On Ryan Gosling; Or, Where Metaphysics and Smoking Collide

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On accident, I revealed my status as a smoker to my students not long ago. I was leaving school early. Like, at the same time the students get out of there. I drove past the bus stop, took a drag of my cigarette, and looked over to see three of my students fervently waving in attempt to get my attention. I waved with the offending hand and then panicked. I then clumsily switched my cigarette to my right (non-smoking) hand and hid the cigarette beneath their sight-line, which of course by then was useless. Where there’s smoke, there’s a cigarette, and they already knew it.

So then comes the next school day. I’d forgotten about it. But the news had been spread to other students, who that day were all “smoking” their pens. After several minutes of this behavior, which was annoying but definitely not as disruptive as some of the other shit they pull, I finally paused the lesson and asked, “What are you all doing? Take your pens out of your mouths, and put them to your paper!” Gregg, who is never afraid to give his unreserved opinion, offered, “But Ms. Piontek, we’re just worried for your health. You shouldn’t smoke. It’s bad for you!”

Mind you, I teach at a high school in Chicago Public Schools. Students should probably be smoking by now, and thinking it’s cool, and hiding it from their parents. But instead, they’re lecturing their teacher about the perils of smoking.

So, you know, it appears times have changed.

That’s a good thing and all. I’m not arguing anything to the contrary. It’s good that I’ve been shamed and excluded from smoking in most places in society, because lord knows I’d be even more hooked than I am now.

Besides me, there’s another guy who’s keeping smoking alive. His name is Ryan Gosling, and he likes to smoke.

Over the weekend, I watched the I-can’t-believe-no-one-edited-this-absurdly-long-movie “The Place Beyond the Pines.” Don’t get me wrong; this movie had moments of absolute transcendence. Beautiful tracking shots, thrilling motorcycle rides, a coupla key acting performances. Etc. I don’t want to write about the whole thing. As a woman, and as a smoker, it read to me like a really long movie about masculinity and also smoking.

Ryan Gosling dangles a cigarette out of his mouth while he acts really hard at actually not conveying any emotion. Not since Clint Eastwood, or fuck, since Brando or James Dean, has anyone so determinedly tried to get the kids smoking again.

Some of the allure of the smoke is mitigated by the fact that Gosling has bleached 90’s hair, and wears some of the worst clothes one could ever see in a movie.

While sometimes his performances in the two Cianfrance movies (Pines and “Blue Valentine”) seems a bit tone deaf–too tough guy to make any sense in the contemporary or almost contemporary world he lives in–he still nails something I actually think of as a sorta Brechtian skill. He’s an old archetype floating around on screen–not a modern character who makes us privy to his feelings. Everyone else is moving and breathing and emoting and not smoking, and there’s Gosling, presenting more as a physical and sexual force than as a thinking or feeling one. His performances are so calibratedly understated.

Watching him in “Pines” and also in “Drive” conjures the same mystery I also feel when interacting with my special students way out on the spectrum. I am not only unsure of what they’re feeling, I am unsure if they’re aware of themselves in the world at all. There’s a box to check on my kiddos official documents that asks if the student seems “disoriented in time”. When I first saw this option, I thought this seemed rather too metaphysical of language to appear in a legal state document describing a student’s learning abilities. But it’s one of those things where ya know it when you see it. I’ve checked “disoriented in time” for a couple of kids with autism.

I also check “disoriented in time” for Ryan Gosling as a smoking tough guy–one gets the impression his mama smoked too many cigs while his characters were still in the womb. And the result is absolutely fantastic, full of grit and guts and opaqueness and juice. We’re not meant to know everything, and directors and actors who try hard to let us in are making the mistake of elucidating what should sometimes remain a question in our minds. I think that here, cigarettes had something to do with it.

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Choose Your Own TO THE WONDER

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“lead me to the bison”

My buddy Lucas once declared Terrence Malick a “post-modern romantic,” and I wish I’d been the one to call him that first, because it’s so dead-on. As a romantic, Malick has a meticulous attentiveness to the rhythms of nature. He is fascinated by it, and his characters are always returning to it, finding their truest selves within it, rejecting modernity for it. As for post-modernism, that beast, one of the only things we can agree post-modernism includes is a collapse of forms. Malick shows routine disregard for linear narrative, most recently splicing cosmic birth with his characters’ present day, personal histories with imagined heavens in “The Tree of Life”. Dreams and memories and reality and dinosaurs all converge as a spectacular specific/universal tone-poem in “Tree,” and yet the movie still tells a story. It’s a feat!

