Posts Tagged ‘Badger Herald’

Cleaning house and trying to do nothing

March 24, 2010

Seeing as how I have pretty much nothing substantial to say for myself at the moment, it’s only fair that I direct you toward some things you might find interesting:

1. Check out my esteemed colleague Todd Stevens’ review of Sebastián Silva’s “The Maid,” which is currently enjoying a short run at Sundance Cinemas. I haven’t yet gotten a chance to see this film but Todd seems to have dug it quite a bit. He’s particularly taken with the film’s psychological dimension, which I find somewhat curious given how much I read about its overt Brechtianism. Then again, who says you can’t have it both ways? And it’s always nice to munch on the NY film scene’s leftovers.

2. File this under “Well I’ll be!”—the Badger Herald’s Tony Lewis scored a conference call with Ben Stiller, Noah Baumbach and Jamie Murphy (the LCD Soundsystem mastermind and former Princeton Junction resident). Good show, old chap. In the interest of continuing to fuel the “Greenberg” hype-train (allll abooard), I’ll say the interview is worth a gander, though Tony seems much, much more familiar with Stiller than with Baumbach or even Murphy—which is too bad because “Greenberg,” like all of Baumbach’s “mature” films, is said to be very much the work of an auteur, as demonstrated by Stiller’s comments in the interview.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some last-minute botany studying to do.

Black and white

March 12, 2010

The BH’s Tony Lewis reviews “The White Ribbon” in today’s paper, and though he complains that some of the film’s most intriguing narrative threads “suffer from unnecessarily long, drawn-out pacing” (how much Haneke have you seen, Tony? “Glacial” is the man’s middle-name), he seems to have dug the overall product.

Yet I’m confused by Tony’s notion that Haneke is overly obsessed with conveying a message, one that Tony thinks “isn’t always clear.” The primary knock against “The White Ribbon” when it was first distributed in the U.S. was that the film’s arguments—and Tony’s quite right to say that Haneke’s arguing a specific set of positions—are too straightforward, too obvious, too uncontroversial to anybody familiar with modern European history.  Indeed, compared to the theses advanced by Haneke in films such as “The Seventh Continent,” “The White Ribbon” is an image of intellectual agreeableness.

I’m also not so sure that “The White Ribbon” “strives to highlight failures in society in order to deliver a social message,” as Tony puts it. Tony himself alludes to the film’s engaging style—its ice-cold surfaces, harsh geometry, eerily opaque shadows and flourishes of abrupt, almost inexplicable violence—which makes “The White Ribbon” as aesthetically intoxicating as it is intellectually fulfilling.

Here’s my own review of “The White Ribbon,” written way back in January. Hopefully the film will be out on DVD soonish.

Made-for-TV Herzog?

March 4, 2010

It just so happens that the Badger Herald’s Tony Lewis also wrote about “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” in today’s paper; unsurprisingly, he and I had radically different responses. Lewis writes that “Cage rekindles his cinematic spark to save what would have otherwise been a lifeless made-for-TV crime drama.” He goes on, strangely enough, to take issue with Herzog’s direction:

Unfortunately, Cage’s spot-on performance is about the only thing keeping this film from drowning. Taking an approach similar to the one he took in his previous films, director Werner Herzog (“Rescue Dawn”) expertly focuses on the individual and his attempt to escape his personal prison. While Christian Bale’s prison in “Rescue Dawn” was a literal one, Herzog creates the same agonizing conflict with Cage’s character and his internal prison.

[…] Herzog’s ability to manipulate the cinematography so that it enhances the screenplay keeps the film looking dynamic even when the plot isn’t.

[…] Although “Bad Lieutenant” isn’t anything too out of the ordinary as far as crime dramas go, the one-two punch of Cage’s mesmerizing performance and the ominous, yet vivacious New Orleans cinematography make this film worth taking a shot on.

These remarks suggest a few things.

First, based on his references to “Rescue Dawn,” I suspect Lewis isn’t all that familiar with the rest of Herzog’s work, which is significant only insofar as a lack of familiarity with his idiosyncratic sensibility could easily cause a viewer to miss out on a good deal of what makes “Bad Lieutenant” so compelling and magnetic.

