Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Movies 2011

I watched more movies this year than in any year in the last ten. So, naturally, choosing ten is tough. But due to the fact that my top three were so easy I figured I would go ahead and name my top ten in order. But the next ten after that are in alphabetical order. It was another terrific year in film. [I think they all are]. Here are my favorites.

1. Poetry - devastating
2. A Separation - heartbreaking
3. Melancholia - exhilarating
4. A Dangerous Method - intellectual
5. Win Win - nuanced
6. The Princess of Montpensier - impressive
7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall... - theological
8. Seena - dynamic
9. Le quattro volte - authentic
10. Sucker Punch - audacious


The next eleven.
Beginners
The Descendents
Drive
Hanna
Le Havre
Margaret
Meek's Cutoff
Midnight in Paris
Pina
Source Code
Tree of Life

A few of others I liked:
Bill Cunningham: New York
Buck
The Conspirators
Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
Mysteries of Lisbon
Nostalgia For The Light
Of Gods and Men
Point Blank
Project Nim
Sarah's Key
Source Code
The Strange Case of Angelica
X-Men First Class
A bunch of movies I have yet to see from 2011...

Updated: 9/21/12

Friday, December 23, 2011

Older Film Discoveries 2011

Here are 10 great films I finally caught up with or discovered in 2011.

Pandora and The Flying Dutchman [Albert Lewin, 1951] - I'd always avoided this film because of the title and because it seemed to have that psychological drama soap thing I dislike about a lot of 50's cinema. But when I realized is was shot by Jack Cardiff I realized it was time to see it. On Blu-ray it looks delicious.

By The Bluest of Seas [Boris Barnet, 1936] & The House of Trubnaya Square [Boris Barnet, 1928 - Soviet films are always so darn serious but Barnet's films are a real treat for film lovers; he makes high art delightful and fun while still maintaining the social themes that were required by the USSR.

Revenge of a Kabuki Actor - aka An Actor's Revenge [Kon Ichikawa, 1963] - Ichikawa is one of the great Japanese filmmakers yet his films remain a tad out of reach [read cold] because his themes and his filmic structures don't try to entertain us. This film is self reflexsive and deep - can I use that word?

The African Queen [John Huston, 1951] - Yes, I know this falls under the 'I can't believe you had never seen' this category. Years ago I was busy cutting my teeth on Fassbinder and Fellini and I passed Huston by. Glad I am finally catching up with his work.

Il momento della verità - aka The Moment of Truth [Francesco Rosi, 1965] - I reviewed this a couple months back. It's one of Rosi's rawest yet truest films. Brutal, beautiful and full of life and death. It is not easily forgotten.

The Man Who Could Work Miracles [Lothar Mendes, 1936] - This [sort of] falls into the quota quickly category for which the Brits excelled in the 1930's. It's solid fun from start to finish as a man finds he has enough power to run the world - until he tries.

The Phantom of Liberty [Luis Buñuel,1974] - Yes, this terrific and crazy Buñuel film still remained on my 'to see' list. I'm like the cat who leaves a little food in the bowl because I don't want there to be a last bite. I can't bear to have no more new Buñuel films to discover.

The Spy in Black [Michael Powell, 1939] - The first of the Powell / Pressburger films is a wonderful picture that had me guessing all the way to the end. Most remarkable, perhaps, is that the lead character is German. This during a time of war.

Love and Pain and The Whole Damn Thing [Alan J Pakula, 1973] - How do you make awkward endearing? This film is full of cringe-worthy scenes and performances but by the end you realize how refreshing it is to see a movie that is a lot closer to who we are rather than who we think we are when we see perfect movie stars in relationships.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Man Deer and Drinking

This news item caught my eye:

Cops: Drunk tried driving hurt deer to NY hospital

But the comments were especially humorous:

He tried to buck the system. Instead, he'll have to cough up some doe.

He's gonna have to hoof it for awhile with that DUI sentence.

That's going to cost him a few bucks

It's nothing to fawn over.

Oh deer

Monday, December 19, 2011

IndieWire vs Film Comment polls

It's year-end, which means movie polls!

Here's the Film Comment list of 50 best films of the year. The poll included 120 film journalists and critics.

Here's the IndieWire list of 150 [or so] best films of the year. The poll included 162 film critics.

Here's the Village Voice List polls 95 critics.

Of note:
Drive
#4 on IW
#22 on FC
#9 on VV

Shame
#11 on IW
#21 on FC
#19 on VV

The Artist
#13 on IW
#27 on FC
#17 on VV

Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
#15 on IW
#35 on FC
#13 on VV

A Dangerous Method
#16 on IW
# 5 on FC
#12 on VV

We Need To Talk About Kevin
#18 on IW
NOT ON FC top 50
#32 on VV

Poetry
#21on IW
#10 on FC
#18 on VV

Le Havre
#30 on IW
#12 on FC
#34 on VV

Why the differences?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hugo Okay...

Martin Scorsese has made a film love letter to the world of film he reveres and to film fans everywhere.

However, when Scorsese gets out of his element his films tend to be rather flat and very safe. Much like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Age of Innocence and Kundun Hugo hits all the narrative points it needs to to be a successful film but it doesn't soar when it should.

That is not to say it is an usuccessful film. I love that it highlights the career of Georges Méliès. And it's cool that the two kids sneak into Safety Last*, and that it has an melancholic automaton that holds the secret that spurs the narrative forward. But despite all of this - as well as the fine 3D quality - the film really feels like it is by-the-numbers filmmaking. It is also a tad slow for the type of film that it is. The film's pace is slack when it should be charging forward. Much like The Artist too - the other homage to film - the story is fairly simplistic. And, yes, it is based on a kids book but watching it, it didn't feel like a kids film. It instead felt like a kids film made for adults.

Look, it's not like my opinion matters much anyway; Hugo has a whopping 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is definitely worth seeing. But I wish Scorsese could have tweaked it a bit to make it more exciting and more memorable.

* Note that Safety Last came out in 1923 yet Hugo takes place in 1930. I can only guess they were sneaking into a revival screening of a silent film.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Denby vs Rudin

I'm on the side of common sense with regards to the David Denby, Scott Rudin ,The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo farce. Which is to say I mainly side with Denby.

If a producer / distributor screens a movie for critics with the hope of winning a critic's award then they are, essentially, asking for a review from all the critics who will then write on their ballot their list of the year's best films. So you should not then be upset when a critic writes an actual review of the film.

Sure, Denby should keep his word however the 'embargo' for expressing an opinion ended the very minute the film was screened for the critics.

Rudin has to know this. But he wants to control the media because he knows that some day he may release a lousy movie that could get killed at the box office if it receives early negative reviews. I am guessing, too, he is upset that the film did not win the New York Critics Circle Award for best film and his only recourse is to call Denby 'immoral' for writing what is, in fact, a positive review.

Puleeze....

