Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

Certified Copy Certified Copy

Posted by metaphorical on 4 February 2012

Is a perfect copy of The David as good as the original, if you think it’s the original?

Is the Mona Lisa just a copy of the woman it is a painting of?

Is a memory a copy? What if it’s not really a memory? And what if we simply don’t know? How does our knowledge—or lack of knowledge—change something?

In Certified Copy, an author, James (William Shimmel), has recently published a book in which he asserts that copies have their own integrity. As proof, if someone doesn’t know it is a copy, he is filled with all the same feelings of beauty and artfulness as is the person who looks at the original. In the opening scene, he gives a reading, eagerly (though only briefly) attended by a woman, Elle (Juliette Binoche). What is her interest in him? We wonder.

The thesis seems wrong, maybe even a bit absurd. At one point James looks at a newlywed couple and says they ought to know what lies ahead for them, that their happiness is an illusion they should be disabused of. What is the harm, Ellie asks him. And hasn’t he just repudiated the thesis of his book?

Partway through the movie, the two, having traveled to another town to look at a work of art—a copy, naturally—are mistaken for being married to one another by an old woman who runs a café. Elle, does not correct the error. For the rest of the movie, the couple—on their own, far from the café, continue the charade. But what if it isn’t a charade? Our understanding of the couple, our feelings for and about them, change depending on whether we think they have just met, or have been married for 15 years.

As far as reality is concerned, it makes all the difference in the world whether they are married or strangers. But this is a movie, a work of art. How we regard (look at) it determines how we regard it (assess it as a work of art). Is a perfect copy of as good as the original, if you regard it that way?

IMDb / Box Office Mojo / Rotten Tomatoes (88%/69%)

Posted in movies, pop culture, screenwriting, the arts, writing | 2 Comments »

We Need to Talk About We Need to Talk About Kevin

Posted by metaphorical on 15 January 2012

The opening scene of We Need to Talk About Kevin involve a bizarre giant mosh pit filled with buckets and buckets, barrels worth, of tomato sauce. It goes on and on. The viewer becomes impatient. Still, it continues.

When the scene finally ends, it gives way to not one, but a series of flashes of very different scenes, none long enough to make any real sense. Eventually, like a child being disciplined, it becomes clear that you need to sit still and take it. You’re not going to get any quick or clear explanations. You settle in for the long haul. You hope the payoff will be worth it. It is.

Tilda Swinton is just extraordinary, in a role that can’t have seemed even possible to play when reading the script. She’s the mother of a teenage boy who has done about the worst thing a teenage boy can do.

The other performers, notably Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller as the child and teenage Kevin, are exceptional as well. John C. Reilly is also excellent, but we don’t see as much of him, though it’s hard to know whether, or how much, that contributes to what finally happens.

The movie has no easy answers, no answers at all in fact, for questions that almost surely have no answer. How much discipline? How much love? How much is nature, and how much nurture? Can a boy be born bad? Can people living in the same household live in different realities?

Instead, it spends its time exploring these people, giving substance to things that can ordinarily only be talked about and never embodied—this particular boy, this particular mother, these other family members, and those other mothers, whose children were the victims of this particularly horrific event.

There is nothing wasted, nothing extraneous, in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Events unfold in three chronologies, shuffled like decks of cards (once the three stories sort themselves out, you’re never confused about which you’re watching): Kevin and his mom, from his birth onward; mom, and eventually Kevin, on the horrific day; and mom, and eventually Kevin, in the frozen, undead days and months that followed.

Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of a woman dragging herself through one day after another, in the shell of her former self, has to be seen to be believed. This story needs to be seen, not to be believed—nothing can make the unbelievable believable—but because it at least makes it it seeable. Few movies try something this hard. A very rare fewer still, succeed.

IMDb / Box Office Mojo / Rotten Tomatoes (82%/86%)

Short link: http://wp.me/p2947-er

Posted in language, movies, screenwriting, the arts | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Big Heat: Fritz Lang’s Serpico

Posted by metaphorical on 11 January 2012

Straight-as-an-arrow police sergeant Dave Bannion has no truck with the corruption that surrounds him, until he finally has to team up with kept woman Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame) to solve a crime and extract revenge.

The Big Heat, 1953

Police sergeant Glenn Ford is tough as nails, but has a heart of gold. Gloria Grahame is a kept woman, but has a heart of gold. Everyone else is a crook and a louse, except for the woman who works at the auto repair shop, and you can tell she’s a good egg because she walks with a cane.

The plot of The Big Heat is a straight line from the first scene to the end, with a single I-can’t-believe-they-did-that moment in the middle that’s telegraphed so thoroughly the they should save their money and put a first class stamp on it.

Still, even on an off day Fritz Lang can create eye candy out of nothing but lighting and camera angles. If you want to see Gloria Grahame when she has some real material to work with, go straight to In a Lonely Place. As for the other principal, he’s quite good here, but has there ever been a truly great Glenn Ford movie?

Posted in movies, reviews, screenwriting, the arts | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »