This is best film I’ve seen all year and will be released on DVD next Tuesday so I thought I might encourage all to bump it up to the top of your Netflix queue. Jacques Audiard’s film (which was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film this past February) is best described as magical neo-realism and tells the story of Malik, a passive, scared, eighteen-year-old who speaks French and Arabic but has been a ward of the state for so long, he really doesn’t know who or what he is. Serving a six-year prison sentence for assault, Malik’s first days are grim, but he is soon made an offer by the Corsican crime syndicate who runs life behind bars . . . let’s just say it’s an offer he can’t refuse (and one which will change the course of his life in ways not even Malik can fully comprehend). As the days and weeks and months and years accumulate, Malik grapples with issues of loyalty, morality, religion and guilt in a coming-of-age drama which is truly epic in scope. Un Prophète instantly evokes comparisons to Coppola’s The Godfather, Scorsese’s Goodfellas, and Meirelles’ City of God. It really is that good.
This is best film Iâ€™ve seen all year and in honor of its DVD release next Tuesday, I thought I might encourage all to bump it up to the top of your Netflix queues. Jacques Audiardâ€™s film (which was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film this past February) is best described as magical neo-realism and tells the story of Malik, a passive, scared, eighteen-year-old who speaks French and Arabic but has been a ward of the state for so long, he really doesnâ€™t know who or what he is. Serving a six-year prison sentence for assault, Malikâ€™s first days are grim, but he is soon made an offer by the Corsican crime syndicate who runs life behind bars . . . letâ€™s just say itâ€™s an offer he canâ€™t refuse (and one which will change the course of his life in ways not even Malik can fully comprehend). As the days and weeks and months and years accumulate, Malik grapples with issues of loyalty, morality, religion and guilt in a coming-of-age drama which is truly epic in scope. Un ProphÃ¨te instantly evokes comparisons to Coppolaâ€™s The Godfather, Scorseseâ€™s Goodfellas, and Meirellesâ€™ City of God. It really is that good.
The doc Art of the Steal is smart and engaging. It opens on the mayor of Philadelphia touting the move of a huge collection from a private trust into the city, and then you hear a talking head talk about this as a monumental theft. The backstory–adeptly narrated by talking heads and found footage–is that Arthur Barnes accrued an astonishing range and depth of paintings in the early part of the 20th-c, now acclaimed as the most important collection of post-Impressionist and modern works in the world. That’s key: the most important. Not the most important private trust collection–but outstripping MOMA and Getty and everyone.
And when he first put it together for a public exhibition at the Philly museum, it was roundly trounced by the snobs and elites of the city, and Barnes–already constitutionally inclined to despise the shallow trappings of high society–vowed to craft a trust that would keep the work out of the hands of the ‘morons’ who didn’t understand art. The Barnes trust was shaped as a school; visiting the collection confined to a couple of days and invitation, the collection arranged and displayed in a lovely “cluttered” series of rooms which defied many conventional approaches to display in museums.
And when Barnes died, the battle to strip the trust’s authority began. Continue reading Art, motherfuckers!
What good fun this movie is. My colleague loaned me his copy of the film–I have to confess I wouldn’t have sought this out on my own. But it brought me back to those heady days of 1992-1993, when Hong Kong cinema was the rage in L.A. This film captures that national cinema at its absolute peak. It’s so full of energy. I recall how excited I was by Kung Fu Hustle a few years back, and how a few weeks ago hearing from a professor from Hong Kong, who knew I admired Stephen Chow’s film, a variation on the “you ain’t heard nothin’ yet” line: “you sure have missed a lot.” He listed off title after title that he considered superior to Kung Fu Hustle (though he admires that film). Particularly 1994’s Hail the Judge–which I had never heard of. Anyway, I feel there is much for me to discover about Hong Kong cinema. I suppose I’ve known this all along, but it’s perhaps out of laziness or…I don’t know what…that I’ve not delved back into that area of cinema that enchanted me, for all too brief a period, some 16-17 years ago. Everything that follows I owe to a colleague of mine (not that what follows is good, but that I have something at all to say about Hong Kong cinema). Continue reading City Hunter
I saw the pulpy and reasonably-entertaining Solomon Kane, based on a Robert E. Howard book that is not Conan the Barbarian. It is essentially Conan refashioned as a Puritan. Cool hats! But fewer loincloths. And the demons seemed pretty wussy.
I tried to watch the new Day of the Triffids, but good lord it sucked. What’s wrong with British people? I give ’em props for Quatermass and Hammer films but their version of scary is lame: walking plants, haunted tea cozies, Eddie Izzard. And apparently when plasma waves from the sun make almost everyone blind, those afflicted will run about impotently yelling and crashing into one another like the passengers in Airplane. Stiff upper lip, my ass.
