Thursday, March 31, 2011

Westerns Little Girls Love

You can add Cattle Drive to the list of Westerns Little Girls Love.

Better than most Disney family films, Cattle Drive is the story of a spoiled rich kid who hops off a train in the middle of nowhere, falls in with a group of grizzled cattle drivers, and gets set straight by Joel McCrea. It's not likely to make its way onto any "best of" Westerns list... unless you happen to be an 8-year-old-or-younger Owen girl. And that's more than enough for me to really like this movie.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Against the reign of chaos

EDIT: Here's a link to my write-up of GMT East, because I know y'all care.
GMT East 2011 - One Newbie's Experience

(Playing Z-Man's Merchants and Marauders at GMT East. I'm the guy in the corner holding his head in bewilderment in response to so much audacious piracy going on.)


I spent last weekend at GMT East 2011. I met some incredibly nice guys and got in some good gaming, notably a couple plays of Normandy '44. Pushing cardboard counters across a plexiglass-covered paper map is one of life's finest pleasures.


So, I haven't had time to respond to the flurry of posts. Here's a quick thought on one subject recently discussed:

There is no shame in skipping any movie for any reason. Y'all should check out the SL&tIFL post on this topic:

I haven't seen Antichrist and likely never will. Brandon and I talked about having an Antichrist party at his place when it first showed up On Demand, but I couldn't make it and he watched it without me. It hasn't been high on my priority list since. I can literally think of a thousand other films I'd rather see. The only reason I'm at all interested is because von Trier dedicated Antichrist to Andrei Tarkovsky.

Similarly, I just haven't had interest in Black Swan despite its mostly positive reception by most of the rest of you. I'm not a fan of Aranofsky at all and the script seems like a lame mash-up of ideas from older, better movies. I tried to make myself see it a few times and just couldn't do it. The film's chances on DVD are even slimmer.

On the other end of things, I'm also the only dude in the world that skipped Avatar. Whether high-brow, low-brow, or no-brow, I'm not going to waste time on something that I've been able to form an educated opinion on and subsequently have made a choice that the film is not for me. (Can I use the word "educated" in a sentence that awkward?). Skipping a movie because it looks boring (or, in other words, because it was written and directed by Cameron), despite what almost everyone else says, is just as valid a reason as skipping a film because it may give you nightmares. Skipping a film because it may give you nightmares seems like a no-brainer to me.



I did watch Dogtooth relatively recently. As Ben noted, there is a back-and-forth between me and Brandon in the archives.


I was in a bad mood after having to stay late at work yesterday so I chose to go see a 10:20p showing of Paul to wind down.

If you like...
...gratuitous strings of vulgar language (for the sake of cheap laughs rather than honest character exploration), pseudo-science, nerd ignorance and prejudices, cheap shots at fundy evangelical caricatures, anal probe jokes, notorious product placement, hit-you-over-the-head-obvious-because-you're-stupid film and pop culture references, dumb road trip conventions, bromantic deconstructions of male friendships, cardboard characters, and a lame plot that doesn't do much to transcend any of the weakest of the above...

If you like all of those things, you'll love Paul.

I don't like any of those things.

I hate Paul.

Greg Mottola, you make me weep.

So far, 2011 is 0 for 2 in my book.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Character is destiny

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea had similar careers throughout the '40s and '50s in that both became known almost exclusively as leading men in Westerns. I'm hoping to finish out this year by watching Ride the High Country. Up until that point, I'll keep checking out the individual work of these two men.

Four Faces West is the best Western you've probably never seen (go ahead and surprise me here, Brandon!) by a director you've probably never heard of (Alfred E. Green). It wasn't even listed in the BFI Companion to the Western. Phil Hardy's Encyclopedia of Western Film did not fail, though, and Hardy has high praise for the film. I recommend Hardy's Encyclopedia to any Western fan. The films are listed alphabetically within a chronological listing.

What's special about Four Faces West? A whole lot. For starters, not one gunshot is fired throughout this movie, despite an impressive bank robbery and a film long chase of an outlaw by none other than Pat Garrett. I can't remember the DP's name, but the cinematography is quite nice.

