Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Movie Night: Nymphomaniac Vol 1

Your mileage with this film is probably going to vary greatly, depending on your familiarity with the director and his body of work. That kind of polarizing, almost alienating filmmaking is exactly what Trier is known for. If you know the director at all you should know before going in that one: the sex in this film will most likely not be "sexy" and two: for a film called's probably not going to be about sex. Trier has crafted an intense and darkly comic allegory about his relationship with viewers. Joe is a surrogate for Trier as she tells Seligman, here representative of the viewer or critic, all the history of her sexual life, and Seligman like all people try to assign meaning and symbolism in a way that relates to them. This disparity is the true conflict of the film as Joe struggles to tell a story of honest and visceral emotion or lack there of, which is easily a metaphor for Trier's own creative journey through the darker sides of the human experience, and Seligman constantly interjects with far flung metaphors needing each moment of the story to MEAN something. It's an impressive balance to maintain but Trier with all of his intricate precision handles it with a deft hand and imbues by far the most humor I've ever seen in his films.

Let's start with the idea that the film is a chronicling of Trier's cinematic history. The film opens up on an alley way complete with stone streets and a window showing a tint of yellow. This of course is an allusion to The Element of Crime, Trier's first film about a questionable detective investigating a series of murders. That whole film was shot through a yellow filter peppered with hints of blue. It is fitting then that this film begins with a nod to that film, and then we see Joe bruised and beaten on the floor which begins the mystery for this film. As the movie progresses we see pieces of many of the auteur's work. The social experiment the young ladies play on the train is completely reminiscent of the type of gonzo social experiments the cast of the Idiots performed. The list of rules that Joe's sex club employs is similar to Trier's time founding Dogme 95 with his group of contemporaries. Even having Joe's best friend abandon the rules as she states "the secret to sex is LOVE" is a direct comparison to Trier obsession over form and artifice whether the oblique nature of Dogville or the absurdly cinematic nature of AntiChrist and Melancholia. All three of which are about as far from the realist manifesto of Dogme 95 as can be. There are plenty more allusions but the last one I want to talk about is Joe's relationship with nature. In the film it is one of the few times in which she receives a respite from her obsession with sex. It serves a similar purpose in Melancholia as there are multiple scenes of Kirsten Dunst in the middle of nature and again it shows one of the few times she escapes her crippling depression.

Ok I want to talk about the relationship between the story Joe tells and the response from Seligman. I can see this being a point of contention for any naysayers out there, I found it quite engaging and fantastic writing. So as Joe tells her story, Seligman constantly interrupts her to either ask questions or to assign some meaning to her story with a comparison to fly fishing. This is Trier showing his relationship to critics and viewers. His movies demand explanation and discussion, but much like Seligman many people will just thrust whatever meaning will relate to them even what it's not an apt comparison. Seligman's stories are often forced and very on the nose, and we see Joe either frustrated or outright deny that he has the right meaning. This is an interesting point as I'm sure whatever meaning we come up with for art is probably not necessarily what the artist intended. But where would the film director be without viewers? And as such does that mean that our interpretation is wrong just because it doesn't fit with the artists original intent? I mean I'm sure you could argue fly fishing as a metaphor for sex, but the two are so disconnected and Seligman's reasons are so convenient it's obvious that Trier is making a point. One of my favorite scenes is Seligman's refusal to believe that Jerome just happens to keep popping up in Joe's sexual journey. The idea of a viewer refusing to believe the story a director is showing is attacked in a clever way by Trier here. Whether it's people not believing the horrible fate or Bjork, or the absurd twists and turns that AntiChrist takes.

You'll notice I haven't really discussed the story or the many acts of sex seen in the film, of which there are plenty. Well if you really want to know go see it for yourself, or go read someone else's review. This is a film that has so much bubbling beneath the surface that it dares you to keep up with the incredible balancing act that Trier is doing. Easily his most accessible film so far thanks to an incredible dark wit and some actual laugh out loud moments, if you want to see a film tackle the conflict between artist and viewer then Nymphomaniac will give you that. It's an amazing film that will surely divide audiences but for me it was an impressive journey through the life of a director who is admittedly hit or miss. Always one for pushing the boundary Trier has created his most vulnerable and personal film that let's us see what exactly is going on in this madman's head. But then again who knows...maybe volume two will complete debunk any theory I have. That in itself is incredibly exciting.


