Monday, September 14, 2020

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Original Swedish Version

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a compelling thriller to begin with, but it adds the rare quality of having a heroine more fascinating than the story. She's a 24-year-old goth girl named Lisbeth Salander, with body piercings and tattoos: thin, small, fierce, damaged, a genius computer hacker. She smokes to quiet her racing heart.

Lisbeth is as compelling as any movie character in recent memory. Played by Noomi Rapace with an unwavering intensity, she finds her own emotional needs nurtured by the nature of the case she investigates, the disappearance of a young girl 40 years earlier. As this case is revealed as part of a long-hidden pattern of bizarre violence against women, memories of her own abused past return with a vengeance.

Rapace makes the character compulsively interesting. She plays against a passive fortysomething hero, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), an investigative journalist who has six months of freedom before beginning a prison sentence for libel against a Swedish tycoon. Mikael, resourceful and intelligent, is hired by an elderly billionaire named Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), who inhabits a gloomy mansion on a remote island and broods about the loss of his beloved niece Harriet. She vanished one day when the island was cut off from the mainland. Her body was never found. Because the access bridge was blocked, the killer must have been a member of Vanger's large and greedy family, which he hates. Three brothers were Nazi sympathizers during the war.

The notion of a murder with a limited list of suspects was conventional even before Agatha Christie. Niels Arden Oplev's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" pays it lip service, with Mikael covering a wall with photos of the suspects. But this is a new age, and in addition to his search of newspaper and legal archives, he uses the Internet. That's how he comes across Lisbeth, who has been investigating him. She's described as Sweden's best hacker, a claim we have no reason to doubt, and the intensity of her focus, contrasted to her walled-off emotional life, suggests Asperger's.

They team up on the case, and might become lovers if not for Mikael's diffidence and her secretive hostility. They become efficient partners. Scenes involving newspaper photographs and Internet searches create sequences like a "Blow-Up" for the digital age. The film is unique in my memory for displaying screen shots of an actual computer operating system, Mac OS X, and familiar programs like e-mail and iPhoto. Ever notice how most movie computers work like magic?

The forbidding island setting, the winter chill, the frosty inhabitants, all combine with dread suspicions to create an uncommonly effective thriller. It's longer than average, but not slow, not after we become invested in the depravity of the case. There are scenes involving rape, bondage and assault that are stronger than most of what serves in the movies for sexual violence, but these scenes are not exploitation. They have a ferocious feminist orientation, and although "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" seems a splendid title, the original Swedish title was the stark "Men Who Hate Women."

The novel, one of a trilogy which Stieg Larsson completed before his untimely death at 44 in 2004, was an international best-seller. It is destined to be remade by Hollywood. That remake may turn out to be a good film, but if I were you I'd be sure to watch this version. The Hollywood version will almost certainly tone down the sexual violence. I can't think of an American actress who could play Lisbeth. Kristen Stewart, who I respect, has been mentioned. Dakota Fanning. I dunno. A younger Jodie Foster, maybe. Someone able to play hard as nails and emotionally unavailable. Make her a Swede, and simply cast Noomi Rapace.

This is not a deep psychological study. But it's a sober, grown-up film. It has action, but not the hyperkinetic activity that passes for action in too many American movies. It has sex, but not eroticism. Its male lead is brave and capable, but not macho. Its female lead is sexy in the abstract, perhaps, but not seductive or alluring. This is a movie about characters who have more important things to do than be characters in an action thriller.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

"The General" - An Appreciation

Buster Keaton’s The General 

Yeah, it’s silent. So what? You’ll barely notice. It’s that good.


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Welcome to Intro Film & CinemaVIEW for Fall 2020


This course provides an introduction to the development of film forms, styles, and theories providing a basic aesthetic and social understanding of film as both a mode of communication and a means of artistic expression. It explores the interrelationship of the diegesis, visual design, motion, editing, and thematic significance, helping students develop the foundational skills with which to interpret and articulate the myriad ways in which films create meaning, and elicit responses within viewers.


