Thursday, May 31, 2012


Thanks for responding, Brandon. I'm glad my post made sense. I think I was in a heat delirium when I wrote it.

I love Bachelard's THE POETICS OF SPACE. It's one of my favorite philosophical works. The idea of space and our relationship to it is is endlessly fascinating to me. It's also extra pertinent when it comes to movies. Filmmaking is, after all, essentially the art of manipulating space. The language and meaning of film is in the gaps between things, and yet the space of film is meaningless in-itself. It's only given meaning when our eyes meet it and imbue it with symbols. So, it's definitely interesting to think about how we view the space of film differently with a sense of foreknowledge than without it. I think I'm with you Brandon on desiring foreknowledge as opposed to being left in the dark. I think knowing more about film or a film can help you read the language of it better. And just think about how much foreknowledge actually goes into one viewing experience. Say when we all go see PROMETHEUS (even if we've read nothing of the plot), we are still thinking heavily about ALIEN, Ridley Scott as a director and his recent output, what we expect from the actors, what we expect from the sci-fi genre, what we expect from a good film script, how we expect space of the frame to be utilized, etc. Especially in the age of the Internet, a cinephile goes into a film with SO much foreknowledge. But this is a good thing. Hopefully it makes us smarter viewers. However, I do also miss the mystery of watching a film that came with the naivety of childhood. The lack of foreknowledge then made things more of a mystery and a bit more magical. But then again, everything in life was more like that as a kid.

Anyway, I agree with how well West manipulates space in THE INNKEEPERS. He certainly delivers the goods in that respect. I also think you're right about how his patience could be his downfall. Building so methodically and slowly only makes us anticipate the payoff that much more intensely. And payoffs are hard to get right, especially when you've drawn so much attention to them (just ask the creators of LOST). The payoff, the revelation, the grand finale, whatever you want to call it, is certainly where West could use the most work. The scene with the ghost in the bed is a great example. No reveal of her face could possibly be as good as the brief moment where it's only a sheet beside our heroine's head. And the finale itself is a bit underwhelming in terms of what we have been bracing ourselves so nervously for. But, I think he gets everything right in that basement scene with Claire and Luke. Perhaps because there's absolutely no reveal. The payoff itself is in the terror of waiting for a payoff. When the ghost is supposedly behind Luke, that's all we need. Him running away before we even see what's behind him holds that terror and mystery in perfect abeyance forever. No shock reveal needed.

I agree that Sara Paxton as Claire is great in that basement scene. And when I wrote that she has a goofy scream, I kinda meant it in a good way. When I first heard it, I thought "what the hell kind of scream is that" but then I realized that it was supposed to be goofy. It adds a great bit of levity to the scene, but it also serves to just make her more nuanced and human. I liked every gauche and dorky thing about her character. Paxton's performance isn't exactly at the level of greatness, but it's very good and very lovable, and that's all one really needs to make a character stand out. I had no idea who this girl was, and she'll probably do nothing else as interesting as this, but she's quite the star here.

I'll probably pass on THE WOMAN IN BLACK. I like a good ghost story, and that doesn't look like one. I remember when it came out, a friend of mine posted the trailer on Facebook and wrote "ewwww Daniel Radcliffe, you're not allowed to be in other movies." Radcliffe's not even remotely good as Harry Potter, but I think we can all agree that he should just stay as him for life.


Very relieved to hear that you love MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW, John, but not at all surprised. It's one of the greats, indeed. You're absolutely right that it's one of the best onscreen romances of all time too. The relationship between the two leads is as tender as anything put on film, and as close to real love as any two actors could ever communicate. It's a beautiful thing. Definitely one of my essentials.

Yes please to an ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD essentials post.

Season 2 of THE WIRE is great. I loved it as well. It heated up real quickly, and I probably watched the last 6 0r 7 episodes in an inordinately small window of time. I was so hooked I could finally 100% relate to Bubbles and that kid from KIDS. If any ambulance drivers have a copy of THE WIRE season 2, you know I'll be snatching it from the back of your rig. Anyway, I watched the first episode of season 3 last night. Every season of THE WIRE starts off a bit slow, if only because we need to re-orient ourselves to a new locale, a new time period, or a new investigation. Season 2 I thought was hard to get into at first because of the enormous changes that had been made from the end of the previous season. But once the detail started to come together again and the old gang was reunited, it felt like old times again. And that ruled. Anyway, I'm sure Season 3 will pick up and get great soon, just like the first 2. They should have just made Amy Ryan a member of Daniel's new unit though, am I right? She was an invaluable addition to the team. I agree that they could use more smiles in that unit.

I guess I need to watch DECISION AT SUNDOWN again. I would rank the Boetticher films I've seen thusly:

1. Seven Men From Now
2. The Tall T
3. Ride Lonesome
4. Comanche Station
5. Decision at Sundown

Though I really liked DECISION, I think I was a little put-off by it not being out in the open. If I watch a Boetticher western, I want to see some damn mountains and some impossibly beautiful landscapes. But, like I said, I should just watch it again. I was being unfair to it, especially after having just watched SEVEN MEN FROM NOW the night before.


