Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best movies 2010

As is often the case I get to the end of the year and have a tough time compiling a best movies list. Some movies have to sit with me for a while and, of course, I need to catch a good many that I missed throughout the year. This past year was no different and so I find it a bit easier and more entertaining to list the films in categories. The 28 films [!] are listed under each heading by preference. [If I haven't listed a movie that is making a lot of other lists it is probably because I have yet to see it].

What Dreams May Come
-The Social Network

Life is Harder Than Death
-Secret Sunshine

Where Art Thou
-The Art of The Steal
-Henri George Clouzot Inferno 
-Exit Through The Gift Shop
-Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

Psycho Trauma
-Black Swan
-Shutter Island

The Old New Wave
-Around A Small Mountain
-Inspector Bellamy

Whose Family is This Anyway?
-The Father of My Children
-The Kid's Are All Right

Formula Ones
-The King's Speech
-The Town

Escape is Impossible
-The Ghost Writer
-The Prophet

Terror Error

Picking Up The Pieces
-Soul Kitchen
-Winter's Bone

The West Was Guns
-The Good The Bad The Weird
-True Grit

Cuts You Up

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Korean sons

Two Korean films this year dealt with Korean boys committing crimes and their guardian mother trying to deal with it. The two films were Mother by Joon-ho Bong and Poetry by Lee Chang-dong.

*Spoiler Alert*

The crimes are somewhat similar in that they deal with the death of a young woman at the hands of the boys. But the handling of the crimes by their respective guardian mothers is very different.

Mother features a rather crazy mother who is fiercely protective of her mentally unstable son. To the point that when he unwittingly kills a young woman she does everything in her power to get him released from jail and then cover up the crime. The film is a dark comedy/ drama that remains unsettling and unpredictable in every scene.

Poetry is very different in that it is a grandmother who is caring for her grandson who it turns out is part of a gang that rapes a young woman who then commits suicide. The story is more about the way the grandmother deals with her early stages of Alzheimers all the while trying to write a poem that expresses how she feels. But the issue of her grandson fits into the whole piece in that she wants to do the right thing before she is no longer able to. By the end she refuses to protect her grandson from police detectives even though there is pressure for her to do so by the fathers of the other boys involved in the crime.

What we see in both films is a [Korean] cultural obligation to protect sons. But both feature the situation from the extreme edges of the issue. One is a woman who will stop at nothing to protect her son and the other is a woman who decides doing the right thing is far more important than saving face or doing what is expected of her.

Both are very good films and worth seeing if you can. Mother is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Poetry will be released next year in the US by Kino International.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Season's Change

Axial Tilt.

I love the sound of this:

The obliquity of the ecliptic is not a fixed quantity but changing over time in a cycle with a period of 41,000 years. It is a very slow effect known as nutation.

The obliquity of the ecliptic!

Monday, December 06, 2010


Crossplot (1969) is hardly a great movie but it is a rather fun one. Undoubtedly it is a film that helped launch Roger Moore into the Bond franchise four years later. This film - directed by veteran TV director Alvin Rakoff - plays more like a comedic Bond film with it's swinging London locale, sexual relations between Moore and his co-star Claudie Lange and the dizzy incompetence of the crooks. It's very much a film that can be lumped in with 'Casino Royale', 'Danger Diabloic' [even 'Blow Up'] and all the Connery starring Bond films as a film that inspired the Austin Powers films.

The plot almost doesn't matter. Claudie Lange plays a Hungarian model who is wanted by an underground group of criminals because she accidentally overheard of their assassination attempt on a world leader who is coming to London. Roger Moore plays an ad-exec who unwittingly comes to her rescue. With his charm and wit he manages to uncover the plot and get her to fall in love with him. The film has a fair amount of repartee between the two stars that recalls some of the humor we see in screwball comedy; along with the conceit that the two are in love with each other but they don't know it yet.

Style is really what matters here. The women wear colorful clothing, mini-skirts and have big hair while the men sport long sideburns and wear frilly shirts. These along with subplots about students rioting and an assassination attempt make the film a relic of its time. It also has a rather unique scene involving a helicopter chasing a 1920's automobile.

Is it worth buying? No. But it is worth checking out on Netflix where you can stream a somewhat below par video copy.

The trailer can be seen here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha is visually impressive but the plot is both weak and convoluted to the point that it is hard to follow or even really care about what happens. However, stylistically it is a very interesting film.

It as though Kurosawa had imagined it as a play and then was given millions to create it as an epic, which he then decided to keep in the format of a play with a few scenes of great color, movement and light. Much of the action takes place off-screen and instead of seeing action we are told about it. When the emperor is shot we hear about it and then later the would-be assassin explains to his interlocutors how he did it and we see him shoot a tree.

Vincent Canby's New York Times review astutely notes:
Kagemusha is majestic, stately, cool, and, in many of its details, almost abstract. It appears very much to be the work of a director who, now seventy years old, is no longer concerned with the obligations of conventional drama or even with moral questions. He is, instead, contemplating history, not as something to be judged but, rather, acknowledged and, possibly, understood.
We keep being told about war but never really see it. Instead riders on horses charge around or the battle takes place just over the hill. All other times we see scene after scene take place indoors or around the various outposts. This, of course, is a stylistic choice by Kurosawa and while I have no direct facts as to why he chose to make the film this way it seems as though financing had something to do with it. After all we do know that Kurosawa had trouble getting funding after his previous two films and his disaster in trying to work in Hollywood.