Motherâ€”a story of loneliness, obsession and griefâ€”is an extraordinary film. Though it maintains Bong Joon-hoâ€™s interest in sophisticated tonal complexity and generic self-reflexivity (hallmarks of earlier releases Memories of Murder and The Host), Iâ€™ll argue Mother to be his most successfully cohesive work of cinema, which is due, in part, to the multidimensional portrait of a woman in her late-sixties who dominates the narrative and will undertake whatever is necessary to protect her child (a mentally-disabled adult in his late-twenties) from unjust accusations of murder in a small, South Korean city. Kim Hye-ja, who plays the title role, is simply astounding. Kim appears in nearly every scene, and her characterâ€™s unlikely journey into the political quagmire of corrupt lawyers, provincial police detectives, disaffected teenagers, and South Koreaâ€™s penal system leads to discoveries and revelations which confound and, at times, provoke and disturb. This is surely screen acting at its finest. Furthermore, Bong Joon-ho toys with audience identification and reception, casting Kim (who appears to be South Koreaâ€™s version of Harriet Nelson having played mothers on television for decades) to play the morally ambiguous and certainly unglamorous role of the upstart detective who conducts her own procedural examination into the violent death of a young girl in order to clear her sonâ€™s name and presumed guilt. To build on the above comparison, the young man who plays the son, Do-joon, is Won Bin, a South Korean actor and sex symbol (just think Ricky Nelson). I wonâ€™t give any more away, but will comment on the first and last shots of the film, which present a sublimely ecstatic vision of human subjectivity that is best described as uncanny (which is about as close as Iâ€™m going to get to referencing Sigmund Freud).
i’m teaching a new class next year on imperial adventure/intrigue narratives from the turn and first few decades of the 20th century. this is a 100 level class and will be light on theory. the reading list so far is as follows: conan doyle, the lost world; kipling, the man who would be king; sax rohmer, one of the fu manchu books; rider haggard, either she or king solomon’s mines; the first tarzan book; and herge, tintin in the congo. i’d welcome more suggestions for readings from the era, but what i’m mainly looking for here is recommendations for the secondary list of texts which will provide a (more or less) contemporary slant on the subject: action films that inherit/re-write/exploit the conventions of those texts. so far i have: the second indiana jones, the brotherhood of the wolf, the ghost and the darkness, zulu, and the mummy. i need two or three more. i’m not looking for high art or anything aimed as oscar bait (no out of africa). suggestions?
simon and i have been watching damages and nurse jackie. the first two season of the former are available on dvd, so we basically gorged on them and absolutely loved them. the series is built like a long film broken into episodes, like the wire, and starts with a small, tantalizing taste of what happens at the end. this is also the format of each episode: we get a minute or so of the end, then a caption says, “six months earlier,” and the story resumes chronologically. every episode closes the gap between the chronological story and the end, which is in the meantime doled out to us in greater portions. of course, the end is entirely shocking and you have absolutely no idea (though by the end of the season you have your suspicions) how the show will get from where it is in the narrative present to the preposterous conclusion. Continue reading damages (+ nurse jackie)
Inception is Christopher Nolanâ€™s latest film, and it rolls in on the back of overwrought trailers in which the laws of physics seem to disappear inside the dreamworld: cities crumble; the horizon bends backwards on itself; and slow motion explosions seem to pop off the screen. The story concerns a team whose usual task is to illegally extract information from subjects by inserting themselves into dreams. Each member of the team has a specific function, such as designing the dreamworld (architect), administering the appropriate sedation to the subjects (drugs), or depicting someone familiar to the dreamer in the dream (forger). Now its leader, Leonardo DiCaprio, has been persuaded by a wealthy industrialist (Ken Watanabe) to try something much more difficult: â€œinceptionâ€ is the insertion of a new idea into the dream of a subject, rather than simply the stealing of existing information, such that the subject comes to fully believe the idea. Continue reading Inception
So I’m teaching a new course, a freshman seminar, entitled “Socialism: Real and Imagined.” In the context of economic crisis and the willingness of the right to throw about the word “socialism”, the idea is to have first year students think through the different meanings of the word, examine some concrete experiments in socialism (Mondragon, Swedish wage-earner funds…) and then imagine feasible and plausible forms of socialism, applicable to highly industrialized democratic societies (i.e. societies like ours).In the imagining section of the course, I’d like to use some utopian novels and some movies that deal with socialism. I’d welcome any suggestions for either books or movies. I’m thinking of using Bellamy’s “Looking Backwards” and Le Guin’s “Dispossessed” for novels, but others would be welcome. In the movie category, I’m less interested in the Soviet experience than how socialism has been discussed or proposed in the West.Thanks for any help.