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Lord of War (Andrew Niccol, 2005)

Posted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 5:12 pm
by flyonthewall2983
Lord of War (Andrew Niccol, 2005)

I really liked this from the first time I saw it and I feel it stands up even and maybe especially now. What really stands up for me now in this is how Nicolas Cage made the genius choice of comparatively looking motionless whenever Jared Leto is on-screen doing his version of an over-the-top Nicolas Cage performance. It's a nice manipulation of the relationship an audience would have with his more hammy performances, and it lends itself all the more that these two characters are brothers.

Re: 2000s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 3)

Posted: Sun Feb 02, 2020 8:35 pm
by therewillbeblus
I sadly couldn’t find a thread for Elizabethtown, or make one, so I’ll just gush here.

First, for the sake of context, this was a film that prior to its theatrical release I was eagerly anticipating (I still remember the trailer) but ignored it after seeing the reviews and never thought about it since.. until I realized Dunst was in it and decided to give it a shot last night. I’m glad I waited because my late adolescent self was not nearly prepared or mature enough to take in what Crowe is offering. I have never found Crowe’s films to be particularly good or bad, even Almost Famous’ strengths reach a depth that seems to be limited by some artistic ulterior motive for me, but I think this is the film Crowe has been trying to make his entire career, and his very best.

Why does this one succeed where the others fail? Well for starters, his other films are attempting to be too ‘neat’ and so he takes less risks than he appears to and the result is safe, popcorn-fun simmering romantic catharsis. This film though is risky in that it isn’t afraid to be messy (I mean, how audacious to have Ryan Adams’ Come Pick Me Up playing during that courtship phone call! Not only is it mismatched lyrically but it’s distracting, and yet the mood works and describes the feeling of the moment perfectly; one of many examples of the risks Crowe takes based on instinct that both do and don’t work). What ultimately makes these choices work for me is that the content of intangible emotional processing fits with a messy expression, as only such forfeiting of safety could breathe authenticity into a film whose structure is still based on the artificiality of the rom-com’s idealized milieu.

The story focuses on not just love, but love discovered and worked through during a time of complicated grief. One could argue that love and grief are the two most confusing and inexplicable experiences, so pairing them together in a way that both defies the expected benchmarks of the rom-com’s even naturedness, and also succumbs to their fantastical elements all the same, is a perfect mesh that validates the experience of being in love and grieving, and provides the feeling needed from this cathartic genre.

Bloom’s casting is interesting but the more I think on it he suits his character. I don’t find him to be as good or charismatic an actor as a Tom Cruise, but the self-consciousness to his range allows for a more tempered and relatable performance that doesn’t veer off the rails into a dramatic show stopping monologue. His handsomeness and arrogant attitude are thinly disguised to reveal a mask for a fragile identity and limited comprehension of the world (the success vs. greatness realization early on is telling). He’s nominated to be in charge of the funeral as the “responsible one” but his emotional maturity is so low in a cultural context that doesn’t exactly support insight into that invisible yet crucial area, that even his family sees only the mask that hides his actual lack of skills. A great scene involves his impulsive move to stop the cremation, so unpracticed in his emotional space that he can’t identify triggers or think through the parts of his that he has buried- and yet the area where his emotional immaturity stops and the complicated grief begins is wisely left indistinguishable. So instead of getting a series of Bloom working through each set of obstacles toward a cathartic finish, he lives in a dense mixture and Crowe respects the audience, or is humble enough in his own hazy comprehension, to leave that there.

This extends to Bloom’s relationship with Dunst too, who may somewhat fit that Manic Pixie Dream Girl type but is much more than that. This is a guy who pushes away a girl until she sneaks up into his consciousness just like he does with his grief and emotions. This is a girl who is actually realistic insofar as she represents the person who is more unflinchingly forthcoming, something that often turns the other party off before an actual relationship can develop. But here they grow on each other in a weird way, which mimics a more honest account of how a relationship forms than the average rom-com. Also, Bloom continues to exhibit ambivalence about his MPDG relationship and it serves as only a component of his process and not the sole solution or looking-glass by which he can see the light so solving all of his problems. She may be integral to his own development but cannot provide all the ingredients. Perhaps by playfully taking action and caring enough to participate in his life Dunst is able to help build that foundation, but Crowe knows that Bloom has a part too and is giving to her even when we may have a harder time seeing the reciprocity at work.

As I said before, this honesty toward the difficulty material as expressed through a messy approach of direction does abandon some signifiers of the typical romantic comedy but it also fits nicely in the skeleton. There is catharsis and growth and romance and comedy, Dunst does fill a MPDG type role and Bloom gets to work through his grief and find his love within the scope of two hours. Still, for all these tropes hit there are enough resigned. Dunst is attracted to Bloom not because he is handsome and gregarious like a Jerry Maguire in their initial encounter (a pebble has more charm) but she trusts her gut. They play games like most early blossoming romances do and her confidence wilts only through crevices in her disposition like the walk of shame or her realization that Bloom has more to discover about himself before he can be with her. It’s worth mentioning that Dunst is just wonderful here as both an archetype and a real human being bleeding into one another to form the perfect love interest both halves of us want. The human truths of multiple facets for stability is apparent and Crowe doesn’t overdo any one domain nor does he shortchange another, or make any proclamation that x action or mindset will solve y problem. For all the romance and comedy there is a lot left up in the air, and if the process to realizing this for Crowe is also a confounding therapeutic experience it shows through the bumpy ride he takes to get there, and I’m grateful that someone finally made a crowd-pleasing modern genre-entry worthy of replicating some honesty about human behavior and existential submission amidst the cathartic serenity to be found in a cinematic representation of love, loss, and life.

