Saturday, June 09, 2012

Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim, 2012)    [6]

I'm not all that familiar with Tim & Eric's TV work, though I have watched it a few times when I happen to flip channels and get to Adult Swim.  What has always intrigued me about the duo is that they constantly are challenging what exactly comedy entails and their work is about how idiotically amateurish it is.  It is something that I think you will either get or not, with those in the latter leaving the theatre in droves, something that the duo delighted in you are to believe web rumors.

In that regard, the film succeeds.  If you don't get it, it's stupid, nonsensical, and gross.  I happen to think it has its intriguing moments but like their TV work, becomes irritating at times.  I don't think you can dismiss this completely though.  The film acts something in the way of anti-cinema, using standard genre, characters, and other tropes of narrative cinema to show how complacent and idiotic the film-going public can be in what they want out of cinema.  In this way, what Tim & Eric have created here brings me back to the works of Warhol and in terms how much they challenge audience expectations of what cinema can be.  Tim & Eric have the good fortune to have enough high-profile friends to work within the system somewhat.

The story here isn't that important.  Tim & Eric, given a billion dollars by a corporate conglomerate, blow it with only three minutes of footage and millions in ridiculous expenses.  Trying to recoup their billion, they come across an ad that just so happens to offer them the same exact amount if they can successfully run a decrepit shopping mall.  The two venture out to find the mall to encounter a wolf in the pizza court, a choleric man child raised by the wolves (a very funny John C. Reilly), a used toilet paper warehouse run by the most dignified character in the film, and mysterious new-age health company.  I don't find this engaging in terms of plot so much as what is happening in between.  The mall acts as a vehicle to allow these two to throw everything out the door.  Sex, family, consumerism, it all gets pilloried in the film.  Beneath its idiocy, it does have something to say about what audiences expect out of narrative cinema and gives those entitled opinions a brown bath.  Yet even for me, the film still veers into territory that can be excessive, especially the Dobis and shrim songs.  Still, credit has to be given to Heidecker and Wareheim for stretching this out to ninety minutes and still making it watchable though next time, more Chef Goldblum.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)     [5]

What a disappointment.  You won't find a bigger admirer of McQueen's first feature, Hunger, which is my favorite film of the past decade.  That film has some of the most potent visuals I've seen in recent film and while Shame does have some striking moments, the film has no consistent way of telling its story. 

Shame focuses on Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a thirtysomething young professional who has a sleek wardrobe and apartment but beyond those surface appearances suffers from a sexual addiction.  The film's handling of this seems inconsistent and not fully convincing.  The first half of the film treats Brandon's addiction somewhat vaguely, giving glimpses of his behavior, paying prostitutes, fucking women in alleyways to progressing it to a type of full-blown mania, which carries some serious repercussions in the film's final act.  I guess how you perceive this behavior in Brandon is how you would perceive the whole notion of sexual addiction.  That's it's not a quantifiable addiction along the lines of alcoholism or drug addiction makes it difficult.  My problem's the source:  Brandon is given a personality that I never find authentic.  His exterior is that of the urbane ladies man, able to woo the opposite with just a glimpse on the subway.  He has an almost overwhelming power to seduce women that plays out more as a male fantasy than reality.  It is only when his sister (Carey Mulligan) arrives that this power structure/fantasy is disrupted.  This is turn leads to Brandon hitting "rock bottom" in addiction terms, trolling New York City for any kind of sex, which eventually leads to anonymous homosexual encounters.  I find this progression highly troubling for it seems to imply that this is some kind of depravity unsuited to him.  All of it follows too closely to a ultra-macho fantasy that creates the sense the film and McQueen by proxy, don't really know how to handle the idea of sexual addiction, much less make it a valid addiction.  For every moment the film seems to get it right (Brandon's fear of emotional intimacy with Marianne), the end mucks it up.

Then there's the issue a of Sissy, meant to the be the exact opposite of the closed-off, antiseptic Brandon.  Her placement in the film is the monkey wrench in Brandon and brings out the titular emotion in his behavior.  Why?  Clearly Brandon's spiral at the end results in a series of events in regard to Sissy that bring about a sense of self-awareness and a recognition of the uncontrollable urges in Brandon.  I find how the film gets there not fully believable.  For that, I think you have to go back to a scene near the start that find you either going all the way in with this or looking at it skeptically.  It's the scene at the jazz club, where Sissy sings 'New York, New York' slowly and emotionally.  The scene shifts between Sissy singing it and Brandon reacting, tearing up, the first break in his exterior.  I find the scene almost embarrassing; instead of winning sympathy, I find it lays the ground that McQueen really has no idea how to handle these characters emotionally.  There's no amount of visual storytelling that can make up for that moment.  A real head-scratcher.  I wish this was much better.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