However, despite this the film is still rather effective due to the prince and pauper formula about the poor thief doubling as the emperor. But too the final scene is particularly strong because of the stylistic choice, which involves showing us gunners firing from fortified positions, various battalions charging to their death and the reactions by the commanders and the [now] former emperor stand-in all powerless to the carnage they are witnessing. We never actually see the slaughter and it is made more powerful because we don’t. And then Kurosawa gives us a series of amazing final shots with bloodied horses and people dying in super slow motion.

Although Kagemusha is not a remake per se it is a film that had been made before in Japan and to my mind the earlier version is a better film. Directed in 1963 by Umetsugu Inoue it is titled Daisan no kagemusha (The Third Shadow Warrior). It's better precisely because it shows us the action all the way through and draws us into the story in a way that Kurosawa's film does not. We care about the character in Umetsugu's film because we see the challenges that the hero faces continually and wonder when and if he will be caught. In time he becomes the emperor because the people who know him to be a double all die. While in Kurosawa's film the double never escapes and is always in a role, which - granted - is part of the film's message.

Overall, Kurosawa is after bigger themes and grander statements. For an excellent overview of all these themes you can't do better than Donald Richie's chapter on the film in his book The Films of Akira Kurosawa.

I think both films should be seen because both can be enjoyed and appreciated for different reasons. Umetsugu's film can be found on eBay or on some Asian DVD websites. Kurosawa's film is available on Blu-ray from Criterion and looks great.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Brown ads

Okay the election is over so I don't have to make any political pitches now. I can view them in an historical entertaining context. These two ads by Jerry Brown were brilliant. They may not have alone won him the election - but they were to the point in a way that voters could understand.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

AFI Free = dumb idea

The AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles [Hollywood actually] is free again this year. And it is a dumb idea. Here's why. As of right now tickets are available for free [started at 10 am] - but most people cannot access the site now because [duh!] everyone is swamping the site.

But here's the thing, most everyone who can access the site can afford to buy tickets. The folks who would benefit most from the festival being free don't have easy access to a computer. And a good many others are at work right now and cannot access the site because...well they are working and it's not advantageous for them to be perusing the site.

The only other options are to buy a pass for $500.00, which is not really a good choice, or to join AFI and get a chance to aquire tickets...well  yesterday. This scheme is obviously a nice way to advertise AFI. And maybe that is the whole idea behind the concept.

But I say here's a better idea: Stop making the AFI Festival free and instead sell tickets again so people can get tickets for movies they want to see without the hassle.

That said, I saw five or six films last year at the festival and none of them were sold out. So there is a good chance that films will still have seats available on the day of the screenings. But a good many people will not want to drive across the city, pay for parking and take a chance that maybe they can get into a film.

It's time for AFI to admit that the only reason they offer free tickets is as an adsvertising tool. It's a nice idea in theory. Let's hope next year they stop advertising and let us buy tickets again.

Friday, October 22, 2010


One of the best films I've seen this year is the 1968 Japanese horror film Kuroneko directed by Shindō Kaneto’s who is known for directing Onibaba a film somewhat similar in plot and theme.  But while that one is a bit more realistic this one is a ghost story of sorts in a sub-genre known as bakeneko mono or monster-cat tales.

The film's first scene involves a group of samurai who invade the home on Yone (Nobuko Otawa) and her mother-in-law Shige (Kiwako Taichi) whom they brutally rape and murder. The two women lay dead and a cat comes along and laps up their blood, which leads to them being transformed into vengeful spirits or bakeneko, "beautiful cat-like women" who have taken an oath to kill and suck the blood of all Samurai.

Subsequently, they settle in a home deep in the forest where they lure samurai to kill them. As the story unfolds we learn that the mother has a son - married to her daughter-in-law - who went off to war. He returns and is promoted to samurai by the local warlord who tells him to go in search of the spirits that are killing the samurai. He, of course, doesn't realize that these spirits are his mother and wife.

The story is quite good as it builds tension amid some of the horror elements - although to be honest the film is not particularly scary or bloody. At least by today's standards. However, the cinematography is stunning both in the use of black & white lighting but also the staging of each scene in the forest and some visual references which recall the influence of Nōh theatre.

Overall, the formal elements are terrific and the fillm's story really builds a very engaging suspense.

More info here:

MediaSeized analysis
Film Ref review
DVD Outsider review
DVD Beaver review

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fish Wanda Poster

I just unexpectedly saw A Fish Called Wanda at The American Cinematheque. I say unexpectedly because I had read the calendar incorrectly and thought I was going to see a German film, which actually plays next Saturday. Anyway, I had seen A Fish Called Wanda when it came out in 1988 and for some reason was not impressed. Twenty-two years later I have to admit my original opinion of the movie was wrong; it is truly a comedy classic. I laughed a lot. The crowd loved it too.

