CANNES REVIEW: “ONLY GOD FORGIVES” (Nicolas Winding Refn)
SCORE: 5.0 / 10
There’s an old expression in musical theater – you don’t leave humming the lights.
No panoply of pyrotechnics is ever a real substitute for what you’ve come to see. On Broadway it can be showtunes, at the movies, usually, it’s a story. Nicolas Winding Refn, the unpredictable director of “Drive,” “Bronson” and “Valhalla Rising” has decided to double-down on design with his new one, “Only God Forgives.” The result is for insiders only. The type of gearheads who thrive on lenses and know the mechanics of color timing – they’ll go into sugar shock. Those looking to connect with characters or sink their teeth into a narrative will be gravely disappointed.
THIS IS BULLSHIT: WHY THE INTERNET’S MOST POPULAR SHORT FILM IS SERIOUSLY PROBLEMATIC
(aka i skipped lunch and got cranky.)
Real talk: This short film is everything that’s wrong with movies, today. Actually, that’s not entirely fair. “This is Water” is actually emblematic of everything that’s wrong with our current regard for visual storytelling of any kind, a maddening testament to our impoverished and unrequited relationship with images. Don’t be fooled by the ease with which we can capture and produce images – once upon a time they were at our mercy and disposal, but “This is Water” reminds us that there was an uprising at some point, and we lost.
Now, I don’t want to be cruel about this, at least not more cruel than necessary. Judging by their taste in commencement speeches and the humility of their film’s YouTube description, the folks responsible for this hyper-literal illustration seem like kind and well-meaning people. Listening to the unabridged audio recording of David Foster Wallace’s address, I can certainly understand the impulse to share his profound sentiment, packaging it in such a way that as wide an audience as possible might get to enjoy the source material. In that last regard, the success of this attempt is both undeniable and astounding, as “This is Water” has amassed more than 5 million views since it was uploaded on May 6. Seriously impressive stuff, and untold numbers of people who otherwise might never have heard of David Foster Wallace have now been enlightened to his prevailing ethos.
And yet… everything about it makes me cringe. And, so far as I can understand my own antipathy, I think it’s primarily because the cinema can’t afford for people to think that this qualifies as cinema, at all. This isn’t filmmaking, this is transposition. This is, somehow, actually a step down from the process by which Zack Snyder adapted “300″ for the screen by essentially animating panels from a graphic novel. In so literally illustrating the words of David Foster Wallace’s speech, the filmmaker’s don’t make the sentiments of the speech more palpable or immediate, but reduce the universal to the generic. The beauty of the address is that Foster speaks to the collective narcissism of the human experience, using specific examples to express the extent to which each of us is at the mercy of our egocentrism, stuck in our own heads to the point where we struggle to appreciate the splendor of those around us and the world we share with them. Ultimately, as with most any good commencement speech, David Foster Wallace invites his listeners to make his words their own, to apply them to their own lives. Like a horoscope, the value of these sentiments hinges upon us meeting them halfway, hearing broad pronouncements like they’ve been whispered to us, the hot breath of a secret blushing around the hollows of our ears. “You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.”
But with this film, you don’t. The presentation robs you of any choice whatsoever.
Here, in a speech about the inestimable value of awareness, your eye is so busied with lamely literal graphics (which are nevertheless clearly the work of a skilled designer) and relentless music that alternately sounds like outtakes from the “Secret World of Alex Mack” and Explosions in the Sky b-sides, that the video fundamentally defeats its own supposed message. Relying on blunt stimuli and Hallmark emotion to convey a commencement address that’s attuned to the perils of both, the video actively attempts to disarm your awareness, becoming nothing more than another example of the emotionally pornographic stuff that discourages us from remembering how to appreciate the wonder of our daily existence. These images don’t ask you to engage, they ask you to submit. These images illustrate the difference between seeing the water and drowning in it. If anything, the video speaks to the urgency of David Foster Wallace’s concerns, and I can only hope that the millions who took the time to watch it will give themselves the same opportunity to actually glean something from it that was offered to Kenyon College’s graduating class of 2005.