House of Tolerance

House of Tolerance (Bertrand Bonello, 2011)     [9]

Divisive upon its release at Cannes and Toronto, I find House of Tolerance to be visually captivating like most of its admirers.  As for its detractors who find it exploitative and misogynist, I have to disagree.  Clearly the film uses the female form (the setting is a brothel after all) but I never find it exploitative and Bonello does take enough time to show these characters' interactions with one another and even sympathizes with their state.  It becomes not just about the lush visuals but a examination of these women and the economic and social system changing around them.  The film allows these women to express their hopes and wishes outside of the sexualized setting.  It acknowledges that these women are in a hopeless position, perpetually in debt to their madam (this notion of having a client pay off their debts is a one of the recurring hopes) and looking at a system of commerce moving from the relative bourgeoisie safety of the house to the danger and disease of the streets.  It's not exactly a feminist viewpoint, but it does allow sympathy for these women to come through, as well as showing them as a tight-knit sisterhood that deeply care for one another.

Aside from the visuals, Bonello uses some anachronistic flourishes that work surprisingly well within the film's structure.  One is the story of Madeline, The Jewess (Alice Barnole), who's disfiguration at  the hands of a client becomes a recurring scene throughout the film.  Besides highlighting the way the sex trade is evolving towards a more dangerous vein, it also shows how this community works.  Madeline is never thrown out of the house but given chores to do behind the scenes.  She is still accepted within the community and it is her story that makes this more than just flesh.  Another is the use of music, especially The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin", which plays as a pivotal moment later in the film and surprisingly expresses the mood of the scene and not the temporal distance.  Finally, there is the final scene in the film, where the stylized visuals and comfort of the house are replaced with a current Parisian street, filmed in low budget video, as another prostitute emerges from a car to take her place with the others on the street.  It's a symbolic end, not just culturally but formally as well.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Return is Near

After a year long sabbatical, reviews and other stuff will be coming soon.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

35 Shots of Rum/The Headless Woman

35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, 2009) [7] / The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2009) [8]

Both of these occupy similar space in my head, even if they aren't quite the same films. The Headless Woman feels like a Denis film while 35 Shots is a fairly straightforward film with moments expected out of Denis' work.

Coming after the intriguing but nearly incomprehensible The Intruder, 35 Shots of Rum is about as straightforward as you could get out of Denis. Focusing on a father and daughter and their relationships with a circle of friends and perhaps former lovers, the film is more a lyrical mediation than an actual narrative. Like most of Denis' films, the best moments for me are found in the moments where narrative takes a back seat. The opening sequence of trains moving through Paris sets a tone that anyone familiar with Denis can comprehend. The film's coup de grace is the much noted barroom scene, where the characters dance quietly to The Commordore's 'Night Shift', a moment that finds similar ground as Beau Travail. It's a beautiful moment in an understated film that lack of complexity is its best virtue.

Lack of complexity is not something to be attributed to The Headless Woman, a near inscrutable work that dabbles into class struggle, fantasy, and Hitchockian eeriness. What the film lacks in an understandable narrative it more than makes up for in Martel's formal mastery, as the film is brimming with fantastic shots. The story, from what I can gauge, centers on Vero, a well off dentist, returning home from a party. While driving home, she hits either a dog or a child, what exactly she or the viewer is never quite sure. This leads to Vero becoming more and more detached from her daily tasks, as she passes from scene to scene with only the help of others to get her through. This leads to one of the most striking scenes I've seen in film this year, as Vero is sort of "shocked" back to reality, where a burst of light and noise capture the screen. It's a scene of realignment for Vero, as she returns to consciousness but still racked with guilt over what she hit. Not much is concretely explained beyond that but Martel use of space and focus in composing her shots are excellent, almost mimicking Vero's existence as she navigates the film. I'm not familiar with Martel's previous work but knowing she deals heavily with social satire and class, one of the film's most interesting dynamic is the the class distinction in Vero's world. She, with blonde hair and European ancestry (to my best estimate) has a lucrative position as a dentist in a rural area with a large indigenous ancestry population. Many of these people work for Vero and they help her guide her through her "headless" state. The scene mentioned above is almost the epitome of this master/servant relationship. Outside of that, making much of heads or tails out of The Headless Woman is a fruitless exercise. Yet, its formal excellence makes dismissing it nearly impossible. It's certainly impressive in its inscrutability.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Useless Film Snob's Favorite Music of 2010

Juggling a full time job with master's course work isn't the ideal situation. Lack of content will be a continuous theme for the near future. The very least I can do is post my year-end album list. These are my favorite albums of the year but that's just my opinion:

Honorable Mention:
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - Up From Below
Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
Shout Out Louds - Work
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Beat the Devil's Tattoo
Mountain Man- Made the Harbor
Woods - At Echo Lake
Trampled By Turtles - Palomino

25) Horse Feathers - Thistled Spring
Low key folk out of Portland for a band that should get more attention.