Whatever interest in plot and narrative Terry may have once had, though, has basically fallen away in “To the Wonder”. I kept wondering wtf “To the Wonder” was about, but about half-way through & after my second bathroom break (I drank a lot of water yesterday), I decided to relax and not think so hard about what it was about. I also stopped reading the subtitles. (Oh yeah, it’s an American movie, but most of the talking–in the form of voice-over narration–is in French, a lil bit of Russian, and Spanish.) I just, ahem, experienced.

The film opens to two lovers (Ms. Olga–a ravishing, spritely, broad-faced beauty–& Ben Affleck, strong and thankfully silent) nuzzling one another under the Pantheon, smiling broadly on the canal in the summer, twirling around statues in the Tuileries in winter. They visit an abbey, and walk on rippled clay on some northern sea shore. They play in the water. They don’t talk. Olga’s kid can’t even understand Ben’s shitty French accent. Talking isn’t part of their love.

This is a movie about sensation, not communication; the feeling of winter sunlight on a skin; the prickles of prairie grass when you slide its berries from the reed; the suck of a boot sole against clay-like mud; the thrill of sliding a finger across the taught abdomen of a lover. You get the idea.

This is also a movie about lack of sensation: where is God? I can’t feel him! is a thought that hovers over this movie. Father Javier Bardem is pastor to an ill-attended Catholic church in SmallTown, OK. It’s no wonder he is questioning his faith when apparently his only acquaintances are a rather Diane Arbus-like freakshow cast of poor meth addicts, an eccentric wizard of a janitor, prisoners, and cognitively-impaired people. I suppose these people are supposed to stand out as aberrations of nature, as ugliness, which is sort of appalling. Structurally, though, I think that’s what Malick was going for: that God’s absence is felt when nature is not right. Father Bardem is not surrounded by beauty, but by dereliction and degraded people.

I’m hesitant to draw too many deep conclusions from any structures that pop up. But it’s clear that Malick is obsessed with the order of nature, and returns over and over again to shots of rippling seas, roaring dams, peaceful pools, bubbling brooklets–you fucking name it. (It’s almost as if he can’t help himself–he too feels oppressed by the orderly subdivisions and wide open asphalt spaces of Oklahama that he chose to film.) Then he has the aberrations (the Diane Arbus cast). And then he has the corruption of mother earth. Ben’s character has a job where he goes around measuring toxic chemicals in the earth near oil extraction sites. He climbs piles of rubble & dust, and wades into toxic ponds in rubber boots. He talks to poor people about tar seeping into their yards. I’m tempted to say Ben’s dealings with corrupt earth are connected to his passivity in love–but I don’t actually know if these dichotomies I’m setting up matter. I think this movie is actually a series of impressions, and that together and separate, they are fine and beautiful and resist hard interpretation.

Which is not to say the film says nothing or is empty. Cerebrally, it does not offer much. But Terry isn’t an intellectual filmmaker in the sense that he cares about controlling the wheels of your mind while you watch his films. He is an emotional filmmaker, toggling with your heart, appealing to your soul. “To the Wonder” offers emptiness in the forms of lots of wide-open space–like the Oklahoma sky, amirite?–and the space is there for you to fill it up with your impressions and memories. In its undulating waves of brown grassy hills, empty parking lots, panoramic waters, and elevated views of Paris’ Hausmannian orderliness–it weaves the viewer into itself, allowing you to graft your experience onto it. As far as a trip to the movies go, that’s about as deep as it’s gon get.

Camera & Modernity + Dreams = “The Mirror” Part I

Oh, look, it's that guy from "Stalker."
Oh, look, it’s that guy from “Stalker” just beyond the bush.

The best art grows deeper with context. For instance: the second time one watches a Jason Statham flick, one feels degraded and sad, as you realize that the only thing that was good about it the first time was the novelty/shock value. The second time one reads a good novel, however, you’re bound to feel enriched, and the prose is better retained in the brain. As you may know, I’m way into Tarkovsky right now, and his films might actually be completely impenetrable without context, requiring not just patience of his viewers, but reverence and dedication to the artist himself. It can be a burden to delve into an artist like him, because it requires so much responsibility. But responsibility can sometimes feel like relief when you’ve spent too much of your time watching Jason Statham punch people’s heads; the loss of brain cell’s to a Statham foe seems to be vicariously felt in the viewer’s own head.

