This column offers a method of film criticism that dwells entirely (almost entirely) on the film itself. It is not interested in ideological approaches to film or contextualization in regards to an auteur theory that privileges the authorial perspective of a director. It comments on recent DVD releases and attempts to offer something in return but only a something which has been taken from the film and did not originate in the writer. The column accepts that this approach breaches much of modern aesthetic theory and tries not to care.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

DVD Column Seven

DVD Pick:

Elena [Blu-ray] (Zvyagintsev, 2011) RB UK New Wave Films

Elena is a film that pays attention to details and its gesture of crucial action are tied up with that attention to detail. It is a presentation of an older Russian women married, for the second time, to a retired high-up in the Soviet army. He has money, she has him, his daughter is seen to (despite her resentment), her son and his family are not (despite their apparent need, a need connected to their laziness about their own plight and their proclivity to reproduction). This causes tension between the married couple, a tension that delicately comes to be central in their lives and with profound but not conclusive results. It is a film about loyalty and very little in it exclusively understands loyalty as essentially virtuous. The movie is slow but when it moves it does so with a palpable degree of tension. In this way, it echoes not real life but our terror about real life that we find in apprehension of possible expectations. A young man (the grandson of Elena) goes off with his gang of friends for fun and the frolic of violence and we, impotently watching, dread what we can conceive of as the only possible outcome. This is the essence of the viewer’s experience, edge of your seat dread as to what might and should (although there is no definite logic to this demand) happen. What is Elena doing, what has she done? Does she know what she is doing, what has she set in motion? All of it is the drama of ordinary lives with some of the mystery of what certain members of a family do behind the scenes. No one else knows what anyone else is doing and yet there are acts being committed that would make us blanche while we delightedly accept them. Not a character in the film is without tremendous interest and I only wish that I could have seen all of them in private as we do Elena. This is a gentle and ruthless film.


Also Recommended:




The Kid With a Bike [Blu-ray] (Dardenne, 2011) Criterion

The Kid With A Bike represents a break from previous Dardenne brother films (the use of a steadi-cam, soundtrack music) but not a radical one. It is another film about how adults manage to coexist with and give to a child in trouble. The trouble, this time, is twelve year old Cyril and his rage against the world due, in part, to being completely rejected by his beloved and apathetic father. He ends up in the home, for his own strategic reasons, of hairdresser Samantha, for no apparent reason at all. It is the lack of Samantha’s reason to care for this hellion of a boy that gives the film its enormous power and importance. That is all there is, an extremely and justifiably angry young boy acting out, trying to find a male figure in his life to look up to and instead he finds a woman who cares for him unconditionally, irrationally and responsibly. In order for the moral joy of the film to work the boy has to be terrible and unbearable. This is accomplished in ways that are believable and disturbing. What is less believable but undeniably truthful is Samantha’s perpetual willingness to give with nothing in return. Undergraduates like to trot out the notion that there is no such thing as pure altruism, that everyone does good for the good that they eventually receive. The film outrages this notion by giving us a woman who is more punished than placated or pleasured by what she gives. She is good, for no reason at all and this, the alarming suggestion is, is the only way to be good. It also follows that it is the only way to parent and to befriend.

The Man With The Iron Fists [Blu-ray] (RZA, 2012) Universal

It is cartoonish and it is fun. It is an update of the Shaw Brothers films in every way except that the Wu-Tang Clan is on the soundtrack (a welcome addition). I am not going to bother with plot points or discussions of possible moral connection. The commendable moral of the film is that it is startlingly discrete in its treatment of women and that it is non-stop action. It is fun.

The Right to Live (Keighley, 1935) Warner Archive Classics


On paper this film sounds trite: injured man sets up fiancée with his brother in order that she can experience life. This is also the premise of Von Trier’s classic: Breaking the Waves and this film like that one has much to recommend it. The method by which this romantic melodrama turns into a mystery is compelling and so necessary that the viewer feels validated by its happening. It is a film that sets itself out to be a debate on moral rights to life and to die but like any good morality tale this becomes the setting and not the event. The questions you ask yourself are not the questions that correspond to the title but become personal ones: what was he thinking, how does she feel, and so on. The dialogue is sharp enough to let you into something other than speechmaking.

