Saturday, December 29, 2012

spinning, currently

been catching up on a bunch of older music of late.  here's a snapshot of my last few hauls:

the b-52s - s/t
the blue nile - hats
the slits - cut
patti smith - horses
public image ltd. - public image
the jam - all mod cons
david bowie - low
iggy pop - the idiot
roxy music - s/t
the pretenders - s/t
mark hollis - s/t
the kinks - face to face
suicide - s/t
the who - sell out
the jam - sound affects
john lennon/plastic ono band
lou reed - transformer
richard hell and the voidoids - blank generation
mc5 - kick out the jams
velvet underground & nico
talking heads - fear of music
the go-betweens - 16 lovers lane
t. rex - electric warrior

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Favorite (four), part eighteen

Just like my other seventeen posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most I have been glad to finally see, but only very few have stayed with me. This series is my filter for those (and hopefully one or two will be good to someone else, too).

Michael Curtiz's The Breaking Point
So many things at once - a family melodrama, an action-adventure flick, a noir of reckless abandon, and a great film.  Curtiz shoots it with such a wonderful sense of invention, every shot, a little off and angular, immediately creating an atmosphere of complete unpredictability.  A third act that can be felt strongly in Taxi Driver and just a complete mystery to me as to why this film doesn't come up more during discussions of the great noirs.

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 storyteller that knows how to trim the fat. By the end, there are moments I wish the filmmakers had chosen not to telegraph, but all in all, a very enjoyable doc about a subject matter of which I knew little to nothing.  

Michael Powell's The Edge of the World
Perhaps the greatest of all films are those haunted by either life or death.  In this case, there's a cloud hovering over every moment that suggests the latter but a vitality in every frame that leans more towards the former.  Either way, this earthy, hefty work is among Powell's very best.

Tim Irwin's We Jam Econo - The Story of the Minutemen
Great doc in just how intimate and up close it puts you with the band. About as satisfying a portrait of a group as any I have ever seen on film - between the long, un-cut performance footage to the informal dialogue with the band.

Tabu (Miguel Gomes)

10/19/12 I watched Ice-T's Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.  There are some good interviews in there - Q-Tip, Chuck D, Eminem, Doug E Fresh, Dr. Dre, among others.  But a bit repetitive and far less than what it could be on this tremendous subject.  

12/1/12 I watched Leos Carax's Holy Motors.  As it began, I thought, "Wow Carax has just made the next Mulholland Dr, combining his unique sensibility into something that throws down the gauntlet for all auteurs moving forward."  As it wore on though I began feeling yet again that Carax was letting his desire to provoke outweigh his rare and gargantuan talents for unlocking cinema's capabilities for beatuy and lyricism.  Provided a good amount to think about but very few, if any answers.  And left me thinking, rather than moved, which in Carax's case, just leaves me feeling sad more than anything. 

1/13/13 I watched Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty.  I was quite impressed by the filmmaking which I found incredibly complex yet elegant and modern while maintaining a noticeable respect for framing, film as negative, and camera movement more as dance than prizefight.  I feel it only falters from greatness in its final act, becoming questionably plausible on certain major plot points and cheap with certain emotional ambitions.  I like Chastain's look but continue to doubt the depth of her abilities. 

2/2/13 I watched David O Russell's Silver Linings Playbook.  I am in the minority clearly on this one, but I felt more bullied and forced into feeling than anything.  I didn't care for its look, I really had issue with its editing, I liked Cooper more than I expected and Lawrence less.  A style that felt heavy, not fresh, and overall quite underwhelming for me.  
3/1/13 I watched Ben Affleck's Argo.  An amazing story is at the source of Affleck's third feature.  It is lazy and cheap at times, some of the final pat moments.  But Affleck's ability to keep the procedural wound tight and the clock ticking earn points in my book.  Desplat's score is of little interest and Prieto's camerawork services but certainly does not emote with any noteworthy impressiveness.  A film that is entertaining, even visceral at times, but lacking of much artistry and depth. 

