Monday, November 28, 2011

bored to death

X-MEN FIRST CLASS is all about the spaces that lie between: hatred and love, anger and compassion, war and surrender, etc. So it should come as no surprise that the newest superhero reboot is a middling experience, caught somewhere between watchable and awful, passionate and uninspired. To the film’s credit, I found it more often watchable specifically because of certain performances. I was very surprised by James MacAvoy’s professor Xavier impression and not so surprised by Michael Fassbender’s Magneto. Both actors do a fine job. Most of tween mutants pale in comparison but that’s to be expected. The messages here are noble but closeted and therefore blunted. Matthew Vaughn has the chops to do this sort of film but it’s been clear for some time now that the comic book/superhero genre altogether has worn out its welcome. We need some time off.

Sidenote: the Wolverine cameo was hilarious, I could have used more of that type of humor.

After seeing ENTER THE VOID (a film I strongly disliked) I would have thought that Gasper Noe’s talents would at least make this one interesting. Not a chance. IRREVERSIBLE is amateur at best, an ugly film with a frustrating sense of entitlement. The pace is similar to ETV, slow and boring. The cinematography however is what really surprised me. It looked like somebody was playing catch with the camera. The rape scene is as ugly as its reputation had implied which may have meant something if the picture had even a slight sense of purpose. I’m really baffled that so many intelligent people with good to great taste would ever fall for this pretentious stunt. I should have listened to Dennis Cozzalio.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT handles adultery rather clumsily to these eyes. At first it’s simply an uncomfortable gag, the old Seinfeld “awkward pause” trick. By the time the breadwinner finds out about her wife’s infidelity I already felt that the two were better off apart. That’s not to say that I didn’t like the two together but rather that Moore’s hippy had no intention of stopping and therefore what’s the point? The trust is gone. The hurt is unfathomable. The adults aren’t alright. I guess I have a different perspective on the subject. The parenting in this picture is more interesting here. I liked that dynamic quite a bit despite the peculiar decision to pair the children up with the parent they popped out of. The inclusion of the sperm donor is undercooked, simply writing off that character in the end as the fall guy, the reason why this couple lost their way. I’m willing to admit that I misread this however; perhaps I was unprepared for its complicated view of marital and parental devotion. Truth is I was caught off guard by the rampant selfishness and immaturity of Moore’s character (note: these are really strong performances). To me it often went unchecked.

The picture also chooses to depict the one non-bourgeois character as a heinous piece of shit. The skateboarding, pill popping, vulgar and stupid friend of the son is quite the cruel caricature. By the time he decided that pissing on a stray dog was a good idea I wanted to ask the director “how do you really feel about Monster guzzling skater-mall-punks?” I’ve learned not to worry about the salary of the characters involved but this is another problematic attitude that seemed to go unchecked by the time the film ended. Still, complaints aside I found the film very enjoyable and occasionally earnest. Probably a take it or leave it diversion disguised as progressive high art comedy but fun all the same.

I’ve been enjoying the hell out of Jason’s posts lately. I feel that I’m being put to shame by everyone else in regards to writing about HUGO, a film that’ll most definitely crack the top 5 at the end of the year. I agree that the film is not about film preservation and I really wanted to keep the focus off of that when writing about it. More than anything else it seemed concerned with connection and specifically the trouble we have forming them. Art and suffering serve as the common bond, the way one heals the other though in the case of the station agent it seems to be war and abandonment. I have yet to see Allen’s film so I can’t comment on the similarities/differences yet but I like what Jason wrote specifically, selfishness vs. benevolent. Similar to Jeff’s feelings towards TREE OF LIFE, I find myself extremely protective with this picture. I hate it when that happens.

I suppose I’ll stick to my guns however that a big part of the film’s power, for me, comes from the starving artist’s standpoint. I have been considering bowing out of the touring game for the last few months. I’ve felt underappreciated, exhausted, and morally overwhelmed to the point of downright apathy. Seeing this picture reminded me of what I would be missing out on. This isn’t to say that it cured my restlessness but rather that I made me think about the unfulfilling life of an artist who throws in the towel. It hit home.

I will say that I found a lot of gripping about the trailer in reviews, specifically Chris’s. I’ve found that bad trailers usually indicate good film for whatever reason. Good trailers (WATCHMEN, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, LITTLE CHILDREN) almost always= bad movies. I’m sure there are exceptions but that seems to be more often the case. The HUGO trailer was disconcerting to say the least, giving me more of a LEMONY SNICKET vibe. Scorsese’s trailers have been lackluster lately. I guess that’s a good sign.

Jason, I love when directors allow their surroundings to play a huge part in their story. Some obvious rustic examples in my opinion would be NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, TRACK OF THE CAT, OLD JOY, THE PROPOSITION, AGUIRRE, and the westerns of the great Anthony Mann. The city can also play a big part like in BLAST OF SILENCE, TAXI DRIVER, FORCE OF EVIL, CHINATOWN, KISS ME DEADLY, and EYES WIDE SHUT. What the environment is saying about the characters inner struggle varies obviously but I love when a director knows to utilize this valuable tool. Rooms can also serve as a good character especially if paranoid and suffocated is what you are going for. Polanski is a master when it comes to this. Good topic.

Friday, November 25, 2011

the stuff dreams are made of

I used to love the scenes in CINDERELLA where the camera would follow the mice into their holes taking us deep into the walls and floorboards. I would wonder what it would be like to be that small and to use a matchbox as a bed. Hugo Cabaret lives within the walls of a train station, fixing clocks and stealing his meals whilst trying to avoid the attention of the station agent. The best thing that a pair of 3D glasses can offer is immersion and though I agree with the harbingers of cinematic doom I would say that here the technology worked extremely well and right off the bat.

But HUGO has something bigger in store for us, not only the importance of film preservation but more importantly the importance of artists sticking to it even when they don’t feel appreciated. Scorsese probably knows as much as anybody the frustration in failing, the feeling that your talents are not needed and the temptation to throw in the towel. It’s horrifying and indicates that something has been broken, that some parts are missing. All it takes sometimes is a child’s faith to mend that or perhaps an author or a curator. Even when your work is reduced to heels on a shoe there is still the possibility of creating and sharing that collective dreamscape as Jeff beautifully put it.

The film mostly centers on one mission, to fix Georges Melies. If you don’t know who he is you’ll find out when you go see HUGO. What needs fixing? His heart, his confidence, and his belief in the power of magic through the projector. Here comes the film preservation speech. He sold much of his work to keep his family afloat; most of that celluloid was melted down to make heels for women’s shoes. The clicking haunts him as he works at a toy store within the train station. It’s the existence of his beloved automaton (looking very much like it belongs in a certain Fritz Lang picture) that sets the story in motion. This mechanical artist is the final gift bestowed to Hugo by his late father. I didn’t notice Hugo crying once about the death of his father, a lot of that sorrow seems locked up until that final moment that Chris pointed out. I choked up a bit myself when our little protagonist broke down.

I understand where Chris is coming from when talking about Asa Butterfield’s performance, at times I think it had a lot to do with his hair and getup. But none of that made any difference to me, I never left the trance so to speak. I think all of the performances work really well here. I think that Cohen’s station agent is a huge part of this film, a movie with no true villain. He is a war veteran and an orphan, one of those folks who’s childhood has shaped his current state of mind in a lot of bad ways. I used to have a boss who was treated poorly as a child and used that anger and frustration to abuse us every chance she could get. This is the problem with taking your job too seriously, you lose.

One thing that should be noted about the end of the film, the prolonged chase sequence, is that it makes sense in light of the films that are receiving tribute here. Earlier in the film we watch the characters watch Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock tower in SAFETY LAST!, then Hugo gets his shot at it. We see the audience flinch not once but twice as a train pulls into the station and then the act is mirrored in this picture not only in a dream sequence (loved the part where Hugo turns into the automaton) but then for that grand finale. So I think it fits really well and went on just long enough. I would attribute your restlessness to restlessness. 10:30 showings make each minute more crucial.