Four Faces West makes a nice companion film to Colorado Territory. Both films feature McCrea as an outlaw who has temporarily gotten away with a crime. Both films feature a woman in love with the outlaw. The interesting difference is the (moral) Character of the outlaw (and the woman) in each. In Colorado Territory, McCrea is a hardened criminal looking to settle down with a big score. He has a code of his own, but has no qualms about his prior behavior. In Four Faces West, McCrea wrongheadedly engages in criminal activity for the benefit of another. His situation resolves because of his inability to ignore the health and welfare of a stranger. Both films (and all great Westerns) are "about" Character as externally manifest in Action.

I love both of these films.

Finally, Decision at Sundown. I love this film, too. Decision at Sundown is relevant now more than ever, considering the current prevalence of Revenge movies. I can't write about Decision without ruining the ending and I don't want to ruin the ending for any of you.

Decision at Sundown is interesting in the same way as Four Faces West. Like all of the best Westerns, these two films quietly and efficiently take established Western tropes and turn them on their heads to be examined afresh. These aren't "revisionist" Westerns. They stand proudly in the Tradition they are a part of, offering variations and new insights, but never rejecting the past.

Malick's Tree

While it is quite possible that Tree of Life ends up being pushed back to a 2014 release, the news has been positive lately.

Someone on the Malick email group recently shared this link:

It sounds like ToL will definitely be playing Cannes, but probably out of competition. As far as a States-side release, we can only hope that the release date already given is relatively firm. Then we wait to see if it will hit Regal.


I haven't seen Hud.


I've got another post coming soon. Four Faces West and Decision at Sundown. McCrea vs. Scott. Who wins? Western fans do.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rules of Film Club

There are no rules of film club.

The general practice is, as Lisa mentioned hearing from Ben, to write at least one sentence about every movie you see.

But no one is enforcing even this one standard.

Other than that general unenforced expectation, anything goes.

Brandon and I started this thing spontaneously and organically because we liked talking about movies together. But we're not leaders or presidents. We're just a couple of guys that like talking/writing about film who have been thrilled to find a few more friends who like to do the same. As co-founder of this modest group, I have no more "say" than any of the rest of you. You've been welcomed here. We won't kick you out even if you puke on the virtual table every night. The only way you're leaving is if you decide you're done and abandon blog.

I mean, hell, we've let Jason stay this long, right? :)

All that said, I do have a few quirks of my own. The email thing is definitely one of them. Due to the peculiarities of the way I currently access the Internet (90% of my Internet activity is through my iPod Touch), I'm just not going to read what you're writing if it isn't coming to my inbox. And I WANT TO READ YOUR BLOGS as soon and as often as possible. Seeing a new post is a real joy. I check feeds, too, but not nearly as often as I check my email and the best app I've found for feeds is still more of a pain than I'd like. So, I ask that simple favor of each new member.

I make up other rules for myself, especially with little projects. Two of those projects right now?

1) Catching up with Brandon's 40s-50s lists. I could just list all of the movies that I've seen, probably about 40% of Brandon's lists and a handful that he hasn't seen. Instead, I make a stupid rule for myself that I can only put a movie on a list if I have or will write about it on this blog. The reason behind the rule is to force me to re-watch favorite movies. And also to be continually shamed by how pathetic my lists look next to Brandon's.

2) 1929. I'm currently watching and ranking films from 1929. The rule? I have to watch each of these films with my wife, which is a true joy, but slows my viewing of these films down because I watch a lot more than she does. I'll often be watching a movie while she's doing something practical or I'll watch something when I get up extra early or, less frequently, stay up way too late. Watching a feature film at 10pm is a lot less likely to happen than falling asleep to an episode of Smallville and even that's on hiatus until we get Season 3. I've forbidden myself from watching any movie from 1929 without her.

My latest and best rule? A film is eligible for a year's Top Ten list only if it was actually first released in that year. I maintain that this is entirely reasonable, but I have all of Film Club and virtually all professional critics against me.

BUT, all of the above rules are for myself and not for any of you. Watch movies. Make up your own rules. Or don't.

Keep writing no matter what.

Once Upon a Funny Game

I posted something short on Funny Games (U.S.) after seeing it, but the real fun occurred on Brandon's blog in the comments section. This was back in the Bronze Age of CR5FC when Brandon and I were the only members.

