12 May 2012 at 6:52 am #1197
We saw DARK SHADOWS yesterday, a yawner. It starts out well, with Crimson & Clover in the background, but soon it drags as if they were trying to make it soap opera slow without sustaining tension.
The worst movie Johnny Depp has made since SLEEPY HOLLOW. It’s THE ADAMS FAMILY with less jokes. The previews have all the best parts. I never saw the TV soap opera from which it is taken, but my wife has, and she also thought this was a dud. They should have dropped Batman into the plot and had Johnny Depp ad lib as both the Joker and Heath Ledger.
Better still, they should not have released the movie until Halloween. Its atmospheric points could have given it a better feel then.
Last night we watched TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY on DVD. Well shot and very artsy, and nicely scored with a solo trumpet as the thread of tense thought. But if you haven’t already read Le Carre’s Smiley books, I doubt that you’ll get it.
12 May 2012 at 6:59 am #1198
Addendum (because I haven’t learned to edit here yet): My wife, looking over my shoulder, tells me that the opening song in DARK SHADOWS was not “Crimson & Clover,” but “Nights In White Satin” by the Moody Blues (1967). Naturally, she’s right. DARK SHADOWS is actually set in 1972 and Alice Cooper blandly sings a couple of songs. Not worth the movie price.
13 May 2012 at 8:07 am #1206
It looks pretty terrible Richard. I’ve given up on Johnny Depp taking roles that communicate a level of interest to me as a consumer of motion pictures. Now I do want to see The Rum Diary. Probably the last thing Johnny was in that really impressed me was his turn as Thompson in Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing film. Since that time, what with the Pirate pictures, the Peter Pan ballyhoo, the sentimental explorations with Tim Burton – I’ve stopped watching this man’s pictures.
When he chooses to make pictures for adults again, I will give him another look.
13 May 2012 at 7:56 pm #1213
I’ve been making my way through Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s 1977 masterpiece Our Hitler: a Film from Germany. Just finished it tonight. Five and a half hours (although the original film version was closer to seven) of nonstop poetic genius. You have to imagine a cross between William L. Shirer, Peter Greenaway, Aejandro Jodorowski and Terry Gilliam – the rise and fall of the Third Reich, the Hitler mystique, told with animation, puppets, grand guignol and theatre panique techniques. Just stunning, the kind of film that infects your dreams.
16 May 2012 at 5:25 am #1270
Richard L. – my wife and I started watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy last night but, both still being somewhat frazzled after a friend’s big wedding celebration at the weekend, decided that our brains weren’t ready for the attention it required, so we stopped it and put on Tony Scott’s Unstoppable, with Denzel Washington, instead. I felt we needed a movie that was sufficiently stupid, but christ above… That’s an hour and a half of my life I’ll never get back.
Looking forward to giving Tinker, Tailor another go soon.
DowdyQuote16 May 2012 at 7:51 am #1271
Just found a copy of Our Hitler so I will begin that sojourn into the seven hour abyss directly.
Have you seen Barquero? I don’t know if I’ve written about it here before. I think it would be of definite interest to admirers of Blood Meridian. It may be the most violent western of the seventies, excepting Soldier Blue which came out the same year.
Barquero (1970) stars Warren Oates, Lee Van Cleef and a fair amount of second tier character actors from that decade. Oates plays the dopesmoking (homosexual?) leader of a gang of marauders. The beginning of the film is Oates’ gang razing a town, shedding blood like perspiration, all but raping each and every inhabitant of the small hamlet.
Then the film focuses on Oates band of murderers attempting to out ride the United States Army which is in hot pursuit. The bulk of the film takes place at a river crossing where Lee Van Cleef, a bargeman, decides to impede ole Warren’s blood orgy by refusing to transport his thugs across the river. What follows is something akin to a second unit director on the Wild Bunch dropping acid, absconding with Peckinpah’s cameras and filming a dark brooding hallucinogenic death ritual. If ANY of you have even a mild appreciation for Warren Oates – I STRONGLY encourage you to rent this film post haste.
There is a fair amount of comedy infused in this peculiar horror western. Shades of William Burrough’s Place of Dead Roads I thought.
The film is not without its flaws but makes for an enjoyable and eerie experience.
16 May 2012 at 2:43 pm #1274
How did you get your hands on that film? Can’t find Barguero anywhere. Not even on netflix.
MikeQuote21 May 2012 at 7:16 pm #1306
I initially saw it on the Encore Westerns channel a few years back when we still had the cable. Taped it off of that excellent channel at like 3 AM.
Check out this link amigo…
23 May 2012 at 12:12 pm #1325
Interesting reflections by Ebert on two films that he considers great: Tree of Life and Synechdoche New York. I was blown away by Synedoche’s film language but lost the trail of the film. I bought it, a rare occurrence, and look forward to the next viewing or three. We’ve already been over Tree of Life here ad nauseum. Seems like it is a film you love or hate. I really liked it but am not sure whether it will hold up over time. There are films you watch over a lifetime that never get stale. I just watched Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage and look forward to the next viewing as well. Jeez, does anyone do intelligent dialogue better than Bergman? It puts most scriptwriters to shame.
28 May 2012 at 2:42 pm #1361
You guys can drop lines on really arcane films. Anywho, I’m about to begin a series of commentaries on various westerns and in the process have been running across many John Milius connections. I spoke to Mike about Milius as the originator of Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character and that immediately took us to the hilarious parody of Milius as Walter Sobchak in the Coen brothers’ THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Read a couple of essays on the film by some “film studies” types that are predictably stupid as hell. They refuse to recognize that Walter, while often quite ridiculous (it is a parody of Milius, after all), is prescient more often than not.
adenQuote28 May 2012 at 4:57 pm #1362
Oh, I liked that Ebert article. I have virtually the exact same list. Only, I would have Rear Window instead of Vertigo. However, I think Synecdoche is well…a failed masterpiece. I happen to like failed masterpieces but it really is a frustrating piece of work…for me. And as much as I love Tree of Life, I would choose It’s A Wonderful Life particularily for the reasons Ebert chose ToL. Yes, Bergman really had some brilliant dialogue. I used to get obsessed with his characters and their pace and words. Of course…I also highly admire SCTVs Burgman…”Whispers of the Wolf”
Aden, John Milius is a total god and even so much more than part of a Dirty Harry collaboration. The root to Dirty Harry is that Clint Eastwood practices TM, Milius Zen and the Harry C is a brilliant manifestation of a dharma bum. Many critics have tried to politicize Harry C by naming him conservative or anarchist or right wing but these weak perspectives mistake samsara and continuous flow with some kind of ideology. It’s a delightful reverie to imagine how much influence Milius has had on Lucas (Apocalypse Now? Indiana Jones?) and I am a huge fan of UFC which he helped set up. Milius is just like some kind of super artist/poet god!
