Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I didn't know what to expect going into this, except that I knew Michael Fassbender would be excellent, as always. He was, of course, but I thought the film was very good as well, better than I thought it would be. Some of the criticism that I'd heard, that the film was overwrought, that it would've been more interesting if Brandon (Fassbender's damaged, sex-addicted character) actually enjoyed the sex, seems to me more of a criticism of the very notion of sex-addiction. Because it's funny, right, sex addiction? We should all be so lucky. So I for one believed the grimacing awful looks on Brandon's face as he tried to fulfill something through meaningless sex. Everything about him, the way he talked, the way he moved, was the way a man in incredible pain, and constant rage, would move and talk. And the sex addiction was really a symptom, covering up whatever horror had been inflicted on Brandon at a young age (ditto with his sister, the equally excellent Carey Mulligan). They fuck you up, your mum and dad, etcetera ... or, as Sissy (the sister) says, "We are not bad people but we came from a bad place."

So here's my problem with the film and it's a fairly minor problem (fairly major for Charlene), but why sit through a movie that moves from Point A all the way back again to Point A, both points being horrifically bleak. There's an ambiguous ending (a little annoying, actually) that leaves open the idea that Brandon might have changed slightly but that's about it. There is no redemption and almost no hope. There is no character arc. I guess I wouldn't have minded a little more of this movie, an actual presentation of Brandon at least trying to get better, seeking help. This isn't so much because I need happy endings (I don't) but because I think it would be interesting. Otherwise, what are we watching besides pain, brilliantly acted?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Poetry Monday

Book Ends

by Tony Harrison

Baked the day she suddenly dropped dead
we chew it slowly that last apple pie.

Shocked into sleeplessness you're scared of bed.
We never could talk much, and now don't try.

You're like book ends, the pair of you, she'd say,
Hog that grate, say nothing, sit, sleep, stare…

The 'scholar' me, you, worn out on poor pay,
only our silence made us seem a pair.

Not as good for staring in, blue gas,
too regular each bud, each yellow spike.

At night you need my company to pass
and she not here to tell us we're alike!

You're life's all shattered into smithereens.

Back in our silences and sullen looks,
for all the Scotch we drink, what's still between 's
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Under the Dome

This excellent thousand-pager from Stephen King is both epic and somehow cozy. It's high concept premise: an entire town--Chester's Mill, Maine--is mysteriously encased in a huge, impermeable dome, sealed from outside help, its inhabitants unable to escape. All sorts of grisliness ensues as King dispatches with abandon his town's denizens. There's a typical King hero, a man named Barbie, and an excellent King villain, a self-righteous Christian named Big Jim Rennie, who is incredibly nasty while thinking he's the hero of the story.

Most of all, though, this is King's most political novel, working as an allegory for everything that's wrong with modern America, post 9/11. Its themes: the environment, homeland security, American imperialism, Christian doctrine, individual freedoms, the Press, to name a few. But most of all this book turns out to be about the importance of pity, more important in the modern world than love.

I remember King, a massive fan of Lost, imploring the writers to create an ending that explained everything that happened. He said he knew that they'd be crucified for it but it was the honest way to go. He was right, and the ending of this book, the explanation of the events, is not quite as riveting as its premise. But how could it be? King provides an ending, and that's the important thing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Less a female Bourne picture and something closer to a spy caper from the 1960s, this is an odd, quirky action film that was very entertaining. In fact, as Stephanie Zacharek pointed out in her spot-on Movieline review, this is really the first successful Modesty Blaise picture, although Gina Carano is playing a character called Mallory Kane (close enough). She even drinks red wine after a brutal job, which may or may not be a direct reference to Blaise, a female mercenary from the novels and comic strips of Peter O'Donnell.

Carano, not a trained actor but a mixed-martial arts star,  was mesmerizing in this. Her line readings might not be perfect but she knows how to fight and do her own stuntwork, and she also knows how to move through a frame of film. She's both gorgeous and genuinely dangerous looking, like a big slab of muscle. It's fun to see a bunch of alpha-male stars--Michael Fassbender, Ewan MacGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum--play second fiddle, or second place, to her.

There's a fight scene on the beach toward the end of the film that has a kind of surreal energy to it. It looked familiar to me, and then I realized that Soderbergh was directly channeling the opening beach fight scene from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Shot selection, lighting, the fact that it's sunset. I know that Soderbergh does often study sequences in preparation for his films so I'm pretty sure about this. Kevin, when you see this, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Awards Season

I'm actually not one of those curmudgeons who goes around talking about how movies used to be great and now they're terrible (no, really, I'm not), but after this morning's announcement of the nine nominations for best picture it was hard not to look at that list and wonder if any of the films on it will be remembered twenty years from now. Don't get me wrong: I liked a lot of the films on the list but I can't really see a classic on it.

