As noted a few weeks ago here on this blog, Derek Cianfrance was proclaimed as one of the best emerging talents on the scene today. Shane Carruth is quickly rising on that list as well after seeing his sophomore effort, "Upstream Color". Although this film doesn't require the grids and down-the-rabbit-hole logic of his previous film, "Primer", "Upstream Color" is no less a challenging work. Cross-cutting between the tenuous relationship between a man (Carruth himself) and woman (Amy Siemetz) who meet on a Dallas DART rail and, of all things, a mysterious pig farm, "Upstream Color" weaves a completely engrossing and heady narrative. It could be called pretentious and a host of other things usually attached to the more obtuse art house fare, but there's real depth, sincerity and a downright stunning opening and closing sequence (virtually wordless) that propels Carruth's lofty ambitions into something close to a masterpiece. Carruth, who also wrote the film and scored its trancey synth-pop soundtrack, is a jack of all trades and deserves the license to pursue whatever projects he desires in the future. Just a marvelous, consistently dazzling film that, I understand, is being self distributed by Carruth and his production company. See this film the minute it hits your theater.
The Lords of Salem
After being wowed by musician turned filmmaker Rob Zombie's debut film "House of 1,000 Corpses", his subsequent works have been a bit of a letdown. Granted, there's no other modern horror filmmaker attempting to infuse their works with the avant garde quite like Zombie, and his films are never less than interesting. With "The Lords of Salem", the same holds true. Full of disturbing, experimental images and surrounded by some grotesque scenes of nude blood bathing and a devil baby that's gotta be seen to be believed, "The Lords of Salem" never gels as a narrative. Starring his wife, Sherri Moon, "The Lords of Salem" is all about a coven of witches trying to re-enter the life of the modern Salem women. Moon gives an able performance, although she (and everyone else in the film) are sketches of characters, given a hobbled past (drug addiction) and little else. Portions of the film are hard to take seriously, and with Zombie's penchant for all things b-movie and beyond, one senses this is probably his most playful effort to date. If Zombie ever fashions a really well-written
piece, I think he can pull out something special.
The cult of Carruth is strong, at least here in Texas. Widely praised (both locally and globally), filmmaker/editor/producer Shane Carruth stirred the intellectual juices in 2004 with the release of his time travel indie "Primer".... so much so that entire web sites and complicated timelines have been established over the years to explain and justify the thoroughly confusing narrative. I, personally, have seen it three times, and only upon viewing it this week did I realize two more aspects of the film I'd never understood before- quick snatches of images (an attic door) and a conversation ("what did you say when you first came in?")- that add new rivets of comprehension to an elaborately realized plot. But, if one hasn't seen "Primer" (or Carruth's hotly anticipated new film "Upstream Color" that I'll be seeing tonight and was cause for minor celebration during the Dallas Film Fest last week), then I highly encourage it. Instead, as with the rest of this series, this review is more attuned to the setting of a film rather than the usual analysis/opinion.
Filmed for reportedly around $7000, Carruth's vision of urban Texas, and specifically Dallas, isn't the high watermark for regional cinema. Due to budgetary constraints, "Primer" is a real low-fi effort, examining the ugly fluorescent interiors of storage lockers and warmly lit urban sprawl homes with precision more so than illuminating the magnificent downtown skyline at night. Yet it works for this film. Aaron (Carruth himself) and Abe (David Sullivan) are seemingly stuck in the same bureaucratic, dead end computer tech lifestyle of the Richardson/North Dallas area much like the characters in "Office Space", albeit with much less comic timing. Anyone who has ever spent time in the Richardson area understands this description, a direct northern suburb of downtown Dallas whose sole architectural palette are rows of endless, non descript office buildings and criss-crossing highways. "Primer" nails this flat landscape with alarming precision. It's fitting that one of the movie's central scenes (both through exposition and visually) sets the duo amongst a cascading water fountain at night, the sounds and deep blacks of the night serving as a powerful contradiction to the sun-lit, concrete scenes that directly proceed this conversation. After that, we're back to the landscape of office buildings, garages, and cramped vertical apartment complexes that dominate the film. Both in editing (snap-bang style of images and sounds that repeats itself like that of Aronofsky or P.T. Anderson) and visual style, Carruth knows what he's doing and milks the North Dallas area for all its banal glory.
By saying all the above, I don't mean to degrade Richardson or North Dallas- hell Richardson will soon be home to the coolest cinema spot in town once the Alamo Drafthouse completes construction of its multimedia center and diner. Some areas are natural overflow for the megaplex of a downtown, and Richardson happens to hold that title. Perhaps its this reason filmmaker Carruth decided to utilize that area as the setting for "Primer", just as he does in his latest film "Upstream Color". Non-descript overflow for downtown can be the most insidious pockets in a city. And while the endless permutations of time travel are front and center in "Primer", Carruth subtly implies that covered garages and Uhaul storage lockers (which are in every city and town) can be ground zero for real psychological horror.
