take shelter [film review]

[Third in a series of ekphrastic responses to the films of Jeff Nichols, written following a recent second viewing. First. Second.]

A cloud formation, colored rain falls.

The wavery grass—below seething sky confounded by murmurations.

A failure to communicate—an oily sheen—some of it you cannot rub away.

Open mouth gasps wake from dark dreams. A life unbalanced.

A state of confusion within your small family. Your wife and daughter. Your hallucinatorium.

Silence stretches except when thunder strikes…

A visit to mother—there was a history:

‘Do you remember what happened before you were diagnosed?’

[…]

‘I just want to know what happened before you had to leave…’

‘There was always…there was always a panic that took hold of me.’

Electric sky at night—jagged streaks above the fields: ‘Is anyone seeing this?’

Dig a big hole in your yard. It seems logical—like the only thing to do.

‘Are you out of your mind?’

‘I’m doing it for us.’

‘You’re right I don’t understand.’

‘There’s nothing to explain.’

But you sit across from her and try anyway.

‘Dark thick rain like fresh motor oil…’

‘It’s not just a dream, it’s a feeling. I’m afraid something might be coming…something’s not right. I cannot describe it.’

Brother checking on brother. No love lost but the fronts dissolve a little in the goodbye.

‘Take care of yourself.’ ‘Okay, little brother.’

There is this feeling, this stark feeling of separation, of alienation from family and community.

‘You did this to yourself.’

Closer and closer it creeps in.

‘I was in one of your dreams?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Can you deal with that?’

‘Yeah.’

So you make an exception. But then it’s dinner rimmed by the faces you want to avoid.

‘What are you doing here?’

Fisticuffs. A loss of control. An upending of the table, of your control.

‘You think I’m crazy? There is a storm coming. And not a one of you is prepared for it!’

Faces blur as huddled family exits.

A racing line of birds. Before they begin to fall…

Middle of the night. The siren. The shelter.

‘What if it’s not over?’

‘I don’t hear anything.’

‘I’m sorry. I can’t.’

‘This is something you have to do.’

[rising strings]

_______________________________________________________________________

[Coda: this is my favorite Nichols film. The ambiguity is so perfectly sustained all the way to the very end—those final few scenes arriving like gut punches. The questions—are they answered or do they only birth more questions. The wide open spaces throughout—both literal geographic in the settings and auditory in between the sparse dialogue. The soundtrack pitch perfect—always complementing, never interfering.]

midnight special [film review]

[Second in a series of ekphrastic responses to the films of Jeff Nichols. First.]

Opens on unlikely trio in motel room. Two well-armed men. A young boy sits on floor wearing swimming goggles and industrial earmuffs.

Wide open Texas sky at dawn. A speeding Chevelle. On the run.

Agents descend upon a cult. They want the boy. They need the boy. The boy is gone.

Cut back to the road. Feels like a doomed trip. Headlights off, night goggles on.

‘Shots fired! Officer down!’

‘You did the right thing. He’s more important.’

The ranch in Texas. Feels like Waco and Koresh, but a little farther west and instead a preacher speaking a young boy’s channeled words.

FBI, NSA, doing what they do, asking questions with answers they’ll never understand.

‘Y’all have no clue what you’re dealing with, do you?’

The Chevelle pulls up. An old friend offers shelter. But the man can’t resist. Wants to feel the light flow into his eyes one more time. He’ll pay the price.

Watching the news. The men see what’s coming. What they can’t escape, the fear and fervor burning so close behind the boy.

‘Things with that trooper didn’t need to go down like that. Don’t interfere with me again.’

The gaps, the space unfilled. Undefined connections. Omissions speak it louder, drive it forward.

‘Do you miss it, living on the ranch?’ ‘Yeah, very much.’

Twenty minutes in comes the first bright glimpse…feels like it’s been longer, feels like a rupture.

‘A visible spectrum of light came from his eyes.’

Friday, March 6th, the day of our judgment.

They need the boy. ‘If Alton is with us, we will be saved.’

On the road again. Alton reading comics.

‘What’s kryptonite?’

‘I should have never let you give him those. He’s never seen a comic book in his life.’

‘That’s why he needs them.’

‘He needs to know what’s real.’

‘He looks weaker.’

That gas station. Leaving a wake no one could ever miss. The feds closing in.

The light escapes his eyes. Side of the road. Alton on his knees.

‘We need to take him to a hospital! He’s dying!’

‘No, he will not die! He’s meant for something else.’

They’re coming. Alton sees it in the sky. Off to hide underground.

NSA analyst Sevier figures it out. Knows where they’re going. A convergence rising.

Alton finally sees the dawn. He sees what’s above us. It heals him. He’s learning who he is.

The cult brings their guns and their conviction. Their zealous craving for salvation.

