Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo opens, appropriately, in Fargo, North Dakota, although this is the only scene in the movie to actually take place in the title location. Over the opening credits we see a car, barely visible through the fog in the distance as it makes its slow progression through the snowy, bluish gray landscape. The tan Sierra goes up and down on the frozen-over roads, occasionally disappearing into snowy voids. The Coens’ Midwest is bleak and ominous, a mood perfectly underlined by Carter Burwell’s gloomy score. The brothers and virtuoso director of photography and long-time collaborator Roger Deakins create an epic landscape of near mythical proportions, if only for the purpose of contrasting it with the ordinariness and decidedly unheroic nature of the characters that inhabit it. Contradictions like this one abound in the Coens’ universe; their work has always defied definition. They play fast and loose in terms of plot and refuse to be constrained by the formal imperatives of conventional narrative, stitching together a number of different genres and in the end transcending such conventions altogether. Fargo starts out as a perfect-crime drama, but soon embraces conventions of the noir, the thriller, and tragedy, all with a big, darkly humorous smile on its lips.
I love movies. I have loved movies all my life. I grew up on them. When I was eight years old, I managed to convince myself I would make movies when I grew up. Now I am in the process of getting a degree in Film Studies. I write about film more than ever before, partly because I have to for my classes, mostly because I enjoy it, because I have something to write about. Sometimes it helps me understand the film better; sometimes it helps me understand myself better.I created this blog as a place to showcase my work, and also as an incentive to keep writing reviews, analyses, and essays over breaks, when there’s no one here to grade me.I have tried many times, and failed, to explain in a coherent manner why it is that I love films. Here is my best—and most coherent—guess.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Saturday, November 23, 2013
“The Mack Sennett Keystone comedies were the culmination of 15 years of comic primitivism—the characterless jest and the excitement of motion raised to the nth power” (Mast 43). Before Sennett, American film comedy had been confined to the music hall sketch; he gave it the freedom of destructive absurdity. While still at Biograph, the future King of Comedy moved Griffith’s static, inert, indoor-bound camera outside, where it enjoyed both visual freedom and the freedom to move. And move it did, at mad speed, nearing supersonic velocity, stopping only when the figures onscreen smashed through one wall too many, fell down manholes or wells too deep, or were simply overcome with exhaustion The filmmaker added tremendous energy and breathtaking pace, the incongruous and the non sequitur, and a taste for burlesquing people, social custom, and the conventions of other films.
Hal Roach was always second to Sennett; the latter established the formula while the former merely adopted it. While Roach began imitatively, copying Sennett’s chases, falls, custard-pie throwing, and generalized chaos, he gradually began thinking more in terms of character than non sequitur, carefully structured gags instead of speed, logical plotting rather than constant, cumulative romping. Roach’s films benefited from more structure, less improvisation, creating what Gerald Mast calls a perfect stairway to insanity (185). To use the same metaphor, Sennett did not ever take the stairs up; he took the elevator, punched the floor button—or, if feeling especially inventive, whacked it with a hammer—got stuck a couple of times between levels, sometimes plummeted, coming close to the bottom of the elevator shaft, and, finally, shot through the roof.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Sandwiched in between Gravity and All Is Lost, Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips is only one of many, incredibly well-made, gripping but grim survival tales to hit the theaters this fall—a season of soaring cinematic standards as much as of falling leaves.
Impeccably constructed and surprisingly complex, the movie succeeds on all notes but one: characterization. Based on the real-life takeover of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates, it offers an immaculate reconstruction of a chaotic incident, portrayed on screen with immediacy and intelligence. Full of kinetic energy, exciting and suspenseful, the film traces Captain Richard Phillips’ ill-fated journey on and off the Maersk Alabama in early April of 2009. The only problem is we don’t know enough about him, the journey, the ship, or the pirates to care.
“It’s just business,” pirate leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) keeps repeating, a phrase not actuality uttered, but reflected in the attitude of Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks, portraying the kind of quiet, commanding role Oscar dreams are made of). Curt and professional towards his crew and extremely attentive to security measures, the title character is a civilian tasked with getting a huge cargo ship safely from Oman to Kenya down the Horn of Africa. It’s clear he just wants to get the job done as quickly and effectively as possible.
Friday, November 1, 2013
The Counselor, Cormac McCarthy’s much-anticipated screen-writing debut paints an elusive, eccentric, exquisitely rendered picture of poetic pain. Filled with bizarre, bone-grinding violence, twisted characters, confusion and moral compromise, Ridley Scott’s movie becomes a sodden, sordid cautionary tale of good and—mostly—evil. If you were looking forward to the crime thriller—more Tony than Ridley—the film’s trailer seems bent on promoting, The Counselor is not it.
Michael Fassbender heads a burning hot all-star cast, all outshined, hover, by the pulpy, lyrical, hardboiled and hell-bound script, a foray into the mesmerizing and merciless milieu of corrosive drug trade on the American-Mexican border—a barrier as moral as it is geographical for much of American fiction. McCarthy and Scott enter a closed, dangerous, elite world, devoid of any ordinary people to act as gateways or guides for the audience or to remind us of a reality beyond the brutal one of the cartel.