Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Well, I didn't expect "No Country for Old Men" to be knocked from my top spot of '07

And I sure as hell didn't expect Juno to be the one to do it. Going in, I was expecting a comedy about on par with Lars & the Real Girl, light, "cutesy indie comedy" that dealt in a roundabout way with the basic issues of life and love, with a really good actress, I would tear up a little, smile a little and put it in the 9-12 range [with the added twist that Juno is EXACTLY, not sort of, not "hey that kind of reminds me of her", EXACTLY like one of my very good friends]. But as it went on, I kept expecting the movie to turn somewhere, to lean even a little bit to the left or to the right, to give me a sense of cinema, to strike a note that was false, and every time it seemed like it was going to either tug on heartstrings [The divorce, and the suggestion of an almost possible love interest for Mark and her...I was dreading the eventual hesitant kiss and Vanessa finding them or pull a false happy ending [Using the divorce as an excuse, then her and Bleeker getting together, keeping the baby and a happily ever after no problems there she kept the baby yay! bullsh-t, and it just...never went there. It stayed right on the even keel, and I believed it every f-cking step of the way. This isn't Little Miss Sunshine with stock dysfunctional characters spouting arbitrary "wacky" symptoms, this is...life. And that's all it can be, and all it needs to be. Sweet, intelligent, sensible, good-natured, honest, and just...as good as that film could possibly have been with the possible exception of Ellen Page making out with me in a major Hollywood film. [Grade: A] [Rank in my now-Fifty-Six of 2007: #1] I can't stop smiling.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I'm Not There [2007, Haynes]

Like a metaphysical remake of Scorsese's No Direction Home, the escalatingly great Todd Haynes's "Dylan Goes Palindromes" is quite a fascinatingly diverse portrayal of a fascinatingly diverse man.

The device of using six [or seven] different characters to represent the man, myth, legend, etc. that is Bob Dylan starts off seeming like a gimmick but comes off as almost assuredly the only possible way to assess such a stupefyingly complex man. Like a reverse-Sybil, some characters leave more of an impression than others, but all involved aquit themselves with varying levels of solid.

Cate Blanchett has now taken on the unenviable task of portaying two of our culture's most inimiatable icons, and her version of Bob Dylan is FAR more successful than her Katharine Hepburn, if only because instead of imitating speech patterns, she INHABITS the character, channeling rhythm instead of patterns, adopting mannerisms, reactions and the way Dylan carried himself in his most fertile period. She also looks startlingly similar to him with presumably little alteration, and because she DOESN'T really attempt to imitate his distinctive voice, she's the only one who really becomes Dylan.

The others are descending levels of quality, the little black kid [Marcus something] that pretends to be Woody Guthrie is Dylan's early years, aping Guthrie and Seeger, not moving forward within himself. That section more than any other is full of verbatim quotes from Dylan's life, and is amusing if you recognize them. Richard Gere's 'outlaw' of Billy the Kid is refreshingly high-quality, showing none of the typically flashy annoying quirks Gere usually exhibits, especially since he looks like Ye Olde Dude Lebowski .

Heath Ledger [as Dylan's 'superstar douchebag'] and Christian Bale [as 'the early years'] are less successful. Ledger rarely exudes any of the charisma that you would presume would make one that famous or attractive, and it's the most predictable section [full of the paparazzi and marital troubles normal 'star' movies contain]. Christian Bale's character is, like every Christian Bale character, flat and unremarkable.

I was going to say that it could use a half-hour trim or so, but I don't think that's the truth. I think more likely that there are just so many perfect places to end it that I just wanted it to finish on several lovely notes, and then it doesn't end on one of those perfect notes, but still ends quite well.

I realize this has been a rambling review, but this is a rambling film about a rambling man.

[My 40th film of 2007 is my #4 film of 2007] [Grade: B+]

Monday, September 24, 2007

Girls in Uniform (1931); Zero for Conduct (1933)

Girls in Uniform: Although the VHS tape was old and worn-down, the picture skipped a bit on quite a few occasions, and the subtitles were mind-numbingly difficult to read [I can't figure out who decided white subtitles laid over a black-and-white picture with very little black was a good idea], but what I COULD see, I liked a lot. It was an interesting look at a taboo subject loooong before it became acceptable to talk about it, and with the eroticism that flares up during each time two women gaze into each other's eyes with their noses touching, knowing at least one of them is enjoying it in a sexual sense, in addition to the jabs at fascism, you can imagine why 1931 America and 1931 Germany were not pleased with this film, and it was unseen for a long time. The film is one of the least-awkward films pertaining to sound either, the camera and the people move, and the film takes as many excuses as it can to show music [someone playing a record, the choir singing, etc.].

