Monday, December 15, 2014

Philippe Garrel's Jealousy

Jealousy, a 77-minute brisk waltz through a series of relationships (always ending, never beginning), is my choice for the film of the year. It's a film by Philippe Garrel, a director whose work extends back to the New Wave, but works here like the era never ended. Shot in black and white 35mm, it often feels like a relic of lost time, a slippage of memories carefully stitched together in the hope that one may learn from past mistakes. It opens with a woman crying and closes on a man staring blankly before turning off a light, and in between these shots is a search for truth in others, a fool's ambition.

"Love has its limits," an old mentor relays to Louis, played by Garrel's own son (also Louis). Louis claims his power to love beyond anything, but by this point we know there's a difference between what he says and what he's done. He's gone one wife and one to a second, Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), but it doesn't take him long to begin prospective kisses without any emotional warning. Louis and Claudia profess their undying love in one scene while always searching beyond the frame for something else. They occasionally hint at the deep seeded mistrust underneath their words of desire, which in fact only create the fuel for the titular emotion to begin a search outside their cramped apartment.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three on A Doorway

"The lock isn't very practical, is it?"
"Not it's not so very practical...I guess it will serve its purpose."

"Outside your door was the last guy in the world I wanted to see."

Friday, November 28, 2014

Link Round Up: "Painless and Perfect"

Another near the end of year massive link round-up, covering everything I wrote (sans the book) since September.

I made my debut in Sight & Sound Magazine in November with a piece on Steven Soderbergh's TV series The Knick, which may not be the best series to grace the non-theatrical medium, but damn it—Soderbergh proves all my stray observations about how just because it's television doesn't mean aesthetics should come second. 

In lieu of New York Film Festival, Los Angeles provides us with the bigger, perhaps a bit more eclectic AFI Festival. Since most of the major titles were already at Cannes, I wrote about Joel Potrykus's recession-bro comedy Buzzard, the modestly quirky coming-of-age meanderer Tu Dors Nicole, the latest WTF from Takashi Miike Over Your Dead Body, and JP Snaidecki's The Iron Ministry. Plus I spoke about Lav Diaz's From What Is Before on a recent podcast.

Another recent film festival visit—New Orleans! I graciously served as a juror for the Louisiana Shorts section of the 25th Annual New Orleans Film Festival, and also wrote about the wonderful experience at RogerEbert.Com

Wrote about some movie called Interstellar. You may have heard of it. And also this other thing called Gone Girl.

Also wrote about two other new movies of relative merit: Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip (which is of great proportion) and Damien Chazelle's Whiplash (which deserves at least some consideration).

In the canonical masterpiece territory, on John Ford's My Darling Clementine, and finding a postwar poet of cinema.

And on The Cinephiliacs, New Orleans local Angela Catalano on starring a popup cinema and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, director Alex Ross Perry on his idiosyncratic approach to independent cinema and Husbands and Wives, and Kim Morgan on Marilyn Monroe and Something Wild

And on Letterboxd...
Hitchcock: Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent, Vertigo
Expressive Esoterica: Dark Passage (Daves), Cure (K. Kurosawa), The Blue Gardenia (Lang), Chicago Calling (Reinhardt), Notes on the Circus (Mekas), Whirlpool (Preminger)
Far Side of Paradise: Papillon (Schafner), The Country Girl (Seaton), Baby Doll (Kazan)
Contemporary Stuff: Abuse of Weakness (Brelliat)
Marxism: Class Relations (Straub/Huillet)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bleeding Fruits

The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, USSR, 1968) /Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/France, 2014)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Milkyway Goes America: John Wick

"In Hollywood films, repetitions of situations or lines of dialogue tend to measure an arc of progress or degree of development. Art cinema tends to use repetition to establish mundane routine, to suggest psychological states eddying underneath behavior, and to create symbolic parallels. Wong Kar-wai’s repetitions often fulfill these functions. With To and Wai, repetition is used as an almost mechanical device, rhyming characters, bits of business, and settings in ways that suggest a closed world ruled by rather narrow laws [...] The tendency toward mechanical, somewhat absurd repetition of action, tics, and props goes along with another method for tightening the plot. To and Wai turn from the Hong Kong episodic norm by creating more intricate chains of action than other local filmmakers attempt. But instead of relying on character development, they devise schemes—plans, usually devious, that central characters put into motion. In To’s plots,characters plot."
—David Bordwell, Planet Hong Kong 2.0

