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Russ

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Posts posted by Russ


  1. No, there isn't a bigger Kore-Eda guy than you on the forum, and no, you're not wrong to have been underwhelmed by this film.  I saw it last December and was puzzled by how inconsequential and inert it was.  I mean, it's not distasteful or offensively bad, but just...inconsequential.  Nobody's going to blame the acting given this cast, and his directing seems to bring life to a varied type of stories, so I have to pin it on the writing.  Is it fair to wonder how much the film's failure was attributable to Kore-Eda just being overly cautious because he was working out of his cultural milieu?  I remember recalling before seeing the film a critic noting that Binoche was like a good luck charm for Hou and Kiarostami as non-English speakers successfully directing English films for the first time, so I  half-expected her to carry this one, but alas.  The narrative-within-the-narrative seemed so clunky, too.


  2. I rewatched SECRET SUNSHINE this past weekend in preparation for writing on it.  It had been a couple of years since I had seen it, and a few things were different than I remembered, in ways that really pleased me.  It's even better than I remembered, in my view.

    I know there's a recurrence of comments here about Shin-ae and how her character is constructed (or not constructed), but I think the way she presents and the way she interacts with Jun are the aftereffects of what's happened before the film begins, and while you'd expect there to be some degree of sadness and grieving after the loss of a husband and father, we know there's much more to the story--there's scandal at the center of his death (which Shin-ae seems to deny was a scandal at all, whether she believes that or not) and some suggestion that she bore some imputed responsibility (as we see from the matriarch's reaction at Jun's funeral) and following these events Shin-ae wanted to cut ties with her family, through the perverse (or dramatic, or devoted, take your choice) act of adopting her late husband's hometown as her home.  In light of that baggage, her flat affect and Jun's taciturn withdrawnness seemed to me to be plausible characteristics of people weighed down so heavily by trauma and imputed guilt.  

    I had remembered the killer's jailhouse conversation with Shin-ae to be one in which he wore his absolution with a leer and taunted her with his newfound state of grace, so I was surprised on a second viewing to see that it's really nothing of the sort.  He certainly should have spoken to Shin-ae with a different heart and countenance in light of the terrible pain and loss he brought about, but every word he says is theologically true, which is why the fresh betrayal Shin-ae feels is so powerful.  My Lord, the way in which we can weaponize the sentence "I will pray for you."  Better to just keep your damned mouth shut and listen.

    But what was even more surprising to me, which I absolutely didn't pay enough attention to in my first viewing, is the way in which Lee makes crystal clear that Shin-ae and the killer's daughter are now linked together in life.  After Shin-ae leaps out of the beautician's chair, her accusation to Kim made me gasp with recognition.  Paraphrasing, she says to him "Why did you bring me to THIS salon?  And why TODAY, of all days?"

    Where have you heard this interaction before, nearly word for word?

    You heard it in LE FILS!  It's exactly what Olivier says to Magali--why did she have to come to him on THAT day, with THAT news.  It's like a rebuke to the universe as a product of random chance, like a validation of that useless old saw that "everything happens for a reason" or, as the druggist says, that everything that happens is God's will.  It's an arrangement of events in such a way to make clear to the person buried in pain that there is only one way out of the pit.  

    There's a moment when the daughter is being beaten in the alley where it looks like Shin-ae might take pity on her and intervene, and a moment in the beautician's chair when I think that Shin-ae might open herself up to the girl after she learns more about the terrible circumstances that befell her.  That she was not ready to do so doesn't close that off forever, and it seems meaningful to me that Lee places these scenes where he does.  It would be too easy for there to be a hackneyed uplifting ending where the two of them get coffee together.  Of course, it may simply be that the daughter's presence in Miryang will just be a trigger for Shin-ae forever, among all the other triggers up and down the street, and that there is no path forward for Shin-ae that promises any true healing.  I know that it's my own personal bent that will take these disconnected scenes and imagine piecing together a path moving forward for these two abused and discarded women to find something in each other's pain that resembles understanding.  I will ride or die on the Dardenne/Bressonian model of repentance and absolution because it's all that I have, and all that I want.  I wasn't expecting to see it this time through in SECRET SUNSHINE, but in that last shot, when Shin-ae has set up her impromptu haircut, though it seems like there is nothing worse that could happen to her, the possibility of some communion with someone as hurt as her seemed like a small measure of warmth, like the wan beams of sunlight falling on the ground in front of her.

