Sunday, December 01, 2013

Current Movie Links

The real life Philomena.
“They really make me look like a silly billy, don’t you think?” she said. But Ms. Lee says she accepts the screenwriters’ efforts to inject some lightness into the film because, “otherwise, it is a very sad story.”
The Great Beauty follows a misanthrop.
"The underlying theme of the film is not so much the decadence of Rome and all that, it really has to do with this fact that people deep down, as horrible, bizarre and gross as they can be, deep down they all have a fragility. And people living that life are trying to find a way to distract themselves, with gossip, being frivolous, going to stupid parties and all that."
10 Remakes of Classics by Great Auteurs.

Barbara Stanwyck - no lady of leasure.
Stanwyck, even in her liveliest comic performances, never quite erased a palpable aftertaste of bitterness, and even in her most hard-boiled roles never lost the trace of painful vulnerability.
David Cronenberg - Evolution
Cronenberg is a filmmaker of ideas, one being the notion that human beings have merged with technology. His protagonists are often cyborgs as, in some sense, he is as well—not a commercial director with artistic aspirations so much as an avant-garde filmmaker who has contrived a commercial career, in part by remaining in Canada.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives

The latest movie by Nicolas Winding Refn is hardly the disaster that some critics have made it out to be. Far from it, actually. For starters, the cinematography by Larry Smith is amazing. And the set design is a knock out; the characters all seem to exist in a remarkable post rain storm Bangkok exterior and dark neon, glossy, color saturated tableaux interior, which all help to give the film the look of a live action, hothouse, graphic novel.

True, the story isn't much. A man kills a teenage prostitute, her father kills him, the police are involved in a cover-up and Ryan Gosling and mom [Kristin Scott Thomas] come seeking revenge. Amid all of this the themes of morality, judgement, loyalty and betrayal are all swirled together in the narrative much like the colorful neon noir look of the film. But, like many comic books, the whole story is at the service of the visuals and the style. Yes, the film is an exercise in style. Yet, at 90 minutes, it hardly overstays its welcome because every frame offers up something visually remarkable to behold.

I would say the expectations of Refn after the huge success of Drive - and a long string of other good movies - was such that it pretty much sunk this movie in the eyes if the critics even before it was shown.

But there is a lot here to savor. Other than the look of the film there is Kristin Scott Thomas giving a deliciously bitchy performance as Gosling mother; there's a dream-like, symbolic quality to the editing, which alternates between the reality of what we are seeing and the visions and dreams and flashbacks [or are they flash forwards?] that are in the head of the characters. There's also the dark, deadpan humor that is often accompanied with some sharp, vicious violence. And an engaging, ambient musical sound-scape score that keeps the movie creeping forward [some would say slowly].

I believe Refn and his cast and crew knew exactly what they were up to and what they wanted to achieve with the film. It can be argued that perhaps Refn needs a producer [or an editor] to rein him in. He certainly, too, could have used a co-writer - as was the case with his last three movies. When he writes alone he gets a bit indulgent.

So, yes, Only God Forgives is not the film of the year and it's also not the film that pushes the range of Refn's talent. But who cares? I would say this film is pure unfiltered Refn and if you like the way that sounds then dive on in.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lost Island of VHS...XIV

An Unforgettable Summer - Lucian Pintilie - 1994

Even though in the past few years there have been maybe half a dozen notable Romanian films most moviegoers in America can count the number of Romanian films they have seen on one hand. But prior to that the pickings were mighty slim. One film that some may have seen would have been An Unforgettable Summer. However, they likely wouldn't have seen it because it was Romanian or because it was directed by Lucian Pintilie. They would have seen it because it starred Kristin Scott Thomas who was hot off of Four Weddings and a Funeral.
The story, which takes place in the 1920's, is about an army officer who with this wife and three kids is essentially exiled to a garrison out near the Macedonian border. The officer is Captain Petre Dumitriu [Claudiu Bleont] who is a short, monocled man who follows orders without questioning them. His wife [Kristin Scott Thomas] makes the best of the situation by bringing a bit of sophistication to the household, and treating everyone - including the Bulgarian peasants who work for them - with respect. However, after they are there a short while, there is an attack by some Macedonian bandits who kill some of the Romanian soldiers on duty. Captain Dumitriu is commanded to circle the wagons and take no chances, which includes the strict instructions to execute the Bulgarian peasants. An order which his wife is adamantly opposed to. What's a Captain in the army supposed to do? Especially when on the one hand his wife will never respect him again and on the other his subordinates are chopping at his heels to get his job.

