Friday, November 17, 2006

October in review

Good month. A good part of these were written after the fact. Within the last couple of weeks things really started coming to a head on a film I was directing and I started devoting all my resources to it. We got our footage back today and it looks good, so that's a relief.

I'd mentioned in an earlier post that I'd been hoping to update on a weekly basis, or even every three movies or something like that. Hopefully that starts being feasible soon. I've been wanting to do a big post on Tarkovsky's Solaris, too, but I feel like I've already missed the boat on that one.

Here's October, for now.

Pep of the Lazy J, Victor Noerdlinger. [C] october 1st 2006.
[Another Janet Gaynor silent. So's the next one. The Harvard Film Archive's running a series. Anyway, I enjoyed this one immensely, but I suspect a good deal of that had to do with the live piano accompaniment. That really pushed things to another level, especially since dude was relentless during this one. His performance during Lucky Star was much more subdued, probably because that was a near two hour film and this was just a 20 minute short, but he was going wild on the piano and totally made the film a million times more compelling than it would have been on its own. Still, there was a nice little saucy Gaynor moment in it and some other fun little things, so it was by no means a loss or anything like that.]

Lucky Star, Frank Borzage. [B] october 1st 2006.
[I wasn't as wild about this as Seventh Heaven, although I'm in the minority for that, at least in terms of the folks I went to these screenings with. Still, this was another sweet movie with some beautiful things in it. The set design and lighting in this was miles apart from Seventh Heaven. The opening sequence especially has some beautiful shots depicting daybreak on a little farm. Gaynor's relationship with Farrell was a little beyond creepy at times, but I guess that's just some stuff I'm gonna have to attribute to the times. In all of these films there's some pretty consistent reenforcement of patriarchal norms that is at times disappointing, but they do occasionally get subverted. Beyond which, despite my feminist objections, I'm still a dude that's a sucker for a cute, demure girl in a dress.]

Shoot the Piano Player, Francois Truffaut. [A-] october 2nd 2006.
[The second half isn't as strong as the first, but I definitely enjoyed this movie. The first scene, I think, sums up the movie pretty effectively. A man runs away from a pursuer. Dark, noir-ish lighting and frenetic editing drive the scene and then, out of nowhere, the guy trips, is helped up by a man on the street and winds up going on a 5 minute walk with him during which they talk about his wife. As soon as they part ways, he goes back to running. This makes me really want to see more nouvelle vague genre pictures. The scene where Aznavour is debating whether or not to put his arm around a woman is so unbelievably on point and wonderfully rendered, that I can't believe it. Other than The 400 Blows, I haven't really enjoyed any other Truffaut films I've seen (the rest of the Doinel films and Jules and Jim) but this movie makes me want to watch all the rest and revisit the ones I didn't dig as well.]

Blood Simple, Coen Brothers. [B+] october 2nd 2006.
[This isn't a perfect movie, but that just makes it all the more inspiring to me. I liken it to Brick in that it feels like a really great student film. I saw this on the big screen this time, which was nice.]

Caché, Michael Haneke. [B+] october 3rd 2006.
[I didn't even catch the turn at the end until I read about it and reviewed it. Watched this on a pretty small screen and don't feel like I got nearly as much out of it as I should have, although I certainly enjoyed it. It was tense and well-acted. I like the cold, stark look of the film quite a bit. HD is really starting to seem like a wonderful format. Anyway, I want to watch this again on my computer or something and just keep my face a foot away from the screen.]

The 1002nd Ruse, Yevgeni Bauer. [D] october 3rd 2006.
Daydreams, Yevgeni Bauer. [B] october 3rd 2006.
After Death, Yevgeni Bauer. [B+] october 3rd 2006.
[The 1002nd Ruse is a real shoddy comedy, and I won't bother dealing with it. Daydreams is good, but feels like a precursor to After Death, which really stood out to me. I was surprised at how effectively creepy this movie was. Some of the close-ups are really startling and the dream sequences are really something else, although I feel like the film should have ended after the second one.]

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. [A-] october 3rd 2006.
[Really beautiful to look at and ingeniously put together, but the story bothered me a little bit. I felt like dude was too readily redeemed and it didn't really come off entirely. I liked the dance sequence, and specifically that the couple initially refused to do the folk dance, not wanting to put themselves on display or open themselves up to condescension before deciding they didn't care. I think it would be impossible for a film to maintain the level of delirious giddiness that Sunrise has at some moments, and it's really an accomplishment that it manages to keep it going for as long as it does, but that doesn't make it any less disappointing when it eventually calms, and the near drowning thing at the end really felt wholly unnecessary.]