“The Mirror,” which some people apparently think is Tarkovsky’s best movie, is the most impenetrable, opaque one that I’ve seen. It contains a kind of a pulsating, transmutating narrative, providing impressions that last long enough for the viewer to arrive at some thoughts or feelings, but then confounding you by switching, dream-like, into different modes while staying in the same setting, or among the same characters. As the narrative of a dream wanders, and the crises change, a feeling remains, connecting events as the same dream.  Our parents appear, as do our childhood homes, ancestral feuds, deep unacknowledged fears, surreal incongruity of image: dreams are the realm of nostalgia, of unuttered thoughts, and of the unreal. Sorry to be writing about “dream space” with the earnestness of an early Freud or Surrealist, but, I mean, come on, they are really special. Dream logic is what rules the universe of “The Mirror”, making for a fascinating and extremely frustrating movie. The truth of it is dense and muddled, tied to Tarko biography, tied to Russian history, and is just about as ambitious as a movie can be. The following is my attempt to unravel some of it.

First, the myopia. It’s long been a meme for me that the particular is the key to unlock the universal, and I think Tarko is on my wavelength. There are many moments of “The Mirror” that are almost claustrophobically intimate, especially in the scenes between the mostly unseen narrator and the protagonist lady. These are scenes from a life and from a heart–complete with careful attention to moles on the protagonists’ back, the way tears run down a cold cheek, the way hair glistens when wet. The camera hovers close to her face, while she looks into it and discusses with it the practicalities of custody for her  lonely son–the camera in many scenes is quite literally her ex-husband/narrator/director himself. His voice questions her and disagrees with her just beyond what we can see.

Then there’s the matter of the ex-wife being conflated with the narrator’s mother. Mother and wife are played by the same actor. The narrator even comments that when he tries to remember his childhood, he pictures his ex-wife in the place of his mother. (I didn’t bring up Freud for no good reason.) The film wavers between the richly textured, degraded interiors of a shabby-and-only-slightly-chic Moscow apartment and a cozy, damp dacha in the north country, the former one assumes the location of the narrator’s present, and the latter where he was raised.

And then spliced into this intimacy is archival footage of civil war, upheaval, atom bombs, Cultural Revolutions, technological feats and follies of the last century. The film is a history, a mirror on the artist and his time. To make a movie like this is a both an absurdly huge and absurdly pompous task, and only a gifted-few are allowed to pull stunts like those in “The Mirror.” To show historical footage in your film is like waving a sign that says, “Hey, I’m deep.” Tarko shows scenes specifically from a border dispute war in Russia’s south-eastern reaches–the part that borders with China–and has footage of Maoist demonstrations in the newly minted Communist country from the 60s. In footage of the border dispute, the Uyghurs (who are a rather stateless people
who hang in central asia) rather mildly chant and knock about a circle of Soviet soldiers, who, young, big-eyed, and stoney-faced, simply hold them back in a line. It’s not a genuinely violent revolt. It’s not a battle. It’s not even that passionate of a protest. In another scene, we see people trudging through a flood plain, every step more burdensome than the last, their pants rolled up to their ankles as they book it, Oregon-Trail style, in covered wagons and desperation. In many of the archival footage of war and disaster, people make eye contact with the camera, self-conscious or fascinated by the thing capturing them. There is a remarkable shot of a little girl either in pre-fascist Italy or civil war Spain who looks into the camera giddily, but her face darkens into a mortified grimace for reasons we can only guess at one the other side. These scenes show small and intimate and inefficacious moments of conflict, as opposed to a grander narrative of valor or tragedy in warfare.

The constant in this wavering between small-moments-in-world-time and small-moments-in-subjective-time is the camera–an all-seeing eye that fosters self-consciousness and bewilderment, that is capable of collecting both the scurry of a beetle on a sunny stone and the destruction of entire cities by bombs.

Stay tuned for PART II because this blog post started to go OFF THE CHAIN.

Stalking The Truth: On Modern and Antique Modes of Searching

totes not in kansas
totes not in kansas

People are people, were people, and forever shall be people. I think that modernity, or antiquity, or contemporaryness (though useful terms for categorizing common hairstyles, cocktail fads, and to some extent, cultural interests) are misleadingly narrow constructions, witholding real information about the condition of the human soul. BECAUSE THE HUMAN SOUL IS IMMUTABLE. People are always the same, regardless of the time you’re born and the material and geographic circumstances of your life. Know what I’m sayin?