The Silk Express (Enright, 1933) Warner Archive Classics

New York needs silk and the main distributer has a monopoly and with that all the abuses of price gouging predictably occur. A leader of the silk merchants orders from Japan, the silk arrives in Seattle and is put on a train for New York, it has forty eight hours to get there. The monopoly has a vested interest in preventing this and thus we have a film that is exciting and smart. It is not clear to me why the time constraint is so tight but I did not care when faced with a smart hero and a smart villain battling it out on the train rails. The suspense was genuine and I felt like a child again watching an exciting and meaningless movie. But I am not a child and I no longer am nearly as able at forgiving or suspending the aspects of a movie that seem poorly conceived or heavy handed. This was the source of my pleasure here, I did not have to pretend to be someone younger and dumber than I am. I was returned to boyish enthusiasms without leaving myself. When that happens you love movies.

Sweepings (Cromwell, 1933) Warner Archive Classics

This was the best of the Warner Archive batch for this week. Yes, it is old fashioned and you have to accept, if this is foreign to your movie watching experience, a grainy black and white picture and a style of acting and filming that does not dispel any of your thoughts of what movies were like in decades past. It is the content that demands your attention. The great Chicago fire provides opportunity for Daniel Pardway who opens a store, selling anything that people want or need, finds immediate success. He is attentive to expenses and enjoys the hard work necessary for the type of success that he is lucky enough to have fallen into. In the title scene he discovers that even good things can be found in the garbage that one does the labor to sweep up. It is this metaphor that bears heavily on the rest of the film. The Pardway’s have four children, each cherished and adored, the last killing the mother and provoking in the father the usual cinematic promises of loving care. The film is devoted to the relationship that this father has to his increasingly disappointing children or sweepings. It is on these points that the film is particularly striking. The failure of the children to aspire to the heights of the father is presented both as an ethical lacking and an inheritance from a father devoted to capitalist principles. No one is unmarked, the father is disreputable in his way, blind to the natures of his children with his vision of them as his children; negligent of the actuality of a work ethic and its tremendous costs in those around him, devoted but not blood. His children are spoiled rotten but are also just rotten and spoiled by alcoholism, sexual impropriety (and the film is unusually frank in that regard) and by not having anything to do with their own lives. One son survives the devastating disappointment of his father by being, unstated, gay and he is accepted for not being like the rest who are just failures without the excuses, as far as a blind father can see, of their own private turmoil of identity. The film tries to end with the appearance of hope but only the most naïve of viewers would accept that the hope will be borne out in actuality. The film is cynical and dark but only so in relation to the false truths and light that are there to be sold.


Also seen:



Skyfall [Blu-ray] (Mendes, 2012) Twentieth Century Fox

There are twenty-three official James Bond films. I, and many others, own all of them on DVD. I, and many others, have a tendency towards curiosity whenever a new one comes out. I want to see it. Of the twenty-three I consider two of the films to be very good (Goldfinger, Casino Royale), about the same amount to be okay and the rest to be not very good at all. Right now, Skyfall is okay, ten years from now or even less it will likely fall in with the rest of them. Let me be clearer because I don’t think you and I are all that far apart on this: we love the idea of these films but they are not very good. Each of the junk ones has a moment or two you remember but to commend a film on that basis would be likely watching up to the opening credits, declaring your universal affection, and then turning it off. Actually, that is exactly what I do.


Ginger & Rosa [Blu-ray] (Potter, 2012) RB UK Artificial Eye

The first two thirds of this film are pretty ordinary. Two young girlfriends become caught up in issues of identity development at a moment of history that is dealing with the fearful rhetoric of nuclear annihilation by the presence of nuclear warheads on British soil. The two moments, of course, clash and comingle, identity becomes conflated with death and the usual good and poor behaviors, as reaction and reflection, occur. This is a lot for a film to capture and it is only in the last third where the psychological effects of all the fear and all the righteousness of rebelling against sources of fear without come to a head that the film soars. It is not enough to recommend because the glories of the conclusion are still touched by the inadequacies of the set up (and by Elle Fanning’s constant face pulling).


The Thieves [Blu-ray] (Dong-hoon, 2012) Well Go Entertainment

I enjoyed all the Ocean films (11 to whatever) that I saw. This is the South Korean version of those films except without the traces of all those Hollywood stars. It has style, miles of it, so much that one could say it is wasted. It is wasted on a film that is more complex than it is enjoyable. Double crosses and surprises happen so frequently that they are no longer surprising and when that happens you are the only one who is being double crossed.