Pintilie directs the movie in a stately manner filling the frame in foreground and background and some nice camera movement. He also has some occasional dynamic flourishes [the movie's opening and ending in particular are amazing]. And, yes, Ms Thomas speaks Romanian in the movie. How can we not be impressed by this charming polyglot?

The film's conflict comes down to will Captain Dumitriu follow or disobey orders.

It's more than worth seeing it if you can find the VHS.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Venezia 70 - maestro shorts

In celebration of the 70th Venice International Film Festival the Biennale di Venezia created a special project, Venezia 70 – Future Reloaded.

70 movie directors from all over the world were invited to make a short film lasting between 60 and 90 seconds, in total creative freedom. The invitation was accepted by great maestros, well-known directors, and young filmmakers of recognized talent.

Future Reloaded is both a collective movie tribute to the Festival (the world’s first film festival to celebrate its 70th edition) and a reflection on the future of cinema, as filtered through the personal artistic insight of each of the participating directors.

They are a mixed bag for sure.
Here are a few I found interesting.

Bernardo Bertolucci
Catherine Breillat
Atom Egoyan
Kim Ki-duk
Yorgos Lanthimos
Edgar Reitz
Walter Salles
Hong Sang-soo
Paul Schrader
Krzysztof Zanussi

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Telluride Film Festival 40

If there was one theme for the 40th Telluride Film Festival it was that of survival. Most obvious were J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost with Robert Redford isolated on a doomed sail boat out in the Indian Ocean, Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney careening through space [in 3D] after an accident, Tracks with Mia Wasikowska playing Robyn Davidson who trekked across Australia with camels and the documentary about a group in the 1930's who got more than they bargained for in The Galapago Affair: Satan Comes to Eden.

Less obvious but with noticeable survival traits were 12 Years a Slave [a free black man is enslaved and tries to escape], Labor Day [lonely single woman with son attempts to survive an escaped convict who has invaded her home], Palo Alto [teens surviving upper class malaise, drugs, sex and each other] and Bethlehem [a Palestinian teen and Israeli agent trying to survive the violence endemic to the Middle East].

One could find any general theme if they think about it enough but when you're at a festival who has time to think? It's just go, go, go. I managed to see 14 movies between 7pm on Thursday and noon on Monday, which is a pretty good feat considering I did not have a festival pass. I just chose the right films at the right times.

A Few Highlights:

Ida [pronounced eeda] - Shot in black and white with an Academy aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and rather subtle on emotions this unassuming Polish film by Pawel Pawlikowski, was one of the better films I saw. A nun [Agata Trzebuchowska] learns about her past from a cousin who takes her to her birthplace. Set in 1962 - with World War II still an active memory - the nun is suddenly faced with life changing facts. Her cousin is the complete opposite; a middle aged, lonely alcoholic woman who was a former Stalinist judge. Directed with great precision and skill the film could pass for actually having been made in 1962 and few would know it wasn't. Ultimately, a great film about identity and fate.

Tim's Vermeer - A documentary that - if true - could change art history. The theory that Vermeer painted his masterpieces using optical, mirror or camera obscura tricks is not new but the concept has always been a theory. Until now. Tim Jenison a Renaissance man, inventor and all around decent guy decides to see if he can paint a Vermeer using a mirror technique. Directed by Teller of Penn & Teller fame the film sets out to debunk the concept that Vermeer painted with miraculous, supernatural skill. Like some extended magic trick the film delights and surprises. There are those who may think the message is that Vermeer cheated but, in fact, it shows he may actually have been an inventive genius.

Bethlehem - This is an intense Israeli movie, by first time filmmaker Yuvol Adler, about an Israeli agent who has befriended a teenage Palestinian whose brother is a terrorist suspect. Who’s using who? Who’s betraying who? Many conflicts ensue as it emerges from a convoluted beginning to an effective ending with good action and solid characters.

