Monday, September 21, 2020

Love Affair(s) (Emmanuel Mouret)

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.

12/6/20 I watched Matias Gueilburt's Guillervo Vilas: Settling the Score.  The doc itself feels a bit unfocused and unclear in its aim.  But the footage of Vilas on court is a revelation.  He was an absolutely beautiful tennis player.  

12/6/20 I watched David Fincher's Mank.  Oldman as usual is wonderful.  But I don't know if it is the bland cinematography or due to something else, but the obsessive passion we tend to expect from a Fincher film seems to be missing.  The whole thing just felt kinda flat to me.  

12/25/20 I watched Kirsten Johnson's Dick Johnson Is Dead.  It is incredibly moving at times.  And I was impressed by its ability to get at feelings or situations (a daughter taking care of her increasingly dependent father) that feel somewhat new for cinema to tackle yet so true to life.  Far less convinced was I that it struck a successful balance.  The stretches of levity did relieve the heaviness but they also rarely had any effect on me and ultimately undercut the film's impact and power.

1/2/21 I watched Eugene Ashe's Sylvie's Love.  Much to recommend here in what felt like an updating of Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  The two main actors, the clothes and the colors all have a power.  But at times I could not help but feel that I was watching more of a greatest hits album, a work that had taken a fine mesh strainer to several classic works (Splendor in the Grass, Demy's film, Romeo and Juliet) and discarded some of the less unsavory elements that gave the work its body and substance.

1/7/21 I watched Gavin O'Connor's The Way Back.  Feels like a less than version than Hoosiers until it takes some fairly interesting turns in the last thirty or so minutes.  

1/9/21 I watched Emmanuel Mouret's Love Affair(s).  Mouret proves himself very adept at tackling the romantic comedy genre while finding ways to make it feel updated and modern.  His most interesting contributions to the genre come by way of his parallel narrators and the way he continually subverts our expectations all the way until the final seconds.  While I wish his use of music a bit more restrained, this is a strong new entry for French cinema, in the footsteps of Desplechin and Assaysas and akin to Civeyrac. 

1/13/21 I watched Francois Ozon's Summer of 85.  I have a bit of an inconsistent relationship with Ozon.  I was a huge fan of his early film Under the Sand but then I have only seen one other film of his in the last twenty years.  His latest has much to recommend.  Both the casting and acting are first rate, and Ozon's effort to take us back to the beach in the mid eighties is mostly immersive.  There are a few times where his approach felt mannered or distant or artificial to the point of breaking down but all in all I was impressed by his latest work.  

3/1/21 I watched Steve McQueen's Lovers Rock.  I just could not find a character I cared enough about to get involved emotionally.  Sure the music is fantastic and some of McQueen's stylistic choices interesting and unique (like the low angle placement of the camera following the couple as they bike).

5/1/21 I watched Chaitanya Tamhane's The Disciple.  While the style of the film is cohesive and fairly rigorous, it is not the aspect of the film that gets to you.  What gets to you is the subject matter.  I can't recall a film that spends as much time or goes as far into the question of what it looks and feels like to be an artist in today's world - an artist that reveres the past and the loneliness of refusing to adapt or change with the times.  It is a tormented film that feels truthful in so many ways.  

5/16/21 I watched Chloe Zhao's Nomadland.  While the fact that a film like Nomadland could win Best Picture at the Oscars is a cause to celebrate, Zhao's follow up to The Rider is not without some major shortcomings.  Let's start first with its wonderful strengths.  Most likely because she was born outside of the US, Zhao's films offer a mirror to an American life rarely seen on screen.  The places where she chooses to film, the people she chooses to focus on and the stories she tells are exciting simply for how fresh they all seem.  She is like this combination of Kelly Reichardt and some of the international directors who have come to put an eye on us.  I'm thinking of Wenders' Paris, Texas and Don't Come Knocking, Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, Demy's Model Shop or even Kitano's Brother.  We look so different filtered through the eyes of these "outsiders".  Another great strength of Zhao is her work with the actors.  Zhao's camera seems so patient and gentle, resulting in the sharing of people with us on screen that feel so multi-dimensional, so deeply human.  

What does not work so well primarily are two elements.  The ending because of the slow, restrained naturalism of Zhao's approach needed a touch of the transcendental.  It needed a lift, a rise in cadence, something to make the lo-fi approach of the previous two hours worth the ride.  The other element that did not fully achieve its desired effect were a few of the music-driven montages.  While Zhao seems interested in delivering some of the poetry and lyrical moments that Malick for instance is able to create, her camera and choice of music let her down.  The scenes did not have the force necessary to move us in the way Zhao might have hoped or intended.   

8/29/21 I watched Sebastien Lifshitz's Adolescentes.  The idea is a strong one, cover the period of two girls' lives from 13-18 years old, and Lifshitz's unadorned, honest approach is to be commended.  But when compared to Pialat or Kechiche, his writing comes off as not tough enough and his style so invisible it fails to give the film any weight or impact.  

11/2/21 I watched Zeina Durra's Luxor.  None of it really worked for me.  The acting, the characters, the direction all fell flat for me.  

12/19/21 I watched Janicza Bravo's Zola.  A film full of style but that just seemed interested in impressing or shocking me.  It wasn't successful doing either.  

1/6/22 I watched Gregory Kershaw and Michael Dweck's The Truffle Hunters.  There is some information in it that was new to me but the film is far too thin and unstructured.  

2/4/22 I watched Hong Sang-soo's The Woman Who Ran.  I will admit the presence of  Kim Min-hee immediately elevates a Hong film experience for me and she is the center of this 2020 work.  Hong has a particularly clear vision here - tell the story of Min-hee's character by filming her in long discussions with three different people from her life.  As an observer to these three (four if you count the ex-boyfriend) interactions, the viewer slowly comes to know her.  It is Hong doing what he does best, using simple means to get at complex characters and emotions.

2/9/22 I watched Josh Swade's Ricky Powell: The Individualist.  Highly recommended for fans like me of the Beastie Boys.  Chances are, again like me, that you know less than 10% of the massive contribution Powell made to the early hip hop era and to the Beasties from their early career all the way until the completion of Ill Communication.   

6/10/22 I watched Frederick Wiseman's City Hall.  In his most recent outing, Wiseman focuses on Boston and Mayor Marty Walsh who seems determined to make his city better for all the people.  It is a fascinating look at the countless sides of city government.  Wiseman uses Walsh and the work his team is doing to suggest that our country would be far better off if the US government looked to Boston as a model to work towards.  

2/14/23 I watched Dawn Porter's John Lewis: Good Trouble.  A wonderful introduction to the life and work of Lewis who for the last 60 years was one of the most important figures in civil rights.  It gave me the best sense yet of the risks taken by those who were on the front lines of sit-ins and marches in the sixties.