Sunday, July 8, 2018

Summer (Kirill Serebrennikov)

7/4/18 I watched Peter Kunhardt's King in the Wilderness.  Kunhardt's style is nothing remarkable and the music can be overdone and cloying at times, but Kunhardt reveals sides of King's life that adds dimensions to my understanding of him.  Most remarkable to me was the idea of non-violence as the more radical response, as compared to retaliation, to hatred and racism.  According to King, "...if you're really going to be free, you have to overcome the love of wealth and the fear of death."

7/14/18 I watched Morgan Neville's Won't You Be My Neighbor?  Fred Rogers' life makes for a fascinating film and Neville gets into so much of what makes the story unique and provocative.  My only complaint is I wish there were more interviews from kids, like myself, who grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and the way they experienced the show as compared to Rogers' ultimate vision and philosophy behind it.   

7/27/18 I watched Serge Bozon's Mrs. Hyde.  It is a strange film and I am unsure all that Bozon is after but it features yet another tremendous performance from Huppert and visually it all feels incredibly clean and clear.  It is, I guess, a little in the line of The Nutty Professor, but it takes that format to address the deep racism issues facing France at the moment.

8/24/18 I watched Paul Schrader's First Reformed.  Schrader has always seemed like someone on the brink of imploding.  He doesn't come across as one of these guys that easily shares his feelings or is often at peace.  And his greatest characters all embody the same brooding nature that, unchecked, could become dangerous.  I haven't seen all of his work but I am a huge fan of American Gigolo and Affliction and this is perhaps my favorite of all of his films I have seen.  Hawke is perfect in the role and Schrader gives us moments that previously I would not have thought him capable of.  

8/25/18 I watched Lucrecia Martel's Zama.  To be honest, it was one of these films I felt like I missed, like I was just not smart enough to understand.  It reminded me of Herzog's Cobra Verde and while the filmmaking, the acting, the colors, the sound were all extraordinary, I just never found my emotional way in.   

8/30/18 I watched Tim Wardle's Three Identical Strangers.  A pretty fascinating tale.  Not always told in the most artistically impressive manner, perhaps, but compelling and certainly does not go where you might expect.

9/4/18  I watched Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman.  Spike is totally in his element and his passion and talent come through in ways that I haven't seen in his work in more than twenty years.  I found it messy, uneven and raw, as in akin to an early draft that still needed an editor's touch.  But I also thought it the closest American film I have seen in the 21st century to the spirit of the daring and uncomfortable batch of great indies that first burst on the scene in the early to mid eighties.    

9/10/18 I watched Andrew Bujalski's Support the Girls.  Bujalski's intellectual mainstream film is smart, impressive but not always fully compelling.  Bujalski makes the strongest cinematic metaphor yet for the Me Too movement and proves to me for the first time that he might actually be able to make something subversively great from within the Hollywood system.  

10/13/18 I watched Damien Chazelle's First Man.  I was a huge fan of Chazelle's last two features but this one left me quite cold and indifferent.  It seemed very uninspired and had very little to offer in terms of a new voice or feel to an old, stodgy Hollywood genre.  

11/2/18 I watched Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind.  Some incredible sequences, certainly, but the editing was frustrating and ultimately defeating for me.  As much as I love Welles, I could not rise to love this one.

11/3/18 I watched Kitao Sakurai's The Passage.  A delirious short film that ran short on interest for me way before it ended.

11/20/18 I watched Marielle Heller's Can You Ever Forgive Me?  McCarthy was quite good but the filmmaking just felt awkward at times and as though it needed either a little more formal or narrative inventiveness.

11/21/18 I watched Ethan and Joel Coen's The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.  Some of the filmmaking, as can be expected, is sublime and a few of the episodes rise to great heights.  But it all feels a little overlong and ultimately left me feeling unfulfilled.  

