Thursday, August 7, 2014

Favorite (four), part twenty-six

Just like in my other twenty-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 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.

D'Abbadie D'Arrast's Topaze
A film that is at times slightly lethargic from a narrative standpoint more than redeems itself through visual inventiveness and an all-in performance by John Barrymore.  I have never seen Pagnol's version so I cannot comment on how it stacks up.  D'Arrast proves himself though a very strong director with a keen sense of camera movement and emotive framing.  I was particularly moved during the moment when he slowly pulls back the camera during Topaze's farewell speech to his classroom.

Richard Linklater's Boyhood
I walked in feeling that this was the best-reviewed American film of the year so far and though I have been lukewarm with Linklater over the years I wanted him to astonish me, prove me wrong and force me into a categorical reconsideration of everything I had seen from him to date.  And for stretches he and the film did just that - during those moments when Marco Perella is on screen or when Mason and Sheena are fighting and reminding us of Kechiche's great work from last year Blue Is The Warmest Color.  It does so many things right by my book.  It updates that much beloved genre from the seventies, the American naturalistic character film, shooting it with our color and feel and the look of today's world.  By holding up a mirror to us no matter how awkward and vapid our words or actions or struggles may be, it also carries forward one of the great traits of those 70s films asking us to look and think rather than escape and ignore.  Linklater's approach of shooting the same fictional characters throughout their childhood alone gives his film a special effect and it is my feeling that anyone interested in knowing where the American art film is in 2014 needs to check it out.  However as much as I want to be with the majority and love what everyone else loves, like I was after seeing Kechiche's film last year, I have some fairly major reservations.  Linklater's charm has always been his aloof approach to storytelling, the naturalistic lived-in words and reactions he is able to coax from his performers in his relatively shapeless works. He probably hits more of those moments than ever during Boyhood's 164 minutes.  Ultimately though his approach also is a little his undoing as after a while a work of this ambition wants either more shape and formal discipline (Boyhood could have used a more discerning editing team) or a more powerful aesthetic such as what Antonioni, Malick, Kubrick or even Coppola would have given us.  

Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive
Certainly Jarmusch's most interesting film since at least Ghost Dog.  It echoes and adds to so many other strands in his work, doing for Detroit what Mystery Train did for Memphis, doing for the vampire genre what Dead Man did for the western, and channeling Young, Mueller and other shades of Jarmusch in intimate ways that deepen the auteur's unique legacy and footprint in world cinema.  There is not much humor making it the director's darkest and most disturbing work but it also rewards in what struck me as the deepest work to come from Jim since Depp was chasing William Blake.   

Kent Jones' Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows
Jones could be an esteemed documentarian or a well known one if that was his desired path.   He is among the most astute and articulate of English-speaking cinephiles and his homage to Lewton is proof yet again (as if he needed anything else to support that claim).   Jones gives us a succinct yet heartfelt essay on the producer who should be far more of a household name, again like Jones.  His two hands full of films deserve to be an even greater part of the conversation and I imagine their reputation will only continue to grow as the years pass.   A required look for anyone interested in knowing more about the great Lewton.  


 

2014

8/6/14 I watched Richard Linklater's Boyhood.  I walked in feeling that this was the best-reviewed American film of the year so far and though I have been lukewarm with Linklater over the years I wanted him to astonish me, prove me wrong and force me into a categorical reconsideration of everything I had seen from him to date.  And for stretches he and the film did just that - during those moments when Marco Perella is on screen or when Mason and Sheena are fighting and reminding us of Kechiche's great work from last year Blue Is The Warmest Color.  It does so many things right by my book.  It updates that much beloved genre from the seventies, the American naturalistic character film, shooting it with our color and feel and the look of today's world.  By holding up a mirror to us no matter how awkward and vapid our words or actions or struggles may be, it also carries forward one of the great traits of those 70s films asking us to look and think rather than escape and ignore.  Linklater's approach of shooting the same fictional characters throughout their childhood alone gives his film a special effect and it is my feeling that anyone interested in knowing where the American art film is in 2014 needs to check it out.  However as much as I want to be with the majority and love what everyone else loves like I was after seeing Kechiche's film last year, I have some fairly major reservations.  Linklater's charm has always been his aloof approach to storytelling, the naturalistic lived-in words and reactions he is able to coax from his performers in his relatively shapeless works.  He probably hits more of those moments than ever during Boyhood's 164 minutes.  Ultimately though his approach also is a little his undoing as after a while a work of this ambition wants either more shape and formal discipline (Boyhood could have used a more discerning editing team) or a more powerful aesthetic such as what Antonioni, Malick, Kubrick or even Coppola would have given us. 