Nothing life changing, but quite a quality film. I liked it. B

Zero for Conduct: It's like If..., except instead of monotonous schoolboy bickering with an awkward, nonsensical ending, we get an inventive, vivacious, hysterical, charming, amazing film that features fabulous sequence after fabulous sequence, plus a stunningly beautiful slow-motion sequence involving feather pillows and a tyrannical midget leader with a giant beard! I mean, what the hell more could you want?!? Finally a film of substance to put alongside Duck Soup in the "best of '33" [I love Gold Diggers of 1933, but I wouldn't dare suggest it was a story-oriented film [laugh]

This film exhibits the tragedy of losing Jean Vigo I think far more than L'Atalante, which was charming but failed to linger in my mind past its viewing. This film is just sheer exuberance. AND HAS A TYRANNICAL MIDGET WITH A HUGE BEARD! A -

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Zorn's Lemma (Frampton, 1970)

It's like the opposite of a lot of Stan Brakhage's films, which are more like...being a baby and just watching the pretty colors, this film has literally approximated how to LEARN.

The film starts off with someone reading over a black screen a basic grammar book, followed by 45 minutes cycling through shots of words starting with each letter of the alphabet (i.e., a shop window with the word "Acme", "Barber" on a shop window, a sign that reads "Canvas") (although there's only 24 letters, I'll have to do some reading up to find out why), and, after numerous run-throughs, every so often, one of the letters is replaced by an image, and, after more than a few times, you come to associate the letter with the image, and expect that picture to show up when that letter is going to come around (i.e., a bonfire for the letter "X", and the rest of the film features two people reading some work, each alternating saying one word, while some people walk through the snow, I guess symbolizing the point where we understands words enough that substitutional symbols are no longer necessary, and we base it on the words themselves. That I'm not sure about, but that's my initial reaction.

Really quite fascinating. (I downloaded a torrent, then found it online *rolls eyes*, ON GOOGLE!) but yeah, great stuff if you're of the intellectual, avant-garde persuasion.

Also, this was my 600th film off the "They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?" top 1000, a great film to achieve the milestone with.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Eraserhead (1977)

Supposedly one of the best films ever made, a film from a director I love (David Lynch), in a genre I love (surrealism), and a director who I have seen do this genre to staggering effect before.

A slam dunk, right?


Lacking Bunuel's commentary, Godard's love of experimentation and cinema, or even the demented mystery of Lynch's own Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet, Eraserhead is dead on arrival. Surrealism is nothing without either relaying an ethos or pushing a boundary, and this film did neither. Bunuel's surrealism was as off-the-wall as this, but he was railing against the Catholic church and bourgeoisie society. Brakhage's films were far more difficult than anything Lynch has ever DREAMED of (obviously ), and even though I don't enjoy them, I admire him for taking chances and trying something new and different. Godard is fascinated by the boundaries of cinema and how to extend them, and what characters can do, say and be thereof. This film wasn't even strong enough to pretend to have an ethos like the drunk teenager of surrealism, Cocteau's Blood of a Poet (which includes an opening scroll saying, "If you don't get it, it's on YOU!"). Eraserhead comes off as empty and offhanded, and thus takes on the appearance and lingering disappointment of a mediocre student film from a student you've seen so much better from. It has been stated that Lynch attempted to film a dream, but is that not what every amateur filmmaker is doing when he runs out of interesting or challenging ideas? Just string a bunch of random images together and hope people posit "deeper meanings"? If the film is meant to emulate a dream, it does, as fades from memory just as fast. The only difference between this and one of my dreams is, at least in my dreams, I get to see people I know.

A downhearted D.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sicko (2007)

Easily the best thing Moore's ever done, and the closest to a real documentary, he refrains from falsely or unsubstantiated attack (which weakened a lot of the entertaining, important things about Bowling for Columbine, and was essentially all Fahrenheit 9/11 WAS), and devotes about 10 whole seconds to self-congradulations, at the very end, as an afterthought (as opposed to An Inconvenient Truth, another documentary about a very important issue delivered by a divisive Liberal, in which an important issue was clouded by how self-congraduatory and self-obsessed Gore was). An important, downbeat topic handled with Moore's usual ironic wit, but, as mentioned, with a lot less aggrandizing and unsubstantiated finger-pointing than Moore is known for using. Amazing movie though, and, along with The Power of Nightmares, you might owe it to yourself to see this film.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Once (2007)

VH1 has these things they call "You Oughta Know" videos, which are generally generic no-name acoustic guitarists that sound like everyone else.

And my god, Once was like the longest, most generic, patience-testing VH1 "You Oughta Know" music video ever, and I was in a theater, desperately wishing I could find the remote so I could switch to MTV for the latest Justin Timberlake video.

I don't like watching films that I think I could have made myself over a weekend, and this was exactly that. I have friends who strum acoustic guitar and write songs about their ex-girlfriends too, and most of them just sound like this guy, and, not coincidentally, the only song that I really thought was any good WASN'T WRITTEN BY THEM, it was written by a man you may have heard of named Van Morrison.

Also, they insist on showing every second of every single note of every single generic, samey song. And this isn't a musical like old Hollywood musicals that are interesting and clever and take place during fantastic set-pieces of complex dance numbers and all sorts of wonderfully choreographed shots, this was just them sitting there singing.

It was a bit innocuous but decent at first, but I cringed as YET ANOTHER F-CKING SONG came on. My dad would laugh as every new (but stridently similar) song came on and brought out a round of heavy sighs and eye-rolling from me.