That said, there is a mode of being I’ve been pre-occupied with lately, a mode I’d like to designate as extremely un-contemporary. A mode that is diametrically opposed to our present time, and I am starting to think it’s one mode I need to be in all the damn time, even though our times are telling me not to be.

Let’s call this the “stalking” mode.

I’ve just spent a good few months obsessing about the Tarkovsky movie “Stalker.” I’ve replayed it a lot in my mind, though I’ve only seen it once. I’ve had several hours of conversation about it with one friend, and exchanged emails about it for months with two others. I read Geoff Dyer’s delightful pseudo-critique/memoir/ramble “ZONA” about it. It’s been living in the primest real estate of my imagination.

For those unfamiliar with the film, let me explain. “Stalker” is a metaphysical science fiction movie, a damp, dripping, mysterious, and thoroughly ungallant “search for the Holy Grail.” Stalker is a guy in this shitty, conspicuously-Baltic industrial ruin world who leads two other guys (Professor and Writer) to a forbidden area to find out their heart’s true desires. The forbidden area can be only traversed and navigated by the Stalker–he’s like a travel guide. This area is known, literal-Tarko style, as THE ZONE. The place inside THE ZONE that reveals the heart’s true desire is called THE ROOM.

In conversations with friends, the question erupted: how pure is the Stalker? THE ZONE, we understand, is dangerous: you make a false step there, and you die. The Stalker, like one Chosen, is the only one with the seemingly primordial knowledge of how to safely traverse the area, and he advises his wards to show reverence to THE ZONE. And yet he’s never allowed to partake of its fruit. He’s not allowed to have the essential truth about his self revealed in THE ROOM. Stalker’s predecessor (PORCUPINE) made that mistake, and ended up killing himself.

We learn from Stalker’s wife that dude is only truly happy when he’s in THE ZONE and feels it calling to him when he’s not there. All around, Stalker has a reverence for the Zone, an addiction to the Zone, mystical knowledge of the Zone.

But Stalker’s pure relationship with the zone  is complicated by the fact that Stalker is paid by some fools to show them around. He seems genuinely pained by their insouciance and disbelief in the fruits of the Zone, but at the same time, how else is he going to make a living? His relationship with the zone might be idealogically pure, but he apparently can’t be choosy about who he takes on to the Zone. It’s not a pilgrimage and he’s no one’s guru. He’s just a tour guide.

At first, I thought of the long-suffering-of-fools Stalker as a Christ-figure. He was Chosen and he is Driven to show others the truth of themselves in the Zone. I swear he even recites some Beatitudes at some point, saying something about how the meek shall inherit the earth. But then, you gotta think about the less glamorous aspect of money changing hands. I could go on, especially about the figures of Professor and Writer, but why bore you. I’ve now decided that Stalker is not a Christ figure but a Tarkovsky figure. He’s a film-maker, an artist. Someone concerned with revealing serious truths, but who also has to make money by doing it, and must suffer fools in the process. The impulse to make films and search for truth itself is a pure impulse, but the material aspects of it muddle the art, and can potentially ruin it. It’s a dangerous game, this truth-stalking through art, but only those who are truly CALLED to it really have anything to teach us about ourselves. From what little I know of Tarkovsky, he was a serious fellow, and took movie-making and truth-searching very seriously.

This serious search for truth–and the placing of the artist’s alterego at the heart of one’s Russian masterpiece–reminds me more than a little of Tolstoy’s character Levin in Anna Karenina. Poor Levin: forgotten in the dust-bin of literary history. Everyone always forgets that he’s Anna’s foil, so caught up are we in her sexy, black curl bursting infidelity. Levin, not so different than Lev T. himself, can’t fucking stand the artifice required of a person to get along socially in Moscow, much less hang out with the gaudy nouveau-riche scenesters of Petersburg. He’d rather be piling hay with his serfs, ahem, peasants, out in the country. Levin is always wondering what true fulfillment looks like, and how he’s going to go about getting it. He’s way into what I like to think of as the pastoral fallacy–that reverting to old ways, simple ways, will lead you to true fulfillment. (Tolstoy wore peasant attire even though he was a goddamn count. Nice try, Lev.) Levin, of course, is just one side of the coin–Anna, in her impulsive majesty, shares some of Tolstoy’s personal vices. (He was known for his infidelities.) To be all neat and structuralist about it, Levin gets the happy ending when he finds true love and a simple life in the country. His search for truth is not resolved, because the search, the fitful, tentative grasping for what makes meaning, the stalking of it as though it were something easy to startle on a hunt (of which there are many in the pages of AK), is itself the truth. Anna, as we all know, though, thought she found fulfillment, but the heart is capricious, and we all know how she got her comeuppance.

