Friday, November 30, 2012

November 2012 Recap

November 2012

14 Features
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) ****
The Sea Wolf (1941) ****
Deer Woman (2005) **
Cigarette Burns (2005) **
The Sound of My Voice (2011) ***
Out of the Past (1947) ***
Charlotte's Web (2006) ***
The Prestige (2006) ***
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) ***
Catch Me If You Can (2002) ****
Dark Shadows (2012) ***
Here Comes the Boom (2012) ***
Saraband (2003) ***
Killing Them Softly (2012) ****

Colbert Report
Daily Show
Shatner Roast
Parks & Recreation
Robin Hood

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Catching Up (If I Can)

I've been enjoying watching movies again.

Here are some mini-capsules:

The Sea Wolf (1941) was even better than I had hoped. There are some interesting parallels to The Master here and I wouldn't be at all surprised if PTA is a fan. My favorite moment is the romantic not-kiss between John Garfield and Ida Lupino. It's one of the greatest non-kisses in cinema history. The entire struggle between Everywildman Garfield and JeffHowardianSuperman Robinson is appropriately epic, sprinkled with the appropriate self-sacrificial efforts of a WriterMan Knox and increasingly passive worrying of Lovely Lupino.

Sound of My Voice (2011) is a waffle, wavering to and fro, cashing in on a vogue for ambiguity. It finds its own voice successfully about halfway through the film and becomes an almost interesting suspense thriller. I may be spoiling it to even say that twists follow twists, but I saw the end coming and it was unsatisfying because it played out as a "thought piece" instead of a satisfying resolution.

Out of the Past (1947) remains the representative perfect Noir film despite my ambivalence toward it. I keep watching it every few years, trying to understand why THIS film is the one that so many point out as The Perfect Noir Film. I can't fully get behind it. Part of it may be the flashback frame. Part of it may be how it shifts focus mid-film from a gritty romance to a sort-of revenge one last job get out of the business con the world film. I don't know. I like the film. I want to love it and I don't.

I've already written about Safety Not Guaranteed and The Prestige.

I watched two movies with the family: Charlotte's Web (2006) and Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). I fell asleep during both. Any excuse to catch a nap. I watched the majority of both, though, and both are pleasant and fun movies.

Catch Me If You Can (2002) is one of Brandon's picks for Best Film of the Decade. It's really high on his list. Brandon's Appaloosa, if you will. Brandon and I used to talk about movies A LOT when we worked together every day. I remember his devotion to this film from back then. I probably saw Catch Me back in 2003 or 2004 on DVD. I liked it, but didn't think that it was a Great Movie. I'll say now that I was wrong. It is easily one of Spielberg's best and I'm okay with putting it up there with the best films of the decade. Its strengths are many, including the jaunty fun of watching a too-smart trickster character surviving on his own as he's lost in the world. The key, though, is that being lost in the world. Frank is running from he knows not what and heading toward he knows not where with he knows not what goal, except maybe to please his Father and win back his Mother. But, dang, he's doing it all in top style. DiCaprio had already proven his acting chops many times by 2002. He's great here. Hanks is also a tremendous presence. The Christmas Eve calls are beautiful. The strategic use of the one PG-13 f-bomb is probably the best PG-13 f-bomb ever. Knock Knock. My favorite comedy moment, though, in a movie filled with good ones, is the "Lutheran" prayer: There were two mice. A funny moment, but also the most revealing moment in the film, that Frank has no grounding except for what he's received from his father. It's become his unceasing lived prayer to keep afloat no matter what. Great pick, Brandon.

Finally, back to Mehsters of Horror. The last two Mehsters films that I've watched were both better than all of the other ones that had come before.

The Deer Woman
Directed by John Landis
Written by Max Landis, John Landis

Cigarette Burns
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Drew McWeeny, Scott Swan

The Deer Woman is genuinely funny at times. Men are found trampled to death after walking off with a woman. This provides for humorous situations as characters discuss what kind of creature could be causing these deaths. It's still a stupid horror film, but I was surprised by how often it worked as a comedy. Landis delivers. Cigarette Burns, though, is an attempt at a self-referential cinematic pure horror. A film collector seeks out a film that has caused chaos and madness in each audience that has seen the film. Things end about as badly as they can as everyone gets what they want. This is close to what I like in horror. No one is happy and everyone is dead. Carpenter delivers. While I'm not really recommending either of these, they both stand out as better installments in what has been a disappointing series.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Soul Club

“I mean, abortion debates with John don’t seem that productive if one of us believes in souls and the other doesn’t.”

Hmm.. I’m not sure, based on that sentence, which one of us believes in souls and which one doesn’t. Even if I could tell, I’d still have no idea what that sentence above means.
What are you even talking about, Jeffrey?
That you don't believe in souls and that's why it's okay to kill babies? Because you don't have a soul or because the baby doesn't have a soul? I mostly want to know if it's okay to kill Chris because he doesn't have a soul? Is that what you're getting at? Or is it that I don't believe in souls and that's why I'd protect the life of the innocent soulless because I have sympathy with anything else that doesn't have a soul? Like rocks? That I don't have a soul and that's why I'd dare question anyone's "reproductive rights?" Or are you merely trying to say that we can't argue about anything unless we first settle this soul question? I tend to agree. Because if you're just a pile of meat and I'm just a pile of meat, then all we're doing is using our randomly produced chemically charged meat minds to flap our meat mouths at one another and why does it really matter anyhow? I've got other meat parts that I could be sticking in meat places. It's tough being sentient meat. Sometimes, I almost think I'm more than meat. Then, I think that meat doesn't think. I think.

That sentence of yours makes no sense to me.
Maybe I'm being deliberately thick, but I don't think so.

Also, the sentence was obviously partially there to bait me. I'm biting the bait and asking you, What are you talking about? And why did you even go there?

Also, for the record, I'd tear your freakin' arm off.

Also, for the record, I've always assumed that conversation is a good thing, on any subject. My objection to politics on the blogs has always been that our focus here is on moving images and only ever tangentially on anything else. I don't like responding to this crap here. I just can't resist responding to something that has my name attached to it. At least Brandon had the decency to rant while pretending that he wasn't ranting at anyone in Film Club.

I wanted pretzels, I got The Prestige.

We need a word for this elvish craft, but all the words that have been applied to it have been blurred and confused with other things. Magic is ready to hand, and I have used it above, but I should not have done so: Magic should be reserved for the operations of the Magician. Art is the human process that produces by the way (it is not its only or ultimate object) Secondary Belief. Art of the same sort, if more skilled and effortless, the elves can also use, or so the reports seem to show; but the more potent and specially elvish craft I will, for lack of a less debatable word, call Enchantment. Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside; but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. Magic produces, or pretends to produce, an alteration in the Primary World. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practised, fay or mortal, it remains distinct from the other two; it is not an art but a technique; its desire is power in this world, domination of things and wills.
 -J.R.R. Tolkien

The Prestige is Nolan's best/worst film. In it, Nolan is absolutely clear about his aims as a filmmaker and about his techniques for achieving these aims.

Nolan sees his art as the art of lying. Misdirection, reversals, gimmicks, whatever it takes. According to Nolan, the audience enjoys being lied to; that's why they come to the movies. They want to be dominated by a greater will. That's why he makes movies.

Nolan never successfully produces a Secondary World for the audience to enter. That would involve worldbuilding rooted in truth and flourishing in truth. Nolan doesn't believe that his audience wants truth (and I suppose they don't). Nolan's audience wants to be fooled, then let in on the trick so that they can feel oh so smart.

What about The Prestige? It's all technique. It's one big elaborate magic trick. Mechanical and lifeless. Do the fans of this movie really care about any of the deaths that occur? I didn't. There is no emotional truth in this film. There are shifting degrees of allegiance that the audience is asked to give to each magician character, but we're never dared to love either one, any more than these characters love anything else besides the great reveal. The audience is slowly prepared, throughout the film, to be properly stunned by each twist and turn, settling in to that happy "aha!" moment. It's as deterministic and boring as any roller coaster ride, which we've long ago established that I hate.

Not only is there no emotional truth, there is no further demand of any kind of truth. In a terrific sleight of hand trick, Nolan unfolds the story in a specific time and place, distracting us with set design and costumes. The appearance of a place and time does not necessarily make for a place and time. Instead of a rich background that seems alive of its own, we're given all of these tidbits as one more mechanistic piece in service to the trick, the lie. Like the magician who leaves out his makeup to disguise the fact that he's not using makeup, except for when he is.

Nolan lies to his audience with a broad wink. This is all good fun.

Well, it's all immensely clever, I concede.

As usual, though, Nolan shouts his cleverness as the chiefest of virtues. Doing so, he avoids wrestling with anything more substantial. He's content to exert his dominance over his audience, leading them by the nose. And his audience is pleased to be so led.

