Sunday, November 21, 2010

Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare: Initial impressions.

I'm pretty sick of zombies and the zombie genre in general.  That being said Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare DLC is totally fucking awesome mayhem.  I was up way too late last night running and gunning on multiplayer Undead Overrun missions.  I cannot stress enough how much fun I had battling the Undead hordes.  For a ten dollar DLC this is excellent fun and I've barely gotten into the storyline.  More news to follow.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Full review of "The Passion of Joan of Arc"

“I wish it was one of those good American light things.”[1]
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Since its release Carl Theodor Dreyer’s depiction of the trial and execution of the French Maid continues to stun audiences and film critics alike.  In 1995, the Vatican included The Passion of Joan of Arc in their “Top 45 [Great] Films”.  This list is subdivided into themes of Religion, Values, and Art (Joan is entered into the Religion category).  Their brief review describes the film “as [a] Silent screen masterpiece portraying the heresy trial, confession, recantation and execution of the Maid of Orleans (Maria Falconetti) in a performance of such emotional power that it still stands as the most convincing portrayal of spirituality on celluloid.”[2]  Mordaunt Hall’s two pieces for The New York Times (March 29 and March 31, 1929) extol both the cinematic virtues of the film and Maria Falconetti’s performance as Joan.  Richard Watts, Jr. echoed Hall’s sentiments in his The Film Mercury review (April 12, 1929). However, it is the poetess H.D.’s review in Close Up that truly does The Passion of Joan of Arc justice.  Her review masterfully captures power of the film and the myriad of confused responses it draws from the viewer.
I find it impossible to clinically or objectively review The Passion of Joan of Arc.  My own impressions and responses to Dreyer’s film are simply too complicated.  My feelings during every viewing range from disgust to awe to claustrophobia and dread (often shifting within moments of each other).  The film elicits a physical response from me, I feel unwell while watching.  The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the most powerful films I have ever seen (along with Bergman’s Virgin Spring, Rossellini’s Germany, Year Zero, and Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour) and one of the more difficult to come to terms with on a personal level.  I have been unable to watch the film in one sitting since my first viewing; I have to break it into chunks.  My copy of Einhorn’s Voices of Light score has become one my favorite scores yet I am unable to separate the score from the imagery of the film.  The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the rare films that will stay with me and I will continue to puzzle over and discuss and read about for a long time to come. 
            But why?  I’ve watched ero-guro pink-u eiga (Japanese erotic grotesque films).  I’m familiar with the works of Fulci, Bava, and Argento.  I love Herzog/Kinski films.  Dark Scandinavian films, American and European ruminations on the nature of evil, chillers, thrillers, Night of the Hunter, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Triumph of the Will, and many other of my favorite films have never gotten their claws into me this deeply before (except maybe Fanny and Alexander or Peeping Tom).  Joan is not a grand guignol or a penny dreadful or a “roughie”.  Certainly the panchromatic film[3], Hermann Warm and Jean Hugo’s minimalist (and rarely fully visible) sets, Dreyer and Joseph Delteil’s script, and brutal edging given to the cast’s faces (unadorned by makeup) create an oppressive and discomfiting tone that is difficult to endure.  The Passion of Joan of Arc evokes in me the same sensations as reading Kafka’s “The Trial” or Orwell’s “1984” and this is part the intellectual and emotional tug of war at work in The Passion of Joan of Arc.  As H.D. wrote, “[this] is one film among all films, to be judged differently, to be approached differently, to be viewed as a masterpiece…but there is a Jeanne sobbing before us, there is a Jeanne about to kicked by huge hob-nailed boots.”  H.D. reminds me of Orwell again, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face -- forever.”  Dreyer denies his audience any catharsis, not Joan’s death nor the resultant riot provide any release from the level of tension the film creates.  The climactic riot only allows the viewer to be swept along, frustrated and unsure, with the violence, an Orwellian “Five Minute Hate”.
Dreyer is a master of the close up (not only in Joan but his other films as well – e.g. Vampyr): tight shots of the Judges - craggy, menacing, darting suspicious eyes under heavy brows, cruel bemused expressions, the camera does not mask the subtle ticks and contemptuous askance the Judges deign to award Joan.  Maria Falconetti’s performance is as far removed from Angella Salloker’s in Das Madchen Johanna (1935) as it is from Milla Jovovich’s in The Messenger.  Falconetti’s Joan is not beatific, nor angelic, nor warrior woman.  Her Joan bears a rapturous expression that borders upon the madness imparted by the divine.  Falconetti and Dreyer also bring out a deep pathos for Joan who one moment looks like a confused, filthy, ignorant peasant girl and another looks like she truly could be the Maid of Orleans. 
All of these points make for a truly impressive cinematic experience however it is deep undercurrent of madness that makes The Passion of Joan of Arc such a powerful film.  It is not simply an issue of whether Joan is mad (schizophrenic or autistic by today’s standards) or whether the Judges are malignant sadists (though historically the Catholic Church during this time was corrupt and twisted).  It is the sense of stark realism Dreyer creates and the performances that creates the feeling of madness.  The Passion of Joan of Arc does not make excuses for protagonist or antagonists.  While our natural inclination is to side with Joan, Falconetti’s performance instills feelings of doubt.  Often I wonder if Joan is cognisant of her surroundings or her trial and the charges leveled against her.  Falconetti’s Joan at times seems like an idiot savant, as uncomprehending of her impending doom as a cow to the abattoir.    Yet, just as quickly and concurrently, I am filled with un-erotic love and adoration for Joan, the desire to defend and fight for her.  Pauline Kael wrote, “No other film has linked eroticism with religious persecution” and while I can understand Kael’s point I (as I often do) have to disagree with Kael.   
 Contradictions and doubt and uncertainty and fear are the strongest themes in The Passion of Joan of Arc but it is Falconetti’s resolve as Joan, her depiction of true Faith (religious or otherwise), that, in the face of adversity she remains unbowed.  I watch Dreyer’s film and am plagued by questions, not about the film, but about myself.  Would I have the testicular fortitude to stand by my convictions?  Would I refuse to admit that 2+2=5?  Sadly, I lack the resolve of Falconetti’s Joan.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Syed Irfan Haider

