Thursday, February 17, 2011

198 Movies, 310 Days

High Fidelity
2000. 113 minutes. USA. Directed by Stephen Frears. Watchdate: 11/5/2010.

My umpteenth viewing of John Cusack's last great movie (hopefully not for all time). What can I say, it's a great date movie. Cusack is great, Jack Black and Todd Louiso are revelatory, Tim Robbins' hair is horrifying and hilarious. Great soundtrack, strong structure, enough said.

1964. 150 minutes. UK. Directed by Peter Glenville. Watchdate: 10/25/2010.
Nothing more or less than a splendid showcase of the talents of Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton. John Gielgud does great things with his small scene as well. This is definitely an actor's movie, although the occasionally gorgeous production design gets time to shine as well. The scene where Becket becomes chancellor, the scene at the peasant hovel, the scenes in Rome, the beach scene and Becket's death scene were all standouts.

Shaun of the Dead
2004. 100 minutes. UK. Directed by Edgar Wright. Watchdate: 10/21/2010.
I am a latecomer to the work of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and their other collaborators. But I enjoyed this thoroughly. The first half is hilarious and phenomenally inspired. The conceit of people being so apathetic and yet somehow also so preoccupied that they don't realize for an extended period of time that the entire world is falling apart is so brilliant, partly because it seems obvious after it's presented and yet it's still original. Also because it allows for some great comedy bits. My favorite is probably Pegg walking into a convenience store, grabbing a soda can without noticing the refrigerator case is covered in bloody handprints and then slipping loudly on blood but still walking nonchalantly out of the store. The scene with the zombie little girl is also great, and I absolutely loved the bit where Pegg and Frost are arguing over which LPs to lob at an oncoming zombies. The second half of the movie isn't as funny, but it still works quite well. The ending isn't great, but such is often the case with movies like this.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tom Noonan Spotlight

1981. 115 minutes. USA. Directed by Michael Wadleigh. Watchdate: 11/7/2010.
Tom Noonan is my new favorite supporting player. After seeing his haunting guest turn as a soothsaying doctor on an episode of Louie and his performance as the looming, suicidal anti-ego of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Synecdoche, New York, I encountered him as a lonerish animal expert in Wolfen. I will now proceed to start to compulsively watch everything he has been in. Probably. What an awesome guy. Other than Noonan, this movie was pretty uneven. Though it did include one of the more sublimely ridiculous things I've seen in a while: a scene where Edward James Olmos strips naked, runs around like a wolf on a beach at night and then screams "It's all in your mind"at a bewildered Albert Finney. Actually, the movie reminded me a lot of Caroll Ballard's 1983 adaptation of Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. That's another wolf movie that I have mixed feelings about that features a patently ridiculous nude scene. Also, the guy who directed Woodstock also directed this? It's the only movie he has directed not related to Woodstock? What?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

199 Movies, 315 Days

I watched 232 movies in the 365 Days of 2010. Here's some more:

Me and You and Everyone We Know
2005. 91 minutes. USA. Directed by Miranda July. Watchdate: 11/11/2010
I had seen this several times, but some of my friends hadn't and it has been a couple years at least since I last viewed it. I noticed some rather obvious things in the movie that I hadn't before, which I think speaks to the fact that the movie throws a lot at you without you entirely realizing it. I'm also quite in love with this deathless line: "Email wouldn't even exist if it weren't for AIDS." John Hawkes is great and I also enjoy Hector Elias but Brandon Ratcliff still walks away with the movie in his back pocket. I hope Miranda July gets around to making another feature one of these days. Actually I'm looking at IMDB's page for the movie right now and on the Related News sidebar there's a headline that says she's bringing a new movie to Sundance this winter. So, good on that.

Waste Land 
2010. 90 minutes. Directed by Walker. Watchdate: 11/10/2010
I saw an early screening of this movie with very little prior knowledge of what it was. On the poster, there is a critic's quote that reads "The Slumdog Millionaire of documentaries" and certainly it shares a measure of that movies crowd pleasing rags-to-riches poverty tourism Oprahesque touchy feely Vanilla bullshit latte populist appeal. But it's really far more complex than that and certainly a great deal more inventive and unique. There's really no proper prior motion picture analogue to a movie that explores the culture of Brazilian trash pickers (or recycled materials seekers) - both working and getting organized in the world's largest landfill, the Gramacho Jardim in Rio de Janeiro - through the eyes of Brazil's most renowned visual artist Vik Muniz who first came to America because a rich man shot him in the leg and yes this sentence is getting long but wait there's more - Muniz and these catadores, as they're known, build giant self-portraits out of the refuse they work in every day and then become famous in art galleries around the world for their efforts. I highly recommend it even though I don't precisely know how I really feel about it. Maybe I recommend it precisely because the movie let me work through my own thoughts and ambiguous emotional responses, instead of trying to force me to feel good like Americans should. Seriously, just go see it. I want to talk to someone else about it.

