Film Club of the Air: ‘Inception,’ ‘Wild Grass,’ ‘Restrepo,’ ‘The Kids Are All Right’
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated 'Inception' opens in area theaters this weekend. We'll find out what our critics think of the mind-bending thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio. We'll also talk about French filmmaker Alain Resnais' latest film, the documentary 'Restrepo,' and the family drama 'The Kids Are All Right.'
MAUREEN CAVANUAGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days in San Diego. At least one of the movies we're talking about on today's KPBS Film Club of the Air is destined to be hanging around your Cineplex for the next several weeks. But, it's possible you'll have to act a bit faster to see the other films. One is a documentary filmed during patrols and firefights in Afghanistan. The other is a brand new film by one of the original French New Wave directors, and then a family comedy about a different kind of family with some of the same old problems. Joining us for the KPBS Film Club of the Air are my guests. Beth Accomando is KPBS film critic, author of the blog Cinema Junkie. Hi, Beth.
BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Scott Marks, author of the film blog emulsioncompulsion.com. Good morning, Scott.
SCOTT MARKS (Film Critic): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: And Anders Wright is film critic for San Diego CityBeat. Anders, hi.
ANDERS WRIGHT (Film Critic, San Diego CityBeat): Good to see you, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Good to see you all, and let’s start right in with that film that will probably be in theaters for a while.
WRIGHT: The big ‘un.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. It’s “Inception,” the big summer movie with a lot of special effects and some big names attached to it. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and is directed by Christopher Nolan, who also directed “Memento” and “The Dark Knight.” DiCaprio plays a thief named Cobb, who specializes in the ultimate inside job. He and his team have the ability to enter dreams and even alter them, and it seems that Cobb’s new dream job could also lead to his personal redemption. In this scene, Cobb introduces a new team member, Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, to see how the dreammaking works.
(audio clip from the film “Inception”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s a clip from the film “Inception” and dream Paris kind of collapses at the end of that scene. Anders, this is a very ambitious movie, isn’t it?
WRIGHT: It certainly is. I mean, first of all, it’s very expensive. It cost, I don’t know, $150, $160 million and unlike so many of the summer movies, it’s complex and well thought out and it has a lot of sort of big ideas you have to wrap your head around and follow. And it is – You know, so many of the big summer movies these days are either dumb or dumbed down or both, and this requires a lot of attention from the audience. And Christopher Nolan has a lot of things he’s trying to do here and he pretty much goes out and does all of them.
CAVANAUGH: And does this – Beth, does this film, you think, play to the strengths of Christopher Nolan as a director?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, well, it definitely taps into things that he’s played with before. I mean, one of the things I’ve always liked about him is the way he likes to play with narrative structure, and what I like is that he, in films like “Memento” and “The Following,” he plays with narrative structure in a way that’s both on the surface a gimmick and also that plays very well thematically into what he’s trying to say. So I think this works on that level.
CAVANAUGH: Scott, what did you think of “Inception?”
MARKS: I don’t think it’s a bad film, I just think that – I have the same problem with this film that I have with all of Christopher Nolan’s films. After a while, there are so many ideas that it just has to come to a standstill and you get like ten minutes of wall-to-wall exposition where they just have to sit and explain everything. I like what the film has to say about dreams, you know, the fact that five minutes into a dream is equal to one hour in real life and then if you – the only way to wake up from a dream is if you die. I mean, all that stuff, I was going on. But I think after a while this thing bites off more than it can chew and there are scenes that are – I assume, that are supposed to be in dreams that aren’t dreamlike at all. As soon as they put Cillian Murphy on the airplane, just hunker down for like ten minutes worth of nonstop talk. They don’t shut up. And then it becomes somewhat fantastic again.
CAVANAUGH: And a lot of critics have mentioned the fact that there is this exposition, in fact, that there’s – Ellen Page’s character, an architect, brought new into the team that we heard in that clip is basically – serves as a tool for this exposition.
ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s not just her. I mean, everyone pretty much takes out quite a bit of time. I mean, that’s the one thing that I was frustrated with is that I did feel like there was a lot of explaining, that everybody’s telling you what’s going on and what’s happening and why it’s happening. And they give you a big chunk of it and then a little bit later they go, oh, and by the way, did we remember to also add that this – this can also happen and…
WRIGHT: But, you know…
ACCOMANDO: …oh, we can add another layer of detail.
WRIGHT: You know what I think, though. I mean, that – I think that all that’s totally intentional. I mean, I really liked this. I feel like it’s a finely tuned watch but you can see all of the gears turning at the same time. And what I really like as well this, you know, we set him up to be a thief so it’s a heist movie but it’s not, it’s a con movie. It’s a con artist movie. And the biggest con artist of all is Christopher Nolan because you can never trust what he’s telling you. You never know if any of the things he’s portraying as reality are actual – actually reality. So, for me, the idea that one character is there for exposition, if you don’t really know what it is you’re seeing, is this all a dream? Is it all Cobb’s dream? Is it all Ellen Page’s dream? Is it all somebody else’s dream? That, to me, is what it – what works so well, is that you never trust exactly what you’re seeing.
ACCOMANDO: But you could do the same thing without constantly bogging it down in exposition like that. I mean, there’s an animated film “Paprika” that is a similar sort of concept where it’s…
MARKS: Very good, yeah…
ACCOMANDO: …a dream.
MARKS: No, you’re right. I like that movie.