Every once in a while I find music that grabs me and I feel the need to find out more ASAP.  This usually happens while listening to "World" music - a term that I find revolting because "World" music means anything that isn't Western/American.  I recently stumbled across Syed Irfan Haider, a Shia Pakistani with an amazing voice and cuts that appeal to my love of work songs, shanties, soulful rhythms and and call and response, fight songs, and a brilliant heartbeat tempo.

 Jheetay Rahoo Aun-o-Muhammad is the cut that hit me and hooked me.  No offense intended to Mr. Irfan 

Haider but the tempo appeals to me on several levels - whether bhangra or aforementioned religious/labour songs.

I am attempting to find out more about the man and his music.  When I do I will certainly post my findings.

It's funnier of you know what the Hays Code is

A 1942 Warner Bros. cartoon, "A Tale of Two Kitties", features two cats attempting to catch Tweety, in his first appearance. One cat says, "Give me the bird! Give me the bird!" To which the second cat replies, "If the Hays Office would only let me, I'd give him the bird, all right!" ("Give the bird" means to stick up one's middle finger, an obscene gesture prohibited by the Hays code.)"

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Descent: Part 2 (2009) Dir. Jon Harris

My movie buddy and I watched this last night because we were trying to find something to watch on teh netflix and we normally watch horror movies and we are both fans of Neil Marshall (me especially) so we figured, "Meh, fuck it why not?"

I have to say, not bad...not bad at all.  It's not a sequel, it's a continuation of the first movie with the same protagonist (Shauna MacDonald) and takes place two days after the events in The Descent.  Does it hold up as companion piece to the brilliant Neil Marshall movie?  Yes, yes it does though I have to recommend watching them back to back - unless you've recently watched The Descent and remember what happens.  I haven't because I don't own it and I usually end up watching Dog Soldiers instead.

The Descent: Part 2 has two, possibly three problems with it, all of which involve spoilers so I won't say nothin about them.  However, the tension is high, the claustrophobia is (for someone like me who is as terrified of spelunking as I am of going in the water with sharks) really discomfiting, and I absolutely love Shauna MacDonald.  She's a brilliant protagonist with a great back story and, for me, very identifiable - not because of her character's history or motivations - but because I completely empathize with her.  She's not some half-wit that I want to see torn limb from limb because her ineptitude makes her deserving of it.

A solid horror gore-fest, though none of the effects or direction are as good as Marshall's film.  Well worth watching if you're looking for a horror movie to watch that isn't some teen slasher flick.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) Dir. Leo McCarey

Having only seen Ruggles of Red Gap's Charles Laughton, as the eponymous lead, in serious roles (Mutiny on the Bounty and Spartacus) I was unsure of what to expect from him in a comedic role in this 1930s Paramount social satire.  Laughton, with his Droopy Dog demeanour, was actually an excellent comedic actor.  Director Leo McCarey, with his experience with actors like W.C. Fields and Harold Lloyd, brings out an almost natural humor from Laughton (in a way it reminds me of the humor that was drawn from Denholm Elliot at times).

Ruggles' plot is fairly simple: Ruggles is a very proper butler for an English Lord whose services are lost to an American in a game of poker.  Hilarity ensues.  Eventually, while in America (after a brief comedy of errors), Ruggles learns to stand on his own two feet and pursues the American dream.  What could have come across as treacly as a Jimmy Stewart vehicle is, through Laughton's performance, oddly stirs feelings of patriotism and pride in the immigrant's American Dream (a great deal has been written about the influence of the immigrant studio heads during this era by far better educated folks so I won't presume to write about what I'm ignorant about).  I think these feelings are roused because Laughton sells it honestly.  His interactions with the widow Mrs. Judson (ZaSu Pitts) in her kitchen and his brief reverie about cooking just work at creating an empathetic bond between Ruggles and the audience.  I wanted Ruggles to succeed in his endeavours and to prevail.  Which by the end of the movie he does and the bad guy gets his comeuppance and the spirit of the American Dream triumphs.

But Joshua, really?  Have you finally succumbed to your head injuries and gone potty to embrace and enjoy this American Dream nonsense?  What happened to cynical and angry Joshua?  Well folks, I'm still cynical and cranky but, as some of you might know, I'm also a sap for a well-crafted under-dog movie, whether rags to riches to rags back to riches (e.g. Preston Sturges's Sullivan's Travels (1941) ) or a Henry Fonda vehicle, hell, I even (though I am loathe to admit) enjoy It's a Wonderful Life.  Sure, it's a rose-colored view of the American Dream but for some reason it works for me.  Does it make me want to listen to "I'm Proud to Be an American"?  Hell no.  Does it make me think that the truth is always different than what's on the screen?  Of course not.  What I do take away from movies like Ruggles of Red Gap is an understanding and appreciation of the promise and draw of the American Dream to immigrants.  At the risk of drifting into the (continuously) controversial issue of immigration, legal and illegal, into the United States - watching Ruggles of Red Gap makes me wonder how some US citizens can rail against immigrants (if not the Irish then it's the Chinese, if not the Chinese it's the Italians, if not the Italians it's the Jews, if it's not the Jews it's the Germans or the Poles or the Swedes or the Mexicans get the idea) and still claim to espouse the virtues of the American Dream.  Perhaps it's another topic for another time.

Ruggles of Red Gap is a finely acted, written, and directed movie.  If you have the opportunity to watch it then I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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