And I didn’t know where to put this following list…but since Ebert is a list…here is a list of 2012 most spiritually influencial people..I love a list!
29 May 2012 at 1:55 am #137529 May 2012 at 10:12 am #1378
I did not grow up in Texas but the father in TOL, the Brad Pitt character’s idea of his fatherly and community responsibilities were eerily like my own father’s. It was in certain parts, like seeing a very personal expose’ into the construction of my own and my family’s psyche in the USA of the 1950′s. I felt certain lines were almost like secretly delivered, for me and my brothers alone for observation. Both Synecdoche and TOL are more remarkable for what was attempted than for what they accomplished. The mundane story in TOL juxtaposed with the creation fireworks is appropriate in the sense that nature and the universe are fucking awesome and our little lives seem tawdry and insignificant in comparison. To me, McCarthy saying to Oprah that he’s surprised more people don’t have spiritual experiences, and that he feels we ought be more awed and grateful, is of a set with what Malick was shooting for.
01 Jun 2012 at 9:37 am #1426
HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS was filmed in Romania, it says, but a good deal of it was filmed ten miles on either side of us, in Bardstown and east of there at Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead Park, which is mostly a golf coarse with a few old cabins and buildings. The director talks about shooting the miniseries in the interview at this link.. There were some interesting scenes, but a lot of filler too.
02 Jun 2012 at 7:44 am #1441
cantonaMember02 Jun 2012 at 1:37 pm #1451
Looking forward to June 12 when I will attend a screening of a 35 MM print of Ishtar, one of my very favorite movies. Austin is really getting their act together with their Summer Classics series at the Paramount.
Other screenings I will be attending this summer:
Ishtar, Night of the Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, Shock Corridor and Naked Kiss, Manchurian Candidate, Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Harvey, The Birds…
02 Jun 2012 at 8:42 pm #1454
Here here that commercial is like Tree Of Life…and the movies in Logan’s Run…and it reminds me of the ads in Michael Clayton. But I still love tree of life. When I first saw that commercial I thought it was riffing on the movie.
Seth, Ishtar is one of my face movies too..but we can’t possibly be talking about the same movie can we? I will have to google to see if there is another movie with same title, more lofty than the one I love with Beatty and hoffman….
But what a fantastic line up of movies…god I love Austin!!
02 Jun 2012 at 11:58 pm #1455
No, that’s not what I meant. Tree of Life is like a Hyundai commercial. Not the other way round.
cantonaQuote03 Jun 2012 at 1:36 am #1456
We haven’t yet seen TREE OF LIFE. I’ve heard good things and bad things about it. I’m sure we’ll see it eventually.
Tonight (Sunday, June 3rs) at 10:00PM (Eastern) on A&E, the first of a planned 10 episode series featuring Wyoming sheriff Longmire will be shone. I like the Craig Johnson’s books, a genre series which is narrated in the first-person by Longmire, but I’m uncertain how this will translate onto the screen.
Most of the good things are the thoughts rattling around inside the sheriff/protagonist’s head, and a lot of it is when he is brooding alone on things. With other people, he tends to be understated and introverted.
Still I’m mighty glad for him. He’s a Wyoming family rancher writing stretchers which have become successful. Long before he became a novelist, we used to read his horse-training articles in various equine-related magazines. When he gives talks before book groups, he is funny and self-effacing while looking the part of his fictional character.
LONGMIRE seems well-cast and I hope they do it well. If so, it might inspire other modern westerns with a sense of humor. I’m blogging on it later today.
03 Jun 2012 at 1:40 am #145703 Jun 2012 at 12:21 pm #1462
Edit posts…oh good god it’s a great question Richard…but I can’t help you because all my posts have capitals and I can’t edit them from this iPad…Erghhhh fuck editing blah hah hah hah
Richard I believe you wre genitically designed to love tree of life. I can not believe you didn’t see it in the theatre lad!
My darling cantons….although I suspect you arenot a darlinG heh heh heh, I understood perfectly well what way you meant. But incantatory narration began before tv commercials. It doesn’t bother me if a movie uses incantatory narration (like sacred texts do) and surely eventually…tv commercials will pick this up. Advertising uses sacred texts and any kind of language to sell. It’s a back and forth thing as old as camp fires and humans shooting the sit around them( that wou
D be 4 million years)
Logan’s run predicted the use of incantatory narratives in commercial ventures and total recall satirized such usage….
But do we throw out the incantatory narrative style because corrupt forces co opt such language? I don’t know…maybe…but then we have to throw out the bhadagavida, the bible, Walt Whitman, cormac McCarthy, geophrey hill…
I mean really, that commercial sounds like a McCarthy passage hee heh heh!
Lee, my husband felt like tree of life was secretly revealing to him about his father. He was apeshit over that movie. The two of us us had such a powerful shared experience of that movie.
But there isn’t really any movie that’s made for everyone…it’s okay to not like the same movies or books.
