IN THE HOUSE, MUD and TO THE WONDER



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In the House, the new film from writer/director François Ozon, is a movie where you wait an hour and forty-five minutes for the other shoe to drop…and it never does. 
The basic premise revolves around Germain, a somewhat bitter high school teacher, who assigns his literature class an essay about what they did over the weekend.  The results are depressingly high schoolish until he reads one from student Claude who writes about his attempts to insinuate himself into the household of a fellow student who has an ideal, Andy Hardy/Donna Reed middle class home.  The essay is condescending and laced with wry observations, but it shows talent.  It also ends with “(to be continued)”.  As the film goes on, Claude gets inside that household and writes more and more (to be continued) essays until Germain is so hooked that he not only spends extra time with Claude, he also helps him in ways that will come back to bite him in the ass.
The movie starts out well and even makes your mouth water at the possibilities here.  Just what is this Claude up to?  And why is he involving Germain?  But alas, these are the shoes that never drop.  And as the story continues, often backed by a thrilling music score by Philippe Rombi that makes you think something exciting is transpiring on screen even when it isn’t, the more and more puzzling the whole thing becomes.  Not only do we never find out exactly what is going on, it kind of ends with the idea that nothing was ever going on at all in the first place.  But if so, then what was the point of it all?
Equally puzzling, and I think one of the major problems with the movie, is that as Claude continues on with his soap operic observations of this family, the better Germain (as well as his wife who also starts reading the essays) thinks Claude’s writing and story is becoming, when in actuality, the less and less interesting, the more banal, boring and clichéd, it turns out to be.  Let’s face it, Claude was never going to be mistaken for Proust, but still it’s just difficult to believe that Germain continues to have such a high opinion of his student the more he reads.  Even more puzzling is that as the essays pile up, the more obvious it is that Claude is at times just making things up (if he’s not, then he’s even a worse writer than he appears).  But this never seems to dawn on Germain, perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of the film.
It must be said that though the actors never quite sell the premise and plot turns, their performances are still first rate.  Frabrice Luchini, a character actor with a face that Walter Mathau would be proud of, plays Germain with a certain hang dog loopiness.  Kirsten Scott Thomas plays his wife and it’s one of her sharpest performances.   Ernst Umhauer is Claude with a smile just this side of Damien in The Omen.  Also in a blink or you’ll miss it cameo is Yolando Moreau, proof that even in France, as over here, if you win the equivalent of the Oscar for Best Actress but don’t look like Catherine Deneuve, you’ll still be stuck having to play parts insultingly unworthy of you.
 
The conversation I had with my friends after seeing Mud, the new Matthew McConaughey vehicle by writer/director Jeff Nichols (who also gave us Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories), went something like this:  Them: “What did you think”, Me: “I think it moved a little leisurely”, Them: “A little?”, Me: “All right.  It was as slow as molasses”, Them: “Thank you”.
Yes, Mud is not the most forward momentum of movies.  And in a way that’s rather surprising given the basic subject matter.  Ellis, a young teen, and his best friend go look at a boat that has lodged in a tree after a recent flood, but discover that someone is living there, the title character Mud, who is in town to rescue the woman he loves and take her away before he is killed by the bounty hunters hired by the father of the woman’s boyfriend Mud killed after the boyfriend beat up the woman.  Sounds pretty much like a ticking time bomb of a premise to me, but the movie tends to get diverted along the way with the teen’s problems with his parents who are drifting apart and his attempt to win the heart of a girl who is out of his league, until the tension all gets a bit waterlogged since Nichols just can’t get as much energy flowing for his other through lines as he does for the one concerning Mud.
But there’s also something else missing from the heart of this movie.  One of the major leit motifs here is that Mud is constantly described as a liar and nothing remotely as he presents himself.  The woman he loves says it; his substitute father figure says it; even Mud says it, until at one point even Ellis himself screams it at him.  Yet, oddly enough, the one thing that Mud never does is lie.  Everything he tells Ellis is pretty much exactly on the level with not one whiff of misrepresentation.  Well, that’s not exactly accurate.  Mud does tell a whopper once.  When Ellis yells out at him that women aren’t worth loving, Mud tells him that’s not true.   Except that within the context of the movie, Ellis is right and Mud is lying.  All the women in the movie do nothing but declare their love for a man, then stab him in the back.   I suppose that Nichols might be saying that the nobility of the male of the species resides in the tragedy of their continual decision to fall in love in spite of how unworthy their beloveds are.  Still, it all seems a bit odd to me.
