Archive for the recommended Category

Unbreakable (2000)

Posted in recommended on April 14, 2010 by Dr. Cochrane

Three interesting things about this film with regards to the ‘heroic’ life-narrative:

1. The inspiring idea that you don’t know how strong you can be until you test yourself. (e.g. when Bruce is weightlifting).

2. The idea that Bruce Willis gravitates towards security work due to some foggy sense of his true nature.

3. The idea that sometimes the best thing to do, all things considered, is lie to your wife.

Of course, Bruce Willis is playing a pretty dumb character who takes the entire film to remember he was faking his injuries that time (perhaps his unbreakable brain has trouble forming new memories??) though I don’t really mind that since he is a tough guy after all. And M. Night Shamalamashishi’s schtick for water is obviously dumb (though not as offensive to reason as in that alien film he did). But overall the variety of cute ways in which comic book tropes are given a realistic motivation (a secret identity needed for the sake of his marriage, the weatherproof jacket for a cloak, the villian also searching for his identity etc.) make this an enjoyable film.

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Junior (1994)

Posted in recommended with tags , , on September 26, 2008 by Dr. Cochrane

The recent foray of critical interest into the 1994* film Junior starring Arnold Schwarzenegger has demonstrated something, if not, as I shall argue, what it actually sets out to demonstrate. It has shown that this apparently by the numbers scifi-romcom has somehow gotten lodged in our collective consciousness. At first it seemed entirely forgettable, and yet as the years passed, it was not forgotten. We intuit something- that this is greatest film ever made, and yet, we shake our heads as if awaking from a druken stupor, how is this possible? What would it even mean to make such a claim? In vain we reach for dusty textbooks to find answers in the critical tradition, but this tradition has not sufficient tools for the job. The post-structuralists fall over themselves to provide post-hoc explanations with absurd references to their typical props, Derrida, Sartre, Freud and so on. But in the end, we find ourselves back where we started, staring at the bare truth, the laughter of the immortals ringing in our ears.

The burgeoning literature on Junior has largely focused on its relevance within gender studies. This is precisely the kind of red herring that the film makers** set for the unwary. Of course it matters that gender roles are subverted in Junior, and moreover by probably the manliest man alive today. But were Junior just about gender roles it would hardly merit the claim of being the best film ever made. I mean, have you seen the size of Sylvester Stallone’s gun in Stop or My Mom will Shoot? If you think male pregnancy can compare to being forcefully penetrated by one’s own mother then you haven’t read enough Greek tragedy.

How about politics then? Yes Junior delivers here too. One need only refer to the scene in which Arnold offers his cover story as an ex East German olympic athlete, which incidentally provides the only filmic reference to this event on record (and oh by the way nonchalently educates a whole new generation about the scandal). The recent German film Das Leben der Anderen was considered ground breaking for tackling the subject of the East German Stasi. Here’s Junior nailing the abuses of East German Communism over a dozen years earlier, in a comedy!

And yet if political impact were our standard, Junior, at least as the world stands in late 2008 would be unlikely to top Rocky IV which, it is well known, initiated glasnost when the actor representing Gorbachev stood up to applaud Balboa’s heartfelt cry of “if I can change, you can change, we all can change!” as the red giant Drago cowered in the corner. No, the claims of Junior‘s greatness will not rely on its political message. Though naturally as generation after generation continues to obsessively scour Junior for clues to existence, it will certainly reshape all current political philosophies in much the same way as the teachings of Jesus once did. The wheels of politics move slowly. But revolutionising the field of aesthetics is just the first of many revolutions to follow.

Pick any issue you like: science, sex, family, beauracracy, the pharmaceutical industry, capitalism, interior design, and of course, life itself. Junior covers it. But these are mere signposts to the mystical inner core of Junior. Schwarzenegger knew that he needed something of truly cosmic proportions if he was going to trounce Stallone once and for all. But it’s hard to imagine that even he knew what he was getting into.

I hardly need rehearse the plot of Junior. It is by now well know to us all. In fact the plot of Junior is mere icing on the cake, roughly conforming to the Aristotelian three-act structure that has been the staple of the lively arts for well over 2 millennia. If I were to claim that Junior is the greatest film ever made on just the basis of its plot, I’d be laughed out of the academy. Naturally the story shares a number of features with what have up to now been known as ‘good’ films. The Universal executives would never have green-lighted the most psychologically explosive cultural product of all time if it had no assurance that its audience could be lulled for at least a few years longer. And Junior presents these tired tropes of aesthetic quality with such ease that this by itself acts as a searing indictement on what has been considered the gold standard of film-making or indeed any other narrative art form. Shakespeare is justly celebrated for taking aging folk tales and transforming them into meditations upon the human condition. Junior takes meditations upon the human condition and puts them in a montage set to ‘Look what love has done to you’. It makes Shakespeare look like a ham-fisted yobbo. Its layers upon layers of meanings begin to speak of the nature of meaning itself.

