Monday, September 30, 2013


Last night during the Breaking Bad finale (my thoughts on that final episode coming soon) we were treated with the trailer for the upcoming vehicular action spectacular, Need For Speed, which debuted online earlier last week. It's an adaptation of Electronic Art's video game franchise of the same name, the most successful racing series of all-time at that.

Jimmy and I reviewed the trailer for MOVIECLIPS. He's a car guy and we're both gamers - we figured we were capable of tackling our first look at Need For Speed. Here's our Instant Trailer Review:

The film stars Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul (hence the decision to drop it when AMC's show was at its hottest), Dakota Johnson, Dominic Cooper, Michael Keaton and Rami Malek. It’s a surprisingly effective trailer of sleek cars and mean men all set to a soliloquy from Paul about how he was wronged and will exact his revenge with Michael Richter’s “Sarajevo” classing up the joint. The film looks to take itself very seriously which I can certainly get onboard and have fun with. The Fast and Furious films and Drive are clear cinematic influences on Need for Speed in addition to it’s video game counterpart. I’ve only played some of the series (last year’s Most Wanted was truly impressive) but the kinetic chaos of the chase and visceral climax of the crash appear to be fully intact for this adaptation. This is the second feature film from Scott Waugh who previously delivered Act of Valor in 2012.

Will you be racing to theaters on March 14th, 2014 to see Need For Speed or does it look like something you’d rather pass you by? Let us know in the comments below.


DISCLAIMER: Spoilers for ALL of Breaking Bad beyond this point!


Upon watching Jesse's final scene in last night finale (namely him driving off and laughing after finally being freed of his imprisonment) I knew it was only a short matter of time until we got the Breaking Bad / Need For Speed mashup. The latter couldn't have planned on being a more serendipitous appearing sequel to Breaking Bad (even if they had known how Jesse's arc would be left). Sure enough, it only took until this morning to get the fan-made trailer for Jesse's Revenge, a rather well-made one at that.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Last year I attempted to watch and review a horror film every single day for the month of October. I watched only 21 and reviewed less than half. Let's see if I can do it this year!

A week from tonight (next Tuesday, October 1st) I will kick off another marathon of "31 Days of Horror," a name that several film blogs and websites have used when doing more or less the same thing. I will likely have some overlap with a project I'm helping out on at work, more details on that when it's announced.

I have hand-picked several films already that I want to include this year, but I'm far from finalizing anything yet. In fact, it will no doubt be determined as the month goes on. As a general guideline (but not a hard and fast rule) I will be leaning towards films I have not seen before. Here's the list of 21 films I watched last year which I absolutely won't be revisiting. Also, I want to dedicate one week to Asian horror in particular so I will need at least 7 of that make and origin. The last factor is whether the film is available to stream on Netflix or Hulu. It's not a deal-breaker but it would make my life, and your life should you care to play along, much easier. 

Here's a working list so far (in alphabetical order, numbered just so I know how many there are, Asian films are highlighted yellow):

  1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days - NI
  2. The ABCs of Death* - NI
  3. Antarctic Journal - NI
  4. Bay of Blood - NI
  5. Black Sunday - NI
  6. Blood: The Last Vampire - NI
  7. Carrie - NI
  8. Carrie (2013)
  9. Come Out and Play - NI
  10. The Curse of February 29th - NI
  11. Faust - NI
  12. Häxan - H
  13. Howling - NI
  14. Kidnapped - NI (On Netflix, yes, but it's an awful English dub that should never be seen!)
  15. Kill, Baby... Kill! - NI
  16. Kill List - NI
  17. Nosferatu - NI
  18. Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht
  19. Onibaba - H
  20. Peeping Tom
  21. The Raven - NI
  22. [REC] 2 - NI
  23. [Rec] 3 Genesis - NI
  24. The Relic - NI
  25. Shutter - H
  26. Slugs - NI
  27. Strange Circus - NI
  28. Suspiria
  29. Tetsuo: The Bullet Man - NI
  30. Vampyr - H
  31. The Vanishing - H

H = Available for streaming on Hulu Plus
NI = Available for streaming on Netflix Instant

*I'm saving my final review and viewing culmination of this horror anthology for the last day. I've already seen it over two sittings, which I felt was a disservice to each short (let alone watching it all at once). Starting October 6th I plan of watching one of the films/letters a day and reviewing it piece-by-piece as the month goes on. This will be in addition to whatever feature-length horror I decide to watch each day.

