11:35am showing of The Counselor, by Ridley Scott.
11:35am showing of The Counselor, by Ridley Scott.
Brilliant play by Ben Affleck. If the Batman/Superman movie is a hit, which it almost certainly will be, he’ll have delivered Warner Bros. a string of hit movies, a Best Picture win, and Batman. At that point he’ll be a near-Nolan levels of good graces with the studio, which means money, freedom, and autonomy. They’ll give him the keys to the damn kingdom.
I’m mainly writing this to save for posterity, because I’m almost certain I’m right: In 2015 Ben Affleck will be able to walk into the Warner Bros. offices and get $100 million for WHATEVER project he wants to direct, no questions asked. And all he needed to do was put on a cape and cowl. Brilliant.
Four months before the release of The Wolverine, director James Mangold released a curious list of what he called the film’s influences; an eclectic mix of westerns, samurai epics, 70s crime drama, and foreign art-house classics that would supposedly find their way into the DNA of the new X-Men film. The logical response to this release was a measured skepticism; would anyone really believe that this movie about a superpowered mutant would in any meaningful way resemble the films of Wong-Kar Wai, Powell and Pressburger, or Yasujiro Ozu? It seemed like highbrow pandering at best and misguided hubris at worst.
Having seen the movie now, I don’t think anyone will be comparing it to Late Spring anytime soon. What I can say is that it’s a thrilling departure from the current Hollywood norm, and may be my personal favorite superhero film to come out in years.
If Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was the anti-Hollywood crime film, then Only God Forgives is the anti-Drive. The 2011 film confused and enraptured audiences in equal measure with its subversion of conventional plot and style; the follow-up is a full-on abandonment of accessible narrative filmmaking, that instead lets its images stretch, its ideas breathe, and its themes linger. It has more on its mind and in its heart than its predecessor, and if it never matches its fevered cult status it will remain in many ways the better film.
In Drive self-seclusion becomes self-glorification, as the Driver floats along the streets of Los Angeles bathed in warm orange and buoyed by synthesized pop. Only God Forgives denies such pleasures and reveals the soul-eating depths of true isolation. Here the city streets, gleaming hotels, and fluorescent hallways become prisons of banality where the lonely ones trudge forward with their rotting lives. Searing red lights, echoing footsteps, and a pounding score lock these characters in, forcing them to retreat further and further into their own minds. Their affects are inert, unwilling to let anyone into their personal space or penetrate anyone else’s. The most violent acts in the movie are the silences: they stare at their surroundings, their weapons, their friends and enemies. They find mostly nothing.
The lonely ones tell themselves they believe in things, in family and morality and justice. They do what they say is right, stand up for what they say they believe in, and punish those who they say are wrong. But these commitments only lock them in further, forcing them into cycles from which they cannot escape. Consider the man who must provide for his daughters, and in doing so sends those daughters to prostitution. Because of this one daughter is murdered. The father exacts justice on the man who committed the murder, but the murderer’s next of kin is also entitled to vengeance. Police officers, families, and children are all pulled into the vortex of violence.
Like another 2013 film that confounds expectations, Only God Forgives concerns itself with the body. Throughout most scenes the bodies and faces of our characters barely move. Why would they? When you have given up on a meaningful relationship with the world you see no reason to exert yourself. Only one character recognizes that others have failed the body parts they have been given, and confiscates them for their misuse.
And then there are the hands. The main character spends the movie trying to figure out their purpose — they protect, they destroy, but they are only rarely, fleetingly used to touch. He uses them to try and pull his way out of isolation, to reach past barriers into the humanity beyond. In one scene he tries to reach back into the place where he once came. Maybe he’ll find answers there. Or in nature. Or in nothing.
We know now that The Sopranos changed the landscape of television, that it was the driving force that proved the depths serial drama could contain. James Gandolfini was the center of that force. He took David Chase’s words and created a stunning piece of art named Tony Soprano, a workaday family man who drove a Range Rover, ate refrigerated pasta, and killed snitches. He was as funny, charming, and charismatic as he was vengeful and deadly. He was confused. He was depressed. He was dominated by his mother and uncle and cried in front of his therapist. He made us believe one man could contain multitudes and kept us watching week after week as we discovered more. The iconic performances of Jon Hamm, Michael Chiklis, and Ian McShane, the sociopolitical breadth of The Wire, the darkly comic moments of Breaking Bad — all of these were made possible by the work done by Gandolfini and the cast he led.
