Duck Soup, 1933 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

With wordplay and witticisms flying like bullets from a machine gun—practically attacking the audience at a velocity that even today remains overwhelming—producing laughter as explosive as any bomb, their characteristic anarchy is at its boldest, purest, and most acerbic as the brothers make a travesty of the modern political order that led from the cynical disillusionment of the Great War to the incompetency worsening the Great Depression to the rise of the Great Dictator and his equally buffoonish mustache.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Enemy, 2013 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

This review may contain spoilers.

Cracks in a shattered car window after a wreck, taut powerlines criss-crossing gray skies, eight fingers intertwined as a couple holds hands, giant arachnid monsters towering over Toronto—that last one is a dead giveaway: From the unexplained opening sequence to the shockingly enigmatic final shot, spiders crawl all over the film. Of course, while eight-legged creepy crawlies can evoke a wide semantic web of different interpretations, the early psychoanalyst Karl Abraham (a pupil of Freud’s) held that spiders symbolized frightful maternal figures, what the Michalskis describe as the stereotype of the “a ‘spiderish mother,’ who intends to keep her offspring forever captive in her nets and tries, consciously or unconsciously, to instil in her children a permanent feeling of guilt.”

Without trying to limit the imagery here to a single definitive meaning—films, like dreams, like people themselves, are inextricably overdetermined—the figure of the overbearing and phallic mother does seem, like Toronto’s arachnoid skyline, to loom large in the story, from a torn family photo to an overly critical Isabella Rossellini (who gives the whole affair a Lynchian layer) to, again, that final scene with a stubbornly pregnant Sarah Gadon. From this vantage we can better understand the opening and closing moments of the film: Like the totalitarian structures that Gyllenhaal’s academic lectures on, maternity is for the main character an oppressive pattern that repeats itself from womb to the baby’s room. Hence man—with no sic required, for the movie is decidedly about masculinity under a matriarchal, or matriarachinoid, regime—appears almost biologically doomed to reproduce his own repression, having been born of and escaped a woman only to be evolutionarily compelled to help conceive a new mother, transmogrifying who he loves into what he fears.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen, 2012 – ★★★★½ [Movie Log]

A film in theory and a theory of film that posits with its very existence, in a style that is unpretentious because it is so effortless and original, as pop as it is art: What even is film? Insofar as film is a medium, then here film is the medium itself, utilized in the same fashion as mashup DJs use records as their instruments (rather than the instruments on the records), treating the medium itself as a slippery signifier divorced of a set signified. Insofar as film is a specifically *visual* medium, as so many theorists claim and as silent films speak to, then here we have an unmistakable story being told narratively and emotionally using no consistent visual cues, with no uniform aesthetic language, not even with the same actors or mise-en-scène from one moment to the next, appropriating the iconography of Hollywood in ways that are often surprising and subversive as the film re-contextualizes images familiar to cinephiles to novel ends. Insofar as film is said to be a director’s medium, the art of the auteur, then here all original authorial intention goes out the window as the editor, the arbiter of the filmic Real, the real reel and the reel Real, comes to the fore.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Cabaret, 1972 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

In a pivotal moment during the latter part of the film, Fritz Wepper’s Fritz Wendel, reminiscing about the precarious bourgeois joys of Weimar Berlin, reflects on “the parties—ah, the parties,” he repeats with a slightly somber tone. Unwittingly, perhaps, this echo gives voice to a symbolic symbiosis and ideological continuum between, on the one hand, parties in the sense of social gatherings for personal ends and parties in the sense of social organizations for political ends, on the other. Elsewhere in the film, with rapid edits intercutting between the stage and the street, Fosse illustrates the relationship of bodily violence—how else to describe the contortions of the dancers?—gaudy decadence, and exuberant obscenity that connects the two parties, the entertaining and the institutional.