It should be obvious why I've included these Tolkien quotes. Tolkien is addressing Fairy stories specifically, but his descriptions of "sub-creation" and Secondary Worlds" is applicable to any fiction and not just Fairy Stories. The day before watching The Prestige, I had listened to a lecture on Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories" (which essay I've read many times). Yes, I'm harder on The Prestige than I probably would have been if I hadn't had these words fresh in my mind.

To the elvish craft, Enchantment, Fantasy aspires, and when it is successful of all forms of human art most nearly approaches. At the heart of many man-made stories of the elves lies, open or concealed, pure or alloyed, the desire for a living, realized sub-creative art, which (however much it may outwardly resemble it) is inwardly wholly different from the greed for self-centred power which is the mark of the mere Magician. Of this desire the elves, in their better (but still perilous) part, are largely made; and it is from them that we may learn what is the central desire and aspiration of human Fantasy—even if the elves are, all the more in so far as they are, only a product of Fantasy itself. That creative desire is only cheated by counterfeits, whether the innocent but clumsy devices of the human dramatist, or the malevolent frauds of the magicians. In this world it is for men unsatisfiable, and so imperishable. Uncorrupted, it does not seek delusion nor bewitchment and domination; it seeks shared enrichment, partners in making and delight, not slaves.
-J.R.R. Tolkien

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Top 30 Thirties

1. The Adventures of Robin Hood
2. The Lady Vanishes
3. Modern Times
4. Frankenstein
5. City Lights
6. M.
7. It Happened One Night
8. Grand Illusion
9. Destry Rides Again
10. A Farewell to Arms
11. Scarface
12. King Kong
13. The Thin Man
14. Stagecoach
15. Only Angels Have Wings
16. Port of Shadows
17. Trade Winds
18. The Texas Rangers
19. My Man Godfrey
20. Way Out West
21. Make Way For Tomorrow
22. The Rules of the Game
23. You Only Live Once
24. Duck Soup
25. Ninotchka
26. Frontier Marshall
27. China Seas
28. G Men
29. Fury
30. Rhythm on the Range

Top 30 Forties

1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
2. The Shop Around the Corner
3. Christmas in July
4. I Love You Again
5. You Were Never Lovelier
6. The Maltese Falcon
7. Force of Evil
8. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
9. Four Faces West
10. Colorado Territory
11. Passport to Pimlico
12. Rope
13. My Favorite Wife
14. Rome, Open City
15. The Paleface
16. Foreign Correspondent
17. The Great Dictator
18. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
19. Suspicion
20. Citizen Kane
21. Hail the Conquering Hero
22. Sullivan's Travels
23. The Set-Up
24. Meet Me in St. Louis
25. Hangmen Also Die
26. The Big Sleep
27. Red River
28. Bicycle Thieves
29. The Wolf Man
30. Whiskey Galore!

Top 30 Fifties

1. In a Lonely Place
2. The Flowers of St. Francis
3. Roman Holiday
4. On the Waterfront
5. The Ladykillers
6. The Seventh Seal
7. The Narrow Margin
8. Terror in a Texas Town
9. 3:10 to Yuma
10. Diary of a Country Priest
11. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
12. Throne of Blood
13. A Face in the Crowd
14. Decision at Sundown
15. Rawhide
16. Touch of Evil
17. The Hidden Fortress
18. Seven Samurai
19. The Searchers
20. The 400 Blows
21. A Man Escaped
22. The Tall T
23. I Confess
24. Rashomon
25. The Asphalt Jungle
26. Strangers on a Train
27. Gun Crazy
28. Tribute to a Bad Man
29. The Thing From Another World
30. The Court Jester

Top 30 Sixties

1. Samurai Rebellion
2. Andrei Rublev
3. Blast of Silence
4. The Hustler
5. America, America
6. Faces
7. The Carabineers
8. The Naked Prey
9. Cleo from 5 to 7
10. Once Upon a Time in the West
11. Winter's Light
12. A Man for All Seasons
13. Au Hasard Balthazar
14. 2001: A Space Odyssey
15. Shoot the Piano Player
16. 101 Dalmations
17. Through a Glass Darkly
18. Ivan's Childhood
19. La Collectioneuse
20. Band of Outsiders
21. Woman in the Dunes
22. Psycho
23. The Trial of Joan of Arc
24. The Killers
25. My Night at Maud's
26. Pierrot le Fou
27. Fahrenheit 451
28. Umbrellas of Cherbourg
29. The Steamroller and the Violin
30. Lonely Are the Brave

