Monday, March 14, 2005

"In this life and in this world, I want to do well."

bloomin onion As I was watching Magnolia today I was wondering how it is that it managed to be as good as it is. There are so many elements in it that should wreck it: Julianne Moore's over the top performance, the heavy-handedness that permeates the entire film, the occasional self-aware bits that make you wanna roll your eyes, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman's speech about "that scene in the movie" during that scene. And yet the movie ends and I have gotten goosebumps a bunch of times, nearly cried like twice and held my breath a half dozen times, despite having seen it three times before already. During the segment near the end when everyone's in a car and crying, I thought to myself "Man, if I heard just the audio to this scene from the other room or something I'd be rolling my eyes so hard right now." And despite realizing this, I love it.

I think it's largely due to the film's ridiculous ballsiness. It's willfully inconsistent in its delivery, and I think that variety is what makes it a joy to watch. Like Blur's "13" or Pavement's "Wowee Zowee," albums that are so scattershot and all over the map that you can't help but love them, Magnolia experiments with many different visual styles. Frank TJ Mackey's (Tom Cruise) seminar is shot like a concert film, quiz kid Donnie Smith's (William H. Macy) scenes in the bar are written and feel like a stage to screen adaptation and all the scenes surrounding the game show feel like a crazy episode of the West Wing with all those long ridiculously coordinated and choreographed steadicam shots.

The pacing is relentless and I think that is probably very useful to it, too. I don't remember where I heard it, I think it's just kind of a cliché at this point, but someone told me that if the story and characters that you've created are compelling enough to the audience, they won't care if a boom mic or whatever enters the frame at some point, chances are they won't even notice. Magnolia moves so quickly that it doesn't give you the chance to notice its flaws even if you do catch them in your peripheral for a quick second, because by the time they've really registered with you, you're already in a completely different situation with a different character. Granted, I'm exagerrating a little bit, but the film is kinda loony, regardless.

I mentioned the heavy-handedness of the film earlier, but didn't really get too specific about it. Everything about this movie is big, the cast, the pacing, the runtime. So the simple themes of sadness and forgiveness are blown up as well within this story, to the point that it almost feels like Anderson's just trying to throw as much sad, pathetic stuff at his audience as he possibly can. There's an empathy that he exhibits towards his characters that makes it difficult to stay too pissed at him for painting them into these awful corners in life. Some stories end happily and some stories end badly, just like in life.

watchoo lookin at willis?

I initially perceived that final montage of all the characters singing the Aimee Mann song as nihilistic. All of the characters are singing and looking pretty bummed out and the last line of the song is "It's not going to stop so just give up." At first I was kind of alarmed by how pessimistic this was, but then I thought about it in relation to all of the ridiculous coincidences that occur throughout the film and I started thinking that maybe it's talking more about the strange coincidences in life and not about life itself. If that's the case, then the idea is more that we can't resist whatever curveballs life throws at us, so we need to learn to accomodate them and work with them, rather than give up altogether. Throughout the film I was under the impression that maybe these characters were all a little sad and pathetic and maybe to an extent they are, but when faced with adversity they display a surprising level of strength and resolve, and I think that this optimism carries over into the audience. The movie ends with a smile, a sign of hope for all of them.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

"Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist wrapped in blood!"

huuugs I've been meaning to see Closer for some time now, but despite that desire something always came up that prevented me from checking it out in the theater. I finally got around to it and, maybe it's because the last two movies I saw before it were The Pacifier and 50 First Dates, I was quite impressed. I'm not familiar with the play at all, so I can't comment on its transition to the screen, though I disagree with the criticism often leveled against the film that it feels too stage-y. The dialogue is fairly roundabout, but not by any means obtuse or difficult, in fact its terseness helped it feel natural to me, like a more realistic David Mamet.

