Saturday, December 3, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-seven

Just like in my other thirty-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.

Miguel Gomes' Tabu
Clearly I am late to the party but there seems to be something very special happening right now in Portuguese cinema.  I already recently got on the bandwagon for Manoel de Oliveira and now I am starting to see what this Gomes guy is all about.  If Tabu is any indication, he might be one of the most gifted and bold filmmakers at work.  Visually it is absolutely rapturous cinema, using modern black-and-white like the killer poetic weapon it can be when in the right hands (think Wenders' work with Muller or Dead Man, again Muller).  And Gomes' style, in addition to his visual approach, is as free-wheeling and exciting as Godard can be in his most effective moments.  Gomes jumps all around chronologically, mixes silent cinema with voiceover and uses music and nature as well as the great Swiss one.  I can't wait to see more of Gomes' work.  He's exactly the type of filmmaker, in its current isolationist cinema culture, Americans are losing out on by not having more readily available.

Hong Sang-soo's Right Now, Wrong Then
Hong's latest outing once again treads familiar territory - a doppelganger narrative, a filmmaker as main character and plenty of scenes of eating and drinking.  This installment especially benefits from Hong's ability to capture so many of those awkward but charged emotions we have all experienced during the early stages of courting.  And the way the second narrative remixes the events that have come before has Hong working at the absolute height of his skill.

Terrence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea
Anyone who has ever been in an unbalanced relationship, where one party is clearly more committed than the other, will recognize themselves in Davies' film.  I don't have enough familiarity yet to know how this work compares with Davies' other films but Davies' treatment feels very real, nuanced and smart.  The acting is extraordinary.  I have never been a fan of Weisz but you feel every moment of her angst and Hiddleston is exuberant and brings tremendous energy whenever he is on screen.  Davies' approach is a bit arch and theatrical but his treatment here is nothing short of courageous and accomplished.

Jeffrey Dupre and Maro Chermayeff''s Soundbreaking
The access that the filmmakers had, most likely because of Sir George Martin's involvement, is extraordinary.  And the fact that they chose to tell the story thematically rather than chronologically gives the film a pulse and an entertainment quotient that Ken Burns' work never seems to achieve. 


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lists

I know, only an older person could say this but I will say it any way.  Because really lists have always been important to me.  Even fifteen, twenty years ago that was the case.  A list that would open up new doors, take something newly discovered and add to it.  We do live in an increasingly busy world, more fragmented than it once was, and so lists probably have as much a place as ever to serve as signposts to help us find what we're looking for when we don't really know where to look to find it.

With that, I wanted to share this list by Elvis Costello.  It's one of the better lists of its kind that I have ever seen.  Costello obviously made a career out of his passion and here he shares 500 of his favorite albums.  Now that we have Spotify (among my very favorite of the newer technological amenities), all we have to do is plug in one of the 500 titles and see how it rolls over us.

Hope you find a few new gems.  I know I have.

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2000/11/elvis-costello-500-favorite-albums


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-six

Just like in my other thirty-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.

Raul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon
Ruiz's film is a display of filmmaking class with every shot meticulously framed and every movement of the camera elegant and graceful.  The prior film or two of Ruiz's that I had seen left me completely unprepared for the force and effect of this extraordinary achievement.  It leaves no doubt that a sort of classicism in filmmaking (beautiful acting, immaculate set design, repetitive, symphonic score) when done in the highest manner can reach the soul every bit (if not more) than any of the more contemporary techniques.

Celine Sciamma's Tomboy
A very strong addition to the kid in peril genre that includes 400 Blows, Kes and Germany, Year Zero.  This one is effective and incredibly unsettling, particularly for the way it takes the audience's experience with past movies and uses those memories of what could possibly happen to create relentless and nearly unbearable tension.  The end credits mention Ferran and Lvovsky, which come of no surprise as influences and reaffirm the cinematic world in which Sciamma is operating.