ACCOMANDO: It’s a woman who goes into dreams. She’s like a dream therapist…
ACCOMANDO: …where she goes into dreams to try and help people solve their, you know, emotional and mental issues. But from what I – I mean, I haven’t seen the film recently but I don’t remember there being so much discussion of what’s going on. You get thrown into it and you don’t know what’s happening and you don’t know why kind of the parameters of the real world aren’t functioning for you but you find out as you continue on in the story. And I would’ve preferred to let some of this stuff happen and be more confused or misled or whatever without having everything just kind of grind to a halt for discussion.
WRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, I didn’t have a problem with it. I really – Honestly, I like the way they set up these very specific rules for how things are supposed to work and then they go ahead and break them sometimes, and sometimes they all sort of tie together. I mean, it’s – to me, it’s – I also love the fact that it is complex but it’s not complicated. You can follow along. You can…
CAVANAUGH: I – That’s what I was going to ask. Scott, is this the type of a movie that when you leave you’re pretty clear on what happened? Or do you still have questions?
MARKS: Absolutely not. I don’t know – I don’t – When you say that this film is not complicated, you talk about a guy who is purposely trying to convolute meaning and to obscure meaning, it’s Christopher Nolan.
WRIGHT: Well, like I said, he is the con man of the entire thing but at the same time, I don’t know, we were just talking about this before the show started, I felt like when it came up, I understood exactly what it was he was trying to do. I got it.
WRIGHT: So maybe that’s just me.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s – let me – let me…
MARKS: You are smart, guy, dammit, you are.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s talk about Leonardo DiCaprio. Was he good in this role? Did you like him?
MARKS: Didn’t it seem like he washed up from “Shutter Island.”
ACCOMANDO: Yes, it did. Oh, my God.
MARKS: I mean, and the whole relationship with his wife is the same…
ACCOMANDO: It is.
MARKS: …story from “Shutter Island.” Identical.
ACCOMANDO: Which took away some of the – kind of tension in the film.
ACCOMANDO: I’m like, oh, it’s going to play out the same way.
MARKS: I guess he’s gotten really solemn. I mean, and no sense of humor. I mean, this guy makes Richard Gere look like Milton Berle. I mean, he has – he’s completely lost his sense of humor and everything is so intense and so serious. You know, Christopher Nolan, lighten up a little bit. Have a little fun. There are two laugh lines in this film, and that’s it.
WRIGHT: The one, I can think of at least one of them. But…
CAVANAUGH: What about the rest of the cast’s strengths and weaknesses?
WRIGHT: You know, actually the guy who sort of steals all of his scenes is this guy called Thomas Eames, who is sort of the forger/translator. I don’t know, I mean, everybody sort of has a part to play but I – and I definitely feel Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in the film and he’s very somber as well but I – I mean, I personally thought some of that was intentional, you know, because, again, the idea is that what – what he really – what Christopher Nolan does really well—and we heard a little bit of it in that clip—is he taps into these things that are familiar to all of us about dreaming even though they’re not necessarily talked about. The idea that, you know, when we wake up from a dream, we have this – these bizarre sensations that are familiar to us only when we experience them. He talks about several things like that in the course of the film and you’re like, oh, yeah, I’ve had that feeling. I know exactly what he’s talking about.
ACCOMANDO: Well, I didn’t mind the somberness but I’m just – Leonardo DiCaprio is just getting kind of tiresome now. I mean, he seems to be relying on a similar bag of tricks for each of his films and it’s – it kind of pulls me out of the film when he has these really intense moments where he suddenly like looks into the camera and furrows his brow and yells something out and… I mean, I’m – I find Thomas – Tom Hardy, who was the forger character, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to me, are far more interesting actors and I wish they were on screen more.
WRIGHT: You know who has a part in this who I haven’t seen in years and it’s…
MARKS: Go ahead. I know who you’re going to say.
WRIGHT: …Tom Berenger.
MARKS: It’s so good to see him.
WRIGHT: Wow! Tom Berenger.
MARKS: But he don’t look all that good.
WRIGHT: No, but he’s – I mean, there’s a guy who was at the top of his game and he’s been gone for a while. It’s just – it’s great to see him.
MARKS: And he’s a good actor.
WRIGHT: Yeah, he’s very talented, yeah.
MARKS: A really, really good actor.
WRIGHT: And he’s been making terrible movies.
CAVANAUGH: One of the big things about “Inception” is its visual effects and I want to talk a little bit about that. Did they impress you, Scott?
MARKS: Paris as a bendable straw is very, very impressive.
ACCOMANDO: That was fun.
MARKS: And the scene when they’re having cocktails and the entire town explodes around them, it’s terrific but, again, I wanted more of this – I wanted more of this dreamlike stuff throughout the entire film. When you said that he takes this stuff seriously, the reason everything is so damn serious is because I think he thinks that the only way people are going to take him seriously is if he plays everything seriously. No sense of humor, no nothing. If the whole tone of the film was so serious, dammit, you have to accept this film as being brilliant and serious. And I think Christopher Nolan at times is really pretentious. At least he put away the 360 degree useless pan that he used in “The Dark Knight,” I’ll give him that. But I – I’m not a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s. I think the guy is just pretentious.
CAVANAUGH: So is it – is this a kind of a movie, Beth, when you go you’re going to be blown away by the visual effects?
ACCOMANDO: I think there are a lot – There are a number of scenes that are quite impressive and – But I don’t know if I would say ‘blown away’ because just the context in which they occur is not quite the same as you get in like these blockbuster films. I mean, it’s much – the effects are much more integrated into the storyline, which is why I think they work well and why I like them. But I don’t think they’re really the kind of effects where you suddenly like just totally pull yourself out of the film and feel like you’ve been blown away by them.
WRIGHT: It’s less about the effects themselves and more about how all of these different sort of realities that have been set up intertwine and come together. And that – I mean, that’s a pretty impressive bit.