Second, Lewis doesn’t seem to understand that a director like Herzog would never dream of sticking to the script; he likely disregarded the screenplay more often than he “enhanced” it through “manipulations” of the film’s cinematography (I’m not exactly sure what that would even entail).

Third, if “Bad Lieutenant” honestly struck Lewis as being an “ordinary” crime drama, then he must be watching some incredibly far-out cop procedurals and I wish he’d furnish me with a recommendation. Though I’ve never been one to watch C.S.I.S. or N.C.I. or whatever, I seriously doubt that Herzog’s penchant for appealing to the mystical is par for the course.

And rest assured, dear reader: The plot of “Bad Lieutenant” is nothing if not “dynamic.”

I lost it at the (action) movies

February 9, 2010

This review of “From Paris with Love” (about which I hardly know a thing, thankfully) by the Badger Herald’s Amelia Wedemeyer is haunted by the perverse and pervasive fetish for gun violence that makes films like the new Mel Gibson revenge fantasy “Edge of Darkness” (about which I hardly know a thing, thankfully) plausible and even lucrative as commercial entities. Take it away, Amelia:

The highlight of the film is seeing Travolta as the crazy yet magnetic Charlie Wax, who wields everything from handheld revolvers to bazookas. Yes, Travolta’s appearance as the white version of Sinbad might throw off viewers at first glance, but it becomes evident that the appearance is most definitely part of who Charlie Wax is. Though Travolta probably won’t be up for next year’s Academy Awards, his quips and grasp of the character make the hour-and-a-half film enjoyable enough.

Yikes. What else?

With the release of “From Paris with Love,” Pierre Morel (“Taken”) establishes himself as a leading director of action movies. His quick and precise shots enhance the vivid feats that many audiences like to see from their favorite action movies. Though this film doesn’t have the emotional appeal of “Taken,” it still leaves audiences satisfied with every bullet aimed for the bad guys.

I did say it was a fetish, didn’t I?

And fortunately for audiences, Morel knows how long most people can stomach the same sequence of murderous rampages by keeping the film less than two hours.

I can see how that would get old, yes. Finally:

From the explosive scenes to the quick paced shots, this film is for those who want action and to see things (as well as people) get blown up.

Pretty scary stuff—the review, that is. The movie looks and seems utterly mindless and shamelessly calculated to score big with an especially gun-crazy demographic. But it’s not like this is an uncommon phenomenon, seeing as how there are consumers like Wedelmeyer who apparently derive satisfaction from watching staged “murderous rampages” and who find the sheer variety of guns used in a film to be the film’s very best part.

The world within a window

February 8, 2010

Though he doesn’t say much that hasn’t already been said on the subject, at least the Badger Herald’s Tony Lewis bothered to point out a very real and surprisingly relevant phenomenon: the advent of 3D cinema. Lewis has no argument per se, and he frames the rise of 3D in purely economic terms (3D movies = more expensive tickets = balm for the achin’ film industry). Most of what he says in the article is quite true, though I wish he’d have elaborated on the only explicitly aesthetic point he makes:

Take “Avatar” for example. Never do you have robotic arms reaching out at you or arrows whizzing by your head. Instead, Cameron uses 3-D to make Pandora seem like more than just a mystical CGI wonderland.

Well, yes, I suppose that’s true. Cameron’s major achievement in “Avatar” is the way he and his technicians used 3D to create an intensely cinematic space (as distinct from a pictorial or a textual space) whose dimensions, while still unmistakably illusory, bear a much stronger resemblance to space as we encounter it outside the movie theater. This is where the whole “it feels like you’re inside the movie” thing stems from.

Lewis is right to say that 3D has likely moved beyond the gimmickry that made the sensation of having objects pop out of the screen at the audience more laughable than thrilling. Hopefully the technological legacy of “Avatar” will have more to do with creative manipulations of space and time than with the comparatively unpleasant economics that enable such monster-scale films to be made in the first place.

