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.

12/6/16 I watched Dexter Fletcher's Eddie the Eagle.  A feel good sports movie in the tradition of Rudy and Rocky.  The subject matter was perfect for this type of story and it is all done very efficiently and very effectively.

12/7/16 I watched Barry Jenkins' Moonlight.  Jenkins channels George Washington and Malick, achieving his greatest feat by putting us into somewhat familiar territory, the tough and rough inner-city, with a character who is almost completely unpredictable.  As a result, the audience is never comfortable and keeps interest, if nothing else, because it never quite knows what it is about to experience.  Unfortunately Jenkins' often ugly aesthetic (extra shaky cam, coarse lighting, turbulent jump cuts) asphyxiates rather than lifts when we desperately need something to offset all of the other ugliness.  Also as original as some of Jenkins' combinations are, there is still much that feels a bit too familiar and never rises above that familiarity, such as the final encounter between Black and his mom.   

12/13/16 I watched Denis Villeneuve's Arrival.  Probably the most interesting aspect is the way that Villeneuve works with time, shuffling it around and skillfully gliding around past, present, future.  Adams is wonderful as are some of the visuals and a few of the scenes.  But it seems like the filmmakers got lazy in the third act and the way that it resolves itself in the last thirty minutes felt muddy and a bit trite.    

12/17/16 I watched Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!.  Confirms that Linklater is one of the very best at loose and breezy filmmaking.  The cast, mostly unknowns to me, were uniformly excellent and Linklater pulls out some fun, stylistic devices such as his inventive use of the split screen during the initial phone call between Jake and Beverly.  It has such a light touch that it risks being nothing more than a trifle, and it does register less deeply than some of the more serious filmmaking, but it deserves to be commended on its own terms.  

12/25/16 I watched Damien Chazelle's La La Land.  I was a big fan of Whiplash and interested in seeing this, Chazelle's next film.  After Whiplash, I sensed and hoped that Chazelle might be the type of filmmaker I have been waiting for, a sophisticated cinephile with enough mainstream appeal to succeed in imposing and protecting his cinema within Hollywood.  I was excited when I first discovered David Gordon Greeen, Andrew Bujalski, even Bennett Miller.  But, in truth, Gordon Green and Bujalski never seemed to have the sensibility to fully crossover.  They might get their chance to work within the system but it would be in the way the system wanted them to work and not the other way around.  Miller, in a similar way to Kenneth Lonergan, will probably succeed in continuing to make smart cinema in Hollywood, but it will almost certainly be a cinema devoid of style and without any internal dialogue or link back to film's history.  Meanwhile La La Land is truly bold cinema, a young auteur's willingness to go all in, cash in on his sophomore effort fully knowing that it really does not matter how daring he is because if he makes a film that connects he will be given additional chances.  If not, he will be back to making small-scale indy work as he grovels for Hollywood to give him another shot.  Chazelle gambles and emerges, in my eyes, as the most gifted new American filmmaker since the exciting new voices of the nineties, like James Gray and Tarantino,  I made a similar, now obviously irresponsible claim in '99 when O'Russell, Payne and The Wachowski Brothers all had breakout years.  But I have more trust this time around.  After all, one of Chazelle's main subjects of La La Land is how to preserve something that is under great threat of fading away.    

12/29/16 I watched Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea.  I was lukewarm at best on Lonergan after his debut but very high on him after Margaret, one of my very favorite viewings of last year.  He is deep and smart and unafraid to do character work that is almost completely free of style or irony.  For that, he is almost alone in today's Hollywood and has my respect.  For a while during Manchester, I thought that Lonergan was pulling off an American version of a Bresson film but then realized that he lacks the stylistic rigor of Bresson to pull off that coup.  But even without the rigor, this was a film that would have benefited greatly from another gear, from a push towards transcendence.  Lonergan never gives it another gear though and left me, as I am sure he did others, wondering why we had trudged through all of that for so little in return.      

1/19/17 I watched Anna Rose Holmer's The Fits.  The actress is quite impressive and it is all clearly in tightly controlled hands.  But I am not sure exactly what it was about and emotionally it did not really involve me all that much.

1/23/17 I watched Kleber Mendonca Filho's Aquarius.  I know nothing of Filho's work, not even if the filmmaker is male or female (although the unusually sensitive treatment of the central female character leads me to think it is the latter).  Filho is a graceful filmmaker, reminding me of Moretti in the artful, light way he glides through scenes.  Most remarkable aside from the fully felt Clara is the way the filmmaker so effortlessly moves through time and the way quick cuts are used to show sexual actions and waves of Clara's thoughts and memories. 

2/8/17 I watched Paul Verhoeven's Elle.  Made me feel similar to how Cronenberg's Crash made me feel, distanced and ultimately numb by its deep nihilism.  I respect Verhoeven for staying his path and for putting something together that I never quite knew where it was going to go.  But I just wish it had some more real-life emotion in it.

2/17/17 I watched Andrea Arnold's American Honey.  It is the first time I have seen one of Arnold's films.  I was definitely impressed by her ability to deliver strong performances and to capture some of the softness and poetry of the best of Gordon Green and Malick.  But she seems at times to go for more Hollywood emotion, like the scene where the two leads are sitting on top of the moving van as the music swirls and the rest of the sounds drops out.  It's times like this, and there are a number of them, where I am thrown out of her cinema to a point of almost no return.  

3/4/17 I watched Jim Jarmusch's Paterson.  Another strong entry from one of my favorite filmmakers currently at work, after what felt like a slight drop in quality between Ghost Dog and Only Lovers Left Alive.  Like his great previous film, Jarmusch seems to be in an internal dialogue with the past and with art.  Whereas the excellent Lovers was with one of his favorite passions, music.  This time around Jarmusch seems to be most concerned with another of his primary artistic passions, poetry.  In fact, there is so much in common, formally and narratively, between the two films that they seem to form a couple relationship within his body of work.  The greatest strength of Jarmusch has always been his ability to distill and condense.  Like the best poems, his work conveys so much with so little. 

3/28/17 I watched Kirsten Johnson's Cameraperson.  There is much to admire in Johnson's uncompromising, challenging material and approach.  It's all perhaps slightly too heavy and could use a little more levity here and there but I'm glad I took the time to see.

4/2/17 I watched Jim Jarmusch's Gimme Danger.  Jarmusch saves his rawest aesthetic to date for the rough and tough Stooges, and even though it is a major stylistic departure for Jarmusch he seems comfortable in this different skin.  Jarmusch provides new insight into the highly influential band and the deep emotional wounds that have propelled Iggy for the last 50 years.  

5/13/17 I watched Mia Hansen-Love's Things to Come.  Reminiscent of the early 90's French character studies like A Single Girl or Oublie-moi.  Love films with what appears to be 16mm and stays close to Huppert in a very gentle, soft approach.  It is admirable in its honesty, if lacking some of the intensity or rigor of the very best of this type of film.  

5/14/17 I watched Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann.  It says some interesting things about where our world has gone, how we have gotten to a place where we are prioritizing work over family, and need to strip away all of the artifice to get back to what is important.  But Ade never fully grabbed me and rather than being emotionally taken through a cinematic adventure, I felt more like I was living through her proof of an idea or theorem.  

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.