CAVANAUGH: Does it have any kind of a video game feel?
MARKS: No, that’s “Restrepo” and we’ll get to that later on.
ACCOMANDO: No, there’s just – You don’t talk that much in a video game.
MARKS: “Restrepo,” we’ll…
ACCOMANDO: But there’s not that much discussion…
WRIGHT: I – I mean, I would disagree. I mean, there are definitely – I’ve seen things like this in some games before, I mean, but that’s definitely the sort of look and feel that as that medium gets more and more sophisticated, it – you see things that are sort of, you know, coming together.
CAVANAUGH: So I’m getting – I’m getting the…
ACCOMANDO: But not the video game feel, though.
CAVANAUGH: I’m getting the feel from you, though, that this is not perhaps a typical summer blockbuster?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, no.
MARKS: No, of course not.
MARKS: Of course not. But I’ll tell you, and I can leave right now after I say this, I think the special effects in “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” are just as good.
CAVANAUGH: “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”
MARKS: Yeah, I know. And I should hate that film. I should never even have gone in to see that film. I went in to see that film to laugh.
ACCOMANDO: You were so curmudgeonly coming into that one.
MARKS: Oh, come on, it’s John Turteltaub. The man who made “Phenomenon” or that posits John Travolta is a genius? Come one, I have to watch what this man does.
WRIGHT: You know what, though? Here’s the thing. It is – I mean, whether or not you go for everything in “Inception,” it’s so much more ambitious than all of the big summer movies. It really tries to be something bigger than all those things.
CAVANAUGH: And does it succeed?
WRIGHT: I thought it did. Apparently I’m in the minority.
ACCOMANDO: No, I think it succeeds to a point. I mean, I just felt like there was more exposition than I wanted and it kind of bogged the film down. And, you know, they make these references to the fact that five minutes in a dream is – or is like…
MARKS: An hour in…
ACCOMANDO: …ten year – and, you know, at the end of the movie I was checking, like, so we been in here for what? Ten years?
ACCOMANDO: So, I mean, it did feel a bit…
CAVANAUGH: And your seal of approval, are you going to see it again, Scott?
MARKS: No, once – I – Once was enough.
MARKS: This is not a cinematic puzzle that I really want to spend time cracking. You know, I mean, I’ll – That’s “Wild Grass,” that’s this year’s cinematic puzzle for me. We’ll get to that later.
CAVANAUGH: We are going to be…
CAVANAUGH: …talking about that later. I want to tell everyone, “Inception” opens in area theaters this weekend. We’ll take a short break and then return with the KPBS Film Club of the Air.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air. My guests are Beth Accomando Scott Marks and Anders Wright. And we move on to a very different kind of movie. “Restrepo” is a documentary by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington about the war in Afghanistan. It focuses on one platoon trying to establish an outpost in the notoriously dangerous Korengal Valley. The outpost is named Restrepo after a medic who died early in the deployment. The filmmakers follow the patrol on everything from weekly sitdowns with tribal chiefs to deadly firefights. In this scene, we hear from two of the soldiers as they recall the worst episode of the deployment where several comrades were injured and a popular sergeant was killed.
(audio clip from the documentary “Restrepo”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s a clip from the documentary “Restrepo.” And, Anders, give us some background on the two filmmakers.
WRIGHT: Well, they’re both journalists and they were embedded with this platoon for a solid year in this really – in these really harsh conditions. The one who’s perhaps more familiar to people is going to be Sebastian Junger, who wrote the book “The Perfect Storm,” which was turned into a perfectly middling movie. But he’s a very good writer and has spent a lot of time in some hard places. And basically they spent an entire year with these guys and that meant basically to – once they established this outpost in this –which had no running water, no electricity, no nothing for a long time, these guys would be flown into this valley in the middle of the day and spend two hours hiking into this outpost from where they were fired upon usually several times a day and apparently these guys, the journalists, basically did everything but shoot back. But they were with these young soldiers through everything else.
CAVANAUGH: And I’m wondering, Scott, what did you think of this documentary?
MARKS: I don’t know that this is necessarily what I would consider a heroic portrait. I think that every parent who has a child old enough to go and fight the war should see this movie. And then lock your kids up. Because so many films take the position, hate the war, love the soldiers. I don’t think that this film paints a very positive picture of the soldiers. You have this one guy, Captain Dan Kearny, when he – they make a raid on Yakha Chena where they slaughter a couple of members of the Taliban but they also slaughter children, too. And, I mean, you see this in closeup. You see the bodies right there. And when they ask him about it later on, he was a little miffed that he didn’t make a good first impression. This is what’s fighting the war. I find this film very, very disturbing but I don’t know if it’s for the reasons that the filmmakers wanted me to be disturbed.
CAVANAUGH: Beth, what’s your take?
ACCOMANDO: I had really mixed feelings about it. I mean, the access they had and the perspective we get is really compelling and fascinating but there’s also like this weird part of me that you have this kind of weird voyeuristic feeling where you’re wondering are – you know, how much are you really going to see? Are you going to see some of these guys that you’ve gotten to know killed on camera? And if you do, like if they – these filmmakers get that, is that something they’re actually going to show you? So there’s this weird – there’s almost like a perverse fascination that you start to get with it. But, I mean, I think that it creates a portrait that needs to be seen. I think, you know, it gives a window to the fighting there that people need to see. And I think it does avoid being political. But it did stir some contrasting – I mean, some conflicting emotions for me in terms of, you know, how it was put together.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, Scott, I think, makes a very interesting point here because if you follow the line of where these documentaries are supposed to take you, you’re supposed to bond with the people that you see in closeup, stating, you know, doing the narration, so to speak, talking about the events you’re seeing in the afterglow, as it were, when they’re back in Italy talking about what’s happened. And yet, you don’t really feel that much of a bond with these people in the documentary. Am I right, Anders?