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Artist

Dial down your expectations for The Artist. Yes, it is good - as well as rather impressive that the director star, Michel Hazanavicius, manages to pull off a black-and-white silent film in an era that is ready to shift into 3-D. But it is not the best film of the year per the New York Film Critics. For one thing, it is too simplistic and lightweight to have any real lasting impact on the audience. It's a movie movie that certainly can and will charm film buffs.  The film is, if anything, an ode to the silent era and at times feels like a stunt to see if the filmmaker could make a silent film. He can. Bravo. But being that the movie seems to only exist as an artifact to prove a point it ends up feeling rather thin.

There are many things I found lacking about the film... suffice it to say if it were 60 minutes long it might work better. I'll also add that there is one sequence that is brilliant to the point that if the film followed that particular narrative twist it would have put the film into a fun gonzo orbit somewhere in the realm of Being John Malkovich. But, alas, what we have is a fairly entertaining and unique film with some nice - albeit predictable - moments. But nothing more.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Combined Movie Titles

Just for fun...

A Room With a View to a Kill - While staying in a nice hotel in Florence James Bond learns that he has been given the wrong room. He trades his room with a repressed Englishwoman who's father, it turns out, is at the center of a crime ring that is rigging horse races.

Blow Out of Africa - A movie sound effects technician working on a movie in Kenya unwittingly captures audio evidence of a famous woman author from Denmark who may or may not have something to do with a cocaine related murder.

Man Bites Dogma - A serial killer and his friend turn the camera on themselves and try to philosophize on how they can get into heaven after committing a bunch of atrocious murders.

Swing Time Bandits - A boy dancer enters a historical, fantasy, dream world where he encounters dwarfs and a fleet-footed dance teacher who helps him escape once he is pursued by evil characters.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Displaced Desire



Two posters forty years apart that have other things on their mind other than doorbells and safe cracking.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Martha Marcy May...

It's tough to say 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' quickly. It is also difficult to remember the title if you are hard pressed at a cocktail party. But the appeal of the movie resides in a bit of confusion - so the title is apt.
Elizabeth Olsen gives a terrific performance as a young women who gets swept into a Charlie Manson-like cult [lead by a wiry, appealing and at times scary John Hawkes]  but manages to escape and spend a few days trying to find her bearings with her uptight sister - who is the only family she has.

Besides the performances and quality direction [by first time director Sean Durkin], the film's form and editing is what makes it all work. It skips effortlessly back and forth in time from the first day Martha [Marcy May] enters the cult in the Catskill mountains of New York to her paranoid days living with her sister and [even more uptight] husband who are on vacation at a lake in Connecticut.

The film continually presents us psychological conflicts and interestingly tense situations that seem as though they will boil over but which, actually, smoothly role along giving the film an effectively slow creep.

Oh, yeah, and Elizabeth Olsen is really rather darn attractive. [At least to this reviewer]. She is in every scene and we often see many close-ups of her expressive eyes. She has a natural beauty that - in some ways - manages to distract from the plot; Especially when the tastefully done but obligatory indie-film nude scenes come along.

Nonetheless, all for authenticity!

If there is one weakness in the film it is the cult that Martha belongs to. The film asks us to believe in the character yet it wants us to believe she would belong to a cult that seems to have no reason for being other than to please the cult leader's sexual desires. If the audience is asked to believe in a full-fledged character you have to also make that which they believe in believable. I other words, the screenwriter should show us why Martha and the other women would want to belong to the cult. Especially because each of them have to endure the pain and humiliation of rape soon after they join. If the only reward is gardening and occasionally sneaking into rich people's homes then the motivation invites incredulity.

*SPOILER OF SORTS*

Some are confused or annoyed at the film's ending. But, if you think about it, it would be completely unsatisfactory for the film to end any other way. They would have had to tack on another 30 minutes at the end of the film and [most likely] find a way to kill the cult leader - which would make the movie a completely different one and, to my mind, an unrealistic one.

To those who don't get the movie's ending; It's called form following content; Martha is confused and paranoid and her own state-of-mind is precarious. Therefore, the movie puts us in that place as well. By the end, we don't what the heck is going to happen - and neither does she.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Netflix still pretty good

I know there were a lot of people who were upset when NetFlix switched up their model, splitting between streaming and DVD units thus raising the monthy subscription around 60%. [They lost 800,000 customers last quarter] However, I notice a lot of comments about how Netflix streaming content sucks. Let me just say if someone cannot find good movies to stream on NetFlix then they are either completely ignorant of what is actually offered or they only want brand new mainstream crap.

If they want the crap then let them toss their money over to Blockbuster and RedBox. Or let them pay $3.99 per movie at Amazon or iTunes rather than the still pretty inexpensive $7.99 a month offer.

But, seriously, people need to expand their horizon's beyond the latest Hollywood hits. Viewers willing to do that will find it very easy to build an extremely long queue from what NetFlix has to offer. I find great old movies, foreign language films and hidden gems all the time. True, they will lose some of the Criterion titles to Hulu-Plus soon but it's not like the average viewer cares about Criterion titles anyway so it is no loss for the mainstream Mike's and Mary's out there. For the rest of us - who appreciate non-mainstream films - it will be a loss - but then Hulu Plus offers the titles at $7.99 a month, which ain't bad.

Get out there and look for streaming titles. I see no reason for me to list the great films I have streamed on NetFlix. If you can't find them you probably don't care anyway.

Happy viewing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pale Skin

It's amazing that a movie by a gifted director with many intriguing ideas about identity topped with grisly thriller and sexual elements can ultimately be rather dull. The first half sort of lumbers along and the second half, while better, manages to be rather predictable even though it goes places few movies ever have.

Pedro Almodovar's early films had ways of shocking audiences even though the subject was as straightforward as homosexuality or sex. But 'The Skin I Live In' has multiple elements sure to offend even the most seasoned film goer, yet it never gets off the operating table.

All the pieces seem in place and the structure is very tight [maybe too tight] but it doesn't soar like Almodovar's best.

Thinking about it a day later it seems that it surely must have been better than I thought. After all, the main conceit of the film is a whopper. [Think 'Vertigo' and 'Frankenstein' dropped into a blender]  But the feeling I had as I sat in the theater watching it was rather underwhelming.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rare DVDs III

Plenty of DVD's come and go and we often miss them or don't even know they exist. These are a few rarely seen films that are not necessarily hard to find.

Circle of Deceit [Kino]
This German film deals with a journalist in a war zone who must come to grips with what is going on around him in war and in his life. Bruno Ganz stars as the journalist and Hanna Schygulla is the woman he has fallen in love with. Directed by Volker Schlöndorff with a terrific amount of verve the film was shot in Lebanon while a war was going on. They shot in and around actual abandoned bombed out buildings and it feels at times like a documentary.

Danzon [Facets]
Okay, this one is sort of rare because it is out-of-print. It's a well made, engaging Mexican film about a woman who goes in search of her missing dancing partner - an older gentleman she hardly knows. While looking for him she ends up in Veracruz where she befriends a cross-dresser who helps her find herself. [The films is not as salacious as it sounds; This is not Almodovar territory].

