Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

29 November 2007

Not There.

You've probably already heard about how Todd Haynes' new Bob Dylan movie works. In I'm Not There. Bob Dylan is played by six different actors: Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw and... Cate Blanchett.

So the film is basically more of a cinematic exercise than a movie. And I think this is okay because the whole thing is fascinating. I mean, the Richard Gere part is kind of boring, but even that has one of the nicest musical moments in the whole movie.

The acting is great all around. I was particularly fond of Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Cate Blanchett is excellent, although I'm not sure the performance ever really jells completely, by which I mean that everything about her sequences always feels artificial. (The Ledger and Franklin sequences are not hampered by this problem.) The Blanchett stuff is filled with Felliniesque touches; there are lots of cool references to that feel absolutely perfect for this bizarre dream of a movie.

My favorite sequences, though, are the scenes with Marcus Carl Franklin, who plays Woody Guthrie, the eleven-year-old Bob Dylan, who (as I understand it) represents early Dylan, finding his sound, learning the blues and training himself, and finally, learning to sing about his own time. Franklin is adorable, with a wicked grin and wise eyes. He lights up the screen whenever he's in a scene, and I found myself wishing he would come back later in the film when were focusing mainly on Blanchett and Gere.

Basically, I'm Not There. is not to be missed, especially if you are fond of Fellini. It's difficult, and I'm not sure it works in total, but there are some brilliant, gorgeous, sequences, and it's one of the coolest movies of the year.

25 November 2007

More Othello fun...

I am having a lot of fun writing this paper. This is all textually supported, but I am saying some pretty ridiculous things:
After Iago first puts the idea of the affair into Othello’s head, the general complains to Iago: “What sense had I of her stolen hours of lust? / I saw’t not, thought it not, it harmed me not, / I slept the next night well, fed well, was free and merry; / I found not Cassio’s kisses on her lips.” Othello, understandably, would rather know for certain his wife was unfaithful than be forced to wonder at her fidelity. Instead of certainty, though, his imagination torments him further. He says that when he kisses Desdemona he finds Cassio’s kisses on her lips. The meaning of this statement is not quite clear. Does he mean that when Desdemona speaks, he imagines Cassio kissing her? Is he saying that he feels himself kissing Cassio when he kisses his young wife? What, after all, does Othello know about Cassio’s kisses?

I do not mean to be flippant here, but rather to point out that in a society such as the Elizabethans’, where young men are interchangeable with young women, Michael Cassio is not only a desiring sexual subject, but a desired sexual object.

Shakespearean Conundrum

When Othello imagines Cassio and Desdemona in bed together does he imagine the boy playing Desdemona in bed with the boy playing Cassio?

The answer is, of course, that he imagines nothing at all. Stanislavski hadn't been born yet. But what does the audience imagine?

And what does the audience imagine when we imagine Cassio and Iago in bed together?

I am writing a really fun paper right now.

I Got Work Done Too; I Promise.

Three movies so far this weekend. (I may get in another one tomorrow, too.) In reverse order of how good they are:

I didn't really understand Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. I mean, I get it; I'm just not sure why I'm supposed to care. Devil is a mess, too, and for lots of reasons. My friend Rick remarked that the movie didn't know if it was a Greek tragedy or some kind of neo-noir. I thought it was going for the former, but the film just doesn't work out that way. It's got all of the elements, too, except for characters that are in any way redemptive or even likable. I lie. I really liked Marisa Tomei, but though she is easily the most interesting thing in the movie, her function in the film is baffling and her presence becomes almost gratuitous. I will give it this, Devil is never really boring. But it's never really interesting either.

I make sure to see Kim Ki-duk's movies when they're released in this country, ever since he made the extraordinary Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...and Spring three years ago. Time (Shi Gan) is the thirteenth film from the prolific director and it's fascinating if difficult. The movie is about a woman who is so incredibly jealous of her boyfriend and terrified that he'll fall in love with someone else, leaves him abruptly telling no one where she's going, has plastic surgery to change her face, and then meets him again and gets him to fall in love with her all over again. It sounds really fucked up, and I assure you that it really is. It's a very pretty film, and there are some lovely poetic moments. The thing is, to want to do something like I just described, a woman would have to be totally fucking crazy. The main character in Time is obviously completely nuts. And you know there has to be something wrong with a boy (however cute he is) who is in love with a nutcase like this girl. I found myself muttering "this bitch is so crazy" throughout half the film.
Still, it's very interesting, and the philosophical questions Kim is interested in are baffling, weird conundrums that make you think hard. The questions, eventually, are more interesting than the film, though.

