Narwhal Party

New Terrence Mallick? Yes, Please.
01/24/2011, 5:38 pm
Filed under: Movies | Tags: ,

Seeing Black Swan is quite an experience, but one of the most striking moments of my night at the theater was being treated to the trailer for Tree Of Life (starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn), Terrence Mallick’s highly anticipated film that’s apparently been wrapped up for two years.

Of the people who consider themselves fans of Terrence Mallick, most of them would consider the writer/director some sort of genius. He made his name with Badlands and Days Of Heaven in the 70s, and then blew moviegoers away twenty years later with the WWII epic, The Thin Red Line (starring everybody, ever, and pulling in seven Academy Award nominations in 1998). And though The New World received mixed reviews, it’s nothing short of breathtaking.

Seeing the Tree Of Life trailer on YouTube is intriguing and piqued my interest, but seeing it in a theater emphasized what an auteur Mallick really is. All of his films rely more on meticulous cinematography and space and light and symbolism much more than dialogue or conventional storytelling, and require patience and focus (these aren’t the kind of movies to watch with your laptop open or in the background while you play drinking games). The theater setting enhanced the trailer significantly, and made the 50s period details, the enigmatic shots of space and deserts and churches and water, and the beautiful natural light all the more arresting.

And needless to say, with the growing trend of movies shot digitally (Michael Mann’s films, Aronofsky’s last two, Blue Valentine, etc.), it’s refreshing to see something that LOOKS so fantastic. This will definitely be one to see in the theater. I’d highly recommend revisiting (or visiting) Mallick’s previous films before this one comes out this summer.

For more info and a higher quality trailer (worth it), head to the film’s official site.

Light Boxes by Shane Jones
06/21/2010, 10:06 am
Filed under: Books, Movies, Music | Tags: , , , ,

Light Boxes is a fairy tale, I suppose. It’s magical realism, it’s post-modern. It’s strange and haunting, and one page features a list that includes “MySpace” and “Lite-Brite” and “Charles Schluz.” Some words are printed extra-large, some are printed extra-small. There are several lists and several narrators. Some pages barely have anything printed on them at all.

And all of this seems to stack up against Shane Jones in his debut novel, but he manages to pull it off with whimsy, grace, and brevity. Much of the book reads like a prose poem or a children’s story, yet Jones taps into the world of sadness and melancholy with precision and grace. The story centers on a small town that has been haunted by February for hundreds of days. The people have all but forgotten other seasons. February, personified, has outlawed flying things—birds walk and balloons (a central image) are grounded. A secret society, shrouded in bird masks, calls itself the Solution and plans on defeating February. They adopt the protagonist, Thaddeus, who eventually loses his wife and daughter to February, and later his own sanity. There’s a giant woodsman with a foul mouth. There are priests with axes. There’s a professor.

Near the end, February is presented as simply a sad, misled romantic. His wife is fed up with his dirty t-shirts and unkempt beard, his lack of transportation and his lack of direction. It would not have been shocking or out of place if Jones had mentioned his record collection and his predilection for lackadaisical veganism. Later, a note found in his pocket reads, “I wanted to write you a story about magic…It turned out to be nothing but sadness, war, heartbreak. You never saw it, but there’s a garden inside me.” These revelations place February as a tragic figure whose good intentions have gone dreadfully awry, which is a fresh turn in this fairy tale that seems perfect for hipsters and post-hipsters, alike.

Again, all this seems a bit much, and you’d expect Light Boxes to crumble under its own weight, but Jones is skilled enough to pull it off. It’s primed for dissection and will probably grow in popularity because Spike Jonze has purchased the film rights. Yes, that Spike Jonze. And it’s set up well—lines like “I vomit ice cubes,” images like bodies being hung inside tree trunks and filled with snow, ghosts, children living underground, and holes in the sky, are all evocative and affective. Who else but Spike Jonze (if not Michel Gondry or Wes Anderson) could adapt this? It seems tailor made for the current detached generation, struggling to leave childhood behind. There’s no word on when the film adaptation will be produced or released, but it would be a fine follow-up, thematically, to Where The Wild Things Are, his recent short film about robots in love (I’m Here), and his bafflingly odd Kanye West video (ten minutes that culminate with Kanye spewing flower petals and removing a tiny little monster from his torso). So, there’s that.

Read a much more thorough and better-written review of Light Boxes at Quarterly Conversation.

Watch the trailer for Spike Jonze’s I’m Here, or the film in its entirety at the official site:

Buy I’m Here, with a book of photos, interviews, ect, the film on DVD, and an original soundtrack on CD, all bundled up together by the fine folks at McSweeney’s.

Watch the Jonze-directed Kanye West clip here. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you stick around ’til the end.

Outlaws (This Day in History)
04/03/2010, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Books, Movies | Tags: , , ,

This day in 1882, the outlaw/train robber/bank robber/gang leader who became somewhat of a folk hero, Jesse James was killed by a member of his gang, Robert Ford. Of the $10,000 bounty placed on James, Ford (who would later have the words “The man who shot Jesse James” engraved on his tombstone) only collected a fraction. The epitaph of Jesse James, which was chosen by his mother, reads: “In loving memory of my beloved son, murdered by a traitor and coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.”

Here is the opening scene to the film, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, based on the novel of the same name, by Ron Hansen.

The film features wonderful performances by Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, and Sam Rockwell, as well as a soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Well worth a viewing.

Ron Hansen’s novel is highly enjoyable, too. Much like the movie, the book is often slow, taking its time to unfold beautifully. The relationship between the gang members and the old west terrain out in Missouri make for a fantastic historical novel. It’s an engaging story of loyalty, betrayal, and a the strange post-Civil War era of the middle of the country.

2009: Movies
01/17/2010, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Movies | Tags: ,

I’m a movie fan, but not necessarily a “film buff.” So take this for what it is. These were my favorite movies in 2009. Note: I haven’t seen Moon, or many other highly lauded ’09 releases, and I’m well aware that there were several wonderful movies released last year. This is why I have Netflix. Updates to follow as I catch up.

Inglourious Basterds: QT’s best since Pulp Fiction. Basterds is meticulously framed, sprawling, and best of all, it takes its time. Fantastic.

A Serious Man: The Cohens are a national treasure. A Serious Man’s most notable actor is the guy who plays Larry’s cousin on Curb Your Enthusiasm. It was never in wide release. It opens with a lengthy, subtitled Jewish parable. It has an ending this will no doubt frustrate many viewers. It’s touching and funny and painful. And like most Cohen brothers films, it’s damn near perfect.

The Road: I was a fan of the book and I’m a fan of the movie. John Hillcoat was a wonderful choice for director of a Cormac McCarthy adaptation (one glance at The Proposition could tell you that much). It defies so many things that a movie is supposed to be, yet, like the book, is strangely and powerfully uplifting.

Fantastic Mr. Fox: Though it’s an adaptation of a classic children’s book, Fantastic Mr. Fox fits into the Wes Anderson canon with ease. Hearing about the unorthodox methods used to capture authentic performances, and the fact that much of the script was written at Roald Dahl’s home in England, only add to the magic of this movie. Anderson pushes “children’s” movies forward by taking a step back. Imagine that.

Where The Wild Things Are: Another beloved children’s book made into a movie by hipsters, for hipsters. This, like everything Dave Eggers touches, seemed to be divisive. It’s probably a testament to the Pitchfork generation’s Peter Pan Syndrome, but so what? In all honesty, I enjoyed every minute of this film. It’s gorgeous and honest. It doesn’t over explain or try to make meaning. It just is. And it’s lovely.