The ultimate objective of the course is for students to become acquainted with a variety of film forms/styles, while developing the basic skills necessary to analyze and evaluate the cinematic presentations. 


Fulfills a course requirement in the FILM STUDIES minor and CORE CONCENTRATION.

Friday, February 28, 2020



It’s so clichéd at this point in the critical conversation during the hot take season of festivals to say, “You’ve never seen a movie quite like X.” Such a statement has become overused to such a degree that it’s impossible to be taken seriously, like how too many major new movies are gifted the m-word: masterpiece. So how do critics convey when a film truly is unexpectedly, brilliantly unpredictable in ways that feel revelatory? And what do we do when we see an actual “masterpiece” in this era of critics crying wolf? Especially one with so many twists and turns that the best writing about it will be long after spoiler warnings aren’t needed? I’ll do my best because Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” is unquestionably one of the best films of the year. Just trust me on this one.

Bong has made several films about class (including "Snowpiercer" and "Okja"), but “Parasite” may be his most daring examination of the structural inequity that has come to define the world. It is a tonal juggling act that first feels like a satire—a comedy of manners that bounces a group of lovable con artists off a very wealthy family of awkward eccentrics. And then Bong takes a hard right turn that asks us what we’re watching and sends us hurtling to bloodshed. Can the poor really just step into the world of the rich? The second half of “Parasite” is one of the most daring things I’ve seen in years narratively. The film constantly threatens to come apart—to take one convoluted turn too many in ways that sink the project—but Bong holds it all together, and the result is breathtaking.

Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) and his family live on the edge of poverty. They fold pizza boxes for a delivery company to make some cash, steal wi-fi from the coffee shop nearby, and leave the windows open when the neighborhood is being fumigated to deal with their own infestation. Kim Ki-woo’s life changes when a friend offers to recommend him as an English tutor for a girl he’s been working with as the friend has to go out of the country for a while. The friend is in love with the young girl and doesn’t want another tutor “slavering” over her. Why he trusts Kim Ki-woo given what we know and learn about him is a valid question.

The young man changes his name to Kevin and begins tutoring Park Da-hye (Jung Ziso), who immediately falls for him, of course. Kevin has a much deeper plan. He’s going to get his whole family into this house. He quickly convinces the mother Yeon-kyo, the excellent Jo Yeo-jeong, that the son of the house needs an art tutor, which allows Kevin’s sister “Jessica” (Park So-dam) to enter the picture. Before long, mom and dad are in the Park house too, and it seems like everything is going perfectly for the Kim family. The Parks seem to be happy too. And then everything changes.

The script for “Parasite” will get a ton of attention as it’s one of those clever twisting and turning tales for which the screenwriter gets the most credit (Bong and Han Jin-won, in this case), but this is very much an exercise in visual language that reaffirms Bong as a master. Working with the incredible cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong (“Burning,” “Snowpiercer”) and an A-list design team, Bong's film is captivating with every single composition. The clean, empty spaces of the Park home contrasted against the tight quarters of the Kim living arrangement isn’t just symbolic, it’s visually stimulating without ever calling attention to itself. And there’s a reason the Kim apartment is halfway underground—they’re caught between worlds, stuck in the growing chasm between the haves and the have nots.

"Parasite" is a marvelously entertaining film in terms of narrative, but there’s also so much going on underneath about how the rich use the poor to survive in ways that I can’t completely spoil here (the best writing about this movie will likely come after it’s released). Suffice to say, the wealthy in any country survive on the labor of the poor, whether it’s the housekeepers, tutors, and drivers they employ, or something much darker. Kim's family will be reminded of that chasm and the cruelty of inequity in ways you couldn’t possibly predict.

The social commentary of "Parasite" leads to chaos, but it never feels like a didactic message movie. It is somehow, and I’m still not even really sure how, both joyous and depressing at the same time. Stick with me here. "Parasite" is so perfectly calibrated that there’s joy to be had in just experiencing every confident frame of it, but then that’s tempered by thinking about what Bong is unpacking here and saying about society, especially with the perfect, absolutely haunting final scenes. It’s a conversation starter in ways we only get a few times a year, and further reminder that Bong Joon-ho is one of the best filmmakers working today. You’ve never seen a movie quite like “Parasite.” Dammit. I tried to avoid it. This time it's true.

