Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cannes 2016 critics choices

Cannes has come and gone again but the life of the films that played the festival is just beginning. The awards only tell part of the story. Critic's reviews, word-of-mouth buzz and festival play will tell another story and then distribution will have the final say.

Here is the biggest critical consensus.

Here is the IndieWire critical ratings for best films.

Here is the Screen Daily critics scorecard.

Here is something I put together - it's the ratings rankings of the Cannes films from users on Letterboxd.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

DGA Best 80

This DGA list here is why I have mostly stopped reviewing movies. It's like no matter how many great old classics that me and my fellow bloggers blog about the information just falls into a black hole and we end up with a list of bland, predictable, standard 'classics'.

The news isn't only that one female director makes the list; the news is that when film directors are polled about what they consider the best films directed [worldwide] over the past 80 years they put films like BIRDMAN and AVATAR on the list.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Old movie discoveries 2015

 watched well over 200 movies last year. Many were older movies that I discovered or finally caught up with.
Here are twelve I enjoyed.

CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR [1950] Ronald Coleman, the smartest man in the world, takes on Vincent Price, the most arrogant CEO in the world.

WILL PENNY [1967] Charlton Heston as a lonely ranch hand drifter.

GAMBIT [1966] Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine plan a heist and nothing goes as planned.

TRAPEZE [1956] Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida swing from the trapeze – with no net!

WOMAN ON THE RUN [1950] A San Francisco noir in which a woman looks for her husband who is a suspect in a murder.

THE KING OF COMEDY [1982] Robert DeNiro is funny crazy not funny ha ha.

LONELY ARE THE BRAVE [1962] Kirk Douglas is a cowboy off-the-grid in a desperate way.

SUNFLOWER [1970] Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren get married and then war pulls them apart.

THE QUIET AMERICAN [1958] - Michael Redgrave gives the film the weight it needs to be tragic and memorable.
STARS IN MY CROWN [1950] Joel McCrae is a sheriff and a preacher; say your prayers!

YO YO [1965] Pierre Étaix and his excellent comedy of manners.

RED SKIES OF MONTANA [1952] Richard Widmark is a smoke jumper who might also be a coward.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Man In The Wilderness

Man in the Wilderness

In some ways this is a hippie western. Released in 1971 when many films had darker, cynical storylines and themes this one takes a hopeless situation and turns it into a positive, hopeful moral lesson.
 
Richard Harris plays Zachary Bass - who is a stand-in for the real life legendary hunter / trapper Hugh Glass. He is attacked by a bear and left to die. But he survives, crawls cross country for a while, slowly recovers and sets out to get revenge. But along the way he reflects back on his life at home, which he left soon before his son was born. So he is torn; should he seek revenge or go home?

It is directed by Richard Sarafian the same year he released Vanishing Point but Man in the Wilderness is less existential and, in many ways, less fun. It's a survival tale with not much of a pay off. But Harris is good coming off of his more famous role the year before in A Man Called Horse. John Huston chews the scenery a bit as the captain who moves west on a land ship with his crew and waits for the inevitable showdown with Harris.

I like the way the films unfolds almost as a silent. There is little dialogue. And the world of wilderness he encounters; starting with a bear attack, wolves feeding on an still living buffalo calf, Native American's killing one another and a lot of dirt, mud, rock and brush gives the film an authentic, gritty feel. It doesn't have beautiful scenery as one gets used to in many movies that take place in the west.

I'm reviewing this in part because my dad was a fan of Hugh Glass and had written a treatment that became another story altogether. But also because I recently read The Revenant by Michael Punke, which is the same story - although with different motivations and ending. And also because of the forthcoming movie of the book by Alejandro González Iñárritu with Leonardo DiCaprio, which comes out around Christmas. I feel that film may be better if only because the ending of Man in the Wilderness is both a bit unrealistic [why would the Natives suddenly stop fighting?] and anti-climactic.

On the other hand, it is meant to be a satisfying, almost family friendly, ending. That is - in part - what really sets this movie apart from so many other movies of the early 1970's. There is a strong Christian theme of forgiveness and redemption running through the narrative. Harris reflects back on Bible study, which he never understood. But now, alone in the wilderness, waiting to die, he sees the light. [In one scene he has befriended a bunny, that for some reason he chooses to cuddle up with rather than kill and eat].