House of Whipcord [Blu-ray] (Walker, 1974) Redemption

I can make no claims about Pete Walker’s finesse as a director of actors or of his ability to accentuate his meagre plots but he does know a thing or two about hiring repulsive male villains. Like Die Screaming, Marianne, House of Whipcord (both have titles more salacious than their content) offers the figure of a lipless elitist with high cheekbones who reeks of untrustworthiness. Despite this he is a charmer with women and here he uses the success of that charm to demonstrate the moral weakness and corruption of said woman. The story about moral superiority and the sexual status of women is an important one; more important than exploitation of both, as presented in the film, can bring to justice.


Silent Hill Revelation [Blu-ray] (Bassett, 2012) Universal Studios

I have not played the PS3 game nor have I seen the first film and I think it matters with this sequel which I am guessing is not a movie on its own but a continuation. All I have to recommend is an appreciation for some startling special effects (my favorite being a spider made from living mannequin parts that has a human head at the end of each limb). More human elements, such as the actors, are less appealing and I am not drawn, mistaken as this may be, to catch up on the back story.


The Sessions [Blu-ray] (Levin, 2012) Fox Searchlight

This is yet another cinematic example of a noble premise that traps its viewer into an affection or sympathy that the film does not earn. Sure, I am all for the lives of the disabled being improved in any way that they can. But does this mean I have to be moved by a film on this topic that lacks any complexity of character and that dehumanizes their challenged lead characters by making them saints? The film is stupid because everyone in the film is so noble you feel the profound need to be the only jerk in the room if only for the sake of human balance.


Ruby Sparks [Blu-ray] (Dayton and Faris, 2012) Fox Searchlight

A squirrely famous writer invents a female character that comes to life and becomes his love. The film is supposed to be interesting in how it comments on the ways that we try to write each other, especially in issues of romance, but if it is not. It is a film about a bad writer and his badly written girlfriend and that is all.


Midnight Son (Leberecht, 2011) Image Entertainment

My sense of well-wishing goes out to this film about a young security guard who develops a fixation for the taste of blood and who ropes a young woman into his world. The acting is good, the writing is okay, and the cinematography is passable. But it is too terse, too serious all the time, and as such is too dark for the viewer to see their way in. It is a failure but not a complete one.


Perks of Being a Wallflower [Blu-ray] (Chbosky, 2012) Summit Entertainment

I accept that I am not the target demographic for this one. I am also happy that my children are not of this demographic and hopefully never will be. The teenagers in this film are affluent and all too cool to be believed; even their problems are cool ones heavy with drama and the enticement for a self- involvement for which this age group is already fertile soil. It is a film about being included with somebody who accepts you and that this is all that is really necessary for a healthy life. It is childish.


Bully [Blu-ray] (Hirsch, 2011) Weinstein

A film about children devastated and destroyed at the hands and mouths of bullies is not a social issue with apparent nuance. Who can help but take the side of these battered kids? Of course we should but all social issues have nuance and films about them if they are to be more than propaganda are about demonstrating this nuance. This film is allowed to beat you about the head because it knows you surrendered in advanced.


Die Screaming, Marianne [Blu-ray] (Walker, 1971) Redemption

The betraying villain is also presented as a lothario of some reputation. Only one of these aspects is remotely believable and it sets the tone for the film. Half of it is ridiculous and the other half is disturbing in an uncomfortable way. It is startlingly casual about incest and other debaucheries.

Score [Blu-ray] (Metzger, 1974) RB UK Arrow Films

Like The Lickerish Quartet this is soft-core porn advertised as an art exposure of human sexuality. A swinging couple seeks to convert another more innocent, but oh so tempted, younger couple into their liberated ways. The general view is that sex is everything needed for a good life and the wilder the sex the wilder the life. It is a stupid idea smugly presented. Film Comment made this release a feature recommendation.

Mimesis [Blu-ray] (Shultze, 2012) Anchor Bay

Paranormal Activity cost $15,000. Mimesis cost $500,000. It was in watching Mimesis that this fact infuriated me. All this money and there is nothing to show for it, not a thrill or a moment of suspense. The fault is entirely in the vision of the film-makers; everything else involved with the project is fine. It is they who have blown it because of their lack of interest or ability in doing something with their opportunity. I know that I, and others, could have made a film with this cast and with this director of photography that actually provided some moments of intrigue and interest but we do not have the money. This film is a “clever” remake of Night of the Living Dead but the irony of that film being made cheaply but effectively is lost on its makers but annoyingly not on me.