Jacques Rivette's Out 1
With my biggest commitment yet to Rivette's cinema (it is over 720 minutes long), I am beginning if not to like him more, at least to better understand his interests and style.  First his interests.  Rivette is fascinated by the process of being an artist and the steps by which one finds and makes its work.  He loves Paris, its architecture and infinitely picturesque locations.  He adores his actresses who seem to intrigue him more than his actors.  He likes communities.  In fact until now it hadn't occurred to me but the "13 plot line" could certainly be read as code for Cahiers and Rivette's yearning for a reformation of the gang.  As for style.  Rivette favors the long take, a handheld camera, and frames that allow the actors to roam both physically, and I suspect, emotionally.  Of course, much has already been written about Rivette's use of time and nowhere is it more evident than throughout the more than twelve hours of Out 1.  Rivette seems to possess if not a disdain then certainly an indifference to what is typically considered an acceptable duration for a film.  The same for his relationship to the conventional rules of narrative storytelling.  He rejects story arcs, traditional expectations of plot, and the entire notion of a beginning, middle, and end.  Watching Out 1, I realize finally that it is not Godard but actually Rivette who is the most unconventional of all the Cahiers filmmakers:  Godard's cinema plays within more known and accepted parameters of time and plot.  Rivette's cinema is challenging and frustrating because it defies convention and forces us into a space with very few recognizable cinematic landmarks from which to derive comfort and to which to cling.  On the other hand, his cinema's importance if one is willing to go with it is that it opens up new directions for the medium, shining light on areas previously considered prerequisites for the filmmaker (such as having a beginning, middle and end and coming in at 150 mns max) and proving there is still new cinematic language to discover and write and uncharted cinematic territory to explore.

Richard Price and Steven Zaillian's The Night Of
The closest television has come for me in terms of approach and execution and challenging the better cinema since 2014's True Detective.  The acting, particularly Ahmed's, was endlessly impressive and the way the two creators handled the final episode confirmed the subtlety, grace and amount of care I had felt since the beginning.  


Monday, October 24, 2016

Another interesting list from Les Inrockuptibles

This time it's their 100 favorite films so far of the 21st century (in four parts):

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/09/27/cinema/100-meilleurs-films-xxie-siecle-selon-inrocks-14-11865747/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/10/06/cinema/100-meilleurs-films-xxie-siecle-24-11869052/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/10/13/cinema/100-meilleurs-films-xxie-siecle-de-50-a-26eme-place-11871944/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/10/23/cinema/suite-fin-de-top-100-25-meilleurs-films-xxie-siecle-11873114/


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-five

Just like in my other thirty-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.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cemetery of Splendour
Of all the filmmakers currently hailed as top shelf artists, I have probably struggled the most with Weerasethakul.  His cinema is slow and visually modest and to date I have never quite found my way in.  But I think I am finally starting to get it.  At a time when mainstream cinema (and life) seem infinitely far from introspective art, the true artists probably feel they need to be even more extreme in their approach.  In Weerasethakul's case, this means no non-diegetic music, very long takes, almost no camera movements and almost no close-ups.  Weerasethakul forces us to stop in hopes that we will actually spend some time contemplating within the long quiet spaces he sets up and creates.  If the critical responsibility of art is to make us look at ourselves and our world, Weerasethakul is fully answering the call.  Joining the ranks of Ozu, Dreyer, Bresson, Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Weerasethakul is boldly continuing the legacy of transcendental filmmaking with each challenging film, each rigorous scene, and each extraordinarily disciplined frame he painstakingly offers to us.

Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin
Hints at Shogun Stories and suggests that Saulnier might be one of our cinema's great new genre moodmakers.  What impresses most is how much Saulnier accomplishes visually, rather than through verbal exposition, and his command of atmosphere and tone.  

David Simon and William F. Zorzi's Show Me a Hero
My most memorable viewing experience last year was seeing the entirety of The Wire for the first time.  I was astounded by Simon's ability to simultaneously juggle so many rich characters and the way he so gracefully glided around the different corners of the carefully detailed and observed world he had created.  Simon moves the focus from Baltimore to Yonkers but the result is similar, another microscopic study of a section of our community and a work that lodges itself deeply into our personal and moral fabric, and shifts us.  