From “Slacker” to “Tape,” the first decade of Richard Linklater’s career conjured the easy narrative of a director primarily interested in capturing the extremely plausible interactions of Generation X’ers talking out their values in a variety of locales and narratives. His subsequent career’s been harder to pigeonhole, but this (inevitably subjective) annotated ranking of his 17 features to date is based on the premise that at ⅔ of his work has the always interesting personality of a major director in full force.
There may be no signature “Linklater shot” — no obvious preference for symmetrical tableaux or repeated camera movements — but there’s a consistent style. Though he doesn’t avoid close-ups, shots of people’s faces (both on moving bodies or talking intently in repose) de-emphasize a strong editorial point-of-view from unusual or emphatic angles. Characters aren’t restricted behind symbolic window/prison bars or viewed from claustrophobic, high-up surveillance camera angles but move freely through largely open and unconstrained spaces. Enough time is allowed those onscreen to hang themselves by their own conversational rope, but even more time given to reveal themselves as interesting people. At their most uplifting, Linklater films can seem like a credible demonstration of humanity at its most admirably and unselfishly individualistic.
Ground rules: short films are omitted, as are his allegedly 240-minute 1991 montage of countdown reels “Heads I Win/Tails You Lose” and the rejected HBO pilot “$5.15/hr,” which I’ve actually seen but so long ago that I can’t recall it in useful detail.
JIM JARMUSCH’S “ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE”
Tilda takes on “Twilight.”
Synopsis: Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?
Director’s Statement: Only Lover Left Alive is an unconventional love story between a man and a woman, Adam and Eve. (My script was partially inspired by the last book published by Mark Twain: The Diaries of Adam and Eve — though no direct reference to the book is made other than the character’s names.) These twSynopsis: Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?
Director’s Statement: Only Lover Left Alive is an unconventional love story between a man and a woman, Adam and Eve. (My script was partially inspired by the last book published by Mark Twain: The Diaries of Adam and Eve — though no direct reference to the book is made other than the character’s names.) These two lovers are archetypal outsiders, classic bohemians, extremely intelligent and sophisticated — yet still in full possession of their animal instincts. They have traveled the world and experienced many remarkable things, always inhabiting the shadowed margins of society. And, like their own love story, their particular perspective on human history spans centuries — because they happen to be vampires.o lovers are archetypal outsiders, classic bohemians, extremely intelligent and sophisticated — yet still in full possession of their animal instincts. They have traveled the world and experienced many remarkable things, always inhabiting the shadowed margins of society. And, like their own love story, their particular perspective on human history spans centuries — because they happen to be vampires.
Richard Linklater’s “Before” films aren’t especially contentious, so far as these things go. There seems to be a certain (and certainly deserved) consensus that each chapter of the ongoing love story between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is sublime in its own way, an idea that is sure to be cemented with the release of the brilliant third installment this Friday. Having said that, people have their favorites, and choosing between “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” is as unnecessary as it is deeply revealing of how you regard romance, and / or where you might be in your life at the moment. In this edition of The Great Debate, Film.com’s Calum Marsh squares off against No Ripcord’sForrest Cardamenis to determine which “Before Midnight” prequel is best.
Filminism is a bi-weekly column dedicated to representations of women in cinema. It runs every other Friday.
Ugh, “Frances Ha.”
That’s not an “ugh” of derision or exasperation, but a sympathetic groan recalled from the corner of my memory where old friendships have gone to die. If there were a cutesy portmanteau for the deep platonic love between women — and thank God there isn’t — every review of “Frances Ha” would have it in the headline.
