Five For FRiday: 2012 @ the 1/2

As summer washes over the nation, drenching us all in sweat and superhero movies, FR look back at that year that was the year, so far.

Nathan: The films of Keisuke Kinoshita

The project is still in its early stages, but already I feel I’ve discovered a director who will stay with me for years to come. There have been a few duds so far, but when Kinoshita is on he is red hot. Films like The Girl I Loved, The Portrait, Broken Drum, and The Good Fairy are pitch perfect in tone an execution. They have left me stunned and delighted, and always wanting for more. I know the Kinoshita project has been laying low for the past month, but that’s more due to life circumstances that any lack of desire on my part.

With ten Kinoshita films behind me and roughly twenty ahead, I feel there is much to look forward to in the second half of 2012.

Tyler: Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts/John Mayer, Born & Raised

Both Norah Jones and John Mayer had tough goes of it in recent years.  Jones endured a breakup, the emotions of which are the backbone of Little Broken Hearts; Mayer…well, went all Mayer on us, dating and dumping Taylor Swift, popping off butt-stupid quasi-racist comments to Playboy, and helping no aspect of his case by releasing the absolutely forgettable Battle Studies.  (Tip, Johnny boy: in a time of worldwide strife, don’t use war metaphors in poeticizing your romantic struggles.)

Both artists, however, surged back strong this year.  Mayer’s Born & Raised does at times feel a bit put-on, it’s SoCal-’70s trappings not always ringing completely authentic, but its high points are really up there, especially the chugging road-rock of “Queen Of California” and the fabulous title track.  One could easily imagine–or Google search for–plenty of trite denigrations pinning Mayer’s newest incarnation as Stuff That White People, And Only A Select Canon Of White People, At That, Like, and maybe that’s so.  The record’s still solid.

Little Broken Hearts, on the other hand, is an album worthy of worship in all quarters.  Spooky and angry, its twelve tunes are the result of deep collaboration between Jones and uber-producer Danger Mouse, and each of them possess the ability to…well, possess, be it the empty-attic ache of “She’s 22,” the most-like-old-Norah pop single “Happy Pills,” the deranged quiet murder fantasy “Miriam,” or any other.  Her prior record, The Fall, was a step in the right direction, darker in tone (also inspired by heartbreak), but Hearts is a great leap forward.  Or, I guess, downward.

Nathan: Yearning 

I caught up on a few Mikio Naruse movies earlier this year. Some of the highlights included his silent film, No Blood Relation, and his final film, Scattered Clouds, but the real treasure was his surprisingly warm and thoroughly devastating collaboration with Hideko Takamine, Yearning.

At first Yearning seems like nothing more than yet another bland family drama from the Japanese studio tradition. Slowly, though, from one subtle notch to the next, it becomes a film of incredible weight and horror. The beauty of Yearning, as with many great films, is that we watch and believe as the people on the screen struggle with their decisions. We are able to recognize ourselves in them.

Tyler: Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel…

I already wrote at length about why I feel Fiona Apple’s latest LP is a striking achievement.  In retrospect, I haven’t listened to it much–in part, due to lack of funds (my initial spins were via week-of-release Internet streams), but, moreso, because it’s rattled, restless energy is almost too much at times for my own crazy mind to enjoy.  No bones about it: The Idler Wheel… is a fantastic album, one that will stand among the year’s best at year’s end, but it’s also a dark journey.  Apple once dated modern cinematic master Paul Thomas Anderson–they apparently remain friends–and Wheel feels like nothing if not a musical translation of her former beau’s kinetic, propulsive, haunting brand of filmmaking.  It’s pure genius; it’s not for most hours of most days.

That said, every single night’s a fight, with my bra-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ain, and, also, I-I-I-I-I-I-I just wanna fee-eel everything.  True story.