The point, though, is that this sort of throws Ellis’s journey off a bit.  The audience is being set up for Ellis to learn some big secret about Mud,  a lie that will change Ellis forever and help him on his journey to adulthood as is the wont of coming of age films.  But there is no secret.  It’s all a red herring.  And Ellis learns something about life, but it has little to do with the title character.
The movie is lovely to look at with languorous vistas of sunsets and open waters and there’s a nice feel for small town life.  It has a slam bang climax that’s not that believable, but is incredibly satisfying emotionally.  The acting is solid, though it’s Sam Shepard as the father figure who gives the most interesting performance.   Tye Sheridan as Ellis is capable.  And McConaughey does his McConaughey thing, though this time he only strips down to his bare chest.  Oh, yeah, uh, Reese Witherspoon and Michael Shannon are in it, too. 
Tortuous.  I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to say it.  Writer/director Terence Malick’s new film To the Wonder is…tortuous.  Directed/filmed/edited in the same style employed for the central section of his last film The Tree of Life, a series of quick glimpses and expressionistic scenes, To the Wonder starts out somewhat hypnotically with gorgeous cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki.  But it’s not long before one quickly realizes that there ain’t a lot going on here and what there is, isn’t that original or interesting.  In fact, the best way to summarize it might be to say that there seems to be some sort of story here, but Malick is desperately determined not to tell it.  It concerns a man’s relationship with two woman, one a French citizen he brings to America with her child and whom he grows tired of, the second an old flame that he has a fling with and whom he grows tired of.  As the film goes on it begins to resemble more and more a classical music video that one might find on a PBS station after its daily schedule is over.   And the aesthetic approach, the snippets of scenes sewn together with a somewhat impressionistic, improvisational feel, seems as if it’s not there to bring more insight and depth to the relationships semi-dramatized in the movie, but chosen to cover up the idea that there’s really nothing of interest going on.   The characters are played by Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko (who seem to spend much of their time quietly avoiding each other while living in a house they can never seem to finish and is filled with boxes and suitcases that are never fully unpacked—I think this is what is called symbolic), with Rachel McAdams as the old girlfriend and Javier Bardem as a rather unimpressive priest who does little but walk around in existential agony, though not in as much existential agony as I was in watching the movie.
Tell me what you think.

OBLIVION and THE ATTACK



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Oblivion is the new Tom Cruise sci-fi blockbuster, a description that may seem triply redundant.  Basically, it’s a bunch of “who didn’t see that coming” and a couple of “no real surprises there” and a few too many turnings to my friend and asking, “do you have any idea what’s going on here” (his reply, “I think so”, probably isn’t the sort of confident response the writers, Joseph Kosinski—who also directed, Karl Gadjusek and Michael Ardnt, were hoping for, though in their defense I don’t know whether I found the story hard to follow because it’s convolutedly written; or because I was so bored my mind kept wandering and I missed a plot point here and there; or both).
The basic premise has to do with some sort of yadda, yadda, yadda in which the earth it attacked by aliens and the moon is blown up making the earth uninhabitable.  After winning the war the people of earth moved to…no, you know what?  Forget it.  I’m sorry, but I’m not going to summarize it.  It’s just not worth it the money they’re paying me (okay, no one’s paying me anything, but it isn’t worth the money they would pay me if they were paying me, which they aren’t, so…).
Anyway, suffice it to say that our world is now one of those apocalyptic wastelands.  But even worse, it’s now filled with bland characters saying bland things in a bland plot.  I’d say the CGI is stunning, but we’re now grading on a curve and it’s no worse and no better than any other recent apocalyptic film (though I think the scenes of Cruise on a motorcycle speeding across the New York City desert looked a bit, well, cheesy to me).  The thumping, thunderous music by Anthony Gonzales, M.8.3. and Joseph Trapanese may not be great or original, but it’s nice to have someone trying to create a little tension here.  The production design by Darren Gilford includes a streamlined, glass house suspended in the sky (I’d say it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but this one is an engineering marvel).   The cast includes Melissa Leo and Morgan Freeman for reasons as impenetrable as the plot (I hope it was for the paycheck).
