Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another outtake from my 'Road to Nowhere' Review

This is the most recent cluster of thought I got hung up on trying to make it fit. I feel like I have to record these in case they turn out to be more interesting than whatever I finally end up with.

Those familiar with the oeuvre of Monte Hellman will quickly recognize themes of artifice versus reality, fact versus fiction. Most famously, Two-Lane Blacktop ends with a dissolve that simulates nitrate burning up in the projector, a jarring “kick” (to borrow from the language of Inception) out of movie (which, in terms of function, is not too dissimilar from the final shot of Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry). Also consider Warren Oates’ character rehearsing his fictions as if facts can be changed as easily as a sweater. In China 9, Liberty 37, the pulp novelist played by Sam Peckinpah refers to his books as, “The lies they [i.e., “the people back east”] need...we all need.” Or, consider Oberlus, in Iguana, concerned with how his legacy is being recorded by the diarist.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On the Phrase "Road to Nowhere"

What follows is something like the digital equivalent of scratch paper—a collection of random thoughts and crap that I have to expel before continuing with a proper review.

utopia = ου ("not") and τοπος ("place")

Road to Nowhere > Road to No Place > Road to Utopia

Is a road to nowhere even a possibility? What is a road to nowhere if not deconstruction itself, a destination put off by asymptotic deferral, or messianic rapprochement, truth...justice...(non)arrival?


Tom Russell's song that plays over the credits of Monte Hellman's film Road to Nowhere has the lyric, "You're riding backwards on a blind horse on a carousel in a carnival out there where the tunnel of love was never finished on the road to nowhere." When I hear this I can't help but think of end of Cemetery Man where it is not the tunnel that is unfinished but "the rest of the world" that is on the other side of it, which makes it perhaps the most literal expression of a road to nowhere.

Trailer for Monte Hellman's 2010 film Road to Nowhere.

The Talking Heads' song from their 1985 album Little Creatures.

Former governor Charlie Crist apologizes for use the Talking Heads' song in his 2010 senatorial campaign without permission.

The Ozzy Osbourne song from his 1991 album No More Tears.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

September Viewings with Notes

I am relocating. Find "September Viewings with Notes" here.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Warning: The title of this post contains the movie's name; some may consider this a spoiler

Catfish, Thoughts on

A note before I begin: Of course the warning above this post's title is a joke. I am generally unsympathetic to people who care about spoilers. I find the recent obsession with the topic to be a marketing tool rather than a hindrance to some mythical pure experience. That being said, I believe that when writing about movies, one should give out as little information as required by the writer to make a point, or even better, to sustain an argument. This is not to avoid spoilers, but for the sake of economy and clarity. Please don't hold me to this standard as I consider myself a film critic about as much as the 45-year-old at the end of the block shooting hoops considers himself eligible for the NBA draft. Blogspot is to me the equivalent of the public basketball court. Now on to spoiling CATFISH...

I played along with the encouraged secrecy surrounding CATFISH, just enough to know that I wasn't walking into a follow up to OKIE NOODLING or an American remake of UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (the latter being a joke I make without having seen the movie). One reason for avoiding any degree of foreknowledge, other than the fact that it had something to do with Facebook, is because it is relatively easy. I saw my first TV spot this morning and only caught the end of it.

In brief, the movie begins as a documentary about an 8-year-old girl and her relationship with a photographer whose photographs she paints and subsequently befriends on Facebook. The photographer is Yaniv Schulman (Nev, for short), brother of the film's co-director Ariel Schulman, who along with co-director Henry Joost document this friendship as it grows from Abby to Abby's mother Angela to Abby's half-sister Megan and a whole cogent network of friends and family.

After Nev develops a virtual romance with Megan over the course of 1500 text messages, he eventually begins to suspect that she might not be real, and indeed that all of Abby's satellites might be less that what they pass themselves off as.

From here on I will be divulging more information than marketing would have you know...

As it turns out, the Pearce family as Nev has come to know it, the painter daughter and her hot mom and half-sister and so on, is all a forgery of Angela's, the mother's, and some have questioned whether or not the documentary itself might be a hoax (questioning how 3 smart urbanites could have been duped by a rube from Michigan; how could they have gotten those shots without being noticed; etc.). I personally suspected the movie was a fake because the sheer volume of spoken "I don't know"s might add up to more than have been spoken in the history of mumblecore, but I don't know.

So whether or not the movie itself is a fake is completely uninteresting to me. What interests me about the movie is what it has to say about social media and the hyperealization of human relationships. In this respect the movie's form perfectly conveyed its content. The same way the realtionships are carried out over Facebook, Gchat, text message, telephone landlines, postcards (that don't get delivered (time to dust off your Derrida)) and eventually face-to-face, the movie is comprised of digital video from of varying quality from cell phones to consumer digital video to professional high definition to still photographs to Google map imagery (which is pretty awesome, by the way). All of this is illustrated regardless of whether or not it is a hoax.

While both movies are critical of the asymptotic approach of reality and simulacra, CATFISH doesn't quite compare with EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, a movie I prefer, in that EXIT seems to be on the Wildean quest to plant the forgery (a la "The Portrait of Mr W H").