24) Joshua Radin - The Rock and the Tide
Radin's music is known for being Grey's Anatomy background music but by making things more uptempo, it makes it more interesting. The one unexpected selection that's needed on any list.

23) Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void
A bit too proggy in spots for my liking but 'The Tree' makes up for that.

22) Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
Nothing much new out of Band of Horses but I liked everything before.

21) Ryan Bingham - Junky Star
Bingham's songwriting is topical and more consistent and 'The Weary Kind' is a great song.

20) Spoon - Transference
Another Spoon album, another solid effort but nothing that overly wowed me.

19) Lower Dens - Twin-Hand Movement
18) Beach House - Teen Dream
Two Baltimore groups that create ethereal music with tinges of psychedelia.

17) Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do
Not quite up to my expectations of a DBTs album but not one to just throw out.

16) Old 97s - The Grand Theatre, Volume One
Like Spoon and Band of Horses, I'm going to like anything by the Old 97s even if it doesn't do anything spectacular.

15) Delta Spirit - History From Below
14) Phosphorescent - Here's to Taking It Easy
These feels like very similar albums to me, taking roots elements and blending into distinctive sounds for each group. Phosphorescent has improved with adding more musicians.

13) Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs - God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise
It seems ever LaMontagne album has its mopey moments but the new band behind him takes the songs somehwere a bit different.

12) Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone
The title track shows Mavis Staples can still sing.

11) The Walkmen - Lisbon
A more sophisticated album that has been slowly building interest but the competition is just too tough.

10) She & Him - Volume Two
It feels a bit twee all together but I'll fall for anything with Zooey Deschanel.

9) Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame
Another band that puts out consistent albums, I think the live feel of the record works in its favor.

8) Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away
It has a few too many mediocre songs to be great but when it hits its high marks ('The Curse', 'Folk Bloodbath"), it's really good.

7) The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
It has a similar structure and feel to their debut, and it's a better effort than their last.

6) The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
It may have too much Petty or Springsteen to it for some, but what I like about the Gaslight Anthem is that have no fears about wearing their influences.

5) The Black Keys - Brothers
This sounds like an earlier Black Keys album with more instruments. There's less of the quirks that Danger Mouse brought and that's probably the way I like it.

4) Tom Jones - Praise & Blame
This isn't a joke. Working with Ethan Johns, Jones brings his still strong voice to blues and gospel songs. It's been a tactic for an older artist to re-invent their career with an album of this type but for Jones it succeeds because he knows the music and his voice was made for it.

3) Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
Let me say for my own smug purposes, I was into Mumford & Sons before they became a fixture in Itunes top 10 albums. Their success is confounding mostly because this is all being done on word of mouth. Yet they still are being relatively successful. I played the hell out of this for the first six months of the year and 'White Blank Page' earns choice track of the year.

2) The Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever
The Hold Steady stretch out a bit musically but Craig Finn is still writing about the same old same old. What I said about the Gaslight Anthem goes for the Hold Steady and the infectious nature of their music holds a place at the top of any list for me.

1) The National - High Violet
The National have created a trio of stunning albums with this as well as Alligator and Boxer. No band uses the studio so intricately to create their sound but also not sound like a product of overproduction. There may not be a bad song on the album. For the second time in two albums, The National have my favorite album of the year.

Monday, October 11, 2010

R.I.P. Solomon Burke

I like quite a bit of music but don't have that many musical heroes. Solomon Burke, who died over the weekend, was one of them. The King of Rock & Soul was in the midst of a late career renaissance and he deserved all the new accolades he was getting. The list of great songs he had ranks up there with any of the soul greats: 'Cry to Me', 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love', 'If You Need Me', 'Down in the Valley'. The work of his last few albums, the highly regarded Don't Give Up on Me and Nashville show what a great interpreter of material he could be, from Van Morrison to Tom Waits to country music. Here's a great link to a song The Blues Brothers made famous, 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love'. The man will be missed.