Can't Stop the Movies - No One Can Stop The Movies

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Can't Stop the Movies

Stan Brakhage: The Wold Shadow (1972)

The Wold Shadow - 1972

Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues.  You can watch The Wold Shadow here.

The Wold Shadow - 1972When I watched Eye Myth, I was struck by the amount of layering and detail that went into each frame.  As I did some digging into the background of the nine-second short (twelve with credits), it did not come as any surprise that the creation of the film took Brakhage a year. Conversely, I watched The Wold Shadow with a bit of impatience and disinterest in the craft behind Wold.  I was also not surprised to find that Wold is something that Brakhage created in a day.


Hercules (2014)

Not my hero

Not my heroIt's not often that I'm able to avoid media in advance of any film I'm looking forward to watching.  That happened with Hercules, where the first time I got to view the trailer was when I loaded it to get screengrabs for the review you are reading.  After watching the trailer I decided that if Hercules was created by a talented team of people, then we might have had the first successful anti-epic since Stanley Kubrick took the piss out of romanticizing the past with Barry Lyndon.  The trailer promises a level of supernatural action that does not happen in Hercules, but part of the lesson of this telling is that superheroic deeds are exaggerations of the actions of mere mortals.

That's an interesting tension, but the qualifier to following through with that interest is that the team behind the camera be as talented as the performers in front of it.  Brett Ratner, he of the juvenile sense of humor and point 'n click style of direction, is not savvy enough to tell a story about myth conflicting with reality.  Neither is the screenwriting team of Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, the first of which has little previous experience writing feature-length narratives, while the latter has supplied the world with screenplays for soft-core films and just about every direct-to-video Disney sequel for a decade.

I like to be surprised, but the bland experience I had watching Hercules made a lot of sense when I found out it was assembled by people who take little risks and rely on existing characterization of popular figures to drive the narrative forward.  It's bad enough that this film brought great performers like John Hurt and Rufus Sewell down with it, but the sin of inflicting Dwayne Johnson with a humorless role that saps his natural charisma is unpardonable.  The man excels at playing larger than life figures who are driven by some great purpose or need, see the underrated Faster for my favorite example of this, and is stuck with a role that feeds into none of his natural talents.  That's just one, of many, wrong-headed decisions that sank this terrible film.


Spike Lee: Do the Right Thing (1989)

A happy home

For decades, Sal's Famous Pizzeria has been a cornerstone of this Brooklyn neighborhood.  Radio Raheem has grown up with Famous Sal's, blasting his tunes throughout the neighborhood and telling the story of LOVE and HATE to anyone who asks.  Over the course of the hottest day of the year, both will have their place in the neighborhood question through growing frustrations and anger fueled by racism.  Will they shrivel in the heat, or will the gathering tension explode?  Do the Right Thing is Spike Lee's third feature-film with a sprawling cast featuring Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito and many more.

A happy homeAndrewCommentaryBannerI watched Do the Right Thing for the first time about six years ago, and I knew very little about Spike Lee.  The only other film of his I had watched was The 25th Hour and my decision to watch that had little to do with its critical praise, and everything to do with my brief but intense infatuation with Edward Norton.  That ended shortly after, but Do the Right Thing froze me.  Everything I started to feel about civil rights, why I argue so hard with people I love, and why I donate what time and money I can to people who can fight better than me, came from that movie.  I feel ashamed that it took a movie to get my eyes to open up, and in the last few weeks got another reminder that I'm not seeing as well as I should.

See, I've been reading a lot about Spike Lee.  I've finished his biography, am going through an academic reader of his films alongside our viewing, and perusing his journals and production notes of these early films.  For years, Do the Right Thing has been the perfect American movie.  Full stop.  No Westerns.  No war films.  Nothing else comes close to capturing what makes America special and scrutinizes our problems like Do the Right Thing.

With all this reading it started to become problematized for me, especially with the way Lee handles women.  The scene with Rosie Perez getting a romantic rub down with ice from Spike always read like an innocent way to show tenderness and combat the heat.  Then I found out Perez was having panic attacks, did not want to do the scene, and Spike's response was a cold, "Ok, what's your deal?"  There's other aspects brought up by these readings I hadn't considered - is it really helpful that Spike's philosophy is that black people won't get a fair shake until they own businesses?  Doesn't that absolve some of the other partners in this circle of hate of responsibility?  And where's the nuance in these characters?  We barely get to see any character of any skin color in a state other than angry - how can he claim to speak for race relations when it can't all be that one-dimensional?


Stan Brakhage: Eye Myth (1967)

Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues.  You can watch Eye Myth here.

Eye Myth - 1967The last time I watched a Brakhage short I watched as a moth flew toward the inevitable graveyard.  With Eye Myth, I watched a universe explode into color which surrounded and emboldened a human figure.  The pure subjectivity of the former made me feel a lot more objective in analysis, "Here is the perspective of a moth, soon it will die."  But Eye Myth is much more tantalizing in the possibilities in interpretation, from that evocative title to Brakhage's decision to include humans in its precious few frames.


Noah (2014)

The Creator speaks in riddles and one man, Noah, can decipher them.  The world will be cleansed by water and its population destroyed to get a second chance.  Noah and his family begin constructing an ark that will preserve the chose species of the world, but do humans deserve to be among them?  Darren Aronofsky directs Russell Crowe in one of the lasting stories of the Old Testament.

Noah is available in some second-run theaters, for digital purchase, and coming soon to DVD.

Attracting the fewI loved film before I discovered Darren Aronofsky, but he was the first auteur to prove that some films carry the unmistakable stamp of their creators.  Two of my prize purchases in my explorations into cinema that wasn't part of the mainstream were his 1998 film Pi and his sophomore feature Requiem for a Dream.  The supplemental materials of those two films, both so firmly entrenched in the mad addictions of their characters, blend together a bit but one thing he mentions in one of the accompanying commentaries is that he hoped to make mainstream feature-films one day.

This shocked me a bit, an artist like this wanting to sell out?  But I eventually gathered more experience and knowledge, accepting that there are some people who make superb popcorn films, and others who will forever make weird independent features.  What's struck me about Aronofsky's career is how his career has perfectly followed that early desire and is one of the most successful directors of the new millennium.  He has never toned down or altered his manic focus on self-destructive obsessives.   At least, not until now.

Noah is a faithful adaptation of the violent and fantastical world that is glimpsed at in certain passages of the Old Testament.  Aronofsky takes the story seriously on its own terms, embracing images from religious texts that have been quietly shoved to the side for the tender face of Jesus.  This is a shame, because stories from the Old Testament serve as something of a template for the superhero films and epics of today, and still has a wealth of stories that deserve a proper adaptation (a feminist rendition of Samson and Delilah that kept the spectacle would make me swoon).  But that respect to preserving the weirdness of those six-armed angels and flaming swords, while incendiary to some groups, ends up yielding just another big-budget spectacle of massive CGI armies flailing against one another.  It's conventional, a word I never thought I'd use when talking about Aronofksy.