It was showing as part of a retrospective of Jamie Lee Curtis' career. She was in attendance and provided an entertaining interview after the movie. In the interview she talked about how the original ending was scuttled in favor of a happier with a love story element. Apparently, during the testing phase American audiences did not respond as well to the original darker ending in which is was evident that the Jamie Lee Curtis character was going to knock off the John Cleese character once they got to Rio. So various scenes were shot after principle photography to give the film a bit of a love story element.

One other thing she mentioned was that the original film poster was scrapped for a different one. I have included the poster above. This poster was supposed to have been destroyed due to an image flaw. But enough copies got out that it still exists today. If you look closely at it you will see that Jamie Lee Curtis is standing in an awkward way. The reason is because her image is a composite of two different poses she took during the photo shoot; One in which she was standing sideways and one in which she was standing looking straight ahead. You'll note that her upper body is facing us directly but her lower body is to the side. The pose, while not impossible, is off kilter in such a way that Jamie Lee Curtis had the poster redone. A bit of trivia for a fine and very funny movie.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

1999 best

One of the best recent years in film was 1999. Check out a list of over 40 films released in the US that year. [I've only included films I either liked or that were significant in one way or another. I've also only included films that got an official release of a week or more in the US in 1999].

All About My Mother
American Beauty
Autumn Tale
Beau Travail
Being John Malkovich
The Blair Witch Project
Boys Don't Cry
Buena Vista Social Club
The Dreamlife of Angels
The Emperor and the Assassin
Eyes Wide Shut
Fight Club
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Human Resources
The Insider
The Iron Giant
It All Starts Today
Late August Early September
The Limey
The Matrix
My Best Fiend
Not One Less
Princess Mononoke
Ride with the Devil
Run Lola Run
Show Me Love
The Sixth Sense
The Straight Story
Three Kings
Time Regained
The Wind Will Carry Us

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Arthur Penn 1922 - 2010

Penn was a very good filmmaker who sort of remained in the shadows due to making so few films over the past twenty years. While Bonnie and Clyde was never forgotten [and won't be] many of his other films were. In some cases films like The Left-Handed Gun and The Miracle Worker and The Chase lost to time and critical apathy. While Little Big Man, Night Moves and The Missouri Breaks remembered mainly by film lovers but defended strongly by those who especially like them.

True, he made three westerns but I would argue that he was one of those filmmakers who made a wide variety of films that are tough to label as 'a Penn film' in the same way we could label a Kazan or a Kramer or a Frankenheimer picture. You could watch The Left-Handed Gun [a Paul Newman western with a 50's psychological edge] and then turn and watch Mickey One [an intriguing independent 60's drama] then Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore [a late 60's 'hippie' dramedy] and finally Night Moves [a 70's private detective drama] and you would be hard pressed to know they were all directed by the same director if you didn't know better. In my book that is the quality of not only a talented director but one willing to stretch beyond his stylistic comfort zone.  True, they have a common theme regarding the outsider failing to fit in, the violence of America and the corrupt myths of America. But cinematically along with the tone of their drama they were all different.

We would call such filmmakers journeyman directors. But he was a cut above. I've liked everything of his that I have seen.
[photo from Todd McCarthy's indiewire column]

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cookware giver

Perusing through an April 1966 Life Magazine it didn't take long to find a politically incorrect ad.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lost Island of VHS...VIII

The Comfort of Strangers - Paul Schrader - 1990

One of the more intriguing films of the 1990's and certainly one of Paul Schrader's finest films is The Comfort of Strangers. Based on an Ian McEwan novel and adapted for the screen by Harold Pinter it is about a young couple played by Miranda Richarson and Rupert Everett vacationing in Venice Italy who get caught in a very odd web of dark desires with an older Venitian couple played by Christopher Walken and Hellen Mirren.

At times the film recalls Luchino Visconti's  Death in Venice crossed with something by David Lynch. Especially with it's mysterious atmosphere, underlying black humor and use of sexuality. At the heart of the film is Walken's role, which is certainly one of his finest, as a character who has a particularly old [masculine] world view that borders on charming and dangerous. He regales the couple with stories of his father, a man who seems to have been the embodiment of imperialism and fascism.

As the story unwinds it becomes evident that the couple are working through a rough patch in their relationship. But, after their first couple of encounters with Venetian couple, they begin to grow closer together. Yet as they get sucked into the deviant web it seems that the survival of their relationship is the least of their worries.

The cinematography by Dante Spinotti really deserves a special notice. The film showcases beautiful lighting along with lengthy, smooth, slow tracking shots that - coupled with the Badalamenti's score -  add to the creepy milieu as the film moves along to an ending that is both inevitable and shocking.

So how does a film this good with such names as McEwan, Pinter, Walken, Mirren, Badalamenti, Spinotti, et al. stay relatively unknown 20 years after it was made? I have no idea. It could be because MGM owns the rights and they have no desire to release it on DVD. Or it could be because it is an unconventional and too dark. But I will say some day when there is a retrospective of Paul Schrader's work this is the film that - I think - will make people reevaluate Schrader's work as they wonder why they had never heard of it. It is not available on DVD in Region 1 but you can buy it for under $10.00 from Amazon UK.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Claude Chabrol, 1930 - 2010
Another great filmmaker has left us.
Chabrol was the most prolific of the primary filmmakers in the French New Wave making close to 70 features in 52 years.

