Friday, October 30, 2009

Chores can be fun, too.

The fun is over.

I still love ushering.  I wish I hadn't volunteered through the rest of the Fall.  It's becoming a chore.  I've only seen one extraordinary film (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman) amongst a host of films ranging from miserable to bad to alright to rarely good.  I have low expectations even for the critically acclaimed International pictures still to come.  

Maybe I'm a grouch.  Strike that.  I know I'm a grouch.  But why would I subject myself to wading through so much muck?  Because when I find the few diamonds, I forget about the dirt that I've accumulated and just bask in the radiance of such a rewardingly beautiful jewel.  Then, the memory of finding that jewel sends me crawling around in the dust again desparately searching for others.

The worst part of this past Sunday was sitting through 3 Monkeys again.  It is not a bad film.  It is a miserable one.  For the first time ever in my history of filmgoing, I mostly ignored the film and played games on my iPod.  Pathetic.

Next came Beeswax.  Small and modest;  it is well made and held my interest.  I guess that's enough to pass the time, but I don't think it will stick with me.  I'm waiting for Mumblecore Noir.

So here's as good a place as any to post some things I wrote months ago, but never finished.  Still unpolished, but I may as well toss it out here.

Mostly bullshit, but bullshit I mostly believe.

I still miss CR5 Movie Club.  These blogs have been great, but they miss the one key element that made the club both fun and frustrating.  Though I may complain sometimes, I think that it's healthy and good to be forced to watch a movie that I didn't pick to watch.  It's a chore, sure, but it stretches me and I'm grateful for it.  Even the ones I don't like, maybe especially the ones I don't like, force me to react and clarify my tastes and examine my prejudices, allowing for a constant healthy reevaluation.

As noted above, wading through the muck of any art is indeed a chore (Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crud).  But, I think that it is precisely when we feel that it's a chore and we're ready to give up on our passions that it's most necessary to press on.  The gems, the moments of Transcendance, may be few, but we have experienced them and we know that it is exactly these glimpses at Truth that we chase.  We may tire, but there is no stopping.

Besides wading through the crap, there's the chore of watching great films.

Sometimes specific titles can loom on the horizon, becoming as dreaded as they are anticipated.  Almost always, though, once that mental hurdle is crossed, I find myself absorbed in what I had previously put off seeing for months or years.  Sometimes, every so often, watching the film does turn out to be a painful chore.

Besides that feeling of apprehension and uncertainty, there is another feeling, of being overwhelmed by my own ignorance.  There is so much that I don't know and only so very little that I do.  There is so much that I haven't seen. 

I watched a lot of Godard last year, but I still haven't seen a small fraction of his total films.  I remain completely ignorant of other New Wave masters like Rivette or Chabrol or even most of Truffaut's work.  

And that's just a small group of filmmakers and films.  Name any movement or period and I'm sure that I remain mostly ignorant, having only a cursory knowledge.  I just don't have the time to watch even the best of the past while keeping up with the new.  To a certain extent, I don't even try anymore.  My viewing habits are scattershot and so has been my approach of familiarizing myself with film history.

I love learning and watching great films, but it easily becomes a chore and oftentimes it is not pleasant.  Often the "classics" are just that; classic.  Just as often, what is watched is tolerable to good, but seldom great.

There is this driving feeling that I need to see more and learn more.  It is an impossible task.  At least, there is no end point.

This adopted task starts to feel like a chore and like work because it IS work to learn and "keep up.". It is not always fun or enjoyable.  Nevertheless, the drive to keep watching and keep learning continues.

I can distance myself for a while, but eventually I feel guilty that the chores aren't getting done.  I need to watch whatever it is I was putting off this time.  

As an aside, the danger of thinking too much about film is that the real chores, like putting up the railing in the basement, remain undone.  Sorry Abby.  I can talk about movie watching being a chore, but I effortlessly think of the worst films while I completely forget about the existence of screwdrivers and hammers.

