Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October moves fast.

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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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
Gun Crazy
The Asphalt Jungle
Rio Grande
The Furies

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.



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.