Monday, December 6, 2010

Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz)

I skipped 2010 because there are too many key films from that year that I've yet to see.  But I hope to have an entry soon.  I will report here, in red, as I catch up with films from this year.  

12/6/10 I watched Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer.  Polanski keeps things moving in this fun, little witty confection.  And Desplat adds tremendous mood, as he seems to always do when scoring pieces. The production design is also quite note-worthy.  But all in all, a few too many implausible plot points for me and a pace that's almost so chipper as to completely discourage contemplation.  

12/7/10 I watched Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island.  A real mind-bender with many marvelous things to recommend - the acting, the camerawork, Scorsese's ear for music, the production design.  But it left me cold by the end.  I liked many of the ideas at work.  I just felt that the film would have benefitted from a few more polishes, and perhaps a trim here and there.  

12/20/10 I watched Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop.  A bit too ironic and clever for my tastes.  But I did enjoy Barrow's music much of the time. 

1/12/11 I watched Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right.  There are so really wonderful moments.  At times, I was watching and felt that Cholodenko was going into territory so sophisticated, so human, so delicate, and so rarely explored.  But I rarely felt that she went all the way with these opportunities.  Much of the resolutions did not feel earned, and some of it just felt downright trite.  Bening of all of them felt most rooted in some reality and convinced me again that she's quite the interesting talent.  

1/12/11 I watched David Fincher's The Social Network.  So much is so compelling, and it's told in an almost manic reverse to Fincher's deliberate Zodiac.  Eisenberg is perfectly cast, and Sorkin's script is often effortlessly sharp, breezy, and funny.  All in all though, I had some issues, mainly Fincher's insistence on an overly controlled look and the fact that it all was pitched at such a brisk clip.  

2/1/11 I watched Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's Catfish.  The first half or so I found very smart, breezy, effortlessly compelling and topical. But just like Angela couldn't really untangle herself, I didn't feel like the filmmakers really knew what to do once the story changed.  All in all, just leaves you feeling cold and empty, and not very humanistic, in spite of the filmmakers' efforts.  

2/4/11 I watched Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine.  Ryan Gosling convinced me again that he's one of the most talented of his generation, and Cianfrance definitely convinces that he can write the hell out of certain scenes.  I enjoyed it much more than I expected and only felt a little let down by the ending.  The cross-cutting there seemed a little excessive and the final feelings all a bit anti-climatic.  

2/4/11 I watched Mike Leigh's Another Year.  Lesley Manville's Mary is among the richest characters I've seen in a long while, and Leigh delivers another human and finely observed tale.  At times, I felt like Leigh's timing was off a little, dwelling too long on moments already ripe.  But otherwise a strong outing for him.

2/11/11 I watched Tom Hooper's The King's Speech.  Firth and Rush of course are excellent.  And we can use some heroes right now, which the movie strongly delivers.  But it's not a very artful movie.  It's all kinda calculated and uninspired in terms of the filmmaking.   

2/11/11 I watched David O. Russell's The Fighter.  Bale proves that he's part Day-Lewis, part De Niro.  The guy is an incredible talent.  But the movie's not all that interesting really on any level.  

2/16/11 I watched Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for 'Superman'.  It's an important message, and I was glad to see the film.  But Guggenheim's technique is sprawling and all feels a little disjointed and messy. Probably would have been more successful for me if he had chosen fewer kids to follow.  

2/22/11 I watched Emmanuel Laurent's Two in the Wave.  Not the most marvelous film ever.  But it is a documentary about my favorite period in the history of cinema, The French New Wave, and it covers aspect of this wonderful movement that I've rarely seen on film, including Leaud's screen test for The 400 Blows.  I consider the film's two main subjects, Godard and Truffaut, to be among the most passionate of anyone that has ever worked in the medium, and to this day for me they're both still huge influences and inspirations.  

4/15/11 I watched Olivier Assayas' Carlos.  There's some tremendous stuff on display here, like Edgar Ramirez's fearless performance and Assayas' introduction of post-punk to the crime film score conversation.  But, as I often feel about Assayas, he needs a tripod at times and an editor always.  It's just too long and can't truly sustain a 5 1/2 hour arc.  That said, there are at least two or three scenes that are among Assayas' best ever, including the best action set piece I've seen in years, when Carlos shoots himself out of a small apartment arrest, killing five or six people in the process. 

5/17/11 I watched Charles Ferguson's Inside Job.  It's a powerful and utterly disturbing portrait of the events that led to 2008's global recession.  Ferguson explains some of the chief causes in a very lucid manner, and he presents a very passionate attack on America's financial services industry.  Whether or not you agree with all that he has to say, I would say this is a must-see, simply for the opportunity to get a further look at many of the chief players.  

