at all.
my take : Haneke grew from being a good director to a great director with Caché, and I don’t think he’s ever left behind the psychosexual themes from Funny Games and The Piano Teacher, but this film seems very much like a firm landing from the narrative play you find in his previous films. Not that Das weisse Band is simplistic or straightforward by any means, but the jump is almost similar to how Fellini and other Italian neo-realists went in the opposite direction: from the grounded to the fantastical. I think this film adequately captures the German pre-(second) war cultural mood you see in Volker Schlondorff’s Die Blechtrommel and Coup de grâce, even if it’s in a pre-(first) war setting, the premonitions through the children are towards that same area. Though Haneke is Austrian, which has been a separate country from Germany except for a paltry 7 years since the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, he’s astutely in command of the German psyche that is only today having an honest discussion about the wars, and I think this film does more for the conversation than 2004′s The Downfall, about Hitler’s last days in the bunker, which showed Hitler not as a fictional monster but, shockingly for many, a human with deep faults. This film does the same, but instead of focusing on the man on horseback, it looks at the people who put him on the horse, and their pastoral roots. Responsibility goes straight to the top, to the Junkers and the Church, both of whom function in less than the godly manner in which they purport to owe their station, and so slowly a dark cloud falls around them all.
4. The Messenger
rt summary : Co-written by Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camon, THE MESSENGER is a powerful and tender story about a returned war hero making his first steps toward a normal life. In his first leading role, Foster stars as Will Montgomery, a U.S. Army officer who has just returned home from a tour in Iraq and is assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service. Partnered with fellow officer Tony Stone (Harrelson) to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers, Will faces the challenge of completing his mission while seeking to find comfort and healing back on the home front. When he finds himself drawn to Olivia (Morton), to whom he has just delivered the news of her husband’s death, Will’s emotional detachment begins to dissolve and the film reveals itself as a surprising, humorous, moving and very human portrait of grief, friendship and survival.
my take : A headcase with an ostensible heroic war record returns home from Iraq, and is assigned to bear bad tidings to the families of fallen soldiers. This was undoubtedly a haunting film, with a particularly heartbreaking cameo role from Steve Buscemi. As far as I’m concerned, this has to be Woody Harrelson’s best film to date. Along with The Hurt Locker and The Green Zone, this enters quickly into the artistic consciousness of the Iraq experience. The sister film, comparing Iraq to Vietnam, is obviously Coming Home, but thank god this one didn’t preach (or let Jane Fonda preach – who’s the Iraq Jane Fonda? Janeane Garofalo?) and roll out hits of the ‘60s like an oldies station DJ. Another importance difference between the two is that Coming Home dealt with the bodies destroyed by Vietnam, but The Messenger gives a very considerate portrayal of minds destroyed by Iraq / the War on Terror.
5. The Road
rt summary : After the Oscar-winning success of the adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, another of the author’s works arrives on screen. Viggo Mortensen stars in THE ROAD, a thriller that is set in a bare, post-apocalyptic America, where a father and son struggle to survive. Director John Hillcoat previously teamed with star Guy Pearce on the critically acclaimed Western THE PROPOSITION.
my take : I’ve not read the Cormac McCarthy novel, which I’m told is pretty rough, but the sensibilities of the motion picture rating system and the tepid and lame worlds visualized in other post-apocalyptic films (specifically thinking of the theme-park coffee shop that we see in the Matrix trilogy) spoils the reference points to draw from for another outing in this genre. I just imagine with more creativity, and more cajones, somebody could make a post-apocalyptic film that would make you scared shitless of what a return to “bellum omnium contra omnes” truly means. This movie does a better job of that than any I’ve ever seen (though I’m sure we could do better). Viggo can do no wrong, and the child actor in this was spectacular too. The ending was totally unexpected, specifically for having no device to settle all issues in one fell swoop. That’s a breath of fresh air in mainstream ‘action’ films. You can’t say the same for another movie released nearly at the same time, which felt unencumbered while insulting the intelligence of the audience throughout: The Book of Eli.
