My Week in Movies: November 12, '11

Il Decameron
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1971
Yet a mere dabbler in the realm of Nietzsche, I cannot with galvanization speak on the great philosopher's "death of God" theory (though it has been habit to muse over perspectivism). I do believe, however, that "The Decameron", the light, tempered and often seditiously hilarious first in Pasolini's so-called "Trilogy of Life" as followed by "The Canterbury Tales" and "Arabian Nights", depicts the makings of such a proverbial unconscious killing through its axial battle between varying delusions - of creed and of coitus. Throughout this adaptation of Boccaccio's tales identical in form to that of Chaucer's though fittingly colored more earthily than gaudily as if transpiring prior to a loss of innocence or deflowering, characters quarrel with the balance of pure devotion and carnal pleasure, conflicted as to whether 'tis better to abstain so to prosper in promised afterlife, or to indulge in mortal sin ("sin" herein debunked, no less). This quarrel kaleidoscopes down different lenses of perception in classic literary fashion examining gender roles, toying with Italian historical and cultural cliché and seeing a number of drastic conclusions determined sheerly via beguiled impulse sans thought, until we have a very clear picture indeed - one capped by visions of relegated accountability in Heaven (comparable to those of reckless punishment in Hell from the subsequent "Canterbury", which features many a returning face including the highly photogenic Franco Citti and the nubile Elisabetta Genovese) and a final, general quote I imagine will resonate with me always: "I wonder... why produce a work of art, when it's nice to just dream about it?" Masterful, Pasolini deftly and passionately puts forth yet another essential and elusive work of sociopolitical quandary so aesthetically and narratively riveting it captures me as a spear fisher might a fat trout. Screenshots after the jump.

Tarsem Singh, 2011
Through beastly action, man attempts to usurp his gods and independently carve out his own immortal identity. Thus, the blood-soaked sepia of Zack Snyder's brutish "300" sees vast improvements thanks to Tarsem Singh's signature eye and, of all things, the artful iconography of Sergei Parajanov's "The Color of Pomegranates". Rumblingly fueled by an Aristotelian philosophy of brawn and credence to its source mythology, "Immortals" overcomes its tediously exposition-heavy hinging with a relentless series of gorgeous set pieces and highly pleasing composition aided by what is easily the best (and most essential) 3D since "Resident Evil: Afterlife", both texturally and spatially. Exhilarated, you won't want to so much as blink. Plus, Dorff!

Kárhozat (Damnation)
Béla Tarr, 1988
Released several years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fundamentally visual and aural experience of Béla Tarr's influential, still-occupied Hungary resembles the hollowed-out despair seen in such works as Peter Brosens' eulogy to Mongolian culture in "Khadak" or numerous Aleksandr Sokurov pictures such as "Days of Eclipse". Mazes of empty, weathered buildings diminish the individual, ghostly remnants of wasted hope and corrupted ideals amidst endlessly dampened remains of connecting roadways and electrification that incapably house our resilient characters, who contrarily smack of classic Hollywood. Tarr's deliberate, winding long takes create marvel after marvel of highly screencap-able moving imagery (in the thick of my Pasolini binge, I have to restrain myself!). Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #028.

Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers
Chip Mabry, 2010
A relatively more extreme example of how we are more ourselves when adopting supported "alter-egos" than when requisitely conforming to the expectations of dull society. This is expression; this is the pursuit of happiness. This (for now, anyway, before realism settles once more) rekindles my embers of motivation to finally join a boxing gym, or finally get those bigger tattoos I've been wanting, or finally drop it all and go rogue documentary-making across the deserts, steppes and cities of Mongolia in search of modern cultural identity. This is, in a technical sense, along the lines of what I could only have hoped my would-be film "Prep Ball" might have become. Bravo.

Further first-time viewings:

J. Edgar - Clint Eastwood, 2011
I will proudly admit to chuckling at my own summary of the Man with No Name’s directorial career. I like to say, “Watching an Eastwood is like chewing cardboard, while someone stands over you, teeth gritted, demanding, ‘Don’t that cardboard taste good, boy?’” Well, if this newest portrait of uncompromising leadership is cardboard, its frail edges are frayed, dry and crumbling away. Yet, somehow, I find myself peeling back these withered layers and uncovering something worth enduring on the whole. Is it an ode to American free enterprise, and subsequently a humble undermining of the very antiheroic legacy of Hollywood (and beyond) Eastwood himself has so iconically contributed to? Is [Eastwood] heralding purity while tearing down the essence of liberty? Is it really to be read as all that objective? Though in recognition of what could be considered psychoses, Eastwood appears to argue in Hoover's favor, even regarding the infamous wiretaps and the resulting collection of high-level politician secrets. Read the full review at Reel Time.

Shrek Forever After - Mike Mitchell, 2010
Whether one likes "Shrek" or not (I don't, particularly), it's easy to admit the titular character became a contradiction of himself as his franchise continued... and it would be apparent from this "final chapter" that the creative team recognized as much, as well. Shrek's frustrations with his adoring fans' enforcement of his defeated attitude echo those of real fans who feel the ogre had gone soft - literally, in the sense that he was almost immediately reduced from ugly and foul-tempered to cute, cuddly and only $19.99 for Christmas, accessories not included. Of course the obligatory end of the characteristically not-quite-full-fledged, overly pop-reference-littered feature justifies the inevitable cuteness, but at least it manages to make us feel fuzzy about it in the process, which is well more positive than I can speak about any aspect of the inexcusably dreadful "Shrek the Third".

Losing Control - Valerie Weiss, 2011
Working the 3rd annual Naples International Film Festival, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting several on-screen and behind-the-scenes filmmakers, among them director Valerie Weiss. Now, being in a smaller festival atmosphere, particularly from a filmmaker perspective, it is practically beside the point to criticize. Everyone is capable of mistakes; we're here to laud achievement and encourage artistry. And that's what makes it so difficult to look somewhat negatively upon Weiss' film - the sole entry I had time enough to dash and catch after a shift - which I selected from a trio of films that weren't exactly at the top of my festival to-see list, per "Dying to Do Letterman" comedian Steve Mazan's recommendation as opposed to my other limited options of "A Beginner's Guide to Endings" and "Take Me Home" (the latter of which also came with a personal recommendation, that one from its star/director Sam Jaeger himself). "Losing Control" is a situational, semi-autobiographical romantic comedy that premiered in April and is scheduled for limited theatrical distribution around Valentine's Day of next year about a Harvard PhD graduate implementing scientific methods in her dating life to determine her perfect mate in a haphazard experiment that winds up entailing a bit of raunch and a bit of caper. It's loaded with budding "that guys" including Ben Weber and Alanna Ubach and features a Woody Allen-esque tone through a lovingly overbearing parental relationship and its talky madcap nature that, at times, conjures feelings of something like "Manhattan Murder Mystery" or "Anything Else". It is indeed honorably inspired and expressive, yet it never becomes anything more than what seems best fit as direct-to-Netflix-Instant fair. The plotting is overscripted to the point of excruciation while so many ideas have been crammed in to one place without meshing together it feels fitting Weiss' next film is to be titled "Overstuffed". Sorry, Valerie! Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #027.

Total: 7

Rewatches (1): Clerks (Smith, 1994)

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