The ending is a bit odd.  For a movie that seems to want to hold up the uniqueness of man and the importance of their survival, it finales on the dubious moral note (and a rather offensive one to me) that the death of a man is irrelevant as long as he has a clone hanging around.  It’s also borderline ludicrous since all I could think is “boy, is Julia…” (oh, right, uh, see, Julia is this character who..okay, she’s, uh…no, you know what, again, forget it, I’m not going to explain this part of the plot either), “boy, is Julia going to be surprised when all the other Tom Cruises show up”.   I could also make a joke about Tom Cruise and clones and isn’t he one already, etc., but I won’t since that sort of humor is beneath me. 
If you must see an apocalyptic movie, don’t see this one, see It’s a Disaster.  Even if you musn’t see an apocalyptic movie, see It’s a Disaster. 
What would do if you discovered out of nowhere and with no hint or clue to prepare you that your spouse was a terrorist.  No, take it a step further.  What would you do if he or she is a suicide bomber and has just killed a large number of people, including children?  That’s the basic premise of the new, breathtaking drama, The Attack.
Amin Jaafari is a Palestinian and a secular Muslim fully integrated into Israeli society.  He’s also a celebrated and well known doctor working at a major hospital.  The story begins with him receiving the most prestigious award one can receive as a doctor.  The next day, after a bomb explodes, he’s on the front lines in the ER, refusing to let even one child die.  He’s a saint.  No, the writers Ziad Doueiri, who also directed, and Joelle Touma are trying to do a little bit more here.  Amin is a credit to his race.  At the award ceremony he gives a speech Hattie McDaniel would have been proud of at the 1939 Oscars.  He’s Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s coming to Dinner.  And though you like and admire him, there is also something about this noble doctor that makes you squirm just a little bit.
And then it happens.  After the blast and the hard day in the ER, Amin is called back to the hospital to identify a body; his wife, who is suspected of being the person who set off the bomb that sent all the people to the hospital that he saved.  He’s then taken in for questioning, but eventually released when it seems clear he had no idea that his wife was involved in anything.  The story is then about his trying to understand why his wife would do what she did.
The Attack is not a perfect film.  It has structural issues.  When Amin finds out about his wife, he has to go through the denial stage of death twice.  First he has to accept that his wife is dead, then he has to accept that she did what the authorities claim she did.  This slows the pacing down a bit because until he does that, he can’t go on his Citizen Kane/Mask of Dimitrios quest of going from person to person to find the answers he needs   The result is a middle section that tends to stall for awhile.   But the forward momentum soon recovers, grabbing you like the first part of the movie does, refusing to let go. 
Amin is played by Ali Suliman who gives a masterful and deeply empathetic performance as the beleaguered doctor.  By the end, his character is abandoned by everyone, both the Palestinians whose cause is not his cause, and the Israelis who claimed they would never desert him, but eventually make him realize that he will always be a Palestinian to them.
The Attack is a movie that should be seen.  Oblivion is one that should not.
Tell me what you think.
For more reviews, check out my blog at http://howardcasner.blogspot.com

IT’S A DISASTER



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It’s a Disaster is what is called a mixed-genre film.  Part of it is young urban professionals (yuppies) at play, a style of comedy/drama that became very popular in theatrical form as Off-Broadway began dying in the 1980’s and ‘90’s and that for reasons that completely elude me would sometimes win a Pulitzer Prize.  The other genre is the disaster film, an appropriate, in many ways, pair of genres to cross since so often one would wish something apocalyptic would happen in a story like this so that the characters and the audience would be put out of their misery (oh, just think how much better Carnage would have been if only they had been hit by a meteorite).
The basic premise of the movie is that once a month a group of twenty/thirty somethings gather for a couples’ brunch at someone’s house.  For this particular gathering, everything starts out as usual, but soon things start happening—you know, things, like…like losing cell phone and internet reception; losing electricity; and a neighbor dropping by in a hazmat suit who is about to tell them what is going on but just leaves when he realizes they were having a party but didn’t invite him since he was no longer in a relationship.  Those sorts of things.  And then the characters manage to find out that some group has exploded a series of dirty bombs all over the U.S. making it necessary for them to tape up all the doors and windows and wait…and wait…and wait.