Chris just drew my attention to the absurdity of FUNNY GAMES, which is exactly the word I was fumbling around with but never actually said when discussing it earlier. I think that's what drew me to it in the first place and the reason I still like it. It's so over-the-top in its self-awareness to the point of absurdity. I like absurdity.

Also, Chris is at least right that we do get some visceral pleasure out of seeing someone killed onscreen, even if they didn't deserve it. If I watch a HALLOWEEN film and Michael Myers doesn't kill anyone, I'm probably going to be disappointed. But, really our enjoyment of violence all depends on our emotional investment in the characters that receive the violence. If someone wicked who we hate is killed, we enjoy this death more than say the death of someone we love. Who wouldn't love to see Joffrey in GAME OF THRONES die? How wouldn't cry if Arya was killed instead? In a slasher film or in any type really, we usual can enjoy a kill if it is done on some nondescript person. Most of the kills in the original HALLOWEEN are done on these brainless teenagers and they're all pretty fun. Any gory GAME OF THRONES kill on some rando is pretty cool too. It's all about the circumstances of the violence. And the enjoyment/repulsion of violence is not just limited to the horror genre.

p.s. GAME OF THRONE's Battle of Blackwater episode is probably the best movie I've seen all year.


EDIT: Somehow, Jason's new post didn't show up on my side-feed there, but I randomly clicked on his blog and was surprised/terribly pleased to find a new one up.

I haven't seen most of what you reviewed recently, so I don't have a lot to comment on. I am glad that you saw the CAT PEOPLE series though. THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE is probably the weirdest sequel ever made. It's not even really a horror film, and it certainly has next to nothing to do with the first film. So, I'm not shocked that you were disappointed by it, especially with such a lurid title seemingly promising a continuation of the first film's mythos. Still, I absolutely love it. It's one beautiful childhood dream, and perhaps Lewton's defining film as an auteur.

Anyway, keep those Flixster rewiews a-comin'!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Innkeepers

It's too hot out to write, but I'm going for it anyway. Also, I should mention, this post will likely have spoilers, so if you want to see THE INNKEEPERS, stay clear until after the movie.

I'm fascinated by ghost stories. Though I've never had anything close to resembling a ghostly encounter, I love hearing about them from friends and am always eager to see a good ghost story unfold on film. I don't know exactly why I'm drawn to them, but I sense its just, like for most people, the excitement and fear over something fantastical burrowing its way into and upsetting humdrum reality. We're all looking for some form of fantasy or escapism to feed our imagination upon. I think the idea of ghosts provides that in very physical, immediate, and frightening way. The philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his book THE POETICS OF SPACE talks about how our thoughts about the space around us can, in fact, transform it for us. If you walk into a house and some one tells you its haunted, you are going to imagine the space of that house much differently then if no one had told you a thing about it. I think that's where the excitement in ghost stories comes from–its in the imagination and anticipation of something unreal making itself real before us.

Watching a good ghost story on film is just like being in a house you've been told is haunted. Your imagination comes in and helps tell the story for you. If you're watching a character sitting in a room, and you know the room is haunted, you've already transformed the space you are seeing onscreen in anticipation of something extraordinary happening. At this point, all you need is a good director to sort of gather these feelings and build upon them.

The best thing I can say about THE INNKEEPERS is that it nurtures imagination and anticipation to give strong moments of excitement and dread. Ti West is one of the most astute horror directors I've encountered in a while. With this film, he seems to really understand the importance of slowly applying tension as the best means to create suspense and terror. There are a few visceral moments toward the end of the film, but most of it is composed of quieter moments where a simple sound is all one needs to start sweating over. I think that's why this film works. It's an intimate, simple, unadorned, good old-fashioned haunted house thriller. It's formulaic, but it executes its formula with aplomb. It doesn't seem overly ambitious, just sort of smart and concise. It's refreshing to say the least. How many horror films does one see nowadays that are this devoted to methodically tightening that taut rope of dread? This is a surely a patient film, and it provides rewards freely. It's also in love with THE SHINING, and really, there's no better horror film to emulate. Dolly shots down long, tortuous hallways, and slow, methodical pans can create an uncanny and sinister sense of space–something the film knows well.

There are a few great moments in the film that completely had me sitting up in my chair and my nails between my teeth. The entire scene with Claire and Luke in the basement is gold. The moment Claire tells Luke that the ghost of Madeleine O'Malley is right behind him and you see the look on Luke's face–goddamn, I had an enormous cringing smile on my face. It's such a great instance of pure horror. Luke's reaction is essentially the one I would have as well.

Another great moment is the first sighting of Madeleine in Claire's bed, when all you see is just a sheet rising beside Claire. It's the sort of suspense-inducing effect that is used often, but to me it's a terrific reveal. It's much scarier than merely having something pop out at you. That moment of abeyance before the character realizes what we have just realized is priceless (Also, the moment after Claire sees the ghost and the alarm clock goes off, she gives out this dorky yelp that is also priceless).