5/20/13 I watched Malik Bendjelloul's Searching for Sugar Man.  An incredible story is at the heart of the doc, and at times, it almost seems so incredulous I was waiting for the movie's great rabbit to come out.  Rodriguez's outlook on his life is probably the most affecting ingredient of all.  I just wish the filmmakers spent more time talking to other American musicians and delving into the mystery of how someone this talented got completely lost and buried in the shuffle.  
5/23/13 I watched Jeff Nichols' Mud.  I have seen all three of Nichols' features to date and would have to qualify Mud as the most ambitious yet the least accomplished.  Great directing is like great cooking.  You choose an unusual suite of ingredients and combine them in an original, harmonious way.  With Mud, Nichols unleashes the cupboard, arriving at something slightly more commercial (it seems more Hollywood complex) but sacrificing the overall effect of some of the sub-threads and, more important, the lasting power of the main story, Ellis' coming of age.  The brothers who come to kill Mud lack any interest or dimension, and I have to wonder if there was someone better, someone with more depth and more warmth, to take on McConaughey's role (maybe Eric Bana).  I will be interested to continue following Nichols' path although I worry he will get gobbled up like his buddy Gordon Green and become just another pretty generic arm of the system. 

5/26/13 I watched Terrence Malick's To the Wonder.  I went as a huge fan of Malick's previous outing The Tree of Life only to find this one disappointing.  Relying on many of the same elements - classical music, suburban setting, impressionistic editing, and roving camerawork - Malick falters here with the lack of any kind of emotional center.  Casting Affleck, one of the least expressive actors when he is allowed to be - I felt like a hamster going around and around on a wheel.  Malick offers nothing transcendent that I could locate and emotional inertia that ends up as more frustration than enlightenment. 

1/3/14 I watched Brian De Palma's Passion.  It is a continuation of the director's pet themes of doppelgangers, betrayals, and a vision of the American dream doomed for failure.  I questioned De Palma's lead casting but everything else is premium De Palma.  His cinema continues down its very singular path, and his formal approach remains as identifiable as any filmmaker ever to take on the medium. 

6/25/15 I watched Ice-T and Andy Baybutt's Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.  I saw it three years ago but did not even really remember.  A few shining moments but otherwise a little underwhelming. 

7/22/15 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love.  What Kiarostami is hoping to convey I cannot say for sure.  But as a long time fan of his work I took it in as a very personal statement. Here Kiarostami, one of the cinema's warmest practitioners, the lovely wise soul of Iranian cinema is working in the middle of the Japanese metropolis.  Far removed are we (and he) from the wide open expanses of his classic earlier work and we can only guess how fearful he is of our world and what it seems to be quickly becoming.  Through the Olive Trees this is not.  Kiarostami has entered a far darker phase and in the process might be one of the few still holding up a mirror and trying to find a way to be hopeful.       

7/29/15 I watched Hong Sang-soo's In Another Country.  I used to think of Hong as a Korean Rohmer and there are strong similarities - a penchant for naturalism, conversation as the main action and activity, and a recurring interest in the potential disruption of relationships due to the arrival of a third person.  But Hong also goes for real whimsy and seems lighter than Rohmer.  In fact the more I think about it he seems like this odd blend of Rohmer and Rivette, structurally adventourous but grounded primarily in reality.  And I have long had a thing for Huppert.  Hong uses her well, brings out her appeal, and ends up delivering one of his smoothest, most likable films yet.   

9/26/15 I watched Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha.  It's pretty gratingly quirky.  Though Baumbach might want to make a modern day Nouvelle Vague entry, his cinema lacks the formal inventiveness of the Cahiers crew and some of the key tenets of their work, a respect for beauty above all.  

11/28/15 I watched Sam Mendes' Skyfall.  It is interesting to see a Bond film get the Mendes/Deakins treatment.  It looks great as one would expect from the great cinematographer and it is all smartly packaged in typical Mendes fashion.  Although a bit too derivative of Hopkins and his turn as Lector, Mendes delivers nice, nostalgic touches such as the unveiling of the Aston-Martin and the Skyfall mansion for the 50th anniversary of Bond.

5/7/16 I watched Jay Bulger's Beware of Mr. Baker.  Baker was an interesting figure and Bulger's doc gives his story stylish flair but I was never terribly involved or affected.  Baker just seemed like another very talented artist that was negligent of himself and of his life.  

10/22/16 I watched Francis Ford Coppola's Twixt.  Coppola's visual abilities impress and he is certainly unafraid to do something personal at risk of losing the audience.  I found it a bit too obtuse but was glad to see the great director continuing to push himself within the medium.

11/20/16 I watched Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers.  As a critique of middle class young America, I guess this can be viewed as important, powerful stuff - the contradiction between what we think our youth is doing versus what might actually be happening.  But Korine is such a provocateur that after a while seems his methods undermine some or most of his desired effect.  You can only eat so much cayenne before the tongue gets numb.  

