Saturday, February 21, 2015

Recap - January 2015

* = Rewatch # = Short ^ = In Theater

1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)^
2. Unbroken (2014)^
3. Why Don't You Play in Hell? (2014)^
4. Lord Thing (1970)
5. Walk East on Beacon! (1952)
6. I Met My Love Again (1938)
7. The Dark End of the Street (1981)
8. Inherent Vice (2014)^
9. Phase IV (1974)
10. Black & White & Red All Over (1997)
11. Seven Women, Seven Sins (1986)
12. Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (2003)
13. Signs (2002)
14. Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)
15. Mystery Street (1950)
16. Venus in Fur (2014)
17. Rehearsals (2012)
18. Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez! (2012)
19. Citizen Kane (1941)*^
20. The War of the Worlds (1953)
21. Crime and Punishment (1935)
22. Up in Smoke (1978)
23. The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960)
24. Arachnophobia (1990)
25. The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2013)


Boston Movies:

Last year I picked up the book Big Screen Boston by Paul Sherman in order to better explore the films of Boston and Massachusetts in general. I watched a handful of films last year (Including the excellent and forgotten Dealing: Or the Berkeley-To-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues) but I've been amping it up recently, extending into February. For January I watched Walk East on Beacon!, The Dark End of the Street, Black & White & Red All Over, and Mystery Street.

The best of the batch is by far Jan Egleson's The Dark End of the Street. It's the story of two white teens who witness the accidental death of a black friend, but lie about being present should the police think it was a murder. Consequentially the lives of this circle of friends falls apart and long-ignored questions of race and privilege get brought to the surface.

It's notable that Dark End came out in 1981, in the midst of Boston's infamous public school desegregation process. The anti-integration protests and violence had mostly occurred in the seventies, but the memories were fresh and painful.

While Dark End never directly addresses segregation or busing, it fits right in with the decade's racial zeitgeist. It covers the outrage sparked by improper media coverage of a black man's death. It deals with white privilege in the sense that two white teenagers are able to outrun race issues for so long (until it finally catches up with them). It's a stark, realistic social drama that never managed to get on it's own two legs.

Top Five New-To-Me:

Phase IV (1974, dir. Saul Bass)

Unsettling avant-garde surreality mixed with a Twilight Zone B-story. This had to have been an influence on Under the Skin. Gorgeous cinematography with an unmatchable sense of size and scale.

Inherent Vice (2014, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
I think reading the novel helped me to follow along, but the plot isn't really important. It's a film shot in a haze, one of the few movies I know of to really capture the feeling of being high. The film itself is structured in a way that feels like a trip - rising, peaking, and a hard come down.

Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez! (2012, dir. Everything is Terrible!)

Like soaring through a vortex of 90s dog movies. Hyper-kinetic editing that never slows down. The Holy Mountain theme made the movie, elevating this mishmash of Air Bud clips into an ethereal experience. If Inherent Vice captures a marijuana high, then I imagine this is what DMT is like.

Crime and Punishment (1935, dir. Josef von Sternberg)

 Peter Lorre is an odd choice for Raskolnikov. In a cast of Americans, his distinct accent causes him to stick out among them so we end up with a version of the character whom we never doubt is a cold-blooded murderer. It creates for a less morally ambiguous story, but for a tighter, tenser performance. As with every version of Crime and Punishment my favorite parts are the scenes with Porfiry Petrovich. Also, I love love love Von Sternberg's close-ups.

Up in Smoke (1978, dir. Lou Adler)

I really look like a burnout right now, don't I? I skipped Cheech & Chong for so long but man, this movie is so much fun. The battle of the bands with the terrible cookie cutter punk groups was gold.

The formatting of this recap was shamelessly ripped off from

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