Arnaud Desplechin's My Golden Days
I came in with massive expectations having followed Les Inrockuptibles' coverage of the film's debut at Cannes last year.  As with most of Desplechin's work, this one is ambitious, sprawling, novelistic and very modern in its construction and execution.  If Desplechin had only chosen a different actress, a different type of face for Esther, this one might rank at the very top of his films but as it stands it is entertaining, at times extraordinary, but only partially affecting.
  

Friday, June 24, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-four

Just like in my other thirty-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.

Richard Linklater's Before Midnight
I have never been a huge fan of Linklater's Before films nor really of Linklater's work in general.  But this time I was impressed by his formal rigor, the emotionality of the performances and Linklater's ability to tread on Rossellini's turf without seeming painfully out of place.

Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret
Genre.  Novelistic.  Ambition.  Massive.  Pressure.  Huge, after the breakout success of You Can Count On Me.  I have long been a fan of Paquin and here Lonergan gives her the space to show off deep layers of her talent.  The sprawling film is difficult and flawed but also infinitely more rewarding than most of the work currently coming out of the States.  It feels most akin to a French art film, something Desplechin or Assayas would attempt, is full of extraordinary moments and bubbling with feelings and ideas.    

Eric Rohmer's A Tale of Winter
Rohmer again proves himself a master of his specific approach and style.  Like Bresson or Ozu, Rohmer is a director of transcendence.  Since his primary tools are reduction and refinement, when he decides in those rare moments to unleash it hits the viewer with a real force.  Like someone who whispers 95% of the time, when words are spoken at regular or louder volumes, the ear perks up and becomes unusually attentive.  Perhaps not Rohmer's finest but certainly another testament of his mastery and greatness.

David Lynch's Twin Peaks (TV show)
As a long time fan of Lynch I figured it was about time I sit down and watch the entirety of the two seasons of Twin Peaks.  I also wanted to make sure I was caught up when the new batch premieres in 2017.  Although not every moment is fully captivating, the show rises above any other I have seen in its casting, its fearlessness and the primal power of its greatest scenes.  Nothing topped the final episode for me but other unforgettable moments include Leland Palmer and Madeleine's final scene, Coop's Tibetan Method, and any scene that bears the threat of Leo coming home.




Saturday, April 23, 2016

2016

4/23/16 I watched Ken Burns' Jackie Robinson.  The first Burns' doc I have seen in its entirety proves to be an informative, moving portrait of the great man.  Burns' style is more commercial and mainstream than Wiseman's work but his command of the medium proves to be impressive.  

8/29/16 I watched Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special.  I have long had a hunch that Nichols might have a bigger reputation than he deserves, and really, aside from his debut, I have not been much of a fan.  The latest outing, more than any of his works yet, confirm that he may just be another Hollywood craftsman, without a strong approach or deep feel for craft.  

9/28/16 I watched David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water.  It is the type of well-crafted small scale crime film I tend to like and by and large I appreciated Mackenzie's approach to the landscape and his cast, as well as his overall restraint.  The ending takes us to a slightly unexpected place and the film is all the better for it.  At times it just felt a little too familiar and perhaps not as fresh as it could have been.   

11/18/16 I watched Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room.  The French are right yet again, Saulnier is quite the interesting young American filmmaker.  Here he seems almost giving us a new installation in the Corman school of exploitation film.  Saulnier is adept at mood and at keeping things lean, mean and entertaining.  

11/27/16 I watched Jeffrey Dupre and Maro Chermayeff's Soundbreaking.  The access that the filmmakers had, most likely because of Sir George Martin's involvement, is extraordinary.  And the fact that they chose the tell the story thematically rather than chronologically gives the film a pulse and an entertainment quotient that Ken Burns' work never seems to have.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-three

Just like in my other thirty-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.

Arnaud Desplechin's How I Got Into an Argument...
Desplechin's second feature comes with a certain looseness that could belie a unique cinematic intelligence and a nearly unprecedented capturing of uninhibited femaleness.  It feels more akin to a novel in its shape and its courage to let time unfold within its own disheveled set of rules.  "Tenderness is the fear of adulthood", Desplechin quotes Kundera, and this film might be as spot-on as any in the medium's history for capturing that very strange road from freedom to responsibility.  