WRIGHT: Well, I feel like you get to know who they are but you don’t necessarily – I don’t – if that makes sense, but you don’t necessarily bond with them. I mean, I feel one of the guys in the clip that we just heard spends the entire time talking about these horrible things with this enormous grin…
ACCOMANDO: That’s true.
WRIGHT: …on his face. It’s really, really distressing. But what I do feel like you get just in some of the footage is you do get a sense that there’s a real bond between all of them and there’s a real bond between the filmmakers and the soldiers as well. You know, some of the scenes, there are some combat sequences that are really, really extraordinary. The footage they’ve got is amazing. But in a lot of ways, the – for me, the footage that was more interesting is the stuff where they’re not in combat at all, where they’re sitting around sort of playing guitar or talking about their friends or even like dancing to bad pop music. I mean, you get a real sense that, you know, these guys are 19, 20 years old, so many of them, and…
ACCOMANDO: I would’ve liked to have seen more of them interacting with some of the Afghanis…
ACCOMANDO: …something. I mean, one of the scenes, which is a tiny, tiny little moment in the film, there’s a point at which they’re talking with some of the villagers and you see this old man with it’s not a juice box but one of those juice bags?
WRIGHT: Yeah, like a Capri Sun or something.
ACCOMANDO: And he’s trying to figure – He pulls the straw out and the guy’s talking to him about what they’re trying to do in the village and you get this impression that this guy is looking at this juice bag thing and really kind of trying to figure out what are the Americans doing here? Where do I put the straw?
ACCOMANDO: And it – But I wanted to kind of see more of that, more of their interaction, more of how those local villagers were viewing them. I don’t think we actually got like any – I’m trying to remember. I don’t think there were any actual interviews with any of the villagers.
WRIGHT: No, but I think…
ACCOMANDO: I mean, you see them…
ACCOMANDO: …but I don’t think there was any attempt by the filmmakers to like…
WRIGHT: You know what, though, I mean, I feel as though the interactions they showed between the soldiers and the Afghanis were all pretty much the same. I mean, that was sort of the idea, I think, was that this is, in many ways, futile, that the, you know, the soldiers that are there were working towards certain causes and objectives that basically just weren’t shared by the people who actually live there.
MARKS: And there’s also a certain sense of gung-ho-ness to this film. When these kids are sitting and what do they do in their down time when they’re not killing the Taliban? They sit and they play violent video games where they sit and shoot and shoot and shoot. I mean, I found that fascinating but I don’t know that that’s necessarily a flattering comment on these people.
WRIGHT: But isn’t that – I mean, that’s sort of behavior of any 19, 20, 21 year old. That’s not unusual.
MARKS: I would think the last thing I want to do when I’m killing people in real life all day is sit and shoot more at night. But that’s just me…
ACCOMANDO: Except where.
MARKS: …because I would never do this.
ACCOMANDO: But if it were also coming to a point in warfare where, you know, the war itself and the way it’s being fought with smart bombs and computers and not seeing the enemy. I mean, I think the people fighting war now are so distanced from who it is that they’re actually fighting and, I mean, one of the kids even said something about how I wish I could’ve seen the people I was killing as if he – like there’s no connection. There’s a real disconnect.
CAVANAUGH: After seeing the documentary “Restrepo,” did you feel as if there was – that there is this sense of futility about the war in Afghanistan? It felt during this whole movie that there was – even though there were some good efforts by the Americans, there was no connection being made between the Americans and the actual lives of the Afghans.
MARKS: I think a lot of people can watch this film and take the exact opposite approach that we are and look at this as something noble and heroic and a cause worth fighting for.
WRIGHT: I, you know, but I don’t even think that – I don’t know if causes really come into it. I mean, that’s just it. There’s less – It’s really just they put up the cameras and showed what these guys are going through in the course of a year in this valley.
MARKS: And that’s fascinating.
MARKS: That you can take a video camera and make a movie. Anybody can make a movie. That’s another thing…
MARKS: …that was reinforced by watching this film. Anybody can make a movie. But, moms and dads, don’t send your – don’t send a salami to your boy in the Army, send him a tripod. This thing is just – It’s like there’s mortar shells going off at the most mundane moments. I can’t fault them for that. I mean, this was obviously shot on the fly. It’s a very disturbing film…
MARKS: …but I don’t think it disturbed me in the way that the filmmakers intended it to do.
WRIGHT: Well, I guess what I – I don’t know that the filmmakers are trying to say that there’s anything noble or heroic or the opposite, they’re just showing what it’s like and they’re showing who is there.
ACCOMANDO: Well, I think they’re trying to because both of them come from journalistic backgrounds, I think they’re trying to maintain objectivity. The only problem is is that objectivity is a myth. I mean, they are embedded with these guys…
WRIGHT: Sure, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: …and the pretense, like we don’t get to see who the filmmakers are, we don’t – we rarely hear them asking questions except towards the end. In a sense, I would’ve preferred seeing more of them engaged with them because to pretend that this is completely objective is just an illusion. And, I mean, they obviously get attached to these guys.
ACCOMANDO: They’re hanging out with them. They care about what happens to these guys. I think they like all these guys. And that affects what they’re showing. So I think, Scott, what you’re saying about how, you know, it’s kind of disturbing or horrifying in a certain way but maybe not in the way the filmmakers intended is, in part, because the filmmakers don’t want to really be critical of these people…
ACCOMANDO: …because they are quite close to them.
