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24 reviews in total 
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Palo Alto (2013)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Vanity, money and marketing, 1 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Is this a music video? A sneaker commercial? No, it's a poignant drama about the pain, angst, and heartbreaking beauty of the teenage years!

The writer/director is Francis Ford Coppola's granddaughter. The male lead is Val Kilmer's son. The female lead is Julia Roberts' niece. Keep it in the family, guys!

As you might expect given the cast, PALO ALTO is an exercise in vanity, more fashion propaganda than narrative. Rather than using the camera to go beyond the narcissism of her characters, she uses it to shore it up. On the level of explicit content the film is a perfectly honorable drama about teenage life, but on the level of diegetic form the film is a refusal of the depth constitutive of drama in favor of surfaces. Now, I've read my Hegel. I know that form and content determine each other mutually. These young punks are just too cool. Their clothes, poses, attitudes, and thoughts have no substance beyond this contentless coolness and as such they constitute an active refusal of subjectivity proper. Not only does Coppola leave their posturing untouched, she validates it. These boring and unfree adolescents wander around under the gaze of a director who is so seduced by the spectacle of raw teenage authenticity that she cannot bring herself to help them by offering them access to a NO that might liberate them a little. In this she is a perfect dupe for our corrupt consumerist culture which substitutes objects and postures for the emancipatory potential of Logos and subjectivity.

Some concrete examples: April sitting in her locker is a detail worthy of the castrated twee peddler Wes Anderson. The scene in the skate park towards the end..."if you thought 17-year-olds were cool, wait until you see how raw and real and cool 14-year-olds are!"

Every character is desperately in need of some intervention from without, some access to something beyond the stifling, repressive world of appearances and "fun", and Coppola refuses to give it to them, because to do so would extract them from the authentic-y angst that makes these teens so raw and cool.

Of course, the film was made when Coppola was only twenty-six years old. This is far too young to be given this kind of creative control. Like her aunt, Coppola has nothing to say. All she knows how to do is project her own life onto the screen. There is no authentic artistic vision here, just vanity turbo-charged by the absurd sums of money these people have access to.

At the end of the credits, there is a "The director would like to thank..." section in which she shouts out every cool brand, band, actor and director that inspired her. What kind of monster is inspired by a brand? The list is super long and betrays the nature of the universe in which Gia Coppola lives. It is the world of money and marketing...nothing more.

Her (2013)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Where are the Chinese child slaves?, 23 March 2014

The first thing that struck me about this film was that all of the characters are immature narcissists. The men are petty, castrated obsessional neurotics incapable of action and commitment and the women are frigid, castrating hysterics equally incapable of action and commitment. They deserve each other. Everyone is constantly apologizing to each other. Everyone is rich. Nothing is real.

I kept wondering when Jonze was going to show us the factory in China where the artificial world of Theodore and Amy is produced. He never does. The closest he gets is showing us the futuristic L.A. skyline. We never see a single poor person. This leads me to think that Jonze himself does not fully understand the scope of his own film. The wimpiness and emotional immaturity of every single human character in this film is a direct result of their double alienation from the truth.

How is this alienation double? To answer this question we must ask another question: why does Theodore suffer so much? We never find out. The superficial explanation would be that he is unlucky in love. But his poor luck in love has to be seen as a consequence of his suffering and not its cause. Theodore is a masochist. He does not have the courage to find a good woman, one who realizes that freedom and flight are not the same thing. He does not have the courage to find a woman who will not make him suffer. He picks narcissistic women who will abandon him as they pursue some vain avatar of self-realization. Some version of this is true of every other emotionally stunted character in the movie. Now, why is this the case? Well, to put things bluntly, this is the case because the true (Oedipal) conflicts responsible for their masochistic behavior remain buried in their unconscious. Jonze goes nowhere near them. None of them have parents or children. None of them have pasts. Theodore and Amy are locked vaults. They can talk and cry and emote all they want. They never come anywhere near the truth. And this is precisely why they suffer. It has nothing to do with their sterile love stories, which ultimately are just screens.