     


  3. Quote

    Similarly repetitive and ridiculous are the many scenes of heroic scientists confronting intransigent bureaucrats by explicitly criticizing the Soviet system of decision-making. In Episode 3, for example, Legasov asks, rhetorically, “Forgive me—maybe I’ve just spent too much time in my lab, or maybe I’m just stupid. Is this really the way it all works? An uninformed, arbitrary decision that will cost who knows how many lives that is made by some apparatchik, some career Party man?” Yes, of course this is the way it works, and, no, he hasn’t been in his lab so long that he didn’t realize that this is how it works. The fact of the matter is, if he didn’t know how it worked, he would never have had a lab.

    Resignation was the defining condition of Soviet life. But resignation is a depressing and untelegenic spectacle. So the creators of “Chernobyl” imagine confrontation where confrontation was unthinkable—and, in doing so, they cross the line from conjuring a fiction to creating a lie. The Belarusian scientist Ulyana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) is even more confrontational than Legasov. 

    ...

    Testifying in court during the final episode, Legasov says, “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid. That is how an RBMK reactor core explodes. Lies.” One would think that a vacuum created by lies could be filled by truth. Instead, it is filled by an entirely fictional, fantastical trial at which a large group of people—scientists, we are told—are given an accurate assessment of events in an accessible, brilliant speech, the likes of which Soviet courts didn’t feature.

    We had a free trial of HBO, so I finally had a chance to catch up with this, and it's quite good.  I don't know to what degree this is an indicia of a good piece of art based on real events, but it's made me want to read and learn more about the disaster, which I remember discussing with my 9th grade science teacher when it happened.  (Aside: we were asking the teacher why the Soviets insisted on refusing to admit what had happened.  He said they didn't want to lose face.  I said, "Well, haven't they already lost enough faces?"  The class laughed and I wish I could punch the fourteen year-old version of myself.)  I found that NYer article Mike linked above and listened to the five-part podcast HBO put out to provide footnotes and a sort of writer's commentary on an episode-by-episode basis.

    It's always an interesting question to consider the degree to which an artist trying to tell a story about real people and real events has any obligation to model verisimilitude, but it's funny to hear the show's creator/writer Craig Mazin describe the extreme lengths to which they went to replicate the uniform a firefighter in Pripyat would have worn in 1985, and then fudged things related to how the events unfolded.  I don't necessarily blame him, but I've come around to thinking that in at least one significant way his departures undercut his narrative and theme signficantly at the expense of wrapping up the events in a manner that fit into a conventional box.

    So--and I quoted some portions of the NYer article relevant to this discussion above--the two main departures are, first, the creation of Khomyuk, a composite character who does the ground-level investigating for Legasov to find out why the reactor exploded and then urges him to tell the whole story at Vienna and afterward.  It's sensible to me to create a composite character when the actual investigation was done by a dozen or so scientists who are largely interchangeable.  The second departure is in the players and content of the trial at Chernobyl, which Mazin sets up as the dramatic climax to the miniseries and where Legasov gets to lay out the whole story, like he's solving a whodunit.   This is where the story turns fairly conventional, with Legasov deciding to fix his mistake from Vienna and tell the whole truth, no matter the consequences, and Shcherbina interrupts the judges who try to shut Legasov down, and at this point Chernobyl's narrative resolution isn't much different from FOOTLOOSE, with Shcherbina basically saying, "Let him dance," and so then Legasov tells the truth and willingly pays the consequences, which is the KGB officer telling him that his career is over and he'll have to stay quiet for the rest of his life, since his service to the Party included oppressing Jewish scientists, so after his heroic voiceover he sinks into obscurity in a dingy apartment and hangs himself two years after the reactor meltdown.Mazin says this isn't how it happened at all--the real Legasov was upfront from the start about describing Chernobyl as both the result of operator error and a design defect that plagued all of the USSR's reactors, and the Party choked him out and made him irrelevant by assigning him menial jobs for the rest of his life, and the rest of the scientific community went along with it because that's what people did.  He wasn't at the trial, which was just a showpiece designed to pin blame on Dyatlov, and Legasov's eventual suicide was what spurred his recorded recollections to be taken seriously and to be used to potentially save lives in the form of fixing the defective reactors.  Some of this is buried in the super-conventional lame-o endnotes and real photos/footage that people feel compelled to attach to all manners of films and shows about real people and events these days.