One last thought - Uma Thurman, a group of young lads, and a whore bed steal the movie.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lost Shots EP 6 House of the Rising Sun

Rewatching the series I have to say Sun and Jin have by far the most emotional flashbacks. Each one more heartbreaking than the last. Just one of the many joys of taking the journey back go the island. But enough of that, today I want to look at one of the biggest mysteries of the show, that of Adam and Eve, the two skeletons Jack, Kate and Locke find in the cave. Now right up front I won't say who these skeletons belong too. Cause if you don't know, then just watch the show because this is one of the few mysteries they give you a concrete answer to.

What I loved most about this is how this is one of the many mysteries that came up in the first season that laid out the groundwork for many further seasons to build upon. Now once the survivors find the skeletons they also find a bag with one white stone and one black stone. We already have seen black and white emerge as a constant motif, so even now are we led to believe that these two bodies are representative of good and evil? Also Jack states that the bodies are 40-50 years the series goes on and we learn the nature of the island are we too believe that these may be actually be survivors of 815 and thanks to some good old time travel have arrived back here in the "present." By far my favorite theory, and one that excited me with it's possibilities. So I ask you? Were you happy getting the answer? Or would have been happier having the mystery live in your head and have it be whatever you wanted it to be? Fine it's the smoke're welcome.


One last thought - and his mom

Monday, March 17, 2014

Movie Night: The Grand Budapest Hotel

You are not prepared for the awesome that is Wes Anderson's latest cinematic achievement. Well maybe you are, but I definitely wasn't. A delightfully whimsical romp through the inner workings of a glamorous hotel and it's oh so quirky staff and guests. Well you get that...but you also get a pitch black comedy that takes us on an incredible adventure filled with geriatric sex, severed limbs, and some animal cruelty for good measure. This is dark fellas, and I fucking loved it.

Much like Moonrise Kingdom, this plays out like a slightly surreal fairy tale. The difference this time around is that this is not about joys and wonder of young love, but rather an extremely adult themed adventure with a most unlikely protagonist. Ralph Fiennes is pitch perfect as M. Gustave, the best concierge the world has ever seen. Slightly effeminate and extremely dedicated to satisfy each and every request or desire that his guests might have. The story begins as he takes on a protege and a wealthy guest passes away under mysterious circumstances.

Anderson uses his trademark style to how us the most whimsical prison scenes you can imagine. This is a stark color palette of whites and reds and purples, and shouting at the screen we have Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe in all black. I'll let you figure out what role they play. Each scene drips personality out of the frame as each detail each color is meticulously chosen and nothing is left to chance. A collection of hanging keys, a delightfully dreary bakery producing the most wondrous cakes, color abounds everywhere and we see all of it slip away once we reach the gray of the prison. We feel our character miss the luxuries he's known for so long as he struggles to maintain composure and utter dedication to what he does best, serve.

Last thing before I wrap this up, the writing for this film is incredible. Anderson is known for his wit, but here he has created one of the best characters ever on screen with the help of Fiennes. A slightly crass yet extremely proper concierge that is a hero if I've ever seen one. His protege Zero, has the awkwardness of many Anderson films, but we see his confidence grow as the film goes on. A scene near the end where in the middle of a chase he stops to provide some training to a new lobby boy. And with a quick exchange we see that he is indeed the rightful successor to M. Gustave. This is far less precious than anything in Moonrise, and not nearly as wink wink clever as Fox. All those elements are still here, but he plays a lot of it straight, especially with the deaths in this film, some just come out of nowhere and then cut...we're onto the next scene.

I could go on about what this movie means, or what it's really engaging on a thematic level, maybe discuss the idea that war looms over everything. Or that the beautifully vibrant hotel is threatened constantly by fascists in gray, but I'll let you find those out for yourself. This is a movie to enjoy, just non stop bliss from start to finish. Anderson is at the top of his game here and he delivers one of the best films he's ever made and easily his most adult themed. Best film of 2014 so far, if this doesn't land on my top ten list at the end of the year then this was an amazing year.


One last thought - this man needs to work more.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

When I'm not with mutants, I'll be with these fine folks. A look at a few under the radar films for 2014.

With the 2013 film season officially behind us, it's time to start looking at what sort of cinematic treasure our voyage through 2014 will yield. So far we've seen some successes like the Lego Movie and then there's Monuments Men. So I wanted to compile a list of films, now these aren't your run of the mill blockbusters or big name directors. So while Bryan Singer, and Brad Bird might have two of my most anticipated films they are not on this list. Neither is my favorite working director. No, this list is some of the more under the radar films, films that speak to certain idiosyncrasies I might have or if you prefer, curiosities.

