Sunday, January 20, 2013

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012) -- A

With a film like Amour, an aueurist lens is absolutely essential. In order to locate the depths of what director Michael Haneke is up to, one must have, at least, a working knowledge of his previous films. How so, one might ask? Shouldn't the film, regardless of its filmmaker, enunciate its thematic views in a hermetic space, without necessitating recourse to other works? In essence - doesn't the film speak for itself? Well - yes and no. I point to these initial questions because I suspect a bulk of the praise for Amour (Five Academy Award nominations being the primary question mark) stems from a gross misreading of the film. At least, it stems from a rather simplistic, straight-forward understanding of Haneke's discursive and aesthetic aims. They see, it seems, a heart-wrenching drama about an old couple's love and both of their deterioration - one physically, the other emotionally. What likely goes unrecognized, however, is Haneke's ongoing obsession with bourgeois privilege, which here takes a more implicit role - a move which makes Amour one of Haneke's most fascinating films. If in Cache (2005) there are post-colonial ghosts - which take the form of cameras - in Amour, there are post-bourgeois ghosts, which take the form of the bourgeois, themselves.

Early scenes are pure Haneke; the prologue features the discovery of a dead body, which is immediately juxtaposed with the film's title. Immediately, Haneke is asking to view the film in an ironic way, where amour is being questioned, rather than asserted. Herein lies a central misreading of the film - the significance of its title, which I will return to in a moment. Following the title sequence, a large crowd hustles into a concert hall, the camera facing the audience. Amongst the crowd are Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), whose presence remains obscured by the haute bourgeois decor and faces. And yet - there they are, able to be seen (on a first viewing, only by keen eyes familiar with the actors), but deprived of their individuality, not least because of Haneke's long shot/take aesthetics, which will continue inside the couple's apartment.

These aesthetic interests are essential to understanding Haneke's irony - a film that, in its most fundamental, ontological state, questions the medium's capacity for empathy and existential expression. Amour is something of a ruse - it is not interested in Bazinian realism (a quasi-verite/narrative explication of old-age love), but the undermining of such purported aspirations - and bourgeois viewer expectation - that accompanies such a drab title and minimalist narrative construct. Detached from Anne's prolonged suffering but, like with The White Ribbon (2009) Time of the Wolf (2003), fully attuned to the pain and suffering, Haneke shatters all possibilities for catharsis - voyeuristic or visceral fulfillment through witnessing the pain of others. There will be no growth, no revelation, not spiritual reification - only the inverse: a negation of humanistic pretense, to reveal the underlying superficiality of all intellectual constructs - both social and philosophical - to push further towards revealing, and reckoning, death as the only form of universal suffering. In Amour, there is no "love" to be felt - no infused altruism to revel in - which aligns the film with Funny Games (1997) for its utter refusal to ritualize itself (although, thankfully, there is no breaking the fourth wall in Amour) and Cache for an underlying masochistic pleasure in seeing the bourgeois couple receive their comeuppance.

Thus, Amour is one of Haneke's most enigmatic films since its detachedness rarely slides into outright ridicule - its stabs are much more subtle and understated. Nevertheless, Haneke's puppeteer masochism remains intact - an alternative title could have easily been Suffer, Bitch, Suffer, since the duration is outwardly devoted to Anne's inevitable decline and insignificance. Nevertheless - Emmanuelle Riva's staggering, utterly humanizing performance counters these aims. Her presence and, when she receive close-ups, Balazsian humanity are in competition with Haneke's class-based disgust, in a way that have yet to take such a tangible discursive demeanor in his entire oeuvre. The same goes for Jean-Louis Trintignant, whose interactions throughout the film essentially take place between three women - his wife, daughter, and an indignant nurse (oh, and a (symbolic!!!) pigeon). Therefore, the aims of actors (humanism) compete with the aims of the director (misanthropy). These characterizations are not meant to be absolutes (in no way am I suggesting Haneke's aesthetics are simplistically misanthropic), but by placing these fundamental principles in conflict with one another, Amour simultaneously engages diegetic and metatextual expression. By adding an explicitly oneiric subjectivity to Georges (established and reaffirmed in a few key scenes throughout), a textured ambiguity manifests, which further complicates Haneke's representative foundations. If Amour amounts to something of a synthesis and a departure for Haneke, that hybridity exists because of the film's purity of expression, still dictated by the director's ruling eye and proclivities, but informed and filtered through humanity at its end, rather than just the former. If Haneke sometimes puts the cart before the horse, not here - the result is likely the best film of 2012.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Homosocialisms: David Greven's Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin

My review for David Greven's Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin can be found here.

To purchase it, click here.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Best Films (and other stuff) of 2012

I still need/want to see several films, among them: Amour, Neighboring Sounds, Tabu, Rust & Bone, and Barbara. Nevertheless, here is my tentative list for the best films of 2012:

1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
3. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)
4. Alps (Giorgos Lanthimos)
5. Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh)
6. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr)
7. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Neveldine/Taylor)
8. Girl Walk//All Day (Jacob Krupnick)
9. Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik)
10. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim)

Honorable Mention: Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson), This Is Not a Film         
(Jafar Panahi), The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan), The Kid With a Bike   
(Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne), Haywire (Steven Soderbergh), The Comedy             
(Rick Alverson), Dredd (Pete Travis), Bernie (Richard Linklater), Holy Motors (Leos  
Carax) and The Sessions (Ben Lewin)

Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Runners-Up: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained & Giorgos Lanthimos, Alps

Best Actor:  Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Runners-Up: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master & John Hawkes, The Sessions

Best Actress: Aggeliki Papoulia, Alps
Runners-Up: Emily Blunt, The Five-Year Engagement & Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty 

Best Supporting Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
Runners-Up: Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises & Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress:  Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Runners-Up: Gina Gershon, Killer Joe & Cecile De France, The Kid With a Bike

Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Runners-Up: Leos Carax, Holy Motors & Giorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, Alps

Best Adapted Screenplay: Tracy Letts, Killer Joe
Runners-Up: Alex Garland, Dredd & Tony Kushner, Lincoln

Best Cinematography: Mihai Malaimare Jr., The Master
Runners-Up: Robert Richardson, Django Unchained & Peter Andrews, Magic Mike

Best Original Score: Jonny Greenwood, The Master
Runners-Up: Hanz Zimmer, The Dark Knight Rises & Mihaly Vig, The Turin Horse

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 in Film: Asides, Blurbs, Capsules

21 Jump Street (dir. Phil Lord & Chris Miller) – 4/5

Funny while critical, engaging while distanced, compelling while frivolous.

4:44 Last Day on Earth (dir. Abel Ferrara) – 3/5

Apocalypse, Ferrara-style.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (dir. Timur Bekmambetov) 1/5

A horrible year for Tim Burton – he produced this incoherent dreck from the now laughable Bekmambetov.

Alps (dir. Giorgos Lanthimos) – 5/5

Lanthimos brings Kubrickian humanism to his irreverent, scathing allegory of Global Capitalism run amok, insisting that societal woes necessarily come from a loss of identity and purpose, simulacrum, and the mimetic impulse.

Amazing Spider-Man, The (dir. Marc Webb) – 2/5

If we raise the bar to ask if The Amazing Spider-Man is essential, our bar is well out of range from Spidey's web.

American Reunion (dir. Paul Feig) – 2/5

Exceedingly naive, almost disgustingly short-sighted view of life.

Anna Karenina (dir. Joe Wright) – 3/5

With its use of stage-as-screen and a temporally-defiant love story, Wright’s film comes off as something akin to a Lola Montes/In the Mood for Love mix, only with significantly less artistry than either of those immortal classics.

