Pure Trash/Seeing Harmony

by Aaron Davidson

(an FMC original)

The best part of Harmony Korine’s new film, Trash Humpers, was Harmony Korine’s introduction. It was the first west coast showing, at the Nuart Theater in western Los Angeles. An article in the Weekly piqued the interest of anyone still interested in Harmony Korine, enough people to sell the show out. My roommate read the article in line for tacos, and an hour later I caught a Facebook post from a friend getting rid of two tickets for reasons involving a bus station. I moved to LA a few weeks before, and this seemed like as good an option as any for a warm Friday in a new city.

The lights came up after the previews, and Korine shuffled down aisle to replace the Matthew Barney humanoids ghosted on my retinas. Korine thanked everyone for coming then explained that we weren’t really about to watch a movie, but “something else.” He said the Trash Humpers project manifested from taking photos of his wife and friends wearing “silly” masks and committing misdemeanor vandalism and other pranks around Nashville, including defecating in driveways and fornicating with trashcans.

Korine transitioned to an anecdote about a neighbor he doesn’t trust, the man that “invented the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.” This guy, apparently, has trash bins full of VHS tapes in his backyard. One bin, according to Korine, had every hour CNN aired in 1988. Korine wanted to make something that might be found in such a bin, or (and I’m paraphrasing), “lodged far up in the guts of a Jonas brother.” The crowd ate this up.

Korine explained he couldn’t stay for the film, because he had “important people to meet.” (This was misheard by some, who thought he said “porn people to meet.” The idea of a Korine-helmed porn remains intriguing.) He offered to do a Q&A anyway. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t seen the film, Korine said, because for those who’d seen the trailer, the movie was “more of the same shit.” Big laughs. Read the rest of this entry »

The Secret in Their Eyes, Best Foreign Film

Peter Travers | Rolling Stone

Having just won the Academy Award as the year’s best foreign-language film, The Secret in Their Eyes has a decent shot at wearing down resistance to subtitled films. Don’t be put off. This spellbinder from Argentina will sneak up and floor you. It’s that good.

Ricardo Darin is brilliant as Benjamin, a criminal-court investigator who is tormented by the unsolved rape and murder of a young bride in 1974, and by the military junta that devastated his country around the same time. We watch as Benjamin and Sandoval (the superb Guillermo Francella), his alcoholic partner, work with the victim’s husband, Ricardo (Pablo Rago), to identify the killer. Photos, especially those revealing the eyes of the killer, play a major role in the discovery. In a thunderously exciting chase scene through a Buenos Aires stadium during a heated soccer match, Benjamin and Sandoval hunt their prey, only to find him given shelter by the corrupt government of the new Argentina. (Read More)

The Good The Bad The Weird

Derek Elley | Variety

East meets West meets East again, with palate-tingling results, in “The Good the Bad the Weird,” a kimchi Western that draws shamelessly on its spaghetti forebears but remains utterly, bracingly Korean. More than two years in production, and at a reported $17 million the most expensive South Korean movie to date, fifth feature by genre-bending helmer Kim Jee-woon (“The Quiet Family,” “A Bittersweet Life”), centered on a trio of treasure-seekers in 1930s Japanese-occupied Manchuria, looks headed for through-the-roof local biz, hunky returns throughout Asia and piquant specialized B.O. in the West, in the right hands.

[...]

Though the movie raises the bar yet again for South Korean tech expertise and ambition, as well as launching the K-oater subgenre, it’s not the first “oriental Western” (as it bills itself on closing credits). Last year, Takashi Miike’s “Sukiyaki Western Django” pioneered a fusion-style J-Western, and Chinese fifth-generation director He Ping already had two cracks at a C-Western with “Swordsman in Double-Flag Town” (1991) and “Sun Valley” (1996). And the original spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s were partly inspired by Japanese samurai movies, anyway.

In the first of many references to Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” central trio is introduced one at a time, though without onscreen captions to ID them. First up is “the Bad,” black-suited, spiky-haired bandit leader Chang-yi (Lee Byeong-heon, “A Bittersweet Life”), who’s hired by a pro-Japanese Korean businessman (Song Yeong-chang) to retrieve a valuable treasure map from a train. (Read More)

April 25, 2010 | Posted in: film reviews | Comments Closed

Punk Hacker, Meet Punk’d Hack: Discuss — Review of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

Bob Mondello  |  NPR

Walking through a Stockholm square at the outset of the arrestingly violent Swedish thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) can’t escape his own image: His face, accompanied by the headline “Guilty,” stares back from newsstands, from billboard-sized video screens, and — though Blomqvist doesn’t realize it — from the viewfinder of a camera held by a fierce-looking, leather-clad punk named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace).

