January 30, 2013

Amour reviewed.

From the man who brought you a piano teacher with masochistic fetishes and a town full of troubled German children comes a movie about an elderly married couple suffering through crippling disease and inevitable death in a Paris apartment. Sounds about right.

Amour is about love. Not Hollywood-style love, the kind that comes equipped with a traditional happy ending. Michael Haneke doesn't deal in such trifling matters. His films don't wrap themselves up in neat little packages.

He provokes audiences and asks probing questions. He offers up a film named "love" and drenches it in the slow stench of death. It's what makes him so damn special.

Amour is a lengthy, sometimes painfully drawn-out, depiction of an old woman's demise and the husband who watches it all from her bedside.

We see Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) wither away, a debilitating journey from initial diagnosis to a gibbering, zombified state. For either self-centered (he doesn't know how to live without her) or sympathetic (he's fulfilling her wishes to die at home) reasons, her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) devotes his life to her care and comfort.

Then, as it happens in most of Haneke's films, a brief moment changes everything. But the same questions asked beforehand still apply: Was this all a labor of love? What is love? Can two dramatically different approaches, or even a hundred, be undertaken in the name of such a feeling?

Some of Haneke's previous films – Cache and Funny Games in particular – are almost overwhelmingly detached. Funny Games asks us to look on as two men torture a family; Cache is all about being a voyeur, gaining a glimpse into someone's private life.

Amour shares some of those themes: the disease that takes Anne's life is torturous, and we're privy to every slip in her condition. And the view we receive of Anne's death is about as private as it gets.

But it's not a film about detachment. We're not meant to become unfeeling and sterile as Anne slips away. On the contrary; we begin to forget what Anne was like before death overtook her, when she was a smiling, seemingly happy woman. We're immersed in the crawl towards nothingness. And much like Georges, we wonder what is best for this shell that used to hold a human being, one he cared for deeply.

Eventually, Georges makes a decision. And while it may be shocking, it doesn't feel constructed, or set up to send us a message. It's presented starkly, but with much room interpretation. We're allowed surface-level access to these two characters, and then given a chance to dissect what lies beneath.

Amour feels different than Haneke's previous work. Maybe he's softening with old age. Or maybe he's chosen a less blunt method to portray a theme that cannot be pinned down in any objective way. Love is love. You know it when you feel it, and you express it in whatever way suits you best.

Editor's note: Going forward, my movie reviews will also be featured on Tezini.com. They write about the cinema more than I do, so head over and take a look at what Andrew and the gang have seen lately.

January 12, 2013

To coach or not to coach.

Do I have an opinion on who should be the next head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles? Well, I am a living, breathing Philly sports fan...

I like Gus Bradley's defense in Seattle. By far the leader in points allowed (28 less than San Francisco) and fourth in yards allowed (behind only Pittsburgh, Denver and the 49ers), the Seahawks looked like a top-5 team throughout the second half of the 2012 season. Much of that was thanks to their defense. Seattle's Week 16 thrashing of the aforementioned 49ers, in particular, was one of the more striking games of the year.

But everything I've read indicates that the Eagles prefer an offensive-minded coach at the top position and a defensive coordinator who runs his own side of the ball, mirroring the Andy Reid-Jim Johnson dynamic of years past. Bradley is also Reuben Frank's top choice, but we've seen many times over that the hot assistant doesn't always make the best coach.

I like Mike McCoy's offense in Denver. Sure, he's lucked into Peyton Manning, but what really impresses me is how flexible he was with Tim Tebow last year. They didn't put up flashy numbers; in fact, most of the time they could barely move the ball. But this is the same Tim Tebow who couldn't beat out the abhorrent Mark Sanchez in New York. My takeaway is that McCoy played to his quarterback's strengths, putting a simplified system in place that worked well enough to keep them afloat.

Reid, in contrast, is the kind of coach who molds quarterbacks to his system. Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, for better or worse, were shaped into pocket passers. This is probably a smarter plan when it comes to sustained success, but as the Vick experiment showed, it can also blow up in your face.

Of course, McCoy isn't some radical who's changing the game. He just recognized some glaring limitations and found a way to (mostly) overcome them. One of the things that felled Reid was his hubris, his insistence in jamming square pegs into round holes. A head coach with some flexibility and self-awareness; that's intriguing.

I like Brian Kelly's...well, I don't really like Brian Kelly. It seems ballsy to hire a head coach with zero NFL experience, even if Jason Kelce likes him. I also don't follow college football very closely, so I'm not sure how relevant my opinion might be.

In fact, I'm sure it's worthless across the board. Most of them are. Everyone loves to freak out over a head coaching search, and to a certain extent that's understandable. It's a lot of fun to go over the pros and cons of these guys and argue about how suitable (or unsuitable) they might be for such a lofty position.