The Lunchbox - This film, by Ritesh Batra, was one of the hits of the festival. Its a good romantic comedy about a lonely wife in Mumbai whose lunches she cooks for her husband end up going to another man. He, an older gentlemen soon to retire, falls in love with the food and then - after exchanging notes in the lunchboxes each day - falls in love with her. Will they meet? Should they meet? What’s for lunch? [Salman Rushdie called it 'The best Indian film in a long time."]

All is Lost - Robert Redford sails. Sailboat sinks. We can’t let an icon die! This is a very engaging film despite no dialogue and one actor. Director J.C. Chandor uses the wide expanse of the ocean to - as one friend noted - ironically create a claustrophobia effect. Is it lenses, directing or Redford's skill? Who knows? Just go along for the ride. One tag line I heard was that it is Life of Pi without the tiger or Castaway without the volleyball.

Before the Winter Chill - A French film by Philippe Claudel - with Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas - that is so subtle it will scare away everyone except lovers of sophisticated French films. Middle-aged husband, doctor, father bored with life becomes intrigued with a young woman who isn’t what she appears to be. Is he entering a new phase of love or the danger zone? I loved it. Its complex, has intriguing mystery and interesting plot parallels throughout that leave the more discerning viewer thinking about what has happened and why.

Nebraska - Alexander Payne delights and depresses in equal measure in this film about an elder guy who is convinced he has won a million dollars from a publisher clearinghouse sweepstakes ad. Bruce Dern plays old and confused really well. I would have liked to see a bit more acting on his part because he has the talent. But it is good to see him working. Good guy. Good film.

Ralph Fiennes, Bruce Dern, Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos

Good But Problematic:

Labor Day - Jason Reitman has been on a roll but his new film is a bit of a stumble. This one, based on a best selling book by Joyce Maynard, is Reitman's first foray into drama / suspense / romance. The acting is top notch, the editing, pacing, direction and overall design of the film is very good. But the plot is one that suffers a bit if you stop to think about it too long. It's a film that will make some people cry because of its romantic angle and yet others may cry due to the waste of good talent and a potentially better story that could have been made from the same material.

Gloria - This Chilean film by Sebastian Lelio is about a lonely 50 something woman, mother of two, who drinks too much, dances too late into the night and has relations with too many men. Problem is, despite all this, the film is somewhat dull for the first hour. Then suddenly it picks up nicely in the last half hour as she deals with a boyfriend who is much older than her but far more immature. The central performance by Paulina Garcia is very good [she won best actress in Berlin].

Palo Alto - Gia Coppola, much like her aunt Sophia, has a real gift for capturing poetic images, naturalistic mise-en-scène and blending them with a great soundtrack. She also gets a lot of good performances out of a film that falls somewhere between American Graffiti and Kids yet remains rather unsatisfying as a character study of two lonely teens - amid a bunch of other disaffected teens - who just can't manage to hook up. Emma Roberts stars along with James Franco and Teddy Kilmer.

Prisoners - This one, by Denis Villeneuve, is well worth your time if you like terrifying suspense thrillers that expertly use red herrings to make you jump. However, like Labor Day, if you stop to think about it too much you'll find holes all over the place. It's also got Hugh Jackman on a slightly ridiculous testosterone high whereby he kidnaps a kidnap suspect and tortures him for a week. This is a film that asks; When are we justified in taking the law into our own hands? Jake Gyllenhal is the one who gives an amazing performance here - like he did in Zodiac, with which this one has similarities. On the plus side, at two-and-a-half hours, most will actually not want the movie to end.

There were many other good films I missed but hope to see eventually such as Blue is The Warmest Color, 12 Years a Slave, Manuscripts Don't Burn by tributee Mohammad Rasoulof, Fifi Howls From Happiness, Gravity and Under the Skin [which seemed to be universally hated], The Past and Inside Llewyn Davis by tributees Joel and Ethan Coen - along with T Bone Burnett.

As always there were a good number of older films presented over the weekend but a many of them - such as The Big City (Mahanagar) [Criterion] and L'enfance Nue [Criterion], Portrait of Jennie [MGM] and The Terminal Man [Warner Archive] are available on home video. Of course, the main interest in them was that they were presented by famous former guest directors such as Salman Rushdie, Phillip Lopate, David Thompson and Buck Henry. The one really rare film was the Cuban film One Way or Another which was presented by B Ruby Rich. I would have liked to see that one but couldn't fit it in. Then of course, there was Mark Cousins with his idiosyncratic intelligence who had two films playing; A Story of Children and Film and Here Be Dragons.

