Slow West

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Slow West luxuriates in the excesses of the Western Genre by conflating the classic tale of the Odyssey with the violent tensions that strung the Easy Rider(s) across the classic American genre of the Road Movie.  Jay needs Silas in order to complete his journey, but a voiceover narration at the outset gives us enough knowledge to know that it isn’t Jay’s journey that will define this film, ultimately: it’s Silas who needs to change.  The film indulges in excessively stylized lighting, staging and editing, but the vista of the Old West has been significantly revised to look more spare, barren and remarkably endlessly wilderness.  The familiar trope of the saloon and storefronts makes only a brief appearance, and within the exaggerated storytelling of an outrageous liar.   Indeed, the stories everyone tells (from the point of view that hardscrabble Silas gives us) are ludicrous, outrageous and unbelievable.  The remarkable balance that the film achieves include murdering of the Myth of Glorious Violent Conquering while allowing Silas, our narrator to shift just slightly toward a kind of idealistic hope even in the face of so much death.

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Ex Machina

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When Caleb wins a trip to meet the charismatic founder of the world’s largest search engine, he’s delighted that said celebrity — Nathan — has an ulterior motive:  to introduce Caleb to the AI he’s been developing, ostensibly to see if Ava (the artificially intelligent being) can pass the Turing Test).  Eden and The Fall figure dramatically into this taut suspenseful drama, but the metaphor of “the future” which sci fi always uses to talk about our poignant present problems is a thin mask for this critique of hypermasculine aggression and misogyny not only in the tech industry, but in the deep structures of civilization.  While the third act left me ambivalent, it also haunted me for days afterward; Ex Machina super-flunks the Bechdel test, but it also critiques the male gaze in both formal and revolting ways that include winking (and damning) references to internet sex habits, third wave feminism and the cranes that lowered Zeus onto the dramatic stage at the end of dramas with unresolvable conundrums to assure the audience that all is not lost.


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A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

just before he saves the cat

Even if David Lynch had never sucked you into the world of Eraserhead, so horrified and so fascinated, you still might have recognized that feeling again as you surrendered to the uncomfortable seduction of A Girl Walks Home; this film feels so wholly immersive and shot through with fidelity that surrendering to it’s continuity is almost as pleasurable as being shocked by an James Dean-esque Iranian Bad Seed Protagonist stealing a house cat, almost as pleasurable as rooting for a female vampire, wearing a chador who doesn’t just walk at night, she also commutes between her badassery on a stolen skateboard, almost as pleasurable as getting lost in a love story where the characters love with their record and cassette collections more than their families. The music, the lighting, the film stock, the performances, the subtlety, the mise en scene, the supporting characters — they all work a kind of rhythmic insouciant magic on your own desire — like the characters: you want it all, you even want what you shouldn’t want, and that makes it all so so pleasurable.


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The tension and fear that strung me through much of this film, the buoy of fraternal fun through the ennui of wartime waiting, the immediacy and intimacy of the camera style, the sweeping beauty of the Korengal valley, a skillfully edited storyline — all of these elements made this film an exceptionally riveting documentary.  While I love the way this film surrenders completely to the soldier’s experience, I remain ambivalent about the way that the Afgahni’s in the film remain “other”ed and the way that the bro-mance structure of the film creates a new incarnation of the Honor & Glory Tone so familiar from war films made before Vietnam.

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I’m guest posting on WATCHING OURSELVES … check it out!

Watching Ourselves LogoBefore I saw The Royal Tenenbaums, I’ll admit, I was unfairly pre-disposed to love it.  The first truly cathartic experience I had in a movie theatre was in the late-run cheap theatre in a strip mall in Toledo, Ohio where I saw my first Wes Anderson film Rushmore (his second after Bottle Rocket).  I was astonished as I saw that a filmmaker had so crystallized my adolescent self, and crafted an epic tale about an over-reaching, excessively-articulate, insecurely-arrogant, self-styled creative genius.  As a 15 year old?  That was precisely who I had been.  (And, while adulthood had lent me many devices to mask it?  I am still that guy.)  So I came to The Royal Tenenbaums hoping for more of that drug, I was both hopeful and fearful that the film wouldn’t live up to my expectations.  (read the rest here…)

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Time travelling assassins attempt to stop the incredibly evil, and totally hypothetical villain from the future, by finding him as a child and assassinating him; or maybe it’s just about a lost young man trying to find meaning in a confusing and cruel world.   The storytelling in this film as creative and ambitious as it is embarrassingly underdeveloped; on the nose voiceovers without any justification are only one of many overly simplistic devices, but his stylized camera work and giddy delight at weaving the story together are enough to overcome all of the jarring story difficulties and still make the experience fun and engaging.


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Spirited Away



Spirited Away allows us to enter a strange, fantastical spirit realm with Chihiro, our ten year old heroine on a quest that is both as ill-defined and meandering as it is and rich with unexpected visual and narrative delights.  I loved the way that this film introduced me to cultural tropes that opened up questions in me about Japanese tradition and lore and simultaneously made me feel (and embrace) the deep empathic vibrations of human experiences – fear, confusion, courage and love.


Posted in animation, children's movies, coming of age, family movies, films I hope to watch many times, fish out of water, Japanese, politically-engaged, reality bending, spiritually deep | Leave a comment