We almost saw Knocked Up. I can only fantasize about what might have been.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

Perhaps the film failed to engage me as it could have if every single couple/'parents' I ever dealt with in my circle of friends had parents that were far crazier and more violent and crazy than anything this couple did. My parents divorced when I was 8 and although my dad was always sane, sensible and calm, of course I didn't live with him, I lived with my mom who is potentially bipolar Anyway, I've visited friends houses and feared for my life numerous times. So a mom acting weird and a dad yelling didn't seem all that remarkable to me, and especially not for as long as this film went on. It finally got close to things I've experienced, but by the time, it was just...eh, just went on and on.

Solid but not necessarily difficult performances from Falk and Rowland, these are the kids of performances that are nuanced but relatively easy to perform well.

So, in what amounts to "stay together for the kids", but they decided to actually try to, as opposed to anyone I ever knew.

Just like Mouchette, where the girl's life was bad, but not as bad as my own life, and Aguirre: The Wrath of God, where the guy was definitely driven but not quite "crazy", the extremity of my own experience negative the power of the extremity of this experience. B- because it's not the film's fault. [#16 in my Nineteen of '74 (which was an unnaturally loaded year anyway]

June 14, 2007

A Nous la Liberte / Freedom for Us (1931): A fun little movie from that most fun of directors, Rene Clair, a prerequisite, a dry-run, if you will, for Chaplin's Modern Times (a film that was sued for being too similar, but I really don't see it; other than the industrial theme, they're fairly different films). Clair also maintained a safe distance from that suit, and maintained a friendship with Chaplin throughout. It's a funny little satire of factory life. Two men are in prison. During an escape plan, something goes wrong, and only one escapes. The other one gets out later and finds that his friend has become a big industrialist, and gets a job in his factory, and finds the job pretty much exactly like the one he had in prison. There's some amusing sets and sight gags, but it's not mined for as much comedy as Modern Times or Clair's other 1931 gem, the fantastically nutty The Million. B- [#6 in my Six of '31]

Pierrot le Fou (1965): If I made movies, they would probably look a lot like Pierrot le Fou. A completely offhand, a completely haphazard, an almost completely improvised film. If you're trying to follow a story, the film will give you whiplash, but if you're willing to sit back and enjoy the absurdity, and Godard's character's ever-present self-conscious knowledge of their own cinematic limitations (Belmondo looks toward the camera and says, "All she thinks about is money." "Who are you talking to?" "The audience.", and they never mention it again. Also, they somehow get stuck on an island, and in the middle, Karenina says, "This is enough Jules Verne, let's get back to our gangster picture.", and suddenly, they're off the island.) The threadbare, unimportant strands of plot you do pick up seem like they've been edited from a completely different, Hollywood movie. Serious happenings (i.e., murders, thefts) come out of nowhere, and even they are handled goofily (to steal gas, Karenina goes to the attendant, points skyward, and punches him in the stomach, mentioning she'd seen it in a Laurel & Hardy movie) It's apparent Karenina has killed at least two people (including a midget (!)), and that's all you need to know. Go see this, it's awesome. A [#1 in my Seven of '65, ahead of, appropriately, Godard's Alphaville]

Rome: Open City (1945): A film that, to my eyes, is one of those films that is more important than good. The story of Rossellini going around, collecting tiny scraps and ends of film to make this film is a fascinating story that I would be much more interested to see than this decent but disjointed and meandering melodrama. The film is famous for essentially having invented the Italian neorealist movement, a movement he himself would work in for quite sometime, it is a very important and influential movie, but then again, so was The Wild One, and I don't have much desire to see either of these again. Rossellini would improve on this formula and make a more captivating motion picture almost immediately, with the easily more immediate, gripping and fascinating Germany: Year Zero two years later. C+ [#7 in my Ten of '45]

Quick shot...

Leolo (1993): A fabulous film, a fantasy coming-of-age tale that doesn't shy away from the harshness of reality, there's a lot of funny fantasy stuff (such as his father not being his father because he's fat and crazy, and he positing that his real father, a Sicilian, masturbated on a crate of tomatoes that got sent to his town, had his mom fall on the tomatoes, one went up her skirt and impregnated her), and yet, there's bestiality (not in a fun sense, poor kitty), attempted murder, clinical dementia, bullying (in a fairly sad scene) and LOTS and LOTS of defecation. Amazingly fun movie. A

Hour of the Star (1985): A remarkable portrayal of a completely unremarkable person, a look at a shy, ignorant, possibly mentally retarded young woman who is so blissfully unaware that she works as a typist, is terrible, and doesn't even realize it. Other than the random, unrealistic final shot, the entire film is beautiful in the fact that nothing really happens. Also, the film exhibits how ignorance may be bliss, but when something like heartsickness (however non-romantic the relationship was) rears it head, it just is more confusing, leading to her taking lots of aspirin. Anyway, beautiful little movie. A-

Forty-Eight Hours (1982): A fun film, one of the few films that really exhibits the hallmarks of both a good action movie and a good comedy. It's a solid 25 minutes before Eddie Murphy even shows up, and there are very real, very dangerous situations despite peppering some huge guffaws in-between, enjoyable movie with his rewatch value. B

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Man of the West (1958): A fabulous near-Greek tragedy of a Western, and possibly the greatest film in the genre I have ever seen; a fascinating, complex piece of work with a fascinating, complex performance from Gary Cooper. It's a bit stagy, especially in the form of Lee J. Cobb, but, yeah, damn good. B+ [#3 of the Eight of '58]