Both Tarkovsky and Tolstoy are guys that would have probably agreed that the aim of art is to tell us something about living. I know more about Tolstoy’s aesthetics, so I can confirm that he saw realism as the purest means of revealing “man to himself,” to using the phrasing of the day.  His prose is plain-spoken and elegant, and he was attempting to take snap-shots of life, then let them reel out in real-time. He probably would have made really long mumblecore movies if he’d been around now, except they would have been profound.

Both Tolstoy and Tarkovsky have placed, at the center of their narratives, a striver, a searcher, a stalker who is perpetually hovering close to fulfillment and to meaning, but never getting it actually. They are just on the prowl. I find it admirable and beautiful that they have placed doppelgangers at the center of their narratives, and use these characters as a means to continue their own search. This is a mode that does not happen with the same earnestness now. This is a mode that is serious and noble. Things that are serious and noble now are probably seen as old fashioned. Sorry, this is maybe about to be a diatribe.

I felt this year that the movie “The Master” attempted to address some of this truth-stalking business, but the master and his path are fraudulent, and the master’s disciple has a brain that has been pickled in booze, and seems to be merely tagging along to fulfill his urges to eat and fuck, animal-like. A serious look at how to find fulfillment, as far as I can tell, is not on anyone’s agenda in the way Tarko and Tolstoy made it the cornerstone of their entire artistic output. It’s not like I’ve watched every movie… So I could be wrong. (Oh, and of course, there’s always Terrance Malick, grasping for the branches on the tree of life…) But, what I’m saying is, the earnest search for truth, well, that’s old fashioned. We live in a post-modern time; we kill our idols, god is dead, narratives are tangled and subjective, language is contingent, yada yada. Hard to agree on the human soul when the stuff of our times is the shifting sands of the unknowable. How is a person supposed to muddle through this and find any truths? How is a person to navigate this mess and find out something about living?

I guess, by reading long Russian novels and watching long Russian movies.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

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Yes, it would appear I own this movie.

In a caffeine-induced mass-organization of the apartment. Sorting through a pile of early 21st century detritus that has been laying around for years: CDs and DVDs covered in ash, dust, and long-dried droplets of beer. I have discovered that over the years, through moves, various roommates, and my own abominable movie-returning habits, I have acquired possibly the world’s worst and weirdest DVD collection.

In the “I’d watch it again” category:

Tony Scott’s “The Last Boy Scout” (thanks, Nicole. Sorry I am so bad at ‘borrowing’ stuff.)

Almodovar’s “Volver.” Loved this movie and saw it thrice in 2006, spawning a year-long Almodovar obsession; wonder what I’d think of it now?

David Lynch’s “Mulhullond Drive.” For as much trash as I talk about David Lynch, I should probably remember his movies a little better in order to fully engage with my detractors. I originally saw this movie when it first came out, WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL, and no longer remember much of it. And I have no idea why I have a copy of it: is it properly mine? Or, who lent it to me?

PTA’s “There Will Be Blood.” The case of this film has a ‘blockbuster’ sticker on it. Hm. Just saw “The Master” and might be time for a re-viewing of its predecessor; I feel that they share flaws. The organic brilliance and grandiosity of the first hour is eventually overshadowed by PTA’s need to make more brilliant, grandiose, dramatic, doom & kabloom scenes, losing focus and dragging out the end of the movie.

In the WTF category:

“The Mechanic.” A Jason Statham flick full of the requisite vein-popping, head-bashing action, but this time it’s set in the Louisiana Bayou, a place with a regional dialect so mysterious to most Americans that the setting conveniently erases the need to give any real backstory for why Statham’s “American” accent sounds so bizarre. Also, Donald Sutherland is in it. I accrue movies like this because anna + redbox = disaster. Redbox allows for a shameless anonymity that renting at, say, Odd Obsession does not, so it makes me rent all kinds of stupid shit because I think to myself, “Oh, it’s only $1!” Wrong, it’s $25, every time, because I never return redbox rentals.

“The Messenger.” anna + redbox = disaster.

