The Proposition (2005, John Hillcoat)

Pretty okay movie. Definitely a strong western with lovely Australian landscapes. Good enough story. Guy Pearce is the bad guy with conscience, part of a whole bad guy family. Arrested with his daft younger brother in a whorehouse shootout, the chief lets him go, promising to free the younger if Guy kills his older, a hardcore killer living in the mountains. Well done, with great acting by Pearce, Ray Winstone (captain), Emily Watson (capn’s wife), and Richard Wilson (younger) and loopy fun acting by David Gulpilil (always the tracker) and John Hurt (bounty hunter).

Fall just short of loving this movie, only because it seems to have no real point besides “Nick Cave wanted to write an Australian Western”. I don’t have much Western history to compare it to, though… Good/Bad/Ugly, Dead Man, The Unforgiven, Fistful of Dollars… so no comment on its place in the great Western tradition. Little bit of mob-rule in there as the townsfolk find out about the captain’s deal, take younger brother from prison and flog him almost to death. E. Watson participates in that (cuz the brothers raped/killed her friend), then faints from the brutality… later is raped and has husband killed by older brother after he finds out. So it’s a cycle of violence thing (even though older bro planned to kill her husband before he even knew that younger bro had been whipped). Scenes about the aboriginal Australians’ relation with the whites… Gulpilil works for the captain’s men (gets killed), others are captured/enslaved, others attack without warning, spearing Pearce (see below) and some of captain’s men, and getting their heads blown off by older bro. Don’t think there’s much political commentary going on here, just attempts at historical accuracy.

Abandoned the commentary after 30 minutes as Cave & Hillcoat were just alternating between “this scene was really hard to do” and “this actor is brilliant”. The two made a movie in the late 80′s called Ghosts of the Civil Dead and have a comedy coming this year called Death of a Ladies’ Man [note 3 years later: this is probably Death of Bunny Munro, got postponed due to The Road].

Best outcome of the movie: getting on a Nick Cave kick and buying the 2DVD/2CD “Abbatoir Blues Tour” set. The 15-minute music video for “Babe, I’m On Fire”, also directed by John Hillcoat, is almost as good as The Proposition.

Tried to find the least-interlaced screenshots.

image

image

image

image

image

The War Tapes (2006, Deborah Scranton)

Harsh, harsh film. Three soldiers (Zack, Mike and Steve) get cameras to take on their tour in Iraq, filming daily activity and keeping sort of video journals. Meanwhile, camera crew in U.S. interviews their family, loved ones, and records their safe return home at the end. Tightly edited together to give an excellent, horrifying look at the war.

Cameras can be helmet-mounted or gun-mounted, giving a disturbingly video-game-like feel to the fighting (and there IS fighting). We see IEDs go off, civilians get hurt, US soldiers get hurt, dead rebels, grieving families. Brings home the reality of things I’d only vaguely read/heard about that are still going on (this was shot 2004). Very glad I watched, even if I felt terrible throughout.

Zach is from Lebanon, speaks Arabic, is one of the few US soldiers who can communicate with the locals, until he gets tired of having to repeat the company line to them. Mike is a pro-war go-get-em guy who signed up because of 9/11 and ended up disgusted by the experience, back at his difficult job at home. Steve is a lightweight joker reading The Nation, goes through a lot in Iraq, comes home probably with post-traumatic disorders, all a ball of bottled rage. These guys have gone to war and been messed up by it. They’re worse off, both countries are worse off. A real-life horror movie.

An IED going off:
image

Night-Vision Zack:
image

My Country My Country (2006, Laura Poitras)

“Secularism won’t give us our rights. America is secular but its democracy hasn’t achieved justice.”

All movies start with the ending now. This starts with the ending.

Documentary portrait of an Iraqi father running for political office, unsuccessfully. His (friend’s?) son gets kidnapped for ransom towards the end of the movie, safely returned, seems unconnected to the election. A muddled film giving a muddled look into the muddled political world of a muddled country. Would’ve maybe been valuable if The War Tapes hadn’t blown it away a few minutes later.

Enjoy the forced subtitles:
image

image

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo del Toro)

Starts with the end. All movies start with the end now.

Kind of a disappointment. Not just that expectations were high, just that they were so high for so long and movie kept playing and finally I saw it in closing week and by then I knew it’d be a depressing fascist struggle film with metaphorical special effects and had already seen the monster with eyes in its hands a million times in promo photos. Had few delightful surprises to offer, just a good movie.

Let’s see… fascist Spain 1944, little Ofelia’s dad is dead and mom is marrying a psycho captain who moves them into the country to fight rebel forces who camp in the woods. Housekeeper Mercedes is in love with lead rebel and smuggles out food, supplies and information. A showdown ensues, rebels win the battle but not the war.