The film was pretty visually subdued. Most of the shots in it are static, choosing to focus more on capturing the moments between the characters. This is an actor driven film and lots of the imagery in it is portrait-based, perhaps going in line with Anna's own beautifully photographed sad strangers. There were a few striking moments, however, such as when Clive Owen's character, Larry, walks out of the kitchen after an argument with his wife, Anna (Julia Roberts), and the camera hangs back in the door frame watching him from behind as he walks away. The camera shakes just a little bit when he stops, underscoring his own shakiness at that particular moment. That or the cameraman sneezed or something. Either way, his shakiness and vulnerability quickly give way to aggression, and after that he begins to attack Anna with all sorts of discomfiting questions that only serve to expand the rift between them, eventually making it uncrossable. He is not out for understanding at that moment, he is out for blood.

Closer is filled with moments like that one, characters constantly going on the defensive, waiting for their opportunity to lash out at one another and then going straight for the throat. That's sort of why I'm puzzled by all the praise I've heard this film receive for its supposed honesty and accuracy regarding romantic relationships. To me the film is not about those kinds of relationships at all, but rather about combat. At one point Larry tells Alice (Natalie Portman) that women are the territory for men and she responds by saying "It's not a war." She's wrong, it is a war for all these characters, which isn't to say that there is no love in them, simply that it isn't always their primary motivator.

When Dan (Jude Law) picks Alice up at the start of the film, it feels methodical, like he is planning out all of his moves ahead of time. When it is revealed later on in the film that he tells the cabbie she is his girlfriend before they have even introduced themselves to one another, that fact is emphasized. Later on when he and Alice have their argument in the hotel room and he walks out, sees himself in the mirror and realizes he has fucked up, he goes back to talk to her thinking that it will gain him ground with her. She sees this and cuts him off before he can lay his cards out. Every move these characters make is like a carefully planned move in a game of chess. None of it is motivated by their affection but rather by their desire to have or get rid of something, a constant juggling and re-valuing of their possessions.

boo hoo

In order to assess the worth of a possession, you've got to understand its relationship to you. As a result, there is a constant push towards "truth" from the characters that only results in them hurting themselves. By finding out "the truth," they can find out if the love they have is worth something to them, rather than settling for being happy with the fact that they have it. The most noteworthy scene in regards to this is the aforementioned kitchen argument in which Larry wants to know about Anna's relationship with Dan. He asks her many questions, pushing her in the meanest ways he can and reveling in her obvious apprehension and discomfort until she finally lashes out and says what he wants to hear, not a response but an affront. She answers his question in the most hurtful way possible. And that's when he tells her to fuck off and die. There is a strange sense of love in these peoples' relationships that they keep messing up with constant prodding. Even though he knows Anna has violated their trust for the past year, Larry can not muster up the strength to tell her off until she has said something hurtful to him first. The closer these characters come to the so-called truth, the further they drive themselves away from each other.

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Let's see how long this lasts.

So a couple nights ago I was surfing the web and thinking that I ought to do something more productive with my time. Thing is, I didn't just want to do something productive, I wanted to do something worthwhile, something interesting. "What is it that the world needs right now?" I asked myself. "What is it that we've got a serious shortage of that I could maybe take care of?" And then it hit me: Of course! A film blog!

I don't expect that anyone will ever wind up reading this, yet I'm writing it as if I intend it for an audience already. Kinda silly, kinda self-conscious, whatever. I'm a film student at Emerson College in Boston right now, I'm a sophomore, 19 years old, name's Andrei. Since I've been here, I just transferred in this semester, I've noticed that I watch a whole hell of a lot of movies. Like at least two a day usually. I usually look up some essays on the films after I watch them, read up a little bit and that's the end of the story.

So a couple nights ago I'm surfing the web and I see all these people keeping screening logs, writing about the movies they've seen, internalizing them, trying to talk about them and I start to remember how much better I process something when I try to talk about it and so here I am. If other people can write about movies, so can I. Maybe not well, but I think it'll help me out, so this is going to be a learning process for me. These are going to be my study notes, I guess. Hopefully I don't slack off on this thing. I suppose this was a foolish time to launch the thing since I'm going on Spring Break in a couple days visiting a friend and won't likely get the opportunity to update this until the week ends, but at least it's started. Now I just need to make sure it keeps going.