Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Curious Case of President Brundlefly

Dennis Cozzalio's latest movie quiz arrives just in time for a bit of reflection before 2009 is upon us. This time the test is administered by Professor Kingsfield, whose lessons in The Paper Chase were part of a recent management training I had to attend (along with "lessons" from Breaking Away and Young Frankenstein, for some reason). Let's begin:

1) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD or Blu-ray?

Theatrically, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - schmaltzy, but well-crafted and heartfelt enough that I didn't mind. On DVD, the original My Bloody Valentine (pretty soon, every mention of an '80s horror movie will be preceded by "the original").

2) Holiday movies— Do you like them naughty or nice?

At least a little bit naughty. For instance, my favorite Scrooge (one I've watched every December since I was a tot) is the 1970 version with Albert Finney. It features decaying ghouls and a tour of hell along with the obligatory jolly, dancing British people - a good reminder that Dickens' story, and the holiday, are as much about religious guilt and keeping our wintry demons at bay as they are about tinsel and elves.

3) Ida Lupino or Mercedes McCambridge?

Ida Lupino

4) Favorite actor/character from Twin Peaks

My first thought was Audrey Horne swaying to Angelo Badalamenti's "dreamy" music at the Double R Diner. But The Little Man From Another Planet also deserves mention.

5) It’s been said that, rather than remaking beloved, respected films, Hollywood should concentrate more on righting the wrongs of the past and tinker more with films that didn’t work so well the first time. Pretending for a moment that movies are made in an economic vacuum, name a good candidate for a remake based on this criterion.

Kindergarten Cop. Great premise, bland execution. I'd love to see what Terry Zwigoff would do with it.

6) Favorite Spike Lee joint.

Do the Right Thing

7) Lawrence Tierney or Scott Brady?

"Why am I Mr. Pink?"

"Because you're a faggot, alright?"

8) Are most movies too long?

I'm much more likely to criticize a movie for being too rushed. I rarely understand the "too long" complaint - to paraphrase The Age of Innocence, it seems like people are faster to leave a movie than to go to one.

9) Favorite performance by an actor portraying a real-life politician.

Fred Willard as Ron Alberston as President McKinley.

10) Create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown.

Brundlefly vs. Blairmonster: Requiem. Christmas 2010.

11) Jean Peters or Sheree North?

Sheree North

12) Why would you ever want or need to see a movie more than once?

The movie stays the same, but I change. Plus, I like movies.

13) Favorite road movie.


14) Favorite Budd Boetticher picture.

Alas, I haven't seen any.

15) Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?

My mom, who encouraged my early interest in film by sharing her favorite movies, discussing them with me and encouraging me to form my own opinions and preferences.

16) Favorite opening credit sequence. (Please include YouTube link if possible.)

Vertigo. Can't beat Saul Bass.

17) Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?

Kenneth Tobey

18) Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that the more popular the movie, the less likely it was that it was a good movie. Is he right or just cranky? Cite the best evidence one way or the other.

Godard is wrong about a lot of things. Some great movies are inherently divisive, while others touch a collective nerve. The best evidence I can think of is E.T.'s premiere at Cannes, where it recieved rapturous applause from the toughest possible audience.

19) Favorite Jonathan Demme movie.

The Silence of the Lambs

20) Tatum O’Neal or Linda Blair?

I really like one performance of theirs apiece, so on that basis...Linda Blair.

21) Favorite use of irony in a movie. (This could be an idea, moment, scene, or an entire film.)

Haven Hamilton singing "200 Years" in Nashville. Actually, all of Nashville. Actually, Altman's entire body of work.

22) Favorite Claude Chabrol film.

Never seen any Chabrol either. Couldn't you have asked for my favorite Renny Harlin?

23) The best movie of the year to which very little attention seems to have been paid.

When I caught up with Snow Angels this fall, I was surprised to find that it's subtler and more moving than its mixed reviews would suggest, with a strong central performance by Sam Rockwell. While it's more conventional than Green's previous work, the bittersweet contrast of the idealism of young love and a marriage gone tragically awry rang true to me. Pineapple Express was good for a laugh, but this is the best DGG movie of the year.

24) Dennis Christopher or Robby Benson?

Christopher, for his performance as Eddie Kaspbrak in the miniseries adaptation of It.

25) Favorite movie about journalism.


26) What’s the DVD commentary you’d most like to hear? Who would be on the audio track?

The conversation between Werner Herzog and Crispin Glover on Even Dwarfs Started Small is pretty great. I'd love to hear Herzog interview Glover on What Is It? (actually, I'd just like to finally see What Is It?).

27) Favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood.


28) Paul Dooley or Kurtwood Smith?

A few years ago, my wife recognized Kurtwood Smith walking by, and he responded by kissing her on the cheek. So I'll go with Dooley, for not being a homewrecker.

