Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Open Letter to Richard Kelly

Dear Mr. Kelly,

I didn't think it was possible. I don't know how you did it. But you did.

You did one better than Donnie Darko.

A lot of people will read this and guffaw. They will think something along the lines of, "Donnie Darko sucked! And Southland Tales was even worse!" Those people don't know what they're talking about, and I feel sorry for them.

First of all, Southland Tales was way bigger than Darko. It had a huge cast lineup, the locations were staggeringly more numerous and, presumably, more costly, and the music was unbelievably well chosen, or well written where applicable.

And the concept. My GOD. I can't help but wonder how you are able to sleep if those are the kinds of thoughts and ideas that spend their days swimming around in the viscous fluid of your psyche. Your metaphors, though oblique, all landed on the mark. The comedy, the farcical moments were equally on-point. You made me laugh one moment, and then metaphorically shit my pants the next. And there wasn't a moment that my interest or attention wavered.

And that's the crazy part. You managed to go even more balls-to-the-wall than you did in Donnie Darko which, god help us all, was your FIRST FEATURE(!?!?!), and it only ended up yielding you better results. You are the ultimate chemist filmmaker.

I have no idea how you managed to get such a mass of people behind you with the support, either financially or in spirit, that you managed to elicit, but you sir, are a lucky man. Their support paid off in spades. While I laughed at the thought of Southland Tales, in all of the absurdity that was presented to me, I lay my doubts humbly at your feet. I would follow you to the depths of hell to make a movie about tap-dancing if you told me it was going to be amazing.

You have officially made the greatest movie in the history of all mankind. My hat is off to you, sir.




Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cormack McCarthy's "The Road"

The Road The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My review

This book was great, and worth all of the recommendations and accolades it is getting from people. I'm a little nervous about the movie, but that's beside the point.

First, I was totally engulfed by and invested in the story from the beginning. Sometimes I have a hard time getting into books, getting into the flow, but the writing is so easy and the elements of the story so few at first that there is no struggle to latch on. McCarthy does a great job of hooking you into a story that you would probably rather not hear, because it's one that doesn't seem all that implausible. Many post-apocalyptic stories seem far-fetched and alien, but this one was different. The characters seemed too much like people I might know now, dealing with the immediate aftermath of a peril that doesn't seem like it is that far in the future, based on the way he describes life before the catastrophe.

What this book did, which no story before has ever done for me, was make me feel grateful for every single thing that I have. Every meal I am able to cook and eat, every night I sleep in my own bed, in my own apartment, all of the things that make my life so easy and let me focus on inconsequential privileges like art, friends, and careless fun. It also made me remind myself just how fragile our way of life is, and make me confront the grim reality of how the world could be in the not-so-distant future if we're not careful.

A great read.

View all my reviews.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008



The other night I finally watched Downfall, the story of the last 12 days of the Third Reich, based on the book of the same title (both are actually originally in German, titled "Der Untergang"). I'd been looking forward to this quite a bit, actually, after watching this video, of all things. I had no idea this movie even existed, so when I saw it I knew I had to see it. So much time gets spent on the concentration camps, the POWs, all of the mayhem and carnage of WWII, but very little mainstream cinema deals with trying to paint an ACCURATE picture of Hitler, his strengths and weaknesses, his humanity. The fact that it was taken on by an entirely German cast and crew is also great.

The film clocks in at about two hours and forty minutes. The amazing part is, at no point in that time span was I bored. Never. I was always trying to see more, trying to know more. So, the fact that I wasn't totally enthralled by this thing is pretty surprising to me. I think one of the big problems for it was that they tried to stay true to the book's wider scope. It's about the whole country at the very end of the war, not just about Hitler and his closest cabinet. As a result, their are sidepocket parallel narratives that, for me, were a total waste of time, such as the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) Peter and his family. Completely irrelevant and uninteresting to me. In fact, I almost think I could have lost Traudl Junge, his secretary, too. I wanted to see what was going on with Hitler and those immediately surrounding him: those closest to him.

Here's another problem: only 12 days. The movie starts around 1942 when Hitler hires Frau Junge to be his secretary. It immediately fast-forwards to the last 12 days of the war. So all the intense relationships that Hilter has have already long been forged, and all we watch is the aftermath of the decline as these people finally see the end and most of them commit suicide. While the events are often startling, you feel no compassion for these characters. This may be a surprising thing to even want to feel for them given that we're talking about the top Nazis. But since we're dealing with a film that is NOT a documentary (and maybe even if we were), I think we need to find something in these people to at least empathize with, which makes their beliefs and downfall that much more gripping and visceral. Granted, there are plenty of emotional and sympathetic moments between characters, but it is at a point where they have already decided their feelings for one another. It is basically watching people unravel, which has its merits, but allows for a lot of distancing. It is a real skill to create a film about a villain, and make that villain somehow worthy of sympathy, but this is not really something that happened here.

Of course, the film has its merits. For one, the sense of claustrophobia is palpable, as a great deal of the film takes place within Hitler's bunker. The space is small, the lights flicker from time to time with the falling of heavy artillery, and the camera is often hand-held. The cinematography is great, too. And I think each actor inhabited his or her character quite well. They were very visibly affected (scenes of note: Frau Goebbels giving her children poison, Mr. Goebbels confiding for a moment his intense unhappiness about being sent away by the F├╝hrer, and crying about it, any of Hitler's outbursts, the two Hitlerjugend suicides).

The problems that I've laid out are not, I believe, problems in the eyes of the makers. After watching the making-of documentary I have come to realize that they had no desire to just talk about Hilter, no desire to make him a sympathetic or tragic figure. They wanted to make him REAL and ACCURATE, but not sympathetic, I don't think. And these other, seemingly superfluous narratives were also important to them, because I can only assume they were in the book. However, in my opinion, if they were able to hold my attention seemingly quite easily for almost three hours, that time could have been slightly better spent.

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