January 19, 2017

Will Schube wishes that they make Minions backpacks in adult sizes.

This week’s edition tackles the six movies I watched from January 8th through January 14th. Keep a log of the movies you watch and the books you read. It’s fun!

I. Silence (2016) – Directed by Martin Scorsese 

It’s easy to overlook the, you know, actual movie part of Martin Scorsese’s latest picture, Silence. The Christmas release has been the director’s passion project for over 30 years, and the grand scope of its narrative—two priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) travel to 17th century Japan to save their teacher, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) from what they view as salacious rumors of his lack of faith—threaten to swallow the film whole. The rumors regarding Ferreira turn out to be mostly true, but Silence reveals itself to be less a film about faith than a rumination on why faith is pivotal in the first place, and how far certain people will go to protect themselves in their faith.

Silence is far from a perfect film. The Japanese caricatures have gotten some flack—and rightfully so—while Scorsese’s ultimate failure with the project comes from choosing Garfield over Driver to play the film’s lead, Rodrigues. Driver is a far stronger actor, and Garfield spends much of his time vacillating between various accents, as if the final product is a screen test as opposed to the actual thing. While these shortcomings are glaringly obvious, it’s immensely fun to see a director of Scorsese’s caliber tackling this epic tale of pain and disappointment. The cinematography is impeccable and Silence’s brutal pace couldn’t have been achieved by anyone other than Scorsese and his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. As news of the director’s Grateful Dead documentary begins to spread, I imagine Silence will be forgotten rather quickly. This is a shame. While the film is by no means Scorsese’s best work (I’d peg it in the 12-15 range of Scorsese’s filmography), it’s the most meaningful to him, and after all he has given to us, we owe him one. There are far worse debts to pay.

II. Inherent Vice (2014) – Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson 

If you’re familiar with The Drive-In, you already know my thoughts on Inherent Vice. The film is part of Alamo Drafthouse’s 70mm series, and the Inherent Vice iteration was another rousing success. Who cares that the film was shot on 35mm and doesn’t make a ton of sense as a 70mm print? It’s the best movie and if you disagree you better come ready to rumble.

III. La La Land (2016) – Directed by Damien Chazelle

People a lot smarter than me have written a lot more eloquently on both the merits and problems with La La Land, but here are a few thoughts of my own.

I really, really dislike Whiplash. I think it is a very bad movie. Who could possibly imagine music as such a grueling, joyless, ‘practice?’ And who gets hit by a bus and doesn’t take a few minutes before limping to a recital? Damien Chazelle and Miles Teller, that’s who. Because of this, I came into La La Land ready to fume. I was ready to exact great fury upon the white guy saving jazz; the lengthy tracking shot intro; the absurd “stop moving the camera so much they’re distracting from the songs” camera tricks; the rip-off of various musicals from all different eras. Also, a note to filmmakers: working in a relatively obscure genre does not give you more of a right to steal without using that theft to innovate. Film is essentially a rip-off from one movie to the next along the great arc of history, but the best directors take ideas and add something new. I don’t think La La Land really does that, aside from casting actors who can’t really sing or dance. Innovative!

My fundamental problem with La La Land is that it functions much better as a film with songs than as a musical. The slight difference is subtle but imperative. It feels as if director Damien Chazelle decided to make a musical and shoehorned ill-fitting songs into the narrative after the fact. The film is charming and creative and a wonderful change of pace from the modern movie landscape. But it’s also really frustrating how every time the film gains some momentum, Ryan Gosling slowly crawls his way back into song and tap dance. Musicals use the structure of the genre itself to boost the rest of the film; La La Land is stronger without this mechanical return to song and dance every 20 minutes. Why not just make a film with a lot of singing (All That Jazz!!!)? Chazelle is so chained to this idea of creating a musical, of marketing La La Land as a musical, of being an old soul, of hearkening back to an era when movies were great, that he lets the genre get in the way of his film.

And oh yeah, fuck a movie about a white dude saving jazz.

IV. Old Joy (2006) – Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Old Joy is a perfectly pleasant movie. It’s run time is less than an hour thirty, and watching Will Oldham (musical moniker Bonnie Prince Billy) on screen is a pleasure. His beard is huge and he has such a charismatic presence. I felt the need to check out this film after seeing director Kelly Reichardt’s latest, Certain Women, (read about that film in Edition I of TDIT). If Certain Women is the full summation of Reichardt’s extraordinary talent, Old Joy is the seed upon which her work has grown.

The film takes place in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and it’s a classic tale about two old dude buds reuniting for a weekend of camping. There’s a dog, slight homoerotic undertones, an accommodating wife with which we can sympathize, and a mountain town diner I would love to spend the rest of my life in. The film’s patient pace allows for Reichardt to unfold the story without feeling rushed over its short duration, and the result is a contemplative and understudied thesis on friendship, youthful eccentricity, and the inevitable dissipation of both. The film isn’t essential, but it’s a great joy for film nerds to trace the growth of a director by re-visiting earlier works. Development is nothing to be ashamed of, which is why I often scoff when artists talk down their old work. It’s all important, it’s all necessary and telling. Old Joy is far better than most directors’ early works, and yet, it’s amazing to see how much higher Reichardt has reached.

V. The Graduate (1967) – Directed by Mike Nichols 

The Graduate is comfortable. For all of Dustin Hoffman’s wriggling and sweating, the film rests easily, knowing it will forever occupy a top ten slot in my favorite movies ever. I remember watching this film with my dad, then revisiting it in a college course on freedom (shoutout to the liberal arts), devouring the Criterion edition, watching once again after navigating through director Mike Nichols’ vast filmography, and once again giving it a spin this week while trying to find any worthwhile Netflix TV shows to check my phone during. This often happens. I’ll be looking for a TV show, find a movie I love instead, watch it, and vow to never be tempted by the evil siren of television ever again. If there’s a better argument against binging television, it’s the fact that classics from directors like Mike Nichols are at the touch of our fingertips. Next time you’re thirsting for #content, dive into The Graduate. It’s the best. Is there a more timeless cinematic moment than when Elaine (Katharine Ross) and Ben (Hoffman) hop on the bus, ecstatic and in love, only to slowly realize none of their problems are now solved, none of their questions answered? It’s beautiful and likely similar to the face I’ll be making for the next few years. While in resting existential despair face, never, ever forget: One word. Plastics.

VI. Despicable Me (2010) – Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

I watched this movie when I was very hungover in Colorado (just kidding mom, I don’t drink) and it was delightful. I have a habit of watching kids movies when particularly wounded, which probably has some deep-seated reason behind it of which I’m terrified to analyze and will instead suppress until it re-emerges in misguided rage towards something or someone else. Anyways, Steve Carrell is hilarious, Rob Heubel shows up, and I’m going to get a Minion of my own one day. I promise. Shout out to my friend Jess for letting me spend three dollars of hers to rent it. We all need the help of friends. I can’t wait for the impending Despicable Me 2/Minions deep dive. After that? June 30th 2017. Despicable Me 3. I can’t wait.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!