Saturday, December 29, 2012

spinning, currently

been catching up on a bunch of older music of late.  here's a snapshot of my last few hauls:

the b-52s - s/t
the blue nile - hats
the slits - cut
patti smith - horses
public image ltd. - public image
the jam - all mod cons
david bowie - low
iggy pop - the idiot
roxy music - s/t
the pretenders - s/t
mark hollis - s/t
the kinks - face to face
suicide - s/t
the who - sell out
the jam - sound affects
john lennon/plastic ono band
lou reed - transformer
richard hell and the voidoids - blank generation
mc5 - kick out the jams
velvet underground & nico
talking heads - fear of music
the go-betweens - 16 lovers lane
t. rex - electric warrior


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Favorite (four), part eighteen


Just like my other seventeen posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  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 will be good to someone else, too).


Michael Curtiz's The Breaking Point
So many things at once - a family melodrama, an action-adventure flick, a noir of reckless abandon, and a great film.  Curtiz shoots it with such a wonderful sense of invention, every shot, a little off and angular, immediately creating an atmosphere of complete unpredictability.  A third act that can be felt strongly in Taxi Driver and just a complete mystery to me as to why this film doesn't come up more during discussions of the great noirs.

Asif Kapadia's Senna
The footage makes this one pretty extraordinary at times, and it's the way that Kapadia choreographs the races that really shows his talents as an entertainer but also as a storyteller that knows how to trim the fat. By the end, there are moments I wish the filmmakers had chosen not to telegraph, but all in all, a very enjoyable doc about a subject matter of which I knew little to nothing.  

Michael Powell's The Edge of the World
Perhaps the greatest of all films are those haunted by either life or death.  In this case, there's a cloud hovering over every moment that suggests the latter but a vitality in every frame that leans more towards the former.  Either way, this earthy, hefty work is among Powell's very best.

Tim Irwin's We Jam Econo - The Story of the Minutemen
Great doc in just how intimate and up close it puts you with the band. About as satisfying a portrait of a group as any I have ever seen on film - between the long, un-cut performance footage to the informal dialogue with the band.


2012

10/19/12 I watched Ice-T's Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.  There are some good interviews in there - Q-Tip, Chuck D, Eminem, Doug E Fresh, Dr. Dre, among others.  But a bit repetitive and far less than what it could be on this tremendous subject.  

12/1/12 I watched Leos Carax's Holy Motors.  As it began, I thought, "Wow Carax has just made the next Mulholland Dr, combining his unique sensibility into something that throws down the gauntlet for all auteurs moving forward."  As it wore on though I began feeling yet again that Carax was letting his desire to provoke outweigh his rare and gargantuan talents for unlocking cinema's capabilities for beatuy and lyricism.  Provided a good amount to think about but very few, if any answers.  And left me thinking, rather than moved, which in Carax's case, just leaves me feeling sad more than anything. 

1/13/13 I watched Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty.  I was quite impressed by the filmmaking which I found incredibly complex yet elegant and modern while maintaining a noticeable respect for framing, film as negative, and camera movement more as dance than prizefight.  I feel it only falters from greatness in its final act, becoming questionably plausible on certain major plot points and cheap with certain emotional ambitions.  I like Chastain's look but continue to doubt the depth of her abilities. 

2/2/13 I watched David O Russell's Silver Linings Playbook.  I am in the minority clearly on this one, but I felt more bullied and forced into feeling than anything.  I didn't care for its look, I really had issue with its editing, I liked Cooper more than I expected and Lawrence less.  A style that felt heavy, not fresh, and overall quite underwhelming for me.  
3/1/13 I watched Ben Affleck's Argo.  An amazing story is at the source of Affleck's third feature.  It is lazy and cheap at times, some of the final pat moments.  But Affleck's ability to keep the procedural wound tight and the clock ticking earn points in my book.  Desplat's score is of little interest and Prieto's camerawork services but certainly does not emote with any noteworthy impressiveness.  A film that is entertaining, even visceral at times, but lacking of much artistry and depth. 

