Lost in the Movies: November 2015

Cinepoem: Emily Dickinson's After Great Pain (video)

Update 1/3: The video is finally up!!

After a very long delay I have finally found the time to assemble my newest Cinepoem video, joining Emily Dickinson's "After great pain, a formal feeling comes..." with mostly empty shots from Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring. The first minute of the video is taken up by a free-form montage/collage whose frenetic pace offsets the contemplative mood of the second half. It's also partly inspired by a dream I had about six weeks ago. The Vimeo upload follows, and the YouTube embed appears after the jump.

The Favorites - The Wizard of Oz (#79)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Wizard of Oz (1939/USA/dir. Victor Fleming & King Vidor) appeared at #79 on my original list.

What it is • In early 1939, it was MGM Production #1060, just another job for the many professional actors, technicians, and businessmen involved with its making. That August, released six days before the outbreak of World War II in Europe, it was a lavish family film, touched by vaudevillian comedy, screen-musical, and adventure/fantasy influences - an escapist treat for parents and children, whose half-cost and/or matinee tickets made it difficult for the studio to recoup its considerable investment. The following year, on Leap Day, the film's respectable nominations (including one for Best Picture) yielded two wins (both musical) plus a special award for Judy Garland. In 1949, when Frank Morgan - the wizard himself - passed away, this role was not mentioned in his filmography. Within a decade, broadcast in black-and-white on early television sets - so that even the candy-coated world of Oz took on the dusty shades of the Kansas sequence - the movie finally became the pop culture phenomenon it remains to this day. Since then, it has inspired in-depth psychoanalytic analyses, sync-ups with Pink Floyd records, and endless parodies and references and analogies from editorial cartoons to everyday speech. By sheer coincidence, as I wrote the previous sentence, another person in the room opened a backpack and discovered a Barnes & Noble bag featuring the curled-up feet of the Wicked Witch of the East with text from L. Frank Baum's book (and while the original story remains a classic, it's unlikely it would be remembered nearly so universally today if not for the film version which long ago supplanted the literary images and phrases). The Wizard of Oz is truly inescapable; quite likely it is the most referenced motion picture in history, and certainly it is one of the most viewed. Yet at its core is a simple story, presented straightforwardly for all of its resonance and associations. A young girl, lonely and frustrated in her native Kansas, is apparently transported by a twister to a faraway land, where she must defeat the Wicked Witch of the West, befriend the lovably incomplete Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, and discover the truth about the fearsome Wizard in Emerald City before learning that "there's no place like home."

Why I like it •

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion 3.33

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Unlike the previous essays, the Rebuild films will not be accompanied by chats with other bloggers.

And so my Neon Genesis Evangelion coverage finally comes to a close...for now. This is the only remaining Evangelion film or episode, at least until the release of Evangelion 4.0 (or 1.0 + 3.0, which is possibly going to be the title, whatever that means). This is also the first piece of Evangelion I have watched fresh for this series. In fact, by the time I tuned up 3.33 for this review I'd seen the the entire series run at least three or four times (some episodes five or six times), watched The End of Evangelion at least four times (three of them in the last few weeks), and watched the two earlier Rebuild films at least twice. Though I did not know much lore or history when I began this endeavor, this year I explored the world of Evangelion more deeply, learning about various theories, interpretations, and opinions. How exciting, then, to plunge into new (to me) Evangelion for the first time in four years! That's ultimately the pleasure and promise that the Rebuilds hold: the opportunity to experience this familiar world through new eyes. On that front, Evangelion 3.33 delivered more than any of the other Rebuilds, and I think it would be fair to call it my favorite of the three films.

Thoughts on Cooper, Windom, and Bob

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

The following meta-analysis was originally posted on my Tumblr in October, and I thought it would be worth sharing here as well. Major spoilers for Twin Peaks follow the jump.

The Favorites - The Adventures of Robin Hood (#80)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938/USA/dir. Michael Curtiz & William Keighley) appeared at #80 on my original list.