The Seventh Seal
1957. 96 minutes. Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Watchdate: 11/10/2010
My first direct exposure to Bergman (must thank Woody for my healthy background of allusion and homage to the Great Swede), I was surprised at how straightforward and digestible the whole movie was. It's very well done and quite funny with a shockingly warm embrace of the importance of family. I particularly enjoyed the sequence in the Tavern and its aftermath. Nice to see Max Von Sydow so young and cool.

The Thin Blue Line
1988. 103 minutes. USA. Directed by Errol Morris. Watchdate: 11/9/2010
Fantastic from start to finish. Errol Morris is a goddamn genius. The crime reenactment scenes are masterful examples of a deft use of light and shadow. Crime reenactment scenes are like the elevator music of moving image thanks to Unsolved Mysteries but Morris basically invented them so it was cool to get what they were before they were hackneyed. It reminded me of when I started listening to Speaking in Tongues by Talking Heads because I realized what an excellent template all that terrible 80s music was trying to imitate. Of course, The Thin Blue Line is also a searing indictment of the justice system in addition to being master class documentary filmmaking. This is my third Morris doc after The Fog of War and Mr. Death and I will need to watch many more to satisfy my thirst.

PS - An ambiguity emerges in my counting method for this project. I counted Me and You and Everyone  towards my total despite having seen it before. I believe earlier in the year I was not counting movies I had seen before towards my total. Ah, the vicissitudes of nerdom. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Comedy as Anarchy: Richard Lester's The Knack...

The Knack...and How to Get It
1965. 85 minutes. UK. Directed by Richard Lester. Watchdate: 11/11/2010
It's not often that I've encountered a movie that combines visual and verbal panache so deftly and cohesively. This was Richard Lester's follow up to A Hard Day's Night, and the superb direction he exhibited there was merely a warm up for the tour de force work he delivers here. The Knack moves so quickly it's sometimes hard to keep up. It's almost painful. Yet I was almost constantly laughing or in awe of the incisive madness of this whirling contraption. It's one of the funniest movies I have ever seen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

All Eisenberg, All the Time

The Social Network 
2010. USA. Directed by David Fincher. Watchdate: 11/12/2011.
The Social Network was very entertaining with a few great moments. The script was terrific, and Fincher's direction was workmanlike if not nearly as inspired as in his early movies. I think he tried to replicate his awesome Fight Club soundtrack trick where he perfectly synced up "Where Is My Mind?" by the Pixies with Tyler Durden exploding the credit industry. But unfortunately, as appropriate as The Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man" was to use in this movie, syncing it up with Mark Zuckerberg refreshing his browser somehow didn't come off as quite as dramatically. I guess clicking the keyboard on laptop is never going to be quite as cool as fiery conflagerations. Nothing Fincher could have done about that. I also really enjoy Jesse Eisenberg as an actor. He's not flashy but he really pulls you into the internal conflicts of his characters. A lot has been said about the opening sequence and while I agree that it was very well done, I think my favorite may have been the scene where the Winklevoss twins go complain to Larry Summers. The guy who plays Summers was really excellent, did a great job with a small but significant part.

2009. 107 minutes. USA. Directed by Greg Mottola. Watchdate: 11/15/2011.
I saw this at exactly the right moment in my life. It's a very understated, earnest romance with an equal measure of dramatic and comedic elements - it's really nothing like how it was advertised which definitely threw me off at first. It's not quite a great movie, but it really clicked with me. Also, very good soundtrack dominated by Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground. And Eisenberg, again!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Something Something Days, Something Something Movies

Run Lola Run 
1998. 80 minutes. Germany. Directed by Tom Tykwer. Watchdate: 11/17/2010.
Tom Tykwer seems to be a real maestro at merging form and content. That is to say, he not only successfully matches the story he's telling with a perfect style of telling it but he actually does so in a way that it's hard to tell the difference between the two. I didn't like this quite as much as Perfume, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless - a great cinematic exercise. The bank robbery scene in particular was excellent - bank robberies have been dramatized so many times by now that it's rare to see one crafted in a new way, but he pulled it off with flair.

The Mirror 
1975. 106 minutes. Russia. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Watchdate: 11/16/2010.
Like Stalker, Tarkovsky's The Mirror is somewhat mystifying. With an even more glacial pace, it explores childhood, love and divorce in extremely personal terms. It was difficult for me to watch for various reasons, and I know I'll have to come back to it someday to truly understand or appreciate it. If nothing else, this Russian knows how to photograph wind and fire.