The basic humor of the story is the type one usually finds in a dark comedy like this: the world is coming to an end, but the various characters can’t stop their own petty problems and issues with each other from becoming more prominent than what is going on outside the house (you know, we’re all about to die, but how dare you sleep with my wife type thing, and why do all the men I date turn out to be insane, and how about a three way before the end comes).  Of course, when one thinks about it, this egotism at the center of the movie pretty much sums up the problem with most yuppie at play movies as it is.  Here, the disaster only brings to the fore the self-centeredness of what is really going on at these gatherings.   One of the darkest (yet funniest) scenes is what happens to the couple that are habitually late—you’re horrified, yet strangely more sympathetic to the people who arrived on time.
This is a first rate little low budget gem that is hysterical from beginning to end.   The screenplay by Todd Berger, who also directed and plays the miffed, hazmatted neighbor, is one of those where two characters have only to exchange two lines and you know instantly their whole history together.   To paraphrase Pauline Kael’s comments on the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera and Il Travotore, Berger does to the yuppies at play genre what should be done to the yuppies at play genre.  He may have painted himself into a corner with the ending, but it’s still pretty satisfying.  The acting is pitch ensemble perfect with a solid cast: Julia Stiles, David Cross, America Ferrera, Erinn Hayes, Jeff Grace, Rachel Boston, Kevin M. Brenna, Blaise Miller.  For those of you making independent films, let this be a lesson as to what can be done without A-listers.   And it has one of the most imaginative uses of classical music that I’ve come across in a movie in some time.   
See it before it’s too late.
Tell me what you think.

UPSTREAM COLOR



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At one point, Kris, the heroine of the hypnotic new film Upstream Color, is on a subway with her new sort of, but not quite yet boyfriend Jeff when he starts making up stories about other riders.  Thinking at one point he’s overreaching, Kris accuses him of being a bit too clever.  It’s interesting that this description was delivered to a character played by the writer/director of the film, Shane Carruth, because there are times when the movie does become a bit too clever, perhaps, with a certain vagueness that may not always work in the film’s favor.   I think it’s safe to say that Upstream Color is a movie driven more by images than clear narrative, with all the disadvantages and advantages that approach has.
Yet in spite of that, in spite of the disadvantages, Upstream Color is fascinating, riveting, what one would call a real page turner, if it was on a page.  It’s one of the finest films of the year so far.   It may be driven more by images, but those images are compelling and draw one into the movie’s odd little world with as dream like a quality as the various characters find themselves in at times.
The basic story revolves around a drug found in worms that when ingested (yes, the worm itself), makes the one who took it go into a sort of trance like state and do whatever they are told.  Kris becomes such a victim and without her even knowing it, her victimizer has her remove every cent from her bank account; has her take out loans on her house; and has her reveal her secret hiding place of gold coins.  And doing all this while she copies out pages from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (don’t worry, it may seem like a non sequitur-and in many ways it is; but at the same time, it’s an important part of the plot).  This happens over the course of several days.  When she comes out of it, she’s broke as well as fired because she missed work.  And because she has no idea what happened, there’s nothing she can do and no one she can turn to.  And that’s not all the horror she has gone and goes through.
But the drug also gives those who take it a sort of psychic ability so that when Kris runs into Jeff on a subway, they find themselves oddly drawn to each other.  It’s obvious to anyone in the audience that Jeff was also conned in the same way.  So the suspense boils down to, when and how will they realize that the weird things happening to them will lead them to what turned them into the people they are now?  The plot is tricky, quirky, always surprising; it’s safe to say that you will rarely be able to predict what will happen next with scenes that at times are fascinatingly all over the place. 