The nominated films:

The Artists
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

And just to make my point here are the ten nominated films for the 12th Academy Awards from 1939:

Gone With the Wind
Dark Victory
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Love Affair
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Of Mice and Men
The Wizard of Oz
Wuthering Heights

I know that 1939 was a banner year but what a difference. Some of the films not nominated that year: Gunga Din, Midnight, Only Angels Have Wings, The Rules of the Game.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Poetry Monday

Piazza di Spagna, Early Morning

by Richard Wilbur

          I can’t forget
    How she stood at the top of that long marble stair
    Amazed, and then with a sleepy pirouette
Went dancing slowly down to the fountain-quieted square;

      Nothing upon her face
But some impersonal loneliness, -- not then a girl,
      But as it were a reverie of the place,
       A called-for falling glide and whirl;

      As when a leaf, petal, or thin chip
Is drawn to the falls of a pool and, circling a moment above it,
      Rides on over the lip –
Perfectly beautiful, perfectly ignorant of it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Ice Cream War (1982)

An historical novel about the African front during World War I. If Boyd's first novel, A Good Man in Africa, was his Kingsley Amis novel, then this is Boyd's Evelyn Waugh novel. It works in places but not really as a whole. The far-flung characters and plot-strands, even when they came together in the end, never really connected thematically.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ten Favorite Films of 2012

Just speculation, of course. I don't have a time machine.

Or do I?

10. Haywire
Steven Soderbergh makes the second best action film of the year.

9. Seven Psychopaths
Colin Farrell should only make films with Martin McDonagh. Performance of the year.

8. Skyfall

A little too serious for its own good but another excellent Daniel Craig entry in the series.

7. The Cabin in the Woods
The best of the three Joss Whedon productions this year. Who knew that a twisty log-cabin horror story would be better than Shakespeare and better than The Avengers?

6. Anna Karenina
Old-fashioned film-making at its best. Dario Marinelli produces the best score of the year, by far.

5. Moonrise Kingdom
Surprisingly moving film from Wes Anderson. Best line of the year. You know what I'm talking about.

4. Gravity
Not as moving, or chilling, as Children of Men, but the most technically complex and spellbinding movie of the year. Cuaron is now the indisputable master of the single-take shot. Sorry, Joe Wright.

3. Damsels in Distress
I  know a lot of people hated this movie, and I know that Whit Stillman always makes the same film, but I don't care. I hope he keeps making them.

2. Looper
Rian Johnson is three for three. Best sci-fi thriller in a long time.

1. Django Unchained
Not my favorite Tarantino but, still, the boldest, grisliest, most subversive film of the year. Sam Jackson should clear space on the mantle for his Oscar.

Poetry Monday

Not Waving but Drowning
by Stevie Smith
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ten Favorite Films of 2011

This list will change over time but here they are. The ten films, for right now, that meant the most to me this past year.

It didn't need to get made but no films really need to get made, do they? The most fun I had at a feel-bad film this year.

9. Hugo
The perfect material for a Scorsese kids' film. It's sliding from my mind already but I loved it when I saw it.

Brad Bird makes the best Mission Impossible film yet.

The rollicking non-sentimental adventure format of Herge's books forces Spielberg to make nothing but an action film. Not better than the comics but I would love to see Peter Jackson and Spielberg make several more of these films.

The backlash is starting because this film is so light and entertaining. Nothing wrong with that. Also, I feel like the last scene elevated this into something special.

Should have been longer. How often do you say that?

As someone who has always wanted to live in another time and place this film really hit home for me. Who knew Woody Allen had one more classic in him?

I'd bet money that Kristen Wiig will never be in a better film. Hopefully not true but this was a great character-driven comedy, and Wiig should be nominated for an Oscar.

A devastating, yet somehow magical, film about clinical depression. Like many Lars Von Trier's films, I find myself unable to shake this.

The music, the landscapes, the poetry, the impressions, the sad ending, and the many many laughs. Not for everyone but it felt as though this were made for me.

Runners up: Moneyball, The Muppets, Cedar Rapids, Insidious, Source Code, first half of X Men: First Class
Haven't seen: War Horse, The Tree of Life, The Descendants, A Separation, Shame