Oh also Ofelia finds an underground fantasyland where she tries to escape the pain of reality and eventually succeeds by getting shot to death by the captain and reuniting with her dead parents, now king and queen of Pan’s realm. A happy ending, not really.

Katy liked it I think.

One Year In Review

Yay, I’ve been keeping this journal for one year!

I guess when I first started, I just wanted to write something, anything, to get into the habit of writing about movies, so April entries like The Palm Beach Story and Inside Man aren’t very helpful. Started getting better soon after with L’Age d’or and Moolaade, but I still write up a lot of short entries that I don’t think will be very useful in the long run.

Still, I believe this thing is serving its purpose. Making me think again about a movie a few hours to weeks after watching it is probably helpful to long-term memory, even if I’m not writing anything amazing. And if there’s something I was unclear on while watching a video, I can pick it up when going through the movie later to get screenshots. I don’t watch movies with the journal in mind, trying to think what to say about it before it’s even over, so it’s not distracting in a bad way, but I do sometimes try to remember lines or scenes so I can get a good quote or screenshot later. That can only be helpful – I want to be able to remember what I’ve watched. I mean, what’s the use of seeing every Fritz Lang movie if two years later I can only remember a third of ‘em? Might as well have just watched a third of the Fritz Lang movies and not wasted my time on the others. And for the most part, I’ve stopped watching movies that I can’t pay attention to… playing “They Live By Night” on the TV while I’m facing away from it, missing most of the picture, just so I can say I’ve “seen” a Nick Ray movie. No point in that. So half the reason for this journal was to improve my memory of what I’ve watched, and hopefully it’s mission accomplished on that goal.

If the other half was to improve my writing by making myself practice writing (about movies) every day, that mission’s nowhere near accomplished. I’m not proud of any of these entries as writing samples… wouldn’t be able to argue my case as a film critic. I might’ve forced myself to give the proper amount of time and energy to the movies, but I’m not giving much time/energy to the writing itself, just tossing out thoughts as fast as they come when I get a free minute in the day, not forcing myself to really analyze the film or arrange my thoughts into something coherent or interesting. Haven’t been recommending anybody read this journal because I know if I wasn’t the one writing it, I wouldn’t want to read it either.

On the other hand, I’ve got 250 entries here. If I consider myself more of a cinephile than a writer on cinema, then it only makes sense that I’m devoting more time to watching the films than to reviewing them. I mean, this guy devotes tons of time and care to his entries, but he only has 65 entries in two and a half years. I’d rather stick with my method. 250 entries for some 340 movies. So on my running list of all the movies I’ve seen, I have notes on about 10% of them. Not bad!

Have I learned anything? How to very slightly hack style sheets in WordPress, I guess. Not really. Haven’t changed my perceptions on film or writing or anything.

At the start of 2006 I made myself a list of 100 titles I simply had to see that year. Took it chronologically, for the most part, and only made it 30-some titles in (through the 1950′s). Didn’t think of it as something that needed to be accomplished anyway, just as a guideline. Well this year I’ve made it definitely impossible with a list of 250+ titles for myself (including all the available Resnais, Marker & Rivette titles). Nice to set goals, anyway… I referred to the list only yesterday when deciding to rent these two Iraq documentaries.

I guess the biggest attitude change lately came while making my lists of favorite films from 2006 this January. I read other people’s lists and came across so many movies that I’d sort of meant to see in ’06 but had decided against, thinking they probably wouldn’t be great (rather than seeing anything that looks good, hoping it WOULD be great). Don’t know where that attitude came from, but it led me to miss what are belatedly some of my favorite movies of last year, seen this year on video. So I’m trying (and so far succeeding) to get out to the theaters more these days, attempting to stay current and live in-the-now instead of solely catching up on stuff from the 30′s and 50′s.

Changes to the journal: added the category listings on the right-hand side to collect writings on the same director or series, changed the layout a little to accomodate 600-pixel-wide images instead of limiting to 500.

Standout entries so far: none, really. I mean, Out 1 was long and exhaustive and some entries had nice screenshots and occasionally I’d play a commentary track and copy some bits from there, and I enjoyed watching the Phantasm series again and bitching about The Leopard, but I’m not ready to start a best-of-the-journal collection here.

Goals:
– stay current with new releases
– keep a notepad near the TV to write down cool quotes or ideas during the film
– see about 6-8 more Bunuel movies, make my way through Resnais and Marker.
– try harder to come up with something meaningful to say here
– read more books (Deleuze, other theory stuff)
– learn a little French
– keep writin’
– watch more movies!

