I'm Not There

I didn't get the review assignment for I'm Not There. I did, however, sneak into the press screening, because I simply could not wait until March 13th. I am very glad I went, and not so jealous any more of the guy who has to review it.

Let me start by saying I think this is a brilliant, amazing film. With an emphasis on I think. I know for sure that I loved many of the parts, and that most fragments of the film are, yes, amazing and brilliant. I'm still debating whether they add up to an amazing hole, and I'm increasinly leaning towards.... absolutely.

I told myself this post came third because I wanted it to stay on top, but it was also in great part because I have no idea where to start. I'm not even going to try to describe the movie. It's too much like a dream: in the moment it makes perfect sense, and probably on some level it does, but the fragments, upon waking, seem too disjointed to ever have flowed smoothly together. Yet they do. The film goes from black and white to color, from documentary-like footage to lush Malick-esque nature shots, from sequences closely based on things that really happened to totally fantastical stories. But it never feels jarring, and magically, the edges between the different stories and actors blur. The personas played by Heath Ledger (the least interesting one, unfortunately) and Christian Bale (humorlessness, but as pointed out on filmspotting, appropriately so) even inhabit the same world.

Cate Blanchett has received unanimous praise, and she deserves it, but there are many more performances worth praising. Marcus Carl Franklin makes the wonderfully intricate sentences he's given come out smoothly and naturally: he's both the little boy inside Bob Dylan and believable as a grown man in a boy's body. Wishaw is great as the sort-of second narrator, Arthur Rimbaud, showing how annoying yet fascinating Dylan must've been as a seventeen or eighteen year old, smarter than his peers and knowing it too well. And last but not least, I think it's worth singling out Michelle Williams - who I didn't even know was in the movie. She's Coco Rivington, a clear Edie Sedgwick socialite, and it's not even exaggerating that much to call her performance a revelation.

I'm getting long-winded here, and honestly, I still don't know exactly what it is I want to say, nor what the film has to say. One thing is for sure: do not go see it expecting more insight into Bob Dylan. But you can go see it expecting a wonderful, surprising, beautiful, mesmerizing, etc. work of art, experimental but not difficult or impenetrable. A film that stays with you even if you see two other movies after it the same day, and a film I can't wait to revisit in March.

How does it feel? It feels like it might be my favorite film of 2007.

Also: check out #187 of FilmSpotting. It made me finally accept Matty (I had some hurt feelings after Sam left), and it has a great interview with Todd Haynes. I couldn't have had better listening material on my way home.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

I know, I know, it's not supposed to be realistic, it's MELODRAMA with capital letters, actions first, characters second, but jeez, are the people in this movie dumb about certain things. It works, though, at least on some level. There's a fascination in watching these people go down, but I hesitate to throw around words like "greek tragedy" (as some critics have), because stupidity doesn't quite count as a fatal character flaw, nor do daddy issues. Furthermore, I'm usually all for playing for continuity, but it simply had no purpose in this film, and didn't really disguise the fact that the story was really quite simple. There was no reason for it, either, since the story starts out more or less at the start, and end up exactly at the end.

But enough of the whining, because despite the above, this is an enjoyable thriller, even it's more a movie to rent on a rainy day than one to see in the cinema. For the guys, there's Marisa Tomei topless about half of her screen time, and for all of us, there is yet another great performance by Philip Seymous Hoffman, who really is one of best and most reliable actors in his generation, and totally devoid of vanity. There is a scene in which he calmly, methodically turns his place upside down, and he does it in a way that's both surprising and entirely in character. He's a character who's interesting beyond the story he's trapped in. Unfortunately, he is the only one. I'm probably being overly harsh here, and possibly I was burdened with overly high expectations (88 on metacritic, and 88% fresh on rotten tomatoes), but this film, unfortunately, didn't really do it for me.


First of three entries for today, and it will be the shortest one... since I signed a confidentiality agreement which forbids me to reveal the ending of the film. Now, of course, most of you don't care anyway, because it's a Dutch film that probably won't be released outside of this tiny little country. But even for those Dutchies among you it is kind of weird, since the ending's not really a twist or surprise. It makes me think this film will be marketed with an emphasis on plot and intrigue, and it's too bad, because this is a film you could, and should, sell on the performances and characters. The story's simple: an escaped TBSer (basically a prisoner kept in a psychiatric facility instead of a prison) kidnaps a thirteen year old, but it plays out in a very nice, Bonnie & Clyde meets Lolita way, and the central performance by Theo Maassen (an actor I wouldn't mind being kidnapped by) is very strong. The thirteen year old does some very stupid things, but it's all stupid in a believable, stupid-thirteen-year-old-girl way (I was one of those, I should know).

Anyway, unlike the ending, this movie was a surprise, and a pleasant one at that.

It is DONE

Finally! The murderer(s) have been caught, some dangling plot threads resolved, sense, unfortunately, note quite made. The final 51081 words will be sent to anyone who would like to see how shitty writing gets when you're just pumping out words on request.

Now: back to normal life.

But first: sleep!


Eastern Promises - reconsidered

WARNING: spoilers for Eastern Promises, A History of Violence, and Dirty Pretty Things.