    What's odd to me is that Mazin didn't grasp that the real sequence of events without his inventions regarding Legasov and the trial was so much more affecting and straightforward than what he came up with.  He opens with Legasov's suicide, so by the time the series is over we're led to think his decision was prompted by the fact that he was made irrelevant after he told the truth at the trial.  And yet, in that version, the truth is out there, having been aired in court in front of the jury of scientists, so his motivation seems oddly self-centered , against the backdrop of the archetypal truth-teller hero model.  The reality is that he'd been ignored by everyone, Party and scientist alike, and had to be the bearer of knowledge that nobody was listening to or changing their policy, safety be damned, and he couldn't live with that.  The actual truth is way, way better than just ending an amazing miniseries like an episode of f'ing Law and Order.
     


  4. A modest proposal:  Take the list that contains the 100 films with the two-films-per-director rule, then add the films that we'd get if we imposed the one-film-per-director requirement, then have willing voters rank those films from 1-100, and the films that fall outside of the top 100 fall out and you have your new list and order without revoting just the Top 25.  Is it somewhat arbitrary to decide whether a film is really your 76th favorite or 77th favorite on the list?  Totally, but we just ranked 350 movies on a six-point scale.  This is nothing.  Between any two movies I can always figure out which one is more meaningful to me.


  5. 29 minutes ago, Darren H said:

    > Takes deep breath. Closes eyes. Utters a silent prayer that Film 100 not be Rounders or Fever Pitch....nods in assent.

    Turns out the film that jumped into the top 100 is the second film by a director, so the bumped film is actually his third highest point getter (which I'm a little bummed about).

    I want to do a couple more error checks before sharing anything, but it's looking like the #100 film is . . .

     

    . . . and I'm not making this up . . .

     

    . . . Magnolia!

    Hilarious.  One Hundred Is the Loneliest Number.

    I haven't participated in any of the voting procedure/stat discussion, so feel free to disregard this, but I think that a second vote to reorder the Top 25 really seems like a natural fit.  I know that if I was sitting down to make my own personal Top 25, I wouldn't have six of the top nine films be by three directors.  It'd strike me as a little too fanboyish, even if it actually approximated what I consciously think my preferences are.  Nah, I would keep all six of them in the Top 25, but I'd make some hard choices and probably put 10 slots or so between each of the director's films.  Now, maybe the results don't change much, but you don't know until you try.


  6. Normally when I encounter a work of art that criticizes a particular point of Christian theology or  common practice I think I've developed a fairly even-handed ability to discern whether it's a good faith criticism or a bad faith criticism.  I hope that doesn't come across as arrogant.  In any event, the scene where Shin-ae visits the man in prison strikes me as an extraordinarily good faith criticism of orthodox theology.


  7. Ken, I hadn't really considered the possibility of where THE EXORCIST fits in terms of my preferences, but the points you make seem all pretty sound to me.

    I hate to respond by diverting attention to another film, but given your comments and what I know about what you tend to like, I hope you get a chance to see UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN, which seems to me to be a match with what you're describing thematically with the stylistic austerity that characterizes some of the Bresson films we've been kicking around for a while.  There's one scene in particular that's just remarkable.


  8. I am not watching much series TV presently, but I did just finish watching a super-cool show with my 10 year-old that starred Gina Carano, Werner Herzog and Giancarlo Esposito, which I really enjoyed.  I'm watching DEVS on Hulu with my 16 year-old week-by-week when they drop a new episode.  I'm a casual fan of Alex Garland's directorial work, and this show fits the template of his films--every time I think it's dumb it does something really smart, and every time I think it's smart it does something really dumb.  If nothing else, though, DEVS has given the world a scene in which Marilyn Monroe rides Arthur Miller cowgirl, so take that, cooking competition shows.


  9. That's so great, Ken.  I had OUR LITTLE SISTER in the first draft of my list, paired with Gerwig's LITTLE WOMEN.  It's such a great film, but I came to the same conclusion you did--that despite all of the reasons I love it, they aren't the specific reasons why this list exists, in my mind.  I have an idiosyncratic soft spot for films that portray the dynamic between four sisters.  Who knew?  Still, LITTLE WOMEN still made the cut because I think her screenplay really is an amazing thing--an arrangement that reassembles that well-trod story into a narrative of the Eternal Now.


  10. Here's a thread to file away films we either forgot or deliberately chose not to nominate, which based on past attention, buzz or discussion might have been expected to be pushed forward.

    I'll start--no SECRET SUNSHINE!  I consider that a loss.