Under the Skin - Jonathan Glazer
Scar Jo can act. Look back on her work and she picks some amazing directors from Zwigoff, to Nolan, to Allen. The girl likes challenging herself and in this new film she looks to have stepped into a role completely unlike anything she's done before. But while Scar Jo is exciting, the real reason I'm excited about this film is Glazer. The guy has made two films and both are unlike anything you've ever seen. Birth specifically tells a new story and while it falls a bit under the weight of it's premise the execution of the film is amazing. Glazer has an amazing eye and I can't wait to see this story of an alien hell bent on sexual domination.

The Guest/The Sacrament - Adam Wingard and Ti West
Ok so I cheated here, but these guys roll with the same
Crew and constantly act/ help with each other's films. Wingard's last film, You're Next was close to making my top ten last year and Ti West makes horror movies like no one else right now. These men both have helped on the VHS series which are loads of fun. Excited to see these indie kids develop their craft in front of us.

Birdman - Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu
Michael Keaton as an aging actor who used to be a superhero now trying to regain glory. From Innaritu? Dying to see this. The guy just doesn't pick projects haphazardly.

Only Lovers Left Alive - Jim Jarmusch
Again this is more of a curiosity than anything. Jarmusch tackling the vampire genre? There's gotta be more to this than at first glance. Jarmusch is a legend in the indie scene and with Hiddleston on board I'm super excited to see them play around in this new genre sandbox

The Double - Richard Ayoade
Ayoade's first film was charming and confident. With this next film he looks to have grown by leaps and bounds. Telling the story of a young man who's exact double enters his life looks to be filmed with a pitch black sense of humor and paranoid eye. Eisenberg stars and the film looks to have a surreal feel as we journey into insanity with this oddball take on Dostoyevsky's novella.

Nymphomaniac - Lars Von Trier
Never been the biggest fan of Trier, but when he's on he's brilliant, and he's always at least interesting. Sometimes you get the feeling he's pushing boundaries just to push them, but then other times you get Melancholia, or The Element of Crime. This exploration of one woman's sexual history is mostly likely the least sexy sex you'll probably ever see but to see him tackle the subject head on, rather than the roundabout ways he plays with it in Dogville or Anti-Christ piques my interest. But of course leave it to Trier to make the film over 6 hrs long and feature naked Stellan Skaarsgard.

The Green Inferno - Eli Roth
Love Eli Roth. The guy does not direct nearly as much as he should. So it's nice to see him stop messing around with Tarantino and get back to what he does best. Which is pay homage to the history of horror and inject it with his own sense of fun and dark sense of humor. This is his take on the cannibal story and word is he's pushing the gore further than he ever has. Can't wait.


One last thought - then there's this guy.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lost Shots EP 5 White Rabbit

Here we go. From day one we learn Jack had an insatiable need to save everybody. Even if it means getting beat up or having your dad disapprove of you. But that's not what this is about. This is about....ghosts. Maybe. Jack sees or thinks he sees his dad walking around the island. At first we don't know whether we're seeing a ghost or just some exhaustion induced hallucination or something else altogether. Whatever it is Jack chases it throughout the whole episode. This becomes a constant theme as various other ghosts often lead our characters to varying results. Some to salvation such as Jack and the caves and others to their doom...sorry Shannon.

This is just the first of many "ghosts" we see throughout the series. We eventually learn what exactly most of these ghosts were, but let's take a look at their symbolic meaning. These ghosts are always part of the specific characters past, and they "haunt" the character because they are a part of their past that is unresolved. Thus we see another example of our characters trying to overcome their faults and strive for redemption. We see these characters "Chase" these ghosts hoping to resolve whatever issues they had in the past and then hopefully move on. This would of course become one of the shows major themes and the use of ghosts was always my favorite manifestation of this theme.


One last thought - looking back I'm curious as to how many of these ghosts were just visions and how many know..

Monday, March 3, 2014

Blu Review - Bob Dylan : The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration

Note: This NTT is brought to you by Bence's request for an article with "Dylan" in the title
Another Tuesday upon us, and while this release IS being put out in a multi-CD package as well, for this New Tune Tuesday we're gonna cover the blu-ray release for the long in the vaults "30th Anniversary concert celebration" of Bob Dylan's career. It may be hard to fathom now, in an era full of tribute concerts to both the dying and the dead, but in 1992 big time events like this were for causes, they were for benefit concerts, not a man. That all changed one night in Madison Square Garden, let's dig in...