From a technical stand point, there’s little to argue with here.  The acting is strong.  Amy Seimetz, who plays Kris with a certain brittle strength, and Carruth, with a pouty James Dean look, are constantly puzzled and frustrated by their lives.  They try to act normally, but nothing is normal anymore.  And it’s not long before one is emotionally invested in their situation.  They say little, but their eyes and expressions say much, and their courtship is an odd one—they seem constantly angry at each other, but seem unable to break up.   They play their drama out against the constantly overcast and effective cinematography (by Carruth) and a moody, powerful score (also by Carruth—he also co-edited; I’m not sure I’d want to spend Christmas with him; he probably wouldn’t even let me put tinsel on the tree).
But there is also that narrative vagueness with scenes that are at times hard to follow and the constant appearance of a sound engineer and pig farmer (hey, it could happen) played by Andrew Sensenig (whose character actorly face is worth its weight in the gold coins in Kris’s hiding place) who keeps showing up for some reason.  And I’m not convinced the ending really resolves things as satisfying as it might.  In fact, the final scenes have something of the feeling of a David Lynch movie like Inland Empire where it comes across more as if the whole thing got away from the filmmaker and he couldn’t quite figure out how to bring all the earlier brilliance together.
In the end, I do think that Upstream Color has its issues.   It comes dangerously close to falling into the category of such recent films as Stoker and Spring Breakers, where the narrative is either badly done or deemed unimportant, subservient to images for images’ sake, a questionable aesthetic choice.  So I do believe Upstream Color is hampered by its distrust of a more solid and clear narrative (unlike Carruth’s earlier film, the compelling time travel movie Primer).  At the same time, for all its issues, it’s still a far more fascinating film than most movies that are well made and are satisfactorily put together (like Lincoln and Argo and the recently released The Company You Keep).  
A must see.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL



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The Place Beyond the Pines is a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts.  And there are three of them; parts, I mean.  And that’s probably the first thing you should know.  The writers Derek Cianfrance (who also directed), Ben Coccio and Darius Marder don’t really do that strong a job in preparing you for that so when the first part ends, you don’t really realize it’s just the first of three separate, but strongly connected stories and it can be a bit confusing for awhile until you figure it out (or unless you read reviews of the movie beforehand, which I didn’t).
The first part of the film concerns Ryan Gosling as a carnival motorcycle daredevil.  When he finds out he has a kid he never knew about, he does what anyone in his position would naturally do: he quits to become a bank robber.  Yes, it has about that much logic.  In fact, when the idea of robbing banks is presented to him, all you can think is, what could possibly go wrong with this plan; I mean, it’s genius, man, genius.  Actually, it is kind of.  The MO Gosling and his partner use is quite clever and they could have gotten away with it for a long time, until something happens that shouldn’t have.  But at the same time, this section is a bit too much been there, done that.   It’s a fairly typical story of a petty criminal that works out the way stories about petty criminals generally work out in movies like this.
In the second story, Bradley Cooper takes over as an ambitious police officer who brings Gosling down and Gosling is out of the picture (no, I’m not spoiling anything—I think you really, really need to know that Gosling is only in the movie for a short period; and my revealing it isn’t remotely the same thing as telling people that Janet Leigh gets killed off in the first part of Psycho—okay, maybe I shouldn’t have revealed that about Janet Leigh, but you get what I’m trying to say).  Anyway, this section is a bit more interesting, especially due to a cameo by Ray Liotto doing his psychotic bit as a dirty cop.  At the same time, I also think this section is a little off because it doesn’t focus on Cooper’s relationship with his son, which is basically what the movie as a whole is supposed to be about, fathers and sons.
Then there’s the third story in which the two sons of Gosling and Cooper (doe eyed, pouty Emory Cohen and sharp featured Dane DeHaan) meet and this section is deeply moving and powerful and almost makes the first two parts seem better than they are.  When the movie comes together here, it fills you with a sense of wonder and excitement as these two teenagers try to work out their fate without the benefit of knowing any of their true history, without the benefit of knowing they even have a fate.  We know so much that they don’t which gives their actions even more meaning than the characters realize they have.  And as the story works itself out in unexpected ways, there are times when the emotions are at times nearly overwhelming.
