Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Last Exorcism - The Last Example of Video Vérité, I Hope

As video vérité in the guise of a documentary, I found The Last Exorcism rather engaging for half of its length. I enjoyed the performance of Patrick Fabian as evangelical minister Cotton Marcus – especially when he turns and winks at the camera to reveal the sham of his ministry and the fake exorcism he performs for a wad of cash. As Cotton repeatedly draws attention to the camera through which we are supposedly seeing this story, the Blair Witch Project nature of this film works.

But when the film draws attention to this genre as pure artifice by including the non-diegetic musical score Film Doctor notes in his review, and rooms are perfectly lit for a spooky movie, the whole approach seems unnecessary and merely an attempt to piggy-back on the success of Paranormal Activity, as well as The Fourth Kind, which I found vastly superior to PA.

Yet this musical score comes before the film genuinely establishes a creepy Louisiana backwoods atmosphere complete with simple-minded, rock-chucking brother Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) and an equally creepy performance by Ashley Bell as Nell, the weirdly innocent, isolated, home-schooled girl who creates paper-cutout pictures of fictional Biblical-like scenes and displays them on her bedroom wall. In her girly dress, naive to the point of near imbecility, Nell shows a fascination for the sound boom operator's cool boots in one of the most unsettling moments in the film.

But after a literal U-turn in which Cotton heads back to the farm, a ridiculous climactic scene echoes Rosemary’s Baby and every schlocky horror movie about Satanic rites in the woods, and the video vérité approach again is pointless. Here, the film seems to want to beef up the special effects and the breadth of the action and be like any horror film with a standard point of view. Indeed, The Last Exorcism might have been better off this way. When it abandons some nice subtlety achieved by Ashley Bell’s performance and some effectively lit shots in the barn, outside in front of the house, and in the girl’s bedroom, it felt like the video camera approach was constraining the film’s urge to abandon subtlety and get down and demonic.

As Film Doctor also noted, the movie tries to incorporate heady questions about faith and religion. Says Cotton in the beginning, "In order to believe in God, you have to believe in demons." Well, you know, I kind of believe that because the Catholic grade school I attended piled on the Satanic lore along with the Jesus stories and a whole cataloguing of a vast array of sins and rather graphic descriptions of where you would go if you died in a state of sin. Much like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, I do, I do, I do believe in devils. At least, I’m not going to declare one dark night that I don’t.

Thus, I found that old demon encyclopedia Cotton totes around rather fascinating. It got me wondering who thought up all that demon mythology. Medieval scribes assigned to scare peasants into allegiance to the Catholic Church? What a sick imagination! I've had enough childhood exposure to demonology to be scared by the movie's subtle bits - like Nell huddled on top of her wardrobe - and I like how the story seems to be leaving us with mysteries, one involving incest, before the fateful U-turn. No need for the documentary artifice, no need for the Satanic rites around the bonfire - just a need for consistently artistic atmosphere and intelligently subtle suspense. Show more creativity. The Medieval scribes did.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The isms in Eat Pray Love

by guest writer Mary

[A few weeks ago, my daughter asked me to drop her off to see Step Up 3D, so I decided to take in Eat Pray Love at the same time until I walked into the lobby and encountered a little women’s group of five or six mothers of recent seniors I had taught in A.P. English. (No, they were not members of a Book Club who had read the bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert; as it turns out, they were rather giggly Javier Bardem fans.) Wanting a little space from reminders of school during the last weeks of summer vacation, I instantly changed my plan and decided to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but that movie wasn’t starting for twenty minutes so I went to sit with my daughter and watch the previews before her show.

Up comes a preview for Scott Pilgrim and it looks dumb so I quickly get up, deciding to sneak into Eat Pray Love which had already started. Standing in the dark for about fifteen minutes, I gave up after Billy Crudup as Stephen announces to his wife that he wants to further his education, maybe become a teacher, and teary-eyed Julia Roberts as Liz gets down on her knees and begs God to deliver her from this marriage. Quick! Back to Scott Pilgrim, which had just started. And I rather enjoyed it. I had thought I was done with Michael Cera’s pervading persona, but here he is quite endearing, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is engaging as the girl of his dreams. A fun portrayal of 20-something angst in our time – though the fight scenes go on too long.

