Lost in the Movies: November 2012

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 5 - "Rei I"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow blogger Bob Clark.

For four episodes, Rei Ayanami has been a mystery. This quiet, aloof, almost inhuman little blue-haired girl has hovered in the background, glimpsed alone in the corner of the classroom, concealed beneath layers of bandages as she shivers on a wheeled stretcher, flashing into view as a momentary vision before she's even been met in the flesh. In all these instances, we see her through Shinji's eyes and she provides an interesting contrast to Misato (as she eventually will, even more strongly, to the fiery third pilot, Asuka) - femininity as ethereal enigma vs. alluring energy. Shinji doesn't know who she is, so neither do we. That finally begins to change five episodes in.

The Favorites - Lost in Translation (#98)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Lost in Translation (2003/USA/dir. Sofia Coppola) appeared at #98 on my original list.

What it is • A tone poem of a movie, Lost in Translation contains worlds although little happens onscreen. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson at her most lush) is visiting Tokyo with her filmmaker husband. He's distracted by work, she doesn't know what she wants to do yet with her life, and when he leaves for a few days she finds herself lonely and disoriented in the strange urban landscape and luxurious yet slightly unreal hotel. There she meets Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a morose aging actor in town to shoot a whiskey commercial. They become fast friends, sharing a bemused yet curious perspective, and perhaps they even begin to fall in love. The film, which follows Charlotte and Bob through nocturnal excursions (kitschy karaoke bars, anarchically surreal arcades, mellow pot parties) and daily adventures (a graceful Air-scored excursion to Kyoto, Bob's hilarious cameo on a zany game show), was highly acclaimed and awarded (including an Oscar for writer/director Sofia Coppola's screenplay). But it seems to have as many detractors as it does enthusiasts, detractors who find it pretentious, boring, smug, meandering, and so forth. Well, they're wrong.

Why I like it •

Gimme Yer Links

Submit your strongest work for my annual blog round-up...or else!

It's that time of year again. Since this blog's inception four years ago, I've rounded up a casual, eclectic "best of the blogosphere" after the holidays. Initially this was simply a list of links chosen by me, one from each site on my blogroll. Then I invited submissions, with bloggers choosing their own best work, and I sprinkled a few pictures and video clips amongst the listings. Finally I struck upon the idea pursued ever since, of jazzing up the presentation to make it as pleasing to the eye as to the mind, an enticing invitation to explore these entries further.

You can see past examples here. If you'd like to submit - as I invite all blogging readers to do - either leave a comment below (I'll delete it once I've copied the links you provide) or email me. Blog 12 will appear sometime after Christmas, probably a bit into the new year. See you then!

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 4 - "Hedgehog's Dilemma"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow blogger Bob Clark.

In both style and thematic depth, this is one of the finest episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Unsurprisingly (this is often the case with exceptional examples) the episode is a bit of an aberration  There's no Angel attack, unlike the last three. The tone is meditative rather than immersive: even while the last two episodes withdrew from the mile-a-minute pace of the premiere, they still piled on information, character development, and story advancement. This time we're allowed to pause, to soak in the environment, along with Shinji who has run from his duty. Although "run" may be too active a word.

The Favorites - La Haine (#99)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. La Haine a/k/a "Hate" (1995/France/dir. Mathieu Kassovitz) appeared at #99 on my original list.

What it is • Three young friends - an Arab, a Jew, and an African (no this isn't a bar joke) are French, yet they are outsiders in their own country. They live on the edge: the edge of Paris (in France, the suburbs - "la banlieu" - are the equivalent of American inner cities), the edge of society, the edge of violence, the edge of their own sanity. Last night there was a massive riot, tonight there will probably be another, and meanwhile today they have a gun, stolen from a cop. Will they use it? The film follows them as they fight, dance, get high, hang out, visit the city, get beaten up by cops, and visit a friend, himself a victim of police brutality. By day's end, they're ready to explode... La Haine itself exploded on the scene in the mid-90s, and a decade later it was more relevant than ever; during the 2005 riots, writer/director Mathieu Kassovitz engaged in a public debate with future President Nicolas Sarkozy over the justification for the rioters' rage.