And then there's the Coen Brothers' new movie No Country for Old Men, which I've moved to my top slot for the year. It's a fabulous, violent, at times hysterically funny movie. It has a brilliant central performance by Tommy Lee Jones with some exceptional work all around: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson. I enjoyed the Hell out of it. It's a blast to watch and a total thrill ride. Absolutely not to be missed. I am seeing it again as soon as I can.

22 November 2007

Olde English in 3D

Julie wouldn't go with me to see Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf, so I went by myself. And I have to say, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. It's certainly one of the coolest things I've seen all year.
The whole thing is animated, first of all. (I didn't realize that when I went in, I guess.) But Zemeckis is doing the motion-capture thing he did with The Polar Express (a movie I thought was kinda cute). Beowulf is three years after The Polar Express, though, and it shows in the work. Though the facial features of some of the humans can at times be a little wooden, the film's ability to capture the actors' work is really, really cool. This is particularly the case with Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich, whose work we are probably the most familiar with. The animated characters look, move, and speak like the actors we know.
But all of this is beside the point. Beowulf is in fucking 3D and it's very, very cool. Spears fly out at you in the audience, coins roll toward your face. And the camera can go anywhere, of course, because it's all animated, so we can look up at the underside of Grendel while he bleeds down onto us and blood comes into the auditorium. Or we can fall from the back of a dragon down toward a giant spike as the spike basically comes at us in a third dimension. The whole thing was unbelievably cool.
The script is basically idiotic, let's be honest. It's very much all about tits and fighting, but I actually didn't care all that much. There's a fabulous dragon battle with Beowulf riding on the dragon and stabbing him in the throat. (This is, obviously, a bit of a change from the source material, where Beowulf's last battle is with a giant wyrm and not a dragon, but a flying, screaming reptile looks cooler in a movie than an overgrown snake who breathes fire.)
Frankly, I can't really say enough good things about Beowulf in 3D. It's an absolute must-see. Do not miss it. Know that you're going in to a movie geared toward teenage boys, but the wow factor is just too big to skip it. It' s an absolute technical marvel.

August Rush

Kirsten Sheridan's August Rush is another in a line of movies with Freddie Highmore where little Freddie is way cuter than the movie he's in. August Rush isn't quite as bad of a movie about music as, say, Mr. Holland's Opus, but it's pretty bad. It includes every lost child cliché you've ever heard, along, I think, with every child prodigy cliché you've ever heard. And Robin Williams is in it, over-acting up a storm. Jonathan Rhys Myers is in it, too, and he's cute as always. Keri Russell does her best with a terrible script. Terrence Howard is also in the movie, for some reason.

But boy this film is a one-note mess. There are long, ridiculous voiceovers about how the music is all around us. Zzzzz. I can't even continue writing about it. I'm moving it to near the bottom of the list: right below Spider-man 3.

20 November 2007

My Poor Friend

me: Are you feeling better?
Ryan: no
me: oh dear.
Are you seeing a doctor?

Ryan: i hate being sick like this
he said it is a viral pink eye

me: when does it go away?
Ryan: he didn't say. it just really hurts and i can't go to school because it is contagious
me: Jesus Christ.
What a pain in the ass!

Ryan: i'm both bored and in pain
me: Are you on drugs?
Ryan: yes. they gave me these drugs for my eyes. the drops burn like acid in my eye
me: oh my lord.
Ryan: i feel like bette davis in dark victory
me: hahahahahahaha

19 November 2007

My Kid Could Paint That

Amir Bar-Lev's documentary My Kid Could Paint That is a film about a four-year-old who paints abstract art and whose paintings sell for thousands of dollars. The movie starts out like a human interest story, but what it becomes after an hour or so is an intriguing meta-film about making stories and making art.

The whole thing is complicated, of course. What is the value of abstract art, anyway? What does it mean? Does it mean anything at all? And if a child can do it, what is its value? Why would I pay millions for something a child can do?

Bar-Lev interviews art critics and art collectors. One art critic in particular really has his pulse on the meaning of art, and the film, for a while is a meditation on art in the abstract and modernism in general.

Then the filmmaker becomes a part of the movie. The story becomes about telling the story: how we fashion stories and how we make art out of documents. My Kid Could Paint That is a story about a family--this little girl and her parents--but it is also a story about the writing of history, what we choose to tell people, the narratives we're accustomed to, the dramatic tropes we look for when we tell stories, and the things we leave out. Storytelling, Bar-Lev comes to understand, is in a lot of ways a lie.

This one is a definite renter. Not to be missed.