Argo (dir. Ben Affleck) – 2/5

Affleck’s third feature tritely understands foreign relations through a Eurocentric, cultural imperialist lens. Problem is, he isn’t critiquing, just reaffirming. A closing sequence that joyfully leers at Star Wars figurines is particularly despicable.

Attenberg (dir. Athena Rachel Tsangari) – 3/5

Tsangari is of the Lanthimos school – but a Lanthimos film that does not make.

Avengers, The (dir. Joss Whedon) – 2/5

Whedon is one of cinema’s biggest frauds – with no proclivities beyond fanboy stroking, the outcome is hollow, of questionable conviction, and utterly dispensable.

Battleship (dir. Peter Berg) – 4/5

Think of Battleship as symphony - not difficult for the trained eye and ear give composer Steve Jablonsky's visceral, complimentary score.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir. Behn Zeitlin) – 2/5

Patchwork filmmaking from first timer Zeitlin is flat, despite the Malickian aspirations. A movie about post-Katrina New Orleans to assuage white middle class guilt. 

Bernie (dir. Richard Linklater) – 4/5

Less "slice-of-life" than "slice-of-lies," Linklater asks where truth ends and begins,  how performance and sincerity have become one-and-the-same.

Bourne Legacy, The (dir. Tony Gilroy) – 3/5

Gilroy imbues the latest entry with 70’s conspiracy pacing, while making the post-human elements of previous films explicit. Renner is more fun than Damon.

Brave (dir. Brenda Chapman) – 3/5

Brave is likely Pixar's most conservative – and one of their best – films. It views rebellion not as a virtue, in-and-of-itself, but in a given context, that rebellion must be tempered by an understanding of those outside the self.

Cabin in the Woods, The (dir. Drew Goddard) – 1/5

If Scream is deconstruction, The Cabin in the Woods is a deconstruction of said deconstruction, a cannibalizing act that negates and undercuts the film at every turn – instead of making assertions, Goddard and Whedon make assertions about how it’s impossible to make assertions.

Campaign, The (dir. Jay Roach) – 2/5

Aside from a raucous snake-biting bit, this would-be-satire is all gums.

Casa De Mi Padre (dir. Matt Piedmont) – 2/5

Ferrell speaks Spanish and that’s about as far as this gimmick was thought through.

Cloud Atlas (dir. Lana and Andy Wachowski & Tom Tykwer) – 3/5

A visionary film? No. But there’s no denying this is a film with a vision.

Color Wheel, The (dir. Alex Ross Perry) – 3/5

Perry rises about his Mumblecore contemporaries, but even in his darkly ironic observations and
revelations, it ends up feeling slight.

Comedy, The (dir. Rick Alverson) – 4/5

Privilege has rarely been handled with such vérite gravitas.

Contraband (dir. Baltasar Kormakur) – 1/5

Flat is always worse than offensive.

Cosmopolis (dir. David Cronenberg) – 3/5

The film’s anti-cinematic aims are a double-edged sword.

Damsels in Distress (dir. Whit Stillman) – 3/5

One of Stillman’s funniest films, but easily his most featherweight.

Dark Knight Rises, The (dir. Christopher Nolan) – 4/5

Bane = idea. The Dark Knight Rises = event. Too much event, not enough idea. But what an

Dark Shadows (dir. Tim Burton) – 1/5

Perhaps the most slapdash film ever made by the once talented, artistic, and provocative Tim

Deep Blue Sea, The (dir. Terrence Davies) – 3/5

The tone wanders, the focus lacks, and one gets the sense that the material has been rather
dispassionately rendered - without the conviction that drives and propels the best melodramas
towards a comprehensive, cathartic destination.

Detention (dir. Joseph Kahn) – 3/5

Wants to skid so far from the rails as to “speak” generation angst via its hyperlinked/new media
forms. These aims work to wildly varying degrees.

Dictator, The (dir. Larry Charles) – 4/5

Call it "America, the Ugly."

Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino) – 5/5

Tarantino has turned from asking to “Do you know cinema?” to “What is cinema?” The
difference is significant, as Inglourious Basterds proved a warm-up for QT’s most sophisticated
film to date.

Dredd (dir. Pete Travis) – 4/5

It burrows deeper into its own, implicit nihilism than just about any other film in recent

End of Watch (dir. David Ayer) – 2/5

It is insane.

Expendables 2, The (dir. Simon West) – 2/5

Aside from a brilliant turn by Jean-Claude Van Damme, everything here is, indeed, expendable.

Five-Year Engagement, The (dir. Nicholas Stoller) – 3/5

Nicely vacillates between "fish-out-of-water" hokiness and chronicling the socio-
economic issues facing aspiring, young professionals.

Forgiveness of Blood, The (dir. Joshua Marston) – 3/5

Chronicles Albanian land/blood feuds with meditative, if chilly eye.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (dir. Neveldine/Taylor) – 5/5

Neveldine/Taylor make films for sharp, attentive viewers, yearning to grapple with their sleek
allegorical form, as opposed to witnessing the umpteenth fleshing out of a comic book character.
Instead, and not surprisingly, the duo are mistaken by viewers, pundits, and critics alike as
simply an evocation of ADD culture's infatuation with stimulation and excess – an attribution to
a zeitgeist, rather than the Carnivalesque, pop culturally ambivalent, formally sophisticated,
mean-spirited, but hopefully-minded tour-de-force thinkers they are.

God Bless America (dir. Bobcat Goldwait) – 2/5

The film degenerates into a series of polemical speeches and rants, none of which get the visual

Grey, The (dir. Joe Carnahan) – 2/5

Seemingly aware of its construct at every turn, the film implodes genre, but neglects to
restructure anything in its absence.

Haywire (dir. Steven Soderbergh) – 4/5

Call her Thoroughly Post-Modern Mallory.

Holy Motors (dir. Leos Carax) – 4/5

Like Cosmopolis, the sum of its parts are meant to be greater than the whole. Refusing resolution
and fascinated by 21st century art as consistent performance, Leos Carax’s film defies narrow

Hunger Games, The (dir. Gary Ross) – 1/5

Given the balked scale of the initial premise, Ross's lack of vision, a total absence of formal
interests, and the underlying sense of commercialism run amok - The Hunger Games is one of
the more offensive mainstream films of recent years.

Impossible, The (dir. Juan Carlos Estaban) – 1/5

The “white people in danger” narrative is an obvious reason to hate this movie – not so obvious,
are the blatant manipulation of scenario to elongate the agony, only to have everyone reunited,
while barely even mentioning the thousands of lives lost. There’s white-washing – and then
there’s a whiteout.

Innkeepers, The (dir. Ti West) – 3/5

West wants to reckon with his beloved genre without providing recourse for alternatives of any

Jack Reacher (dir. Christopher McQuerie) – 3/5

A taut ten minute opening leads to a well-plotted, if conventional, thriller has its share of knee-
jerk post-9/11 anxieties, with some fairly convincing, and well-established, anxieties to counter-

John Carter (dir. Andrew Stanton) – 2/5

Taylor Kitsch and company often get lost in a barrage of exposition, scenery, and fight
sequences, none of which are particularly compelling.

Kid With a Bike, The (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) – 4/5

The Dardenne’s continue to make humanist films that impressively balance sentimentality and
naturalistic pathos.

Kill List (dir. Ben Wheatley) – 2/5

Replete with lead-pipe ironies and serio-pretentious aspirations.

Killer Joe (dir. William Friedkin) – 5/5

Perhaps the most perverse, audacious American comedy since Paul Bartel's Eating Raoul (1982).

Killing Them Softly (dir. Andrew Dominick) – 5/5

For Mr. Dominik, I am happy to let him have his shotgun and shoot it too.

Lawless (dir. John Hillcoat) – 2/5

It might not be gutless, but it's certainly toothless.

