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Moving Pictures Make the World Go ’Round

My movie watching has come to a screeching halt ... at least until my fellowship application writing work reaches its conclusion. But instead of doing the work I should be completing, I will instead procrastinate and reflect upon a handful of recently viewed films.

Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani in Possession
[ source ]

Possession mixes David Lynch and David Cronenberg stylistic aspects with a distinctly European sensibility. It is a movie set in Cold War Berlin with a Polish director, and French and Irish leads, though Sam Neill has spent his career in New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S., and Isabelle Adjani sports German and Turkish-Algerian parents. The first part of the film is the best “breaking up” movie I have seen in a long time ... it hits the major points without becoming some sort of sappy melodrama. From there, however, it becomes truly bizarre, though I must admit I saw “the end” coming, if not from a mile away, at least from a few blocks, let us say. There is just enough paranoia going on that the subtle psychological and social connections work.

In its visual cues, though, the film is not subtle at all. The performances are extreme. Extremely stylized. Marked by extreme emotions. Punctuated by extreme shifts. At times it seems more like theater on film rather than a movie, but I really enjoyed it. The miscarriage in the tunnel both assaulted my ears and provided me with gut-reaction imagery that used only low-tech effects.

If you enjoy weird, intellectual, and challenging films, Possession is for you.

One Point O (2004)

The following list shows the main actors [and their roles] in the film. I find it amusing that many of the actors I “know” have the smaller parts ... many of the actors I do not “know” from anywhere, for their previous films are things I have not yet seen.

I had read that this film did well at Sundance.It is too obscure and bleak and strange for a mass-market cinematic release, I fear, but it is the type of film some of the smaller theaters around here would show. I’d rather not re-invoke the muses of Lynch and Cronenberg, though One Point O seems to be closer to their aesthetic than to Steven Soderbergh’s under-appreciated Kafka from 1991, with which it shares certain superficial similarities.

One Point O begins as the story of a computer programmer/hacker in a crappy apartment building, and visual ghosts of The Matrix will confront most viewers, I suspect, but the film's sensibilities and approach to narrative more closely resemble Naked Lunch and eXistenz ... withouth the pyschosis or confusing "layers." It also seems like a mix of a “what if?” type sci-fi story mixed with a “let us just explore this” mode of film making.

The grocery store clerk fascinated me.

from One Point O

The film does present one of the more novel approaches to critiquing consumerism that I've seen in a while. On Labor Day two friends and I went to see I, Robot, which was showing for free at the Union. At best it was “inspired by” Asimov's stories, and clearly no fan of the stories (myself included) could be satisified if fidelity to the master were the measure for success or quality. Will Smith was the lead because ... because Will Smith opens big summer movies well. He shoots off one-liners for a living, and Bridget Moynahan (whom I also admit to seeing in Coyote Ugly, where she was queen bitch) plays his cardboard straight-(wo)man, serving as Tommy Lee Jones’ replacment. After the movie I wondered aloud to Wes (with whom I watched the movie, along with Ivana) about how movies with anti-corporate tendencies are stuck on the model of the corporation as something from the age of Rockefeller, Carnegie, the railroad barons, etc. I find this useful to consider, for if the point in including such a critique is a social one, and thus by definition a contemporary social point, then something so anachronistic (given contemporary corporate morphology) is useless. The same might be said about the more distopian corporate image in a film like One Point O—the all-too-frequently used faceless bureaucracy, a representation straight out of modernist texts for the past hundred years. This approach is more accurate but often fails to accept our own role as consumers and stockholders—often we are the willing gears and foot soldiers of the corporation (choose your own metaphor).

This matter of clichéd representations is one of the things that sinks Cube2: Hypercube. I saw Cube about two years ago. My brother saw it on cable or such while doing a medical experiment; he then mentioned it to me and we watched it on DVD at our house. I now have my own copy. It is by no means a perfect film, but if one is looking at some sort of “brilliance ratio” that captures how good a film is relative to the resources that went into making it, Cube ranks way up there; although not as entertaining, it is more intelligent than Desperado, another movie that returns great results despite limited resources. Hell, Cube features one set and a handful of characters named after prisons. It has a single “smart idea” (and that’s all that’s necessary) to drive the plot forward, and the dialogue, while not at the level of Aaron Sorkin, was competent enough to support the film’s intellectual conceits. I can respect that.