HER made me uncomfortable. "Am I like this?" I kept wondering. "Is my own love story this futile and sterile?" It wasn't until I left the theater and returned to my concrete life that I was able to answer this question. NO. Unlike these characters, I want to know the truth. Not a single one of the human characters gives a damn about knowledge or reality. None of them question the world they live in. All they care about is their feelings. They are not just complicit in the fraudulent ideology of the totalitarian world they live in, they are active participants in its elaboration. Theodore fabricates emotions and Amy is working on a snarky video game designed to destroy a mother's confidence in her femininity. In other words, they are literal propagandists for a bankrupt moral order. They hide this disturbing fact from themselves by maintaining an "ironic distance" from their dishonesty. No wonder they're alienated and unhappy.

Either Spike Jonze is a master of subtle understatement or he is a dupe of his own story. Every character is white or Asian (super-white). Every character is rich. Every character has a "creative" job. Does Jonze realize that he is leaving out 99% of humanity here? I'm not sure he does. He does not make even the barest of gestures in their direction. Now, this is not a criticism of Jonze as such. He can make a movie about whomever he wants. What I am saying is that Theodore's alienation from the true nature of his own emotional conflicts is nothing but an analog for his alienation from the conflicts inherent to capitalism. In both cases these foreclosed, invisible conflicts generate the secondary "sentimental" conflicts that seem so real to these decadent characters. In reality their romantic woes are nothing but epiphenomena. These characters are as remote from the true nature of their emotional suffering as they are from the Chinese child slaves who build their gadgets. The floating world in which Theodore and Amy live is a tiny artificial bubble maintained by a huge network of production and exchange. One cannot live in a bubble of any sort and expect to have an authentic experience of life. The (real) emotional suffering of these characters can only be understood as a blind unconscious response to the structural misery and suffering of an (economically and emotionally) corrupt world, a misery and suffering that they refuse to see because they actively participate in its propagation. Jonze's film is an unwitting meta-statement on the radicality of this split that increasingly dominates our lives. The irony here is that Jonze himself is, by all appearances, unaware that this is the true thesis of his film. HER is a devastating critique of hypermodern ideology and he may not even realize it.

Until Theodore and Amy begin to dare to find out the ugly truth about themselves as well as the world they live in, they will remain in their sterile universe of video games and childish emotions.

111 out of 241 people found the following review useful:
Portrait of a failed psychoanalysis, 30 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

NYMPHOMANIAC is the most exciting, intelligent film I have seen in a long time. The moment I saw Seligmann shuffle out of his apartment to Rammstein, I knew I was in the hands of a filmmaker I could trust. This scene was the first of many at which I found myself exulting inside. GO, LARS, GO! NYMPHOMANIAC is von Trier's F-14 and he takes it on bombing run after bombing run, destroying a different pious hypocrisy each time. The film is full of all sorts of audacious touches that no other filmmakers working today have the guts or brains to include in their boring, sentimental, ideological films.

NYMPHOMANIAC is also very funny.

What I liked best about NYMPHOMANIAC was its total refusal of the consolations of ideology. Sexuality is presented truthfully, which is to say, as something which simply cannot be integrated into the smooth social order without one or the other being damaged. No one in the movie has a "healthy" sexuality. In a certain sense, the nymphomaniac herself is the closest thing to a healthy person in that she refuses to adhere to any of the hypocritical moral orders represented by the other characters, from conformism to abstinence to impotent cognitive-behavioral therapy to S&M to crime and so on. She is a stain no matter where she goes and in this sense she incarnates the truth, which also has the status of a permanent stain.

At the same time that von Trier does everything right, he gets everything wrong, but in the best possible way. NYMPHOMANIAC reminded me of the book that OJ Simpson wrote in which he describes how he would have killed Nicole and Ron "if he had done it". What OJ wrote is a confession in scare quotes, one in which every detail is present except the most important one, namely, the actual acknowledgment of guilt. NYMPHOMANIAC has the same structure, although instead of being the story of a murder, it is the story of a psychoanalysis.