Blomkvist’s crime was investigating an industrialist powerful enough to make a libel suit stick. He is unaware that Lisbeth, who has been brutalized enough to instinctively side with the powerless, has taken an interest in him. By hacking his computer, she has discovered that while awaiting the start of his jail term, he has been investigating what even Swedes would consider a cold case: the disappearance some four decades earlier of another industrialist’s niece.

Blomkvist’s old-school, shoe-leather approach to solving the disappearance isn’t getting him anywhere, but once he and the tattoo girl get together and establish a few boundaries (no hacking your allies, f’rinstance), Lisbeth’s not inconsiderable skills — including a photographic memory and a mean way with handcuffs — help move the case forward.

Though Stieg Larsson’s novels are rife with sexual violence and considerable gore, they’re also mystery thrillers in the Agatha Christie sense — in this case, the specific genre homages include an isolated estate and skulking suspects with loads of motives and alibis. (Read More)

April 21, 2010 | Posted in: film reviews | Comments Closed

‘A Prophet’

Kenneth Turan LA Times

Genre is powerful, especially in the hands of as gifted a filmmaker as France’s Jacques Audiard. His new film, the masterful “A Prophet,” is an answered prayer for those who believe that revitalizing classic forms with contemporary attitudes makes for the most compelling kind of cinema.

Part prison film, part crime story, part intense personal drama, this all-consuming narrative with the power and drive of a Formula One racer has been something of a phenomenon since it took the grand jury prize at Cannes last year. A “Sight & Sound” poll of 60 critics worldwide named it the best film of 2009, it’s one of the five foreign-language film Oscar nominees, it took Britain’s prestigious BAFTA award in that category and, with 13 nominations overall, it’s a prohibitive favorite to win the Cesar, France’s Oscar, for best picture. (Read More)

An Israeli Tale of Communal Mistrust, Without the Finger-Pointing

A.O. Scott of The New York Times has  an interesting review of “Ajami,” Israel’s submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Film.  “Ajami” is opening in the States now to a limited release, so check your local times and listings.

Written and directed by Scandar Copti, an Israeli Arab (who also plays an important supporting role), and Yaron Shani, who is Jewish, the film is acutely insightful about the social divisions within Israel, but it examines them without scolding or sentimentality.

There is no finger-pointing here, and no group hugging either. Instead there is a sharp sense of just how deep and wide the schisms are, not just between Jews and Arabs but also between Christians and Muslims, rich and poor, farmers and city dwellers, men and women, young and old and so on. (read more)

The Quiet Power of A Single Man

Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, is notable not only for Colin Firth’s subtle portrayal of a man struggling to live on after the sudden death of his longtime partner, but for how Ford employs the motif of silence to buffer his film’s inherently sentimental subject matter.  For example, in the film’s most overt portrayal of emotion, Ford cuts the sound as a distraught George (Firth), a reserved British intellectual, bursts into a grief-filled torrent of tears.  In the typical melodrama, every sob and wail would be lingered over — with swelling music no less — but here Ford buffers the expected cinematic excess by having the viewer experience the loss of a loved one through an auditory loss. In an essentially realist film that focuses on human relationships, silence allows Ford to evoke authentic emotion while avoiding one of the great problems, indeed, paradoxes of realism: how to realistically portray human experience without succumbing to sentimentality.  After all, real life is messy; people cry and wail.

Instead of violent emotion, A Single Man achieves its effects more subtly like Pixar’s Up, by imbuing everyday objects with powerful emotional, sensual associations.  In the car crash that killed Jim, for example, the two terriers they had raised together, surrogate children, also died.  Later in the film, as George plans suicide, he reexperiences this lost love bond through the scent of toast and butter on another terrier’s fur.  As George lingers in this quiet reunion, his reluctance to end the moment suggests the power of the commonplace in our lives, of how certain textures and smells recall the irretrievable objects of our past.

