Film Is this late? Usually I've been knocking these out on a Friday night, but I bought myself an iPad Mini yesterday which as anyone who's bought anything vaguely technological enough to be close to what seems like magic to a thirty-nine year old will know, such things make time can slip away. I'm still trying to work out how it will fit into how I consume information and read and everything but I do at least now feel like part of the twenty-first century even if I'm also yet to decide if that is a good thing. I also have the same kind of rush in finally owning an Apple product as when I finally bought a Walkman, a Gameboy and gain broadband internet, of somehow in the parlance of Veronica Mars, joining the 09ers. Oh and having finished the curiously disappointing first season of Continuum, which begins like a version of Life of Mars in which someone visits our time from the future then manages to gain its inherent problems of having to deal with also being a cop show, I've begun again with Veronica Mars. I'm sorry, what were we talking about again? iPads? See - my concentration is already shot to pieces and I've only had it twenty-four hours.
There was also the matter of the Agents of SHIELD season finale on Channel 4 which much to the surprise of the younger version who'd written the whole thing off by episode five was, well, aces. As with many Whedonesque shows (he did co-create the thing), all it took was a single episode for the whole thing to cohere, for us to start to properly care about the characters and for everything to sing. For Dollhouse it was Man in the Street, on Angel it was Hero and SHIELD had its Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the fallout from the film, with a direction to write towards and like Dollhouse, not having to be one type of show in order service a different kind of show further into the season, SHIELD became must watch television, if not to the extent that Torchwood became Children of Earth, but at least glancing in that direction doing things like not including Fitz in the final hero walk so that his condition is kept ambiguous. Next season will presumably be about the team seeking out the mcguffins aplenty Hydra busted out of the stores, but without a hierarchy, there's now the latitude for it to be a rather more flexible thing investigating the 'verse.
The Selfish Giant
The Good German
Weird old week in which I managed to see three modern films made in black and white amd a film in which everyone is wearing black and white but other than that, no real theme. The surprising entries are presumably Hero (finally!) and Reservoir Dogs which I watched as part of my Century of Chinese Cinema season because film theorist David Bordwell mentions them in this tiff talk in relation to how martial arts films and Hong Kong action films have influenced western filmmakers. What few people seem to remember is that it for a time Dogs was effectively banned from video release by the BBFC which means it was one of the last films to continue to have legs in cinemas years after its original release and I believe ending up making more money at the box office in the UK than in the US. I saw it first at the Cottage Road Cinema in Leeds then months later as part of a midnight double bill with True Romance back in the mid-90s. As so often happens, with twenty years distance and eight seasons of Jack Bauer doing much crueller stuff on television, not to mention Game of Thrones, it's almost impossible to see what the fuss was about. I thought it was silly back then too.
Bubble's not one of my favourite Soderbergh films, my reaction somewhat similar to how others view Full Frontal and Ocean's 12, "I can see what he's try to do but..." The construction is just right, it's how you'd expect, casting choices are fine as are the thematically resonant shot choices and structure and he's obviously attempting a low budget morality tale somewhat in the style of Robert Bresson. But it never really sings in the way that it possible needed to as the vanguard of an experiment to offer a film in multiple format from cinema to dvd on the day of release. For a more dramatic view on this, I'd recommend this other entertainingly tetchy tiff discussion about the implications of video on demand in which the heads of two different film companies (one of whom financed Bubble in a previous life) become hilariously passive aggressive, some might describe it as entering into a dick swinging contest, with that Ed Burns literally stuck in the middle and they all look at Philip Knatchbull, the CEO of Curzon Artificial Eye with his suggestion that it doesn't matter where the screen is or how big because they're all the same as though he's an alien who's dropped in from another plant.
The Good German does sing, though I can see why it's underappreciated. The misconception, which to be fair was engendered by the marketing and the final scenes, is that Soderbergh is trying to create a sort of Casablanca moralistically updated in the style of Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven. But the structure, in which the characters focus shifts between characters is entirely European and the photography of the city in particular is much closer to the Italian neorealists which gives it a much more independent flavour (as well as The Third Man). Plus the performances, though purposefully a bit arch in places are generally post-Brando. But it's impossible to see how this would have worked if the director and actors had set out to entirely mimic their sources. The reviews were vicious, though even the positive examples are also wrong. Why should, as Geoff Andrew in Time Out suggests, all films have "characters who might engage our sympathies" and especially this one in which Soderbergh's clearly contrasting the irony of his black and white form with the grey of his protagonists?