I may be wrong here but I think that after Hugo shares cinema with Isabelle she says something along the lines of “thank you for this gift” and immediately I wanted to extend the same gratitude to the film’s creator. It’s been pointed out that this film is lacking in cynicism and I found this to be its greatest strength. Maybe I’ll write a proper review at some point but for now I’ll just gush. John I can’t wait for your daughter to see this, specifically the Lloyd section.

Ps Not to puff myself up but I was actually thinking about LA BETE HUMAINE during that train sequence only to see today that Wikipedia had already drawn the comparison. I think it was the conductor’s dirty face that made me think of it though I wasn’t sure which Renoir film it may have been referencing.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

the great deflector

I was supposed to go see HUGO with Jeff and Chris on Friday but bailed due to some things going on around the house. Going to a movie at 10:30 at night really bums Tara out. I felt like shit for doing this but I also didn’t want my viewing to be at all deterred by guilt or stress. So on this wonderful day in which we give thanks for those things and people who make our lives better I decided to hand over the evening to a director who gives back what he has taken. Consider this picture the fictional extension of his incredible four hour “personal journey through American movies,” a history lesson and love letter to cinema made without a hint of cynicism. Scorsese has always tried to deflect his own acclaim and shoot it towards the men and women who enchanted and intrigued him as a youngster. I’m still trying to pick my jaw up off the ground. More later.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


John, yes I do have CASINO ROYALE. I was anti-George Stevens for a very long time but started seeing some really interesting and impressive work from the late thirties. Ginger Rogers brought out the best in every director especially him. Like I said, go check out VIVACIOUS LADY when you get the chance. It’s a lot of fun. He might be an interesting director of the month at some point. Jeff get on that.

Onto Jeff’s 1945 list……..

Looks like we share the top slot here. I agree with your friend about CHILDREN OF PARADISE, it moves along very briskly without much slog. I have to admit that I should see much more from Carne and therefore I’ll have to add him to that long embarrassing list of “director’s to watch.” Isn’t this film called “the French Gone with the Wind.?”

I DO find your second choice a bit peculiar. Questioning the work of Hitchcock gives me much pause and trepidation but I remember this one being under par for some reason. I’m not sure what it was, perhaps Peck in that main role. I’ll have to see it again mainly because it’s been so long and as you know, so much of our opinion is based on frustrating variables such as drowsiness, temper, and even who you are reading and being influenced by at the time. I know that I was probably aware of its sort of bad reputation whilst watching it which couldn’t have helped. I don’t buy the whole “dated” argument, old fashioned is a big part of why I watch old movies to escape post modernism. Brave pick.

Curtiz isn’t quite at George Marshall disregard but he’s often penalized by auteurists for being so main stream. It might be fun to make a list of directors unfairly forgotten by the auteur junkies. Anyway, this is one of his very best, a film that I avoided for some time mainly because I thought I didn’t like Joan Crawford. One thing that can always be said about a Curtiz film is that he was abnormally talented and made some of the best looking pictures in the game. This was one of the big surprises when making my lists. I sort of thought I was wasting my time watching it, I already had a decent 11 films for my list but something made me change my mind. Thank God I did. The daughter is such a turd, a world class turd. But this film noir is all about self-sacrifice and drive. My favorite twist of the film has to be the husband’s transformation from philandering sleazebag to….. well I shouldn’t spoil it.

That final image of Edward G. in SCARLET STREET makes the hairs on my neck stand up. Like many great film noirs we get to see that awful downhill trajectory caused by one seemingly innocent bad decision. One leads to another and then another and the next thing you know you are stabbing your mistress through a thin bed sheet (another shocking scene given the time). Lang was on fire at this time, the noir genre was bringing out the best in him. With this, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, THE HOUSE BY THE RIVER, THE BLUE GARDENIA, THE BIG HEAT, CLASH BY NIGHT, and even his WWII noirs Lang seemed almost more comfortable with the Hollywood machine.

Totally didn’t realize that Zachary Scott was the lead in Renoir’s THE SOUTHERNER. I actually prefer that film to Ford’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH, and I’m not just doing this to be difficult. The comparisons are legit and I think you are right Jeff, Renoir’s humanism wins in the end.

Just to be a pain in your ass, in regards to economy wouldn’t “tell don’t show” be more ideal? Other than that stupid question I would say right on in regards to Lean and his ridiculous gift for storytelling.

I never knew about Clair’s reputation when watching this movie as a kid. I remember this movie being fun, I loved the mystery here but I especially loved the creepy return to the mansion ending. We know as well as she does that somebody is waiting for her in there so that anticipation is bubbling up. The old man’s voice is already alarming but learning more about his motives only causes further trauma to a young kid.

I have seen I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING and somehow forgot to mention it on my list. Somebody please put it in FALLEN IDOL’S place!!!

I need to see THE LOST WEEKEND again.

Make sure you see LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN Jeff. Your jaw will drop. It’s easily one of the most offensive early films, one that features all types of horrendous schemes. Gene Tierney is certainly one of the most beautiful women in the history of the world but here she is ugly (on the inside).

Good list man.

Monday, November 21, 2011

john's list

Hey man, I never said that I didn’t still have a crush on Randolph Scott. You aren’t riding lonesome on in that.

I like your list. Sorry if it ruined your family life. That actually does suck. My bad.

I haven’t seen LANCELOT OF THE LAKE. Do you have it?

I’d really like to hear your opinion about CASINO ROYALE. I think you would love it.

Am I the only person who likes A CHRISTMAS STORY in Film Club.

We should have a GODFATHER II night soon.

What would be your second and third favorite Joe Dante films?

What are your thoughts on De Palma?

I kind of thought meh for a while in regards to Fellini but NIGHTS OF CABIRIA changed my mind for now.

Do you still have SHOCK CORRIDOR? How about THE NAKED KISS? You need to see RUN OF THE ARROW. I love that picture.

Interesting Gilliam pick.

I need to see RAWHIDE.

You need to see DOWN BY LAW.

I thought you hated ADAPTATION.

Do you have A FACE IN THE CROWD?

Get off your ass and sit down again to watch CERTIFIED COPY.


I need to see THRONE OF BLOOD again. It didn’t really do much for me but I was on a tight movie watching schedule.

I agree about Landis, THREE AMIGOS is great.

I want you to see some of the Lean pictures that came before 57.

I have been cold towards Ang Lee lately. Not only because you have been slowly talking me out of it but also because I have been bored on my second and third viewings. Something feels off.

I can’t wait for you to see more Lubitsch.

You a George Miller fan?

How is Polanski’s Macbeth?

HUGO is going to rule!

I would say meh to Stevens as well but have seen some great pictures as of late. Don’t give up yet dude. Go get VIVACIOUS LADY.

Truffaut pick…….. really?

Verhoeven makes good trash.

Good list. Again sorry if it ruined your life.

Hey guys how about we have director’s months? Each month a different person in film club selects a director and we all do writings based on viewings and personal opinion. Jeff, you come up with December’s director.

paths of pooh

So everyone was right about WINNIE THE POOH, it’s fantastic. Pooh’s films have always been about virtue, altruism being the main one. Pooh’s moment of awareness comes when he his talking tummy fails to precede the need of his tailless friend. You can be a bear of “very little brain” and still save the day and your reward, beyond a giant pot of honey, is piece of mind. I loved the Abbott and Costello word play and thought the songs, give or take a couple, all worked. A.A. Milne’s work continues to enlighten us with each journey to the heart of the Hundred Acre Woods.

PATHS OF GLORY looks great on TCMHD! I’m as baffled as I am moved by the final moment in this film. The scene comes directly after Kirk Douglas’ lashing of General Broulard which follows the execution of three innocent men. The men were executed for cowardice but really lost their lives to political war posturing, morale as they say. Anyway, he Douglas walks down the street to hear a loud and obnoxious bar full of soldiers. These men are hooting and hollering, banging their mugs on the table, their faces almost deliberately macabre. They look like zombies calling out for brains. The man bringing them their entertainment looks as though he is about to sell some magic elixir. Instead he brings out a scared German girl and proceeds to mock her up and down and then forces her to sing. What follows is one of the most mesmerizing moments in film history. I think this is easily Kubrick’s best film.