And apart from the technical aspects of the film, I think what Brandon briefly wrote on Facebook about the character development is particularly salient. The relationship between Claire and Luke is fun, funny, and really whimsical. You almost just want to hang out with them at the Inn, have some beers with them, and fuck around with the ghosts. There's a human appeal to Claire and Luke that makes them more than just horror archetypes. As Tom Waits would say, they're just plain folks. And it's great to see. The lead girl, Sara Paxton, who plays Claire, in particular, is surprisingly really likable. She’s cute, spunky, and kind of goofy. There's a natural awkwardness to her that actually makes you care about her. She's got nuance.

Anyway, this is a strong horror film. It's not groundbreaking, but it is effective, efficient, and intelligent filmmaking. It's also got some real endearing character work. Brandon's right from his earlier review; it's something that I think even non-horror fans would be able to appreciate. Except for John. There's no chance he'll like it. But any gore-haters out there should be charmed.


Also, your '37 response was awesome, Brandon. A great read. I don't have a lot to write back because I agree with just about everything you wrote. Here's a few thoughts though:

I would certainly add THE GREAT ESCAPE to the shortlist of the best POW films. It's a great one. I think you're right about finding companionship amidst the terror/hopelessness of imprisonment being one of the POW genre's emotional hallmarks. It's through friendship that we always see the light out of the darkness. One of my favorite things about THE GREAT ESCAPE is the sense that even if Charles Bronson and James Coburn are the only two to actually escape, it was all still worth it. And it will be worth trying again. The camaraderie of that film and the others like it it teaches that success for even one would be a success for all. It's every man for each other.

"I love it when black and white films have a snowy rural chapter don’t you?" Totally. There's one in MR. AND MRS. SMITH and it's the best part of the film.

I really need to see EASY LIVING.

I don't have a great explanation for either THE AWFUL TRUTH or NOTHING SACRED. THE AWFUL TRUTH I just saw in between too many movies and have a hard time recalling why I liked it so much. As much as I love the remarriage genre, they have an unfortunate tendency to blend together. I need to see THE AWFUL TRUTH again to remind me why it stands out. And NOTHING SACRED is just all about my love for Carole Lombard. Simple as that. She's the best, and the film just charmed me. I don't really have an intellectual or auteurist defense for it, even though William Wellman is a really good director.

Also, you're definitely right about two-time Palme D'or winning Haneke (haha) and FUNNY GAMES. My interpretation solely works in some fantasy netherworld between me and the film and no where else. Even accepting everything awful about the intention of FUNNY GAMES, I kinda still like it a lot. I guess it just doesn't ruffle my feathers enough to make me not have a good time with it. Or perhaps there's an arrogant mean streak in me that the film nurses just right. I don't know. I did see it while attending Binghamton University–the most misanthropic period of my life. If you imagine the film chastising BU kids, it suddenly turns into the most feel-good film of all time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I hate to admit it, but I'm a bit on the fence over REPRISE (2006). There are parts of it that I admired and can get behind, but other parts of it that just annoyed the shit out of me. The last third of the film is quite good, and may be entirely responsible for making me lean more towards the side of liking it. But the first two-thirds are a stylistic mess fraught with jumbles of quirky narration, over-editing, and contrived dramatic moments. There is a good and earnest story here about friendship, artistic inspiration, and the confusion and camaraderie of youth, but it doesn't really get to play itself out until the later part of the film. Before this, everything feels constantly interrupted by excess. It's hard to connect to the characters and their emotions when there is just so much hyper-editing going on and constant narrative detours. Initially, I kept wanting to ask the director: why don't you let a scene actually play out instead of chopping it up so thoroughly? There are some tender and beautiful looking moments early on that I wish we would be given more time with and that the director would have developed more. I kept waiting for a nice strong, emotional scene to occur where we are submerged in the films conflicts and drama. But I kept feeling repelled by all the quirky style. It initially reminded me of BEGINNERS (which I fucking hated) because all its devices felt so contrived and kind of extraneous. Eventually, and thankfully, all the quirk started to tone down towards the end and we got some wonderful, human scenes that I was dying for (For the record, this is a MUCH better film than BEGINNERS).

But, still I find it hard to look past some of the earlier moments that rang completely false to me.
One of the only extended scenes in the early parts of the film is unfortunately the worst scene in the entire film. It's when Erik and Phillip are swimming with their friends and a woman from Erik's publisher comes and visits with them. The behavior of the friends and the woman's subsequent outrage are almost laughable in that they are just parodies of human interaction. The woman's disgust of the friends turns her into this stuffy, liberal stereotype and the mild banter between the friends is somehow taken as wildly adolescent and despicable. It doesn't work. It's just a completely heavy-handed way to make Erik question his allegiance to either his friends or the type of bourgeois stuffed-shirt the woman represents.

