Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Raymond Pierce

Did you guys knows that Jonathan Raymond, long-time collaborator (at least 5 years and 3 films) with Kelly Reichardt, co-wrote the teleplay to Todd Haynes' Mildred Pierce? Interesting.

Jason's Cutoff

Jason, the title was for you. The rest of this post is for the cool kids who have seen Meek's Cutoff.

I've seen it twice now. Ben was going by himself tonight anyhow, so I hopped along for the good company and a chance to see this great film again.

It's late and I'm not up to writing a full post, but I wanted to write briefly about the aspect ratio. Meek's Cutoff was shot in 1.33.1, the old Academy standard. I understand that it was shown in that format at all of the major festivals.

On the way to Cinemapolis tonight, I called the theatre and told them that I had seen Meek's Cutoff on Friday and that I was coming to see it again. I also told them my concerns about the aspect ratio. The girl I talked to talked with the projectionist/technician and he assured me through her that he would be projecting the film properly.

When the film started, though, it was still projected widescreen. I was confused. I'm still a little bit confused. I talked with the projectionist afterward and he explained that they didn't receive a 1.33.1 print. They received a "flat" print (essentially 1.85.1). So, someone at Oscilloscope, maybe Reichardt herself, chose to have the film converted this way and that's the print that's being sent out to theatres. Maybe?

Since getting home tonight, I've done some searches and read a few informative sites about converting aspect ratios, but I'm still a bit confused.

I'm pretty sure that in order to convert the film to 1.85.1, Reichardt or whoever else necessarily had to matte off part of the tops and bottoms of the frames. I guess that the trade-off is that the film could play in more theatres across the country, most of which no longer even have the right equipment to show a 1.33.1 print (though Cinemapolis does).

This is a rare instance in which I'm actually more excited to see a film again at home than I am to see it again at the cinema (though I may go see it one more time with Abby and some friends of ours next week).

I just read Roger Ebert's review (good as always) and the footnote at the bottom. I really don't know what to think. The projectionist I talked to didn't seem to be ignorant or a liar (he was no Stephen Meek)! I don't know what to think about the situation!

To put things in perspective (is that a pun?) for our resident Woody Allen fan, here's a humorous article about Annie Hall.

Save Annie Hall From Aspect Ratio Hell

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Poor in comparison

The problem with seeing a really great film like Meek's Cutoff is that it makes the crap you watch afterwards seem all the stinkier.

Like Brandon, I was disappointed in The Thief of Baghdad (1940). The girls liked it, so I can at least share that it works as a children's movie.

The American is also disappointing. It's another entry in a long line of "one last job" hit men movies. It does have a strong opening and a few nice touches with the priest. Overall, it offers nothing new and no particular reason why we should care about this man getting a new chance. Clooney does do a nice job looking tired of it all.


BSG S1E2 "Water" shares the central plot problem of Meek's Cutoff. We're lost with a vague direction of where we're going and we're desperately in need of water.

BSG S1E3 "Bastille Day" offers a nice little affirmation of the Rule of Law. The script is a bit too on the nose at times.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tree of Life (Reichardt's Version)


Jeff, it was great meeting you. I hope we can do something like this again sooner rather than later

Brandon, your moustache rocked Ithaca.


Below are MAJOR SPOILERS for Meek's Cutoff.


Jim Emerson insists that the first shot of a film matters, or at least that it should matter.

I agree wholeheartedly. I note also that opening words matter.

The first word we see in Meek's Cutoff is the word "lost" carved onto a log. The first spoken words we hear are a boy reading Genesis 3. If you missed these words, you missed a lot.

Genesis 3 becomes an interpretive key to the whole film.

These settlers have been (self-)exiled from the Garden of Western civilization. They are lost in a fundamental sense. They've been cut off from the Tree of Life.

While lost in the Wilderness, they undergo trials to test their maturity and wisdom. There is a constant battle between the subtle serpent, Stephen Meek (who is not meek at all, but tries to disguise himself as an "angel of light.") and the representative head of these weary travelers, Solomon Tetherow. I'm sure y'all know that King Solomon was famed for his wisdom. Tetherow's challenge is to act in faith while called to judge in wisdom; To live up to his name.