We All Loved Each Other So Much [BYU]
This one goes by the title C'eravamo Tanto Amati and is rather expensive and hard to come by but if you like fast paced delightful Italian comedy/dramas this is the ticket. Directed by Ettore Scola and starring Nino Manfredi, Vittorio Gassman, Stefania Sandrelli the film deals with a group of friends recalling their tumultuous lives growing up together - all of which deal with the men falling in love with the woman at various stages.

25 Firemans Street [Kino]
I would categorize this Hungarian film as Eastern European, communist, surrealism. Directed by István Szabó it has a unique style that is almost completely alien to us today. Each shot is precise and involves rather intricate roving camera tracking shots that often utilize the zoom lens. It takes place entirely in one run-down apartment building that, quite clearly, is a metaphor for Hungary circa the early 70's.

Mr Thank You [Eclipse / Criterion] [Also on Hulu Plus] [[Maybe not so rare]]
This film by Hiroshi Shimizu is an amazing snapshot of Japan in 1935. The main character is a bus driver who does a daily trip from Tokyo to the nearby mountain towns that exist in the area. Along thee way he encounters the many peope in the region. It is very simply directed yet has an endearing quality and some rather inventive editing to move the story along. This film is rather easy to get now - although it is part of a box set, which has many other terrific films by the same director

Monday, September 26, 2011

Il momento della verità

Every time I see a Francesco Rosi film I wonder how is it possible he is not better known. Even among cinephiles he doesn't get his due. Of course, his films are hard to come by so that certainly plays a part.

Il momento della verità [aka The Moment of Truth] is not one of his well known films but thanks to Criterion / Hulu Plus it is now available. And what a masterful film it is.

The basic story is that of an Andalusian farm boy who in order to get out of poverty moves to Barcelona to become a bullfighter. The film is both a documentary and a feature film. The bullfighting scenes, as well as various bullfighting festivities - such as bulls running through crowds and plowing into spectators - are all real. Very real. When the bull is gored and blood spills profusely out of his mouth it is all real. And disturbing. Yet it is this authenticity that makes the film all the more effective.

Despite the narrative arc about the young man's rise to fame this is not a film about bullfighting so much as a neo-realist film [in color] about the travails of the working poor in Spain circa 1965. It shows us in blunt terms that the choices are limited. If you are a male you can remain on the farm working just to survive or you can go to the city and work for someone who forwards you money, which you then become indebted to thus never really getting ahead. Or, if you are a fearless and athletic young man, you can try bullfighting and makes a good living - albeit one that is very risky.

It should be noted this film could not have been made in the mid 60's by a Spanish filmmaker due to the Franco dictatorship. So it took Rosi - an Italian - along with his great cinematographer, Gianni Di Venanzo, shooting the documentary scenes with a 16mm silent, color camera - to get it done. The fictional scenes were - I believe - shot in 35mm as they could be under controlled direction.

The actor who plays the lead is a real [legendary] bullfighter named Miguel Mateo 'Miguelín' and he is truly amazing to watch. Not only in the way he handles the cape and the muleta but in some of the scenes in which he brushes up against the bull and pats him on the head before eventually thrusting the sword [estoque] into the bull's shoulder blade are astonishing.

It is evident from the first moment he steps into the ring that he has talent. In fact, if the film has one weakness it is believing that a peasant can come from a farm and in such a short time become such an accomplished torero. Nonetheless, since the time it takes for him to become a bullfighter is never really established it is a minor point.

As in most all Rosi films the hero's demise is imminent. Most Rosi film's actually begin with the main character's death and then go back in time to show us what lead up to that death. This film begins with a ceremony from Holy Week - shot as a documentary giving us a full flavor of Spain in that period - and then dives into the story.

Rosi and Di Venanzo frame shots beautifully. And the editing of the documentary scenes with that of the fictional scenes are both convincing and compelling. Particularly so because the main actor is often in both making for a smooth transition. Of course, the film is dubbed into Italian from what appears Spanish. But it is so visually rich, well paced and put together that dialogue becomes secondary to the overall effect.

This is a terrific film with a sound political message. It's also has the best [and brutal] bullfighting scenes I've seen in a movie. I am glad Criterion has made it available on Hulu Plus.

-------
Postscript: Bullfighting has been banned in parts of Spain.

------
Update: Soon to be available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Drive

Drive is a mainstream art house movie. Or maybe that's an art house mainstream movie? Either way the reason that a lot of people won't like it is because it's not really for the mainstream audience but it is being marketed as though it was.

Ryan Gosling plays a laconic mechanic / movie stunt driver who occassionally lends his services as a robbery getaway driver. He also has compassion, a mean streak and the ability to sacrifice himself for the right reasons, which often makes for a good movie character. He has no name in the movie but at one point he identifies himself as a shark [are there good sharks?] and a scorpion [a scorpion is emblazoned on his jacket]. Yet his nature is not threatening so much as just focused and intense.

If you combine the movies Le Samurai by John Pierre Melville and The Driver by Walter Hill and maybe Bullitt by Peter Yates then you'll get an idea of what Drive is like and what it is about. With a particularly stronger attachment aesthetically to Le Samurai.

Both Drive and Le Samurai take an American ideal genre - the crime film or film noir [not a genre] - and turn it on its head by slowing it down and giving it something contemplative and intellectual while still maintaining a modicum of Hollywood.

Overall, I think Drive does exactly what the director (Nicolas Winding Refn) and writer (Hossein Amini) want it to do. But the question is do they succeed? I would say yes and no. What works in the movie is the overall mood as well as the build up to the [inevitable] violence. What doesn't necessarily work is the development of the characters as well as the development of the relationship between the driver (Ryan Goslin) and the young woman (Carey Mulligan).

The director / writer essentially give us interesting archetypal characters that are not necessarily mainstream but are also not necessarily well-developed. The movie is also perhaps a bit too consciously clever of itself. Part of the problem is that in slowing the movie down Refn lets the audience think about each scene a little too much and in most crime films if the audience has time to stop and think about it they will find reasons to question what they are watching. With Drive this is particularly true early on when the movie has a lot of awkward pauses and moments of silence.

However, the pacing is not a bad thing. In fact, it is rather hypnotic to the point that if you get into the rhythm of the movie [which may also remind some of Michael Mann's Collateral] then you will overlook all the shortcomings as you gear up for the second half as the tension builds and the violence comes.

Overall, it is a rather effective movie; Especially in the second half when the pace picks up and the narrative focus becomes a little stronger as well as more dramatic and bloody. The movie goes exactly where is should go - if you think about it. And that's one reason to recommend it since it is essentially a formulaic film - albeit with art house street cred but mainstream aspirations.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Soviet humor



Here's the terrific opening scene from Boris Barnet's The House of Trubnaya Square. At once a humorous, realist, Soviet montage style scene.

The film too is wonderful and it can be seen in full here. [No subtitles for the intertitles but it is easy to follow]. It will also be released on a Soviet film collection DVD this week.