This review was filed from the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7th.

Friday, February 21, 2020

George Roy Hill's Visualization of "Slaughterhouse-Five"

Slaughterhouse-Five is a 1972 science fiction film based on Kurt Vonnegut's novel of the same name about a writer who tells a story in random order of how he was a soldier in World War II and was abducted by aliens. The screenplay is by Stephen Geller and the film was directed by George Roy Hill. It stars Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, and Valerie Perrine, and features Eugene Roche, Sharon Gans, Holly Near, and Perry King. The scenes set in Dresden were filmed in Prague.[1] The other scenes were filmed in Minnesota.

Vonnegut wrote about the film soon after its release, in his preface to Between Time and Timbuktu:

"I love George Roy Hill and Universal Pictures, who made a flawless translation of my novel Slaughterhouse-Five to the silver screen ... I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book."
Plot The film follows the novel in presenting a first-person narrative from the point of view of Billy Pilgrim (Sacks), who becomes "unstuck in time" and experiences the events of his life in a seemingly random order, including a period spent on the alien planet of Tralfamadore. Emphasis is placed on his experiences during World War II, including the firebombing of Dresden, as well as time spent with fellow prisoners of war Edgar Derby (Roche) and the psychopathic Paul Lazzaro (Leibman). His life as a husband to Valencia (Gans) and father to Barbara (Near) and Robert (King) are also depicted, as they live and sometimes even enjoy their life of affluence in Ilium, New York. A "sink-or-swim" scene with Pilgrim's father is also featured. The scenes of extraterrestrial life on Tralfamadore feature Hollywood starlet Montana Wildhack (Perrine).

Slaughterhouse-Five is the first of two feature films for which Glenn Gould supplied the music; Bach Concerto #5 in F Minor, BWV 1056, and Concerto #3 in D Major, BWV 1054 were recorded at Columbia Studios with the Columbia Symphony orchestra; some selections came from existing recordings, and two featured other artists, including Rudolph Serkin, piano, with Casals conducting Brandenburg Concerto #4 in G Major, BWV 1049, III Presto. The film used such a small amount of music that the soundtrack album added atmospheric excerpts from Douglas Leedy's synthesized triple album Entropical Paradise.

The prolonged rendition of the final movement of Bach's fourth Brandenburg concerto accompanies a cinematic montage as the main character first encounters the city of Dresden.

Awards The film won the Prix du Jury at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival,[2] as well as a Hugo Award and Saturn Award. Both Hill and Geller were nominated for awards by their respective guilds. Sacks was nominated for a Golden Globe.

See also
  1. Canby, Vincent. "New York Times movies pages". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  2. "Festival de Cannes: Slaughterhouse-Five". Retrieved 2009-04-13.
External links

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Joker - a Fresh Take on a DC Legend

Love it or hate it, the Joker movie presents a tempting fantasy

It’s a persecution complex turned into a wish-fulfillment power trip

Todd Phillips’ standalone supervillain origin story Joker is arriving in theaters amid so much controversy and concern about the potential for copycat violence that the debate has largely overwhelmed the film itself. It’s been fascinating to watch the discussion around the movie shift from “Do we really need another Joker story so soon after Suicide Squad?” to “Is Joker full of dangerous ideas that will spur its worst fans to murder?” The initial worries around Joker assumed the movie would be unnecessary, its impact negligible. The current questions ascribe it with too much importance, as if it might incite full-blown anarchy just by existing.

As usual in a case where people leap to extremes, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Joker may make some people who feel marginalized feel more seen and more powerful, and they may act out in response. There are some ugly, self-serving messages in the movie, which is incongruously bent on creating sympathy for Batman’s worst enemy and one of DC Comics’ most notoriously callous mass murderers and atrocity architects. But love it or hate it, the film does spin up a tempting fantasy of persecution and relief, of embracing nihilism as a means of complete escape from a terrible world.