Still, the ending could have been so much better, in my opinion, if the Native American attack was that much more savage, thus making the Harris character see that revenge is not only ugly but not necessary. THAT I think would have made his final decision much more real and effective because it would have shown a man turning away from violence and heading back to civilization.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Updates

Sorry I haven't been blogging.

I really enjoyed Daredevil on Netflix. More like this, please.

Finally caught up with Winter Sleep - the looonnng Turkish film by Nuri Bilge Ceylan that won last year's Cannes Film Festival. His films are so full of subtle yet emotional violence that if you miss one line of dialogue you may not get it. Although characters do tend to repeat themselves a lot. Here's a good review by the late Richard Corliss.

I've been using Letterboxd a lot lately. I like the layout much better than IMBD. Smarter critical opinions too.

Here's my favorite films of the year so far.

Here's some discoveries I made or films I finally caught up with. All are recommended especially 'Champagne For Caesar' a really wild and fun comedy from 1950 starring Ronald Coleman and Vincent Price.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cannes Tweets

Some worth following or at least reading while the festival unfolds.

https://twitter.com/Geoff_Andrew

https://twitter.com/MatchCuts

https://twitter.com/JonathanRomney

https://twitter.com/foundasonfilm

https://twitter.com/JustinCChang

https://twitter.com/JordanCronk

Netflix Cannes

Despite a recent dust-up about Netflix at Cannes this week you can actually stream numerous films that have been in competition at Cannes over the past few years.

Age of Uprising: Michael Kohlhaas
Antichrist
Beyond the Hills
Blue is the Warmest Color - Palme d'Or winner
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Goodbye to Language
Grigris
Holy Motors
The Homesman
The Hunt
In Another Country
Jimmy P
The Kid with The Bike
Lawless
Like Father, Like Son
Melancholia
Mud
My Joy
Nebraska
The Son's Room - Palme d'Or winner
Touch of Sin
Vengeance
Venus in Furs
We Have a Pope
The Wind That Shakes the Barley - Palme d'Or winner
Winter Sleepers - Palme d'Or winner
Young and Beautiful

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Clouds of Middle Age

Clouds of Sils Maria

Olivier Assayas continues his trend toward making smart, well-written, meta-narrative films laced with a trace of irony. The film is deserving of a longer review but others have done that so I will instead give a list of references in the film as well as things I saw that reminded me of other films and such.

The film deals, in part, quite literally with clouds. In this case, the famous Maloja snake that is indeed a natural wonder that can be seen in the autumn and winter winding through the Engadin Valley in Switzerland. The play within the film too is called The Maloja Snake letting us know that the natural phenomena can be both metaphor and real.

So what about clouds?

- I find the poem 'Mutability' by PS Shelley I apt. It begins.

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed and gleam and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:...

How does one deal with aging [mutability in one's own life] when one doesn't necessarily feel that much older? That is a big part of what the movie is about. So what about influences?
 
- All About Eve is an obvious influence although it's not as much about youth and age in the same way.

- Persona is another influence; as it is a two-hander with two women in a remote location - granted only one talks in that one while Cloud of Sils Maria has good back and forth dialogue.

- The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is also a film about two women in one location [one room] and deals with a older woman and her roommate who she treats like a slave. It's much more caustic but the elements are there.

- The films Rendez-vous written by Assayas is connected as well. it was Binoche's first staring role. About it Assayas says:
If you've seen Rendez-vous, you know how much I am drawing from that film. I used the same theme... I think I used the overall mood of the film too. It's still a completely different animal. But it's also because the world has changed.

- Binoche's past relationship with her first director Henryk Wald has shades of Otto Preminger and Jean Seberg; He the older [bald] director who founded and nurtured the inexperienced young actress who in turn fears and hates [and possible loves] him.

- The black and white film segment that is shown is from a 1924 film titled Das Wolkenphänomen von Maloja [Cloud Phenomena of Maloja] by Arnold Fanke.

