Normal reviews and features will return Monday. In the meantime, since 2014 is coming to a close you can start sifting through what we reviewed for the year as we start pondering the best and worst. Or you can take a look at our ongoing project on the films of Spike Lee.
See you Monday!
Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues. You can watch Two: Creeley / McClure here.
Stan Brakhage's films have helped to keep my mind fresh and aware of the nearly infinite possibilities of film. Through his lens I've looked at new techniques and been able to put different literary knowledge in a new context. But I sometimes have trouble with his films when they are delving into a specific subject. That is why today's film, Two: Creeley / McClure (which I'll refer to as Two from this point on), did not connect with me beyond Brakhage's considerable cinematic talents.
Two functions as a moving portrait of the two poets Robert Creeley and Michael McClure. Creeley was the one who hired Brakhage to make The Wonder Ring in 1955 after quizzing Brakhage in a unique way. An abstract arrangement would be placed in front of Brakhage and Creeley would ask which artists work it reminded Brakhage of. Since Brakhage guessed correctly, he was awarded with the job of filming The Wonder Ring. So Brakhage and Creeley, at least, were of a similar mind and unfortunately I am not familiar enough with McClure to comment on his association with Brakhage.
After the battle over Chicago, Optimus Prime and his fellow Autobots have gone into hiding. They are hunted by a mysterious alien Transformer who has partnered with the American government and a multinational corporation. Cade Yeager, inventor and father, discovers and revives the dormant Optimus. Together, they may be the only people able to take down the conspiracy that threatens to destroy all Transformers. Michael Bay returns to direct the fourth installment of the Transformers franchise.
The biggest mistake I see when people are talking about Michael Bay's films is that he does not know what he is doing. A cursory glance of any of his films shows that he is a man capable of electric moments and can film an action scene like no other. Bay is of the same educational background as his peer Zack Snyder, another misunderstood auteur. Neither one has explosions for explosions sake, and always has a narrative lurking amidst all the wreckage and chaos.
Where Bay and Snyder differ, both in quality as well as form, is in how delicately they treat their subjects. Bay is an evil genius who gives American audiences exactly what they want, and Snyder is aware that true American heroics are rare. Bay's version of serving the audiences has come in the form of many morally execrable entertainments. In both Bad Boys 2 and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Bay plays to the worst American xeno and homophobic tendencies while keeping the nationalism cranked up to deafening. As Bay's career has gone on his open disdain for his "heroes" has grown more blunt and eventually led to the Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) of Transformers: Dark of the Moon who is hunting harmless and castrated beings to mercilessly slaughter.
I hated those films, even though I recognize the American satire in them, because they become merciless slogs over their elongated run-time. Even Bay's Pain & Gain, possibly his most open satire to-date, did not have a good long game and petered out in the end. So it came as a huge surprise that Transformers: Age of Extinction feels like nothing else Bay has done while holding true to all of his signature camera tricks and narrative bloat. I didn't exactly enjoy myself through a lot of the film, but I had a lot to think about in the way Bay shows how small town American values (already hiding some darkness) are easily perverted in the face of jingoistic nationalism.
Many of Stan Brakhage's films are available for viewing in multiple venues. You can watch The Dead here.
One big mistake the religious bodies of the world have made is the decision to personalize and make human their respective deities. God, at least in terms understood by Abrahamic religions, was once a formless voice that commanded unlimited power and authority which made his will known in impossible ways. Then he was made human, and with humanity comes frailty, weakness, and death. What was once a powerful and mutable symbol with no specific backing in language and comprehensible only through associative imagery became just another human on a planet infested with them.
There's a certain power in taking this course of action intentionally as personifying or making plain the mysterious is one step toward removing its universal appeal. Stan Brakhage understood this ability when it came time to film The Dead. It's undeniably powerful, and another early example of his ability to layer distinct realities on top of one another to comment on them all. Here Brakhage is mixing the uncontrollable reality of death with the hubris of controlling nature and the people who walk around having to be blissfully unaware that they can do nothing about either.
Carl built his reputation as a chef on surprising choices and a unique palette. Now, as the years pile on, he starts to wonder if he's been losing the edge of his early career on safe menus and pleasantly bland tastes. Jon Favreau directs and writes Chef, starring Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony, and John Leguizamo.
Jon Favreau’s Chef perfectly anticipates my response. About twenty minutes in, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau), chef extraordinaire, reads a review by one of California’s top critics that begins by explaining how much this critic loves Carl and his early work. Afterward Carl and his coworkers seep further into despair as the critic begins to eviscerate Carl and his cooking, preferring the edgier Carl versus the one who boringly spices up his dishes by telling his staff to “Have fun” instead of altering the food. When we see the bland results “Have fun” gets the patrons it becomes easy to understand how the critic would feel this way.
Carl feels differently. He grows defensive, wonders if anyone really understands the value of good cooking, and gets into daily arguments with his superiors about that one time Carl put that “artsy stuff” into his sweet rolls. At this point my temptation to read Chef as autobiography went into overdrive. Jon Favreau has spent the last decade crafting mass-market entertainments and adding a personal touch along the way. Iron Man would not have been nearly as engaging to watch if Favreau did not allow the camera access to Tony Stark’s face so that we could watch his expression during battle. Favreau understands what’s going on underneath the characters is just as important as the actions they are taking.