There's my rough list of nominees. Here's where you come in. What horror films do you recommend for my marathon? Anything goes, but I'm especially interested in the bizarre, dated, foreign and otherwise spurned titles. If your pick is not listed above or among last year's 21 films, please share and suggest it in the comments below. 

Until October 1st, get scared!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Curator's Note: The review below contains spoilers for Breaking Bad up through 5-13.

Breaking Bad: 5-13: To'hajiilee
September 8, 2013
47 min
United States (English)

Directed by Michelle MacLaren
Written by George Mastras

To'hajiilee bears one of the series' most intense hours to date, a collection of efforts for the show's former sidekicks to be divided by. How can any of this end well?

Last night's episode cut between the developments of three parties (1. Walt/Heisenberg, 2. Hank, Gomez & Jesse, 3. Todd & Co.) until their inevitable confrontation in the Native American lands just outside of Albuquerque, which is the episode's namesake. Walt and Hank seemed to have switched characteristics as now Hank is the guy with the plans and the tricks that work on everyone from Huell to Walt himself. I must say, the first two acts of To'hajiilee may be the funniest episode of season 5B, which boggles my mind when you consider that there's only three episodes left and you'd think it'd all be strictly business. Huell's interrogation and Walt Jr. infatuation with Saul Goodman are still making me smile.

On the more serious note is the cat and mouse game going on between Hank and Walt, though here the cat has a rat and the mouse has the phone number for a small army. Walt has officially ordered a hit on Jesse, but wants it done as painlessly as possible - because he's like family. Walt still insists that Jess is no rat. Walt tries to lure his former partner out by visiting Andrea and Brock. At first realization I thought how chilling that was, but it ended up being fairly anticlimactic. Methinks they're going to play another role before all is said and done. But perhaps it would have been better if Andrea opened her front door to reveal Walt and that's when the scene cut, leading us to wonder what Walt said and did.

Walt is completely fooled and ends up leading the three amigos right to his stash in the desert (all while confessing everything he's done - hope they were recording) but has time to hide and place a call before they come. To his utter astonishment it's his brother-and-law and his former student/parter, who at one time hated one another more than anyone in the entire world, that exit the SUV together. 

I honestly feel that Bryan Cranston gave the performance of his career in the final 15 minutes of last episode. He hangs up the phone, after telling Uncle Jack and his boys not to come (more on that in a sec) and then struggles exceedingly regarding his next decision. What's the more challenging role to play? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? How about both at once? The camera slowly presses in on Walt's face while all the audio becomes but a whisper in the wind. Is this the calm before the storm? That would have been a good place to end the episode.

But then it gets better. Walt comes out of cover, drops his firearm and makes that slow march (partly backwards) to the custody of DEA Agent Hank Schrader. The cuffs are put on. Wow. Walt turns himself in, give up everything he has in order to safe Hank's life. It's Walt's first time seeing Jesse up close after this new realization. The only word he can squeeze out of himself is "Coward." That would have been a decent place to end the episode.

Hank calls Marie, telling her they "got him" dead to rights and they exchange affections. It was at that moment for me, and I'm sure for many of you, that I realized the closure abd finality of their relationship. And then, sure as rain, Todd, Uncle Jack and the rest show up and there's a stand off with drawn weapons. That would have been a great place to end the episode.

But where did they end it? Right in the middle of a gunfight. Either before or after, not during. Please! What is this, a 1950s serial where our hero's in a constant state of cliff hangers? I felt the cutting to black was disingenuous and problematic to the pacing. I hope they have a really good reason for have cutting there next week.

