Monday, August 2, 2010

Motherfuckers Act Like They Forgot About Dan

Hey all you out there in internetland. Just a quick update since I haven't posted here in a few weeks.

First thing's first: my girlfriend got a Twitter account and didn't want to try it alone, so I fucking caved and got one myself. You can read my 140-character-or-less thoughts @ASeriousDan. I haven't really found much use for it, except I'm posting a tweet (that's what they call it, right? "Posting a tweet"?) every time I watch a movie, with a mini-review and rating. I know, I know, what a perfect way to insightfully analyze film. Everyone else might as well just give up, I think I've reached the pinnacle of film criticism.

I did originally create this blog to talk about movies, so here are a few fast thoughts about some of the more remarkable recent films I've seen.

Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, about a teenage girl from the Ozarks searching for her missing meth dealer father before the state seizes their home, could have been a piece of miserablist poverty porn a la Precious Based On the Novel Push By Saffire. Instead, Granik crafted it into a skillful thriller and richly detailed slice of life. When the film first started, its desaturated color palette and handheld camera work had me worried it was going to be some sort of self-consciously gritty, self-important bit of Indie faux-realism, but for once this overused style works. As much as it is a film about a girl traveling to the depths of the meth underworld in a desperate bid to save her family, it's also a film about a specific time and place that creates a densely textured world without beating you over the head with it. A masterpiece of set design, it keeps finding all the right details, from the lizard cage in a drug dealer's trailer, to a little girl hopping around on her toy horse on the old trampoline stashed in her backyard. The film also signals Jennifer Lawrence, the lead, as an actress to keep tabs on. And more impressively it casts a whole new light on John Hawkes; known for playing twerps, here he gives a surprising turn as "Teardrop," an intimidating drug dealer who slowly reveals (just the slightest, mind you) amount of humanity when shit hits the fan.

Completely confounding to me was Alain Resnais's Wild Grass, but I mean that in a good way. It starts off something like a Jeunet film, a quirky fable about about a lonely dentist and a strange old man whose paths cross by chance, introducing all sorts of different plot strands that seem about to come together. Instead, the film pulls back layer after layer to reveal a bizarre creepiness under the light romantic comedy surface, and when the story finally "comes together," it is in a way that makes no sense and doesn't seem to answer anything. It's like the anti-Amelie. Like Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad, it almost seems like a self-conscious admission/analysis of its own impenetrability (albeit more playful and funny than that film) and an invitation to revel in its glorious artificiality, in this case a world of rich candy colors, flights of fancy and imagination, and energetic, show-offy camera work.

And of course I have to mention Inception. There's a lot you can (rightly) criticize about the film: it's depiction of dreams and the mind are almost perversely literal; Christopher Nolan still can't film a good shoot-out; with a few brief exceptions, the film wastes ample opportunities to deliver mindblowing visuals and/or surrealism. Yeah, I think Nolan is far too logical and not visually oriented enough to really make a movie about dreams. Instead, what he did was use his strengths in editing and story-craft to make a great heist/con movie style thriller. The "dream" motif is little more than a gimmick that allows Nolan to create some truly awesome set pieces, freeing him to play with time, space, gravity, parallel action, and so on. The last half of the movie is like one long suspense sequence (or more accurately, dozens of suspense sequences piled on top of each other and happening simultaneously) that doesn't let up for a second, even leaving us hanging when the film cuts to credits. It's not the best film I've seen so far this year (That would probably be either Winter's Bone or Bong Joon-Ho's Mother), but it is the most fun... but I'll have to see it again to determine if the film's nearly wall-to-wall exposition drags it down when you already know what's going on.

6 comments:

Joseph said...

Just in case I came off too negative on poor INCEPTION before, I have to say that I ultimately agree with you 100% -- kind of shallow, especially for the portentious way its put together, but once Nolan starts turning up the heat it's pretty ingenious. The way he uses the dream gimmick to stack tense scenes on top of each other does border on brilliant, and its execution is quite a feat.

Still got to see Winter's Bone. I knew it before, but now I'm determined.

Dan said...

Joseph,

Well put, as always.

I definitely want to see INCEPTION again, at least when it comes out on Blu Ray, to see how it plays when you know all its secrets.

On the one hand, I wonder if it will seem a little less shallow... knowing Cobb's full backstory now, some of the earlier scenes (confrontation with Mal, constant spinning of the top, phone call with children) might seem more resonant. On the other, the ubiquitous exposition might become really tiresome, and the less successful action beats (i.e. the ski chase) might seem a little more glaring.

It's funny, I was talking with coworkers about this movie the other day, and they all seemed to agree that Inception was a little deeper and "made you think" more than most blockbuster type movies, but I tend to agree with you that the movie is a little on the shallow side and more enjoyable as a complexly structured thriller than as an intellectual experience. It made me realize just how rarely mainstream movies include any ambiguity, and how typical filmgoers are so unused to it. There is just a modicum, just a tiny fraction of ambiguity in Inception (and don't get me wrong, I love it, I wish movies were more ambiguous) in the whole "is Cobb still dreaming" thing, and everyone wants to talk about it for hours and act like it's infinitely complex and completely unique. God forbid if they ever saw a Lynch, Bunuel or Haneke movie, their brains would bust!

I do like the idea that Inception might be a metaphor for making films/Nolan's creative process. That's something I'll pay attention to when I see it again. Although the dreams of Inception don't work as a metaphor for movies in general, they potentially have a lot to say about Nolan's style of filmmaking... i.e. they are fussy and logical, not intensely visually oriented, clever, narratively complex, etc.

Thomas said...

Thanks for the heads up on WILD GRASS. I´ve missed that one but will definitely check that one out.

I haven´t seen A WINTER`S BONE yet but I have read the book and am very happy that someone finally have started mining the work of Daniel Woodrell for cinematic adaptations. As much as i appreciated RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, it´s the least favorite of his novels. I hope someone gets around to adapting THE DEATH OF SWEET MISTER, as well. That could make for a devastating film, in the right hands.

Dan said...

Thomas,

My girlfriend is currently reading WINTER'S BONE, so I guess I'll have to check it out when she's done. I didn't even realize the author was, like, well known. Time for me to do some research.

Shenan said...

Definitely do read it after I, the girlfriend, finish it. It's awesome so far. Though I can't help but re-write some of the descriptions of the characters as I read them to suit the physical appearance of the movie actors/actresses but, c'est la vie. I saw the movie first and that's always going to happen.

Shenan said...

PS you use twitter more than I do, nerd.