A little while later, I admitted to liking certain spankings, but I was sick and feverish. I link to the following because it continues some of our friendly sparring over Haneke, but also because I know that Ben, at least, is a fan of Let the Right One In, which I hated.

I know that we've mentioned Haneke multiple other times, but you'll get the gist of it all from reading the above.

I never did get around to watching Funny Games a second time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Subscription to On Demand service.

Lisa, can you do me a favor? Something I ask of all film club members?

It's really easy and will make me very happy.

Go to the settings page for your blog.
Click on "email & mobile"
Add my email address (johnowentrout_at_gmail_dot_com -obviously replace the at and dot with appropriate symbols) in the box that reads "BlogSend Address"
Click on "save settings"


Friday, March 18, 2011

Where they roam

I don't know how or what to write about Jackass 3(D). Believe it or not, it was my first exposure to Jackass in any of its incarnations. I laughed a few times. I shook my head a few times. I just don't know. These guys may have been fierce and reckless warriors in any other period of history. Or at least the village drunks. In our time, they're first-class entertainers. If nothing else, they validate the veracity of the chair wrestling scene in Korine's Gummo.

Stalag 17 is one of those movies that surprised me by how familiar it felt. I either watched this a long time ago or I just merely recognized it by the bits and pieces of it that appear in all sorts of other war and escape films.

I watched Buffalo Bill because of our brief McCrea conversation. It's a dud and mostly fails because of an uninspired script, but all of the players do fine work to keep the thing afloat. To give the script some credit, there are lots of nice touches of humor. It's more the structure of it and the overbearing statement of themes ("It's a disease of Civilization." "God bless you, Buffalo Bill."). Buffalo Bill also features one of the best battle scenes that I've seen in any film ever. It's worth watching for that alone. I guess that Wellman only directed this as part of a deal to get The Ox-Bow Incident made. He did well here in salvaging a bad script.

NWI has a decent selection of McCrea Westerns. I'm going to try to check them all out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I just finished putting together an updated version of the simple site I made for Brandon's movie lists. He may not be pleased with me since I took away his honorable mentions (I'll probably put them back in a nicer format eventually), but I did make the desired changes to his lists based on his own revisions.

The big change that I made to the site is that I added my own lists in a parallel column on the right. As you'll see, they are pretty empty right now. As usual, I have to make up stupid rules for myself to follow. In this case, I'm only going to add a movie to the lists if I have seen it since this blog began and into the future. I've filled in the lists with most of what I can remember that I've seen since this all started. I didn't do an exhaustive search of my archives, but I think that I got most of them.

This obviously means that many of my favorite movies are not on my lists yet. Part of my reason for doing things this way is to force me to see them again and evaluate whether or not I think they still hold up and also just to give me a good excuse to re-watch some of my favorite movies. I don't expect my lists to be complete any time soon, but I will faithfully update the site each time I watch a movie from a given year. I'll put up a permanent link to it on my sidebar soon.

For now, you can find the site here:

John vs. Brandon

Monday, March 14, 2011

Laughing in 1929

They Had to See Paris is the product of the sort of late 19th century humor that my mother-in-law's father must have loved. It's a down-home sort of chuckle based on shared cultural conceptions of decency. Will Rogers must have been the closest thing to a flesh and blood embodiment of this humor. This film is only tarnished by a strange mini-sermon at the end, explaining that the kids are alright.

The Cocoanuts is structured according to an entirely different sort of humor, operating on an anarchic internal logic of absurdity. On the surface, at the very least, this humor seems opposed to all decency. Uproarious physical hijinx and verbal non sequiturs abound. While Borzage and Rogers reaffirm cultural norms, these Brothers tear them down at every chance.

I was just looking at a book that describes the Marx Brother humor as "comic nihilism." I'm wondering how much truth there is to this assessment. The Brothers tear down and satirize just about everything under the sun. Do they ever build up anything besides belly laughs and really mean it? Jeff, I'm looking forward to your thoughts on these Brothers and their films. I confess to having only seen Duck Soup and now The Cocoanuts (and several episodes of You Bet Your Life if that counts).

In case it is not clear from the above, I'll make it clear here that Cocoanuts is much funnier than They Had to See Paris.

Eight movies in...