John Wick, a Keanu Reeves-starring revenge thriller developed by Chris Stahleski and David Leitch (responsible for 2012's The Package), features only two scenes of elongated fabula, where a character explains motivations, backgrounds, or other details that usually create the theme of a film. While I doubt if Wick's screenwriter Derek Kolstad has even heard of Milkyway Image (he cites The Raid in an interview), the film's screenplay can't help by recall Johnnie To's motto to "leave blank spaces" (liú kōng) and have audiences fill in the edges of the minimal exposition. While the simplicity of the plot (a standard revenge tale, which sadly involves the death of a poor puppy) is miles behind the complexity of To and producer Wai Ka Fai, John Wick doesn't follow the rules of the way Hollywood tells it, and instead relies on inference.

I understand why my colleague Vadim Rizov could see the various schemas built by Kolstad's screenplay to be in service of some cinematic building universe scheme in the Marvel, but the construction of the dialogue never emphasizes these points: no character ever explains what a gold coin is nor the "dinner reservations" hot line. Or it is better to say, these narrative events only make sense as plot elements as they are happening in the moment. The relationship between Reeves and Willem Dafoe's hit men follows a similar schema: their background is left ambiguous, and Dafoe's motivations via his two "helping hands" only make sense via an inference pattern based on previous information. Additionally, the latter of these two scenes works as both narrative surprise and payoff as built on the previous scene—there is no set up or even hint of a set up. When Dafoe later returns in a scene with Main Baddie Michael Nyquist, there is never any forced explanation of how Nyquist jumped from Assumption A to Conclusion B. This isn't completely in the realm of Milkeyway Image's even more didactic elliptical storytelling, but it's getting closer to a terse style of dialogue that minimizes any forced exposition.

John Wick, however, is primarily an action film, and thus has been rightfully praised for the film's intensely choreographed and brutally graphic violence. As both Ben Sachs and Stephanie Zacharek have eloquently elucidated, the action sequences rely on a series of steady long takes in carefully choreographed minimalist spaces (not abstract, but clear lines, backgrounds, and diagonals) with enough distance by the camera to capture the movements while never diluting their visceral impact. But there's more to Wick, however, and it isn't that the film build some relationship to ballet as many action films are now compared to. In fact, what makes the film both brutal but also stunning is the specificity to the sequences. Wick treats each bullet like a part of the physical matter. Men aren't just shot—they are hit in the arm, a leg, or a head. Reeves actually holds and aims a gun, so that there is a clear visual eye-line created between the aim of the weapon and the eventual entry point of every bullet, and most random baddies require multiple shots in a variation of bodily locales to actually sedate them. And then there's the reloading, which is constantly happening throughout the film, even made into one of the film's funniest jokes during the Red Circle sequence. John Wick thus slowly plays between its more expressionist functions—lush, saturated colors that reflect into the film's over-accentuated drama—and its realist attitude of relating each body on screen to a physical presence, while also implementing the film's coded language to avoid any forced awareness of the narrative schemas at play.

This is all to say, John Wick treats violence in a way different from To's movies and instead via the same way the titular protagonist does so: violence is violece, which is both an amoral and essential act.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Images of the Day 10/13/2014

Norman Rockwell, Freedom From Want, USA, 1942
Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, USA, 1974

Monday, October 13, 2014

The End Is Here! "Approaching The End" Now In Stores

This week sees the release of Approaching The End: Imagining Apocalypse In American Film, better known as my book. I couldn't be more excited to share this essentially three-year-in-the-works project with you. First things first: you can buy the book right now here from the website! Please put in an order!

Need to be convinced? How about an excerpt. Read part of the section I wrote about John Carpenter's awesome Reagan-era satire They Live, and why living in doom is the best option possible.

How about another excerpt? Over at RogerEbert.Com, I go backwards in time to examine how Days of Heaven turns noir's urban anxiety into a universal one.

How about something more contemporary? I wrote about the Liam Neeson thriller A Walk Among The Tombstones, which turns out to be the best apocalyptic movie of the year

How about a review of the book? Scott Von Doviak writes, "Idiosyncratic choices make for engaging film criticism, and Labuza’s arguments are generally persuasive."

How about a video essay? Here's a new video essay on re-thinking film noir, written and narrated by yours truly and edited together by Jason Elrod!

More to come later this week! Keep watching this space for writing, event announcements, and more!