Speaking of that film I think a happy birthday is in order for Ralph Meeker, one of great underrated actors. The man did some great things.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

list humpers

Yes John, MAYBE fill in those holes. Doing lists like this makes you realize that a lot of the newer guys are really lacking. Start with the classics and if you find that it’s not your thang, keep trying.

Yeah Cassavetes really does bridge the gap between old and new. He certainly ushered in a new style and technique that guys like Scorsese aped which in turn became the norm. I would like to borrow some of your films for sure; I have A CHILD IS WAITING here. Not sure why I haven’t gotten around to that. I see so much of him in Scorsese specifically in the dialogue and the way conversations go. Both men were obviously Hawks fans. Both seem to emphasize the importance of male companionship.

As for Korine, he’s made very few films over the past 15 years. The two I’ve seen have been a waste of time. He should stick to directing music videos and commercial s for clothing companies. He sucks. I wonder how his teeth are doing.

MR. AND MRS. SMITH is far from bad. It’s probably a gem. Korine won’t make anything remotely close to it if he directs films for the next 40 years.

Your face is a waste of time. Actually, I also found this list frustrating and ultimately unfulfilling. Can’t wait to read yours.

Friday, November 18, 2011

the mortal storm

THE MORTAL STORM is incredible, a film with a simple message, delivered before we entered the war. Why emphasize this? Because the film is all about courage over safety, about thinking freely and not oppressing others with your belief. It’s also about skiing. Needless to say this film was banned in Germany. Another notch on Borzage’s baseball bat. On a less heavy note, I love black and white films that feature snow and conifers. Throw Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullivan, Frank Morgan, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Dan Daily and I’m a happy camper. I unfortunately followed this beaut up with a film about crust punk whiny shits. I would like the film if they all weren’t such weenies. It was a funny transition to watch a film about a country being brainwashed and indoctrinated by fascists to watching a film about punks exploiting and each other. Humbug.
1. The Shop Around the Corner (Lubitsch)
2. His Girl Friday (Hawks)
3. The Great Dictator (Chaplin)
4. Rebecca (Hitchcock)
5. The Mortal Storm (Borzage)
6. Pinocchio (lots of people)
7. Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock)
8. Christmas in July (Sturges)
9. My Favorite Wife (Kanin)
10. The Philadelphia Story (Cukor)
11. Night Train to Munich (Reed)
12. They Drive By Night (Walsh)
13. The Westerner (Wyler)

Honorable: Go West, The Grapes of Wrath, The Mark of Zorro, One Night in the Tropics, The Sea Hawk, Fantasia

the names on that list certainly vary in quality

Elia Kazan: B=On the Waterfront haven’t seen a bad one yet but find STREETCAR is bit overrated.

Sidney Lumet: same as Chris (not a big fan)

Chris: SMALL SOLDIERS is amazing. Take that meh and shove it up Zack Braff’s ass.

Howard Hawks: This is tough for me because I have so many favorites. I’d be torn between ONLY ANGELS and RIO BRAVO. He made so many fantastic films. AIR FORCE is easily my least favorite.

Christopher Nolan: B= The Dark Knight W= Batman Begins

Cameron Crowe: Haven’t liked a single film thus far. I’ve been mildy amused I suppose. I sound like a total snob.

Same goes for Jean Pierre Jeunet.

Mike Nichols: Um, best would be WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF or perhaps THE BIRDCAGE and worst would probably be CLOSER.

Sam Mendes: Best is easily JARHEAD and worst would be AMERICAN BEAUTY.

Note: I would probably focus on the older directors first and then MAYBE check out some of the newer ones. Mizoguchi, Aldrich, Preminger, Lang, Sturges, Lubitsch, Cluzot, Borzage, Bresson, Dreyer, Anthony Mann, Melville, Minnelli, Peckinpah, Powell and Pressburger, Sirk, Tati, Vigo, Wellman, Wyler, Fuller, and Cassavetes are working on a far better level than most of the names on the list.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I totally forgot about BEFORE SUNSET. I'm a doofus. I guess I should have specified that I'm not saying the second name on the list is necessarily "bad" but my least favorite, which in context of director's like Hitch, Lubitsch, or Chaplin would still probably be great films.

I would add THE GOLD RUSH to my fave Chaplin films.

Do you think PANIC ROOM is a bad film? I quite like it.

Interested in your Kurosawa picks. I'd probably rank IKIRU pretty low along with RASHAMON. This isn't to say that either is bad but they don't really resonate with me like his other films.

I would argue that Kubrick isn't really capable of bad but FULL METAL JACKET, as I've written before, is not really up to par with his other films. I actually think I would change my pick to PATHS OF GLORY, which blows my mind.

I agree on Lean, he knows how to make a film. I would say that BLITHE SPIRIT and SUMMERTIME are noble failures and by failures I mean that they didn't rank on their respective top ten lists. So they were merely "very good" in my book. Lean detractors work very hard for nothing.

I'm actually a fan of the TWIN PEAKS film, I can't stand his early experimental stuff. I'm too much of a Philistine.

I'm an AVATAR fan, not sure why.

Jeff, catch up with some of those directors. I think you'll find some good stuff.

Watched a bunch of SWEENEY TODD with Jesse and Graham tonight. That film is excellent. John, you're dead wrong about this one. Anyway, we are planning on making a camcorder version of it. It's going to be shitty/hilarious.

director's best and worst

B for Best W for Worst...... note that worst doesn't necessarily mean bad just not nearly as good as the best.