Two rare silent films played to live musical accompaniment; He Who Get's Slapped - a silent Lon Chaney film directed by Victor Sjöström and A Simple Case - a rare [and very messy] Pudovkin film. In years past I mainly only see the older films. But this year I felt it was time to get in on preview wagon. Either way it's always worth it just being in Telluride, seeing old friends and talking about movies.

Photos by Matt Langdon

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stand Firm

Short Term 12 has got heart, soul, comedy, drama, poignancy and it will take you down a path few movies do in any serious way. It's not just top notch 'indie cinema' it's good cinema all around. The directing and writing by Destin Cretton will make you wonder how this could be a first feature. The performances by Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr are so genuine you feel they aren't acting. In fact, the whole cast is impressive. Go see it.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

No Companions

The Canyons

The Canyons is neither as radically good or as notoriously bad as one would want it to be. It's not the disaster that some critics call it  - or that some Lindsay Lohan haters want it to be. Yet, by the end, it is nothing more than a competent film, which is pretty much what it seemed it would be from the time it was presented by Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis on looking for funds.

Part of the issue is that the male lead , James Deen, doesn't have the acting chops or the screen presence to make his role effective. He's, of course, known for other talents and it shows. He's no Richard Gere; an actor I would not call great but one whom kept us engaged in American Gigolo.

Lohan, on the other hand, can act and does have an interesting presence on screen. Director Paul Schrader has been quoted saying that Lohan - although tough to work with - has that extra something that shows in the dailies and that's why he hired her. But that something isn't of the variety one gets from, say, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Lohan gets a passing grade for attendance but she doesn't really stretch her abilities much here.

The other issue is the script. This being a Bret Easton Ellis script we get nasty, clean cut characters romping around Los Angeles acting badly. But it all feels rather flat and uninteresting. Nasty characters can be good fun but you need a trashy element or something more compelling than simple jealousy and deceit driving the narrative. One of my favorite Schrader films is The Comfort of Strangers. In that film there is a really eerie, evil quality lurking beneath the surface that eventually boils over. In this film, however, when the violence comes it feels cliché. In that film the Christopher Walken character is a control freak but you can feel his magnetic pull. Once he has you in his grasp you won't get away. In this film James Deen is a control freak but he had no power. He's just a punk with a trust fund living in a Malibu hills mansion. He seems very easy to ignore. Lohan, however, plays a character very much dependent of him. Yet it's just not believable.

The film opens with a series of photos of closed, run down movie theatres. Its a melancholic, creepy opening that nicely accompanies the dead souls on screen. Each day [or chapter] in the film is also preceded by a similar photo. What is Schrader telling us? Is the death of cinema = the death of Los Angeles and hence the death of our collective selves? Perhaps. But despite this movies are still being made. The story itself revolves around the making of a low budget monster movie, which most of the characters are preparing to shoot out of town. And then there is Lohan and Deen who frequently shoot three and four way sex scenes with their phone. This is undoubtedly the hapless, dead-end future of cinema.

Schrader was raise a Calvinist and then turned away yet he hasn't completely divorced himself from some of the tenants about evil in the world. His films tend to exhibit a low howl warning about empty lives and the deceit, paranoia, cruel mind games and violence that can arise from having no moral anchor. And when salvation comes it's often in odd or ironic ways. In his world the good guys usually don't exist and the bad guys often find a way to win. In this film, however, it's easy to feel indifferent to the entire mess transpiring on screen. By the end you may feel it would have been more fulfilling to just hang out in the Malibu hills and watch the trees blow in the wind.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Women Empowered

A selection of recent movies I've seen have shown various aspects of women empowerment. Seen through this lens here is a short review of each film. What we see in a lot of these films is women making choices on their own without a male figure saving them. With the exception of one film each of the women set off on their own. [Spoilers are revealed].

Augustine - This French film is about a woman in 19th century who is misdiagnosed by a neurologist as having some form of sexual hysteria. She is literally poked and probed by the doctor with whom she develops an affair. Her empowerment comes from her ability to manipulate the doctor and his all male colleagues into believing that his diagnoses actually work. Then she steels away into the night to her freedom.

