Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Week In Film - 8/24/14

As a challenge to myself to write more, I'm hoping to do brief reviews of every movie I watch. I'll cover what I watched the previous week, from Sunday to Saturday, and offer quick capsules of my thoughts and observations. Some may be more formally written, others may just be a collection of raw ideas. Here's everything I watched from 8/17/14 to 8/23/14.

Calvary (2014)
dir. John Michael McDonagh

I wrote a proper review of this which will be published online over at Wicked Local on Friday. But I think this may just be one of the best films of the year, my second favorite I’ve seen so far, only surpassed by Under the Skin.

Brendan Gleeson is proving to be one of the finest actors working today. Here he pulls off an astounding balance between being a strong, toughened priest with the wisdom to lead his flock (if only they would listen to him), and being emotionally vulnerable and privately frightened. As Sunday draws nearer he becomes increasingly erratic, knowing that he may very well die.

I don’t have too much to add that’s not already in my full length review, so I’ll just close by saying that I really need to track down McDonagh’s first film, The Guard. After seeing Calvary I need some more Brendan Gleeson in my life.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
dir. Howard Hawks

Watched this on a whim while browsing through Netflix, and while it has its slow points, it’s a ton of fun. I wouldn’t be the first to point out Marilyn Monroe’s magnetism. It’s not even that she’s gorgeous, it’s that there is something about her very presence, the way she carries herself which instantly draws your eyes towards her. Even in a movie like All About Eve, where she spends much of her screen time standing in a circle listening to other characters, your eyes still shift towards her.

This was also the first Jane Russell movie I’ve seen, although apparently she had a relatively short career. She does a spot-on Monroe impression at the end. 

Generally, the film shines during the musical numbers. The set design during Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend is breathtaking. The pure red background coupled with the human candelabras, which seemed ripped straight out of a Cocteau film, make for one of the finest numbers I’ve ever seen in a film musical.

Finally, I love the kid. He’s got this deadpan that reminds me of when David Lynch acts. Everything he says is pure gold. His interaction with Monroe when she’s stuck in the porthole is one of the film’s high points.

Pinocchio (1940)
dir. Hamilton Luske & Ben Sharpsteen

Rewatch. Last year I thought it would be fun to go through every movie in the Disney Animated Canon. Well, I watched Snow White, never wrote the piece I was going to do on it, and then forgot about the project. I finally decided to keep it going, at the least so I can have a better understanding of Disney, given that everybody my age is still obsessed with them.

I haven’t seen Pinocchio since I was a kid, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. The first half hour is a bit slow; the film takes its sweet time setting things up. But once it hits Pleasure Island it really hits on to something. Unlike a lot of the Disney stuff I remember, it doesn’t force itself into magical realism. I respect that willingness to get strange.

The Monstro sequence is the best part of the film by far. Beautiful ocean animation that really makes the whale feel like a force of nature. It has an impressionist touch to it that elevates the scene from simply suspenseful to iconic.

An Evening With Robin Williams (1982)
dir. Don Mischer

Been slowly working my way through a lot of Williams stuff in the wake of his death (as I’m sure a lot of others are as well. This is the first stand up special of his that I’ve seen, and sadly I was a little disappointed. Maybe it’s because I watched it by myself, and live comedy is always better enjoyed with other people. But I think a lot of his jokes were dated. Stuff about cats and dogs that may have been funny in 1982 feels like old hat now.

There are highlights though. His imaginary conversation with his soon-to-be-born son is a lot of fun. And his bit about cocaine had me laughing. I also really admire his stage presence, and his ability to do something like grab a woman’s coat and just start riffing with it.

The best part of the special is probably the framing device, in which Williams plays a grungy street vendor who meets himself after the show. They leave the concert hall and the street vendor looks up and says “You know Mr. Williams, what's right is what's left after you do everything else wrong. Ain't that a bitch?” It’s a really tender moment to cap off a night of frantic improv.

Enemy (2014)
dir. Denis Villeneuve

Hoo boy. I watched this a few days ago and it has stayed with me. I was feeling worried when Gyllenhaal started trying to track down the man who looks just like him. It seemed too much like the dime a dozen “mindfuck” movies from the early 2000s (think Identity). But once he finally meets his doppelganger it goes above and beyond.

I hate to compare surreal movies to David Lynch but it really is in his shadow. I think it would make for a perfect double feature with Mulholland Dr., given that they both cover a lot of the same themes.

Dark Star (1974)
dir. John Carpenter

Poor acting, bad story, unfunny script. But my god is it gorgeous. It has that homegrown aesthetic, but you never see colorful lighting in professional films like you see here. Maybe Mario Bava, but that’s about it. It works best during the quiet ambient moments, which would go on to become Carpenter’s strong suit.