One of the first “adult” novels I ever read was Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. Its stream of conscious prose and restless, beatnik men and women were a bit of a puzzle to me, but over the years I’ve come to understand and even appreciate the novel’s precognitive nature of a country’s youth endlessly shifting and searching for themselves. The fact that “On the Road” has taken such a long journey to the screen is probably the most startling aspect of Walter Salles adaptation. Seemingly the perfect filmmaker to bring Kerouac’s emotional travelogue to the screen after his mesmerizing and terrific “The Motorcycle Diaries”, something feels strangely absent from “On the Road”. Perhaps it’s the vacant eyes of its young stars (Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Garret Hedlund) or the diluted thrust of a narrative that’s been tread on many times before…. Regardless “On the Road” failed to connect with me emotionally. The best aspect of the film lies in Salles uncanny ability to refine stunning images and snatches of feeling from a handheld camera relentlessly tracking the American countryside around his wayward youth. And one segment, where Sal and Moriarity jump the border for excess in Mexico, succinctly encapsulates the dissolution of a friendship with an acute sensibility. But it’s the parts of “On the Road” that are more encouraging than the whole.
Rodney Ascher’s “Room 237” is a film geek’s dream. Or should I say obsession. Endlessly analyzing the possible hidden themes of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining, from its obscured message about the Holocaust to a manufactured hypothesis that Kubrick used the film to admit his own involvement in a fake moon landing, “Room 237” will likely make your head explode in conspiracy theories. As a straight forward documentary, “Room 237” is curiously progressive. It features several talking heads, each with their own interpretive strand, yet Ascher never reveals the actual talking heads, but instead utilizes film clips to express the meaning of their words. Like Thom Anderson‘s “Los Angeles Plays Itself”, “Room 237” belongs to this new school of documentary that interprets film history and classroom-style lecturing through film images themselves. Perhaps out of budgetary necessity, this type of layman film love is an acquired taste, yet it works. It’s an instinctive way to communicate and adds to the oddness of “Room 237”. While not all the theories formulated in “Room 237” are fully believable (especially one person whose stoned-out voice over borders on the unintelligible and meandering), it still resonates as a highly involving case study. I can see this being done with “Taxi Driver”, “Citizen Kane” and insert your own obsessive compulsive favorite.
All the buzz I heard going into “Evil Dead” was that director Fede Alvarez treated the Sam Raimi horror classic with respect. While I don’t consider myself an Evil Dead acolyte, this latest version retains none of the original’s sense of humor or technical wizardry. Relentless and sanguinary, “Evil Dead” is further proof that the horror film is in dire straits, content to simply regurgitate rather than imagine.
The Place Beyond the Pines
Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines” begins as a solid cops and robbers story, where each side gets its fair shake, and then travels further ahead in time to compose an elegant, exhilarating treatise on violence and its impact on the generations. Ryan Gosling is the down on his luck carny forced into a life of crime and Bradley Cooper is the cop whose paths cross with Gosling. On the sideline are the women, Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne, and one year old children. From that compact snapshot, Cianfrance spins a devastating tale. Like he did with “Blue Valentine”, Cianfrance captures a grungy, faded-out atmosphere through introspective close-ups and a haunting soundtrack. While the genre is familiar, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is searching for more than that in its morally compromised men and women. With “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Blue Valentine”, filmmaker Derek Cianfrance is poised among the upper echelon of young filmmakers working today.
Every year, one film slips through the cracks for me and I see it waaay late. Last year it was the splendidly overlooked "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and this year it was "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"..... a generous, moving and truthful-feeling examination of several kids growing up in the early 90's. Just my generation. While the film doesn't hit all the right notes or directly correspond to my own 16 year old life in 1992, it's still a terrific film that features spot-on performances, especially from Emma Watson.
Been watching alot of Nick Ray films lately, and the face of the late, great Jay C. Flippen is just more enjoyment.
After finally tracking down a copy of the 1984 film "The Wild Life", it sadly didn't live up since I saw it some 25 years ago. But, Jenny Wright (and especially my childhood crush of Lea Thompson) sorta makes up for the disappointment. She'd later go onto greater fame as the emotionally confused bloodthirsty vampire in Kathryn Bigelow's horror masterpiece "Near Dark".
While I typically abhore commercials and fast forward thru them whenever I can, this spot by Dick's sporting goods chain, currently running every two minutes on MLB Network caught my eye. While I do agree that sometimes commercials make good, they're few and far between. This one is different.