What Gaspar Noé Talks About When He Talks About “Love”

The films of Argentinian director Gaspar Noé (Irréversible, I Stand Alone, Enter the Void) are obsessed with the intertwining of “authenticity” and “artifice” and thus: every scene of pain or desire is purposefully made overlong to leave the impression that they leave no stone unturned. Noé is a filmmaker who pushes audiences uncomfortably deeper into moments that are usually reduced to a suggestion or glimpse if they are not censored altogether. Some call him a “pornographer,” others consider him a “provocateur” – but whatever merits his work may or may not have, he is at the very least a challenging artist if only for the discussions his films provoke. Perhaps the most famous example from his work is the 12-minute-long rape scene in the middle of his dizzying revenge flick Irréversible; which used such scene to deal with the entire nature of consequence by contextualizing all the problems of the male-id “lizard-brain” thinking. Love is the title of Noé’s interesting-yet-difficult to see/unsee film, which opens with a man and a woman explicitly performing an unsimulated sex act to careening violin music (the film earns its X-rating immediately). Of course Love will undoubtedly be referred to as “that 2015 unsimulated sex movie,” a type of film that has been equally derided as taboo and praised as transgressive in the history of cinema. The modern “art house sex” movie has been a staple of festivals and young film fans and recent examples include the digitally inserted (i.e. computer animated) porn star genitals in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac; Vincent Gallo receiving oral sex from Chloë Sevigny in Brown Bunny; and the body-double orgy in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. However, in the case of Love, does dabbling in taboo inherently make for worthwhile art or are we merely content to guise up pornographic indulgence with “artful” posturing? Where does art end and porn begin or are they intertwined beyond distinction? Likewise, which is more authentic: “lust” or “love”? Continue reading What Gaspar Noé Talks About When He Talks About “Love”

“The Assassin” is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Anti-Action Masterpiece

The Assassin is the first foray, by the legendary Taiwanese art-film director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Millennium Mambo, Three Times, Café Lumière, Flight of the Red Balloon) into the “Wuxia” (aka “martial hero”) genre, conceived in the Far East by China and popularized globally by films like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero. And yet the film almost serves as an antithetical rebuttal to the genre. The Assassin achieves the ethereal and sought after cinematic sublime that very few filmmakers are capable reaching, but it doesn’t make much traditional sense. Hou could make a great martial arts epic if he wanted to, but he’s after more rarefied game in this remarkable and challenging film. Shu Qi (The Transporter) plays a mysterious female assassin whose heart and soul gets in the way of her deadly art. Her journey is instead used by Hou to directly confront Taiwanese and Chinese myth, landscape, and genre conventions head-on. It has few and fleeting bursts of lightning-fast swordplay and balletic combat that interrupt long, still stretches of misty moonlit landscapes and follow a pure literary style more interested in soul-searching and interpersonal drama amid political maneuvering. The detailed period costumes and art direction make the film extraordinarily beautiful to watch (it’s one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen), but the refinement may weigh against it for fans hungering after spectacular kung fu. The plot and characters are also hard to follow due to the substantially opaque narrative ambiguity from which to reap the riches off like a more poetically-inclined mind. The Assassin is a martial arts movie for philosophers, scholars, poets, painters, sculptors, artists, gourmands, and other hard-core sensualists. Fans of martial arts movies will probably hate it through no fault of their own. The Assasin is for those who wish to expand their movie palette beyond traditional “entertainment.” Continue reading “The Assassin” is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Anti-Action Masterpiece

“Steve Jobs” – An Abstract Portrait on Greatness versus Decency

Does being a “great” man mean you can’t be a “decent” one? That is the question that director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing, The Social Network, The Newsroom) Steve Jobs asks. Eschewing a traditional fact-based biopic form, this film is a perfect storm of cinematic energy. Rather than lay out the complete career and/or life of the real  Steve Jobs, the three-part film distills the man as a figure for “great” men as an essence, an interpretation if you will, from three pivotal moments of the actual man’s history. The film offers key snapshots that race along on a jovial pace and a propulsive momentum that never lets up. Yes, it’s Aaron Sorkin mapping out story, characters and dialogue so exaggerated in his personal style, that it almost seems like self-parody, but somehow it all works. Filled with strong performances and lively exchanges with the hindsight of history providing context, Steve Jobs is a genuine entertainment that does not rely on spectacle or sensationalism to excite us. Continue reading “Steve Jobs” – An Abstract Portrait on Greatness versus Decency