The theme of silence which resonates subtly throughout A Single Man, of course, is also a reminder of the real tragedy of George’s loss: that his grief has been censored by a society which demands his invisibility.  He is not allowed the benefit of condolence and ritual by participating in Jim’s funeral; he is excluded and denied the status of an official “family member.”  His last sixteen years with his partner have been omitted from the record.  Through this erasure by uncontrollable external forces, as demonstrated by the repeated metaphor of a man quietly drowning in the ocean, the film suggests, especially in George’s final moments, that suffering is most extreme when experienced in silence.

Certainty and a Sure Hand Behind The White Ribbon’s Unsolved Mystery

If you’re not a Michael Haneke fan yet, or you haven’t seen any of his films (Cache, Funny Games), then his latest endeavor, The White Ribbon, which seems to be gaining nearly universal critical praise, will almost certainly win over most of you stragglers.  Check out J. Hoberman’s review over at The Village Voice for a tantalizing taste of the auteur’s latest postmodern mystery:

“Detailed yet oblique, leisurely but compelling, perfectly cast and irreproachably acted, the movie has a seductively novelistic texture complete with a less-than-omniscient narrator hinting at a weighty historical thesis: It’s Village of the Damned as re-imagined by Thomas Mann after studying August Sander’s photographs of German types while perusing Wilhelm Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism.” (read more)

What We Loved in 2009

We wanted to wait until the 1st of January to put this up. Everyone jumps right on the My-2009-List bandwagon days, sometimes even weeks, before the New Year. What if something happens on the eve that displaces an item previously thought invaluable? So, without further delay, below is a list of things Flatmancrooked staff enjoyed in 2009. This list is not divided into categories or ordered by importance but rather alphabetized because the alphabet is good for you. Feel free to add to our list if there is something you loved that we should have.

#

The scene in 2012 where the entire state of California falls into the sea.

A

Garner by Kirstin Allio

B

Bittorrent

Nazi Literature in the Americas & Last Evenings On Earth by Roberto Bolano

Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, NV


Bon Iver

BookCourt in Brooklyn, NY

Small Craft Warnings: Stories by Kate Braverman

Brooklyn, NY

C

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Champiñones al Ajillo at Tapa the World in Sacramento, CA

D

Deena’s Bjork costumedeenabjork

Dexter

One Story Issue # 128: The Restoration of the Villa Where Tibor Kálmán Once Lived” by Tamas Dobozy

E

Elegy (Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley) – Released in 2008 but it was so good we just kept enjoying it.

Baby Leg by Brian Evenson

Last Days by Brian Evenson

The Wavering Knife by Brian Evenson

Fugue State by Brian Evenson

F

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fly-Over State by Emma Straub

The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ed. by R.W. Franklin

the Forecast project

Pizza at Franny’s in Brooklyn

G

The Arsenic Lobster: A Hybrid Memoir by Peter Grandbois

H

The House of the Devil

I

Illegal Art

Inland Empire

In the Loop (“Shut Up, love actually!”)

J

Josh liked finishing Grad School

Extreme amounts of Joy

K

Koshihikari Echigo Beer at Tamaya Sushi in Sacramento, CA

L

Just Enough A.J. Liebling,with an intro by David Remnick

Lovin’

M

M + E’s Chronic City poster

Macaroni & Cheese, Fried Chicken at Paul Martin’s

Mad Men

Maker’s Mark

The Momofuku Cookbook

Ding Dong at Mulvanney’s in Sacramento

N

The National

The Nervous Breakdown

The Next Country by Idra Novey

Not About Vampires from Flatmancrooked

O

Barack Obama Inauguration

P

Pork Belly Tacos at B Star in San Francisco, CA

Precious (if you haven’t seen this movie . . . you’re kinda silly)



A Defense of Poetry by Gabriel Gudding

R

The Road

The Rumpus

S

Salvadore Plascencia

She Wolf by Shakira

Single Ladies by Beyonce

Soup

Stillwater Cove: Sonoma County, CA

Poe’s Children: The New Horror – An Anthology, edited by Peter Straub

Emma Straub

T

Tea

Theft (or repositioning) of hotel topiary

W

The New Valley by Josh Weil

The White Ribbon

Y

It’s Blitz! – Yeah Yeah Yeah’s

Once the Shore by Paul Yoon


THE HURT LOCKER: How Kathryn Bigelow de-politicized the Iraq War

James Kaelan will have an essay about the Iraq War Film Renaissance over at The Millions next week. In celebration of this year’s crop, Flatmancrooked is re-running his review of The Hurt Locker, the film that started the trend.