Why I like it •


Think of it like those old early thirties posters, advertising the vocal debut of some silent film star: "Lincoln Talks!" We've heard him speak before, of course. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln was one of the earliest notable talkies - and one of the last films of D.W. Griffith (the Spielberg of his day, though he didn't bode so well in the long term). This was followed by dozens of Lincoln biopics, some trying as Griffith did to capture the whole sweep, others wisely focusing - as this Lincoln does - on a particular aspect or era in Lincoln's life (the best of these being John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln, an almost entirely fictional depiction of the gangly lawyer for Illinois which manages to keenly evoke Lincoln's ability to be both convincingly honest and morally ambiguous).

Yet even after all of these movies, when we see Lincoln's historical visage we imagine a voice sturdy and worn, certainly not booming and bellowing like an overblown orater yet conveying depth and solidity between the folksy self-deprecation. Thus it comes as a bit of a shock to hear Daniel Day-Lewis' thin, reedy delivery, almost too flimsy to command attention yet apparently very accurate to the real Lincoln's tones. The voice is also very reflective of the film itself, packaging a grand figure modestly and in a sense underwhelmingly, so that we're almost sitting forward in our seats, straining to catch a sense of the taciturn magnitude dancing behind the images like the fleeting shadows and pools of light in Janusz Kaminski's photography or the brief moments of warfare and desolation dappled between interior intrigues and extended dialogues.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 3 - "A Transfer"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow blogger Bob Clark.

"A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told — in the English phrase — to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself." - Arthur Schopenhauer

The Favorites - La Vieja Memoria (#100)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. La Vieja Memoria a/k/a "The Old Memory" (1979/Spain/dir. Jaime Camino) appeared at #100 on my original list.

What it is • As this film opens, it's been forty years since the Spanish Civil War, the same period that Moses and his followers wandered in the wilderness, cursing and cursed by God. Forty years since the Spanish Republic collapsed, forty years since Generalissimo Francisco Franco took over, forty years since the non-fascist world watched anxiously - and mostly neutrally - while an ally of Nazi Germany destroyed a vital workers' movement (with the help of backstabbing Stalinists). Now it is 1979, Franco has died and a more timid republic has finally been restored; filmmaker Jaime Camino takes his camera to the people who were involved in that titanic struggle, interviewing them as they struggle to cut through the mists and myths of those four decades. Onscreen, fascists, communists, anarchists, and republicans recall executions, battles, atrocities, revolutions, and political brawls from various points of view. We see some pictures but mostly this film consists of talking heads - yet it's riveting, because the stories they tell remain vital and disturbing.

Why I like it •

A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg is the consummate director of physicality, and the worlds he explores are resolutely exterior (often gruesomely so). Therefore it's rather ironic, and illuminating, to see him tackle psychology not only as approach, but as subject matter of A Dangerous Method. Making the pyschological physical, Cronenberg highlights the instances in which mental and emotional torments render themselves in jerks and spasms - or perhaps more subtly, in grimaces, kisses, or fleeting glances. We meet Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), the first analytical subject and future lover of pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), in the throes of a hysterical state. There she is jutting out her chin, tangling her arms in a kind of serpentine dance of nervous sensuality, almost visibly choking her words out in a charmingly choppy Russian accent (for some reason - actually for a very particular reason, I suspect - the German-speaking Freud and Jung talk in crisp British tones).

Both Sabina's behavior and voice define her as foreign, strange; in his appreciation of the film Glenn Kenny called her the film's "id" in contrast, presumably, to Jung's ambivalent ego and the hyper-rational superego of Dr. Freud (Viggo Mortensen), who forms a kind of psychoanalytic triangle with Jung and Spielrien (Jung's case study of Spielrien brings the two great men together, while the revelation of Jung's affair with Spielrein pulls the two men apart). Spielrien both catalyzes and destabilizes, much like her own theory of sex and death as described in the movie. Her form of subversion, however, is something Cronenberg is eminently comfortable with. Contrast this with Jung, whose mysticism is kept offscreen, suggested in dialogue but never seen. Jung himself would have appreciated the irony; his first breakthroughs as a practitioner came when he made the empathetic leap into the psychotic world of patients, not merely reading outer symptoms but diving into their inner lives. This being the case, Cronenberg's rich yet reticent approach to the material is quite revealing - of himself as much as of Freud or Jung.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 2 - "The Beast"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow blogger Bob Clark.