2009. USA. Directed by Stephanie Schoetig and Jason Lindsey. Watchdate: 11/16/2010.
A notch or two above the standard current issue based documentary, including Who Killed the Electric Car? which is by the same producers I believe. Nothing groundbreaking, but it's a worthwhile exploration of a really sleazy industry that doesn't seem to get the awful reputation it deserves. It basically shows how everything about bottled water is really stupid and many things about it are down right dangerous. Don't buy bottled water (except for really specific reasons like emergency preparedness). Tap water is in almost every case superior, even if you don't count it being like 10,000 times cheaper.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Double Sevens

I watched 232 movies in the 365 Days of 2010. On November 18th I watched a classic Kurosawa movie and its American remake:

Seven Samurai
1954. 208 minutes. Japan. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Watchdate: 11/18/2010

First of all, ToshirĊ Mifune is a true baller. It's hard to take your eyes off him in this movie, where he's funny, badass and profound occasionally all at the same time. The scene where he rings the bell, or the one where he explains why peasants connive -- pure brilliance. Second, Kurosawa knows how photograph rain like no else. I think that was my favorite thing in Rashomon, but in this one it's even better. Third - fuck it, the movie is nearly flawless. How can you wrap a sophisticated, solemn meditation on the nature of violence and social class into a rollicking action adventure story without missing a beat or bearing an ounce of pretension? I don't know, but the Emperor did it. Up until this point, I had been impressed with Kurosawa as a technician but uncertain if he was the artist that his reputation seemed to posit. I have now been relieved of that uncertainty. I am excited to watch many more in the coming months. But yeah, looks like I got another favorite here.

The Magnificent Seven
1960. 128 minutes. USA. Directed by John Sturges. Watchdate: 11/18/2010

This was playing as part of this Flashback Films Thursday deal they have over at the UA Theater, and when I saw it was coming up in the schedule I decided to finally get around to watching Seven Samurai. So last Thursday, I woke up and watched Seven Samurai and then that evening I went and saw The Magnificent Seven. I hadn't thought of how unfair doing such a thing would be to the latter movie. I remember thinking while I was watching Seven Samurai, how the hell are they going to import the themes about strict social class to the U.S. where we like to pretend class doesn't exist. Then I watched this one, and of course they changed it to race. So obvious, I can't believe I didn't think of it. Race is often the medium that Americans use to talk about class. It's pretty fun though, it reminded me of Avatar, having a bunch of WASPy he-man action heroes swoop in to save the simple primitive village people from the real exploiters. Anyway, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn are all top notch, Yul Brynner is Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson is Charles Bronson. The role of Chico, a composite of Mifune's role and the kid role of Katsushiro, is filled by an annoyance which is really a shame because with someone good it may have been the best role in the movie like in the original. Elmer Bernstein's score is classic, and one of the finest parts of the piece. The movie has been copied so often by subsequent action adventures that some of it feels shopworn even though it probably wasn't at the time, but here's another difference between it and the original: no matter how many times Kurosawa gets copied, he's almost never matched or exceeded so his work still feels so fresh. Another thing is that Sturges cut out more than an hour in the remaking, losing a whole lot of depth but not gaining much in terms of pacing - the final act still feels too long. So it was quite unfair for me to put these two so directly side by side, but it was a fun exercise and The Magnificent Seven was still very enjoyable. Some great gunfightin' scenes in here, most definitely.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ranulf the Unready (or Eat, Pray, Sin)

“I built the bloody church, I damn well better have a say in the advowson!” Lord Beauchamp bellows at the cowering messenger before him.
“Yes sir, it’s just that the bishop –“
“The bishop – !” Beauchamp thunders, before attempting to regain his composure to add quietly, “ – is not my concern. My concern is Ranulf. I want him out of my household. You can understand that, can’t you?”
The messenger, practically in a crouch before the large table that serves as a sort of desk for Lord Beauchamp, had been averting his eyes but now allows them to meet his master’s. “Most certainly, my lord. But the bishop insists that his office has the prerogative as the parish is in his jurisdiction and that to cede such a privilege without compensation would be irresponsible.”
“Aha! The truth outs, as it always does.” Beauchamp’s face brightens with malice as he wheels his large, barrel-chested frame around the table to loom over the messenger more directly. “Of course, coin might make the bishop more amenable to my suggestions? Wedmore has revenue just like any other parish, and the bishop wants a taste? I am reading you correctly, yes?”
As the fairly diminutive messenger fumbles for a reply and seemingly shrinks as his lord comes closer, Beauchamp digs into his cloak and produces a small woolen pouch that jangles with the King’s currency. “Here,” Beauchamp shoves the money at the messenger’s chest brusquely. The messenger’s hands come up to grasp the pouch. “And you can tell the bishop that my brother won’t need much of the revenue. He’s a simple man – as far as the bishop’s accounts are concerned, it will almost be as if he could keep the parish vacant indefinitely without anyone noticing. It’s a great deal for the both of us.” Beauchamp glowers at the messenger for a moment. “Now, off with you!”