Jean-Luc Godard's Sauve qui peut (la vie)
Godard returns after a twelve or so year departure from "traditional" narrative cinema with this absolute scorcher of a film.  I was surprised (although I do not know why since Godard remains perhaps my favorite of all) by its beauty, its playfulness, its ability yet again to tap into the zeitgeist of its time.  It is Godard as post-punk and it is up there with his extraordinary work from the sixties.  If anyone thinks Godard's importance ended with Week End, have a look.  

Todd Haynes' Carol
Haynes' latest is very mature and sophisticated, more European in its textures and shape than American indy or mainstream.  It felt even more mysterious than its closest Haynes' counterpart Far from Heaven and it is poetic and delicate in ways I have never experienced his other work.  A great surprise and another extraordinary chapter in the already brilliant careers of Blanchett and (Carter) Burwell.     

Ryan Coogler' Creed
I was in the minority when it came to Fruitvale Station, Coogler's calling card film.  But after seeing his entry into the Rocky franchise, I admit, "they were probably right, at least in seeing something.  And I was probably wrong, at least in seeing very little."  Although an informal sequel of sorts, Creed derives its greatest force from digging into the past, going behind and underneath the previous Rocky storylines that have embedded themselves so deeply into many of our lives.  I noticed this unique power of the prequel when I recently watched Mendes do it with Bond in Skyfall and I felt it again a number of times in Creed, most distinctly when Creed's trunks are passed on.




Monday, February 15, 2016

30 ans

My favorite cultural mag, Les Inrockuptibles, is celebrating its 30 year anniversary this week (I actually have copies of the first 500 issues which are among my very favorite of any of my possessions).  They have put together all kinds of articles and lists to celebrate, including polling each of their key staff writers to choose their 10 favorite movies of the last 30 years, their 10 favorite albums of the last 30 years, and their 10 favorite books of the last 30 years.  Here are the lists:

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/02/13/cinema/30-ans-des-inrocks-nos-meilleurs-films-sortis-depuis-1986-11805297/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/02/10/musique/nos-meilleurs-albums-depuis-1986-11804135/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/02/14/livres/30-ans-des-inrocks-nos-meilleurs-livres-sortis-depuis-1986-11805610/

And if I were participating:

Films
Le Rayon vert d'Eric Rohmer (1986)
Where Is the Friend's House d'Abbas Kiarostami (1987)
King of New York d'Abel Ferrara (1990)
Carlito's Way de Brian De Palma (1993)
Heat de Michael Mann (1996)
Dead Man de Jim Jarmusch (1996)
Mulholland Dr. de David Lynch (2001)
Les amants reguliers de Philippe Garrel (2005)
The Secret and the Grain d'Abdellatif Kechiche (2007)
At Berkeley de Frederick Wiseman (2013)

Albums
The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead (1986)
The Go-Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane (1988)
Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989)
Talk Talk - Laughing Stock (1991)
PJ Harvey - Dry (1992)
Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)
Tricky - Maxinquaye (1995)
Massive Attack - Mezzanine (1998)
Rufus Wainwright - Rufus Wainwright (1998)

Books (too many gaps still for the moment to have any input of import)



Sunday, February 14, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-two

Just like in my other thirty-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.

Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu
Ray takes a few years away from his trilogy before coming back and completing it with this film, and the style feels a little different than the first two movies.  This film has a slightly more elliptical quality and seems intent on drifting closer to poetry.  The ending of the film is one of the very strongest moments of the entire trilogy with Ray attaining that transcendent experience achieved by only the greatest of neorealist works (Umberto D, Germany Year Zero, Voyage to Italy).  


Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A.
Fuller's strengths - his constantly roving, expressive camera and his hard-hitting sensibility -are at the fore while his weaknesses - such as a heavy hand creating believable romance and intimacy - are hardly, if at all, noticeable.  Clearly an influence on later great works such as Carlito's Way and an argument as good as any that the noir cycle did not end with Touch of Evil in 1958 but was still going strong well into the sixties with important and powerful entries such as this.    