1929 Top Ten - John
1) Blackmail
2) Hallelujah!
3) The Iron Mask
4) Woman in the Moon
5) The Cocoanuts
6) Spite Marriage
7) They Had to See Paris
8) 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 Cocoanuts
7) They Had to See Paris
8) The Broadway Melody

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ben 2010

Ben, I've got no problem with your 2010 list. Prodigal Sons and Alamar are both technically 2009 films as far as my strict new accounting goes. Besides those two, I still haven't seen Blue Valentine, Never Let Me Go, Black Swan, or 180° South.

Like I emailed you the other day, Catfish totally underwhelmed me. Part of it was the hype, sure, but part of my dislike is the adoption of an attitude of self-importance not only by the filmmakers in the press, but throughout the film. They really think they're all that and a Big Mac. But, I don't think there's a memorable shot in this thing and the story and people didn't grab me. What's left?

You need to see Uncle Boonmee. THAT'S the Catfish movie of the year.

Jeff's 2009 Film Odyssey

Hey Jeff,

I've got time to kill at the moment while sitting at the hospital, so I thought I'd give you some feedback on your 2009 list...

1. A Single Man
I haven't seen this, nor have I had much desire to do so, but whenever another film club member makes a strong stand for a film, I always feel the need to check it out. I'll try to get to it eventually. Did you hear the Fresh Air interview with the director? He talks about that phone scene in the interview.

2. Inglourious Basterds
Absolutely Tarantino's masterpiece. Since I know you love TWBB almost as much as I do, you'll enjoy knowing that Tarantino has stated that it was watching TWBB that made him realize that the moviemaking stakes were higher than ever and that he needed to step up his game.

3. The White Ribbon
I kept falling asleep during this. The best part of the movie is when an old man's cell phone went off in the audience. "HELLO?" "HELLO?" The man then started to have a very loud confused conversation with someone for a couple of minutes while others yelled at him and I gently ushered him out of the theatre. I left about twenty minutes later because I couldn't stay awake. That was my last night ushering at Cornell.

4. Sin Nombre
I missed this, but I sat through the trailer about half a dozen times while working at Cornell Cinema. I'm also really interested in Jane Eyre and will likely go see it soon.

5. Sugar
I liked this.

6. A Serious Man
This was my favorite movie of last year. I only got to see it twice, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about it since. I wrote up a long post about it here if you want to search for it in the archives.

7. Moon
I love print sf (I'm currently reading Subterranean Press' new PKD collected stories volume 1. You vegetarians here should find and read the story Beyond Lies the Wub). It is rare that any sci-fi film pleases me. Film science fiction has always been about 30-40 years behind print science fiction. The emphasis on special effects is usually to the detriment of ideas and character. Moon is an happy exception, easily among the top 5 science fiction films of the last 30 years. Sam Rockwell deserved Best Actor AND Best Supporting Actor wins for his work here.

8. Up
The opening gets so much (rightly deserved) attention for its adult emotions that it is easy to forget that this film is probably the best straight children's action/adventure movie to come along in a long time. Pixar continues its winning streak.

9. Bronson/500 Days of Summer
I missed both of these.

10. Antichrist
I'll probably never watch this one. There's so little film-viewing time. Honestly, I'd rather spend that time watching Westerns.

My 2009 list can be found here:

There are a few things I would change based on other movies that I've seen since and there are a few movies that I'd move around, but it's still a decent representation of what I enjoyed in '09.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Joel McCrea Appreciation Day

Following what I wrote in my Touch of Evil post, Colorado Territory and Bad Day at Black Rock are both good examples of the Noir/Western cross-pollination that was fairly common in the 40s-50s. They're also both great, great movies. I suspect that I'll be agreeing with Brandon 9 times out of 10 as I continue down the 40s-50s path.

Colorado Territory is a thinly veiled High Sierra remake, which works even better as a Western. Bad Day at Black Rock is a contemporary Western that is too smart to be a message movie despite its powerful message. It's all about the delivery. Both movies made me think of Brandon's response to Ignatiy and his defense of classic "movie predestination.". Is it bad that I know Joel McCrea, the outlaw, has to die? Or that the drunk sheriff will find some sort of redemption?