18 November 2007

Ryan Gosling and the Blow-up Doll

Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl is—dare I say it?—a heartwarming film about a boy who deludes himself into believing that an anatomically correct and very life-like sex doll is his disabled girlfriend whom he met over the internet. I liked this film. It's funny and sweet and has a couple of really great scenes. It's blackly humorous and resists being sentimental with all its might. It doesn't really succeed at this last goal, but it tries very hard and for that I give it lots of credit. The actors are wonderful: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider (a new favorite of mine), and the always dependable and excellent Patricia Clarkson. It's, as you might imagine, a very cleverly written piece of work, penned by former "Six Feet Under" scribe Nancy Oliver.
And finally the film is about growing up, letting go of our fears of being children, and what it means to become a man. A passage from I Corinthians read near the end of the film was a perfect fit and I thought it resonated nicely:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

If I think about the film too hard, though, the whole thing becomes a little sinister. This boy creates a woman for himself in order to escape dealing with his family, sex and growing up. In a sense, he is always in control of this phony woman. Still, Lars and the Real Girl is really sweet and the performances and very smart script make it worth seeing. Gillespie handles the comedy deftly, and it finally becomes rather difficult not to feel some affection for the doll. She means so much to him and we become so fond of him, that is difficult to resist.

17 November 2007

Poem for Today by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This is an old one, but one of my favorites.:

Loss and Gain

When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.

I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.

But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

16 November 2007

Casey Affleck Double Feature

Last week Julie and I went to see Andrew Dominik's ostentatiously titled The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It's a film heavily influenced by Terrence Malick, which means, of course, that I was very fond of it. It's an extremely slow-moving film, and because of this, is able to take every moment and allow tension to build between characters. The suspense that Dominik is able to achieve with the movie is remarkable simply because he's decided not to hurry his way through the plot. So the movie becomes scary, dangerous, taut. It's also incredibly beautiful. The score is sweet and slow, and each shot is gorgeously designed. It's poetic and loving, in a way, and seems exquisitely choreographed. But the truly remarkable thing about James/Ford is the acting. A slow movie like this is obviously a character-driven thing and Dominik has chosen actors who prove fascinating studies. Brad Pitt is scary and unpredictable as Jesse James, and gives an excellent performance, but attention must be paid to Casey Affleck, who gives what is probably going to be my favorite performance by an actor this year. He's nervous and skittish, while maintaining arrogance. He is, obviously, a coward, too, and Affleck isn't afraid of being viewed like this, he lets us see every nervous, disgusting twitch in Robert Ford's eyes. The rest of the cast is fabulous, too. Sam Shepard, Sam Rockwell (!), Paul Schneider, and Garrett Dillahunt are all wonderful. It's great ensemble work, and the way Pitt plays off of them is masterful. Affleck's role is the flashy one—and, as I said, my favorite—but I should make clear that the movie's center is Pitt. He is all-powerful in every scene he inhabits. Pitt makes acting look easy, which is probably why he gets as little notice as he does. I never knew what his next move in James/Ford was going to be, and it is a testament to his work that someone as famous as he is can still constantly surprise.

At a new friend's encouraging I also saw Gone Baby Gone, which stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. The film was directed by Ben Affleck. The direction is smart and Affleck's sense of timing and storytelling are very good. I am excited for his next movie. Gone Baby Gone is a mystery story based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (who penned the less-interesting, much less tightly woven Mystic River). Casey Affleck and Monaghan are private investigators who are asked to look into the disappearance of a little girl. Performances are great all around. It's a genre picture much like Mystic River was, but it is interesting and surprising and maintains engaging throughout. It also turns on a powerful moral question that Casey must answer at the end of the film. This works as a moral conundrum for the audience as well. What is especially fascinating, I think, is the way Ben Affleck handles this turning point. Politically, the film has its heart very much in the right place. It's very intriguing morally. Another point about Affleck's direction that I want to make is that the actors aren't Hollywood-pretty. He's shot the film in the streets of Massachusetts and he's made sure to shoot people who look like real people as extras in his film. To my mind, it's a smart move, and the film seems more honest because of it. A quick shout out about my favorite performance in the film, which is by Amy Madigan, Ed Harris's wife. She has a thankless role that disappears halfway through the film, but her characterization is excellent and she creates the film's most beautiful emotional moments.

15 November 2007

Extended Absence?

Updating once a week is not blogging. I'm sorry. I will try to be better. I think the problem is that there really doesn't feel like there's anything to report. There is, though. Of course. I just need to write it down...

