Monday, September 21, 2020

2020

9/20/20 I watched Garrett Bradley's Time. It had great promise of showing us a real life story of something that has been fictionalized so often. But it never really added up to much, emotionally. I blame it on the nearly wall-to-wall music and overreaching for a poetic style.

9/21/20 I watched Sam Pollard's MLK/FBI.  Pretty convoluted in terms of its storytelling and added up to little more than the FBI had significant surveillance on MLK and as a result we may ultimately see that he was more human than hero.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Favorite (four), seventy

Just like in my other sixty-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 a 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.

Charles Burnett's Horse
This early short that immediately precedes Killer of Sheep is striking.  It is the first time I can remember seeing so many people onscreen in a Burnett work.  Whereas the other work of his I have seen captures African-American daily life in ways I have never seen rivaled, this work which shows African-Americans alongside white Americans is the first of his films I have seen overtly dealing with race.  While the most striking image might be a pocketknife lodged in a ceiling which somehow recalls the hanging of African-Americans, the entire mood of the short film is powerful.

Abbas Kiarostami's A Wedding Suit
The premise is great and Kiarostami's patient, warm approach fully visible.  He lets the events slowly unfold, never really taking the story where you expect it to go.  Devoid of music except in the final frames, Kiarostami is already pushing his cinema to strong points of transcendence.  

Hong Sang-soo's Grass
By now I've seen quite a number of Hong's films.  Here's what I believe I've seen so far - Woman Is the Future of Man, Tale of Cinema, Woman on the Beach, Night and Day, Hahaha, Oki's Movie, List, In Another Country, Nobody's Daughter Haewon, Right Now, Wrong Then, Yourself and Yours, On the Beach at Night Alone, Claire's Camera, The Day After, Grass, and Hotel by the River.  I would place Grass in my upper tier of favorites.  It has all of Hong's regular elements - playfulness, simplicity, wordiness and moderness.  But what it also has is humor, which shows up in powerful ways in most of Hong's very best work.  

Olivier Bohler's Code Name Melville
A great documentary for anyone interested in the French crime film master.  Really insightful interviews from friends, fellow filmmakers and critics.  I particularly liked the following two comments:  1.  That what Melville made really were "urban westerns" 2.  That even though he admired American filmmakers like Wyler, that his style was more akin to Bresson than Wyler or any of Wyler's American contemporaries.



Thursday, June 11, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-nine

Just like in my other sixty-eight 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 a 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.

Nobuhiro Suwa's M/Other
The first film I have seen from Suwa delves deeply into a male-female relationship that starts to be challenged and threatens to unravel when the male's son from another woman comes to live with them for a month.  It all feels uncommonly true to life.  The relationship is working one day, struggling the next, and then is back on track before starting to seem vulnerable again.  Suwa's style, in a similar way, is very natural.  A couple of times it even takes on some of the characteristics of an old home movie, flickering shots on a a less robust film stock.     

Abbas Kiarostami's Two Solutions for One Problem
Kiarostami's early films for the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults are his own set of morality tales.  I have always admired Kiarostami's simplicity and his ability to reduce without losing warmth or wisdom.  Less than five minutes long, this early short is yet another testament to Kiarostami's poetry and ability to construct his own very particular cinematic style.  

Sacha Guitry's Assassins et Voleurs
It's easy to see Guitry's influence on the New Wave, particularly his lightness of touch and sense of playfulness.  But he also seemed to be one of the first ones of his generation to take to the streets and let actual locations be seen and felt.  

Howard Hawks' The Dawn Patrol
It is great to finally catch up with some of Hawks' very early work.  A couple of weeks ago I saw Tiger Shark for the first time and now this, one of Hawks' first talkies.  There are some absolutely incredible and unexpected sequences.  The entire scene of Barthelmess and Fairbanks doing combat themselves without the rest of the squadron is remarkable in the time and air that Hawks grants the moment but also in the level of detail and realism he is able to bring to it.  Hawks also does one of his bet jobs ever in creating the friendship between Courtney and Scott and all that comes with that level of connection.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-eight

Just like in my other sixty-seven 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 a 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.

Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein
Only the second or third film I have seen from Losey but what a film it is.  Delon's performance ranks with his very best and Losey sustains interest and an uncomfortable mood and atmosphere throughout every single shot.  The camera is elegant, as are the locations, the set design and the wardrobe and Losey ends up making a film about the Resistance that might be every bit as powerful as Meville's Army of Shadows.

Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno
If I were still making films, Kechiche would be one of the filmmakers I would study the closest.  His films feel as pure and perhaps more modern than anyone else's.  It is clear he is a cinephile and it feels as though he is taking art cinema to its most exciting and logical next phase.  What does that mean?  Kechiche's cinema is as much documentary as it is fiction.  Like the New Wave, he is embracing lighter technology to get inside his characters, get inside his scenes more to ward off elements that can quickly make the medium of cinema feel artificial.  But all the while, he is bringing in aspects of narrative cinema that make it arguably more palatable and more entertaining than cinema verite.  Kechiche has a painter's eye and dresses his realistic or naturalistic settings with strong locations, set design, emotive ambient sound and interesting-looking people acting in very believable ways.

Jacques Rozier's Maine-Ocean
Although I have only seen three of Rozier's films to date, it is clear that he has a unique voice and consistent thematic interests that include the constraining nature of society and the opportunities of freedom offered by water, travel and the sea.  Rozier's style is a unique balance of rigor and looseness and his humanistic spirit comes through in his joyful tone and emphasis on community.

Abbas Kiarostami's The Experience
The first of Kiarostami's longer form works is already masterful and a great indication of the Iranian filmmaker's career in cinema.  As much documentary as narrative, Kiarostami keeps his camera attached to his main character, a boy in his early teens.  Kiarostami's touch is soft and sensitive, as he would become known to be, and his camera graceful in its pans, zooms, handhelds and tracking shots.  Made for the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, I would consider it Kiarostami's first truly great work. 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-seven

Just like in my other sixty-six 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 a 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.

Abdellatif Kechiche's L'esquive
Kechiche, an actor himself, has a tremendous ability for achieving vital, piercingly plausible performances.  The other two films I have seen of his, The Secret of the Grain and Blue Is the Warmest Colour, are stylistically bolder, employing long takes and complex mise-en-scene but all of his work features extraordinary acting.  What I admire about Kechiche, perhaps above all, is as daring as his cinema can be, he also understands restraint.  Here there is hardly any music at all and although mostly composed of tight, handheld shots, Kechiche sticks to this one approach rather than combining many different styles and approaches.  I put Kechiche in a small group of the greatest filmmakers working today, and this film only deepened that feeling for me.  

Robert Bresson's Le diable probablement
One of the remaining Bresson features I had yet to see.  Once again, Bresson impresses with his rigor and rhythm.  Not a movement out of place and every cut in sync with some atypical metronomic beat that is deeply his own.  Bresson grapples with action, love, enjoyment and life in what might be a world without meaning or purpose.  The strong blacks in almost every frame suggest a darkness that potentially threatens all existence while its bleakness brings forth memories of Carax's Boy Meets Girl.

Nanni Moretti's Ecce bombo
Moretti's first feature already has many of the elements he would become known for - his great feel for music, his quick, playful wit, his political engagement and a structural looseness that is as much a part of his appeal as it is a weakness.  Not too far from the zany, episodic nature of Woody's early features.    

Hong Sang-soo's Yourself and Yours
One of my favorite Hong films, alongside Right Now, Wrong ThenIn Another Country and Woman Is the Future of Man.  Has there ever been anyone in the medium as successful at being so minimal?  Hong shrinks the world (few actors, one piece of music, only a handful of locations) but burrows in so well that his shrunken world still feels universal and relevant.  

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-six

Just like in my other sixty-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 see but only a 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.

Fritz Lang's The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb
I have long wanted to track down these two films that were made right at the end of Lang's career.  I knew they had a large reputation among some people I admire and were a little different than anything else he had done.  They actually share a lot in common with some of his pre-American work such as Spies or The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.  But what is new is the Indian setting and Lang's attitude and perspective.  As to be expected, Lang shoots precisely and constructs a number of excellent set pieces throughout the two films.  And the film's influence can be felt in films as different as Pierrot Le Fou (Godard's shot directly looking at the hot sun) or all throughout the Indiana Jones trilogy.

Jacques Tati's Parade
I will admit - I do not know all that Tati is saying in the last feature of his career.  But there is a magic and an otherness about it (I cannot think of any other movie like it) that give it a power.  The way it is shot, with the performers alone from one angle and the crowd in the background of another, suggests the loneliness of performance and the circus-like world that feeds it.  It feels like a celebration of the entertainer and a moving summation of Tati's unique abilities and perspective. 

Jacques Rozier's Du cote d'Orouet
Rozier has a disciplined looseness that is in perfect sync with his nearly three hour trip to the beach.  He approaches time like Rivette, allowing his scenes to unfold in blocks that are far longer than most directors would allow for similar moments.  He is gifted with his actors and immerses the viewer in something that feels as close to documentary as fiction.  