6. Un prophète
rt summary : At age 18, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is just beginning a six-year prison sentence in this drama from THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED director Jacques Audiard. Though he cannot read or write, Malik soon figures out the politics of the prison system, giving him a prime spot in the power struggle between two battling groups of prisoners. THE PROPHET reunites Audiard with two of his stars from THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED, Niels Arestrup and Gilles Cohen, as well as that film’s director of photography, Stéphane Fontaine, and its composer, Alexandre Desplat.
my take : I read an abundance of words like “gritty” and “realistic” wafting through reviews of this wonderful French film about an Arab prisoner on the path to becoming Tony Montana. As well, some charges of islamophobia and the like, which is clearly stupid, but people will insist on demanding their upper hand. I think this movie set out a simple goal, to be a hard prison/gangster movie, from the perspective of people that the French and most Europeans would love to forget about, and it did just that, without too much of an assumption for profundity. You can see the same story elsewhere, in La Haine, Scarface and Shawshank Redemption, but what pushes this above being a mere conflagration of those movies is the story of the loveable and cowardly sociopathic main character. He’s absolutely a bad guy: a murderer, and somebody without a consistent moral conscience. But he’s not a monster, and commits to his life in an affable way, so you can’t help but like him.
7. Capitalism: A Love Story
rt summary : Plenty of excitement–and controversy–is sure to surround this film from decorated documentarian Michael Moore. After previously taking on America’s gun culture (BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE), the Bush administration (FAHRENHEIT 9/11), and America’s healthcare crisis (SICKO), this timely film addresses what caused the financial crisis that stopped the world in 2008. CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY finds Moore criticizing the government bailout of privately held businesses…etc
my take : To be perfectly clear, I think what Christopher Hitchens said about Jerry Falwell accurately describes Michael Moore as well, and I paraphrase: if you gave him an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox. Moore isn’t really that intelligent when it comes to politics and economics. There are so many horseshit claims in all of his movies, it’s pretty hard to take them as anything more than a visual livejournal account. He doesn’t take criticism well, and his own criticism is usually wide of the point by a mile. However … however, I definitely think he’s a fantastic filmmaker. He frames the narrative brilliantly, and evokes pathos better than any other filmmaker I’ve seen. If you don’t know any better, you come out of this movie being incredibly angry, and wanting to roll out the guillotine. The Soviet cinema of the ‘20s would have killed (literally) to have Michael Moore make films for them. He is an absolute genius behind the camera and in the editing room. But his actual grasp of the political situation is tenuous at best, and his effect on it is not uniformly positive. If you get your information from Moore or find yourself nodding in agreement, you should really smack yourself in the face and read a god damn book, preferably not written by a Marxist dinosaur. This was a pretty solid movie, but not as great as Fahrenheit 9/11.
rt summary : A cowardly shut-in named Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to join up with a seasoned zombie-slayer named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) in order to survive the zombie apocalypse. As Tallahassee… A cowardly shut-in named Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to join up with a seasoned zombie-slayer named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) in order to survive the zombie apocalypse. As Tallahassee sets out on a mission to find the last Twinkie on Earth, the duo meets up with Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), two young girls who have resorted to some rather unorthodox methods to survive amidst the chaos. Reluctant partners in the battle against the undead, all four soon begin to wonder if it might be better to simply take their chances alone.
my take : With the passing of every year, it becomes harder to do genre movies without upping your game, because a lot of highly paid, very innovative and intelligent people are dedicated to making formulaic films more exciting. Knowing that most fail doesn’t make it any easier, if you want to be successful. It’s even harder to do a specific monster movie after all of its possibilities have been explored previously by some renowned and impressive films. What’s harder than originality is making a good film that plays by all of the cliches. Zombieland, I believe, does exactly that. It effectively arranges all of the cliches, chews ‘em up and spits ‘em in your face like regurgitated zombie guts. The movie doesn’t ostentatiously concern itself with realism in horror and benefits from taking a campy journey through the familiar zombie apocalypse. We get to see another great performance by Woody Harrelson, whose sense of levity and comedic timing are woefully underrated.
