Friday, December 16, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: Lingering Ideas...

Shame brought up a very interesting question for me, I think. Most of these questions were actually fairly critical to how I thought about the film, and it brought me to realize one of the great things about that movie.

My question was this:

Why does Steve McQueen linger on some things for a much longer period of time than others?

It was something I noticed a lot when I was watching Shame, that McQueen would tend to linger a lot on certain pieces of certain scenes. The camerawork tended to live in slightly longer cuts, particularly in Fassbender's scenes where he interacts with other characters. I will admit it was a little jarring to see that the director lingers a lot on the same motif for several minutes, staying on that for a while before something interesting happens. There's a date scene that goes on for a while, there's a scene of intimacy that goes on for a while, and there's an entire scene that messes with our perception of time that goes on for a while close to the end.

But at the end of the day, I think this works to its advantage. For when we get subjected to so much within a certain amount of time, it really jumps at us when something happens. The date scene is necessarily long for a reason that becomes clear later on: it serves as a characterization bit that lets us peer into Brandon's mind when he tries to have sex with her later and ultimately can't bring himself to go all the way with it. A long scene of Carey Mulligan singing focuses almost exclusively on her face, with only a brief glimpse of Brandon's face that tells us everything we need to know about what he's feeling.

But ultimately, I think the fact that McQueen lingers on the same topic for so many minutes is best demonstrated by the last sex scene that occurs in the movie. Let me relate the camera work of the final sex scene of the movie so you can see what I mean...

So the final sex scene is a threesome with Fassbender and two women. What entails is a bunch of extremely close shots of the sex, with some shots getting almost pornographic in how graphic they are. It always cuts to flashes of flesh, bare flesh and nothing but as these three people engage in the act. However, the scene ends not with a wide shot of the act itself, but with a close-up of Michael Fassbender's face as he orgasms. From his facial expression, however, we get the all-too-clear sense that this is an orgasm that is wrought with pain and anger and a great amount of sadness. While Fassbender's acting does so much for the shot, it's the fact that we've seen so much sexualized flesh in the preceeding two or so minutes that really makes the shot work. This is partly because it's the first full shot of Fassbender's face in such a scene, partly also because we don't see the other parties in the shot, and partly because seeing that expression in what's supposed to be the height of ecstasy is rather jarring for the audience, and casts the entire two or so scenes beforehand in a completely different light. It sums up everything about the events leading up to that point in a way that no other edit of the film could have, and it's a critical shot for a character-defining moment.

And in all honesty, that singular shot that lasts for about six or so seconds was literally the point where, at least for me, Shame took a step up from being just a really good movie, and became a movie that I can say is unforgettably great. If we had seen such a shot earlier, I doubt the impact would have been as great as it ultimately was. But thanks to the fact that he lingered on other things before presenting the shot was what ultimately contributes most to how powerful it is.

And that is why lingering on something can be a virtue in film making.

This is Herr Wozzeck Muses. I'll see you guys next time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I think I'll start today by saying something about movies. Sometimes, a movie comes along, and you'll be so floored by it that literally, you find yourself at a loss to speak. Sometimes, a movie so incredibly good comes along, and it'll make you think about it for a long time. And sometimes, that movie is one that takes a lot of risks.

Today's movie is one of these movies.


Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is an office worker who has a bit of a problem: he's addicted to sex, to the point that he can form no personal attachments at all. Enter his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who stays with Brandon at his apartment for a few days. His personal life from there begins to unravel, and he begins to question many things in his life.

I... This is one of those films that defies summaries, really. And I really don't know where to begin.

I guess... Yeah, I think I'll start at the NC-17 rating. Trust me, this movie earns its NC-17 rating, especially near the end when the sex scenes get really graphic, almost to the point of being pornographic in one or two shots. Trust me when I tell you, though, that this movie is so masterful that I don't think that it could've done without those shots I mention.