Stanley Kwan's Actress
It is a film I have been wanting to see for more than twenty years.  Usually with that type of expectation comes disappointment but not this time.  Aside from being absolutely gorgeous - in its cinematography, set design and wardrobe - it is utterly unique as a biopic.  By consistently merging interviews with people that knew Ruan and actual foootage of her with fictional shots and scenes, Kwan is able to create a character we know in deeper and different ways than cinema has previously allowed.  A film that is a key precursor to In the Mood for Love and one that warmly invites us to dig deeper into China's cinema past.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-five

Just like in my other sixty-four 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 a 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.

Maurice Pialat's L'amour existe
Pialat's early short film is already the work of a master even though the style is closer to Nouvelle Vague than the rigorous naturalism of Pialat's features.  It deserves to be seen by anyone interested in the New Wave, the short film form, Pialat or French cinema.  

Allan Dwan's Driftwood
What a great surprise this was.  From seeing Natalie Wood as a child actor to the overall feeling Dwan gives the whole film.  Reminds me of Walsh's Strawberry Blonde in its depiction of the wonderful community aspect that can come out in small towns.  I know Dwan has a big reputation.  If this any indication, I certainly need to seek out more of his work.  

Chloe Zhao's The Rider
I was completely surprised by this one, particularly impressive was its sensitivity, confidence in silence, and the acting by its main character.  Zhao finds a way to inject newness into the western genre, showing us towns, lives and feelings we have never quite experienced before in the western tradition and structure.

Blake Edwards' Experiment in Terror
Until now, I thought Edwards was a filmmaker who was pretty adept at making light, entertaining trifles.  But this film proves he could also do dark and moody when he set out to.  I could feel the New Wave's influence as Edwards does an extraordinary job capturing authentic San Francisco streets and homes and venues.  An ignored film from this period that deserves a much larger reputation. 


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-four

Just like in my other sixty-three 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 a 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.

Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky
May only made four features and I had seen the other three before seeing this for the first time.  In seeing her other work, it was already very clear that May was unusually good with her actors and had this very unique, punchy editing style.  Nothing else May had done creates the sense of dread so palpable here or has this level of realism.  It would rank on my list with any overview of key American New Wave films.  It is unrelenting, powerful and a bit different than anything else I have ever seen.

Olivier Assayas' Cold Water
It's hard to place the film stylistically within the history of French cinema.  To come closest, I would say in its thematic interests and mood it reminded me of Pialat.  In its style, I can't think of anyone up to that point in French cinema who used long takes and the handheld camera as much as Assayas does.  I found both the style and the downbeat tone a bit overly heavy.  But there are a number of things on the other hand that are excellent - Assayas' sense of place, use of music, Ledoyen's beauty, and the film's final three to five minutes.

Eric Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois
In Stylistically the film is an oddity in Rohmer's body of work.  An artifical period piece with a Greek chorus does not readily recall any of his other films.  But when considered as a morality tale with an ambition toward the transcendence of a Bresson or Ozu work, it becomes clear it is an Eric Rohmer film.  The final five minutes rank with the most raw and disturbing of anything he has ever made.  As a result, the desired effect of transcendence, of producing a final feeling or shot that rises above all that has come before, is masterfully achieved.

Yasujiro Ozu's Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family
I would call this the first Ozu sound masterpiece, and arguably his greatest film up to this point in his career. 

Emotionally and thematically, it is deeply complex and satisfying as it takes on the larger family structure that would become one of his favorite themes to explore.  The speech toward the end by Shojiro ranks as one of the most powerful and moving scenes in Ozu's work. 

From a formal standpoint, the poetry and lyricism of Ozu are fully beginning to flourish.  The film is full of his trademark ellipses to show the passage of time and the number of shots of people-less frames are prevalent throughout.  I could be wrong but I credit the latter as coming from the influence of Lang's M

The other formal aspect that jumped out at me was Ozu's periodic use of non-diegetic music.  It is the first time I can remember him punctuating certain moments with non-diegetic classical music.  And the way that he uses it feels very similar to the way that Bresson would later treat music in films such as Pickpocket.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941)

I would call this the first Ozu sound masterpiece, and arguably his greatest film up to this point in his career. 

Emotionally and thematically, it is deeply complex and satisfying as it takes on the larger family structure that would become one of his favorite themes to explore.  The speech toward the end by Shojiro ranks as one of the most powerful and moving scenes in Ozu's work. 