Although the plot of the movie is about Frances trying to figure out how not to be a screw-up, its backbone is the crushing break-up between Frances (co-writer Greta Gerwig) and her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). One of the best scenes is their play-fighting in the park, something Frances tries to recreate later with another young woman to no avail. Their weird but awesome vibe is almost pre-pubescent in its intensity, or like house pets who cuddle and groom each other. But then Sophie commits the ultimate betrayal: She grows up. It’s like aliens replaced Frances’ best friend with some broad who’s dating a preppy financial dude and they start shopping at Pottery Barn or wherever it is that real adults buy plate-ware.
I don’t have to tell you that growing up can suck. Sometimes. I mean, driving is cool, and so is having whatever you want for dinner, but you’ve also got to do things like figure out why the toilet starts flushing itself in the middle of the night or how to find a stud in a wall. Frances has, in some ways, purposefully sabotaged herself from growing up. She’s sort of interested in becoming “a real person” but she can’t figure out how, and instead she keeps falling deeper and deeper into this rabbit hole of feeling like a loser. Honestly, you can’t fault Sophie for wanting things in her life like a good job and a serious boyfriend and a nice place to live. And yet, you can’t quite free yourself from the nagging desire to shake Frances by the shoulders.
FILM SCHOOL WITH R.A. THE RUGGED MAN
“Seeing RAMBO on Family Movie Night”
the cinephile rapper reflects on the time he picked an unusual film for a family outing.
Rotary phones. Turn dial TV sets. Card catalogs. I’m old enough to have been on the receiving end of some humanity’s more antiquated technological innovations, and their growing pains. Most generations go through this. Just ask that slowly decaying relative of yours that preaches incessantly about how things were when they were young. Past all of their tales of snow-covered soleless shoe adversity often lies a yearning for the past, something tangible and real but also betraying of memory. Suddenly we’re older, nestled in our elder’s recliner, looking back through rose colored glasses and pining for the way things used to be, not fully understanding the way things are or remembering how they were. Thing’s aren’t the same, but what’s really changed?
Star Trek has, and the best of both worlds scenario you dreamt of as a kid seems to have taken place: what you enjoyed is shared and liked seemingly by everyone, rather than being the thing that gets your school books knocked to the floor. Friday sees the second installment of J.J. Abrams’ popular space faring franchise opening in theatres after months of intense marketing, which kicked off with a poster that drew more than a few comparisons to that of a previous summer blockbusters. Originality aside, a mangled Starfleet insignia managed to convey more thought and elicit more emotion than the work that followed. Unfortunate, sure, but disappointment is often felt when reflecting on the state of modern movie posters. What puts Star Trek in a unique position is that its long history within cinema has brought a host of admirable work from a few of the industry’s more gifted craftsmen. Higher expectations are unsurprising. But like anything else, though, the franchise has showcased some particularly unfortunate instances of poster abuse. The past is rarely as clear cut and beautiful as we remember it being.
THE CRITERION COLLECTION’S AUGUST 2013 RELEASE SLATE
(not pictured: ECLIPSE SERIES 39: EARLY FASSBENDER)
(also not pictured: me screaming with joy)
“Go after her.
Fuck, don’t sit there and wait for her to call, go after her because that’s what you should do if you love someone, don’t wait for them to give you a sign cause it might never come, don’t let people happen to you, don’t let me happen to you, or her, she’s not a fucking television show or tornado. There are people I might have loved had they gotten on the airplane or run down the street after me or called me up drunk at four in the morning because they need to tell me right now and because they cannot regret this and I always thought I’d be the only one doing crazy things for people who would never give enough of a fuck to do it back or to act like idiots or be entirely vulnerable and honest and making someone fall in love with you is easy and flying 3000 miles on four days notice because you can’t just sit there and do nothing and breathe into telephones is not everyone’s idea of love but it is the way I can recognize it because that is what I do. Go scream it and be with her in meaningful ways because that is beautiful and that is generous and that is what loving someone is, that is raw and that is unguarded, and that is all that is worth anything, really.””
― HARVEY MILK, The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words (via film-dot-com)