The House


Two in One

A good night's sleep and a little distance softens my initially harsh reaction to Kira Muratova's Two in One (Dva v odnom). That, in addition to two laudatory articles by Jonathan Rosenbaum (one on Muratova overall, the other on her apparent masterpiece, The Asthenic Syndrome), convinces me to suspend overall judgment of the director at this early point of consideration.

Perhaps like my first encounter with Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's These Encounters of Theirs, I've just stumbled into Muratova's auteurist continuum at the wrong point. In several particulars—not least in its superior navigation of film space—Two in One reminds of another late work by a proclaimed fringe master (Alain Resnais' Private Fears in Public Places), though Muratova's film is decidedly more torturous to get through (a personal reaction not meant to dissuade the curious—which should be all of us).

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TAGS: alain resnais, Daniele Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, jonathan rosenbaum, kira muratova, private fears in public places, Renata Litvinova, ruggero leoncavallo, the asthenic syndrome, these encounters of theirs, two in one, vesti la giubba


The Sopranos

"What are you chasing?" Dr. Melfi asks Tony Soprano, whose compulsive gambling is destroying his life. "Money. or a high from winning?" The episode's title, "Chasing It," seems to promise an answer, but it's another form of evasion. Tony pointedly doesn't reply to Melfi in his session. He seems to respond later, when he apologizes to Carmela for belittling her adventures in real estate; she notes the illogic of Tony's betting ever-larger sums of money hoping to win his way out of debt, and he replies, "You start chasing it, and every time you get your hands around it, you fall further backwards."

This is what Tony Soprano talks about when he talks about happiness. I don't mean happiness in the la-dee-da, skipping-through-the-daisies sense. I mean a deeper sense of happiness that, when identified and consciously cultivated, endures even during grim times: a sense of being centered, of having a pretty good idea of who you are and feeling reasonably sure that your life is working with you rather than against you. Six seasons into The Sopranos, I've never gotten a sense that Tony feels deep happiness for longer than a few moments at a time—when he's taking pride in the accomplishments of loved ones or enjoying the company of old friends he can trust (for the moment), maybe; but even then Gandolfini's melancholy performance suggests that there's something gnawing at Tony, an unease more profound than the physical fear of ending up dead or in jail.

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TAGS: chasing it, james gandolfini, matthew weiner, recap, the deer hunter, the sopranos, Tim Van Patten


Fireworks Wednesday

The first thing we see in the Iranian film Fireworks Wednesday (Chaharshanbe-soori), directed by Asghar Farhadi, is a young couple on a motorcycle—he in a leather jacket and jeans, she in a full black chador—as they ride along a deserted snowy road, laughing and talking over the roar of the bike. She, perched behind him on the motorcycle, flips through some photos they've just had developed, reaching over his shoulder to show him some of them. She teases, "What are you looking at here?" We get a brief view of the photo and see two laughing faces—but he is obviously glancing down at her chest. He teases, "What, I can't check out my bride-to-be?" In the next moment, her billowing chador gets caught in the back wheels of the motorcycle, and they come to a grinding halt.

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TAGS: asghar farhadi, fireworks wednesday, hedye tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti


The Mormons

On paper, The Mormons sounds about as thrilling as mandatory Bible-study class: a two-part, two-night documentary about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, from its founding in 1830 to its present-day struggles with mainstream American culture. Don't be daunted: This joint venture between two PBS series, Frontline and American Experience, merges the former's muckraking candor and the latter's knack for capturing history's complexities. It's meticulous and addictive—the TV equivalent of a thick nonfiction book that you start reading after dinner and finish at dawn. And that's apart from the polygamy issue—highlighted, to the Church's chagrin, on the hit HBO series Big Love—which gets discussed at length near the end of Part One.

To read the rest, click here.

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TAGS: american experience, big love, church of jesus christ of latter-day saints, frontline, hbo, pbs, the mormons


Vivere

The trailer for Vivere piqued my interest immediately. Stuffed with gorgeous urban cinematography and gorgeous earthy women from three generations, it seemed like a potent jolt of pure cinema. A lot of the imagery—of three females brooding, bitching and bonding—was favorably reminiscent of other recent arthouse classics. Yet Vivere also seemed as if it would offer its own distinct surprises. Well, that trailer was a clever deception.

Vivere the feature film feels like an unhappy collaboration between the world's most chic arthouse miserablists. I would have guessed that Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Guillermo Arriaga (Babel) worked on the scrambled, rewinding narrative, while Paul Haggis (Crash) loaded in the plot's absurd coincidences. Maybe Lukas Moodysson (Together) provided the drizzly teen angst that eventually flowers into hope. And perhaps Lynne Ramsay lorded over the film's cinematographer to get that pulsating-veins Morvern Callar intimacy into virtually every shot.

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TAGS: angelina maccarone, Esther Zimmering, Hannelore Elsner, Judith Kaufmann, Kim Schnitzer, vivere


Black Sheep

I'll do my best to refrain from making baaaaaad puns (well, that tears it!) at the expense of the New Zealand horror-comedy Black Sheep, though it should come as no surprise that writer/director Jonathan King's feature debut invites, and no doubt welcomes, such "wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say-no-more" ridicule.