It’s worth a watch as a curio to see where Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon got their start, but on its own it’s not that tight. Still, it’s astounding to think that just four years later Carpenter would be making Halloween, and a year after that O’Bannon would give us Alien

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
dir. George A. Romero

Rewatch. Saw this at a midnight screening on a scratched up 35mm print and I have never had a greater appreciation for the film than I do now. I already loved it, but this viewing really drove home to me how much of a masterpiece it is.

The editing during the more action and horror oriented scenes is top notch. Beautiful camera work, stunning sound design. I completely forgot the horrible screaming that overlays Helen’s death (that scene is like Romero’s version of the shower scene from Psycho, but he owns it and makes it his own).

It’s a story about how our inability to cooperate will damn us. They had the ability to survive, but the combination of pride and fear killed them all. Were it not for Harry’s antagonizing and his cowardice it’s possible they could have made it through the night.
I also noticed that the shot with Romero’s director credit is a close-up of an American flag, panning over to Barbara and Johnny’s car driving through the cemetery. A subtle moment that was always hiding in plain sight.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Parallels #3 - Lazy Eye

Metropolis (1927)
dir. Fritz Lang

The Room (2003)
dir. Tommy Wiseau

Parallels #2 - The Suit

Stella Maris (1918) 
dir. Marshall Neilan

The Artist (2011)
dir. Michel Hazanavicius

Parallels #1 - Lipstick and Dresses

Klaus Nomi

Lady Gaga - Paparazzi (2009)

Lady Gaga - Telephone (2010)

Idea shamefully stolen from John D'Amico's blog Shot Context.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Every Movie I Watched in 2013

* = Rewatch # = Short

The Invisible War (2012)
Stalker (1979)
Killer Joe (2012)
Cosmopolis (2012)
The Brood (1979)
The Grand Duel (1972)
The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
Promised Land (2012)
The Panic In Needle Park (1971)
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)
Sweetgrass (2009)
Three Colors: Blue (1993)
Three Colors: White (1994)
Three Colors: Red (1994)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Joe (1970)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
ParaNorman (2012)
The Legend of Bigfoot (1976)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Top 10 of 2012

I know what you’re thinking and no, that’s not a typo. I find that end-of-the-year lists are often sprung on us and due to a number of circumstances they’re not always as accurate as they could be. Sometimes you miss a movie in theaters and don’t have a chance to catch it before it comes time to post your Top 10 in late December. Other times a film that initially wowed you doesn’t seem as amazing with time. And occasionally you’ll just happen to catch a movie midway through the summer that you hadn’t even considered and be floored by it.
So this is why I’ve decided to post my Top 10 of 2012. Hindsight's 20/20 after all. And with much revision, I’ve come up with a radically different list from the one I crafted back in December of last year. Some films have stayed; some new films have been added. I still think that all the movies from my original Top 10 are excellent, but for various reasons they don’t stand out as much anymore, and space was needed for the films I felt were more deserving. So, before I go on too long, here are the best movies of last year.

10. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I’ve gone back and forth on Beasts since I saw it last summer, but in the end I can’t deny that it is a beautiful and moving fable, combining Greek myth with Louisiana folklore and creating a story told through the eyes of a five-year old that feels neither contrived nor corny. It’s visually magnificent, brilliantly acted, and probably the best debut feature since Steve McQueen’s Hunger.

9. Bernie
This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen Jack Black disappear into a role and make me forget I’m watching Jack Black. Everybody has been fawning over Before Midnight lately, and while that film is excellent, this is the Linklater I love. The corny, experimental, slice-of-Texas stories he excels at. Shirley MacLaine delivers an outstanding late-career performance and Matthew McConaughey proves that he’s at his best when he’s at his sleaziest.

8. Sightseers
Writing this list I’m starting to realize I have a thing for quirky comedies about murder. Sightseers is the story of a couple vacationing across the English countryside, whose passive-aggressive nature leads them on a cross-country killing spree. Cut from the same cloth as The Honeymoon Killers, Sightseers manages to turn cold-blooded murder into a brilliant black comedy. Worth it alone for the scene where Alice Lowe writes a Dear John letter with an oversized novelty pencil.

7. Moonrise Kingdom
My original number one when I made my first list last December, but I’ve cooled a bit on the film since. Still, Moonrise Kingdom is another excellent film in a career full of them. It’s Anderson’s most emotionally honest film since The Royal Tenenbaums, and it’s certainly one of his best looking. Not right now, but in another year or two I’d like to revisit this movie and see if my opinion’s changed at all.

