Saturday, May 31, 2014

The End

I just watched James Gray's latest film, The Immigrant, and among other things I felt it had the most masterful final shot/image of any film I have seen in a very long time.  It reminded me of probably my favorite closing shot of all time in Antonioni's The Passenger then got me thinking about some of the other all time great closing shots in the history of the medium. 

Among my other faves are:

Kiarostami's Through the Olive Trees
Godard's Contempt
Truffaut's The Soft Skin
Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces

Friday, May 30, 2014

Litterature

I haven't been reading as much as I would like in the last few years.  But a couple of friends made a few suggestions and I stumbled across this list and I have caught a big dose of wanting to play catch up:

http://www.gq.com/entertainment/books/201304/21-books-for-the-21st-century

I have already read several on the list and all have been good to me so far. 


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Two interesting lists from France

I recently stumbled across these two lists even though one of them has been around for awhile.  I am a list guy even if I never completely agree with any one list.  A good list always puts another few films on my radar.  Here they are:

http://www.lesinrocks.com/2014/03/05/cinema/top-100-plus-beaux-films-francais-11468683/

http://www.filmdetail.com/2008/11/23/cahiers-du-cinemas-100-greatest-films/


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Favorite (four), part twenty-five


Just like in my other twenty-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 finally 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 someone else as well.


Brian DePalma's Passion
A continuation of the director's pet themes of doppelgangers, betrayals, and a vision of the American dream doomed for failure.  His cinema continues down its very singular path and his formal approach remains as identifiable as any filmmaker ever to take to the medium.  For me the most interesting DePalma film since Femme Fatale.

DW Griffith's Orphans of the Storm
It is 1921 and the amount of cinematic language in which Griffith already seems proficient is staggering - the close-up, cross-cutting, the tracking shot, to name but a few.  But even more impressive is the way Griffith builds suspense particularly whenever the sisters threaten to meet.  Time and time again Griffith deprives the audience of the one thing they want, putting it off, teasing until the absolute very end. This is masterful, epic storytelling, 150 minutes that feels shaped just right.  

Marco Bellocchio's Fists in the Pocket
Whenever you read about Bellocchio's debut feature, there is talk about how confident and assured it is and how it might just be one of the greatest debuts in the history of film.  I cannot argue with any of that. But what I did not know is how intense and disturbing the work is. Bellocchio gets deep, unnerving performances from his cast and puts together stylistic counterpoints that enhance the specificity of his vision.  The overall impact is that of a work separating itself from what we had come to know from Italian cinema at the time.  This is neither a highly surreal (Fellini) nor a highly formal (Antonioni) work.  Fists is an emotional fireball that thanks to Bellocchio's skill has a shape and form all its own.   

Stephen Frears' Philomena
Frears is a director I almost always like.  Versatile, invisible stylistically behind the camera yet uncommonly consistent and felt as an emotional filmmaker.  This is mainstream art cinema that is all too rare - harmonious, moving, and craft of the highest order.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Top Twelve Films of 2013


This year I might have seen fewer films than I hoped but when I look back I had some incredible experiences with a few new releases and some older films I was discovering for the first time.  

With each passing year even though I may find myself less and less interested in the multiplex products, I am amazed at the number of top shelf work still being produced in an environment where the notion of film as art becomes more rarefied by the day.  Here are the real highlights for me.  It was a year of renewed faith and one that left me wanting to see more and knowing there remains so much more for me to see and discover.  To film, 2014, and what I still deeply feel is the most satisfying, human, and immersive artform we have.



Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Blue is the Warmest Color is an emotional highwire accomplished with only the most rigorous difficult technique.  Kechiche works in the Dardennes' territory favoring close-ups, handheld camerawork, and a naturalism of image, look, and performance.  The performances, especially those of Adele and Emma, rank alongside the greatest the medium has ever given us.  That is, if great acting is an actor's ability to walk someone else through his or her emotional experience in a given moment.  Kechiche uses sex like Noe or Dumont uses violence.  The sex is unsettling but a direct and pure means for Kechiche to achieve what he is after - the most honest cinematic look ever at the harrowing emotional experience of coming out.  What we are left with is a masterful film, a masterpiece, the cinema of the Dardennes taken to the next level.


Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1954)






















Feverish with Ray's unique emotionalism and spatial mastery on grand display.  Crawford is as powerful as ever, and this western is a world all its own.  It's pulp, melodrama, and baroque art.  It's no wonder it enjoys such a major reputation;  it's a wonderful piece of work by a great filmmaker. 



Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession (1954)

















My first time with this well-known Sirk, and it certainly is as loony as I heard whisperings of.  But Sirk gives it tragic depth, swirling emotion, and somehow manages to transform seemingly insane form (garish music and color) and content (plotting that no one in their right mind would ever consider plausible) into something uniquely wonderful.  Although I still prefer Written as it seems perhaps a little more restrained in its content and outlandish in its formMagnificent deserves a place of greatness all its own. 


Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley (2013)













My first theatrical experience with a Wiseman film was also one of my very best theatrical experiences of the year. Wiseman combines Renoir's humanism with Ozu's patience to offer up an exhaustive and meticulously observed look at a contemporary public university.  We take away a great deal from participating in some of the student discussions as well as from having access to a number of administrative cabinet meetings.  Nothing feels put on.  This is demanding, unadorned, naked filmmaking of the highest order that places demands with its style and four hour length but offers reaffirming sentiments on cinema and life for all willing to go along. 


Agnes Varda's Cleo de 5 a 7 (1962)













More masterful than I remember from my first viewing more than twenty years ago, Varda's work separates itself from many of the early New Wave films by eschewing genre and delivering a film with a focus entirely on character.  Varda's camera glides and records capturing a realness of faces and of Paris.  And what we are left with is, as a capsule of its time, a film as valuable as Breathless, 400 Blows, and any of the other key Vague work from the early sixties.  


Leo McCarey's Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)













The Hollywood happy ending has become an almost absolute, an artificial emotional high that a filmmaker must provide to the audience before turning the lights back on.  It is troubling and says as much about the American psyche as McDonald's or Hummers.  But what if there was a time when it is was not obligatory but instead the optimal way to bring the story to a close.  I have seen my fair share of movies, and most of my favorites tend to shy away from the happy ending altogether.  Rarely, if ever, have I seen a movie like Ruggles that without its happy ending would simply lose everything, its reason for being, its internal logic, and its deeply lasting effect.  I consider this the quintessential happy ending.  Now if Hollywood would only take notice.


Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (1955)















Ray's film contains a world of truth and heft rivaling any I know on film, yet also quite unlike anyone else's world.  Warmer than Ozu, closer to a documentary-like realism than Renoir, and probably a little more alive than either, Ray does not shy away from death or difficulty and captures the buoyant feelings of innocence and happiness masterfully.  A humanist film containing so much life and truth, and a work full of heart.  Ray offers a spirituality so often lacking in cinema and a poetic approach to the world and the medium both rewarding and renewing.  


Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl (1981)
















A film full of heart reminding me at times of Bujalski, early Carax, and early Hartley.  Gregory is a lovable, vulnerable, goofy young man and Forsyth gives many of his scenes wonderfully effective space, warmth, and playfulness.  Less austere than some of his other work, the narrative looseness characteristic of Forsyth really works in his favor here.  One of the best narrative capsules I have seen of the early eighties and an extremely surprising gem of a movie.  


Nicholas Philbert's Etre et avoir (2002)














Less disciplined and rigorous than Wiseman, Philibert still impresses with the unique moments he is able to capture.  Watching for instance a young boy realize there are numbers beyond those he already knows feels like something the cinema has never quite captured before, the awakening of a young mind.  Overall the film is a very warm, patient look at an extremely gifted and giving teacher.  


Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946)


















I had not seen the film in almost twenty years and had no real memory of it.  What struck me first is just how well made it is - brilliantly plotted, masterfully cast and performed, and of course emotionally affecting of the highest order.  Sure it is manipulative and sure it is very much a Hollywood film.  But is also very human and universal and as a result very life-affirming.  I am left imagining what role American film might play in today's mainstream psyche if only Hollywood still had this much talent behind their films and this much desire to connect rather than escape.


George Stevens' The More the Merrier (1943)


















I imagine there have been great studies done on the correlation between viewer state of mind and a response to a work of art.  Even though I pride myself on having a fairly good first response, rarely shifting significantly one way or another upon subsequent viewings, I have had occasion where I completely change my opinion.  Here is such a time.  I am not sure how I could have ever made comments to the contrary as I find this to be one of the most wonderful, moving romantic comedies ever made.  The chemistry between Arthur and McCrea is downright dangerous and Coburn is the lovely force, both funny and wise, keeping the fires stoked.  A new favorite and a lovely film I hope others get to savor soon.  It brought me the exact pleasure I needed on a glum Saturday.



Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)













If Renoir is correct that every filmmaker is simply trying to improve upon the same film each time out then the Coen brothers finally get an aspect of their work right that I feel they have fallen short on the last few times - the film ending.  Whereas I felt they missed the mark in No Country and A Serious Man with their abrupt, oft kilter final moments, ILD's final moments bring everything together in a masterful, fresh way that keeps the Coen's work feeling very modern and daring.  It is one of their very funniest films and also one of their most accomplished. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-four

Just like in my other twenty-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 finally 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 someone else as well.

Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color
Kechiche works in Dardennes territory favoring close-ups, handheld camerawork, and a naturalism of image, look, and performance.  The performances, specifically those of Adele and Emma, rank alongside the greatest the medium has ever given us, that is if great acting is an actor's ability to walk someone else through his or her emotional experience in a given moment.  Kechiche uses sex like Noe or Dumont uses violence.  The sex is unsettling but the most direct and purest means for Kechiche to achieve what he is after - the most honest cinematic look yet at the harrowing emotional experience of coming out.  What we are left with is a masterful film, a masterpiece, the cinema of the Dardennes taken to the next level - an emotional highwire accomplished with only the most rigorous difficult technique.

Michelangelo Antoinioni's Blow Up
Antonioni gives sixties ennui and youthful alienation his masterful cinematic talents in this gloriously modern film.  Antonioni particularly excels in set design, the studio space at the center of the film is endlessly evocative, camera placement and movement, his camera hovers and sees in ways that continually feel new and uninhibited, and sound, the lack of music and reliance on ambient sound for most of the film add immeasurable effect to the entire experience.  A unique, landmark film wearing its age well and another example of Antonioni's special and great talent.   

Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life
I had not seen the film in almost twenty years and had no real memory of it.  What struck me first is just how well made it is - brilliantly plotted, masterfully cast and performed, and of course emotionally affecting of the highest order.  Sure it is manipulative and sure it is very much a Hollywood film.  But is also very human and universal and as a result very life-affirming.  I am left imagining what role American film might play in today's mainstream psyche if only Hollywood still had this much talent behind their films and this much desire to connect rather than escape.

Nicolas Philibert's Etre et avoir
Less disciplined and rigorous than Wiseman, Philibert still impresses with the unique moments he is able to capture.  Watching for instance a young boy realize there are numbers beyond those he already knows feels like something the cinema has never quite captured before, the awakening of a young mind.  Overall the film is a very warm, patient look at an extremely gifted and giving teacher.  


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-three

Just like in my other twenty-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 finally 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 someone else as well.


Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali
Ray's film contains a world of truth and heft rivaling any I know on film, yet quite unlike anyone else's world as well.  Warmer than Ozu, closer to a documentary-like realism than Renoir, and probably a little more alive than either, Ray does not shy away from death or difficulty and captures the buoyant feelings of innocence and happiness masterfully.  A humanist film containing so much life and truth and a work full of heart.  Ray offers a spirituality so often lacking in cinema and a poetic approach to the world and the medium both rewarding and renewing.  

Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl
Another film full of heart reminding me at times of Bujalski, early Carax, and early Hartley.  Gregory is a lovable, vulnerable, goofy young man and Forsyth gives many of his scenes wonderfully effective space, warmth, and playfulness.  Less austere than some of his other work, the narrative looseness characteristic of Forsyth really works in his favor here.  One of the best narrative capsules I have seen of the early eighties and an extremely surprising gem of a movie.  

George Stevens' The More the Merrier
I imagine there have been great studies done on the correlation between viewer state of mind and a response to a work of art.  Even though I pride myself on having a fairly good first response rarely shifting significantly one way or another upon subsequent viewings, I have had occasion where I completely change my opinion.  Here is such a time.  I am not sure how I could have ever made comments to the contrary as I find this to be one of the most wonderful, moving romantic comedies ever made.  The chemistry between Arthur and McCrea is downright dangerous and Coburn is the lovely force, both funny and wise, keeping the fires stoked.  A new favorite and a lovely film I hope others get to savor soon.  It brought me the exact pleasure I needed on a glum Saturday.

Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career
Armstrong demonstrates a great poetry of feeling and image in this restrained, challenging story.  The chemistry coming off the screen from Davis and Neill is intoxicating, and although Davis' decisions run counter to where we want the story to go, Armstrong delivers a wonderful statement on artistic sacrifice.  Up there with the greatest of all filmed illustrations on the artist life and the life one must lead at times to be true to one's self even if it means resisting the temptations of a physical and emotional connection.

  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-two

Just like in my other twenty-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 finally 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 someone else as well.


