29 November 2012

Holy Movie Holy Motors Holy Wonderfully Confusing -- Thank You!!!

"She knew, because she had held him, that he suffered DT’s. Behind the initials was a metaphor, a delirium tremens, a trembling unfurrowing of the mind’s plowshare. The saint whose water can light lamps, the clairvoyant whose lapse in recall is the breath of God, the true paranoid for whom all is organized in spheres joyful or threatening about the central pulse of himself, the dreamer whose puns probe ancient fetid shafts and tunnels of truth all act in the same special relevance to the word, or whatever it is the word is there, buffering, to protect us from. The act of metaphor then was a thrust at truth and a lie, depending where you were: inside, safe, or outside, lost.” - From 'The Crying of Lot 49' by Thomas Pynchon.

Dare me with delights. Stagger me with your confusion in great profusion. Let me unearth the sorted meanings from moments unhidden. And bid me a loving memory of your ghostly chants. So cries the rain on calm Winter nights of pure black.

I saw Holy Motors. An enigmatic film from France that jealously guards its meaning(s) but invites us to ponder them. Piquant. Ribald. And enthusiastic about story telling.

Most films are up front about who is who and what is what and where is where and when is when and even  -- dare I say -- why and how. Mysteries are solved for us and we are left to turn off our higher thinking skills and eat at the trough. These movies are eaten like the popcorn they are served with and provide a like amount of nutrition. Harumph!

In the world of Holy Motors there are great stretch limousines traveling around Paris and perhaps for all we know other cities. Inside are individuals with "appointments." We follow one such mystery person (Denis Lavant) and his faithful driver on a day when he has nine appointments. Ahh but these assignations. So strange. Once a man picking up his teenaged daughter from a party. Once a man set on killing a lookalike. Once a man dying in a hotel room with a loving niece by his side. Once not a man at all but an old beggar woman. And once...well it's hard to say really. A flower eating, money eating, hair eating freak show of lunatic who carries off a model (Eva Mendes). Is she part of the show? Is it a show? And who is that man who appears in his limo between assignments? I'll not reveal their conversation but in it there must be clues. Right? Or how about when he meets with a fellow...uh, traveler? (Kylie Minogue). Yes that is a strange interlude complete as it is with a musical number. (There's an earlier jaunty musical interruption that serves as an entr'acte.)

So that question comes up again. "Did you like the movie?"and its frequent partner: "What was it about?" Oh you!

Images. Not just the right set piece but the peculiarity the mystery the wonder of what is going on within it. The unconventional. I mean really. How often can you see the usual?


My mind is dwelling in the land of Holy Motors where limos meet and drivers put on masks and Frenchmen live with apes. And fingers are bitten off and bankers shot in public and colds caught in the process. And people survived knifings to the throat and did I mention talking cars? Oh but that opening sequence....Zowie!

So thank you for the thought. Thank you for playing with me and daring me to think and trusting me go along for the ride and zigging with your zagging. I'm not doing anything right now because I'm so busy. Therefore this is good time to ask me about who arranges and for what purpose and how is all this possible and what is the symbolism and are these angels and is life really -- like the bard said -- a stage? We the players.

Holy Motors was written and directed by  Leos Carax and I think he's nuts and I like that about him.

23 November 2012

Lincoln Alive Again If Only On Screen

“The interesting thing about grief, I think, is that it is its own size. It is not the size of you. It is its own size. And grief comes to you.  I’ve always liked that phrase He was visited by grief, because that’s really what it is. Grief is its own thing. It’s not like it’s in me and I’m going to deal with it. It’s a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at your door.” - Stephen Colbert. 

Pain. Suffering. Death. Long nights of emptiness. The world is full of horror and unexplainable cruelty. Cursory glances at history and current events will confirm this. It is not only inescapable but easy to dwell on. But there is beauty and magic and miracles and love and dancing and joy. An occasional method to the madness. There are people who persevere and nurture and create. I look at my wife and children and am amazed that life can be so rewarding so fulfilling so beautiful. We should always be mindful of the gifts life bestows. If we are to dwell on anything why not those?