I do think though…if I knew or met someone who didn’t like “it’s a wonderful life” I don’t think I could ever trust them…I think there would be something fundamentally wrong with that person. I would be wary …
04 Jun 2012 at 8:32 am #1470
Re: “Richard, I believe you were genetically designed to love Tree Of Life. I cannot believe you didn’t see it in the theatre, lad…”
Well, my tree-of-life spirituality was hardly congenital. I spent many years as an H. L. Menckenly adamant atheist, thinking that religion’s only use was for superior minds to laugh at. I evolved from there to simple agnostic, aware of human limitations and no longer considering it fun to argue with believers of any stripe.
My current floating unitarian/christian/buddhist/humanist/pantheist depends-on-what-day-you-ask-me-and-how-you-ask-the-question spirituality evolved not from the study of religion but from the study of the science of consciousness. I hold several ideas at once and can see the logic in different arguments and theories, depending upon where I happen to be standing when they are argued.
The reason we did not see Tree of Life is that the movie did not make it to this neck of the Kentucky woods and the early reviews did not make it seem worth the trip to either Lexington or Louisville.
04 Jun 2012 at 12:08 pm #1476
Candy Minx: Seth, Ishtar is one of my face movies too..but we can’t possibly be talking about the same movie can we? I will have to google to see if there is another movie with same title, more lofty than the one I love with Beatty and hoffman….
What you trying to say there Minxy? Are you calling me a smuck who is incapable of love for Ishtar? I’ve got a wardrobe of love in my eyes, Minxy. Take your time, look around and see if there’s something your size.
Of course it’s the same Ishtar.
I guess I come off like a real elitist prick here.
My tastes are decidedly of all stripes. From Ishtar to Up in Smoke to Ghostbusters to Sweet Movie, The Fortune and all of Terry Malick’s movies – my love of films run the gamut, Good Lady.
Now I know from reading your posts that you are a smart fellow. So tell me this amigo…What in heaven’s name are you doing listening to critics? When are they EVER right? I’m sad to hear you missed out on seeing Tree on the big screen. But fret not, sir, I have it on Good Authority that Mr. Malick’s next film, “To The Wonder” will be like Tree of Life on steroids.
05 Jun 2012 at 6:12 pm #1502
I didn’t take it as criticism, and her suggestion that I so often write about the trinity (and that all three are one) in my literary interpretations is correct. The idea of the universal trinity is from Emerson (and long before that, it was expressed by Aristotle in his three stages of Man).
Despite a good cast, Longmire felt like the Cliff Notes of the novel, rushed and herky-jerky. They cut what should have been a two-hour pilot down to about forty minutes, interrupted by about twenty minutes of dumb commercials. It would have played much better on PBS Mystery where, at least, it would have been longer.
Still, there were some interesting bits. I didn’t recognize the guy who played Longmire, but they say he previously starred in The Matrix. The actress from Battlestar Galactica was well cast as the deputy. We’ll see how the other episodes play out.
06 Jun 2012 at 10:03 am #1506
Maybe I need to revise my statement…
“The reason we did not see Tree of Life is that the movie did not make it to this neck of the Kentucky woods and the early reviews did not make it seem worth the trip to either Lexington or Louisville.”
That’s what I meant when I asked why are you listening to critics.
06 Jun 2012 at 1:15 pm #1509
Thanks. I should have seen that. Malick will probably get our attention on DVD soon.
07 Jun 2012 at 3:36 am #1523
In my opinion, which I believe echo’s Candy’s, Tree of Life is true reverence, whereas Hyundai is simulacra. We have seen this simulacra “prefigured” (Baudrillard)especially in the works of Dick, though I must say I’ve seen more movie adaptations of Philip K. Dick than I have actually read of him.
Still trying to understand ten people leaving the theater when I saw it. I have a pretty good idea of what the film’s detractors have to say about that. Intuitively, though, it’s my impression there is something about a direct dose of sincerity people just can’t take anymore because advertisers, certain directors, etc. have been telling us how to feel. What I’m saying is probably oversimplifying the situation. Certainly people can and do sit through sincere art. Can someone think of an example of a recent cinematic success that was sincere, thought provoking, and did not involve glib irony? I’m asking this as a serious question, not rhetorical. And don’t say the movie Doubt; I’m not accepting that as an answer.
07 Jun 2012 at 6:59 am #1525
Re: ” Can someone think of an example of a recent cinematic success that was sincere, thought provoking, and did not involve glib irony?”
A modest little film named THE DESCENDANTS, for one.
A character study in which a man must examine his inner feelings and seek to transform his outer self to reflect his true inner self once he looks inward and discovers what it is. Shakespeare had it right: Love does not alter when alteration finds, even if that alteration is that the loved one no longer loves us back.
The film is nicely shot, understated, sincere. No preview clip can do it justice. It says what it says without putting it into soundbites. It goes beyond the best words spoken for it, even by George Clooney when interviewed by Charlie Rose.
Immature materialistic viewers who haven’t learned how to love except in the juvenile, possessive sense, see it but don’t get it. They’re liable to like the story of the daughters but completely gag on the love story at the heart of the film. It’s like Anna Karenina, where the emotionally immature think the true love story is between Anna and Vronsky, rather than Levin’s love for Kitty.
What passes for love in this juvenile and materialist society is usually only the possessive love, which is more akin to property rights.
07 Jun 2012 at 4:27 pm #152808 Jun 2012 at 11:01 am #1536
- This reply was modified 11 months, 2 weeks ago by Richard L..
Prometheus: visually stunning, didn’t need the 3D shtick, definitely not for pregnant women. This Von Dainiken – Aliens created us stuff was already old before the aliens created us. I prefer the Lovecraft explanation anyway – that extradimensionals created us a joke. It falls flat at the end and like most prole sci-fi these days, it’s pretty predictable and you wish Bradbury had written it. Nice way to kill a rainy afternoon if you have some leftover weed from your wallflower geek kid’s nebbish party to use up before your paranoia takes hold and you flush it, but Blade Runner it ain’t.
PS – my lack of regard for Tree of Life here is pretty well known so I’ll just repeat that, as far from anything like an impatient or materialistic viewer, I found very little in the way of “sincerity” about it, much in the way of cheap sentiment, sententiousness, atrocious pacing and thick gobbets of melodramatic pretense. Thank Buddha for the dinosaur scenes, or I would have bemoaned the loss of a great opportunity to take a three hour nap.