I also couldn't get past some of the contrived dramatic moments. Too often, Trier has his characters looking way too moody, as if they are trying much too hard to be serious and introspective. The scene with all the friends on the pier is one. Another is the morning after Phillip and his girlfriend have an uncomfortable night together. Phillip reaches for his girlfriend as she's getting dressed and she slowly pulls away from him. That's your textbook dramatic moment that only happens in a film, no where else. I wish my life where that self-consciously histrionic. Again, these moments are small, but they felt forced, and that is never a good sign.

However, with those moments aside, the film does start to really bloom towards the end. There's a great scene with all the friends going to a party where you felt the real connection of youth, friendship, and goodwill. There's another great scene between Erik and Phillip where Erik becomes honest about something new that Phillip has written. It's a strong dramatic moment between two close but emotionally precarious friends. The best thing about the end of the film is that scenes like this start to actually unfold they way they should. There is a natural progression to them that makes Trier finally seem confident in his writing.

Brandon wrote this about REPRISE the other day: "REPRISE was easily one of my favorite films from 2008 (2006 by John’s system) as it dealt honestly with a group of friends who love art and want to be a part of it until they die. I hadn’t seen many films reflect that immature and naïve outlook that so many writers, musicians, filmmakers, and artists have before being torn apart and thrown out. It also had that sense of communal survival, the way our interactions help cushion the blow of reality." I agree with him mostly about the content of the film and what it tries to communicate to us about youth and art. I just think Trier's style gets in the way of real connection to the scenes and characters for most of the story. He's talented, and the film looks beautiful, but I think as a dramatist, he needs a little work.

p.s. I'm definitely not trying to pick a fight over this film, just trying to be honest about my reaction to it. I was very disappointed to have not liked it more, as I went in with high hopes. I'm still excited to see OSLO. Maybe I'll have a stronger connection to that. Still, REPRISE is not a bad film, it just feels inconsistent.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

1937 Response

I don't really have anything great or insightful to respond with. Sorry. My brain feels fried today as well. Great list and thoughts, though, my dude. Always a pleasure to read.

The one-two punch for 1937 has to be GRAND ILLUSION and MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW. Regardless of one's preference between the two, they cannot NOT be at first and second on one's list. Anything less would be a disservice. Glad to see that we are in accord on the ordering of them though.

I find it hard to write about GRAND ILLUSION. Yet, I'm certain it's one of the greatest films ever made. It might be the greatest. Very few films can rival its emotional impact (the other indisputable masterpiece from this year being one of them), its sense of the soul laid bare–hungry, desperate, determined–under the threat of destruction, and its unquenchable thirst to celebrate life and community amidst the lacerations of war. It's a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful film. I'm not exactly sure why, but I seem to respond strongly to the immediacy of humanistic POW films like this, STALAG 17, and A MAN ESCAPED. The stakes are readily physical and apparent in these films. There is an explicitly clear demarcation between freedom and imprisonment, between self-preservation and death. It's just purely compelling conflict.
Anyway, if film teaches you a lesson about empathy, then GRAND ILLUSION is one of the greatest teachings on love and commonality in film history. It humbles you to the core and reminds you what it means to be human. Its the grandest of them all.

Speaking of empathy, good god, MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW is one of the most emotionally reflective and incredibly sad films ever made. Welles was right; it could make a stone weep. You'd have to try to feel anything other than complete empathy and emotional absorption for this film and its characters. I don't have much to really say about it other than that it's a completely essential film experience. It will humble you, move you, and reduce your cynicism and rigidity to tears and dust. It may be one of the most singular films in Hollywood history. A landmark.

PEPE LE MOKO is another gorgeous and harrowing example of poetic realism and why it was such an amazing genre in film history. I agree that it was probably best to have stayed in Algiers amongst its labyrinthine streets and with its many allies and protectors. Of course, love never ends well in poetic realism, and its heroes, like Pepe, must inevitably face their doom. Beautiful and heartbreaking finale. It WAS beauty that killed the beast. I need to watch this again sometime soon, and that reminds me, you have got to see LE JOUR SE LEVE at some point. You'll love it too.

Gregory La Cava is awesome. He was a studio outsider and comedy auteur who didn't get to make many films. But the two stand-out films he did make (MY MAN GODFREY and STAGE DOOR) are among the greatest comedies of all time. He loved improvising on set and finding the natural chemistry and comedic rhthym with the actors as the film unfolded. This sort of free-form creativity really makes STAGE DOOR such an alive and bustling picture. The insults and wise-cracks are unrivaled. But there is also real sense of friendship and connection forged over the course of the film that makes something even more than a very beautifully sounding comedy. It's clever and razor sharp, but also genuinely poignant and naturally comforting. I bet this one does hit close to home for ya. It's a great one.

THE AWFUL TRUTH is a terrific screwball comedy. The "remarriage" genre is full of gems like this one. I don't have really anything more to add than what you said. I think recognizing that what you've been missing has been right under your nose the whole time is a theme for anyone to relate to. I really want to watch this one again soon. Grant and Dunne make a great team.