Lars Von Trier: B= Melancholia W= The Dogme Movement
Alfred Hitchcock: B= Rear Window W= Mr. and Mrs. Smith (John is going to hate me)
Martin Campbell: B= Casino Royale (though The Mask of Zorro is nipping) W=The Green Lantern
Curtis Hanson: B= LA Confidential W=In Her Shoes
Woody Allen: B= Broadway Danny Rose W= Hollywood Ending
Martin Scorsese: B= Goodfellas W=Cape Fear
Neil Jordan: B= The Crying Game W=Breakfast on Pluto
Fritz Lang: B= M W=The Return of Frank James
George Stevens: B=Vivacious Lady W=Woman of the Year
Max Ophuls: B=The Earrings of Madame de... W=Caught
Clint Eastwood: B= Unforgiven W=The Eiger Sanction
Stanley Donen: B= Charade W=Funny Face
Frank Capra: B=It’s a Wonderful Life W= Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Carol Reed: B=The Third Man W=Oliver!
Robert Altman: B= Short Cuts W=MASH
Francis Ford Coppola: B= The Godfather II W=Jack
Werner Herzog: B= Grizzly Man W= Even Dwarves Start Small
John Ford: B= The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance W=The Grapes of Wrath
Joe Dante: B=Gremlins 2: The New Batch W= The Howling
Wes Craven: B= Red Eye W= New Nightmare
John Carpenter: B= Assault on Precinct 13 W= Prince of Darkness
David Cronenberg: B= Eastern Promises W= Shivers
George Romero: B=Dawn of the Dead W=Island of the Dead
Stanley Kubrick: B= Eyes Wide Shut W= Full Metal Jacket
The Coen Bros: B= No Country for Old Men W= The Ladykillers
Wes Anderson: B=Bottle Rocket W=Darjeeling Limited
Tim Burton: B=Sleepy Hollow W=Alice in Wonderland
Preston Sturges: B= Unfaithfully Yours W= The Lady Eve
Ernest Lubitsch: B=To Be Or Not To Be W= Design for Living
Michael Haneke: B=Time of the Wolf W=Benny’s Video (the first minute at least)
Sergio Leone: B=Once Upon a Time in the West W= Duck You Sucker
Pedro Almodovar: B=Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown W=Bad Education
Robert Aldrich: B=Kiss Me Deadly W=The Longest Yard
Michelangelo Antonioni: Haven’t seen enough
Igmar Bergman: B=The Virgin Spring W=Time of the Wolf
Jean Luc Godard: B= A Woman is a Woman W= Alphaville
Francois Truffaut: B=Shoot the Piano Player W= Fahrenheit 451
Henri Georges Clouzot: B=Quai des Orfevres W= Le Corbeau
Olivier Assayas: B=Summer Hours W=Carlos
Frank Borzage: B= Moonrise W=A Farewell to Arms
Jacques Tourneur: B=Cat People W=I Walked With a Zombie
Jim Jarmusch: B=Down by Law W=Stranger Than Paradise
Robert Bresson: B=Diary of a Country Priest W=Pickpocket
Luis Bunuel: Ashamed to have not seen enough
Claude Chabrol: Likewise
Charlie Chaplin: B= Modern Times W= The Great Dictator
Jean Cocteau Not enough viewings
George Cukor: B=The Women W=My Fair Lady
Brian De Palma: B=Femme Fatale W=Scarface
Jonathan Demme: B=Neil Young: Heart of Gold W= Beloved
Claire Denis: B=35 Shots of Rum W=I Can’t Sleep
Carl Theodor Dreyer: B=Ordet W=Joan of Arc
Federico Fellini: B= Nights of Cabiria W=La Dolce Vita
David Fincher: B= Zodiac W= Alien 3 (easy way out here though I’d probably go with either Social Network or Panic Room next)
Terry Gilliam: B=Brazil W=The Brothers Grim
DW Griffith: not enough experience here
Jia Zhangke: “
Buster Keaton: “
Abbas Kiarostami: “
Brad Bird: B= The Iron Giant W= The Incredibles
Harmony Korine: Nothing has impressed me thus far
Akira Kurosawa: B= The Hidden Fortress W= One Wonderful Sunday
Kenji Mizoguchi: B: Ugetsu W=Streets of Shame
David Lean: B=Lawrence of Arabia W=Blithe Spirit
Joseph H Lewis: B= Gun Crazy W=Terror in a Texas Town
Henry Hathaway: B= The Sons of Katie Elder W=True Grit
Richard Linklater: B= Waking Life W=Fast Food Nation
Joseph Losey: B=The Prowler W= The Boy with Green Hair
David Lynch: B= The Straight Story (with Mulholland Drive nipping) W=Eraserhead
Terrence Malick: B=The Thin Red Line W=Badlands
Joseph L. Mankiewicz: B=All About Eve W=The Barefoot Contessa
Anthony Mann: B=Winchester 73 W=Cimmaron
Michael Mann: B= Miami Vice W=Manhunter
Leo McCarey: B=Make Way for Tomorrow W=The Bells of Saint Mary
James Cameron: B= The Terminator W=True Lies
Jean-Pierre Melville: B= Army of Shadows W=Bob le Flambeur
Paul Thomas Anderson: B=There Will Be Blood W= Boogey Nights
Quentin Tarantino: B= Inglorious Basterds W=Reservoir Dogs
Danny Boyle: B= 28 Days Later W= The Beach
Vincent Minnelli: B=Meet Me in St. Louis W= Gigi
Sam Peckinpah: B= Ride the High Country W=The Ballad of Cable Hogue
Arthur Penn: B=Little Big Man W= The Chase
James Whales: B=The Bride of Frankenstein W=The Old Dark House
Todd Browing: B=Freaks W=Dracula
Edgar G Ulmer: B=The Black Cat W=Bluebeard
Robert Zemeckis: B= Who Framed Roger Rabbit W=Beowulf
Powell and Pressburger: B=The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp W=Thief of Bagdad
Yasujiro Ozu: B=Late Spring
Otto Preminger: B=Anatomy of a Murder W=Exodus
Nicholas Ray: B=In a Lonely Place W=Flying Leathernecks
Jean Renoir: B=The Grand Illusion W=
Nicolas Roeg: B=Don’t Look Now W= The Man Who Fell to Earth
Eric Rohmer: haven’t seen a thing
Roberto Rossellini: B= Rome: Open City
Douglas Sirk: B=All That Heaven Allows W= Magnificent Obsession
Steven Soderbergh: B=Out of Sight W= Oceans 12
Steven Spielberg: B= Catch Me if You Can W= Jurassic Park: The Lost World
Andrei Tarkovsky: B= Solaris W=Andre Rublev
Jacques Tati: B= Mon Uncle W= Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
Paul Verhoven: B=Starship Troopers W= Hollow Man
Jean Vigo: nuttin
Raoul Walsh: B=The Roaring Twenties W= Manpower
John Waters: B=Serial Mom W=Pink Flamingoes
Peter Weir: Not sure
Orson Welles: B= F for Fake W= Macbeth
Wim Wenders: B=Paris, Texas W=The Million Dollar Hotel
Billy Wilder: B=Stalag 17 W=The Seven Year Itch
William Wellman: B=The Oxbow Incident W=Wild Boys of the Road
William Wyler: B= The Best Years of Our Lives W=The Children’s Hour
Wong Kar-wai: B=In the Mood for Love W= 2046
Zhang Yimou: B=House of Flying Daggers
Victor Flemming: B=The Wizard of Oz W=Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Mark Robson: B=Von Ryan’s Express W=The Ghost Ship
Robert Wise: B= Curse of the Cat People
Josef Von Sternberg: Haven’t seen a single film
Sam Fuller: B= The Steel Helmet W=I Shot Jesse James
Roman Polanski: B=Chinatown W=Frantic
John Cassavetes: B=Shadows
John Boorman: B= Point Blank W= The Exorcist II
Tobe Hooper: B= The Texas Chainsaw Massacre W= Eaten Alive
Robert Rodriguez: B= Desperado W=Machete
William Friedkin: B=The Exorcist W=Cruising
John Huston: B= Treasure of the Sierra Madre W=Moby Dick
Mike Leigh: B=Happy Go Lucky
Kathryn Bigelow: B=Point Break W=Blue Steel
Oliver Stone: Hasn’t made a good film
Spike Lee: B=Do The Right Thing W=Get on the Bus
Gus Van Sant: B= Elephant W=Paranoid Park
Hayao Miyazaki: B= Spirited Away W=Howl’s Moving Castle
George Miller: B= Babe: Pig in the City W=Happy Feet
Daren Aronofsky: B=Black Swan W=Black Swan
Spike Jonze: B=Being John Malkovich W= Adaptation

another dumb reason to make a list

So Jeff and I were pondering the use of the word “masterpiece” a while back which led us to pick up the ol dictionary to find out exactly what it meant and found that it both means “a great artistic work and/or an artist’s best work.” Being a natural list guy I thought it might be fun to go through a list of directors and name their masterpiece and their low point. If you guys are down I’ll make a little list off the top of my head. Don’t sweat it if you don’t know the director’s work, just ignore it and move on. I’m going to try and not limit this to titans so we can stray a bit from the hero worship for a while.

