Monday, May 22, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-two

Just like in my other forty-one 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.

David Lynch's Twin Peaks Season 3, Episode 1
David Lynch is one of my favorite filmmakers still at work.  And though I would not call myself die hard about Twin Peaks, I am a fan of both the first two seasons and the film.  So when Season 3 started, more than 25 years later, I had high hopes for it.  For it and Lynch who had also been away from screens for more than a decade, since Inland Empire.  When Episode 1 began last night, at first I thought "it looks strange".  First, it was the images, most likely video rather than the film of the first two seasons.  Then, it was the actors from the first two seasons, all weathered by time (25 years!) looking like the way Hollywood ages actors in a biopic or an epic but psychologically to an even different effect because this is actually how all of the actors look now.  I have no idea how this trip will end but when the two hour premiere ended last night, I felt once again Lynch's special talent and that he had succeeded in tackling the nearly impossible.  He had revisited a much beloved property 25 years later and gotten back inside its rhythm.  In a way, I feel like I am about to re-experience the way El Dorado and Rio Lobo played off of Rio Bravo, but this time Lynch-style.  

Eric Rohmer's The Marquise of O
The first period piece I have seen from Rohmer and it is a stunner.  What impresses most is the way that Rohmer uses his incredible talent for distillation to tell a story of transcendence and humanism in the unexpected backdrop of the late 1700s.  Rohmer proves that he learned much from Rossellini and the effects he is able to achieve do not feel terribly far removed from Rossellini's great La prise de pouvoir de Louis XIV.

Robert Culp's Hickey & Boggs
It feels like a more sensitive Walter Hill film with pretty good Hill-esque set pieces and that buddy thing that Hill really excelled at.  Cosby certainly proves he could have been a strong dramatic movie actor if he continued on that path and Culp makes some very interesting choices that add a moral and emotional weight to what could have been shallow genre fare.

Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I
It is a cult film that has buzzed around me for years but for some reason I am just now seeing it.  It features deep, committed performances and an explosive feel and timing for language.  Robinson may not have a highly identifiable style but this film feels like it must have been a key film for the musical New Wave practitioners and for Boyle's zeitgeist catching Trainspotting a decade later.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What a program

I saw a lot of this but how did I not see it all?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-one

Just like in my other forty 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.

Josef von Sternberg's Anatahan
It has only been 20+ years since I first heard of the film and have been wanting to see it ever since.  It belongs in that special category of master director's final films and it has that same odd tone of finality of Dreyer's Gertrud and perhaps even Bresson's L'argent.  It is a mood film dripping with atmosphere and style and succeeds in throwing the viewer into its exotic land and bringing the strangeness terrifically alive. Sternberg excelled at this type of cinema that also includes Macao and Morocco.  

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.  

Nicholas Ray's Wind Across the Everglades
Ray made numerous films that were haunted with very dark characters spiraling deep, and almost uncontrollably, into their own obsessions and struggles.  His visual sense of abstraction was among the greatest the medium has ever seen and his diseased tone potentially more unique and consistent than that of any auteur.  I have now seen early Christopher Plummer twice (here and in The Silent Partner).  His ability to tap the hysteria within his own compulsion is a perfect match for the sensibility of Ray and his talent simply remarkable.  It is a shame more people do not discuss this work as it is the rawest, most uncompromising Ray film I have seen to date.    

Warren Beatty's Reds
I was deeply impressed by Beatty's ability to handle a story of this size with such directorial grace and skill.  I found his performance to be as good or close to as good as his typical level but it was Keaton's acting that really got me.  I have never found her as affecting and as deep as she is here.  I could do without the Greek chorus device as I found it took me out of the story more than further embedding me.  But the rest of the style is quite beautiful from Storaro's cinematography to Sondheim's music.