A troubled person on a bed is encouraged to speak to a learned, wise, benevolently neutral man who is sitting next to the bed. She is encouraged to tell her whole story. He will refuse judgment and simply listen.

Over the course of a psychoanalysis, patterns and unlikely coincidences slowly take shape and are spotted by the analysand, who eventually comes to recognize them at their true value, namely as the traces of an emergent repressed discourse. Lars von Trier has brilliantly condensed and rendered this process by making Joe's story full of improbable coincidences. How much of this really happened and how much of it is a delusion? Could she really have run into Jerome so many times? Could she really have had a vision of the Whore of Babylon as a pubescent girl? Etc.

The sex life of Joe starts and ends with the exact same scenario: 3+5=8. This circularity is also characteristic of the psychoanalytic process. An analysis reaches its conclusion when the analysand recognizes that she has done nothing but repeat, again and again, her own contingent, sexualized unconscious interpretation of a traumatic encounter. By superimposing this sum on the screen, von Trier condenses and renders visible the fundamentally signifying, even meaningless kernel of the compulsion to repeat trauma that Freud called the death drive. Joe's analysis comes to an end when she is able to witness how insubstantial and senseless her compulsion is. All tied up, right?

And then Seligmann tries to have sex with Joe! At this moment everything crumbles. The moment he whips it out, Seligmann invalidates the nascent story that has begun to emerge from between the lines of her official story. The fragile consistency of this new liberating interpretation of Joe's story is entirely dependent on Joe's confidence in Seligmann's ability to see clearly where she can only dimly intuit. His actions prove to her retroactively that he heard nothing but her symptomatic demand to be used, and in so doing he symbolically annuls her true desire.

Such an ending is a logical necessity in that Seligmann's "asexuality" is completely hypocritical, as is Joe's decision to renounce her sexuality. Here we see why a psychoanalyst must go through analysis himself: if he does not, he can only validate the patient's resistances. Since Seligmann has not integrated his own sexual drives, he is incapable of leading Joe to such an integration. All he can do is lead Joe to his own failed neurotic solution: a refusal of sexuality. But Joe incarnates the intractable stain of truth, which is also the stain of sexuality, and as such she necessarily explodes Seligmann's hypocrisy.

It all holds together. Where von Trier gets it all wrong is in his implicit condemnation of psychoanalysis. Here von Trier is properly perverse. His entire movie is a truthful "confession" and then, like OJ, he winks and tells us that it was all hypothetical. This last act of resistance invalidates everything that came before it, conveniently rendering the exercise sterile and allowing Joe/von Trier to continue ignoring the truth and enjoying their symptoms. In Joe's case, the symptom is nymphomania. In von Trier's case, the symptom is his gratuitous melancholia, his nihilism. Were he to take the quotation marks off of his confession, he would risk facing the consequences of his act, namely freedom with all of its attendant complications and miseries.

Lars walks us right up to the edge and then fails to take the last decisive step. I do not think that this failure takes anything away from the film. On the contrary, this final gesture transforms the film from a poignant depiction of psychological suffering into a meta-depiction of the attachment to this suffering. This is even a necessity, inasmuch as psychological suffering itself always has, by its very nature, such a double structure.

6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Not buying it, 22 January 2014

The down-home music...the worn down working folk...the unspoken black/white solidarity of Steeltown, USA...the little leftist touches..the deer hunt...the self-consciously meditative pacing...the quiet dignity...nope, not buying it! Russell Baze is too tragic/heroic. The whole thing drips with so much gritty authenticity that it parodies itself. I don't believe that life is actually like this wherever it is that this movie was filmed. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that working-class life isn't hard, that working folk don't struggle, or that tragedies like this don't happen. I'm saying that they got the tone wrong. I did a Google image search for the director and he looked exactly how I was expecting him to look: a gin-and-tonic sipping LA man right out of SWINGERS...callow and earnest...enthusiastic...ultimately an attractive dupe with no real style and nothing to say...someone who tells himself that he really wants to tell a sincere story about real people...and why shouldn't I get paid handsomely for it? I am an artist!