11/24/18 I watched Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You.  It's great to see a number of audacious films emerging directed by African-Americans.  Just in the last twelve months, just to name a few, we have had Get Out, BlacKkKlansman and now this fiery work.  It feels more strident than fully realized but it's admirable to see where it goes and how little inhibitions it has in going there.

12/2/18 I watched Julien Faraut's In the Realm of Perfection.  A film about my favorite sport and my second favorite player of all time is very French (read: minutely analytical).  It was interesting but not near as compelling as I had hoped.  

12/7/18 I watched Hong Sang-soo's Claire's Camera.  One of the few films by the great Korean director that really did not move me.  It felt like we were once again in his special world but without the deep poetry or relatable characters like there are in his best work.  

12/8/18 I watched Bing Liu's Minding the Gap.  Most impressive is the skateboarding footage and a few of the montages.  The subject matter is fairly worthy, the filmmaking a little less so.     

12/15/18 I watched Alice Rohrwacher's Happy as Lazzaro.  The first film I have seen from the young Italian filmmaker is impressive.  The best way I can describe it is a welcome concoction of Kiarostami's feel for the land, Lynch's ability for rupturing time and early Van Sant's poetic feel for the rough and marginal.  Based on this film, Rohrwacher is full of talent and tough to categorize.  I am very excited to see what she does next.                                                             

12/30/18 I watched Amy Scott's Hal.  Another documentary, like the recent one I saw on Arthur Russell, that makes you immediately want to dig further into the subject's body of work.  As a long time fan of Ashby, Shampoo for instance might be in all time top ten, I have always been curious to learn more about the filmmaker.  Having seen this doc, which I cannot recommend highly enough to any fan of Ashby, I now can't wait to go back and watch all seven of his films from the seventies.   

1/2/19 I watched Jean-Paul Civeyrac's A Paris Education.  It's unfortunate that it is shot on digital black-and-white because if it had the cinematography of Garrel's Regular Lovers it would find a place in my small pantheon of truly cherished works.  But even as is it's pretty special.  It captures some of the poetry of Paris and what the formative years feel like at the fac.  That is, time as your captive and endless amounts of it for sitting around among peers, taking walks and formulating dreams for undoing the previous generation's misguided efforts and hopes.  The end has a narrative device so brilliantly utilized by Demy in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Kazan in Splendor in the Grass, Rohmer in My Night at Maud's and to perhaps a slightly lesser degree Chazelle in La La Land.  And even though the device is familiar, Civeyrac uses it in a way that feels fresh and new.  By fast forwarding with Etienne, it is not a particular romance that he is forced to reckon with but an entire view of the world and of himself.     

1/6/19 I watched Jack Bryan's Active Measures.  The content is extraordinarily informative, even if the filmmaking is not always at the same level.

2/20/19 I watched Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters.  While most people were raving that this was Kore-eda's best (and I am a fan!), I found it all a little messy, forced and rarely as strong as some of my favorite work by him like Still Walking.

3/9/19 I watched Lee Chang-dong's Burning.  It has some great restraint and maintains a consistent mood throughout but there is something in his cinema that leaves me a little cold.  I loved Poetry but related deeply with the main character.  This time that was not the case.

3/9/19 I watched George Tillman Jr.'s The Hate U Give.  It has some real power but also could have greatly benefited from greater shape and restraint.  The lead performance by Amandla Stenberg is extremely impressive.

5/28/19 I watched Christophe Honore’s Sorry Angel.  I am not sure of the exact explanation but in the last ten years an overwhelming majority of the top-shelf French films have focused on homosexual characters.  Making that statement I am referring to films that include Saint Laurent, Blue Is The Warmest Color, Stranger by the Lake, BPM (Beats per Minute) and now Honore’s latest.  Perhaps there is more tolerance now among the producers or distributors.  Perhaps this is an area where courage, talent and vision still feel fresh and powerful.  Hard to say what accounts for this recent tendency but regardless Honore impresses immensely with his intimacy and fearlessness.  The performances are full of life and the filmmaking natural yet stylish.  It is a grand work.