Eggs, porridge, bread, mutton, plum marmalade – that’s French after a fashion. Our Norman heritage. Yes, I like plum marmalade. Oh, how did I get hungry again? I’ve just finished a plate.
Ranulf Beauchamp blinks and looks up and over at the others eating at the table. As stocky and rotund as his brother is tall and muscular, he pays no attention as his more handsome sibling rises and begins to tap loudly on an empty goblet.
Perhaps, a spot of ale would do me some good. I’ll enjoy that. Ranulf reaches out and grabs a cup of ale and holds it up to his mouth to drink.
After tapping at his goblet and clearing his throat loudly, the room quiets to hear Lord Beauchamp speak. “Guests, fellows, kinsmen near and distant, I bid you salutations with all the gladness my heart can offer for coming tonight to share in this feast of bounteous proportions.”
It’s warm but it tastes good. The cup drops away from Ranulf’s face for a moment before he lifts it again and returns it to his mouth.
“It gives me great pleasure to be able to announce here and now that my dearest brother, Ranulf Beauchamp, shall be ordained as the new priest of Wedmore parish!”
Ranulf sets the cup down as ale dribbles from his chin. Applause and glowing adulation meets his distant gaze. He looks around nervously, his face mottled like spoilt cream, his eyes watery and bemused. I wondered why my brother let me sit so close. What’s going on, then?
For the next few moments, Ranulf’s environs become a blur. His brother seems to say more words but he cannot make them out. Likewise, other people at the table cast encouraging breaths in his direction but they all come out dim and faint. Ranulf turns to his brother, feeling flummoxed and overwhelmed. “What is everyone on about? What have I done now?” He speaks quietly and his brother doesn’t seem to hear. Except he does and after a moment he addresses Ranulf with a fierce, steely glare.
“You’re to become a priest. Do you remember Wedmore? Where I built that chapel. You liked it enough, right? Tomorrow, you will visit your new home on your way to Glastonbury where you shall be given a crash course by the monks there on the subjects of Latin –“ Latin!? “– and theology.” Theology…

Ranulf was mumbling to himself and clutching the Summa Confessorum tightly under his arm when Brother Stephen entered the anteroom to lead the pastor-in-waiting into the offices of Brother Geoffrey.
“I hope you’re enjoying your stay in Glastonbury, sir.”
“Yes, wal, of course it’s a splendid – enjoying it and so on –“ Ranulf trails off, avoiding eye contact with Stephen at all costs. As they enter, Brother Geoffrey sets aside his work and looks up at Ranulf and Stephen.
“Thank you, Brother Stephen. That’ll be all for the evening, then.” Brother Stephen bows and exits quietly. Now all of Geoffrey’s attention is deployed singularly onto Ranulf.  “ are we finding ourselves tonight?”
“We? Sir…”
Geoffrey sighs, “What is it that brings you here?”
“Ah, yes, well it’s this Sum-ah Confessorium you’ve got me studying.” Ranulf glances down at the item in question and then looks up at Geoffrey hopefully.
“Right, are you having some trouble with it? It’s meant to prepare you for taking confession from your parishioners.”
“Well, it just…sinnin’ and that,” Ranulf pauses as he tries to collect his jumbled thoughts. “Take Luxuria for one,” Ranulf opens the Confessorum and slides the text over towards Geoffrey, his finger indicating a specific passage. “What’s that mean?”
Brother Geoffrey scans the passage. “Well, sometimes if you keep your inquires general you can avoid inspiring further lust. Usually, you should not describe a sin that a parishioner has never heard of…” Geoffrey trails off as he sees Ranulf nodding.
“I get that bit. I meant the next – the extracting of the confession.” Ranulf taps his hand against his chair, his uneasiness bubbling to the surface.
“Well, Robert of Flamborough felt it inappropriate to include too many details of how he got confessions of masturbation. It’s unfortunate to some extent if you want to follow his example as best you can.”
“Painfully, yes, confessions can be a difficult business.”
“I mean, painful masturbation, that sounds like a fairly serious – I don’t know if that’s just for a priest to –“
Brother Geoffrey shakes his head. “Oh, no. No, I believe you’ve misread it. He didn’t mean masturbation that was painful, he meant that he extracted the confession painfully.” Brother Geoffrey frowns. Does Ranulf get it? “You see –“
“So the bloke had done normal masturbation, and Robert’s just getting him to confess about it.” Ranulf says this slowly with a number of pregnant pauses, almost stammering a bit. As if he was unfamiliar with some of the words he was using. Normal masturbation…is that a sin, then? I suppose it is. I suppose I knew that. Of course, I remember now.
Brother Geoffrey had been waiting because it seemed that Ranulf had more to say. But he did not say any more, instead he just sat there in a sustained silence. It seemed to Geoffrey as if he was working something out in that thick skull of his. “Yes, he’s just getting him to confess. You’ve got it, I think.” Did Ranulf hear him just now? His expression hadn’t changed. His brow remained furrowed. Just more sustained silence. “Will that be all, then?”
 “It’s not a bad sin, is it?” Worry had worked its way through Ranulf’s face.
Geoffrey is taken aback. “Excuse me? I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking, but if you are still thinking about masturbation, yes it’s bad, because yes it’s a sin and sins are bad.” Geoffrey realizes he is shaking slightly, his breathing irregular, his mouth dry. He can’t believe this man is about to enter the priesthood. This is why reform is needed, he thinks. This is the true price of simony.