The East - Brit Marling plays an undercover agent who commiserates so strongly with the eco-terrorists she is investigating that she considers joining them. But when she does she does it on her own terms. Having seen the truth she doesn't join them so much as make the causes her own and develop her own organization. Granted this all happens at the end credits.

Fill The Void - This is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch. In this film a young Israeli woman's sister dies and she is persuaded to consider marrying her sister's husband. But no one pushes her. Quite the opposite she is told to do whatever she thinks is best. She chooses not to pursue the marriage but she realizes that she has almost complete control of the situation. She begins to believe she is empowering herself when, in fact, she is sliding right into tradition.

Francis Ha - This is primarily a Greta Gerwig vehicle in which she plays an aspiring dancer in New York city who has little talent, no job and can barely keep her self above water financially. After her best friend moves out she is left on her own to try and make ends meet and get her shit together. Somehow, mainly through force of will and a positive attitude [and because it's a comedy], she manages to eventually make the kind of choices that will fit her specific talents.

Hannah Arendt  - Sometimes empowerment comes at a cost. Especially if you are a writer who attempts to explain the ways of evil in philosophical terms when those affected by violence only understand it in visceral terms. If Hannah Arendt were a man maybe no one would have cared. But staking a strong unique view on the Holocaust - while debatable in the classroom - was not welcome to the greater number of Jews who were listening.

Stoker - Mia Wasikowska plays a young woman who discovers secrets about her family which lead her to tap into the madness of her genetic make-up to advance herself into adulthood. Make no mistake, she is a blossoming femme fatale but from first frame to last we cheer for her to come through, which includes killing the only male figure left in her life and leaving behind her weak-willed mom.

Stories We Tell - This documentary by Sarah Polley is essentially about how she becomes liberated by going back and investigating her own family and her own origins. The enlightenment comes when she realizes her talent and drive come not so much from a mother she never knew but from her mother's secret about her true father. It's a detective story about finding oneself.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Before Midlife

Before Midnight

Is it just me or does the Julie Delpy character seem a bit bitchy and unreasonable while the Ethan Hawke character seems levelheaded and reasonable? I don't feel the character of Celine is that well written this time around. The script is touted as being collaborative but it seems to be written by a man or more so from the perspective of Jesse.

I mean, maybe she is not meant to be appealing, which is fine but it makes the movie much more sympathetic to the male character and therefore a less satisfying experience than the other two films.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Redford & Fonda

Robert Redford in The Company You Keep plays a somewhat older character than we are used to seeing him play. But he still has a somewhat middle-aged demeanor.

What is less well known is that Redford [who doesn't look or show his age] is the same age that Henry Fonda was when he starred in On Golden Pond; 76.

This seems remarkable. The perception and definition of what it means to be old [or even elderly] has changed in the last 30 years. Granted Fonda was suffering from heart disease late in life, which compounded how old he looked.

Redford plays the father of a 12 year old girl in the movie. It would be tough to imagine him playing an elderly patriarch in a movie like On Golden Pond just as surely as it would be hard to imagine Fonda playing the role that Redford plays in The Company You Keep.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Lost Island of VHS...XIII

The Earthling - Peter Collinson - 1980

William Holden is dropped off on a dirt road that overlooks the Australian wilderness. He looks out over the valley, gives a gritty, toothy grin and says, 'I remember you!' Thus begins one of the few cool movies out there about the beauty of traveling through wild nature. But, of course, it is much more than that.

Holden plays Patrick Foley a man dying of cancer who wants to spend his final days trekking through the Australian forest to his boyhood home where he can die peacefully in the same place his parents are buried. After a brief, terse good-bye to a couple friends he sets off.

On his journey he comes across a ten-year old boy named Shawn whose parents have been killed in a horrible accident. Patrick would just as soon leave this kid be. But his instincts tell him to approach the boy and, at the very least, point him in the right direction to get back to civilization.

The boy [played by Ricky Schroder] is too shocked to hand his situation and being rather young and inexperienced with outdoor living he is completely at the mercy of the wilderness. Patrick has no choice, he's got to take the kid along for a while and teach him a few survival tricks. But this is where the movie gets good - because Patrick doesn't want to be bothered with helping this kid and he lets him know. Many conflicts arise including one moment where he leaves the kid to scale a cliff by himself as he's pursued by wild dogs.