“Harry Brown.” anna + redbox = disaster. This movie was sort of worthwhile. “Harry Brown” is an ostentatious exploitation movie that revisits Michael Caine’s earliest acting persona as a hard knocking gangsta in Hodge’s British classic “Get Carter.” Except this time, he’s a geezer. It is to Caine as “Gran Torino” is an update to Clint Eastwood’s earlier vengeance persona in “Dirty Harry.”

“Doctor Parnassus.” anna + redbox = disaster. Never even watched it.

“Sherlock Holmes.” anna + redbox = disaster. Also didn’t watch this.

“What a Girl Wants.” Perhaps you’ve never heard of this movie. It is a modern princess story about a wily American girl who discovers that her father is a landed British artistocrat (played by Colin Firth). Dad needs daughter to help remove the union jack flagpole from his ass; daughter needs dad because, well, she needs a dad. Lent to me by my Aunt Maggie, who loves Colin Firth as much as I do.

“Definitely, Maybe.” Undoubtedly left in my computer by an ex-boyfriend who was hell-bent on having the most awful and pedestrian taste in movies in order to upend everyone’s expectations of him. It was defending movies like this that really gave him the reputation he sought.

“Hitch.” Ditto from above.

Episode III of Star Wars. This, I believe, once belonged to my 6′ 5″ roommate named Bjorn Delacruz. I wonder if he wants it back.

I could go on (found at least a dozen other horrible movies), but why waste all of our timez. Thanks for coming down memory lane with me before I crash from too much coffee and horrible nostalgia.

Where I Been? + Magical Movie Moments of 2010

I’m back. Or I’m trying to be back. Nothing gets a pop culture enthusiast’s blood pumping like the end of a calendar year: ’tis time to ponder the most exciting creations of the last 12 months.

Lists: they’re fun! But ‘best of’ lists are boring. So for this post, I will focus on the most magical movie moments of 2010, in no particular order.

To define my term: magical moments can be both literal and figurative; in all cases, the magical moments mentioned below are about the experience good movies offer when they draw you into the film’s universe, and help keep you there.

Magical Moment #1: the opening sequence of Mother. The very first scene of Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother is as fantastical a movie scene I saw all year, and involved no special effects or mystery-inducing narrative manipulation. The titular mother is first seen wandering in a wind-tickled mountain valley. She has a tired and blank expression on her face, and she looks lost. She then appears to draw resolve from some well of mysterious existential strength; music is cued, and mother hesitantly rolls her shoulder into what becomes a dance. She sways arrhythmically and occasionally stares into the camera lens; it’s a thrilling, totally disorienting scene. It’s also an instance of making strange that Bakhtin would have approved of, as it draws you from your complacency on the other side of the screen and makes you wonder what the fuck kind of movie you signed up for.

Magical Moment #2: the colors in Toy Story 3. Had Baudelaire been alive to see Toy Story 3, he probably would have written a ponderous 20-page essay on the correspondence between color and emotion in this movie. He would have titled it (in French, of course) “The Ecstasy of Color Synesthesia in Pixar Animations.” The characters’ hopes and dreams correspond with the brightness or droopiness of the colors shown; the new playroom at the day care center (the location of the toys’ last hope to be loved again) is a radiating palette of pastels, while Woody’s first brush with the seedy underbelly of the toy world in the vending machine comes in pukish hues of shadowy browns and sulphuric glowing yellows.

Magical Moment #3: the otherworldly & wintry environs of HP7. This movie had less wistful magicks than films past, and more grim, gruesome, and violent happenings. But the aesthetic of the other HPs was preserved and even heightened in some of the sweeping landscape shots of England. We find the downgraded (and Ronless) duo of Hermione and Harry on a craggy rock surface that looks positively lunar, a place that compounds the real isolation of our two young heroes. Later, after a near-death situation in Harry’s hometown, he and Hermione aspirate to a pastoral English forest, where virgin snows sits undisturbed on tree tops and an iced over stream. The best “environ” though, by far, is Dumbledore’s final resting place, which doesn’t have any of the mossed-over Anglosaxon charm of HP’s world, but instead looks like a monolith of Mies Van Der Roohean or Kubrickian provenance.

Magical Movie Moment #4: hallucinated ghost in A Prophet.

