11 November 2011

Highlights from AFI Fest 2011

My friend Joe Peeler and I spent most of yesterday waiting in line outside the Grauman's Chinese for a chance to end 2011's AFI Fest with the North American premiere of Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin. We were excited about attending a high-profile premiere and anticipated the thrill of seeing and being among Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Neither Spielberg nor Jackson attended the premiere, but Jamie Bell did, and he introduced the film. I kept forgetting who Jamie Bell is, no offense Mr. Bell, when Joe would remind me I would feel bad I had forgotten. Joe and I sat in seats off to the far right and Joe thought he had child-sized 3d glasses.  The movie was sometimes dazzling and my memory of it is warm; Joe and I agreed it was a nice end to the festival, although neither of us were sure what the plot had been, and discussed our slight mutual annoyance at having to follow plots. It's fair to say that I approached the film with a calculated emphasis on my youthful side and sense of wonder and curiosity and that this side of me was often rewarded with sequences of action and fun.

The movies I saw during this year's fest were Haywire, The Color Wheel, The Day He Arrives, Law of Desire, With Every Heartbeat, The Kid With a Bike, The Forgiveness of Blood, The Turin Horse, Carré Blanc, Shame, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Attenberg, and The Adventures of Tintin. Thirteen movies. I fell asleep for short periods during three; twice due to tiredness and disinterest, and once due solely to tiredness. During Attenberg I periodically wished I was sleeping, or outside, or somewhere anywhere else.

Wednesday November 9 was a spectacular day: The Turin Horse, Carré Blanc, Shame, and Beyond the Black Rainbow. Each of these films was distinct from one another and had a pronounced personality that distinguished it from most other films in general. Seeing them all together reminded me - a wonderful reminder - of the diversity and potential of cinematic art.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is an interesting film that traffics in unique sectors of our feelings and thoughts. The writer/director, Panos Cosmatos (son of Cobra director George Cosmatos), answered an audience question regarding symbolic intention in BtBB by explaining that the film doesn't have symbolic motivations and that he (Cosmatos) wrote the script in a stream-of-consciousness manner and that any symbols in the film were a product of his own unconscious. This great and honest answer helps explain the ineffable experience of watching BtBB, and also helps articulate the difference between, say, BtBB and Shame. BtBB aids us in making discoveries about parts of ourselves that do not fit tidily into narrative or character frameworks: it's all neon and synths and disorientation ('black rainbow,' wtf, right?). I perceive Shame's artistic flourishes as complimentary and integrated and tools that bring you closer to Brandon (Michael Fassbender), and I prefer this because I prefer character based cinema.

Shame would typically not be compared with Beyond the Black Rainbow, but seeing these thirteen movies together initiated a process of differentiation. On Wednesday, owing mainly to temporal juxtaposition, I observed that although BtBB is a visual (and thus visceral) film, the major difference is the range of emotions conveyed. BtBB's range is a fascinatingly abstract sector of ourselves; Shame probes the core of our being. It is my opinion that Shame could likely be appreciated, understood, and enjoyed by a person unfamiliar with film and human emotions, and that by viewing the film this hypothetical person would know something about the human experience. Before one begins to dissect the film, inspect its themes, evaluate its performances, etc, I believe Shame has already worked, on purely visual and visceral levels. Certain aesthetic qualities - composition of frame, color palette, shot selection and variety, locations, music, etc - create an experience that bores into the heart and mind of the viewer a truth that transgresses the screen. Shame is a film of emotional alchemy, and its magical quality is the art of cinema.

Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse was another Tarr film that seems difficult to compress my feelings about into words. It's like the film isn't about an emotion, the film is an emotion. I would like one film that I am involved with to have a shot as immediately and immensely engaging and affecting as The Turin Horse's first shot. This first shot is a long tracking shot of the horse pulling the cart.

Carré Blanc intermittently kicked my ass and rocked my world. Jean-Baptiste Leonetti's dystopian tale reminded me of a novella I read recently, Benoît Duteurtre's Customer Service, in that I don't fully understand every narrative decision, but understand that perhaps the intention is not understanding but questioning. Like, by altering our pov of a subject (bureaucracy, technology, modernity), and by heightening our analysis of narrative particulars with distorting dramatic technique, the artists attempt to instigate personal reflection. Carré Blanc was a dense, intelligent, abstract investigation into the way society hurts us and the way we hurt ourselves by belonging to and engaging with society. It is also a Love Conquers All movie, in a fascinating, bleak way. I enjoy formal, axis-shifting narrative exercises, and felt this was a successful one. By comparison, Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg was also a formalistic experiment, but it did not grip me. Attenberg was a coming of age story, but I felt unable to sense what was coming or aging, and had a hard time registering the film's intentions. Or rather, I felt unable to register how those intentions were growing or further revealing themselves over the course of the film. Also by comparison, I feel that by examining Tintin's golden unicorn story I'm not rewarded with knowledge of myself, but feel that I am rewarded by examining Carré Blanc and even Attenberg.