But we don't know a damn thing. We see 1% of what's happening on the field, and zero of what's happening off it. That doesn't mean you have to nod your head and go with the flow; for example, the Cleveland Browns going from Chip Kelly to Carolina's offensive coordinator (19th in points scored) should make all of us point our fingers and laugh. I just hate to see fans puff themselves up and act like experts. Judge the eventual decision and its aftermath accordingly, but don't act like you knew better all along.

Speaking of the decision itself: Jeffrey Lurie has implied that he's looking for an innovator as his next coach, which explains the numerous interviews with coordinators and college coaches, along with the (seeming) lack of interest in Jon Gruden and the other veteran retreats.

And that makes sense to me. There's a lot of talent (I hope) still on this roster, but most of it is in desperate need of reorganization and reshaping. Name coaches can come with a lot of baggage, and there'd be a sort of "win now" mentality attached to such a hire; you're not paying a well-known guy millions upon millions of dollars to assist in a massive rebuild. Even though Philly fans are (understandably) hungry to win again, that kind of mindset would not be beneficial for this organization.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that the Eagles have been employing a "throw a bunch of good-sounding shit at the wall and see what sticks" strategy over the last few years. But winning a championship isn't about having the finest looking roster in September, or making the most headlines in the offseason. Honestly, what works best is probably the Andy Reid plan of the early years: Put a solid team on the field, aim to make the playoffs every year and hope a bunch of the late-season bounces go your way.

Unfortunately, the bounces never really went the Eagles' way. And Reid's eventual big moves, designed to put the team over the top, were ultimately misguided (Vick, Terrell Owens) and too little, too late. A desire to get back to basics -- to fundamentals and a fresh outlook and a disciplined, well-run football team -- sounds like exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles need.

So who's the best man for that job? Hell if I know; Bradley and McCoy both probably deserve somebody's top spot. In the end, all we can do is hope the people who are paid to know choose wisely.

January 4, 2013

My 10 favorite movies of 2012.

A time-honored tradition here at King Myno's Court is my list of the year's top 10 movies. Keep in mind that this is a list of my favorites, not the best. I find all of these films to be spectacular, but not on any sort of objective scale. I'm no film critic, just a boy who likes the cinema. Enjoy.

(Editor's note: I have not yet seen Amour, Zero Dark Thirty or Beasts of the Southern Wild. I suspect all three would have a very good chance of making this list. Apologies to these films and their filmmakers, although the first two have not yet been released in my area and I do live in a large East Coast city so it's really their fault.)

Argo - I was kinda hoping this wouldn't make my list (and I suspect it wouldn't, had I seen one of the movies listed above) but it was undeniably a crowd-pleasing thriller that turned an amazing story into an enjoyable studio film. I can't say I loved the first hour, with all the Hollywood-themed "jokes" and ho-hum team organizing (Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin and John Goodman, great as they are, are no Ocean's Eleven) but the last hour was taut and nerve-racking. Maybe it's not fully accurate, maybe Affleck was kinda shitty to the Canadians; neither taints the fact that he's matured into an impressive filmmaker.

The Avengers - Although the Avengers backlash has finally begun ("it wasn't that good, guys"), let's be honest: It's revisionist criticism at its best. Everyone loved it...until they realized how all-encompassing that love turned out to be. I'm still onboard; this and the next film on my list were by far the most enjoyable experiences I had in a movie theater this year. With a great cast that was used perfectly (Robert Downey Jr. takes the lead, Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo spar with him a little, Chris Hemsworth hits things with a hammer) and a well-proportioned mix of action, special effects, emotion and levity, Avengers deserved every dollar of its $1.5 billion worldwide gross and every word of praise shouted its way.

Django Unchained - It's more Kill Bill than Inglorious Basterds, but we can't expect a picture-perfect masterpiece every time, can we? While I would've loved to see this be Idris Elba's big break, the four leads in Django (Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson) proved to be pretty much perfect. Foxx successfully bounces back from that Philly-based crime movie with Gerard Butler and shows that he has much more to offer than a spot-on Ray Charles impression. Waltz is Waltz, Leo is Leo, and Jackson's late-arriving, scenery-chewing stereotype pretty much steals the show. Tarantino probably should've chopped about 20 minutes off the runtime, but such a feeling might not be universal; my entire theater seemed invested in every second.

Holy Motors - I've already written 700 words on this crazy masterpiece of a movie, so let's just watch Denis Lavant and his street band play the accordion:


Killer Joe - Good lord, Matthew McConaughey. If I had an Oscar vote, you would get it. There's been a lot written about Mr. McConaughey's "resurgence" already, but let me add to the pile and say that it is so nice to see him using that natural hunkiness for evil rather than good. Being smooth and handsome should get you the girl; everyone alive knows that already. But when it's part of a murderer's repertoire, or if it helps fulfill some dark, nasty desire, well, that's the kinda movie I want to see. And Killer Joe is dark, and nasty, and laugh-out-loud funny. The more timid of you will cringe, or even gag, but William Friedkin's tale of a hitman and the teenage lady he loves wins the 2012 award for "most joyful gasps elicited."