What it is • Welcome to Sherwood Forest, cloaked in lush green and lit by brilliant sunlight. Through these trees parade Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) and his merry men, fomenting unrest and having a jolly time of it. Many Robin Hood adaptations, especially today, look to darken the story or give it a more naturalistic texture, but Adventures revels in its heightened artifice and sense of fun, with the emphasis on swashbuckling, colorful costumes, and the cheerful romance between Robin and Marian (Flynn's frequent onscreen partner Olivia de Havilland, who is simply luminous here). Similarly, the structure is casually episodic, collecting famous moments from the Robin legend rather than forcing everything into a streamlined narrative structure. This is a proudly traditional take on the classic story, and as such it may be the most archetypal Robin Hood. However, the film does contain several elements that mark it as a film of its time, displaying a concern for social/historical context that even many of the more "realistic" latter-day interpretations avoid. The Adventures of Robin Hood very much emphasizes the importance of ethnic strife and state persecution, continually hammering home the idea that the aristocratic Normans are oppressing the common, salt-of-the-earth Saxons (Robin, himself a nobleman but also a Saxon, sides with clan over class). The film even offers Robin Hood a solemn refugee camp to run amidst all the derring-do! As such, it's hard not to see the looming war in Europe casting a shadow over the sunny swashbuckler of 1938.

Why I like it •

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion 2.22

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Unlike the previous essays, the Rebuild films will not be accompanied by chats with other bloggers.

If Evangelion 1.11 is the pop song cover that tries to hit all the same notes (while upping the production value), then Evangelion 2.22 is the jazz version, following the same rough structure but unafraid to cut loose and go off on wild riffs and tangents. Approached in the right spirit, this can be a whole lot of fun. Anno mostly seems to be using events and images from the series as touchstones to shoot off in new directions. The first time I watched 2.22 I was mostly frustrated and disappointed by these departures. True, the film corresponds to the more light-hearted monster-of-the-week episodes of the series (roughly episodes 7 - 13) but it also overlaps with the darker, deeper episodes 14 - 19. The more playful tone of 2.22's first half didn't seem suitable as buildup for the drama; I had been expecting a big-screen version of the Evangelion series (not necessarily in plot, but in "feel"). Knowing what to expect this time, I still wasn't entirely sure what the point of the film was, but I enjoyed it much more.

The Favorites - The Civil War (#81)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Civil War (1990/USA/dir. Ken Burns) appeared at #81 on my original list.

What it is • As a commentator notes very late in the documentary, the American Civil War is an immeasurable gulf separating the "before" and "after." Remarkably, Ken Burns' 11-hour PBS opus attempts to bridge that gulf and if the ambition of this attempt is awe-inspiring, the extent to which he succeeds is even more so. Burns evokes this bygone world by employing striking contemporaneous photographs (a new medium at the time of the war), modern-day battlefield cinematography (given a meditative air by the emptiness of the locations), a few fleeting newsreels from veterans' reunions in the early twentieth century (which are among the most arresting artifacts of the series), and especially the stirring soundtrack (cycling various motifs from the 19th century and coupling them with the gorgeous, mournful "Ashokan Farewell" theme, which was actually composed in 1982). He also sprinkles the series with interviews, but not as much as we might expect (maybe a half-dozen subjects, whose input is mostly limited) - allowing David McCullough's soothing narration to do most of the historical heavy-lifting while historian Shelby Foote is given the lion's share of talking-head screentime, mostly to contribute colorful anecdotes to the film's texture. The Civil War was a rather shocking hit in 1990, racking up numbers that would have been breathtaking for a major network, let alone public television. That success is undoubtedly due in large part not just to the subject, but to Burns' treatment: creating an all-encompassing format that allowed viewers to immerse themselves in a zeitgeist.

Why I like it •

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion 1.11

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Unlike the previous essays, the Rebuild films will not be accompanied by chats with other bloggers.

We're back at the beginning. Sort of. Almost everything about the early part of Evangelion 1.11, the "rebuild" feature film released in 2008, is identical to the first episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The same Angel attack, the same appearance of Rei in the abandoned city streets, the same Misato-Shinji rendezvous. But there are subtle differences. The first deviation is that the sea from which the Angel emerges is red, like the LCL concluding The End of Evangelion (one of the first clues for a favorite fan theory, that the Rebuilds actually take place after the original series, in a kind of reincarnated alternate universe). There are other subtle detours from the first two episodes: Sachiel the Angel (who is referred to as the "fourth" rather than the "third" Angel) reformulates in a different, more textured fashion; the Eva does not deflect debris from Shinji by releasing its hand; the berserker attack occurs in real-time rather than flashback. As the film continues, it will stray further from the original script but overall this is very much like a recap, gorgeously animated but suffering from some of the limitations inherent in the digest approach.

Talking Mulholland Drive with Twin Peaks Unwrapped

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

This month's Twin Peaks post is actually more about another David Lynch work, although it touches on Peaks as well. The folks at the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast recently invited me back for a second appearance (well, third technically - but the "killer's reveal" discussion is still a few weeks away, and this discussion was bumped up on the schedule in honor of the Criterion relase). The conversation lasts about 10-15 minutes and accompanies conversations amongst the hosts and with fellow guests Mya McBriar of Twin Peaks Fanatic and John Thorne, editor of Wrapped in Plastic (and of an upcoming compilation book). We discuss the genesis of the film, different interpretations, and also its links to Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me. Enjoy!

