Thursday, May 26, 2011

Random film catchup

I’ll abstain from writing about Meek’s Cutoff in honor of our friend Jason (though my next post on MC will be written in a secret code that can only be understood by those who have seen the film) and also so I can catch up on a few films I’ve watched recently.

Okay, I’ve changed my mind, I’ll say two things about Meek’s Cutoff (this is the VIP section of my post). Meek as a character has a poisonous quality to him, but I can see why you aren’t so quick to write him off, Ben. We would obviously want him to treat the Native with more compassion and kindness, but his perception of the Native is probably not just simple prejudice. Brandon and I discussed this briefly, but the Natives that Meek has encountered probably were violent and a bit ruthless. They had to be; they were being invaded by equally violent and ruthless settlers. Some Native tribes were mean fighters and I bet Meek has seen this first hand. This doesn’t justify his treatment of the Native they find but it might explain it. Meek is dishonest and arrogant, but he’s probably seen some real shit in his day.

Also, the only thing I did not like about the film was it’s brief There Will Be Blood flourishes. Brandon and I also talked about this, but the modicum of score that is used definitely sounds like Johnny Greenwood’s TWBB score. The film more than once seems to recreate the first shot of TWBB. Not that I can blame Reichardt, I’d feel inspired by Johnny Greenwood’s score too. But, I think the film could have done without it and been its own thing. That’s only a minor gripe though, I still thought the film was tremendous. It would have to take a lot to bump it from my 2011 list (that's right John, 2011).

John, that aspect ratio debacle is beyond me. Sorry about that dude.

All right, back to the regular post...

Jason, glad you loved Dr. Strangelove. It’s one of the greatest comedies ever made. It’s brilliant today, but considering it came out during the heart of the Cold War, it’s straight up genius. I love that Kubrick originally wanted to make a Cold War thriller about atomic war and then realized how absurd the situation was and made the blackest of black comedies out of it. He was such an incredible innovator. Oh, and Peter Sellers is pretty amazing too. Lisa, you should definitely see this.

Also, Lisa, I haven't seen Presumed Innocent, but I love All the President's Men too (I'm sure everyone knows that by now but I just had to say it again 'cause it's true).

Okay on to recent watches of films by some of my favorite directors:

Ace in the Hole (Wilder)

Billy Wilder is one of my favorite Hollywood directors. He excelled at digging deep into the heart of human darkness and exposing its vulnerability. He also made some flat-out entertaining movies. He had a wonderful career. Stalag 17 is probably my favorite film of his, though The Apartment and Double Indemnity come close. I’d been saving this one for a while now because I had heard how great it was. I’m glad I finally watched it because it sure is great. Kirk Douglas gives a pretty electric performance as Chuck Tatum. He’s really sleazy and desperate but also calculating. Very fine to behold. The film itself is pretty satiric and harsh, in a good way. It goes after the notion of public spectacle and the blurring line between entertainment and journalism. It’s a biting, incisive critique, one that still holds relevance today (maybe even more relevance today). It’s a pretty great noir because it digs down deep in the dirt of human filth and leaves you there just like the man trapped in the cave. The notoriously cynical Wilder knew how to make a damn fine film.

The Milky Way (Bunuel)

Every Bunuel film is an event for me. I purposefully tried not to see them all at once because I like having new ones to see and treat myself to from time to time. This is one I saved and couldn’t have been more delighted to see. Obviously, I’m an enormous fan of Bunuel. My friend Alex got to take a class on Bunuel and Cocteau and I’m extremely jealous of him for it. Bunuel was such a master; he’s one of my top five favorite directors for sure. This one is part of a loose trilogy with two of his other masterpieces–The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty. The Milky Way is like those other too in that it is completely absurd, wild, profound, derisive, and hilarious. It’s basically a panorama of the history of Catholicism (something Bunuel was all too familiar with growing up in Spain). It exposes all the Catholic lunacy and the lunacy of organized religion in general. I’m a staunch atheist so this appealed to me, but if there are any religious folk among us then this is probably not for you (unless you can take a good joke). Some highlights include: Jesus shaving and trying to catch his breath after a good run, the Pope being shot by a anarchist firing squad, a priest going insane while discussing the eucharest, and Marquis de Sade chastizing a young girl for believing in God. Wicked stuff. Bunuel was such a bold agitator and I love him for it. This is a brilliant and hilarious film from one of the world’s greatest film artists.

The Leopard (Visconti)

I had to re-watch this because the last time I saw it was on a VHS I taped off of TCM. Not the best quality to view this film on to say the least. Anyway, I’m really happy I re-watched it because it is one of the most beautiful and sumptuous films ever made. It’s absolutely a masterpiece and deserves its place as one of the finest films in world cinema. I probably can’t add any more to what has already been said about it so I’ll just say that it is simply stunning filmmaking and it features one of the hottest babes in cinema history–Claudia Cardinale (also a terrific Burt Lancaster and the great Alain Delon). I’m a huge fan of Visconti. I love La Terra Trema, Le Notti Bianche, and his other masterpiece Rocco and his Brothers (a film I highly recommend if anyone has not seen it). He often gets overshadowed by the other heavyweights in Italian cinema (Fellini, De Sica, Rosselini) but he is easily just as great and worth your time. Next up, I gotta watch his film Senso, which was just released on Criterion. I'm excited for it.

Once Upon a Time in America (Leone)

I was briefly telling John the other night that I was watching this. I’ve been saving it for a long, long time. I love the Leone westerns. If I didn’t include them among my favorite films then I was really not on the ball that day (sometimes I go back and look at the films I listed as favorites and want to hide my head in shame for forgetting so many obvious ones). Anyway, I’ve really wanted to watch this for so long but was constantly thwarted by its running time (it’s nearly 4 hours). I can sit through a long movie with no problem but finding the time to do it is another thing entirely. Since I’m done with school for now and have some free time, I thought I’d finally watch it. Damn, it’s an incredible movie. It’s extremely entertaining and absorbing. It’s filled with awesome gangster violence, some great performances, beautiful shots, and a lovely, haunting score by the great Ennio Morricone. I was thoroughly enjoying it and didn’t find its running time all that excessive (I’d even watch the 4 and 1/2 version if I could). I can dig a good epic like this when its filled with memorable scenes and actually has a great story to tell. Leone was pretty awesome. I’m really glad I finally watched this and can’t wait to see it again some day.

Next up: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le flambeur (Melville is awesome so I’m stoked for this) and possibly Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait (In honor of my dear friend Brandon).

Also, I realized yet again from working on my 2000s lists and watching some of these fine films how much I love and prefer watching older films compared to just about anything recent.

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