Alton and Sevier. A meeting of the minds. Can the boy’s powers persevere.

Roy is on the edge. ‘The only thing I ever believed in was Alton. And I failed him.’

The final run. An overturned car. A stretch of open marshland.

What’s left of what we need to believe (in).

 

ursula k. le guin documentary

Ursula K. Le Guin

Streaming free during August on PBS.org.

iron triangle

Iron Triangle
dir. Nate Dorr & Maya Edelman
2018, 16min, digital video.

Iron Triangle from Nate Dorr on Vimeo.

A vibrant industrial neighborhood thriving despite city neglect. Immigrant workers, documented and undocumented. A city plan for massive redevelopment: malls, business centers, hotels, condos. Self-serving developers. Eminent domain. A destruction. A limbo. A renewal?

Willets Point is an industrial wedge of northeast Queens consisting for most of the last 70 years of almost entirely autobody shops and scrap yards. Despite city neglect, pitted streets, and a complete lack of storm drains that cause frequent flooding, as of 2006, the neighborhood provided the livelihoods for 1400 to 1800 people, mostly immigrants, many undocumented. In 2007, the City of New York set in motion a major redevelopment plan which would entail displacing nearly all existing businesses in favor of malls, conference centers, and hotels, and over the last decade much of the neighborhood has been bought out and razed. Blocked as an improper commercial use of public land by the New York court system, part of the area continues on, while much has been left as concrete desolation, its future uncertain.

This film, shot spanning the major “urban renewal” operations from 2014 to 2017, documents the conversion of a vibrant, singular small business district into a wasteland, and envisions a different kind of renewal unlikely to be allowed by developers and city officials.

Made possible in part by a residency with Chance Ecologies.

[best viewed at full screen with volume on]

‘what kind of writer am i…’

r.i.p. harry dean stanton

Yet another significant cultural figure has passed away. Harry Dean Stanton first captured my attention with his role in the cult film Repo Man. From then on he was one of my favorite actors and his presence in a film always made it worth watching. The fact that he rarely landed leading roles says a lot about Hollywood. Harry Dean was really too cool for the Hollywood star assembly line. He existed on the periphery for a very long time. Oddly I was just thinking about him earlier this week and marveling at how long he had endured. It’s a fitting tribute that his final film comes out this fall, with him front and center as he always should have been. I look forward to it with great anticipation. In the meantime, here’s Harry Dean as Bud explaining the code of the repo man to Otto, played by Emilio Estevez:

leonora and gabriel – an instant

favorite films watched in 2014

My film-watching habits are erratic to say the least, and there are often long periods where I don’t watch any films. I cannot claim to be a particularly informed or sophisticated viewer. I don’t see many films when they debut in the theater, relying instead on Netflix to manage my film viewing. If a film catches my eye in the media when it first appears, I add it to my queue for when it’s released on DVD. Other than that, I watch older films as they randomly come to my attention, through books, other people’s lists, interviews, etc. Often I watch films based on a particular actor or director. If I find someone I like, I’ll at least flirt with completism (a few examples are noted in the list below). But I don’t spend nearly as much time researching films to watch as I do researching books to read. As a result, I sometimes experience lackluster periods in my film viewing. This year, for example, was not particularly inspiring, and it was actually a little tough to come up with the arbitrary 10 I’ve included here, especially since I separated out the documentaries. Except as noted, I’ve included links to trailers, although in general I have some ambivalence toward trailers. The Bergman ones are notably bad, but they at least provide a taste of the films. I would’ve linked to the IMDB entries instead, but the ads on that site are oppressive. But enough apologies, here’s the list:

(Organized in descending order of film release date)

1. The Imitation Game (2014) – Benedict Cumberbatch – One of my favorite contemporary actors. This film was inspired by the book Alan Turing: The Enigma. I haven’t read the book, so can’t comment on how much the film departs from it. Seen in the theater.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Wes Anderson [director] – I place this one above both The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Unlimited, but still not at the level of his finest work.

3. Ida (2014) – Dark subject matter filmed in black and white, atmospheric, i.e. the sort of film I tend to automatically like. Seen in the theater.

4. I Used to Be Darker (2013) – Matt Porterfield [Baltimore filmmaker] – I’m not sure how much I’d like Porterfield’s films if they weren’t filmed in Baltimore. That said, I liked this one more than his first two, and the Baltimore setting seemed less important this time. It was also fun to recognize someone in the film whom I wasn’t expecting to see.

5. The Iceman (2013) – Michael Shannon – Another favorite actor. This film is much more violent than most that I watch, but I made an exception because of both Shannon and Winona Ryder.

