Friday, September 30, 2011


A very good year for film. I don't feel like writing very much right now, but if anyone wants to interact on any of this, I certainly will.

1. I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Leroy)
2. Horse Feathers (McLeod)
3. Vampyr (Dreyer)
4. Boudu Saved from Drowning (Renoir)
5. Scarface (Hawks, Rossen)
6. Trouble in Paradise (Lubitsch)
7. Freaks (Browning)
8. Love Me Tonight (Mamoulian)
9. Grand Hotel (Goulding)
10. Shanghai Express (von Sternberg)


1933 brings one of my favorite movies of all time in DUCK SOUP and one of the great comedies of all time. It's nuts, perfect, and as Woody affirms in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, worth living for! I'm really curious to see Brandon's list of this year, so I can found out what I've missed. I've started but haven't finished THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE. I'm sure it will get a place at some point. Here are some movies I like from the year:

1. Duck Soup (McCarey)
2. King Kong (Cooper, Schoedsack)
3. Footlight Parade (Bacon)
4. The Invisible Man (Whale)
5. Zero de conduite (Vigo)
6. 42nd Street (Bacon)
7. Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (Milestone)
8. Sons of the Desert (Seiter)
9. Dinner at Eight (Cukor)
10. The Private Life of Henry VIII (Korda)

HM: She Done Him Wrong (Sherman)

The original KING KONG is awesome and still the best version. One of the most impressive films of of the decade. Wish I had seen it on the big screen with you John. FOOTLIGHT PARADE is one of the finest examples of the back-stage musical. The last twenty minutes are pure spectacle. I won't deny that Berkeley was quite the showman. But most of the film is the entertaining set-up to the performance, and this is what really dazzles. Cagney owns every frame he's in, as always, and Joan Blondell is right up there with him. Wickedly clever script. I really loved the film, which took me by surprise. THE INVISIBLE MAN has some wonderful technological ingenuity–and a great vocal performance by Claude Rains. One of my favorite horror films of the decade. ZERO DE CONDUITE has some pretty neat tricks up its sleeve. It's actually a pretty great little absurdist comedy–the lighthearted version of IF... 42nd STREET is basically the same movie as FOOTLIGHT PARADE and about as enjoyable. But it doesn't have Cagney so it loses out in the rankings. HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM is a great Summer People song, and the film isn't too shabby either. It's actually pretty touching. SONS OF THE DESERT is actually my first Laurel and Hardy film. I thought it was a lot of fun. DINNER AT EIGHT I've already mentioned before. THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII is one of the more lavish productions at the time. Mostly noteworthy for an incredible performance by Charles Laughton. The man is the film.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I'd rather be right about DRIVE...

...than right about MIDNIGHT IN PARIS haha. DRIVE is an infinitely better film. I'm glad you mentioned the lack of motivation for Driver, John, because I was gonna talk about his motivation anyway. It gave me a nice segue to work with. So, thanks.

Lisa, if you're working on your Ph.D, I think you're excused from posting regularly. I can't imagine finding the time/motivation to post with that going on. SUPER 8 is certainly better blockbuster fare than one is accustomed to having. I liked it as well, but also with many reservations.

Ben, I like your list of things to see for the rest of the year and would like to see many of them too. I, like Brandon, am also interested in seeing WAR HORSE and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Also, I'd really like to see ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, THE KID WITH A BIKE, and TAKE SHELTER. Still stoked for MELANCHOLIA. The trailer for J. EDGAR looks generic, but I hope it's good despite this. Ditto for A DANGEROUS METHOD.

Oh, also John, I share your love for BREAKING BAD. It's awesome and uncompromising. Very insightful about Walt's fall. It does hurt to see him become so unlikeable because we cared for him once. He is in a very precarious position with the audience at the moment, which is fitting considering his similar position with everyone else in the show.

Interesting of you to mention the HBO Mildred Pierce because I just watched the Curtiz version. I thought the film was terrific, but even in that one the daughter is an insufferable little brat. One of the worst characters in all of film, but a testament to the film for making you hate her so much. Curtiz spins an effective, economical narrative that I appreciated.

I've got a '33 list done. I've seen many other older films recently. I'll try to post on all that soon.

The Good Shark

Spoilers are all over this post, so please don’t read if you haven’t seen the film and intend to.

John, I kind of set you up to be a bit negative by using the word masterpiece. Anyway, I’m glad you like it even if you don’t share my potentially excessive enthusiasm. I was thinking you would like it just because it works so well and does so much right. All of the creative choices involved are spot-on. From the look, the feel, the music, the acting, the violence, the silence–it was all redolent of wonderful creative insight and talented execution. To me, it is a masterpiece of sight, sound, heart, and thought. I walked out of the theater feeling a little dazed (but absolutely blissful) because I knew I had been hit over the head by one hell of a movie. I loved it from the first frame to the last. It just hit all the right notes with me and inspired me with so many great creative choices (the minimal dialogue, the impressionistic scene structure, the fluid camera work–all so well crafted).

I suppose most of that creative credit belongs to Refn. DRIVE was originally supposed to be a blockbuster for Hugh Jackman. Then Gosling came along and recruited Refn and the film became this wonderful and weird piece of inspiration and genre fetishism. Autuer is good word for Refn. BRONSON is another film that you sense without Refn could have gone in another (and weaker) direction entirely. But he elevated the material by putting is artistic stamp on it and made it unique and fascinating. If BRONSON was indicative of a serious filmmaking talent, then DRIVE only solidifies it in giant, bold, neon pink cursive lettering. Refn is one to watch for the future. Get to know the name. I can’t wait for his next film already.

Gosling also deserves serious credit. Not just for recruiting Refn, but also for his performance here. You’re right John, he does have a great face and knows how to use it. He usually keeps it tightly composed but every now and then he lets in some terrific smirk or savage intensity that just makes him effortlessly appealing and watchable. He communicates so much with his eyes that it’s fascinating to watch him and go through the processes with him (or try to at least). I also love the quiet moments in the film where he and Mulligan just stare at each other. They are sincerely endearing moments, but more importantly, they communicate everything we need to know about their relationship. Gosling and Mulligan have great chemistry and they ooze this sexual longing that is almost palpable between them. There is a great moment during Irene’s husband’s welcome home party when Gosling’s character walks out of his apartment and finds Irene sitting on the floor in the hallway. They stare at each other and you can see Irene’s chest heaving up and down from her breath while Gosling’s eyes flicker with delight. Right there, everything you need to know. Just terrific.

All man-crushes aside, I don’t care what anyone says; Gosling is a movie star and one of the best around. People have been throwing out Steve McQueen or a young De Niro, but I’ve been thinking he’s like a young Mickey Rourke. Just as cool and confident as you like and seriously bursting with talent. Gosling is pretty well-liked among film lovers (and has been for years), but there is still an overwhelming mainstream heartthrobiness attributed to him by women and a subsequent tough-guy disdain for him by men. I told a friend at school yesterday that I was going to see DRIVE and he said, “Oh the one with Ryan Gosling? The guy from the notebook? Are you crazy?” I told him that I thought Gosling was a great actor and asked him if he’d seen HALF NELSON, THE BELIEVER, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, or BLUE VALENTINE and he’d never heard of any of them. It reminded me of being in high school when I would tell people that Dicaprio was the shit and guys would be like, “ewww, the kid from TITANIC?” or girls, “Oooh, the kid from TITANC!” Now, lots of people respect Dicaprio as an actor, and I think that needs to happen for Gosling soon. He’s just too talented to be written off as a simple heartthrob (but, hell, what does mainstream culture know about talent?).

All the other actors are terrific and well cast. They do the most with the screen time they are given. I love Cranston’s character’s final scene with Albert Brook’s character. It’s strangely moving. Also, Albert Brooks is a fucking monster in this, and it’s awesome. I love his final scene with Gosling as well, as we cut between the restaurant and the showdown. Beautiful work.