The rituals aren’t too difficult after awhile. With repetition, he can get a handle on most of it. Even though his Latin is still poor, he can get by with rote memorization. It’s not perfect, but he feels he has been able to keep up the appearance of a proper education. He has never seen Paris nor Bologna, but he can deliver a Pater Noster like no one’s business.
It’s the unplanned work that has shown itself to be problematic. He has to deal directly with parishioners on a daily basis. This is a problem. He never feels he has the right thing to say. He does not believe he possesses the ability to cure or care for souls. He cannot cure or care for his own soul, much less for the souls of an entire community like Wedmore. His heart is sickened by the deceptions he must promulgate constantly. His mind is stricken by internal accusations of hypocrisy and inadequacy. Can he go on like this? Won’t someone find out?
Does every pastor feel this way at first? No chance. I can’t imagine it. They might worry that they fail their flock, but I know I am doing so. It’s all trouble. I’m just not up to it. I don’t know why my brother thought I was. I don’t know why anyone thinks I am. It seems like a bad joke. A trick of some kind. Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps a demon is behind all of this. An evil demon, out to make of fool of me and the whole parish, maybe even the whole church. A demon laughing endlessly. Laughing in the face of God. I hate the demon with every inch of my being. I hate the devil.
I’ve got to concentrate. I can’t let my head wander. Right now, there’s a woman here who wants to confess. She needs to confess to me. She’s waiting for me to begin. How long have we been sitting here? How do I lose track of time? Did we already begin? What is she waiting for? Have I been staring at her face?
“Father…“ she says, shifting uncomfortably.
“Yes. Have you committed lechery?”
She sighs, “I don’t know. I’m scared.”
So am I. Ranulf takes a deep breath. “There remains coitus which is lechery in the strict sense of the word. Have you ever been polluted with lechery?”
“I’m not sure. I think so.” Tears well up in the woman’s eyes.
“Ever against nature?”
“I don’t know. Maybe…what is against nature?”
Ranulf grimaces. “Nevermind. Ever with another woman?”
“Oh, no!” she cries.
The woman is crying now, and it is making Ranulf emotional as well. He struggles to remain composed as he asks his next question. “With clerics or with laymen?”
She is crying. She is in pain. He wants to help her. “I’m sorry – only with laymen. Only laymen.”
He breathes heavily. “Married laymen or single?” This is wrong. I feel wrong. I do not want to think what I’m thinking or feel what I’m feeling. May the Lord save my soul.
“Bb-both!” She stutters, tears dripping down her face and onto her neck. She is hyperventilating. Is the priest wiping the tears away?
“With how many married people?” I cannot do this. I will not do this.
“Only one.” Is her breathing becoming shallower?
“How many times?” I have to take my hand off of her neck. I have wiped away the tears. That is all I can or will do.
“I - I don’t know,” she hiccups.
Don’t cry again. Do not shed a tear. “Let us find out what we can. How long were you with him?”
She begins to respond, but he cannot hear her. He watches her, but she is no longer confessing in his mind. And his hand has not left her person.
“Do you sin with clerics?”
“You have already asked me that.”
“Have I?”

May the Lord save our souls. For I cannot care or cure. I am lecherous and wicked. I have strayed and led my flock with me. I know what I do is wrong, but I cannot stop. The demon got to me. I cannot resist the devil’s temptation. I wish I could go home. I bring sin to this place. Instead of curing this woman, I have only worsened her condition.
Is this really who I wanted to be? I don’t know. I don’t know how to escape it. I never thought I would end up this way. What have I become? Why am I so full of sin? This is why I cannot be the shepherd. How can I care for the souls of others when I cannot care for my own? I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t know how to escape it.
Did you ever introduce any innocent person to sin?
I admit to masturbation. I admit to fornication.
 Did you come to your female cousin?
Did you come to a pregnant woman? Was she pregnant?
No, no, no! No, I won’t admit to that. This is all wrong.
Many tiny children are in this way debilitated, crippled and oppressed. In time of menstruation or recent childbirth are generated many lepers, epileptics and children disabled in other ways.
I don’t want to hurt anybody!
Were you ever "infamous" for fornication?  Was it public knowledge?
I hope not. I hope to escape it all.
Did you go to prostitutes? You should be afraid that she might be your kin, or vowed to religion…
My brother! It’s him! You want him! He went to prostitutes and he brought me. He laughs in the face of God. I went to prostitutes, yes, but I did so without prior knowledge.
Have you fornicated in a holy place or on a holy day?
Yes! Yes! I am right now!
Where and how often, in what order, with what person and in what kind of fornication?
Stop it stop it stop it it’s not her fault, blame me, I should know better…
Have you looked with evil intent at many people, men and women, have you desired, solicited…kissed them?
Too much. Far too much. I can’t think, I can’t breathe.