I've managed to only see a handful of his films. Most are suspense films hence he was considered the French Hitchcock. But too his films have an eye on class. Many of his characters are working or middle class who come into conflict with the upper class. And there is always a murder in there somewhere. His direction was always controlled but not so tightely controlled that he railroaded the narrative from start to finish. Instead he often develops characters within a particular setting and then spins the tale from there all the while leaving a bit of suspense and a little surprise to jolt us out of our complacency.

Of his many films the ones I highly recommend that I have seen are:

Le beau serge
Les bonnes femmes
This Man Must Die
Le boucher
La rupture
La cérémonie

But there are so many more to catch up with. Mubi has some great links.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Bertolucci Plaisir

I came across a 'Guilt Pleasure' article by Bernardo Bertolucci from the July / August 1996 issue of Film Comment. In it he writes about the films he likes. One of the films was Le Plaisir by Max Ophuls. As you will see his response is a peculiar form of pleasure.

My wife took me to see it nine years ago in Paris, and after the first episode, "The Masque," I was so excited that I got a fever and couldn't stay for the other two episodes. Two or three years later, in a little cinema in Rome called Film Studio... I went again and saw the first part and then the second, "Le Maison Tellier," in which the brothel closes so that all the hookers can go to he Holy Communion of the daughter of one of them. And it was so beautiful I couldn't stand it - it was too moving. And again, I had a fever and had to leave the theatre. A few years later I could see the third episode, "La Modele," which is devastating.
Le Plaisir is one of the least known of late Ophuls works but just as beautiful as La Ronde or The Earnings of Madame de.... Most will have seen it by now if they have seen the other two. But if not make sure to see it. And, just to be safe, have some aspirin on hand so you can enjoy it in one sitting.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Telluride 1990

Twenty years ago today [and to the hour of this post] the above photo was taken [by my dad] at the Telluride Film Festival. On the left is Annette Insdorf who hosts the seminars and on the right is film critic Roger Ebert. This particular panel [called 'noon seminars'] was about film critics. The highlight of the discussion was Ebert taking on Richard Corliss who had written a critical article in Film Comment about the thumbs up and thumbs down culture of film criticism. Also on the panel were Manny Farber and Paul Schrader. Manny Farber, known for his cantankerous nature, was in fine form taking on everyone including people who asked simplistic questions as well as Premiere Magazine, which was hosting the event. It was really rather enjoyable to sit in the park, feel the high altitude sun, look up at the high peaks surrounding the town and listen to the discussions echo through the speakers.

The four day festival was special for me in part because it was the first festival I had ever attended. But too because I was there with family and friends. The previous spring I had graduated from college and with a friend had gone to the East coast for the summer. There we met a young French couple who we became friends with and by summer's end had convinced to drive back to Colorado with us. They came along and loved the trip. As their vacation was coming to an end my dad and I told them we were going to attend the film festival in Telluride and they decided to come along. We drove up in my dad's green VW. Upon arriving we got a camp spot just outside of town and prepared for the nights first films. The French couple were particulary excited because they had learned that Gerard Depardieu was there; something they could not really believe since they were in this small Colorado mountain town.

Before the festival started I managed to sneak into the student program intro, which was being held in an old school house. The host that day was Bertrand Tavernier, who was the festivals' guest director that year. I had no idea who he was but was amazed at his knowledge of old Hollywood. Thereafter he became a frequent Telluride attendee.

That evening the festival began with the opening night party [they call it the 'feed']. Back then the feed was not held on the main street but was held in a courtyard that was part of the New Sheridon hotel. We looked on as the passholders mingled with the festival guests. All of a sudden my dad and I saw the French couple among the crowd. They had simply gone into the Sheridan lobby and snuck in through a side door. We decided to do the same.

Telluride is a very small town. And back in 1990 some of the streets were still unpaved. At that time the festival too was still generally small and the lines for each movie were relatively short. There were five film venues all within short walking distance of each other. The biggest venue was in a quonset hut [called The Community Center] located next to an old school building, one was in an old opera house, one was in the Mason's hall, one was outdoors, and one was an actual movie theater. The quonset hut has since been torn down and replaced by an auditorium but the other venues are all still used today.

Highlights that year were tributes to Clint Eastwood [White Hunter Black Heart], Gerard Depardieu [Cyrano de Bergerac] and director John Berry [He Ran All The Way].

Other films of note shown were:
Archangel - Surreal and funny early film by Guy Madden.
The Civil War - Ken Burns' most celebrated documentary.
The Comfort of Strangers - Paul Schrader film set in creepy but beautiful Venice.
Reversal of Fortune - Barbet Schroeder fillm about Claus von Bülow.
King of New York - An early Abel Ferrara movie with Christopher Walken.
L'Atalante - A definitive restored version of the Jean Vigo masterpeice.
The Nasty Girl - Inventive, thought provoking German film by Micheel Verhoeven.
Freeze - Die - Come to Life - A stark film by Pavel Nazarov about two kids in Siberia.
Ju Dou - Zhang Zimou's first real international hit.
All The Vermeers of New York - Jon Jost's beguiling film about art and love.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lost Island of VHS...