12 Jun 2012 at 9:52 am #1549
- This reply was modified 11 months, 2 weeks ago by Rick Wallach.
Prometheus was about ¾ excellent, ¼ schlock. Up until the mystery part was over, I was totally edge-of-my-seat on board, but then it disappointingly went to standard blowing-things-up fare. The mapping drones set loose inside the tunnels of the alien structure were very cool, as was the corresponding hologram they constructed over time. In fact holograms, there was another one of the local universe that took shape before our three-D goggled eyes, were in my opinion, the most thrilling parts of the film.
15 Jun 2012 at 10:56 am #1574
One of the cleverest things about Scott’s original (not very original but that doesn’t matter) movie was the use of the powerful single light source at the end of the film when Sig is trying to get off the ship. The light sweeps across the auditorium from the projector to the screen effectively turning the cinema itself into the mother-ship and, as 3d effects go, is pretty much unbeatable.
I saw Prometheus (mis-pronounced by everyone in the film: eus is yoos not ee us) at one minute past midnight on the 1st (there were several such cinemas doing this, one of them, an Imax, is ten minutes from where I live) and then high-tailed it to Scotland for a climbing trip, where, with a little imagination I was able to make out the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye where the opening scene is set. That too takes some beating!
Frankly I thought ‘Prometheus’ three dimensional rubbish, a shiny and cliched collection of ‘Alien’s Greatest Hits’ made by an amalgamation of von Dainiken/Scott/Spielberg/Jackson/Kubrick whoever makes those Zombie things, and God knows who else. What’s her name in a complete waste of time role looked like she’d wandered in from Star Trek f’God’s sake! A major creative opportunity straight down the pan, terribly, disappointing. I still like the broken ring design of the ship and the poster a/w is a great piece of work; if only the film had been half that good.
ps It’s a great pity that von Dainiken never wrote a follow up to his rubbish books called ‘People will believe any old crap’! At least I could have admired his nerve.
peterfranzQuote16 Jun 2012 at 1:36 pm #1584
I liked Doris Lessing’s cosmology laid out in Shikasta and the Canopus in Argos series a lot better than Ridley Scott’s. Far more nourishing to the imagination.
The notion on the part of about half of us it seems, that whatever it is we meet out there in space must be conquistidorial and/or slitheringly murderous is so very worn out, uninspiring and uninspired, and makes us inevitably, when we do venture out there, lead with our ever-the-favorite martial dickheadedness, and never givie more than a quick flick of dismissal to the would-be alien whisperers among us.
Pogo is still right, where he says ‘we have met the enemy and he is us,’ in that whatever fuckwads we meet out there are sure to be assholes like ourselves (or at least the half of us, and half of them we must assume) what else could they like be what other choices are there what what? Maybe if there were musicians in the probe, or snake charmers, or lotharios as opposed to rape and pillage-ests, we’d strike better luck. What the seekers have in mind has much to do with what they find, and warheads are a form of foreplay.
Olaf Stapleton too, in the great book Starmaker, had a far more benevolent view, or perhaps more accurately – symbiotic view – of the possibilities that could manifest between us and our alien brethren.
17 Jun 2012 at 12:19 pm #1585
Well, we watched TREE OF LIFE last night on DVD. Good intentions but many sections were just too damn long. I loved the parable presented near the start. I loved the Apollonian/Dionysian divide, the father (and the troubled American Gothic-like boy) in sky colors, the earth mother in greens.
When the boys shot the toad up in the fireworks, I thought of the scene at the beginning of THE WILD BUNCH, where the children laugh as they torture scorpions. The mindless violence bit was overdone in TOL, the scenes too long and oblique for what might have been achieved with less tedium.
I didn’t consider the many cosmic and biblical references out of place, but they were just too damn time consuming. Bending over backwards to make small points, again and again. Tedium aside, I liked the spirit of the movie. I’m sure that there were nuances I missed. I just think that Malick could have done more with less.
We’ll watch it again one of these days, but that won’t be for a while. THE DESCENDANTS is still the best movie I’ve seen this year.
Jonathan Franzen made me send for the Walter Matthau movie, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, but we haven’t watched it yet. Franzen wrote the introduction to the Black Lizard edition of the book and it is not to be missed (a piece collected in Franzen’s new book of essays, FARTHER AWAY).
I’m reading THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN right now, and I find his eloquent praise of it well deserved. I hope that the American movie did it justice, but that’s not likely or it would be better known.
18 Jun 2012 at 10:51 pm #1594
Just watched the trailer for Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Killer. I can’t wait for Aden’s take on this one.
21 Jun 2012 at 1:37 pm #1610
The idea, and so as well the trailer for Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Killer mystifies me and kills me and makes me laugh. Just watch it turn out to be a fabulous movie.
I agree with whoever said earlier that Prometheus was 3/4 excellent. I think its a flawed movie but for most of it, I really loved it and will see it again. The galaxy holograms were really gorgeous, loved the crazy broken ship and I was scared for a fair bit of the movie. It’s not just sci-fi its a “first contact” story which brings it into aboriginal confrontations and empire building, and generic homgenized neighbourhoods.
As usual Ridley Scott shows again he is an actors director most specially for women characters. He really will be going in the books as a feminist director.
Love the hero sacrifice to save the community, love the abortion cesarian scene where she keeps the wormy creepy baby monster alive…which ironically and profoundly saves her life later. Eat that stereotypical feminists.
Jesus Peter Franz, okay you win…you see the movie then climb a mountain in one of the gorgeous landscape scenes. Nicely played.