5/20/13 I watched 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.  
5/23/13 I watched Jeff Nichols' Mud.  I have seen all three of Nichols' features to date and would have to qualify Mud as the most ambitious yet the least accomplished.  Great directing is like great cooking.  You choose an unusual suite of ingredients and combine them in an original, harmonious way.  With Mud, Nichols unleashes the cupboard, arriving at something slightly more commercial (it seems more Hollywood complex) but sacrificing the overall effect of some of the sub-threads and, more important, the lasting power of the main story, Ellis' coming of age.  The brothers who come to kill Mud lack any interest or dimension, and I have to wonder if there was someone better, someone with more depth and more warmth, to take on McConaughey's role (maybe Eric Bana).  I will be interested to continue following Nichols' path although I worry he will get gobbled up like his buddy Gordon Green and become just another pretty generic arm of the system. 

5/26/13 I watched Terrence Malick's To the Wonder.  I went as a huge fan of Malick's previous outing The Tree of Life only to find this one disappointing.  Relying on many of the same elements - classical music, suburban setting, impressionistic editing, and roving camerawork - Malick falters here with the lack of any kind of emotional center.  Casting Affleck, one of the least expressive actors when he is allowed to be - I felt like a hamster going around and around on a wheel.  Malick offers nothing transcendent that I could locate and emotional inertia that ends up as more frustration than enlightenment. 

1/3/14 I watched Brian De Palma's Passion.  It is a continuation of the director's pet themes of doppelgangers, betrayals, and a vision of the American dream doomed for failure.  I questioned De Palma's lead casting but everything else is premium De Palma.  His cinema continues down its very singular path, and his formal approach remains as identifiable as any filmmaker ever to take on the medium. 

6/25/15 I watched Ice-T and Andy Baybutt's Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.  I saw it three years ago but did not even really remember.  A few shining moments but otherwise a little underwhelming. 

7/22/15 I watched 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 the 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 still holding up a mirror and trying to find a way to be hopeful.       

7/29/15 I watched 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 adventourous but grounded primarily in reality.  And 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.   

9/26/15 I watched Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha.  It's pretty gratingly quirky.  Though Baumbach might want to make a modern day Nouvelle Vague entry, his cinema lacks the formal inventiveness of the Cahiers crew and some of the key tenets of their work, a respect for beauty above all.  

11/28/15 I watched Sam Mendes' Skyfall.  It is interesting to see a Bond film get the Mendes/Deakins treatment.  It looks great as one would expect from the great cinematographer and it is all smartly packaged in typical Mendes fashion.  Although a bit too derivative of Hopkins and his turn as Lector, Mendes delivers nice, nostalgic touches such as the unveiling of the Aston-Martin and the Skyfall mansion for the 50th anniversary of Bond.

5/7/16 I watched Jay Bulger's Beware of Mr. Baker.  Baker was an interesting figure and Bulger's doc gives his story stylish flair but I was never terribly involved or affected.  Baker just seemed like another very talented artist that was negligent of himself and of his life.  

10/22/16 I watched Francis Ford Coppola's Twixt.  Coppola's visual abilities impress and he is certainly unafraid to do something personal at risk of losing the audience.  I found it a bit too obtuse but was glad to see the great director continuing to push himself within the medium.

11/20/16 I watched Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers.  As a critique of middle class young America, I guess this can be viewed as important, powerful stuff - the contradiction between what we think our youth is doing versus what might actually be happening.  But Korine is such a provocateur that after a while seems his methods undermine some or most of his desired effect.  You can only eat so much cayenne before the tongue gets numb.  

11/26/16 I watched Miguel Gomes' Tabu.  Clearly I am late to the party but there seems to be something special right now happening 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 right now in the world.  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.   

5/22/17 I watched Judd Apatow's This Is 40.  There are a couple of funny scenes but overall suffers from a bit of stylistic laziness and an overabundance of yuppiness.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Favorite (four), part seventeen


Just like my other sixteen posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  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 will be good to someone else, too).


