Monday, May 20, 2013

Letterboxd Collection

I've become obsessed with Letterboxd with good reason. It's an addictive way for cinephiles to track their movie watching and compare/contrast their thoughts and ratings with other cinephile friends. If you're seeing a lack of content on this blog, that's because a good deal of it can be seen only on Letterboxd. So here's a collection of films I've written about exclusively at the site. This isn't everything that I see, but anything that I've done more than a haiku on. Will be updated regularly. You can follow all my activity here.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Digital Static: Returning To The Wonder

          To the Wonder, Terrence Malick’s sixth feature film, is both a reflective look back and a daring leap forward for the director. It very much extends the qualities that have come to define Malick’s work—a didactic editing style based around natural elements, an emphasis on movement and gestures to convey emotions, and a solemn, poetic voiceover. However, while some have seen the film as a minor b-side to The Tree of Life, it is very much a break, a reorganization of principles more than anything else. While his Texan set childhood nostalgia piece searched and celebrated a forgotten Promised Land of Americana, To The Wonder is emotionally bare and claustrophobic film, at times a psychological horror flick. The gestures of Malick’s previous films are repeated but they are closed in, made meaningless as the modern and suburban ennui overtake his protagonist, Marina. I find it to be an devastating work.

            I have already written at length on the film, but I returned to it again, and have even more to say about what I believe will be seen as a transitional piece in Malick’s filmography. I first want to address comments made by my friend Jason Bellamy on my original piece. Jason writes:

I'm especially skeptical of almost all criticism that tries to tie a director's work to his (or her) personal life. Doing so suggests that the narrative we know about the director's life is accurate (as if public figures unselfishly expose their true selves to us), that they don't have secrets, and that they're as two-dimensional as the narratives about them tend to be…I'm even more skeptical about attempts to tie autobiographical motivations to the work of Malick, a director everyone agrees we know very little about.…this review, while possibly accurate, has an uncomfortable number of "clearly" and "certainly" readings within it, as it relates to Malick's motivation. (Most notably: Aren't you going pretty far out on the limb to say that Malick is "clearly in a crisis"?)…Put another way, much of your analysis that this film is a masterpiece seems to hang on the belief that it's vividly revelatory about Malick. But what if it isn't?
As always, I appreciate Jason’s comments, and if you haven’t, you should read his own piece on the film. Having Jason’s comments in mind, I did try and separate myself from the “Authorial Intent Fallacy” while viewing the film a second time. But what I cannot separate myself from is certainly Malick’s other films, and how much this work stands in contrast to his other work. Many critics who have come out negatively against the film have stated that the gestures and twirls feel vague and without emotion—I would say its more the opposite. They no longer carry the magic once felt before, and that’s the central dichotomy at play. In Jason’s review, he writes, “I suspect that many of us who have Malick's movies printed on our heart will find it difficult to watch Kurylenko's Marina raising her hands to salute a storm without thinking about Q'orianka Kilcher's Pocahontas doing the same in The New World…What once felt specific, organic and true now feels random and offhand, which threatens to retroactively suffocate the charms of To the Wonder's predecessors.” I would instead argue is that Malick is searching for meaning to that gesture in this (very) new world, but unable to find the same resonance, and then must deal with the emotional consequences of it.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

In Defense of Oblivion

      Why defend Oblivion? Oblivion doesn’t need any sort of defense—it’s a big, very loud sci-fi flick that has made more than enough money already and can only be shameless Hollywood product that meant to indulge what little of your brain it can why throwing as much trash onto the screen possible. Right? Big products like this with big studios and big stars only care about grabbing paychecks and moving onto the next shameless project. Studios can’t care about craft.

            That’s a lot of the rhetoric I’ve seen thrown around Oblivion, a film that I feel the need to defend, not just as something that I found quite entertaining, but also something that I think perceptions of what it aspires to be often cloud the judgment of viewers. Oblivion is far from perfect—it actually has numerous issues that keep it from being anything truly worth upholding as a major work—but the reason it needs defense is that once one draws a party line, one begins to see everything in the film as a problem. One begins to point the moments of interest and simply call them bad instead of thinking through them. Yes, Oblivion has good things and bad things—but it also has interesting things worth discussing, and to discuss their meaning, their narrative function, and, yes, their artistry is what I find why I need to defend Oblivion—not for the sake of giving the film more of an audience, but to hope that every film can get a proper due, no matter who or what is behind it.