Still, it is helpful to think of watching movies as work or maybe even as a calling or a vocation.  That may sound pretentious and like a stupid justification for sitting on the couch with a movie on again, but I think there is a truth to it.  It's obviously true that nerds like you and I care about movies in ways that most people do not.  When I'm watching a film, I'm generally not resting.  I'm working.  It's the most satisfying, rewarding work that I know of.  The pay sucks.  

Only a small handful of people get paid anything to watch movies and there's always the responsibility of writing or teaching to accompany the watching.  I'm okay at the work of watching movies.  These men and women who get paid for watching movies can see things that I still have trouble seeing.  That's one reason I'll never be paid for doing this work.  There's a lot of competition in the field and there's a large number of people who are much, much better at the work than I am.  I may be able to match or better the hack writers that are syndicated by the Associated Press.  I don't even pretend to be in the same league as someone like Rosenbaum or Hoberman. 

I'll never have a full-time job watching movies, but I don't doubt the value of such a job.  It's important work and I'm more than grateful for the Eberts and the Bordwells, for all of those who have gently taught us to see better.

So, mine is amateur, enthusiast, hobbyist work.  I'm just smart enough to know how foolish and lacking in knowledge that I am.  

It sounds overly dramatic, but we may as well die first before we stop caring about moving pictures.  We are captive to the beautiful truth that we have encountered and it compels us.  Of course, movies aren't the only or even primary residence of Truth, but cinema is (arguably) the most powerful and important artistic medium of our time.

Our labors may mean nothing to those around us and we may have our own serious doubts, but we know what goodness we have experienced and, when we're being honest with ourselves, we know that we can't stay away from cinema for long.  It has worked its way into our blood.  The best that it offers heals and renews us.  We know that we'd suffer any chore for just one more revelation.

In contrast to those of us who work at movies, the majority of people are passive spectators, the folks who can turn on the TV at the end of the day and "veg" in front of it.  I've participated in this sort of behavior before, but I'm not one of these people.  I'm not one of them, but I think that I understand the principle behind this sort of laziness. 

When working at watching movies becomes a chore, I'll either stay away from movies for a while or, more likely, I'll put on something safe and familiar, something I've seen 100 times like Empire Strikes Back.

The folks who watch TV shows and bad RomComs and the same Hollywood junk dozens of times on HBO or whatever other crap are usually watching the same structures and similar plots over and over again.  There is variation, but the comfort of the familiar is the true object that keeps viewers returning.  It is for love of comfortableness and a definite laziness that most people do not work at watching film.  

This is okay at times, but a steady diet of easy, comfortable video input won't just lead to relaxation.  It leads to lazy thinking.  

Most people do work hard and have a right to be lazy in their leisure.  What bugs me is when this general attitude leads to those same people disparaging those who do work at watching and wish to spend their leisure time in more rewarding, challenging ways, by continuing to work.

Most people think of watching films as a dumb, lazy thing to do because they've only ever watched films in a dumb and lazy manner. 

You can tell that I neglect physical exercise by looking at my belly.  It's harder to tell that these people are mentally out of shape, but often a simple conversation will suffice as proof.  I'm no mental heavyweight, but at least I'm still working out. (Now I need to get outside and move around more!)

Empire Strikes Back is easy to watch and, just as important, comforting.  It's not a stupid film, but my familiarity and nostalgia make it a film for me to be lazy around.

Getting around to those Bela Tarr films I've been putting off?  That's heavy lifting.  That work, that exercise, may ultimately be rewarding, but that doesn't change the fact that, like any chore, it is damned unpleasant to think about and start doing.  

Plenty of work still needs to be done. There's also plenty of fun still to be had.

Thursday, October 29, 2009



Whale's Frankenstein is a beautiful film.  Every shot is marvelously composed and the camera lingers on images longer than any contemporary horror film would dare.  

The opening two minutes alone (I mean after the fun intro/warning) are better than almost everything else I've seen all year.  I've seen a lot of movies this year.  Only a small handful have been this good.

A single pan across a crowd of mourners in a cemetary ending at a fence line.  A slick cut to the faces of two men hiding and watching from behind the fence, followed by another cut back to the fence line, then a perfect pan back across the mourners, ending with the image of a solitary figure left behind to fill in the grave.  Truly perfect.