The Lickerish Quarter [Blu-ray] (Metzger, 1970) RB UK Arrow Films is a valuable website. It provides good information about release schedules that I, for one, find useful. They are by no means complete and I have found that to develop a list I need to look around at least four or five different sources to get a sense of a week’s releases. I can count on dvdbeaver to provide the release dates for older rereleases of films that are basically softcore porn with an artistic pretense. This is not a vice of just dvdbeaver it is present throughout much of the film criticism world, older smutty (to use an older word) movies are largely guaranteed a moment of recognition in the splashy press of your mainstream film journals. Metzger is a hack who knows where the safe money is but like any pervert he also wants to believe that his voyeuristic impulses are satisfied and sanctioned by a larger and grander impulse. It may be but I cannot make the same case or justification for my own watching. This film about a family of three finding the star of a pornographic star and then falling into her sexual web may be making a comment about the negative power of pornography but the point is vague and only clever. It is clever not smart and so it still falls into the range of the stupid.



Saturday, April 6, 2013

DVD Column Six

This one took a long time because of the inclusion of three television series making for approximately forty-five extra hours of viewing. As for the films not recommended, I am still honing my approach. I am thinking that negative comments about films may still be celebratory. I also suspect I am wrong.

Best Bet:

The Pool (Smith, 2007) Kino Lorber

My enthusiasm for this film may be inflated due to its exhibiting everything I like about movies: low key characters played by people I have never seen before thus making them seem like they are exactly who they appear to be; long shots of these characters performing their jobs; avoidance of clichés – the introduction of the main female character does not lead to romance as it likely wouldn’t in their lives; tensions that seem both mundane and serious like the ones in my life; and a conclusion that shocks but also seems not only appropriate but beautiful. I concede that these virtues are not shared by everyone and they are not central to what passes for great film in this day and age (not one of the Oscar nominees satisfied one of these criteria). But if you can find this film and watch it by yourself with a patience that is not often requested by modern cinema I feel confident that it will have a stirring impact on you.
Venkatesh works in a one star hotel neighbored by a wealthy home with a luxurious pool. His aspiration in life is to swim in this pool not as an intruder but as someone who is welcome and belongs. Through his own persistence he wins gardening work from the house owner and by the time his dream becomes possible it is no longer his dream. What is interesting is that he no longer dreams about anything much at all, his pursuit has become a life, he works, he has friends and life is in its living. The wealthy home-owner becomes fond of Venkatesh and seeks to improve his future without perhaps recognizing that the motion has already been completed although the gesture still proves useful.
In a telling scene the wealthy daughter is reading literature designed as she puts it “to mess up your head.” She asks Venkatesh if he wants his head messed with. Going against teenage type, Venkatesh answers as only a person whose life is built on actual daily living could: he says no. However Venkatesh also tells numerous stories of his own past that certainly messed with my head, ranging from being possessed from six months to fights with gangs and problems with wild animals. I did not know if he was to be believed or whether he was the sort who found his validation in his own imagination. By film’s end all the stories and these questions drift away, replaced by a simple evocation of a moral young man whose depths resist temptation.  

Also recommended:


The Ballad of Narayama [Blu-ray] (Kinoshita, 1958) Criterion

The traditional presentation of the Japanese folk ballad with its grating presentation, to Western ears, of notes both sung and plucked is off-putting and does run the risk of imposing itself on the ways that the delicately painted backdrops and characters are perceived. The whole thing begins with the smell of the grandiosely false, characters fitting into the simplicity of a narrative that could be expressed in song form. But it does not stay there and the basic story of an elderly woman’s inclination to go to her winter death on the barren mountain of Narayama is disturbing especially to those of us who do not know how, and are not inclined to learn, to sing this song of yesterday. The film is lush, the colours from a painter’s vision and it is these affectations that makes the brutality, mainly symbolized by a shocking smashing of pristine teeth, all the more shocking. It is this sense of shock that then translates into an apprehension of the future of our faithful or deluded matriarch preparing for her own death. Family is skewed in all directions, the elderly in their witness and acceptance of inevitable weakening encourage anticipation of that weakness, and the young knowing the traditions and rituals of religious euthanasia have no sense of obligation, concern or care. The majority result is the rewarding of self-indulgence in the young, the minority view being a sense of dread and guilt. The basic theme, casually and comfortably presented, is the relation between eschatological confidence and the social order of affection and responsibility. The implication of the film is that the whole structure is dubious and dark but that, I concede, may have to do with my disbelief in the arrival of the Gods on Mount Narayama. In any case, the film while suggesting that the presence of the transcendent into the temporal mucks up the temporal does not convey that the rejection of this intrusion would be in itself a remedy. How would you feel about your parents if you had been raised in a belief that when they entered the age of being a potential burden or drain of resources from the more youthful that they were to be carried on your back, in one last gesture of bearing, to the wilderness to meet their God? Would your acceptance of the religious base of the tradition be built on your young appetite for more? Are you anticipating an inheritance?