Ace in the Hole (1951): Another fascinatingly complex tale, but this time, about the decisions one makes and about what constitutes acceptable morals, and whether one would sacrifice all morality for a good story. B+ [#5 in the Twelve of '51]

Stan Brakhage: An Anthonlogy: Disc 2

I was surprised to find that Gregory P. Dorr of DVD Journal shared pretty much my exact sentiments on every single one of these films, so I'll just be lazy and reproduce his here instead of re-wording it and passing it off as my own:

Cat's Cradle (6:26)
— One of the least interesting pieces in the collection, Brakhage describes the short as "Sexual witchcraft involving two couples and a 'medium' cat," which oversells this sexless and impenetrable montage.

Window Water Baby Moving (12:13) — The most emotionally felt of Brakhage's short films, this affectionate and awe-filled mediation on pregnancy contains some moments of pure beauty despite its fascination with the more clinical details of childbirth. Interestingly, while Brakhage usually obscures the naked body with visual effects or superimpositions, he offers no such mask for the pregnant body, approaching it with a sense of delicacy rare to his work.

Mothlight (3:14) — A neat visual experiment. Brakhage made this film by pasting the wings (and sometimes bodies) of moths to his film, creating a high-speed, flickering entomology show. One of the benefits of this DVD set is the ability to step through this brief film frame-by-frame for a closer look at its unique craft.

Eye Myth (0:09) — Stan Brakhage gets it right (even if his description of this film sounds like prefab intellectual bullshit): take an intriguing visual concept, make it happen, and then let it end, naturally. At only nine seconds, this is the shortest film in the collection and, therefore, one of the best, as Brakhage never allows himself a chance to ruin it.

The Wold Shadow (2:28) — While this mixture of nature footage and painting foreshadows the reliance on painting for most of Brakhage's later work, the director's audio comments preceding this film offer more insight into his particular craft than any of his films. Inadvertently exposing the aura of pretentiousness attached to his career, he explains his process thus: "You think you're doing this, it turns out you're doing that and, really, but on the other hand, you were doing what you originally thought you were doing, except it's not at all what you thought you were doing." If this is true, and Brakhage's work is really (as it seems) unplanned execution of a creative aesthetic impulse, then all of the painstakingly unconvincing textual analyses by the artist himself and his admirers is betrayed as the mental masturbation it sounds like. Further, when asked if the obscurity of his symbolism is lost on audiences, Brakhage, a student of Freud, makes a telling admission already obvious to the cynic: "I don't need an audience at all."

Garden of Earthly Delights (1:27) — Similar to Mothlight, Garden uses vegetation glued to the film for its admirable effect, as is as well worthy of frame-by-frame enjoyment.

The Stars are Beautiful (18:32) — Brakhage breaks his silence by narrating this uninspired juxtaposition of footage of a chicken having its wings clipped and a series of creation myths invented by the director. If the tired and awkward narration is anything like Brakhage's poetry, it's no wonder he describes himself as "a frustrated poet;" it's dire, juvenile and his voice is sleep-inducing and this one seems to go on forever.

Kindering (2:52) — Although Brakhage's tendency toward silent movies may wear on viewers with antsy senses craving some aural interaction, 1987's Kindering is a prime example of why his work is often better off mute. This distorted footage of his grandchildren at play is accompanied by the obvious and sophomoric juxtaposition of discordant music and the sounds of childhood recreation. Odd that an "experimental" film would mimic a gimmick already employed by The Amityville Horror.

I… Dreaming (6:36) — Mainstream depictions of dream life often stumble upon the same pratfalls of pretentious symbolism that experimental films already deal with on a scene-by-scene basis. It's difficult, then, to imagine what about dream life could be particularly inspiring to an avant garde director like Brakhage. Nevertheless, this uninteresting montage does feature some of his better photography (though most of it is still, like the rest of his straightforward camera work, largely flat and undistinguished). Includes a soundtrack of disjointed Stephen Foster music.

The Dante Quartet (6:05) — The first of Brakhage's hand-painted films in this collection, Dante, like the others, features some standout frames, but plays like a superfast montage of abstract paintings, which gets a bit dull after 30 seconds. To be fair, however, the better moments in this four-part series come toward the end. Still.

Nightmusic (:32) — Another hand-painted film; this one is only two seconds too long.

Rage Net (:52) — More hand-painting.

Glaze of Cathexis (2:59) — More hand-painting; this time with an obscure Freudian pretext that fails to distinguish it from the others in this genre of Brakhage's oeuvre.

Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse (8:19) — Despite sporting the best title of all the films in this collection, it is saddled with this cumbersome description by Brakhage: "Four superimposed rolls of hand-painted and bi-packed television negative imagery are edited so as to approximate the hypnagogic process whereby the optic nerves resist grotesque infusions of luminescent light." Well, duh.

Untitled (For Marilyn) (10:34) — Brakhage describes this hand-painted film as "thanks and praise to God." Unless, that is, if God fell asleep during The Stars are Beautiful.

Black Ice (2:05) — Yet another hand-painted film with an explanation that fails to make it look any different from the others.

