Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March recap

11 Features
The Princess and the Pirate (Butler) 1944
Show People (Vidor) 1928
Ikiru (Kurosawa) 1952
What Price Glory (Ford) 1952
When Willie Comes Marching Home (Ford) 1950
Lakeview Terrace (LaBute) 2009
Suzanne's Career (Rohmer) 1963
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (Neill) 1943
Billy the Kid Trapped (Scott) 1942
Steamboat 'Round the Bend (Ford) 1935
Boxcar Bertha (Scorcese) 1972

4 Shorts
The Bakery Girl of Monceau (Rohmer) 1962
Bumping Into Broadway (Roach) 1919
Nearly Wed (Kneitel) 2002
Whistle (Jones) 1957 

TV Episodes
The Academy Awards 
The Office season premiere
Lost s6e6-10
Breaking Bad s1e6-7, s2e1-13
Three Sheets - Lithuania
Between the Folds - origami doc
Stargate: Atlantis "Brain Storm"
Star Trek "Mudd's Women"

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Wolf Man wants to die and other stories.

It's been a while since I've had a long lazy day of staying home and enjoying movies.  This past Saturday was a nice treat.  

I woke up before anyone else and watched Rohmer's 2nd Moral Tale, Suzanne's Career.  Like Bakery Girl, it's a simple story about emotional attraction and the ways that man is dishonest with himself when engaging with the fearsome otherness of woman.  The male friend plays a much larger role here than in Bakery Girl, adding rivalry into the already bewildering landscape of gender interactions.

Everyone woke up.  I cooked some eggs, then after breakfast Abby left with Millie, Susie, and Lu.  Me, Annie, and the Pip were left all alone in an empty house with shelves full of DVDs.

With no mama to warn against monster movies, we had to watch Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

I loved it.  Lon Chaney, Jr. is the major reason why.  This is the third film I've seen him in as the Wolf Man.  The guy is so likable it hurts.  

It may be silly to say, but the scenes between him and the Frankenstein monster are touching.  Talbot is basically using the monster, but he also understands the monster and shows only gentleness and not fear.

Most importantly, Annie loved it.

Next, we watched Billy the Kid Trapped, a pretty standard entry in the Crabbe Billy the Kid series of pictures.  And "pretty standard" = fine afternoon entertainment.  I've got 20 of these films on a cheap DVD set that I got from my mother this past Christmas.  Trapped has an above average share of laughs, but my favorite moment is the cheap laugh when Fuzzy comes face to face with his doppleganger.

Even with the white hats and the black hats, Annie had a hard time keeping straight who was who, but she liked it all.

Also, this was the Golden Age of cowboy movies, when a fight scene was exciting because the action was clearly understood.  I sound like an old fogey, but I can do without today's incomprehensibly frenetic action editing.

Actually, the same holds true for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.  The obligatory showdown between the two at the end is TENSE!

We took a break.  Potatoes for lunch.

Next, we watched Steam Boat 'Round the Bend, a John Ford comedy that I've let sit on my shelf for too long.  It's the first film I've ever seen Will Rogers in.  And it's funny.  I love the sly pokes at temperance preachers and self-proclaimed prophets.  The way that the film celebrates the South while ridiculing it.  White/Black relations is one of the thorniest elements of this movie, if only because of the silence on the matter.  Stepin Fetchit puts in an amazing performance as David Begat Solomon or George Lincoln Washington or we'll just call him Jonah.  He's really funny.  He's also among equals while on the steamboat.  Of course, those equals are all crazy in their own way, but that's what integration will get you.  He also is the final character holding the trophy in the end.

I need to watch Judge Priest now.

Boxcar Bertha I watched alone while the girls napped.  I'm actually really surprised that this film is so little known and not thought that well of.

The textbook Flashback: A Brief History of Film was the text used in the only film class I ever had the opportunity to take.  Here's what Flashback says:
"After directing a Roger Corman cheapie, he got a chance to direct his first important feature, Mean Streets (1973)."

That Corman cheapie was Boxcar Bertha.  Not having instant gratification through Internet access, I can't tell you how the film was received at the time nor how it is widely viewed today.  My impression is that it's forgotten either on purpose or out of contempt.

Which is too bad.  I can't say that I loved it, but then again I've never really loved any Scorcese picture.  Maybe Bringing Out the Dead I can say I loved.  But, dang, I respect the man.  And Boxcar Bertha seems to fit into Scorcese's body of work very well.

