Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Favorite (four), part twelve

Just like in my other eleven posts thus far in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  I'm trying right now to take in almost a film a day.  Most have been first-time viewings, and most 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 of these will be good to someone else, too).


Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us
At times, the most sexual of all the Altman pics I've seen and certainly one of the most interesting.  Feels like a movie that Altman really cares about; it's extremely unconventional stylistically, just like McCabe, and in a strange way it almost feels like a precursor to the free-form style Michael Mann would take on with Collateral, Miami Vice, and especially Public Enemies.  An Altman film I would need to re-visit as it feels extraordinarily complex.  And if it's such a cliche at this point that Hollywood doesn't make 'em like they once did, during that special time in the seventies, then this film is as much an example as any.  

Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise's West Side Story
One of the first things that jumped out at me is how much it seemed to influence both The Outsiders and Rumble Fish.  I would love to hear Coppola discuss this.  Most of the music is quite memorable (doesn't hurt having Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim as collaborators), and some of the choreography quite lively and striking. My biggest complaint is that the action and emotions sometime seem a little flat.  But all in all, it's one of the grandest and most vital musicals ever made.  

Paul Feig's Bridesmaids    
The sixth Apatow film I've seen, after The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Pineapple Express, and the first I've seen where the hype all seems to add up.  Simply put, Apatow is able to create some of the most painfully funny moments on film right now while also managing to make time for scenes that deal with real life and actually make your heart ache.  Here I think Kristen Wiig is the real key as she's the perfect Apatow actor; she's quite adept at comedy while also able to come off as incredibly human, full of flaws and wounds for all to see.  Feig admittedly seems to lose his way at times, but the memorable scenes are strong enough to pick up the slack.   

Clarence Brown's Flesh and the Devil  
A reminder of how visually expressive, and even inventive, some of the silent period could be.  Full of nicely-weaved, surprising plot movements and a very memorable John Gilbert performance.  I don't know much about Clarence Brown's other work, but if this is any indication, he's someone I definitely need to explore.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

2011

5/12/11 I watched Adam Yauch's Fight for Your Right Revisited.  I would think any major Beastie Boys fan (I would have to put myself in that group) would find this a welcome reminder of what makes the group so important.  There is something so anti-authoritarian and fly in the face of any form of political correctness no matter how old the boys become and how many years they put out music.  Their presence in music, and culture, always seem timely and progressive, yet while remaining true to the brand they have built from day one.     


6/17/11 I watched Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.  It's Allen's most blatant gesture at crowd-pleasing that I can remember, and it's certainly working.  People are turning out and continuing the hype.  It didn't have much depth for me though and struck me as bubbly, but nothing more than Allen-light.


6/20/11 I watched Paul Feig's Bridesmaids.  The sixth Apatow film I've seen, after The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Pineapple Express, and the first I've seen where the hype all seems to add up.  Simply put, Apatow is able to create some of the most painfully funny moments on film right now while also managing to make time for scenes that deal with real life and actually make your heart ache.  Here I think Kristen Wiig is the real key as she's the perfect Apatow actor; she's quite adept at comedy while also able to come off as incredibly human, full of flaws and wounds for all to see. Feig admittedly seems to lose his way at times, but the memorable scenes are strong enough to pick up the slack.  


7/8/11 I watched Miguel Arteta's Cedar Rapids.  A bit slow and a bit short on laughs.  Not near as deeply felt nor as funny as the work that Apatow is making.  


7/26/11 and 7/28/11 I watched Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. He's looking at different ways for cinema to work.  Although his connection to nature may not jump off the screen like it did in The Thin Red Line, his incredibly specific memories of childhood allow him to wash connections over us.  He does it in very short brush strokes, and as he swims through his own fleeting images, we see so much of ourselves. His work with the children is extraordinary.  And I think his style really gains, with many of the jump cuts remaining in the tool box. Full of narrative courage and exploration (the first time the animated sequences break the narrative it seems as though a new prototype for story is being offered), and a work of tremendous ambition.  I think there are flaws.  Sometimes his elliptical wanderings go too far and end up feeling more elusive than illuminating.  And after seeing the film twice, I'm still not convinced he wouldn't have benefitted from a stronger actress than Chastain.  But it's a dense film, inviting discussion and multiple visits.  


8/18/11 I watched Cindy Meehl's Buck.  A doc that is at times moving and inspiring, even if a little thin to carry its 88 minute running time.  


9/21/11 I watched Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive.  A film that many of my cinephile friends in the blogosphere are currently discussing.  Some love it, some don't see the hype.  It's an interesting film that combines some of my favorite elements -- a Michael Mann influence, a lack of pop culture references and irony, and an electronic score.  My problem with it stems from its interest in being cool.  Almost everything about its loud style screams look at me.  And while Mann's style is cool.  It simply is, without trying.  Refn's approach seems far less integrated, floating above its story in a way that I found hollow and terribly distracting.  


9/26/11 I watched Bennett Miller's Moneyball.  I was a big fan of Miller's last film, Capote, and have been very excited to see what he does next.  This outing though was a little disappointing for me.  I thought Jonah Hill was tremendous and that there were some interesting ideas at work here.  But overall it felt very muddled thematically and lacking the propulsive drive of the best sports movies.  


9/27/11 I watched Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes & Life:  The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.  My four years of college could really be distilled down to two or three albums, one of which is Tribe's Midnight Marauders.  Rapaport does a great job of shedding some light on Tribe -- their creative process, inner friction, and tremendous importance within the history of hip-hop.  Rapaport takes us through a wide range of emotions.  And even when the filmmaking might be a little generic, Tribe's music playing in the background reminds us of how many incredible and lasting tunes this incredible group left to us.  A great trip back to the late eighties and early nineties, and arguably the only great artistic movement I've lived through so far.  