The ghost in A Prophet is the only surreal element in this brutally real film. Our hero enters prison as a petty thief and leaves it as a hardened criminal. The cost for this transformation was the blood of an inmate he is ordered to kill by the head Corsican mafioso. He slashes him up with a razor blade, and the scene is as messy with geysers of aorta blood as it is emotionally jarring. The ghost of the murdered man then appears to our hero throughout the movie, not as a moralizing haunter like, say, the ghosts of Christmas past or whatever, but as a reminder of what exactly it took to get in with the circles our hero runs with.

Magical Movie Moment #5: The vintage fonts in Vincere

Okay, no lies, I didn’t make it all the way through this movie. It more or less assumed its audience was Italian or scholars of Mussolini, jumping around the chronology of Benito’s life with no exposition or attempts to hand-hold you, leaving only befuddlement in its wake. This is what watching that movie was like: “Wait, why is he in a hospital bed? Who is that woman? Is that the one he was having sex with in the last scene? Oh, it’s not? This is three years later, he has a new wife, and he’s been injured in WWI? Oh, how did I not get that?” But the careful visual composition of each scene–with its blips of fascist browns, ornate wallpapers, silky bed clothes–almost made me keep watching. The best part had to be the somewhat hokey scene transitions, which often involved headlines from Mussolini’s first newspaper, “Il Popolo d’Italia.” The look of fascism, ripped straight from Futurist Manifestos of the time, was clean, angular, and severe. The vintage-style fonts in this movie remind us all that severe art and severe politics once combined to make for a world where sleek trains all ran on time.

Thanks for reading!

love, daftpop

Terrible Movie, Twice the Fun: Some Thoughts on Clash of the Titans

"WTF am I doing in this movie?"

Clash of the Titans is a film I recently enjoyed in 2D. You may associate this movie with the bus ads featuring Liam Neeson’s flowing mane and his mouth opened in a soundless ‘o.’ He was undoubtedly getting ready to say: “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!”

This movie was horrible, of course, but horrible in the best kind of way. It deals, of course, with the struggle between various titans, including but not limited to Perseus (Sam Worthington), who is a divine-mortal hybrid and son of Zeus (Liam Neeson). Then there’s Zeus. Then there’s Zeus’ brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes). All three of these titans are playing each other for various reasons.

The movie was short and ambled along at a brisk and muscular pace, sort of like Sam Worthington’s legs. The sets were canned affairs and the CGI was at times appalling, but I don’t think the plume of blackness enshrouding Hades got enough cred for being legitimately awesome.  This is because unlike explosions, mythic monsters, and other typical CGI creations, smoke is fucking endlessly fascinating. (Maybe this is why I can’t quit the smokes meself.) Anyway, the opening credits to Harry Potter 6 feature some magical smoke plumage. But Hades’ smoke is serious stuff: he is spewed from a black cloud that must not be unlike the wrathful exhalations of Eyjafjallajokull.

Anyhoo, Clash of the Titans, like so many other epics conjuring the Ancient Mythical Times of Earth, is hopelessly post-LOTR. But all the same, there are some nice landscape-sweeping shots, their beauty only slightly diminished by various absurdities such as such as giant scorpions trekking across craggy mountains and Zeus-blessed swords falling from the heavens. Other highlights include cameras actually zooming up Sam Worthington’s ass. This makes it all the easier to admire his manliness, I s’pose.

My main complaint was really the lack of sex scenes. Gemma Arterton, once known to my eyes as oil-slick Bond girl and then later as BBC Tess d’Ubervilles, appears as the etherially sexy Io, another divine-mortal hybrid with an ounce of wisdom for each ounce of Perseus’ surging testosterone. She and Perseus threaten to get it on once while they’re on a canoe to hell (sooo romantic), but then they don’t! Frustration.

With these things noted, I can’t believe the movie is going to actually get a sequel! Granted, the movie sets itself up for one, but we can’t always get what we want, especially when the ‘we’ in question is a shitty action movie whose technology has already been made obsolete by the likes of Avatar.

Here is a faithful rendering of the last scene in Clash of the Titans: Zeus swivels from his celestial perch and declares, “Hades has lost his powers… for now!!!” Then Perseus looks up into the sky and says, “I have seen both of my worlds–the worlds of gods and of men. Yet I choose the world of men. FOR NOW!!!”

Okay, so neither of those things really happened, but I recall the sequel set-up was just as tactless. I guess, even when you’re a crappy movie, you deserve a second chance… FOR NOW!!!

Still,  I will probably go see the sequel, if only for more shots of SW’s legs.