CAVANAUGH: And they’ve been with them for a whole year. Yeah.
MARKS: But don’t you think by the mere fact they point the camera at them and show them doing what they’re doing that that’s not critical?
ACCOMANDO: I don’t think – No. I don’t think necessarily.
MARKS: Do you think most of these guys come off okay?
ACCOMANDO: I think that most of those guys can look at this film and see themselves as coming out – off okay.
MARKS: Where are the parents of the one fresh-faced kid who were hippies that wouldn’t even let kid use a squirt gun…
MARKS: They wouldn’t even let the kid use a squirt gun and now he’s sitting and fighting. Where are the parents?
WRIGHT: They’re in Oregon.
CAVANAUGH: “Restrepo,” I want to tell everybody, “Restrepo” is a documentary about the Afghan – war in Afghanistan. It starts on Friday at La Jolla Village Cinemas. Now, the movie that Scott’s been waiting for.
MARKS: Oh, my.
CAVANAUGH: The 87-year-old French director of such New Wave classics as “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and the “Last Year at Marienbad” is out with a new film. Alain Resnais directs “Wild Grass,” a comedy about crazy love. A woman named Marguerite has her wallet stolen while she’s out shopping. A man named Georges finds the wallet. From that point, the two embark on a strange courtship involving desire, stalking, flirting, police warnings, and Marguerite changing her mind. This movie is in French so we don’t have a sound clip but I think we should tell our listeners first about the director. Scott, tell us about the career of Alain Resnais.
MARKS: He’s like one of the founders of the French New Wave. He started out making documentaries. And if you haven’t seen “Night and Fog,” hands down the single greatest document about the Holocaust. I’ve never seen anything that even comes close. This film should be shown in every school room in the world. He makes films that are – I’ve had more problems with Alain Resnais than I think I have with Godard. This guy really at times – there are times when I’ve walked out of Resnais films feeling a whole hell of a lot dumber than when I walked in. But that’s why I keep going back. I mean, real quick, I remember the first time I saw “Last Year at Marienbad.” It was about 15 minutes into the film and it’s like, oh, please, God, just get me out of here. I was with cinefile friends. I was young. I couldn’t walk out. What would they say? You know, Scott Marks can’t walk out on an art film. And I’m saying let something happen, don’t give the projectionist a heart attack but just let something happen. And at the reel change, the subtitles appear on top of the screen backwards and they refunded our money. It was the one time the gods of cinema have answered my call. But I’ve since gone back and watched the film and it still frustrates the hell out of me. And I like that because I seem to remember that that’s one of the reasons I started loving movies to begin with, the challenge. And now in an era where everything is just spoon fed and handed to you, it’s so nice to see someone this – in this control of the medium.
CAVANAUGH: Beth, what do you think about his films?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, I love them. And, I mean, I think the thing about these New Wave directors is, is in their eighties – in their seventies and eighties, they are making films that I think are more fresh and daring and unconventional than filmmakers half or a third of their age, and I think that’s pretty amazing. And I don’t know if that says something about, you know, the group of them and what generated, you know, their interest in film and the way they made film but, you know, I think it’s interesting that people like Resnais started out making these films that were, you know, fragmenting the narrative and, you know, giving you these stories that jumped around and, you know, challenging the way conventional stories were being told back then. And now when that seems to be more commonplace, they’re going back to telling stories in a much more linear fashion. I mean…
MARKS: But that’s what’s great about them…
MARKS: …as soon as they came up with these ideas…
ACCOMANDO: No, I…
MARKS: As soon as Godard invented the jump cut…
ACCOMANDO: They just go – Yeah.
MARKS: That’s it, I did it, goodbye.
ACCOMANDO: Then when – Well, he did it for a rea – I mean, I think he did it because it was an act of rebellion. It’s saying like, look, you’re shooting these films this way, you’re making these films this way, I’m not going to make them that way. And then when people started copying him and doing it, it’s like, fine, you’re doing it this way, I’m going to go do it another way.
CAVANAUGH: I’ll do something else.
ACCOMANDO: And, I mean, I think the other thing that’s interesting about Resnais’ films recently is, you know, his earlier films like “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and “Last Year at Marienbad” and others, you know, you can’t – He was focusing on these kind of ill-fated lovers and giving us this – the narrative in a very non-linear sort of way and fragmenting it up so that we were kind of having to piece things together as we were going along. And with this one and the, I think, the one right before this was – or, no, a couple films back was “Same Old Song,” you know, he seems to be taking a slightly more optimistic look towards the lovers and dealing more with kind of playing with a more linear, conventional approach but like, I mean, in “Same Old Song,” he’s kind of playing with pop songs as the way into this kind of romantic obsession. And in this film, I think he’s playing a bit with cinematic conventions as his way…
CAVANAUGH: Right, right. That’s what I meant about calling it a cliché in the begin – cinematic conventions, I should’ve said, Scott, to make you feel better.
MARKS: I snapped at Maureen when I came in and I’m sorry but, boy, I’m using the word clich – a lot of Resnais, if the word cliché doesn’t apply to anyone it’s Alain Resnais.
ACCOMANDO: Because he flips them…
CAVANAUGH: …Anders, let me ask you, I’ve heard that you can watch this film just for the style of it even if you don’t go along with the story of it too well.