29) Your clairvoyant moment: Make a prediction about the Oscar season.

Heath Ledger will win the 2009 "Montage of the Dead" applause contest.

30) Your hope for the movies in 2009.

That, after a so-so 2008, a year that brings new Scorsese, Malick and Tarantino lives up to its potential.

31) What’s your top 10 of 2008? (If you have a blog and have your list posted, please feel free to leave a link to the post.)

I'm going to have to ask for an extension on this one, Professor - limited release strategies prevent me once again from catching some of the highest-profile winter releases until mid-January. So far, I've awarded two movies an A+ this year: The Dark Knight and Wall-E.

BONUS QUESTION (to be answered after December 25):

32) What was your favorite movie-related Christmas gift that you received this year?

A Videodrome t-shirt from my mother-in-law.

Happy new year, everyone!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mother, now I know where you live.

The New World is bookended by quiet, immersive nature sounds that begin before the first image (running water enveloping the frame) and continue after the last (light peering through trees). We don't begin this story so much as join it in progress - the tragic romance between Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) as a microcosm of a world that, director Terrence Malick reminds us, began and will go on long after the movie (and our time) is over. The movie's title is bitterly, beautifully ironic, with the movie's point of view belonging not to Smith but to Pocahontas, sharing her perception of this world without beginnings or endings - out of time, eternal. This could be florid, pretentious stuff in the wrong hands, but Malick is one of the cinema's few poets and, I suspect, incapable of making a bad movie; at turns meditative, hallucinatory and plain breathtaking, The New World is one of the rare films that touches the infinite.

The prelude to Wagner's Das Rheingold (like Malick's film, a work that anticipates the end of gods) announces the arrival of English colonists, led by Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer), to what will become known as Jamestown (though the film largely avoids names and other historical cataloguing). The meeting between Europeans and "naturals" is rescued from paternalistic cliche by Malick and DP Emmanuel Lubezki's vibrant, immersive images (particuarly astounding on the big screen), which lend our country an otherwordly quality that allows us to see the narrative through fresh eyes. Focusing on the brief, fleeting romance between Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) and John Smith (Colin Farrell), The New World both revises and honors the affair's status as a myth of Paradise Lost. The film is steeped in metaphor, using a language of images to explicate the film's meaning in place of conventional dramaturgy. Words are of secondary importance here; the dialogue is largely sparse and functional, and the use of voiceover, as in all of Malick's films, is not meant to explain but to show the gap between what the characters say and what they mean. By decontextualizing Smith and Pocahontas (who is never referred to by name), focusing instead on their fleeting intimacy, Malick paradoxically says worlds about the nature of diaspora.

The production design (by the great Jack Fisk) and careful recreation of Algonquin culture reveal a strong commitment to authenticity, but it would be inaccurate to say that Malick is striving for realism. Malick is after a poetic, romantic truth, his camera constantly darting and weaving around his actors like a silent, disembodied observer. The performers rise to the occasion admirably - Farrell is underrated for his willingness to find vulnerability in his action-man persona, and Christian Bale, as John Rolfe, excels at playing an uncomplicated, genuinely good man (harder than it seems). But the movie belongs to Kilcher, a then-14-year-old acting novice who is completely believable as she navigates her character's journey through first love, separation, banishment, heartbreak, migration and transcendence. Thanks to Kilcher, Pocahontas is at once a personification of Malick's ideals of purity and oneness with the world and a typical lovestruck kid. With The Thin Red Line, Malick seemed to have lost interest in the individual, observing his characters from such a distance that they became a collective, hard to distinguish from the foliage. Pocahontas is a return to his more humanistic '70s work; a direct descendant of Badlands' Holly and Days of Heaven's Linda, she's an innocent who (like the film itself) gives life to the world she inhabits.

The marketing for The New World sold the film as something it wasn't - the above poster is going for sweeping romance, while the horrible DVD cover tries to make it look like an action movie (though the one battle scene demonstrates that Malick could make a great action movie if he wanted to). The result was that the film was hated by people for what it isn't and overlooked by people who would appreciate it for what it is, and it promptly bombed. And there's no question that Malick's esoteric approach to storytelling is too much for most people - almost everyone I've shown the film has nodded off, citing either the deliberate pace (which affords every moment the same importance) or half-complaining that it's "too rich." But I don't think The New World is inaccessible, or even a primarily intellectual experience; I showed the movie last Thanksgiving to a group of mentally challenged people that I work with, and most were engaged, curious, and asking questions (this doesn't happen when we show Firehouse Dog). Perhaps The New World works best when it's less analyzed than experienced; if you let it wash over you, the film's aesthetic and emotional power is indelible. It'd be nice if Malick was more prolific (though with Tree of Life coming out next year, perhaps he's picking up the pace), but when each of his films give us enough to experience and discuss for decades, it's hard to complain.

Thursday, December 04, 2008