It’s a self-pitying fantasy, certainly. Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver follow in the footsteps of Joel Schumacher’s 1993 drama Falling Down in portraying the world as a cartoonishly dark and uncaring place, an almost comically vile carnival where the protagonist can’t find a hint of comfort or relief. In a thoroughly immersed performance that’s being seen as a guaranteed awards-season attention magnet, Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a part-time rent-a-clown working for a seedy talent agency full of exaggerated grotesques. Arthur is mentally ill and coping via meds and court-ordered therapy, which don’t offer comfort or represent caring. He’s devoted to his sick mother Penny (Frances Conroy), who’s encouraged him to see himself as a joyous light in the world, bringing laughter to the people.

The problem is that he isn’t particularly funny. He’s painfully awkward, the kind of twitchy, social incompetence people shy away from in public because his erratic behavior feels like it could turn dangerous — or at least uncomfortable for them. It’s easy for viewers to empathize with his desire to be loved, without necessarily loving him. When he says he feels invisible, it’s clear why: he’s the kind of person people look away from on the street, out of apathy or active discomfort.

That tension between sympathy and revulsion is one of the most honest things about Joker, which mostly goes out of its way to make the world awful. While working as a sign-twirler, Arthur is randomly beaten by a handful of kids, who steal his sign and then break it over his head. His boss not only doesn’t believe his story, he demands Arthur pay for the missing sign. The dramatic ironies and injustices compound throughout the film, until it’s clear that Arthur isn’t paranoid, the world really is out to get him. And then he takes violent, irrevocable action.

For much of its runtime, Joker is a consciously ugly film, visually and emotionally. Arthur starts with close to nothing, and loses it all incrementally, in ways designed to hurt empathetic viewers. Phillips and cinematographer Lawrence Sher (who also DP’d for all three of Phillips’ Hangover movies) give the film a sickeningly grungy, underlit, David Fincher-esque look, especially in Arthur’s squalid home. Everything about the storytelling — the ominous, booming score; the gritty darkness; the invasive sound design — is designed to be oppressive, and to push the audience toward Arthur’s point of view as the primary victim of all the oppression. It’s hypnotic just how horrifying Arthur’s existence is, just as Phoenix’s performance is hypnotic as he spirals from fragile hope into increasingly outsized and confident acts of destruction.

And then he escapes it all, by learning not to care — not about how or whether other people see him, not about whether he hurts or frightens or kills them, not about whether his final-act manifesto makes any sort of coherent sense. The important part of Arthur’s story — and the cause for so much of the concern around Joker — is that when he embraces his most nihilistic and destructive impulses, he suddenly earns the praise and attention he’s been lacking. That may not fully motivate him, but it’s meant as a message for the segment of the audience that feels closest to Arthur, those who feel most unseen and unloved: plenty of people agree with you that the world is unfair and ugly, and if you did something about it, they’d back your play.
Like Falling Down — and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, which Phillips openly emulates and references — Joker suggests that when the leading man loses his mind, it’s an understandable, even natural reaction to an equally mad world. Viewers who aren’t already inclined to see humanity as a seething cesspit may not resonate with that level of cynicism. But to viewers who feel as abused and overlooked as Arthur Fleck, or even who harbor smaller, more rational resentments about society, Joker is a deliberate and fine-tuned provocation and promise: you aren’t alone, the people you hate really are awful, and it would be okay to act against them in any way you want.

Phillips has made it clear that he doesn’t believe Joker is anything as small and dismissible as a mere comic-book movie. But while his film is grimmer and more harrowing than anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s offering up a fantasy just as clearly as any superhero wish-fulfillment power trip: the fantasy of being a hero to some, of going from powerlessness to power, of being feared and beloved at the same time. Phillips delivers that message in a self-congratulatory way, largely by setting the film in a world where Arthur has no choice but violence, and no escape but madness. He’s portrayed as a kind of dark truth-teller because he’s learned that the world is a joke and nothing matters.

