5/21/15 I watched Brett Morgen's Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. I always liked Cobain and a good bit of Nirvana and wanted to be enlightened by new footage and a deeper, new perspective on it all. But I think for as much access as Morgen seemingly had, the doc comes off as too objective and too surface. The style, particularly the animated sequences, also becomes tiring after a little while.
7/14/15 I watched Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It is charming if you do not think too much about it and heartfelt if you do not really question it. Otherwise I think it is pretty manipulative, rooted deeply in artifice and arrives at most of its wins shamelessly with its toolkit of abundant music cues and twee hipness.
8/4/15 I watched Alex Garland's Ex Machina. Garland makes a grand entrance with his directorial debut proving a keen creator of mood, a stylist of noticable 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 of where our reliance on technology might be leading us.
8/31/15 I watched F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton. Although it treads in many of the cliches of this type of Hollywood biopic, I mostly enjoyed it as a reflection of my adolescent years and a musical explosion that registered loudly at a very formative time for me.
12/5/15 I watched 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 fully make sense of it. What I do know for sure is that it 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. So if I had to step out and explain some of the themes or meanings that I might have caught I would first say that it almost seemed that 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.
12/5/15 I watched Josh Mond's James White. Even though I was not much of a fan of the other two BorderLine-produced films I had seen (Afterschool and Martha, Marcy, May and Marlene) I had read a couple of positive things from trusted people about this one and so wanted to see it. I thought it was well done, extraordinarily well acted and a fine example of sustained "exclamation point cinema". But this is not cinema I really care about and what is interesting is to have the experience I had today which to see it back-to-back with a supreme example of "parentheses cinema" like Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin. Whereas a close-up or exclamation point with rigorous, reserved cinema pays huge dividends and creates powerful, poignant effects, thinking of the end of Pickpocket or even Nights of Cabiria, the reverse is not true with exclamation cinema. When this type of cinema tries to slow down and create contemplative space, it falls really flat. So even if I never end up winning that battle, convincing people that there are real problems with exclamation cinema, this drawback alone proves to me I am right about its great inferiority next to other approaches.
12/9/15 I watched Sam Mendes' Spectre. I preferred Mendes' prior Bond outing, Skyfall, as I was not much of a fan of Seydoux (even thought I loved her in Blue is the Warmest Color) and Mendes just seemed lazy in a number of the shots. But I continue to like Craig in the role and the opening helicopter action scene as well as the introduction of the new assassin (eye murder) and the probes of James at the end were all very effective.
12/28/15 I watched Asif Kapadia's Amy. Certainly gave me a better appreciation of the singer and detailed in doc-form someone's decline and ultimate demise as well as anything I may have ever seen. Just did not have the shape or the power of his previous film, Senna.
1/5/16 I watched Stevan Riley's Listen To Me Marlon. The wall-to-wall music is off putting but the remarkable audio footage of Marlon overcomes the film's formal shortcomings and makes this one of the most immersive documentaries I have seen in a while in terms of putting one into the skin of its subject.
1/12/16 I watched Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu's The Revenant. Although I have never been much of a fan of the filmmaker, I still find many things to admire with his latest film. The fact that this unimaginably difficult film was made by a 52 year old in itself is remarkable and that he has created two sequences of great cinematic interest, the opening battle and the bear attack. Otherwise it is mostly restrained, which is unusual for Innaritu, but painfully predictable. Di Caprio's character will exact his revenge.
1/23/16 I watched Rick Bernstein and Michael Tollin's Kareem: Minority of One. A moving and interesting tribute to Kareem, one of the more enigmatic and unusual athletes of recent times.
1/24/16 I watched 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 chapter in the brilliant careers of Blanchett and Burwell.
1/29/16 I watched Michael Mann's Blackhat. Unmistakably a Mann film with whispers and chords from a number of his earlier works. More than ever it was clear to me how interested Mann is in abstraction. Unfortunately, in spite of a number of very positive reviews, I found it difficult to follow and I never fully fell in with the story being told.
2/29/16 I watched Tom McCarthy's Spotlight. Although an ugly film from a visual standpoint and a bit forced at times with Shore's music and where it aims to take us emotionally, the compelling storyline and well crafted script move us above its limitations. Particularly of note for me was its casting, I thought the spotlight team were all very smart choices and it was as good of a performance as I have seen from both Keaton and Ruffalo.
3/12/16 I watched Ryan Coogler's 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 also has certain moments that gain enormous weight 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.
5/12/16 I watched Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's Best of Enemies. Vidal's intelligence and eloquence as always are impressive to watch. But I am not sure the film is any more substantial and less theatrical than all that the film is seeking to attack.
5/21/16 I watched Adam McKay's The Big Short. It is entertaining and has style to spare but it also is not always very easy to follow. Fun but just don't try to think too much about it.
7/4/16 I watched Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups. Malick's tone poetry this time turns its attention to Malick's own wandering from the late seventies to the late nineties, early 2000s, to the movie industry, and to the city of Los Angeles. The more I see of his late work, the more I see similarities with Godard's feel for classical music, nature and refusal to conform to audience expectation or even their ability to follow or understand. I found this one, like his last with Affleck, more confounding than rewarding but I continue to seek out his work as he is as unique and gifted with cinema style as anyone currently at work.
7/11/16 I watched Noah Baumbach's Mistress America. I have never been a fan of Baumbach's hipster sensibility and felt no different with this outing. Sure, his character speak can be humorous at times but no one feels deeply rooted or substantial enough to be real and after a while that only left me frustrated.
7/20/16 I watched Arnaud Desplechin's My Golden Days. I came in with massive expectations having followed Les Inrocks' 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.
8/28/16 I watched 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 has set up and created. 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 takes the time to offer us.
9/2/16 I watched Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's DePalma. One of my favorite filmmakers receives a nice documentary treatment and there are a couple of interesting revelations. But the form of the documentary is very boring and I think the film is ultimately a lot less than what it could have been.
11/10/16 I watched Kent Jones' Hitchcock/Truffaut. I was a little disappointed given how much respect I have for Jones and how much I enjoyed his doc on Val Lewton. This one did not bring near as much new information as I would have expected.
11/27/16 I watched 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.
12/31/16 I watched Nanni Moretti's Mia Madre. It has been years since I have seen a new Moretti film, the last being 2001's The Son's Room. But his work such as Palombella rossa and Caro diario both rate among my favorite films of the eighties and nineties. Moretti is in top form with his latest outing creating something that is fairly small-scaled and intimate that is appealing to look at and listen to and that will make you both think and feel deeply.
3/31/17 I watched Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands' Uncertain. How these thoughtful and talented filmmakers came to work right in my backyard I have no idea (tax credits?) but they do an excellent job at capturing life in the Caddo Lake backwoods. They resist easy storylines and typical trajectories and leave us with an affecting look at a different world.
The 33rd Chicago Latino Film Fest – Week Two - The following should appear at Time Out Chicago sometime soon. The Chicago Latino Film Festival continues through Thursday, May 4. My best bets for the sec...
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