I'm under the impression that Vince Gilligan and his team of writers like Walt too much. Walt was able to call off the neo-Nazis while still getting their help nonetheless. Their appearance was inevitable, 5B has been leading up to this the whole time, and now it seems Hank and Gomez are sharing the same bullet-filled demise. Again, it'd be strange to start the next episode with their deaths.

There's just three more episodes in this story left. It'll be a crawl to Sunday and I'm especially thrilled by Rian Johnson's third reign in the  series' director chair for the very next episode, Ozymandias. The name comes from a poem, which you can hear Hesienberg recite a passage from in the video below.

- Walter White


CONTENT: some language and violence

Monday, September 9, 2013


I'm pleased to announce a new series for The Film Tome, Dialogues. Herein myself and a fellow film scholar will discuss a certain topic in relation to cinema. The possibilities are limitless. For this first edition Bill Mullan and I had a chat about movie trailers...

J.S.: So Bill, I was recently raving to you at the water-cooler about the new Gravity trailers (though they are really more like "clips" than anything) and you told me you were avoiding them, saving yourself as it were for that virgin theater viewing. Then I was telling you how much I  love this first trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty only to learn you're avoiding this one too. What gives?

Bill: It's a recent decision I've made. I would consider myself a former trailer addict since the beginning of the internet. I would obsessively watch trailers for films I was excited for but wasn't allowed to see, like Moulin Rouge. Last year, I was pretty obsessed about the Prometheus trailers (who wasn't), which ended up being far better than the film. Those trailers were an incredible feat of promotional editing, but they set an extremely high bar for the film. After being disappointed by it, I wondered if the hype had gone above and beyond what the film could possibly deliver on. Now, that film had all sorts of problems that are easy to ignore when constructing a trailer like a poor script, and all the hallmark that make a great trailer such as a sense of atmosphere and striking image. I've always tried to avoid comedy trailers because they almost always put the best jokes in the trailer. And so, after being let down by Ridley and even Christopher Nolan with The Dark Knight Rises, I decided to ignore trailers for films that I was excited about seeing. 

I stumbled a bit in the beginning (who could ignore the trailers for The Master?), but I found myself rewarded when I avoiding pretty much all promotional material for Spring Breakers. I had no idea what I was getting into with that film and that fresh experience was a really welcome change. I had absolutely NO idea what to expect out of that film beyond the basic premise. Same goes for Pacific Rim. I didn't love that film, but I think I enjoyed far more than I would have had I watched the trailers. The element of surprise is incredibly important to film. In contrast, I did watch the trailers for The Conjuring because the hype on them was so huge, and when I saw that film I found that it's most memorable scares were in the trailer. I knew quite a bit of what to expect and therefore, some of the suspense was just not there for me.

J.S.: Well that settles it. Thanks Bill! Kidding... It's going to be interesting to see if you'll have another exception, say the first teaser for Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson's follow-up to The Master)?

Bill: It's really hard. Especially when I recall Paul edits his own trailers (or so rumor has it). So it's not just a trailer, it's an extension of his art. And with that comes my own inner conflict with this "trailer abstinence"... Some of these trailers are pieces of art in their own respect. They can exist beyond just a simple promotion. So there is this feeling that I am missing out on some of the fun. I don't know, I'll probably cave when it comes to Inherent Vice.

J.S.: Good point, a lot of those trailers for The Master were mere scenes left on the cutting room floor. Then again, maybe he won't be taking that same approach ever again. The guy is an auteur, no doubt, but an unpredictable one. Those are the most exciting filmmakers to me. Anyways, back to trailers in general. You stabbed one of the cores of the debate already: Excitement. On the one hand you get so pumped up for a specific film based on its preview that you go in with expectations so high they can't possibly be met (and if they are, all the better!). Or perhaps there is a lack of excitement felt during the trailer, thus lowering your expectations and if you ever do get around to seeing the film (though you may not because the trailer didn't sell it for you in the first place) it has a better chance of jumping over the low bar your mind has set for it. Does that make sense?