Les Miserables (dir. Tom Hooper) – 1/5

One would be hard pressed to find a more incoherent offering from 2012 – the songs (badly)
transition into one another, the film is edited to shit, and the close-up is used to pathetically
literal ends. Hooper seemingly believes displayed emotion, loud gun shots, and endless, swelling
musical numbers define cinema. Indeed they can – but not under his clueless, tone-deaf eyes and

Life of Pi (dir. Ang Lee) – 2/5

Much like Avatar, bright, shiny visuals are mistaken for proficient composition. Lee’s film is an
interminable bore.

Lincoln (dir. Steven Spielberg) – 3/5

Spielberg has placed mythos above all else and though his film is impressive on technical and
actorly levels, his political reverence and righteousness are a little to cavalier for comfort.

Lockout (dir. James Mather & Stephen St. Leger) – 3/5

Lean, mean, and actually using its genre template for political means.

Looper (dir. Rian Johnson) – 3/5

If we look beyond the screen, Looper is rather straight.

Loved Ones, The (dir. Sean Byrne) – 2/5

"You've got 10 seconds to go or Daddy's gonna nail your dick to the chair." If such a moment is
"what horror is about" for you, then you can go ahead - enjoy.

Magic Mike (dir. Steven Soderbergh) – 5/5

Overarching levels of layered meaning within Magic Mike are distilled with Kubrickian patience
and intensity.

Master, The (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) – 5/5

The film of the year is many things and nothing, a disappearing cinematic act that questions the
very tenets upon which western civilization found its footing in the mid-20th century, and the
implications those decisions (or indecisions) still yield in contemporary art, love, and life. The
year’s best acting, directing, and screenwriting – all under one roof.

Men in Black III (dir. Barry Sonnenfeld) – 1/5

Sonnenfeld couldn't be less interested in doing anything serious with the material.

Miss Bala (dir. Gerardo Naranjo) – 2/5

Much like fellow filmmakers Cary Fukunaga and Matteo Garrone, the overriding, borderline offensive neglect to intricately deal with the ethical considerations of not just the historical moment, but their own detached, observational approach negates any tangential resonance.

Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson) – 4/5

Call it his Body Double, a film whose self-awareness is tightly sealed within the care, craft, and
composure Anderson (like Brian De Palma) insists his films possess, leaving no room for
speculation that anything and everything within (and outside) the frame isn't duly accounted for.

Oslo, August 31st (dir. Joachim Trier) – 2/5

Trier wants to circumnavigate the inherently problematic nature of his material, but even the
careful, sure-handed approach plays contrived and clunky, then falls in the film’s borderline
offensive final ten minutes.

Paranormal Activity 4 (dir. Henry Joost and Ari Schulmann) – 2/5

Give this directing duo credit for keeping the technology fresh – if only there was intent to
actually enunciate something more.

Perfect Sense (dir. David Mackenzie) – 2/5

For a film about sensory necessity, David Mackenzie displays little interest in varied formal

Perks of Being a Wallflower, The (dir. Stephen Chbosky) – 1/5

A film that makes American Pie look like one of the most nuanced portrayals of youth privilege
ever made. It’s got everything: angst, abuse, drug episode, Manic Pixie Dream Girl,
homosexuality, artists, savior teach, quirky side characters, no ethnic people. It transcends cliché
to become awesomely solipsistic, with  made-for-TV voice-over and aesthetic to top it off. I was
praying the projector would explode.

Piranha 3DD (dir. John Gulager) – 2/5

Aja’s film is a genre masterpiece; Gulager’s film is most definitely not.

Premium Rush (dir. David Koepp) – 2/5

Looney Tunes shenanigans meet working class ethos for streamlined, if wholly preposterous,

Project X (dir. Nima Nourizadeh) – 3/5

As the cultural expectation for adulthood recedes, then the image of a teenager lying face-down,
drunk, potentially unconscious, straddles that retreat. Don't hate.

