...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quick(ish) takes - Four films

In reverse alphabetical order:


I always enjoy a good British espionage tale, so I was very excited to hear about the release of this year's cinematic take on John le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  I hadn't read the book yet and didn't think that I could finish it in time for the film's release.

So I decided to do the next best thing: rent the 6-hour BBC TV series starring this man:

Sir Alec Guinness plays the lead, George Smiley.  Though the series consists almost entirely of people sitting and talking over tea, Guinness's caramel-and-cognac voice makes it the experience painless.  The structure itself is pretty solid, so, if you can keep up with all of the names, the quiet drama is enjoyable too.  But the biggest pleasure is watching Guinness spin 47 different tones of quiet as Smiley finds the mole in The Circus.


Hello. I am a sheep. Are you a sheep too? (Source)
Visual anthropologists Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor shot, edited, and produced this true document -- no interviews, no narration, no exposition -- of the final cowboy-led herding of three thousand sheep across southern Montana.  Incredibly beautiful, but not romanticized, this film gets its cameras down to sheep eye level to follow each struggle and way up to the top of lush mountains to view the fuzzy white dots under sweeping cloud shadows.

I had thought that this was going to be a quiet meditative film, so I queued it up late at night.  But what I didn't account for was what 110 minutes of sheep bleating would actually sound like.  I had to close our windows so the neighbors wouldn't wonder what the hell was going on in our apartment.  Right before I lowered the film's volume to a whisper, one of the two cowboys flat-out loses his patience with the herd and cusses them out so spectacularly that I had to rewind it for a second time to take notes.  The cowboy then calls his mother and whines to her in more detail any neurotic Woody Allen character.

So nothing here is glorified.  Sheep are graphically born and graphically perish.  The cowboys work very hard and clearly struggle with their labor and never address their unseen future.  I can recommend this, but only to those with the fortitude to listen to crying sheep all night.


On the opposite end of the tonal and kinetic spectrum, an old favorite of mine: Run Lola Run!

Lola, you're going the wrong way! (Source)
Run Lola Run was such an enjoyable breath of fresh air when I first saw it thirteen years ago.  I'd just started film school.  Was working hard to hone story structure in my first few scripts.  But then I watched this by myself in a mostly empty theatre somewhere on The Westside.  It seared something in my neural impulses.  It was lightning fast, fun, and brilliant.  It simultaneously smashed and followed screenplay structure edicts.  It also got me hooked on trance music.

It has aged pretty well.  One can feel its pulse and fearless cinematic bliss throughout so much of our current visual entertainment.  With all of Tom Tykwer's great visuals flying around, Franka Portente holds the center.  She's more than just the physical embodiment of Red, Blue, and Green light.  She's a fantastic protagonist that will run through time and space to save the life of her doofus boyfriend.

If you've never seen it, rent it, turn off the lights, and crank up your speakers.


I really liked this film.  Saw it twice in three days because I wanted to share it with Kristen.  Ostensibly, the film is about white collar employees who are laid off when a transportation company starts trying to appeal to its stock holders in the midst of the recession.  While that subject matter is bold -- no one else in the major American cinema is even attempting to address the effect of the recession -- what connected with me was its portrayal of the male ego in flux.

How do we define ourselves as men?  What happens when we fail at the one thing we're good at?  What happens when it has been taken from us?  It's not just a question for the upper middle class, nor is it just for blue collar workers.  It also affects artists, writers, and musicians.  When your art, your work, your bliss vanishes, what's left?  It's not just bourgeois, it's not just theory.  It's chemical.  It tints our reality.

One possible answer is to look beyond oneself, to see your family, friends, and peers.  We don't suffer alone, though we choose to.  I think many previous generations equated their jobs with their living being.  To me, this film begins to show where that falls apart and what happens to the male ego as a result.

It's not a perfect film.  The writing and directing can be a bit on-the-nose.  But its flaws are forgivable.

Tommy Lee Jones is a treasure.  His face, alone, makes every film better.  It must be a pleasure for gaffers and DPs to light that glorious mug.  Heck, here's another pic:

The other actors shine as well.  Ben Affleck has begun to master the ability to play a conceited A-hole for whom we still have sympathy; we want him to be broken down and built back up humbly.  Kevin Costner, yes that Kevin Costner, is enjoyable in a solid supporting part.  And I can't keep my eyes off of Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Ben Affleck's wife.  Maybe she reminds me of this one real life wife I know.

Finally, I recommend this film because it was nice to see two folks from the Hollywood Left (Affleck and director John Wells) and two folks from the Hollywood Right (Jones and Craig T. Nelson) work together to make a film about matters far beyond politics.