The cinematographer was Arthur Edeson.  I checked out his IMDB page and found that this wasn't his only impressive film.  I'm not sure who deserves the final credit, but the photography is to be praised. 

I don't even need to mention that the art design is magical.

And that the story has some key element that allows it to rise above; a moral calling.

Brandon, you wrote:
"I don’t want to come off as someone who doesn’t enjoy a stupid horror feature. I’m not above them and I don’t pretend to believe that every film should aspire to some higher moral calling."

I'll come across as that guy.  Because I am that guy.  We may truly disagree on this, but I don't think so.  I think that despite your protesting, you're that guy, too.  At the risk of sounding snobbish, I'll also insist that you are above both genuinely stupid movies AND the people who like them.

I can't enjoy a stupid horror feature.

I do believe that every film should aspire to some higher moral calling.  

Unlike Tarkovsky (God bless his soul), I don't think that a moral sensibility has to exclude "mere" entertainment or silly fun.  

For example, I can enjoy Raimi's exaggerated slapstick physicality as a celebration of the body's general absurdity while simultaneously benefiting from the strict moral code that the heroine fails to recognize, let alone follow.  We're all implicated in her petty sin of unkindness.  The lesson may be give a gypsy whatever she wants, especially when she begs.  It is that simple, but it's not.  From first to last, our heroine is unrepentant and self-centered and we identify with her.  Eh, I won't write anymore until I get the chance to re-view the film on DVD.

Anyhow, Frankenstein.  I'm so glad that films like this still exist and haven't been lost and forgotten.  I may have been late to join the crowd, but I'm here now and I'll join in the adoration.  Here is a beautiful film. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Conversations 2

Conversations 2

I just had my first experience, with my iPod, accidentally deleting the words that I spent twenty minutes typing. Oh well.

Jason Poole, have you watched any more Westerns? Get away from Facebook and start writing about what you're watching. I need your authoritative word on Zombie Strippers From Hell.

Brandon, thanks for the long horror movie lists. I intend to extend my horror marathon past its initial five film run and get to all of those movies that you listed. There are also other lists from the original thread that started all this that I intend to get to. I'm going to share your lists there.

I'm definitely going to follow your Abbot and Costello advice. I've been having a great time watching Melies' films with the girls. My girls (especially Annie) love the French Magician. They also enjoyed watching The Kid a couple of weeks ago. We've been talking about watching the Dwan/Fairbanks silent Robin Hood for a while. Usually a couple of quick Loony Tunes/Merrie Melodies or an episode of Fraggle Rock beats out all competition.

It's funny to remember now that when I started this blog, I was planning on checking out all of the Terrence Fisher Hammer horror. My first post here last year was about his first film.

Fred, I don't know if you ever still read any of this, but I've been meaning to let you know that I've been thinking about different ways to adapt A Choice of Gods as a radio play. It's still one of the best books I've read all year. I'm hoping to re-read it before the year is over.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mad Magazine got it right. Half Baked.

Last Sunday I watched Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Movie. Seriously, Brandon, you raised my expectations through the roof. This movie only provided bargain basement thrills.

The main mystery of who the Half-Blood Prince is isn't all that interesting and is anti-climactically resolved in an off-hand moment, a perfect symbol for all of the numerous sub-plots that are picked up and discarded with weak or no resolutions all throughout the film. There is good camera work and some effective cgi. There are even a few (barely) earned comic moments. The drama fell flat for me and there was no good action. The water zombie sequence is the best action moment of the film and even it feels pointless in relation to the rest of the film. I left the cinema with my opinion of the Harry Potter franchise relatively unchanged. The Chosen One? Nope. Just another self-important wanker with a robe and a wand.

Guest reviewed by...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Conversations 1

Conversations 1

I've decided to start a new post "category" that is distinct from my stated purpose of writing about each film that I see.  Basically, these "conversations" posts will be my new way of reacting to what Brandon has posted and any other comments here or elsewhere or just whatever.  Like, have you heard that Tree of Life is definitely being pushed back and won't be my Christmas present this year?