Anyway, this is all in the way of relating how I did not see Eat Pray Love, and that my wife, Mary, did see Eat Pray Love, wrote a review of it, and offers it here as her writing debut on Little Worlds. So, without further preamble, welcome Mary to this blog and enjoy her review. - Hokahey]

I have to confess that I have not read the book on which the film Eat Pray Love is based. Therefore, if I have a quarrel with it, I am not sure whether my quarrel is with the book or the film. Word is that the film is a pretty faithful adaptation. Apparently the book was very popular, and the movie is proving so as well, earning 23 million on its opening weekend; currently it is # 2 at the box office.

To me, the film raises some interesting questions about various “isms” – sexism, racism, and classism.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #10

Well, I guess I had to do an even 10 before ending this series (for a while at least). As explained here at "Yes!" Moment #1, I have posted moments randomly without any sort of rating in mind, but I must say the moment I consider one of the very best moments in cinema – a very intense moment – and I like intense! "No prisoners! No prisoners!"

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is not only a visually spectacular historical epic, it is a disturbing portrait of war and the effects of war on the human psyche. This is clearly and dramatically seen when Lawrence is faced with a crucial dilemma: avoid a crumbling Turkish column and push on to Damascus or exact revenge for the massacre of an Arab village. That Lawrence chooses violence is effectively developed by Lean’s masterful direction. This is one of the most intense scenes in any movie – and it is a Yes! Moment of effective cinematography and fine acting. Just look at Peter O’Toole’s face. Look at the anguish in his face. Look at his eyes. What power there is in theater and the (relatively) permanent capturing of theatrical moments in the medium of film!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #9

"Yes!" Moment #1 will fill you in on how I started this series inspired by a meme initiated by The Dancing Image and Checking On My Sausages. With Moment #8, I thought I was done, but this obsession with the power of the cinematic image goes on and on.

Moment #9 is a dissolve from Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2007).

This magnificent dissolve connects two significant phases in the life of the dynamic Daniel Plainview, as played by Daniel Day-Lewis. In the first phase Plainview digs out the earth's mineral wealth in isolated places. This part, shown with virtually no dialogue, covers four years and ends with Plainview's adoption of an orphan baby. The extremely artistic, tender moment on the train dissovles to a point nine years later - the second phase in Plainview's life when he is a self-sufficient, thriving oil tycoon who ruthlessly takes charge in order to beat out all competition. "Ladies and gentlemen, if I say that I am an oil man, you will agree." And in this image, there is the suggestion of a dark side to this gripping, disturbing tale of the rise and fall of a man of power and wealth.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #8

I started this series with "Yes!" Moment #1 and it's time to move on to other projects - but I had to include a moment in my movie-going life that was a true "Yes!" Moment that made me cry out, "All right!" and, as I recall, leap out of my seat.

"Yes!" Moment # 8 is from True Grit (1969).

What a great moment in a beautifully filmed scene. It looks like Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) has betrayed Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), but here he faces down the four bad guys led by the Lucky Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall). Called a one-eyed fat man, Cogburn calls back, "Fill your hands you son of a bitch!" A great line that only Duke could deliver just right.

What follows is one of the most beautifully filmed shootouts in the history of the Western - as shown below.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #7

"Three bullets!" - from The Deer Hunter (1978)

“We do three bullets! One… two… three…” Oh, yeah, this is the tensest escape scene ever filmed. Often a “Yes!” Moment comes in a scene so gripping you find yourself tightly gripping your seat, a Junior Mints box, someone’s hand (that’s the best). This is definitely that kind of scene.

Three bullets! That’s bad odds, Michael! But this is Mighty Michael, and this is way up there on my list of Robert De Niro performances, second only to Taxi Driver. Just look at Bobby’s face! What a great actor!

This movie really socked me in the gut - the first great movie-going experience I had in the States after three years overseas in Morocco with the Peace Corps. It really got to me emotionally, I had that hand to hold, and Robert De Niro became my man. (I had recently seen Taxi Driver in French in a cinema in Rabat, Morocco.)

See also "Yes!" Moment #1

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #6

Here's how I started this series of images, and here's "Yes!" Moment #6 from Magnolia (1999).

"This is something that happens." Yes, Stanley, you know this is something that happens because you know just about everything there is to know. (I knew this is something that happens, too, but with smaller frogs, I thought.) And the fact that you know you know so much is going to give you the self-confidence to stand up to your father. This is your triumph.

