Saturday, April 22, 2017


4/22/17 I watched James Gray's The Lost City of Z.  The film of Gray that has impressed the most so far is also the most revealing.  Treading in this territory is dangerous stuff.  How do you not immediately beg comparison to Apocalypse Now and Aguirre?  You don't.  What Gray does though is blend the epic and the chamber and in that way it feels different.  Herzog and Coppola's film were both always operating on a large canvas and their egos and talents had no problem sustaining an epic scope for their duration.  Gray's film fits what is seemingly his personality, something that is more cerebral and more measured than Herzog and Coppola.  What is most striking is that I have long known that Gray reveres the work of Coppola but never have I noticed their differences more than now.  Not only is Gray far more humble but he also struggles to reach the emotional shape of Coppola's best work.  I felt watching The Lost City that everything was of one piece - Ravel's music could not have been more perfect, sophisticated, difficult themes were borne out, Khondji's work seemed right (even if I have never been a huge fan of his) but Gray has trouble reaching the emotional heights of Coppola.  Lost City is an unusually ambitious and well executed American film in this current environment but without the emotional resonance of the films he most admires, it is difficult to call it great.  

10/28/17 I watched Susan Lacy's Spielberg.  I have never considered myself a huge fan of the filmmaker but realized I do like more of his work than I remembered, including Munich and A.I.  I don't think Lacy goes all that deep, but I don't think Spielberg really allows someone to go there.  

11/25/17 I watched Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird.  Not what I had been reading, it certainly does not belong in conversations about the great coming of age art films - Kes, Germany Year Zero, 400 Blows.  What it is more than anything is a 2017 Pretty in Pink.  It is at its best when it is Gerwig quirky such as the scene of her grabbing the bottle of vodka at the house party soon after her arrival in NYC.  What is most limiting is the terribly episodic approach Gerwig takes to the entire film.  It needs length, space, oxygen.  As is, it is a syrupy indy that will do well for what it is, Hollywood not fringe.  

12/7/17 I watched Jordan Peele's Get Out.  It is the type of artistic genre film that I wish was less rare in today's American cinema.  What impressed me most was its insightful casting, particularly Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford and Caleb Landry Jones, and each of their deep commitment to every story beat and feeling.  We are millions of miles away from the cardboard performances found in most exploitation fare.  I found its restraint surprising and refreshing.  It cuts fairly slowly, gives the actors space to move around and is unafraid of stillness and quiet.  It uses its camera and music with intent and to great effect.  And, when it finally delivers on more conventional genre elements, in this case horror violence, it is fresh, inventive and affecting.  Of course, Peele also has come up with an incredibly smart script and lens with which to examine racism.  Scenes like the "slave auction" work at a very deep, artistic level and are worthy of the very best in critical attention and admiration.  It also seems that Peele studied the first Scream, beginning his film in similar ways to the great Barrymore opening in Craven's work.  With Get Out, Peele has delivered an explosive debut that I believe years from now will be considered in the same discussions of other brilliant debut genre films such as Reservoir Dogs and Kiss Me Deadly.  

12/31/17 I watched Benny and Josh Safdie's Good Time.  Sure Pattinson is interesting and the brothers maintain a very high tension throughout but anyone who wants to shoot a ninety minute film in close-up with screeching wall-to-wall music could achieve similar effects.  

1/3/18 I watched Joe Wright's Darkest Hour.  Oldman gives another remarkable trans-formative performance in this rousing pic from the director of Atonement.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty

Just like in my other thirty-nine 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.

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.  

Michael Ritchie's The Bad News Bears
Ritchie's slacker sensibility is a perfect match with the material.  I don't think this one gets near enough attention and should be in any conversation around the greatest sports movies of all time.

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.

Michael Schultz's Cooley High
Even though it was an AIP production, it feels more like an American New Wave film or a 1970's Shadows.  I have heard it referenced in rap songs and as an important entry in that decade's pop culture but now finally seeing it, it exceeded expectations in the way it captures the clothes, the music, the feel of the times.  Required viewing for anyone that wants a link from Shadows to Burnett to Spike.