(Check out my earlier appearance on the podcast, discussing the first season)

The Favorites - The End of Evangelion (#82)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The End of Evangelion (1997/Japan/dir. Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki) appeared at #82 on my original list.

What it is • Welcome to the end of the world. This animated masterpiece begins in a flooded wasteland, introducing us to an array of characters who are completely isolated from one another, buried in their own grief, guilt, depression, and loneliness. We are fifteen years after a cataclysmic event that wiped out most of the earth's population, and mere days after the last of many battles with monstrous creatures (called Angels, ironically) who laid waste to this particular city and destroyed the psyches of the teenage warriors forced to fight them. (The battles with the Angels are depicted in the television show Neon Genesis Evangelion, to which this film is a follow-up.) So the scenario is already post-apocalyptic...but we ain't seen nothing yet. At least half the film is consumed by "The Human Instrumentality Project," in which the physical bodies of humanity are dissolved and their souls are fused together in a vast sea of consciousness, dissolving pain and suffering alongside individuality and agency. Shinji, the 14-year-old mecha pilot who is placed at the center of Instrumentality, must decide if he wants relief from his loneliness by dissolving his identity, or if he should seek love and acceptance the hard way, as a separate but active person. The film depicts this process through a gorgeous swirl of rich animation (mixing sci-fi action, spiritual symbolism, and psychological allegory), live-action footage, children's drawings, and other raw material.

Why I like it •

Neon Genesis Evangelion - The End of Evangelion, Part 3 of 3: discussion w/ Bob Clark on the film's characters

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 bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

Foreward: Ending the Evangelion conversations

Three years ago this week, on November 2, 2012, I published my first conversation with Bob Clark on the subject of Neon Genesis Evangelion, episode 1. He was the one who introduced me to the show a year earlier and when I decided to do an episode guide (my first since Twin Peaks in 2008) I realized that it would be good to have him on board. He was much more familiar with the series than I was, and perhaps even more importantly he had a grounding in both the conventions of the anime genre and the techniques of animation in general.

We conducted seven chats to accompany the first seven episodes and then took what I expected to be a short break over the holidays while I worked on a short film and devoted my blog to promoting it. Starting ongoing series without having the end already in sight is a big risk, and sure enough nearly a year and a half passed before Bob and I got back into the flow of things by discussing episode 8 (this time, we also brought the Japanese film blogger Murderous Ink in to offer additional comments - his last contribution was shared yesterday).

That was the spring of 2014, when I was just beginning to fall under the spell of Twin Peaks again (a bigger obsession than anything I've experienced in the past decade) and so after we reached episode 16, the Evangelion project paused once again. This time I had been wise enough to hold off on publishing our discussions, knowing that I didn't want to do so until we had covered everything through the finale and follow-up film at which point I could leisurely schedule the entries on a weekly basis without any further hiatuses.

The opportunity finally arrived this spring, a year after our last pause. This time I was able to give Evangelion the attention it deserved, exploring the fandom and the mythology in a way I never had before (even though I'd watched the series several times up to that point). Bob's and my conversations grew even longer and more intense as we reached the final stretch of the series climaxing with a chat on The End of Evangelion that spanned several hours over two different nights.

The first part of that discussion - dwelling on the themes, motifs, techniques, and mythology of the show - went up yesterday. Today's conclusion focuses on the characters - specifically very brief discussions of Ritsuko and Gendo, longer discussions of Misato, Kaworu, and Rei and a very long, in-depth discussion of Asuka, before concluding with our reflections on the enigmatic Yui. Shinji, of course, figures into most of these different character sections as well.

And with that, my conversations on Neon Genesis Evangelion with Bob Clark - which have formed the core of this episode guide since its inception - will come to an end. In the future, due to logistics and my desire to quickly build up a bigger backlog, I don't plan on doing episodic discussions for my TV viewing diaries...but I am hoping to have series-spanning conversations whenever I finish a show, both with Bob and with other contributors as I go. Next up is The Prisoner, and now that the end of this Evangelion series is in sight maybe I will finally start watching it so that I'm ready to start posting the entries in a month!

Meanwhile, the Evangelion series will continue for another four weeks, as I will offer solo reviews of each Rebuild film before wrapping up with a full directory for the entire series, gathering all the entries in one convenient location. But first, here is my most extensive conversation yet with Bob, a final look at the personalities and themes that made The End of Evangelion, and the show that inspired it, so great.