And the retro hipster/electro soundtrack! Soooo awesome. It perfectly matches the film's images and makes them pop and sizzle.

Now I really want to get to this because the issue of motivation you brought up John is an interesting one. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS is another film I consider a masterpiece and it also features an nondescript man doing things for unknown reasons. But surely there are motivations for The Man With No Name beyond simply money or trying to do something good despite your violent nature. I always thought he was motivated more by the ability to perform and to perform very well more than anything else. When he arrives in San Miguel, he must have looked at that small town with its rival gangs and loads of money and thought, “Here’s my chance to be a fucking legend. Finally a stage for me to strut my stuff.”

And that brings me to our unnamed Driver in DRIVE. In the opening shot of the film (or one of the first few, I can’t remember already), Driver looks out over the L.A. skyline the way The Man with No Name must have looked at San Miguel. L.A. is a playground with all the kids looking at him or a stage with a big spotlight just waiting for him to come out and blow every one away with his talent. His ingeniously executed opening heist generates this sense of performance. It’s like Eastwood shooting down those four thugs and then demanding four coffins instead of three. It’s a showcase. A great performance. When Driver pulls into the Staples Center and walks off with his Clippers hat, he’s like an actor walking off stage with the audience left in stunned silence.

It’s no mistake that Driver works in the film industry as a stuntman. This is someone who has seen a lot of movies and has absorbed all that desire to perform like his heroes on screen. He probably saw A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and thought, “that’d be a cool persona to have.”

Now, when most of us watch movies and walk out wanting to be the characters, we never actually feel the need to act out those roles in real life. Maybe we imagine ourselves as a gangster or a detective, but we usually don’t decide to actually fuck someone up or solve a crime and rough up some dames. Unless we are psychotic. Like Driver. Then we might act out on our fantasies and desires. Like Dexter, Driver has got the violence inside him. But instead of having Harry Morgan there to channel that violence, he’s got action movies, Westerns, and superhero flicks. But he doesn’t just want to be an actor in a movie, living from one cut to the next. He wants it in real life and he wants it all the time because that’s how he feels real. The getaway driving is his way of living the performance he wants to give. Meeting Irene is his chance to love and protect someone like in all those movies he’s seen or fairy tales he’s heard of. Helping out Standard and then getting revenge is his chance to be Travis Bickle or a western anti-hero. He's more like Don Quixote than anything.

There’s a scene where Driver is attacked in a motel room, and just before one of the assailants
breaks though the window with a shotgun, Driver takes a pause and a deep breath. In that moment, it is as if he knows it’s his chance to shine and to perform just like he’s seen in all those action films. The elevator scene is a similar moment to shine and he takes full advantage of it with a kiss and a head stomping.

I could think of numerous other moments where I got the sense that Driver just wanted to live out his cinematic fantasies. Putting on the stuntman’s mask when going after Perlman’s character is another striking example of this.

So, I really do think the film plays with stereotypes and familiar tropes, but it rises above them by being, I guess, meta-conscious. We are living out Driver’s fantasy and it matches the film’s fantasy. The film itself loves all those movies and archetypes that Driver does and wants to perform them for us too. But like with Tarantino, the love seems genuine and uniquely its own, which elevates the material above simple homage or recreation.

I will finish by saying that the closing song with its expressionistic refrain telling of being a real human being and a real hero is used less to reinforce the change undergone by our protagonist throughout the film, but to reinforce to us how he sees himself. My argument is that Driver is an actor waiting for that spotlight to come down on him so he can come alive. He needs the damsel to save, the bad guys to fuck up, and the cars to drive in real life like an actor needs a stage or a camera. As the song rings out, Driver moves his hand from his bloody gut to the steering wheel, letting us know he needed both the sacrifice for Irene and a fast car just to be anything at all.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Brandon, I've seen BRONSON and even had it in my 2009 list if you can recall, though I don't think we talked about it much. I loved the film and would agree that Hardy's performance is one of the best and most dynamic in recent memory. Refn has serious talent, and from what I hear from DRIVE so far, incredible versatility. All the clips and trailers I've seen make the film look very odd and fascinating, and the word on the street is that it is something quite special. I'm excited to say the least. And I truly believe that Gosling is one of the best actors around, period. He's one of the few actors whose films I will see simply due to the fact that he's in them (yeah I'll probably even end up seeing CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE).

