Archive for November, 2010

This review first appeared on Quarantine the Past on December 10, 2009.

Image #1: Close up. A hand clenches a loaded revolver. Its index finger begins to squeeze the trigger.

Image #2: A flock of birds rise in unison, leaping into flight.

What happened here? Well, we know loud sounds startle birds, and we know guns make loud sounds. Therefore, we deduce that someone fired a gun. Yet we never see the trigger pulled, the gun fired, or the bullet reach its target. And, because these shots stem from The Docks of New York, a 1928 silent film, viewers don’t even hear the gun go off. But the images make perfect, intuitive sense as a pair. The first shot informs the second to create a concrete idea in our heads: Someone fired a gun. The filmmaker conveys this information cinematically, not literally. As art critic Rudolf Arnheim wrote in 1933, “What is particularly noteworthy in such a scene is not merely how easily and cleverly the director makes visible something that is not visual, but by doing so, actually strengthens its effect.”

Joel and Ethan Coen continue this tradition like no other directors working today. I call it the Cinema of Smoke. If a house burns to the ground, most directors show you the fire; the Coen brothers show you the smoke. We see the consequence (smoke) and deduce the action (fire). The duo makes the most of the medium; they use images, sounds, and the clashes between them to tell stories in inventive, uniquely cinematic ways. (more…)

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***1/2 out of *****

Anatomy of a bad trip.

I’ve found so many reasons to put off writing this review. I’m still putting it off, in fact, with this self-reflexive lead. Critiquing Enter the Void is like discussing the merits of an iTunes visualizer after a dose of psychoactives. It’s profound in the moment and idiotic upon reflection. It’s hypnotic and scary. You can’t look away. But then, suddenly — oh dear god — you have to, for fear of an incoming seizure. As you’re experiencing it, you ask yourself, again and again: What am I doing to myself?

Everything you need to know about Enter the Void, you’ll find in its opening credits. I apologize in advance.


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This review originally appeared on Quarantine the Past on December 14, 2009.

“If I reach high points with Inglourious Basterds, it is partly because Paul [Thomas Anderson] came out with There Will Be Blood a couple years ago, and I realized I had to bring my game up.” (full clip)

Quentin Tarantino, like the films he makes, is nothing if not self-aware. He must have known something was off in 2007. Paul Thomas Anderson, his dear friend and competitor, unleashed There Will Be Blood as he drooled out Death Proof, a masturbatory and insular B-movie homage. One was an instant classic; the other a Tarantino-dialogue vehicle, this time with chicks. To some, the movie marked his “creative death.” By 2009, Tarantino didn’t just need to bring his game up. He needed a veritable game-changer. (more…)

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This review originally appeared on Quarantine the Past on December 22, 2009.

Few films capture the funny/sad cycles of romantic relationships like. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Like the two remaining films on this list, Eternal Sunshine tells a love story both moving and cerebral. It toys with cinematic norms to showcase the rhythmic ways humans love and hurt one another — over and over again. The film wrings emotional trauma for laughs, forcing us to smile at the neurotic ticks that make relationships crumble. It, in short, ranks alongside Annie Hall as the most insightful romantic comedy ever made.

The comparison to Woody Allen’s film comes easy. Both Annie Hall and Eternal Sunshine present an epic romance in jumbled chronology. Both feature flighty, borderline-manic female leads. Both depict relationships as an inescapable folly, as something “totally irrational and crazy and absurd,” despite their magnetic appeal. A direct lineage links Woody and Eternal Sunshine; the film’s screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, “aspired to be like [Woody]” as a young man entering show business. (more…)

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This review originally appeared on Quarantine the Past on December 24, 2009.

My heart can’t quite endorse this ranking. It believes In the Mood for Love is no less than a gift from heaven. It considers this movie infallible, perfect, beyond criticism. It gets violently defensive when people put it down, be they critics or message-board trolls. It palpitates at the sound of this movie’s score. It bathes in its quixotic images. It shatters and dissipates at its ending. With dogged romanticism, it cannot fathom a better movie from this decade, or really any other.

My heart, you see, can get carried away. Especially when it sees pretty things. (more…)

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“The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we eventually get sicker.” – Jon Stewart

I’m sitting in a lurch-and-stop Greyhound en route from Washington, D.C., to New York City. I have Jon Stewart to thank for the I-95 gridlock. I can’t remember the last time our bus topped the speed limit. I catch the occasional disconcerting glimpse of the road ahead: a trail of cars and buses stretch to no end. Apparently a few others had the same idea as I did this weekend.

I was one of the 230,000-plus present for Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. I made the trip for several reasons. Above all, I wanted to show support for the most beloved show of my generation. It’s so easy to take “The Daily Show” for granted. Its contribution to my mental health during the Bush years is unquantifiable. It was my sanity sanctuary. I felt more at peace with the world after an incisive episode of “The Daily Show.” I read and watched the news every weekday, dumbfounded and furious, only to achieve a bit of fleeting catharsis with Jon Stewart. He made me feel less alone, like society (and the media) still had reasonable people willing to call out public figures on blatant hypocrisy and abuses of power. I can’t imagine historians writing about George W. Bush without mentioning the Age of Irony and, in particular, Stewart. The man ranks among America’s great truth-spitting anchors. I have no qualms with the phrase Murrow, Cronkite, and Stewart. (more…)

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