9/5/11 I watched Lee Chang-dong's Poetry.  Another film that makes me feel that the two countries with the most interesting cinema right now are South Korea and Romania.  By no means an easy work, this film ambles around, so soft and subtle in its approach that the viewer has to forge a different kind of relationship within the experience.  My first Chang-dong viewing tells me that he's an incredibly patient filmmaker, unusually adept with actors and a humanist in the vein of the Dardennes and Rossellini.  A bit too vague at times in his ramblings but a filmmaker employing methods of the highest rigor and truth.

9/30/11 I watched Apitchatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.  I've struggled with the celebrated Thai director in the past, and this one is no exception.  Although for the first time I can see a little bit what all the fuss is about.  His films are incredibly distancing for me, slow without the visual penetration of Tarkovski or Hou Hsiao-hsien. This one has its lyrical moments though and flights of real poetry.  It's just those other parts that really bog it down.  W's naturalism, in particular, strikes me more as just ugly than expressive.  

10/31/11 I watched Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men.  The first Beauvois film I've seen since N'oublie pas que tu vas mourir, and it's impressive to see how his style has evolved and matured.  Terrific filmmaking with surprising austerity and restraint.  I just wish the overall subject matter interested me a little more.  

11/5/11 I watched Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff.  A western somewhat in the vein of what Monte Hellman did with the genre.  But Reichardt's cinema continues to frustrate me.  Here my problems are extremely dark night-shooting and an ending that is as anti-climatic as the rest of the work. There's some nice mood at times here, but Reichardt is so defiantly lo-fi and lacking the transcendent touch of Ozu, Jarmusch, and Bresson, that her work makes me feel flat and unsinspired by the time it's over.  

12/17/11 I watched Josh and Benny Safdie's Daddy Longlegs.  Though I thought it a marked improvement from Safdie's previous feature, there's a defeatism at work here that I find pretty unappealing.  Plus the fact that Bronstein's character never changes one inch during the entire piece ultimately leaves you hollow and wanting a narrative arc of any kind.  

1/21/12 I watched Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme.  Among the most vital and visceral films of Godard's later period.  It really feels intimate and personal, and you can feel Godard roaming through all the images (cinematic and lived) of his life.  

4/1/12 I watched Manoel de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelika.  My first experience with a de Oliveira film so I can't frame it alongside the rest of his work.  But what I can say is that I found it masterful - one of these late films by a great filmmaker that is deceptively simple (think Gertrud) where the formal simplicity belies a specificity and depth that are the true signs of greatness.  Most shocking to me was the vitality of the editing, always cutting away seconds earlier than expected, to produce a level of restraint so vital to the heavyweight feeling the film ends up producing on the part of the viewer.  I could go on and on about the brilliance of metaphor here, de Oliveira's wonderful visual tics, and a cinema that is as mannered as Hartley's but as weighty as Dreyer's, but I'll wait to elaborate on those things once I have the pleasure of seeing a few more from this great Portuguese filmmaker.  

6/12/12 I watched David Robert Mitchell's The Myth of the American Sleepover.  Best in its whimsy and Nouvelle Vague-isms but devolves into something a bit fey and frustrating.  

6/13/12 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy.  Part Rossellini (Stromboli, Voyage in Italy), part Vertigo, and part Linklater Before Sunrise flicks.  A different register for Kiarostami with a stellar Binoche but slightly too oblique for my tastes.  

6/14/12 I watched Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture.  A bit of a frustrating watch for me that came with just a tiny bit of heart at the very end.  And too overtly indy for me with its score and dialogue.
10/3/12 I watched Asif Kapadia's Senna.  The footage makes this one pretty extraordinary at times, and it's the way that Kapadia choreographs the races that really shows his talents as an entertainer but also as a succinct storyteller.  By the end, there are moments that I wish the filmmakers chose not to telegraph, but all in all, a very enjoyable doc about a subject matter of which I knew little to nothing.

8/8/14 I watched David O'Connor's Upside Down: The Creation Records Story. A fascinating doc and required viewing for fans (of which I include myself) of Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, The House of Love, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. I had no idea Creation had been so influential or how it all started or ended.

6/18/16 I watched Monte Hellman's Road to Nowhere.  A Hellman love letter to movies that is interesting at times as it balances between fact and fiction.  It never quite moved me or fully connected though in spite of my affection for Hellman's filmmaking.  