WRIGHT: Oh, I think that’s absolutely true. And style might not be the right word. Sort of it’s more like the quality of filmmaking. I mean, it looks beautiful. The use of color is really extraordinary. And, honestly, there’s some of – I had some problems with some of the things that happened in the film itself. And, to be honest, the, you know, we’re talking about music, but the sort of like weird kind of soft jazz soundtrack that he used in parts of it just grated on me wrong. That that’s – I hate that stuff and it – and I – and it turned me – I mean, for a little while I was like, okay, I get it, this is going on, it’s a family scene, that’s great. Okay, you can stop. You can stop with that music. Now, that’s a personal…
WRIGHT: …esthetic choice right there. That music just – Yeah, there’s a long story behind that, too, that we don’t need to get into now. But in general, I mean, it’s – you know, he is a masterful filmmaker and you see that in there, even though I have some problems with the way some of the characters interact. I mean, the character of Georges is, you know, he’s a screwed up guy and it was hard for me to really accept the fact that all of these women would become so attracted to him or intertwined with him. But at the same time, you want to just sit and watch and look at this movie because it’s so gorgeous.
MARKS: See, and if Christopher Nolan uses too much exposition, Resnais uses none.
MARKS: Did he kill his first wife?
ACCOMANDO: We don’t – Oh, we don’t know.
MARKS: Was he married? We don’t know. Is his wife having an affair? There’s a scene where you see the wife at the piano store, we assume she sells pianos, maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. She’s talking on the phone to her husband, somebody walks in, and if it’s a customer you would figure the wife would say, excuse me, I’ll be right with you. She puts her hand over the phone and nods to him. And that’s all we know. So we don’t know anything more than what we can surmise about these characters’ back stories and this is also—of course I love it because it’s a love letter to cinema—when you see the red – the yellow purse flying through the air in the beginning, this is “Marnie,” this is Hitchcock’s “Marnie.”
MARKS: The way you have at the end a thin credit come up and you hear the 20th Century Fox logo during a closing credit to a Paramount film. I don’t know what the hell’s going on here, and I don’t know a lot of what’s going on in this film and I can’t pretend to say that I do but I don’t care. I had so much fun watching this movie. When you look at the way he uses primary colors to define characters, where the girlfriend is red, he’s green, and the wife is blue. And these colors are constantly there. When he’s taking her the red pocketbook that he found at the station at the beginning and he’s walking upstairs, you see the green light from the library lamp in his room on the red pocketbook, and it’s almost like he’s being drawn to this green light. And this happens throughout the entire film.
ACCOMANDO: A stoplight, too, changing and…
MARKS: I mean, when have you seen a film – and, again, this is just me. I know most people aren’t going to get off on this. There’s a scene when the family’s having dinner at dusk and the father gets up to flip the light switch on. The lighting, the timing of this shot, is just astounding. I’ve seen the film three times and I have a DVD copy of it. I look at that shot over and over again. It’s like the shower in “Psycho.” How the hell did you put the camera there without getting the camera wet? It’s amazing. How did you do this? I want to know more about this than how they made Joseph Gordon-Levitt weightless in “Inception.”
CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break.
MARKS: Nah, aww…
CAVANAUGH: When we return…
MARKS: …I’m on a roll now.
CAVANAUGH: I understand. You can keep rolling on, Scott…
CAVANAUGH: …because we’ll continue to talk about “Wild Grass” when we return.
MARKS: Oh, good.
CAVANAUGH: We’re – You’re listening to the KPBS Film Club of the Air.
CAVANAUGH: You're listening to These Days on KPBS. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh with Beth Accomando, Scott Marks and Anders Wright. This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air and we’re continuing our discussion about the movie “Wild Grass.” It’s a new movie by French New Wave film icon Alain Resnais. And I’m wondering, Beth, when – Okay, I’ve been trying to…
MARKS: Oh, you’ve seen the movie.
CAVANAUGH: I’ve been trying to figure out the story and it seems that the director Resnais tried to make it more understandable by saying that this is a movie – this is a movie about the desire of desire. Do you see that in the film?
ACCOMANDO: I don’t know if I’d say desire of desire so much as just kind of the unpredictability of desire, maybe. And just – You talk about a film being multi-layered or complex, I mean, the thing about these characters is that their emotions and their desires and their love – the character of Marguerite, I mean, her desire and her love like changes on a dime practically from like resisting this guy and saying, no, no, no, no, no, to suddenly, well, wait a minute, there’s something about him that is kind of intriguing. And I think there’s…
WRIGHT: It was more like, now I’m obsessed.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, exactly, but I think that’s part of – I mean, I think that’s where the complexity of the film lies is in the fact that human nature and human desire is, can be, totally unpredictable and the strangest things can spark an interest or kill an interest or whatever. And, you know, in some ways this film has as many layers to it as “Inception” does in terms of like creating this labyrinth. But in this case it’s not this dream structure, it’s this labyrinth of desires and…
WRIGHT: It’s like an emotional maze.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, a Chinese box.
MARKS: Plus, it has subtitles so you can count the “Inception” crowd out.
CAVANAUGH: And I can’t leave this discussion without allowing you, Scott, to talk about the last scene.
MARKS: I just…
ACCOMANDO: The last word.
MARKS: It’s the last shot.
CAVANAUGH: The last shot.
MARKS: There’s a last shot in the film where all of a sudden you cut to a family that you haven’t seen at any point in the film and the little girl says, if I die and I come back as a cat, can I eat cat treats? And when everybody sees this, it’s like what the hell is this all about? There’s this one – something happens at the end, we don’t know what it is. We don’t really know what happens. And I read an interview in Cineaste with Alain Resnais and he said that basically what he wanted to do was show that the lives of the people will continue. All right, this is the one thing that sticks in my craw because if I’m going to complain, as I have in the past, that you shouldn’t have to read a book in order to appreciate a movie, that’s exactly what you have to do here. So I don’t know if this last little tack-on was there as his way of just having a little fun and frolic but I don’t think it’s justified in – considering everything else that comes before it. That said, this is still like one of the only movies I’ve seen this year. This is why I got started going to movies in the beginning and this is what I look for every time I walk into a theater, so this is – This, to me, is almost cinematic perfection. Because it has so many flaws it makes it even more perfect to me.