Wife! Be Like A Rose - Mikio Naruse - 1935

This is a terrific film from what many call the fourth master of the classic Japanese cinema: Mikio Naruse. Naruse, no doubt, stands on his own in film history but having never seen any of his films this one felt like a fusion both in style and content of two of those other great masters Yasujirō Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Like the films those two filmmakers made this film deals with domestic issues in 1930's Japan as well as the plight and/or roll of women in the society. In this film a young woman (Sachiko Chiba), soon to be married, goes to the country to bring back her father who left his wife and kids for a geisha twenty years before. What she does not know is that he has fathered two other children and is quite happy in his present life.

Despite the built-in drama and serious themes Wife! Be Like A Rose is on the lighter side and almost comedic at times. In part, this is due to the actress Sachiko Chiba who charms and smiles in each scene. Nothing much seems to phase her as she comes to accept the fact that reuniting her mother and father in not in the cards. [The Japanese title is Kimiko, which is the main characters' name].

Stylistically, the film also incorporates the "tatami shot" - used notably by Ozu - in which the camera is placed at a low height, along with distant framing shots and smooth camera movement which were utilized so well by Mizoguchi.

I'm am not sure why only one Naruse film is available in the US on DVD. I can only guess there are rights issues. Perhaps Criterion will eventually unspool a few of them in an Eclipse set. One can only hope.

A longer review of the film can be found here.

An interesting piece of history on the film when it opened and closed in New York in 1937 is here.

There are good notes on Naruse retrospectives at Filmforum and Harvard Film Archive.

Also a good piece over at The Evening Class.

It's time for Naruse to be re-discovered...or maybe just discovered.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cameron punk'd?

In the dept of "he doesn't get it" director James Cameron has said he will now reconsider making a sequel to Avatar based on the experience he had after showing the film to the Achuar - an Amazonian community who want to keep oil companies from drilling near their homelands.

From the interview:

These are people who had never been in a movie theater. They’re wearing feathers and paint. And they put on the glasses and watch Avatar, the first movie they’ve ever seen. And when they came out, the BBC interviewed them. This one woman, a tribal elder, says, 'In this movie, they solved their problems by fighting. We are not afraid to fight, but we have decided to try to solve our problems through dialogue. So this movie needs a better message.' I felt like I’d been punk’d. But it made me think."

He felt like he had been punk'd? What? Is it possible he has gotten so close to his own movie that he can't see a major message in it is using violence to solve problems? I mean, sure the way the story unfolds the Na'avi characters have no choice, but to people in the real world who have never seen a movie I would think the action would be pretty tough to look past.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Moon Gutter

Moon in the Gutter is a film I have wanted to see since I first read about it in the winter 1989/90 issue of Sight & Sound magazine. Despite the fact that it was a monumental failure and one that had apparently sunk the French company Gaumont I was intrigued enough to seek it out. How could one not be? But I could never find it on VHS and it didn't seem to come around even to the many venues in Los Angeles.

But just recently it was released on DVD by Cinema Libre.

Starring Gérard Depardieu, Nastassja Kinski, Victoria Abril and Dominique Pinon the film is about a dock worker named Gerard (Depardieu) who becomes obsessed with finding the man who killed his younger sister. Hitting an emotional snag in his life he falls for a photographer (Kinski) and attempts to leave his girlfriend (Abril) and the dingy docks where he lives and works. But that proves impossible.

The film succeeds mostly in the production design and cinematography departments. The sets are big and colorful and even though they feel like set pieces each scene has just the right aesthetic - at once claustrophobic and wide open. The DP was Philippe Rousselot who employs beautiful tracking shots and an almost too glossy look to what is otherwise a dark setting.

To be sure, Moon in the Gutter can only really be judged by the criticisms stacked against it. And after now viewing it I can see why the critics were disappointed. Coming off of the success of Diva Beineix was expected to be the next big French director. And as critics are wont to do they sunk their teeth into an artist whom they had previously placed on a pedestal. Adding insult to injury Gaumont trashed the extra footage negatives thus making it impossible for Beineix to ever create a definitive version like he did for Betty Blue.

The film is a tad long and considering Beineix's original length was around 4 or 5 hours I can't imagine the film being better or even more fleshed out. I can only imagine more beautiful shots and perhaps more intrigue. If anything there is a lesson here about studios giving a director too big a budget and a director who thought he could fulfill the promise of that budget.

Moon in the Gutter
is a film worth seeing but an asterisk will always hang above it.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Nuclear or Magnetic

Anyone else confuse Margot and the Nuclear So and So's with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros? Looking for the song 'Home' [a title I had forgotten] I kept looking for songs by Margot and the Nuclear So and So's. Finally found the song - but it is by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Now I know.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Black Magic Woman

'Black Magic Woman' was written and performed by Peter Green & Fleetwood Mac before Santana made it famous.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stinson Dipsea

In May I was up in the Bay Area and I did a great loop trail run from Stinson Beach up the Matt Davis Trail to Pantoll station and down the Dipsea trail.
It was a cool windy day, which made for great running weather.