Bill: Yeah, definitely! I know there have been trailers that I found lackluster and the film was much better. I had seen The Bling Ring trailer in the cinemas and I thought it was lackluster-looking. I didn't think the film was especially good but I found it entertaining enough and I think my lowered expectations probably laid the foundation for that. Or the fact that I couldn't get through Somewhere.

J.S.: It’s impossible to say how my expectations going into something like World War Z would have been without having seen the trailer. I was feeling disappointed-approaching-dread after that montage of CGI zombie waves. To my pleasant surprise the movie was not all that; those sequences were scattered throughout the entire running time and all the human interactions (not to mention some plentiful usage of non-CGI zombies) really balanced out what was decidedly a poor advertisement for me. What’s the story with Somewhere?

Bill: The less said about Somewhere, the better.  While it’s an earnest, sweet film, it’s also indulgent and commits the cardinal sin of entertainment... it’s plain boring.  The trailer is pretty somber too, although it only lasts two minutes. If you watch the trailer, you’ll get the same feeling that the movie gives you without having to fidget in your seat to keep yourself awake.  Which, is what a trailer should do, if you ask me. A trailer should give you the logline of a film, i.e Man Must Kill Shark to Save Town and Protect Family.  After that, it should give us the mood. Is this an exciting romp? Is it dread-filled terror? Over the top gorefest? Slow-burn? Hilarious quirky comedy? Slapstick? The mood is where the art comes in.  I think there is this misconception where people think a trailer should show you exactly what to expect before you buy your ticket. But that seems so counterintuitive to the entire film-going experience for me. And with YouTube, some of these films are getting 4-5 trailers total. Each one revealing either spoilers or just beats to expect.

One of my favorite trailers of all-time is the trailer for Little Children.  It’s short and sweet, and undeniably unnerving and mesmerizing. It uses the sound of an oncoming train over images from the film to create and intense sense of dread.  We’re given the plot: a man and a woman, both married with kids, have an affair in small town suburbia that seems to have darker consequences than your average soap opera. The train, the artful compositions, and the pace that starts slow but intensifies as the train gets closer and closer, tells us that this is a slow-burn that probably builds to some nail-biting tension. But, we don’t really know much beyond that. We get some glimpses of scenes, but not enough to know the “beats” of the movie before going in.  Little Children has some of the beats you come to expect in a film like that, but we don’t know specific moments before going in. It’s a perfect trailer. Now, it wasn’t the most financially successful film of all-time. But to be fair, it wasn’t ever going to be. It’s not that kind of film.  Still, other trailers should take note. A better example might be the first Prometheus teaser, which was perfect.  It’s a short and scarily sweet teaser that tells us some basic info: a crew lands ship on a foreign planet expecting to find something only to discover it’s not what they expected and everything goes horribly wrong. Okay, we know what to expect with this kind of film. But the tone of the thing. It’s horrifying. It’s less than two minutes and you’re absolutely terrified. The screeching music, the use of the sirens (taken from the original and equally perfect Alien trailer) and the striking cinematography glue you to the screen for the entire time. Add the name “Ridley Scott” to it and I can’t see why you would want to sell the film any other way.  I am always a skeptic of Scott, but that trailer sold me on what I originally thought was not a very good idea. So there you go, two short and sweet trailers, one a blockbuster and the other a small independent drama.