9. Inglourious Basterds
rt summary : Inglourious Basterds begins in German-occupied France, where Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Shosanna narrowly escapes and flees to Paris, where she forges a new identity as the owner and operator of a cinema. Elsewhere in Europe, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) organizes a group of Jewish soldiers to engage in targeted acts of retribution. Known to their enemy as “The Basterds,” Raine’s squad joins German actress and undercover agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) on a mission to take down the leaders of The Third Reich. Fates converge under a cinema marquee, where Shosanna is poised to carry out a revenge plan of her own…
my take : The overall product is a mixed bag. I don’t like Tarantino, and I find his films to be a hard to bear. The subject matter has been done to death since Saving Private Ryan. However, some groan worthy plot and dialogues don’t degrade this film too much to have it ruin your evening. I rather enjoyed its destruction of history and common sense. I will defend until the end Tarantino’s love of cinema and his ability to replicate it (weighty asterisks abound), and I saw some genuinely interesting motifs here, and a story that ferociously skewers war movies and undermines the account of ‘history’ in them. This film contains one of the most brilliant moments in cinematic history: when the Nazis’ attempt to author history through the cinema literally consumes them all in a fire. Christoph Waltz’ acting and Tarantino’s writing for the character of Hans Landa (in which Tarantino admits he exceeded himself) brought about one of the greatest villains I’ve ever seen. Daniel Bruhl and August Diehl bring some extraordinary supporting acts. All of the Nazis were good. The Allies? Ehn.
10. The Hurt Locker
rt summary : The Hurt Locker is a riveting, suspenseful portrait of the courage under fire of the military’s most unrecognized heroes: the technicians of the bomb squad, who volunteer to challenge the odds and save lives in one of the world’s most dangerous places. Three members of the Army’s elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad battle insurgents and each other as they seek out and disarm a wave of roadside bombs on the streets of Baghdad — in order to try and make the city a safer place for Iraqis and Americans alike. Their mission is clear – protect and save – but it’s anything but easy, for the margin of error on a war-zone bomb is zero. A thrilling and heart-thumping look at the effects of combat and danger on the human psyche, The Hurt Locker is based on the first-hand observations of journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, who was embedded with a special bomb unit in Iraq.
my take : I’m surprised that this is up for many major Golden Globe and Academy Awards, because in my opinion it’s a simple action film, and doesn’t do much justice to its subject. It only looks in passing at PTSD, the carnage in Iraq and the war outside of combat. It doesn’t preach like “Coming Home”, thank god, but it doesn’t say much of anything at all, and is almost guilty of normalizing the dehumanization. It has incredibly bizarre plot points, like an American running back from suburban Baghdad to the Green Zone, and an enlisted rank soldier punching an officer in the face without repercussion, betraying an apparent tenuous grasp on reality, by which even many non-veteran casual observers would be shocked. In spite of such flaws, this was without question one of the best action flicks of 2009, and deserves applause for having the balls to be the first Iraq War movie, without offending millions. Judging from the Vietnam movie genre, it will be a while before we can have a real movie about Iraq. This is barely at the “Boys in Company C” stage.
2010, Amer, best movies of 2010, best of 2010, Black Swan, Carlos, Darren Aronofsky, Enter the Void, Gaspar Noe, Jackass, Jackass 3D, Restrepo, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Social Network, The Town, Udaan
As far as I’m concerned, of those that I actually watched, these were the films made/released in 2010 that I enjoyed the most to call the best. I consider them such for many reasons: some cerebral, some nonsensical, and some completely devoid of logic, but they all felt right. Some I will not be revisiting any time soon. Others I’ve already watched 4-5 times and would love nothing more than to watch as soon as I’m finished writing this. Obviously, the point of this exercise is to provide recommendations for you, dear reader, so make use of the hyperlinks.
1. Black Swan
rt summary: A psychological thriller set in the world of New York City ballet, BLACK SWAN stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis).
my take: I have a theory on the formula for a well-received 21st century Anglo-Art house flick, and I believe Aronofsky tapped into this brilliantly with ‘The Fountain’. You take care to craft your artwork, through long days of absolutist drive and tedious perfectionism, but also with utmost professionalism with the mundane and the sublime, to the point that its second nature to you, and nothing is spontaneous. But to compensate for being too robotic, you have a forecasted chemical eruption when two narrative and/or philosophical forces collide on your project, and then mutate into a synthesis unknown to our current cultural understanding. Ancient mythos dealing with life, death and love meets science fiction, Tchaikovsky meets Hitchcock. The locomotion of this plot is a psychologically damaged woman’s perfectionist drive, gracefully descending into progressive spontaneity. The film follows her untrustworthy perspective as it descends further and further into madness, until finally, voila. Just a brilliant picture. Darren Aronofsky is the 21st century Kubrick. End of story. His versatility expands more with each movie. What’s better than The Wrestler? The same premise of an abused actor-athlete propelled by fear of their rotting core, but then destroy the recognizable narrative cohesion by making it an unreliable narrator with severe mental health issues, and lather it with Tchaikovsky. Well, fucking, done.