This shot looks down the Dipsea trail toward Stinson Beach.
[It is also similar to this drawing presented below]

Monday, July 19, 2010

Goo music covers

Italian prog record from the 1973 and a blues rock album from the 2003.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Two Waving

Think about this for a moment; Way back in 1961 "L'année dernière à Marienbad" by Alain Resnais and "Paris nous appartient" by Jacques Rivette were released. The Nouvelle Vague had just leapt onto the world stage and Hollywood was beginning to wane a bit as many filmmakers and movements were about to burst forth in what would be the most creative decade in world cinema since the 1930's.

But for the sake of this post consider the fact that there is little doubt that no one was thinking that almost 50 years later in 2009-2010 both Resnais and Rivette would still be making films and giving cinephiles everywhere something to delight in for a couple of hours.

The world of cinema is a very different one than it was in 1961 - but it's reassuring to know that Resnais and Rivette still make the films they want to make with little or no interference from producers, studios or the marketplace. They have pretty much set their own pace and the world has had to conform around them.

So what about the new films?

Les herbes folles [Wild Grass] by Resnais is a rather dramatic and surreal tale about the power and mystery of love and 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup [Around a Small Mountain] by Rivette is a tale about a woman's reluctant entrance back into the world of the circus with the help of a man she doesn't know. Both are not what I would call masterworks but they have elements that only masters could really attain. Rivette's pacing is tremendously sure and Resnais has a way of turning a film from drama to comedy to surreality in the matter of one agile scene.

Rivette, as he usually does, plays with the conventions of a fictional proscenium as an allegory to the real world ultimately leaving us satisfied and reflective while Resnais plays with narrative structure never really defining the story or the character motivations and leaving us even more puzzled [but exhilarated] by the end.

Both films are unconventional love stories featuring older [40 and up] characters who are trying to reconcile their past so they can get on with their lives. Both deal with men who show up in a confused woman's life but then the tables reverse as the women, though independent, find they need the men in their lives at this particular point. And the men then find they need to make some sort of commitment in order to free the women.

Stylistically the films are very different. Resnais eschews his recent theatrical staged films for a lot of swooping camera movement [by DP Eric Gautier] and color while Rivette keeps it more laid back and simple with scenes that frame their characters outdoors [with a mountain in the background] or in dark tent of the circus.

Both films are recommended and welcome.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Or... Walker

These two movies have nothing to do with one another but the posters have a similar natural pose by the person on the poster.

Monday, July 05, 2010



film clip

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno

Total freedom is both the dream of every artist and a promise of catastrophe. If free verse, as Robert Frost said, is like playing tennis with the net down, then free filmmaking means no white lines and no court: just an umpire, a few players, and a load of balls. - Anthony Lane from his review of the film.

But what gorgeous freedom....

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Hands in the air

I saw the new Hold Steady CD cover and knew I had seen something similar before. It was a cover by Stars from a couple years ago.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Psycho turns 50

"Psycho" should be seen at least three times by any discerning film-goer, the first time for the sheer terror of the experience...; the second time for the macabre comedy inherent in the conception of the film; and the third for all the hidden meanings and symbols lurking beneath the surface of the first American movie since "Touch of Evil" to stand in the same creative rank as the great European films.

Andrew Sarris's original review

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hopper on camera

Dennis Hopper screen test by Andy Warhol. [From the DVD '13 Most Beautiful... Songs for Andy Warhol Screen Tests']

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Thursday, June 03, 2010

La Femme Publique

La Femme Publique [1984]

Andrzej Zulawski's La Femme Publique (The Public Woman) is a film you either find interesting and hate or you find terrible and hate. I take the former view. It has plenty of interest to offer but it makes me want to kick the screen. It is a film with such raw emotions and over-the-top scenes that the entertainment values is like a hammer to the head. And the scenes come at the viewer so loud and fast that it doesn't give one time to consider any implications; It's like an auto accident for the screen. There is nothing subtle about the movie; it is something you experience rather than enjoy.

The films stars Valérie Kaprisky [in a notably shrill performance] as a young woman who leaves home, becomes a nude dancer posing in a photography studio and is one day spotted by a completely mad Czech director (Francis Huster) who casts her in his film version of Doestoevsky's The Possessed. She has an affair with the director but then falls for another completely mad [Czech] dishwasher who was married to the previous movie-star the director used [and apparently terrorized] in an earlier movie he directed. While in the particularly volatile relationship with the dishwasher she begins to role play as though she is his wife. All the while being emotionally humiliated by the director of the film she is shooting.

Although it is not technically a Euro-trash film, in the best tradition of that style, the film is full of symbols, loudly perverse scenes, a political subtext and sex. Did I mention it has sex? The actress is rather attractive and her nudity gets good screen time. So much so that it borders on exploitation. Her nudity is such an attraction in the film, in fact, that if you do a Google image search and set the results on 'strict' you still get naked images.

But that is just window dressing to the whole experience. It's a tough film.