Solomon's wife, Emily (the name means "rival"), is a proper mate to Solomon, providing wise counsel, then supporting her husband's decision. Instead of struggling with her husband, her enmity is properly oriented toward crushing the Serpent.

The biggest challenge that these folks come across is the Other, a Stranger in all ways. The fates of all of these people rely on how they treat a Stranger in their midst. The Tetherows choose kindness and trust.

At the end of the film, the Tree of Life is regained, pointing toward the renewal of all things and the wagon train's company entering into rest. Reichardt doesn't need to show us anything else after this. The Serpent recognizes that what was written long ago about the crushing of his head has finally happened. Meek is finally humbled and made meek against his will.

I'll let you other guys dissect all the individual great moments in Meek's Cutoff. This has been my attempt to give a big picture overview of what I think is going on in the film. I'm still working through what I think, but these are my bold beginning attempts to make sense of everything that comes in between in light of the beginning and the end.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Last Black Exorcism Death

I recently caught up with Black Death, based on Ben's recommendation.

I liked it a lot. Ben's already given a good synopsis of the plot. Unfortunately, what's really worth talking about is the entire film in light of its ending. I don't want to spoil it for the rest of you.

I will say that I think that Black Death and The Last Exorcism are companion pieces and would make a great double feature. Both films explore similar subjects and similar themes. Both films roll around in ambiguity, providing viewers with lots of space to THINK. Both films become strange thrillers because of ideas first and action second, though both have bursts of extreme action.


BSG S1E1 delivers on the promise of the mini-series.

Movies tend to be idea or event oriented. TV, on the other hand, is at its best when it is character-driven. There are more ideas and events in the first episode of BSG than most movies, but it is the characters that keep us watching. After the mini-series and this first episode, I've already spent about 3h40m with these characters with many hours yet to go. It's not even that the characters are especially likeable (there's no Hurley here!), but that one can't help but start to feel invested in characters and relationships after spending so much time with them.

We do seem to be in a particularly good era for television. I haven't seen as much as others, but my personal recent favorites would include:
Breaking Bad, Buffy, Dexter (though I've only seen the first two seasons), Firefly, Lost, Monk, others I can't remember.

I haven't seen more than random, individual episodes of any HBO shows from the past decade. I had a really good time making fun of an episode of True Blood while with Ben in Erie. I've seen scattered episodes of the older Dr. Who series and the first two series of the recent reboot. I'll stop now. There's plenty of other shows that I haven't seen. I'm no expert.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ennis Delmar, Film Club's Anus Bleeds For You

I'm not a homophobe.

I'm not scared of homosexuals any more than I'm scared of adulterers or hetero-fornicators. I'm not scared at all. Nor do I think that there's anything irrational about my position. Last of all, I don't harbor any hate toward anyone.

I am of the strong opinion that dudes buggering other dudes is wrong. Breaking marriage vows is wrong. Sleeping around is wrong.

I realize that I may be in the small minority with these opinions in film club.

I lay these few things on the virtual table for a specific reason: because there have been several mentions of Brokeback Mountain recently and subsequent proclamations about film club members.

I had never seen Brokeback Mountain until a few days ago, spurred on to watching it by the chorus of praise from my fellow clubbers.

Given what I write above, you'd probably jump to the conclusion that the above reasons are why I've avoided climbing Brokeback Mountain for 5 years.

Not at all. Or at least only partially.

In general, I try to avoid any film that lauds adulterous passions. That's true. I didn't see Brokeback for the same reason I skip most indie movies. I was not interested in the basic premise of Brokeback, that some sort of self-determined notion of romantic love/lust is the highest good, everyone and everything else be damned.

Specifically, though, and more importantly, I avoided Brokeback because I vowed never to see another Ang Lee film after what he did to the Hulk. Not so incredible.

Don't get me wrong. It's not specific subject matter itself that I find objectionable. No subject is off-limits. It's the way the subject is handled and what conclusions are drawn by the end.

Obviously, I can't get behind the Delmar-Twist "romance." I deny that there is anything at all romantic about it. There's really no way that I could like this film given its assumptions and given its conclusions. I only watched it because almost everyone else agreed on it and I wanted in on the party. I should have known better.

I guess I don't mind being the party pooper here.