11/26/16 I watched Miguel Gomes' Tabu.  Clearly I am late to the party but there seems to be something special right now happening in Portuguese cinema.  I already recently got on the bandwagon for Manoel de Oliveira and now I am starting to see what this Gomes guy is all about.  If Tabu is any indication, he might be one of the most gifted and bold filmmakers at work right now in the world.  Visually it is absolutely rapturous cinema, using modern black-and-white like the killer poetic weapon it can be when in the right hands (think Wenders' work with Muller or Dead Man, again Muller).  And Gomes' style, in addition to his visual approach, is as free-wheeling and exciting as Godard can be in his most effective moments.  Gomes jumps all around chronologically, mixes silent cinema with voiceover and uses music and nature as well as the great Swiss one.  I can't wait to see more of Gomes' work.  He's exactly the type of filmmaker, in its current isolationist cinema culture, Americans are losing out on by not having more readily available.   

5/22/17 I watched Judd Apatow's This Is 40.  There are a couple of funny scenes but overall suffers from a bit of stylistic laziness and an overabundance of yuppiness.  

9/3/18 I watched Manfred Kirchheimer's Tall: The American Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan.  An interesting, although a bit pedantic, doc on the history of the skyscraper.  

9/8/19 I watched Amy Seimetz's Sun Don't Shine.  For the most part I am a fan of critic Richard Brody's taste and try to seek out when possible the work that he champions.  I was not with him on this one though.  It made me feel yet again that if the Nouvelle Vague is the cinema of remembrance, most mumblecore films are a cinema of forgetting.  

5/5/22 I watched Jacob Rosenberg's Waiting for Lightning.  Decently interesting doc about skateboarder Danny Way who I previously knew nothing about.

6/7/22 I watched Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell.  In the way she straddles the line between fact and fiction, Polley's "documentary" reminds me of Scosese's Rolling Thunder Revue.  Polley should be commended for the film's originality, its bold approach to piecing together the past and the sheer result of the recreated footage her team put together.  It should serve as a lesson to all documentaries and the abundance of tawdry recreated footage used to fill in their story gaps.  

10/25/22 I watched Dan Sallitt's The Unspeakable Act.  I have been following Sallitt's blog for probably more than ten years now and have long been a fan of his taste and the extent of the movies he's seen.  But this is the first time I have actually watched something he made.  The movie at the end is dedicated to Rohmer.  I was impressed that Sallitt was willing, like the French filmmaker, to shy away from a film score and stick with ambient only sound.  It is a strong choice and one that immediately limits a film with the type of audience it will be able to find.  It is the right choice here and Sallitt deserves to be acknowledged for his audacity with regards to this.  He is also quite brave in his choice of subject matter and simply the way he chooses to shoot certain scenes.  Most notable to me is the long take of Jackie losing her virginity.  I know that Sallitt has great reverence for Rohmer and even Pialat but ultimately I found that his film did not rise to a transcendent place at the end like the former or have the emotional weight of the latter.        

2/13/23 I watched Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori's Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.  A film for anyone like me with a cursory knowledge of Big Star and the cult that has grown around the 70s Memphis band.  The interviews shine light on the short, influential career of the band and moments like Stipe singing Kangaroo make you want to immediately go out and listen to all their work.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Favorite (four), part seventeen

Just like my other sixteen posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most I have been glad to finally see, but only very few have stayed with me. This series is my filter for those (and hopefully one or two will be good to someone else, too).

Martin Scorsese's My Voyage to Italy
An incredibly thorough look at Neorealism and the Italian cinema that has so profoundly influenced Scorsese.  Special focus goes to Rossellini, but De Sica, Visconti, Fellini, and Antonioni also receive insightful commentary.  A great introduction to anyone just beginning to look into this, one of cinema's greatest moments.

Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love
An extremely interesting noir, with a backbone that's as dark as can be, yet devoid of any on-screen shootings, murders, or highly realized violence.  The mood is foggy, and Walsh's great tool here is restraint. You feel the atmosphere building and at any moment ready to fall apart. People are trapped, the outlook somber, and the effect all the more effective as no real catharsis is ever offered.

Samuel Fuller's Park Row
A wound up, wonderful example of the physical cinema we've come to associate with Fuller.  It's clear this is a personal project for Sam as he uses his camera like a weapon thrusting it through spaces and spewing bile on all who stand in his way.  One of the truly great Fuller films.  

Tony Silver's Style Wars
If you grew up with hip-hop like I did, this is one of the great documents of the era.  I first stumbled upon it while reading an interview with Michael Rapaport around the release of his Tribe Called Quest doc.  It's a remarkably intimate look at the scene that would, just a year later, receive narrative treatment in the form of Beat Street and Breakin'. Special mention to the lost gem unspooling over the end credits, Rammellzee and K-Rob's Beat Bop.