Since it germinated in earnest four years ago, the crop of Afghanistan and Iraq films has been anemic. Reading the reviews, in most cases, is more entertaining than watching the films themselves. Take for instance the hastily braided Lions for Lambs by Robert Redford, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise. It has three fifths the narrative breadth of Alejandro Iñárritu’s Babel. But whereas Iñarritu ties his storylines together with raw emotion, Redford lashes his together with wonkishness. This comes from Anthony Lane’s review of Lions in the New Yorker:

    “The three stories are intercut throughout the film, to lend it at least the illusion of momentum. Sadly, unless you are Jean-Luc Godard, the sight of your characters discussing the political ethics of their own actions is unlikely to ravish the eye, and Lions for Lambs is most charitably described as Ibsen with helicopters. It winces with liberal self-chastisement: Redford is surely smart enough to realize, as the professor turns to ire on those who merely chatter while Rome burns, that his movie is itself no better, or more morally effective, than high-concept Hollywood fiddling.”

Last year the indomitable men behind The Wire—David Simon and Ed Burns—managed to put together something of a masterpiece on the invasion of Iraq for HBO. But Generation Kill was still a political film. One came away after eight hours feeling the war was a horrendous mistake and that the incursion wasn’t as simple as an earthquake; after we’d sacked the cities, we couldn’t just fix the roads and bridges. Generation Kill is an indictment of the Bush Administration, just as The Wire is an indictment of Baltimore’s bureaucracies. In both series there are good men and women doing bad things and achieving dismal results.

The Hurt Locker is another sort of film. It follows the fate of three soldiers in Iraq charged with disarming IEDs in Baghdad. Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) replaces Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) after Thompson is killed in the line of duty. James is as unconcerned with danger as James Bond is with venereal disease, and he approaches his work with the spiritual calm of a man raking a rock garden. What is immediately evident watching The Hurt Locker is that the film is existential rather than polemical. The soldiers aren’t interested in why they’re in country. The other men on James’ team—Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are concerned only with surviving till they leave. James, on the other hand, seems captivated by his work and pursues it with the Platonic conviction that all labor is ethically sound if done excellently.

For someone opposed to the war from the first rumors, this film served as a revelation. There is nothing romantic about The Hurt Locker. It is not a sentimental portrait of brotherhood (the soldiers bond by drinking and punching each other in the stomach). And yet somewhere within the first half hour I found myself wishing I were with them in the desert. The soldiers’ work is arduous, to say nothing of deadly, but James’ approach to defusing his bombs is elegantly simple. He appears at peace working, and that calm amidst one of the tensest dramas in recent film history is intoxicating. He is not so different from the poet striving to write a clear image.

There are minor flaws, of course. We’re so prepared for the films’ first explosion that when the bomb does go off, the surprise is no greater than if we’d seen a controlled building demolition. It produces none of the shock, for instance, one feels in the opening minutes of Children of Men, when the sudden blast interrupts an otherwise peaceful London street. Alfonso Cuarón’s violence conveys the emotion of terrorism, whereas Kathryn Bigelow’s violence, at least in the beginning, celebrates the science. But Bigelow is certainly at her career best, here. The camerawork throughout is redolent of Paul Greengrass’ United 93—hand-held, but to a specific end. Unlike César Charlone’s photography in The Constant Gardener, where he shook the camera even at the dinner table, the look of The Hurt Locker is both effectively intimate and unsettling. This is not a film of pretty photographs, nor should it be.

I’m not the first to predict that people will study The Hurt Locker in twenty years for clues to the nature of the Iraq War, but I’d like to add my endorsement. This film is a document rather than a lesson. By avoiding the political fray, it gives viewers insight, regardless of perspective, into the objective circumstances of the conflict. The Hurt Locker doesn’t ask whether we made the right decision going into Baghdad, and yet it doesn’t skirt the subject. Rather it proves how impertinent such a question is to the soldiers risking their lives. On a personal level, war is a series of tasks one tries to complete alive. Anything beyond that is a distraction.


By James Kaelan