J.S.: Wow, I just watched the trailer for Little Children. I hadn’t seen it before and it blew me away. I shouldn’t be surprised as that’s a product of Mark Woollen’s trailer house, undoubtedly the best in the business if you peruse their portfolio, but that’s a topic for another day…

I think we (and all sensible cinephiles) want more or less the same thing when it comes to trailers. Less is more. Mood is greater than plot points. Pitch us the premise instead of selling us the synopsis. And for the love of all things holy, don’t show us anything beyond the Act II! Teasers, for all their tyranny, (especially those that are mainly title cards) are better still than many trailers for studio releases. Perhaps the best are those that straddle the line between being a teaser and being a trailer (preview). I’d say the two you mentioned for Little Children and Prometheus do just that. I’ve read recent reports that claim the film industry is aware of our current trailer epidemic and is working to resolve the issue. “Spoiler alert” has become such a buzzword in recent years. It’s as much a punchline as it is a genuine cry, used by creators and consumers alike. You need only peruse a substantially entertainment-focused Twitter feed on a Sunday night to see for yourself. With East coast viewers seeing the latest Breaking Bad hours before us in LA to others who feel the need to announce to their followers that they’ve DVRed Game of Thrones but can’t squeeze it in until tomorrow night (and so you better not tell them anything!). We’ve become obsessed with preserving plot points. And yet you go to your local multiplex on a Friday night and you’ll get 15 minutes worth of reveals past the inciting incident for movies landing anytime in the next 12 months. Something has to change, but will it?

We’ve only seen steps further away from the ideal. Case in point, Fast & Furious 6. I believe we both have yet to see this one, but I have to keep reminding myself that I haven’t in fact seen it. After that first 3-minute and 22-second trailer I felt like I could write a review for it. Those who have seen the film and remember the trailer were sure to point out this problem. Mark Kermode went off about it for a while during his weekly show. A lot of the “money shots” found themselves in that first preview, especially that absurd bit when they drive a car through the front nose of a plane, apparently that’s climax material. All things considered, it’s a bloody miracle that Star Trek Into Darkness and Iron Man 3 were able to keep their villain twists a surprise, even through multiple trailers - even if everyone saw Into Darkness’ coming from a mile away.

Last question, what do you do when at the theater? Is it possible to avoid trailers then? Do you hang out in the lobby until you hear the 20th Century Fox fanfare or some other cue? Or are your pure intentions simply impossible to adhere to in the advertisement-saturated existence (online and off)?

Bill: Yeah! Those Fast 6 trailers were basically the CliffNotes version of the film (from what I can tell).  It seems totally unnecessary as well considering all the marketing really needs to do for that film is basically just say: They’re back. Boom.  Maybe tease a little more, but the gist will get the fans in seats, especially after all the love that Fast 5 received.

At the theater, if I make it in time for the trailers, I’ll sit through them.  I still love watching trailers in a theater and it’s fun to be surprised now like I was when I was younger by a cinema trailer experience versus seeing it online for the first time.  Just like films themselves, the trailers play much better in the theater.  It’s part of the trip. Case in point, I saw the Captain Phillip’s trailer the other week for the first time in front of a film and I was pretty enthralled with it’s intensity. Again, I feel like I know a bit too much about it than I really needed to (Somali pirates hijack Tom Hanks boat), but I don’t regret the experience.  It’s anything goes once I walk into the theater. But after that, I’ll try my best to avoid whatever 3rd and 4th trailer they put out a few weeks closer to the date.

J.S.: When I was kid my favorite part of going to the theater was actually seeing the trailers before the feature presentation. Today I’m seeing more trailers than anytime in my life (and re-watching many, that’s the killer) leading to a sure overdose. Today it’s much easier to trade in the ideal experience (theatric) for that of convenience (computer screen). There’s pros and cons to both. Film news is 24/7 and you can now instantly be part of any conversation when a new trailer drops. It helps to be following the right people on Twitter. How we are seeing trailers is only half the conversation, the other half is how much the filmmakers and studios are letting us see - and that’s the part that clearly concerns us. Thanks Bill.

Thanks for reading Dialogues: The Trouble with Trailers, a discussion between myself and Bill Mullan. We’d hate to see it the conversation end here. Please share your mind regarding trailers and any experiences you’ve had watching them lately in the comments below.

Click here for more Dialogues.