I can imagine Mr. Cooper sipping cocktails in Hollywood with his screenwriter pals, getting excited as they come up with more and more little touches of quiet authenticity to stick in the screenplay. "I've got an idea! When his dad dies he gets a jailhouse memorial tattoo! Yeah!"

My very limited contact with people who have succeeded as screenwriters in LA has led me to a theory. I think there is a perfect intelligence range to write and produce the kind of movies that make money. Maybe intelligence isn't the word. You have to be sharp and observant enough to be able to seize and reproduce the dominant (ideological) discourse in such a way that it is palatable to the movie-going public and emotionally immature enough not to want to step outside of this discourse. The best is when you hit the sweet spot right at the intersection of pure commercial film-making and "artisty". Scott Cooper is a perfect example of the kind of ideal, well-paid dupe I am talking about...fake vision, fake gravitas, fake art, but well-packaged and intelligent enough to be a sure investment.

In short, this movie feels like someone's voyeuristic fantasy of working-class authenticity and not a real portrait of life in a place like Braddock. It also feels a lot longer than it is. Also, the cast is good, but everyone is miscast.

Elysium (2013/I)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Boss is going to be mad!, 16 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Rather than writing a long review I just want to drop some bullet points on ELYSIUM.

1. Jodie Foster plays uptight and unlikable well but that accent was awful.

2. Did anyone else notice how much Earth in Elysium resembled the future in IDIOCRACY? The bar codes on the wrists, the overcrowded hospital, people shuffling around in dusty slums, the tattoos.

3. Politically, of course citizenship for everybody is great, but it solves none of the problems that created the situation in the first place: overcrowding and disease...

4. I thought the movie's best touch was having Kruger's face blown off and then reconstructed.

5. I think that on a less conscious level ELYSIUM is a meditation on the body. Matt Damon's body does nothing but receive pain. He is stabbed, irradiated, beat up, surgically upgraded...I think the boilerplate politics are just a screen for Blomkamp's more primordial (and more interesting) body fantasies.

This movie is OK.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
My Life, 12 August 2013

I've just returned after seeing this movie and it has messed your dude up. This was my life for the two years I spent with my Milena. The parallels are uncanny. I am kind of nerdy just like Garfunkel...same pathetic physique...but like Garfunkel I have a certain magnetism. Garfunkel's not exactly a wimp...there's some steel in his gaze. My Milena was just as magnetic and beautiful as Theresa Russell...really. My Milena also lived in a sordid, messy, sexy aerie with a big bed, overfull ashtrays, half-read books everywhere. The alcohol? Check. The infidelity? Check. The suicide attempts? Check. The much older other man? Check. The sleazy, disgusting party friends? Check. The late-night drunk calls that may or may not have been suicide attempts? Check. The intense sex that regularly turned into something twisted? Check. Just like Garfunkel I was hooked...just like Garfunkel I had a "together" God, I even study psychoanalysis...and just like Garfunkel there was more than a hint of bad faith in the togetherness I opposed to my Milena's sloppiness. Like Garfunkel, the idea that Milena had other lovers made me Theresa Russell, my Milena needed secrets...lies...she couldn't breathe without her lies and secrets.

The scene where she sets Garfunkel up with her fake suicide attempt only to loose the full force of her hysterical cruelty on him...check...down to the blows and the broken bottles...and it marked the moment our love died, even if things dribbled on for a while after that. get the picture. You know a movie is good when it shows you things about YOUR OWN life that you hadn't noticed before. That's the secret of a great movie: you feel like it's talking to you and to you alone. I have a feeling I'm not the only person who walked out of the cinema feeling like he had just seen his own life on the screen. Almost everything is perfect. This film is even more disturbing than DON'T LOOK NOW. That is saying a lot. The one wrong note for me was Harvey Keitel. I liked the contrast of his healthy virility with Garfunkel's nerdiness...but Keitel got something wrong. Not sure was certainly a tricky role, and he wasn't exactly bad, but something was wrong.

Frances Ha (2012)
7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Depressing, 6 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I almost walked out of this one after ten minutes. Frances and Sophie are two silly, immature young women in a world that is organized around the fantasy of an eternal childhood.