You're very right, DEAD END very adamantly attacks the gangster-fetish notion that you don't share your community but that you must conquer it. Mcrea's character may not be the "success" that he wants to be or the big shot that Bogart's character is, but he proves himself to be the real hero of the neighborhood by bringing down the spiteful glam of Bogie's gangster idolatry. Very similar to ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, indeed.

You're also very right about YOUNG AND INNOCENT. Nothing completely fresh about it, but just great entertainment made by a masterful filmmaker. I watched this one a few months ago. It felt really good to see a new Hitchcock film from the 30s that I hadn't seen before. Hence how high it is on my list. It just felt really good to experience, like visiting an old friend. I loved it.

I don't know what else to say about SNOW WHITE either. It speaks for itself. Pure movie magic. I'm, of course, speaking of the porn version.

I haven't seen Ford's THE HURRICANE, though I easily could since it's on NWI. Maybe I'll do that soon. I'm sure it's great.

I'm quite jealous that you've seen YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. I've been trying to see that since I started my list, but to no avail (not on Netflix, hasn't been on TCM, not on youtube, etc.). How did you see it?

I'm planning on seeing TOPPER on TCM at the end of the month and STELLA DALLAS is on in June. Those might alter my list, but for now, here's the most recent update for 1937:

1. Grand Illusion (Renoir)
2. Make Way for Tomorrow (McCarey)
3. Stage Door (La Cava)
4. Young and Innocent (Hitchcock)
5. Pépé le Moko (Duvivier)
6. Way Out West (Horne)
7. Nothing Sacred (Wellman)
8. Dead End (Wyler)
9. The Awful Truth (McCarey)
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (lots of people)

HM: The Prisoner of Zenda (Cromwell), Shall We Dance (Sandrich), The Life of Emile Zola (Dieterle), A Day at the Races (Wood), Captains Courageous (Fleming), A Star is Born (Wellman)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What's so Funny?

So, Chris watched FUNNY GAMES for the first time yesterday. I watched most of it with him. It's only the second time I've seen it and the first in several years. I completely get Brandon and Ed Gonzalez's dismissals of its haughty attitude and holier-than-thou finger wagging. The more you know about Haneke, the more the film takes on this frustrating air of superior detachment.

Yet, why did I still find it to be so much fun?

I think I was right when I earlier described how the film escaped Haneke's clutches. I am now certain that the film isn't the preachy message on violence that he intended, but the most deadpan joke ever made on the representation of violence in a film and our relationship to it. It comes across much more as an Odd Future type "I'm going to see how much I can offend you to the point that you crack a smile and give up your self-seriousness" than the Euro-art-house intellectual chastising us for being so insensitive and inhuman. For that, the film is genius. It's so much better than Haneke ever intended it to be. I suspect he'd be pissed off at my reading of it, but that's what happens when you make art: it takes on a life of its own. FUNNY GAMES lives and breathes to stifle you at every corner, but not in a snobby way. It just wants to upset you. It introduces red herrings only to take them away from you, it mocks you for sympathizing with the victims, it stares at you and wants to include you in its cruelty, but at the same time pushes you away and silently mocks you for even thinking there's anything cruel about it.

FUNNY GAMES is all one, big joke and here's the set-up: have two killers who are constantly telling you what they are doing is fake and rigged and their victims who are constantly trying to reinforce to you that what is happening to them is not fake and they are being completely tortured. This is incredibly provocative because its telling you not to care about what you are seeing and then doing everything it can to make you care. The killers might as well be saying "what are you getting upset about? You see this actress here. She's not really in pain. These are fake tears." But this only makes the actress seem MORE in pain and more tortured because she never flinches. It's a really brutal joke, but it's an ingenious one. It forces you to think about your relationship to the film, to representation itself, to your feelings, to your ideas, morals, beliefs, etc. Ultimately, I think it just wants to knock all of this down and get you to smile because you no longer care. It's not nihilistic; it's anti-serious. By the end of the film, it just wants to give you a moment of complete self-loss and abandonment. By the time Paul casually dumps the mother overboard you should no longer care because you know its fake and meaningless. If you still do care, the final shot of Paul staring you down is the ultimate "why the fuck are you still mad?" moment.

The problem with Haneke is that he was being entirely serious with his intention for the film.
But, it's actually so much funnier and trashier than he could have anticipated. So, I have to disagree with Ed Gonzalez when he says that the Haneke's finger never points back at himself . I think those two killers are in such complete command of the film that they killed Haneke right out of it. This movie is so much more punk than Haneke ever realized. And its the more awesome for it. He completely lost control of this picture. In the end it isn't his voice that rings out, its Paul's.

Anyway, that's my final say on the film for now. I completely accept Brandon and Ed Gonzalez's take on the film because it's hard to overlook Haneke. But this demon baby is so much bigger and better than him.