Study in Color and Black and White (1:37) — Nothing of the sort. Again, hand-painted.

Stellar (2:20) — One of the better hand-painted films, mostly due to its different visual approach.

Crack Glass Eulogy (6:06) — A break from the string of hand-painted films that precede it, but not as interesting visually with its dull manipulations of city photography.

The Dark Tower (2:21) — Grandiosely listed as "An homage to all the dark towers in literary history," there must be one or two dark towers unfairly left out of this severe hand-painted montage, amongst his more bracing work in this arena.

Commingled Containers (2:42) — A few photographic tricks with light and water played over and over and over again. It's Brakhage's lack of building rhythm in his editing that kills some of these shorter films.

Love Song (10:49) — "A hand painted visualization of sex in the mind's eye." Unlikely to give your mind's eye a boner, but some of the colors are nice; although not nice enough for 10 fricking minutes of yet another montage of abstract paintings. Brakhage is coasting.

Gays & Girls in Prison

Hell's Highway (1932): A bit of a baby brother to I Am a Fugitive in a Chain Gang (despite being released first), this was an interesting, gritty look at why you didn't want to commit a crime in Georgia. B-

Ladies They Talk About (1933): A fun, interesting movie with the always great and supercute Barbara Stanwyck, despite the fact that jail in this film is presented as what amounts to a day spa, with women singing, getting their hair done, and just occasionally having disagreements. Slight but fun. C+

Caged (1950): A B-picture yarn that is FAR more effective and quality than it has any right to be, this film is pretty much known as the best of the "women in prison" movies, and it shows. The film is fabulously acted (including a few Oscar nods), well-plotted and realistic. A major high five for this one. B+

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Le Weekend.

Paris, Texas (1984): A deceptively simple and ponderously brilliant and moving slow-burner of a film, my second Wim Wenders is nearly as great as my first (Wings of Desire); Like the film, Harry Dean Stanton turns in a tremendous performance that is wonderfully enigmatic, and the rest of the cast turns in equally excellent work (although Nastassja Kinski fades in and out of her German accent in the film's stunningly earnest, emotional climax), and although I thought the last turn of events was a bit of a stretch it had to go somewhere, and I give the film credit for not going for the cheap shock to generate drama (although it seemed like it kept threatening to), an amazing film that falls just short of the crown of 1984 (thanks to Amadeus): A [#2 of the Thirteen of '84]

The Sadist (1963): With an opening that more than resembled the opening of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film failed to deliver on that film's terrifying insanity as, instead of a chainsaw-wielding, leather-faced maniac with an equally maniacal family, we get...a sniveling idiot and his little girlfriend. Bad deal for the three teachers that get stuck, broke down at his farmhouse. I never really generated a lot of sympathy for the teachers, as they were mostly one-dimensional, and thus, I was never tense when Arch Hall, Jr. threatened to shoot them, and the film was also a slow-burner, but in a negative way. C [#12 of the Thirteen of '63]

The Mangler (1995): From a film that resembles Tobe Hooper, to a Tobe Hooper film that resembles a shoulda-been MST3K film. In idea, it doesn't seem like the film could fail, either as a good film (improbable, but possibly a pleasant surprise) or a so-bad-it's-good film (it's about a giant possessed killer laundry folding machine), but, other than a few amusing isolated incidents (ever wanted to see two grown men wrestle a KILLER antique icebox?) and it has a few wonderfully surreal Gothic touches (which runs it courses about ten minutes in), the film is mostly bogged down in insipid plot strands and downright dull chatter (Any references to the "missing finger club" or the Belladonna Tums in his 108-minute film is definitely for the better), and the film even, for the most part, fails to deliver on the gore to at least satiate one situation (very few people actually get forced through the evil laundry folder, and when it finally gets a juicy chance to be interesting and kill off a main character, the laundry machine gets dishearteningly gunshy before, in one of the film's amusingly preposterous scenes, the three-ton behemoth begins CHASING our protagonists. Even this the film can't do right, and proceeds to spend an extra ten minutes wrapping up plot holes too big and unimportant for me to recite here. D [#42 in the Forty-Two of '95]

Black Orpheus (1959): An inspired retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set during Carnival, the film is a mostly uninspired travelogue, treading water, for the first hour and a half before finally kicking into interesting gear late in the film in the "underworld" portion of the story. A vibrantly colorful and lively film that doesn't really work as a narrative. It may be more than a familiar tune, but it's the same ol' story. C+ [#14 in the Seventeen of '59]

Friday, June 8, 2007


Scorpio Rising (1964): A fabulous, fascinating, groundbreaking short film that broke that ground in the forums of ironic juxtapositions of music to screen, and a great almost sarcastic 'outing' of biker culture. Wonderful. A

The Conformist (1970): Although I wasn't blown away by the narrative, it had a pretty crazy ending and the compositions and cinematography is some of the greatest I've seen in my life. Some of those shots man, whew. Anyway, thought it was interesting, and Dominique Sanda might have the most beautiful mouth in the history of cinema. It's refreshing to find a director that knows that eroticism takes more than just tits and intercourse. He's a sexual director for those of us who thought the beach story from Persona was the most erotic thing they'd ever heard, me included. Well done, Bernardo, well done. A- [#2 in the Eight of 1970] (Two months ago, I had seen two films from '70, and, through no deliberate choosing, I have seen six since, and all six of them have been sandwhiched between MASH and The Arisocats (my #s 1 and 8, respectively )