From a formal standpoint, the poetry and lyricism of Ozu are fully beginning to flourish.  The film is full of his trademark ellipses to show the passage of time and the number of shots of people-less frames are prevalent throughout.  I could be wrong but I credit the latter as coming from the influence of Lang's M

The other formal aspect that jumped out at me was Ozu's periodic use of non-diegetic music.  It is the first time I can remember him punctuating certain moments with non-diegetic classical music.  And the way that he uses it feels very similar to the way that Bresson would later treat music in films such as Pickpocket.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-three

Just like in my other sixty-tw0 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 a 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.

Eric Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon
I'm not sure enough has been written about the transcendent nature, and effect of Rohmer's cinema.  Although he is known, at least in The States more as the French Woody Allen, the austerity of his cinema is far more akin to the work of Ozu, Bresson or Dreyer.  Sure he is masterful in his simplicity and his work with the actors but his greatest strength is the way he keeps the viewer's desire constantly withheld.  The viewer wants action, consummated emotion, stylistic flourishes that are exciting.  Rohmer refuses, and in so doing, hopes to force the viewer into accepting a different type of experience with his cinema.  As his stories unfold, Rohmer continues to pile complexity onto the situations and emotions of his characters, meanwhile depriving and denying them any real catharsis or climax.  His hope is that by withholding a release until the very end, the final moments take on a power and magnitude that would have never been reached or possible any other way. 

Pedro Almodovar's Pain and Glory
Almodovar has always been a filmmaker I have admired more than I have loved, even though a few of his films have moved me with Talk to Her being at the top of the list.  His obsessions are not necessarily my own but I respect the autobiographical nature of his work and the themes he consistently grapples with from film to film.

He has a loyal group of actors and he repays their trust by giving them some of the best performances of their careers.  For instance, I can't remember Banderas ever giving a more satisfying performance than what he delivers here. 

Almodovar's latest is one of the better films of his career.  Its production design immaculate, its structure masterfully intricate, its direction confident, graceful and elegant.  It is a work by a recognized artist that hasn't stopped searching and a film that benefits from Almodovar's restraint, maturity and contemplation.

Bi Gan's Long Day's Journey into Night
In terms of sheer mastery of camerawork, lighting and film style, Gan's latest film ranks with the very greatest works of the last ten or so years. In this group I would include Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin, James Gray's Ad Astra, Raoul Ruiz's The Mysteries of Lisbon, Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent, Miguel Gomes' Tabu, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is The Wamest Color and Bi Gan's previous film Kaili Blues.  Its narrative is more difficult to follow than the other films in this group and it really asks you to surrender to the undertow of its atmosphere and to let it just take you on this labyrinthine journey.  It had me thinking of Tarkovsky and Lynch and at some point I would be interested in revisiting to try to better understand where I have just gone.

Martin Scorsese's The Irishman
Scorsese's latest work is different than anything else he has done.  It pulls back on style and showmanship and in so doing produces two of his richest and most emotionally affecting characters to date (Frank and Russell).  The final thirty minutes or so, in particular, allow the film to enter into heavy, deep territory that I would normally equate with Dreyer or Ozu but not Scorsese.

The Irishman is of great interest as a dialogue with Scorsese's entire body of work.  Seeing Robbie Robertson's name in the end credits can't help but recall The Last Waltz and Robertson's numerous other collaborations with Scorsese through the years.  While Frank's efforts to get through to a stubborn Jimmy Hoffa powerfully evoke Keitel's efforts to do the same for De Niro in Mean Streets.  And there are many other reverberations of Scorsese's earlier work flowing underneath and alongside the unfolding of his latest work, with of course memories and similarities to Goodfellas perhaps the strongest.

The Irishman also feels like it is in conversation with Coppola's first two Godfather films.  The final shot forces a comparison to the final shot of Coppola's 1972 work.  And I can't help but see The Irishman as Scorsese's quest to achieve the same reverence and consideration consistently granted to Coppola's early achievements.  Many people revere Goodfellas but almost no one considers it to have the same emotional weight or impact as Coppola's early outings.     

Surprising also is the amount of real life that seeps in.  It is perhaps the Scorsese narrative film with the most factual events interlaced into the story as we see clips of John and Robert Kennedy and Castro and Cuba.  Although given the amount of Scorsese's recent documentary output, perhaps it is a logical new development in his work.  And I could not help but see the oldest daughter-father relationship in The Irishman as a possible echo of Scorsese's own life and strained personal relationships.

In the spirit of Gertrud or Rio LoboThe Irishman is a late great film and suggests exciting new possibilities for Scorsese and his future work.