11/26/11 I watched Drake Doremus' Like Crazy.  This Sundance winner has some heart, and it's nice to see a not so dour film emerge from that world.  But it's charm grows old as soon as you start to realize there's no depth nor real-life angst or struggle to balance it out.  A couple of nice lyrical moments but otherwise a bit of a frustrating pic.  


11/30/11 I watched Robert Weide's Woody Allen: A Documentary.  My favorite parts were the footage and explanation of Woody's early years. But ultimately, I found the doc to be overly long and quite unfocused.  


12/1/11 I watched Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene.  Strong filmmaking.  But so claustrophobic and controlled as to lack almost all breath of the outside world.  It's also one of these movies that once it does let go, like ends, there's very little left to consider.  


12/7/11 I watched JC Chandor's Margin Call.   Kinda like the way I felt about Michael Mann's Ali, I'd seen the documentary, Inside Job, and didn't really need to see this narrative film.  A bit underwhelming for me.  

5/6/12 I watched Tommy Lee Jones' The Sunset Limited.  I was at least intrigued by Jones' first feature, but this one doesn't seem able to avoid the common pitfalls of filmed theater.  A somewhat tedious and uncinematic watch for me. 

12/8/13 I watched Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre.  A humanist tale that is humanist in a very fresh and unusual way as it involves another man's sacrifice for a complete stranger.  Kaurismaki's mannered approach keeps him from resonating as deeply with me as I would like and his lack of rigor, as compared to Jarmusch, keeps me me more in admiration than in complete thrall.  

7/9/15 I watched Martin Scorsese's George Harrison: Living in the Material World.  Scorsese definitely seems like a master of the documentary form as well.  What is most impressive is how vital he is able to make moments where his only footage is that of still photos.  I agree with my friend Stephen who feels that documentaries are where Scorsese is doing his best work these days.  Between this film and the Dylan doc, I am deeply impressed.  

7/19/15 I watched Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's The Kid with a Bike.  Perhaps the Belgians' most emotionally affecting and brutal film yet.  It is less formal than some of its predecessors and that lack of artistic trapping significantly enhances the feelings at stake.  Cyril is up there with one of the strongest characters the Dardennes have created and the performance by Thomas Doret as fully felt as any actor in any of their films.  I think there are a couple of moments where they fail to fully avoid cliche and the Bressonian music felt completely unnecessary and heavy-handed.  But those are small gripes for what is another extraordinary work by the Dardennes.    

9/14/15 I watched Asghar Farhadi's A Separation.  It felt like a Dardenne or Kiarostami pic sanded down so as to be more appealing to the masses.  I found it to be emotionally forced for much of the time and not fully satisfying in the same way as the work of the two previously mentioned filmmakers. 

11/29/15 I watched Valerie Donzelli's Declaration of War.  Donzelli's film is a nonintuitive blending of style and playfulness with the story of a terminally ill young boy.  She proves adept at voiceover and succeeds in finding the right emotional space of modulating melodrama while still hitting enough notes of truth and reality.  It is a concoction of interest, even if neither its emotionality or artfulness end up affecting me in fully satisfying ways.  

6/12/16 I watched 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, and full of extraordinary moments and bubbling with feelings and ideas.    

10/11/16 I watched 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 lend almost relentless tension.  The end credits mention Ferran and Lvovsky, which come of no surprise as influences and to locate the cinematic world in which Sciamma is treading.   

10/13/16 I watched Bertrand Bonello's House of Tolerance.  Bonello, a filmmaker who prefers an impressionistic approach, possesses a skill for creating mood and an ability for gliding a camera elegantly around a space that are as masterful as anyone currently working in the medium.  This is the second film of his that I have seen, the first was 2014's Saint Laurent, and the size of the canvases could not be more different.  Saint Laurent was this expansive biopic, House of Tolerance is a hermetic, intimate work that takes place almost entirely within one location.  While watching, I thought of Tricky's album Maxinquaye, a work that sucks the listener into a sealed space and then leads the listener through its endlessly dark and dangerous corridors.  There is a charge in Bonello's work, much of which comes from his talent with his camera which in his hands feels like a weapon that at any moment might unleash irrecoverable effect on the helpless viewer.  Although I felt this time that the canvas handicapped some of the beauty and depth I experienced while watching Saint Laurent, I remain most impressed by the French director's talent.    

11/19/16 I watched Lars von Trier's Melancholia.  Based on the few films I had seen to date, I had never considered myself a fan at all of the Danish filmmaker.  He just seemed like such a jerk as a person and an insufferable nihilist as a filmmaker.  No doubt he is a gifted visualist and he has a wonderful ear as well, and I will even claim von Trier as more than capable directing actors.  Here he offsets some of his noxious nihilism with tremendous beauty - in particular, an extraordinary location and wonderful light - but when it all comes to pass we are still left with that bad aftertaste.  Like there is nothing we can do to mask the true flavor. 

11/24/16 I watched 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.  

4/2/17 I watched Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress.  Quirky and a bit silly but a fairly entertaining watch from one of the masters of the college years.  

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Other random tunes...

Here's a sampling of a few of the things currently making the rounds on my computer (my 2011 version of a stereo):

Run DMC - Beats to the Rhyme
Keith Jarrett - Koln Concert
Thelonious Monk - Well, You Needn't (hang in there for Blakey's drum solo)
Duke Ellington - Caravan
MC Lyte - Cappuchino
Georges Delerue - Theme de Camille
GZA - Shadowboxing

All seven tunes can be heard on Youtube.