Agnes Varda's Cleo de 5 a 7
More masterful than I remember from my first viewing more than twenty years ago, Varda's work separates itself from many of the early New Wave films by eschewing genre and delivering a film with a focus entirely on character.  Varda's camera glides and records capturing a realness of faces and of Paris.  And what we are left with is, as a capsule of its time, a film as valuable as Breathless, 400 Blows, and any of the other key Vague work from the early sixties.  

Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession
My first time with this well-known Sirk, and it certainly is as loony as I heard whisperings of.  But Sirk gives it tragic depth and keeps the emotion swirling and somehow manages to transform seemingly insane form (garish music and color) and content (plotting that no one in their right mind would ever consider plausible) into something uniquely wonderful.  Although I still prefer Written as it seems perhaps a little more restrained in its content and outlandish in its form, Magnificent deserves a place all its own. 

Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar
Feverish with Ray's unique emotionalism and spatial mastery on grand display.  Crawford is as powerful as ever, and this western is a world all its own.  It's pulp, melodrama, and baroque art.  It's no wonder this film enjoys such a major reputation;  it's a wonderful piece of work by a great filmmaker. 

Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis
If Renoir is correct that every filmmaker is simply trying to improve upon the same film each time out then the Coen brothers finally get an aspect of their work right that I feel they have fallen short on the last few times out, the film ending.  Whereas I felt they missed the mark in No Country and A Serious Man with their abrupt, oft kilter final moments, ILD's final moments bring everything together in a masterful, fresh way that keeps the Coen's work feeling very modern and daring.  One of their very funniest films and also one of their most accomplished.  




Thursday, November 7, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-one


Just like in my other twenty 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 finally 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 someone else as well.

Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey: 1895-1918 The World Discovers A New Art Form
The first installment of the fifteen part documentary is far more subjective than I had anticipated and a little quirky.  Cousins does not cover the films we would expect and does not seem interested in re-telling the history of film.  He seems to want to tell the history of film from his perspective rather than an academic and accepted view.  I am excited for the installments to follow and expect to be exposed to some new information (even here the fact that Hollywood was initially dominated by women) and some films hitting my radar for the first time.

Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley
My first theatrical experience with a Wiseman film is also my best theatrical experience of the year so far.  Wiseman combines Renoir's humanism with Ozu's patience to offer up an exhaustive and meticulously observed look at a contemporary public university.  We take away a great deal from participating in some of the student discussions as well as from our access to a number of administrative cabinet meetings.  Nothing feels put on.  This is demanding, unadorned, naked filmmaking of the highest order that places demands with its style and four hour length but offers reaffirming sentiments on cinema and life for all willing to go along. 

Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town
A mature, daringly dark, modern film full of strong and combative feelings about Hollywood.  Perhaps its tacked-on ending is part of that commentary but it feels unsatisfying when compared to the rest of the work.  Highlights include the incredible elevator shot and a very subtle use of slow motion as Douglas, his ex, and her new man ride up together.  If you have a thing for Contempt like I do, you will likely dig it viewing it as the Godard's long lost mate.  


Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz 
In my opinion a highly underrated film by the master that is of interest first to see what Hitch can do when the Hays code is no longer around.  There's a brutality at work and a graphic punch that feels like new territory for the director.  It also features some fantastic set pieces (including most of what's set in Cuba), some typically expressive Hitch camerawork that De Palma had to have seen, and yet another complex and emotive Hitch score.  The ending admittedly lets the film down a little but that's only because much of what comes before it is so entertaining.  Like Marnie, a Hitch deserving of more eyes and of more people talking about it.  


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty

Just like my other nineteen 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 finally see, but only very few have stayed with me. This series is my filter for those (and hopefully one or two will be good to someone else, too).

Leo McCarey's Ruggles of Red Gap

The Hollywood happy ending has become an almost absolute, an artificial emotional high that a filmmaker must provide the audience before turning the lights back on.  It is troubling and says as much about the American psyche as McDonald's or Hummers.  But what if there was a time when it is was not obligatory but instead the optimal way to bring a story to a close.  I have seen my fair share of movies, and most of my favorites tend to eschew the happy ending for something else altogether.  But rarely, if ever, have I seen a movie like Ruggles that without its happy ending would simply lose everything, its reason for being, its internal logic, and its deeply lasting effect.  Of everything I have ever seen, I consider this the quintessential happy ending.  Now if Hollywood were only taking its lessons from Ruggles, we may still be at the center of the most important and profound artistic medium of the last 150 years.   