I think the best way to describe this movie is as a slow character study of sex obsession. There's something wonderful about the way Brandon's character develops: we see him as a man who is always having sex a lot of the time, but from what we see we're not sure why as he forms no personal connections, and love is the kind of thing he feels he has no use for. And then, when his sister Sissy comes along, we see some of his insecurities come about in some of her actions, and from there he just begins to question what the hell he is doing as a result. This shift in his character is key in this movie, and while it is very slow to develop, the viewer's patience is greatly rewarded.

With the wrong actors, it could've fallen apart. But the casting people did a wonderful job casting this. I was pretty convinced of Michael Fassbender's acting abilities from his portrayal of Magneto in X-Men: First Class. But here? After seeing him in this movie, I'm convinced that Fassbender can do no wrong. Fassbender's performance is spellbinding: Brandon's character is full of hidden rage and sorrow, and Fassbender's performance captures this perfectly, particularly when he lets it all out as the movie draws to its conclusion. This is to say nothing of a good supporting turn from Carey Mulligan, but Fassbender steals the show, and the movie just works incredibly well thanks to him. Academy, take note: if I don't see Michael Fassbender at the Oscars this year, there's gonna be hell to pay.

Director Steve McQueen, too, gives it his all here. I am at odds with some of his choices in the shakier camera work, but he makes some really smart decisions on where to train the camera in relation to the actors, and the shots he chooses say almost everything you need to know about what the characters are thinking most of the time. In many ways, the camera work tells the whole story for us, and it's wonderful to see a movie take such an approach to how it tells its story. Combine that with the incredible acting at work, and... well...

I... I've got nothing else to say here. Go see Shame right now. It's one of the best movies of the year, hands-down, and Fassbender has now made it perfectly clear that he's a force to be reckoned with. So go see this movie right now.


A must-see picture of the year.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


And this review begins with the very appropriate phrase given to us by the credentials of this movie:

"Martin Scorcese is making a family movie."

And right there, you have all the impetus you need to see today's movie.

Oh, by the way, before I get to it... a spoiler warning:

In order to properly talk about the movie, I will have to spoil the plot. So here's a spoiler warning, and don't take it lightly, whatever you do.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's get to today's movie.


Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a boy who lives alone in a train station managing all their clocks. Along the way, he attempts to fix an automaton that his father (Jude Law) found in a museum. However, when he comes across Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) at a toy shop in his train station, things suddenly happen, and then he finds himself going on an adventure with Georges' goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace-Moretz) that leads him to many new places.

So, here are a couple things to note about this movie.

1) No, they don't mean that kind of adventure that so many movies these days try to force into their plots.
2) *here be spoilers* For those of you who know your film history backwards and forward, yes, this is that Georges Méliès.

Yes, this is a movie about movies, though more specifically, it's about other things pertaining to the movies. Don't trust the trailers here: the big whimsical stuff comes less from Hugo's escapades and more from what he and Isabelle discover on their little adventure: that Isabelle's godfather was once a great film-maker, was revolutionary for his time as being the godfather of special effects, and other things like that. *Here end the spoilers*

And honestly, there's something about that which comes across as a breath of fresh air in the family movie genre. Yes, there's the usual capery stuff that comes up with these movies, but they're not the main focus of the movie after a while. While it's a tonal shift that may surprise some, I found that it lent itself to a certain element of charm that I think is missing from the genre these days, and it becomes engaging for a totally different reason than you'd think.

And as well, the whole visual aesthetic works. I'll go out on a limb here and say that you definitely should see this movie in 3D: I'm not normally for the format, but this movie sports one of the best uses of 3D I've ever seen in a movie. The style is also incredibly vivid and quite pleasing to look at.

So overall? I suggest you all go see Hugo. It's a very charming, engaging movie that does things differently. And the things it does differently work really well for the movie, and so it becomes a fresh new experience for everyone. Go take your kids to see this over the Holiday season. Trust me, you won't regret it.


A must-see picture of the year.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.