And for those of us who have been discussing Tree Of Life I think it partly goes under the category of “big theme” but its not really a spiritual movie. For lack of a better term it goes into the same camp as other conventionally considered spiritual movies…but its actually a movie about patriarchy, odipus etc. As is The Decendants. In The Decendants one of the best and humourous moments is when Clooneys character sayd to his daughter”its as if you have no respect for authority”. Duh, dad…of course not, especially patriarchy…which is what Clooney is struggling with. He needs to transform his conditioning to submit to the forces of money and the male past…eventually coming out of it to “do the right thing” by rejecting those social constructs of North America. (repeating…Robin Woods theory “the two main forces of North America are patriarchy and capitalism. And those two forces corrupt relationships”)
We’ve seen a number of these movies coming out where finally after several decades of women and gays rejecting partriarchy as a social construct…we are seeing that now…men also are feeling the oppressive force of patriarchy and rejecting it.
finally we are seeing men and women culturally in the movies mainstream on the same page!
Patriarchy is not healthy for women, gays, or men!
21 Jun 2012 at 3:48 pm #1611
You’re right about that theme being in both TREE OF LIFE and THE DESCENDANTS. We watched the movies in succession, and my wife pointed out how much things had changed for the better since the 1950s, and I pointed out that scene you mention, where George Clooney’s character says to his young daughter and her boyfriend, “Stop touching each other in front of me; it’s as if you have no respect for authority.”
The boyfriend thinks he is smart, and says so, but the father knows that he is far from smart, because he sees himself in the young. The young have no such insight into the old.
In THE DESCENDANTS, there is a change over what went before. George Clooney’s character wakes up as his wife dies. There is a new covenant based upon love that brings forgiveness along with a sense of responsibility. He at last steps out of the duality of possessive love and loves his wife unconditionally–or recognizes that he has all along, though it takes him a while. The decision to do what in the long run is best for the creation, the land–in spite of the opinions of a majority of its Trust members–that decision too is fitting, right and loving and responsible.
As the patriarch protecting the land, the Clooney/King character is bound to fall to the lawyers of the capitalist interests, but meanwhile, at the end of the film, we see him covered by the same sunny quilt that covered the mother in the hospital.
There is a good article at this link comparing the two movies. The Palm Tree of Life.
Which just goes to show, you don’t need a fancy telescope to examine the world.
21 Jun 2012 at 4:05 pm #1614
from the Slate Magazine review linked above:
Nominated for five Academy Awards, boasting an 89 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and tallying a healthy $75 million (and counting) at the box office, The Descendants is hardly in need of a defense—but it is in need of further discussion. For all its success, Alexander Payne’s film has been less unappreciated than unexamined. Skeptics have dismissed it as mezzobrow indiewood, undeserving of scrutiny; yet even supporters have undersold its virtues, fixating on its (considerable) surface pleasures without noticing that Payne has made a layered and searching piece of work. Don’t let the soothing uke and sun-dappled sadness fool you—The Descendants is no less interested in the cosmic than that exegete’s delight The Tree of Life.
Perhaps Payne’s insistence on making human-scaled drama obscures his reach. Allergic to grandiosity, his movies depict losers, schlubs, and schmos dealing with domestic turmoil and personal crises in a nondescript, lived-in America. Across those movies, Payne has carved out an authorial identity defined by career-making performances (Reese Witherspoon in Election, Paul Giamatti in Sideways), adroit tone shifts, and the pitch-perfect rendering of life in these United States.
The Descendants shares many of those qualities, which might explain why the critical conversation surrounding the movie has seemed stunted, with most reviews amounting to little more than pronouncements of what “worked” and what didn’t. What such assessments overlook is a major American director working on his largest canvas yet and confronting some pretty fundamental questions. If Payne’s previous movies cast a sidelong glance at How We Live Now, this one emerges as an affecting inquiry into How We Live, period.
Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants tells the story of Matt King (George Clooney), a real-estate lawyer whose wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), plunges into a permanent coma after a boating accident. But the grieving is interrupted when his teenage daughter, Alex (Shailene Woodley), reveals that Elizabeth had been having an affair. Meanwhile, another crisis looms as Matt, trustee of a large parcel of beachfront property on Kauai, presides over the dissolution of the trust—and finds himself having second thoughts about selling paradise despite the windfall awaiting him and his cousins.
The title alludes to both plotlines. The Descendants spends most of its time with Matt and his descendants, Alex and Scottie (Amara Miller), the inattentive father explicitly wondering how to raise two daughters he has barely parented. But the movie also reminds us of Matt the descendant, privileged recipient of a lavish patrimony. At a couple of points, Payne interrupts the action to ruminate on ghostly photographs of Matt’s ancestors, staring back from the past as he ponders their bequest’s future. These haunting interludes give resonance to Matt’s earthly thrashings, anchoring his experience in something bigger than himself.
The setting only enlarges the film’s scope. Much has been made of The Descendants’ focus on quotidian Hawaii, but such praise always seemed overblown. As J. Hoberman notes, “Despite a gesture or two toward Honolulu’s downside, Hawaii still feels like heaven on earth.” He meant that as a putdown, but it misses what Payne’s up to. The Descendants’ Hawaii is Edenic all right—intentionally so. Montages of the lush landscape not only offer rhythmic punctuation to the narrative, but gather cumulative power as emblems of eternity itself. Reminiscent of Ozu, these pillow shots—of sea against sky, mountains over beaches—encase the movie’s human drama in an elemental frame. The cutting between Matt’s grief and the indifferent beauty and humbling grandeur of the natural world suggests a transcendental perspective—as does Matt’s about-face on selling the land to developers. The Malickian outlook reaches its apotheosis in a climactic montage that transports us from a deathbed to clouds, cliffs, and shoreline, telescoping us from the earthbound to the timeless. It’s a diaphanous flourish all the more powerful for capping a resolutely naturalistic movie.
The title is something of a giveaway. Dripping with biblical freight, it all but asks us to think of the story as metaphor. Finely observed family portraiture becomes something else: By the time Matt finally confronts his dilemma, it’s clear that the inheritance he’s brooding over isn’t just his—it’s ours as well. Payne suggests that we too came into an astounding bequest—our time in this world—and yet, as Matt admits of his birthright, we haven’t quite earned it. The Descendants implicitly asks: How do we justify this gift? What can supply meaning to an existence that’s but a blip in time?