9/18/16 I watched Hong Sang-soo's HaHaHa.  Hong's laconic approach to the medium continues to impress, particularly because it is also mixed with an incredibly consistent logic and rigor.  Not my favorite of his work but I find him probably the worthiest of all right now in keeping with the Rohmerian way of telling dialogue-driven stories loosely but to profound effect.  

10/8/16 I watched Hong Sang-soo's Oki's Movie.  Structurally it is one of the more complex films I  have seen from Hong.  In fact I am not entirely sure of its structure.  Triptych or something else.  It also was one of Hong's films that moved me the least as its structure made it difficult to fully invest in anyone or anything. 

10/8/16 I watched David Robert Mitchell's The Myth of the American Sleepover.  Impressive in its treatment of an ensemble.  But Mitchell's most effective stylistic strategy (cross-cutting) also becomes the film's greatest weakness as certain scenes refuse to go longer, deeper.  Strange to read that I had seen this before as I had little to no recollection.

10/17/16 I watched James L Brooks' How Do You Know.  Brooks successfully channels and is able to tap into the charm of the great American romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s.   Rudd is no Grant or Stewart but Witherspoon proves to have the strength and charm of some of the era's female heavyweights like Rosalind Russell and Katherine Hepburn.   

10/30/16 I watched Raul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon.  Ruiz's film is a display of filmmaking class with every shot meticulously framed and every movement of the camera elegant and graceful.  The prior film or two of Ruiz's that I had seen left me completely unprepared for the force and effect of this extraordinary achievement.  It might have been shot on digital but it leaves no doubt that a sort of classicism in filmmaking (beautiful acting, immaculate set design, repetitive, symphonic score) when done in the highest manner can reach the soul every bit (if not more) than any of the more contemporary techniques.  

1/8/18 I watched Gereon Wetzel's El Bulli: Cooking in Progress.  Adria's process is on clear display and is a true inspiration for anyone pursuing the artist life.  

10/22/18 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym.  Perhaps my favorite of all of the Wiseman films I have seen to date.  Wiseman is pure cinema, devoid of non-diegetic music and devoid of anything that feels put on, forced, unnatural or basking in cinematic artifice.  Aside from feeling so human and so real, what impressed me the most about this work were its rhythms.  You could close your eyes and be mesmerized for almost 120 minutes by the musical sounds of its voices, words and movements.

3/18/19 I watched Tamra Davis' Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child.  I am a big fan of Basquiat's work and it was interesting to get a little window into more of his life.  

4/20/20 I watched Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing.  My first experience with the acclaimed Polish director neither thrilled nor disappointed.  I was impressed by the locations, Skolimowski's willingness to take certain scenes to places of raw realism in spite of the discomfort it may cause and the echoes of different works that came to mind while watching (McCarthy's The Road, Rescue Dawn, Dead Man and Jeremiah Johnson).

6/20/21 I watched Mahamat Saleh Haroun's A Screaming Man.  An interesting character study from an unexpected place, Chad.  It gets at some powerful ideas and feelings around father and son but the filmmaking never seems to rise off the page.  

12/17/21 I watched Kent Jones and Martin Scorsese's A Letter to Elia.  Not as stylistically interesting as Scorsese's solo-directed docs and not as entertaining as Jones' film on Lewton.

2/12/24 I watched Thom Andersen's Get Out of the Car.  Andersen tells the history of a city, Los Angeles, through its billboards and commercial signs.  More than anything one admires how a city can lose a part of itself yet continue to forge ahead.  


  1. Interesting thoughts you give on Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff. I have not seen the film but have seen Old Joy and River of Grass. I feel the same way about her work, it feels like it is half finished, done with a lack of conviction. I like cinema that is minimal but her work is perhaps too minimal where it borders on irrelevant. She has interesting ideas that do not go anywhere. A shame

  2. It's true; I have liked the idea so far of Reichardt's cinema more than the actual experience. I would not go so far as to say, "She has interesting ideas that do not go anywhere." But I do feel like the films of her that I have seen lack some narrative shape or arc.

  3. River of Grass was quite good, it just ran out of steam for me in the last act. I like her doing a road movie where they do not really go anywhere.

    Old Joy was a major bore, despite Oldhams brilliant performance it was lacking in anything significant happening, maybe thats the point but I think there are better directors doing that style.

    I do like hearing your point of view when it comes to films, I am glad I discovered your blog

  4. Thanks so much, it's good to have your comments. River of Grass is actually one of hers I never saw.