Boxcar Bertha is a really interesting early example of Scorcese as part of the "New Hollywood" and as a Corman disciple.  Gangs of New York is the most recent Scorcese film that it reminded me of, but there are hints of everything to come from Last Temptation of Christ to Goodfellas.  Seriously, these films have as much if not more in common with Boxcar Bertha than with Mean Streets.

It's also the first instance of Scorcese tackling an historic American story that isn't part of the accepted history curriculum.  (though I have no experience with the source material and no idea how faithful this film is to it but in some ways that is beside the point)  

It's easy to see Scorcese's early work as extremely personal as evidenced by the director's own scripts for Who's That Knocking at My Door and Mean Streets or his later collaborations with Schrader.  But, this gritty "personal" style only holds true as a fact if one overlooks the "anomolies" of Boxcar Bertha and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore or the later The King of Comedy and After Hours.

I'm being unclear.  I'm not arguing that Boxcar Bertha isn't personal.  I'm arguing that people forget it because it doesn't fit nicely into the common conception of early Scorcese.  

I'm arguing that Boxcar Bertha is just as personal or at least as meaningful as Scorcese's more celebrated films and reveals just as much about the director as those other films do.  Certainly, Scorcese's developing style is evidenced here as well as the themes that will preoccupy him for the rest of his career.  It's just that this isn't urban Scorcese.  Here is Scorcese the alternative historian, the man who tells stories of outlaws and martyrs who nonetheless were flesh and blood.  Scorcese both mythologizes and carnalizes through the crazy concrete fluidity of his films.  I'm not sure if that makes sense.  But I'm speaking of guys crucified on boxcars now.  Yeah?

Boxcar Bertha also was the most recent instigation for Abby to yell at me for watching movies with naked ladies in them.

Without getting into that too much, I'll just note that visualized sexuality has always been as important to Scorcese as religion and violence.  In fact, the three are often tied up together in his films and many of his films are just barely on the artful side of the exploitation line.

So why do I subject myself to a Scorcese film when I pretty much know that I'm guaranteed an eyeful of sex and graphic violence accompanied by an earful of foul language?  And that I don't even like most Scorcese films that I've seen? 

It has something to do with auteur theory.  I've grown to know Scorcese as an author and even if I know that I'll see something I find distasteful in his films, I know just as surely that he'll be wrestling with his faith (or lack thereof) in public each time he makes a picture.  Also, that each film of his is in a sense an act of film criticism as he interacts with genres and other specific films.  Scorcese is striving for (and often achieving) artistic excellence in the medium he loves.

Likewise and even more extreme, I'm more interested in the next abhorrent Reygadas or Von Trier film than whatever the Fireproof studio has planned next, even though I understand that I'm in fundamental agreement with the message of fidelity and monogamy found in Fireproof and am absolutely at war with Reygadas's salvific fornication and Von Trier's unfocused religious mania.  But, hot damn and hellfire, these two guys can make powerful films. 

Now I need to see Fireproof if I'm going to make it a whipping boy.  Not having seen Fireproof, it is unfair of me to use it as an example above, but it is the most recent representative of mediocre "Christian" films and I know it by reputation.

More often than not, I'd rather see a demonically well-crafted film depicting a worldview I despise than a mediocre film with a message I cherish.

This is one reason I love Rohmer so much and haven't yet found a reason not to.  The man's films exude excellence while challenging the lies and half-truths of modern and post-modern man looking to get laid.  Rohmer's films explore love and sexuality as earnestly and honestly as a Reygadas or Von Trier or even Apatow or Smith, to be generous toward America's leading men of raunch, who I do think are seeking for answers.  The difference is that Rohmer seems to cherish virtue and seems optimistic even at his most disheartened.  

That was a long tangent.  Sorry.
After Bertha, Abby returned home with the other girls and the napping girls woke up.  I made a quick trip to The Point for ale and cheese. 

Once home again, I watched Whistle, a short (28m) film by Duncan Jones which was, surprisingly enough, dedicated to me.  It's good.  I'm excited to see whatever Jones does next after Moon.

Speaking of Moon, it's a crime that its score hasn't received much recognition.  It may be the best score of last year.  I guess most scores, good or bad, receive little recognition.  