Nathan: The Silence Of The Sea

Long before Quentin Tarantino took up the mantle, French director Jean-Pierre Melville was the cinematic embodiment of cool. His lean, almost stoic gangster pictures (Bob le Flambeour, Le Samouri, Le Doulos) are, quite literally, to die for. Strangely, though, I’ve always gravitated towards the un-Melville films that he has directed (I rank Leon Morin, Priest as a top ten favorite, and love his adaptation of Jacques Cocteau’s Le Enfants Terribles) instead of his more quintessential pictures.

It was with great pleasure then that I was finally able to see Melville’s first feature, The Silence Of The Sea. The film is a tension-filled tale of Nazi-occupied France in which a Nazi commander forces residence on a French man and his young daughter. These two proud French people hate their Nazi intruder, naturally, and decide not to speak to him at all; not to ask a question, not to answer one, or even to make pleasant conversation. As a result, the commander monologues while his hosts listen. They become a sort of mirror for their guest and the results are sublime.

Tyler: Parks And Recreation“Win, Lose, or Draw”

While my #1 selection in this Five (SUH-spense!) takes the title of my favorite show on television right now, Parks & Rec is a very close, very necessary second, and its fourth season drew to a close in about as fine a manner as any sitcom could hope.  Leslie Knope’s season-long, rock-a-doodle run for city council came down to election night, and it’s a credit to the talent behind the show that, despite Parks being a perky, upbeat comedy, whether its lead character would triumph remained in serious doubt.  I’ll spoil nothing here.  For those who haven’t seen the show, the link above takes you to a Hulu stream of this lovely half-hour; for those who have, I thought the end was damn perfect.

Plus, Ron Swanson.  As ever, immortal.  “You drive…I’ve had…eleven whiskeys.”

Nathan: Alice In The Cities

The road movie is one of my favorite genres. The children’s movie (movies about children, not for) is also one of my favorite genres. Here they are combined by Wim Wenders at the peak of his powers. Alice In The Cities is funny, weird, touching, and a little sad, which is to say that it is a very difficult film to pin down. To write about it almost seems to denigrate the journey taken while actually watching it. Honestly, I can’t think of a decent way to sum up the experience of watching Philip Winter, a German photographer visiting America as he somehow picks up a precocious young girl named Alice with the mission of getting her to her grandmother’s home in, well…Alice doesn’t know where her grandmother lives; in Europe anyway.

I prefer to think of Alice In The Cities as an act of magic.

Tyler: Mad Men, “Commissions And Fees”

I’d encountered rumors that Mad Men, AMC’s exquisite modern pastiche of commerce and sexuality, may feature a suicide this season.  Men, never a program known for subtextual subtlety, foregrounded this suspicion with various hints throughout its fifth campaign: an empty elevator shaft here, an ominous home-owned rifle there.  But the episode in which the obvious made itself real also exemplifies the double-edged aspect of the show as both exquisite period piece and excoriating current commentary.  Mad Men is a work of cinema, ongoing, that allows for incredible depths of character complexity, even as it builds to shocks we, the audience, may or may not see coming.  (Joan’s decision in “The Other Woman” being a devastating example of the latter.)  There is a horrifying turn of events in “Commissions And Fees,” and it lends a magnificent hour of television a devastating gravitas.  But Mad Men wouldn’t be Mad Men were not the single moment when The Worst Possibility is confirmed were not the surrounding events so exquisite, so riveting, even in their celebration of confusion (and, even in portraying their lousiest characteristics, great cinema does celebrate the worst of its characters, challenging us viewers to interpret right from wrong, extracting from the murkiest of circumstances).  Included within “Commissions And Fees” are moments of nascent adolescent attraction, tentative burgeoning womanhood, bullied romantic (impassioned) manhood, and one of another exquisite moments that reveals Don Draper’s inescapable humanity.  Yes, he goes overboard in “selling” his firm on Dow Chemical (“I’ll buy you a drink if you wipe the blood off your mouth,” remarks inimitable Roger), but he also lets the young boy who has a crush on his tortured daughter indulge that boy’s easiest, greatest fantasy.  To drive.  Don keeps an eye on the wheel, but lets the kid do the best that he can.  Jon Hamm may be the most brilliant performer on television in this era.  The show within which he thrives has rarely evinced an hour so fine as this.