Lars Von Trier
Alfred Hitchcock
Martin Campbell
Curtis Hanson
Woody Allen
Martin Scorsese
Neil Jordan
Fritz Lang
George Stevens
Max Ophuls
Clint Eastwood
Stanley Donen
Frank Capra
Carol Reed
Robert Altman
Francis Ford Coppola
Werner Herzog
John Ford
Joe Dante
Wes Craven
John Carpenter
David Cronenberg
George Romero
Bob Clark
Stanley Kubrick
The Coen Bros
Wes Anderson
Tim Burton
Preston Sturges
Ernest Lubitsch
Michael Haneke
Sergio Leone
Pedro Almodovar
Robert Aldrich
Michelangelo Antonioni
Igmar Bergman
Jean Luc Godard
Francois Truffaut
Henri Georges Clouzot
Olivier Assayas
Mario Bava
Frank Borzage
Jacques Tourneur
Jim Jarmusch
Robert Bresson
Luis Bunuel
Claude Chabrol
Charlie Chaplin
Jean Cocteau
George Cukor
Brian De Palma
Jonathan Demme
Claire Denis
Carl Theodor Dreyer
Federico Fellini
David Fincher
Terry Gilliam
DW Griffith
Jia Zhangke
Buster Keaton
Abbas Kiarostami
Brad Bird
Harmony Korine
Akira Kurosawa
Kenji Mizoguchi
David Lean
Ang Lee
Jerry Lewis
Joseph H Lewis
Henry Hathaway
Richard Linklater
Joseph Losey
David Lynch
Terrence Malick
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Anthony Mann
Michael Mann
Leo McCarey
James Cameron
Jean-Pierre Melville
Paul Thomas Anderson
Quentin Tarantino
Danny Boyle
Vincent Minnelli
Sam Peckinpah
Arthur Penn
James Whales
Todd Browing
Edgar G Ulmer
Robert Zemeckis
Powell and Pressburger
Yasujiro Ozu
Otto Preminger
Nicholas Ray
Jean Renoir
Nicolas Roeg
Eric Rohmer
Roberto Rossellini
Douglas Sirk
Steven Soderbergh
Steven Spielberg
Andrei Tarkovsky
Jacques Tati
Paul Verhoven
Jean Vigo
Raoul Walsh
John Waters
Peter Weir
Orson Welles
Wim Wenders
Billy Wilder
William Wellman
William Wyler
Wong Kar-wai
Zhang Yimou
Victor Flemming
Mark Robson
Robert Wise
Josef Von Sternberg
Sam Fuller
Roman Polanski
John Cassavetes
John Boorman
Tobe Hooper
Robert Rodriguez
William Friedkin
John Huston
Mike Leigh
Kathryn Bigelow
Oliver Stone
Spike Lee
Gus Van Sant
Hayao Miyazaki
George Miller
Daren Aronofsky
Spike Jonze

Ok so feel free to not comment or say something along the lines of “has never made a good movie” or even “has never made a bad film.” I want to see what you guys think of these directors. Add some if you wish. I have way too much free time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

john has the hots for randolph scott

As much as I would hate to agree with John, aka Mr. oooooo I like old movies sooooo much more than modern film smart alec smarty ass pants, I am also done with MELANCHOLIA for now......... until I make my top ten list! muahahahahahahaha.

Ben, your post was smart. Your posts are always smart. Me no write so good as you.

Jeff's words on punk are cool. I think somehow the movie above that I said I wasn't going to talk about and lied fits that description. You just don't get it because you are too punk. John is the punkest of us all, riding off into the sunset with Randolph.

I grew up on Laurel and Hardy and I remember WAY OUT WEST. Wish I wasn't in Syracuse being a responsible adult. I'm sure it was like ten times better than stupid movie above that I am totally not writing about.

Jason, welcome back my man. I didn't think about PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK's connection with MEEK'S CUTOFF. Of course you forgot to point out that it isn't worth talking about because it wasn't made pre-1959. Whoops.

You missed the horror discussion big time. I could have used you man. These barbarians had their way with me.

Chris, back to that movie I'm never going to talk about again. I think there is plenty of humor in that movie. The dad, the wedding planner, "unbelievable," bitches in the tub, and I'm sure I could come up with plenty more if I didn't vow to stop talking about that film.

Did you use humility and Von Trier in the same sentence question mark

In regards to the tub stuff, I've had friends who suffered from severe depression. Not being able to move is common and it seems to come and go.

You are right about ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, I'm glad you feel that way.

That movie I mentioned above is slightly better than HOUR OF THE WOLF.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

shit quake

Saturday, November 12, 2011

lars still has his teeth

"I think the lack of any vituperation coming from John and Brandon completely proves my point that this is one of the safest von Trier films yet. You know, something really is different with this one. It does seem less cynical, which surprised me."

Big word dude! Maybe you are right and perhaps you figured out why I have responded so much to this film in comparison to some of his earlier stuff. I guess I don't want "mean" from him. As for the spec of dust joke, yeah that would have been cool but it probably would have destroyed everything that came before (no pun intended). I agree with John that this is the happiest he has ever been and for that I'm also happy. But where you seem to find it compromising I find it transcending. Perhaps I'm a sissy.

It sounds to me like you are not happy with his personal progress man. Haha.

I think we watched this thing from completely different perspectives, you see it as a joke whilst I took it perhaps way too seriously. And by the way don't even quote the whole Cannes "this is a comedy" line because he also said he like Hitler or something like that.

Didn't DOGVILLE take itself way too seriously?

I don't know that I want to get into another nihilism debate but I will most surely debate your definition of punk here. By punk you seem to imply immaturity and I would argue that most of the bad punk bands are just snotty kids railing against a system that they haven't taken the time or energy to understand whilst a lot of the good punk (still angry) is far more dangerous because their ideas are as rooted in knowledge as visceral emotion. To me, vT has been on the right track in his last couple of films, he's channeling that anger, hurt, and perhaps nihilism into films that actually are saying something honest (not always positive) about himself and even the world around him. Note: I haven't seen BREAKING THE WAVES, THE IDIOTS, or BOSS OF IT ALL. I'm probably focusing a lot of my negative energy on DOGVILLE and DANCER IN THE DARK.

I'm all for nutty "punk rock" infantile art but I'm not so sure that vT did it all that well dude. While we are on it, who do you think does it well?

I wouldn't call this film "more mainstream" than any of his previous films. It's just better :)

Chris wins for best title. He wins in a landslide.

To quote Eastwood "deserve's got nothing to do with this." That's the beauty here, nobody's decisions, good or evil, can save them. It isn't hateful. It's a strange way to express it but I think that final moment was his way of giving them a big bear hug.

In the end it's all about subjectivity. Indifference vs heartbreak. It sounds like you and Jeff were looking for your vT to deliver something like DOGVILLE, a hateful scorn on either America or society. I honestly can't remember which it was nor do I care. In my opinion that film took the easy way out. This one argues that you don't know what cha got til it's gone.

BTW: I respect DOGVILLE for both its craft and passion but in the end I was just frustrated that the town was unable to do a single decent thing. It's like he was holding a gun to their head.

It sounds as though the two disappointed brothers (Justine and Claire) may warm up to this one with time. Now back to John.

Point well taken now that it has been elaborated. I would have never thought that anyone could get so much out of comparing the two films but you've done just fine. But seriously, am I out of the doghouse yet? I kid, I kid.

That image of Reynolds on the rocks looking up at the yellow dusty thing gave me a huge boner.

"she wins her personal struggle against the world and against herself only by Melancholia crashing into earth. This is the true strength of Melancholia. Justine's depression is vindicated. She's not cured. Everyone else is. Death to everyone."

I think we are winning this fight John thanks to lines like that one. I know it probably won't happen but I'd be interested in your opinion of ANTICHRIST a film that's essentially viewed as "punk" or "prankish" that felt quite the opposite to me. Eve has a similar revelation, through death and genital mutilation she is freed from her burden. I would vote for MELANCHOLIA over that for now.

And let's not forget the guy who saw the film first. I like the revert statement a ton. She crawls inside of herself and only the glow of the planet can draw her out. I would love to sit down and chat it out. PODCAST!!!!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

i'm a complete idiot

So I can officially say that THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II is the vilest, stupidest, and most disgusting film I’ve ever seen. Big surprise. But honestly what were we expecting once SAW, with its laughable moralist chip on the shoulder, got mainstream America creaming their pants for torture. This is just the logical aftermath, the results of a country bored with decency and obsessed with a safe distance viewing of atrocity. Atrocity is everywhere and the closest we seem to get to it is through the news….. unless we rent garbage like this.

But even as I use these embellished words to describe Tom Six’s pointless sequel I have to admit that the final thirty minutes are actually effective. By effective I mean stomach turning, soul staining, and downright embarrassing. Watching a baby birthed and then stomped under the pedal of a car will take the piss out of any decent person. Then again, decent people shouldn’t be caught dead watching a picture like this. Whatever was implied in the first film is out in full view here. Knee’s being removed, teeth being smashed out, diarrhea shooting out of stitched jawlines, and yeah dudes jerking off with sandpaper.