The sequel failed in almost all categories when compared to its predecessor. It clearly cost more to make. Its script was purely functional without being interesting. Its intellectual “smart idea’ did not drive the plot, but rather placed boundaries around it. On top of that, whereas the first worked as a social allegory, the second resorted to unmasking all the mystery without actually answering any of the interesting questions. Some on the IMDB forums have complained about the ending. The violence does not bother me, but that they went that route by making the film so concrete does—underestimating your audience makes you money, but pisses me off.

Just watch Cube instead.

I am a sucker for comic book movies. I liked the Richard Donner Superman, and I was a fan of super-hero cartoons on TV when I was a kid. The two (so far) X-Men movies are marvelous, though at times they sport a coldness borne of Bryan Singer’s cool craftsmanship, I suspect. Both Spider-Man movies I find enjoyable, and even the ill-conceived Daredevil film provides moments of entertainment, though for me the two leads work best when they are seen and not heard, especially true of Ben (whom I like best in Kevin Smith’s movies, which happen to feature comic books. Go figure.).

Hellboy was a very pleasant surprise. On the technical level it is as smooth and perfected as both the Spider-Man and the X-Men movies, but it features a grittier atmosphere and a richer tone. It also seems to exist on a smaller scale, and this endears it to me. I have been a Ron Perlman fan for years. I first saw him in The Name of the Rose, but first “recognized” him in Alien Resurrection; I never really watched “Beauty and the Beast” on TV. Last year I watched del Toro’s Cronos, another wonderfully small-scale film, this time a vampire story. Like Hellboy, which is a comic book (or super-hero) movie, but one told with a certain quirkiness that sets it apart, Cronos is an idiosyncratic vampire flick. In both films the director engages the genre conventions in a way that most similar films do not, and del Toro does so without resorting to excessive self-referentiality bordering on parody; his movies, even in their comic moments, are earnest.

In contrast Van Helsing was a new low for just about all involved, a low that generally dug the hole a bit deeper each minute the movie progressed. I had hope for it not because of its actors, director, or subjet matter, but because the first few minutes hint at a campiness that could have been brilliant, but as soon as we are introduced to Van Helsing himself the standard tropes and formulaic necessities came into play. This movie was an unintentional parody. Richard Roxburgh’s Dracula was over the top, but became serious as the movie wore on, and he wore out his welcome. The ending, with a vampire vs. a werewolf, cited but did not improve upon Underworld. Dracula’s brides, while visually stunning, never developed an identity, either collectively or as individual characters. Frankenstein’s Monster was, by the end, one of the few characters to whom I established any attachement; David Wenham’s Carl was the other, and many folks with whom I spoke did not recognize him as P. Jackson’s Faramir. Jackman and Beckinsale were wasted; except for star-power-names and their distinctive looks, their presense added little—their performances were generic at best, and that is clearly to be blamed on the script writer and director, Stephen Sommers. I would watch it again, and I will watch it again, but there is no seed of impulse in me that compels me to do so—other movies will first attract my attention.

In other news (new and not so new):

Johannes Brahms

Elena’s Motorcyle Ride through Chernobyl: sure, this is all over the IntarWeb, but I haven’t linked to it yet. I first saw it some months ago, but it was brought back to my attention this afternoon ... so here it is. Enjoy.

Evidently I am in good health, though I won’t be sure until I get the blood test results back. My blood pressure (120/74) and pulse (56) seem okay, and my weight (211 lbs.) is the best it has been for over a decade. I got poked with three needles, and as of this afternoon/evening my right shoulder is a bit sore, likely due to the tetanus booster.

It will be a busy weekend, given the application deadline, the conference, the LUG meeting, and the wedding ... but in a way I prefer it like this. I hate the pressure and stress, but I at least feel like something is being accomplished. My life does not feel wasted when I have deadlines to me, things to do, and people to see. I could spend my life doing just about anything as long as it kept me busy, kept me social, and kept me challenged intellectually. Oh, add something about “socially responsible” or “ethical” as well. It is such a shame that the latter excludes almost all government jobs, or jobs in just about any business but the small, locally owned type.

Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras
und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen
wie des Grases Blumen.
Das Gras ist verdorret
und die Blume abgefallen.

Such beautiful language, such powerful imagery, and such a world-view ... but one which I refuse to share. Even given that I can respect the text up to this point, but beyond here it invokes the senile bearded man in the sky, for whom I have no use.

There is an obvious irony about such a sense/body-denying philsophy being communicated by such sensual art, but why let that irony ruin my appreciation of the music.

Thank you, Johannes Brahms, for one of the most moving pieces of music yet performed by man.

—September 15 2004