Monte Hellman's China 9, Liberty 37
It's a wonder Tarantino hasn't remade this one.  This might be the only western I have seen that boasts a krautrock score (terrific work by the way from Pino Donaggio).  Further proof of Hellman's cult status as an auteur and even if the third act drags a little, this little known pic sits comfortably with Hellman's Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting and needs to be seen as a clear precursor to Dead Man and all of Tarantino's work.


Steven Riley's Listen To Me Marlon
The wall-to-wall music is off putting but the remarkable audio footage of Marlon overcomes any formal shortcomings the film might have, making this one of the most immersive documentaries I have ever seen. In other words, it puts one deeply into the skin of its subject.



Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tokyo Chorus (1931)

I am back to working my way through all of Ozu's work chronologically.  This next entry, Tokyo Chorus, seems to be the first-blown emergence of the style most people think of when they think of the filmmaker.  Nearly the entire film is shot tatami-style and with a static camera.

Thematically Ozu also seems to be hitting his stride.  There are moments that hint at his skepticism towards technology, the son's plea for a bicycle, and other moments that indicate Ozu's buddhist nature, the main character's line, "A bear getting out isn't going to change our lives."  Ozu's humanism is also more evident than it has been up to this point, the evolution of our main character's feelings towards his professor and the wife's compassion and ultimate offer to help her husband with his new responsibilities.

Lastly, of interest, is the fact that for the first time gone are the abundance of allusions and visual references to American culture.  In fact, the only blatant reference I noticed was a casual mention of (Herbert) Hoover at one point.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Top Twelve Films of 2015

Another year when I did not see as many films as I would have liked, yet I still have some high points I want to share.  Here are the twelve things I saw in 2015 that hit me the deepest.

Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret and the Grain
The fact that this masterful work is little known in the States sums up the devastated state for the current American cinephile.  To seek out a film like this in 2015 is to be so incredibly marginalized, so alone in your interest and passion, to survive you might have to focus on the simple positive of having been able to somehow spot Kechiche's achievement among the overwhelming wreckage.  Kechiche's cinema is up to so much, all at once.  Formally it is a unique mixing of Dardenne ingredients (non-actors, industrial locations, faded colors, lack of Hollywood coverage) with Cassavetes' nervy, documentary-type editing. Emotionally it is an odd pairing of Scorsese's visceral moments of discomfort coupled with Rossellini's mystic humanism.  It is a much different film than the only other film I have seen so far from Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Color, and yet another modern day classic. Kechiche is one of the greats, regardless whether our culture even knows who he is.    
Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin
It's always a struggle to see a film by a director you greatly admire that you are not sure you fully comprehended, particularly when you suspect you are watching some type of greatness even if you cannot seem to make sense of it all.  What I do know for sure is that this is the most cinematic 2015 film I have seen, and by a longshot.  It is also one of the few films I would consider a part of that rarefied group of fully sustained hypnotic works, the group that includes McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Dead Man, The Mother and the Whore, Regular Lovers, and Kings of the Road.  If forced to step out and explain some of the themes or meanings that I might have caught, I would first say that it almost seemed Hou was saying about himself that he knows he is supremely talented (perhaps the most of anyone currently at work) but simply cannot allow himself like Yinniang to make the moves (or movies) that would make him more of a (commercial) success.  Or like the bluebird tale that is recounted two or three times during the film, is Hou saying that he is struggling with loneliness and feelings of isolation as one of the few remaining filmmakers still truly striving to make great art?  Or is he trying to tell us that he feels that if he were to allow himself to be less reserved, less ascetic, and less austere as a filmmaker and give in to what he knows would be easier commercial decisions that he would be concerned that a whole type of cinema would disappear?  Again I am not fully sure what Hou is up to in his latest but in an already incredibly impressive body of work, this is probably his most purely beautiful film to date.  
Maurice Pialat's Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble
One of the last of the Pialat features I had never seen, Pialat impresses again by his strong, uncompromising approach to the medium.  A French friend of mine once mentioned how revered Pialat was for his editing.  I had never paid real attention to the editing until now.  But here it is remarkable - forceful, edgy, propulsive and completely a piece with the rest of Pialat's form.  Pialat draws Jean as a character of such unpredictable rage that the final minutes simmer and vibrate at the threat of explosive violence.  