Prometheus (dir. Ridley Scott) – 2/5

It is the defining film of Ridley Scott's career - at least, it can be seen as a microcosm
for the director's wildly hit-and-miss oeuvre.

Raid, The: Redemption (dir. Gareth Evans) – 3/5

Evans swings for the fences in his gonzo, single setting extravaganza and comes up with an
impressive ground-rule double.

Rampart (dir. Oren Moverman) – 3/5

Moverman owes much to Woody Harrelson's measured, physical performance for why his film
accomplishes the sporadic affect it does.

Resident Evil: Retribution (dir. Paul W.S. Anderson) – 2/5

Anderson has a keen, if sporadic, visual sense. Definitely more sporadic here.

Safe (dir. Boaz Yakin) – 3/5

Aligns its absurd premise with the collusion-heavy, always-monitored absurdity of living in a
contemporary metropolis.  

Safe House (dir. Daniel Espinosa) – 2/5

Espinosa's paltry knock-off apes cinematographic aims but lacks the instinct to let form be his

Safety Not Guaranteed (dir. Colin Trevorrow) – 2/5

Another band of Mumblecore misfits is on the loose.

Savages (dir. Oliver Stone) – 2/5

It views sex, violence, and drug use the way one might expect from a fifteen-year old
weaned on Red Bull and Grand Theft Auto. Everything is a money shot.

Sessions, The (dir. Ben Lewin) – 4/5

Not the Sundance stew the trailer make it seem; in fact, not only are John Hawkes and Helen
Hunt phenomenal, but it’s the best film about disability (and rekindled sensation) since Julian
Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007).

Silent House (dir. Chris Kentis & Laura Lau) – 1/5

One take, one trick, one helluva bad flick.

Silver Linings Playbook (dir. David O. Russell) – 1/5

O. Russell slogs his way through a tasteless, garbled rom-com with no laughs, while trying to
wring pathos from the cartoonish, incoherent depictions of anxiety, grief, and mental illness.

Sinister (dir. Scott Derrickson) – 2/5

Creepy here and there, but Derrickson never sinks his teeth into questions of artistic integrity and
exploitation, which the film only sparsely considers.

Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes) – 2/5

A Christopher Nolan rip-off that isn’t very much fun or sexy.

Snow White and the Huntsman (dir. Rupert Sanders) – 1/5

A black hole of Snow White noise.

Ted (dir. Seth MacFarlane) – 2/5

As disposable as an SNL "Weekend Update" from December 6, 1980 - the weekend of Flash
Gordon's release.

That’s My Boy (dir. Sean Anders) – 2/5

More gonzo than one might expect, but still as dumb as anyone could possibly expect.

This is 40 (dir. Judd Apatow) – 2/5

Apatow took the punch from critics and audiences on Funny People like the half-artist he is – a
retreat into himself and easily his most careless, unfunny, and solipsistic film to date.

This is Not a Film (dir. Jafar Panahi) – 4/5

In terms of topic, no other 2012 film is as important.

Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (dir. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim) – 4/5

The arranging (and rearranging) of signifiers is so brazen, audacious, that it, naturally, went right
over critics' heads.

Turin Horse, The (dir. Bela Tarr) – 5/5

Tarr continues to create cinematic experiences that are meant to be endured, sure, but also
relished, poured over, obsessive. Both euphoric and nightmarish, mortality (and cinematic
legacy) finds consistent resonance in Tarr’s steady, sublime hands.

Underworld: Awakening (dir. Mans Marlind & Bjorn Stein) – 1/5

A soul-sucking experience that treats its vampire/liken mythology without even a shred of
humor or self-awareness.
V/H/S (dir. Ti West et. al.) – 3/5

The films themselves are of considerably varied quality, but the focus on technology as
fragmentation – and the ways in which media-specific visions/imagery dictate spatio-temporal
construction – is fascinating.

Watch, The (dir. Akiva Schaffer) – 1/5

It's awful.