Everyone is shallow and clever. Nothing matters.

Frances grows more likable over the course of the film. We want to see her humbled because she needs to be humbled. It is only when she begins to make sacrifices that we can begin to empathize with her. Everyone in this movie needs to be humbled. Sophie is particularly unlikable.

What Frances needs is a man. Men and women need each other, and this is an idea that doesn't get a lot of traction in the demographic Frances belongs to. Everyone in the movie suffers from some version of this refusal. Sophie and Patch take refuge in a sterile simulacrum of a couple. Lev racks up the meaningless conquests. Benji and Frances act like prepubescent children.

The director implies that Frances and Benji get together in the end. Well, that's a step forward, but they are not meant for each other. Frances needs a real man, and Benji needs a real woman.

Benji is a dog's name, not a man's name. Benji acts like a dog, not a man. Benji isn't even a cool dog like a Pit or a Tosa Inu. Benji's eager masochism made me cringe. Frances is not much better, but she is better, and she deserves better than this goofy, wimpy chump.

What chilled me most about this movie was realizing that this empty discourse, a form of passive lying, now passes for truth. The epistemological model that all of these characters implicitly adhere to (their definitions of love, masculinity, femininity, success, truth) is shallow and impotent.

Frances' success comes too easily at the end. She hadn't hit bottom yet and for that reason it rings false.


2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Boring, 27 July 2013

This movie is boring. Marguerite Duras sucks. I've been in love and gotten freaky with lovers and it was not like this. It was a lot more interesting than this. Want to make a Hiroshima movie? Make a movie about the dude with the burned-off lips. Show a day in this guy's life. The woman played by Emmanuelle Riva is unbearable. The Japanese dude is happy he got a piece of Western tail. The whole thing feels like the fantasy of a hysterical, frigid woman. My life is sad. I have an incurable disease. I am depressed and when I go to the movies I want to see Life. I wanted to burn something after seeing this film. I am a man and when I see this kind of self-indulgent feminine sterility on screen it drives me crazy, just as I imagine it drives women crazy to see the male equivalent...stuff like Armageddon or whatever. There was a pretty girl in the theater and I would have liked for her to think I was poetic and sensitive but after an hour of "poetic" dialogue I walked out. The babe probably thought less of me. I don't need her anyway. Who am I kidding? Of course I need her.

3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Superman as a paranoid schizophrenic, 25 June 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Anyone who has ever studied or worked with schizophrenics will immediately recognize the paranoid flavor of this story. Young Clark Kent discovers that Kevin Costner is not his real father, at which point everything falls apart. The triggering moment in paranoid schizophrenia always concerns some version of an impossible paternal identification. Usually, the failure of the father is linked with an inability to articulate id and ego in a satisfactory way. The only way Clark can save his sanity is by constructing a paranoid delusion that would replace the defective Costner with some higher father. Enter the two godlike alien fathers, one a force of pure good and one a force of pure evil. Ever wonder why there were so many Jesus Christs in psych wards? In addition to a pervasive existential homelessness (= Clark's troubled peregrinations), the absence of a paternal legacy (a "symbolic phallus") renders the schizophrenic incapable of being a man with a woman. Notice how Superman trembles when he finally kisses Lois Lane. Superman had to destroy the world simply to be able to approach a woman sexually. Of course, as soon as he kisses her, General Zod rises from the dead for his last stand...for schizophrenics, the "evil" father incarnates and displaces the unruly (sexual, aggressive) drives that cannot be integrated into the fragile ego (incarnated by the "good" father). In other words, Superman needs to kill Zod so he can finally have a sexual relationship. Incidentally, this gives us a clue to why the Superman/Zod fight scenes are so boring: we sense intuitively that no matter how hard they punch, neither can actually hurt the other because they are just two aspects of the same person. Notice too that although Superman is very good-looking, he is completely asexual. This is because our sexuality is simultaneously what makes us human and what corrupts us. Only a eunuch can be super in the way that Superman is.