I just wrote my review for this film, and it's amazing how much my opinion has shifted since I first saw it. Oddly enough, I see many more flaws now, many more opportunities for improvement even, yet at the same time I like it a lot more than I did then.

Let's start with the flaws. I've come to the conclusion that the narrative wouldn't be hurt much if Naomi Watts' Anna was removed from it altogether. Don't get me wrong. Girl can act - and nobody who's seen Mulholland Drive will argue otherwise. But her character, despite some desperate touches to make her edgy - black ex-boyfriend, motorcycle - is dreadfully bland, and she isn't served well by the script, which gives her groan-inducing lines like "sometimes life and death go together". She's too obviously there just to be a) an audience stand-in, and outsider discovering the world of the Vory V Zakone as we do and b) a catalyst for the action. I'd say the dead girl would have been enough for b) with anonymous cops on the hunt, and preferably without the voice-over.

It's strange how Steven Knight's script for Eastern Promises has made me like his earlier Dirty Pretty Things LESS, because it's exposed some of the tricks and manipulation as, well, tricks and manipulation. Most irritatingly, Knight uses women being sexually assaulted as an overly obvious signaler for EVIL. Of course sexually assaulting women IS evil, but wouldn't it be nicer to, you know, make the good/bad division a bit more ambiguous? In Dirty Pretty Things, it's apparently not enough that Audrey Tautou's character is so desperate to go the the US she'd give up a kidney or work in a sweat shop, and that Sergi Lopez and the sweatshop owner take advantage of her desperation. Both have to sexually violate her, degrade her. The same in Eastern Promises: Semyon and Kirill are members of a criminal organization that KILLS PEOPLE, you know, but their evilness needs to be reinforced by having Semyon be a real and Kirill a wannabe rapist. Knight probably feels all good about acting righteous, but it speaks of a profound objectification of women, seeing them merely as beings to be protected - by men.

Why, then, has Eastern Promises grown in my estimation nonetheless? Because both Cronenberg and his actors - Mortensen in particular - take this extremely flawed script and put their own idiosyncrasies and ideas into it, leaving the surface intact but inserting layers upon layers below.

Cronenberg, first. In a recent interview with Poland, he explained that especially because he is an atheist, murder is, to him, the ultimate destructive act, and that he wants to show it as such. That's why he lingers longer than most would on blood spilling out of a slit throat, that's why he doesn't offer us the luxury of looking away. In most action movies the body count is much higher than in his, but he makes every body count. It shows, for instance, in how messy it is to dispose of the first corpse: death may be swift, but it's not easy to forget. The scene in which Nicolai methodically clips off the dead man's fingers is partly played for laughs, but it's also there to remind us of how messy death is.

Then there is, of course, Cronenberg's obsession with the combined strength, malleability, and vulnerability of the human body. Nicolai is a killing machine: effective and smooth. At the same time, his body shows the signs of his life: not just scars, but tattoos. In the scene where he gets some new ones, we see it happen: a needle is inserted and his body changes. Finally, the vulnerability: despite the eventual outcome, seeing a naked man fight two clothed ones with nasty, curved knives makes you very, very aware of how easy to pierce human skin is, how easy to damage a man.

Finally, Mortensen's performance is amazing. He is, here, the polar opposite of Tom/Joey from A History of Violence: where that character was an evil man acting at being good, Nicolai is, or at least seams to be, an evil man, but he might be good inside. In History, the evil character comes back out, but the conclusion can be seen as optimistic, as Mortensen's character wants to be Tom again at the end. In parallel, Nicolai (in a 'twist' that didn't need to be so spelled out) is undercover as a Vory. His cop persona comes out: he frees the prostitute, doesn't kill Anna's uncle. But in the end, it seems that he wants to be the 'fake' persona too: he's sitting in Semyon's restaurant, staring ahead of him, and it's possible to read half a dozen conflicting feelings on his face.

Mortensen really builds this character from the inside out. Oh, the accent is good, but it's not just that. It's in the way he talks, too, in the way he stands with his hands over one another, in how he moves. In the bad-boy moves - fingers to his throat, cigarette out on his tongue - that keep you wondering about how much of it is an act, and how much is real. I can't really articulate it better than the Shamus did (in an entry he unfortunately seems to have deleted, but google "shamus mortensen"and you'll find it cached), so I won't try, but it's his performance that keeps the film together, and that makes it infinitely more interesting than in would otherwise have been.

I didn't mean this post to be so long, but I suppose that shows more clearly than any words could how much this movie has stayed in my mind. I didn't expect it to. I'm seeing it again this Sunday, and I'm curious if I'll see even more.

UPDATE: Still thinking about this movie, and discovered two very insightful posts, one looking at the movie from a very gender-oriented perspective, the other amongst other things about the strange lack of technology.



Last week of nano-ing, and I'm less that 8000 words off so I'll probably make it again. Also means that by Friday the blog should be back to its normally scheduled programming. Ironically enough, nanowrimo this year more or less coincided with the writer's strike in Hollywood. I am of course, firmly on the side of the WGA, and my blog hiatus left you bored, well, you should check out the "speechless" videos posted by Nikki Finke and conceived by George Hickenlooper, especially #11 with Laura Linney.