Friday, November 9, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-seven

Just like in my other fifty-six posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Noel Black's Skaterdater
One of the most powerful shorts I have ever seen.  It captures adolescence and Socal in the mid 60s and renders them as vivid as Lamorisse in The Red Balloon.

Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights
Wiseman has so many strengths and areas of mastery.  What moved me the most in this work was his desire to dig deep into what it means to be an American today living in a diverse, melting-pot community.  Wiseman shows so many different colors, the positives and the negatives, the beauty and the ugliness, the promise and the despair.  He may very well be our most important cinematic artist, narrative or documentary, that we have ever had.  

Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym
Perhaps my favorite of all of the Wiseman films I have seen to date.  Wiseman is pure cinema, devoid of non-diegetic music and devoid of anything that feels put on, forced, unnatural or basking in cinematic artifice.  Aside from feeling so human and so real, what impressed me the most about this work were its rhythms.  You could close your eyes and be mesmerized for almost 120 minutes by the musical sounds of its voices, words and movements.

Jean Rouch's La punition
Rouch stays in the streets of Paris and poetically captures a day in the life of a young Parisian girl during her formative years.  Most interesting are the last five minutes as the film shifts tone and becomes an expressionistic solo.


My two most recent playlists

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Favorite (four), part fifty-six

Just like in my other fifty-five posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Jean Rouch's Moi, un noir
Probably the biggest influence I have ever seen on Godard's Breathless.  I have long known that Godard was a big fan of Rouch but this film blew my mind.  The cadence of Belmondo's voicemover and the frenzied rhythms of Godard's feature debut seem to have been lifted almost entirely from Moi, un noir.  It's a remarkable film for its nudity, its post-sync methods and the most pop culture references I have ever seen from a work that came out before 1960. 

D'Urville Martin's Dolemite
It has an edge and grit that pushes things further than any other blaxpoitation film I have seen to date.  It is so freewheeling and unpredictable.  You never know what is going to come out of Rudy Ray Moore's mouth or where the film is headed next.

Hong Sang-soo's List
Top shelf Hong that in thirty minutes has all that makes Hong special.  His lightness of touch, his feeling for the sea, his natural, loose performances, his meandering scenes of drinking and eating, and his jovial spirit.   

Edward Yang, Yi-Chang, I-Chen Ko and Te-Chen Tao's In Our Time
An anthology film often credited with jumpstarting the birth of the Taiwan New Wave.  The first three films, in particular impressed me.  They concern themselves with similar areas of life as the Nouvelle Vague before them - youth trying to find its place, the experience of first loves and the awe for and questioning of the world around them.  There is a poetry and a feel for beauty that makes these early films particularly remarkable.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Most recent two playlists

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-five

Just like in my other fifty-four posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Paul Schrader's First Reformed
Schrader has always seemed like someone on the brink of imploding.  He doesn't come across as one of these guys that easily shares his feelings or is often at peace.  And his greatest characters all embody the same brooding nature that, unchecked, could become dangerous.  I haven't seen all of his work but I am a huge fan of American Graffiti and Affliction and this is perhaps my favorite of all of his films I have seen.  Hawke is perfect in the role and Schrader gives us moments that I previously would not have thought him capable of.  

Serge Bozon's Mrs. Hyde
It is a strange film and I am unsure all that Bozon is after but it features yet another tremendous performance from Huppert and visually it all feels incredibly clean and clear.  It is, I guess, a little in the line of The Nutty Professor, but it takes that format to address the deep issues of racism facing France at the moment.

Guetty Felin's Ayiti Mon Amour
This film, although certainly flawed with times of mediocre acting or scenes that do not quite push past their influences, is impressive.  It has scenes of great beauty and inventiveness, such as when Joakim and Anisia share a dance listening to non-existent music.  It gives us Haiti, its sores and its riches while making us think, dream, sad and elated.  

Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman
Spike is totally in his element and his passion and talent come through in ways that I haven't seen in his work in more than twenty years.  I found it messy, uneven and raw, as in akin to an early draft that still needed an editor's touch.  But I also thought it the closest American film I have seen in the 21st century to the spirit of the daring and uncomfortable batch of great indies that first burst on the scene in the early to mid eighties.    

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-four

Just like in my other fifty-three posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

George Cukor's Little Women
FilmStruck celebrated Cukor last week as its featured director, making it as good of a time as any to dig deeper into his work.  He never was a flashy stylist and many of his films seem comfortable taking their time even at the risk of running off some of the audience.  What makes Cukor so special is how deep he goes with his characters.  He trusts their freewheeling spirits, loves them, knowing it is possible both for them to entertain us and allow us into their souls.  As a result, we care an unusual amount about the characters in his films.  Cukor also was a master at restraint.  Just look at how long he withholds things from Hepburn, a practice run for his finest hour a few years later in Holiday.  Less entertaining than Hawks, less visual than Ford, less buoyant than Lubitsch and less clever than Wilder but just as great as them all.

Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women
I have never been much of a fan of her work.  Having seen Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek's CutoffI often felt her work was admirably minimal without the heft or depth of a Bresson or Ozu.  But her latest feels different to me, saying a tremendous amount without saying much at all.  Reichardt uses one of cinema's greatest weapons, silence, to get underneath her themes and wonderfully rich characters and stories.

Morgan Neville's Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Fred Rogers' life makes for a fascinating film and Neville gets into much of what makes the story unique and provocative.  My only complaint is I wish there were more interviews from kids, like myself, who grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and the way they experienced the show as compared to Rogers' ultimate vision and philosophy behind it.

George Cukor's Dinner at Eight
Most extraordinary is not the drama but the acting and the multitude of characters and social situations we can recognize and have probably experienced.  Not completely sure if it should all be viewed as a critique and/or satire but it sure seems like it even though Cukor was such a fixture in the world he is depicting.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Honoring Stan

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Latest Mixtape

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-three

Just like in my other fifty-two posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Zachary Treitz's Men Go To Battle
The kind of imaginative lo-fi work that makes me rethink my normal skepticism around low budget digital filmmaking.  It feels like the cinematic equivalent to something Will Oldham might author.  It is quiet and earthy and comfortable just being pure and unadorned.  The acting is tremendous, and its restraint from using much light or music refreshing.  As strong of an American micro-indy as I have seen since Blue Ruin.

Frederick Wiseman's Law and Order
Aside from Wiseman's complete formal discipline, what might be most impressive about his work are the moments he is able to capture.  Whether it is the angry father at the end or the belligerent juvenile early on, the characters he finds in the scenes he shows us feel so raw, so real, and so rich it is like we have never seen humans going through real emotions on film before.  It is such pure cinema, Wiseman's work, and such a successful approach.  For anyone that wants to see moments deflected exactly as the artist found them, without any fluff and without any fear that the sheer moment would have enough heft or interest on its own, these are hours full of reward.  

Kasper Collins' I Called Him Morgan
An unusually absorbing doc that not only gives us Morgan's greatness but also gives us other dimensions like a deeper understanding of jazz as black classical music or of the human capacity to forgive even in the midst of great anger.  Collins' most impressive achievement might be his ability to take a paucity of Morgan footage and supplement it with shots of skylines and nature without making it all feel like hollow re-enactments.

Peter Kunhardt's King in the Wilderness
Kunhardt's style is nothing remarkable and the music can be overdone and cloying at times, but Kunhardt reveals sides of King's life that adds dimensions to my understanding of him.  Most remarkable to me was the idea of non-violence as the more radical response, as compared to retaliation, to hatred and racism.  According to King, "...if you're really going to be free, you have to overcome the love of wealth and the fear of death."



2018

7/4/18 I watched Peter Kunhardt's King in the Wilderness.  Kunhardt's style is nothing remarkable and the music can be overdone and cloying at times, but Kunhardt reveals sides of King's life that adds dimensions to my understanding of him.  Most remarkable to me was the idea of non-violence as the more radical response, as compared to retaliation, to hatred and racism.  According to King, "...if you're really going to be free, you have to overcome the love of wealth and the fear of death."