Matt, I know you're there.  Start writing about the movies you're watching.  You'll feel better.

Brandon, I hope that Antichrist had some redeeming value.  I'm only half sorry that I couldn't make it tonight.  I'm having plenty of fun working the C St. Apts. where the place has been put quarantined and three persons here have bad flu symptoms.  I alreay have 11 hours overtime for the week so I was going to see if I could leave early and come over, but I'm stuck here.  I was already waffling on whether or not I cared to see the film anyway.  Between the Film Comment article and Jim Emerson's post about it, I'd convinced myself that it's not worth seeing, but, of course, I'm still curious, mostly because I want to be hip to the current storm around the film and throw out my own worthless opinion.

I respect Cronenberg.  I need to rewatch The Fly.  I saw it when I was young, but it didn't scar me, so maybe I saw a "modified for TV" cut.

I don't think that I could make a list of favorite horror films.  I found Dawn of the Dead oddly moving earlier this year, but I can't think of any others off the top of my head that I'd put anywhere near personal "essentials" territory.

It was good to read your Where the Wild Things Are review.  I'm really not sure whether I'll take my girls to see it or not. i may see it first, then probably send Abby with the two oldest.  The second oldest, Annie, is a monster fanatic.  What do you think about the appropriateness for 7 and 5 year olds?

About Gibson's Passion, I have to confess that I have never been a big fan.  I do think it works for what it is, though, and I'll defend it against its most vocal critics.  Gibson is indeed an auteur, exploring ideas of masculinity and violence.  I even think that beyond the themes, he also has a narrative/visual style of his own.  He's always interesting and I'll check out his films each time he makes one.

I'm planning on watching/re-watching all of Tarantino's films over the next few months. I'm eager to see what I think of Pulp Fiction after the distance of over ten years.

I skipped Lost In Translation when it came out and don't feel much of a need to see it, but I could be convinced.  The Virgin Suicides was a huge disappointment to me, especially since I loved the Air soundtrack and listened to it a lot before the film was released.  Ms. Coppolla fell off my radar and Lost In Translation just looked too precious.

28 Days Later, on the other hand, was the delightful second half of a double feature (after Open Range) at the Buffalo Drive-In.  That was a great night out at the movies.

I'm quarantined myself so I don't think I'm allowed up at the Pond, but I'll be bringing movies to you soon.  I'm looking forward to you seeing Stalker.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Overdue Videodrome Post + Mama Rosemary

Overdue Videodrome Post + Mama Rosemary

Videodrome deserves the best compliment that I can give to a horror film...  It gave me nightmares.  Seriously.  I was exhauasted and scared the next morning.

I watched Videodrome in two sittings - about 40 minutes the first night and the rest of the film the next night.  After the first night, I was making fun of the film and ready to give up on it.  After the second night, the power of Videodrome overwhelmed me.  The hallucinations started that night in my sleep.

Long live the new flesh.

That said, I'm stll not fully behind Videodrome.  I'm hesitant to embrace any film that uses extremes to critique human lusts for extremes.  Maybe I'm misreading the film and there is no critique.  In that case the film is even more audacious than I'm giving it credit for, but I can support it even less.  I'm not sure at the end of Videodrome whether television is a gateway to slavery and death or liberation and new life.

I'm completely unsure of how to feel about Videodrome and I think that's a good thing.  I do know that Cronenberg is one of the few true science fiction auteurs that the cinema has produced so far.  Other directors have made better science fiction films, but none think in pure science fiction terms like Cronenberg does.

Rosemary's Baby's primary importance is that it gave John Cassavetes a paycheck that he could use to finance his own films.  There's nothing wrong with Rosemary's Baby as a horror film.  It succeeds in hitting the right notes of dread and anxiety while playing on deep fears of betrayal and feelings of insecurity.  It's fine and Farrow carries the film with grace.  I just don't care.  There's enough going on for a single cheap thrill, but there's nothing here I'd care to return to.

I don't really care to return to either film, but I know that Videodrome will haunt me and I may get a future chuckle or two thinking about Mama Rosemary.