In other news, I think what John said about formula is what I wanted to say but for some reason couldn't reach. Some formula is better than others and some of it just appeals more to me. I don't like the formula for HOSTEL, but I do like the Brechtian formula for FUNNY GAMES. Just personal preference.

I'll watch DAMSELS at some point. I'm just not going to pay to see it. The same thing has dawned on me with THE AVENGERS. My cheapness trumps my curiosity.

THE WIRE is partly a police procedural, and a damn good one at that. But, like Brandon mentioned, it is also partly a drug procedural, and a damn good one at that. I have nothing else to add. haha.

I guess I don't care enough about FOLLOWING to even really get into it with you, John. I think you make a great point about it not really having the soul of noir but just its surface formula. Absolutely. It's very neo-noir, not so much noir. I only brought up the film's adherence to noir formula to challenge your idea that the film is purely Chris Nolan's attempt to be superhumanly clever and original. Saying the film is "all manipulating formula without the heart of the formula" is a much better criticism than saying it's just Nolan up to his usual "clever" tricks again.

It seems that Ben and Chris and I are all in agreement on SHAME. I can't imagine anyone in our group really getting behind it. It sucks.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Everything invariably leads back to it...

Even if I keep digging myself into holes, I'm absolutely relishing this back-and-forth because its taking place entirely on the blogs. It's GREAT to get some discussion going back on here.

I knew you or someone would come back at me exposing all the formulaic films I love or choose to overlook. It was bound to happen. Admittedly, I'll probably never be consistent when it comes to formula. It doesn't bother me in certain cases depending on how well executed the film is. DRIVE is a great example, for sure, of a film that I love regardless of its formulaic plot structure. Like you said, I love it because of its unique execution not its cliches. HOSTEL PART 1 and 2 are two films that I couldn't see past the formula with. They didn't do anything for me as films, so all I could see was that big, fat cliched structure staring me in the face. SHAME did the same thing for me. It was formulaic and empty and I didn't like it at all. And I'm not just trying to single out the horror genre for formula I can't get behind. There's formula in THE OTHERS, THE STRANGERS, 28 DAYS LATER, CABIN FEVER, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS etc. and I like all of them. Again the formula only stands out as something egregious to me when I think that the film is genuinely bad. You're right, there's formula in just about everything and there has been for thousands of years. I don't hate formula; I just hate it when it's the only thing there to grab a hold of. Does that make sense? I'll easily forgive formula when there's other stuff to dig.

The dead horse is back! It was only a matter of time.

Alas, FUNNY GAMES, you and I will probably never see eye to eye on because I've completely rejected Haneke's intentions with the film. Everything you said about the film, in terms of how Haneke wanted it presented, is 100% spot on. However, I don't care about how he wanted it presented and what he wanted to say about violence in the media with it. I saw it without knowing about any of this, so I choose to interpret it in my own way.

So, to be clear, I don't think FUNNY GAMES mocks horror film lovers (I'm sure Haneke intended as much, but fuck him); as it stands, I think it can reward horror film lovers. I think it mocks people who can't handle horror films, who can't separate themselves emotionally from what they are seeing, and who find themselves needing comfort from a film. For anyone who is like this, I'm sure FUNNY GAMES is hell. But, if you understand that what you are seeing is just a movie and that it's all a silly, meaningless gag, then it can be quite fun. I wanted to laugh throughout FUNNY GAMES. Not because it's cruel and sadistic but because its fucking fake and it knows it. How many meta jokes are in there? How many times does it reference itself or know its being watched by an audience? It's the Brechtian alienation effect at work. It's constantly trying to alienate you from itself. Maybe you don't care about this, maybe no one in film club does. I liked it and thought it was clever. To me it wasn't trying to be anything more than that, and I liked it for it. Again, fuck Haneke's intention with it. I like the way the film comes across without it.

It's hard for me to explain why I like FUNNY GAMES without sounding like a complete asshole; I'm aware of this. But, it's really all about the experience I had seeing it for the first time. I saw it with the type of people I thought the film was mocking. They hated the film and were especially pissed at the rewind scene and the ending. This only made me appreciate it more. I'm sorry if this makes me seem callous or supercilious, maybe I am. I had a blast not taking it seriously.

You're right. Most slasher films do end that way. I think I meant that the ending of FUNNY GAMES is different than something like HOSTEL. There is no vengeful third act. I Didn't make that clear.

I don't blame you for wanting to attack FUNNY GAMES and defend HOSTEL. Amongst an arthouse crowd, the former is much more acceptable than the latter. Personally, I can only say that I prefer FUNNY GAMES because its clever, fun, and mean whereas HOSTEL is just gross. There may not be much difference between them other than my own varying levels of enjoyment. If there were fourth wall breaks in HOSTEL, I might have loved it. I'm easily amused.