7/14/18 I watched Morgan Neville's Won't You Be My Neighbor?  Fred Rogers' life makes for a fascinating film and Neville gets into so much of what makes the story unique and provocative.  My only complaint is I wish there were more interviews from kids, like myself, who grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and the way they experienced the show as compared to Rogers' ultimate vision and philosophy behind it.   

7/27/18 I watched Serge Bozon's Mrs. Hyde.  It is a strange film and I am unsure all that Bozon is after but it features yet another tremendous performance from Huppert and visually it all feels incredibly clean and clear.  It is, I guess, a little in the line of The Nutty Professor, but it takes that format to address the deep racism issues facing France at the moment.

8/24/18 I watched Paul Schrader's First Reformed.  Schrader has always seemed like someone on the brink of imploding.  He doesn't come across as one of these guys that easily shares his feelings or is often at peace.  And his greatest characters all embody the same brooding nature that, unchecked, could become dangerous.  I haven't seen all of his work but I am a huge fan of American Gigolo and Affliction and this is perhaps my favorite of all of his films I have seen.  Hawke is perfect in the role and Schrader gives us moments that previously I would not have thought him capable of.  

8/25/18 I watched Lucrecia Martel's Zama.  To be honest, it was one of these films I felt like I missed, like I was just not smart enough to understand.  It reminded me of Herzog's Cobra Verde and while the filmmaking, the acting, the colors, the sound were all extraordinary, I just never found my emotional way in.   

8/30/18 I watched Tim Wardle's Three Identical Strangers.  A pretty fascinating tale.  Not always told in the most artistically impressive manner, perhaps, but compelling and certainly does not go where you might expect.

9/4/18  I watched Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman.  Spike is totally in his element and his passion and talent come through in ways that I haven't seen in his work in more than twenty years.  I found it messy, uneven and raw, as in akin to an early draft that still needed an editor's touch.  But I also thought it the closest American film I have seen in the 21st century to the spirit of the daring and uncomfortable batch of great indies that first burst on the scene in the early to mid eighties.    

9/10/18 I watched Andrew Bujalski's Support the Girls.  Bujalski's intellectual mainstream film is smart, impressive but not always fully compelling.  Bujalski makes the strongest cinematic metaphor yet for the Me Too movement and proves to me for the first time that he might actually be able to make something subversively great from within the Hollywood system.  

10/13/18 I watched Damien Chazelle's First Man.  I was a huge fan of Chazelle's last two features but this one left me quite cold and indifferent.  It seemed very uninspired and had very little to offer in terms of a new voice or feel to an old, stodgy Hollywood genre.  

11/2/18 I watched Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind.  Some incredible sequences, certainly, but the editing was frustrating and ultimately defeating for me.  As much as I love Welles, I could not rise to love this one.

11/3/18 I watched Kitao Sakurai's The Passage.  A delirious short film that ran short on interest for me way before it ended.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Dragnet Girl (1933)

An interesting next film for Ozu that's as close to a genre film as I have seen from him.  Perhaps, it is his entry into the gangster arena that by 1933 included The Public Enemy, Scarface and Little Caesar

In this ongoing exploration of Ozu, I have focused more on tracking the evolution of his style rather than his thematic interests.  Here though it is interesting to see him taking on themes and ideas as diverse as the criminal with a conscience, the absence of the parent and the struggle for civility in a corrupt, criminal world. 

Formally, a few quick notes I would like to mention.  Signs pointing back to Western culture are once again abundant, whether it's movie posters for The Champ or All Quiet on the Western Front, Victrola record players, fight posters for American boxers such as Jack Dempsey or American quotes hanging on walls in different locations.  It is also interesting to see that, like I have noted in some of the immediately preceding films, there are a number of tracking shots that Ozu seemed to abandon later on his career.  I also noticed at least one crane shot, which is the first I have seen in his work.  By this point in his career, Ozu's shots are also notably seeming to last a little longer and filmed mostly tatami-style.  And, there are a few of what would become signature ellipses for Ozu.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Latest mix

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-two

Just like in my other fifty-one posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies
Not for the faint of heart, this edgy, unflinching documentary is the debut from master documentarian Wiseman.  It is more raw, still to this day, than most anything coming out of the American independent cinema.  Wiseman may not be unheralded, but with each of his films, for me his import only grows.  His films get inside their subjects, burrowing deep, like a Bresson or a Dreyer.  