rt summary : Searing memories and carnal desires rule the mind of Ana (Marie Bos), a young woman in thrall to her own fantasies in this French psychological thriller that blends eroticism with European slasher movie traditions and a haunted house on the Côte d’Azur.
my take: For being a paean to Italian horror movies of Dario Argento, this little film, almost devoid of dialog, succeeds where others completely fail in the slasher genre. It has many things going for it, but the crisp and effortless editing, dancing between surreal nightmare and vibrant scenery of the real, sublime soundtrack and almost perfect framing of scenes make this one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. What’s more, it doesn’t bother you with meaningless prattle about a love interest, nor melodrama. Mere trifles, those additions. No, it sticks to all you really want – an incredibly beautiful girl running from leather bound weirdos.
rt summary: “Carlos” tells the story of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez who, for two decades, was one of the most wanted terrorists on the planet. Between 1974, in London, where he tried to assassinate a British businessman; and 1994, when he was arrested in Khartoum, he lived several lives under various pseudonyms, weaving his way through the complexities of international politics of the period.
my take: The immediate comparison one draws between this biographical potrait of Carlos the Jackal is with Spielberg’s Munich. But they are contrasted in terms of how to do a history film. In Munich, the American audience expects there to be some emotional resonance in the prime character, his allies, and their cause. This immediately creates chaos between reality and art, that suffocates the informed and demeans the uninformed. We expect a beginning, middle and a climactic finish, with a swift resolution that ties up if not all, most loose ends, with zero moral ambiguity. This is simply stupid, and we have no right to laugh at Gary Busey being an evil Zionist American out to impregnate Iraqi children with Jew blood in Turkish movies, when we perpetrate similarly evil nonsense in our films with more style and guile. Carlos perpetrates none of that nonsense found in Munich. It doesn’t praise his cause, it doesn’t give a heroic or demonic portrait of the man. It doesn’t give a sensationalist rendering of history. It is unsentimental and removed from a moral argument. It merely depicts a Marxist-Leninist terrorist in as human a way as possible, with as much honest historical license as is necessary. It’s so humdrum in its process that you think you’re watching an episode of The Office while a female terrorist shoots a policeman through the neck, going about the operation without skipping a beat. Murder, no big deal, the life of a revolutionary. But what’s genius about this is how it takes that simplicity and honesty, and makes you see into the world of people you’d otherwise consider monsters and criminals. The methodical approach to political murder and war crimes for Carlos is as methodical as Olivier Assayas in depicting it. They are smooth operators who aren’t frustrated by, nor enamored with violence. One of the best mini-series I’ve ever seen.
rt summary: A year with one platoon in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan
my take: I haven’t seen a war documentary this good … ever. Although it’s easy to confuse this with many that preceded it, what separates this from Gunner Palace, and any number of Frontline / CNN / BBC specials on fighting troops is how batshit insane and crazy the filmmakers were. I will not say that this doesn’t show the humanity and damage done to the troops themselves more or less than other docs, nor will I say this shows the horrors of war any more or less, but what I will say is that Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington could have only come back with five hours of rocks and trees filmed, with the reels hand delivered in body bags, film cancelled. Tragically, Hetherington did in fact come back that way shortly after this release, covering the Civil War in Libya, showing just how big of balls these sunsabitches really have. You won’t see any other filmmakers putting themselves into harms way like this. I can’t remember if any other documentaries have shown a newly deceased casualty in the middle of combat either. Some artistic touches pervade through the meat and potatoes approach, but the journalistic integrity is unsurpassed.