Martin Scorsese's My Voyage to Italy
An incredibly thorough look at Neorealism and the Italian cinema that has so profoundly influenced Scorsese.  Special focus goes to Rossellini, but De Sica, Visconti, Fellini, and Antonioni also receive insightful commentary.  A great introduction to anyone just beginning to look into this, one of cinema's greatest moments.

Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love
An extremely interesting noir, with a backbone that's as dark as can be, yet devoid of any on-screen shootings, murders, or highly realized violence.  The mood is foggy, and Walsh's great tool here is restraint. You feel the atmosphere building and at any moment ready to fall apart. People are trapped, the outlook somber, and the effect all the more effective as no real catharsis is ever offered.

Samuel Fuller's Park Row
A wound up, wonderful example of the physical cinema we've come to associate with Fuller.  It's clear this is a personal project for Sam as he uses his camera like a weapon thrusting it through spaces and spewing bile on all who stand in his way.  One of the truly great Fuller films.  

Tony Silver's Style Wars
If you grew up with hip-hop like I did, this is one of the great documents of the era.  I first stumbled upon it while reading an interview with Michael Rapaport around the release of his Tribe Called Quest doc.  It's a remarkably intimate look at the scene that would, just a year later, receive narrative treatment in the form of Beat Street and Breakin'. Special mention to the lost gem unspooling over the end credits, Rammellzee and K-Rob's Beat Bop.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Favorite (four), part sixteen

Just like my other fifteen posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  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 will be good to someone else, too).


Manoel de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelica
My first experience with a de Oliveira film so I can't frame it alongside the rest of his work.  But what I can say is that I found it masterful - one of these late films by a great filmmaker that is deceptively simple (think Gertrud) where the formal simplicity belies a specificity and depth that are the true signs of greatness.  Most shocking to me was the vitality of the editing, always cutting away seconds earlier than expected, to produce a level of restraint so vital to the heavyweight feeling the film ends up producing for the viewer.  I could go on and on about the brilliance of metaphor here, de Oliveira's wonderful visual tics, and a cinema that is as mannered as Hartley's but as weighty as Dreyer's, but I'll wait to elaborate on those things until I have the pleasure of seeing a few more from this great Portuguese filmmaker.


Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home
This should go down as one of the greatest of all Scorsese films and the single best doc on Dylan.  It's moving, incredibly cinematic, and really captures the great one at his absolute, creative peak.  


Fred Niblo's The Mysterious Lady
I can keep it simple here.  Garbo is sexy personified in this very inventive and entertaining early work.  Want to understand the mystique around Garbo - this is a great place to start.


Andre de Toth's Day of the Outlaw
Raw, dark, and artful, there's something absolutely uncompromising about De Toth's work here.  The tone almost makes you think you're watching a horror film, but the pacing and cinematography feel straight out of a European art film.  One of the most unique westerns I have ever seen and simply a key work of any genre.




Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Top 10 (or so) Films for 2011

I spent the last year watching some older stuff, filling in a few gaps, and catching up on films I had always wanted to see.  Here's what I came up with -- my list, the several hands full that reminded me of why I continue chasing cinema past:



Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975)



Antonioni's incredible talents are all over -- his meticulous framing, his daring yet languid camerawork, and his feel for spaces that the medium somehow forgot to cover.  Slow and cerebral like all his work, The Passenger separates itself from the rest of A's films with its summer exteriors and rustic locations.  It's simply one of the cinema's truly great road movies.

Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us (1974)


The most sexually-charged of the Altman pics I've seen, and certainly one of the most interesting.  Feels like a pet project, extremely unconventional stylistically just like McCabe.  And strange as it may seem on paper, a precursor to Michael Mann's free-form stylings on CollateralMiami Vice, and Public Enemies.  


Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective (2009)


The new Romanian cinema has gotten much acclaim of late, and after seeing 4 Months... and this film it's easy to see why.  What's so striking is its fresh naturalism, running in such a different direction from cinema's other reigning naturalist champ, the Dardenne brothers. Unlike the handheld close-ups populating the work of the Belgian brothers, Porumbiou keeps the camera fixed and in wide frames.  He also favors long takes in a way that we rarely, if ever, see in the work of the Dardennes.  Other than the final ten minutes, I'd have no hesitation declaring it one of the greatest of recent films, and a full-blown masterpiece.   


Jacques Tourneur's Canyon Passage (1946)


First, I have to thank the great Peter Lenihan for placing this gem on my radar.  What a western it is.  It has the psychological complexity of the Anthony Mann westerns, and already in 1946 feels like it's ripping the genre apart.  But it's not cold and clinical like the Mann films. Tourneur's camera's always moving, and there's a tremendous vitality in every single shot.  Brings to mind another Tourneur favorite of mine, Stars in My Crown.  And makes yet another strong argument for Tourneur's place in the highest of all pantheons.  



Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)


A loose, mournful western from one of the late masters.  Peckinpah meanders, ponders loyalty and lost ideals, and delivers what might be the most personal of all his works.  The loss of a lifestyle, the onset of civilization, and a western about not fitting in, that doesn't really fit into anything that's come before or since. 



Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)


Malick is looking at different ways for cinema to work.  And 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 simply extraordinary.  And I think his style really gains with many of the jump cuts remaining in the tool box this time. Full of narrative courage and exploration (the first time the animated sequences break the narrative it seems as though a whole 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.  


Hirokazu Koreeda's Still Walking (2008)



The third of the director's films I've seen, and he continues to rank among my favorite of all the contemporary Asian filmmakers. Koreeda's undeniably a humanist, and as his with other two films, there are moments that carry a tremendous amount of power.  Not perfect, I particularly found a little fault with the saccharine nature of some of the score.  But all in all a memorable effort from one of the few directors still carrying Ozu's torch.  

Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982)




Part of that unique genre, the "extreme film", along with works such as Apocalypse Now and Sorcerer.  These films all show filmmakers willing to travel to dangerous lengths to paint unprecedented canvases and test their own abilities as storytellers and dream purveyors. Herzog's film might feel slightly disjointed at times.  But the scope at which he is working and the heart that drives both him and Fitzcarraldo allow the film to rise memorably above any shortcomings.  A classic of the genre, and probably about as personal as Herzog's work can ever be.  


Wim Wenders' Tokyo-Ga (1985)


An exploration that almost feels like a Godard or Marker essay.  An unorthodox, somewhat meandering doc that seems essential viewing for any fan of Ozu's work.  Wenders mourns cinema's loss of one of its most special practitioners using Ozu's favorite city, Tokyo, to look at how the world has changed since his passing.  Wenders also memorably spends time with some of Ozu's closest collaborators.  


Charles Ferguson's Inside Job (2010)

A powerful and utterly disturbing portrait of the events that led to 2008's global recession.  Ferguson explains some of the chief causes in a very lucid manner and presents a very passionate attack on America's financial services industry.  Whether or not you agree with all that he has to say, this is a must-see, if for nothing else, the opportunity to get a further look at many of the chief players.  


Roberto Rossellini's The Rise of Louis XIV (1966)




The first of Rossellini's historical dramas that I've seen, and admittedly it takes awhile to get used to his later style.  But it snakes its way around, accumulating historical import, and by the end, finds its emotional highpoint.  Another transcendent and powerful work by one of cinema's most unusual and rigorous stylists.   


Maurice Pialat's La Gueule Ouverte (1974)


Pialat only made ten features, and this is the eighth that I've seen.  It's the one time he collaborated with the masterful cameraman, Nestor Almendros, and the partnership lends immeasurable poetry and lyricism to Pialat's heavy, uncompromising cinema.  I think it's my favorite Pialat, and with its final shot one of the great closing shots in all of cinema, a nice way to end 2011.