More on little known Russian director Boris Barnet here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bromberg's silent show

Serge Bromberg of Lobster films is a great entertainer who each year presents a show in Paris of short found and restored silent films. The last few years he has taken the show on the road. Recently he has been presenting a show at the Telluride Film Festival and then he hops over to Los Angeles.  I watched his show a couple of years ago in Telluride and it was terrific. I just attended his most recent show at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater and while I don't think the show was as good as the one from two years ago it was still entertaining and - as always - a learning experience for film buffs.

He is tied in with Flicker Alley which released such DVD titles as Saved From The Flames and a great collection of Georges Méliès films so he knows his stuff and has a treasure trove of films to present.

For this show the main focus was a restoration of a hand colored version of Melies' A Trip To The Moon as well as an assortment of 3-D films.

Here are the titles he presented - a good number of which can be found online. I've included links.

A Trip Down Market Street - a 1906 short single take down Market St in San Francisco a few days before the 1906 earthquake. The reason they know it was only a few days before the quake was because a historian did some work to find out weather conditions as well as license plates on some of the cars that passed by in front of the camera, which was mounted on a cable car. The short is available online here.

San Francisco Apres La Catastrope - A very short film from 1906 of the devastation. Found in Europe.

Metamorphoses du Papillon
- A hand-tinted 1904 short that shows a centipede turning into a butterfly. Only it's all done with an actor. Pleasantly funny. Watch it online here.

The Acrobatic Fly - Described - with a smile - by Bromberg as 'atrocious' it is rather funny until you realize why the fly can't move. Then it is grimly funny. This was shown as part of Bromberg's show at Telluride in 2009. Watch it online here.

La Peine du Talion - A 1906 hand-tinted fantasy film about a guy out chasing and catching butterflies who gets his comeuppance. Watch it online here.

Flirt en Chemin de Fer - A 1902 short that Bromberg said was one of the first films to deal with 'sex'. A man kisses a woman on a train. The train goes through a tunnel very quickly and whatever they did together is over.

Apres Le Bal - An 1897 Méliès film that Bromberg described as erotic. A woman comes home and her maid gives her a bath. The 'water' the maid throws on her looks more like coal dust than water. Watch it online here.

Gwalior - A 1907 travelogue through India. Hand-tinted images of people and an elephant strolling though the town and country.

Joy of Living - A beautiful free flowing animated short from 1934. The film did not necessaily fit with the rest of the program but it is a nice bit of art work. I had seen this before it is an extra on the Mauvaise Graine DVD - an early Billy Wilder film. Watch the short online here.

La Donna e Mobile / Als Wie So Trugerisch
- A 1907 sound film! An actor lip synchs a few moments from the famous opera sung by Enrico Caruso. Mildly amusing but more notable for the sound element which [in its day] utilized a cylinder to play the audio in synch with the image.

Les Kiriki - Very humorous 1907 short with 'Japanese acrobats'. In truth, actors wearing Japanese style hair pieces and the director / editor using trick cinematography to make it look like the troupe is doing magnificent acrobatic tricks. Hand-colored. This was shown as part of Bromberg's show at Telluride in 2009. Watch it online here.

Bunzli System - This was a series of three really short films that were originally processed on a machine developed by Rene Bunzli in the 19th century. Rather that celluloid the film is made of a paper-like substance and utilizes a glass disc and was run through a hand-crank stand-alone viewing contraption that presented the films with a stereoscopic 3-D effect. These shorts were presented to us in 3-D so we had to don the fancy glasses. One dealt with the arrival of a train, one dealt with a brothel and I don't remember the other one. All were about 10 seconds long so they showed them twice.

The three Méliès shorts shown were not originally meant to be seen in 3-D but ironically because of the way Méliès filmed them they were able to be seen that way. The reason is because once Méliès became popular he began to shoot his films with two cameras side by side. One print would be sent east and one to the west. Years later historians would stumble upon the films and notice that one print was slightly off-kilter from the other. Due to this phenomena they were able to lay one film over the top of the other one and create a 3-D effect. Pretty amazing.

The three films were:

Le Chaudron Infernal - A short film with a devil and a cauldron he tries to stuff people into. Hand tinted. Watch it online here.

L'Oracle de Delphes - 1903 short in which a thief attempts to steal some jewels from an Egypian tomb and gets caught by a ghost and some statutes.

La Cornue Infernale
- 1902 short that involves a sleeping wizard, a snake and a series of phantasmagorical images that come to life. This one had the best 3-D effect. Watch it online here.

The final film was a color version of Méliès A Trip To The Moon. The fact that is was in color was remarkable because up until 10 years ago no one knew a color version of the film existed. Of course, it had been hand-painted at some point long ago. But the problem was when the reel was purchased it was severely deteriorated and would take a miracle to make it come back to life. With determination and ingenuity Bromberg along with Tom Burton, the head of the Preservation Department at Technicolor, managed to get the film restored.

Even though the film was warped and shriveled Bromberg brought it back by - ironically - building a humidor to speed up the disintegration, which would in time make the reel of film soft enough to slowly peel. Then they took individual digital photos of each and every frame they could. They ended up with more than 10,000 frames, which were then put onto discs and into a computer where a long two year process of reassembling the movie took place.

The final result is pretty cool. It premiered at Cannes last May complete with a [somewhat inappropriate] soundtrack by the French duo Air.

The non-color version of the film can be seen here.

After the screening Tom Burton gave a Power Point presentation of the whole process. And then they screened it again but this time with Bromberg playing the piano.

Overall, a good night at the movies.

[Fellow blogger Phil was there too.]

Friday, September 02, 2011

Telluride Film Festival 1991

Twenty years ago this weekend I was part of the Telluride Film Festival Student Program. I wrote an essay on 'McCabe and Mrs Miller' which was good enough to get me accepted to the festival. [Confession; the student program was less competitive then, plus I attended a college in the area]

I had been to the festival for the first time in 1990 so I was excited to return for the beauty of the area as well as the selection of films and the friendly crowds that gathered each Labor Day weekend in the spectacular town of Telluride.

The festival, then [the eighteenth one], was much, much smaller then than it is now. However, in 1991 they expanded the festival by adding a new large location that they called The Strand, which was a High School gymnasium that they had converted to a theater.

There was no gondola, therefore no Chuck Jones theater. And the Galaxy theater was not there yet either. Instead what they had was a Quonset hut called The Community Center, which was in the same vicinity. The other theaters, still there today, were The Opera House, the Nugget, the Mason's Hall and of course the Abel Gance Outdoor theater.  What was especially notable was the festival was more compact then. When the noon seminars came around each day there were no other events. So people either went to the seminar or went to lunch. And, of course, the lines for each movie were shorter.

In those days they only had 30 movies that played over the four days, the cost of the festival pass was $325.00 [individual tickets per movie were $7.00 or $10.00 for the Opera House] and they had a federal grant for the National Endowment of the Arts. The main corporate sponsor was Premiere magazine.

That year the tributes went to:
Nature's Filmmakers - An interesting cross section saluting various 'nature filmmakers'. That year the 'Trials of Life' series was to be shown on PBS.
Sven Nykvist - The famed cinematographer for many of Ingmar Bergman films. That year he had a film of his own titled 'The Ox'.
Jodie Foster - After 30 years of actiung she had her first directed film there titled 'Little Man Tate'.