5. The Social Network
rt summary: A story about the founders of the social-networking website, Facebook.
my take: I believe this to be Fincher’s best film so far. The writing by Aaron Sorkin is awfully pedestrian, but it’s still witty, and you can tell he worked at it (he mentions working on the opening scene for some months – it shows the strains). Jesse Eisenberg’s best acting so far also, a star in the making. The score by the Nine Inch Nails dude was simply amazing (but the In the Hall of the Mountain King rendition was underwhelming, it was well placed in a very unnecessary scene). The film’s inaccurate depiction of the Facebook prick doesn’t really matter, because fiction needs no permission and it’s targeted at a guy who sucks and has to purchase his way out of being insufferable, so any social damage done by this is negligible and probably deserving. But I have one question: what in the fuck does this have in common with Rashomon? We were told that upfront, even on the Colbert Report. Do people just not know what the fuck happened in Rashomon? I suppose so. This is another film dedicated to the cult of the 21st century ADHD sociopath American boy. If it wasn’t a worthless endeavor, I’d go back to school and write a dissertation on this, and title it American Psychos: The Intertextuality of Nerds Who Murder With Laptops and Bone-Colored Business Cards.
6. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
rt summary: Scott Pilgrim must defeat his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes in order to win her heart.
my take: One thing I have to say about this ADHD epic is that it is extremely confident in its own skin, and doesn’t mourn those who aren’t following along. It’s a Nintendo-Generation visual comic book, and takes no prisoners as it has a lot of fun. But if you lift up the facade, the story is stilted, awkward and pointless. Cera is bit of an unsympathetic prick, and so is the girl he’s after. Any decent movie would have had him get with the spunky Asian girl after realizing she’s actually worth the attention, but we’d already over-invested our interest in the pretty plain Ramona, who overcompensates for her plainness with dyed hair and an attitude. But seriously, I hate fucking comics, so I have no idea why I liked this.
rt summary: After being abandoned for eight straight years in boarding school, Rohan returns to the small industrial town of Jamshedpur and finds himself with an abusive authoritarian father and a younger half brother who he didn’t even know existed. Forced to work in his father’s steel factory and study engineering against his wishes, he strives to forge his own life out of his given circumstances and pursue his dream of being a writer.
my take: This movie is very universal, not really stuck in the idiosyncrasies that you see in older Indian films. Their culture is changing, and rapidly, since the end of the Red Tape Raj. For most of the movie, you could be forgiven for mistaking the characters for Indian-Americans, as this is an American story, transplanted to a developing country whose hope is as enormous as ours was, once. The rebellion of the child, in the face of a tyrannical alcoholic father, is a symptom of a cultural tradition becoming cynical on its way to having first world problems. Some old fart in the hospital was quoting a Doors song – I’m not sure what to feel about that, but if they dig pretending to be us, more power to them. But I guess it also explains Lashkhar-e Taiba and the Naxalites. Not everybody is ready for modernity it seems. Very decent and touching film. Definitely recommend it.
8. The Town
rt summary: “The Town” is the tale of four men — thieves, rivals and friends — being hunted through the streets of Boston by a tenacious FBI agent and a woman who might destroy them all. The book won the 2005 Hammett Prize for excellence in crime writing.
my take: Somebody got a hold of Ben Affleck and told him to do both Point Break and The Departed the right way. A very grungy movie, and a setting that’s been beaten to death lately, especially from Mr. Affleck himself (Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone), but this is a cut apart because of its raw adrenaline and firepower. The action in The Departed didn’t compare, and its violence could have been orchestrated in a ’70s Charles Bronson movie. The story is light and uninteresting, but Rebecca Hall has nothing to be ashamed about in her performance. I’m glad to see her going places quickly. Jeremy Renner too, wow, I am looking forward to him either becoming a huge star, or accepting a bunch of roles in superhero movies with funny hats until he fades into obscurity. A solid action / heist movie for all of its particulars in that regard.
9. Jackass 3D
rt summary: Johnny Knoxville and his buddies are up to their daredevil comic antics again. And this time they’re coming at ya’ in 3D.
