Film Review: The Pool

A still from Venkatesh prunes dead leaves for Nani.

The Pool (2007)

Written and Directed by Chris Miller

“Don’t sit so close to the screen or you’ll strain your eyes.” Using this just-distant sort of metaphor, The Pool constantly considers how those who dream will be hurt the moment they look too closely at those dreams, and what happens when we give up on those moments. The poor boy wants to swim in a rich man’s pool and decides to work for him until he can find a way. He watches them from afar until he gets hired, and then he looks at them through the front door only to see that they’re having an argument. The “rich” man is sad; his “sexy” daughter is depressed. She reads books about foreign lands that will “screw your head up,” but reading too much will “strain your eyes” too.

She won’t eat samosas, but she will eat cake. We cite “The Gift of the Magi,” minus the irony. Indian boys throw rocks at trees for mangoes and watch American wrestling because the director does not seem to know what Indian youth do for fun.

Continue reading

Film Review: Wild at Heart

A still from the film Wild At Heart.

Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) take a respite from their highway to hell.

Wild At Heart, 1990

Written and Directed by David Lynch

There’s something small that Lynch does better than many other writers, and I think it’s a lynchpin to his work. Two people have a moment of relative quiet, in which one is carrying an anxious trauma. It is the bubbling point of a secret, the ones that expose how American romantics internalize dismissing reality to maintain the status quo which created it. Finally, the other no longer allows their behavior. It’s a moment where one character calmly explains to the other that they, with whatever decency they may carry, will listen to their problem and that they will find a way to figure it out together.

Continue reading

Film Review: Listen Up Philip

A still from Listen Up Philip.

Jason Schwartzman as the titular Philip, oozing the charisma of that guy who won’t stop talking about your fine arts discussion when you accidentally find yourself trapped in a conversation at a party.

Listen Up Philip, 2014

Written and Directed by Alex Ross Perry

“I don’t find you charming. You are just like him, and I hope you take responsibility for yourself before you hurt the people who you love.”

Continue reading

Film Review: The Assassination of Jesse James By The Robert Coward Ford

A still from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Jesse James (Brad Pitt) looks with frustration upon the young, optimistic Robert Ford (Casey Affleck.)

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Robert Coward Ford, 2007

Directed and Written by Andrew Dominik, co-written by Rob Hansen

We are expected to praise a Western just for having a heart and a brain, as though the song the balladeer concludes the film busking is not just a good song, but would be deeply insightful were it to understand that the coward was sad too.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a moderately well-acted and quite well-shot melodrama in the west with bursts of great, whip-smart violence that say more than the interminable, cliché-ridden script and fairly unoriginal production style. For the violence screams that anyone could do what these men are doing; they miss repeatedly, they grapple their own intense fears, and the winner in a shoot is just the luckier man at the end of a gun. The violence is not played for legend, and that is the film’s purpose.

Continue reading

On Film, Letterboxd

Dear audience,

It seems I’ve begun to neglect this site wholly. The truth is that I haven’t taken much time for pleasure writing, completing each piece I write in twenty minutes or less. One or two pieces have appeared in my university newspaper, The Daily Cardinal, which took a bit longer.

I’m going to begin to post older writing to this website that I find myself proud to publish. I’ll at most publish one or two posts per day from my backlog, so that my best writing may be found on this site, but also so that it is not overwhelmed.

Most of this writing will be on films; I find myself using Letterboxd intensely this year. It’s a powerful website which allows a user to catalog the films they’re watching and write about them. I don’t often intend to write much and find myself writing quite a bit. You can find my profile here and find out how much more studying I ought to be doing.

Letterboxd has helped me de-mythologize the movies, removing what I once sensed as this powerful “work” that went into watching. My mother and I used to argue about how I went into every movie with an albatross, as though each one were to be taken in as soberly as a courtroom in session. It kept me from watching a lot of great films because “it wasn’t the right night.” But seeing how many movies the people in my life are watching without me having heard of them finally helped me to get over that inhibition, and what it’s allowed me to do is fall back in love with the movies. You were right, mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

The cinema has pulled me into its thrall. Whether I’m working, relaxing, drinking my coffee, it’s accompanied by great cinema. I’m so invested in the film that I’ve begun to wonder how people transition from phase to phase of entertainment, at one moment a TV buff, another an album enthusiast, another a “hardcore gamer.” How long does it take, on average, before someone finds themselves in another hobby? What enthusiasm is lost before the next revival? And what kind of dedication is required to result in true proficiency?

I’m going to be exploring some of those questions at the movies for now. The watchlist includes about one hundred Netflix Instant Streaming films, a few hundred likely in the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus, and a large majority of the rest will be available at my local video store (I have an unlimited, three-films-at-a-time subscription) or one of the several local theaters. At the rate I’ve been watching, I’m likely to cut that watchlist in half by year’s end, and maybe wind up doubling its length. If you want to help with that in any way, feel free. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep writing for you.