Patrick's method is of the 'throw the kid in the pool to teach him to swim' school. He doesn't want to be a nice guy primarily because he doesn't want to form an attachment at this juncture of his life. He just wants to go die. Even when he gives advice he has a tough time being sincere. "There's nothing to be afraid of except the cold wind, which will kill you if you stand around looking stupid."

The Earthling keeps itself [barely] above the formulaic fray by basically sticking closer to reality than to the sentimentally one would expect from the material. Perhaps that's one reason it failed at the box office and is still not available on DVD. See it if you can find it. VHS can still be found and it is streaming on YouTube. [It was streaming on Netflix].

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Scheme Caller

Upstream Color

Shane Carruth is some kind of genius. Either that or his films deal with such complex, elaborate narratives that it just seems like he is a genius. But he has developed a cult following; his last movie, Primer, has websites dedicated to figuring out the various timelines. [Here's an amazing timeline jpg].

He takes his stories one step further into a morass of [il]logic than such films as Memento or Inception by Christopher Nolan. Which is perhaps one reason he is not yet well know and perhaps one reason he is self distributing his latest film.

I'm not going to spend time recounting the plot. If you want all the bits and pieces described succinctly and well go here. [Although preferably after you watch it].

I think it's best to go into the movie cold, knowing as little as possible. Suffice it to say it is a romantic thriller, science fiction film that deals with such unrelated things as maggots, natural narcotics, memory loss, pigs, mind control and Thoreau's Walden. Not necessarily in that order.

One aspect I particularly like about Upstream Color is that it keeps its engrossing, enigmatic narrative to the end without letting the audience down with a disappointing, banal [is-that-all-there-is] ending. Too many films have a fantastic start but then peter out by the end with the usual Hollywood let down.

Part of the reason is that the film develops its own internal logic that defies what we would call normal everyday logic and therefore keeps you guessing long after the credits.

For a really terrific interview and FAQ with Shane Caruth go here.

Go see it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Industrial D'amour

Delitto D'Amore AKA 'Crime of Love' - 1974 - Luigi Comencini

This is a very good Italian film from the 1970's about two factory co-workers who fall in love. He is a northerner and she is a southerner so you know from the start that they don't match well. He, Nullo - marxist, pragmatic, middle working class; She Carmela - religious, cautious and working lower class. Both live with large families. His rather eccentric and lazy, her's fiery and superstitious.

On the surface the film deals with conflicts that derive in their relationship from region, class, working conditions and social conditions. He wants to marry her right away but she knows her family - headed by a violent brother - won't like the idea so they hide their love.

This is a well observed love story first and foremost. For that reason, it's important that one not know how the story ends or what happens along the way. I saw the movie cold only knowing that it was a 1970's film from Italy that dealt with working class issues. That's all one should know. If you haven't heard of it or seen it I highly recommend you look for the Raro video* edition. And stop reading here because spoilers will now be revealed.

The strength of the film comes from the fact that it develops the characters, the situations they find themselves in and the milieu of both the factory and the industrial region of Milan, in which they live, before it sets upon a plot of any kind.

The plot develops slowly and about three-fourths the way through shifts gears significantly to the point that you realize it is almost a message picture. Fortunately, Comencini - who wrote and directed the film - keeps the message fairly subtle instead continuing to focus on the two characters rather than hitting us over the head over the fate that befalls Carmela. Because of this the ending is much more effective and authentic.

Anyone watching closely will realize that the first scene and the last scene are the same. However, since the characters are not yet developed, it's tough to know exactly what that first scene is telling us. Like a Franceso Rosi film there is a murder at the beginning - but unlike a Rosi film this one presents us with events so quickly the film doesn't feel like a flashback or predetermined as it plays itself out.

The two leads are well cast. Giuliano Gemma has a strength and confidence but remains fair and intelligent while Stefania Sandrelli fits the role well as a young woman who is both guarded and aggressive as she tries to nudge against the familial and religions obligations she thinks is expected of her.

The film reminded me a bit of Antononi's Red Desert in that the polluted industrial environment plays a role not only as scenery but driving the plot. The difference being that the fears become more real for he characters who, in this case, are working class.

* Don't read the synopsis on the Raro page. Gives away too much.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

R.I.P., Roger Ebert

R.I.P., Roger Ebert. A sad day.