It’s in that context that Matt makes his choices. To his wife’s lover, he grants permission to make one last visit to Elizabeth; to his resentful father-in-law, he hides news of Elizabeth’s infidelity; to the land itself, he chooses preservation over profit. There’s something to Bilge Ebiri’s dismissal that The Descendants is the latest in a genre he calls “George Clooney Does the Right Thing.” Peer beyond the feel-good veneer, however, and you see a director interrogating, with something approaching grace, why we end up doing the right thing.
Perhaps the movie’s most celebrated scene, the coda of Matt and the girls vegging on the couch and watching TV, offers something of a summa. On one level, the long-take scene is simplicity itself: A family restored, harmony achieved. But Payne packs the frame with suggestion. We see Scottie, curled up under a yellow quilt, the same one we saw over her mother when she breathed her last breath. It’s a lovely touch—the dead remembered and death reclaimed for the living. On the TV, we hear a familiar voice: Morgan Freeman narrating March of the Penguins. “It wasn’t always like this,” he intones, “Antarctica used to be a tropical paradise.” The snippet isn’t a throwaway gesture or a random choice, but a shrewd stroke. Juxtaposing real time with geological timelessness, Payne underscores his theme, even as gives his characters and the audience a gentle sendoff.
Except for the fleet stylishness of Election—a movie made under the spell of Casino—Payne has never been a showy filmmaker. The director himself admits that he makes movies “within the commercial American narrative cinema”— movies that are legible to a mass audience. That may be why The Descendants hasn’t been subjected to the critical unpacking it merits. Indeed, in its obsession with the past, with ancestors, with transience, eternity, and our raison d’être, The Descendants emerges as an unlikely diptych partner to The Tree of Life. Both are fixated on grief and the human response: If The Tree of Life is about the invention of god, The Descendants is about the invention of morality.
But while Malick’s movie inspired reams of engaged criticism, Payne’s has been a victim of critical complacency, damned (at best) as merely a good movie with good performances by a good director. It’s more than that. The Descendants is a sneakily profound film made by an artist in peak form. Pillow shots and inserts glimmer with meaning; the loveliest dissolves in recent cinema unlock reserves of emotion. The marketing tells us The Descendants is a vehicle for Clooney’s lifetime performance. Look closer, though, and it’s Payne’s breakthrough that you’ll see.
22 Jun 2012 at 1:09 pm #1617
Richard, I haven’t read the Slate review yet…but I will…
The Decendants is a fantastic movie. And I think overall, its a better movie than say, Trre of Life and yet both are successful at portraying and reflecting upon family dynamic in United States.
You know…and this plays into an earlier set of comments between Seth and I…Seth you out there? I howled with laughter about your post and that I might think you are a elitist prick. HA! No…I don't think that. I DO think that one thing a number of participants have in common here at this forum…is they seem to be what I would call…purists. In general I don't think being a purist is a problem, but it can be narrow minded appearing at times.
Now…about what makes a "good" movie the thing is…I will likely watch The Decendants a couple more times and Tree of Life maybe once more. Look, a large factor in movie watching for me…is jeez, if its FUN to watch…if it ENJOYABLE experience. Mallick is a beautiful drector and his films are gorgeous…but you know what when it comes to TOL or TD…heck, the latter was just a lot more enjoyable overall to watch. The whole thing, from the humour, to the revealing of the characters, and the dialogue. Both films were very beautiful, but for my taste…enjoyment and ease of watchign a story is really really important. I don’t expect that rainbows and kittens define enjoyment…but a kind of “chi”.
…and speaking of enjoyment…this is the summer for horny women. First “50 Shades of Grey” and now the new movie Magic Mike I mean what an epic sex fest of entertainment. I can not wait to go with a few guys (yes, gay) and gals to see Magic Mike we’re going to make a party of it! Is it going to be “Apocalyse Now”? Or Kubrickesque or Malicky? no…but I bet its going to be very very enjoyable.
22 Jun 2012 at 2:15 pm #161922 Jun 2012 at 8:03 pm #1623
- This reply was modified 11 months ago by Candy Minx.
Hey…doesn’t the trailer for the movie”savages” look a little like the counselor?
08 Jul 2012 at 9:01 am #1693
RE: Doesn’t the trailer for the movie”savages” look a little like the counselor?
Yes indeed. The Counsoler is said to be “NCFOM on steroids” and Stephen King said that Savages was “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Autoload.”
Their are better things to be on than steroids or autoload.
My analysis of Don Winslow’s SAVAGES as well as of John Coates’ THE HOUR BETWEEN DOG AND WOLF, is at this link. We haven’t seen the movie yet. The book has some dark humor, something I failed to mention. The book is also airy, with few words per line, and hence a fast read. Lots of slang and popular references and internet acronyms–a style I found off-putting until I began to hear it in the voice of Pauley Perrette in the role of Abby on NCIS. The only actress I can accept in the role now–maybe I won’t bother with the movie.
Coates, a neuro-science researcher at Cambridge and a former Wall Street trader, takes up for Aristotle against Plato, but he believes that the Ayn Rand Utopianism is Plato in Aristotle’s clothing.
09 Jul 2012 at 2:10 pm #1697
- This reply was modified 10 months, 2 weeks ago by Richard L..
I enjoyed your review of the book Savages much more than the movie. I give the movie 7/10. It’s a good movie….but I found the “good guys” so unlikeable…that it was more fun to root for Del Toro, Travolta and Hayek…all of whom owned the movie. I kind of felt it was “the beach meets traffic”….and actually I think The Beach was a way more interesting movie than Traffic or Savages. And to repeat…hayek and Travolta and Del Toro were excellent. The bad guys were my heros. I did grow to care about the ex-military character/drug dealer…but the polyamorous lovers were mostly boring to me, ha ha.