Friday, October 16, 2009


It's a rare night at work that I get to watch TCM. I insisted tonight
because The Narrow Margin was on. Margin has everything a thrilling
movie should have: girls, guns, tough guys; a tight script and some
fat man comic relief. It may be my favorite train movie, even over
The Lady Vanishes.

I forgot how great the opening shots and first few scenes are. If
you're not hooked after ten minutes, get up and check your pulse. You
might be dead.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009



What Else

Brandon, how many of those 2004/2005 movies do you own on DVD? I’ll borrow whatever you have. I don’t have too many comments since I haven’t seen most of the films. I will say that I agree that Napoleon Dynamite is over-quoted, but a guy at work the other day was filling out an internal application and said, “what should I put for skills?” and my immediate response was, “Nunchuck skills…” I’ll try to defend Saw sometime, but I need to see it again. I appreciate Gibson’s Passion because it’s a singular auteur’s passion movie. No, we don’t get a clear atonement message, but that’s not what this is about and what we do get is still a reflection of truth and obviously important to Gibson. I hadn’t thought about the connection between Undertow and Night of the Hunter, but I hadn’t seen Hunter at the time either. I’ve got mixed feelings about Undertow. Like so many of the movies I listed in my “decade” post, I need to see it again and don't really feel comfortable having listed it at all except that I remember certain images vividly that argue for its worth. I’m looking forward to Kill Bill Vol. 2. I do think that Vol. 1 is exactly right for what it is, I just don’t care about what it is. I could use a little bit more long-winded comic book philosophy with my martial arts.

I’m going to put up the Stalker essay soon, but it’s full of spoilers, so you need to see the film before you read it. I’ll bring it in for you some time this week.

On to some of what I’ve been watching…

Star Trek: Generations is from the same year as Wong’s Ashes of Time. Ashes of Time might be a masterpiece. Star Trek: Generations is dumb fun. It is a foolish fanboy’s dream come true. Sometimes a geek needs to geek out.

We get Kirk and Picard in the same frame.

And it’s not a camera trick.

The scenes with both Kirk and Picard are a lot of fun, but also jarring. Here, juxtaposed with one another, are the two living embodiments of the vast difference in style and attitude of The Original Series and The Next Generation. Fans of both series should be happy, but I think that plenty of fans of both were probably disappointed. It made me happy.

Data’s “Oh Shit!” exclamation is priceless, the culmination of the entire series, and the payoff for every fan that slogged his or her way through all 8 seasons of TNG.

The story of Generations is only so-so, but I do appreciate the slower pace of the film compared to this year’s hyperactive Star Trek reboot. To risk sounding like the fans in the Onion news report, it’s just nice to watch action unfold clearly instead of being bombarded by frenetic editing.

I submit Just Pals as evidence that John Ford perfectly understood visual storytelling as early as 1920. Ford is one of the few silent directors to make the leap to sound film successfully and have a long career. It’s obvious that his films are richer for his experience with silents. Just Pals is, 90 years later, about as good a film as I can find to demonstrate to others why I’m enthralled by movies. To paraphrase Jonathan’s comments about Stalker on BGG, if you don’t like Just Pals, I’m not even sure we can begin to have a conversation.

Chaplin’s The Kid is six reels of cinematic joy. No doubt. There are specific thrills of pantomime that we’ve mostly lost over the last half century. We are fortunate that many of the best silent films remain. In The Kid, I think that it’s true what’s been said, that it’s the only film in which Chaplin has a co-star. Little Jackie Coogan does his best to out-act the Tramp every chance he can get.

I got paid to see District 9, which is always a good deal, but I left a bit disappointed. I’d heard all of the positive buzz about the film, but I was still expecting to dislike it because of the pseudo-doc gimmick. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, but, like I said, I ended up not caring in the end. After I did get sucked in and start enjoying it all, I was eventually let down by the film’s devolution into bad action movie moments (“I’ll never leave you, buddy”) combined with instances of over-the-top gore and an incredibly excessive dropping of f-bombs. These elements aren’t bad in themselves, but their use seemed jarring here and at odds with the established offbeat tone. It’s too bad because this film could have been developed well with older children and a thoughtful family audience in mind.