The rest of the line-up was the usual interesting cross section of films that Telluride - like any quality festival - was known for. But in those days Telluride was not necessarily known for big premieres - although they had a few every so often. They were known more for the art of old and new films that the cinefiles out there could appreciate.

In 1991 the guest director was Laurie Anderson the eclectic musician who can only be described as unique. She is both funny and wise and is great at weaving intricate and interesting stories, which she did when she came to talk to us in the Student Program.

This was only the second year they had a guest director and so rather than the customary five film selection they have now established there were only two films. She chose a terrific Mexican drama titled 'Danzon' and a selection of short video works titled 'New Video Art'.


Here were the film selections that year:
FEATURE FILMS [NEW]
A Captive In The Land - John Berry
Danzon - Maria Novaro
Dogfight - Nancy Savocca
The Double Life of Veronique - Krysztof Kieslowski
Hors La Vie - Maroun Bagdadi
I Want to Fly [aka Volere volare] - Maurizio Nichetti
Let Him Have It - Peter Medak
Little Man Tate - Jodie Foster
New Video Art - various short experimental videos
The Ox [aka Oxen]- Sven Nykvist
Prospero's Books - Peter Greenaway
The Rapture - Michael Tolkin
Rambling Rose - Martha Coolidge
Sanctus / Lyrical Nitrate - Experimental and reconfigured silent films
Scream of Stone - Werner Herzog
A Tale Of The Unextinguished Moon - Yevgeny Tsimbal
A Woman's Tale - Paul Cox
Raise The Red Lantern - Zhang Yimou

FEATURE FILMS [REVIVAL]
3:10 To Yuma - As part of a mini tribute to Glenn Ford and Elmore Leonard
Lucky Star - Frank Borzage 1929 film [rediscovered]
Prix de Beaute - Louise Brooks film from 1931
Ride The High Country - Sam Peckinpah film from 1962

DOCUMENTARIES
Anima Mundi - Godfrey Reggio
Empire Of The Air - Ken Burns documentary of radio
Hearts of Darkness - Documentary on Apocalypse Now by George Hickenlooper
The Other Eye - Documentary on GW Pabst
The Tourist - a personal diary documentary by Robb Moss
Wild By Law - Doumentary on the Wilderness Act in the US

The closest Oscar contending film was Rambling Rose, which garnered nominations for Laura Dern and Diane Ladd. In a fair world Sheila Florance from A Woman's Tale would have been nominated for her brave role of an elderly woman dying of cancer, which in fact was really what was happening to her when she made the film.

Raise The Red Lantern and The Double Life of Veronique are today classic foreign language films. In the case of Veronique many had not yet heard of Kieslowski. This was his first film outside of Poland.

Hearts of Darkness became the standard for films about filmmaking but the other documentaries quietly came and went as was the case with documentaries until a few years ago,

A good number of films never really saw distribution in the US including A Tale Of The Unextinguished Moon, Hors la Vie and The Tourist. Many had minor releases such as A Woman's Take, Oxen, I Want to Fly and Danzon.

Highlights I can recall:
* The Lucky Star screening at the Opera House with a musical score by Adrian Johnston was transcendent. The film had not been seen, much less heard of, for over 60 years so no one knew what to expect. But what a discovery. Most of the audience were in tears if not because of the subject matter [a Borzage weepy about a man in a wheelchair who learns to walk again] but because of the beautiful score by Johnston.

* Ken Burns addressing the students. As I learned, it became customary for Ken Burns to address the staff before the festival began. He brings an eloquent and friendly charm that wins everyone over to his way of thinking. He got us excited not just about the festival but about filmmaking and the valuable service a good filmmaker [especially a documentary one] can do for the arts and society.

* Watching Werner Herzog run down the mountain after the Labor Day picnic. In those days the Labor Day picnic was held at the top of the mountain [see photo at top]. The main way to get there was to take the chair lift. Once the picnic and the seminar were finished people get back in line and ride down the mountain. Werner saw the line was too long so rather than wait [which technically he did not have to do] he decided to just head off straight down the mountain. Me, being a mountain runner, badly wanted to follow him down the mountain. However, I was already on the chairlift descending to town. So I was able to watch him tear down the grass, weed, and rocky trails. When I got to the bottom I asked him how he enjoyed his route and he said he enjoyed it and had to do it because he wanted to get the the screening of Raise The Red Lantern.

* Meeting Irene Jacob at the Labor Day picnic was a delight too. As is often the case in Telluride it is fairly easy to approach a star and say hello. Irene Jacob was easy going and spoke to some of the students about The Double Life of Veronique. She pointed out to me that the film is edited differently in the two parts of the film. The first part in Poland is analytical while the second part in France was more poetic. She explained it all but it was hard to concentrate on what she way saying. After all she is the same age as me and very attractive.

Telluride has a great film festival and I returned to it for many years from 1992 to 2008. 1991 was special because of many of the people I met in an educational type setting. Of course, it is only 4 or 5 days of film. But it is intense and exciting. I am still in touch with four friends I met that weekend. Which is about as many people I am still in touch with from college.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Monroe calling....


She looks as though she is on an invisble cell phone.

"Hello, Arthur..."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Best of 1974

A list of some of the best films of 1974 [some of which were not released in the US until later].

Chinatown
We All Loved Each Other So Much [released in the US in 1977]
Going Places [Les valseuses]
Ali Fear Eats the Soul
Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
The Phantom of Liberty
Celine and Julie Go Boating [released in the US in 1978]
Lancelot of the Lake [released in the US in 1975]
California Split
Lacombe, Lucien
Godfather Part II

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Friday, July 08, 2011

Nim

Project Nim

The documentary Project Nim is about a bunch of humans who acted like wild animals in order to get a wild animal to be more human.

Okay, there is more to it than that but it is quite evident that the people who initiated the project - to teach a chimpanzee sign language - went about it the wrong way. It started when they forcibly tore him from his mother's arms when he was two weeks old. His journey from there was full of adventure, delight, destruction, sadness and sorrow. But not just for the chimp; for the people involved as well.

In 1973 a scientist named Herbert Terrace had a theory that a chimpanzee could learn sign language and communicate with humans in that way. They took a baby chimpanzee - who they named Nim Chimsky - and moved him in with a human family who raised him as one of their own. But the family did not attempt to teach him sign language enough so Terrace moved Nim out of the house to an estate with a young eager teacher. From there many other trainers and teachers came along to raise and teach Nim. But not much progress was made - although Nim did manage to learn around 100 signs as well as bite and scratch the teachers enough to make the sessions challenging for everyone involved.

After five years Nim could no longer be part of the human world because he was getting too big and strong. He posed a threat. Plus, it seems his learning days were over. But what happened next is really what the documentary is about. Essentially, Herbert Terrace had no real plan other than to just hand Nim to a chimpanzee farm [of sorts]. But, clearly, to do that to a chimp who was solely raised by humans was a tad inhumane. It got worse for Nim.