Seven Men from Now (1956): A upper-level traditionalist western with a fascinatingly vengeful performance by Randolph Scott and a few extra twists and turns, pleasantly surprising in such a staid genre. B [#6 in the Ten of '56]

The Leopard (1963): Sumptuously beautiful but languid, lugubriously talky, sleep-inducing affair. Like a less-interesting Italian Gone with the Wind, or, from the same year, a less-interesting The Cardinal: C+ [11th in the Twelve of '63]

Thursday, June 7, 2007


Queen Christina (1933): Well-acted, but plodding and stagy drama with a lot more interesting undertones about homosexuality (including the suggested relationship between Christina and the other woman, and the interesting way with which the Spaniard reacts both before and after he discovers Christina is not a man (in the least-convincing "manly" get-up OF ALL TIME. She literally just...puts a hat on.). Meh. C+ [6th in the 7 of '33]

Wonder Bar (1934): Another film that is mostly famous for notably pushing the boundaries of sexuality in film, with a joke that was surely at the time just an offhand bit of naughtiness, but has since become a gay hallmark (A VERY effeminate man with a wispy little mustache comes to a dancing couple, asks if he can dance, and then takes off with the man, as Al Jolson jokes, "Boys will be boys!").

This film was right as the Hayes Code was beginning, and so pushes a LOT of boundaries that would have been unthinkable just six months later. It's fascinating just how many taboos the film flaunts, as it includes homosexuals (the aforementioned), sado-masochists (the entire whip number), suicidals (Renaud), gigolos (Harry), murderers (Inez, who is allowed to get away with murder) and an incredibly LONG (goes on for over 10 minutes!), incredibly racist number about a black farmer and his mule going to Black Heaven and seeing black angles, with everyone in blackface. There's also a couple of preposterously fabulous Busby Berkeley numbers, and Al Jolson makes everything better (it goes against my better judgment, but the song during the blackface number was excellent, ha) I'm totally flabbergasted at this film, and I love every minute. B [4th in the 5 of '34]

How Green Was My Valley (1941): A Best Picture winner that, at this point in time, is more famous because of the film that didn't win as opposed to any statement about its quality. This film won the Best Picture Oscar in 1941, beating out The Maltese Falcon, Suspicion, and The Little Foxes, but will forever be known as "The Film That Beat Citizen Kane", and that's partly the film's fault. It's a solid "good" movie, the kind that has no glaring faults in acting, writing, directing or staging, but just seems like one of many solid "good" 'poor, working man' British dramas around the same period. It doesn't stick out amongst the pack, and although I own this movie, I hadn't gotten around to it until now, and I only own it because I bought it in a pack because I wanted Sunrise and couldn't find it anywhere else. Worth a watch, but no staggering classic. B- [7th of Ten of '41]

Stan Brakhage: An Anthology

I have to say, I didn't like Dog Star Man as much as the other three films.

The film is fascinating in small amounts, and I was with it for a while, but I think this could be a lot more impactful at 7 minutes rather than 75, and although it's definitely artistic and interesting and in a technical sense is quite impressive (that's a LOT of cutting, scratching and footage), but I got the message early on and I understand his attempt to create essentially the entire experience of life with literary connotations as well, but brevity would, in my opinion, have served it well. I think if I could have talked to Brakhage, during and after the film (i.e., he grew up and taught here in Colorado up in Boulder, and I feel too bad that I was not able to join something up there before he died in 2003), I could have gotten perhaps more out of it.

Anyway, the other three shorts I watched were more interesting, the first two of which dealt with keying in on specific senses purely and alone: Desistfilm is essentially a bunch of shots of beatniks sitting around being bored, but the sound (a brash dissonance of almost insect-like buzzing and it almost gives you the feeling that you're a fly watching these other beings interact and don't understand what is going on.

Wedlock House: An Intercourse focuses on his more usual sense: sight. The film is a series of quick, glancing shots of a couple in their early experience of marriage, and whether it "says" anything is unimportant, as its mostly just fascinating to watch and ends fairly quickly.

And finally, on the topic of what films "say", The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes is funny in the sense that people assume that, just because someone as experimental as Brakhage filmed it, it must have some metaphorical meaning, when in fact it's simply a look. The film is a pure documentary exhibiting autopsies, and all the gory details therein. It's easier to watch than Franju's The Blood of the Beast, mostly because they're already dead and not being turned into food, but if blood or bodily functions make you squeamish, this isn't exactly your film.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Dancer in the Dark (2000)

What a fascinating motion picture. Even when it fails to be plausible, it is never boring, never fails to be interesting and captivating.

But as it goes along, you realize it's not making an ATTEMPT to be plausible. In fact, it's directly going against plausibility. It becomes more and more clear that this was a conscious decision to revive two long-dead Hollywood art forms, the musical, and the tragic melodrama. Anyone who complains about failures in plausibility is missing the point. People don't just break out into song in real life either. This is a tragic, melodramatic story of an innocent railroaded into a crime and has to pay the price. The fact that she occasionally breaks out into song in fanciful, vibrant numbers is almost expected considering the director and star.