It is not for me to uncover all of these meanings here. I leave that task to better and more patient scholars. The performance of Schwarzenegger by itself will surely garner a few phds in the coming years. Does anyone really think that Stallone could have played the role of Dr. Alexander Hesse, or indeed any other actor?? Laurence Olivier could not have captured the nuances of meaning fractalising into infinity that Schwarzenegger captures in the film just by wearing a fucking tie.

But ultimately, I believe that all of these qualities are, as Wittgenstein states in the Tractatus, like a ladder that once we have reached the top we can throw away. The world is beginning to wake up to Junior. One day classes in film theory, and most likely legislation will assert, good is whatever is like Junior. Naturally, nothing could be most good except Junior.

And as if this wasn’t enough, have you looked recently at the poster of Junior, have you read the tag line?

Nothing is inconceivable.

Not only is this the greatest pun of all time, it aptly sums up a basic metaphysical truth. That nothingness, that is, absolute nothingness, a state in which nothing has ever existed nor ever will, is impossible for us to imagine. And not just impossible to imagine in our puny meat-brains, but impossible to logically formulate in non-relative (and thereby non self-contradictory) terms. And on the flip side of that truth? The totality of all possible worlds. Here Junior is taking us back to school, reminding us of the fundamental logical constraints that guide all substance, let alone films. It is from this premise that the film takes those who are sensitive, those who have climbed with Hegel the dialectical steps to the absolute, to a realm transcending what any film has offered before.

So what after all, is the mystical core of Junior? Appropriately enough it is not something actually shown in the film. Can it be anything less than the abdominal cavity of a 6foot2 Austrian man that keeps me awake hour after hour? That dark space that looms in the imagination of us all, the certainty of death, the possibility of rebirth. This is not all, but it is enough, and it wouldn’t have the impact that it does were it not for every moment of that universe of celluloid that grasps us by the brain stem for 109 minutes and whispers to us the necessary conditions of reality. Blake wanted us to show us the world in a grain of sand. I’ll show you the best possible world in Junior.

If it is not already obvious, allow me to reiterate. Junior is the best film ever made because it exactly fulfills the criteria of what makes anything the best anything. And it exactly fits these criteria because it defines those criteria. Junior forces us re-evaluate what makes a film good, or indeed a film. We often only barely grasp, after the fact, the progress of world thought. Our understanding is a mere echo, as Nietzsche said, like the trembling of one’s room as a train rushes past.***

Junior is the train.

Our paradigms are shattered. Schwarzenegger is not ‘a scientist who makes himself pregnant with hilarious consequences’. He is the prophesised √úbermensch. Who do you think it is that he is giving birth to? It’s us, and all the generations to come. Junior reprogrammes our cultural DNA so that we can finally take the stage in the universal comedy.

If aliens were ever to visit this planet, I submit that the very first cultural product presented to them be this film. It not only provides definitive answers to problems common to all life, it reaches way beyond mere images into a noumenal realm of pure structure in a way that no other film has or ever will.

That is all that I can say. In the end, even I, the arrogant philosopher must prostrate myself, naked and humble before the sheer sublimity of Junior. It appears to bless us with a happy ending, as my eyes swim with tears of childish gratitude just to have seen perfection, just once, and on rental too. That Junior is the greatest film ever made needs no proof, no demonstration. What proof, in what possible logic, could ever be as self-evident as the thing itself?

Geneva, Sept 2008

Notes

* I say 1994 ironically, knowing that within a few years, time will probably be reset so that the release of this film is marked as the dawning of a new era.

** If by film makers, we understand that the biological organisms involved were most likely avatars for more profound forces.

*** R. J. Hollingdale references this analogy as from a “few posthumously published notes” in his introduction to Neitzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (1961: 12).

(The above is our entry to this competition. Privately, we at the Spazio are convinced that Predator is at least the greatest action film ever made. It has a script to rival the best of Chekhov, Ibsen, O’Neill- although they did cook it up and drop them in the meatgrinder.)

The Illusionist (2006)

Posted in recommended with tags , , on June 14, 2008 by Dr. Cochrane

Better than The Prestige, with superior beards throughout. Norton thrills in a classic balbo with a lovely swooping curve into the jawline, complementing a rakish backcombed widows peak on top. Giamatti meanwhile provides solid support with a rugged full facial, indicative of his dependable character.

Paul Giamatti, Edward Marsan & Edward Norton

But it is Rufus Sewell’s crown prince Leopold that has some of the best beard in the film, as the appearance of his iron jaw imperial in the second act really highlights what was becoming an otherwise humdrum parade of goatees and mutton chops. A wonderful rich auburn colouring with pointed moustache tips shows that Sewell really means business. One to look out for.


Jessica Biel & Rufus Sewell (Source: New York Times)