This one's for you Bob...Thanks for having 'BobFest'...
~Neil Young prior to "All Along the Watchtower"~

Personal Bias/Quasi-Film Review: Once upon a time, you dressed so fine, you...nevermind. Once upon a time I hunted the world over for a laserdisc player (remember those kids?) for two simple reasons: 1. So I could watch the ORIGINAL versions of the Star Wars films and 2. So I could watch this tribute concert from 1992. Just for the record, I still have both the laserdisc player and all my laserdiscs I ended up purchasing including the Star Wars trilogy, this Dylan tribute and even Don't Look Back. Anyhow despite some big names that don't make it, and some faults by some who do, I really enjoyed the concert, then and now. There's a lot of hit and miss but I wanna say in particular two performances that hit me like a ton of curly Jewish hair: Johnny Winter's slide guitar guided barnstorm of "Highway 61 Revisited" and Richie Havens' sublime "Just Like a Woman." Of all the performances, they stuck with me the most and had me looking at them as more than their Woodstock images I had embedded in my brain. I put them both on my personal "must see live" list and ultimately did catch them both in concert at various times. I got to speak to Richie Havens after his show, one of the sweetest and most genuine guys I've ever met, and discussed his performance here with him. The performers, well known and not as well known, obviously have an affection for Bob, his person and his music, and it shows. With a eclectic group ranging from country legends like Cash and Kristofferson to 60's cronies like The Band and Eric Clapton to underground idols like Lou Reed and (then) current superstars like Pearl Jam showcase just what type of long-lasting impact Dylan had, and still does. It's interesting to note that this 30th anniversary show was basically done to cap off Dylan's career, creatively it seemed he was dry and personally he wasn't much better off, or as George Harrison apparently put it to Columbia "we need to do something for Bob before he's gone." in 1991 he won a Lifetime Grammy Award and Columbia released the first box set in the archival Bootleg Series, all this adds up to "let's cap a career, boys!" Irony strikes as we realize ten years later Dylan was the height of his creative and commercial resurgence and George Harrison was the one no longer here in need a post-mortem tribute. 20-plus years on Dylan has released 7 more studio albums, mostly extremely well received by critics and sales, MTV Unplugged, won an Oscar, released a New York Times bestselling book, had a hugely successful radio program, released numerous mutli-disc titles in the Bootleg Series and been involved or the subject of multiple films: Scorsese's No Direction Home, the anti-biopic I'm Not There, Masked & Anonymous and My Own Love Song. Maybe he'll slow down after the eventual 60th Anniversary Concert Celebration. 

Overall: 3/5

"Sinead O'Connor sang WHAT?!? I didn't write that, did I?"

Aesthetically Speaking: Much like The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at Newport DVD and
Blu-Ray releases from prior years (review HERE), this is a really nice overall package. The design has taken a purplish-blu hue as compared to the black and white dominant color aesthetic of the originally 90's CD release, all building around the wonderful show photography of Ken Reagan. The case is not an eco-case and has a nice shot of Dylan and the crowd in the inner case. We also get a nice booklet full of more photos, track listings and liner notes. This one-disc blu-ray release does a nice job of earning it's "deluxe edition" title.

Aesthetics & Package: 4.5/5

Oh, you want to see a George Harrison live performance post-Concert for Bangledish besides this one? Oh I'm sorry, let me put my hand on my breast...oh you don't get my South Park reference? Let me put a hand on my other breast

Tom Petty is sympathetic to the crowd as they realize he'll make more
off his addition to the Home Alone 2  soundtrack than they will their
entire lives...
Visually Speaking: There is no possible way a PPV concert from 1992 should look this good, oh wait, what's that? Oh those Japanese, ahead of the game even back then, Doc Brown! While the US Columbia/HBO team shot in then professional tape SD (used on the original broadcast and subsequent VHS and laserdisc releases) the Japanese crew there shot on what we can now call an early form of High-Definition tape cameras. This master has been in storage lockdown over there for two decades and it took big-time Dylan fan lawyer Jerry Schulberg in negotiating a possible release. The AVC MPEG-4 encoded master has the original broadcast opening sequence, and as in that original showing, is 4:3 SD footage, here uprezzed, looking as good as they source will look, but as soon as we get to the actual concert it's like putting on glasses and viewing an HD shot concert from just a few years ago. Most cameras on/near the stage are very crisp, clean and gather really nice colors from the stage lighting. There are a couple camera angles shooting mostly straight on, full stage shots that are a little noisier, that's a little not a lot. It doesn't seem to be uprezzed footage but a source where a little more gain was needed in capturing the original source. The behind the scenes material and extra bonus songs are in SD and once again look as good as they'll ever get, but the behind the scenes material is nice on it's own and the concert is the meat of the package, and it's indeed a nice cut.  