“Are you all right?”
“You’re crying.”
“Yes. I am full of sin and I have led you astray.”
“You made me feel better.”
“Yes. But that’s not my job. I should be caring for your soul, and not for your body…”
“I don’t want to think about that right now. Do you want to think about that right now?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Well, then. Let’s not.”
“But –“
“Can’t we just enjoy each other’s company a bit longer?”
“I would love to.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Double Feature at the Stanford Theatre

I watched 232 movies in the 365 Days of 2010. On November 19th I went to a double feature at the beautiful Stanford Theatre:
Mildred Pierce
1945. 111 minutes. USA. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Watchdate: 11/19/2010.
So I missed the Pick Up on South Street/Where the Sidewalk Ends double feature at the Stanford Theatre in October which was unfortunate but luckily I got to make up for it with another pairing of a movie I had heard was a must-watch with an Otto Preminger movie as the second feature. Mildred Pierce is definitely worth seeing, whether or not you're a big noir fan as I'm fast becoming, because it's a Great Big American Movie that's more fearless than Curtiz's earlier Casablanca if a bit less polished. The script is almost psychotically ambitious, and its plot holes seem like part of the madness rather than a real flaw. The movie moves really fast, with the dramatic beats dropping furiously in almost every scene. It's like you're watching entire lives unfold, and it actually sort of makes sense that it's getting remade as a miniseries by Todd Haynes since there's more than enough going on to fill a half dozen hours or more, even though the movie itself clocks in at under two. Anyway, it's really quite hypnotic to watch how they unpack the American Dream and it's underlying insecurities about money, class, family and love. The glittering Mildred signs are haunting in their frivolous yet unknowing pride. The scenes with the Monte Beragon character have an underlying menace that's unnerving even as they guide you towards solving the mystery. And dear lord they drank a lot of booze in this movie. All in all, quite the movie experience.

Angel Face 
1952. 91 minutes. USA. Directed by Otto Preminger. Watchdate: 11/19/2010.
First of all, it's awesome to see "Howard Hughes Presents" before you watch a movie. This was a really cool choice (by David Packard, the owner/curator of the Stanford Theatre) to pair with Mildred Pierce, because it toyed with similar anxieties about money and class. The script was inferior, but Preminger's direction is riveting and astonishingly ahead of its time. Particularly how the he would pair music from one scene and action from another in the kind of montage that's common to see in a Scorsese or Coppola movie. Jean Simmons is also excellent in  the lead role, and Robert Mitchum plays a drunker, more pedestrian version of his Out of the Past character. I don't want to give away too much, but Preminger also shoots a couple of scenes of destruction masterfully with a frenetic but perfectly controlled energy. I think this was probably a very good first exposure to him as a director, I'll need to watch more soon for certain.

Friday, February 4, 2011

332 Days, 213 Movies

I watched 232 movies in the 365 Days of 2010. Here are more of them:

The Simpsons Movie
2007. 87 minutes. USA. Directed by David Silverman. Watchdate: 11/25/2010.
Given the legacy that this movie had to live up to, I was quite pleased with what was accomplished. There were actually many inspired moments, outnumbering my minor quibbles here and there by quite a few. A lot of the jokes were not only funny in that they elicited genuine laughter, but when you think back they were quite impressive in their craft. I was really happy with the story, which manages to incorporate all of Springfield as I would've hoped, while still keeping the focus squarely on the Simpson family. And it had the really top notch incisive/subversive satire one hopes to get from the show, but on a larger canvass allowing them to go after government, religion, big business, both sides of the environment issue, and movies themselves. I'd call it a really pleasant and occasionally rapturous viewing experience. I think it would've been a smart move to call it quits with the show (which has lagged in quality for years) back in 2006 right before the movie and then switched to doing a carefully constructed movie every few years with the all-star writing team that you can't hope to keep on the show indefinitely. But there would probably be less money in such an endeavor, so no dice.