Re: 2000s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 3)

Posted: Sun Feb 02, 2020 9:30 pm
by domino harvey
I think most of the discussion has been predictably located here, but this is as good a thread as any

Re: 2000s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 3)

Posted: Sun Feb 02, 2020 10:04 pm
by therewillbeblus
Well maybe we can get a thread started.
Mr Sausage wrote:
Thu Jan 31, 2013 4:51 pm
These days people seem to have very little tolerance for idealizations (at least in new movies; with old movies people seem more accepting), especially gendered ones. There are probably a whole mix of feelings behind this, some more flattering than others, but I'm not sure that the reaction against Elizabethtown and Dunst in particular is the product (unless incidentally) of a hard lurch in the opposite direction after having been pulled in so easily. It probably has more to do with how we feel people ought to be, or at least how they ought to be represented in society, and what happens when we're presented with characters whose mode is closer to type, making them more generalized. So you get viewers who'll think, yes, that's how people ought to be, and they'll love it; and then you get those who think, no, I don't believe people ought to be that way, and they'll loathe it since people tend to understand idealizations as a form of social recommendation.

A lot of the criticisms in this thread (not necessarily reflecting the reality of this or that movie) come down to:

1. The character has no interiority
2. The character exists as a device to bring the male lead to self-actualization, and therefore owes her existence in the narrative to him.
3. The twee, zany, indie eccentric tone.

3. is a matter of taste and can be ignored. 1. and 2. show that people are worried about the social ramifications of this character type, ie. how we should be conceiving of people and representing them to the public.
I think this is pretty on point, though characters I think of as MPDGs like Portman in Garden State completely undo 1 and 2 I think, while Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Scott Pilgrim cheekily self-reflexively embodies them.

As far as Dunst goes, although I agree that she hits these marks, the story is very clearly Bloom’s to self-actualize and so her service to the story is actually pretty hands-off and sidelined as only a nudge toward this result even if in full support of such a process. I also think a worthy point to mention is that when it comes to relationship dynamics, the roles of each party services the other even if not in a conscious way. There are countless actual examples of women who are self-actualized and attracted to men who are not, the “caretaker” role (to make it unfairly simple) flipped around to the less stereotyped gender.

Dunst’s playful hiding behind a boyfriend that may or may not exist hints at its own shell protecting some vulnerabilities but the strength of the film is that she doesn’t insert this development into the story nor serve as the sole ingredient of inspiration to save the day. There’s a different movie where they’ll get to her psychology, the next chapter of their relationship after that final kiss, but subtle hints going unaddressed actually make for a more honest and three dimensional portrait of how a relationship would likely form under these circumstances in the honeymoon phase vs. a more typically loud expression of emotional reciprocity in a rom com. I’m not saying this is “realistic” but it takes the template and tropes of so many movies and twists them enough to let go of some unwarranted bloating and detailing what’s left with enough honesty to find a middle ground between the fantasy and the real.

Re: 2000s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 3)

Posted: Mon Feb 03, 2020 12:46 pm
by therewillbeblus
Reading through some details on the film, I'm shocked to learn that the MPDG trope was created in response to this film! Obviously it's the straw that broke the camel's back, what with Garden State and countless other movies leading up to this in the indie male self-discovery revolution of the early aughts, but I still find her character to be, when taken in the context of all the MPDGs before and since, more of a fully formed person whose dimensionality clearly exists but beyond the scope of this story (again, contrasting so many others that take more time fleshing themselves out but leaving it there as if we've already been told their story, more clearly defining their total worth and depth of character-which is the key point that differs here- as the sum of the context of the male protagonist's story).
Apparently Ben, Dunst's 'mystery boyfriend,' was supposed to be her brother, and his offscreen character hints at Dunst having a conflicting relationship between being helplessly attracted to Bloom while also floundering subconsciously from the red flags that present themselves in his personality. To me, that's a much more realistic account of the push-pull mechanisms in an early relationship of mid-20s people than most representations, and I mean who hasn't begun to be enamored with someone romantically and regardless of other aspects of life, prioritized those conversations and meetings and thought about that person, giving oneself over to the building dynamic and ignoring other aspects of the self in the process? Because Bloom is going through a family crisis, he doesn't get to match Dunst in the efforts here, but I don't find them to be exaggerated in the least, other than her initial encounter with him on the plane - but even that I've experienced to some degree with the extreme animated personalities I've encountered in my dating days! Maybe I've just been in too many relationships (almost exclusively) with 'intense' people that fit the MPDG personality we see (admittedly without the mental health struggles, trauma, or codependency issues correlative in attachment to these traits) to see at least the narrative as we get it to be as deeply unrealistic as others seem to. I can understand the argument, but this feels like a film that earns more rope than has been given to it, especially with it existing so perfectly between the space of the fantasy and actuality, with the former really serving more as the outlined barriers of the structure rather than directed at the details within as questionable.

To make the treatment of this film more unjust, I'm also noticing that this has no blu-ray release. It seems like it was shot in 1.85:1 but the 1.78:1 re-issued widescreen edition is all my library holds. For those who own it, was it actually filmed in Widescreen or should I purchase the original Paramount DVD?