There is probably more here but taken as a whole all these elements help shape Clouds of Sils Maria. Yet, like any good artist, Assayas nods to influences but makes his own definitive work.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Woman on the Run

Woman on the Run - [Norman Foster - 1950]

This is a very good 1950 San Francisco noir - some would say crime drama - with Ann Sheridan in a loveless marriage who has to try to find her missing husband before the killer does. The opening and closing scenes are definitely noir; The opening scene a man [Ross Elliott] witnesses a murder while walking his dog late at night and just avoids being shot himself; the killer shoots at his shadow. The final scene takes place in an amusement part and involves a really terrific edited sequence with Sheridan on a rollercoaster when she realizes the killer is on the way to kill her husband whom she can see right below the coaster. In between is essentially a really cool travelogue of San Francisco and a lot of wise cracks by Sheridan toward the dogged inspector played by Robert Keith and Dennis O'Keefe - who plays an eager newspaperman accompanying her as she tries to find her husband.

Considering this is a prominent San Francisco noir it is ironic that the two best scenes were not shot in San Francisco - the first scene was shot on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles, and the final scene was shot in Santa Monica at the Ocean Park Pier.

Ann Sheridan was a big star at Warner Bros. but was overshadowed by such stars as Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland; plus she had a reputation for turning down roles. Once she left Warner's she went to independent film companies to make films. Woman on the Run was made by Fidelity Pictures, a small production company, which released the film through Universal as a B-crime drama. Sheridan - showing she had plenty of talent - does a terrific job in this film as a woman who goes from incredulous to caring in the course of searching for her husband.

What is particularly notable about the film is the scarcity, for many years, of a good quality print. Eddie Muller, the head of the Film Noir Foundation, who was a big fan of the movie went in search of a print many years ago. With some work he stumbled across one in the Universal archives. He was startled by how good the print was and after showing it at a festival he implored Universal to send the print to the UCLA Film and Television Archive not only to house it in a world class archive but because, technically, they didn't own the rights. Then in 2008 there was a studio lot fire, which destroyed a number of videos and prints including Woman on the Run.

Muller managed to find a 35mm print at the British Film Institute in London. He immediately had them ship their 35mm nitrate composite print to UCLA where it was used restore a new copy by Scott MacQueen along with a 35mm nitrate dupe picture negative and a 35mm acetate composite print.


The image quality of most all DVD's and online copies of the film are atrocious. The only good print is available at UCLA, which just showed the film at their Festival of Preservation; it will show again at the Noir City Festival April 3rd at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

A [presumably] good quality DVD IS available from France and includes a 70 page book on the film written by Eddie Muller. But if you don't have $40.00 to spare and an all region DVD player then you should try to get to the Egyptian.

Some links.

Film Noir of the Week

San Francisco Movie Locations

Interview with Eddie Muller about his dealings with Universal.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Really Short reviews

A few recent older movies I've seen.

Heaven Knows, Mr Allison
1957
Nun But the Marines. Good solid Hollywood film by John Huston with Deborah Kehr and Robert Mitchum stuck on an island in the South Pacific together as they hide from the Japanese and await the war to end. It darn near almost gets hokey and heavy handed but ends on the right tone.

Bitter Victory
1957
Bitter Misery. Nicholas Ray takes on war by pitting two men against each other who love the same woman. The perfect one, [Richard Burton], is too cowardly to love a woman and the far from perfect one, Curt Jürgens, is too cowardly to kill a man - except his rival when it suits him. Set in the forbidding desert the film is action packed but more memorable as a psychological study of the two men.

Will Penny
1968
Penny for Your Naughts. Tom Gries directed Charlton Heston in one of his best performances. Here he is a cowboy who can fight anyone, herd cattle anywhere but when it comes to the love of a woman he bows out; also a coward. Joan Hackett, who has similar features to Jean Arthur, is terrific as the tough woman who almost gets her man.

The Sun Shines Bright
1953
The Judge Aligns Right. Rarely seen John Ford film set in the Confederate south after the civil war involving a judge running for re-election. He encounters a lynch mob and - in his laid back southern way - finds a way to keep the peace and maintain his popularity. The film would be called politically incorrect today but it's pretty evident that Ford is not making a value or judgement call toward the African American characters. But the personalities they exude would not be portrayed in the same way by actors today.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades of...

Fifty Shades of Bay - A love story about two swimmers in San Francisco.