This appears in a climactic sequence that is full of "Yes!" Moments. And anyone who thinks Tom Cruise is not a good actor should watch this movie. Just posting this image is spurring me to watch Magnolia again. (My favorite Juilanne Moore performance.)

This series could go on forever. I haven't even gotten to classics like Hilts jumping the fence in The Great Escape or any single moment in the chariot race in Ben-Hur - and on and on. But this has been a fun series to do, and just doing it has pumped up my addiction for the thrill of cinema.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #5

This series could be as infinite as space. Anyway, here's the beginning: "Yes!" Moment #1

"Yes!"Moment #5 - from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968):

Much more than a "Yes!" Moment! I love cinema's power to blow your mind! I love the minimalist composition of this image.

But I'm thinking here that when I saw this movie in the 60s, I most likely said, "Right on!" or "Far out!" Definitely not "Yes!" or "Awesome!" because those are exclamations that were born at a later time. The 80s? I can think of kids in Spielberg movies - or in some of those really bad Spielberg-movie- wannabes of the 80s - definitely exclaiming, "Yes!" Can you think of a movie in which a character says, "Yes!"? Does Ferris Bueller say it? Does Matthew Broderick say it in WarGames (1983)? I know "Yes!" was big in the 90s. In Jurassic Park, the clever little hacker girl gets the locks working, and she and her brother cry out, "Yes!" What about "Awesome!"? When did that start?

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #4

Go to "Yes!" Moment #1 to start at the beginning.

Here's "Yes!" Moment #4:

from The Searchers (1956) - and it needs no explanation. I think you'll agree it's a classic "Yes!" Moment that always touches the heart. "Let's go home, Debbie."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #3

Take a look at "Yes!" Moment #1 to find out what this is all about. (Moments are presented randomly and are not meant as a rating.)

"Yes!" Moment #3 comes from Aliens (1986):

Oh, my God! Ripley is so awesome! All alone, she's going back to rescue Newt, down into the nether regions of the station that is swarming with alien creatures, and the whole planet is going to blow up in like minutes! Here she has just loaded her combination automatic rifle/flame-thrower/grenade launcher, and she's stuffed her pockets with flares. Taking a deep breath, she shakes off her fear. We shake off our fear! We can feel it in our trembling knees. In her eyes we see stone-hard determination, and we know she has shifted into alien-butt-kicking mode!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #2

Check out "Yes!" Moment #1 to find out what this is all about.

As a very Happy 15th-Anniversary to Heat (1995), here is my "Yes!" Moment #2:

This is it! They’re coming out of the bank. Neil McCauley and Chris Shiherlis. They’ve done it! We’ve gotten to know them, and even though they’re bad guys, we kind of want them to get away. So much is at stake for them, and they think they’ve done it, even though we know the police have arrived. We are tense in expectation of a titanic firefight. Any moment in the bank-robbery/shout-out sequence is a “Yes!” Moment. The whole movie – one of the most dramatic, most gripping films of the past twenty-five years - is a “Yes!” moment.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Yes!" Moment #1

It's been both fun and visually dazzling following the meme started at The Dancing Image and Checking On My Sausages which involves posting a series of images unified by a common theme. This took me to images tracing The Fall and Redemption of Anakin Skywalker as well as images of Passion and Ressurection. Elsewhere I enjoyed a series examining Cinema and the Eye; a series showing John Ford's Doorways in The Searchers; and a look at images capturing moments of Dawning Realizations in various films.

My series of images is called The "Yes!" Moment. As this meme celebrates the "thrill of cinema," I can't think of a better contribution than a celebration of those "moments" in films we all love and yearn for - when imagery, plot, characterization, and theme all seem to come together in one thrilling "moment" when you feel awed - when your heart starts pounding - when you feel like jumping out of your seat - when you audibly cry out, "Yes!" - or you silently articulate in your mind that you are witness to a special moment in film.

Not having the time right now to get together a series, I plan to post a number of single moments over the next week or so. (The order in which they are presented is in no way an attempt to rate them.)

Here is my "Yes!" Moment #1:

From Planet of the Apes (1968)

Oh, man! I don't think I've been more surprised by an image! I saw this movie at the age of 16 when it first came out and I was floored. I know I uttered, "Oh, yeah!" Other similar vocalizations rippled through the cinema. My heart was pounding. This is a quintessential "Yes!" Moment.