Excerpts from his Letterboxd review:
Recipe for a movie that’ll piss people off: Jacobean + Euclidean + Hegelian. Can’t really fault anyone for hating this (Andrew O’Hehir just tweeted “The Counselor isn’t merely terrible. It may be the worst movie ever made”), but its pitiless anti-narrative played for me like a pure, uncut version of No Country, one without the hand-wringing old men. Was only bothered by the philosophizing at first, when I (naturally) assumed it would be occasional and intrusive; once it completely took over the movie, with the entire supporting cast turning unapologetically logorrheic, rolling with it wasn’t hard.
"But what’s the point?!” Just a portrait of hubris, really. This’ll sound kinda bizarre, but The Counselor is essentially the same story as Jurassic Park (more the novel than the film): Various smart people foolishly imagine they can control the uncontrollable, but something utterly unforeseen occurs and all hell breaks loose, which inevitability is explained in detail via pompous monologues spoken by characters who despite their superior understanding are in the same world of shit as everyone else. McCarthy just takes it to its natural conclusion. And since I’m the kind of person who’d rather wonder why someone’s measuring the height of a motorcycle than watch rampaging CGI dinosaurs, this movie is “fun” to me, in its grim, fatalistic way.
Also, I keep seeing people refer to the story as overly complicated and impossible to follow. No. It’s simply irrelevant. As in All Is Lost—a title that would work just fine here as well—everything that isn’t absolutely essential has been tossed overboard, including most niceties of characterization. It doesn’t really matter who the Counselor is, and it certainly doesn’t matter why he’s in a bind or how the deal works. Everyone in the movie is a corpse before it even begins. (Hence the opening scene of bodies completely hidden underneath sheets—McCarthy actually wrote the entire scene this way, even noting that the dialogue should be subtitled as their voices would be muffled. Speaking of hubris.) We get only such information as we need to comprehend that what befalls them is to some degree just bad luck. And Scott does an expert job of conveying the necessary, mostly non-verbal details (starting with that stunning biker-to-bedroom transition), even as he mostly serves McCarthy’s vision with rare major-auteur humility.”
But I’d happily watch it again right now for the sheer pleasure of the badinage, which I find it hard to believe the haters can’t appreciate on any level. And there’s so much great stuff that didn’t even make it into the movie. (You can easily find the script online.)
WESTRAY: How are you?
COUNSELOR: I’m okay. Is this a place where you hang?
WESTRAY: Never been here in my life.
COUNSELOR: So how did you pick it?
WESTRAY: I opened the Yellow Pages to Bar.
And there you have it.
Excerpts from the review featured on his site. More here.
"Museum Hours, the latest film (and second fictional feature) from Jem Cohen, represents a major breakthrough for this veteran experimental filmmaker, and is without a doubt one of the very best films of 2012. I am not alone in this opinion by any means, but nevertheless I think I should clarify that I have had a bit of ambivalence toward Cohen’s work over the years. He has been an artist whose work I’ve respected more than liked per se, often finding some of his trademark maneuvers — grainy black-and-white cinematography, step-printing, a soft, light-bled frame around the image, and an occasion sepia haze or overexposure of his subjects — to topple over into a kind of undergraduate preciousness, especially in his earliest short films.”
"With Museum Hours, Cohen has created two new characters, both of whom exemplify a trait that is all too rare even in the art cinema: decency. There is nothing heroic or even particularly exceptional about Johann (Bobby Sommer), the middle-aged museum guard, or Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), the visitor from Montreal whose only contact in Vienna is, sadly, the younger cousin who has slipped into a coma. They are two individuals who meet by chance and slowly learn more about each other, partly because of their not-so-random meeting inside Johann’s place of work. The Kunsthistorisches Museum (which Johann, following local custom, calls ‘the old museum’) is a quiet place where people come and go, experience masterpieces in a brief, touristic fashion, practice their sketching skills, or on occasion come to spend quality time really contemplating the works on display. Anne’s initial visit has as much to do with coming in out of the bad weather and asking for directions as it does with wanting to experience the Kunsthistorisches’s collection. But ‘the old place’ (to borrow Godard and Mieville’s phrase, describing another museum) becomes both a meeting place for Anne and Johann and a locus for thoughts about images and historical moments far removed from Anne’s present predicament. As a result, really thinking about the art on display, as Cohen skillfully shows, becomes a unique dialectical experience: a practical exercise of aesthetic disinterestedness.
"And, in a way, Museum Hours itself mimics this aesthetic mode, if you will, in its depiction of the friendship between Anne and Johann. On the one hand, Anne is a woman in need, and befriending Johann helps her find comfort within her urban isolation. Johann, for his part, is quite happy in his work, which is a mostly silent, people-watching pursuit (we learn that earlier in life, he was a student, a punk musician, as well as having undergone other, more overtly social phases). But he too clearly enjoys having someone with whom to share his knowledge of and love for Vienna as well as the paintings which have become his ‘co-workers.’ Now, in a conventional genre-bound scenario, all of this walking and talking would clearly be leading somewhere. That’s to say, Anne and Johann would fall in love. The Kunsthistorisches Museum would be a pretext for a ‘meet-cute,’ and each and every conversation (not to mention the sick cousin) would be pressed into the service of a single trajectory. Cohen so thoroughly subverts this premise that, as one watches Museum Hours, it’s unlikely that the possibility even occurs to any intelligent viewer. Granted, Johann makes a brief mention of a long-term partner who died, and his gender-nonspecificity would seem to imply that he was in a gay relationship. Even were this cue not dropped, Museum Hours is summarily focused on friendship as an end in itself, not as a ‘prelude’ to anything that our culture (and our movie culture) conditions us to consider worthier.
"In this respect, Cohen’s depiction of the relationship between Anne and Johann avoids ‘instrumental reason’ (a distinctly Viennese concept, I might add, courtesy of Horkheimer and Adorno). And it is no accident that this friendship flourishes within the museum space. Much of Museum Hours consists of Johann walking his beat through the halls, as we hear him in voiceover, telling us about various artworks that mean a lot to him (especially the works of Breugel the Elder - ‘I always find something new in them’), his impression of the patrons, and his friendships with other guards who have come and gone. In particular, he describes his conversations with an Art History grad student who saw the portraits and still lives in vulgar-John Berger terms, as documents of plunder and booty. Yes, Johann countered, but they are something else as well. If Museum Hours can be reduced to a thesis statement, which it most certainly cannot be, this would nonetheless be a decent candidate. (And Museum Hours' end credits, unsurprisingly, reveal that Berger's Ways of Seeing is a key influence on Cohen’s thinking.) Just as Cohen’s depiction of the central relationship in the film is one of friendship for its own sake, and fundamental human decency, Museum Hours, after Marxist Sociology of Art and Cultural Studies and other thoroughgoing critiques of the fine arts and their institutions as little more than Privilege writ large, asks us to reconsider the possibility of Western culture’s potential for edification, spiritual uplift, and preservation of future possibility. Cohen, of course, has moved through those earlier critiques, and so like many of us, he proposes a New Humanism. The first precept, of course, is that this heritage must be equally accessible to all.”