I’ll bet the critics who once praised Six are now regretting that decision. Or perhaps they aren’t. I’m over this trend in filmmaking, part of me hoping that we all come to our senses. I’m playing right into Six’s hands here so I’ll probably just try to fall asleep now. I would urge him to try something a little less obvious next time. If offending everyone is his plan then he should continue with what he has started but he should rest assured that the best he could hope for is a drunken knucklehead like myself wandering into the wrong room of a party. Otherwise he and Todd Phillips have a lot more in common than he and his supporters ever dreamed.

rapid fire post

We talked a bit about Stephanie Zacharek before the movie. I think this review is proof of why I read her even when she's shitting on a film I love.


Jeff, I can see how people like myself would be annoying in times like these. By this I mean that I’ve been fairly hard on the vT in the past and now suddenly find his recent high production bum outs intoxicating. I feel kind of like the kid who started liking The Pixies after seeing Fight Club. But something HAS changed, I just can’t put my finger up it. I actually find these two films lacking in cynicism. Why is that? Jeff and Chris, lovers of DOGVILLE and DANCER IN THE DARK, help me.

is that a banana in your pocket or just a clitoris

Sorry dude. I really did love the review I just didn’t LOVE that paragraph as much as I loved the rest. I wasn’t accusing you of Armondian Trollism just stating that the only thing I see relatable about these films would be the fact that you have seen them recently and they are all from 2011. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED is warranted because it’s also about really melodramatic people ruining a wedding with their problems. But honestly man THE GREEN LANTERN isn’t about the end of the world, DRIVE is also artsy fartsy and somewhat lauded but other than that shares nothing theme wise (though lauded meaning a high percentage on the tomato thing), and the list goes on. My Tarkovsky comparison came about only because I am all too aware of the director’s love and influence and the only reason I could conjure up as to why he decided to give Justine the power to “know” is because of the daughter in STALKER.

Again, I think the sole reason of this paragraph is to size up one 2011 film against a bunch of others with the intention of drawing any similarities possible out of it. Not a bad thing but not in any way measuring up to what I read before. But the more I write about it the more I realize how it could be taken as a negative thing. Not the case. Just a little out of sync with the tone you set before which sort of had me envying you.

I know you are externalizing the list making process and I love it. I don’t know how or why you don’t care about a film that you would rank behind the Film Club prince (a film that I find myself liking less day to day). The first thing I thought after seeing this film was “I’m going to go round for round on this one” and it’s looking promising thus far. I’m really confused about my reactions to the past two Von Trier films, I’m trying figure out why I’m suddenly on board. Jeff, you are a vT purist, what the fuck? Chris, get off your lazy ass and sit down on the couch and type up a review.

John, now that I'm out of the doghouse can we talk about the movie?

the discreet charm of the bourgeois

Melancholia is blue just like Lars Von Trier.

It opens with a close up of a very sad person’s face, that person being Kirsten Dunst. This is a movie about sad people, rich sad people….. filthy rich sad people. In the prologue we get to see the world end in extremely stylized slow motion. This assemblage of images immediately made me think of the beginning of Von Trier’s previous film in which the world ends for a couple of bunny rabbits who just can’t seem to stop screwing each other. Both look like a music video, both go in slow motion with an emphasis on falling objects, and both prophesy the doom ahead.

I would argue that the opening sequence is a dream from Dunst’s Justine, a character who later reveals that she “knows things” perhaps a nod to the daughter of Tarkovsky’s STALKER. As soon as the grandstanding ends it’s time for the imp to take us to a far more apocalyptic event. From Tristan and Isolde we jump to a rural driveway where a limousine is having a hard time making a sharp turn. It’s a light moment, one of the last to occur in the entire picture. Once we get to the wedding reception the laughter becomes few and far between, the countdown officially begins. Before the newlyweds even step foot into the dining hall they are greeted by an angry Charlotte Gainsbourge (clitoris intact) and Keifer Sutherland. We immediately know that Claire and John denote wealth and anxiety. Justine and her husband (the buck toothed vampire from True Blood) represent the opposite, but only for about five minutes.

The speeches are all awkward, none more than the mother of the bride. She sucks so much that I was convinced that we would find out she didn’t actually exist a la fight club dichotomy twist. Her dad is a weirdo pervert with a couple of “betty’s” by his side. What oh what bail her out of this scratchy mess? It’s Melancholia to the rescue. But before our planets get into a fender bender Justine has to royally fuck up her life and the lives of almost everyone around her. How does she do this? By playing super bouncy with a guy she met twenty minutes earlier. Before the wedding night even ends her husband packs his things and tries once again to figure out that nasty curve in the driveway.

By dawn the castle and 18 hole golf course are at the disposal of Justine, Claire, John, and their son Leo. Justine is crippled with depression, a predicament that Von Trier found himself in not too long ago. Baths, dinners, and all other simple tasks are heaped on the shoulders of ball smasher Claire. She is adoring to a fault, a caregiver who secretly tallies inconveniences at the cost of a big fat grudge. Her husband finds this unbelievable. But soon none of this matters as we become spectators to the end of the world.

Jeff you bring up an incredible question; “can depression ever be well done without making you hate the character/characters who are depressed?” I’m not going to attempt an answer here but I feel the need to point out that this it depends on the character. Justine is selfish and at times cruel, she knows the toll her melancholy takes on Claire and doesn’t give a shit. She knows and seems to almost relish the pain she has thrust upon her caring husband or ex-husband. She still decides to act. This is the difference, she turns this FEELING into an action. She materializes it in similar ways to Eve from ANTICHRIST, she forces others to suffer. The biggest failures of this picture happen when Von Trier seems to be begging us for sympathy.

But as John pointed out in his incredible review (incredible until he starts comparing it to other non-relatable films), this is not a defeatist film. Von Trier is hoping to pass through death into resurrection, he is destroying in order to create. Jeff, I loved this movie despite its glut of frustrations. It’s much easier to ridicule and this is part of the charm here. More so than any film I’ve seen by the director I feel that he is taking big risks and I guess by admitting this I’m saying I completely disagree with you.

I’ll get into my biggest frustration just so you are aware that I’m not without reservation here. I don’t like DOGVILLE, mostly because I don’t see the point in watching a group of characters without the chance of redemption. Justine’s boss is nothing more than a contrivance, a vice for guys like Haneke and Von Trier who like to make shallow observations about society and humanity in the form of evil men and women. We’re much better with Justine’s final denouncement of humanity; it’s more honest and delivered without the rascally smirk. So basically I didn’t see the need for this man to be in this film. He’s a reoccurring stain on the director’s soul. He needs to die already.

I felt that the second half of the film did almost everything right. The moon bathing scene is great, it’s almost as if she is summoning the impending catastrophe wooing the planet and urging it to forsake its path. She’s a siren. When it beckons her call she suddenly finds her worth as the great comforter leading us to one of the great finales of all time. Yeah I said it, the ending ranks with the best.

The “makeshift planet viewer” is an ingenious suspense mechanism. The morning of the end of the world is paced so expertly, first with the disappearance of John and finally with the horrific revelation. I loved how the maternal instinct leads back to Justine, calm and waiting for her lover to arrive. A golf cart can’t outrun a super earth.

Boring part: I loved almost all of the performances here and loved the casting of Udo Kier as the wedding planner. Von Trier is an excellent director of actors as it turns out. Ok so I’m with Ben here obviously. Bring it bitches.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the green lantern

As it turns out Martin Campbell’s abnormal talent is no exception to the “CGI action scenes automatically bore me to death” rule. THE GREEN LANTERN shoulda, coulda, woulda warranted a recommendation but it makes zero effort to deviate from the modern day comic book extravaganza. Try and pick it out of a lineup. I did like the cast, specifically the two leads. Ryan Reynolds does a fine job here, especially when he isn’t speechifying. Blake Lively still impresses me though this is no match for her underrated performance in THE TOWN. What can I say? Once you get past the origin material (the budding romance, the family stuff, a cool fight scene outside of a bar) the movie eats shit. My love for Campbell remains the same but I hope this experience scared him away from any more superheroes.

Monday, November 7, 2011

baby of mine

I’m sure you can tell that I love playing tennis with your top ten lists. It’s always a nice way to look back and reevaluate my decisions. I say decisions because that is ultimately what a list adds up to, a choice that you have to sleep with until you change it (which is what I always end up doing). I love the list as an always evolving being, something that changes with discussion, time, insight, and that one great viewing that didn’t happen before. Keep em coming sonny.

Your words on CITIZEN KANE really got me thinking. I saw that film after being aware of its cultural significance. I then put stock in what AFI deemed worthy of their annual 100 Years lists. Now I could care less, though I DO love watching them and admit that I miss the hell out of them. I haven’t seen the film in a long time but I sort of regret not being able to see it without that chip on its shoulder. Alas I’ll never truly know.

The HIGH SIERRA discussion reminded me of the TRUE GRIT one in which a certain EBERT PRESENTS host briefly joined us to defend himself. The idea that a code can dictate the direction of a story should disappoint but I kind of love it. Is surprise overrated?

As far as HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY IS CONCERNED let’s just say that I think I’m wrong here… dead wrong. This is a film that I remember being extremely beautiful and well-made but something about the time I watched it made me feel a little strange. I think that I certainly prefer the lighter Ford material and perhaps found this one too heavy. As for the GRAPES OF WRATH, sometimes Steinbeck doesn’t do it for me.

THE MALTESE FALCON is brilliant don’t get me wrong. I was just being difficult.

DUMBO should be much higher on both lists. I re-watched it today and I’m convinced that it just may be the greatest of its kind and by that I mean feature length cartoons. It is truth. It is love. It is perfect.

In honor of DUMBO:
1941 redux:
1. Citizen Kane (Welles)
2. Dumbo (motherly love)
3. Ball of Fire (Hawks)
4. The Maltese Falcon (Huston)
5. High Sierra (Walsh)
6. Sullivan’s Travels (Sturges)
7. Buck Privates (Lubin)
8. Man Hunt (Lang)
9. The Lady Eve (Sturges)
10. How Green was my Valley (Ford)
Honorable Mentions: Shadow of the Thin Man, Suspicion, The Wolf Man, Sergeant York, The Strawberry Blonde, Keep em Flying.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

let's talk 41

So I don’t think the cultural vegetables conversation is going to work out as well as I had hoped. No worries. Jeff, thanks for your response. I was intrigued not by the chore of watching films that seem uninteresting on the surface but rather to viewing those essentials and having to come to terms with your negative reaction. It was hard to admit that I didn’t get into LA DOLCE VITA or BLOW UP; I couldn’t imagine being a professional critic and admitting that. I was hoping this discussion would lead to further posts but I can’t imagine it after a line like this: “Isn't it his job to pick through the murk of a film and find its deeper significance and theme(s)? Even if a film is bad and there isn't much below the surface, there is still something there to uncover, interpret, and ultimately criticize.” That sums it up just fine.

Onto Jeff’s 1941 list…..

I have to start by apologizing for not interacting more with your lists. It was hard to do any posting whilst on tour, the computer was like the toilet and I felt a lot of pressure each minute I spent on the internet. The guys/girls would hover over me like vultures waiting for an injured animal to die. Plus, I lost my ability to write so nothing would have been worth reading anyway. Better late than never, 1941 is a great year to start it back up.

CITIZEN KANE: What can either of us say that hasn’t been said before? This truly IS an American myth, one of the few irrefutable classics. The naysayers all appear to be jealous contrarians hungry for attention, hoping that their spit in the wind won’t shoot back into their face. We should wish them good luck and hand them a moist napkin.

HIGH SIERRA: I’m all for humanizing the criminal even if it leads to the dreaded fetishism that always seems to follow. One thing Walsh and his disciples did extremely well was to hook these unlikely heroes into one last tragic job right as they are about to embark on the road to lawful sobriety. Throw a girl into the mix and it’ll get us every time, wishing against our better judgment for the unbending will of the Hayes’ Code to lapse just long enough for Bogie to ride off into the sunset with Ida Lupino and their little pooch. COLORADO TERRITORY actually improves the ending here, I can’t wait for you to see it.

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS: Like this year’s brilliant ATTACK THE BLOCK, Preston Sturges never lets his message bog down his picture. Make em laugh and then hope that they take some time to think and feel. While I wouldn’t deny that this picture wears its cynicism proudly (stop trying to change the world already) it also doesn’t knock anybody for hoping to better our collective circumstance. It should come as no surprise that the Coen brothers took the title of McCrea’s fictitious film and made it into a comedy of their own. Jeff, I think we can agree that Sturges was one of the best writers to ever work in film. His fluid and rapid fire dialogue serviced the story, moving forward rather than solely drawing attention to itself. This is another connection that ATTACK THE BLOCK and this film share, the remarkable success each has with landing their unremitting jokes.

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY: Ford is a lot like Hitchcock in that he seems to have been born with the gift of directing. It looks as though it comes easy to him; the same shots that lesser filmmakers hope to have in one frame of their movie exist in scene after scene without the appearance of sweat and struggle. And you are right Jeff, despite his cantankerous reputation he was a man who obviously cared about the downtrodden and subjugated. I’m hoping that we have director marathons eventually, months dedicated to discovering and re-watching important and underrated films from great directors. Ford is only deterred by his occasionally bizarre allegiance to America. Even while saluting it’s clear that he was seemingly unable to botch a shot. I feel that the Coens have a similar talent and it’s led some to accuse them of hollowness. As much as I love to see a less talented artist make up for technical handicap (Ramones!) with honesty and creativity, I often long for the Fords, Hitch’s, Hawks, Rays, and Truffaut’s to blow my mind. None of this directly addresses HOW GREEN so I’ll add quickly that I need to see this one again in order to fully appreciate it. I’m not a huge GRAPES OF WRATH fan so part of me wonders if this picture fails for me in a lot of similar ways to that film.

THE MALTESE FALCON: Huston was another of those born talents. I do not love his oeuvre as consistently as Fords however. I actually find that somewhat endearing however because his failures are almost always noble. He had balls. But when he was on the results were near perfection. This picture, like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN or DRIVE, seems to produce its detractors on account of its technical bravura. I would argue that Hawks did more with Bogie in the subsequent pictures that seem to come out of the same vein. This is not a knock to Huston and company; it’s just hard to rival THE BIG SLEEP and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. This is another picture that I desperately need to revisit, not because I need it to prove anything to me but because of how fun it is. I hate to use the word indisputable but come on guys, this is the stuff that dream are made of.

BALL OF FIRE: Though I obviously ranked this one higher I’m nonetheless happy to see it crack the top five. It’s root, zoot, cute, and solid to boot. But while I’m often tempted to hand all of the credit to the great Howard Hawks I have to point out that this picture was written by a young Billy Wilder. The careful selection of “seven dwarves” is another of the film’s seemingly unheralded strengths while the two strong leads finally seal the deal. This film knows what it has and runs with it; it’s hard to imagine anyone not surrendering to its charms. I’m astonished when I think about how many times Hawks was able to pull this off. His skills as a writer were matched by his intelligence as a director. He might have been the best at taking complicated dialogue and marrying it to a simple narrative without asking the audience to notice the unholy union. In less confident hands this movie would have felt like a marathon, instead it’s like a light jog through the park.

MANHUNT: One thing that seems to tie all of these films together is seasoned writers/directors doing what they seem to do best. Ford=epic, Walsh=bang bang, Hawks and Sturges=laughter, Welles=milestone, and Huston=smart entertainment. Lang was a thriller guy first and foremost and this film was just one of his contributions to the anti-Nazi effort. This is the guy who was offered a job by the maniac himself, an offer that inspired Lang to leave the country with nothing but the clothes on his back. I have seen this movie twice but can’t seem to remember that much of it. Let’s hope that director month spurs me to revisit it.

THE LADY EVE: Sexy, smart, and remarkably similar to the superior BALL OF FIRE. I love this movie mostly because I love the way Stanwyck seduces me. She had a great year. She had a great career. I love stories about guys who wouldn’t know love if it sat on their lap, as frustrating as it is to watch a guy pass on a gal like Jean half the fun is in watching her lure him in despite himself. It’s also hilarious to stop and think about the censors too stupid to pick up on the sexual innuendo. What a bunch of squares.