I didn't watch Moon, but I did dabble in the bonus features on the disc.

I watched the two Q and A sessions featuring Duncan Jones at Sundance and at NASA and I love Moon even more now.  Jones is remarkably humble and grateful to be making films at all.   

There was some more time spent away from the TV, suppertime and such. 

Then, some final moving images - a bedtime viewing of Breaking Bad, Season 2 Episodes 10 and 11.

[Spoilers]Breaking Bad has the distinguished honor of making its audience love its protagonist, then having us feel really conflicted, almost disappointed, when we get the news that Walt's cancer is in remission and that he might just live for a long time to come.  Amazing!  This news, coupled with the idea of Jesse as an obvious liability moving into the future is enough to wrench anyone's guts.  Or at least mine.[/Spoilers]

At the end of the day, roughly 7 hours of viewing.  A good day at the movies. At home.

Also, for the record, besides Saturday, the only other films I've watched since my Ikiru post are Lakeview Terrace, a disappointment from Neil LaBute and Nearly Wed, a funny enough Popeye short.  Oh yeah, and Lost.  Ricardo is Jesus.  Yeah.  

In short, minimal viewing for a couple of weeks followed by a Saturday binge.

I feel alright.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Conversations 2010 #9

Conversations 2010 #9

It was good to see Jim Emerson give a shoutout to Fr. Robert Barron recently.

Fr. Barron has been one of my favorite RC media personalities for a couple of years now.  My brother-in-law Peter introduced me to Barron back then and I've been enjoying Barron's work since.  His Word On Fire podcast is always worth listening to and his Youtube movie reviews are typically five times smarter and more detailed than the average syndicated newspaper review.  Barron wrestles with films because he loves them.  He may consider his movie reviews part of his ministry, but I don't think he's getting paid for them or putting them out for any reason other than sharing what he loves.    

I have no idea what is being released in 2010.  And I'm sort of happy that way.  I'm sure I'll follow Cannes coverage when it begins, but I haven't been paying attention to any other festivals and haven't yet seen any summer preview lists.  

Right now, Shutter Island is my favorite film of 2010, a spot that Adventureland held about a year ago.  

Shutter Island is also the ONLY 2010 release that I've seen so far.  

Nothing else released locally has looked even remotely interesting.  Art Mission, Cinemapolis, and Cornell are all still playing catch-up with 2009.  The multiplexes have been stocked with the usual filler garbage for this time of year and are also still milking late 2009 releases.

Like you, I'm excited about Tree of Life and Iron Man 2, but that's my entire list right now.  I might say "oh yeah" if you threw out some titles at me, but none are popping to mind while I'm writing this.  What are the big titles of 2010?  I'm most excited about True Grit, but I'm not sure if it will get a 2010 release.  I'm still not entirely convinced that Tree of Life will be out by November.  

Post your top 50.

Jason, I'll do my best to make that pilgrimage to you and the Dryden happen.  I've just got to find the right film/event and then talk Brandon into it.  Brandon?

Okay, it's confession time.

I bought a movie at the dollar store.

Flying Deuces (Sutherland)

I also returned to Hollywood Video in Ithaca.  DVDs are now 3 for $8.

Able Edwards (Robertson)
Junior Bonner (Peckinpah)
Baghead (Duplass Brothers)
Mutual Appreciation (Bujalski)
Automatons (McKenney)
The Wild Blue Yonder (Herzog)
The Most Terrible Time in My Life (Hayashi)
Time of the Wolf (Haneke)
Boxcar Bertha (Scorcese)
Heaven's Gate (Cimino)
Songs From the Second Floor (Andersson)
Eaten Alive (Hooper)     

Monday, March 22, 2010

Conversations 2010 #8

Conversations 2010 #8

I wish that I had seen tomorrow night's Dryden schedule much earlier than yesterday.  Then, maybe I'd make it there.

There is no way I'm going to make it up to Rochester tomorrow.  Oh, but I want to.

Unless, Brandon, you feel like driving?  :)  I'll drop everything and tag along if you do. Call me immediately.

So, Jason, I need you to be my proxy.  Please, get to the Dryden tomorrow night.  Drag the wife and kid.  Try not to pee your pants.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Betting against tomorrow

2 from 1952

Ikiru is as good as promised.  The first half is perfect.  Really perfect.  The second half is a bit too neat and nice in how things are wrapped up.  I preferred the pain and the insight of the beginning to the heavy-handedness at the end.  Still, it's a minor quibble.  The wake/flashbacks work well and do hammer home Kurosawa's anti-bureaucratic message.