Lincoln is the latest film from Steven Spielberg with Daniel Day-Lewis in the titular role. It is not the greatest film I've ever seen nor even the best of the year thus far but is is a revelation. As a life long student of U.S. History -- including the life and times of Abraham Lincoln our 16th president -- I feel safe in singing the film's praises as masterful historical fiction.

Wisely, Spielberg did not try to make a sweeping historical epic. He confined the film largely to Lincoln's efforts to gain passage of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution which abolished slavery.

At their best, historical dramas not only tell us a story but recreate an era and its people. Lincoln the film does this. Sets costumes and pitch perfect casting followed by similarly precise performances seem to transport the viewer to Washington D.C. in early 1865. Muddy streets. The White House. The House of Representatives. Taverns. Houses. You are there and best of all in your company is the thoroughly engaging personage of Abraham Lincoln. My goodness Day-Lewis gets it right fitting as his performance does to the collective picture of Lincoln our culture has created. That wisdom. That wit. That folksy story telling charm. And that political cunning that beguiled so many who were so ready to dismiss the angular hick from Illinois. It is the best cinematic portrayal of a historical figure since Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.

This was a remarkable man. Especially considering that he was largely self educated --- what a teacher! You will hear from many who will find fault in his presidency and his politics. Gasp! He was not perfect. There are those in academia who love to puncture the public's mythology about their heroes. It's an odd and easy sort of game. Largely purposeless except as a twisted self aggrandizement. The more famous the more beloved the more respected their target the greater the payment to their ego to take him down a notch. Lincoln had contemporary detractors aplenty -- like the white residents of the Southern states -- and does today. I heard one proclaim that Lincoln did not free the slaves that they left of their own accord. It is true that he did not march down south and open the gates and escort each slave to freedom. But from his perch as president he played a significant role in the ending of the peculiar institution. His insistence on the passing of the 13th amendment is one example.

Lincoln the film reveals the legend as man. Humble. Affable. And a shrewd politician. He mixed it up with the best of them and won more often than not. Lincoln the film shines a light on Lincoln the person largely by fully revealing some of the individuals and archetypes who surrounded him. See Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens the abolitionist senator. David Straitharn as William Seward the secretary of state. Sally Field as the pixilated Mary Todd Lincoln. See a cast ranging from James Spader to Bruce McGill from Hal Holbrook to Joseph Gordon-Leavitt from Tim Blake Nelson to Michael Stuhlbarg.

There is a bit of the sports movie story arc to Lincoln where a last minute victory is pulled out against all odds in dramatic fashion. But this is a different sort of film in that the protagonist is subsequently killed. Oh yes and this just may be the definitive American historical drama.

12 November 2012

The Master, The Mind, The Movie, The Message, The Mix

"What if I'm God. I'm the only one who truly exists and you're just a creation of my imagination?"
"I've thought that too. Like my life keeps happening over and over again."
"Yeah because we all see things from our own mind, our own perspective and can't truly appreciate or even begin to understand how other people view the world."
"That's why its such a miracle when two people totally view a situation the same way, are on the same wave length."
"Yeah but its like its that one thing or maybe more, maybe a lot of things but then there's so many other things that those same two people view completely differently and could never agree on."
"Even if they're lovers or married or best friends or siblings."
"I sometimes think that the tiniest atom in the universe is also the biggest."
"I've thought that too."

So I tell people I saw The Master the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson and they ask something like: is it good? Or did you like it? And maybe they're asking to be polite and aren't really interested in seeing it. Maybe they respect my judgment and might see it or avoid it partially based on my comments. What do I say? How do you take nouns and adjectives and verbs and such and turn them into some sort of coherent reaction that comes out as thumbs up or thumbs down? Simple, concise. Nahhhhhhh.