That’s a fairly adolescent outlook, which Phillips embraces in the same persecution-complex spirit that recently led him to complain that he had to make Joker because the world is now too sensitive and woke for his previous brand of destructive-bro comedy. But Joker would probably be raising much less social concern if it wasn’t such a technically compelling movie, if its final moments weren’t so outsized and joyous and purposefully insane.

Because Joker does play — not just to its most put-upon, angry, repressed viewers — but to the entire audience’s darkest hearts. It shows someone suffering when he lets society have its way with him, and freed when he has his way with society. It shows him weeping alone when he plays by the rules, and dancing wildly in public when he decides to break those rules. The story hurts and harms him, but Phillips suggests in the end that everything he went through was necessary to bring him the power and recognition he deserves. It’s a tempting fantasy, crafted with utter conviction. 

Many critics and early viewers have responded to Joker with loathing, because that fantasy is so selfish and solipsistic. By dismissing the world as imbalanced at best, outright malicious at worst, Phillips is enabling his viewers’ worst and most destructive impulses. “I just don’t want to feel so bad anymore,” Arthur says plaintively at one point. He’s a relatable kind of villain, harmless and sad — not an Everyman, but an audience avatar for the downtrodden. And then he models a way to not be harmless anymore. That doesn’t necessarily make Joker a call to action, or an invitation to real-life violence. But it does represent a horrifying form of invitation — not just a call to sympathize with the devil, but a full-blown justification for the hell he creates.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

"Searching" and the Future of Film

John Cho Sees the Future of Film in ‘Searching’ and Its Colorblind Casting
The Indie Spirit nominee is still taken with Aneesh Chaganty's clever screen-centric thriller, but its forward-thinking goes beyond just cool technology. 

Dec 13, 2018 2:00 pm

The technological demands of Aneesh Chaganty’s feature directorial debut “Searching” were profound. A computer-screen thriller that unfolds on various displays, zinging from laptop to laptop and back again, Chaganty’s film required a canny handle on technology and the way it looks and moves, but it also needed an actor able to root the family-centric film in emotion and humanity.

That came from the inspired casting of the always-reliable John Cho as David Kim, a recent widower who must use all his smarts (and a ton of literal screen time) to find his missing teenage daughter Margot. The “Star Trek” and “Columbus” actor delivered, turning in a nuanced performance in a film that could have been dominated by on-screen wizardry.

While a film like “Searching” could impress by virtue of craftsmanship and technology that makes it feel so contemporary and true-to-life — this is the rare internet-centric film that utilizes existing apps and websites, no weird “Facebook” knockoffs here — the casting of Cho allowed Chaganty’s feature to tap into modern sensibilities in another way. Cho, a Korean-American actor, has always mixed up his roles, from those that hinge on his cultural background (from the “Harold and Kumar” films to Justin Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow”) and those that don’t (like Kogonada’s “Columbus” and his early supporting work in the “American Pie” series).

“Searching” fell under the latter categorization, a film in which Cho’s race wasn’t baked into the narrative and a colorblind casting that he’s hoping to see more of in Hollywood.

“When you’re shooting, it’s all about, ‘Does this moment work? Will people understand this? Are we telling that story correctly?,'” said Cho. “But, particularly after Sundance, I began to think about what this movie meant. For me, it’s like the movie behaves as if we’re past all the firsts, you know what I mean? We’ve sort of had the discussion and we agreed that it’s okay for an Asian to be in any kind of movie and this is the movie that’s been made. To me, it’s like a movie from the future in that regard.”

The film premiered under the title “Search” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where it was quickly picked up by Sony’s Screen Gems arm. The studio released the indie in late August, where it went on to make more than $70 million worldwide. Not bad for a film that reportedly cost about $1 million to make. Cho’s recent Indie Spirit nomination for Best Male Lead, pitting him against contenders like Ethan Hawke and Joaquin Phoenix, took him by surprise, but it also reminded Cho of just how exceptional the film has proven to be.