Also, thanks to Ain't It Cool News for the free pass.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

August Viewings and Notes

I began the month watching Maren Ade's Everyone Else at the Gene Siskel Film Center. This is a great relationship/break-up/summer-get-away piece that recalls various Bergman films. Gittii and Chris are staying at a summer house in Sardinia owned by Chris's mother. For the first half of the movie the couple remains in self-imposed isolation where we see them in a manner most subtle slowly driving each other crazy. While Chris does perhaps unintentionally take the more villainous role, the movie focuses on incompatibility more than fault.

I took Audrey to see Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. This was her idea, and as a parent I believe in letting the young learn from their mistakes, so long as the mistakes are minor enough that they can be followed up by a learning moment. I saw the payoff of this parental pedagogy when 40 minutes into the movie Audrey turned to me and asked if we could leave.

Step Up 3D was actually entertaining for what it was. I liked the use of 3D, and I think dance is cinematic. In some ways, if 3D can be compared with aspect ratio, this is comparable to Frank Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It insofar as it revels in the gimmickry of the new technology.

I don't know why or what, but I felt something was missing from The Expendables. It had some good moments but, in the end, was not what I was hoping for from a reunion of Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone

I caught up with The Art of the Steal on Netflix Instant. This is a great documentary about the 70 year process the established Philadelphia art world used to break the trust and co-opt the art collection put together by Albert C. Barnes in the 1920s that today is worth over 20 billion (with a B) dollars.

August 2010 will forever be known as the month I watched my first film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. I did prefer Tropical Malady to Syndromes and a Century. But before I can write about either one, I really need to watch them again. I feel like I am missing a lot due to a lack of familiarity with the culture, but it's blend of realism and folklore and lush photography all made it clear that I was watching something important.


08/31/10 Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul; 2006; DVD)
08/29/10 Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul; 2004; DVD)
08/28/10 A Trip to the Moon [short] (Georges Méliès; 1902; DVD) 
08/28/10 Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud; 2010; 2D at Classic Cinemas Ogden 6) 
08/28/10 Little Ashes (Paul Morrison; 2008; Netflix)
08/22/10 Gandhi at the Bat [short] (Stephanie Argy and Alec Boehm; 2006; DVD) 
08/22/10 The Red Machine (Stephanie Argy and Alec Boehm; 2009; Facets Cinematheque)
08/22/10 Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich; 2010; 2D at Classic Cinemas Ogden 6)
08/22/10 The Intruder (Claire Denis; 2004; DVD)
08/21/10 The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates; 1973; DVD) 
08/21/10 The Art of the Steal (Don Argott; 2009; Netflix) 
08/18/10 Grown Ups (Dennis Dugan; 2010; ???)
08/14/10 Mr. Jealousy (Noah Baumbach; 1997; DVD) 
08/14/10 The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone; 2010; Goodrich Randall 15) 
08/13/10 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright; 2010; Goodrich Randall 15)
08/10/10 The Idiots (Lars von Trier; 1998; DVD) 
08/08/10 Step Up 3D (Jon Chu; 2010; 3D at Goodrich Randall 15) 
08/08/10 Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (Brad Peyton; 2010; 2D at Goodrich Randall 15; WALK-OUT)
08/07/10 Housesitter (Frank Oz; 1992; DVD)
08/06/10 Street Scene (King Vidor; 1931; DVD)
08/05/10 Ashes of Time Redux (Wong Kar Wai; 1994/2008; DVD)
08/03/10 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Frank Oz; 1988; DVD) 
08/02/10 Everyone Else (Maren Ade; 2009; Gene Siskel Film Center)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World [300 words]

Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, based on the six graphic novels by Brian Lee O’Malley, is the most kinetically paced movie I’ve seen since Run Lola Run. The rapidity is entertaining but comes at the expense of anything that might resemble character development. Still, if you’re willing to trade character depth for socio-cultural depth, then this film will not leave you completely wanting in the way of some sort of substance. The 22-year-old slacker-hero Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) finds dating-safety with 17-year-old Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and meets the more age-appropriate dream girl (literally) Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In order to continue to date Ramona, Scott must defeat her seven evil exes.

From here I could go into what the movie might be trying to say about relationships, and I do think enough time has passed since films like Chasing Amy and Mr. Jealousy looked at relationship baggage for a film to come along and say something if not new then at least in the voice of a new generation, but Scott Pilgrim is not interested and is instead content to use relationship histories as nothing more than a trope, a way of setting up a video-game-like architecture where the character progresses from level-to-level defeating new villains and gatekeepers. Unlike the aforementioned Chasing Amy and Mr. Jealousy, Scott Pilgrim is okay knowing as little as possible about the exes; here it is the exes who seek him out. He does not fight out of jealousy so much as expediency.

For a movie that seems to be targeting an audience in their early 20s, a lot of the pop culture references predate the birth of both the hero and the intended audience. Far from being a fault, this emphasizes decontextualization of cultural signifiers corresponding with practices like video clips resurfacing on YouTube. As a skateboarder in the late-80s/early-90s, I especially appreciated the reference to this video with evil ex number 2.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs Mr. Jealousy: The Two Ramonas and Their Ex-Boyfriends

To come.

[August 22, 2010 Update: This post was more interesting to consider than to actually write about, but at the end of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I recalled this line from Mr. Jealousy:
The sad thing, Lester thought, that in all this he'd just become what he detested most, Ramona's ex-boyfriend.
That's it for now.]