Brokeback mountain, the physical location, is enshrined as an open, "pure" place where individuals can experience and indulge any primal impulse while shedding their social conditioning. Civilization is bad, as evidenced by the boxed-in claustrophobic living spaces, crying babies, and just plain grown-up responsibilities.

Life is hard away from Brokeback Mountain. This is part of the rhetoric of the film. But, there's not much to suggest that Jack and Ennis would last long as a couple or really like being together all of the time. Given the chance, I feel like these two selfish self-destructive idiots would be at each other's throats within a few months of domestic life together. Their lust-filled camaraderie lasts as it does because it lets them live out their comfortable little boy denials of reality, not because it's some soul match.

The thing that really kills the film for me is that I don't buy the relationship between the two male leads. Not at all. Two guys are working as shepherds up in the middle of nowhere. One cold night, they share a tent.

Then, they do the Jack Nasty.

I don't buy it.

I don't buy that that would have been the reaction of the Delmar character. It played out like a laughable gay porn fantasy. Please share your unsolicited homosexual tent encounter stories and prove me wrong.

I guess that's all I've got to say for now.

Start your angry rants...... NOW!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thor & BSG

Thor is not that good. I feel like the film already wasted 2 hours of my life. I'd rather not lose any more of my life to it. I know that's lame. Sorry.

I re-watched the Battlestar Galactica reboot mini-series. I'm hoping to keep watching through the entire series, so BSG may take over this blog soon. Then again, you can comb through this blog and find a dozen statements of intent like this with no follow through. We'll see.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


May 20th.

Meek's Cutoff at Cinemapolis.


Ben has offered to drive.

Brandon will likely meet us there.

Jeff? You're the only other local. Are you in?

Summer People show at the Haunt after the movie.

I'll see you at the mosh pit.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

No Direction Home

Not much viewing lately.

The Circus is a Chaplin feature I never hear anyone talk about, but it holds up favorably well compared to the more lauded Chaplin films. The hall of mirrors and monkeys on a tightrope sequences are brilliant. The ending is bittersweet and confused the girls a bit. I realized that this might be the first film they've seen that doesn't have a tidy resolution. Minor Spoiler: this film ends with the Tramp setting up the Girl with another man, then leaving the circus and walking off on his own with no Girl, no job, and no direction home.


Hail the Conquering Hero is funny. I think I like it even more than Sullivan's Travels. I have this weird impulse to think of it as a war film rather than a "wartime" film.


Besides the above, we've watched three more episodes of Smallville Season 3, but nothing special. Last week, we watched an humorous episode of Robin Hood introducing Little John. Tonight's episode introduced Friar Tuck. I continue to be impressed by the high quality of this show.


Jeff, New Morning is my favorite Dylan album. I don't listen to much Dylan, but I'll pull out New Morning a couple of times a year.


Ben, you are mostly right in your brief analysis of Black Heaven. I suppose I'm not willing to put up too much of a fight because you seem to concede that the film is worth thinking about even if you can't join me in thinking that it achieves what it sets out to do. In perspective, I've seen 56 films from 2010 now. Black Heaven is more interesting and exciting to watch than all but a small handful of those.


Jason, I'm happy to see your enjoyment of Thor. Abigail will attest to the fact that I bring up Thor several times a day and will not rest until I've seen the movie. I might go see it this Thorsday.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sax & Violins

I am interested in talking sex or death or religion or politics or pepsi vs. coke or whatever else drives folks nuts. But not here on this blog. Take me out and buy me a drink and I'll argue your ear off. I might even punch you in the face. I promise.

This space is reserved for movie talk. I'm all for bringing up any of the above here if and when they relate to specific movies (and if you've been reading here long enough, then you know or could probably figure out where I stand on all sorts of issues), but not in the abstract. It's a distraction. I'm just not interested. Not here. I'm not prescribing a rule for movie club nor am I trying to change anyone else's posting persuasions; I'm just explaining why I haven't joined in on much of y'all's pontificating, from religious right-mongering to leftist-behindedness.

You guys can write about whatever you want, but I don't have the time to spend responding to those other things.

I'm here to talk movies.

So, let's talk movies.

