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In the Palm of the Hand

Cormac McCarthy’s Killing Machines — A friend tells me about the formatting - how with his script for The Counselor, the novelist Cormac McCarthy isn't even bothering with standard screenplay conventions anymore. Obtaining a copy I see that, sure enough, McCarthy has stripped away all the awkward visual notations that make screenplays so tedious to read. He opts instead for a minimalist layout, with a central column for dialogue, and block-like paragraphs for scene descriptions delivered with a minimum of camera notation. On the page the script looks almost like a Doric column - stark and Classical – which is appropriate given the tale’s astringent stoicism. The Counselor is also perhaps the first screenplay written about a new device … [Read more...]

Life Could Be a Dream: Relax and Rolex

 “The Act of Killing”, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012 — The death squad captain swaggers out of his local bar still humming ‘My Way’, while his victims rot in the river and the cleaning ladies toil through the night mopping up the blood. Subtract the victims and the stench, the toil and the blood from the scenario:  the killing and the killer remain. Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing recasts the Indonesian mass killings of the mid 1960’s as a personal narrative told in lush dramatic reenactments conceived and directed, ostensibly, by the perpetrators.  It’s a film that quotes Bollywood gleefully. It also may seem to owe much to Bataille, Genet, and Pasolini, although all of them were responding in a historically … [Read more...]

Rooting for The Invisible War

I have known the film maker Kirby Dick for close to thirty years now and have had the privilege of watching him grow into one of the most important documentary film makers of our time. On the eve of the 85th Oscars where his film Invisible War has been nominated for Best Feature-length Documentary I thought it fitting to refresh ourselves with the review written by TQ regular Rita Valencia of this extraordinary film whose difficult subject, sexual assault in the military, delves into the matter not just to awaken the audience to this hidden tragedy, but was actually made for the primary purpose of being distributed to the military establishment to shed light and provoke actual changes in policy. On January 23, 2013 the House Armed Services … [Read more...]

The Ultimate Date Movie

Amour (2012), written and directed by Michael Haneke — You are sitting at breakfast with your partner of fifty or so years and suddenly notice she is staring blankly not at you (perhaps nothing new) and then her cereal begins to dribble from the corner of her mouth. A stream of urine runs down the chair leg to the floor. You speak, even loudly, but there is no response. Death has come to join you for breakfast, insinuating itself between your tea and the morning news, interrupting the habitual comfort of daily routine. This death is not violent or abrupt, it is like a very long sonata which has begun and must play out. Michael Haneke approaches his aged couple, George and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) with … [Read more...]

Questioning “The Master”

There is no excuse, in 2012, for making a movie that looks bad. There are dozens of film schools churning out skilled technicians. Sub-standard acting is rare, too: the supply of dedicated, hard-working performers is huge and top talent routinely aces the most challenging roles. Miraculous special effects?  More common and less expensive every year. So, can we agree that a professional, skillful film is pretty much a given? But what about when we all too often say, semi-apologetically, “Well, it was beautifully shot,” or “The performances were great,” or “The effects were awesome!” Don’t we want more?  Don’t we prefer to say, “What a great story! I was on the edge of my seat!” Or, in the case of films with literary aspirations, “I … [Read more...]

A Breed Apart

Old Dog (2011), written and directed by Pema Tseden, produced by Zhang Xianmin  – Westerners hear very little about Tibet, and much of the media doesn’t even called it Tibet anymore, they call it China, for Tibet has been destroyed, eradicated and reshaped in the model of the typical imperially dominated country. To us who are unfamiliar with the current state of things in Tibet a film like Old Dog seems subtly coded—a narrative that depicts the disabling of the traditional nomadic way of life in terms that are archly metaphoric. That this film has a Chinese producer was a bit surprising, but Zhang Xianmin has an interesting and socially progressive record as intellectual, cultural critic and producer. Pema Tseden, a Tibetan, refers to … [Read more...]

Blowing Down The Barracks

THE INVISIBLE WAR (2012), directed by Kirby Dick, produced by Amy Ziering – With an aesthetic that is strategically subservient to its goal of creating policy change, The Invisible War's human drama rolls out in a perfectly calibrated series of emotional interviews of survivors of military sexual assault (MSA), their advocates and therapists.The antagonists, director Kirby Dick makes clear, are not the violent criminals masquerading as soldiers, officers or heroes; but the systemic judicial dysfunction of the nation's armed services, which manifests as stonewalling, intransigence and incompetence. The prologue to the film is a series of filmed recruitment ads aimed at women—presenting the public relations campaign the … [Read more...]

Dark Capital

Notes on Found (2012) Found, featuring the remarkable Peggy Blow and with cinematography by Jeffrey Atherton, completes a triptych that also includes Snout and Djinn. In these hybrid media piece we’re attempting to excavate a liminal, Bardo-type space in digital media to see what can happen there. I like the variety of the three pieces, but also the continuities between them, and how liminality shows up thematically in the texts as well as in the visual treatment. Found, for example, is interested in how permeable we are, how encounters with strangers can haunt and even alter us. Found also shines light on the resilience and forbearance of black Americans in the face of the profound structural racism that continues, demonically, to play … [Read more...]

The Considered Eye

An Interview with Experimental Filmmaker Ben Russell –  I first encountered Ben Russell’s films in Hollywood. He was screening some of his works at the venerable Egyptian Theater. As is often the case, with the long established Los Angeles Filmforum venue, you walk in without expectation and walk out energized, rearranged and reaffirmed. The films screened that evening were exceptional and the ideas and images had remained on my mind for several years. It was this longevity of memory that prompted me to talk with Ben about his work as an artist. His films push forward place and person with a fresh intelligent force. There is a quiet and ultra wide observation at work. Character, landscape, and action are given equal … [Read more...]

Heaven is in Your Eyes

Thinking about Lars Von Trier's Melancholia –  Behold the bride Justine, her name plucked from a novel by de Sade, her body bedecked in crinoline, lace, satin, and bone stiffeners. Her voluptuous skin pillows at the edges of her wedding garment, which squeezes her bosom tightly and blossoms open below the waist. She is a vision in white as she runs across the neatly cropped lawn, dragging ragged rope chains behind her. A cumbersome sort of froth envelopes her, marks her as special and sets her apart from the herd of onlookers, the wedding guests who watch, each regarding her with his/her own form of desire. To shun their desire, one after the other, is the project of Lars Von Trier's "melancholy" bride, played by Kirsten Dunst … [Read more...]