my take: This stuff is never tiring, but it only gets more disgusting each time. That’s what I paid for, so I’m not complaining. The only time I almost threw up watching Jackass was in the extra scenes for Jackass 2, when Dave England ate an omelet recipe raw, puked it up, cooked it, and then ate it again. I had to look away and think about apple pie. I seriously almost hurled, and don’t know why I was letting a movie get to me. This time, it was watching Steve-O drink the fat guy’s sweat … and its results. I just had to think about empty space while everyone else made guttural sounds in the audience. I think these guys deserve some mainstream recognition by now. Jon Stewart was right – they’re modern day Buster Keatons. This stuff is one of the only type of comedy films that work anymore. Show me a list of all those Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Will Ferrell, Danny McBride movies, I’ll show you a list of unwatchable mildly-amusing-if-you’re-drunk wastes of time. It isn’t even just the shock or disgust you get from Jackass, it’s the raw ostentation and silliness of it. You’re not laughing because he’s playing baseball with his dong and that’s gross/wild/extreme/weird. You’re laughing because they’re actually doing that stupid crap. Modern comedy movies take themselves far, faaar too seriously, and are quickly outpaced by the most mediocre standup comedians in terms of funniness, because they’re quick and to the point, no blustering into drama. The only problem I had is that with each movie, the CKY guys drop like flies. Brandon DiCamillo – where was he? He has classic comedic timing. Watching this shit makes me nostalgic for high school, when CKY first came out. Everyone did stuff like this, but never as crazy. This is the blue collar Entourage – how guys manage to have fun with shopping carts and tasers, while enduring excessive pain to erode one’s ego and blend into the crew.
10. Enter the Void
rt summary: Nathaniel Brown and Paz de la Huerta star in a visceral journey set against the thumping, neon club scene of Tokyo, which hurls the viewer into an astonishing trip through life, death, and the universally wonderful and horrible moments between.
my take: This is a combination of many interesting things. I’ll just blurt them all out. Gaspar Noe. Paz de la Huerta. Paz de la Huerta’s tits. Paz de la Huerta’s vajajay. Paz de la Huerta having an abortion. Existence as though one is floating through bullet holes and dead eurasian fetuses. Gaspar Noe. Some kind of transmigration of the soul. The epistemology of gaudy Japanese materialism. The projection of Western seediness onto Japanese culture. Longer shots than Tarkovsky could have tolerated. Gaspar Noe. A lil’ bit of xenophobia, a lil’ bit of claustrophobia. Switching between first person shooter and Lara Croft. The despondency of kids orphaned by a terrible car accident, which we see again and again, in more gruesome detail each time. The only inner-vagina shot of a dong spunking and creating a baby I’ve ever seen in film that wasn’t for educational or scientific purposes. Gaspar Noe. I’d definitely recommend watching it, but cut the long shots either by fast forwarding, or watching funny youtubes. I understand the point of the long shots. I don’t have to sit through them, you tyrant. Gaspar Noe.
I Come in Peace – Art 0/5 Ent 4/5 Worth X/5
Dolph Lundgren as a renegade cop who doesn’t play by the rules, and he has to face something even worse than the drug kingpin he’s after: a drug kingpin from space who injects cocaine into you so he can stick a spike into your brain and suck out all of the endorphins, which is intoxicating to his race (but also illegal, as explained by the space cop). Somehow, CDs are used as weaponry in this movie. You know if you can find an entire movie on youtube, which was uploaded 4 years ago, the property owner is probably either more ashamed to file a complaint with youtube than to actually leave it up, or has forgotten that it was ever made.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Art 3/5 Ent 4/5 Worth 4/5
One thing I have to say about this ADHD epic is that it is extremely confident in its own skin, and doesn’t mourn those who aren’t following along. It’s a Nintendo-Generation visual comic book, and takes no prisoners as it has a lot of fun. But if you lift up the facade, the story is stilted, awkward and pointless. Cera is bit of an unsympathetic prick, and so is the girl he’s after. Any decent movie would have had him get with the spunky Asian girl after realizing she’s actually worth the attention, but we’d already over-invested our interest in the pretty plain Ramona, who overcompensates for her plainness with dyed hair and an attitude. But seriously, I hate fucking comics, so I have no idea why I liked this.
The Expendables – Art -1/5 Ent 4/5 Worth 1/5
Oh boy. The comparison some critic made for this being a guy’s Sex and the City 2 is almost on the mark, considering how vacuous that stupid show and series of movies are. At first I thought this was better than Rambo 4, but it quickly sank in that nothing will ever beat Rambo shooting dozens of bad guy rapists with a .50 cal machine gun. Yet this is still completely devoid of the unintentional humor from the ’80s flicks that it parodies, and you know why? It was Stallone and not Schwarzenegger. They both take themselves too seriously, but Stallone thinks he’s an artist, Arnold knew he was just a circus freak and had no delusions it was all about earning money and having a good time, so he just let it all hang out and punched camels in the face. How many times did Stallone punch a camel in the face? How many Schwarzenegger movies had a social conscience? Bruce Willis gave the job to the wrong man.
