Friday, July 16, 2021

2021

 7/15/21 I watched Dileesh Pothan's Joji.  I am not expert enough on Macbeth to understand how clever the film is an adaptation.  As a pure viewing experience, I found the music overdone and the style all a bit of a mess.  

8/21/21 I watched Raoul Peck's Exterminate All the Brutes.  Peck's perspective and research make a story that needs to be told.  I just grew weary of the way Peck chose to tell it.  

10/22/21 I watched Todd Haynes' The Velvet Underground.  Interesting if you are like me and know very little about the history of the band.  Not as interesting from an aesthetic standpoint as I would have hoped from one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers.  

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Favorite (four), seventy-three

Just like in my other seventy-two 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 a 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.

Vincente Minnelli's Home from the Hill
A film that really would not even be on my radar if it weren't for Richard Brody and his Twitter feed that I follow. Aside from Some Came Running, I have been lukewarm about every other Minnelli film I have ever seen (probably ten or so others). And I can completely see why this one might miss for many, from the heavy presence of its score to George Hamilton's acting to the Sirk-like histrionics. If you can see past those elements, it makes a strong case for Minnelli's greatness. Look at the grace at which the camera moves around the scenes, Minnelli's careful, emotive framing and the space and time he allows himself (150+ minutes) to explore the characters, the story, the setting.

Agnes Varda's The Gleaners and I
Only the fourth Varda film I have ever seen.  What impresses most is Varda's lightness of touch, her openness to life and the experiences she finds along the way.  Her films have some of the analytical weight of the great Nouvelle Vague works but she also infuses them with as much of the characteristic New Wave playfulness as any of her peers.  Along with Demy, Varda stikes me as perhaps the most humanist of all of the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers.

Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro
From an esthetic point of view, I wouldn't call this either the most rigorous or exciting documentary work. But Baldwin is an exceptionally interesting figure that I am just starting to discover.  For fans of his writing or just of Baldwin himself, a highly recommended watch.

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. 



Monday, February 8, 2021

Favorite (four), seventy-two

Just like in my other seventy-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 a 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.

Ernst Lubitsch's Angel
Lubitsch's sophisticated touch is on full display in almost every second of the final thirty minutes.  It is a sophistication that is sexy, leaving the viewer on edge unsure how the characters will work out the knots that their lives have become.  Although it is the only time Lubitsch worked with Dietrich, he taps into her elusiveness, her allure, her power.  And I can't recall Herbert Marshall ever being in fuller command of the screen.  

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 come by way of his parallel narrators and the way he continually subverts our expectations.  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 Assayas, and alongside Civeyrac. 

Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell
If there was nothing else but the acting - the lead performance and the performances by Rockwell, Wilde and Bates - I would encourage people to run down Eastwood's latest work.  The acting is strong.  And for the umpteenth time, Eastwood once again delivers a compelling story in a style that remains supportive, straightforward, barely visible.  

John Dahl's Rounders
Every now and then I will see a reconsider film, a movie that forces me to rethink how I feel about an actor, a director or several of its cast or crew.  Although adhering closely to the path set out by The Hustler and countless other films about redemption, and certainly not seeking to be high art, Rounders made me for the first time rate Dahl and Norton, both of whom I have always felt lukewarm about.  It has to be the greatest film yet about poker.  


Friday, January 1, 2021

My Top Films Seen in 2020

Here are the films, new and old, that I saw and most admired in 2020.

Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein
Only the second or third film I have seen from Losey but what a film it is.  Delon's performance ranks with his very best and Losey sustains interest and an uncomfortable mood and atmosphere throughout every single shot.  The camera is elegant, as are the locations, the set design and the wardrobe and Losey ends up making a film about the Resistance that might be every bit as powerful as Meville's Army of Shadows.
Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno
If I were still making films, Kechiche would be one of the filmmakers I would study the closest.  His films feel as pure and perhaps more modern than anyone else's.  It is clear he is a cinephile and it feels as though he is taking art cinema to its most exciting and logical next phase.  What does that mean?  Kechiche's cinema is as much documentary as it is fiction.  Like the New Wave, he is embracing lighter technology to get inside his characters, get inside his scenes more to ward off elements that can quickly make the medium of cinema feel artificial.  But all the while, he is bringing in aspects of narrative cinema that make it arguably more palatable and more entertaining than cinema verite.  Kechiche has a painter's eye and dresses his realistic or naturalistic settings with strong locations, set design, emotive ambient sound and interesting-looking people acting in very believable ways.
Kelly Reichardt's First Cow
I was nervous to see it.  I was a huge fan of Reichardt's previous film, Certain Women, but I had not cared for any of her other work.  Her latest however does not disappoint.  It finds Reichardt back in the western genre and it is haunted in the best of ways by undercurrents of McCabe & Mrs. Miller as well as a number of films I would characterize more as noir (Mikey and Nicky and Mean Streets) or gangster (Bonnie and Clyde).  Reichardt has found a rich story and slowly lets it unfold in her very rigorous, restrained style.  To me she has become one of our great filmmakers.  She has a understanding of where cinema has been and updates it with a very modern and humanistic approach.
Stanley Kwan's Actress
It is a film I have been wanting to see for more than twenty years.  Usually with that type of expectation comes disappointment.  But not this time.  Aside from being absolutely gorgeous - in its cinematography, set design and wardrobe - it is utterly unique as a biopic.  By consistently merging interviews with people that knew Ruan, and actual footage of her, with fictional shots and scenes, Kwan is able to create a character we know in deeper and different ways than cinema generally allows.  A film that is a key precursor to In the Mood for Love and one that warmly invites us to dig deeper into China's cinema past.
Chloe Zhao's The Rider
I was completely surprised by this one, particularly impressed by its sensitivity, confidence in silence, and the acting by its main character.  Zhao finds a way to inject newness into the western genre, showing us towns, lives and feelings we have never quite experienced in the western tradition and structure.
Fritz Lang's The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb
I have long wanted to track down these two films that were made right at the end of Lang's career.  I knew they had a large reputation among some people I admire and were a little different than anything else he had done.  They actually share a lot in common with some of his pre-American work such as Spies or The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.  But what is new is the Indian setting and Lang's attitude and perspective.  As to be expected, Lang shoots precisely and constructs a number of excellent set pieces throughout the two films.  And the film's influence can be felt in films as different as Pierrot Le Fou (Godard's shot directly looking at the hot sun) or all throughout the Indiana Jones trilogy.
Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky
May only made four features and I had seen the other three before seeing this for the first time.  In seeing her other work, it was already very clear that May was unusually good with actors and had this very unique, punchy editing style.  Nothing else May has done creates the sense of dread so palpable here or has this level of realism.  It would easily make my list of key American New Wave films.  It is unrelenting, powerful and a bit different than anything else I have ever seen.
Olivier Assayas' Cold Water
It's hard to place the film stylistically within the history of French cinema.  To come closest, I would say in its thematic interests and mood it reminded me of Pialat.  In its style, I can't think of anyone up to that point in French cinema who used long takes and the handheld camera as much as Assayas does (now of course there are Kechiche and Bonello to name but a couple).  I found both the style and the downbeat tone a bit overly heavy.  But there are a number of things on the other hand that are excellent - Assayas' sense of place, use of music, Ledoyen's beauty, and the film's final three to five minutes.
Yasujiro Ozu's Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family
I would call this the first Ozu sound masterpiece, and arguably his greatest film up to this point in his career. 

Emotionally and thematically, it is deeply complex and satisfying as it takes on the larger family structure that would become one of his favorite themes to explore.  The speech toward the end by Shojiro ranks as one of the most powerful and moving scenes in Ozu's work. 

From a formal standpoint, the poetry and lyricism of Ozu are fully beginning to flourish.  The film is full of his trademark ellipses to show the passage of time and the number of shots of people-less frames are prevalent throughout.  I could be wrong but I credit the latter as coming from the influence of Lang's M

The other formal aspect that jumped out at me was Ozu's periodic use of non-diegetic music.  It is the first time I can remember him punctuating certain moments with non-diegetic classical music.  And the way that he uses it feels very similar to the way that Bresson would later treat music in films such as Pickpocket.
Eric Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois
Stylistically the film is an oddity in Rohmer's body of work.  An artifical period piece with a Greek chorus does not readily recall any of his other films.  But when considered as a morality tale with an ambition toward the transcendence of a Bresson or Ozu work, it becomes clear it is an Eric Rohmer film.  The final five minutes rank with the most raw and disturbing of anything he has ever made.  The desired effect of transcendence, of producing a final feeling or shot that rises above all that has come before, is masterfully achieved.
Allan Dwan's Driftwood
What a great surprise this was.  From seeing Natalie Wood as a child actor to the overall feeling Dwan gives the whole film.  Reminds me of Walsh's Strawberry Blonde in its depiction of the wonderful community aspect that can come out in small towns.  I know Dwan has a big reputation.  If this any indication, I certainly need to seek out more of his work.
Charles Burnett's Horse
This early short that immediately precedes Killer of Sheep is striking.  It is the first time I can remember seeing so many white people onscreen in a Burnett work.  Whereas the other work of his I have seen captures African-American daily life in ways I have never seen rivaled, this work which shows African-Americans alongside white Americans is the first of his films I have seen overtly dealing with race.  While the most striking image might be a pocketknife lodged in a ceiling which somehow recalls the hanging of African-Americans, the entire mood of the short film is powerful.