As much as I dislike Lars von Trier as a person, and his views and beliefs, I must say that the man is a fabulous, fearless genius who always makes films full of life AND death, films both vibrant and morose, many times in the same scene, and this film exhibits this in a very literal sense.

It saddens me that when you mention Bjork's name to most of the general mainstream public, their first thoughts are 1) swan dress, 2) beating up a photographer 3) Iceland! 4) apparent singer. She consistently puts out breathtakingly brilliant albums, and her acting is no different. It's certainly too bad that she has sworn off movies after this, because she inhibits this character with every fibre of her being, moreso than 90% of film actors around.

Whether or not it always works (I'm of the camp that it most certainly does), I would be amazed to find someone that could call this film boring and uninteresting, and if I could, I don't know that I want to. A [Currently #4 in my Fifty-Eight of 2000]

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968)


Where is the line? That's what this documentary has gone out to Central Park to attempt to find out. This is a documentary about...the nature of truth, script and honesty of film. The movie starts with the director, cast and crew on a sunny day making a movie he says is called Over the Cliff, and director William Greaves has three cameras: one filming the scripted actors, one filming the crew as they film the actors, and the third recording the entire scene, including passesby who stopped to watch, but then, there's something else here...and all the crew is pissed and everybody makes small talk and complains on camera about him, but there's no definite truth about what is staged, what is real and what comes through as both. So where is the line? Outside of the people involved (and even then, I doubt it fully) know what is objective truth here. A seemingly simple film that brings up as many questions as seconds in the film's running time. Staggering. A+

A few more...

Hard Eight (1996)
Paul Thomas Anderson, who has made three of my all-time favorite films with his second, third and fourth films (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love) has disappointed me with his first. A film that bears the glorious style and fabulous acting of an Anderson film, but missing the brilliant writing and epic scale, and also bears all the hallmarks of a short film blown to feature length. Philip Baker Hall is still the man, though, and I can't wait to see Secret Honor. C+ [18th in my Forty of '96]

Saps at Sea (1940)
A fun, slight little Laurel & Hardy B-picture that include a bunch of amusingly obnoxious set-pieces (they work in a horn factory!) and is under an hour, guaranteeing it doesn't overstay it's welcome. A fair stopgap for watching better films. C+ [14th in my Fourteen of '40]

Fearless (2006):
As expected from a Jet Li movie, there are some vicious fight scenes. Sadly, a lot of lame, cliched, simply-written drama fills up the rest. It was a decent way to spend 100 minutes, but certainly not worth sitting through again (just watch Hero or Once Upon a Time in China if you'd like to see fabulous Jet Li fights coupled with an actually compelling bit of storytelling. C+ [37th in my Fifty-Three of '06]

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A trio of excellent Russian silents...

Earth (1930, Aleksandr Dovzhenko): A startling, bombastic paean to both technology and the soil, the film was amusingly referred to in one review as "tractor porn", and the near-orgasmic montage of reactions when the tractor first arrives doesn't do much to dissuade that claim. As the film states itself at the beginning, the plot is fairly wispy and secondary to the breathtaking imagery, and 'tis, a breathtaking film (plus it has more nudity than Titanic!). A- [#2 in my Four of '30]

The End of St. Petersburg (1927, Vsevolod Pudovkin): Made to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Oktober Revolution, the film shows a farmer turning into a worker in a horrid factory, mindless capitalism (crazy ass stockbrockers), Russia's entrance into World War I, and then the big bang of Oktober. It's certainly not a subtle film (they announce they they're going to war fighting for the Czar and money!), but there's some exhilarating images and some spectacularly dynamic editing, and you can feel the fact that Pudovkin just loves making films. And usually, directors that exude that sheer joy, one can see it in their films, and this one shows. B+ [#10 in my Seventeen of Pre-1930]

Chess Fever (1925, Vsevolod Pudovkin): A man has become totally addicted to chess, to the point that his fiancee decides to break off their marriage. She's convinced it breaks up families, a point illustrated to ridiculous and hilarious lengths (including attempting to poison herself and finding the poison in a chess-piece-shaped bottle). I think I probably could have connected with it more had I been a chess player, but even on a base level, without a knowledge of the game, Chess Fever is a fun, brief, very funny little short. A-

Monday, June 4, 2007


Broadway Danny Rose (1984):
It was a great "Woody Allen Film", and like all great Woody Allen Films, it was turns bittersweet, hilarious and touching. A-, #3 in my now #12 of '84 (behind two of my all-time favorite films, Amadeus and Once Upon a Time in America): A- [3rd of 12 films of '84]

The Long Goodbye (1973):
And I have to say, I wasn't that into it.

It mostly just seemed like a pretty standard film noir, with snappy dialogue and a convoluted plot.

I usually like Elliot Gould, but I was just not a fan of his Marlowe here. This is not Philip Marlowe, it's just some guy with his name. Hell, I prefer Dick Powell's wimpy but charismatic essaying of the character to this. He has nothing to do, makes no stances and is mostly just there. The wisecracks come off as annoying rather than clever and funny, and the plot is a standard bore noir.

