Monday, February 21, 2022

Favorite (four), eighty-one

Just like in my other eighty 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.

Robert Bresson's Les anges du peche
In a rare case, Bresson emerges in his first feature already a masterful filmmaker.  His style is not yet fully formed, that would not happen until his third feature, but his understanding and command of the medium's power are fully present.  

Although I imagine there is a way to view the film, being that it was made in 1943, as a film of resistance, I experienced it at face value as a film of faith.  As such, it demonstrates faith as well as anything I have seen on film.  Bresson finds the cinematic tools to make us understand certain beliefs, such as sacrificing worldly materials to attain a true spiritual state, that in less skilled hands would leave us unmoved and unenlightened.  I experienced the film not only as a film about faith but as an indication of Bresson's faith in the medium of cinema to plumb the depths of human experience and to emerge with emotions of a deep spiritual and intellectual revelatory power.

Jean-Claude Biette's Trois ponts sur la riviere
I know more about French film than I know about almost anything else. And though I was aware of some of Biette's work, particularly Loin de Manhattan and Le champignon des Carpathes, this is the first of his movies I have seen.

Biette has a great feel for capturing spaces in a precisely realistic way, like a college student's apartment in Paris or a bookstore in Porto, Portugal.  Similarly, his dialogue and the way he lets his actors move around and express themselves, reinforces a directorial desire to adhere closely to the way these types of moments unfold in real life.  In fact, it seems that Biette's quest to remain accurate and truthful give the film one of its most unique qualities, its willingness to show certain glances or moments without the need to explain them.  I am thinking, for instance, of the way Claire stares from her hotel window at the Brazilian guest, the brief scene suggesting it is normal for attraction to occur without ever being acted upon.  

I can only guess at the reasons for it but like Rivette's Out 1Le Pont du Nord or even La bande des quatre, Biette includes, with the character of Frank, a subplot of noirish overtones.  Like in the abovementioned Rivette works, the subplot feels more artificial and more difficult to believe than one typically experiences in regular genre films while the foregrounded story, that of Arthur and Claire, feels far more real than most movies.

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.   
Lee Man-hui's Homebound
Not only my first experience with a film by Man-hui but also probably the first Korean film I have seen that came out before 2000.  To summarize it in broad strokes, it feels like a Sirkian melodrama filmed in a more natural New Wave manner.  Yet, Man-hui gives it certain touches that make it distinctive and take it into territory that is neither Sirk nor New Wavish.  I am thinking about some of the ways Man-hui uses sound and music to draw the character of the military husband.  And, the institutional pressures, marriage in this case, feel even more oppressive than we typically experience in one of Sirk's films.    


Tuesday, February 8, 2022


 2/6/22 I watched Felicity Morris' The Tinder Swindler.  Fairly compelling story on Netflix told in a thrown together manner.  

6/12/22 I watched Jeremiah Zagar's Hustle.  I will be the first to admit.  When it comes to sports films, I am willing to ignore and let slide stylistic elements I normally can't get past.  If you are like me and can be moved by Hollywood sports films like Hoosiers, CreedEddie the Eagle or The Way Back, this Sandler vehicle will most likely hook you in.  It is the type of underdog story and story of redemption that Hollywood can really deliver.    

9/1/22 I watched Claire Denis' Both Sides of the Blade.  Although I have not rewatched most of Denis' films, I have seen the following at least once - Chocolat, S'en fout la mort, J'ai pas sommeil, US Go Home, Nenette et Boni, Beau travail, Trouble Every Day, Vendredi soir, L'intrus, 35 rhums, Let the Sunshine In, High Life and Both Sides of the Blade.  It seems that her work can be divided into at least two categories, films that make for fairly comfortable viewing (for instance, I place Nenette, Vendredi35 and Let the Sunshine into this category) and work that is as up there with some of the cinema's most harrowing.  In this latter category, to begin with I would list J'ai pas sommeil, Trouble and Both Sides of the Blade.  It isn't gratuitous, there is a fearlessness at times with the way that Denis films the body and her ability, like Lynch, to burrow into raw and deeply disturbing situations involving her characters.  I am thinking about the long murder sequence involving Dalle or almost any moment with Camille or nearly second Colin is on screen.   

9/2/22 I watched Jordan Peele's Nope.  I was a huge fan of Get Out, much less so of Us and I would rank this one a distant second behind Peele's debut.  Peele has important ideas that he explores around race and even around the cinema's history.  While his dialogue at times is as sharp and cool as Tarantino's, he lacks Tarantino's ability at creating cinematically affecting visceral moments.  Peele also could have really benefitted from someone this time out editing and paring the whole thing down.

9/14/22 I watched Barney Douglas' McEnroe.  McEnroe is one of the great talkers and that part of the documentary is enjoyable even if there is very little new that emerges.