I would not want to be in the thumbs up or down movie reviewing business. Respect to those  reviewers  and the ones who give a movie one to five stars. Wow man. Take what can be an experience and reduce it to a number or one of two possible signals. Ooooooo.

How would you rate that cloud? I mean its beautiful but a little dark and totally ambiguous. Do you understand the cloud? Would I want to see it? How many puffs do you give it on a scale of negative 39 to 463? What's the basis of your evaluation?

So I say that I "liked it" because I found the two plus hours of the film to be an enjoyable experience. (And that is putting it very simply. It gets complicated.) I also say that I don't think the movie is for everyone. This gets me off the hook. I'm saying here that if you see it and don't like to please remember what I said about it not being for everyone. This disclaimer also telegraphs the notion that this is an unusual kind of film. It's not one of those James Bond or Spiderman deals with a tried and true and tired and rue story arc. It goes and it goes and some people want it to like stop.

I go on to mention that Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix were brilliant which they were. Transformative. These are superior performers given superior performances. Master classes in acting. Hoffman is the embodiment of the know everything life guide or the sophisticated charlatan who maybe believes his own stink. (And you'd like Amy Adams as his wife. There is a spookiness there). Phoenix is a hunched over raging alcoholic who is everyman in a twisted world where everyone is prone to be demented. He is so freaking stupid and so damn brilliant about his ignorance and you just got at marvel at the creation of such a character and the interpretation by a brilliant actor.

I also discuss the LOOK OF THE FILM. Oh my. Hard to explain in a short polite conversation. The Master is "the first motion picture in 16 years to be filmed entirely on 65mm format using Panavision's System 65 camera." I gotta be honest here and say I'm not all sure what that means but I could tell the movie looked different simply by checking out the screen.

It looked


And Anderson is meticulous about set design or he hires people who are. Costumes too. I was all up in the movie because of the look which just sucks you in and hey here we go. You at times, could feel enveloped by the picture. The colors bathe you and keep you not just awake but entranced. Thank you much.

So the story...ummm. See here's where some people object because they want it to go someplace more specific. A lot of people want specificity in their movie going experience because paying all that money to sit and have to think is like a bit much. Better have the story spelled out for you then to draw your own conclusions. Now with Andersons's previous film, There Will Be Blood there was this sprawling story with this amazing performance by Daniel Day-Lewis and it looked like something out of visionary's brain but that story left me cold and unsatisfied. There was a there there but I didn't like it. It was confined to this one man and his madness. But The Master has a whole lot of story going on and you can make lots or little of it as you please. There's a lot to be done with it. Geographically it travels hither and yon and spiritually and mentally and emotionally it goes even further. Intellectually its off the friggin' charts.

Here is where I would give a synopsis but I think IMDb does it just fine and my first mention of the film is linked to their site so check it out there if you must.

I think.

What The Master does best

is leave spaces where ideas can grow and these space are all filled with this stunning visual sense that adds to the complexity and the dimension of the questions you can ask and answer and ponder and fiddle with. Like fer instance: who's a crazy person? Who manipulates how and why and why do people look for leaders and great teachers and enlightenment and why do they fall for snake oil salesmen and religion and cults and alcohol? And who really knows anything anyway? How do we journey in life and where she stops nobody knows. But we go. Answers. There are people probing and poking and flailing away. There is Hoffman as THE MASTER with all the answers -- or not -- and then Phoenix as loose cannon like a cannon skidding on a waxed floor and liable to ejaculate all kinna explosions and does. Did. It's post WWII America and don't think that's not significant and don't think it is. Unless you want to because it's that kind of


So yeah I liked it. As I said. I give it four G*i&6g9ts and a p)/"3y. 