“I didn’t know that I was in the mix, I didn’t know that was possible,” he said. “So that was a total surprise. I feel like it legitimized our film, which could be seen as sort of adjacent to horror, which I think is a completely legitimate genre but also sort of ignored by critics. Our movie is so unusual that it might not even look like a traditional independent film. It certainly doesn’t look like a traditional studio film, but it’s so unusual in its look that I didn’t think people would see it as what we’re supposed to expect of independent cinema.”

For Cho, who has long moved between indie films and studio pictures, the expectations that scared him about the role were rooted in the demands of making a film that takes place on computer screens. For the majority of the feature, his David is stuck staring into his and Margot’s laptop screens, only occasionally interacting with others through chats, emails, and “live” videos. It’s insular work.

“The problem was I didn’t have any people to look at for the most part, and that was extremely difficult for me, to feel like I was connected,” Cho said. “I think you rely on looking into another soul to verify that you’re connected with that person and make the scene authentic. … I felt like I had to develop a much more intimate relationship with the director. I had to rely on him for the geography of the screen, because they were all plot points and everything was all these micro movements that were so important. Whereas on a traditional set, I think my strongest relationships are with the actors, on this one my strongest relationship was with the director. We just had to become very close.”

Cho is eager to deflect praise to not only Chaganty, but also to the rest of the creative team that made his performance look so good inside a universe that was created and constructed long after he had filmed his scenes.

“There’s a world in which all of the graphics don’t look that good,” he said. “I was very happy when I saw the film, it was so thought out. I was really so deeply impressed the time put into those web pages and the depth of characterization. A really glancing scroll through Facebook represented so much thought, because you’ll see five profiles and each profile was a different photograph they had to take and they had to decide on a pose and different likes and dislikes and all that stuff. It just has a real respect for characters.”

While computer-screen films haven’t yet exploded as a singular genre, there have been other success stories, like the horror franchise “Unfriended” and Timur Bekmambetov’s thriller “Profile.” 

(Bekmambetov also produced “Searching” and has been vocal about his dedication to making a ton more screen films in the coming years.) For Cho, the recent uptick in such films has been a matter of not only technology catching up, but also the public understanding how it can all work as entertainment.

“I don’t think we could’ve made this movie even five years ago, because there was like the collective vocabulary of the public wasn’t there when it came to our computer literacy,” Cho said. “Now it’s there, but because we’re all caught up, you have to be sharp and you have to be real and you can’t do anything false. You can’t make false movements in that zone. … I feel like moving forward, there will be so many more screens presented in films. I think it’ll be a separate department.”

Cho also thinks the tide is turning when it comes to the other kind of on-screen representation that “Searching” so easily utilized. Recent blockbuster successes like “Black Panther,” “Get Out,” “Hidden Figures,” and “Wonder Woman” prove that diverse films can make a lot of money, while a 2017 study crunched the numbers and came to the same conclusion.

“I think it’s just the age, this is a guess, but it’s the age of the people who control the pursestrings,” he said. “I think with the fracturing of the film business’ economy, there’s not really an incentive to be false about representation. I think the incentive is to be more authentic, more real, and represent more accurately what’s happening in society. I’m kind of bullish on the future now in a way that I wasn’t even five to 10 years ago.”

With over 20 years of acting experience, Cho resists the idea that he’s gotten more picky as his star has risen. Instead, he offers that his success comes from something more personal, the kind of emotional intelligence that made his work in “Searching” so compelling.

“I feel like it’s more being older and being comfortable with leaning into my instincts and looking for things that speak to me on a personal level,” he said. “That’s what it is now. It’s not so much being choosy as it is following my heart on these things. Sounds false, but it really isn’t. I’m trying to be less strategic about things and not ask the question, ‘What should I be doing next?,’ but I find myself asking the question, ‘What connection do I have to this material? How can I contribute?’ “He added with a laugh, “I’m gratified to say that I feel like that not thinking about the career has paid off in the sense that it’s been good for my career.”