The phallus is front and center here. It seems like everything has a phallic shape: the rockets, the spaceships, the guns, the knives the weird snakes that attack Superman when he tries to destroy the world engine, the "key" given to him by his father...the only way to destroy the evil machine at the end is by shoving the key into the hole, but there's a problem: "It won't go in!" (Read: Superman, unable to integrate his primordial drives, cannot conclude the sexual act when he is called upon by Jor-El to do so.) The phallic key represents Jor-El's entire symbolic legacy (the future of his entire race), one that is just too much for Superman to bear, hence his inability to take rightful possession of the key and dispatch Zod.

The end of the movie shows Clark finally abandoning his delusion and accepting Costner's humble but human paternal legacy, which allows him to occupy a place in the world (as a "stringer").

Enough for the psychoanalytic interpretation. This completely unintentional exploration of paranoid schizophrenia is by far the most interesting thing here. The movie itself is not that good. We are treated to the same boring, meaningless CGI destruction that we get in every other movie. With no external limits to what can be shown, everything turns into a video game. Actually, the logic here is psychotic as well: in the absence of externally-imposed "paternal" boundaries, there is nothing to stop the on-screen phantasmagoria from degenerating into a seething, vague imaginary chaos that infects everything until the entire world has been destroyed/purified. This schizophrenic logic of an absolute split between good and evil can be seen in the two female leads as well: the blonde, boring, sexless Lois Lane and the super sexy evil lieutenant of General Zod (those blue eyes!). The actress who plays Lane deserves to be singled out for her awful performance and total lack of charisma. Who cast this sub-Nicole Kidman nobody? On the other hand, the actor who plays Superman is excellent. His too-innocent good looks and smile capture perfectly the schizophrenic nature of the character, one whose preternatural goodness must be understood as a (failed) attempt to refuse his sexualized dark side.

I wanted to yell at the screen every time a character clenched his fist in resolution or cocked his head before attacking somebody...pure stock blockbuster tropes. I find it interesting that these superhero movies are often directed by young no-name technicians. I suppose that everything has to be so formulaic that the studios just pick some visionless clone whom they can dictate to. I think here of Jon Favreau, fundamentally a spineless nobody, one who probably believes that he is somebody because "Iron Man" has marginally more personality than the other boring superhero movies out there.

Verdict: charmless, but of didactic interest for psychiatrists.

The Call (2013/II)
4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Average!, 5 June 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

First of all, THE CALL is well-paced and well-executed. It does what a thriller is supposed to do, and that is...thrill. For this alone it gets five IMDb stars, or the equivalent of a gentleman's C.

It gets no bonus stars because there are no surprises here. The characters have no depth. Why can't they make movies with characters instead of types? Why couldn't the dude have kidnapped the slutty friend instead of the good girl? I bet she would have fought harder and been more resourceful than her soft, boring friend.

I thought it was ridiculous that the girl's bra stayed on during the entire last scene...more proof that scenes of extreme torture and sadism are considered less shocking than the idea that a sixteen-year-old girl has a nipple and perhaps by extension a sexuality. Can I say "nipple" on IMDb?

The scene where the kidnap victim leaves a maudlin message for her mother made me want to yell at the screen. Can't American movies give it a rest with the family values? How much more interesting would it have been if the girl had responded that her favorite movie was something like Tarkovski's STALKER? Jordan: "I don't know that one." Girl: "It's a long, slow meditation on faith, desire, and subjectivity." Jordan: "Uh, sounds interesting." Or how about: "You're a Capricorn, like me. We're fighters." "I don't believe in astrology." Hardly Tom Stoppard but it could potentially lead to...something. Every time I've been in a dangerous or traumatic situation, like being threatened with a knife and beaten, I find myself thinking and saying absurd stuff like this.

Halle Berry is not great here. She has never struck me as anything but a blandly pretty face...a fabricated quasi-black star whose whole appeal is that producers have deemed her to be white/pretty enough to be palatable to white audiences...the female equivalent of the dreadful Will Smith. Jordan's cop boyfriend was the most interesting character in the movie with his dapper Lou Gossett Jr. mustache but he didn't do much. I thought the actor who played the psycho did a good job.

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