Many artists are great, some are legendary. Only a few can say they changed an entire medium. Writers, directors, actors, and actresses will be standing on his shoulders for decades to come. Rest in peace, James Gandolfini.
Greatest film writer of all time, and as far as I’m concerned as culturally important as any movie figure of the 20th Century. He had such insights into beauty and art and articulated them so that audiences everywhere could see what he saw. His passion and cinematic advocacy helped write Bonnie and Clyde, Hoop Dreams, Martin Scorsese, and Hayao Miyazaki into film history. He taught me so much about what movies and art are capable of. I am sad that he is no longer in the world, and happy that he made it a better place.
That moment when you download a 30-track mix and you never get around to listening to or learning the name of the last song, and later on that song becomes really popular and you think it’s the dumbest shit ever while for months and months it sits there on your iPod until you’re shuffling through one day and you see:
Thrift Shop (featuring Wanz)
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
And you are fucking aghast.
The camera in Spring Breakers glides. It glides along bodies, along faces, along beaches and along the smoke-filled air.
In the course of the film it glides across three separate social milieus: the church-based community of the small town, the college debauchery of spring break, and the violence and power of the drug world. Each of these environments carries their own rituals, their own codes, their own ways of providing a sense of purpose to the wayward young people who stumble into them.
This movie is obsessed with physicality, the way young bodies channel their energy into movements and poses and defiant stances. Cross-legged church kids sway and clap, full-grown adults denying their chemical impulses in an attempt to convince the world they’re preschoolers. College students at spring break do, well, what college students at spring break do. Drug pushers post-up and flex, intimidating women and their enemies with guns and ice and face tattoos (some of which ain’t make-up).
Just as important is the language each environment employs to assert its ideals, keep its members playing their roles, and justify its existence to itself. Nearly every line of dialogue in this movie is a cliche, a TV slogan or a rap lyric or a piece of slang twisted and bent to fit the situation. There’s isn’t a moment of heart-to-heart sincerity in the film, no scenes where a character attempts to communicate honestly and emotionally. This is a generation who speaks in declarations of independence, pumped-up chants that treat the listener like a mass audience.
Crossing the lines of these communities are the Breakers. The Breakers believe the world belongs to them. The Breakers want their life experience to encompass anything and everything, while paradoxically behaving as if they’re in a video game. They exist in the interim between child and adult, which they take advantage of by adopting the worst qualities of both. They take on pop-culturally generated affectations of masculinity and blackness, knowing that at any moment they can toss them off like yesterday’s bikinis. They act out. They destroy. They’re just trying to find themselves.
Each world carries its own leash. What do you when you find yourself running away from one one place into another, only to find you don’t have the heart for either? When the code of the streets says you need to pull a tech on your childhood friend? When the whole thing is over and you go back to your normal life, what do you bring back?
The human body is at its physical peak in its teens and twenties. Its most impressive act is the ability to bend and shape itself into whatever it wants to become.
There is an alternate universe in which Alan Tudyk plays Michael Scott, Adam Scott plays Jim Halpert, and Mary Lynn Rajskub plays Pam Beesly. Imagine that. IMAGINE THAT IN YOUR MINDS.
I have a lot of questions about this.
—Is the movie only going to be made with these funds? A couple million dollars is not a lot of money for a real movie.
—Warner Bros. owns Veronica Mars. At any point they can decide to not make or release this. If this happens, who gets their money back?
—The script doesn’t appear to have been written yet, which seems colossally dumb. If the actors or producers aren’t happy with it and walk away, who gets their money back?
—Does this even have a director? What?
—Do the actors get a salary off this? Did the Internet just by Kristen Bell a new car?
—What if this becomes a runaway success and Warner Bros sees tons of profits? Did a multi-billion dollar corporation just use you to save millions of dollars in cash by doing nothing? Keep in mind that a movie could generate revenue for literally DECADES into the future, all on the backs of your investments, which you won’t even make back.
Best case scenario: This experiment will lead to new and exciting ways of making other people rich. Hooray Internet!!