Fifty Shades of Clay - A love story between two sculptors.

Fifty Shades of Fey - A doomed love story about two clairvoyants.

Fifty Shades of Gay - A bisexual, transgender love story.

Fifty Shades of Hay - A love story between two horses.

Fifty Shades of Lay - A love story between a sex addict and a neurotic.

Fifty Shades of May - A love story set in France during the revolts of May '68.

Fifty Shades of Nay - An anti-love story.

Fifty Shades of Pay - A love story between rich men and a hooker.

Fifty Shades of Stay -  A story about a couple dealing with their impending divorce.

Fifty Shades of Way - A love story between a Buddhist and a Taoist.

Fifty Shades of Yah - A positive love story.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Man of Flowers

Man of Flowers [Paul Cox - 1983)


This terrific film made in 1983 by Australian filmmaker Paul Cox is about an eccentric, lonely middle aged man [Norman Kay] who derives pleasure from flowers, bronze statues, music and a female stripper named Lisa [Alyson Best] whom he has hired to perform in his house once a week.

The film opens on a close-up of a painting and then segues into the striptease. Charles, too uptight [possibly due to premature ejaculation issues] to do anything [including talk] with the stripper when she finishes he runs out of the house across the street to the church to play the organ. Something he does with such frequency that the pastor has given him a key to come and go as he pleases.

But more than just another film about a lonely man the film has style. For instance flashbacks shot in 8mm [or possibly 16mm], accompanied with opera music in which we see young Charles who had a serious Oedipus complex, which led to him ogling his aunt and other women who come to the house. This in turn leads to beatings by his strict father [played by Werner Herzog!].

In the present day Charles tries to live a normal life but his search for perfect aesthetics and sexual frustrations as well as religious convictions [or confusions] lead him to a solitary confinement within his memories. Lisa, the young stripper, has problems of her own; her artist, drug abusing boyfriend is continually in debt and all they do is fight. Lisa thinks she has found a friend with Charles but really she needs someone her own age. Although she has decided to attempt a sexual relationship with her girlfriend for a while.

As in many of Cox's films the pace is leisurely but engaging and there is an undercurrent of melancholy with a touch of witty humor as well. Characters try to exert their individuality in unique and funny ways; in one scene in which Charles attends an art class is drawing a naked model [who happens to be Lisa] and what he draws are a bouquet of flowers. The busybody class teacher tells him he can't paint flowers in place of a naked body and he yells back that if she tries to stop him he will go to the arts board and claim artistic freedom.

The one weak character in the film is the artist boyfriend who tries to force Charles to buy one of his paintings so he can feed his drug addiction. However, his presence in the film drives the narrative - especially after he leaves Lisa with a black eye thus forcing Charles to take matters into his own hands. In short; don't mess with a mamma's boy.

The final shot of the movie is a beauty; as four men stand in a seaside park in the dark as the sun is going down overlooking the brightly lit sea and sky as seagulls fly around. It lasts about two minutes. My reading of this scene when I saw the films 20 years ago was that it says from the dark we see the light and therefore in the dark we see our dreams flying around but not away. Perhaps that's too fancy a reading but nonetheless it's a visual wonder to behold; like a painting by Caspar David Friedric.

The DVD is tough to find although it is available in Australia at a reasonable cost.



Monday, January 26, 2015

Best Movies 2014

These lists get harder to do each year because I find I have a difficult time make a definitive list; and all too often I'll enjoy a film but then find flaws that keep it from being truly great and making a 'top ten' of the year.

I found 2014 to be a good year but not an exceptional year; even though there certainly were exceptional moments in many films.

Here, then, is a list of films I enjoyed last year.

Tier 1 [meaning I enjoyed these films without many reservations]
Blue Ruin
The Dance of Reality
The Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy
Ida
The Lunchbox
Whiplash

Tier 2 [meaning I enjoyed these films with some reservations]
Begin Again
Bethlehem
Boyhood

Cycling with Moliere
The One I Love
Under the Skin
Le Weekend
Wild Tales

Tier 3 [meaning I enjoyed these films despite reservations].
Goodbye to Language
Locke
A Most Violent Year
Selma
The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
The Congress
Two Days, One Night