Double Vision, Kuo-fu Chen. [D] october 4th 2006.
[Pretty mediocre thriller. I kinda just started waiting for it to end after a certain point, but I was watching it in a class, so I couldn't just leave.]

Vagabond, Sans toit ni loi, Agnès Varda. [A-] october 4th 2006.
[I wrote this for a class, so here it is:

Vagabond is a portrait more than anything else. A portrait of not one person's life, but of many people's lives and the difficulties they face. It is not a happy movie, but I guess there isn't much to be happy about for the majority of them, although it's not filled with despair, either.

What I really like about it is the way that Varda hybridizes documentary and fiction filmmaking techniques to capitalize on the strengths of her non-actor cast and to emphasize the realistic grittiness of the film's presentation of its world. The standard talking head-style documentary bits are heavily influential to the rest of the film because, in a sense, once we've looked into these peoples' eyes, we've established that the next image we're going to see is point of view, in a way. This isn't literal, but I feel that the camera in this film is subjective and that it is largely subjective in the view of the person immediately interacting with Mona.

The first image in the film is a point of view shot of her corpse. When she swims in the ocean, we see her from far away, from where the motorcyclists are positioned. There are reasons beyond Mona's own obtuse nature. She is objectified in the eyes of the viewer, but always through the eyes of the diegetic spectator. For the professor, who regards her as an amusement, Mona can take on quite funny characteristics. Likewise, when she is viewed as a mysterious drifter by the gas station attendant, she withdraws into her tent and disappears. When she begins to freeload off the hippie farmer, she becomes a pathetic display of ambivalence. We see her from above, smoking cigarettes on her bed and staring out of the doorway.

By seeing Mona in these subjective ways from this multiplicity of sources, we start painting as accurate a picture of her as we can, subscribing to James Agee's school of journalism: by showing you a little bit of every recallable detail, an accurate picture of the truth will soon begin to form.

The landscape of the countryside in and of itself is a sort of character in the film. At the very least, it becomes a commentary and a reflection of, not just Mona, but all the characters in the film, in some way. This place is barren and frozen over. It is empty and the outer shell is far too hardened for there to be any new things planted inside of it. The fact that farming goes on in this dreary place is truly astonishing. It's not as simple as to say that the landscape is simply Mona's to be reflected in, she certainly is, as an often cruel and always uncompromising person, but it reflects, and this is but one example, the mad dedication of the tree professor in being willing to travel through this barren land to preserve what she in all likelihood views as its beauty.

The landscape is endless, the horizon goes off towards infinity. These field will never abandon Mona, even as she abandons the rest of the world, and she takes comfort in that. It is the safety blanket she can afford herself in order to be able to maintain her tough as nails exterior all the way up to the end; it serves as a constant reminder of how she can, without anything else at her disposal, still be able to rely on herself whenever she needs to.]

The Conformist, Bernardo Bertolucci. [A] october 4th 2006.
[It was nice to not fall asleep during this movie.]

Heart of Glass, Werner Herzog. [A-] october 5th 2006.
[This movie looks like what a black metal album sounds like/is about. Mountains and forests and shit. That briefly popped into my head while I was watching it. Having only seen Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man, this movie opened up a whole new Werner Herzog to me, and I'm really interested in pursuing him further. A dude got pretty snarky on me when I compared a film, State of Dogs, to Gummo because it blended documentary and fiction film. He went all "What, like Werner Herzog?" on me. Now I see it.]

The Departed, Martin Scorsese. [B] october 6th 2006.
[So was this a black comedy or was it a straight thriller? Seems like folks are pretty divided about that. I can't decide which side I fall in. Lots of stuff made me laugh, and some of it definitely felt like it was meant to be a send-up of these kinds of thrillers. At times, especially that Rolling Stones shit at the beginning, it felt like Scorsese was even maybe parodying himself a little bit. It seems like he had fun putting this film together, and I really did enjoy myself almost all the way through, but the fact that I can't even pin down what kind of movie I think it was or was trying to be puts me on edge a little bit. I like that Scorsese got downright Godardian with his sound in this film a few times. That iris close and open was a total nouvelle vague nod, too, and I really like that a big-time mainstream filmmaker with THE NUMBER ONE MOVIE IN AMERICA can manage to squeeze that kinda stuff into his work. Despite its problems, and that unbelievably cheesy final shot, I had a good time with this movie.]