I’ll miss his reviews, his sensibilities and his open mind.

Here are all his top ten lists from 1967 to 2006

I’ll also miss his sharp barbs. Here are a few. [Via]

North, 1994
"I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

Stargate, 1994
"The movie Ed Wood, about the worst director of all time, was made to prepare us for Stargate."

Mad Dog Time, 1996
"Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I've seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching Mad Dog Time is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line."

B.A.P.S., 1997
"My guess is that African Americans will be offended by the movie, and whites will be embarrassed. The movie will bring us all together, I imagine, in paralyzing boredom."

Armageddon, 1998
"No matter what they're charging to get in, it's worth more to get out."

Godzilla, 1998
"Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica."

Battlefield Earth, 2000
"Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It's not merely bad; it's unpleasant in a hostile way."

Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles, 2001
"I've seen audits that were more thrilling." 
Freddy Got Fingered, 2001
"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."

The Brown Bunny, 2003
"I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny."

The Village, 2004
"To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we're back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets."

A Lot Like Love, 2005
To call A Lot like Love dead in the water is an insult to water."

Bucket List, 2007
"I urgently advise hospitals: Do not make the DVD available to your patients; there may be an outbreak of bedpans thrown at TV screens."

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, 2009
"If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination." 
The Last Airbender, 2010
"The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented."

Seven Days In Utopia, 2011
"I would rather eat a golf ball than see this movie again."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Three from Japan

Every once in a while it's enjoyable to dip into some of the fine films that were made in Japan in the 1930's and early 1940's.

Here are three I watched recently:

Hideko The Bus-Conductor [1941]
Mikio Naruse made what film critics have called shomingeki [lives of common working class people] dramas. All of his films have an easy style with very tight scripts and good character development. With rather simple technique, in most of his films, he is able to convey a lot about his characters. Many of his films are like novellas. Hideko The Bus-Conductor is only about an hour long and not as complex as some of his films but memorable still.
Hideko (Hideko Takamine) is a young woman working as a ticket-taker on a slow bus line. She and her co-worker come up with a plan to turn the bus into a tour bus. They get a friendly writer [visiting from out of town] to compose a script for Hideko to read. They convince their penny pinching, crooked boss to agree to their plan and end up winning a potentially legal battle with him with help from the writer. Naruse captures the small town milieu with beautiful fog shrouded mountains in the background and the quiet roads that probably won't benefit from a tour bus. The ending is both sweet and ironic. Good film.

Our Neighbor, Mrs Yae [1934]
Just who is Yasujirô Shimazu? Because I didn't know better I confused him with Hiroshi Shimizu who has four films on the Eclipse box set. But Shimazu was a wonderful director in his own right. Our Neighbor, Miss Yae is about a two families that live next door to each other. It just so happens one family has two boys and the other two girls. The younger sister (Yumeko Aizome) is in love with the older brother and she flirts with him often even though she is too young to marry. When her older sister comes to visit - due to marriage trouble - it causes a rift because she too fancies the older brother. Shimazu presents a slice of life in pre-war Japan that appears easy going but that has many modern issues such as divorce and extra-marital affairs. The film's style is elegantly effortless. The opening shot in particular is fine and some of the transitions are quite dynamic - such as when they all go to the city to see a movie. There is also a good scene at a baseball game. Not a perfect film but a good one.

The Lady and the Beard [1931]
Yosijuro Ozu is known by everyone as the filmmaker who made dramas about regular folks who struggle with trying to find love and fit into Japanese familial and societal obligation. A good number of his earlier [silent] films were light comedies with a much more rambunctious style than he had later in his career - when he never moved the camera. But these early films too dealt with this obligation - albeit in a less stringent way. The Lady and the Beard is a silent 'student comedy' about a bearded young man named Kichi who is independent and oblivious of what people and society expect of him - especially regarding his appearance. He is also a Kendo champion which comes in handy when he prevents a couple thieves - led by a woman gangster - from robbing a young woman. The grateful woman comes back into his life and tells him that if he wants to get a job he should probably shave the beard. In time, other woman fall for him including the female gangsters he once challenged. It's a simple but terrific film. The actor who plays Kichi is played by Okada Tokihiko who has a great physical presence.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Otto e Mezzo slideshow

Fellini's Otto E Mezzo released 50 years ago. Here's a slideshow.