What Price Glory is a war comedy directed by John Ford.  James Cagney has a lot of fun hamming it up in his role as Captain Flagg while Dan Dailey holds his own as Flagg's top seargent and romantic rival.  What Price Glory isn't a great film like Ikiru, but it is a very watchable film, a solid entertainment, and that's sometimes just what is needed.  It's also got a great supporting cast.   

1 from 1950

2 years earlier, Ford and Dailey had already teamed up on a much better war comedy, When Willie Comes Marching Home.  Bill Kluggs wants nothing more than to go kill some Jap and/or Kraut bastards.  Instead, he gets orders to stay on base outside of his hometown because he's needed most as a sharpshooter instructor.  Hilarity ensues!  When Willie Comes Marching Home has a much better script/scenario than What Price Glory and is by far the better film, but both really hit the spot on a lazy Monday after an early morning Ikiru viewing.  

Was it David Bordwell who recently compared Kurosawa to Ford?  I can't remember.


I haven't mentioned the Oscars yet, but I did watch them when they were broadcast.  

In my alternate universe, A Serious Man won best picture.  Jim Jarmusch won best director.  Pigs began flying.  Sam Rockwell won both best actor and best supporting actor for his work in Moon.  An historic moment!  The sisters from Beeswax won best actress and best supporting actress.  They are now household names.  Next Day Air was nominated for original screenplay, but lost to A Serious Man.  Julie & Julia won adapted.  Still Walking won foreign feature.  Yes Men Fix the World won best doc.  Up won animation.  The Coens swept the editing, sound editing, and sound mixing categories.  They also won cinematography.  Moon won both art direction and visual effects.  In a surprise upset, Adventureland won costume design and Zombieland won makeup.  Score went to Up.  Song went to that crazy end credits Ponyo song.   

Seriously, it was the best Oscars ever.

In my alternate universe.

Which doesn't exist.



More stuff...

Stargate: Atlantis is stupid and I'm sorry I watched an episode.  

Between the Folds is a neat documentary about origami artists that we caught on WSKG late at night.  I'd like to track it down and see it again.

"Mudd's Women" is a fun episode of Star Trek.  Three dazzling beauties distract all of the men on board the Enterprise.  I forgot how campy the show could get.  Watching the crew go googly eyes is fantastic.

Mudd's Women is also essentially an example of the "mail order bride" Western subgenre.  A lot of early Star Trek has more in common with film and TV Westerns than with print SF. 

Bumping Into Broadway is a forgettable early Lloyd short.  The gags just aren't that great and the hoky intertitles elicit more groans than laughs.  It's not bad, but it's far from Lloyd's best work.

That's all I've got. Goodnight.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Man Up or Puss Out

I love Breaking Bad.  

I'm finished with Season 1 now.  The last two episodes do not disappoint.  After a bit of necessary family drama, we've returned to the pulp dreamscape that has defined the best of this series.  

[Don't get me wrong- it is the family twist that makes everything else important, but it is the everything else that we're all watching for.]  

Season 1 ends on the greatest note possible.  

Who is going to save your soul now?

I'm halfway through Season 2 and am happy to be along for the ride.  I don't feel like writing about each individual episode, but maybe I'll write something up when I'm done with Season 2.

Lost continues to generally disappoint.  I'm still hooked until the end.  Go smoke monster!

This is the first season in a few years that we've watched the show as it was broadcast.  I wonder how much commercial breaks (something I have not dealt with in many years) and waiting a week for each new episode are screwing with my enjoyment.  Even so, this season just seems unrewarding so far.  Go smoke monster!

Three Sheets continues to be good fun.  Who knew that Lithuania was the last European country to embrace Christianity?  And that their drinking culture is still tied up in its latent paganism?  I'll never make it to Lithuania, but I've now said a prayer for the country as I bring this blessed malt beverage to my lips. 

The Office season premiere was decent.  I'm not half the fan that Abby is, but I enjoyed it all.

I do hope that commercial-based TV dies.  Watching any show without commercial breaks is so much more enjoyable.