However…I LOVED Magic Mike. Feel good movie of the century and here is my review rambling as it is…http://gnosticminx.blogspot.com/2012/07/feel-good-movie-of-century-sex-lies-and.html
I also think straight guys will enjoy this movie…I assumed, wrongly, at first, they wouldn’t… and I plan on dragging my poor husband to see it…he loves dancing like I do and loves dance movies…and hell…its just a damn good fun movie!
10 Jul 2012 at 12:32 pm #169910 Jul 2012 at 6:15 pm #1701
p.s. sort of movie related…Simon and Schuster Publishers approached me to run a raffle on my blog …to win an audio version of Alan Cummings performing MacBeth…if you are interested here is the raffle link
11 Jul 2012 at 9:16 am #1702
Thanks, Candy. I’ve posted a follow-up on the blog today, again about Don Winslow’s novel, the Plato/Aristotle divide, and the naked woman on the rear of the dustjacket.
15 Jul 2012 at 1:52 pm #1715
For several years now, I’ve belonged to a Film Club at Oak Hammock, our retirement complex in Gainesville, FL. It’s a nice group, quite verbal in post-film discussions but excessively polite and never disagreeable (unlike the wonderful disputants of the Cormac Forum). Only three of us ever write anything. We’ve been studying Bergman’s later films. Here are my most recent takes (but I couldn’t paste their pictures to this post.)
COMMENTS ON SOME OF BERGMAN-NYKVIST’S CAMERA SHOTS
Ingmar Bergman and cinematographer Sven Nykvist, what a dynamic duo! They have the uncanny ability to use the camera as both character and audience. Let’s look at two examples from CRIES AND WHISPERS and then at shots from two of my favorites: THE SILENCE and THE PASSION OF ANNA.
KARIN SCREAMING IN THE NIGHT, a piercing scream all the more blood-curdling because Karin is glaring right at us, the audience, in a startling close up. Whether we like it or not, Bergman-Nykvist makes us as much a part of the grim manor house as the live characters and dead Agnes. Karin is screaming at everything in her miserable life. “All lies,” she said earlier, “a tissue of lies,” and the camera draws us in as a guilty character in that “tissue.”
KARIN SELF-MUTILATED, BLOODY, opening her legs to Fredrik, but we don’t see him because Bergman-Nykvist makes us Fredrik and we’re shocked. I’m guessing if you took a poll of who’s the most shocked here, men or women, a larger percentage of men would be, especially those, like Fredrik, who see women as sexual property to be owned for fun, breeding, and house work. After this grisly scene, Karin and Fredrik continue their marriage. We’re to assume it’s still loveless. But has Karin succeeded in shaming Fredrik into some kind of reform? I really doubt it.
ESTER IN “THE SILENCE” clashing with her selfish, sexy sister Anna; Ester critically ill as in the scene where a church bell clangs hideous noise (symbolic of God’s non-existence) as Ester writhes in pain, and Bergman-Nykvist brings us to her bed and her head’s thrown back looking at us with inverted mascared eyes and we become one with her in dark pain and fear of death.
Notice the similarities to CRIES AND WHISPERS: sisters in severe conflict, terminal illness, similar camera shots: Ester and Agnes in bed looking up at us with inverted eyes. Agnes, however, appears more Christ-like with outstretched arms and body on her cross of pain. This is more palimpsest than meaningful Christian symbol. Like an old picture whose faint traces show through a newer one, Bergman shows Agnes as mainly suffering, Godless modern woman with traces of Christ on the cross showing through. It’s a theatrical trick not a serious try at Christian meaning. The Pieta image of Anna holding dead Agnes is also Bergman playing with palimpsest.
THE FACE OF ANNA IN “THE PASSION OF ANNA”, just her tilted face resting against a blue sofa, its color matching her deep blue eyes, her full, sensuous lips telling Andreas Winkelman (he’s not shown here) how wonderful her marriage was to Andreas Fromm, now dead because the car she was driving crashed and the windshield almost decapitated Andreas F. and the wreck killed her child. The gruesome part of Anna’s story is true; the marriage part isn’t. Anna’s tilted head, her dreamy eyes and voice all suggest self-deception, her projecting Andreas Fromm onto Andreas Winkelman, a fantastic twist of doppelganger in her deluded mind. We know the truth because through the genius of Bergman’s camera in this scene we’re Andreas Winkelman and we know that earlier he found Andreas Fromm’s letter to Anna saying the marriage was a disaster and he was through with her. Terribly distraught, she drove recklessly and killed him and her child, whether on purpose or accidentally we know not.
In the last scene Anna and Andreas Winkelman are in the car she’s driving and their conversation is fraught with tension. The car windows are fogged up adding to the effect of two folks trapped in a disastrous relationship that’s about to explode. I felt a bit claustrophobic watching this. Andreas reveals that he knows about her failed marriage. She goes ballistic, drives like a mad woman and runs off the road and the camera moves far away from them. Andreas, his personality in an advanced state of disintegration, spills out of the car and staggers around. Anna spins the car back on the road and speeds off, leaving Andreas squatting in fog that slowly envelops him–one of Bergman’s most memorable distance shots.
Much of the film is about Andreas Winkelman, an ex-con and a refugee from a failed marriage who tries to be a hermit till Anna limps into his life (the wreck crippled her). His troubled past, his turmoil with Anna, his adulterous fling with Eva Vergerus, his despair over losing a friend to suicide and over the Vietnam War all slowly unhinge Andreas. If that’s not enough, some crazy is roaming the countryside torturing dogs and burning horses and the cops can’t catch the idiot.
The film seems more about Andreas than Anna. It doesn’t look like Bergman could quite make up his mind about main character focus. Still, the film’s another jewel in his crown.–Bob G.