Blake Edwards' Breakfast at Tiffany's
Hepburn is pitch perfect as the irresistibly dynamic yet damaged Holly Golightly.  Edwards brings it all a real touch of class - exquisite wardrobe, painterly colors, patient cutting, and a smooth camera that glides around almost never calling attention to itself.  There's more depth and truth here than I recalled from my first viewing nearly twenty years ago.  And a sadness emanating from Hepburn/Golightly that is all too similar to several of the women I have met in my life.    

Malik Bendjelloul's Searching for Sugar Man
An incredible story is at the heart of the doc, and at times, it almost seems so incredulous I was waiting for the movie's great rabbit to come out.  Rodriguez's outlook on his life is probably the most affecting ingredient of all.  I just wish the filmmakers spent more time talking to other American musicians and delving into the mystery of how someone this talented got completely lost and buried in the shuffle.  

Raoul Walsh's The Horn Blows at Midnight
Walsh proves, like Hawks, that he was very capable in a variety of different genres.  His visual gags perhaps lack timing, seeming on occasion to overstay their welcome, but he keeps everything tonally even, snappy, and makes an unusually fun farcical comedy.  And Benny is just absolutely wonderful.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

TCM celebrates its 20th

Prepping the DVR and really looking forward to the program TCM is unveiling in early September. Here is the schedule of events in case it hasn't hit your radar yet (it just only hit mine):

http://turner.tekgroup.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=6436


Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Last Lullaby on television

Pretty cool.  I just found out today that my film, The Last Lullaby, is available starting today until 9/29 on Comcast Xfinity On Demand. Here's the link via the internet (http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/The-Last-Lullaby/8316156493918229112/movies#filter=vod&episode=8316156493918229112) or it's available on the On Demand screen on the TV.


Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), The Kinks, 1969

The vast majority of The Kinks' discography remains one of those items in my life, like that city I must go to or that dish I must taste, that I know will have great rewards the day I finally take the plunge. To me, that's one of the great joys in this life, knowing certain untapped resources are still out there, waiting for when I desperately need something to lift me out out of the empty, humming place where I sometimes find myself.

Admittedly I do not have enough exposure yet to know where I would place Arthur within The Kinks' body of work. Instead I will just lay out a few reactions to it. People often talk about The Kinks and their concept albums. But seldom has the "concept" of a concept album been as clear to me as it is here. Every song hangs on the same themes - the flawed Brtish dream, working class powerlessness, general class inequities. With a quick description, I would say it combines the expansive soundscapes of the Beatles with the lyrical incisiveness of Dylan. Though not as catchy as the Lennon/McCartney factory, I haven't ever come across a more adept mixture of pointed words and dense, Bacharach-esque orchestration.

It feels like Davies is pushing for a masterpiece, and I know many people who feel like he gets there completely with Arthur. I cannot say I am always in it.  But when I am, like in the absolute jammer, Brainwashed, or in that heroic break during Mr. Churchill Says, I get what some of my peers must be experiencing all the way through.

Many people complain about the long jam at the end of Australia, but to me it feels like the necessary pause after the verbal barrage Davies has unleashed over the first twenty or so minutes. And if I were listening on vinyl, it seems like a glorious way to end side one, which is exactly where it is positioned. For the most part musicians have lost this effect, the decision of how to end Side A and begin Side B. It is a lost artform, a lost consideration, and it got me thinking, is there anything else along these lines that artists in other mediums have forever had to abandon.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ill Communication, Beastie Boys, 1994

When seeking a hit of artistic adrenaline, this album is one of my first stops.  Although I tend towards a diet of art that is typically spare, natural, and clean, every now and then I want to gorge myself on just the opposite.  Here, Side A is particularly speedy, boasting some of the Beasties' greatest tunes ("Root Down", "B-Boys Makin' with the Freak Freak", "Sabrosa"), it starts in fifth gear and through a flurry of dance-rap, funk, and punk, it keeps it up for the next 23 minutes.

Like Tarantino, the Beasties are one of our great practitioners of post-modern missile command, more often than not eschewing an introspective style for something that instead uses blended forms to grab our attention.  Some artists almost want to bore you, force you into stimuli time out, to ensure their point is made.  I think the Beasties, like Tarantino, start from the opposite place.  As long as they hold your interest, they feel they're doing their job.  And if some way, somehow you learn something on top of that, well then all the better.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Remain in Light, Talking Heads, 1980

Bouncy and modern, Remain in Light is widely regarded as a masterpiece, one of the most accomplished albums of the eighties and the pinnacle creation for one of America's most adventurous New Wavers.  The team of Eno/Byrne hit the trifecta with this album.  They make us feel.  They make us think.  And they also remember to entertain us.  A headphone album chock-full of fascinating soundscapes which will hold its luster and avant-garde posture happily ever after.