Borgen Series 1 and 2 (Price, 2011-2) Arrow

Political dramas seem to be making a splash, despite the cancelling of the entertaining Starz show Boss. The problem, if this is a problem, of such shows is that in order to be entertaining either the optimism or evil of the politicians involved becomes unrealistic and thus irrelevant as social commentary. I prefer the accounts of evil to ones of optimism not because I have a cynicism that I love to have nurtured but because false optimism is the worst sort of deluding lie (if only in the realm of the political). Borgen, in light of my concerns, is clearly and obviously the best political drama ever made. Yes, it is set in Denmark and the political system being considered is moderately or mildly foreign to both the Canadian and, especially, the American system but this is not the main point. The main point, as it uncomfortably must be, is the weight of power on persons who believe themselves immune to its corrosive properties. Birgitte Nyborg, leader of the Moderate party, as a result of refreshingly honest comments at an election debate, and the hubristic collapse of the front-runner, finds herself as prime minister of Denmark. From the granting of power the episodes follow dealing with issues that in of themselves would strike most viewers as intrinsically dull but the momentum of the show deals with the ways that power slides into the crevices of one’s being without being noticed. Nyborg is a good woman with popular reformist ideas and ideals. As the show progresses she continues to measure her status in relation not to the actualities of these principles but as to whether she still echoes the image of a woman of principle. Do I appear to the people as a truthful woman, even if I do not or cannot act for actual truth? She balances herself with a spin doctor who denies the value of civic principle in order to both benefit from his expertise and to feel superior to his moral vulgarity. The media is bracingly presented as either manipulated and beholden, or manipulating and tabloidish. The characters are endlessly intriguing but their level of fascination is so connected to how they serve the intrigues of a political system that the nature of what we appreciate in human beings is also drawn into question. Articulate intelligence trumps uninformed kindness on the show as in your society. The former is praised in relation to how supports and evaluates (same thing) the system that has all scrambling. Borgen more than any other show identifies our systemic troubles and our troubles having to do with the systems we live under, systems that imagine themselves as connected to images of care and affection for those less privileged or victimized by the very constructs we use to define success. Nyborg and her growing need to hold on to power runs in tandem with her growing belief that she is not in need of power but that power is in need of her. How you feel about her movement, and the slow arcing movements of everyone else, will be defined by where you see yourself on that same arc. Accused or encouraged, the show implicates all of us in the ways we think we need to be presented and represented. Borgen, like us, is smart and less than kind in its observations.

House of Cards Trilogy BBC Warner

House of Cards (Fincher, 2013) Netflix

The original British drama and the recent American remake invite and resist comparison. They invite it because they are built on the same premise; they resist it because they are radically different. The key point of comparison, the main character played by Ian Richardson for the British and Kevin Spacy for the Americans, is also a point of departure. Richardson communicates the vicious gravitas of the English statesman, Spacey, a South Carolina congressman adds a dash of All the King’s Men sleaze and grit to the BBC’s intonations of Richard III. The premise of both shows is the machinations of political power and the diabolical grip that those it possesses demand of it. Richardson is only charming when he is being vile, a Thatcherite conservative principled to be out of touch with the needs of a modern society. Spacey is a Southern democrat with no principles at all except admiration and respect for the political game. The one with principles is by far the more devious and disturbing of the two and in fact by the end of season one of the American version there was little about Spacey’s character that I found terminally objectionable. In fact I think I like him or at least genuinely find him interesting – what other response is possible to a man who blows out all the prayer candles at a Catholic church? One does not dare to think the same of his British counterpart. Richardson’s Urquhart when not in control of his manipulative scheming is a wimp; without power he is a nobody. One might be tempted to consider that the merit of either show, the typically theatrical BBC production and “the this is how it is” of the American, is in how well it conveys the actualities of political life. In this regard I would suggest that both shows fail and the notion that such central figures could actually exist as singular entities strikes me as preposterous. What is unbelievable is not the ruthless coldness of the desire for power but the startling intelligence and luck, that seems to serve intelligent planning that both men enjoy. Both men hatch such elaborate and brilliant plots of revenge the whole rest of their world only has the task of beings chips that must inevitably fall into place. Luckily, believability is not the central merit of either show. What recommends them is their unswerving desire to explore a system that gives birth and nurtures the worst of human traits and then charms us with their exploits. I have wavered on which of the two I think is superior but have decided it is a false question. First of all one is an apple and the other an orange. One is contextually connected to our own time, the other is of a time past and this distant only defends or hides whatever inadequacies the show may have in terms of its social understandings of the political class. But the main reason not to choose is that you should and can watch both without fear of problematic redundancies.