Monday, January 21, 2013

National Society of Film Critics

National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Film:

Year Winner Director(s)
1966 Blow-Up - Michelangelo Antonioni
1967 Persona - Ingmar Bergman
1968 Shame - Ingmar Bergman
1969 Z - Costa-Gavras
1970 MASH - Robert Altman
1971 Claire's Knee - Éric Rohmer
1972 The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - Luis Buñuel
1973 Day for Night - François Truffaut
1974 Scenes from a Marriage - Ingmar Bergman
1975 Nashville - Robert Altman
1976 All the President's Men - Alan J. Pakula
1977 Annie Hall - Woody Allen
1978 Get Out Your Handkerchiefs - Bertrand Blier
1979 Breaking Away - Peter Yates
1980 Melvin and Howard - Jonathan Demme
1981 Atlantic City - Louis Malle
1982 Tootsie - Sydney Pollack
1983 The Night of the Shooting Stars - Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
1984 Stranger Than Paradise - Jim Jarmusch
1985 Ran - Akira Kurosawa
1986 Blue Velvet - David Lynch
1987 The Dead - John Huston
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Philip Kaufman
1989 Drugstore Cowboy - Gus Van Sant
1990 Goodfellas - Martin Scorsese
1991 Life Is Sweet - Mike Leigh
1992 Unforgiven - Clint Eastwood
1993 Schindler's List - Steven Spielberg
1994 Pulp Fiction - Quentin Tarantino
1995 Babe - Chris Noonan
1996 Breaking the Waves - Lars von Trier
1997 L.A. Confidential - Curtis Hanson
1998 Out of Sight - Steven Soderbergh
1999 Being John Malkovich - Spike Jonze & Topsy-Turvy - Mike Leigh
2000 Yi Yi: A One and a Two - Edward Yang
2001 Mulholland Drive David Lynch
2002 The Pianist - Roman Polanski
2003 American Splendor - Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman
2004 Million Dollar Baby - Clint Eastwood
2005 Capote - Bennett Miller
2006 Pan's Labyrinth - Guillermo del Toro
2007 There Will Be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson
2008 Waltz with Bashir - Ari Folman
2009 The Hurt Locker - Kathryn Bigelow
2010 The Social Network - David Fincher
2011 Melancholia - Lars von Trier
2012 Amour - Michael Haneke

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Older Film Discoveries 2012

Here are a few fine films I finally caught up with or discovered in 2012.

Two by Grémillon - Light yet heavy:
Lumière d’été (1943)
Le ciel est à vous (1944)

Two by Preminger - Well written and great characters:
Daisy Kenyon (1947)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Two by Aldrich - Fun films not message movies:
Emperor of the North (1973)
All The Marbles (1981)

Two by Naruse - Like short novels:
Repast (1951)
Ginza Cosmetics (1951)

Two from the 70's - Full of gritty hope:
Charley Varrick – Don Siegal – 1973
They Might Be Giants - Anthony Harvey - 1971

Two from the 50's - The darker side:
The Music Room – Satyajit Ray - 1958
The Big Heat – Fritz Lang – 1953

Two Silent Flms - When editing was king:
The Last Command - von Sternberg - 1928
Salt for Svanetia – Mikhail Kalatozov - 1930

One Psychedelic 60's film - Rare and rarefied:
La Prisonnière - Henri Clouzot - 1968

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Best Movies 2012

Another year has passed and it's time to try and make a best film list. I watched a good many new films in 2012 but still managed to miss many that could make this list. Nonetheless, a list must be made so here it is - in no order.

The Kid With The Bike
Moonrise Kingdom 
This Is Not A Film
Rust & Bone
The Turin Horse
Django Unchained
Farewell My Queen 
Searching for Sugar Man

The next twelve:
Beasts of The Southern Wild
The Hunter [Australian]
The Hunter [Iranian]
In The Family
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Premium Rush [pleasure - no guilt]
Silver Linings Playbook
Women on The Sixth Floor

A few that had good moments:
The Avengers
The Deep Blue Sea
The Loneliest Planet
Miss Bala
The Master
Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Sister
Wuthering Heights [the first half]
Zero Dark Thirty

As always there are a good many I have yet to see that may make these lists as I catch up with them.^

^Updated 3/14/13