Early on in the movie The Company You Keep, Susan Sarandon, as a former domestic terrorist now in custody, tells ambitious reporter Shia LaBeouf that he is younger than she expected.  When he thanks her, she says it wasn’t a compliment.  In the same way, The Company You Keep is the Argo of this year.  Before Ben Affleck says thank you, it’s not a compliment.  There’s nothing that wrong with The Company You Keep except that the best thing you can say about it is that there’s nothing that wrong with it.  It’s entertaining enough and rarely boring.  But like Argo, it’s a movie that never really rises above what it is.
The story itself never exactly makes a lot of sense.  Thirty years before, a bunch of radicals, including Robert Redford, went into hiding after robbing a bank in which one of them shoots and kills a bank guard.  It’s all in protest of the Viet Nam War, but thirty years from 2013 is 1983 and the whole thing seems a bit out of whack with the space time continuum.   And the logic of the whole story never really gets much better (by the time the movie is over, it’s a bit muddled just why Redford’s character went into hiding since he was never guilty, he wasn’t even at the bank—it’s sort of like the actor in him wanted to have his cake and eat it too—play a bad guy without ever playing a bad guy). 
The basic cast is made up of the old guard versus the new.  The ex-radicals are played by such luminaries as the aforesaid Sarandon and Redford, as well as Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliot and the ubiquitous Stephen Root.  Jesus, it’s like an episode of Murder, She Wrote, but filled with A list actors who are still working rather than B-list actors desperate for a job.   Only Susan Sarandon really comes off well, with a mesmerizing scene with LaBeouf where she defends her role in the protests of the, well, I was going to say 1960’s, but with that space time continuum thingy, I’m not sure, but at any rate, she’s hypnotic and really delivers. 
The young guard is made up of LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick and Terence Howard, and all I can say is that Kendrick and Howard need to get a new agent.  Both are well respected actors with Oscar nominations, but if the best their managers can do is get them work playing second fiddle to LaBeouf, then drastic measures need to be taken.  At the same time, LeBeouf, himself, acquits himself well.  I don’t know what it is about him, but lately whenever I review him, I always seem to start with, he acquits himself well.  I think it’s because I’m never really convinced he is cast right; but he’s a solid actor, and he carries the movie on his unbroad shoulders rather well here. 
It would be remiss of me not to mention that there’s also the inbetween guard with Chris Cooper in a nice quiet performance as Redford’s brother and Stanley Tucci as a rather odd newspaper editor who doesn’t think that the FBI somehow obtaining a warrant to search a reporter’s apartment isn’t remotely a news story.   I didn’t know how to react to that.
The screenplay is by Lem Dobbs and is often quite witty with a lot of clever dialog.  It’s directed by Redford in his usual bland style. 
Eddie: the Sleepwalking Cannibal (no, I’m not making that up, that is the title) is a horror movie about a painter who is blocked but gets inspiration after a ten year dry spell when his housemate, Eddie, a mentally slow man he has taken in, starts sleepwalking at night and eating people.  The artist is so inspired by this muse (the violence brings out the creativity in him), that he starts manipulating Eddie to repeat his nocturnal activities.  It’s Roger Corman material, but with more style, wit and marginally better production values.  It’s a lot of fun and the story works itself out in a very satisfying manner.   It’s ridiculous and silly, but that’s the point (at least I hope it is).  The clever screenplay is by Boris Rodriguez (who also directed), Jonathan Rannells and Alex Epstein.  The painter is played by Danish transplant Thure Lindhardt who, to his credit, manages to take the whole thing quite seriously.
All comments welcome.

ROOM 237



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The interviewees in the movie Room 237, a documentary in which a group of people reveal their subjective theories as to what Stanley Kubrick’s horror film The Shining is really about, basically fall into the same category as birthers; truthers; those that believe that Castro, the Mafia, LBJ, J. Edgar, etc. were responsible for the death of JFK; and those that believe that the moon landing never happened. 
All right, you’re right.  They’re not exactly like that (well, except for the one who believes The Shining is Kubrick’s way of letting everyone know that he faked the moon landing—or as he puts it, I’m not saying we didn’t land on the moon, I’m just saying all the footage is faked—my favorite line from the film).  They’re much more benign.  And amusing.  I mean, trés, trés amusement.  The one thing you can definitely say about this almost, but not quite mockumentary is that it’s highly entertaining.  You will definitely not be bored.