I just re-watched The Last Exorcism. It's actually better on DVD than the big screen because the faux-doc camera movement is less nauseating. It's still one of my favorites from last year. I still can't discuss the ending because none of you have seen it. I love the ending. Brandon, get this one from Redbox. You'll either love it or we'll have a good argument about demons.

The other movie I've watched is Peter Weir's The Way Back. This is an impossible film. I almost feel bad for the studio. There was/is no good way to market this film. It can't quite be marketed as an inspiring true story because of the controversy over the source material. It could be marketed as an action film, but it would die the second weekend when word of mouth spread the cold hard fact that this is a film about walking. There's a little more to it then that, but really we're watching men walk for 2+ hours.

Thus, besides a brief limited engagement in the Big Cities, the film was doomed to the direct-to-DVD void. Which is really too bad because I'm sure the film looked stunning on a big screen.

I love The Way Back. Peter Weir has been one of my favorite directors for as long as I can remember. He never disappoints and he does not disappoint here. Weir makes you feel the journey -- including feeling the incredible length of the journey. Never mind that the whole might be a gulag fever dream. This is all true for Weir. Every moment. So it is true to us.


On to Jeff's most recent list: 2006

I've only seen three out of the ten movies you list. 2006 may as well not have existed as far as me and movies go. I had just re-discovered boardgames at the end of 2005 and that became my primary extra-family obsession that year. Movies suffered. I also just wasn't keeping track with what was going on internationally and was bummed by crappy looking American releases. I hadn't really strongly cared about film since 1999/2000/2001. The entire early to mid aughts film landscape is a wasteland to me and honestly, I haven't really felt a need to go back and catch up.

Here are the three I've seen from your list:

The Proposition
I don't like this as much as Brandon, but I like it. I feel like the tension at the end fizzles out during a right-on-cue rescue moment. I also remember liking the "misanthrope" conversation.

Yeah, this is gimmicky and I never quite fell for it even the first time. Even so, Rian Johnson is undeniably talented. I think that the script got a lot of attention, but what really stands out is the mise en scene and camerawork.

The Departed
I saw this on HBO at a hotel while being paid to be at a conference. I remember not liking it, but I can't even remember enough to tell you why.

I don't have much to add to the 2006 conversation except to list two more films that you may not have seen.

A Scanner Darkly is probably the best film adaptation of any PKD story to date (rumors have Gondry working on an Ubik adaptation, which is only a disappointment if, like me, you were hoping for Kaufman to adapt it). If you want to understand the state of the States today, you need to put down your lit-crit-psycho-sexual-colonial-response text and pick up a Dick novel. Or watch this Linklater adaptation. It's got an Alex Jones cameo, too, which is fun.

Joyeux Noel is one of my favorite war movies, about some soldiers who decide not to kill each other. I was lucky enough to catch this while it was playing at a small art theater in Buffalo.

I am not a pacifist. Sometimes violence IS the best way, even the righteous way. Instances like assassinating the Head of a tribe of murderous villains is a good recent example of good violence.

Being a grunt killing other grunts, though, rarely works out for anyone but the suits back home, but sometimes this, too, is necessary.

The grunts usually aren't the real bad guys. WWII German foot soldiers ARE the bad guys when they are following orders and occupying French territory in an all-out grab for Nazi world domination. They must be violently resisted. German soldiers aren't the bad guys when they're sharing their beer and singing Christmas Carols. They may be treated as brothers.

I don't think Brandon liked this when I let him borrow it. I'm not sure why. It's one of my favorites from the last ten years.

Shyamalan's best, Lady in the Water came out in 2006. I'm in the minority here.
X-Men: The Last Stand may be a mess, but it's far better than anyone gives it credit for. You're all cold, heartless bastards for not breaking down every time you see the final exchange between Wolverine and Jean Grey.

Ben, I'm glad to hear that you loved Black Heaven. ;) Come on. Give me a lashing. Talk me out of liking it!

Lisa, that's too bad about The Lincoln Lawyer. I was hoping to see it at the Cinema Saver soon. I haven't read that book, but I'm a Michael Connelly fan and have read all but the last two Harry Bosch novels and most of his non-Bosch books. Eastwood's Bloodwork is a really decent adaptation of the Connelly novel. A few things are changed (some significant), but Eastwood respected Connelly's novel and was true to its "feel."