Shame Spiral

Much like its central character, Steve McQueen's SHAME is caught in a vicious rut. It cannot escape its utter banality and overall lack of narrative direction. Talk about tired formula: the film feels content to replay the same dramatic moments over and over, but all under the guise of unveiling some painfully hidden reality. While it certainly sheds light on the perils and embarrassment of sexual addiction, the film cannot solely run on these repeated moments of revelation. Eventually, it has to, you know, do something. But, surprisingly, it never really does, and after a while, it starts to feel less like a film and more like the reinforcement of a single issue: Brandon cannot stop seeking the pleasure of ejaculation and cannot have real intimacy with anyone only impersonal, meaningless sexual experience. Important character trait enough, but quickly one realizes that this is the only thing the film has to say for itself. And it says it over and over and over and over...

Truthfully, I have big issues with this type of sheer expose cinema. It's perfectly fine to unearth harsh realism but only if you have somewhere interesting to go with your story. If not, you are just trying to score points off of simple verisimilitude. Can you imagine if this film were about a heroin addict? It would just be our main character trying to live his normal life while also shooting up every chance he can get–and that'd be the entirety of it. Okay, I'm sure this would be painfully realistic, but would it go anywhere? No way. It would just be stuck trying to expose the same issue and theme of addiction, ad nauseam. This sort of instant realism is way too easy, in my opinion. It takes no risks, but just settles in on its own smugness. SHAME is like that–settled and stuck.

Unfortunately, the only time the film tries to move away from reinforcing the same issue, it completely fails. The emotional climax of the film involves a character's attempted suicide–a dramatic twist that feels forced rather than earned. It's a tired way of adding misery onto the already overburdened shoulders of Brandon. It's a climax so emotionally manipulative and obvious you'd think a computer had randomly generated it from a book of screenplays. At best, it did absolutely nothing for me.

Though the film is rather lifeless, I take nothing away from Michael Fassbender, who is terrific as Brandon. He's a wonderful actor with a great face that knows how to express itself perfectly to reflect his character's inward turmoil battling its outward rigidity. I'm a big fan of his work, and had another actor less interesting to watch been cast instead, I wouldn't have been able to sit through the film. He is its one redeeming quality.

Ultimately, for a film with so much sex, SHAME is surprisingly dull. It teeters around on a pivot, but it stays in one place. Perhaps the point of it all is that Brandon is stuck in an unending spiral from which he cannot escape, and the film is merely reflecting that. I understand that, but it doesn't necessarily make a good, enlightening, or even interesting film–it just makes a point.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Roth of the Titans

I probably could have made my formula comments less snotty, but they weren't directed at you–just at the films themselves. They kicked the snot right out of me. I tend to find that repeated formula annoying. It's just too easy, and its designed solely to please audiences–that's it. FUNNY GAMES plays around with formula, but I thought it ultimately mocked the natural progression of most horror films. I really hope the 2007 version is the exact same as the 1997 version or else this will not make sense, but I thought the scene where the mother breaks free and uses the shotgun to kill one of the tormentors only to have the film be rewound and played over without her escape was trying to have fun with the formula audiences have come to expect. She is supposed to escape and kill the bad guys, right? Well the film rejects that outright, in a fairly hilarious way, in my opinion. I really liked that part in the film, and it may even have single-handedly won me over. I'd never seen that in a horror movie before. It's a truly funny and unique gag. I would say the same thing about the whole film itself. It doesn't end with a victim escaping to stop the killers, but with the killers wiping all their victims out and moving onto their next prey. It's all one wicked gag on the audience, which to me is rare to see. But maybe I haven't seen enough to know better.

As I wrote on facebook, I like Eli Roth. I don't think he's a hack or talentless. I'm a fan of CABIN FEVER and I thought the THANKSGIVING trailer for GRINDHOUSE was hilarious. I think he's got good horror films in him, and I'm excited to see what he makes in the future. HOSTEL, when I saw it the first time, was at least effective in unsettling me, and for all the reasons you gave. The truly sinister implications of this organization paying to torture young people succeeded in making me feel like shit for at least a day after seeing it. I don't completely write it off, even if I ultimately dislike its motives and a lot of its execution (no pun intended). The second HOSTEL I have to completely write off, just for being an insipid carbon copy disguised as something shocking. I fucking hate that idea of trying to one-up one another in the gore and depravity department. It just seems an empty and pointless pursuit to me.

Sorry, my TRANSFORMERS analogy didn't work out as well as I wanted. The first TRANSFORMERS is a piece of shit, as is the second, and I'm sure the third. The first HOSTEL isn't exactly a piece of shit. There's enough there to wrangle itself free of the gutter. The second HOSTEL, I will maintain, is a piece of shit and a complete waste of time, even if there is craft involved. I can't get behind it one ounce.

I understand you're not really defending these films, but you do a nice job explaining them and making me think differently about them. Admittedly, they will never be my thing. At least, I can look at them from another angle.

p.s. I will never ever see THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2. I don't care how much you dare me haha.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Other stuff I've seen lately

Brandon, I think that your lists are far superior, but thanks. I still feel like I'm playing catch up, and probably will for a long time. I've watched a TON of movies in the past year for sure, and I'm grateful for being in this club as inspiration to get back into watching so many movies like I did back in high school. It's been awesome.