Contrast these two films with two others that I've seen during the past week, Devil and The Adjustment Bureau. What's funny about both of these films is that they both, to different degrees, are about "free will." Yet they are both so ham-fistedly stupid that the outcome is inevitable, even if both have obligatory little twists. In these movies that insist on free will, the characters seem to act like they're the one-dimensional product of a bad screenwriter. As ironic as it may seem, the characters in the two above-mentioned Hays Code era films act like flesh and blood people, constantly surprising us afresh with their mixed motives and complex actions. Both Devil and Adjustment also feel the need to explicitly state their morals, while the older films are smart enough to let the audience do their own thinking.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jeff in my email inbox

Jeff, can you do me a favor? Something I ask of all film club members?

It's really easy and will make me very happy.

Go to the settings page for your blog.
Click on "email & mobile"
Add my email address (johnowentrout_at_gmail_dot_com -obviously replace the at and dot with appropriate symbols) in the box that reads "BlogSend Address"
Click on "save settings"


Contract of Depravity

The title of this post is from one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies of all time - Robert Rossen's The Hustler. There have been plenty of times in the past when someone has asked me what my favorite movie of all time is and the first answer that sprung to my heart, mind, and lips was usually The Hustler. Sometimes Stalker. Sometimes Ruben & Ed. Occasionally Terror in a Texas Town. A few others definitely. But quite often The Hustler. I used to watch it multiple times each year, but it's been at least a few years now since I've watched it last. I just figured that now is a good time to pledge my unconditional love for that film. The New World might be the most agreed upon film in this little club of ours. Could The Hustler be next in line?


I've been witness to a lot of depravity lately. No one wants to hear me testify except you brave few.

This past week, I've been serving on a Grand Jury, but I've been sworn to secrecy and can't talk/write about any of it.

Yesterday, I watched Touch of Evil. As a member of CR5FC, I've been informally sworn to public sharing of all film viewing. It is my fervent desire that y'all will seriously consider serving Welles a Bill of Indictment. The charge? Dazzling brilliance in the 1st degree.

Touch of Evil is a masterpiece. After one viewing, it has skyrocketed to a place of honor in my personal pantheon. I feel about it the same way I felt when I first saw Blast of Silence last year. I feel at home. Which may sound like a strange thing to say about a movie concerned with vice and corruption.

Noir is the rebellious twin brother of the Western. While most Westerns generally had their hats on straight concerning who was good and who was bad and what is right and what is wrong, the lines tended to blur when Noir surveyed the same landscape. Still, the two are funhouse mirror images of one another. Both, with very few exceptions, do maintain strongly that there is such a thing as Evil. More importantly, that there is such a thing as Good. And that what is right and good is worth fighting for regardless of the cost.

Touch of Evil lovingly details the cost.

The good do not remain entirely unscathed. The bad get what they deserve. Most importantly, the good who allow even a touch of evil are brought to their knees. This is what is absolutely devastating about Touch of Evil. Vargas, the pure, is not our man. Hank Quinlan is.

Small evils in the service of good are surely right, no? No. But this isn't just an examination of "ends justify the means" thinking. This film is an all-out assault on the little compromises that we give in to in order to make things easier for ourselves.

Back to the Blast of Silence comparison, both films announce their virtuosity with incredible opening shots. It's easy to know within minutes that here is something unique. Both use a sort of hyper-reality to convey an ordinary reality, heavily stylized, but authentic.

I stand by my assertion that Blast of Silence is the still mostly unheralded end of noir. Yes. Amen. True.

That said, Touch of Evil is the perfect fulfillment of every Noir impulse. This is the height which none can surpass. Touch of Evil is the end of the book, the satisfying conclusion. Blast of Silence is the epilogue, the final cross at the top of the cathedral of Noir.

My only real concern is whether or not Touch of Evil is the best film of 1958 or of 1998, the year of the Murch/Rosenbaum revision/restoration. For now, I'm going to say that it's definitely both.


Welcome to film club.

I promise to call you if I decide to see True Grit again. I also might actually see Black Swan now that it's at the Saver.

I'm looking forward to your Birth of a Nation post. I really can't begin to describe how much that film changed the way I view all films. To the best of my recollection, it was the first silent feature film I had ever seen.

Have fun on tour. I'll be listening to the NPR: All Songs Considered coverage, waiting to hear Bob Boilen announce Summer People as the next Justin Bieber.