I finished my prospectus last weekend. That is, I finished the first draft of my prospectus. I don't know if I told you all, but I am writing about David Rudkin and Mark Ravenhill (playwrights) and I will be focusing on the intersections of queer theory and violence. A small sample:
Following Fromm, then, I understand violence to be an impulse of destructive aggression that culminates in an act of violation committed on the body of the subject or the body of another. On a stage, this violence is always simulated, whether performed realistically for the audience or created through language. These representations of violence, of damage to bodies, hold considerable power and, as Sierz says, have the ability to “go beyond words.” So this is not a study about queer killers, per se. I am much more interested in violence as a single but important component of the ways in which we perceive queer bodies interacting in a theatrical space.
Because of the ways in which Rudkin and Ravenhill approach their subject matter, my focus is not queer murderers, or even queer suicides, but the queer as a subject participating in societies that are violent. The plays I have chosen for this study certainly portray queers who commit acts of violence, but I am interested in how these queer characters are represented as in-teracting in the matrix of their societies.
That last paragraph is too short. I will need to fix it later...

But with the prospectus momentarily out of the way, I am working on a paper for my history class. I wrote my teacher a proposal describing how I was going to write a paper about the liver and desire in Shakespeare (remember how they always told us that you fall in love with your liver in Shakespeare?) but once I started researching it, I got bored. The liver? Zzzzz.
Mostly it wasn't sexy enough. So now I think I am going to write about that old war horse Othello, which my friends and I did in college. It's going to be a paper about male friendship in Elizabethan England.

What else? I need to write about The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which I saw last week. (I loved it.) But I think I am going to catch Gone Baby Gone tonight, so maybe I'll wait and do a Casey Affleck double feature post.

Haven't been reading a lot of fun stuff in any of my other classes. Not since David Edgar's Pentecost a couple of weeks ago.

Oh yeah, and I am coming to California on December fifteenth! I will be there for three weeks. I am very excited.

05 November 2007

Thesis Exhaustion

This week I have spent writing. I sat down last Sunday and just started writing the thesis. Technically, what I am writing is my prospectus, which has to be approved before I can write the rest of the thesis. But the prospectus becomes the introduction to the thesis, so I am approaching writing the thing as if I am writing the introduction to a book. Albeit, a clunky book with a huge review of literature in the middle of it.
That said, after writing for a week or so, I have about fourteen pages of the thing. Not to jinx it or anything, but I think it's looking good so far.

On the movie front, I saw Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton, which is a serious drama/thriller. I found it tension-filled and very, very smart. George Clooney is great in it, and the film boast an Oscar-bait performance by Tom Wilkinson. The cast is rounded out by Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack (!). But what, you ask, is Michael Clayton about? This is the film's main problem, really. It's a kind of big-business/legal drama and the stakes are all about business and capital. Michael Clayton is also very much about living with ourselves and the decisions we make, and "doing the right thing" (whatever that means.) The stakes sound kind of bogus, I admit, but the film is acted extremely well, and it's also very well-made technically. (It feels very much like a film made by Steven Soderbergh--who was one of the film's producers.) I enjoyed it very much and I expect that if audiences can commit to caring about the stakes of the film, most people will like it.

I had insomnia (actually, that isn't true; I had too much coffee) the other night and instead of tossing and turning, I popped in the new Criterion DVD of Hiroshi Teshigahara's sixties film Woman in the Dunes. It was not at all what I was expecting. I have been watching a lot of old Japanese movies this year, and I was expecting something contemplative, poetic and understated. But Woman in the Dunes is scary. A man gets trapped at the bottom of a sand dune at the beginning of the movie, and learns to live there. It's occasionally horrifying, always beautifully shot, and really, really creepy. Definitely one to rent.

And then last night I saw Ang Lee's new movie Lust, Caution, whose title I hate. I really liked the film, though, and I might even bump that up to "love" the more I think about it. It's a spy/drama/love story set in 1940s Japanese-occupied Shanghai and Hong Kong. It stars the amazing Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Joan Chen and two younger actors who weren't previously on my rader: Tang Wei and Wang Lee-Hom. All acquit themselves very well. From the trailer, I had assumed that Joan Chen wasn't going to be in the film much, but I was delighted at how much she was in it. This movie is a lush, well-acted prestige-type movie with some very interesting things to say about the impact of sex on our lives, and the ways it ties us to one another, even to people we may hate. It's really fascinating. It's also rather explicit (which is why it has an NC-17 rating, I guess). It's not explicit on the level of, say, Shortbus, but maybe on the level of The Lover. To my mind, though, the sex scenes are incredibly valuable to what the film is doing. Lust, Caution is long-ish and a little slow to start, but I think it's definitely worth seeing. I should also mention that the score, by Alexandre Desplat, is absolutely beautiful.