District 9 may have been the best big dumb summer blockbuster to come along this year. It has its fun moments, but it needs to be stressed that the film remains big and dumb. We shouldn’t praise a film for simply not being as dumb as Transformers 2.

Blast of Silence is bold and fearless. Stop reading this, forget everything else, track down a copy, and watch it now. I mean it.

Screw it. You didn’t do it. You kept on reading this. If you’re still reading, I’ll go ahead and dare you not to fall in love with the film based on the opening shot/sounds/voiceover narration alone. The next 76 minutes only pile on more to admire. There’s not a single misstep.

Overlooked and unappreciated in its own time, I’m glad of its recent rediscovery and Criterion release. I’m no noir expert, but Blast of Silence seems to be the culmination and summation of every ‘noir’ impulse that came before it. Blast of Silence is the end of noir.

If our culture were a fair and just one, this film would be shown 24 hours a day, every day, for the weeks leading up to Christmas, while A Christmas Story is condemned to obscurity.

Touchez pas au Grisbi is a good gangster film. I know that I prefer a certain type of gangster film over others. For example, I like The Roaring Twenties over Scarface. I love In Bruges and mostly dismiss Goodfellas. Grisbi is a good example of what it is that I prefer. I prefer gangster films that explore codes of honor apart from the common law. Many modern gangster films do well to stress that there is no honor among thieves and that the lifestyle is primarily selfish because these men don’t believe in anything, but I tire of watching men who don’t believe in anything other than self-advancement. I don’t need to watch bad men doing bad things, but watching bad men trying to do good things gets me every time. I enjoyed Grisbi because it’s about friendship and sacrifice, about things worth valuing in any context, especially if they’re harder to express once a certain lifestyle has been chosen.

There are plentiful horrors to be found in Horrors of Spider Island, but if I began to trash the dubbing, the acting, the editing, or the cinematography, I couldn’t begin to explain how enjoyable all of these bad elements are. There’s some kind of shocking thrill to be experienced by a movie that insists on being this bad.

Spider Island is basically an exploitation picture. If it had been made ten years later, everyone in the film would have been naked. I watched the film as part of the giant “sci-fi” boxed set that my mother bought for me last Christmas, but there is no good science fiction premise here at all. Films like this are the reason that MST3K exists (and I’ve read that there’s a great episode featuring this film).

Tarantino is a geek savant. In an interview on the Reservoir Dogs DVD, Tarantino acknowledges that if there is such a thing as gifts from a god, then God has given him the gift of having great dialogue come easily to him. I can only agree. Reservoir Dogs is still pretty audacious, but it lacks something. I’m not sure what. It feels disposable in the same way that the pulp crime novels that it’s modeled after feel disposable to me. I always enjoy them while reading/viewing, but don’t feel the need to return repeatedly.

I get the feeling that it’s unpopular to compare Tarantino to Godard, but the two are identical in at least one regard. Both men make films as acts of film criticism.

Toy Story 1 and 2 are great in 3D. This double feature is/was the movie event of the year and anyone who missed out, well, they missed out.

Woody Allen’s Manhattan is about what I expected it to be. I don’t really care about Allen’s sexual hang-ups, but I admire his emphasis on the importance of place.

Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac is that rare piece of art that treats adultery as the evil that it is while recognizing the honest emotions involved. [“He is like a bird rushing into a snare, not knowing that it will cost him his life.” --proverbs 7:23]. It is well that some filmmakers are wise enough to turn to truer sources of information than their own hearts. The Arthur legends are deep wells to draw from. Lancelot du Lac is seated in counsel with Lady Wisdom while Allen’s Manhattan is the ravings and wild tumblings of a misguided fool trying to find his own way.

Coming soon, a belated Videodrome post and some thoughts on Boetticher Westerns.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

iPod responses

Brandon, I fell asleep to Nemo about a month ago. It is a bit sad
that I've let great kids films become naptime, but a man needs to sleep.

I read your post quickly so I might have missed it. Did you really
just write about Cold Mountain without mentioning the music? There's
really no other reason to see the film. In fact, I recommend just
buying the soundtrack and avoiding the film.