Updated 11/15/13

Friday, September 6, 2013


Just getting caught up in my Recently Beheld for the several weeks. Here's what little I beheld during the week of July 22nd (surely the lowest week on average for film-consumption this calendar year)...

Only God Forgives

On the night of July 23rd I sat down to write my review for Only God Forgives. I badly wanted to revisit some of the scenes that were particularly hazy to me. (In hindsight I should not have watched this the night I got back from my day at Comic-Con, my fatigue mixed with the trance-like aura of half the film's sequences pretty much put me in an altered state. Who needs drugs when you can watch extremist art films while dazed?) I ended up watching and loving the whole film again. It's one of the year's very best, a pitch-perfect study of punishment and acceptance. Oh, and I finally finished my review a couple nights later.

Full Review



I purposefully got Only God Forgives out of my system before going to the Los Angeles premiere of The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer's relentless exposé on Indonesia's death squad leaders of yesteryear is not only one of the year's most impressive documentaries, it stands to be one of the most important films ever made. It's a surreal journey that I both haven't been able to shake or bring myself to write much about. The Act of Killing is bold, brilliant and crucial to the human race.



James Wan's latest dive into the horror genre has many arrows in its quiver taken from haunted house and possession pictures over the last several decades. There's not much new going on here and it oddly feels like two movies (and casts of characters) mixed into one, but Wan and team harness a camera and a technique better than most their contemporaries that it almost seems unfair. It's a sure step-up from Insidious, we'll see about Insidious 2.


Seen any of these films? What did you see last week? Please feel free to share your thoughts or your own recently beheld in the comments below!

Here's last week's Recently Beheld.

Also, see what else I've seen this year in my Letterboxd diary.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


In this After Dark episode of The Film Tome Podcast Trent and I welcome back Brother-In-Law Bryson to discuss the first four of the final episodes of Breaking Bad. This casual conversation contain spoilers up through 5-12: Rabid Dog in addition to our predictions of what will happen in the last four episodes.

There's three easy and free ways to take in the podcast: Listen below, download below or subscribe on iTunes. Please share your feedback with us in the comments below and share this podcast with the cinephiles in your life. You can find all of our previous episodes here on The Film Tome or by doing a search for "The Film Tome Podcast" on iTunes. Thanks for listening and happy watching everybody!

The Film Tome Podcast - After Dark 004: Breaking Bad, Part 2
Recording Date: September 2, 2013
Runtime: 45:13

Breaking Bad Remix

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Please, Father, hear my confession...

Whenever I have something to get off my film geek chest, particularly an unfashionable opinion, I come here to whisper it through the lattice. Whomever will hear will hear. I am fully aware that words I say in these segments will dampen my (albeit minuscule)  reputation in the film community, but honesty is a policy I revere and mirror. Most importantly, my deep, dark cinematic secrets will surely help one better understand the movie buff I am, if not threatening my very status as one. 

(Curator's Note: The above still comes from In Bruges, the modern masterpiece with a most memorable scene revolving around a confessional. I also stumbled upon this unique list over on The Film School Rejects when looking for that frame, "The Top 10 Confession Scenes in Modern Film.")

Today's confession:

Father, I've yet to see a single (Max) Ophüls picture.


If you said "Who?" then at least I'm better off than you, which is good news for me and bad news for you.


I really wasn't planning on confessing this. In fact, I didn't necessarily feel that it needed confessing, that is until I watched a certain video courtesy of the Criterion monthly newsletter.

It's a video I'm starred, favorited or otherwise stored away (on a never-shrinking list of URLs thanks to my internet-drenched life) to one day look at but mostly likely never would have... And yetI found myself watching Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA, quite possibly my favorite American filmmaker) analyzing some of the cinematography on display in The Earrings of Madame de..., the penultimate film in Max Ophüls' filmography. To be fair, I think we should also give a shout out to cinematographer Christian Matras (whose work I have seen in Le Grande Illusion). Here's that video now:

I've referenced this before, but perhaps the only worthwhile tidbit I received from rapper Young Jeezy's debut album, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, came from the second track, "Standing Ovation." In the first verse (before we reach this winner: "That's why I got this glass pot and this triple beam, I tell 'em Money Talks like Charlie Sheen") Jeezy announces, "Now I'm ya favorite rapper's favorite rapper." I've thought about that in terms of filmmaking (among other things). PTA is one of my favorites. Ophüls is one of his.