SUSPICION: I don’t know that I agree that the ending here is necessarily cheap but it is fairly odd. I did think that Grant’s character got off the hook simply because going from murder to embezzlement is a step in the right direction. Not one of my favorite Hitch movies but head and shoulders above most films all the same.

DUMBO: Yeah this one brings back great memories for me as well. It’s one of those movies that really made me appreciate my mother.

THE WOLF MAN: I’m not so sure that this picture ought to beat out HOW GREEN, DUMBO, and SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN. My 41 list is problematic to say the least. I could easily tweak it and feel a lot better about it but I’ll leave it for now.

attack the block

A gang of young teens introduced first by their tag on a wall near their apartment complex, mug a young white nurse’s aide as fireworks light up the London sky. The act/scene is unabashedly nasty showing us the lengths these kids will go to in order to intimidate their potential victims. The same bravery and brutality these kids muster up during this assault will later come in handy when protecting that same woman from an invasion of “gorilla wolf looking mother fuckers.” Given the presence of the aforementioned fireworks, London authorities won’t be coming to the rescue (not that they seem to care about this section of town anyway) in fact they will be doing quite the opposite. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film so cagey about the blue thunder.

The unforeseen coalition takes this congenial sci-fi comedy and grants it some unexpected affluence. The gang’s bond is central to the film’s suspense and ATTACK’s lack of gore is exchanged for a real sense of danger. When we realize that these kids can and will die we dread the presence of the aliens more than ever. I can’t remember watching a movie with my friends in which they jumped and groaned, not because of gratuitous violence or loud noises, but rather because they watched a prized character lose their life. This is a refreshing horror picture, one with real characters as opposed to guinea pigs wandering around a sadistic maze. It shames the majority of modern thrillers by showing the significance in getting to know the potential prey before tearing them to pieces. It takes no pleasure in death, no satisfaction in blood and guts.

I’ve heard that a lot of people have taken issue with the film’s exaltation of teenage criminals. Fuck that. There is redemption here, the kind that most audiences seek in facetious Oscar baiting garbage like CRASH. As Sam begins to trust her assailants she also realizes that they are children; scared, dangerous, and bored. This doesn’t excuse their actions; it merely adds insight to their motivation. The invasion becomes their moment to channel their frustrations into something constructive, even heroic. Moses’ accountability saves the block and earns him the designation of neighbor and protector from the same woman he attacked with such ferocity. We are complicit in her awareness and rewarded in that final scene where we finally get to see him smile.

ATTACK THE BLOCK is easily one of my favorite films so far this year. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film this graceful. I laughed, jumped, smiled, and choked up at its tender beckoning. The message never muddles the fun, the fun doesn’t dull the message, and as the film finished I felt like I could go for two more hours.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

cultural vegetarian

I could watch anything with Fay Bainter (Make Way For Tomorrow, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty). She is one beautiful and enchanting older woman. Add Merle Oberon (Wuthering Heights), Franchot Tone (The Phantom Lady), Rex Ingram (Sahara), John Qualen (His Girl Friday, The Searchers), Elisha Cook Jr (The Killing), and the great Thomas Mitchell (Stagecoach, It’s a Wonderful Life) and you have yourself one hell of a cast. Throw Andre de Toth in the director’s chair and we have ourselves a movie. DARK WATERS could have been forgettable if any number of elements were missing (the acting, the staging of events, the pacing, the atmosphere and tone), it’s one of my favorite films from 1944.

Let’s change that list real quick:

1. Meet Me In St. Louis (Minnelli)
2. The Children Are Watching Us (de Sica)
3. To Have And Have Not (Hawks)
4. The Curse of the Cat People (Wise)
5. Double Indemnity (Wilder)
6. Laura (Hitchcock)
7. The Woman in the Window (Lang)
8. Dark Waters (Andre de Toth)
9. Hail the Conquering Hero (Sturges)
10. Lifeboat (Hitchcock)
11. The Princess and the Pirate (Butler)

Honorable Mentions: Arsenic and Old Lace, The Fighting Seabees, Going My Way, In Society, Ivan the Terrible

Jeff, first I would argue that WAR OF THE WORLDS has earned its status even if I wouldn’t include it on my own personal list. Eric Henderson, the guy who put it together, is a huge fan and based on the film’s first half I would totally side with him. The end is where it fails for me but up until that point I feel that it borders on masterpiece. So put that in your bowl and smoke it.

I agree with everything you said about SUSPIRIA but somehow end up feeling quite the opposite as far as affection is concerned. This makes me think about the Dan Kois debate that’s been raging since his “Cultural Vegetables” piece debuted in The New York Times. I’ll try and summarize the piece which you can find here (

Kois starts with a story about his 6 year old daughter who was somehow intimidated into watching a kid’s show that was above her head. She felt pressured to advance her intelligence and taste to match that of her older friends, which brings us to her father. This sad scenario reminded him of sitting in a dark theater watching MEEK’S CUTOFF, a film that he calls “as closed off and stubborn as the devout settlers who populate it.” He openly admits that his attempts to endure these types of “grueling” films are a result of his respect for certain writers and friends, giving in to peer pressure so to speak. He calls this “aspirational viewing.”

He then talks about having his arm twisted about SOLARIS, a film that he speaks openly, honestly, and ultimately condescendingly about. He lied to his friend about his feelings, claiming that the film was “amazing” while harboring the secret that he actually found the film boring (it sounds as though he fell asleep several times whilst watching it). This experience caused him to associate slow moving films with integrity. The guy obviously is scarred by his lack of interest, he notes that other critics are smarter than him in what appears to be a last ditch attempt to deflect the wrath of those Tarkovsky fans who’ll be knocking on his door once they read the NYTimes.

He admits to be somewhat lazy and having a short attention span. This is ok, that’s the way he is but there is a feeling of surrender in it all. His taste remains stubbornly his taste. But he remains torn about the time he as saved avoiding Antonioni and Hou-Hsiao-hsien in contrast to the cineaste he may never become. He ends with his white flag waving for all of us to see.

I found his philistine guilt annoying mostly but I think that there is something to be said about his honestly and specifically the way some of us struggle with certain aesthetics. Most of you have aired your grief about the horror genre and I’ve stated my own list of cinematic allergies and we all remain friends and respected film clubbers. Lisa’s string of posts about TREE OF LIFE remain some of the most interesting and honest words written here about the struggle to join in when others applaud a seemingly pretentious or perhaps difficult film. While I didn’t share her opinion I completely understood it as I’ve struggle with some of these “cultural vegetables.” But where Kois seems to have given up I remain fervent in my desire to get to know these films (pat me on the back). Still, I get the frustration at not “seeing” what everyone else is “seeing.”

I guess if after you try and try again you don’t succeed you eventually have to admit defeat or put together a good argument to support your conclusion. I don’t know why I don’t like SUSPIRIA but after one late night viewing I concluded, for the time being, that it’s not my thing. It must be tough in the world of film criticism, constantly watching your back. No wonder a lot of critics seem disingenuous even when they are praising something. Look at the film festival coverage, intelligent critics looking carefully over their shoulder and ultimately writing lukewarm reviews to satisfy both sides of the divide.

Kois’ piece put him on the slab and there he remains, his piece debuted in April. Charles Taylor called the reaction “bullying masked as erudition” and the debate continues. I think the fact that Kois is a paid film critic makes him a fair target here, basically the guy admits that he doesn’t want to be bothered with actual work even if he’s getting paid to sit in the theater to watch a film that you and I travel to Ithaca and fork over 7 dollars to see. I’m just a guy who works a fairly shitty job to support his pipedream of becoming a paid musician, I have the right to push the stop button.

John and I had a similar discussion about the “chore” of watching film. Perhaps John could put up a link to that. I wrote this to get some sort of dialogue going here about Kois’ point or lack thereof. What sayeth film club about the importance of eating your cultural vegetables?