Crank, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. [infinity forever] october 7th 2006.
[This movie is everything that is wrong with everything SO MUCH that it becomes hysterical. But it's like you're laughing through the tears or something. People are nuts, man. J.R. Jones said "This is one of those movies whose empty-headed premise is so pure it's witty," and that may be true to an extent. My trust in people is strong enough that I have to take it in good faith that a good portion of this was made with tongue firmly planted in cheek, because if this is a result of earnestness, then I dunno. Thing is, and this is bad, it's probably neither. It's probably cynicism at the root of this one.]

Chinatown, Roman Polanski. [A] october 10th 2006.
[I finally got to see this on the big screen. Unfortunately, it was the shittiest print I think I've ever seen of any movie ever. Beyond awful. But the movie's great and it was nice to see like that. I know people make a deal of the use of subjective camera in this film. I never really noticed it because I always wound up getting so absorbed in the film that I stopped thinking about it much at all. This time I really saw it, and its effectiveness is really amazing. I found myself laughing at points when Gittes tricks people, but laughing in a real self-satisfied way. That kind of snort of laughter that you get when you're messing with someone. I was absorbing Gittes' accomplishments as my own. When I realized this was happening, I kinda went nuts.]

In a Lonely Place, Nicholas Ray. [A] october 11th 2006.
[Humphrey Bogart, man. I'll watch anything with him in it. Only other Ray I've seen is Rebel Without a Cause. I remember reading that Godard quote that Ray is the cinema and not really getting the love based on that film. Which isn't to say I don't love that film, I do, just that I don't necessarily see why Godard did. This film definitely has more of the wryness that I see in Godard's films. Also more of the heaviness. And more of the sketchiness. I dunno. I really liked this movie.]

South of Ten, Liza Johnson. [B+] october 11th 2006.
[This is a really great short film. I guess Liza Johnson's just done a few shorts before this one; I wasn't able to find out much about it. It's a movie about Katrina in a sense, but it's more about the people affected by it. A girl crawls out of a tent in a tent city and starts riding her bike down the street amid all these houses variously affected by the hurricane and now the focus is on a guy standing in his gutted house walking over to his unaffected kitchen to take a pot of boiling water off the stove. He pours the water out and retrieves an object from it, walks out his house into this half destroyed neighborhood and picks a trombone up off the ground. It turns out he was cleaning the mouthpiece to it in the water. He picks the instrument up and starts playing it, walking out of the frame, and now we're on to another person. So that's the kinda style it goes for. Fly on the wall, silent observation of small moments in people's lives in the wake of the devastation. I like that it covers people from various social strata, so we get a good, broad picture of everybody's situation. A beautiful, empathetic film that I really wish I had the means of seeing again.]

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Robert Wiene. [C-] october 12th 2006.
[I don't really like this movie. It looks nice, but it's kinda boring. The scene where dude's getting ready to stab the girl in the bed and grabs her and does that freaky tongue thing creeps me out every time, though. The set design is alluring and there are some really startling moments in this movie, but overall it just doesn't move me. ]

Hold Me While I'm Naked, George Kuchar. [B+] october 12th 2006.
[Pretty funny short film from the 60s that kind of explores the role of the filmmaker in the exploitation of his actors, to an extent. But really it's also just kinda funny and charming.]

Kitschitoarele, 2FM, Cristian Nemescu. [B] october 14th 2006.
[A buddy's student film. Romanian documentary about gypsy fortune teller types.]

Eux et Moi, Stéphane Breton. [B+] october 15th 2006.
Le Ciel Dans un Jardin. [B+] october 15th 2006.
[French anthropologist's films about people in Papua New Guinea. These were at the Harvard Film Archive. Breton was there and it was neat.]

Not One Less, Zhang Yimou. [C-] october 16th 2006.
[Starts off promising and gets more and more schmaltzy as it progresses until it dissolves into this ridiculous thing that kinda stinks.]

Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Shinya Tsukamoto. [B] october 16th 2006.
[I saw this on the shittiest, most deteriorated VHS tape that ever was in my school's media library. People that have seen this: is this entire movie shot in that Wong Kar-Wai style speed-up effect thing where he shoots shit at like 16fps and then doubles frames occasionally? I straight up wasn't getting any, literally any, fluidly moving scenes in the entire film, and it was so distracting that I couldn't even really focus on it all that much. That said, what I did see was pretty great and I really dug it in spite of its presentation at the time.]

Haunted Spooks, Hal Roach. [D+] october 17th 2006.
[Harold Lloyd's a charming, funny dude, but hindsight's 20/20 and racism's just not that funny. There's some okay stuff at the beginning.]

The Sword of Doom, Kihachi Okamoto. [B+] october 18th 2006.
[Nothing happens in this movie. Like a lot of shit happens happens, but the dude starts evil and ends evil. That said, it was enjoyable to watch and the ending is pretty chilling. I guess it was meant to stay open for a sequel, but I thought the final freeze frame worked much in the same way as the final shot of The 400 Blows does, as a summation of the character's current "place" in life, and the chaos inside of him. I didn't think he'd survive it. I really like the ending of the essay in the criterion disc: "What, really, could surpass that freeze-frame of the swordsman caught in mid-rampage, bent on continuing to kill as if it were a way for him finally to extinguish himself?" I love that.]

War, Jake Mahaffy. [A-] october 19th 2006.
[Filmmaker was at this screening and was real cool. It's refreshing when someone can make something so comfortably inaccessible and still act like a human being. The crowd, par for the course with "art" screenings, was unbearable and the questions terrible. Dude shot this thing on a Bolex whose motor he disengaged, so he could hand-crank each shot, allowing him to have 10 minute takes rather than the 23 second takes the Bolex usually allows you with a fully wound motor. He shot it over 5 years in these farmlands in Pennsylvania and the whole thing is real eery. Basically these 4 characters wandering through the landscape and living their lives. expanded upon via voice-over, since the Bolex doesn't allow for synch sound. It feels post-apocalyptic, but may or may not literally be. It's chilling and beautiful and pretty fuckin great overall. It wiles me out to hear that this was originally envisioned as some sort of traditional epic Godfather style epic about this farm passing through generations of a family and over the years of conceptualization kept changing until it arrived at this. It took 5 years to make and I really look forward to seeing more of Mahaffy's stuff.

You can find out stuff about it here:]

Imelda, Ramona S. Diaz. [B] october 20th 2006.
[A real solid documentary that very effectively portrays an insane person in fairly humane ways. Obviously you can't get too down with her because she's Imelda Marcos and she's no good, but simultaneously you see that she's so far gone from any semblance of reality that it's like "what the fuck, how am I gonna blame an infant for knocking over an expensive piece of electronics?" Obviously in the case of the infant you blame yourself for placing it near those electronics. In the case of Imelda you can do no such thing because she was hot and charismatic and could formulate words, and was really only married to the guy that was doing a lot of the awful stuff, but still, what a loon. This was a screening, too. Editor was there. I gotta keep note of that information, too.]

Happy Together, Wong Kar-wai. [B+] october 23rd 2006.

Amadeus, Milos Forman. [B] october 28th 2006.
[I slept through more of this than I'd like, but what I saw was nice. It's a fun movie, but it's long and wasn't terribly interesting to me. Pleasant to watch.]

Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki. [B] october 30th 2006.
[I don't really like Miyazaki's style all that much. At least based on this and Spirited Away. Yeah, there's this sense of childlike wonder to them, but alongside that there's also that same level of incoherence that children's games have, where they just kind of make up rules as they go along. Watching his films, especially Spirited Away, feels like what I imagine watching a game of Calvinball would be like. Still, this came together for me way more than it did on initial viewing, enough that I think I can add this to the list of films I enjoyed.]

Rififi, Jules Dassin. [A] october 30th 2006.
[This is just a great film. I'm starting to get real tired. I missed a lot of these blurbs this month.]

Foolish Wives, Erich von Stroheim. [A-] october 31st 2006.
[Not an interesting story, really, but it goes so many places, aesthetically. I see so many already existing and yet to be made classic films in it that watching it is almost like finding the missing link in a lot of ways. In this sense more than any other, this film blew me away.]