I love my new my iPod touch.

Rich in time, poorer in pocket

I bought an iPod Touch. And it is most excellent. I expect many
future posts to be sent from this device.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is even better than I remembered.
Watching Socrates so obviously enjoying being the sidekick of Billy
the Kid just registers as improbably true. Maybe I'm biased from just
having finished some Plato and currently reading the Golden Sayings of
Epictetus and dabbling a lot in Proverbs. Bill and Ted do seem to be
holy fools. Be excellent to one another indeed. Abby thinks that the
Joan of Arc bits here may have "planted the seeds of my devotion," but
the scenes of her leading a gym class seemed amongst the most phony.
There is plenty of phoniness here and imaginative license is let loose
on history, but the laughs usually work so it's forgivable. Party on.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Does this work?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cornell 6

On September 20th, I had the pleasure of taking my beautiful bride on a date. Okay, I brought her along with me to Cornell Cinema for Drag Your Wife to Work Night. Really, I wanted her to see Moon. Fortunately, she liked it - one more confirmation that I’ve chosen the right woman.

Before Moon, though, we shared a meal at Viva Taqueria with my pastor and his wife. After a good meal, I hurried off to Cornell while the three of them bought goodies before joining me at the Cinema for a screening of Renoir’s beautiful The River.

I don’t know what I was expecting from The River, but what I saw surprised me in its exploration of domestic drama, teetering on the edge of cliché, but kept fresh through the unusual setting and Renoir’s commitment to honest emotions. I haven’t seen a lot of films like this one. It reminded me most of Meet Me in St. Louis in its depiction of conflicted young women. Renoir and Minnelli probably aren’t names seen together often, but I think that the two films would make a great double feature.

My only regret is that my pastor and his wife left after The River, so they didn’t get to see Moon and we didn’t get to have any post-movie discussion. Which is too bad, because I treasure his opinion. Several months ago, he borrowed a couple of Tarkovsky films from me. Not content to tread on the surface, he dug deep and watched Stalker three times in less than three weeks. He wrote about the film in an email to me. Maybe I’ll post his comments here soon.

On the 27th, I had the uncomfortable pleasure of seeing Food Inc. Despite its message of empowerment in personal food decisions, it’s easy to feel helpless. The scariest moments in the film were probably the parts about the patented seeds and the image of fish being fed corn. I’d been making changes to my diet in the month before Food Inc, but seeing it helped strengthen my resolve.

The Windmill Movie is a strange sort of real-life Synechdoche, New York. It’s an interesting experiment and I sympathize with its depiction of an impulse to create joined with a realization that one doesn’t have anything worthwhile to say and doesn’t know how to properly express the absence of an idea. I do think that the movie fails because it’s just not a full-rounded portrait of the man it’s depicting and it doesn’t quite work in any other sense. There is plenty of exploration of the artistic process of selecting moments for incorporation into a finished film, but detailing creative quandaries does not a movie make.

Then, this past Sunday, I had the utter joy of seeing Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.

I need to have my testosterone levels checked out. I found myself tearing up several times, sniffling and drawing attention to my soft, romantic side. Not only was I fixated on the lovely presence of Ava Gardner; I was equally bewitched by the commanding presence of James Mason. The only time that I think that the movie falters is when one of the two of these giants isn’t found in the frame.

[note to self: delete the above comments before transferring any of the above to the blog. I must preserve my strong masculine image]

Soul Power is at its most interesting in its interviews and its behind-the-scenes footage. I could listen to Ali argue for black power all afternoon. The music on the plane is a lot more interesting and soulful than any of the music on the stage later on in the film (with the exception of the untouchable Bill Withers). I almost walked out of the film during the concert footage. Probably the only thing holding me back was the fear of being called a racist for not finding any of it interesting. Seriously, though, I’m just not a big fan of concert films and, while I find soul music interesting and sometimes inspiring, I didn‘t find much interesting or inspiring in the performances of most of the artists documented here on film.

The upcoming Fall schedule looks promising. Ushering remains my dream job.