A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #7: The Florida Project

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Tune in for episode 7 of A Damn Fine Cup of Culture, most of which we spend with Moonee, Jancey, Halley and Bobby at the Magic Castle motel, discussing Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. We also stop by Charlotte, Tennessee for a quick chat about Logan Lucky and take a quick glimpse at the upcoming Academy Awards. Continue reading

A matter of life and death… and Japanese movies

There are a handful of films that give off a glow in my memory, like a candle flame. They’re not necessarily the Assassination of Jesse James etc. etc. or Magnolia type of films. They’re not by people such as Steven Soderbergh or Martin Scorsese. One of those films is Roderigo Garcia’s Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her (great acting in that one, but more than that, the film is amazingly gentle – not soft, mind you, not anodyne, but gentle), which I saw by sheer accident. Another one is Kore-Eda’s After-Life.

I’d been wanting to see the director’s Nobody Knows for a while now, but I only did so yesterday evening. After the very emotional final episode of Six Feet Under (it got to me just as much this time as it did when I first watched it) I wasn’t sure whether a film about four children who are abandoned by their mother and who try to continue their lives as best possible, ignored by the world around them, wouldn’t be too depressing.

The film is definitely not cheerful, and the ending is quite tough in terms of what happens, but there’s something as gentle and comforting about Kore-eda’s direction in Nobody Knows as there was in his deeply spiritual but never preachy After-Life. There are moments of simple joy in the lives of the children. There are just as many moments of joy in the filmmaking: scenes that are both realistic and subtly poetic.

Nobody Knows, by Kore-eda

It’s strange: in a way I feel the movie should get to me more, especially considering the ending – yet somehow I also think that I’d resist a tougher film more. Kore-eda’s work doesn’t do the emotional work for you. It doesn’t tell you what to think or feel. And it doesn’t allow for simple, clear-cut emotions. Yet you have to be willing to be taken along by the film’s flow. I don’t think I’ve seen many films that have this sort of pace; the film that popped into my mind when I tried to think of other movies that had a similar effect on me was Le fils by the Dardenne brothers.

Writing about the film now, I feel I’m only circling around the emotions that it touched upon. I don’t think I’m an inch closer to understanding the effect Nobody Knows had on me. But I think, somehow, that I may be remembering this film, much like After-Life, for a long time.

Out of Sight – not out of mind…

Out of Sight will always have a special place in whatever chamber of my film nerd’s heart is reserved for films. For one thing, it was my first taste of Soderbergh’s work – and, in spite of his lesser films, he remains one of my favourite directors. However, and this may sound strange, I like him most for the editing of his movies… even though he didn’t edit most of his films.

Nevertheless, it’s obvious that he doesn’t just leave the editorial work to his undoubtedly talented editors – many of his films play with jump cuts, freeze frames and achronological editing, whether he’s the one sitting in the Avid chair or not. There’s a strongly impressionistic feel to how Soderbergh places his scenes in relation to each other, to the point where it can become annoying for audiences that aren’t made up of editing geeks like me. The Limey is a case in point (and, even more film nerdy, the director’s commentary on the DVD edition plays the same games with jumbled chronology as the movie – I got a kick out of it, but chances are I’m part of a very exclusive club there).

What strikes about Out of Sight is how effortless the fractured chronology is presented. People were confused by Pulp Fiction‘s B-A-C-style narrative, but that’s nothing compared to how this film jumps, starting pretty much in the middle and liberally moving back and forth. Nevertheless, you’re never confused as to what is going on in the story. Soderbergh hides his positively avantgarde  editing in plain sight.

And it’s rarely been done as successfully as in the love scene between George Clooney (pretty much at the beginning of his career as an actor rather than clothesrack) and Jennifer Lopez (has she ever been better than in this film?), which cuts smoothly back and forth between the actual lovemaking and the buildup. The spark between Clooney and Lopez is made into one of the most erotic love scenes in American filmmaking. Yet the fades and the music also have something sad – it’s clear, somehow, from watching the scene that this will be the one and only time the two characters are in effect together.

P.S.: To be fair, the scene is not entirely original. Soderbergh has obviously watched his Nicholas Roeg closely, getting his inspiration from the Julie Christie/Donald Sutherland love scene in Don’t Look Now (gotta love the accidental synchronicity between the two films’ titles) which jumps back and forth between sex and the couple putting their clothes back on afterwards, infusing the mundane married life with the erotic.

P.P.S.: For anyone interested in the art of editing, do read In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, Jarhead).

The man whose career could survive a moustache

I’ve never seen the first film version of Solaris. I have a fairly high tolerance for slow movies, but I’ve never dared to test this tolerance on Tarkovsky’s film. (Personally, I blame Russian Ark, a slow Russian film that I found offensively boring.) However, being a Steven Soderbergh fan, I’ve seen – and enjoyed – his version* several times now. I love its elliptic quality. The film isn’t willfully confusing, but neither does it believe in making everythign absolutely clear – which, more often than not, I find utterly boring and just a tad offensive. I enjoy having to use my brain at least a bit when watching a movie, I like having to put in an effort to get something out of a book or film, because in the end you tend to get more out of such books and films.

It’s also one of the first films that show George Clooney’s acting range. He’s not perfect, and there are one or two scenes that stretch his abilities perhaps a bit too much; but then, what is the convincing way to react when you’re millions of miles away from Earth and wake up to find your dead wife in bed next to you?

(Beware: the excerpt above is 9+ minutes long, but it highlights the film’s beautiful cinematography and its wonderful, hypnotic score.)

Before Solaris, I thought that Clooney was best at the Cary Grant type of role, as he does so well in Out of Sight and Ocean’s 11. To my knowledge, Solaris was the first time he didn’t put in a movie star performance, where he wasn’t suave and glamorous (much like Brad Pitt in Babel). And after that, he showed that he could pull it off convincingly in Syriana and in his lovely little performance in God Night, and Good Luck, his second directing stint. I admire his willingness to put the film and the other actors first. There are few stars with his charisma that succeed as well at letting others dominate the screen when it’s right for the film. And there are few stars that are as willing to make a complete fool of themselves when the movie requires it.

Tom Selleck called. He wants his ’stache back.

And to conclude this Clooney love-fest: if you haven’t seen his first directing stint, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, do so. It’s an intriguing, clever, highly entertaining film – and it’s got a wonderful sight gag that puts George’s mates Matt and Brad to perfect use. Talk about lead actors who can take a back seat, literally!

*I honestly wouldn’t call Soderbergh’s Solaris a remake, just as no production of Hamlet post-1603 is a remake of the original staging.