Lincoln - A movie about Abraham Lincoln, possibly our most beloved President, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis? "Where do I sign up?" asked mostly everyone after hearing all that information. But what we received wasn't so much a biopic as it was a look at Lincoln as a careful, calculating negotiator. It's a movie about political compromise and a man's legacy; not so much about doing what's "right" as about doing what needs to be done, about finishing what you've started. Throw in cameos by every character actor in Hollywood, not to mention Tommy Lee Jones spouting ye olde insults in a wig, and you've got a smart, relatively accurate historical drama that feels like a play transposed on screen. In a good way.

Looper - Very few directors could put Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Bruce Willis makeup and have that be maybe the tenth most-disorienting aspect of their movie. But Rian Johnson is no ordinary director; Brick is one of the most ambitious feature film debuts in recent history, everyone loves the "Fly" episode of Breaking Bad, and The Brothers Bloom was great...until it collapsed under its own considerable weight in the second hour. Regardless, everything Johnson has made so far has been creative and unique, with Looper being no exception. A science-fiction movie with an original story that deftly handles time travel, this one got the nerds all riled up (and $166 million in worldwide grosses hopefully means more of the same). It's another Johnson film with a blistering opening and a cooler finale, but when you go from 0 to 100 at his kinda speed, you're allowed to drop back to 60 at closing time.

Moonrise Kingdom - Not sure why this is the most beloved Wes Anderson movie since The Royal Tenenbaums (did you people even see Fantastic Mr. Fox?!) but it's good to see one of them move beyond his built-in audience and entrance a few other folks. I was a little afraid that Wes would end up a more competent Kevin Smith. There are a few times when Bruce Willis seems woefully out of place, but Edward Norton fits the dynamic like a glove. And adorable kids! Anderson certainly has a talent for uncovering child stars. Other than that, you know (and love, or hate) the drill. Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, eclectic (yet perfect) song choices, stilted dialogue, lots of dry humor. He certainly has a type.

The Queen of Versailles/Undefeated - I couldn't decide which of these two was the finest documentary I saw in 2012, so I'm calling it a tie. They couldn't be more different; Versailles is the tale of a very rich family who saw their timeshare empire suffer during the economic collapse of 2008 and now struggle to live in a world where only some things, not every single thing, can be bought. Undefeated is another "a year in the life" story that follows Bill Courtney, then a high school football coach in Memphis, and his attempts to turn around the Manassas Tigers and the lives of his economically and emotionally fragile players. One is "kick em while they're down," the other is "watch them as they grow," but both feature people struggling in a world they're overly accustomed to. The family in Versailles forgets what it's like to operate in society; some of the kids in Undefeated feel like they don't deserve to belong in one.

Wreck-It Ralph - As always, thanks be to Pixar for making it socially acceptable again to revere animated films. Too bad their 2012 release went unseen by me; I suspect I would've preferred the one featuring M. Bison over it anyway. Ralph was certainly made with video game fans in mind, but it's not limited to fans of Sonic and Pac-Man (if there are any people who'd self-identify as Pac-Man fans). It looks incredible (as do most animated movies post-2002) and it provides enough character depth to tuck your heart strings at the right times. If you've ever said "I bet Sarah Silverman could do the voice of a precocious animated youngster in a movie and imbue her lovable character with some serious emotion," well, you're right.

And the rest: Sleepwalk with Me was a fun little dramedy that won me over with an honest ending, forgoing the usual mushiness yet still leaving everybody happy. Les Misérables was the longest movie in recorded history but every 10 minutes a terrific scene or song would start up and suck me back in, and Anne Hathaway is just the best. 21 Jump Street and The Grey were both far better than they should've been. I'm not the biggest Silver Linings Playbook fan (that scene where she's listing the sports scores while everyone oohs and aahs felt horrifyingly contrived) but Jennifer Lawrence was incredible and it was great to see the return of restrained Chris Tucker. Robot & Frank was the best human-robot relationship movie of the year, and Magic Mike featured the best Channing Tatum performance (and the second-best "creepy McConaughey" performance) of 2012.

It stinks: It's on a buttload of top 10 lists but I just couldn't get into The Master. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman both deserve numerous nominations (and hopefully a few statues) but I felt the movie kept you at arm's length and put itself up on a smart and sophisticated pedestal. No thanks. Prometheus was an uncompromising disaster of a train wreck. I only kinda liked The Dark Knight Rises, and I bet a whole burrito on Battleship being not terrible. And lost. Whenever you're ready to collect, Sultan of Swole, let me know. A Cimino always pays his debts.