Like a parodic Kiwi cousin to Irishman Billy O'Brien's cows-run-amok thriller Isolation, Black Sheep takes one of nature's most decidedly non-threatening creatures and arms 'em, deliriously and deliciously, with ravenous, razor-edged teeth. The film aims high and misses often; it clearly aspires to a prominent place in the midnight movie hall of fame, though its constantly inelegant shuffling between aesthetic innovation and plain ol' ineptitude dooms it to little more than footnote status.

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TAGS: barbara steele, black sheep, Jonathan King, Nathan Meister, richard taylor


Lost

At its worst, Lost is guilty of employing its flashback structure to draw simple conclusions and character development by proxy. It uses contrived real-world parallels to tie up its themes in a giant red bow, allowing its once innovative format, initially an effective short-hand to explore its enormous cast, to grow stale over time. Afterall, who hasn't groaned through countless "Jack is driven to 'X' because he once had to deal with 'Y' years ago" storylines?

Occasionally though, the show transcends this flaw which has seemingly been engrained in its DNA, crafting a multi-pronged narrative which not only sustains itself dramatically on multiple temporal levels, but where the intersection of the two actually compliment one another, lending thematic weight to scenes both on and off the island.

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TAGS: adam horowitz, alexis rhee, byron chung, d.o.c., Daniel Dae Kim, edward kitsis, elizabeth mitchell, evangeline lilly, john shin, lost, Marsha Thomason, recap, yoon-jin kim


The Sopranos

"Is this what life is like at our age?" asks Carmela Soprano, as Tony prepares to flee New Jersey while the FBI excavates the site of his first murder.

"The tomatoes are just coming in," Tony replies, a tad wistfully.

It's an odd thing to say, but it feels right. The tomatoes in his backyard are just one entry on a long list of things that he's never properly appreciated and maybe never will. The malaise that hangs over Tony like Pig-Pen's dirt cloud in Peanuts isn't a matter of fretting over the persistent unanswered question, "How will I go out, dead or in jail?" It seems more unconscious—an incidental affliction, rooted in the curse of living in a perpetual state of disharmony with your own life. Tony's going about in pity for himself (with good reason) while a great wind carries him across the sky. He's a bit smarter and more self-aware than most of the crooks he competes with or bosses around, but on The Sopranos, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. During Tony's eight years of therapy with Dr. Melfi, he's learned enough about himself to realize and admit that his life was fucked up from the start, and he fucked it up worse with each passing year; yet he's never shown the insight necessary to seize that knowledge and break it open, much less act to change his circumstances (a virtual impossibility anyway, considering how tightly he's chained to a life of privilege—and a wife and kids and relatives and employees that cling to every link). A bullet in the torso got the message across, but it didn't take. He's back to being beat-up-'em, bed-'em-down Tony, except more of an automaton, a bad boy reverting to type but not really reveling in it.

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TAGS: alan sepinwall, david chase, deadwood, hbo, peanuts, recap, remember when, terence winter, the sopranos, the wire


Jacques Rivette, Le Veilleur

Jacques Rivette, le veilleur the imagery for which we have come to love her is only here in embryonic form. Those lucky few stoked by the fires of her recent documentary Vers Mathilde are in for a disappointment when presented with the less front-and-centre visuals of her second completed work: analysis is also somewhat tricky, as I have no idea how much of the format was inherited from the program Cinéma, de notre temps (of which it is an entry), and how much was influenced by the film's celebrated critic interviewer Serge Daney. Still, Denis' tactile, environmental approach is clearly in evidence here; of a piece with her early work, it suggests both the location specificity and the unmoored personalities that dot films from Chocolat to I Can't Sleep.

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TAGS: chocolat, claire denis, i can't sleep, jacques rivette, jacques rivette le veilleur, jean fautrier, jean-françois stévenin, le pont du nord, no fear no die, pascale ogier, serge daney, vers mathilde


Hot Fuzz

When Patrick Troughton's Father Brennan runs afoul of the Devil in The Omen (1976), he seeks refuge in his Church and gets impaled by a supernaturally dislodged iron spire. This iconic bit of gruesomeness (one of several in Richard Donner's glumly earnest yet oddly enduring Exorcist retread) gets replayed in Hot Fuzz, except this time, the victim isn't neatly perforated but rudely crushed. And then he flails around for a bit with a giant piece of stone where his head, neck and upper body should be, like an Easter Island statue whose features have weathered away. The scene serves as a neat encapsulation of Hot Fuzz's basic comic strategy: the reupholstering of pop detritus into something even tackier.

The film is an inventory of movie and music references as relentless and explicit as Grindhouse, its city-cop-goes-country plotline, which sees a London policeman transferred to a sleepy hamlet rocked by a series of murders most foul, is merely a pretense for the team behind 2004's similarly pitched (if more focused) Shaun of the Dead—writer-director Edgar Wright and his cowriter and star, Simon Pegg—to revel in their proudly dubious taste. And while it might sound like heresy to suggest it, Hot Fuzz is quite simply a more enjoyable (and less grueling) experience than Grindhouse. Its trashy affections come unencumbered by sky-scraping pretensions. Put simply, the two films demonstrate the difference between being tipsy on your own cleverness and irretrievably shitfaced.

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TAGS: edgar wright, eli roth, grindhouse, hot fuzz, john cleese, lethal weapon, mel gibson, monty python, nick frost, shaun of the dead, simon pegg, the exorcist, the omen, timothy dalton







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