     


  11. 4 minutes ago, Darren H said:

    I went back and forth on which Denis film to nominate and decided to go with Beau Travail because, following Melville, it's such an interesting study of good and evil. In fact, it occurred to me while rewatching The Flowers of St. Francis last week that they'd make an interesting double feature. Still, I was glad when Russ nominated 35 Shots, which I think is her other masterpiece. I nominated Late Spring in that slot instead,

    That's cool, because as I developed my list I was initially adding films as pairs.  That's how I got to both SUMMER and A TALE OF WINTER, because I think of them as riffs on each other.  Of course, I guess you could say that about nearly all of Rohmer's films, but those two seem to me to be especially linked.  I also had both LATE SPRING and 35 SHOTS OF RUM as a pair, but that's when I decided it wasn't the best way to build a list, so I took the one I like better.


  12. I'd throw lots of votes at THE LONELIEST PLANET, but I don't know how anybody who hasn't seen it is going to do so.  I post-nominated GATES OF HEAVEN because it was the film that occurred to me yesterday that I wish I'd put on my list, but if it hadn't occurred to me I might well have put IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK in there instead.


  13. 2 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

    Solid review. I'm curious what you mean by this:

     

    My guess is Nicole's transformation from not wanting Charlie to know how deeply she loves him and why, as expressed in the letter, to not objecting and allowing Henry to share it with him.  As I was watching the scene I had this feeling in the back of my mind that at some point she'd realize what Henry was doing and shut it down, because I'd forgotten that it's totally part of the playbook that she'd show her growth as a person by allowing that grace to him.

    Speaking of playbooks, I resisted the charms of the showtunes, maybe partly because I'm not much steeped in musicals, but your review was insightful and helpful to me, Evan.


  14. I didn't love it, either, Ken, and I was really thinking it would be right in my wheelhouse.  I felt largely the same way that Baumbach tilted the equilibrium toward Charlie, and then somewhat clumsily injected the plot element of his affair to try to balance things out a bit, when I'm not sure I think his character would have done that.  It made me want to revisit Bergman's miniseries, though.  Speaking of THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, it's funny that Baumbach gives Charlie one of Bernard's lines about all the f&*%ing he left on the table by being committed to and then married to Nicole.

    Here's the part that affected me the most:

    Despite all of the more-showy cathartic scenes in the last half-hour, the one that spoke most directly and tenderly to me is the moment where Charlie arrives at Nicole's house to find Nicole's mother chasing Henry and the New Boyfriend around with Nerf guns. He hesitates and you can see that he's realizing that everybody moves on. She's not just G-ma to him. Charlie had built something with her, married into it, yeah, but made it something that transcended the gestures and obligations of inlawdom. Hell, even after the marriage had gone on life support Charlie greets her by picking her up like a small child, and she lovingly reciprocates! She wanted to make sure the divorce demand could be withdrawn and she offered him an encouraging word in the hallway when he needed it. None of that concern becomes untrue when she acquires familiarity with or affection for New Boyfriend, but the poignance of what humans can achieve through love fades when we can be so easily swapped out and all those years of shared memories are just misplaced letters.


  15. Ugh.  We'll pass.  The recent movie's actually on DVD, Beth.  My nine year-old Daisy bought it with some birthday money and has watched it about seven or eight times (by her count), including two days ago.  It doesn't really warrant that level of devotion, but there is something about the movie that's so non-Riverdale that I find it charming.

    Weird that they recast all of the parts for this show.  As if there aren't enough of the Riverdale-type shows out there for everybody who isn't, you know, nine like the actual f-ing audience of the source material.

    Never been happier that we unplugged our cable, so Daise can pretty much never have to know that this show was made.


  16. 22 hours ago, Ed Bertram said:

    While MWWFT's children are no nobler, it develops the ways the parents deal with the traumas of changing parent/child relationships as a couple. It's about how they try to age gracefully and grow older and wiser together even if they perceive their children as getting in the way of that. 

    It's positively counter-cultural to contemporary Americans because Bark and Lucy put their own love story ahead of everything else.  Or, rather, what comes natural to them is taking pleasure primarily in life out of their love for one another, with everything falling into subordinate place after their own love.  That doesn't mean they neglected their kids or wouldn't have given their life for their kids, but means that the value they place on their own marriage is what contextualizes everything else.  It's what allows them to let their shitty kids off the hook when they act in accordance with their myopia.  Their love is so unadorned but genuine that is has a transformative effect on every stranger who comes into direct contact with it.  Only their own kids are by and large immune to its power.

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