RE-VISUALIZING PARTS OF AUTUMN SONATA
COLOR: Title and credits roll as the screen is canvas that Bergman/Nykvist imbue with autumnal hues blending to radiant gold–fall’s last flourishing gasp before winter death. Death, a significant part of the dramatic mix in this film:
* Charlotte’s Leonardo dying in hospital shades stark and hopeless, one a blinding white;
* Eva and Viktor’s blond, cherubic-looking Erik who drowned at age 4, with whom his parents seem pathologically obsessed;
* Helena (aka Lena) cerebral palsied, near death–her flushed face aglow, struggling to smile, desperate to talk to mother Charlotte in pitiful speech only Eva can understand;
* Eva (first shot of), double braids roped acros her head (as they will be in most of the film), hair done up like that of a woman twice her age, hair tight like the long, muted red dress in which Bergmanian magic squeezed her–hair and dress tropes for Eva’s pent-up feelings of loss and regret, of smoldering emotions, of sexuality perpetually unfulfilled.
* Auburn hair of Eva and Charlotte shining in the autumn light of their effusive affections and first meeting in seven years;
* Charlotte dressed for dinner, her red gown bright and billowing, loose like the white beads hanging between and below her breasts, loose as she’s been with many lovers, necklace and gown so utterly theatrical;
* Eva at dinner in olive drab dress, her little-girl collar virginal white, her old lady hair tighter than ever–how strikingly she contrasts with mommy “dearest”;
* Eva in purple passion pajamas, hair down, pigtails shaking in the anger she hurls at Charlotte;
* Eva shrouded in heavy gray coat and talking to Erik’s tombstone, she briefly suicidal, but thinking it better to keep living and nurturing for now–suicide deferred?
* Charlotte looking out the train window (after nuzzling agent Paul), her face suddenly wan–emotionally charged this face, half bright with the confidence of an artist who’s living her life to fullest, half shadowed in regret that she’s not living authentically, still guilt-plagued for neglecting her family.
KINESIS and STASIS: Now you see it, now you don’t, the car winding up the long driveway of the vicarage, partly visible like its driver Charlotte, in but mostly out of her family’s life and now for the first time in seven years fully visible as she alights from the car and hugs Eva. Charlotte: kinetic energy in her piano fingers and in her body and mind constantly moving via cars and planes and trains, collecting men for career and sex, dumping men when they’re no longer useful. Eva a stay-put nurturer, at best compassionate, at worst controlling, unable to love Viktor because she says her childhood was loveless–this couple partly crippled by obsession for dead Erik yet remarkably in relational equilibrium, marital stasis. Eva’s energy so long repressed till bad memories of Charlotte and mommy’s present behavior move Eva to a boiling point of rage, sending Charlotte to the floor in physical pain and static despair; Lena crawling on the floor in helpless agony, calling “mama come” (loud enough for the whole house to hear, but do Eva and Charlotte really hear Lena’s cry?)–all this turmoil builds in crescendo to a climax of explosive misery.
CHOPIN’S PRELUDE NO. 2 IN A MINOR called “Presentiment of Death” by Hans von Bulow, music somber, in places “harsh” (Charlotte’s word). See the intensity on Charlotte’s face as she performs it–as Norm [head of the Film Club] said, Charlotte “the consummate artist.” Look at Eva head down watching her mother play in shots Norm has shown us. Is mother purposely trying to show up daughter (who’d played the Prelude awkwardly just before)? No. Charlotte is lost in the dark beauty of the piece. She’s not consciously aware of offending Eva. Eva watches Charlotte’s fingers awestruck at her mother’s skill and humiliated by it. In one shot Eva stares at Charlotte in profile. Eva’s forehead, cheeks, chin all blank, stunned; her eyes and parted lips loudly echo her mind: Oh mother, how beautifully you play! But how on earth can you do this to me?
What do the Chopin and all the shots in this scene finally mean? Do they really signal a premonition of death? Whose? Eva’s by suicide? The ultimate death of the mother-daughter relationship? Perhaps both of these.
VIKTOR: He functions as audience and character. He begins the film by introducing us to Eva. At first we don’t see him. Then we do, his back to the wall, relating a passage of identity crisis from one of Eva’s books while way across the room she sits writing to her mother–all these signs of a marriage of distance between man and wife, of barriers between them, each self-relegated to his/her own sphere of life, a union whose warmth amounts to no more than politeness to each other. Viktor’s life is spread out in his responsibilities as husband and minister, in the demands made on him. He wants to love Eva but so far she has not loved him. We can almost hear him wondering, Will we ever be able to really love each other? Eva’s concerns for sick Lena and dead Erik and her struggle with Charlotte consume her. No wonder Viktor is “diffuse and uncertain.” He’s uncertain as a husband, uncertain in his faith. Importantly, he transcends uncertainty by being kind to everyone in the house. Like Fortinbras in Hamlet, Viktor picks up the pieces of a familial disaster. In reading and folding up Eva’s conciliatory letter to mail, he implicitly encourages his wife’s attempt at reconciliation with her mother. Thus he symbolizes hope that Eva and Charlotte may yet achieve a happy relationship. In touching the letter he is also touching Eva lovingly.
BobbyKnoxvilleQuote16 Jul 2012 at 2:35 am #1716
Oh man, am I ready to retire. Oak Hammock is a great idea. Promise not to rat on me, Bob, about being a fighting Cormackian? I’d hate to get blackballed for bad manners. Oops, I still have to work a few more years.
16 Jul 2012 at 12:28 pm #1718
Greg, are you the guy in Germany? Well, say farewell to Deutschland and come to Florida, the state of Rick Wallach and yours truly. You’d be a great addition to Oak Hammock. All kinds of perfessers visit us and give lectures. Some even live here in their dotage. I’m one of the few who asks em questions, some of which they waffle around and really don’t answer. Anyway, Oak H. is a good place to work your aging brain. If you fug up, no one barks at ye–they’re jes too polite or asleep.
BobbyKnoxvilleQuote17 Jul 2012 at 2:14 am #1720
And no more exam stress! No wonder folks there can fall asleep in class. (I still have nightmares about having skipped too many classes or having forgotten to drop a course right before exams.) I hope my lottery ticket wins big soon. Too bad the weather here in Germany is so crappy; otherwise, it would be a great business model to export. Then again, how can you really understand depressing Northern European philosophers or filmmakers unless you’ve experienced the climate they grew up in. Any takers?
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