James Marsh, who directed the terrific, award winning Man On Wire and the fascinating and dark Wisconsin Death Trip here taps into his heartfelt side and for the most part succeeds. The movie, if anything, becomes a good place to start a debate about animal testing - which,  if done right, can yield important and useful results. But it is a debate that is very much with us today.

Of interest, no one in the documentary mentions that Nim was named after Noam Chomsky who is a highly influential linguist. And because of that they also don't get into the core of Chomsky's [at the time] controversial theory, which is that language is essentially an instinct. It is not something that can be taught. Humans are born with an innate ability to speak human language. Chimps are not. They speak chimp language - if one can call it that. They can learn a code but not the essential syntax of human language. So the idea that you can bridge the gap between species - even if it were somehow easier to deal with a chimp's wild-nature attitude - is not really possible. At least not in the way the scientist or trainers believed it to be possible.

Of course, it took Terrace's experiments to come to this conclusion.

This does not mean that Nim and his trainer/ teachers could not communicate or that there was not a strong bond. As is evident in the documentary these trainer /trainers had an emotional bond with Nim and he with them. So the documentary is in some ways a cautionary tale about how naïve the scientist was to pull Nim from his species, raise him among humans and then after five years throw him back to the chimpanzee world.

It's pretty easy to conclude that experiments and testing were not necessarily foolish but that the planning for how to end the project was.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mont Blanc vittles

There are four books from the 19th century that I could find that begin with the title:
"A Narrative Of An Ascent To The Summit Of Mont Blanc...." followed by the year of the climb. One is from 1821, two are from 1827 and one is from 1830.



In the book by John Auldjo [in 1827] he provides a list of the provisions he and his group of a half dozen or so took for the two day ascent. Suffice it to say these are not the freeze dried, high energy light-weight snacks one would take today.
Our stock consisted of the following articles: twenty bottles of vin ordinaire; one bottle of champagne; one bottle and a half of vinegar; two bottles of brandy; one bottle of sirop de vinaigre; two large pieces of veal; two large pieces of mutton; six sausages; sixteen chickens; two large fowls; several loaves of bread; six lemons; sugar; a large quantity of cheese; raisins and French plums.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Letters from directors

Kubrick wanted it 1.1:66 and Lynch wanted the sound 3db louder than usual and a director of animation says watch those eye lines!

Friday, June 10, 2011

In a Field



Movies that feature posters [and a still] with one guy in a field.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life, by Terrence Malick, is a serious film in a cynical time. It is a film that you have to either fully or partly embrace if you are to appreciate or even like it. Similar to the the films of Theo Angelopoulos or Alexander Sokurov this is a film that deals with big themes in an honest [even earnest] way and if you don't ride with them you may feel like turning away.



The film is not a typical narrative film. It is instead a cinematic poem that is comprised of a series of visual and aural moments and vignettes that flash by onscreen in the way that a memory might in the mind of someone who remembers their childhood with an acute clarity. [Critic Todd McCarthy likens it to a symphony].

Most all movies have poetic moments in which the filmmaker presents us with a montage that breaks away from the narrative to express a particular tone or to show time passing. It is a narrative technique that can infuse a movie with energy and distinction as well as give us a rest from the plot. The Tree of Life is a movie almost completely made up of such moments. That is both a good thing and somewhat of a challenge.

Good because [if anything] it lives up to the promise of the trailer. What I mean by that is there are many times we see a trailer that captures the best poetic and visually interesting moments of a film. But when we see those moments in the context of the film they seem almost banal. Not in the case of The Tree of Life. This is a movie that maintains the intoxicatingly splendid visuals and editing thrills from start to finish.

Somewhat of a challenge because the movie is like a high wire act in which the audience is the one on the high wire. And this begs the question, how long can most of us remain engaged when the visual and aural moments are of such splendor? Or, more to the point, how long can we stay focused when the narrative never really establishes itself from the overpowering form? How long can we hold-out without a story to grab our attention?

If you cry watching The Tree of Life it won't be because of the death of a young boy [a plot point we know in the first reel] but because of the way Malick edits music and visuals together in such a magnificent way. I happen to think that is a perfectly legitimate reason to shed a tear or two. But others may disagree. Others may want us to feel the emotion by intimately getting to know the characters. Others too may want a traditional narrative with character development and a plot to follow. Malick is not interested in that. And, frankly, I don't think we should be either - because, after all, this is his vision and his way of telling a story. And so it should be judged on the merits of the expression of his vision.

The acting, such as it is, is good. The children are best because they seem to fit into Malick's grand innocent and mysterious world view. They don't seem to be acting but rather existing and reacting to the world around them. Brad Pitt juts out his jaw a lot as the authoritative father but he maintains a believable attitude throughout. Jessica Chastain has a purity to her that is angelically bland and Sean Penn seems lost in thought when he is on screen - which he is, actually.

The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and the editing by numerous editors over a three year period are the real winners here. As is the utilization of the musical score, which comprises works from such masters as Bach, Brahms, Berlioz, Mahler, Smetana and contemporary film score maestros Alexandre Desplat and Zbigniew Preisner - the former who is credited with the score.

Malick has given us a vision of life - all of life; from beginning to end. From the big bang to the creation of earth to evolution to the death of dinosaurs to the innocence of growing up in 1950's Texas [where DDT is merely a cool thick fog] all the way to present day and beyond. It is film that is at once Biblical and personal, terrifying and reassuring, dreamlike and surreal but also grounded in the cycles of nature. It deals with grace and hope in ways that might make you cringe or cry but which you cannot deny is presented with power and originality.

I think it is a great film with some flaws. Some would say that about life.

I can't wait to see it again.

More Reading:
An article on the cinematography.

Some good observations and background on the film.

Popmatters considers the themes of Malick's films.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

George at Cannes

My friend George the Cyclist was at Cannes again this year and he managed to see 70 movies. I am not really sure how he did that, but he loves movies enough to make it happen. Here are blurbs on some of the notable movies he saw.

Airirang
Documentary by Kim Ki-Duk. He has been a recluse all this time living in a tent...overcome by the near death of an actress on his last film and also by the betrayal of two of his assistant directors. He concludes that life is sadism, self-torture and masochism.... A remarkably original film.

The Artist
A superbly crafted re-creation of a silent film [set in the time] when the silent era was drawing to a close. [It] will be a hit at film fests and on the art house circuit.

Bonsai
A made-to-order film for Cannes. [Filmmaker] had the formula down--a polished, arty film, with convincing performances about some young struggling writers. The film looked nice, and was a palatable film-going experience, but didn't amount to much.

Drive
An immensely pleasing, highly stylized film of honor and quiet strength. Ryan Gosling, oozing boatloads of charisma, brilliantly protrays a Hollywood stunt driver who also works in a garage and moonlights as the getaway driver for criminals.

Footnote
This was a highly intelligent film with an orginal premise and an unflinching, butally honest study of academic rivalries. The moral dilemmas raised provide some of the festival's best fodder for post-film discussion.

