Mea culpa

Those paying attention might have noticed that there has been nothing here to pay attention to. Verily, the blog is not dead. Without getting too disgustingly confessional, the reviews stopped because life picked up, and sadly even though I am now at the center of the film viewing universe, I have had the time and energy to see barely a thing. The languishment will end later this week, when I see High-Rise at the Tribeca Film Festival, but I wanted to catch up by way of confessing my thoughts on the films I have seen but not reviewed.

First and foremost is Room, since everyone seems to love it and it won awards. I will happily play the poop in the punch bowl. The film is tedious and awful – your average made for cable drama has more gravitas and narrative thrust than this ludicrous snooze. Oh I get it, we’re supposed to be so enamoured of the boy, and so into sharing his supposed sensory liberation, that the glaringly dubious aspects of this purported true story pass by as unnoticed as William H Macy’s presence. For instance, the woman and her son are held in a room locked with a four digit numeric pad. Given that it would take a few days at most to run through every combination, why exactly is she still trapped eight years later? Or why has she not tipped over the wardrobe and kicked out the skylight? Just so she could raise a really bad pint sized beat. I suppose the child’s point of view is intended to be charming, but his ersatz poetic Nasdat is incredibly twee and pretentious. Since there is no mystery as to the unfolding or resolution of the plot, we are left with little but sentimentality to provide interest. And that is not nearly enough.

Cosmos, Andrzej Zulwaski’s most recent (and, sadly, final) film, an adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s novel of the same name, was highly anticipated, mostly because of the director. Much to my chagrin, I slept through two thirds of the film, so hopefully my perkier and more knowledgeable fellow viewer will soon be contributing a review. I also dozed through the beginning of The Witch. (Rest assured that I am working to ensure that this does not turn into a trend). An over-rated but still decent supernatural chiller, the movie provides a gritty (if doubtlessly inaccurate) portrait of colonial nuclear family living, and has a climax that marries the ridiculous to the sublime while paying homage to Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 masterpiece Haxan. Worth seeing.

More to follow…

Top 10 Films of 2015

I guess it’s the time of year for drawing up lists… or rather, well past that time, I suppose. Thinking of the inevitable “best of” list throughout the year, I kept projecting forward – where are those 10 best films? I’m so excited for them! Can’t wait! Until, with a bit of a shock, sometime around November I realized I’d probably already seen the 10 best films of the year. What? Those films?! I do not mean to slander the films on this list, but they do somehow feel less self-evident than last year’s did. While I can’t claim that Brooklyn is any revelation in terms of the history of cinema, and maybe not even the “best” film of the year, it was the film that had the greatest emotional impact on me, so… there it is, sitting on top.

  1. Brooklyn (John Crowley – Ireland)
  2. Sicario (Denis Villeneuve – US)
  3. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell – US)
  4. The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle – US)
  5. Hard to be a God (Aleksey German – Russia)
  6. Phoenix (Christian Petzold – Germany)
  7. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller – Australia)
  8. Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry – US)
  9. Dog Lady (Verónica Llinás and Laura Citarella – Argentina)
  10. The Gift (Joel Edgerton – Australia)

Oscars 2014

I forced myself to sit down and watch the whole broadcast for the first time since the mid-1990s. The reason, after a night of mind-numbing blandness, now escapes me… Perhaps it was because for the first time in many years I had actually seen most of the nominated films. Perhaps it was for you, dear reader. (Thanks for nothing, says you). For all of Neil Patrick Harris’s vaunted panache and professionalism, I found him tedious. At least most of the time he had the virtue of being succinct – except when it came to the lame, beyond overly drawn out, night-long gag revolving around his “predictions,” sealed in a Lucite case that poor Octavia Spencer was forced to vouch for. Nobody cared, and the payoff was dreadfully unfunny (especially after nearly four hours). Yes, he can sing and dance, I guess, but he did little of that, and most of his jokes were no more funny, or classy, than the hosts of yesteryear. Taking the Oscars seriously is a bit much, I agree, but the constant undercutting, as in “winner says something ‘serious’ about injustice or the terminally ill and then is immediately shown up by a lame quip,” as in NPH’s tasteless Snowden joke, does a disservice to everyone, viewers included. And why oh why was everyone crying? I have never seen so many teary eyes – not from winners, even, or Terrence Howard, just from randos in the audience. Now I remember why I have usually skipped this thing.

Onto the winners. Yes, perhaps the show could have been redeemed by some interesting upsets, or some winners I could get excited about, but it seemed that every picture got a token award, except for Birdman. Tokenism was the watchword of the night, as the Best Actor and Actress were awarded, as the Academy loves to do, to disability awareness-raising roles that also had the serendipity of celebrating a beloved and important scientist on the one hand, and granting Julianne Moore a long overdue Oscar on the other. (Note that I’m not complaining, really, as those two roles are also the only two I haven’t seen, although I will see Still Alice, as I love both Ms. Moore and Kristen Stewart. Also, the field was not especially exciting, and it was nice for an upset in Best Actor, and at least one non-Birdman win). Selma got best song, Whiplash and Boyhood Supporting Actor and Actress, Grand Budapest Hotel a handful of more “technical” awards… saving up most of the goodies for Birdman. Now, Birdman is not a horrible film, but of all the awards it won, the only that it debatably deserved were Best Director and Cinematography. I fully admit that I do not understand the passion for this film. It is a pretentious muddle (even the title does not escape this evaluation!), as most of Inarritu’s films have been. He has a good sense of staging and camera movement, his films are visually competent, but his stories are often strained, both overblown and underdeveloped. Why do we care about this washed-up actor, himself pretentious and shallow? Because he is Michael Keaton. What does Birdman have to do, conceptually, with Raymond Carver? Seemingly nothing – in fact, the film mirrors the trivial and shallow development of the play within. Is it trying to say something about identity, or aging? Not really – more often than not, the film devolves into arguments that are more backstage soap opera than anything else (Dad screaming about the importance of his career, daughter screaming about how irrelevant he is in the age of Twitter, all undergirded by the usual show-biz parenting gripes about distance and self-importance). The damn thing can’t seem to decide when it should end, or perhaps even worse, why it should end, which gives a clue as to the director’s own uncertainty about and incomprehension of his material. (Said material took four writers!) Is it a tragedy? Comedy? Magical realism? Perhaps as all of the above, it can’t go wrong. But it also, in that case, can’t go right. The sole redeeming facet of the film, outside the visual realm, is Ed Norton’s performance – and, indeed, his character. His character is a critic of the play within the film, and a decent one at that; it is odd that the writers should write such an intelligent point of view but not apply it to their own superstructure. At any rate, his scenes are the only ones with brio and some degree of heat; it’s too bad the film wasn’t about him rather than a second rate actor who delivers a very second rate set of insights. All of this would be what it is, except that everyone in Film Land loves it! Perhaps it is the inside baseball element? Or the fact that it features a lot of actors, a c t i n g… The Academy, as usual, did not fail to elevate the middle of the road mediocrity to the top spot. And as usual, the sting would have been a lot less if it didn’t take four hours to reach the middle of the road. Lady Gaga did a pretty good Julie Andrews impression, though.