A co-worker told me about Anderson's philosophy on film school, I don't know when/where he supposedly said this, but it's simple to relate. On Day 1 of film school you, the professor, shouldn't show them the Odessa steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 tour de juxtaposition, Battleship Potempkin. You show them whatever is particularly new, popular and demonstrates considerable craft. You get them excited about film and if they are truly scholars of the art they will trace the roots back, take the Odessa steps as it were, to De Palma's The Untouchables (maybe firing their intellectual wad with The Naked Gun first) and they will slowly and surely make their way back to Eisentein and beyond - likely not without some professorly guidance though. One of my instructors in the media arts program at BYU would quote a tenant in regards to this manner of exposing a pupil's mind. "Milk before meat," he would say, especially when it came to dealing with matters of "content" in media, a touchy subject at my particular and religious alma mater.

(Curator's Note: I see the merits of this educational concept but have some differing beliefs of my own. I started to expound upon them here but found they were taking this post in an entirely different though still valuable direction. Another time then.)

Anderon's ontology have proven themselves through my own experience with his films. Of his I think I first saw Boogie Nights, on the surface it's a provocative and thrilling ensemble piece about the porn industry of yesteryear. Beneath that is an incredible calculated character casserole set in the San Fernando Valley, depicting the cultural migration into the 1980s, scrutinizing the potential of parenthood, begging the question of finding success in our lives, all while providing a greater commentary on the evolution of the very medium of film. I went in for the premise (and possibly the poster). I stayed for the substance. I moved, not so much laterally or longitudinally but a combination of the two, through his body of work before taking the necessary steps to Robert Altman, an artist whose portfolio I've still got as a looming pile on my desk to work through - two confessions for the price of one, Father. Max Ophüls is now on my agenda. That's how it works for active-filmgoers, that's how is must work.

I first heard of Max Ophüls due to Filmspotting, of which I should really have a framed picture of their podcast logo on my wall beside my diploma from BYU. Both were astronomically important in my film education. Thanks to a Filmspotting marathon back in 2006 I became infatuated with the work of Werner Herzog (again, not without an easier stepping on point in the form of Grizzly Man) who has grown to become one of my single greatest influences in all things cinema, both as a theoretician and a practitioner.  Some seven years later they've done a Max Ophüls marathon after which they gave out The Dollies. Ophüls is in part known for his tracking/dolly shots, probably what initially caught PTA's eyes and interest as it's known he's a big proponent of using in his own films (sneak a peek at the existence of one in Inherent Vice). I've listened to all the episodes pertaining to the Ophüls marathon, with little-to-no reference of what they were discussing. Nonetheless, it still became a pressing matter on my mind. A niche to fill. A blind spot to rectify. Another auteur of which to become a connoisseur  But first, this confession to tell. That education courtesy of Filmspotting was the gathering of firewood. PTA's video was the flamethrower.

Oh, great. I just tried adding Letter From an Unknown Woman to my Netflix DVD queue only to find out they do not have it... But they did have this one.

Until next time, Father. Stay positive.


Words by Bill Mullan, Guest Curator

In his director’s note for Only God Forgives, Nicholas Winding Refn confesses, “The original concept was to make a film about a man who wants to fight God”. This is perhaps, all anyone whom seeks out this red hot fetishistic trance, needs to know before surrendering themselves to Refn’s exorcised fantasies for an hour and half. If you seek a story driven by traditional narrative and character, stay at home, open a book, or turn on the television. As a director, Refn is only interested in bathing you in a visually rich and primally visceral experience governed by hypnotic dream logic. Stanley Kubrick, no doubt an influence on Refn, once said, “Watching a film is like having a dream. It operates on portions of your mind that are only reached by dreams or dramas”. Refn is no Kubrick, but in that respect of film as a dream, Only God Forgives is a grotesque and exotic nightmare of God vs. The Devil, The East vs. The West, Cop vs. Criminal. A nightmare caked in striking colors and contrasts, with religious imagery planted throughout like carefully designed brushstrokes.