Luis Bunuel's The Phantom of Liberty
One of Bunuel's most free-flowing and "liberated" films is pure and unpredictable fun.  There are a number of all-time great moments but for me it was the unconventional dinner party and the final sequence at the zoo.  Bunuel's key themes are still there - anti-establishment, anti-Catholic church, surrealistic flights of fancy - but the contemporary setting gives them a lightness and impact that I have rarely felt while watching his work.  

Hong Sang-soo's On the Beach at Night Alone
Proof yet again that Hong is one of the cinema's great simplifiers.  He is able to take all of life's complications and reduce them down until what is left are only his favorite things - women, smoking, drinking, nature, cafes and conversations.  If there is a filmmaker today churning out more consistently interesting works, I have yet to find him. 

Yasujiro Ozu's Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?
One of his films I have never heard about and it comes immediately after one of his more famous works, I Was Born, But...  Like its predecessor, what is noticeable is Ozu's development into a very complex emotional filmmaker.  The final fifteen or so minutes, in particular, show Ozu's range as an unflinchingly brutal realist and a deeply searching realist.  In fact, I cannot recall a more emotionally uncompromising scene to date in Ozu's cinema than Tetsuo and Saiki's final encounter.  For films about the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood or even for films about the meaning of friendship, Where Now Are the Dreams Of Youth?  deserves to be a part of the discussion.



Sunday, June 3, 2018

Woman of Tokyo (1933)

Not a very memorable Ozu effort, this short film, if nothing else, continues his formal progression in a forward manner.  There are almost no movements of the camera and an abundance of tatami shots.  There is none of the playfulness of his previous work and the only real allusion to Western culture is when Ryoichi and Harue go to the movies to see If I Had a Million.
 
In its study of social mores, it feels closer emotionally to a Mizoguchi film.  A curious, almost perplexing work, but regardless, I am excited to see where Ozu goes from here.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Where Now Are the Dreams Of Youth? (1932)

The first time I am back to working my way through Ozu in chronological order since March of 2017.

It is one of his films I have never heard about and it comes immediately after one of his more famous works, I Was Born, But....  Like its predecessor, what is noticeable is Ozu's development into a very complex emotional filmmaker.  The final fifteen or so minutes, in particular, show Ozu's range as an unflinchingly brutal realist and a deeply searching humanist.  In fact, I cannot recall a more emotionally uncompromising scene to date in Ozu's cinema than Tetsuo and Saiki's final encounter. 

Some formal elements that I noticed are Ozu's reliance on tatami shots but not entirely, some tracking shots and a predominance of shorter takes compared to where his cinema would eventually end up in the latter part of his career.  It would take a second viewing for me to confirm, but I think I noticed Ozu shifting to longer takes during a couple of the more emotionally important moments. 

A few other small observations.  Again, there is a scene that features an American film poster which was surprising to me, as I thought by this point in his career that Ozu had let go of any Western influence on his work.  There were also a couple of exterior shots as Tetsuo rode in a car.  I cannot recall a previous shot of this type in Ozu's cinema.  And, like I Was Born, But..., there is an underlying playfulness and almost silliness that exists that seems to disappear from most of Ozu's later work.

Interesting to note that it would not be until 1936 that Ozu would make his first talkie, possibly the latest of all adopters.  Also, of note, it dawned on me that unlike Mizoguchi I am not sure Ozu ever made a film that was period or not set in present day.

For films about the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood or even for films about the meaning of friendship, Where Now Are the Dreams Of Youth? deserves to be a part of the discussion.