But these fans of Kubrick’s film are in many ways just like their bigger time conspirator counterparts.  Like those others, they believe they know something that no one else knows.  That they are the chosen people who have been given special insight.  That their interpretation is so obvious, once you put all the clues together (clues that take multiple viewings to find), they don’t understand why no one else simply cannot see what they can see.  And like those other conspiracy nu…uh, enthusiasts, they tend to go to ridiculous lengths to prove their point: that The Shining is about the American genocide of Native Americans; that it’s a metaphor for the Holocaust; that it’s one sexual metaphor after another; or it’s that thingy about never really reaching the moon.
Oddly enough, these theorists aren’t totally devoid of interesting insight into the film.  They actually do hit the mark on occasion.  One points out an expression that Jack Nicholson uses here can be found in movies from Dr. Strangelove to Full Metal Jacket; others points out inconsistencies in the filming (like a chair being in one shot, then after a cut away, it’s not there anymore; or someone wearing a different pair of pants in the same scene; or a reversal in carpet patterns—even to the point where at times it may even be possible that the layout of the hotel changes from scene to scene); there’s an exploration of Kubrick’s use of dissolves and some interesting possible aesthetic choices there; there’s even the possibility that Kubrick had a thing for the number 42 and/or may have given an FU joke to Stephen King at one point.
Perhaps the neatest section, and it’s really neat, is when someone theorizes that the film has to be played backwards at the same time as it is being played forward.  And using two cameras, the filmmakers do just that.  And it’s truly neat.  But not for the reason the person states; not because it gives any special insight into the film.  It’s neat because, well, because it’s just, well…pretty damn neat.
The one theorist who comes closest to selling his approach is the one who believes that Kubrick was at an artistic cross roads.  Kubrick had achieved everything he could achieve.  Barry Lyndon, the theorist claims, is a boring film because Kubrick was bored.  So the great artiste wanted to do something different.  Fascinated by books on subliminal advertising and visits to ad agencies, he decided to be a prankster and have the film filled with brain washing type images.  There’s something about this that makes a lot of sense (especially the idea that Barry Lyndon is a boring film—it is), until the theorist actually shows us an example (something about Barry Sullivan lining up with an outbox that makes him look as if he has an erection).  At that point, you start snickering again.
And with that comes the issue I had with the movie as a whole.  As the film goes on, the director Rodney Ascher doesn’t try to explore the reasons as to why people are acting like this or feel a need to find meaning in this film.  Or why this film, in particular, may be ripe for the silliness recorded here.  Instead, he turns it into a Maury Povich show where everyone in the audience laughs in superiority at the hicks on stage; or we become high school bullies picking on the nerds, geeks and drama kids. 
And Ascher rubs it in.  While the people drone on, the director counterpoints their statements with scenes from movies (mainly Kubrick films like Eyes Wide Shut, etc.) in such a way as to make the interviewees seem even more foolish than they already are.   But in the end, Ascher doesn’t have any more insight than the people he makes fun of (can you say “irony”).   And the movie becomes a bit uncomfortable.
For the record, I’ll put forth my own theory, which I call the Occam’s razor conjecture.  The Shining has no real meaning, overt or subvert, because it’s really not that great a film, perhaps Kubrick’s weakest (depending on what you think of Eyes Wide Shut—I try not to, myself).  It’s a film that feels like the director and writer took some source material and tried to mold it into something it wasn’t, but couldn’t come up with a satisfying substitution until finally everyone lost control of the whole thing and it became a big mess.  And the reason people can come up with all these odd interpretations is because there’s nothing there in the first place.  I mean, it happens.  No artist is perfect.  Even Shakespeare had his Titus Andronicus.   For me, it’s the simplest explanation that is the most likely.
All comments welcome.

BLANCANIEVES



When movies moved from silent to sound, a number of critics and artists bemoaned it because they felt film would lose not just a visual quality, but also its feeling of realism (even though we actually hear in real life).  When movies went from black and white to color, the critics also bemoaned it, again saying it robbed film of reality (even though, again, in reality we see in color).  It eventually got to a point where you felt that these critics thought the reason movies were silent and in black and white was from an aesthetic choice rather than a lack of one. 