Listmania and American solipsism

December 15, 2009

It’s pretty irresponsible for me to be blogging right now, so I won’t comment much on the Badger Herald’s list of the top 50 films of the 2000s. It’s worth mentioning, however, that this list is nothing if not symptomatic of a certain arrogance we Americans seem to have about our own culture; it’s the same arrogance that leads well-meaning ignoramuses to assume that all French cinema has going for it are tits and pseudo-poetry; it’s the same arrogance that blinds us to the fact that our continent was hardly the site of the decade’s most aesthetically challenging cinema (that’d be Asia); it’s the same arrogance that seduces us into pretending that the rest of the world simply doesn’t exist. To put it bluntly (and somewhat disgustingly): we really, really adore the scent of our own shit—so much so that we’re disinterested in smelling anybody else’s. The BH’s list is a fine distillation of this naïveté, which is why I find it so telling.

I hope this post didn’t come off as overly vitriolic or—gulp—elitist. I just think it’s stunning to see film critics flaunt such blatant unfamiliarity with cinema outside the pages of Entertainment Weekly. Y’all read the New York Times, don’tcha?

“Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.”

November 23, 2009

Beth Mueller’s dissent from the Badger Herald Ed Board’s astonishingly sensible pro-pot-legalization editorial in today’s edition of the BH suggests two things, though I could be wrong on both: 1. Mueller has never smoked weed, and 2. she’s unfamiliar with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s final proposition in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (alright, not so important in this case).

Use of marijuana impairs the mind so as to prevent a person from rational thought. This harm is most significant. Use of this drug, like any other illegal drug, seeks only pleasure over the higher, transcendent goals of humanity, which are all products of reasoned thought.

[…] There’s nothing wrong with simple relaxation, which would be a motivation for many to use marijuana. But even the pursuit of rest shouldn’t settle into mere escapism or artificial warping of the mind to intellectually skip town. Imagine what a society we’d have if relaxation entailed a more honest release from the burden of work to be more aware, not less, of the beauty of people, the world, and even new ideas.

[…] True, drunkenness similarly harms a person by blocking the ability to think rationally. […] Alcohol, however, remains justifiably legal because it can be used to an extent that does not impair reason.

Mueller has a very, very peculiar understanding of the effect that marijuana has on the mind. Intellectuals smoking pot: never happens, right? And what’s with this fetish for “reasoned” and “rational” thought? Also, the notion that alcohol can be consumed in moderation whereas marijuana cannot is particularly bizarre.

But yeah, I recommend reading both pieces in their entirety; some pretty ferkakt logic at work in the dissent, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Not to seem like a jerk, but…

October 7, 2009

… what’s going on with this review, courtesy of the other student newspaper, of the newly released and Drew Barrymore-directed Whip It? I’m particularly curious about the following remark:

It’s a risky thing for an actor to take a turn behind the camera. Sometimes it works, as it did for Mel Gibson in “Braveheart,” or for Clint Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby.” But other times… it can be bad. We’ve learned even the best of actors can bomb while directing, as George Clooney with “Leatherheads” or as Danny DeVito did with “Duplex.”

Nevermind the fact that Eastwood has directed 30+ films in his career, and Gibson is, at this point, almost certainly known more for the films he’s directed (as well as for his off-screen persona) than for the films he’s starred in. Moreover, this entire paragraph is a manifestation of exactly the sort of unthoughtful judgment I’ve been trying to combat in my own writing. Not only are actors supposedly at an inherent disadvantage when they “step behind the camera”: more often than not, the work they produce is “bad” by virtue of its intrinsic “bomb”-y-ness.

Later in the review, the writer, Sara Pierce, picks up from where she left off in the intro paragraph:

A simple yet euphoric film, “Whip It!” is a continuous crowd-pleaser and an overall success. Hopefully the next actor attempting to add “director” to his or her résumé can climb as high as Barrymore.

We can only hope.

What’s going on over there?

September 30, 2009

Y’know, I was gonna try and get over to the galleries at Memorial Union to check out and write up a little somethin’-somethin’ on the new batch of exhibits currently on display, but until I find the time to do so, please feel free to go ahead and cheat on me by reading fellow UW student Emily Genco’s review of the four new shows, published over at my former stomping ground (I call it that with more than a pinch of facetiousness), the Badger Herald. (Nice to see they’ve still got some decent arts coverage going on over there.) Emily makes the shows sound pretty darn interesting, and her discussion of some of the ideas being kicked around by the artists is refreshingly sophisticated (though tragically restrained due to the spatial constraints inherent to writing for a student newspaper). More of this, please.