Visually Overall: 4/5

Rick Danko and Levon Helm exchange humours anecdotes on how they left Robbie Robertson out of this. 
The Sound: Being this is a concert, the sound even more than the visual is important, especially on
Neil Young enjoying his "I'm a grunge rocker!" era. Thankfully no coke
was stuck on his nose, ala The Last Waltz
blu-ray where a big selling point is uncompressed audio tracks. This doesn't disappoint, newly remastered by Anesini, and thank Bob for that, as he's one of the few true masters of mastering in today's market, typically going for quality over the trend of the loudness war. This uncompressed 2.0 Stereo mix sounds fantastic, and whether it's Booker T and the MGs original house band backings, audio interactions or re-dubs done in post (yes, Bob, I'm looking at you on your verse in "My Back Pages") it all sounds crisp with nice depth and wonderfully mixed.

Audio Overall: 4.5/5

Clapton debuting (then) new 3rd Grade Math teacher haircut
Bonus Goodies: Though in SD, there are some nice bonus additions to the blu-ray edition. We have three cut-out live performances (which were on my original laserdisc strangely), even though there were others that could have made it (Harrison's "If Not For You," Thorougood's "Wanted Man" and Dylan's "Song to Wood") it's nice any were included considering the show is already around 3 hours long. We also have 40 odd minutes of behind the scenes interactions of the week-long rehearsals and some interviews with various performers. It's a nice batch of goodies, especially since like previously stated, the main program itself is close to three hours in length...
Behind the Scenes Featurette
"Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" - John Mellencamp
"Boots of Spanish Leather" - Nancy Griffith and Carolyn Hester
"Gotta Serve Somebody" - Booker T and the MGs

Bonus Overall: 3.5/5

One last Hawk, er, thought: It's incredibly sad to realize how many great names featured on this show that aren't here anymore. A classy move by the Dylan camp to do a little dedication to them on the back of the booklet. 

More Blu-Ray Screen Grabs:
Taken Direct from Blu-Ray Disc
Blogger Re-Sizes images to well below 1920x1080
All images under fair use for Discussion, Critique and Review

A Few Thoughts About Oscar

And with that another cinematic year has come to a close, culminating in a night dedicated to celebrating the celluloid(binary?) triumphs of the year prior. While the Oscars are largely nothing more than a night of glad handing and politics, the emotion is always there and I keep coming back cause well I just love me some spectacle. For every incredibly awkward James Franco bit, there is Adrien Brody kissing Halle Berry and giving a speech full of passion. This Oscars Telecast was no different, led this time by the incredibly down to earth yet sometimes dreadfully safe Ellen Degeneres. While ultimately, I sadly think Seth was a more successful host, this year overall was more enjoyable, thanks in no part to the overwhelming amount of quality work this year. Here's a few thoughts.

Ellen's Monologue was horrible.
Boring and flat, up until she made a few Jlaw jokes and finished with a quaint bit about racism. Worried to say the least for this to be the shows opener.

Ellen's constant strolls up the aisle were perfect.
From her obsession with twitter, to her pizza delivery bits, to collecting money to pay for the pizza, I loved each one. "Lupita your stock just went up I'm sure you can help out"

Kevin Spacey Oscar host?
He seemed to be everywhere, part of the big photo, telling Ellen "no honey this money is for you", to his super quick but audience killing Frank Underwood moment, Spacey was on point and charming as always. Oh yah and he can sing.

Pharrell is so frakking cool
Maybe the most exuberant Oscar performance since Robin Williams sang Blame Canada.

Adele Dazeem
If you don't know....then why are you reading this.

Classy speeches from the actors
Lupita and Jared both talking about those in hardship, Cate making a strong feminist stance, to McConaughey getting philosophical. Frankly I felt each speech represented the actor well and a nice change of pace from some typical oscar tear fests

Gravity owned the night with some of my favorite wins
Lubezki and Cuaron are two masters of cinema so happy to see them win. Hopefully these two won't ever stop making films

Steve McQueen is an energetic dude for such dark pictures
Not only did he snatch the oscar out the presenters hand with some force but after speaking he proceeded to jump up an down like Cuba Gooding Jr. In the 90's. Well deserved win, brilliant film and a great way to end the night.

American Hustle SHUT OUT while Jonze takes home the trophy
Really thought they would win ONE. It deserved it, but this was a tough year to be sure. Adams to me was the real deserving one here. Soooo happy for Jonze to take the Best Original
screenplay. My favorite movie of the year from one of my favorite directors working. The one moment during the whole I let out an audible OH MY GOD YES!!!

Until next year


One last thought - why do people want Harrison Ford to do anything? Don't you get it? He DOESNT CARE ANYMORE.