8/16/14 I wached Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange's The Birth of the Tramp.  A wonderfully informative and entertaining account of Chaplin's early years.  Most of it I was learning for the first time.  It was fascinating to watch and hear how Chaplin made it in the movies. 

11/17/15 I watched Laura Poitras' Citizenfour.  An extremely stylized doc that impresses by its restraint and the mood it creates and sustains throughout.  A thought piece that wants the audience to contemplate Snowden rather than be entertained by his story. 

1/18/15 I watched 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 ie perfectly sized and veers off into directions the speactator never quite expects.  Then Chazelle adds to his impressive foundation two unsually well drawn lead charactors with Simmons seeming to put a careers worth of power into his role.  The style is admirable, the attitude inspiring and the entertainment and artistic value both of a very high order.

2/17/15 I watched Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Two Days, One Night.   Of all the great Belgian directors' films I have seen so far, this one seems the most flawed.  I am not sure if Cotillard threw their system out of whack or the thematic chase clouded their remarkably consistent aim for verisimilitude.  Whatever the explanation, the film does not quite work (and I do not say that lightly as I hate that statement).

3/7/15 I watched Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery.  Only my second experience so far with Wiseman (the first was At Berkeley), it too got inside me and worked on me in ways that rarely happens with film.  Of course Wiseman gets there by taking his time, by restricting camera movement, depriving us of anything but diegetic music, and flooding us with with academic information.  I come out of his films feeling more educated and with my view on whatever subject he is tackling (this time painting) deepened and altered. 

4/16/15 I watched 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.

5/28/15 I watched Robert Mann's Altman.  I guess what was most striking was Altman has become someone I considered among my favorite filmmakers yet I knew so very little about his life.  Mann does Altman justice and I think this would be enjoyed by anyone who thinks they are a fan. 

7/26/15 I watched Alejandro Inarritu's Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).  Inarritu's cinema is all crescendo and surface depth.  He pitches his work at these manic emotional registers that quickly become dishonest and disinteresting for me.

9/26/15 I watched Oliver Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria.  A surprisingly wise thematically and emotionally complex film.  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.  

9/30/15 I watched Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent.  My first experience with the cinema of the highly acclaimed Bonello proves to a fabulous new addition to trance cinema (Garrel's Regular Lovers, Dead Man, McCabe & Mrs. Miller), 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 makes us feel all the more excited because of it. 

10/25/15 I watched Jon Favreau's Chef.  This light and snappy tribute to food love works as long as you know you are not in for anything gourmet.  Well cast and with some pretty well selected wall to wall music, Favreau charms and plays to the crowd.  

1/4/16 I watched One9's Nas: Time is Illmatic.  Handsome doc gave me an even greater appreciation for Nas and his debut rap album.  Could have gone deeper, delving more into Nas' process, influences, mother's death but a very worthy viewing for anyone with hip-hop interest.

1/9/16 I watched Nancy Kates' Regarding Susan Sontag.  A surprisingly thoughtful doc about a very thoughtful 20th century figure.  Kates' music choice is interesting and her doc is full of information I never knew about the great intellectual Sontag.  

10/21/16 I watched David Robert Mitchell's It Follows.  There is an elegance to Mitchell's approach, particularly in the way he likes to move the camera around and let the scene unfold in longer takes.  And as I felt with his previous film, Halloween and 80s suburbia seem to have connected unusually deeply with him.  His cinema is perhaps not quite as fun as Carpenter's best work or as heartfelt and warm as Hughes' films but he has a talent that I will be excited to watch.