Damien Chazelle's Whiplash
As much as anything I have seen in a number of years, an indy that gives me hope and belief in the future of intelligent American cinema. Chazelle impresses first by his writing.  The movie is perfectly sized and veers off into directions never quite expected.  Chazelle then adds two unusually well drawn lead characters with Simmons seeming to put a career's worth of power into his performance.  The style is admirable, the attitude inspiring, and the balance of entertainment and art well struck.
Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love
What Kiarostami is hoping to convey I cannot say for sure.  But as a long time fan of his work I took it in as a very personal statement. Here Kiarostami, one of the cinema's warmest practitioners, the lovely wise soul of Iranian cinema, is working in the middle of a Japanese metropolis.  Far removed are we (and he) from the wide open expanses of his classic earlier work and we can only guess how fearful he is of our world and what it seems to be quickly becoming.  Through the Olive Trees this is not.  Kiarostami has entered a far darker phase and in the process might be one of the few holding up a mirror while still trying to find a way to be hopeful. 

Hong Sang-soo's In Another Country
I used to think of Hong as a Korean Rohmer and there are strong similarities - a penchant for naturalism, conversation as the main action and activity, and a recurring interest in the potential disruption of relationships due to the arrival of a third person.  But Hong also goes for real whimsy and seems lighter than Rohmer.  In fact the more I think about it he seems like this odd blend of Rohmer and Rivette, structurally adventurous but grounded primarily in reality.  Admittedly I have long had a thing for Huppert.  Hong uses her well, brings out her appeal, and ends up delivering one of his smoothest, most likable films yet. 
Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent
My first experience with the cinema of the highly acclaimed Bonello proves to be a fabulous new addition to trance cinema (Garrel's Regular Lovers, Dead Man, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, to name but a few), films that use time and the camera so effectively they lure the viewer into a near exalted hypnotic state. Bonello has a great eye and a painter's feel for texture and framing.  But what most impressed me here was Bonello's completely irreverent approach to the biopic.  He never feels the need to follow any of the more conventional rules for chronology or to finish any scenes or "sentences" he begins.  He simply glides us through the film, and we feel all the more excited because of it. 
Alex Garland's Ex Machina
Garland makes a grand entrance with his directorial debut proving a keen creator of mood, a stylist of noticeable control and restraint, a more than competent hand with his actors and a director with an eye that at its best moments conjures up memories of Welles, Tarkovsky and Kubrick.  The film that I would have wanted Her to be and about as interesting of an exploration yet of where our reliance on technology might be leading us.

Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language
Godard's cinema is chiant; it is impossible to grasp it all.  It washes over you, drowns you until you feel overwhelmed by its intelligence, superior knowledge, its grappling with something you might not even be advanced enough yet to recognize.  I will be the first to admit, there is no way I can begin to analyze everything he is wanting to communicate.  But it is the small ideas that jut out (Plato's "Beauty is the splendor of truth") and the arresting images of the human body, dogs, water, and cinema spooling in back of a scene that penetrate deeply.  Forever, at least for me, Godard will be the one that pushes me to keep learning.  Because perhaps through knowledge life can be understood.  And through knowledge we might obtain beauty, truth, and make an impression on our generation, our world, and our time in life.
Oliveier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria
A surprisingly wise and complex film, both thematically and emotionally.  Like has happened a time or two before with other filmmakers, Assayas impresses so much that I am forced to reconsider his other work and perhaps consider him as a much greater filmmaker than I once thought.  The film is vital, of the present and is masterful in its exploration of age, like Dreyer's Gertrud.  Binoche and Stewart are perfectly cast and turn in as great of performances as at any point in their careers. 

Martin Campbell's Casino Royale
It is the first time I have seen a Craig-starring Bond film and he is quite good.  First of all he might be the strongest actor of all of the Bonds and he exudes the unusual mix of charm and guile I have come to think of with Bond.  The big difference is his Bond is a little more violent, a little more hands-on, more often full of visible scratches and bruises than boyish and dapper.  This Bond is a bit at the end of his line and Campbell/Craig seem to have a good thing going on.  The movie is non-stop action and although not always artful it is very good entertainment.  In fact, after seeing this Bond, I quickly went on a tear watching the remainder of the Craig-starring Bonds as well as Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  


David Simon's The Wire
Though historically I have always thought cinema deserving of a different, higher level of consideration than its domestic sibling, this work of art taught me otherwise.  Nothing I saw this year impressed me more than Simon's series, in its ambition, its execution, its artistry, its acting, its depth of feeling, its camerawork, and its "filmmaking".