Plus, Betty gets a moment all her own.  The heretofore demon of the show, her passive-aggressive phone comments to Megan aside, is at last allowed a moment wherein she truly comforts her daughter–shows her true love.  Plus plus, the revelation of the episode’s darkest development unfolds in masterful piecemeal.  Joan’s gasp of deathly air, attempting to unlock Lane’s office; Pete, feet atop the couch, sudden hand to his horrified face; Ken Cosgrove’s knowing, immediate sympathy in Joan’s direction.  And, the final revelation.  The Shot…when Don cannot abide the knowledge that the departed has been left like that.  He’s been there before.  He won’t let another loved one hang for hours again.  He, Roger, and Pete pound through to the inevitable.  It’s fucking devastating.  Boilerplate.  To his fellow partners.

“Commissions And Fees,” though depressing, absolutely despondent–much like Mad Men overall these days–is a hallmark of fantastic entertainment.  We don’t want to look, but we cannot look away.  Life is fucking hard.  Do we hang from the ceiling, or do we hang through the pain?  The former is selfish.  The latter is anguish.  The episode is immaculate.  “Commissions And Fees” ranks among the best damn television you’re likely to see this year.

Nathan: The Kid With A Bike/Moonrise Kingdom

I’m doubling up here not because I can’t choose between these two movies because both of them, worlds apart in tone and style, took me off guard. It is rare to find a movie that speaks to the exact moment you are in, making it seem as though the film were made for no one else but you. But it happened to me twice (!) this year and I can’t get either experience out of my mind.

Between late January and early July my wife and I embarked on our first tenure as foster parents. It was a big shift for us as we have no children of our own even after nearly eight years of marriage. Our kid was in her teens. Legal constraints prohibit me from discussing her in any actual detail, but I must confess here that most of the experience was deeply challenging and not particularly rewarding. I went for months feeling miserable and in dread of coming home from work. Our kid was combative and not entirely rational. Exchanges with her were exasperating in the extreme. Even today, two weeks after the placement ended, I am in a state of exhaustion that has me behind in The Kinoshita Project wanting nothing more than to sleep for a week.

During that time I saw The Kid With A Bike, which I have already written about here. It is the film with the realist tone and gritty style. But despite those trappings, it is more of a fantasy that is Moonrise Kingdom, which has all the realism of a meticulously crafted cartoon dollhouse or diorama, but speaks the truth about the desires of troubled youth. Or all youth, I guess.

If you should watch either The Kid With A Bike or Moonrise Kingdom, I would suggest thinking deeply about what it means to be a child without a home and what it means to be a home taking care of said child. These two films speak to those situations beautifully.

Tyler: Uncertainty

Once upon a time, I broke out of a place and set my sights on my favorite place in the world, New York.  (Said breakout and sights are quite searchable on FR.)  As I’ve learned so many times, though, life gets in the way.  As I write this, I’ve obtained a gig in my old home, Chicago, training o’er the last two days, three to come, but my life’s next direction remains unclear.  FR readers?  You read the passion of three impassioned writers.  Each of us–and this is not to solicit some silly needless sympathy–has some crazy situation with which we deal, just as any of us maneuver whatever situation in which we find ourselves that may or may not inform our ideals and our dreams.  We keep at it.  We have to.  We drive.  We sleep, and we dream.

Keep up the confusion, friends of FR.  2012’s only halfway over.  Getting older is a misnomer.  Getting wiser ain’t.

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One thought on “Five For FRiday: 2012 @ the 1/2

  1. I only included movies on this, but I figured this is as good a time as any to highlight my favorite albums of the year so far.

    1. Among the Leaves – Sun Kil Moon
    2. Bloom – Beach House
    3. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

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