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Top 30 Seventies

1. Stalker
2. Solaris
3. Badlands
4. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
5. Minnie and Moskowitz
6. Lancelot du Lac
7. Dawn of the Dead
8. Aguirre, the Wrath of God
9. Wise Blood
10. The Great American Chase
11. The Plumber
12. Macbeth
13. F for Fake
14. A Woman Under the Influence
15. The Muppet Movie
16. Days of Heaven
17. The American Friend
18. Woyzeck
19. The Outlaw Josey Wales
20. The Godfather
21. Love in the Afternoon
22. Claire's Knee
23. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
24. Picnic at Hanging Rock
25. Star Wars
26. Harold and Maude
27. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
28. Tess
29. Mean Streets
30. Let's Do It Again

Top 30 Eighties

1. The Green Ray
2. Wings of Desire
3. Stranger Than Paradise
4. Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind
5. Labyrinth
6. The Empire Strikes Back
7. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
8. First Blood
9. Raising Arizona
10. The Princess Bride
11. Back to the Future
12. The Neverending Story
13. Excalibur
14. Return to Oz
15. Three Amigos!
16. Throw Momma from the Train
17. Superman II
18. House of Games
19. River's Edge
20. Willow
21. The 'Burbs
22. The Seventh Continent
23. Damnation
24. Pauline at the Beach
25. Videodrome
26. The Lost Boys
27. My Neighbor Totoro
28. Heathers
29. My Left Foot
30. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Top 30 Nineties

1. Rubin & Ed
2. The Fisher King
3. Julien Donkey Boy
4. Fearless
5. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
6. In the Company of Men
7. The Big Lebowski
8. Trapped in Paradise
9. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
10. The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb
11. Bringing Out the Dead
12. Pulp Fiction
13. Twelve Monkeys
14. The Mask of Zorro
15. Taste of Cherry
16. Magnolia
17. The City of Lost Children
18. Slacker
19. Apollo 13
20. Dead Man
21. A Simple Plan
22. Waking Ned Devine
23. Mars Attacks!
24. The Straight Story
25. Hard Eight
26. Braveheart
27.Toy Story
28. Misery
29. The Apostle
30. Jurassic Park

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Top 30 Aughtiez

1. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon
2. Appaloosa
3. There Will Be Blood
4. The New World
5. La France
6. La Moustache
7. A Serious Man
8. No Country for Old Men
9. Munyurangabo
10. A Scanner Darkly
11. Adventureland
12. The Limits of Control
13. Moon
14. Ashes of Time Redux
15. Mister Lonely
16. Still Life
17. In the Mood For Love
18. Reign Over Me
19. Joyeux Noel
20. Ponyo
21. WALL-E
22. In Bruges
23. School of Rock
24. Inglourious Basterds
25. Beeswax
26. Offside
27. Che
28. The Astronaut Farmer
29. Dear Wendy
30. Cold Mountain

Thrown together quickly. Gut-stuff. I'm forgetting films, I'm sure.

No No November

I'm not at all a fan of politics on the blogs, except when it is a natural expression of convictions while interacting with a specific film. Then, I love politics on the blogs. I agree that all of our prejudices and opinions, hidden or stated, are relevant to our film viewing. I've always been in favor of very personal criticism.

I'm here to talk about films. Talking about films is a political act. It is a moral act. I look forward to us disagreeing and discussing differences. But I always want the focus to be on the films. Like Jeff, this makes me happy. Adrienne ought to know that it took me a long time to accept her in film club because her film posts were scattered throughout a personal blog! Very upsetting.

I'm happy to talk politics or whatever. I just don't want to do it explicitly here. How 'bout that Twitter? :)

So, some brief comments on films.

I've stalled out on the Mehsters of Horror Mehrathon. I didn't even like the Dante film. It was bold, but I think it was also over-the-top and not-at-all-subtle in making its point. The film Chocolate is the worst in the series so far. Blech.

On a positive note...

I re-watched Safety Not Guaranteed. The problems that I had with it are still there and seem even worse, but the parts I loved seem even more outrageously lovely. With some reservations, I highly recommend this one. I'd be happy to get into spoilers on this one once more of you have seen it.

Parks & Recreation is a new favorite. I watched the very short Season 1 and enjoyed it. By all reports, it only gets better from here.

My excuse for infrequent posting is that I haven't watched much. I'm reporting it all right now. I've kept up a 100% success rate in writing (however briefly) about every single film I've watched in the past years since starting this. One of my biggest pet peeves of film club is that guys like Brandon and Jeff are watching five features a day and never writing about them. As Uncle Ben said, With great quantities of film viewing comes great responsibilities. You guys are totally shirking your responsibilities. I'm calling you out right now. Meet me in the streets at noon. I'll have my whaling harpoon ready.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012