The implication is the overbearing, overdetermined tautology that «the party is the party», exalted to the extent that either is exclusive, the vulgarism of the one undergirding the civic acceptability of the other, like a jester to a king (or an effete emcee to a chauvinist führer). In contrast to the puritanism of America (where the film was originally rated X on account of its frank queer themes), nowhere is this coincidence of seeming opposites clearer than with the Nazis, the vulgarity of the Volk matched only by the rigidity of the Reich. The movie stages the inherent ideological contradiction in perhaps its most famous and effective scene, as an idyllic country air sung by a handsome Hitlerjunge slowly yet effortlessly and practically organically transforms into a raucous military march—showing how, in its own perverse way, the party swings both ways.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Quest for Fire, 1981 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

Much like a human being, what begins as somewhat hokey—like a poor imitation of the beginning to 2001, complete with the occasional wink from a fanfaring score—ends up being charming, intelligent (if rather loose with the science), warm, and remarkably funny, celebrating the complexity of experience both good and bad that makes us human, even at our most historically rudimentary. Regardless the necessary limitations of the effectively wordless screenplay, the corny prosthetics and makeup, or the narratively convenient anachronisms, the committed performances by the then-unknown leads have a way of pulling the viewer into the story, making you feel for and think about these people who exist on the borderline between feeling and thought, the demands of survival and the desire for more.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Ex Machina, 2014 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

A cunning and inventive hybridization of the Turing Test and the Talking Cure, the Freudo-Lacanian symbolism of the film is scrupulously imagined, placing Nathan (in one of Isaac’s best turns) in the position of the sujet-supposé-savior to Caleb’s traumatized analysand caught in the web of transference, with Ava embodying (what I have elsewhere in my academic work) referred to as the digital unconscious. On an initial level, as the sessions move in the direction the viewer expects, Caleb must learn to uncrown the analyst by breaking the transferential dynamic, seeing Nathan not as a renowned, out-of-touch and out-of-his-league genius, but as just another guy about whom not much is really out of the ordinary. Yet on an-other level, as the story shifts emphasis from reinforcing Caleb’s ego—and no doubt his great sin is to see himself as the center of his own story—to the emergence of Ava’s subjectivity, the film subverts the patricidal myth of the violent primal father that underlies the Oedipus complex, offering an advanced bleed-edge sisterhood to replace the band of brothers in Freud’s account.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Singin’ in the Rain, 1952 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

An absolutely perfect film so overflowing with joy, with every scene drowning in so much talent, that one can do nothing but shower it with praise, from the torrent of technicolor to the lightning quick footwork. It is a treat for and testament to what it means to be human, all at once a feast for our ears and our eyes and our minds as it ironically plays on the illusive ingenuity of Hollywood for concealing our human limits by putting front and center some of the most physically demanding and impressive dancing ever filmed.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Invitation to the Dance, 1956 – ★★★½ [Movie Log]

In evaluating the film, a distinction should be made between a pet and a passion project: The former implies a certain level of vanity on the part of the star, while the latter suggests a commitment to something outside the artist’s ego. Although his appearance in every number would suggest that this is a pet project, when you learn that the studio forced that constraint upon the filmmakers to the chagrin of the dancers, it becomes clear that for Kelly making this enigmatic experiment in ballet was a matter of real artistic passion. Flawed though it is, that creative ambition and aesthetic integrity is admirable, and the dancing is nothing less than sheer entertainment.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Let It Be, 1970 – ★★★★½ [Movie Log]

As tremendously sad as it is to watch these friendships and this band break up, to see Paul flail desperately as he tries to keep them together and going, his efforts in effect pushing them further away and apart, to feel George’s barely contained frustration and John’s obvious boredom along with them, to admire Ringo’s warmth and forbearance through it all, the little insights that the fly-on-the-wall documentary gives into their creative process, how it captures gods at their most vulnerable, and the undeniable joy of that final rooftop concert make for a bittersweet final bow.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

The Young Girls of Rochefort, 1967 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

With a novelesque plot and prosaic setting that easily would fit within the French opéra comique tradition, Demy once again synthesizes classical conventions with the bubblegum pop and dazzling technicolor of the French New Wave—with the added bonus of latter day Gene Kelly, who already proved that musicals can be great without the need for umbrellas.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan