Thursday, December 30, 2010

Truer Grits

I've now watched True Grit a second time. You guys have two more days to see the film (Brandon, I know you already have)... After that, I'm writing about it. Spoilers be damned.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Nothing is free but the grace of God.

True Grit is my favorite film of the year.

I'm leaving my comments at that until everyone else here has seen the film.

I'll give y'all 'til New Year's.

Then, we can either argue or give hugs.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mr. Brainwash

I was going to tear Brandon apart for hating on John Huston's lovely off-beat adaptation of Wise Blood, but I'm having a hard time focusing any ill will toward him because... he let me borrow The Court Jester.

Wow, what a fun film!

The girls are huge Curtiz/Flynn Robin Hood fans and were quick to pick up on allusions and jokes. They recognized and especially enjoyed seeing an older Rathbone in a similar Guy of Guisborne type role. Of course, they also just loved the silliness of it all. The snapping in and out. The munchkins. The romance and swordplay. The musical numbers.

The girls and I also watched the newest Wallace and Gromit short. A Matter of Loaf and Death. It remains family-friendly while poking fun at various adult films and film genres (like serial killer crime movies and bad romance movies).

I have also watched Exit Through the Gift Shop and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Gift Shop is one of the best reflections on art and commerce since Welles' masterpiece F For Fake. Gift Shop is nowhere near as ambitious or quite as good, but it is very enjoyable. Piece of Work is an almost desperate last ditch attempt at making the world love Joan Rivers. It almost works. The film fails by being too tame and too nice. The emotion I was left with was pity.

I went to see The Fighter after briefly talking with Brandon and hearing his kind words toward Christian Bale, an actor that we had both started making fun of. The performance is great. All of the performances are great. Except for the junkies and the sisters. I didn't really get that whole comic relief aspect. There's so much to like here that I feel bad saying that I was pretty disappointed. You know why? The crappy soundtrack selection. Russell falls into the trap of using pop music as a bridge over montage scenes to speed up the action and make it more poignant. I got pissed off a few times. It's funny, too, because two of the best moments in the film involve Bale singing. In the end, The Fighter follows a pretty standard sports film formula. I mostly liked it. I'm glad to see Russell back directing and hope that he makes another film soon.

True Grit is coming tomorrow. Brandon, I'm not sure if you were planning on making it or not, but I'll give you a call. I might have to cancel due to other crap coming up at work.

The IndieWire poll results are up. Brandon, I know you are familiar with the poll (I think you even introduced it to me in Jan 2008). Jason and Ben, check it out:

http://www.indiewire.com/article/the_social_network_tops_indiewires_2010_critics_poll/

Ben, you didn't like The Seventh Seal? Now I know why Bill Murray won't even call me back. You shame us all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bill Murray is coming to game night.

Nah, he's probably not coming.

I have to pass on the remakes list. I just haven't seen enough good ones.

Worst Criterion titles?

In my experience, I haven't come across any bad ones. I can always appreciate at least some aspect of any of the films they choose.

I suppose that I'm least on board with some of their more recent American picks like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Royal Tanenbaums, but even so... I still respect these films even if I don't like them.

The only Criterion release that I really hate is Z, but even that film can be excused for its political importance in the context of the time and place in which it was made and released. It's easy for me to dismiss it decades later, but maybe a little unfair.

Have you really come across any true stinkers? If so, I either haven't seen them or we must really disagree about something.

I haven't been watching much lately. I watched the first half an hour of 6 Guns, a Western from this year, then gave up on it. It is that bad. Much worse than Jonah Hex. At least Jonah Hex had a great cast doing interesting things and a story and visual style that tried doing something new.

Neil Marshall's Centurion is interesting and a lot better than I thought it would be. I might write something soon about 2010 as the year of the 'B' movie aesthetic.

That's all I've watched recently. 1929 is still waiting.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cassavetes - The Greatest

I just now noticed that there are several Cassavetes films available via streaming. That means that 1)that NWI Criterion list was not totally accurate and following that, 2)my top ten list isn't quite accurate. Any of these Cassavetes films would have made it onto my list:

Shadows
Faces
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
A Woman Under the Influence
Opening Night

These have all been released via Criterion and are available via NWI. I love all of these films and highly recommend them, especially Chinese Bookie and Woman Under the Influence.

Also available via NWI, but not Criterion releases, are Minnie and Moskowitz (which is one of my favorite RomComs of all time and has been out of print on DVD for several years) and A Child is Waiting, which I've been meaning to see for a long time, but I'm almost afraid to watch because of Kramer's interference. Cassavetes said, "The difference in the two versions is that Stanley's picture said that retarded children belong in institutions and the picture I shot said retarded children are better in their own way than supposedly healthy adults. The philosophy of his film was that retarded children are separate and alone and therefore should be in institutions with others of their kind. My film said that retarded children could be anywhere, any time, and that the problem is that we're a bunch of dopes, that it's our problem more than the kids'. The point of the original picture that we made was that there was no fault, that there was nothing wrong with these children except that their mentality was lower."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A bit more

Making it more personal

Samurai Rebellion is one of the most romantic films I've ever seen. Full of grace. The cinematography is gorgeous.

The Seventh Seal so perfectly captures the Modernist struggle with faith. The knight becomes the perfect displaced warrior for our times. I believe. Help thou mine unbelief. Or maybe I'm aging myself here. I always identify with Bergman's struggles. I think that we may be living in a post-Bergman landscape, but I'm still firmly a Bergmanite. I don't know how to be anything else.

La Jetée is one of the greatest science fiction films to date. It's also a stirring romance, a prophetic warning, and barely a motion picture at all. It is its own thing and it is marvelous. I confess to being a Twelve Monkeys fan long before I ever heard of this film.

Solaris is another romance. It is also another of the greatest science fiction films of all time. The science fiction premise and mood is much stronger here than in Soderbergh's weaker but still respectable (and maybe more faithful to the source) attempt at the same material. Tarkovsky painted with light and sculpted in time. This may be one of the clearest examples of his film theory in practice.

Slacker is a film manifesto for drop-out culture. Anti-work does not mean pro-laziness.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is so intense that I haven't been able to watch it again in almost ten years now. I'm a bit of a Joan groupie. I've written essays. Ive read all of the court transcripts and several biographies. I was obsessed with this painting when I was younger:



Cleo From 5 to 7 is a sensitive examination of not death, but the threat of death. Death to all.

Wings of Desire is one of the first independent "art film" type movies that I was exposed to. Alongside Jarmusch's Strangers in Paradise, this film opened me up to a wider world of cinema at a young age. Peter Falk is one of my favorite actors.

In the Mood For Love is a film that I was only exposed to recently, but I love it. Wong knows how to capture a fleeting feeling better than anyone. This is perhaps the greatest film dealing with adultery that I know of. Hollywood tends to celebrate this evil. Wong brings all of this false romanticism to a dead stop and highlights hurting people.

I was lucky enough to see Stagecoach at the cinema while I was living in London. Seeing Stagecoach on the big screen is one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my life. For a Western fan, it doesn't get much better.

So, the above isn't all that educational or informative, but hopefully it gives a quick sketch outline of why I chose these films over others.

More than anything else, the films that I chose reflect my tastes and prejudices. Watching these specific films may or may not provide you with any more knowledge of film history or of the time and culture which produced these films. I do guarantee, however, that watching these films will give you a glimpse into how I view this crazy beautiful blessed world that we live in because the way I look at life has been shaped and enriched at least in part by each one of these films. I highly recommend all ten. And they're all available via streaming. Go figure.

Yeah, we like making lists.

Ben, thanks for that link compiling all of the Criterion titles available via Netflix Watch Instantly (from this point on always referred to as: NWI)

Here is my personal top ten favorite Criterion titles available via NWI. Ranking these was ridiculous. It could have been painful. Instead, I just did it quickly - this is a quick from the gut ranking, but each of these are 5-star perfect titles in my book. In other words, they're all tied for #1.

1) Samurai Rebellion (Kobayashi)
2) The Seventh Seal (Bergman)
3) La Jetée (Marker)
4) Solaris (Tarkovsky)
5) Slacker (Linklater)
6) The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)
7) Cleo From 5 to 7 (Varda)
8) Wings of Desire (Wenders)
9) In the Mood For Love (Wong)
10) Stagecoach (Ford)

Brandon, I hope you make a similar list. I know you've seen twice more on that Criterion NWI list than I have.

Jason, that's a mighty long drum roll you've got going on there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dewdrop Inn

Ben,

It's funny that, out of all the Maynard/Tool related stuff out there, you posted that specific YouTube clip. I was at that Tori Amos concert (back in '96 or '97) when Maynard made his surprise appearance.

It brought back a lot of stupid memories.

I actually tried to watch Blood Into Wine last week and the sound wasn't working properly. I sent Netflix an error report. I like to think that my notification of the problem paved the way for your enjoyment of the film.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rebel Cinema

I've had good intentions of checking out Binghamton Classic Films for a long while. First, I always seemed to miss the screenings. Then, I was working Saturday nights. Then, I was working at Cornell Cinema and couldn't justify another night out at the movies. Then, well, time just slipped by.

This past Saturday, I made it out to see You Were Never Lovelier.

You already know what I think of the movie. What about the film club?

Admission is a $3 donation (or $2 for members).

Everyone was super friendly and happy to see us there.

The film is screened in a small lecture hall. The seats are comfortable. Honestly, the seats being comfortable may have been the biggest surprise.

Before the film, one of the members went up front below the screen and introduced the film, focusing on Adolphe Menjou's career and his role in You Were Never Lovelier. The focus on Menjou was admittedly because he couldn't find his old notes on Hayworth!

The film started. The print was clean and looked good, but I was initially disappointed with the sound. I don't have the best ears and thought this would be a problem, but I adjusted quickly and had no problem after the first five or so minutes.

Maybe half an hour into the screening, the screen went dark. The projector bulb blew out! Instead of being a pain, this was a fun communal experience. The problem was fixed within five minutes.

The best part of the screening was the crowd. It felt good to be a part of a crowd that was gathered together in common cause.

After the screening, I talked briefly to the man who had introduced the film. I didn't have much time, but I got an address to send money to.

I'm becoming a member. $20. I'm not even sure what being a member means. I think there's a newsletter. There was talk of a member's party coming up next week. If this is a cult, it's too late for me. I'm in.

The group was handing out complete schedules for 2011. I've made a simple site listing the dates and titles, mostly because I know how easy it is to lose a piece of paper. It's harder to lose a website. I want to make sure I remember all of these dates. I also wanted to share the films and dates with you guys. Check out the schedule here: https://sites.google.com/site/binghamtonclassicfilms/

Never Lovelier

What is so special about You Were Never Lovelier?

It's a pretty standard romantic comedy. Two unlikely individuals meet one another, develop an instant and strong distaste for one another, then spend the rest of the film falling in love. There are a few unique twists here, but that's the basic formula.

This formula can be repetitive and dreadful to watch (see 99.9% of all RomComs from the past few decades). Done right, though, as it often was in the 30s-40s, there might not be a genre of film that delights me more.

The specific pleasures of this film rely on the two lead performances; Astaire's irresistible charm and nervous joy and Hayworth's volatile synthesis of gentle domesticity and "predatory" femininity. Both of these wonderful actors perfectly capture, encapsulate in an abstracted genre microcosm, the dizzying process of courtship.

What about the music?

What is remarkable about the music is that it is all entirely organic to the story. For the first half of the film, we get orchestras and singing and dancing because Hayworth's father (played with a perfect balance of seriousness and farce by Adolphe Menjou) owns a nightclub. The first time that the use of music strains the boundaries of the credibly real is when Astaire and Hayworth begin to fall in love. As the courtship continues, this happens more and more, with the couple's communication occurring primarily through song.

This is glorified speech, reflecting the glory of two souls coming together. Not only does the singing reflect this union aurally, but there is also a strong visual metaphor of hearts uniting when the two can dance together without practicing or talking things through first. What I had once dismissed as ridiculously unreal actually becomes the chief means of portraying truths in the most gracious and economical way possible.

I'm still not a fan of the big musicals that hold a primary place in pop culture (Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, etc.), but You Were Never Lovelier totally surprised me, knocked down my defenses, and allowed me to see clearly for the first time what at least one aspect and expression of The Musical can be at its best.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I am ashamed...

...that I ever thought that I hated musicals.




You Were Never Lovelier is a joy from start to finish.

I'll post more specifically about Binghamton Classic Films soon.

2010: I Reckon

Nah, I'm nowhere near having a top ten list for the year done. This might be the first year that I wait until sometime late next year before I post any sort of list.

The "year in review" critical reckoning has begun, though, as Brandon pointed out to me. The House Next Door and MUBI Notebook are both beginning to link to major critic lists.

Now is a good time to clarify my stubborn adoption of a very specific approach to what falls in and out of a given year. Basically, I follow Ed Gonzalez' approach to older films. If IMDB lists it as a certain year, then that's the year it belongs to. IMDB is generally very accurate about film premiere information.

Gonzalez himself has changed his criteria for dating a film for all of his post-2000 lists. He adopts the prevalent custom of reckoning a film's date by its American theatrical release. The popular practice usually requires a film to have played in at least NY or LA for a week in order to qualify. This is the Academy's practice and the popular critical one.

Now, to someone living in the Binghamton area, this is as arbitrary and stupid as anything else. Whether a film played in LA or NY or Cannes or Toronto, they are all completely inaccessible to me until they are released on DVD (or increasingly via streaming) or if they show up at Cornell or at one of our local "arthouses." Should I date a film's release year based on when the film shows up in Binghamton? Then, I'd have to treat most films as if they didn't exist at all.

I saw a beautiful print of Pandora and the Flying Dutchman projected theatrically at Cornell Cinema last year. It may be my favorite film that I saw theatrically in 2009. Should I have placed it as #1 on my 2009 list? Why does a film like Limits of Control, which I had to watch on DVD, rank high on my list while an actual cinematic experience gets kicked off to the side? Well, because we make rules about this sort of thing. Nothing used to irritate me in this regard more than Rosenbaum doing something like listing M as one of his favorite films of the 90s (I can't find this now, but I know he's guilty of it).

I've used the common popular system the past couple of years, but I'm done with it now. I prefer not to be Americentric in my dating. I prefer to date a film as belonging to the actual year that it first showed up somewhere, anywhere in the world.

Of course, no matter how one dates a film, it's still completely ridiculous to do something like arbitrarily separate a film released in December 09 from a film released in January 10 as if it belonged to an entirely different realm and category. Still, we're geeks and this is what we do. There is an undeniable pleasure to it all.

I haven't watched a movie (or anything else for that matter) in a week now. Is there something wrong with me? Should I check with my physician? Actually, I'm half-watching Labyrinth with the girls right now. And tonight I'm going to see You Were Never Lovelier with some guys from work.

I'm hoping to get another 1929 post up soon. Woman in the Moon remains unwatched. I'm starting to wonder if it will stay on the shelf indefinitely. There are so many great films waiting, but I've got to get through this one first. Again, what's wrong with me? When did watching a Fritz Lang film become a chore? I'll get it watched soon and post our updated 1929 Top 6 lists.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Disney Daze

This list is the best I could do. I've seen and like all of the films that you mention. Here's my top 10 non-animated feature length Disney films. A lot of these are co-productions between Disney and some other studio, but I'm going there because you went there first by including The Straight Story. If these co-productions weren't options for this list, then there would be a lot more "classic" Disney films on my list

Here goes...

10) The Absent-Minded Professor/Son of Flubber
I thought that these were really funny when I was a kid. These are probably among the earliest black and white films that I've ever seen.

9) Inspector Gadget
This is a bit of a contrarian pick. I haven't seen it since its theatrical release, but I remember being blown away by how much fun this picture is. Seriously underrated (though I'm afraid to see it again and maybe be proven wrong).

8) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
I like this adaptation more than most other Lewis fans. There are a few really magical moments that perfectly capture the feel of the book.

7) The Rookie
This is up there with the best baseball films of all time.

6) The Shaggy Dog/The Shaggy D.A.
These pleased me to no end when I was a child.

5) Pirates of the Caribbean (all three of them)
Listen to the following interview, at about the 16 minute mark...
http://www.bookotron.com/agony/news/2010/12-06-10-podcast.htm#podcast120610
I'm really looking forward to On Stranger Tides: The Movie even if Disney/Bruckheimer screw everything up.

4) Popeye
I thought this movie was magic when I was a kid. I haven't seen it since, but I have become a huge fan of the original Segar comic strips.

3) The Parent Trap
As noted earlier, this is one of those films that I can't shake at this point even if I wanted to.

2) The Straight Story
Probably the best film that Disney has ever been involved with. Definitely Lynch's best. The score, by Angelo Badalamenti, is among the best movie music of all time. Seriously.

1) Return to Oz
I first saw this when I was six years old and many, many times since. I don't know if that's too young or not. I haven't let my girls watch it yet. I don't know. Walter Murch is a master; the man behind the sounds and shape of images of some of the significant films of the past few decades. I wish he had directed more than this one gem.

YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MANY TIMES I'VE WATCHED THE PARENT TRAP



The Parent Trap is one of my mother's favorite movies. Two close seconds would be Pollyanna and The Time Machine. I've seen all three of these innumerable times, but Parent Trap is the one drilled into somewhere near the core of my identity.

I'm pretty sure we've talked about The Wonderful World of Disney Sunday nights on ABC. I had VHS dubs of lots of these. I've seen plenty of live-action Disney films, but not many of them stick with me.

Eh, I'm sure I'll have a list up within an hour or at least by the end of the day.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Comma

Abby informed me that Weismann's insult did not actually contain a "comma splice" since there are not two separate independent clauses in his sentence.

"Your ignorance, is exceeded only by your arrogance!"

What is the name of this comma error? I've stopped caring about Weismann. I need to know what this error is called. Anybody know? Is it possible that this could be a correct usage? I don't believe it.

I do confess my ignorance in innumerable areas. This is obviously one of them.

Arrogant? Not so much. I'm humbled all the time.

Misc. Responses

Ben, I've seen scattered parts of episodes of Community. I watched the full episode that you posted. Sorry, it doesn't really do anything for me.

I liked the short Uncle Jack. Have you seen The Fall? Or any of Gilliam's films from the '80s?

Is Science Fiction this era's Western? Nah. The Western is this era's Western.

Brandon, the Jonze/Arcade Fire short was okay, but I didn't fall for it hard like you did. I'm lukewarm toward it, kinda like that M.I.A. video that everyone raved about earlier this year. We should do a top ten list of all-time favorite music videos!

Brandon's Tens. Almost Finished?

Brandon,

I updated the simple site that I made for your lists:

https://sites.google.com/site/bmtoptenlists/

It looks like 1948 is the only year missing and I just came across this comment of yours from a couple of weeks ago:

"I have finished 1948 and I’m having a hard time ranking those films."

Come on, let's have it already!!!

Max Weismann is a jerk.

My post On... received an obvious spambot comment from a Max Weismann. In fact, it received two identical comments separated by about twenty minutes. I only published one of them.

I sent the following email to Mr. Weismann:

Max, you recently left a spam comment on my blog advertising your Adler/Van Doren "how to read a book" videos. Honestly, the videos sound great, but I wouldn't buy a thing from you at this point. I'd be more interested if you didn't sound like a spam-bot. I don't claim to have any "Great Ideas" on my blog, but I can claim to have a few friends that interact with what I actually write instead of sending me junk advertisement. Why don't you interact with anything in my post besides my brief mention of How to Read a Book? Then, maybe I'll check out and respect what you're doing. From what I've seen of what you're doing, it doesn't look like you're trying to further any great conversation at all. It looks like you're trying to make a quick buck.

John Owen
http://chasingpictures.blogspot.com


Weismann wrote back:

"From what I've seen of what you're doing, it doesn't look like you're trying to further any great conversation at all."

It seems you haven't visited our website.

--
----------------------------------------------------
Justice and freedom; discussion and criticism;
intelligence and character--these are the indispensable
ingredients of the democratic state.
We can be rich and powerful without them.
But not for long. --Robert M. Hutchins
----------------------------------------------------
Center for the Study of The Great Ideas
Founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann
E-mail: TGIdeas@speedsite.com
Home Page: http://www.thegreatideas.org/
A not-for-profit 501(c)3 educational organization
Donations are tax deductible as the law allows


I wrote back:

I did visit your website. In my email, I was speaking specifically about your spambot comment. You are not interested in conversing with me about anything in my blog post besides my brief aside about How to Read a Book. I don't like your shady advertisement tactics. They are rude and disrespectful attempts at furthering your own agenda, not beginning a conversation with others. Please be honest and admit that you have no interest in me or my film club blog except that I exist as a potential customer to you.


To which Weismann very kindly responded within 4 minutes of my having sent the above email:

Your ignorance, is exceeded only by your arrogance!


My grammar here on the blog is often loose and often disregards basic rules of English language usage, but I couldn't resist writing back with the following:

Your comma splice, is exceeded only by your rudeness!


He hasn't written back yet.

Ignorant and arrogant,
-John

Saturday, December 4, 2010

West of the Stream

Yesterday morning, I was up really early and watched Broken Arrow, which I already wrote about. After cooking breakfast for the girls, I went back upstairs and watched Henry King's The Gunfighter, starring Gregory Peck. It's a really good little film that doesn't seem to get the attention it deserves. If any of your friends are considering the gunfighter lifestyle, have them check out this film first. Yes, that was a joke, but this examination of celebrity and power and the younger generation gunning down the older one is applicable to more than the not-so-often-chosen career of gunfighter.

Last night, I worked an afternoon into overnight into this morning shift sitting with a guy at Wilson Hispital. Wilson has wireless. I have an iPod with a Netflix app. I understand that my criticisms of Watch Instantly are seeming weaker every day.

I watched The Searchers and The River of No Return. I can't say anything about The Searchers that hasn't already been said better. The Searchers is one of those few films that everyone has seen whether or not they've actually seen it. Like Casablanca or Gone With the Wind or a select few dozen other films, The Searchers is part of American identity at this point.

So let's talk about The River of No Return.

The film stars Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe and is directed by Otto Preminger. If that's not enough to get you excited about a picture, then I don't know what is.

The narrative situation is pretty straightforward. A father picks up his young son that he hasn't seen since the boy was a baby. The mother is dead now. The father, played by Mitchum, has just been released from prison. They try to make an honest life as farmers. Monroe plays a barroom singer trying to make good with a no-good card shark by filing a gold claim that the gambler has won in a shady card game. They all end up on the river of no return! I won't go into any further detail except to say that everything plays out just as you'd expect it to; except that it always does so in a way smarter than average.

Love is a traveller on the river of no return!

After getting out of work this morning, I made it to a 10:15am matinee showing of The Warrior's Way.
Ever since I saw the trailer for this film a couple of weeks ago, I've been excited about it like I've been for no other film since Jonah Hex. And we all know how that one worked out for me. [Related: check out Dennis Cozallio's defense of Jonah Hex]

The Warrior's Way was everything I was hoping it would be and more. I was immediately reminded of the America of Lars Von Trier's Dogville and Dear Wendy (he wrote the script). Imagine those films as re-written and directed by the Terry Gilliam of Time Bandits and Baron Von Munchausen. Then filter that mix through a Sergio Leone matrix of operatic violence and shake it all together with some Wachowski Brothers sensibilities. I'm sure there are Asian influences that I'm totally missing, but I'm mostly ignorant of the martial arts genre and Korean and Hong Kong cinema as a whole.

There is a lot of violence in the film. The violence seems necessary to the over-the-top nature of this cartoonish abstraction of a story. Which is of course to say that the violence is completely unnecessary. Warrior's Way shares in some of the same explorations of lives consumed by violence that The Gunfighter does. If Warrior's Way lacks The Gunfighter's maturity and understanding, it makes up for it with ridiculous ninja vs. cowboy shoot 'em ups, slice 'em ups.

When I got home, I watched Son of Paleface with the girls. Son of Paleface is twice as silly as Paleface. I really like it and a few moments are much better than Paleface, but on the whole I think I prefer Paleface to Son of Paleface. The dentist jokes beat the Harvard jokes. Still, Son of Paleface delivers lots of fun.

Broken Arrow. The Gunfighter. The Searchers. The River of No Return. The Warrior's Way. Son of Paleface.

Wow, I love Westerns.

Less than 3 weeks now until True Grit!

Friday, December 3, 2010

On...

On Aranofsky...
I'm not a fan. Then again, I've only seen Pi and The Wrestler. It's been about 12 years since I've seen Pi. I wrote about some of my problems with The Wrestler last year. Black Swan does not interest me at all except that it's currently one of the critical darlings of the moment.

On giving up on Jason...
I obviously haven't really given up on him. It's all part of our dysfunctional blogging relationship. I write something vaguely insulting or disapproving. Jason is shamed into putting up a post.

On Netflix Watch Instantly...
Since my post, I've been watching some movies this way.

I already wrote about Holy Rollers.

I watched the first episode of Beavis and Butt-head thanks to Jason's post. That's the first time I've seen them in at least 15 years. Unfortunately, the best part of B&B was always watching them watch music videos and that's been cut out of these versions. I discovered Ween and Superchunk this way (and probably others I can't specifically remember) back in the early '90s.

I watched two early Starewicz animated shorts, both fun but mostly interesting for their historical value. The Cameraman's Revenge (1912) features adulterous bugs. The Insects' Christmas (1913) has Santa and frogs. This dude Starewicz must have been crazy to be around.

Broken Arrow is great. Like Chain Gang a month or so ago, it didn't take me long at all into watching this to realize that I had seen it already. Probably in college, but I can't remember. What is surprising to me is how well the love story works. It's a distracting little side plot that gradually becomes the heart of the narrative.

I have to concede to Brandon that, yes, Netflix Watch Instantly does have a great classics and foreign selection. A guy could get a decent film education just watching available streaming titles. My concerns of limited access still stand. Just look at my 1929 list. I'm sure that the number of available films by year is proportionally the same. For every 3 films you can find streaming, 20 more films are available via DVD. The difference between 1929 and 1950 and 2010 is that there is a steady increase of content by year. Only a tiny fraction of the whole is there streaming. I'm fine with streaming (especially since I haven't had any buffering problems since writing my last post!). Personally, though, the thing I value most about Netflix is the scope of access that I currently have with DVDs. Streaming is a nice perk and makes me feel less bad about when I keep out a movie for too long, like...

Fritz Lang's Woman in the Moon. It came in the mail the day before Thanksgiving and we've been busy since. It's three hours long, which makes it hard to pop in at 9:30pm, the usual time we can get settled in to watch something. We've watched about 30 minutes and I hope to have it finished by this weekend.

On further confirmation that anything by Truffaut is essential viewing...
Last weekend, we watched Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451. It's fine. I liked it. Especially the title-less title sequence. The spoken word there, mixed with the visuals of the TV antennas is quite striking. The film is astounding in the way it visually conveys the importance of words by the fleeting way that they appear and disappear. Every book title becomes precious. Every string of letters on screen needs to be absorbed fast. Then, for all of that, the conclusion in book village isn't really a happy ending.

On the Tree of Life trailer preceding Black Swan...
You found the one thing to say to get me excited about Black Swan. I can't wait for that movie to come out around here now! I'm going!

On DVDs as physical objects...
It's true that one can't really make a DVD one's own in the same manner as a book. BUT DVDs are more conducive to studying a film. Being able to pause and check out an almost frame by frame account of a movie is not possible via streaming. Being able to easily rewind or set a section on a loop to be watched over and over again. Taking screenshots. Ripping a copy and manipulating the images into video essays. These are things that I've done with DVDs that I don't see as possibilities via streaming at this time.

On How to Read a Book...
I'm reading Adler's How to Read a Book right now. A lot of it is information that I've already internalized from other sources/teachers. Some is very useful. If anything, it has convicted me of too often falling into lazy reading practices when I should know better. Related to movies, it's reminded me that I've been doing a lot of "superficial" movie watching lately. Watching a good movie once is never enough. I've been watching so many 2010 films, weeding out my DVD collection, and trying to catch up on all that I haven't seen from the past. The year is almost over and I haven't re-viewed Stalker or Andrei Rublev or any other Tarkovsky. It's been too long since I've seen The New World. Why haven't I seen Terror in a Texas Town lately?

I guess it has to do with trying to increase the breadth of my film knowledge. I'm starting to suspect that I'm going too broad at the moment and probably need to slow down and dig in deep near a few of my favorite films. I had a lot of fun segmenting Blast of Silence earlier this year. Maybe I'll dig into Blast of Silence further or maybe segment another film. Maybe I'll just start by re-watching Curtiz' Robin Hood with the girls. There is no end to the pleasures of that film.

On Jason using Flixster...
Jason, if your so-called friends on Facebook can't take the time to read your movie blog, then you are probably mistaken about how much they care about your Flixster capsules on Facebook. Forget about them. We are your real movie geek friends.

On ending this post...


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SHABBAT IS A STATE OF MIND

(the best thing about watching instantly on my iPod? Being able to easily capture screenshots like the above)



Ironically enough, immediately after posting my discontent with Netflix Watch Instantly, I read the Indiewire coverage of the Gotham Awards.... and saw that Asch had snagged "Breakthrough Director" for Holy Rollers.

I suddenly remembered seeing Holy Rollers available via Netflix Watch Instantly.

What did I do?

I immediately checked Netflix and started streaming the film via my iPod Netflix app. What do you know? No problems at all. No buffering. Some sections suffered from very poor video quality (weird pixelation), but I enjoyed seeing the film.

Holy Rollers is a good enough "rise and fall of an amateur gangster" life story with an Orthodox Jewish twist. I liked it. Jesse Eisenberg continues to be one of my favorite young actors. He is at least as good here as he is in The Social Network even if this isn't quite as ambitious a film as that one is. [To be clear, TSN is a much better film than this one is.]

And Netflix Watch Instantly? It's a great thing when it works. Like it did tonight. And I'm glad to have seen this interesting film that seems to have gone under most critical radar. BUT, still, the Netflix selection has a long, long, long, long waaay to go...

Against the stream

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
-G. K. Chesterton, ripped out of context from The Everlasting Man

I am not as enthusiastic about Netflix Watch Instantly as others.

Streaming video may be the wave of the future. It does seem likely at this point. The Cable/Satellite "bundle" model will hopefully die.

For almost ten years now, I've said that I would be willing to pay at least $10 a month for Turner Classic Movies. For the past ten years, this has not been an option. I can either pay $50 or more for a bundle of channels that I actively despise or I can live without TCM. I've chosen to live without TCM.

I like streaming video. I don't like the limitations of streaming video. The buffering and the poor to average a/v quality are far away from any point at which the format could rival DVD. Out in the country, I've got a decent high speed network set up now, but Frontier's DSL lines just can't always handle streaming video, especially at peak hours.

Besides the quality, the biggest issue I have with streaming via Netflix is that the Watch Instantly selection is crap. Sure, it's decent enough if you're not too discerning about what bad 80s film you'll watch for nostalgia's sake or if you just want to catch up on a lot of TV shows from the past decade. That's not why I like Netflix.

The reason that Netflix is appealing at all to me is the relatively inexpensive ease of access that it provides to nearly every classic and foreign film available on DVD. Their selection for movie rental in any format is an unrivaled achievement which is, quite simply, astounding. We are currently living in a "golden age" of film availability. I can't imagine going to a "streaming only" option that meant limited options. If I have to deal with a limited selection, I'd rather go back to renting at the local independently owned video store.

I realize that I'm in the .00001 percent of people on Netflix who are renting films from 1929 exclusively. Seriously, the next 20 films in my queue are all from 1929. I'm amazed that that is even possible. Ten years ago, I doubt if I could have found 5 of these titles to watch AND I would have had to pay a ton of money just for the privilege to see them in what were probably sub-par mutilated versions on VHS or bad 16mm prints. DVDs had been around for about three years, but the opening up of studio back catalogs to the extent that we see now was still a ways in the future. DVD has now arrived, more or less. Streaming has a long way to go.

Netflix Watch Instantly offers 4 feature films from 1929 via streaming, as far as I can tell.

Pabst's Pandora's Box is there in what is most definitely not the Criterion transfer and is for whatever reason 2 minutes shorter than the DVD version.

Hitch's Blackmail is the same so-so transfer that I watched on an Image DVD.

Dwan's The Iron Mask is a mutilation, the travesty of a re-cut done in 1951 that cuts out all of the inter-titles and replaces this with voiceover narration by Fairbanks, Jr. This re-cut version clocks in 31 minutes shorter than Dwan's cut. I can guarantee you right now that there were not 31 minutes of title screens in the film.

Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera is also present. It appears intact, but I can't tell.

That's it. Those four are my options for "instantly" (I have to use the parentheses since "instant" takes on a new meaning on those nights when buffering is incessant) viewing films from 1929.

Part of the thrill of having DVDs is also that there is still a physical object to be handled and to be shared with others. CR5 Movie Club started as a DVD Exchange Experiment where we would swap DVDs for a week. I suppose that swapping flash drives would have worked just as well, but something seems lacking. Still, I could get over this if I had to.

My real problem with digital delivery at the moment is that it currently leads to less access, not more. I'm also not sure why I'm being asked to pay more for my DVD plan than the Streaming folks are being asked to pay if all of that extra money is being used to subsidize the cost of streaming video. Why not offer a cheaper DVD-only plan as well for those of us who think of streaming video as a nice novelty at the moment, but can really live without it? Moving from a huge DVD library to a relatively tiny streaming library just doesn't make sense to me.

I'm not too pessimistic about the future of film availability. I'm still waiting for that TCM-only subscription plan. When that arrives, I'll have the biggest dish on any roof this side of Hollywood.


---------------------------------------------------------

Ben, I've enjoyed your recent posts. If you didn't notice yet, check my sidebar here. I've made you an honorary CR5 Movie Club Member! Hopefully, Brandon will give you a warm welcome soon. I've given up on Jason. He's always running off with that hussy Facebook.

Brandon, I'm off to finally watch that Arcade Fire video RIGHT NOW!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Opposable Thumbs

I just watched the trailer for Source Code.  My opinion?  It looks pretty awful.  I'll still see it and hope for the best.

Brandon, my friend Ben just started posting about movies.  I'm hoping that he'll keep it up.  Check him out here and give him some encouragement:

http://thumbit.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cartoons

The Killing My Brain Cells One Cartoon At a Time Top Ten List

10) The Herculoids

The Herculoids, Space Ghost, Thundarr, Birdman, a few more. Hannah Barberra had the stupidest superheroes of all. As always, H-B barely animates their material and the stories are always lame. I love these shows.

9) G.I. Joe

I watched a lot of G.I. Joe when I was younger. I was a real patriot. I also watched a lot of Transformers, which makes me a robot in disguise. TAKE THAT BRAIN CELLS!

8) Wacky Races

We all knew that the races were rigged, but racing never got any better than this. I've never cared for NASCAR because it has never quite been wacky enough. I was a huge fan of the USA Network Cartoon Express. If you don't know what that is, then you missed the train.

7) Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids

"This is Bill Cosby comin' at you with music and fun,
and if you're not careful you may learn something before it's done.
So let's get ready, OK? Hey, hey, hey!"

6) The Smurfs

The Smurfs probably helped my grammar more than any of my schooling. Smurf you.

5) Shirt Tales

This show was based on greeting card characters. How stupid is that? I won't celebrate Mother's Day, but I love this stupid show.

4) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtle Power! I aspire to be a party dude.

3) Tiny Toon Adventures/Animaniacs

Irreverant humor. Almost a throwback to the glory days of WB animation.

2) DuckTales

Maybe the best comics-to-tv adaptation out there. There was a brief after-school Disney cartoon revival in the early '90s. There were also some great WB cartoons, including the Batman animated series.

1) The Simpsons

I was gathered around the boob tube with my family for the series premiere of this, the most faithfully brilliant of all brain-dead television animation. I watched most seasons up until the end of college, at the point when my TV access wasn't regular. I haven't kept up, but I do catch an episode now and then. The Simpsons is one of the most consistently brilliant television shows of all time.

Then again, what do I know? All of my brain cells are long gone from watching too many cartoons.

There are at least 100 other shows that I could name. I could write about Pirates of Dark Water or my long teenage flirtation with Anime.

I wasted a lot of time watching bad cartoons, most much worse than what I name above.

I regret that I didn't spend my childhood learning many real skills. But I don't really regret that I watched any of these cartoons. Animation is a marvelous example of creaturely sub-creation of worlds.

If you really wanted to get technical, I would insist that all motion pictures are animations. Really, all films consist of roughly 24 frames of still photographs projected at a speed of 1 second, creating an illusion of movement that is never really there. It has become easy to do this with photography. That anyone at all is willing to do this with hand-drawn cels is a mark of beautiful artistic determination. Or the mark of someone devoid of brain cells.

I take my stand with the deranged animators. I can do no other. God help me.

Because I realized I hadn't written at all about Able Edwards, I decided not to write about Able Edwards.

I realized that I never wrote that I watched Able Edwards about a month ago. It's an interesting film that's worth watching. I was reminded of it as I was researching Nintendo DSi games and came across the game Nintendogs. Read any review of Nintendogs and then think about how different that experience is from loving a live dog. Now you know what Able Edwards is about.

So, why was I looking at DSi games? No, I don't have a DSi though I've had my eye on the DS since '05. I've always been a Gameboy fan, since the first model way back when. I bought an Advance the day it came out. I eventually bought an SP. I lost enthusiasm because I didn't seem to enjoy any of the games that came out besides the almost always great Zelda titles. The DS (and specifically the DSi) look great and the games that I've seen really seem innovative, pushing the boundaries of puzzle gaming in particular.

So, why was I looking at DSi games? Because I felt good about myself after getting rid of even more DVDs at SoundGoRound today and making $60. While at SGR, I was looking at all of their videogames.

I'm thinking about videogames today. I'm one of too many young punks that think that gaming, both board and video, can be an aesthetic experience. The game of Go is not only a mind-blowing work of interactive art, it is a masterpiece. That's the most obvious example. Chess is another. But there are plenty of contemporary examples at a lesser level as we see a flowering of game design right now in the present. I've spent the past 5 years getting to know contemporary boardgames and I definitely have a preference for boardgames. Still, even if I don't play them as much, I respect videogames and have kept up-to-date with at least basic news and advancements in videogaming. I'm really eager to see a Nintendo 3DS in action next year.

Several months ago, I read a review of Red Dead Redemption over at A House Next Door. Maybe it is pointing the way toward the future of video gaming. And I really, really want to play this game so much that I have been tempted to buy an Xbox just for this one game. But again, maybe we're in Able Edwards territory.


Finally, some loose conversation ends...

Ben, of course I went home and watched all three seasons of True Blood immediately. There's only so much that I can admit to at a time here. Give me a few months and I'll be posting about my live action roleplaying sessions of my fan-fic script for season 4.

Brandon, it's not quite what you intended, but I'm preparing a Top Ten list of my favorite animated television shows of all time. Partially this is in response to my friend Matt allowing his wife to write complete drivel like the following on her blog: "We don't watch cartoon movies, but rather borrow/rent movies with real people. That has always been our preference. I can actually *feel* myself losing brain cells when I watch cartoons, so I don't. So our children can sing word for word songs from Hello Dolly and Fiddler on the Roof but don't have a clue what Ice Age or Toy Story is about."

I could respond to something like this by citing a dozen intelligent animated feature films and why they are worthy of attention. Instead, I want to revel in that basest of all entertainment options, the Saturday Morning Cartoon. And don't get me started on Hello Dolly or Fiddler on the Roof.

Matt, you heard me. And Troeg's Elf Ale is a disappointment.

Why isn't this in production right now? Why tease me?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_of_the_Elves

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Experiencing 1929


It's no secret that I watch more movies than Abigail does. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd go back through these posts and figure out a percentage. Even doing that, though, would be a way of avoiding real work while Abby does something productive.

Mostly, I watch movies alone after she's fallen asleep or early in the morning before anyone has woken up. Sometimes, if I have a day off, I'll sneak upstairs in the middle of the day for a nap with the baby, which usually turns into me staying awake watching a movie.

In an effort at matrimonial concord, I've decided to stop spending so much time catching up on the crap movies of the present. I can name on one hand the films from 2010 that I think are worth caring about and even out of those I haven't really fallen in love with anything besides a few isolated shots/scenes/sequences here and there. So, I'm mostly done with 2010 for now. I'm going back to...

1929!

And I'm bringing Abby with me!

Together, we'll slowly make our way through the movies of 1929. When we're done with that, 1930. Then, 1931. Then... well, you get the idea.

I was directly inspired by Peter Bogdanovich's post about his favorite American films from 1929 (as an aside, his 1930 list was just published today). Additionally, I've taken the broader International lists of Ed Gonzalez and Jonathan Rosenbaum as further guides along the way. The Wikipedia Year in Film lists are also quite helpful. (Brandon, am I missing any other good lists?)

I was also directly inspired by Brandon's ambitious '40s-'50s project. That's pretty much what I'm doing here; only slower, and in chronological order, starting with the beginnings of the talkie revolution.

AND, as a treat for my few friends/readers here and as a special treat to myself, I'm dragging Abby along for the ride.

I'm not sure if I can get her to write much, but I have convinced her to keep a ranked list to accompany mine.

Will our marriage survive the stress of disagreeing strongly about movies? Or will we find a perfect harmony numbered 1 through 10?

So far we've watched three films from 1929. What I think I'm going to do is post updated 1929 lists three movies at a time. So, here I'll be posting our top 3's. Next, I'll post top 6's. Then Top 9's. Then, a genuine top ten list with more and more movies falling off the list each time we update another batch of 3.

So, what were the first three films?

In the order we watched them...

Spite Marriage is a modestly funny Buster Keaton vehicle. There are a couple of really hilarious moments (the beard, the stuffed animal) but the majority of the film resides in steady smile territory.

The Iron Mask was the last film that Alan Dwan and Douglas Fairbanks worked on together. The action has that sparkling quality that Dwan and Fairbanks had perfected. Exhilarating! All this action almost makes me want to exercise more than my eyeballs. This movie certainly has the best ending of the three we watched. I was almost tearing up with joy.

Hallelujah! is King Vidor's all-black semi-musical about a man's fall, his being lifted up, falling harder than before, then receiving unmerited grace far richer than he deserves. There are some sho 'nuff racist moments in the film, but I think the blame for this has more to do with the times in general than with Vidor's intentions. This film is the most visually sophisticated of these three films. Vidor knows how to shoot familial tenderness and redemption and he knows how to shoot lust and rage. After seeing this and Show People (1928) earlier this year, I'm convinced that King Vidor is one of the great filmmakers of the U.S.

We let the girls watch The Iron Mask with us and they all really enjoyed it. I sometimes chuckle when people think that my love for classic films means that I have a shelf full of family-friendly titles ready to recommend. Surely, the past has many more family-friendly offerings than the present, but a quick glance at a list of titles for 1929 will show anyone that these films are not really for children. I've got about 20 films from 1929 lined up to watch. Many of these have really adult themes and too many of them deal with that perennial cinematic problem, infidelity. Needless to say, it's good to find an exciting adventure movie that the girls can watch. For the sake of fun, I'll keep a list of the girls favorites based on what we've let them watch with us.

Enough. Here's the first set of lists:

1929 Top Ten - The Girls
1) The Iron Mask

1929 Top Ten - John
1) Hallelujah!
2) The Iron Mask
3) Spite Marriage

1929 Top Ten - Abigail
1/2) Hallelujah!/The Iron Mask
3) Spite Marriage

That's right. Her first attempt at ranking movies by year and she waffles. A tie! Right now, the first half of Hallelujah! and the final moments of The Iron Mask are wrestling in her grey matter for supremacy. Will this stalemate last forever? Who will eventually win?

Stay Tuned! Same Blog Time! Same Blog Channel!

Gently down the stream.

I've been enjoying watching streaming video via Netflix and Hulu lately.

Half an episode of Glee was enough to confirm my suspicion that I am not at all this show's target audience. Ugh.

This year's Treehouse of Terror episode is as good as always.

The Sweeney Todd episode of The Office was enjoyable enough.

The pilot of Lois & Clark is cute and just fine, but I won't keep watching.

Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... is the best interview show I had never heard of even though it's two years old now. I've only watched the Elton John episode so far.

This past Saturday night, I saw my first episode of True Blood while staying at my friend Ben's sister's house in Erie, PA.

I have to admit that I had a great time watching it, partly because I was in a silly mood and partly because of its irresistible trashy allure.

Ben reminded me that the Harlan Ellison movie, Dreams With Sharp Teeth, was available via Netflix: Watch Instantly. Ellison is always interesting, but this documentary fails in the same way that so many biographical documentaries fail, not realizing that it would be more interesting just to listen to the subject, here Ellison, speak for an hour and a half than to watch this documentary. The attempted informational/educational structure of the doc gets in the way of any sustained entertainment that Ellison could have achieved.

Back From Hell: A Tribute to Sam Kinison does a better job of letting Kinison's material speak for itself, with some adoring commentary from Kinison's younger comedian peers. Still, you're probably better off just watching a Kinsion concert video instead of this doc.

It might be that I'm cynical toward both these docs because I'm already familiar with the "characters" depicted, but I think that there's more than that disappointing me. Both of these only offer a shallow surface introduction.

The Oath, on the other hand, slowly and methodically peels back more layers of its subject, deepening and widening the mystery of the person(s) under examination, always revealing more humanity, playing with audience expectations and delivering a sober sort of thriller with a sad, conflicted release at its climax. I'm hoping to watch it again soon. I'm hoping you guys watch it soon and let me know what you think.

I watched the first episode of Battlestar Galactica. I understand the appeal and have multiple friends that love the show, but there's no way I can start another long series now. I'll slowly make my way through Smallville for now and maybe, maybe I'll try to tackle The Wire sooner or later. Later. I've also continued to slowly make my way through Star Trek: The Original Series, but I usually fall asleep to whatever episode I try to watch.

Right now, I've started a new film watching project that will take up the rest of the year and probably continue into next year. More about that in the next post.

I've continued to get rid of DVDs and am starting to feel much better about the shape of my collection, though there's still plenty of weeding to do. I think I'm mostly cured of the "impulse buy" mentality, but, then again, there haven't been any "going out of business" sales to tempt me for quite a while. There has been the ongoing dreaded B&N 50% off Criterion sale that is so damned hard to resist, but I haven't given in to that particular weakness yet this time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Worth a listen...

Ted Murphy, the only formal film teacher I've ever known, gives a survey of satanic representations in art culminating in Nolan's The Dark Knight...

http://www.houghton.edu/spiritual_life/Chapels/2008%20Fall/2008.11.17.Ted%20Murphy.mp3


Definitely worth a listen or two.

Unrelated, it looks like America, America is definitely coming to DVD...

http://mubi.com/notebook/posts/2510

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blood makes noise.

We finished Season 1 of Smallville. Smallville at its core is about family and friends and specifically about a boy becoming a man within the family instruction he has received and in terms of the blood running through his veins.

The Weight of Blood.

I'm thinking of blood due to Winter's Bone, which is among my favorite films of the year. Winter's Bone is about blood relations. About the power of blood. Like the best crime films, Bone is about nobility and honor. There are kings and queens, princes and princesses, in the hills of Arkansas and other such places, whether recognized by any civil law or not. The weight of blood makes its demands on its own terms. "I wouldn't know what to do without the weight of you two on my back." Our blood obligations define us whether we accept the responsibility or not.

Of course the film medium allows for visual representations of this. In A Nightmare on Elm St., the ridiculous remake, our hero Rooney drowns in a hall of blood as the grotesque villain attempts to settle a perceived blood debt. The movie is mostly stupid, but I enjoyed it more than about half a dozen other films from this year.

Gentleman Broncos is about gonads and mammary cannons and I didn't quite like it. Maybe Hess likes his characters, I'm pretty sure he does, but he does a disservice to both homeschool communities and sf communities over the course of this film. I know that there are creeps and weirdos and bad people in both of these communities, but my experience in both communities has been overwhelmingly positive. But maybe I'm missing the point of this film.

I'd make more sense and tie this all back together to blood, but I'm too distracted by those mammary cannons.

I fell asleep halfway through Sweetgrass and still haven't finished it. That's bad, isn't it? Bloody sheep.

I watched the first episode of The Walking Dead. Even being prepared by reading the comic, I was surprised by the graphic violence. A bullet through the head doesn't mean what it used to mean before the zombie apocalypse. Heavy blood.

My friend Matt helped me get shared in-law Internet access out in the sticks. I've signed back up for the $8.99 Netflix plan. My first Watch Instantly title: The Oath.

Okay, I'm annoyed. I tried writing about The Oath twice, but my iPod has chosen to delete my writing twice. Strange.

Anyhow, it's my favorite film of 2010. Sorry I don't feel like writing things all over again.

Here's a Martin Luther quote from his On war against the Turk:

"It is said, indeed, that the Turks are, among themselves, faithful and friendly and careful to tell the truth. I believe that, and I think that they probably have more fine virtues in them than that. No man is so bad that there is not something good in him."

In context, Luther has been defining Islam as satanic- built on lies, murder, and hatred of women, but here he pauses to point out apparent virtues.

[It should go without saying that I don't agree with Luther in all that he says, especially his historicist eschatology and his penchant for rabid insults, but, as always, I respect Luther as the mad genius and genuine servant of God that he was. There is plenty of wisdom applicable to today's circumstances to be found in Luther's stance on Islam and his call for Christian prayer and repentance to precede and correspond with any possible military action.]

We know (or ought to know) that these men depicted in The Oath are our enemies. The beauty of The Oath is that it goes far in helping us to understand and maybe even begin to love and respect our enemies even as we must meet them on the various battlefields yet to emerge.

Okay, I'm done writing this and posting it immediately so I don't lose anything else, especially since I've veered off into talking about Luther instead of the actual content of The Oath.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October moves fast.

My beautiful daughter Mildred assisted me in the photoshopping of her already scary/funny picture.

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Adults have True Blood.

Teens have Twilight.

What is the current vampire craze for the 8-year-old kids these days?

Murnau's Nosferatu, of course!

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Here's what I've been watching in October:

I had a lot of trouble making it all the way through the ultra-precious movie Babies.

I watched the Film Socialisme trailer twice in a row immediately afterward as a way of scrubbing the cute from my eyes.

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Don't Come Knocking is a tight bundle of emotional abstractions. About a cowboy actor who leaves a set to see his mother and then to find the son he didn't know he had. A clever and seemingly personal Sam Shepherd script and highly stylized Wenders direction are highlighted by welcomingly intrusive music shaped by Mr. T Bone Burnett.

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I didn't think I had seen I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, but it turns out I've seen it before. I've got a crappy memory. What a great film.

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The early moment in Fury when Lang cross-cuts between women gossiping and hens clucking is classic. Another great one.

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We're still watching Smallville Season 1. The most notable episode so far features an as yet unknown Amy Adams as the high school fat girl who starts drinking kryptonite shakes, loses weight, then sucks the fat off anything that moves. You guys don't know what you're missing.

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I didn't like The Social Network (TSN) as much as Brandon did. It's fine. It's among the more interesting films of the year. And it's worth talking about. Eh.

Those echoes of Kane (and so many others) that Brandon alluded to and the whip-smart fast-talk; it's all there. And this is the best an American has come at making talk exciting since Basterds. The opening scene of TSN is a conversation- and it's tense. As is some of the rest. Except for when it's not. Sometimes the film feels emotionally flat.

I didn't like the [waste of the] structure of it all. Based on the deposition structuring and the hopping through history, I wanted some sort of Rashomon or even Kane feel. Instead, we get TOLD that 85% is emotion and exaggeration, but we're shown the "past(s)" in a singularly factual manner. The film wants to suggest subjective conflicting POVs, but I don't think it accomplishes this visually. It maybe barely accomplishes the idea of it through dialogue. And the jumps in time with a character starting a line at the hearing and finishing it at some time in the past are annoying. This may just be my personal taste, but, as fluid as these timeshifts are, I don't think they accomplish anything that couldn't have been accomplished some other better way. Since seeing the movie, I've heard that actual transcripts of the hearings exist and that Sorkin partially built his script around these. I'd have loved to have seen just the transcripts filmed. 2 hours of dudes sitting in a room talking. Why do we need the extended flashbacks when Fincher can make guys sitting at a table talking exciting?

Since writing my initial impressions above, I've been reading a lot on TSN. Emerson's "code" posts, in particular, are well worth checking out. Also, Lessig is always worth reading.

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I want to briefly address the use of music in The Town. It is often over-the-top, mawkish, obvious, etc. But I like it. It's hard for me to pin my finger on exactly why this exaggerated style works here when I've made fun of it other places. Except I think that the music is appropriate in all the right places. It's so obvious and doggedly appropriate that it never feels manipulative or too corny.

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Here's where I might just break Brandon's heart.

I was bored by Jaws.

Still, I can't believe the thing got a PG rating. It means Parental Guidance, so sure, but all too often it is also used as shorthand that the following film is family-friendly with a tad bit too much rude humor. My theory: The major reason this movie is so well-loved is because it scared an entire generation of young children who saw it at a tender age.

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I listen to a handful of podcasts on a regular basis. Two of my favorite movie-related ones are Comedy Film Nerds and Doug Loves Movies. Recent episodes of both are among the best media/entertainment objects I've had the pleasure to experience in any format all year.

Comedy Film Nerds #27 with the Sklar Brothers

Doug Loves Movies #200 with Jimmy Pardoe, Paul F. Tompkins, and John Lithgow

Check them out.

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It's been a while since I've interacted with any of Brandon's year's best posts. I've usually seen a handful of films for every year written about; sometimes more, sometimes less.

I've only seen five of the titles you list for 1957. Because of my ignorance, I'll skip over commenting on this year except to say that you need to see A Face in the Crowd. It's the best thing Andy Griffith has ever done and among Kazan's several masterpieces.

I'm hoping that the new Scorcese/Jones doc about Kazan will finally convince whatever studio owns the rights to finally release Kazan's America, America on DVD. I was fortunate to see nearly all of Kazan's filmography at a retrospective playing at a little cinema in Paris back in May 2001. I've been wanting to re-watch America, America since then, but expensive VHS has been the only option.

------------

For 1950, I've seen ten of the films that you mention. I'd have to go back and check to be certain, but I think that this is the highest ratio I've had on any of the lists you've made so far.

With the usual caveat that I haven't seen some of these in many years, here's how I would rank them.

The Flowers of St. Francis
In a Lonely Place
Winchester 73
Panic in the Streets
Rashomon
Gun Crazy
The Asphalt Jungle
Rio Grande
The Furies
Cinderella

The Flowers of St. Francis contains every right impulse in the biopic genre and ignores every wrong one. Flowers exists in a world of perspectival truth. Truth is real and absolute, but it is so much more complicated than anyone wants it to be. A straight narrative will not suffice. No single simple story can convey the enormity of a man like Francis. This one comes close at grasping Francis by not trying. We see the grace of Francis flowing through the lives of his little flowers and so learn to live and love in a similar manner. I don't know. It's been a few years since I've seen it and I know that I'm grasping at ideas here without much clarity and am working with fuzzy memories instead of the the objective frames of the film. Ah well.

In a Lonely Place hit me like a sucker punch to the groin. In any other year that Flowers didn't exist, this would be the clear #1. Both Flowers and Lonely would be somewhere high on an all-time top 50 list if I ever make one.

Winchester '73 was the first Mann western I ever watched. My friend Ben Gallman's parents were teachers at Houghton. He lived at home with them and enjoyed the glory of having TCM. I'm not sure when TCM first started, but it was brand new to all of us in '99/'00 and Ben was the prophet of TCM. Armed with a huge supply of VHS tapes, Ben recorded everything he could off of TCM and was very generous about screening these for friends and loaning them out. Like many others, I am indebted to Ben for a large part of my introduction to classic studio films in general and the Westerns of Mann, Daves, Ray, And Walsh in particular.

Panic in the Streets is one of those Kazan films I saw in Paris. I haven't seen it since.

I don't know what it would have been like to see Rashomon in 1950. Maybe it should be higher on my list, but I like the films above better.

I have to admit, Brandon, that I wasn't expecting you to like Gun Crazy as much as you did after your lukewarm response to Terror in a Texas Town. I know that the backseat car shot and the crazy sexual tension give Gun Crazy a unique feverish intensity, but I totally prefer Lewis' Terror.

I am an unrepentant John Huston lover. The Asphalt Jungle is no exception.

Rio Grande is one of my least favorite Ford Westerns. In general, I just don't dig the military/cavalry stuff. It's still really good and if I'm remembering the right movie, the father/son stuff is good.

Maybe I should like The Furies more than I do. The cast is great in it, but the weird family rivalries/loves/hatreds just get on my nerves, including the swindle/reconciliation that ends it all.

Cinderella was never one of my favorite Disney films.

I think that I've written about or talked about Star Video before, the locally owned video store that I grew up going to. When I was a small lad, Disney released (almost) their entire animated catalog in a uniform VHS set. Star Video had a copy of the whole set that they raffled off to one lucky winner. I won that set.

Okay. I can't believe I haven't seen: Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve, and Harvey. My only defense/excuse is that I tend to gravitate toward seeing/liking genre pictures. These three films are all so well-regarded, but is there a single gun in any one of them? The above three can wait; I need to see Broken Arrow, Wagon Master, and The Return of Jesse James.

-----

Jason,

I've read through 8 volumes of The Walking Dead. I'm a fan.

Jabberwocky was one of my favorite movies as a kid.

The first and only time I watched Kids was maybe 1996. Let's add it to the list of things to talk about over a beer sometime. I'm starting to think this is going to have to be a mighty tall glass of beer.

-----

I just watched Korine's most recent short film, Act Da Fool. From what I can tell, it's an advertisement for a clothing line.

I also watched a couple of Lynch shorts, Six Men Getting Sick and Lumiere. These weren't selling anything but Lynch.

-----

Comedy is not dead in 2011. I laughed loud and often through The Other Guys. I went with a guy from work to a Friday night showing at 5pm at the Cinema Saver. We were the only two in the theater. That's happened to me before, but never on a Friday night.

Pimps don't cry.

-----

The whole family went on a trip to Jim Thorpe, PA this past weekend. We stayed in a fancy hotel and I got a chance to see the most recent episode of Boardwalk Empire.

I can't know for sure because I've only seen one episode, but Boardwalk Empire may join Breaking Bad Season 3 as quality television that is so much better than 99% of what's playing at the cinema. Not to mention the last season of Lost, The Office, Treme which I've only seen four episodes of, and shows that I haven't seen at all like Mad Men, Rubicon, Justified, Caprica, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and... whatever else I'm missing.

And, of course, Walking Dead premieres this coming Sunday.

-----

I watched the last San Francisco-Philadelphia game at the hotel. I'm not a big fan of professional sports, but baseball (and I suppose most sports) has a lot of drama when done right. Good game.

-----

Coming Soon: Netflix Strikes Back!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My new iPod wallpaper

Mildred as Max Schreck




Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Toonies and Townies

I hung out with Brandon and his buddies and then later Spike after seeing Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then over a week ago.  Brandon asked me how the movie was.  I told him that it was the best movie of 2010.  But that wasn't true and I didn't even believe it when I said it.  I just wanted to believe it.

Intensely personal, Gravity is the most unusual, strikingly eccentric film I've seen so far this year.  Brent Green is obviously moved by the story of Leonard Wood and his telling of the tale is a rollercoaster of tangled emotions.  In the process of telling Wood's brilliantly absurd and dangerous love story, externalized by the physically real structural metaphor that is his house, Green sanitizes things a bit, giving the entire story gleaming rounded corners where rough edges had to have been.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I suspect that the real Leonard and Mary were a lot scarier and also more human than their film counterparts.  And the more I think about this film/performance, I start to focus on the little irritating things (mostly moments that are too cute or too cool in a This American Life kind of way).  It's still got a powerful charm;  and I haven't even mentioned the incredible music and the angry man theology at the center of it all.

What about The Town?

I loved it.  The action set pieces are all exciting and the love story at the core, based on an almost ridiculous premise, works surprisingly well.  The moral complexities of the characters, as in Gone Baby Gone, feel like real problems and tensions inside of real people (even though they're reflected through a clear genre prism).  These three things done so well- action, romance, ethics- make me want to compare this film to that juggernaut nightmare I endured earlier this summer, but I'm done beating that horse, I guess.  

I'd love to talk/write about The Town, but I'll wait for you guys to see it.  I'm really excited that we get to witness the beginnings of what I hope to be a long directorial career for Affleck.

I will write about something that happened while at the theatre.  There was a young guy with a date and a friend behind me.  A few times during the movie, the guy would whisper (loud enough for me to hear, but not full volume) to the girl he was with, usually making some smart-ass comment or asking her how she liked the movie.  I put up with this for a long while because it was infrequent and because the dude was obviously trying to impress a girl (though why a girl would stay with a guy that talks through a movie, I'll never know).  I was patient.  But enough is enough.  During one of the important moments leading up to the climax of the film, the kid kept talking and talking.  I turned around, said "hey" in a normal room voice, and waited for him to make eye contact.  Once he got a good look at my killer gaze, I said calmly and clearly, "Shut the fuck up.". The kid looked suitably scolded, muttered an "I'm sorry" and looked away.  I returned to watching one of the best films of the year.

So, here's the thing.  I'm a peaceable guy.  I rarely drop f-bombs unless I'm quoting someone else or doing so in some sort of humorous context.  It's been a long time since I've hit a guy for any reason.  But people who talk during movies, specifically at the cinema, make me want to hurt them.  If this kid hadn't apologized and stopped, I was ready to get in a fistfight with him and with his girlfriend and with anyone in the theatre who would try to stop me.

This isn't the first time this has happened.  I feel like at least 1/20 of the time I go out to the movies, I have to deal with rude people.  That my estimate is only 5% probably reflects my tendency to go to the cinema on Monday or Tuesday nights instead of sharing my time with the weekend multiplex crowd.  

One of these days, somebody's going to get hurt.  Probably me.  I hope I can count on one of you guys to pick me up at the county lockup after the brawl.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


At home, I haven't watched too much.

I've fallen asleep to Murder, My Sweet multiple times.

I've half-watched a handful of Star Trek episodes, including one of the all-time great episodes, Shore Leave, written by the master Theodore Sturgeon, whose Law I've cited here on at least one or two occasions.  

The Brother From Another Planet has a few really great moments, but its illegal immigration commentary is a bit silly.  It's worth watching for those few really great moments and for the effective physical silent performance of Joe Morton.

The Cat's Meow is a good film about bad people; the same people we admire so much.  

Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies were two of the funniest actors of the silent period.  Chaplin, in particular, was a genius and still near the top of any list of great U.S. film directors.  William Randolph Hearst was maybe the most important newspaper man who has yet lived and I personally love him for his undying support of Herriman's Krazy Kat in spite of any and every poor popular response.  

Chaplin was a serial womanizer as multiple affairs and failed marriages clearly document.  Davies was a beautiful strange woman, lips dripping honey, every bit as bitter as wormwood.  Hearst manufactured wars and covered up truths to suit his whims.  He also despised his marriage and kept Davies as a not-so-secret mistress.  Cat's Meow chronicles what may or may not be the true events involving a love triangle between these three and the still mysterious death of Thomas Ince, a powerful Hollywood player.

Bogdanovich's use of black and white as primary colors is an interesting experiment that works well and the music is so much fun that I wanted to get up and do the Charleston.  Bogdanovich maintains an easy tension between the bubbly happy surfaces and the simmering despair and disillusion just beneath.  Cat's Meow similarly feels like a trifle, but there's an enormous amount of craft and care hidden in plain sight.

I've still got Sweetgrass on the shelf. I'll get to it soon.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Almost the end of September.

Like so many classics, my viewing of His Girl Friday was long overdue.  Like so many classics, I appreciated the film but felt underwhelmed.  I recognize the brilliance of its breakneck pacing and snappier than snappy dialogue.  I'm not going to argue over any of it, but I think I like my screwballs a little screwier.  His Girl Friday still runs circles around Date Night.

If I was a bit underwhelmed by His Girl Friday, that's okay because Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings surpassed every wild expectation that I had.  The plane scenes are tense and the buddy stuff feels genuine even when the romance stuff feels just a little like a screenwriter's fantasy.  I really loved this movie and am excited to watch Rio Bravo soon.

The Fallen Idol.  The butler/child interactions are good even when the rest gets tedious.  The way that the child is all wrapped up in lies at the end is effective, if not explored as fully as I would have liked.  This Reed/Greene collaboration is pretty solid even if it's not The Third Man.  I can't remember who the cinematographer was, but Reed really knew how to pick 'em.

I already wrote about Tall in the Saddle.  I watched it with the girls - their first John Wayne Western! The girls really like cowboy movies.  I don't know why I'm not watching more with them.

Abigail and I have been watching Smallville Season 1 on DVD (the Broome library downtown has a small and only okay feature film collection, but it's got a great TV on DVD selection - I'm hoping to slowly get through Smallville and then Mad Men).  We're six episodes in right now.

The first episode of Smallville aired on October 16th, 2001, ten days after our wedding.  We watched it back then and watched most of Season 1, but gave up on the show because of the lame villains of the week and also because I couldn't get past the fact that Tom Welling looked older than me and was playing a high school freshman.  Re-watching the series now, I'm able to forgive these elements.  The pilot especially, but also some elements of later episodes, contains some really great visual storytelling.  With a little bit of tinkering, Smallville could work as a silent serial.  Seriously.  

The lame villains are still lame.  The characters all still look too old, but it's easier for me to suspend my disbelief now that I can look at the characters and they at least look younger than me.  Finally, surprisingly, the soap opera elements of the story are what work best and the show really shines in these character moments.

Speaking of TV, The Office season 7 premiere was a lot of fun.

I almost forgot: I got paid to see Salt.  "I almost forgot" about it pretty much sums up my opinion of the film.

The watching of these movies and some good TV was a refreshing change from the past month or two of mostly so-so Redbox/Blockbuster Express 2010 rentals.

Which brings me to my confession.

I restarted my Netflix account.  

I haven't watched all of my DVDs or met any other goals, but I did get rid of enough DVDs at Cocoanuts to make $72 and change.  Being proud of this and tired of terrible Redbox rentals, I signed back up for Netflix, but to compromise and prompt myself to keep working on getting rid of DVDs, I signed up for the terribly not good enough 2 a month $5 plan.  

I intend to watch at least one owned DVD and at least one borrowed DVD each week for the rest of the year.  Pete, that Decalogue set is getting watched before the year is over!  As I get rid of more DVDs, I'll feel better about signing up for a real Netflix plan.

My first Netflix rental was La France, now available on Region 1 DVD for the first time, three years after its French theatrical release and two years after its extremely limited run in the States.  

I saw La France at Cornell in mid-2008 and reluctantly fell in love with it then.  Not at first.  Only slowly.  Slowly, after being away from the film for a while, I realized that I couldn't shake the music out of my head.  Joined to the music were images of a world weary of war.  Of lost men struggling toward a half-remembered idea of home that may not exist any longer; to Atlantis.  Homesick for heaven.  The juxtaposition of 60's style pop music with WWI wartime creates a jarring mash-up of unlikely bedfellows.  The title is also important.  In some sense, this film is a portrait of France.  But I don't understand much about this film.  Je ne pas parle francais.

At home now is Sweetgrass.

Next in the queue?  Gentleman Broncos.

Since writing the above, I made $25 today selling DVDs. I cheated a little and bought two $5 Westerns at Wal-mart, but I've been good nevertheless.

Unrelated, Peter Bogdanovich just started posting lists of his favorite films from 1929 to 1962.  The 1929 list is up: http://blogs.indiewire.com/peterbogdanovich/archives/the_golden_age_of_american_talkies/

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I am an impure critic

I'm really behind on the conversation now.  Here's an effort at catching up.

Tall in the Saddle is an enjoyable b-western.  The story gets a little convoluted, but basically John Wayne plays a hired ranch hand who, after traveling west to get to the ranch, discovers that the ranch owner has been murdered.  A young woman and her aunt have come to take over the ranch.  A neighboring ranch is the property of a feisty young cowgirl interested in this new arrival.  Through it all, John Wayne is tall in the saddle.

My saying that there is "nothing comparable" today to Tall in the Saddle is simply a statement of fact.  B-westerns like this one, with endless variations, some better, some worse, some much worse, were commonplace in the 40s.  They don't exist today.  I enjoy the tropes and themes and even the repetition of these films.  I appreciate that I can feel comfortable watching many of these films with my whole family (and I did watch Tall in the Saddle with my girls).  Appaloosa, a recent film, is a great Western and one of my favorite films of the last decade.  It is, in my opinion, a much better film than Tall in the Saddle.  But Tall in the Saddle provides a specific type of edification and entertainment that I don't see often in today's film (or television) landscape.  There's a sort of innocence that has been lost.

Brandon has already written well about older movies vs. newer ones.  I envy Brandon's childhood film education, a natural nurturing transmission of taste from father to son.

My own experience with older film really started at Houghton.  I always loved movies, but I was really ignorant and had a limited perspective and lack of interest in the past; what C. S. Lewis has called "chronological snobbery."  Having access to the films in the library and taking an Art & History of Film survey class with Murph were both absolutely wonderful.

I don't want to get stuck in an either/or mentality.  There's lot of gold to dig up from the past, but I'm absolutely happy to be in the present and I'm excited about the future.  I don't prefer the past to the present or vice versa.  I think that I've proven over the past couple of years writing here that I very much love as many contemporary films as I do films from the past.  It is easier to find great films from the past because most of the wheat has already been separated from the chaff.  The good stuff has been proven over time.  

Still, I really enjoy the privilege of wading through the cruddy cinematic waters of 2010, being a part of that murky critical process of evaluation and canon forming, comparing my own personal favorites to Indiewire and Film Comment critic's polls and, yes, even taking into consideration box office results and strange cultural phenomenon.

I've already seen 27 feature films from 2010 (that's not counting 2009 releases that lots of others count toward 2010, but only those listed on IMDB as 2010 releases).  And I expect to see more than double that by the time all of the fall festival films make it out on DVD over the course of next year.  I don't know an exact count, but I've probably seen less than 10 films from 1944 in my whole life.  I'm sure there were a lot of bad movies released that year, worse than the most mediocre films that I've seen this year.  I'm glad I don't have to sit through them.  But part of the fun of engaging with the present is exactly that, always hoping for something astonishing, but often sitting through movies that disappoint instead.

Jason wrote: "The reason I cited my use of the Tomatometer was to say that sometimes I will weigh more heavily the audience percentage than the critic percentage because I believe these people are going into a film with fewer preconceived notions and prejudices. These are folks who either like something or they don't- film watching is a much more visceral experience for them, more honest sometimes."

I'm not sure if you really believe this or not, but it's complete bullshit.

(how's that for a friendly response? -we've gotten all of the disclaimers about loving and respecting each other out of the way, I'm ready to rumble)

The "audience" is not going into a film with "fewer preconceived notions and prejudices" than the critic is.  They are simply going in with DIFFERENT preconceived notions and prejudices, not fewer.  These audiences have very clear expectations about what a movie is and what it should do for them.  Put a generic movie fan, the kind who loves Transformers and Grown Ups, in front of a screen playing The Limits of Control (one of my favorites from last year) and you'll most likely find an angry audience.  You use the term visceral.  I'll stick with the admittedly hyperbolic term "mindless."  These audiences have a ton of preconceived notions and prejudices regarding movies, most of them being a lot less well thought out than the critic's notions and prejudices (assuming he's honest enough to admit them).  You seem to want to privilege uninformed opinions (all too often truly "informed" by expensive advertising campaigns and appeals to contemporary relevance).  I just can't do that.

That said, Brandon and I did talk about the benefit of non-cinephile opinions, including "uninformed" opinions.  I get a lot out of talking film with friends of mine who aren't movie addicts.  The thing is that I trust their opinions and views in lots of other matters, from systematic theology to animal husbandry.  I'm talking about people that I already know and trust.  I really want to know their opinions, regardless of whether or not they know James Whale from James Franco.  I'm not at all interested in getting the movie opinions of the thousand teenage girls that showed up for the last Justin Bieber concert or the countless dudes playing beer pong every night in their basement.

Enough about that.

Lady in the Water might be my favorite Shyamalan film.  Bordwell has written a good defense of the film - try to find it on his website.

What have I been watching?  I'll have a new post up soon.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

P.S.

David Bordwell is the master at writing at an academic level in a popular style.

His most recent post (about two films I haven't seen and have little interest in) is a wonderful example of the sort of best kind of film criticism available.  If you don't like Bordwell, then you and I may have to get into a fistfight.

Read this: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=10077

Related to my previous post, I want to make clear that there are a lot of bad critics out there, both in academic circles and especially in the journalism/reviewer end of the spectrum.  Maybe you've just been exposed to all the wrong people.

It's funny that you mention seminary.  I had written a theology analogy to explain my position on film criticism, but scrapped it.  Maybe I'll rewrite it and post it.

Riddle me this, Brando

Brandon,
Your midnight text was nothing in comparison to the handful of random texts I accidentally sent to your better half, insisting that I couldn't understand a joke and demanding answers.

I was trying out a new texting app that I'd gotten for my iPod touch and started sending you messages, not realizing that the phone number I had for you in my iPod address book was the number you'd given me way back before you got your own phone.  I couldn't understand "your" strange replies and was getting frustrated that you wouldn't just explain the joke to me already when Tara revealed herself.  Oops.  All apologies.

So.  What was the joke that "whiskey" is the punchline of?  That Reese killed herself?  Why don't I understand this?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Piranhas in the Poole - a Rambling Response to Jason

Jason, thanks for humoring me with the Flixster capsules.  Every once in a while, I'll try to be active on Facebook, but I really can't do it.  I don't like Facebook.

I appreciate your appreciation of Gentleman Broncos.  It was a film that was high on my radar last year, but it never played around here and it was far off my radar by the time it got a DVD release.  I'll definitely check it out.

Also, I share your opinion of Julie & Julia, a really pleasant surprise from last year.

I haven't seen Legion, but I do enjoy the work of Doug Jones (who is one of the creatures/angels(?) in Legion.  There's a great interview with Jones on an episode of the podcast More Than One Lesson from earlier this year.  Jones talks explicitly about being a Christian acting in a film (Legion) with really wonky theology.

Now, responding directly to your post directed at me:

1) I'm interested in your reaction to Greenberg.  I'm really hard on the film, but only because I feel like it's one of a small handful of films released so far this year that is absolutely worth talking about.  I mean, really, who's going to argue with me about the flying tank in A-Team?  Greenberg it is then.

2) Brandon never responded to my invitation of the 18th anyhow, so no plans were made.  Don't worry about us showing up while you're not available.

3) See my Flixster comment above.  I'm probably going to wait to see Scott Pilgrim on DVD.  I never liked the comics and am wary of the film, but I've heard mostly good opinions of it.

4) The Killer Inside Me is easily one of the "best" films of the year so far in terms of craft and creeps (though I think I've at least hinted at a few reasons for strongly disliking the film despite the clear artistry on display).   I'm interested to know why you're not interested.  Why would Winterbottom's disgusting horror comedy be unappealing to a Rob Zombie devotee?  I do unreservedly recommend both Edge of Darkness and The Last Exorcism.  Both will be at least honorable mentions in my personal list at the end of the year.  Don't see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Defy the world!

5) Date Night.  I don't know.  We obviously have different sensibilities and senses of humor (not to deny that there is also plenty of overlap in taste).  I honestly felt that 95% of the jokes in the film fell completely flat.  You honestly laughed yourself silly.  

Which brings me to the part of your post that I'm challenged to respond to.

"You and Brandon often have very clear-cut opinions on whether or not you've liked a film and it's a curious thing to me."

As Brandon has already pointed out, our opinions really aren't usually as clear-cut as they may seem and often in the past have been fleshed out by face-to-face communication, but I do stand by the (sometimes incomplete) judgments that I express here.  I'm open to discussion and correction, but my tastes and prejudices are indiscreetly flung out there in the open each time I put thumbs to iPod to post here.  My posts are mostly "from the gut" reactions, but that's not to say that they're not informed by all of the films that I've seen in the past or not in conversation with all of the film writing that I've read over the years.   Few and far between are any posts in which I've actually labored hard in examining a film, but that's a limitation of doing this for fun in spare moments.

Always, though, I try to honestly wrestle, sometimes more, sometimes less, with the film in front of me.

And like you guys, I'm just happy watching movies.  They don't all need to be the best ever.

"You both certainly have done your research- I tend not to read film criticism. I think it often over-analyzes particulars of a film to the detriment of a bigger picture- the bigger picture of why anyone goes out to watch a film in the first place. I don't always get film criticism, honestly."

This IS a major difference in our approach to watching movies.  Film criticism and film history are important to me.  Reading others writing about film helps me think more sharply about film and also places me in a tradition and community of other cinephiles, as far to the margins of that culture as I may be.  Simple as that.  

Someone like David Bordwell, who "over-analyzes particulars of a film" (to use your phrase), helps us to see the whole of a film more clearly, not less clearly.  Being knowledgable about structure and composition and the history of the art form can only deepen one's appreciation of a film, not detract from it.  If, upon careful examination, a film doesn't hold up so well, that's not a failing of the critic.  It's a failing of the film.  

I don't pretend to be in anywhere near the same league as some of my favorite film critics, past and present, but I do know that my own thoughts about film have been enriched by theirs.  I can only hope to bring even a tiny fraction of their knowledge and enthusiasm to my own writing.  My favorite type of film writing, though, is the really technical shot-by-shot or frame-by-frame analysis and I do little to none of that here.

I'm interested to know what you think "the bigger picture of why anyone goes out to watch a film in the first place" is.  I don't really identify with the mindless hordes who hop from Hollywood film to Hollywood film, their judgment swayed only by the budget of the advertising campaign.  The American opened at #1 its first weekend a couple of weeks ago.  Exit polls showed that most audiences strongly disliked the film.  Why did audiences go see this film?  Because they were expecting a slow-paced thoughtful, beautifully photographed film from the director of that Joy Division biopic no one saw?  Or because the studio decided to spend a lot of money on TV advertising, giving us commercial spots of shirtless George Clooney being an action star?

Maybe I'm missing the point here.  You seem to be arguing for the "check your brain at the door" position.  Yes?  No?

It may seem condescending for me to say that I'm probably interested in film for different reasons than the "anyone" you refer to, but I'm saying it.

I'm looking for expressions of beauty and truth in the frame, which is different than (but not mutually exclusive of) big explosions and potty humor.  The sort of film I enjoy and benefit from is most often the work of an "auteur" expressing a personal vision.  But I also love so many of the unsung grunt directors of the Hollywood "Golden Age."

A few days ago, I watched a modest little Western called Tall In the Saddle, directed by the relatively unknown Edwin Marin, starring John Wayne.

Gabby Hayes knocking back a slug of whiskey was more than enough for me.  That's what I'm talking about.  The heights of transcendence that a Tarkovsky or Bresson have revealed are rivaled by that toothless grin.  

Pleasant films like Tall In the Saddle weren't too unusual 65 years ago.  There's nothing comparable being made today.  But I won't stop looking and hoping.

"But I have watched a lot of movies on a lot of different topics and lot of different genres. So I do think that I have a leg to stand on. But what is the nature precisely of the leg I'm standing on?"

It's your own leg.  You don't have any larger community to evaluate your ideas through.  You can see just fine standing up on your own leg.  But if you embrace film culture, film writing and film history, well, then...  You wouldn't have to rely on your own leg anymore.  You could ride piggyback on Roger Ebert or stand on the shoulders of Manny Farber.  Supported by those who have gone before, you can see higher and farther.  You'd still be seeing out of your own eyes with all of your own tastes and prejudices, but you'd be able to see things that you may have been blind to without these guides.  Different angles and aspects.  

Not that you would even necessarily change your opinion on a film.  I've loved Julien Donkey-Boy for ten years despite poor critical reception and the ridicule of many friends.  I've benefitted from everyone I've read or talked to that has torn the movie apart.  I think that I can make a pretty good critical case for Julien Donkey-Boy, but sometimes the going is rough.  

So, attention to critical opinions does not mean you have to give up your love of The Phantom Menace.  You just better be prepared to defend your position with "over-analysis of particulars" in reacting to negative condemnations of the whole picture.

I know I've taken a bit of an offensive posture throughout in responding to you.  I'm just trying to make a case for a film lover like yourself paying attention to film criticism.  I invited you here to CR5 film club because I saw that you were engaging with film frequently over on Facebook/Flixster and because I value your perspective.  I'm not trying to argue here that your opinions are stupid or ill-informed.  I also hope that I don't sound like too much of a snob or critic's pet.  Sometimes it's hard to tell how the tone of a blog post will come across once it's thrown out there.  I hope this one sounds friendly.  This whole conversation would sound different over a few beers after just having seen Trash Humpers.  Alas.

I also don't pretend to speak for Brandon.  I know that there is a lot of overlap in how we think about and interact with films and film culture, but there are differences, too.  

I think, though, that I can safely say that CR5 movie club has existed from the beginning as a manifestation of our internal desire to avoid both brainless mass consumption AND bullshit cinephile posturing and pretending.  We like what we like and won't apologize for it.  

In general, we just love movies.  Except not always the same movies in the same ways.  This means that I have to put up with Brandon's so-so response to Terror in a Texas Town, an all-time favorite of mine that I expected him to go gaga over.  Brandon has to put up with me taking a dump on Jim Sheridan's music choices in In America.  

I know that I tend to fall more often into the art film snob persona while Brandon falls into the killer piranha waters.  On a certain level, we acknowledge and accept these differences in taste and personality.  But I think we still always expect the other person to put up a good fight in defense of our positions, even if we eventually have to fall back on subjective emotion.  "Yeah, but it's so damn cool when he comes to the gunfight with the whaling harpoon!" or "that piranha just ate that dude's penis and I love it!"

Hopefully Brandon will chime in soon.