That said, the fact that I am spending time writing a post about it let's you know that at least the film makes you feel something. So, despite it's egregious tone and its questionable artistic merit, I'll say if you like a good knock to the head every so often consider watching La Femme Publique. It has it's defenders. It was also shot by Sacha Vierny who has shot such classic films as 'Last Year at Marienbad', 'Belle de jour' and 'The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover'. He seemed to be in the right place at the right time for a few cinematic artistic successes.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Laughing all the way - Banksy

**Spoiler Alert**

Exit Through The Gift Shop

I'm going to play it safe and say that 'Exit Through The Gift Shop" is an elaborate hoax. Ostensibly a film about street artists and one eager and clumsy Frenchman - who follows them around videotaping them as they tag walls with spray paint and pasted paper images - the film is really about the nature of art and the art world. Although while watching it you won't necessarily detect the message; it is made with such a brisk and entertaining pace.

Watching it I was caught up in the whole thing until everyone in the film became critical of the Frenchman - Thierry Guetta aka Mr Brainwash. It then occurred to me that if the film was made by Banksy there is just no way he would put himself in front of the camera and openly be hostile toward Mr Brainwash while at the same time also interviewing him. In other words, if the film had been made by someone else the hoax would have played itself out more convincingly.

That said, it is a rather brilliant film specifically because Banksy fires his arrows right through the heart of the art world. There is one scene where he has an art opening in LA near skid-row in some warehouse. The centerpiece of the show is a real live elephant. Here we see the literal and figurative come together quite succinctly. Banksy knows that the elephant in the room is that people are willing to shell out thousands [or millions] of dollars for just about anything done by an artist with a name.

As Banksy spins his yarn our hero Thierry Guetta puts down his camera and takes up street art on a whim and takes the moniker 'Mr Brainwash'. Soon he is creating work that he and the art world feel is worthy of Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader and many of the others he apparently followed for a while with his camera. And he gets so caught with the bug he buys a studio and [Warhol-like] hires a bunch of people to mass produce intriguing art prints. Or, so it seems. He then goes on to create a huge show to be presented in CBS’s Columbia Square. If you are asking yourself, "How the hell...?" Trust me, go with your gut. It couldn't be funded by him. Banksy is all over it and Mr Guetta is simply fronting as an artist in the studio - which, again, is mass produced work. Hardly original or difficult if you have the capital, some graphic designers and a vague idea of what you want. [Warhol did it extremely well].

Anyway, the LA Weekly fell for Mr Brainwash's 'Life is Beautiful' show big time back in 2008. And it makes you realize that the press can be easily duped if the hype seems legit. [Although, who knows, maybe they played along?] In this case, Banksy and Fairey promoted the show. So what's not to love, then? If some unknown Frenchman did an art show of provocative graffiti images it would barely register a blip with most of us. But the value of promotion - in this case hoaxmotion - and some press coverage suddenly thrust this character into the spotlight.

So the bigger question might be, "What the hell is art?" Ah ha! Ask Arthur Danto who will tell you it's just about anything if people accept it as such. Have a problem with that? Look, if you're willing to shell out the cash for something you truly like then that's great. Watch the great documentary 'Herb and Dorothy' if you want to see pure art lovers who are really only in it for the art. But if you are merely a collector hoping to have the latest and greatest to keep up with the buzz of the art world then Banksy has a message for you with this film.

So yeah, Banksy's got to be loving this because he is at once showing how utterly bankrupt and gullible the art world is as well as showing us his role in it. But too, the problem I see is that Banksy is as phenomenally cynical as he is talented. He tips his hat to Andy Warhol as well as Orson Welles' 'F is For Fake' all the while making money and truly laughing all the way to the bank. See?


For reasons that I cannot fathom Roger Ebert seems to think Guetta is the real thing.

Is this Banksy?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fuller on Peckinpah

A reprint of a Sam Fuller review of a Sam Peckinpah film from Movietone News 60-61, February 1979.

Peckinpah’s Balladof Cable Hogue is a sensitive, emotional, surgical job on an American desert hermit without familiar sagebrush stuffing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Panahi released

Good news

Iranian Filmmaker, Jafar Panahi, Is Released After Nearly 3 Months in Prison.
It's amazing in this day and age that filmmakers are considered a threat anywhere in the world.

His last four films have been terrific.

The Mirror (1997)
The Circle (2000)
Crimson Gold (2003)
Offside (2006)

Hopefully he can get more made after this ordeal.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cinema One Books

A year ago there was a film book meme going around the blogs. [Here, here and here and to link a few]. I intended to do a post of some of my favorites but never got around to it. So figured I would just do one on the Cinema One series, which originated out of England in the late 1960's.

Most of the Cinema One books I have were published in the US by Indiana University Press in association with Sight and Sound and the Education Department of the British Film Institute. Some were also published by Viking Press and just a few I have were actually published in England.

What was cool about the series - other than the well written film analysis - was its uniformity. Each of the little books have a number on the spine: Number 1 was about Godard, Number 2 was Losey, Number 3 was Visconti, and on and on. The idea being that all the major filmmakers of the day [and some of the past] would get one volume dedicated to their work by a renowned film critic in the UK. [Obviously the Auteur theory was in full swing by then]. Each book was paper bound, had around 175 to 195 pages and all had black & white photos to accompany the text. I am not sure how many there ended up being in the series. The highest number I have is 20 and on the back it tells me there was a number 22 on Val Lewton.