I dunno, I just never connected with it on a single level, and I've read that many of the problems I had were Altman's intentions, and, then I have to say he made the movie he wanted to make, I just wasn't a fan.

Still count Altman amongst my favorite directors, but this is my least-favorite, at least until I see some of his real missteps. C- [13th of 16 films of '73]

The Man from Laramie (1955):
A fascinating western with refreshingly complex characterization (i.e., the characters aren't all just white-hat good guys and black-hat bad guys). The bit of a romance is a bit half-baked, but they don't take it as far as some, thus, it doesn't become much of a problem. Excellent film. B+ [9th of 19 films of '55]

The Shop Around the Corner (1940):
One of the movies that keeps avoiding me, but I finally got it, and it was a charming, beautiful, lovely little romantic picture. High five. B+ [8th of 13 of '40]

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hostel, Part II (2007)

Man, did hanging out with real talented filmmakers during Grindhouse rub off on Eli Roth or something?

The original film was a worthless cacophony of breasts, poor writing and cheesy gore effects, made all the more insufferable by the horrendous pricks our protagonists were.

I wanted to watch this to perhaps supplant Bug as my "worst picture" of this year so far (because it's not a terrible film, and I think doesn't deserve that designation), but this...this was a SHOCKINGLY solid, shockingly entertaining, shockingly WELL-WRITTEN (for its genre) motion picture.

The first movie's turns were completely obvious, and when they weren't, they were downright stupid. (Did anyone really enjoy the margarine coming out of the eye? THAT'S good gore to you?)

This film is almost a virtual remake of the first, but instead of obnoxious one-dimensional men we hate going through predictable motions, we get (mostly) amiable protagonists going through twists and turns, and these three women and two men are SHOCKINGLY fleshed out to the point where they really are real actual living beings with brains. There's also quite a few scenes of *gasp* actual suspense!

I wonder if Eli Roth watched Turistas last year, because that film was similar to his, but improved on it in every way, and this film improves on Turistas in pretty much every way. There's amazingly little gore and amazingly even less nudity, considering (I'll allow him the one orgy gore fantasy, it's fun), and if not for the fact that he couldn't resist one goofily fake prop, it's one of the higher echelon in 00s horror (a list that is terribly short).

I would bet that if you but someone who had no idea in a room, and had them watch both of these films sans title card, and told them one of the films was a sequel to the other, and asked which one, I'd be shocked if any of them picked the first.

This film is more inspired, more intelligent and more well-written than the worst one could even think of being.

I give it a stunning B-, #7 of my now-16 in a mostly-weak-but-not-bad-so-far year...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bug (2007)

What an amazingly frustrating movie. Not since Man of the Year have I seen such a schizophrenic motion picture.

The first hour is a fantastic character study, the awkwardness with which people just meeting each other talk, the half-words where you're unsure, trying to feel out, the innocuous chatter, and, once they got together, the fact that they didn't cover themselves naked (since they've already had sex!), everything was pitch-perfect, well-written, well-acted and well-done.

But then, apparently the screenwriter was fired, and the producer that bankrolled much of the film insisted his 15-year-old son was a genius, and had written a fantastic story about crazy people thinking they're covered in bugs, that they HAD to adapt into a film or he wouldn't back them. So they figured, since they had already shot much of this fantastic indie character study, they'd just segue them and everyone would be happy.

Well, think again. It's very noticeable when the shift goes from the good mvoie to the bad movie, and like a friend starting to smoke crack, it's depressing how very apparently and immediate the downward spiral is, and all you can do is sit by and wait for it to end.

The movie is suddenly, jarringly poorly-written, poorly-acted and poorly-plotted, and just gets progressively sillier and stupider, then almost threatens to become interesting, but shows it was just kidding, and ends about how you'd expect a 15-year-old to end a story he didn't know how to end.

The decline is so staggering, that it's easily the worst film I've seen all year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

28 Weeks Later (2007)

The lack of characterization kills this film.

My thoughts parallel James Berardinelli's:

28 Days Later, while not terribly original, was suspenseful and involving. 28 Weeks Later is neither. The characters aren't as sympathetic or interesting. The kids are generic and the script doesn't care much about the adults. Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, and Rose Byrne are criminally underused. Compare them to Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Brendan Gleeson from the first film, all of whom inhabited better developed and more sympathetic personalities. Tension in horror movies results from viewers caring about what happens to characters. The audience's connection to the protagonists of 28 Days Later made it a compelling experience. The lack of such a connection in 28 Weeks Later reduces this to a number of sequences characterized by shock moments, frenetic (and often chaotic) action, and stylized gore - all without suspense.
And, so far, among the 14 films I've seen in 2007, there haven't been any "bad" films as much as just sequels with a lack of inspiration, or lack of a good story. (Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third were #11 and #13, respectively, beforehand. And they still are. At least Shrek the Third could have been fresh if it was the original film; this film would have garnered more points for its look, but since it's duplicating a look from a much better film, and regardless of look, suffered from characterization (making it the original doesn't take away the weaknesses of the writing, which just causes it to suffer more in the wake of its predecessor), it's gonna have to hit #14 of 14 so far.