I wish TCM would start broadcasting the station, maybe modeled after PBS' member support.  Without a doubt, I'd become a monthly supporter.  I just can't justify the evils of cable/sattellite enough to embrace these formats for the sake of TCM.  More realistically, I expect TCM to develop some sort of Internet subscription channel within the next decade.  It doesn't make sense to stay as a part of a cable package when the capability exists to stream content directly to end-users.  But, what do I know?

So, I've been watching a lot of TV shows, but I've still caught a few films.  

Show People is a celebration of Hollywood.  I know I love a comedy film if there's at least one moment in which I absolutely lose it.  The moment in Show People is when, in a film within the film, Marion Davies (or maybe a stunt double) rides off on a large pig.  Followed by a reaction shot of the director enjoying his film.  Simply wonderful!  And that's only one among many.  I really loved the ending, so predictable, but utterly clever and thoroughly delightful.  The film shines in its self-aware cameo moments:  Chaplin, Fairbanks, and even King Vidor himself.  1928 has the reputation of being a magic year for silent film in which the form had reached its peak.  Show People is among the best from that great year.

The Princess and the Pirate also has plenty of laughs even if it's not half the film that Show People is.  The girls and I watched it projected on the wall upstairs.  More than a few times, I had to shush their raucous laughter so that we could hear what was happening next.

As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool.   -Proverbs 26:1

The Biblical proverbs are often as funny as they are wise.  

The above could describe Bob Hope's hopeless actor, but I think that it better describes the protagonist of Rohmer's first Moral Tale, The Bakery Girl of Monceau.

Operating under a moral code of his own devising, ? is nothing more than a scoundrel justified in his own mind.  In other words, a man.   

It's a sad confirmation when this man gets the girl he wants and the happy ending.  It's also really funny in a way and we can rest relieved that the bakery girl had her heart broken, all for the best.
It is exquisite and an instant favorite.  

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Conversations 2010 #7

Conversations 2010 #7

I've been bad.  I was in Ithaca last Tuesday and I went back to that Hollywood Video.  DVDs are 3 for $15 now.  The selection is still quite good, but already only 1/4 of the riches that were to be found there a few weeks ago.  

I was relatively good for being bad.  I spent $15.
Boyfriends and Girlfriends (Rohmer)
Notre Musique (Godard)
The Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa)

I was being good so I left a lot of noteworthy stuff behind, most notably a copy of Vera Cruz that I felt sad leaving behind after you'd both vouched for it. 

Jason, I'm not even sure if you noticed this, but I had to laugh.  You posted about your Sundance set, which includes American Splendor, then, later, you posted about buying a copy of American Splendor on sale at Blockbuster.  I'm pretty bad, but so far I've been able to refrain from buying multiple copies of the same film!  

[okay, I admit that I've done this more than a few times--but always buying the duplicate discs with the intention of giving them away!]

I was thinking about your Star Wars collection recently.  Is The Phantom Menace the only film that you and I saw together in the theatre?  I don't want to believe this, but it's the only one I could remember.

Also, did we watch High Noon together at the same party at Oliver Gingrich's place (I think) with Joel heckling through the whole thing?  Or were you not there?  

Stranger Than Paradise was the first Jarmusch film I ever watched, probably when I was around 13 or 14.  I had a long infatuation with Screamin' Jay Hawkins because of it.  More importantly, I became a better film fan because of it.

I am jealous that you have the Dryden so close.  Maybe I can find a great film on the schedule and convince Brandon that we need to make a pilgrimage up there for a night.  

A Town Called Panic looks and sounds great.

I'm one of the few nincompoops who doesn't really care for The Dirty Dozen.


I've only seen four films on your '54 list.  I'd rank them in the same order you do.
1) Seven Samurai
2) On the Waterfront
3) Johnny Guitar
4) Dial M for Murder

As for '46, I've only seen three that you list.

1) The Killers 
2) It’s a Wonderful Life   
3) Beauty and the Beast 

I don't love any of those three, but each is charming enough in its own way.  The Killers is solid.  The ending of Beauty and the Beast is such a let-down.  I need to rewatch It's a Wonderful life.  I've only seen it once and I know I was too "hip" and more than a bit cynical then.  Films don't change, but we do.

I wish that I had seen more, but I haven't.  

No worries.  I'm sure we'll have another good fight sooner or later.

Benjamin Button still sucks.