critical analysis

All posts tagged critical analysis

Having never seen his other movies, I still should have realized Robert DeNiro was going to be a perfectionist as a director, as he is as an actor. It’s been so long that I had almost forgotten the pleasure of watching a film as nuanced and rich as The Good Shepherd. There wasn’t a wasted sequence in the three hours it ran, and the irony didn’t escape me that half the theater walked out on a movie whose title implied the blissful masses were the CIA’s sheep.

DeNiro’s character, based on Gen. “Wild Bill” Donovan, once said that conservatives were those who believed people were flawed, and liberals were those who believed people could be changed. DeNiro’s film, particularly in this war, is a daring discussion about the motives, good or wrong, for sacrificing liberties (and how much!) at wartime.

Wild Bill, who ruthlessly hired socialists, liberals, and even communists in his intelligence battle, was a viciously pragmatic man, and he defended his men to the end when the OSS was investigated by the McCarthyists. He said “We face an enemy who believes one of his chief weapons is that none but he will employ terror. But we will turn terror against him…
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We hit up the rather obscure Hitchcock movie Rope, and I was elated at how it reminded me of those simple, "one" act plays like The Boor and Twelve Angry Men. It begins with the murder of a third man by two educated, east-coast students who find it intellectually stimulating to then put him in a box and serve a dinner party on his coffin. The entire movie takes place in this one apartment.

1948, Hitchcock gave us what is still one of the most challenging films about homosexuality today. The students repeat a misunderstood Nietzchian ideology of ubermensch who are privileged with the right to kill those inferior to themselves, and execute the perfect murder and use its vain and morbid soiree as a testament to their superiority, even so far as inviting the perceptive professor that seeded their work. But as we watch them make judgment on their victim, and justify their act with intelligence, we mirror our own judgments on a film about two less-than-ambiguously gay conspirators. Hollywood would have "killed" the film had it not been toned down from the far more flamboyant play it was based on. The fetish of the murder weapon, a rope, works as well as an amorally erotic fetish.

As one of the first famous directors to understand the technical side of film-making, it's little wonder he is the greatest uncredited influence to camerawork today. At a time when others were blindly filming movies like plays, he was filming a play like a movie.

I was so excited thinking to myself how Julie Taymor is the greatest female director (directress?) when the gut-punch came… she was the ONLY female director I could name. Sure I knew a few others, but no one that fell in my snobby who’s who list. It’s just that she has such a distinctive style that what she brings to film transcends the question of her gender, making her simply a great director.

An incredibly VISUAL director, may I add. She was the director/costume/set designer for the Lion King musical, but I’d say that barely scraped the surface of her eye. Titus, still one of my favorite movies, shook the breath out of me when I saw Caesar’s, Mussolini’s, and Ciampi’s Rome all forced onto one vulgar stage. Trojans accompanying a bulletproof bubble car into a palace filled with orgies and video games… what was incredible about it wasn’t so much the design itself, but the audacity. She had captured the malevolently charming Shakespeare at youth, when Titus, his first play, was both biblical and Kill Bill-ish at the same time, a wry play of spaghetti for the Elizabeathens’ grindhouse.

It’s funny we’ve been subconsciously choosing character pieces. The unwatchable must-see Irréversible, the disappointing and pedestrian Kinsey, and a second viewing (Xstine’s first) of The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. Luc Besson, I realize, appeals to me on the same level as Julie Taymor, as they are theatrical rock-stars who take visual cliches and, recklessly, polish them with timing and tone into moments you can’t believe were so stirring in retrospect. I love that mix of embarrassment and teenage glee their shots excite.

This whole line of thought came after watching Frida, which I had mild expectations for. Boy was I slapped into this aside. Mia Maestro’s perfect ass, wrenching effects and forced perspectives, top-notch set design, a Brothers Quay animation of a hospital on Días de los Muertos (Grim Fandango fans will love their tongues in cheeks), and my big fave Alfred Molina whose performance was not ruined (as I had expected) by a distractingly attractive Salma Hayek. In fact, Salma wasn’t bad at all. At her worst, we saw a little too much of her real self, and at her best, it was a deep homage to her personal heroine.

I will agree with every bad review I read of it at RottenTomatoes. Frida is fairly textbook in the telling, possibly even boring to some, and it doesn’t dwell much on the effect of her physical pain on her art. But IMO, Frida Kahlo would have wanted it that way. As she said to her adulterous husband, co-artist comrade Diego Riviera, “I had two big accidents in my life Diego, the trolley and You… You are by far the worst.” For someone who had shattered half the bones in her body and had a metal pole piercing her vagina, I think we can infer that the film’s focus on their relationship was in the right. Regardless of the inspiration that was borne from her physical pain, it was her creativity, borne from her emotional anguish, that gave her work the delicate touch balancing the comfortingly common and the outrageously perverse.

Perhaps that’s why Kill Bill didn’t shock so much as bemuse. It was more homage than directing, and when you design a story in which the upper limit of gore has already been done away with, it just isn’t challenging. What Taymor has done is as challenging as Titus, whose rape and mutilation scene is still one of the most disturbing I’ve ever seen. This from someone who had to cover Xstine’s eyes through the first half of Irréversible. Tone is infinitely more multiplicative of violence than quantity. Frida understood that.

I've been trying to name the greatest American film-makers of our time, and I've gathered a contemporary list that I still feel is rather sparse. It needs help. For now, I'd choose the Coen Brothers, Clint Eastwood, and David Lynch as the most discerning eyes in dissecting what composes the American dream, our manifest failure, and the reflection of national identity in personal development. Their films embody the seldom appreciated mysticism of the americana, the almost mythic qualities honor and absurdity in what in the blistering speed of social evolution has delegated as common, and thus by extension as simple, perhaps even backwards and irrelevant.

Now there are some others I'd want to add, namely Scorcese, Mann, P.T. Anderson, Mendes, Wes Anderson, Spike Lee, and Solondz, but in the end, what they've mastered is not the soulforming undercurrent that forges the iron of the melting pot itself, but just one shard of that flame. They do it well. As I've commented before, Mann and Anderson create films that are concentrated drops of L.A. in ensembled veracity. Scorcese and Spike underscore the New York we may not have been to but have always known. But. But! They've taught me, shown me, but they haven't understood me better than I do myself. Sincerely, Uncle Sam.

Actually Solondz is the one who got me thinking about it. We plodded through Palindromes last night, and while I must give it credit for a fairly successful disembodiment of the main character, which he accomplished by using several actresses (and one actor) to play, it was ruined with the same judgemental anti-fundamentalist shlockery as I :heart: Huckabees. Yes, the movie upholds genre "Experimental," and I really embraced the composite Aviva, a girl who's quest for true love leads her to desire creating her own baby. Be she an Eve or a Mom, her palindromic journey almost left the post of film vehicle to become that ghost of America past I wanted to idolize. And then he ruined it by giving us Mama Sunshine who went from a pre-appearance Baba Yaga to post-appearance pro-life straw-woman. Boring! A supporter of abortionist assassination? Insulting!

Good movie, but it sure pulled the Happiness and Storytelling Solondz out of my choice American film-makers list.