Street of Shame (1956, Kenji Mizoguchi)

Portrait of a whorehouse at a certain point in time when politicians were discussing whether to outlaw the profession (voted the ban down at the end of the movie, but it eventually passed, some say as a result of the movie). Six or seven prostitutes all with different desperate situations. One has a suicidally depressing home life with sick husband and infant they can’t afford, one is trying to support her son who disowns her when he finds out what she does at work, one is a rich bitch escaping her controlling father, one is aiming to escape through marriage but her husband mistreats her and she comes crawling back, and one is bilking her clients out of extra money so she can quit and start her own business (the only happy ending here).

The same sort of feminine miserablism that I’ve come to expect from Mizoguchi after Life Of Oharu. This one has a more impressive look to it (the main house and the street outside, the costumes, the acting, all exquisite) but still a depressing movie that I didn’t enjoy very much. I may have liked it better than Ugetsu though… have to see that one again, and check out Sansho The Bailiff sometime.

A turning-point year for Japanese cinema: Mizoguchi’s final film, the beginning of the Japanese New Wave, and (according to Reverse Shot) the beginning of “more socially critical efforts” by Yasujiro Ozu. It’s also the year of The Burmese Harp, but I haven’t seen that yet.

Saw this one with Pia from work.

Ms. 45 (1981, Abel Ferrara)

A lonely mute girl gets raped, robbed, and raped again, all in one night. She stops the second guy though (kills him with an iron, chops him up), grabs his gun and goes on a vengeance spree through the city, killing just any man she can.

image

All this killing takes its toll on her daily life, and her seamstress friends at work start to notice the change. She sort of goes from righteous victim to homicidal maniac, but then she never quite loses our affection either. A lot more carefully measured and watchable than the grating Driller Killer.

image

One “victim” actually takes the gun and shoots himself out on a park bench. She doesn’t kill the dog (screen shot below). Eventually puts on the nun suit and goes all Carrie at a halloween party before she’s taken out.

image

Scott Ashlin says:
“What we get instead is… a film that depicts men in the harshest and most unforgiving light, presenting them as legitimately deserving a substantial proportion of Thana’s wrath. Simply put, Ms. .45 has no patience with mitigating circumstances. In this movie, people, both men and women, are defined entirely by what they do rather than by who they are. It doesn’t matter, or so Ms. .45 contends, whether an exploiter had a rough childhood or a bad day at work or a steady stream of shitty luck with the girls he dated in his formative years. Violence buys violence, end of story.”

image

September 2011: Great to see this again on 35mm at Cinefest.

Edmond (2005, Stuart Gordon)

Edmond doesn’t love his wife anymore, maybe never has, so he leaves her, just walks out into the night. Goes to a pawn shop, gets himself a nice knife. Walks around getting increasingly frustrated, looking for a woman, but when he finally gets one alone he slices her up. Ends up caught for the crime, in jail.

image

William H. Macy is Edmond, and it’s a David Mamet script, so of course Macy’s got those stilted speech patterns down as only he can. George Wendt runs the pawn shop, Joe Mantegna probably begged for a cameo, Julia Stiles is the hot girl who gets sliced, and good to see Jeffrey Combs in a non-lunatic role as a faggy desk clerk. That’s Mamet vet Jack Wallace as the priest. Feels great to see a “respectable” Stuart Gordon movie… the guy needs more recognition as expert auteur of slimy and disturbing entertainment.

image

Edmond is a complicated guy, alternating between meek + wormy and enraged + righteous while on the streets, then unremorseful on his way to prison. He’s almost a hero for how purely he unleashed his thoughts and desires, if only he weren’t so full of hate, misogyny, homophobia and racism. Edmond finds peace at the end, some huge black guy’s bitch, becoming everything he has feared and learning (having) to live with it. Maybe that’s what brings him peace, it’s not confronting his fears but having no choice in the matter, having no free will to worry about anymore. After all, the choices he made when he had choices to make turned out badly. Anyway, pretty great movie, short and shocking.

image

image

In Absentia (2000, Quay Bros.)

Doesn’t exactly make sense until the ending, where it is dedicated to a woman who wrote letters home from an asylum, so worth seeing again with that in mind from the start. Watched an old TV rip of this while pondering whether to spend $25 on their new DVD set. Really don’t need the director commentaries and I haven’t even gotten around to Piano Tuner of Earthquakes yet, so probably not.

image

Lots of close-ups on pencil leads here. For the first half, my lowered expectations of the Quays’ work since seeing Institute Benjamenta were unaltered, but then it started to come together with the completely awesome music by Stockhausen, images growing less abstract and almost wanting to join a narrative of some sort. Some of the weirdest music I’ve heard… don’t know if I need to get an album or if, like Morricone, I’ll like it better set to images like these. Anyway, turned out to be a fine little 20-min film, in whatever station-logo-blighted form I managed to watch it.

image