Monday, February 21, 2011

Slow Time

I haven't been out to a cinema since new year's. I've been tempted to see True Grit again now that it's at the Cinema Saver, but otherwise there hasn't been much playing locally (even including Cornell) that I care about seeing.

At home,

Abigail and I finished Smallville Season 2. There were a couple of decent episodes (the Christopher Reeves episode is tops) and the whole thing ends on a great note.

We did check out one more 1929 flick, They Had to See Paris, but I'll get to that in the next 1929 post.

I watched The Hidden Fortress with the girls. What can I say about this proven classic? Kurosawa knows how to direct great adventure. It's not nearly Adventures of Robin Hood level of family-friendly adventure, but it has more than enough of its own charms and the girls definitely appreciated the humor a LOT more than I did.

To be honest, I haven't watched many films recently and I haven't really cared about blogging, as evidenced by this pathetic post. Brandon is putting us all to shame with his last couple of posts.

My February viewing in review:
Broadway Melody, Woman in the Moon, They Had to See Paris
The Hidden Fortress
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Oh yeah, Uncle Boonmee. How could I forget? I was planning on writing up a long time traveling Cannes post just like I've been meaning to respond to Brandon's posts. Good intentions don't read very well.

Uncle Boonmee. I like it a lot and there's plenty to write about, but I can't shake this writing laziness. I'll wait for Brandon to write something up on it, then respond if we have any major differences. For now, I'll just say that I appreciated its easy sense of humor and lack of earnestness and the way its images/ideas are presented in a context of matter-of-factness. I'll never look at a catfish again in quite the same way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let's make a deal

Okay, Brandon, here's a proposition.

As you well know, your box o' movies overwhelmed me. How about we try again? This time with less options for me and a clearer viewing plan.

Your task?

Pick out two movies from each year, 1940-1959, and set them aside for me. That's 40 movies total. Or you can cheat and give me more from certain years and less from others. Screw it. You could just put together 10 movies from 4 years if you want. But 40 movies total. 100 I can't do. 40 is manageable. Send me a message when you've put this care package together and then I'll come to your place and pick it up.

My task?

As long as you've got the package ready before the end of February, I do hereby promise to have all 40 films watched by the end of this year.

Sound good?

Hawksian camaraderie ensues

I checked out Vengeance. Brandon is absolutely right about it. The paper bale scene especially is impressive and unforgettable.

Assayas' Carlos is available via NWI right now. I watched the first half an hour of it late last night and couldn't really work up enough energy to care about what I was watching. Is it really worth slogging through?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Soon we'll be having lady detectives up in the Yard.

Finally, here's another 1929 post.  The count now is a mere six films watched.  This is going much slower than I would have liked, but I'm still enjoying the project.

We've watched three more films:
Blackmail (Hitchcock)
Woman in the Moon (Lang)
The Broadway Melody (Beaumont)

Woman in the Moon is a good film.  Visually striking with magnificent set design; exactly what one would expect from Lang at the height of his silent film career.  

I want to attribute the weaknesses of this film to Harbou's script.

The moon gold premise is silly.  The love triangle is silly.  The whole thing takes way too long to develop.  It's a solid 90 minutes before we see any rocketship action.  Then, there's about half an hour in the middle that's absolutely fantastic.  At 3 hours, I'm not sure that this does much more for the imagination than Melies was able to do in 14 minutes.  Even so, the melodrama is solid and Lang does seem dedicated to some semblance of a realistic science-based story.  The stuff on the moon is great and Lang's experimentation with titles on the screen pays off big time when the gold is found.  Also, finally, the Mirsalis score for the Kino DVD release is brilliant.

The Broadway Melody (of 1929) is a chick flick about two sisters and their intertwined love lives.  I regret letting the girls watch it with us.  They enjoyed it way too much!  I live with a bunch of girls.

I didn't really like Broadway Melody, but the first five minutes or so features brilliant sound design which must have been absolutely revelatory in 1929.

My favorite film of this new batch of three is Hitchcock's Blackmail.

Blackmail is almost as good as the best masterpieces that Hitchcock made later in life.  Hitchcock told a story better than almost anyone else and he knew how to get a strong moral message across without ever sounding preachy.  SPOILER: The fact that the woman gets away with her crime (which in many ways wasn't a crime at all until she tried to cover it up to save some notion of honor) is absolutely the most damning punishment that could be inflicted on her and Hitch knows it and shows it.  And it's all the more terrible now that she's killed a second man in the process of covering up her crime.  It's not even so much that she chooses the evil that she falls into so much as she doesn't actively fight against it and choose the good.  Depravity is the default.  Deceptive self-justification happens.

So, how do things stand?

1929 Top Ten - John
1) Blackmail
2) Hallelujah!
3) The Iron Mask
4) Woman in the Moon
5) Spite Marriage
6) The Broadway Melody

1929 Top Ten - Abigail
1) Woman in the Moon
2) Hallelujah!
3) The Iron Mask
4) Blackmail
5) Spite Marriage
6) The Broadway Melody


Last week, I finished the last two episodes of Dexter Season 1. Over the past two sleepless nights, I finished Season 2. About 11 hours of viewing. I still really enjoy the show. At its best moments, it inhabits the same tense air that Hitchcock permanently resided in. We really like a murderer and want him to escape. At the same time, we understand and come to like all of the people trying to catch him. The feeling of being exposed and possibly being caught is expertly displayed.

Abby and I have also continued to watch Smallville Season 2, through episode 14.

What has surprised me is how similar the two shows are. And I might have missed it if the Dexter writers hadn't made it extremely explicit in the second episode of Season 2. Dexter's girlfriend notices that Dexter keeps disappearing in the middle of things just "like Clark Fucking Kent."