04 November 2012

The Buddhist Threat, Friends Indeed, Being a Fan Amy W. --A Long Overdue Edition of Odds & Ends

The above clip is a rather strong condemnation on the republican party (no longer worthy of being capitalized) in particular and the country as a whole. There is such woeful ignorance and outright stupidity throughout a country that extolls itself as the greatest on earth that one wonders how we manage to get anything done. Too many people eschew facts and indeed are unfamiliar with them. Fox News is a major culprit as it disguises baseless polemic attacks as news. Edward R Murrow, Walter Cronkite, I.F. Stone and dozens of other newsmen are turning over and over and over in their graves....

I'm thinking of taking the biggest hardcover book on my bookshelf and hallowing out the middle. I would then place a secret formula there and return the book to the shelf. All I need is a secret formula and a reason to hide one. So close....

When people say they didn't know whether to laugh or to cry I have to assume they suffer from sort of mental or emotional problem. Knowing when to laugh and when to cry is pretty basic and doesn't even need to be taught. Even a baby knows when to do what....

Have you ever been asked a question about yourself by a friend that would seem to indicate they know nothing about you? When my brother died a friend asked if he had a family. I don't know how many times I'd mentioned to this friend about my brother's wife and their four children including in the email he was responding to with his condolences and question. Then there are friends who never ask about inquire about your recent doings your family your health or your job nor do they solicit your opinions on matters of the day instead yammering on endless about this or that as if your sole purpose was to give them a human object to talk at. Actually you learn to separate such folks from your real friends....

I went to see the The Perks of Being a Wallflower yesterday. There were teenagers literally running about the theater and others who were apparently in the theater to picnic. I had the feeling that I might not be too happy trying to watch a film in the middle of recess. Then a group of pre teen girls sat right behind giggling and chatting up a storm. The writing was on the wall and written in bold letters. I went to the box office and said I had an emergency and could I have a refund and they said sure and I'm a liar but I saved myself an unhappy experience. Another time perhaps....

I was about to type the words: my favorite baseball team won the World Series for the second time in three years. But that would be like calling my wife my favorite adult female. I'm married to K just as I'm married to the San Francisco Giants. Actually K and I only go back to when I was in my 20s but the Giants and I go back to when I was eight years old -- sooner actually but my first memory of being at a game was when I was eight. That's not just a favorite, that's part of who you are. Anyway they are atop the baseball world again and its kind of weird. I'm not used to this though I'll try. A beloved team is like one of your children: you don't love it any less when it fails or any more when it succeeds. You're always proud. Intellectually there's a real danger in being a sports fan. It took me years to learn perspective and  to learn not to obsess to learn to celebrate and appreciate victories and not to waste energy bemoaning defeats....

I have a new musical love -- Amy Winehouse. I came upon her by accident and was immediately struck by the power and beauty of her voice. Her jazz stylings are terrific but it is a soul singer that she really shines. Of course this is all past tense as she succumbed to her addictions and died at the age of 27 just as three other of my favorites did, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. I know a little about substance abuse and it is a miracle that some of us get an out of jail card and go on to lead long and productive lives (okay I'm flattering myself here -- I may be on my way to long but the productivity of it seems open to question). Gin, cocaine, vodka marijuana, scotch, beer, LSD, wine in great quantities can make life seem more special, more wonderful, more exotic, more alive. Then they wrap their tentacles around you and squeeze the life out of you. Drip drop and you stumble and you curse and you make other people uncomfortable and you question normal and rational and existence and do it in bad ugly ways like life is a gift you want to exchange....

As part of my recent efforts to learn to speak Italian I've been watching a lot of Italian films. This is not a chore. Fellini and Antonioni are two of my three favorite directors (behind Bergman) and I also admire DeSica, Rossi, Rossellini, Olmi and others. But the cool thing is all the wonderful films I'm discovering. Such as Dillinger is Dead (1969), Mid-August Lunch (2008), The Salt of Life (2011), Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), Hands Over the City (1963), Seduced and Abandoned (1964) and Il Divo (2008). A few years ago I did a series on Italian films which you can find by checking out the Italian Films label on the right of this page. I hope to find time to do another such series.