Le Havre
Kaurasmaki the majordomo of droll...[this] will rank among the best of his films.

Hors Satan
It is another of [Dumont's] rural Flanders films with a grizzled male who is either saintly or sinister, coming to the aid of the wayward.... I have friends who think Dumont is repugnant and others who think he can do no wrong. This film will not change the regard of any of them.

Melancholia
Von Trier does not disappoint and Dunst goes though a range of enough torments to be a worthy award winner.

Michael
A generally understated Austrian feature that managed to be quite engrossing and compelling. [Main characters] takes his [ten year old] hostage on outings and lets him come out of the basement for meals. The tension doesn't necessarily build, just the curiosity of how this will end.

Miss Bala
A film about a young beauty pageant contestant who inadvertently falls into the clutches of a high-powered drug gang and is forced to do their bidding. The film does not sensationalize or go overboard on the violence. [An] honest and original film.

Tree of Life
As the film gradually swept over me and settled into a semblance of a narrative... Malick won me over. This was High Art, a film that lovers of cinema will be happy to see again and again, not only to fully fathom it, but to appreciate it more and more.

We Have a Pope
French stalwart Michel Piccoli plays a just-elected Pope who doesn't care to accept the position. [S]urpsingly thoughtful movie from the often goofy Moretti.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
This is a film that justifies those who like to limit their daily intake of films to three or four at the most per day, to fully absorb and recover from each. This is a film that might take an entire festival to recover from.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blonde Leather



From Blonde In Black Leather a schlocky Italian comedy with Claudia Cardinale Monica Vitti

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cannes 2011 - blurbs II

The Kid With a Bike - Dardenne Brothers
YAY
'The Belgian siblings are again at the peak of their powers in this impeccably observed drama.' - Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

'The Dardennes strike a perfect balance...it's dramatised superbly.'
Sandhu, Telegraph

NAY
'An unwieldy epilogue, with a series of awkwardly written and executed scenes that seem to be suggest Cyril needed a form of karmic payback for some of his rash, rascal-ish actions.' -Boyd van Hoeij, IndieWire

'I’ve never been sold on the Dardennes — [this film] hasn’t changed my mind.' - Zacharek, Movie Line.

Miss Bala - Gerardo Naranjo
YAY
' As a political and social document, Miss Bala is shock, awe, and pure cinema at its finest.' - Heath, Slant

'People will look back at the lineup in years to come and marvel that this powerhouse wasn’t in Competition' - D'Angelo, AVClub

NAY
None that I can find....

Outside Satan - Bruno Dumont
YAY
'Another "WTF?" film from Gallic writer-director Bruno. Word-of-mouth... should make "Satan" a must-see among artfilm aficionados' - Nelson, Variety

'It will find admirers among Dumont’s hardcore followers - and indeed, anyone with a taste for art cinema at its most uncompromisingly gaunt.' - Romney, ScreenDaily

NAY
'“Hors Satan” is a slog. A capital P pretentious film that is made in the tradition and fabric of an arthouse film that seems dated and laughable.' - Jagernauth, IndieWire

'[Dumont] a filmmaker who solemnly believes that every stylistic devise, forced camera angle, monosyllabic utterance or careless shrug from an actor conveys great meaning to his audience.' - Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cannes 2011 - blurbs

Who knows how we feel about a film until we see it? I have often loved films that other critics hated and hated films that other critics loved.

This is especially true of the reception of the films that play at Cannes. Year in and year out the critics give us the buzz and by the time the films reach us it seems as though the critics were reacting to and writing about other films.

So with that in mind I will simply give a small sample of both positive and negative blurbs for some of the films that are at Cannes this year. In most cases these blurbs will be slightly out of context because a good many films get a mixed reaction from any one critic. But like the marketing companies out there I'll avoid any of that gray area writing. Here are five films that have YAH and NAY reviews.

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lynne Ramsay
YAY
'Extraordinary' - Brooks, Guardian
'I want to throw up,' I remarked to a friend upon exiting the theater. 'But in a good way.' - Lodge , In Contention

NAY
'Frequently buckles underneath the weight of its labored and schematic story.'- Abrahms, L Magazine
'Most critics raced from this wildly overwrought Alain Resnais remake of The Bad Seed'. - Hoberman, Village Voice

Poliss - Maïwenn Le Besco
YAY
'Impressive. Convincingly jumps from laughter to tears and back again' -Mintzer, Hollywood Reporter
'When it’s good it positively crackles.' - Romney, Screendaily

NAY
'Could very well be the worst film I see at Cannes this year' - Heath, Slant
'One colleague admitted he endured the two-hours-plus running time just so he could hiss at the end.' - Anderson, Artforum

Restless- Gus Van Sant
YAY
'A gently moving hymn to life.' - Goodridge Screendaily
'Somehow, by the end, it all comes together. The very final shot is a peach.' - Bochenski, Little White Lies

NAY
'Treacly' - Dargis, NYTimes
'Treacly' - McCarthey, Hollywood Reporter

We Have a Pope - Nanni Moretti
YAY
'Superior [to The King's Speech].' - van de Klashorst, ICS
'Gentler and more benign than you'd expect from a left-wing non-believer.' - Romney, London Review

NAY
'Humdrum' - Kohn, IndieWire
'We have a papam; we also have pap.' - Anderson, Art Forum

Sleeping Beauty - Julia Leigh
YAH
'Near-perfect cinema.' - Rocchi - IndieWire
'An assured debut.' - Bradshaw, Guardian

NAY
'A cold film about heated things.' - McWeeney - Hitfix
'Was greeted with unimpressed silence, followed by a desultory smattering of whistles.' - Romney, London Review

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two trailers

Two films playing at Cannes have cool teaser trailers.
This is why I like teaser trailers so much better than traditional trailers.


MISS BALA


The latest film by Sang-soo Hong.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Poetry

The Korean fllm Poetry opened in Los Angeles Friday.

It's about a mother [and a grandmother] who must deal with situations in her life not of her choosing. Up against cultural clashes, legal matters and her own mortality she has to make choices. Choices none of us will hopefully ever have to make.

Much like other films by Lee Chang-dong it is heavy. But not heavy handed. And he has learned to pull back a bit and let the character and the story develop without us feeling it is being forced on us.

It's a devastating film and one of the best of the year. No matter how many films I like this year Poetry is assured to make my top-ten. Go see it if you can.

I wrote a review of it in relation to another Korean film, Mother, last year.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Future Music

I love rare albums. I particularly like albums you can hear before they are released. But what about albums that won't be released for 14 years! Note the release date on this screen grab.


Something happened here but I'm not saying anything. I like future music.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Romantic Netflix

Netflix has recommendations. But half the time they are odd. For instance, I don't think they [or their algorithms] know what is or what is not a romantic film.


Besides this screen grab here are a few titles they recommend as romantic films based on my taste:

That Obscure Object of Desire
Secret Things
Talk to Her
Emmanuel 7
La Jetee
The Piano Teacher
Jerichow

Friday, April 22, 2011

Notes on 7 films

Win Win
A lawyer / wrestling coach commits a criminally liable act but finds a way to redeem himself by helping a struggling teen and his recovering drug-addicted mother, which he would never have had the chance to do had he not done the crime. Every scene intricately ties into every subsequent scene until it builds to a satisfying whole. Its win, win for all involved including the audience.