Manhattan – Art 3/5 Ent 1/5 Worth 3/5
I’ve seen Annie Hall, and you’re no Annie Hall. Woody Allen reverts back to his ‘zany’ relationship-centric past here and just bores the living fuck out of me. He’ll get back in the saddle with some brilliant stuff in the early ’80s, but Manhattan is not on the same level as Zelig or Stardust Memories. It’s a temporary relaxation, I guess. You can do better, Woody. And stop making Diane Keaton out to be a bitch, she’s clearly a spectacular woman.
The Last Exorcism : Art 2/5 Ent 3/5 Worth 2/5
Once you’ve seen Blair Witch and The Ring as a teenager, nothing scares you anymore, so the scare factor here is overblown. Maybe the best scene is when they’re being chased. To not give anything away, I think that a more courageous ending would have eliminated all of the plot after the main character turns his car around and goes back to town, and I would have had a bit more respect for it. The studio probably wanted some payoff, instead of being a self-debunking. This is far too clean, appropriately acted and decently scripted to be considered a “mockumentary”. A mockumentary is 20 Dates, this is in no substantive way different than Quarantine, a horror movie. Both make for an alright time, but you won’t miss anything if you watch some Squawk Box and learn about fiduciary responsibility instead. Can we get rid of the shaky cam already? We’re not being possessed by Mel Gibson swinging a sword at the English.
Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) – Art 2/5, Ent 3/5 Worth 2/5
Not a terrible movie, nothing truly worthwhile either, unless you’re into horror movies. It stripped a lot of the grime from the summary of the book’s plot that I noticed on Wikipedia, I don’t know why authors feel freedom to be less politically correct than filmmakers. it might have something to do with the fact that literature is a far heavier investment, so people know what they’re getting into – would Lolita have ever gone thoroughly unedited as a film at the time of its first release? I just get the feeling that the atmosphere of this film, which everyone is raving about, is really just the atmosphere of a listless arctic nation without much sunlight. If they replaced the vampire character with a girl who was just misunderstood, it could have been hailed as a great coming-of-age flick. Its atmosphere didn’t differ greatly from Fucking Åmål (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0150662/). But these are the people who produce prolific death metal and not so long ago sent hordes of marauders to rape and pillage the known world, so maybe the natural atmosphere is a little spooky. The voice of the little girl is way too Dark Knight-ish for me. Ease up cuz, for fuck sake.
The Town – Art 2/5 Ent 6/5 Worth 5/5
Somebody got a hold of Ben Affleck and told him to do both Point Break and The Departed the right way. A very grungy movie, and a setting that’s been beaten to death lately, especially from Mr. Affleck himself (Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone), but this is a cut apart because of its raw adrenaline and firepower. The action in The Departed didn’t compare, and its violence could have been orchestrated in a ’70s Charles Bronson movie. The story is light and uninteresting, but Rebecca Hall has nothing to be ashamed about in her performance. I’m glad to see her going places quickly. Jeremy Renner too, wow, I am looking forward to him either becoming a huge star, or accepting a bunch of roles in superhero movies with funny hats until he fades into obscurity. A solid action / heist movie for all of its particulars in that regard.
Nybyggarna (The New Land) – Art 3/5 Ent 2/5 Worth 6/5
Now this is a “Western” I can get behind: Swedes in Minnesota. What a solid movie for its desired product. Max von Sydow and Liv Ulmann are two of the finest talents in film in the 20th century, and thank god because the movie is mostly just them. I shat myself when they mentioned a town that’s literally a 2 minute drive from where I live, as I’d grown up watching Westerns, and historical films, without ever really living close to what’s being depicted in a faraway past. It’s no Bergman (if anything it looks swept up in ’70s German/American New Wave, aesthetically), but it’s not overly sentimental either, it’s just straight forward meat and potatoes immigrant Manifest Destiny stuff. Long though, and its a sequel of a movie that’s long too. Better than Lonesome Dove, I can tell you that.