The “Spectre” of Past Bonds Looms over This Misfire

Ian Fleming’s suave British superspy, James Bond, has been a pop culture icon for over 50 years. Evolving from a literary character to the quintessential blockbuster action hero, he’s gone through decades of re-invention that both innovates and reflects where contemporary cinema goers are in terms of pop culture and what they like from their pulp escapism and fantasy. Who is James Bond? Why ‘nobody does it better’? What drives him and these films about him? These questions rarely came up in Bond’s early days until the radical 2006 re-invention Casino Royale, the 1st time Daniel Craig stepped in the role. That was the moment the franchise began to wrestle with what made the man tick, and the next two films, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall were all about moving this anachronistic character into our modern world, or at least the heightened/romanticized “Bond” equivalent to it. The Bond films have been about many things, some even as ridiculous as cloning and space lasers but the one thing they have never been about is nostalgia. These were movies of their time, occasionally forward-thinking enough to define genre movie-making for the foreseeable future. All Spectre does is regurgitate well-worn tropes without any clue how to re-engineer them for modern standards. Everything old felt new in Skyfall but here, everything is just old. The movie actually would even be just fine as a love letter/homage to those tropes but a lack of strong narrative tissue connecting those beats only compound their ineffectuality. Spectre is a movie so obsessed with regressing Bond back to the past that it plays like a soulless greatest hits cover album. Continue reading The “Spectre” of Past Bonds Looms over This Misfire

“The Last Witch Hunter” is Vin Diesel’s Ultimate Role Play Scenario

Movie star and action-icon Vin Diesel may look and act like your stereotypical macho tough guy, but any interview with him reveals the soul of the dweebiest 20-sided-die-rolling nerd you’ll likely ever meet. The man loves sci-fi and fantasy and games a lot and that’s really apparent in his latest film The Last Witch Hunter. The movie, which Diesel produced for himself to star in, is in part based on a Dungeons & Dragons (a tabletop role-play game for those not “in the know”) character he created and likes play. This is true passion for material that sets this movie apart from forgettable CGI sword-and-sorcery doldrums like Seventh Son or The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Continue reading “The Last Witch Hunter” is Vin Diesel’s Ultimate Role Play Scenario

“Bridge of Spies” and the Importance of Law & Order

Some will call Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies a “lower/mid-range” Spielberg movie. They may even call it “old-fashion.” Yes, Spielberg’s movie is classically made, with a long, deliberate pace, and it is visually low-key. It’s the type of movie that draws in the Clint Eastwood movie-going crowd and perfectly suited for a cross-generational audience the way a History Channel special is. However, sometimes old-fashioned ways are the only ways to tell  a story about old-fashioned values and make it seem refreshingly timeless in our modern era.

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The Sumptuous and Empty Thrills of “Crimson Peak”

“Ghosts are real” is the first line in Guillermo del Toro’s pseudo-Gothic-but-not-horror romance (as in romanticization, not a love story) soap opera Crimson Peak. And then the movie begins in media-res before introducing our perky heroine Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young writer with a widowed father. “It’s not a ghost story,” she assures us, “more a story with ghosts in it. Ghosts are a metaphor for the past.” And that’s the mission statement for del Toro with his bodice-ripper/Hammer Horror mashup. And therein lies the biggest weaknesses and strengths of the movie:  it features lots of ghosts, some horror imagery and symbols, but isn’t really a scary ghost story. It speaks a lot about romance, love and romanticizes (fetishizes) the gothic vibes of the Victorian era aesthetics and lifestyle, but it’s cold and clinical (cynical too). Worst of all it gives us the structure of a mystery, yet it doesn’t merely “play fair” it practically spells out the answers to you in the first 10 minutes (to say nothing of the opening scene). In fact none of the lofty ideas about how past cycles haunt us ever come into play in any meaningful way. This is a movie that knows what it wants to be but seems content to be the least version of itself and yet does notalways mind because it’s still full of marvels.

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