Both Dexter and Clark have secrets which, if exposed, would destroy their "normal" lives. To protect their secrets, these two "heroes" lie to every one they love. Both have strong father figures that inculcate (there's that word again!) a strong moral code of sorts in their sons. Probably the biggest similarity between the shows is that any "bad" person who finds out our hero's secret identity is destined to die before they are able to publicly reveal this secret. No exceptions. Cruel, cruel screenwriters. There are more parallels, but that ought to give you the gist of how these two shows mirror each other.

Dexter is Superman.


Expect a Woman in the Moon post soon. Be prepared to be disappointed; I've only been building this up for three months now!


I've started watching Ebert Presents At The Movies. I do like Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and wish him a successful career. I've been following his writing since he started publishing on The Auteur's Notebook (now Mubi). I appreciated his interviews, especially his Bujalski interview (Beeswax rises in my opinion the more I think about it) and I liked that he recognized the beauty of Munyurangabo, a film that is still criminally overlooked by too many. Still, his True Grit review is just stupid. I'm not out-and-out accusing Vishnevetsky of giving in to critical groupthink, but that's what it seems like to me. It's fashionable to see the Coens as amoral, despite the strong evidence to the contrary laced through their entire body of work. I don't know. It seems like it's become critically cool to hate the Coens.

I'm also both impressed and horrified that he listed Histoire(s) du Cinema as one of the "Movies That Made Us Critics." He also quietly and effectively recommended Internet piracy as the best method of obtaining a copy of this series. "This film is not currently available on DVD, but you can find it on the internet." It actually is available and easily obtainable on DVD (French region-free) for 40 euro plus shipping. It's just not easily available in these U.S. as a Region 1 DVD. But, of it is easy to find a torrent of this and one ought not to feel too much of a twinge of guilt regarding piracy, considering that the entire series is essentially one big long mash-up of Hollywood images.

So, why impressed and horrified? The "impressed" should be obvious. Histoire(s) is dense, but by all reports brilliant (I haven't seen it. I tried downloading a bootleg years ago, but it turned out to be a corrupted file and I couldn't watch it. I may try again soon). The "horrified" is an overstatement, but reflects what I perceive is a strong "trying to prove myself" attitude on behalf of Vishnevetsky. Surely, he thought about becoming a critic before seeing Histoire(s) or Foolish Wives or True Heart Susie. Unless you're in an unusual context (like growing up in the home of a diehard cinephile), then these aren't films that you see at an early age. I suspect that there were other, more mainstream films that he saw first that led him back to these films. Then again, maybe I'm too suspicious. Maybe he loved movies, but really fell in love with them and recognized his critical calling after being exposed to these richer films. I don't know. I just know that I couldn't honestly talk about films like those he chooses without seeming like a phony, even though I've grown to love very similar films. I'd have to talk about-- as a child: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Return to Oz; as a teen: Fearless and Ruben and Ed; as a young college student: Stalker and A Woman Under the Influence. Maybe Vishnevetsky was an unusual guy watching von Stroheim and Griffith as a teen. My kids probably will grow up watching this stuff. They love The Broadway Melody of 1929 (post to come soon). So I'm probably being unfair. Probably just jealous that I'm not the one on Ebert Presents. :)

Anyhow, Christy Lemire's picks might not be as impressive, but they feel more honest.


Brandon, I'm excited for more "my essentials" posts. I still would like to see a list. My top ten (thirty) of all time list needs a serious revision, but I don't regret throwing it out there. I need to work on a top 50.


Ben, you wrote: "I'd recommend it for anyone with a passion for running, interest in Africa or a love of socially conscious and inspiring documentaries."

As I despise running, have little interest in Africa, and don't have much use for inspiring documentaries, I would normally pass on Running the Sahara. Still, Abby likes all three of those things, so I added it to my queue.


Jason, thanks for the long dump. I bet your wife was wondering why you were in the bathroom so long. I don't really have much to say about any of the movies you list. I've already written about some of them and I haven't seen most of the others. I am looking forward to your The New World post.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

10 Favorite Short Films

My Top Ten Favorite Short Films Quickly Off the Top of My Head

1. The Killers (Beiku, Gordon, Tarkovsky, 1956)
2. An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge (Enrico, 1962)
3. La Jetee (Marker, 1962)
4. The Bakery Girl of Monceau (Rohmer, 1963)
5. High Diving Hare (Freling, 1948)
6. Hokusai (Teshigahara, 1953)
7. The Scarecrow (Cline, Keaton, 1920)
8. Little Swee' Pea (Fleischer, 1936)
9. The Horse (Burnett, 1973)
10. An Interesting Story (Williamson, 1904)

I'm sure that I'm forgetting something that I love and just can't think of. It's 3am and I can't sleep. I figured I'd put up a quick post.

So, to answer Ben's questions..

"Do you watch many?"
I do go on binges of watching silent shorts and animated shorts. I don't want anything to do with contemporary art house film school type shorts.

Do you have any favorites?
Yup. See above.

How do you hear about them?
Same way I've heard about any film; reading and/or talking with others. Like I wrote above, though, I'm not very interested in contemporary shorts. I've tried watching those Wolphin DVDs I borrowed from you and I keep finding excuses not to watch them. Like, I need to watch another episode of Dexter. Speaking of Dexter, I need to go watch another episode of Dexter.

Monday, February 7, 2011

True Accounting

True Grit and True Commerce

I love reading about things I love. Because I have plenty of blind spots.

With all of the moral reckoning and accountability in True Grit, how could I have missed the simple connection that Mattie is an accountant? Obviously, I knew she was, but I hadn't connected that fact to the broader themes.

It took an Austrian economics website to point out the obvious to me.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I haven't forgotten.

What's going on with Meek's Cutoff?

It's still one of my most anticipated films of 2010.