Since then, quite understandably, the number of movies both silent and in black and white have greatly diminished, especially silent ones.   Other than comedians like Jacques Tati paying homage to silent movie clowns, there has been Mel Brook’s 1976 Silent Movie, which was a about a director wanting to get support to make the first silent film in forty years; Charles Lane’s 1989’s Sidewalk Stories, a movie that was a commentary on communication; and of course, who can forget Michel Hazanavicius’ 2011 The Artist, about a silent movie star who refuses to go with the time and make talkies—though the movie becomes a talky at the end when the star gives in to the inevitable. 
No matter what you may have thought of the above mentioned movies, you could at least come up with a reason as to why they were silent.  In some way or another, it was a novelty and that was part of the point.  Now we have writer/director Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves, a variation on the story of Snow White and Spain’s entry in the Academy’s foreign language film category.   It’s also silent as well as in black and white.  But for the life of me, I can’t come up with one convincing reason as to why, except that, well, I don’t know…the French did it?  In no way does it add anything to the story or its impact (except to make us glad that movies are no longer silent since the lack of sound in the movie seemed to give the overall film a certain lethargy—let’s just say, it’s not the fastest moving of movies of late).
Blancanieves is basically divided into three parts of which only one, the middle one, works.  The first is the origin story of our heroine.  On the day her famous toreador father was gored by a bull and ended up paralyzed, she is born, but her mother dies in childbirth.  The father refuses to look at her.  His nurse, seeing a golden ticket opportunity, seduces her way into being his new wife and the daughter is raised by her grandmother.  When her grandmother dies, the daughter goes to her father, but she is made into a slave by her evil-stepmother.  Why is unclear.  What most likely would have happened is the girl would have been shunted off to boarding school until she was old enough to marry into money, but that’s not what happens here.  I know, I know.  This is a sort of fairy tale, so I should take that into account.  But I do think this lack of logic does suggest what is wrong with the movie—it screams out innovation and originality in the black and white and silent aesthetic, while showing little to no such innovation and originality in the screenplay (a common problem with movies lately, it seems to me).
Once the father dies, the girl is sent off with the chauffeur to be killed, but he miscarries, and she ends up alive, discovered by six little people (yes, only six, but this leads to a neat little MadMen joke about how marketing is more important than truth) who are a comic bull fighting troupe.  She’s lost her memory, but her instincts take over and she becomes a marvelous toreador in her own right, bringing fame to the troupe until they call themselves Snowhite and the Seven Dwarves.  This is the highlight of the story.  It’s clever, exciting and after having to drudge your way through the first part, you’re finally sitting up in your seat.
But then the third part begins.  The evil stepmother finds Snowhite and just as the toreador remembers who she is, our heroine bites into that poison apple and she goes into a coma.    And then it gets really odd.  Her avaricious agent, who for some reason doesn’t drop her and find others to represent, turns her and the little people into a cheap carnival side show act where people can pay ten cents to kiss her to see if she will awake. 
And this is really where I had a problem.  Now, okay, I know this isn’t rape.  I do.  No, I really, really do.  But still, no…I’m sorry, but it sure felt like one step away from it.  I mean, she’s in a coma for God’s sake, she has no control, and some slimy bastard is allowing men to pay to kiss her.  Again, I’m sorry, but I thought it was kind of…well, I’ll say creepy to be polite, though that really isn’t the word I’m thinking of, and it just made me think of the scenes in Kill Bill where someone was paying a hospital orderly so he could have sex with the comatized Uma Thurman (though at least there we were suppose to be horrified rather than wistful, as we are to feel here).   
And so the story ends, Snowhite never awakening, being taken care of by the one little person who loved her.   It’s not a particularly satisfying resolution.  I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away with me.  The original story is about how someone who is oppressed can be saved (in a somewhat anti-women’s lib way, perhaps, but still).  But this movie is about how someone who is oppressed is then more oppressed when she tries for freedom.  So what is the theme suppose to be: “why bother?”  It’s an odd moral.  At the same time, I’m not convinced that Berger really thought it through.  It just seems an odd ending chosen for the sake of an odd ending, just like the black and white and silence seems like an odd choice for the sake of being odd.  But I think there’s a difference between being odd for the sake of being different and in being original.