10/9/22 I watched James Gray’s Armageddon Time.  Gray comes back to a smaller canvas after Ad Astra and The Lost City of Z and the result feels personal.  Gray has always been adept at treading in familiar territory with touches that keep his work from feeling cliched and predictable.  Often he does it by privileging character over plot even at the risk of losing a certain forward momentum in his work.  There is mention of Kandinsky and abstract art and ultimately that is what Gray seems to be doing, holding up certain impressionistic moments in pursuit of a more liberated form.

12/18/22 I watched Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep.  There is no film I have seen made in 2022 that has as much to say about what cinema has been and what it can be as it turns 127.  Of course there are remnants of Feuillade but in this opus it would be hard also not to think of Lynch's work in TV, Jarmusch's approach to music in Dead Man and Rivette's career of exploring meta.  Vincent Macaigne embodies the greatest and most complex depiction of a filmmaker the medium has ever given us while Assayas inhabits the specter of JLG to give us a work that manages all at once to flood us with emotions and ideas.   

12/24/22 I watched Alain Guiraudie's Nobody's Hero.  It has much to say about France's current racial issues even if I found it a bit muddled in its subtext and conception.  

12/26/22 I watched James Cameron's Avatar: The Way of Water.  Way too long.  I admire Cameron's ambition and ability to transport us somewhere else but he overstays his welcome by about an hour.

1/24/22 I watched Steven Speilberg's The Fabelmans.  Spielberg's most autobiographical film to date is full of a few touching moments like the final scene with John Ford but mostly I found it unsure in its acting, tone, and emotional arc.  

4/9/22 I watched Austin and Meredith Bragg's Pinball: The Man Who Saved The Game.  I enjoyed its fresh material - I had never heard this story about pinball.  I also appreciated its warm spirit and strong acting for a film of this size.  

6/3/23 I watched Christophe Honore's Winter Boy.  I've been a fan of the few Honore works I've seen, in particular Sorry Angel.  In this one, there are moving moments and the acting is sublime but I never fully felt the milieu because the style, the coldness of the photography specifically, seemed a bit too overbearing.

6/28/23 I watched Laura Poitras' All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.  I was a fan of Poitras' Citizenfour and although I liked her latest a little less it sneaks up on you.  Particularly as it starts to circle back at the end to Nan's relationship with her parents and returns to her sister and her final days.  

7/28/23 I watched Max Walker-Silverman's A Love Song.  Dale Dickey turns in a great performance, full of quiet and depth.  And the film has moments that feel extraordinarily lived-in, fresh and real.  I felt it all a little thin when it ended, like I needed to spend longer in the world and be a part of a few more of her interactions.

10/21/23 I watched Lizzie Gottlieb's Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb.  One of these docs, although not rigorously made, that immediately made me want to seek additional information about the people it features.

2/6/24 I watched Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern's Meet Me in the Bathroom.  Great early views into The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Interpol, TV On The Radio and others.

2/10/24 I watched CB Stockfleth's The Elephant 6 Recording Co.  Fascinating for me to learn this originated less than an hour away from me in Ruston.  I can't wait to dig more into Olivia Tremor Control, Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel.

4/10/24 I watched Thomas von Steinaecker's Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer. Not earth shattering but I most appreciated it for the understanding it provided of Herzog's upbringing.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Favorite (four), eighty

Just like in my other seventy-nine 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.

Sidney J Furie's Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York
Someone close to me when they were in their early thirties made the comment that they had already seen and read almost every great work and so there was no longer much of a need to seek out undiscovered movies or albums.  The seeking muscle had been quenched.  

I don't think the above statement is all that uncommon of a sentiment for people coming out of the rich discovery phase of their teens and twenties.  But I also feel it inhibits many rewarding future discoveries, particularly of works that are a bit more hidden and unknown.

Take Furie's 1975 film Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York.  It was made during the period that is arguably the group of movies I have seen the most of and know the most about.  Yet not only had I never seen Sheila, I hadn't even heard about it.  

What grabbed me the most while watching Sheila is the freedom of the acting.  Furie frames the three leads at a generous distance and leaves many of their moments with unadorned direction and unbroken takes.  The acting felt brave, as though Furie was giving them an unusual amount of support and space to express themselves.   

Claire Denis and Serge Daney's Jacques Rivette, le veilleur 
This dream of a documentary consists mostly of Denis filming the great film critic Daney talking with the great filmmaker Rivette.  It is by far the most thorough portrait of Rivette I have experienced to date and ranks as one of the most enlightening documentaries I have ever seen on a filmmaker.  

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.
Patricia Mazuy's Peaux de vaches
An extremely interesting first feature that impresses with its toughness and an ability throughout to subvert expectations of where a certain scene is headed.  It is this concoction of elements that seem recognizable - the physicality of Cassavetes, the ominous tone of The Night of the Hunter and Out of the Blue and the feel for provincial life reminiscent of Pialat.  While it has all of this.  To Mazuy's credit, in the end it feels like none of the above.