9/4/19 I watched Kirill Serebrennikov's Summer.  A film that could have just as easily been called Les Inrockuptibles is full of the musical obsessions and spirit at the core of the French magazine.  No surprise therefore that it ended up at the very top of the magazine's 2018 year-end list of best films of the year.  Its rigorous, bold filmmaking is impressive, as is the heart it creates around its three main leads.  The substitution of unrequited, restrained love for 80s Soviet politics is also impressively smart.  I question the choice of using the three animated moments of fantasy - "Psycho Killer", "The Passenger" and "Perfect Day" - as they undermined the effectiveness of the rest of the film for me.  But otherwise it was a surprisingly powerful effort from a filmmaker I look forward to continuing to watch.

11/16/19 I watched Hu Bo's An Elephant Sitting Still.   As much as I push for formal rigor and as much as I seek it out in the work that I support, is it possible for a film to be rigorous to a fault?  I believe so.  I think there is a line that can be crossed where a film (or anything for that matter) becomes so strict in its style that it becomes claustrophobic and nearly lifeless.  I applaud the elegant movements of the camera, the wonderful faces and hairstyles, the way Bo keeps some of the most disturbing moments off-screen (e.g. the death of the dog), and the way he suggests that out of focus might be a style the cinema has not explored nearly enough.  But in the end the nearly total gray palette numbed me and I finished the experience with admiration but with little engagement emotionally.

11/30/19 I watched 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 Warmest 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.

12/17/19 I watched Bruno Dumont's Coincoin and the Extra-Humans.  I was a big fan of Dumont's first part of the Coincoin series, Li'l Quinquin.  There is also much to admire here, although it never seemed as satisfying as his earlier entry.  Perhaps Dumont would have benefited from a couple of more hours to go further and deeper.  

1/12/20 I watched Christopher Makoto Yogi's August At Akiko's.  The acting is wonderful and I commend the filmmaker for sustaining an unusual, consistent mood throughout.  But I didn't really feel like it ultimately paid off or amounted to anything.  

1/14/20 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Monrovia, Indiana.  Not my favorite of Wiseman's films but it is very true to his career-long interests and is another successful kaleidoscopic look at what our communities look, feel and sound like in today's world.

2/29/20 I watched Hong Sang-soo's Hotel by the River.  One of Hong's darker films both visually (black and white) and thematically.  Not top shelf Hong, as the lightness of his work is one its strengths but still worth a viewing for any fans of Hong's work.

5/29/20 I watched Francesco Zippel's Friedkin Uncut.  Interesting look at the director for anyone, like me, that is a big fan of his work.  

7/6/20 I watched 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.  

9/24/20 I watched Rob Garver's What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael.  It's a pretty uninspiring doc on one of the most inspiring film critics in the history of cinema.

3/14/21 I watched Marina Zenovich's Robin Willliams: Come Inside My Mind.  I enjoyed it mostly for all of the footage I had never before seen.  It is entertaining but not as deep as I would have liked to go.

5/31/21 I watched Jonathan Sutak's Dons of Disco.  An interesting perspective on pop stardom even if none of it fully engaged me.  

6/3/22 I watched Betsy West and Julie Cohen's RBG.  Gives you a decent look at the person RBG was.  Worth a watch if you know little like I did and have interest.  

2/20/23 I watched Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Asako I & II.  The third film I have seen by the great, young Japanese filmmaker and by a mile my least favorite.  It feels air tight where the beauty of his other two films is how much life has seeped into them.

4/20/24 I watched Joseph Dorman and Toby Perl Freilich's Moynihan.  Incredibly educational doc about a guy I wish I had known more about when I worked alongside him in 1991.

5/6/24 I watched Sophie Huber's Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes.  A wonderful look at the iconic jazz label.  

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