We begin exactly where we left off last time: with 14-year-old Shinji, untested in combat, manning a giant robot in the streets of Tokyo-3, ready to battle a chilling Angel (from outer space?). How will he defeat it, as we know he must for the show to continue? His initial forays are unpromising: one small step results not in a giant leap forward for mankind but an embarrassing collapse as the Eva trips over itself, faceplanting like a gigantic klutzy teenager. Then the Angel makes quick work of the Eva while the NERV controllers look on in horror from their underground bunker. After thrusting a sharp poker through the palm of its hand into the Eva's skull like a medieval log-ram battering a castle door, the Angel tosses the Eva aside, letting the giant purple machine slump against a skyscraper, where some kind of cyborg-blood spurts from either end of its head. The commanders shout, Shinji screams and then...nothing. Silence. White. An empty hospital room.

These are a Few of My Favorite Films

Every week,I will explore a new title on my "100 of My Favorite Films" list, starting at #100 and working my way up.

These are the films I love. Some of the films I love, anyway. Qualifications abound: this list was true as of December 31, 2011 and immediately out-of-date thereafter (nonetheless, I ain't starting from scratch so whim of 12/31/11 it is); these are not necessarily the films I consider "greatest of all time" - the criterion is more subjective, more personal than that; at the same time, these are sustained favorites, not guilty pleasures or movies I want to see on a whim but movies that over the months and years stick with me, that remain perpetual touchstones for my cinematic sensibility. These are kind of a hybrid great/favorite, and the ranking is - let's admit it - really, really arbitrary. I just went with my gut while shuffling titles around, and I preserved the numerical format only for kicks, to make the series more fun as a "countdown." Don't take the numbers any more seriously than that.

All kinds of movies are featured: all genres, shorts as well as features, animated and live-action, old and new (though my natural inclination is towards the past; only six films from the twenty-first century made the cut). There are very obscure titles and films that are probably among the ten or so most popular of all time. Documentaries, experimental films, blockbusters, silents, even music videos; I have broad taste and this list will reflect that.

Finally, since I'm working off a list already published, there won't be an element of suspense. I even plan on announcing the next film at the end of each review. If you really want to cultivate suspense for yourself, don't scroll below the "What do you think?" question. But I don't see suspense as the point, so much as explanation.

And this is where the series excites me most...

I'm making a movie - and I need your help!

But don't worry, the help I need isn't financial (not this time anyway!). The short film is called Class of 2002, and it details the lives of five characters whom the narrator remembers, friends and acquaintances whose lives intersected with his before and after his high school graduation ten years earlier.

The film will be composed largely of snapshots (real snapshots, as they will show the characters growing up, not something that can usually be faked) and narration. Being pre- and post-production based, I obviously don't need much money. On the other hand, finding pre-existing photos which will match (or at least not contradict) the characters I've created is a challenge. And that's where all of you come in.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 1 - "Angel Attack"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow blogger Bob Clark.

Neon Genesis Evangelion begins quietly enough. I was going to say "slowly" but it's only slow in comparison to the rest of the episode; cuts come quick, maybe one every couple seconds, and we've barely oriented ourselves to our surroundings before the action begins (a brief title tells us we're in 2015). Yet in that initial moment, the city streets are empty except for Shinji Ikari, 14-year-old boy waiting alone with only a picture of some busty brunette babe to keep him company (he stares at it quizzically). Nearby, dozens of UN tanks perch along a winding coastal highway, their guns trained on the sea, but there are no shells exploding or frantic commands circulating via radio. There is a mood of grim, silent anticipation. One image, intriguing but difficult to make out, seems to show a quasi-animal, quasi-machine creature humming through shallow waters, toward the shore. The only sound we hear is the cawing of a bird; onscreen we see a seagull perched on the long gun of one tank, and this neat, spare composition has an air of Ozu about it (specifically the opening of Floating Weeds). And then it begins.

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