With the exception of the Peter Wollen book; 'Signs and Meaning in the Cinema' and the 'Horizon's West' by Jim Kitses [which has been republished] - these are relatively rare books. I've found all of mine at used book stores through the years although I found one on Abe Books last week. And, best of all, I've been able to find most for under $10.00. The exception is the Number 16 'Melville on Melville' by Rui Nogueira, which often goes for $100.00.

Currently, the BFI does do a film book series where by they have one critic write about one film. And each of those books is also a slim volume with good insights. But I really like a more fleshed-out analysis of individual filmmakers and their films like Cinema One did. [True BFI also has done a more recent series of film director books]. But with the poor state of publishing I don't think we'll ever see another series quite like this one. It's worth collecting if you can find them.

The final tally is here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Auteurs now Mubi

Well this is weird.
The Auteurs, a really terrific site for film lovers, has changed it's name to Mubi. As in a mispronuncation of 'movie'. [Note it is not Mumbai].

According to Anne Thompson the reason was because the site's founder, Efe Cakarel, felt that 'auteurs' was too difficult to market. So he got a bunch of ad agencies to come up with a new name.

So, essentially, because Cakarel couldn't figure out how to market a real word that has a specific meaning to people who love movies he hired a bunch of ad agencies to make up a fake word that sounds like baby talk but is [maybe] catchy enough to get more visitors to the site.

If anything, this is just silly. But in many ways it is also disappointing because it seems Cakarel couldn't be bothered to ask his core of daily site readers and users to help come up with a newer, catchier name. Instead, he sought outside help from folks who most likely never visit the site. Not too loyal of him. How loyal should we be toward him?

I like the site enough to check it out every other day; Especially the terrific Notebook section gathered each day by David Hudson. However, I'll still refer to the site as 'The Auteurs'.

Update: The best comment I have seen thus far is this one from someone called Gokinsmen

Still, I would love to know the story behind this name change.

“We need a new name…”
“Okay. What do internet geeks like?”
“Movies. Boobs.”
“I’ve got it!”

Thursday, May 06, 2010

demon sheep!

Mutton marketing!

It started with this political ad by Carly Fiorina, running in a CA Republican primary for Congress against a fellow Republican Tom Campbell.

[Longer version here]

Then the Democrats got on board and both parodied the ad and ran with it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Most expensive painting?

Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" was auctioned for $106.5 million, which sets a record for an auction price.

However, it is not the most expensive painting ever sold. It is actually the fourth highest amount paid for a painting.

"Number 5" by Jackson Pollock sold for $140 million.
Woman III by Willem de Kooning sold for $137.5 million
"Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" by Gustav Klimt sold for $135 million.

The difference is these were bought while the Picasso was auctioned, which is only slightly different

Friday, April 30, 2010

bye bye lala

Well this sucks.

Apple Kills Lala

The cool thing about Lala was you could listen to full CD's once for free and then for a mere 10 cents you could add them to a library. Then by logging in on any computer you could listen wherever you were.

Just when you get used to technology someone biggers comes along to buy it and then change or shut it down.
The speculation is that iTunes will now have an online presence. But you can bet the 10 cent option will not be there.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

French humor

From the film Fais-moi plaisir!.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Best directors?

Paste Magazine has a list of the 50 Best living directors.
It's not a bad list but, as with any lists, they are missing a few good directors - while including a few dubious ones.

Here are twenty missing from the list:

Olivier Assayas
Marco Bellochio
Kathryn Bigelow
Claude Chabrol
Jonathan Demme
Atom Egoyan
Todd Haynes
Aki Kaurismäki
Patrice Leconte
Mike Leigh
Sidney Lumet
Tsai Ming-liang
Roger Mitchell
Manuel de Oliveira
Roman Polanski
Hong Sang-soo
Paul Schrader
Alexander Sukorov
Andrzej Wajda
Frederick Wiseman
Zhang Yimou

Monday, March 15, 2010

Red Desert Blu

One of Antonioni's masterpieces is coming to Criterion on Blu-ray in June!
Great news. Great movie.

I watched the Blu-ray and, naturally, it looked great. What I found most interesting was my own memory of the film. I watched if for the first time in 1990 at the San Francisco film festival. Then I watched it again in 2000 and now ten years later makes for the third viewing. I had remembered the little cabin by the sea that they all have a party in. But I had forgotten the precision of the individual shots. In my view, this is Antonioni at his artistic peak. Every shot, every edit and every movement of the characters is deliberate and fits into the visual mosaic.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Blu-ray visions

I bought a Blu-ray player this month. The image quality is so much sharper and fuller than standard DVDs. Here is some of what I have seen. Some movies I catch myself just looking at the image rather than watching the story. But having worked in film preservation this is not such a bad thing. There are some great looking films out there.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hot Chip Statue

The art on the new Hot Chip CD cover reminds me of a scene from the movie Ulysses' Gaze as well as Landscapes in the Mist both by Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos. In both movies there is a scene where a large statue is being moved by a crane and later a ship.