CAVANAUGH: “Wild Grass” is currently playing at Landmark’s Ken Cinema but it closes tomorrow night. You have tonight and tomorrow night to see it. Our last film, “The Kids Are All Right” is a comedy about a family as opposed to a family comedy. The family in question is composed of a married couple, Nic and Jules, and their two teenagers. 18-year-old Joni is about to leave for college but before she does, she and her brother track down the sperm donor their mothers used for both pregnancies. When the mothers see their son, Laser, played by Josh Hutcherson, with a strange man, they’re concerned.
(audio clip from the film “The Kids Are All Right”)
CAVANAUGH: The couple, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. The sperm donor is charming, unthreatening Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo, who agrees to meet the family but his presence turns out to be anything but unthreatening. And, Anders, does this movie provide any insight into contemporary marriage and family?
WRIGHT: I don’t know if insight is the right word but, you know, the thing that I love about this movie is that it presents this middle-aged lesbian couple without any explanation at all. This is simply their lives, and that’s great. I mean, honestly, more movies should be like that. But at a certain point, I started to wonder whether or not we would all be talking about this movie if it was about a straight couple. If the – I don’t know if the movie itself is so extraordinary that it really offers much insight other than that, that, really, that it’s like it’s – it’s – it’s not coming out right.
ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s a well done film but it doesn’t really inspire a lot of excitement in terms of the filmmaking itself.
CAVANAUGH: Is it funny?
ACCOMANDO: It has moments of humor.
WRIGHT: It’s okay.
MARKS: Wasn’t there something you were talking to me about the other day that the whole idea that this revolves around a man as a sperm donor, didn’t you just say that you thought that this was completely wrong?
WRIGHT: Well, it is sort of true. I mean, it’s like it takes this family that we don’t usually see, this lesbian couple and their kids, and then it makes it all about the man who made it all possible, and that seemed a little odd to me. And, in fact, the way he ends up sort of so intertwined in their lives is, in some ways, almost offensive to some people, I thought, anyway.
ACCOMANDO: He also gets kind of removed.
WRIGHT: By the end, yeah. I mean, I don’t know. It’s – it’s just one of those things where I – I was excited to see it and I watched it and it was like, oh, that’s what it is? That’s what it’s about? I don’t – I – Yeah.
MARKS: This is a Lifetime cable movie, come on, that got a lot of big name stars and was released theatrically.
WRIGHT: And is it – but it – Did it get all that because it is about sort of, you know, one of the first sort of big movies about just a lesbian couple?
ACCOMANDO: But I think it doesn’t make a big issue about being about them.
WRIGHT: No, and that’s what I think. And that’s actually what I…
ACCOMANDO: And I think that’s what’s nice.
WRIGHT: …really like about it as well.
CAVANAUGH: So about the performances, does it help to raise the level of the movie from a Lifetime cable special, Scott.
MARKS: You know, I – Annette Bening, in this role in particular, makes me aware every second of the way that I’m watching an actress act. Every tick, every mannerism, every movement is so calculated that it’s almost suffocating, especially when you have Mark Ruffalo, who is this incredibly naturalistic performer and I think the same thing can be said of Julianne Moore, although, God, would somebody give her a script where she could stay clothed? I mean, this poor woman, every time she makes movies, she has to get naked. This poor woman. So, I mean, to me, this is just your standard Lifetime melodrama. I don’t – It’s a great premise. I like the premise, looking for the sperm donor and – Are we not allowed to talk about…?
WRIGHT: Well, what if…
WRIGHT: But what – I mean, I guess here’s the thing, is that would it be such a big deal, let’s say it was a straight couple who had adopted. Would…
MARKS: They never would’ve made this movie.
CAVANAUGH: So, in other words, in not making a big deal about the fact that this is a lesbian couple at the center of the movie, you feel that it’s all about the fact that it’s a lesbian couple at the center of the movie because it wouldn’t have been made and wouldn’t have been getting the buzz that it’s been getting if it wasn’t for that.
WRIGHT: Kind of, yeah. I mean, you know, you’ve got Julianne Moore and Annette Bening playing partners and that’s great but the movie itself isn’t so great that it elevates it beyond that.
CAVANAUGH: And I’m also wondering, I’ve been seeing some commercials for this film and we’re talking about “The Kids Are All Right.” And it seem – they seem to be marketing it as a, you know, sort of a laugh-a-minute, warm family comedy. Isn’t there a darker element to it? Beth?
ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s more of a drama with comedic moments.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, no…
CAVANAUGH: A dramedy…
ACCOMANDO: I hate to use that word but, yeah. I mean, and, I mean, it’s the same way I felt about “Wild Grass,” I mean, to call it a comedy is, I don’t know, it kind of reduces it in some way for that film and this one I just don’t think it’s – I mean, I don’t think it’s really set out to be a comedy. I think she wants to do something that’s more kind of a slice of life so it has the drama and it has the comedy. Like I said, I mean, it’s well done. I think the actors are good, although Annette Bening’s character is very similar to what she did in “Mother and Child.” And I think the director let her be a little too shrill in this one just like in that one. I mean, you don’t – you kind of don’t understand the relationship because she does seem so…
WRIGHT: Up. Tight.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, yeah. I mean, to the point at which you don’t understand their relationship or how they could’ve ever come together.