The experience begins with mamma’s boy Julian (Ryan Gosling) emerging out of the shadowy dark into a fiery red and yellow light that just barely reveals his face and the Christ-like boxer statue that looms behind him. Julian and his brother Billy run an Thai boxing club in Bangkok as a front for their family’s drug trade. When Billy rapes and murders a 16-year old girl, he is killed by the girl’s father by invitation of the God-like Chang, a justice serving police captain straight out of the Old Testament. Julian and Billy’s serpentine matriarch Crystal, played with venomous glee by Kristen Scott Thomas, summons herself east to recoup the body of her dead favorite spawn and enact terrible vengeance.

What the film lacks in “Hollywood” script and character, it makes up for in pure visual storytelling. The underworld inhabited and ruled by Crystal, Billy, Julian and their clan is always light by demonic reds and yellows and their lairs adorned with shadows and giant dragon murals. Their world is hell and Billy and Crystal are two sides of the devil. The family and their serving clan (if you don’t count the Thai natives they coach boxing to) are all of the Caucasian persuasion, leaking their foul-mouthed, corrupt Western ways into the Eastern streets. Crystal, with her slithery long blond hair, hisses and seethes orders of blood against her son’s killer like the snake from the apple tree (or the dragon mural that haunts the boxing club), seducing Julian into fighting Chang, the moral overload of the city. In stark contrast, Chang is lit in brighter blues and greens and the sequences that feature his daily rituals are most often in daylight. When each act of justice is served throughout the film, Chang strangely and ritualistically sings to his fellow apostles of morality in a flamboyant karaoke bar-like sermons. Like a holy figure, he is lit by a bright white spotlight as he delivers his gospel.

The distinctions of color and light come into clear play in an early moment, when Chang is called to scene of Billy’s crime. The end of the room occupied by Billy and his victim is literal and figurative blood bath of reds and yellows. Chang, however, is lit by a bright teal light coming through the window. These color distinctions push the emotional narrative forward, foretelling horrors and emotional metamorphosis of Julian. When Chang appears to Julian in prophetic visions, the bathroom in which Julian stoically stands in is a neon blue. The blue light follows Julian again as he sits in karaoke bar listening to Chang deliver one of his ceremonial songs. “I always knew you were different”, Crystal confesses to her son before begging him to murder Chang. But Julian’s pining for the literally untouchable and angelic prostitute Mai deepens an already epic conflict of violence wrestling inside of his fists. It’s probably no coincidence that he is the only member of his family to be named after a saint.

The score too, brooding and towering with organs and drums, suggests a religious scope. It’s been another banner year for Cliff Martinez, who has conjured another inventive and transfixing auditory experience. During one of the films showdowns, Martinez enhances the camerawork that frames two dueling characters as if this were the fight to end all fights with a swirling and ghastly score. It’s not subtle by any means and it doesn’t need to be. It’s just not the nature of this beast. It adds another layer to Refn’s use of the purest elements of cinema, image and sound, as means to spell out (quite loudly) the thematic elements of the film. Spoken word is only an accent.

This micro-epic battle of perverted morality contains some typically violent images that will no doubt leave viewers squirming in their seats. It’s high-trash art, constructed as a slow moving painting where everything is in the image (it was never on the page). Refn doesn’t care if you find him pretentious, and he shouldn’t. This is a ravishing, instinctual, and depraved film, a purely visual experience that will either mesmerize and haunt you, make you want to shower off it’s fifth, or both. If this all sounds like your slice of cake, indulge yourself. Refn sure does.