Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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Intolerable Cruelty

I love the Coen brothers, so it was with no small bit of trepidation that I approached this romantic comedy. A big studio production, this is, and presumably played safe.

Well, I wouldn't exactly call it Coen brothers without teeth, but it's pretty damn close. The title is a misnomer, as there isn't really all that much cruelty on display here. In fact, that is a major drawback to the film. It just isn't cynical enough to make the ending work.

To be sure, there are moments of pure Coen genius, such as Heinz the Baron Krauss Von Espy, Massey's law partner and a wonderful moment involving an inhaler and a revolver, but overall, the film is hollow, without even the saturated cinematics (such as those found in The Hudsucker Proxy, in which even the faces of the extras are intergral to the overall aesthetic of the film) that make Joel and Ethan Coen so important to the cinema of the past two decades.

Strange Unpatriotic Moment

I found an old mp3 CD I made a few months back and had misplaced, consisting of comedy scores. There are quite a few gems here that I'm glad that I have for portable use.

One of these is Elmer Bernstein's score for John Landis' wicked satire Spies Like Us. This film is actually more relevant today than when it was made (sample dialogue: "Do you realize that you may have just killed every man, woman and child in America?" "To preserve the American way of life, that was a risk I was willing to take").

I haven't heard this score for a very long time. Since Bernstein does comedies according to the genre that they are lampooning, Spies Like Us comes across, like Airplane! and Stripes, as an adventure score that is taking itself way too seriously. Since this sort of overstatement has a tendency to tickle my funny bone, I happen to think that it is quite a fun listen.

Interestingly, the opening cue, "The Ace Tomato Company," has a long militaristic passage that breaks into an overbearing rendition of "America, the Beautiful." As I was going to work, this came out blasting as I came to Ground Zero.

It was an interesting experience to hear this piece of music, which has, in the two years since 9/11, become a counterpart to "God Bless America" in terms of being a call to patriotism. The dubious nature of how this tragedy has been used by our government, combined with the deliberately ironic quotation in this score (don't forget, I was also seeing plenty of street hawkers capitalizing on the event as well) that amused me... amused me in a way I didn't feel all that comfortable being amused.

Money Woes

In an attempt to stave off impending poverty (yech!), I have elected to do some ridiculous amounts of overtime. This has the unfortunate effect of absorbing massive amounts of time during midterm week, but on the other hand I really need to pay my rent and bills. My cellphone was turned off briefly (there was a misunderstanding about the billing rate that has since been dealt with), and that was not a pleasant experience.

The Prophecy

I rented this the other night and found it to be a strange two-headed beast with some really good biblical stuff and really silly horror film tropes.

The aspects of the film dealing with the angels was brilliant, alluding to a great war taking place in Heaven, unseen by the mortals on Earth. The angels themselves are where all the casting money went, so Christopher Walken and Eric Stoltz lead the cast from that angle. Gregory Widen has some very interesting methods of showing their inhumanity, one of the most effective being the characteristic "perching" that they do, often on precarious positions.

Elias Koteas and Virginia Madsen are in the silly horror movie aspect; actually, the beginning, with Koteas' failed-priest-turned-cop character gradually becoming aware of the presence of angels on Earth, is pretty decent, but once he meets Virginia Madsen, who plays a schoolteacher who has a possessed student, their part of the film takes a severe downturn until Viggo Mortensen shows up in what is a very interesting take on the character he plays.

Another major hole is that the twisted soul of the general that possesses Madsen's student is never really gotten into (how did he get to be that bad?), and there is really no reason for the Heavens to open up at the end, but overall the film was too interesting to dismiss.

Walken seems to be having a particularly good time as Archangel Gabriel, and Amanda Plummer shows up towards the end; although she is barely in the film, she walks away with one of the scenes she's in, so it isn't as much of a waste of her talents as it would initially appear.

Film Critics

It has come to my attention that the critical establishment, which has always been out-of-touch with what makes a film good or not, has now fallen completely off the wagon.

I understand that there are many films appearing now that speak to a new generation; Fight Club is a perfect example of a movie that will not be understood by anyone over a certain age. What bothers me is not that the critics don't get these films, it's that they don't get that they don't get them.

One of the first things that you learn on the path from teenager to adult is that the more that you know, the more you realize that you don't know. Once it is established that there are areas in life that are a complete blank to you, you are able to accept that there are alternative viewpoints in the world that may not be compatible with your own.

Part of the problem is that critics like Vincent Canby and David Denby have been reviewing films for so long that they have begun to believe that they have seen everything that the medium is capable of. This is, of course, not true. Just because they can't concieve of the next step doesn't mean that the next step is not there... and it a step that we are seeing, a passage from modern cinema to a sort of postmodern super-cinema (embodied by such filmmakers as David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Joel and Ethan Coen, David Cronenberg and so on) that begin to open doors that didn't exist before. This is not to say that the classic forms are still not being used, but that there are new frontiers being explored by innovators, areas that they are too frightened to face.

David Lynch, for example, has taken surrealism and applied a meta-cinematic mythicism to it. His work can no longer be defined using the narrative yardsticks that have been used to date. Similarly, David Fincher's The Game takes the concept of narrative as a construct of the viewer and turns it on its ear. Many critics felt that latter film was empty and full of manipulations. It was, but that was part of the point... each red herring existed only to contradict the previous red herring, forcing the audience to build a story around the events in the film, which is impossible.

At the moment, it seems that a sea change is required within the critical community. The critics have to accept that they are no longer the cutting edge, and that there film has a greater scope today than in previous decades.

Positive Reinforcement

Patsy called me up today to thank me profusely for the Bob Dylan mix I made her a few months ago. She said that, while she had listened to it before, it was the first time that she had listened to it all the way through. It was great to hear this unsolicited compliment, especially considering how much pride I take in my mix CDs...

The problem is that a whole bunch of the Bob Dylan albums have been remastered and released on hybrid SACDs. I have no doubt that in addition to the quality I can expect from the SACD layer (a few of the discs are in 5.1 as well), the CD layer no doubt has much better sound.

So I guess I'll have to redo this mix once I get the remasters.

This is a great step forward for Sony, by the way, who up until now have been real assholes about hybrid SACDs. Maybe they finally realized that hybrid SACDs, being backwardly compatible with regular CD players, are a better inducement to the customer towards the eventual purchase an SACD player than an SACD-only disc that nobody who is not already the owner of such a player can enjoy.

Sunset and the City

I have just seen one of the most attractive sunsets I have ever witnessed. Manhattan is very attractive at night, I must say. There is something so serene about all those buildings darkening, with the occasional light.

The Flush Of Creative Energy

I had a weird brainstorm yesterday and wrote the opening sequence to a film which, interestingly enough, is a completely different genre and tone from the one I am currently co-writing with the artist formerly known as Suitboyskin. What is so strange about that is that it is the ancestral story of one of the characters in that current project, and it is the germ of a different idea, one which would be of a very different scope and feel. That character would be the central figure in this new work, and she would go on a modern-day quest to find an item once lost to her family. For some reason, I felt that it made perfect sense for it to be this particular character. Bizarre.
Tags: cinema, david lynch, elmer bernstein, film music, new york, reviews
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