2004. 87 minutes. USA. Directed by Gregory Jacobs. Watchdate: 11/25/2011.
This was a really bad remake of Nine Queens (2000, dir. Bielinksy), which I remember being a pretty decent movie when I saw it about six years ago. The main problem with this movie was the script, which was really one of the worst. I could fairly call it a trainwreck of a screenplay. The dialogue was especially clumsy and atrocious. John C. Reilly, Diego Luna and Maggie G do their best with what they're given, but it's not enough by any measure. They should have just worked by an outline, I know Reilly in particular can improvise dialogue that's about a million times better than the words he was forced to use here. I can see why Steven Soderbergh's cowriting credit is a pseudonym. I guess he tried to help out but didn't have time to rewrite all the dialogue? The director is Soderbergh's AD, so I'm assuming he got to direct a movie for all his loyal service. But he blew his chance pretty majorly, I think, considering the talented leads he got to work with.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
2010. Fucking Too Long. USA/UK. Directed by David Yates. Watchdate: 11/24/2010.
For my full review of Harry Potter and the Hundreds of Millions Riding on Continued Bland Professionalism, you can click here. It's currently the most popular article on this betamax by far. Based on my read of the stats, this appears to be the case largely because I had the foresight to include a cool picture of a monster truck in the post. Apparently, there are lots of mouth breathing mongoloids on the Internet googling for pictures of monster trucks.

1982. 157 minutes. Germany. Directed by Werner Herzog. Watchdate: 11/20/2010.
I had long planned to get going on Herzog as I thought Rescue Dawn was excellent but everyone says  his earlier work is where it's at. I can now see why. While there are a handful of dynamite scenes in first 45 minutes or so (I'm thinking about Fitzy breaking down at the swanky party, or his interactions with the kids, or even the opening sequence), the movie doesn't really shift into high gear until they leave on the riverboat. And then once the natives team up with the remainders of Fitzy's crew to drag the boat over the mountain, the movie is nearly as good as any movie I've ever seen. The agony/ecstasy moment where Fitz starts jumping and dancing right before the bloody reveal is really quite powerful. And then how he shoots the steam power section is amazing. It makes sense that Herzog also makes documentaries since many parts of this movie are shot with the look and feel of a documentary. I also enjoyed when Fitz almost loses his mind trying to stop the boat from falling into the rapids, and the ending is really superb. It's like pure joy committed to celluloid.

PS - I'm thinking I should just make this betamax about monster trucks because that's what the people really want.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

341 Days, 219 Movies

I watched 232 movies in the 365 Days of 2010. Here are movies 219-215 that I watched:

The Party 
1968. 99 minutes. USA. Directed by Blake Edwards. Watchdate: 12/7/2010.
Aside from a few opening scenes setting up the fairly simple fish-out-of-water premise, I am convinced that the movie was mostly unscripted and Blake Edwards just had a camera crew follow Peter Sellers around the titular party, throwing comic set pieces in Sellers' way as he thought of them. At least that's how I like to think of it. It's a simple but effective technique. My personal favorite sequence starts with Sellers finally finding a toilet after a long search and then proceeding to break, clog and flood the entire bathroom to such an extent that he is forced to escape through a window. What follows is the best fall in the history of slapstick comedy. The movie eventually devolves into pure nonsense, with a vandalized elephant and mysteriously metastasizing foam.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul 
1974. 93 minutes. Germany. Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Watchdate: 12/1/2010.
I wanted to watch a Fassbinder movie but other than that I went into this without any advance knowledge and was pleasantly surprised to see a nuanced, realistic story of forbidden love for lack of a better term. Fassbinder carefully dissects the bizarre ritual of shunning in scenes like when the tearful Emmi and sullen Ali eat a restaurant while the entire wait staff stares at them menacingly. Ali is a great character to watch because he seems so simple yet becomes so complex as the movie unfolds, all without too many words (except of course the titular line). There's a great scene where a grocer welcomes Emmi back into his good graces that basically explains all you need to know about the economics of bigotry while also signifying how Emmi's friends and family will eventually accept her choice. I think my favorite bit was the brilliant juxtaposition of the warmth of acceptance with the chill of social exclusion in a scene where Emmi is finally allowed to eat lunch and gossip with her maid coworkers as she used to before she remarried. They accept Emmi as they exclude the new maid who happens to be a foreign immigrant. The scene reflects an earlier one when Emmi is cut out in the very same way for her unconventional relationship with Ali. Emmi seems painfully aware of the similarity, and yet does nothing about it.

Hidden Agenda
1990. 108 minutes. UK. Directed by Ken Loach. Watchdate: 11/29/2010.