6. Django Unchained
If Inglourious Basterds was Tarantino making a Sergio Leone film, then Django Unchained is him making a Sergio Corbucci film. It’s raw, energetic, and able to switch between hilarious and gut-wrenching at a moment’s notice. One of the more daring films of the year and I have to give credit to Tarantino for not pulling a single punch.

5. Zero Dark Thirty
Of all the films I saw last year, this was the last one I expected to stay with me as much as it has. A haunting flick about the futility of revenge that doubles as historical drama. The final shot of the movie is maybe the best single film moment of 2012, encapsulating the empty-catharsis of a decade long search for justice. Bin Laden is dead, justice has been served, now what?

4. Berberian Sound Studio
The scariest part about going insane is that nobody is actually out to get you. A horror movie without monsters, only the paranoia and the dread. Toby Jones plays Gildeory, a Foley artist hired to work on an Italian giallo movie. Through the constant splatter of watermelons and the screams of actresses in sound booths, the aesthetics of horror are broken down to their most base elements. It’s spellbinding and ambiguous, and I’m still not sure I quite understand what it’s saying.

3. Lincoln
Every few years Steven Spielberg comes along and makes a masterpiece just to remind us that he’s Steven Spielberg. As much of a cliché as it is to claim Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest living actor, his performance as Abraham Lincoln truly is worthy of being considered amongst the best in all of cinema. Instantly engaging, beautiful, and perfectly directed.

2. The Grey
Unfairly dismissed by those who saw the trailer and claimed it was “Taken with wolves,” The Grey is instead a painful and honest meditation on death. I wrote about it after my initial viewing and it’s only dug itself deeper into my mind since.

1. It’s Such a Beautiful Day
I included It’s Such a Beautiful Day on my list of my 50 Favorite Films this summer, and I don’t regret it. Never in my life did I think the man who made Rejected could make such an innovative, powerful piece of art. It’s gone largely unnoticed outside of Don Hertzfeldt’s cult following, and that’s just criminal. In a mere hour, Hertzfeldt captures the fleeting nature of life and the indescribable pain of desire, all with cartoon doodles. Without a doubt in my mind, it is the greatest film of the year.

BONUS: Sex House
Last year, The Onion began running several short miniseries on Youtube. Amongst the first of them was a mock reality show called Sex House, where “six sexy Americans” are put together in a house to have sex on national television. What starts as a cheesy reality show parody quickly turns into existential horror, blending The Real World with Sartre. As the housemates realize they’re trapped and being manipulated into having sex, they turn against their oppressors (the network executives) and realize their worth as human beings. And there’s frogs. Oh boy, are there frogs.


1. Moonrise Kingdom
2. The Invisible War
3. Django Unchained
4. The Grey
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
6. Lincoln
7. Amour
8. Bernie
9. Holy Motors
10. The Master

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rebel Without a Cause

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) | dir. Nicholas Ray | 111 min.

Rebel Without a Cause was one of the biggest canonical films I kept putting off. I made the mistake of assuming that it would be a whole lot of “buzz off, Daddy-O” and other West Side Storyisms. And while I wasn’t entirely wrong it manages to go beyond that to make a great statement about the lack of communication and understanding between generations.

This is my first James Dean film and it’s completely understandable why he became such a star in such a short amount of time – he’s immensely watchable. Despite actually being twenty-five during filming, he perfectly captures the conflicted mind of a teenager. He understands the world better than his parents do, but also comes to find that he really doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. He can’t find a solution to his problems any better than his parents; none of the kids can.

Parts of the film do seem dated. I’m sure the obvious homosexual tension between Plato and Jim was a lot more shocking in 1955, whereas today it’s more normalized. Plato’s unreciprocated crush is still sad, especially seeing him hanging around while Jim and Judy are crawling all over each other, but it’s not quite scandalous in this day and age.

In general the whole white suburban leather-jacket gang trope has gotten stale. It’s been reduced to more of a joke by Grease and Fonzie. But while the shock is gone it’s still a great piece of entertainment, and the themes of disaffected youth are universal. Not to mention the beautiful Cinemascope cinematography that gives a curve to the edges of the screen, adding a layer of distortion to the atmosphere.

It’s also fun for some of the little details. Seeing a 19-year old Dennis Hopper is a surreal experience. And Dean’s famous “you’re tearing me apart” line becomes unintentionally funnier in a world where The Room exists. To be fair, Tommy Wiseau’s impersonation is spot on; he just doesn’t have the suaveness or inner-turmoil to pull it off like Dean.

Score: 81 (Good)