Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues. You can watch Eye Myth here.
The 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.
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.
I 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.
Adam lies at his apartment in Detroit, drowning in his music, and thinking of how to end his existence. Eve goes on a nighttime adventure to visit old friends and foster the connection she has with this world. They will reconnect, and the world can only guess at the eternal love these two world-weary souls share. Only Lovers Left Alive is the latest from Jim Jarmusch (Down By Law, Broken Flowers), and stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton.
Jim Jarmusch's films have never struck me as fatalist. No matter the darkness they sometimes wade into, there is always a deep love and hope for preservation of America. It's not of the bombastic patriotism that we see during holidays throughout the year, or the damaging love that makes citizens so afraid of those outside the country. Instead he loves the diner with a tired waitress and two patrons, the blues singer who can draw only a handful of respectful listeners, and the slow decay of the mighty dream as domestic factories turn to rust.
He loves people who love the dream that they could still live up to the American ideal. This makes his film, Only Lovers Left Alive, something of a change in his approach. Tilda Swinton arrives in America as the loving, sensuous Eve, who still believes that as long as there is an album she hasn't listened to or an unread book that this land is still worth believing in. But Tom Hiddleston, as Adam, is somber, filled with the knowledge that whatever skills and wisdom he could impart on the walking dead of Detroit.
In sparse, wounded phrases Adam lashes out as our land. But Eve, the weirdest of optimists, recognizes the decay not as a permanent loss, but potential energy. "This place will rise again. There's water here. When the cities in the south are burning, this place will bloom." Jarmusch has not given up on that dream, and that understated yet whimsical defiance in Eve's voice hints at the nights of endless wandering they still have left. This remains a world for lovers, and in his most patient and romantic film to date, he crafts a reminder that we have all the time in the world.
Spike Lee, fresh off the success of She's Gotta Have It, turns his attention to the educational battlefield of Mission University for School Daze. In this drama / comedy / musical hybrid, he films the various black communities, both on and off-campus, trying to figure out their place in America as they move forward and what to take from the past with them. School Daze features many performers who would go on to become big draws in American cinema like Lawrence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson, Tisha Campbell, and Giancarlo Esposito.
School Daze is pretty surprising jump from She’s Gotta Have It, more successful in its look at complex issues and with more outward energy. I knew beforehand the movie was a musical, and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but not quite this. It’s uneven, which may be an understatement, sometimes alternating between serious moments of effective drama and others where it’s goofy to a fault—but there’s so much going on in between I can’t imagine what an “even” version of the movie would look like.
More than anything, there’s a filmmaking exuberance here that we didn’t get with She’s Gotta Have It. A distinct problem we noted with that movie was its desire on the surface to explore a character and ideas it wasn’t actually prepared to think critically enough about. The form of the movie was more subdued in part certainly out of budget necessities, but it also seemed to be embracing a kind of indie artiness, with the form of the movie itself also saying “we’re going to explore these progressive, contemporary issues now.” School Daze, on the other hand, seems completely unburdened by form—it runs full steam ahead in whatever mode Lee thinks best suits a particular scene. Sometimes the movie embraces standard musical conventions, like the sudden break into a number about straightened vs. natural hair types, while at others it seems like we’re one step away from entering into a farce (a lot of the scenes involving the Gamma fraternity.
I’m not entirely sure why that sort of approach doesn’t undermine the issues he’s trying to explore, but it doesn’t.
Humanity failed to prevent ecological disaster on a massive scale. As the world starts to crumble several nations gather together to release a chemical into the atmosphere that will bring in a temporary ice age. Until the world has returned to a liveable state the mighty train, Snowpiercer, carries what's left of humanity on a track around the world. But tension is brewing between the decadent residents of the upper cars and the endlessly toiling workers of the lower cars, and it can only fester for so long without needing violent release.
Snowpiercer is Bong Joon-ho's (Memories of a Murder, The Host) first primarily English-language film, now available in select theaters throughout the U.S.
Snowpiercer is, at times, a mess. Its screenplay stops to dumb the basics of human sensation into easy-to-digest sentences of needless exposition that's playing out right on the screen. Many of the lead performers never get a full grip on their simplistically crafted character holes. Then there's the matter of that twin-car train shootout, where the precious last bullets arc over a great distance to little dramatic effect.
None of that mattered when I heard Curtis (Chris Evans) scream, "Bring the fire!" There's immediate implications to this to the story as a sudden, brilliant flash of tactical genius to turn the tide of a losing battle. But Bong Joon-ho, in a stunning tracking shot following a multinational crew of revolutionaries, shows just how little of the world is left for those who aren't born with access to it. Because of circumstances they could not control they band together to carve a new space of themselves, and are ready to take this space through whatever means are necessary.
This is the revolutionary fictional world that The Hunger Games series made a passing gesture at and settled for hypocritical pandering. Snowpiercer does not sell out those in need, does not make apologies for the people who are tired of living in a world that stomps on them, and follows Curtis to the only reasonable conclusion. If the system fails, it's time to blow it all up.