If Ken Loach was attempting to remake Illustrious Corpses without all of the subtlety, the beauty, the tension, the artfulness, the ambiguity and the sense of real danger that the earlier movie contained, he succeeded unconditionally. Brian Cox and Frances McDormand are both great in this, and I love withering attacks on the Thatcherite political establishment of post-70s Britain as much as the next guy. But even for a fairly unapologetic leftist like me, this was a little too on the nose. I don't know, maybe Loach was trying to make something commercial by being obvious? There is one great scene in the movie, a shouting match featuring Brian Cox slowly beginning to lose confidence in his own sense of right and wrong. Cox is a marvelous shouter, he can shout with so different many emotional notes behind the blare of his voice. It must be because he's Scottish.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God 
1972. 94 minutes. Germany. Directed by Werner Herzog. Watchdate: 11/28/2010.
My friend who works at the beautiful old movie palace where I saw VertigoMildred Pierce and Angel Face had been imploring me to see Fitzcarraldo, his favorite movie. Within a week of me finally watching Fitzcarraldo (and loving it), he called me up to tell me the Red Vic (different theater that another friend of ours works at) was playing Aguirre, the Wrath of God. So of course we had to go. What can I say about this movie that whirls without moving, that castigates without judging, that keeps the women looking beautiful while the men seem to decay into the mud? While there were many good scenes, the one scene that seemed to tower above the rest was when Aguirre's crew finally decides to toss the horse overboard. That scene is so dynamic while much of the rest of the movie is so still. So many people are trying to do so many different things at the same time in such a small space. It's the kind of scene that reminds you of why you go to the movies. Truly wonderful and terrifying. The movie seems to have influenced a good number of the epics that have been released since, everything from Apocalypse Now to There Will Be Blood. And I use the word epic deliberately. Because it seemed to have a running time approaching Fitzcarraldo until I realized afterward that I had only been in the theater a little over 90 minutes. The ending in particular has a perpetual, never ending feeling. It's like watching paint dry, if watching paint dry was like watching men rot alive and then see their corpses swallowed up by the Gaian impulses of the Amazon jungle. One of the best movies I've seen about dangerously insane ambitions that have little to distinguish them from asylum derangements.

1955. Denmark. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Watchdate: 11/28/2010.
Unfortunately, I only caught one movie at the recent Dreyer retrospective at PFA. Fortunately it was a pretty damn good one. While it started slow, the middle section was brilliantly executed. I particularly enjoyed the petty, vague and yet intense conflict over who has chosen the right sect of Christianity. This was played out by Morten Borgen and the father of the daughter that Borgen's son Mikkel wants to marry. Having known an individual in my own life who went mad thinking he was Jesus, I found Johannes to be a fascinating character to watch. It was almost like getting to see an earlier, dramatic take on Peter O'Toole's role in The Ruling Class. Of course, that's from deep in my own cinematic biases as I absolutely love that performance. The final act left me questioning in the best way possible. After spending much of the story seeming to goof on, satirize or at the very least kid-on-the-square about Christianity and religious fanaticism, why did Munk and Dreyer end the narrative in the way that they did? Why make God seem to punish Anders' agnostic lack of piety by killing his pregnant wife but then at the point of total despair bring her back as if by a genuine miracle? Such unsubtle ambiguity will keep me thinking for a long time.

PS - If anyone has been consistently reading this, I missed several days of posting because I got my wisdom teeth taken out. More on that later.

Birthday Viewings

I watched these movies on my 21st birthday.

2010. 83 minutes. USA. Directed by Jeff Malmberg. Watchdate: 12/9/2010

Happily, this was a exceedingly superb movie. I anticipate it will easily make my best of movies released in 2010 list, probably in the top 3. I suppose that it helps that I saw it at a matinee on my birthday, and drank bottles of my first legal beers as I watched. But anyway, obsessive world builders like the man in this movie always entrance me probably because I am something of one myself. But as compelling as the subject is, the Malmberg tells the story more cleverly than I would have imagined. He builds tension and unveils revelations in the same way that many great narrative directors do. A story about a man with brain damage from a bar fight learning how to live in the world by building his own world, the titular war torn Belgian town crafted out of wood and GI Joe and Barbie dolls world could make a great movie. That would have been enough. The man gaining recognition for the excellent photographs he takes of that world with complex consequences similar to the artist-catadores of Waste Land would have been more than enough. But this movie has even more beautiful facets than all of that - kicking addictions, transvestism, alter egos, the tricks that the mind play - what's the use just see it already. By the end it echoes Synecdoche, NY in a completely original and unique way. Truly excellent.

Birdman of Alcatraz
1962. 147 min. USA. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Watchdate: 12/9/2011.

I also saw this on my birthday, but it suffers rather than benefits because I watched it after happy hour but before I went out for proper drinks meaning I was already quite drunk but anticipating more fun after I got out of the movie. If you stagger into the theater late with the movie already in progress, barely perceive what's going on other than a series of giant faces on the screen, and then leave early because you're confused about where exactly you are and what exactly you are supposed to be doing...does it count as having seen the movie? I think not, but I did get some mangled thoughts about the totalizing effects of watching movies on the big screen out of it which were later augmented by watching Godard's "Meetin' WA" on Youtube. I'm quite distressed that this was my only exposure to PFA's Grin, Smile Smirk: The Films of Burt Lancaster. I'll have to watch it again, along with The Killers and Trapeze among many others some other time. Hopefully when I'm less drunk.

PS - Waste Land is another 2010 documentary that everyone should see. It will come up on this betamax very soon.