WRIGHT: And Julianne Moore seems kind of flaky in a way where you’re like, really? That’s like a little too flaky to be real.
MARKS: And if you’re going to pull this off, you better do it with a tremendous degree of logic. He donated sperm in 1993, hasn’t had any contact with the hospital or the kids, and 17, 18 years later they just happen to have his cell phone number? Huh? How did this happen? They kind of play fast and loose.
CAVANAUGH: That’s a long contract.
MARKS: That’s a – yeah, that’s a very long contract. A lot of minutes, yeah.
MARKS: So, I don’t know, I just think that this is – this is a TV movie that somehow made it onto the big screen.
CAVANAUGH: Well, “The Kids Are All Right” opens at Hillcrest Cinemas on Friday. So this is the time in which we have our recommendations and, Anders, what do you want to recommend for the Film Club of the Air listeners?
WRIGHT: Well, actually the film “A Single Man,” which has just come out on DVD, I think people should watch. You know, Jeff Bridges won the Best Actor Oscar in February but Colin Firth’s work in this movie is really tremendous. It’s really something else. And, you know, it’s directed by Tom Ford, the fashion designer, and you absolutely see his eye in it. I mean, I think it’s a gorgeous film. I’ve seen it again since it came out on DVD and it really holds up, and I think this is – this, to me, Colin Firth’s performance in this movie was just so good and I don’t think a lot of people saw it.
CAVANAUGH: Remind us what the film is about.
WRIGHT: Oh, right, I’m sorry. Well, it’s based on the Christopher Isherwood novel and he, Colin Firth, plays an English professor in Los Angeles in the early sixties whose longtime partner—he’s gay—his longtime partner died suddenly, and he is basically a broken man who is having to continue on through his life, every day, but because, you know, of the times, he also – It’s not just about not being sad, it’s about not being out. And the day that we find him on is the day he has finally decided to make something change. Yeah, I think it’s just a terrific film.
CAVANAUGH: And the name again?
WRIGHT: “A Single Man.”
MARKS: And it was a Christmas release.
MARKS: How they released this at Christmas…
WRIGHT: Well, you know, it was an Oscar release.
WRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, that’s what…
ACCOMANDO: That’s right.
MARKS: That’s worse than Christmas.
CAVANAUGH: Beth, your recommendation.
ACCOMANDO: Well, Comic-Con is coming up next week and they have a Comic-Con Film Festival and I just saw an amazing documentary there called “Marwencol,” which is going to be playing on Friday night. And it’s a strange little documentary but it’s about a man who had gotten beaten up at a bar and he suffers from some brain damage and one of the things he does as kind of therapy is he creates this world called “Marwencol” from dolls, Barbie Doll size dolls, where he gives each of the people in his real life this alter ego in this created world and then he photographs it. And he’s got – he’s like – has a meticulous sense of reality in creating those images, and it was just a fascinating documentary. And last year I saw three amazing documentaries at the Comic-Con Film Festival so I really recommend going to see it and I believe that if the films aren’t – if the screening rooms aren’t filled with people with Comic-Con badges that people without badges will be allowed in to just those film screenings.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit about that. Comic-Con is way sold out, right?
ACCOMANDO: It’s way sold out so if you already have your badge, the film festival is being run – The screening room is at the Marriott Hotel and it seats, I think, about 500, so most of the time those screenings aren’t filled because so many people are still, you know, on the floor, so, you know, in the Dealer’s Room or going to big panels, so if you’re interested in seeing some really good films, there’s also a short animated film called “Death Row Diet,” which has Jonathan Katz voicing one of the characters, so you can see some really good films there. And, like I said, this year if you don’t have a badge and those screenings aren’t sold out with people with badges, you’ll be able to attend.
CAVANAUGH: And when precisely is it?
ACCOMANDO: “Marwencol” screens on Friday at 7:40 and “Death Row Diet” screens Thursday at 12:50 but there are films running all day. And on Sunday, I believe, Sunday at noon they do a – they’ll rescreen all the films that win prizes. So I really recommend trying to check that out.
CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, your recommendation.
MARKS: Quick shameless plug. The Connoisseur’s Cinema Series that we’re doing at the Studio Diner continues. We have “Five Easy Pieces” tomorrow. “Lovers and Other Strangers,” next week. If you’re interested, 619-280-1600, extension 6. When I was talking to Angela, our producer…
CAVANAUGH: Our esteemed producer.
MARKS: …our esteemed producer, the great Angela Capone (sic), we were talking about the “Wild Grass,” and I said it was an old man’s movie. And she goes I’ve never heard this term. So she goes talk about old men’s movies. Blake Edwards’ “10.” Who directed – I’m drawing a blank, “Battle Royale.”
ACCOMANDO: You mean the Japanese film?
MARKS: There’s only one “Battle Royale.” Yeah, part one, who was that?
ACCOMANDO: I don’t remember the director. B. Takeshi was the main…
MARKS: Anyway, he was in his eighties when he made this film. Lubitsch's “Heaven Can Wait,” these are great old men’s movies. I mean, made by…
ACCOMANDO: You mean old men behind the camera as opposed to stories…
MARKS: Behind – behind the camera.
CAVANAUGH: Behind the camera.
MARKS: Most assuredly, although some of the stories circulate around that. Just old, curmudgeonly guys who still have a lot of life in them, who have decades worth of cinematic experience, these are all great old men’s movies. She’s – she’s either insulting my – She’s giving me a little funny sign here.
CAVANAUGH: I – We gotta go. We’ve got to go. Thank you for that. I want to thank Beth Accomando, Scott Marks, Anders Wright, thank you all so much. If you’d like to comment, go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.
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