I haven't seen Refn's PUSHER trilogy, nor VALHALLA RISING. The latter is on NWI, and if I have the time, I'd like to watch it before I see DRIVE. Gosling has said that he chose Refn to direct DRIVE based on VR. Have you, Brandon, or anyone else seen it?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I'm dying to see DRIVE!!

I have seriously high hopes for this...should be incredible.

If it comes to Regal (I believe it will, but who knows?), those of us in the Binghamton area should see it on either the 20th or 22nd (my days at school). Ben, do you know if you'll be back by either of those days?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Nice suggestion, John. I've had my own goodreads account for a while now, but I haven't been that watchful of it as of late. I often forget to update it. I'll try to be better about it.

Here she be:

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Just thought I should post my top 10 list for 1935 since it is done.

1. The 39 Steps (Hitchcock)
2. Bride of Frankenstein (Whale)
3. A Night at the Opera (Wood)
4. Ruggles of Red Gap (McCarey)
5. The Informer (Ford)
6. David Copperfield (Cukor)
7. Top Hat (Sandrich)
8. Captain Blood (Curtiz)
9. Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd)
10. Anna Karenina (Brown)

The rest of the lists should be finished this month. I'm just waiting to watch a few more on TCM. I'm also working on 1941, 1945, 1948, and 1955. Those four could also be done soonish.

I don't like bright lights either

I think there are three ways you can take DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK as material for a film. One way would obviously be to make it deliberate and celebratory B-movie schlock. However, if you are determined to make it into a more serious (or less trashy) film, I think you have two options available for it to work. One way would be to make it into a kid's Halloween movie, a scary but ultimately harmless film, รก la GREMLINS. The other way would be to make it into a REPULSION-esque nightmare. Something with lots of scares, lots of blood, lots of death, and most importantly lots of blurring the line between fantasy/nightmare and reality.

The way Del Toro and Nixey have taken the film is somewhere in between the latter options, which is largely why it doesn't work or feels uneven. The film mostly feels like a Gothic/Halloween movie for kids (I know there's no Halloween involved, but it's color pallets strike this tone–it partly reminded me of the types of movies I would watch around Halloween as a kid). But it has a few scenes that make it too scary/disturbing for kids (the opening, the scene with the Caretaker, possibly the ending). So the film is balancing between two poles. It's too scary for kids and not scary for adults. I think the movie feels so disappointing because it was presented as a scary movie for adults. The film as it is should easily be PG-13 and with some edits it could even be PG (at least it could be in the 80s). I think this film would best work as a something geared towards kids. John, you mentioned GREMLINS as well, and I thought of that while watching the film. I think if the film had been presented and marketed as something akin to GREMLINS, I might not have been as disappointed.

Yes, there are things I like about the film. It seems old-fashioned, the sets are lovely, Madison is spunky, some of the scenes are quite entertaining as gothic set pieces, the creatures are kinda cool at times. But I suppose the problem is what we've already established–it's not scary at all, and as Jason humorously pointed out, it makes too many cliched lapses in judgment.

I'm shocked that the MPAA gave the film an R for pervasive scariness. Maybe it was bring your child to work day when the MPAA screened this because there is no way anyone over 13 would find this scary. Which is why it should have been a kids movie! Even if kids found it too scary now, they would remember it when they are older and look back upon it fondly and with nostalgia.


Jason, Chris, John- nice to read your thoughts. I guess we are all in a similar place with the film.

I used to be scared of everything as a kid. Now, like you John, I sense too much of the filmmakers in horror films and no longer find them scary.

Jason, have you seen TRICK R' TREAT? It's not a really scary film, but it's actually pretty fun.