Laura [Blu-ray] (Preminger, 1944) 20th Century Fox

A nice noir about the shotgun to the face murder of a woman that is mostly fascinating in its portrayal of all its male characters as controlling and smug swine. Even the title character of Laura is barely tolerable, recommended only by her loveliness, a fact that you can be sure she is well aware of. Nothing gets in the way of the movement of the entertaining plot, the camera work is inviting, zooming in and away with a proper sense of rhythm, setting in darkness the faces that you did not come to see. The film invites questions of moral doubt about the sanctity of ambition and success and how it can only lead to possessiveness and abuse of those who share it.

Wild River [Blu-ray] (Kazan, 1960) 20th Century Fox

Montgomery Clift is a hero of mine. His eyes are always workings and his mannerisms and gestures appear to be identical to ones he might make even after the director shouts. He is a classic reacting actor and the beauty of such an approach is that you always feel that he is listening to the others around him and that what he others, be it a words or a gesture of the eyes (a 50/50 mix) are in response to what he has been given. In Wild River Clift plays a government employee set to remove an elderly woman from the path of a river damning project that has been killing citizens with every spring flood. She does not want to go and it is his task to convince her. He believes in the necessity of progress, of bringing electricity to homes that do not have it. She likes the wildness of river and what it correspondingly says about life. He understands her point of view more than she does his and while I certainly find her approach attractive, the film and I know that he has some right on his side. What fascinates is the conflict between Clift’s representation of the white male government against the matriarchy of Tennessee culture. But the film is clear that matriarchal appreciation for wildness is culturally over and that the grand-daughter really just wants to connect with the man. Add to this a seemingly honest depiction of the horrors of race relations in early 1930s and the wonders of a film where every actor is enjoyable to watch and you have a film that is varied, deep, and honest about a time when political tensions were about human beings in danger and not the flow of currency.

Also seen (in order of appreciation):

Yelling to the Sky [Blu-ray] (Mahoney, 2011) MPI Home Video

There is nothing really wrong with this film except that it is strives to be so in your face with its realism about abused teenagers that it is relentlessly dreary. It may be a mistake to define all of your central characters as victims because while we can presume something is obviously being destroyed in them it is too vague. In order to connect and perhaps, sadly, to care we need to have a sense of what is at stake beyond the broad strokes of the collapse of the human form. It is possible that there would be a time, either past or future, where this film would intrigue me deeply. For now I am content to lose it in the cracks.

Peter Pan [Blu-ray] Walt Disney Home Entertainment

It looks great and the animation is charming, I am especially delighted by the swaying of Wendy’s dress. As a telling of the Peter Pan story it is limp and lacking. I am not prone to compare films with their literary sources but the original text is so edgy and transgressive, celebratory and mistrustful of children, that it seems a profound shame to dilute it as folksy entertainment.

Flight [Blu-ray] (Zemeckis, 2012) Paramount

The first half hour is exciting and cumulates in a wondrous and ridiculous action sequence. The rest is a made for television movie about recovery, relapse, guilt and redemption. After extensive character development the female lead is subsumed into Denzel Washington’s wake and we never see her again. This is the case for all the details of the film; they are there to be swallowed by the star.

Deadfall [Blu-ray] (Ruzowitsky, 2012) Magnolia

The film has much promise in an interesting central villain. It is damaged by have boring heroes and a conclusion that denies the promise of any of the many build-ups.

21 Days: The Heineken Kidnapping [Blu-ray] (Treurniet, 2011) RB UK Spirit Entertainment

I suspect that the crew who made this film watched Assayas Carlos with an eye on how to capture period details. What they did not do is recognize that in comparison their film is not about anything or anybody.