Meek’s Cutoff
A family of homesteaders in Oregon are lost thanks to an incompetent mountain man named Meek whose cutoff has led them to a dry dusty plain. Slow, methodical, often very hushed this is a film that lingers like a summer afternoon. Shot in 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a good number of shots that just observe the action rather than propel it forward. The film is not as engaging as it could be and perhaps a tad bit revisionist [or liberal] in its view of history but also more accurate than most westerns. Director Kelly Reichardt has built a respectable track record.

Bill Cunningham’s New York
An enjoyable documentary about an unpretentious man in a pretentious industry. Bill Cunningham is a 80-something down-to-earth fashion photographer who completely belies everything about the fashion world by photographing people on the New York City streets wearing the fashions of the day. He bicycles all around New York; he lives in an apartment with nothing but filing cabinets and a bed. He’s the real article and people love him for it - on his own terms. The documentary doesn’t dig deep into its subject but why should it?

The Princess of Montpensier
Four men vie for one woman in 16th century France while religious wars ensue, court intrigue and royal power plays manipulate everyone, sword fighting disrupts the order and beautiful castles dot the distant landscape. What’s not to love? This is Bertrand Tavernier at his best getting quality out of every performance, every line of dialogue and every foot of film. Save for the high production value this is a film Hollywood could not make. And I don't mean 'costume drama' because everyone does those - but instead that certain je ne sais quoi that only the French do so well. See it and you'll know what I mean.


Source Code
A movie that somehow has critics [and some scientists] embracing as darn near probably. Huh? How? Well, who cares? The movie is ‘Groundhogs Day’ [or maybe a Hindu tale] done as a sci-fi fantasy. It is enjoyable but when it attempts to display an emotional human core it stalls the narrative just long enough to make us think about what we are seeing - and that’s not what you want in this kind of film.

The Adjustment Bureau
A Matter of Life and Death by way of Wings of Desire, It’s A Wonderful Life, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Jump along with shades of Total Recall, Minority Report, Twilight Zone and the X-Files. It is about as original as a snack of milk and cookies but it is pleasant enough if you don’t stop to think about it much.

In A Better World
This Danish / Swedish drama is like watching a long row of domino's with spikes fall in slow motion along someone’s back; Predictable and painful. It is very well acted, directed, shot and edited but the story plods along imprisoning all the characters in a relentless world of fate. The parts of the film that take place in Africa are by far the best and could make a separate and better film than the other heavy-handed section about two boys wrecking their lives. There is no denying the talent behind and in front of the lens but director Susanne Bier has done better.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Renoir on Nixon

I found this humorous anecdote in an article that Peter Bogdanovich wrote for The New York Observer a few years ago on a visit he had with Jean Renoir [and is wife Dido] one afternoon in Los Angeles.

One time, I brought my mother over to meet Jean and Dido. She was a great admirer of his work—as my artist father also had been. It was a lovely afternoon, sitting in the living room, sipping some white wine from antique sterling silver cups. At one point, while we were discussing dubbing of voices in movies, Jean said, “In a really civilized time, like the 12th century, a man who dubbed voices would be burned at the stake as a heretic for presuming that two souls can exist in one body!” Later, we got onto world politics and Nixon, who was still president then, and my mother remarked that Nixon’s gestures never seemed to fit with what he was saying. Everyone agreed. Suddenly, Jean called out to her: “Madame! I have it! Nixon is dubbed!” Renoir was as delighted with his conclusion as my mother was.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lumet


Sidney Lumet [1924 - 2011] made movies for six decades. He carved out a respectable status as a high quality director churning out many different kinds of films.

He made movies amid many different eras and had one released almost every year from 1957 to 1990. Some years there were two. He started in the golden age of television in 1951 and made a first feature film - '12 Angry Men' - in 1957, which was made at the tale end of old Hollywood.

He went through the conformist 50's, the turbulent 60's, the gritty 70's, the corporate 80's and into the blockbuster 90's and the new century. He had a pretty strong run from 1972 to 1977 a period in which he made: 'The Offence', 'Serpico', 'Murder on the Orient Express', 'Dog Day Afternoon', 'Network' and 'Equus' - all films that helped cement his reputation.

His last film 'Before The Devil Knows Your Dead' was made in 2007. What is most remarkable is that the year his first film - '12 Angry Men' - came out there were also films by such old time film making legends as Raoul Walsh, Delmer Daves, Rene Clair, King Vidor and Leo McCarey. Each had started making films in the silent era.

Lumet was in many ways a bridge between eras. Other than other currently working directors such as Manoel de Oliveira, Andrzej Wajda and Arthur Hiller he was one of the last of his kind to make films over such a long period of time.

Few filmmakers, either, have ever had as long a run.

Article about his career on Salon

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Lost Island of VHS...XI

Mädchen in Uniform - Leontine Sagan, Carl Froelich - 1931

This German film was one of the first big foreign language 'art' films to play in the United States. It tells the tale of a 14-year-old girl named Manuela (Hertha Thiele) who is enrolled in a very strict boarding school by her aunt after the death of her mother.

While there she makes some new friends. But she also grows attached in both a romantic and a mother/daughter sense with one of a sympathetic teacher - Fraülein von Bernburg - whom all the girls have a crush on. This forbidden relationship leads to trouble for both her and the teacher.

If this film were made today the 'sensitive girl falls in love with a female Nazi teacher' angle would be played up as an exploitative steamy lesbian tale. No doubt in 1931 it was controversial as well. But seen today it is rather tame on the ‘lesbian’ angle and instead more of a solid story about a young vulnerable woman trying to make sense of the strict boarding school in the emerging militarized world of the Weimar Republic. Indeed, the lead actress years later was quoted as saying: "I really don't want to make a great deal ...or account for a film about lesbianism here. That's far from my mind, because the whole thing of course is also a revolt against the cruel Prussian education system."

I personally did not feel the film was any more a lesbian film than it was a 'heterosexual' film. It is pretty evident that the girls are rather harshly treated by all the teachers and most particularly by the school's Principle - who is as unsympathetic as you would expect a 'Nazi' character to be. And so the girls take a liking to Fraülein von Bernburg because she is so much fairer with them. In one scene one of the girls shows elation and relief when she realized that von Bernburg will be doling out punishment to her. It is not that von Bernburg will grant her some tenderness but rather the penalty will simply be less severe.

Fraülein von Bernburg becomes the equivalent of a mother, a sister and someone who relates to them. And they love her for that. It is also worth noting that there are no boys around. So any tenderness the girls show toward the teacher and she toward them need not necessarily be lesbian in nature. And, despite the one affectionate bedtime kissing scene, that is my reading of the film.

The film was remade in 1958 with Romy Schneider as the school girl.

A good long article here. And a review from After Ellen here. The original 1931 NY Times review is here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

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