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Still love these types of things...

http://yearendlists.com/2015/12/new-york-times-10-best-books-of-2015/

And don't forget to scroll down for others.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Favorite (four), part thirty-one

Just like in my other thirty 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.

Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret and the Grain
The fact that this masterful work is little known in this country sums up the devastated state for the current American cinephile.  To seek out a film like this in 2015 is to be so incredibly marginalized, so alone in your interest and passion, to survive you might have to focus on the positive of having been able to have somehow spotted Kechiche's achievement among the overwhelwing wreckage.  Kechiche's cinema is up to so much all at once.  Formally it is a unique mixing of Dardenne's ingredients (non-actors, industrial locations, faded colors, lack of Hollywood coverage) with Cassavetes' nervy, documentary-type editing. Emotionally it is an odd pairing of Scorsese's visceral moments of discomfort coupled with Rossellini's mystic humanism.  It is a much different film than the only other film I have seen so far from Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Color, and yet another modern day classic. Kechiche is one of the greats, regardless whether our culture even knows who he is.


Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization
Very interesting look, for its access and intimacy, at the height of the LA punk scene.  Two words - Darby Crash.


Christophe Honore's Love Songs
Less seemingly interested in Demy's bourgeois milieu and more in sync with the angst and edge of early Carax, Honore is so very French. While he has some of the early New Wave's playfulness and Desplechin's interest in the twenty set, his sensibility veers off into a strange terrain of gothic and poetic alienation.


Maurice Pialat's Nous ne viellirons pas ensemble
One of the last of the Pialat features I had never seen, Pialat impresses again by his strong, uncompromising approach to the medium  A French friend of mine once mentioned how revered Pialat was for his editing.  I had never paid much attention to that aspect of his work until now but here it is remarkable - forceful, edgy, propulsive and completely a piece with the rest of Pialat's form.  Also Pialat draws Jean as a character with such unpredictable rage that the final minutes shimmer and vibrate with such potential violence.  But Pialat runs counter to the catharsis Scorsese offers Bickle and through great restraint trails off into a very soft and wistful coda of extraordinary power.



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Lady and the Beard (1931)

The next three films after That Night's Wife - The Revengeful Spirit of Eros, The Luck Which Touched the Leg and Young Miss - all appear to have been lost and so I pick up again with The Lady and the Beard.  Unfortunately the only copy I had was the version currently on YouTube and so my notes come from watching a copy without sound and for which I could not read the intertitles.  Admittedly I am not entirely sure of the details of the plot but since this exploration has been focused more on the formal aspects of Ozu, that "minor" inconvenience leaves me a little less concerned than it might normally.

Most evident was the sudden proliferation of the famous low-angle (tatami) shot.  While I noticed a moment or two in previous Ozu films where he employed the shot, usually to emphasize a certain emotion, it now seems to have become Ozu's default camera placement, no matter at what point the story might be. 

Other than the sudden emergence of the tatami shot, one of the key characteristics of style people would later associate with Ozu, not many other elements jumped out.  I did notice a crane shot or two and a few tracking shots, which again, seem to disappear almost entirely in Ozu's later work.  There is also again a prominent Western symbol, something that has shown up in almost every single one of Ozu's early works.  Central in many frames this time it is a poster for a Laurel, Hardy, and Lionel Barrymore picture with a large quote in bold "All Talking" (we are in 1931 after all, the beginnings of the sound film).  A couple of times as well Ozu cuts to a close-up of Abraham Lincoln. 

Ozu is out of the gangster genre and back in somewhat more familiar territory.  The film has a few signs of his characteristic playfulness.  We are not yet, however, completely in the world of Ozu, where the takes are long, the rhythm slow and the style as refined as the cinema has ever known.