Sunday, September 23, 2007

Eastern Promises

The second film of David Cronenberg's "Viggo Cycle,"* Eastern Promises has the same somber forboding and visceral, intimate blood-letting of its predecessor A History of Violence, but less of that movies thematic resonance. The glimpse of Russian mob life is rich and evocative, Viggo Mortensen is consistently intriguing, but at the end of the day, it feels like not much more than a competently executed genre piece. The classic Cronenbergian sense of bodily alienation seems muted, the attention of the film devoted more to a frankly superficial culture clash. Also, Naomi Watts, one of the best actresses around, is given precious little to do except look pensive and sweat the Morten-dong. Still, the bathhouse scene is truly not to be missed.

Score: 7.8

*"Viggo Cycle" is not the official name for David Cronenberg's most recent films: I made the name up, but it is super cool nonetheless

Monday, September 10, 2007

Wow, this is really going to be one hell of a fall, movie-wise.

Looking at the list of films coming out this fall, it recently dawned on me that we could be looking at one of the best end-of-year film release slates of all time. We've got the directors I love, like the Coens, both Andersons, Baumbach, Cronenberg, as well as guys that are highly regarded, but who generally leave me cold, like Gus Van Sant and Ang Lee. Most of the directors with films coming out this fall are new jack whipersnappers. The '70s "young hollywood" directors mostly don't have anything coming out, except for Brian DePalma (who's got a digital thing about Iraq coming out), and Francis Ford Coppola, who is threatening to inflict more of his late-career horseshit upon the unsuspecting public.

I've been thinking about this particular crop of filmmakers and what their ascencion to prominence in American film says about the medium and the culture at large. The one point that jumps out immediately when pondering these here directors compared to other generations of directors or directors from other parts of the world is the overwhelming, suffocating sense of irony that suffuses their work. The Coens and Wes Anderson are the most obvious offenders on this score, but it's almost impossible to think of a prominent American director from the past twenty years who hasn't blunted the emotional impact of their films with some kind of postmodern wink. It's understandable, and it actually doesn't diminish my enjoyment of many of these films, but it can get old, and it does establish some unnecessary boundaries on the work. That's what makes the Coens film and the P.T. Anderson film the two fall releases I'm most excited about seeing. The Coens are some of the most flagrant abusers of irony in American film history, but I can't hate on them for it because they are such singularly brilliant film stylists. It's going to be really interesting to see how the emotional detachment of the Coens gels with the stark immediacy of Cormac McCarthy. As for P.T. Anderson, his decision to adapt a novel by Upton Sinclair, whose complete lack of irony makes Cormac McCarthy look like Johnathan Lethem, is very intriguing. P.T.A. has always had the most 70s-esque sensibility of the current younger directors: much more willing to express raw emotions without the protective irony layer (well, he's no Darren Aronosfky, but who is?). I'm looking to see how Anderson assimilates Sinclair's bleedingly earnest political agenda with his own heart-on-the-sleeve approach to emotional content.

All I know for sure is that I'm going to watch a hell of a lot of movies in the next four months, and at the end of the year I hope to put together some sort of "state of American cinema"-type post based on my reaction to this bumper crop of potentially-awesome movies.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fall Movie Antic-Boner Preview:

Films that give me a huge, painful purple thrombo:

No Country for Old Men: Coen Brothers + Cormac McCarthy = The least whimiscal Coen bros. movie since Miller's Crossing.

Darjeeling Limited: The new Wes Anderson movie. It's set in India. What else do you want from me?

There Will Be Blood: P.T. Anderson + Upton Sinclair = Andersonian angst with mustaches and leftist social critique.

Eastern Promises: David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen Part Two: From Russia with Hate.

American Gangster: Ridley Scott doesn't do much for me, but if a villanious Denzel Washington can win an Oscar for an Anton Fuqua film, he's probably going to blow the doors off of this bitch.

Margot at the Wedding: Noah Baumbach is back again with more bougie family dysfunction. You can't beat that.

Gone Baby Gone: Yes, it's directed by Ben Affleck, but it's based on my favorite novel by my favorite crime novelist, Dennis Lehane. If Affleck gives the material the rawness and atmosphere (not to mention agonizingly painful ending) of the book, this will be amazing.

There are some more films that might be good and that I will probably see: Michael Clayton, Sweeney Todd, all those "topical" war films (In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, the Kingdom, Lambs for Lions, etc) not to mention a few promising comedies (mainly the Brothers Solomon), but the list above includes all of the films that I am BURSTING to see, and which will, as a result, probably all disappoint me horribly.