February 2014 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Kathryn Bigelow – The Loveless (1982)

A diner stuck in the '50s becomes the hot spot for dread and dry heat as bikers and townspeople glare at one another with mutual hostility.  Can these people drop the act and be honest with their rough natures, or will their desire manifest itself violently?  Kathryn Bigelow examines this tension in her first film, The Loveless.

Leer AwayAndrewCommentaryBannerThanks for tuning in to the first in our look at the films of Kathryn Bigelow. Kyle and I are going to do something a bit different and try more of a conversational back and forth. We encourage you to leave comments and criticisms as we go along in the project.

Starting broadly, for a first film The Loveless is really impressive—almost doubly so as this is also the screen debut for Willem Dafoe—though the film goes at a very deliberate pace, and I admit it took me the first act to really fall into rhythm with it.Kyle Commentary BannerIt's definitely a movie you could unfairly write off in the first half-hour or so. My patience was waning pretty hard toward the end of the first act, mostly because I wasn't quite sure how to take what Bigelow was doing. It vacillates back and forth a little between being flat and objective, just watching the characters (which gives them a sense of potential danger that fits with what the slicked back hair and leather jackets of the era were supposed to accomplish), and a contrasting, almost surreal level of seriousness when regarding what even in the early 80s had to be campy stereotypes.

I definitely want to touch more on the interplay between those two things, but I'm curious—what was it that caused you to fall into rhythm with it eventually? (And that's a good way of putting it I think.)


Clenching the Nomination – Captain Phillips

This week Andrew, Kyle, and Ryan will be discussing the one scene from each of the films that they feel clenched their nomination for the Best Picture Oscar.  *Some spoilers to follow*Rest nowRyan COMMENTARY w/o RatingIt must be a good year when neither Tom Hanks nor Paul Greengrass are nominated for Oscars because their work together at the end of Captain Phillips were some of the most powerful and heart wrenching moments of the year.  A movie that is 90% tension and action ends not with a bang but with a scene that shows how this whole ordeal would affect a normal human being.

Paul Greengrass has been making action thrillers for over a decade that are visceral but yet effective.  His style has tried to be copied (especially his Bourne work) by many directors and films but ultimately always end of failing.  There is only one Greengrass and his style works because he both makes it feel real and never forgets about the characters.  In Captain Phillips, the pirates could have easily been seen cardboard characters because for most of the first world they look different and act different than us and that is seen as scary by many. Yet, Greengrass humanizes these pirates for the most part and shows us that they are people that are making bad decisions but aren’t necessarily the monster under the bed.

While most of the movie is spent watching Tom Hanks as the captain trying to keep his crew and escape from these pirates, it also spends time fleshing out the main pirate’s plight and he is brought to life with a wonderful performance by Barkhad Abdi.  While the movie is tense and works as a thriller, the scene that put the movie over the top for me was after the pirates are taken care of by the Navy Seals.  The captain has been saved and is being tended by the US armed forces when he breaks down.


Clenching the Nomination – Nebraska

This week Andrew, Kyle, and Ryan will be discussing the one scene from each of the films that they feel clenched their nomination for the Best Picture Oscar.  *Some spoilers to follow*Come and get itAndrewCommentaryBannerShortIt wasn’t until last night that I realized the three films that I ended up writing about for the Best Picture nomination all have their defining scenes constructed the same way.  The main character confronts a room full of people who represent their greatest obstacle.  In Philomena that confrontation sheds light on the hypocritical moral core of the film, and Dallas Buyers Club broadly states the lessons that Ron learned through his business.  Nebraska has a similar confrontation, but the execution of the scene is so different from the other two that it shows the care shown for its characters.

Woody’s (Bruce Dern) nephews robbed him of the advertisement that awarded him one million dollars.  Once they realized that the paper isn’t worth anything they discard the ad, only to have it fall into the hands of Woody’s passive-aggressive acquaintance Ed (Stacy Keach).  David (Will Forte) comes with his dad to get it back, only to find Ed reading it aloud to Woody’s other fair weather friends and everyone having a good laugh at his expense.

The confrontation that follows is humbling and humiliating all at the same time.  Director Alexander Payne sets Wood and David alone against the dark back wall, trusting in the subtle acting of Dern to carry the scene.  That faith is beautifully rewarded as Dern takes his slow, wounded walk, outlined to strongly thanks to Payne’s decision to film in black and white.  The camera waits for him to arrive and then sets on Dern’s face, where his attempt to keep his dignity through his normally blank expression completely fails in his eyes.


Clenching the Nomination – American Hustle

This week Andrew, Kyle, and Ryan will be discussing the one scene from each of the films that they feel clenched their nomination for the Best Picture Oscar.  *Some spoilers to follow*

American Hustle CastKyle Commentary BannerOur “pick which scene secured the Oscar nomination” idea may have set me up with a trick question when it comes to American Hustle. Part of the reason the movie is such a joy to watch is that it's propelled forward with the manic energy of the direction and acting—it's tough to even pick a scene in retrospect where the movie slows down enough to encapsulate its strengths in the sort of convenient way Oscar-bait often makes time for.

So on one hand, there's the concise and definitive anti-answer: it sealed the nomination by imbuing every scene with so much energy, so much to love on a basic level, that Academy members couldn't help but nominate it for the sheer delirious craft on display. Playing the game correctly though, I'd say there are 2 scenes that probably worked to secure the Best Picture nomination more than anything else: the one where Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) goes to Mayor Carmine Polito's home (Jeremy Renner) to reveal to him that he's the subject of an FBI sting, and the later scene at the FBI headquarters where, much to Agent DiMaso's chagrin (Bradley Cooper), it becomes apparent that Rosenfeld and co. have actually conned the bureau out of millions.

The first scene works because it strikes a surprisingly genuine dramatic note in a movie where the other dramatic scenes are played at a level just subtle enough to not quite become farce. We get a look past Rosenfeld's constantly calculated and manipulative exterior into some real emotion—he's genuinely sorry that he's hurt Polito, with whom he's developed a friendship over the course of the sting. That it never occurs to Rosenfeld that this friendship was built almost entirely on an elaborate lie maintained by him and the FBI, and therefore is no more real than anything else in his life, is ironic in the kind of (sym)pathetic way fitting of Russel's characters.


Clenching the Nomination – Dallas Buyers Club

This week Andrew, Kyle, and Ryan will be discussing the one scene from each of the films that they feel clenched their nomination for the Best Picture Oscar.  *Some spoilers to follow*Stand up for yourselfAndrewCommentaryBannerShortFor a film that’s advertised with a smiling Matthew McConaughey and uplifting trailer, Dallas Buyers Club is a frequently nauseating experience.  The lion’s share of the credit for the discomfort is due to McConaughey who makes the transition between macho bigot to strong-posturing medicine man for the people visibly difficult.  Less credit is due to Leto, who does an ok job as the transsexual Rayon, and the direction from Jean-Marc Vallee.

The frequent descents into Ron’s (McConaughey) state of mind go for a slightly more painful and less hallucinatory vibe than the free-floating camera that accompanied Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia twenty years ago.  The connection between the two films goes beyond the central disease, as both try and get into the head-space of people who are trying to overcome their bigotry.  Vallee’s approach is less novel and the many scenes of McConaughey moaning on the floor or blacking out make the point of his pain clear with little creativity.  They’re effective at what they do, but don’t leave much of an impression once they’re gone.