Alex Ross Perry's The Color Wheel and Hong Sangsoo's The Day He Arrives were a great back-to-back experience. These two films deal with the loose-ends and unsortable complexities of our emotional makeup. I like how The Color Wheel was disinterested in untangling the confused emotions of its characters; it was enough for the film to admit their existence. Sangsoo continues to depict human interactions in a way that feels unique and honest and smart and funny, i.e. feels like 'being.' The Day He Arrives has flashes of great beauty and terrible sadness, sometimes in shared moments.

For the sake of tradition:

Four Star Movies
The Turin Horse

Three and a Half Star Movies
Beyond the Black Rainbow
The Day He Arrives

Three Star Movies
Law of Desire
Carré Blanc
The Adventures of Tintin
The Kid With a Bike
The Color Wheel

Two and a Half Star Movie
The Forgiveness of Blood

Two Star Movie
With Every Heartbeat

One and a Half Star Movies

Disclaimer: There are many movies I'm sad I missed. I started to make a list of those movies but it was too long and made me too sad.

06 November 2011

Tower Heist

I couldn't compile a substantial list of good reasons for seeing Tower Heist before I went to see Tower Heist. Most reviews and word of mouth were negative. The people who did say a couple positive things about the movie sounded like they were on party drugs, like they could only say it had been a 'good time' without clear evidence of why it was a good time. I went to see the movie anyway because I wanted to see the movie.

I laughed out loud approximately seven times during the movie. This is a high number for me, especially since I saw the movie stone sober at 12pm on a Saturday. There were two other people in the theater; for whatever reasons our laughter was never synchronized. Sometimes one other person repeated back lines at the screen, moments after the line had been spoken, a phenomenon I've encountered before which completely boggles me. I have done it (repeated a line), but I can't think of what the reason was, and whether or not I had a good one.

The first time I really laughed was when Special Agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) and Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) share some drinks and Claire drunkenly says she will take a 'crab' home. I laughed so hard. Leoni did a great job playing drunk. Why is she not used more? Has no one seen Flirting with Disaster? Téa Leoni is funny. The second time I laughed really hard had something to do with Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) I'm pretty sure. Can't remember what exactly*, but I enjoyed Broderick's nebbish, anxious Mr. Fitzhugh. Broderick is great at comedic subtlety, and this would be his best performance of the year, if his best performance of the year wasn't in Margaret. There was also a scene in which robbery intel was interrupted by a conversation about lesbians. I thought the scene was executed seamlessly and for hilarious effect. "A gauntlet of lesbians." Eddie Murphy is in the movie too. He is very funny.

The narrative is ridiculous and should not be taken seriously. Not all narratives need to be taken seriously, it's not a big deal. The only problem, as other reviewers have mentioned, is the third act heist is too long. I speculate the third act heist feels too long because the dramatic beats interfere with the character moments that are the best part of the movie.

Tower Heist has an ADD narrative and that's great. Some scenes were so short and ended so abruptly I almost felt like the joke had been omitted. *I just remembered the Mr. Fitzhugh joke - it's when they're putting the team together and Kovacs asks Mr. Fitzhugh if he's in and Mr. Fitzhugh says "come back to me." Kind of reminds me of an Of Gods and Men scene.

It's my belief that films should subvert narrative conventions whenever possible and move at whatever speed they deem necessary. The idea of slow films being superior to fast films is an idea, and I don't believe ideas are rules. People who try to make rules for art are bad critics, not artists, and also not good critics. The speed of a film should be dictated by the needs of the narrative and by the director's perceived effects of speed upon the audience in relation to the intended experience. I'm not saying Tower Heist is great because it moves quickly, and to tell you the truth I haven't heard anyone criticize the movie for moving quickly, I'm just soapboxing because my opinion is the movie moves quickly and not only is this fine but it's great. I almost cried during Tower Heist, twice.

No one is hated by cinephiles like Tower Heist's director Brett Ratner is hated by cinephiles. No one. Because he's so hated it makes me view him as an outsider in mainstream filmmaking. Here is a filmmaker who many people think shouldn't be making films. Supposedly he's an arrogant womanizing asshole who is talentless, dilettantish, and stupid. Ratner will always have the last laugh, however, because he doesn't take himself too seriously. This is the thing people don't get that gives him his bizarre power. So in my eyes he's a wickedly flawed, potentially misguided, contentiously effective filmmaker. To me that sounds like the Hollywood filmmaker archetype, and in my mind it's a suitable personality for a creator of comedies. I'm not saying he's the best Hollywood filmmaker, but I am saying that I don't regret seeing Tower Heist.