Friday, April 17, 2015

Inland Empire: The Dream of a Nightmare Come True

"I'm trying to tell you so's you'll understand how it went. The thing is, I don't know what was before or after. I don't know what happened first, and it's kinda laid a mindfuck on me."

Inland Empire is the most experimental and nonlinear of David Lynch's already experimental and nonlinear body of work. The fact that the most popular review of it on Letterboxd at the moment is just a question mark says a lot about how accessible it is (not at all). The easiest way to describe it is as a movie about an actress who takes a role that makes her begin to question and then eventually lose her sense of the difference between performance and reality. The tricky part is that Lynch then does the same thing to the audience: he presents events without telling us whether they're Laura Dern's character being herself or her character playing another character, and he puts them out of order in such a way that it's virtually impossible to follow what's going on. The result is that we as an audience also lose our sense of the difference between performance and reality.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Learning to Love Sadness in Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea is an Irish animated film and one of last year's five Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature. It's a modern day fairy tale about a shy young girl Saoirse who can't talk, her slightly selfish older brother Ben, and their melancholic father Conor. The film opens with Saoirse's mother telling a story to the infant Ben before giving birth to his sister. We're not shown this birth, however, and a flash forward to the present shows her mysterious gone from the family. The children's Granny comes to take them into the city, and what follows is their search for their mother and the reason for her disappearance. It is a story which asks the audience some difficult questions about how kids deal with sadness and loss and how we need to let them confront these difficult emotions.

Monday, April 13, 2015

All Strangers Are Gray in the Dark City

"When was the last time you remember doing something during the day?"

The only something I remember doing during the day for the past week and a half is listening to Dark City commentaries while I work from home, and I think I might slowly be turning into Wolenski. The chase music has been haunting me day and night. Were large portions of this soundtrack reused for The Matrix? It seems like they might have been released too close together, but I swear the musical motif at 2:26-2:39 and the sound effect at 3:33 in "Into the City" (and elsewhere) are lifted wholesale by the Wachowskis (or whoever did their sound design). Maybe I'm just being paranoid?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Wild at Heart: The Nightmare of a Dream Come True

One of David Lynch's central thematic concerns is the way our dreams and fantasies influence our perception of the reality around us. He has explored this most explicitly in Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, each of which presents us with two entirely different versions of reality. Like in The Wizard of Oz, Lynch shows us (objective) reality and the character's (subjective) vision of it, and the thematic development comes from the contrast between the two. Wild at Heart continues to develop this theme in a slightly different way: by showing what happens when characters get stuck in their fantasy world. It is Oz without Kansas.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The 25 Movies Hollywood Studio Execs Want You to See This Year—And the 20 Movies You Should See Instead

Audiences don't want original content anymore. Just look at the top ten moneymakers from last year: only one original screenplay among them (and it comes in last place). Studios don't trust audiences to buy into original content, so everything is based on something that came before it. Rather than making new things, all we do now is leech off the success of old things. All we do is make prequels, sequels, remakes and reboots. So, with the release of Furious 7 this weekend, I proudly present the most cynical list I'll make all year:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Perspective vs Technology in The Cat o' Nine Tails

The Cat o' Nine Tails is only the second film from Italian writer/director Dario Argento, and yet it is perhaps the clearest indication of his interest in the cross section between identity and perception on the one hand and science and technology on the other. The story revolves around a break in at a genetics lab where researchers are studying the XYY gene mutation. It seems as though nothing was stolen, but the event is followed by a series of apparently unrelated murders, starting with the only man who knew what the intruder really did. With no apparent robbery and no obvious connection to the murders the police aren't interested in the case, and the investigation is left up to a young journalist and a blind man with a love of solving puzzles.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Argento's Beginning: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Malleus Rock Art Lab
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is the first feature film from writer/director Dario Argento. Like the rest of his films, it is a giallo—for anyone unfamiliar with the genre, giallos are generally horror-inflected murder mysteries where an outsider (not a detective or police officer) investigates murders committed by a villain who dresses like he really wants to be the villain in a murder mystery (fedora, trench coat, gloves, etc.). If you imagine an Italian director watching Le Samourai and saying "I want to make that with less subtlety and more fake blood!" then you wouldn't be far off.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Paprika & the Truth that Came from Fiction

As an old favorite of mine and an easy contender for my top 10 most watched, I was incredibly blessed to see Paprika back on the big screen thanks to the wonderful Brattle Theater (they were also showing Sorcerer, but the large group of friends we assembled couldn't be arsed into seeing two movies on a Saturday night).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Reality of Performance in Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York is a masterpiece in high concept screenwriting. It is a movie about a man trying to discover capital-T Truth through a work of art, and is also at the same time that very work of art and a look at all such works of art. It presents the story of a man reaching towards infinity in his search for meaning, and through that presentation the film itself also takes part in that search and comments on it. It is a movie about looking for answers which is itself looking for answers and talking about what it's like not to find them. Synecdoche, New York is Caden Cotard's play and the review of that play.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Am [Before] The Law: Kafka Watches Contemporary Cinematic Representations of Justice & Violence

Warning: Spoilers for Dredd (2012), Prisoners (2013), RoboCop (2014), and Veronica Mars (2014) throughout.

"I Am [Before] The Law"
Violent Police vs. Benevolent Criminals

In "Before the Law", Franz Kafka writes about a man from the country seeking entry to the law. The gatekeeper denies him entry, but explains that he may be able to enter some time in the future. So the man waits. At the end of his life, he asks the gatekeeper why, in all his time waiting, no one else has come. The gatekeeper responds, "Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it." In doing so, the gatekeeper indicates the fallacy of the man from the country: he assumed that there was only one point of access to the law, that the law was an objective institution, when instead the nature of his individuality and subjectivity were always taken into account from the beginning. It is not a building we can enter and exit as we wish but something more ethereal, and our actions and our politics are constantly in the process of reshaping it. The lesson to be taken from Kafka's parable is that justice and the law do not coexist separately from our participation, that our subjectivity is a crucial ingredient in the functioning and power of the law. The law never exists without its subjective dimension.

In contemporary American ideology (embodied in modern Hollywood cinema), this lesson takes on an additional layer. It is not impossible to gain access to the law in its objective dimension, it is merely that this process robs the subject of their subjectivity, of what makes them human. We may access the law, but by doing so we are robbed of our subjectivity and the law is likewise robbed of its connection to justice. Law and justice are no longer inextricably interconnected, and we are forced to search for solutions outside the state; but these can be just as problematic. The common solution of vigilantism arises from a false heroism which tragically reproduces the same conditions of injustice it was meant to alleviate. So how do we resolve this deadlock?

The following recent films visualize this concept of someone who has gone through the gate of the law (as the man from the country never could) in order to explore what they find on the other side. These fictional representations allow us insight into popular perceptions of both the law and vigilantism and their problematic relationship with justice and violence. Specifically, they show us how these relationships are bound up in the law's constitutive split between its subjective and objective dimensions.