6. Dirty Pretty Things (2002) – Audrey Tautou – I watched this because I like Tautou, but Chiwetel Ejiofor is equally good here, if not better. The trailer is awful, especially the voice-over, so I linked to the film’s website instead. I don’t recommend watching the trailer if you’re thinking of seeing the film, as it distorts the storyline. Also, the film’s title is incongruous with its content.  I’m still puzzled by the title.

7. The Apostle (1997) – Robert Duvall – My film watching was especially sporadic during the 90s so I’m still catching up on the classics from that decade.

8. Persona (1966) – Ingmar Bergman – Still working my way through Bergman.

9. Winter Light (1963) – Ingmar Bergman – Ditto above. This is my second favorite of the Trilogy, the first being Through a Glass Darkly.

10. Last Year at Marienbad (1961) – Alain Robbe-Grillet [screenwriter] – Robbe-Grillet is known for his groundbreaking fictional work as part of the Nouveau Roman Movement. Some of his novels are favorites of mine and knowing he also wrote screenplays, I was curious about those. This is considered his masterpiece, and I found it to be deserving of that reputation.

Documentaries:

1. From One Second to the Next (2013) – Werner Herzog [director] – This link points to the full film. It’s only about 30 minutes long and is worth watching in its entirety, especially if you have ever used your mobile phone while driving. Herzog is a brilliant filmmaker whose other documentaries and feature films are also highly recommended.

2. Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012) – Harry Dean Stanton – Another favorite actor. This documentary is less about Stanton as a person, and more about his skills as an actor. It’s a somber portrait of a man who has made a career out of acting natural in his many roles, yet without giving much of himself away. In this age of celebrity, few actors anymore are known to the public almost exclusively through their work. Stanton has managed to be one of those rare exceptions, though likely not without exerting significant effort in maintaining his privacy.

3. Last Days Here (2011) – An often painful-to-watch, yet redemptive portrait of Bobby Liebling, the singer of cult doom metal band Pentagram, who spent decades struggling with drug addiction, to the detriment of his music career.

monday fuzz

What is this dialect—tearing the oilskin remnants of time—the sun a hot dripping ball of wax sealing shut another sudden day—a new place a new suit a new matchbox—walk this gauntlet overshadowed by a pair of rotors and a smile—another scene stuck in a feedback loop—(hey who let all these gnomes out in the desert)—welcome to distortion a normality found in the far reaches of a certain type of mind—if it makes sense do not r e p e a t do not report it—a pattern of melancholy strung up like twinkling lights throughout the ages—now we enter the cloud chamber now we genuflect to the amplifier—to celebrate a sudden soaring up of souls on waxen wings of failed entrepreneurs—now there is this feeling this feeling of looking up at lights in windows from sidewalks sewn lifetimes away—a hurt that feels too good not to press on a little—our survival depends on this twisted nest feathered with compulsions—and we pass through the gates—(having entered as sound, blind)—we board the vessel and wait—what ho, off the starboard bow is it Scylla is it Charybdis or is it nothing at all nothing at all—(we exit as light, deaf)—next time take the train it’s said to be more scenic—wait everything changed again—wait wait there is no next time.

shotgun stories [film review]

[First in a series of ekphrastic responses to the films of Jeff Nichols. Second.]

Acoustic melancholy drenches a rural Southern town. Fishing in a flat green world, water spread out everywhere. Open skies. A slow train passes through downtown. What it’s like to be trapped in a town for life. Yellow light and dogs and decaying industry.

A dead father. A funeral (“I said some things”). Redeemed but not by those left behind.

A walked-out wife. A pair of brothers. Acoustic melancholy. Clouded sky over water. Shirtless males netting fish. The feeling you get inside your chest, like a strangling but in an almost good way. Does beauty go unignored.

“What you doing…”

They set up the window unit on the picnic table to test it out. Run the extension cord out from the house. It works, and they sit there, feeling the cool air on their faces.

“It’s not the gambling. She just wants me to stop screwing around.”

One brother living in a van down by the river.

A young son. A blood feud. Two families, one father. Brother to brother.

“Are we all right?” “Yeah.”

“A lifetime is a long time, just for two people.”

“Your brother’s dead.”

Sorrow will always bring us together. She climbs in bed with him. Is it so often how we try to erase our pain, with new pain…

The pavement is hot. And yet I sit on it and I wait for you. I throw away my cards for you.

“I didn’t know they were there.”

“You raised us to hate those boys. And now it’s come to this.”

Silence.

A tent is something more than a tent after the unchangeable happens.

“Why is this happening?”

Cotton fields, cotton fields. They’re gonna crucify you, in those old cotton fields back home.

“Son’s all I have now. I just want to protect my brother.”

“I’m gonna put an end to it.”

[ominous strings fade to the upward lilt of the guitar]

acoustic melancholy

and the light falls across the porch. and the light falls over what’s left.

there are songs to tell us every way we feel…

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