Thence to Ocean's Thirteen, which I defended at length here on its release and still stands up. I did have one paragraph of criticism which is worth highlighting: "It's not entirely above reproach. The storyline, another casino heist, does not have the emotional punch of the first and to a degree second films. In addition, anyone paying attention could work out what twists there are in the climax. Although the entire crew is back minus the ladies, not everyone has that much to do with Bernie Mac in particular being particularly hard done by. Now and then it seems just a little bit too pleased with itself, but that smacks of confidence more than anything else." What I now see is that it's Soderbergh's western. It's about a bunch of guys riding into town to avenge an old friend who's double crossed by the big cheese. The hats, guns and horses version of this is The Magnificent Seven or one of its sequels. Here it's ingenious thievery rather than murder which ultimately brings the antagonist down. Expect a post when I've completed this project all about Soderbergh and genre, though I can't quite place Bubble. It seems like mumblecore but it was already in production before that happened.
Nebraska's another one of Alexander Payne's road movies. In my like rather than love column (Election and Sideways are his magnum opuses), it was still enough for me to want to hug my Dad as soon as possible. The photography, from Phedon Papamichael, is simply remarkable, almost every shot composed like something from Life Magazine, the opening scene in which Bruce Dern is walking towards the camera is framed with the centre of the horizon, and the middle of the road, at the exact centre of the frame which I don't remember seeing before. Papamichael's having an odd career. As well as collaborating with Payne, his DP work on either side of Nebraska are The Monuments Men and This is 40, and that's been pretty much the pattern, a mix of quality indies and mainstream comedies. Bio-Dome was one of his. Patch Adams too. The underrated Knight and Day. He's also directed five films of his own, none of which seems to have been distributed in the UK, some of them starring Adam Goldberg. Incidentally, Nebraska marks the start of another viewing project, of watching films with US states in the title, one for each.
Frances Ha. Oh Frances Ha. Frances Ha is one of those films I've been putting off and putting off simply because I have a strong feeling that I'm going to love them but I'm almost too scared to watch them in case the anticipation was more enjoyable than the hour and a half I spend in its company. Then it turned up on Netflix, Greta Gerwig stood in my watch list clicking her fingers every time I opened the app so I realised there wasn't much else I could do. I was not disappointed. I did love it. Of course, I was meant to, it's a celebration of French New Wave, Woody Allen, mumblecore, has multiple random (though integral) dance numbers, a female protagonist in the form of Greta Gerwig and is essentially her earlier film Lola Versus done properly. Indeed, it's almost feels like a reaction to Lola, a film in which she plays a similar character but who ultimately won't find fulfilment without a man. We're told throughout this that Frances is amongst the undateable and as a young woman at The New Yorker Q&A notes, there aren't many films in which women are allowed to go through the emotions she does here where men and finding love and all of that are beside the point.
I should probably write a "genre games" post about this (though frankly I should write a "genre games" post about anything) but we must be in the territory of there being a genre of film about female protagonists in cities. Bits of Frances Ha clearly pay a debt to Cleo 5 to 7. There's also Cedric Klapish's When The Cat's Away. Amelie. Nobody's Daughter Hae-won. Slaves of New York. Tiny Apartments obviously. 20 30 40. Yeast. Black Swan. Not enough for a corpus yet I suspect and it's probably a mix of semantic and syntactic, there being first act turning point which is most often someone being kicked out of their apartment or dumped by their boyfriend (or both), the final resolution being the character finding themselves somehow, reaching an equilibrium most often in the shift to proper adulthood or indeed all too often finding a new boyfriend. In that way it's possible to suggest what doesn't fit. When Harry Met Sally doesn't. Neither does Friends With Benefits. Hannah Takes The Stairs doesn't either oddly because it's a love triangle. Rom coms are right out. For once in Frances Ha we have a work which is both entirely familiar yet completely fresh.