Final conversation with Bob Clark (part 2)

Neon Genesis Evangelion - The End of Evangelion, Part 2 of 3: discussion w/ Bob Clark on the film's style & story (+ final comment from Murderous Ink)

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 bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

Yesterday I posted my weekly Neon Genesis Evangelion review, on the film The End of Evangelion. My conversation with Bob Clark was so lengthy this week that for the first time I separated it from the review (which was also longer than usual) and split it in two. Today we discuss the film's animation, visual motifs, music, mythology, and the whole mind-boggling concept of Human Instrumentality. Tomorrow the discussion will conclude as we focus on the various characters of Evangelion. Both chats will focus on the film but also occasionally dip back into the series to reference open or unresolved points.

But first, here is Murderous Ink's final contribution to the Neon Genesis Evangelion series:

Neon Genesis Evangelion - The End of Evangelion, Part 1 of 3: My Review (discussion w/ Bob Clark begins tomorrow)

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 bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

From its first few minutes, Neon Genesis Evangelion has alternated between meditative stillness and frenetic activity. Appropriately then, it's hard to tell if The End of Evangelion - the feature film produced a year after the series ended - takes its sweet time or moves so fast that it leaves us in the dust. Hideaki Anno certainly enjoys making us wait, even if he isn't always to blame: the nature of this vast co-production forces us to sit through a full minute and a half of logos before the film actually begins (aside from this litany of production companies, there are no opening credits). The DVD edition makes us wait even longer by attaching the film's trailer to the beginning of the movie - a trailer which perversely features only live action; the women onscreen are the voice actors appearing as their characters in a mundane alternate universe mostly cut from the movie. Shinji is the first character we see in the actual movie, but the broken boy's eyes are hidden by his bangs in the first shot, and they will mostly remain hidden for about thirty minutes. Likewise, Shinji will barely speak in the first half of the film even though his banshee-like scream closes it with a bang. And yet while Shinji sleepwalks, the world around him collapses.

The 3 1/2 Minute Review: The End of Evangelion (video)

This video is an entry in End of Evangelion Week on this blog: every day a new post on the film will go up.

Here is my follow up to the last "3 1/2 Minute Review" video, which covered the TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion - a brief essay devoted to the remarkable follow-up feature film, The End of Evangelion. The first half of the video is spoiler-free; halfway through there is a prominent spoiler warning so that those who haven't seen the film yet can tune out.

Apologies for the poor audio quality of the narration, due to technical difficulties on my end. (update 11/18: I was able to fix the audio on the Vimeo version but not the YouTube)

The End of Evangelion week on Lost in the Movies

Since June (technically, since 2012 although there was a break of several years) I have been surveying the entire series of Neon Genesis Evangelion with an episode guide consisting of weekly reviews and discussions with Bob Clark, the Evangelion fan who introduced me to the show. This week we are scheduled to reach the cinematic climax of that saga, The End of Evangelion - a dazzling fusion of avant-garde experimentation and action anime, and one of my favorite films of all time. Not coincidentally, another ongoing series - my Friday "Favorites" countdown list - is also scheduled to cover The End of Evangelion (which landed at #82 on the top 100 list this is based on). To complete the triumvirate, I decided to create a short video on the film for my biweekly YouTube/Vimeo upload - it should be popping up by today and tomorrow. So the plan was to have three posts on The End of Evangelion this week.

That plan expanded as I realized that my discussion with Bob was so sprawling and in-depth that it made more sense to divide it into three separate entries - which will go up Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday - and for the cherry on top I am going to make a screen-cap visual tribute to the film's first half on Saturday (I already screen-capped the second half back when I first watched the movie)

So get ready for seven days of End of Evangelion coverage, starting today with this intro! Here is a schedule for the upcoming entries:

MONDAY - video essay: "The 3 1/2 minute review of The End of Evangelion"

TUESDAY - Neon Genesis Evangelion series - The End of Evangelion: my review in the context of the series, final comments from Murderous Ink & pt. 1 of discussion with Bob Clark

WEDNESDAY - Neon Genesis Evangelion series - The End of Evangelion: pt. 2 of discussion with Bob Clark

THURSDAY - Neon Genesis Evangelion series - The End of Evangelion: pt. 3 of discussion with Bob Clark

FRIDAY - Favorites entry on The End of Evangelion (capsule review discussing it as a standalone film)

SATURDAY - visual tribute to The End of Evangelion

And please share your own reflections and reactions to the discussion as the week goes along, and afterwards as well!

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