Cabaret [Blu-ray] (Fosse, 1972) Warner

The first two musical numbers are wonderful, and then there is nothing like it for ninety minutes. The connection between decadence and pre-Nazi Germany fascism is too loosely made, a prop instead of a context.

Anna Karenina [Blu-ray] (Wright, 2012) Universal Studios

Unlike many of my friends I like stylistic films with lush cinematography and the suspension of reality into the flourishing of image. This said, I am not convinced that the raw and also nuanced emotions of Tolstoy drama are the place for this sort of thing. The film is pretty and stupid and therefore conveys no sense of tragedy, sorrow or anything powerful beyond a ticklish aesthetic quality.

Celeste and Jesse Forever [Blu-ray] (Krieger, 2012) Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

As a couple Celeste and Jesse are one part amusing and two parts annoying. As a film about a divorced couple who are also best friends there are some interesting comments to be made about modern relationships but mostly they appear horrifying on the basis of the constant defining measure of sexual acceptance and insecurity.

Chained [Blu-ray] (Lynch, 2012) Anchor Bay

An intriguing and disturbing central performance by Vincent D’Onofrio almost makes this watchable. What prevents that from happening is voyeuristic violence of a misogynistic sort and unnecessary plot twists.

Black Sunday [Blu-ray] (Bava, 1960) RB UK Arrow Film

Lisa and the Devil [Blu-ray] (Bava, 1974) RB UK Arrow Film

These two films are the lead and rave DVD review in the most recent edition of Sight and Sound. I am suspicious not merely because the reviews are largely plot summations and complimentary adjectives in the place of critical comment. My suspicions have to do with having seen the films and my sense that we live in a film culture that expresses a continual desire to uncover auteur treasures previously neglected by mass hysteria. These films are nicely filmed and the directors of photography are worthy of praise for their understanding of light and shadow, the acting and writing are poor to the point where one feels the director was not working in a medium particularly suited to his possible gifts. His milieu is the symbolic, from doorways appearing as keyholes, and clocks without hands, but none of this is echoed in actual human behavior and so human beings become symbols as well. But for what and for who? Participation in humanity as a symbol of something else makes the participant an actor in symbols and not in life; it is all, no matter how clever, an objectification. The appropriate, but disturbing, way to praise such objectification is to fetishize it. This is especially uncomfortable if it is done at the expense of actually undiscovered joys in the history of film and when our trusted critics come to be seen as carving out their own niches rather than mapping neglected regions.

Here Comes the Boom [Blu-ray] (Coraci, 2012) Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The fun thing here is the big man with all the lithe comedic gestures. It is all cute but in my world cute is a negative term denoting the sentimental sold as desirable.

A Late Quartet [Blu-ray] (Zilberman, 2012) 20th Century Fox

My long standing dismissal of “classical” music is based on my verdict that it lacks subtlety. The music is stylistically unable to communicate small gestures, everything is sturm und drang or heartbreakingly delicate. It is sorrow instead of worry, grief instead of doubt, tragedy instead of insecurity. Because it has no real sense of rhythm it has no sense of the vulgar and thus it has no sense of life as it is lived and not just dramatized. I like the premise of this film about four members of a string quartet playing Beethoven’s late quartet, a piece of music so long that the instruments go out of tune before it is down and the musicians have to struggle to keep the whole thing from turning into a cacophony. But as a film it is the same music, all four people defined by the grandiose and the dull. Musically speaking, I like cacophonies.

A Star is Born [Blu-ray] (Pierson, 1976) Warner

You might think Kris Kristofferson is the worst pop star ever but then along comes Barbra Streisand. It is almost impossible not to hate this cinematic representation of the flattest aspects of seventies culture. If you like it, I predict that I hate you too.

Alex Cross [Blu-ray] (Cohen, 2012) Summit Entertainment

The problem is that the spectacle of logical demonstrations familiar from recent Sherlock Holmes television is both more distant from possible viewer recognition (his conclusions are based on evidences we are not shown) and, more importantly, does not contribute to making Cross a remotely interesting figure.

The Coalition [Blu-ray] (Mingo, 2012) Magnolia Home Entertainment

It is scary to me if this film in anyway mimics actual human behavior. The people are not monsters just shallow and self-indulgent to what seems to be a recommended degree.