I've watched two Veronica Lake/Alan Ladd movies recently: THE GLASS KEY (1942) and THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946). They are both decent examples of solid b-noir from the era. They also could have used more Veronica Lake, as anytime she was off the screen my attention wandered. I'm officially obsessed with her. And my love for I MARRIED A WITCH was finally vindicated by Brandon's old bandmate Jade. She's the only person I've ever met who has seen it and loves it like me. It's a real gem, I tells ya. And Veronica Lake is just the greatest in it.

Ernst Lubitsch's THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING (1941) is mostly maligned by critics, but I actually think it's a bit underrated. It's not as funny or ineffably charming as some of his other masterpieces from the time period, but is very emotionally involving. If you've ever felt a relationship slipping away from you, you'll know what I mean. Difficult to take at times.

Fritz Lang's MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944) is awesome, as expected. Based on a Graham Greene story, it's another great and exciting Nazi thriller from Lang, with some serious Hitchcockian undertones. It also boats one of the best and creepiest seance scenes in any old movie.

Minnelli's THE BAND WAGON (1953) is really quite fun. He was a great filmmaker, able to add class and composure to any picture. I can enjoy just about any Fred Astaire movie too, though it would have been a treat to have Ginger Rogers in it as well. Still, an easy musical to watch and enjoy.

Brandon, what say you of David Lean's SUMMERTIME (1955)? I just watched it for the first time and thought it was mostly beautiful. Obviously, it's visually stunning, as Venice is treated with a tourist's' romanticism and reverence. But it also had some very tender moments that rang true to me. There are a few times where Katherine Hepburn is left all alone while fellow travelers go off to enjoy themselves, and you just see this incredible loneliness creep into her face. Those are probably the film's finest expressions–not of romance, but sorrow and heartache.
Ultimately, it doesn't crack it's way into my list, but I think it is a good film that is worth seeing. I've been a fan of every Lean movie I've seen thus far.

Renoir's A DAY IN THE COUNTRY (1936) is as light and beautiful as its name implies. It's only about 40 minutes long, but it's one of the most absorbing pictures I've seen in a while. The type of film you could just crawl into. Perfect double feature with SUMMERTIME for a lazy, serene day.

I'm watching LIBELED LADY tomorrow. Halfway through THE LUSTY MEN and loving it so far. Bob Mitchum and Nicholas Ray are just what I need.

I'll probably post my 1949 list before I post my 2002 list. I'd like to do something for '49 like I did with '48, but that probably won't happen. It's a whole lotta work for nothing. I don't even know how to write about 2002 either. I can't remember half the movies on my list. That won't be pretty.

Eyeball drilling vs. genital cutting

I'll get into the HOSTEL series with ya! We are due for a good argument. Love you buddy.

Do I really need to explain the formula for HOSTEL? Start movie. Young people go to a place they think is normal. The place turns out to be not so normal. The young people are murdered by bad people one by one. One of the young people survives long enough to get revenge on the bad people and escape. End of movie. I criticized THE CABIN IN THE WOODS for having this same exact structure (which, in reality, is the structure of just about every modern horror film) despite it being so unique in every other way. The first HOSTEL follows this standard formula, but we can at least give it a few points for, as you said, depicting rampant torture unlike any other mainstream horror film at the time. The problem, however, with the first HOSTEL is that by following such a standard regurgitated formula, torture becomes its only selling-point. There is really nothing that sets HOSTEL apart from a your routine horror/thriller other than its elaborate torture scenes. It lives solely on them.

Okay, so putting aside the first HOSTEL for a second, you can get away with this gimmick once, but as soon as you make the SAME EXACT film all over again with the only changes being how disgusting the torture scenes are, you have officially run out of anything interesting to say or do. You've got nothing. You're selling us the same product but in an uglier wrapper.

I was actually starting to get mad watching HOSTEL PART II. The first HOSTEL just grossed me out, but watching PART II, I started to realize how fucking hacky the whole idea of it was. There is literally nothing to it other than trying to make you puke. It's bereft of anything else. Self-awareness can not even save it from being bankrupt in the idea department. It's like TRANSFORMERS 2. Your piece of shit first movie did well, so you decided to make the same piece of shit movie all over again but with slight modifications. I have no problem with the idea of torture in film. It's not even the issue. I do have a problem with people, who have been given a gift to even be allowed anywhere near a feature film, utterly phoning it in and passing off their mediocrity for shock value.

The first HOSTEL–not my thing, but I can understand its appeal to horror fans (you did a nice job defending it, Brandon).
HOSTEL PART II–complete garbage!

If my tone sounds harsh, it's only because this movie pisses me off! haha. I guess I should just stick to old movies.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

30s thoughts

So, looking over my lists from 1930-1935, I've realized that those years are really great and I love them just as dearly as any other. I think I had thought that they were a bit weaker, but that was back when I had only seen 10 from each year. Now that I've seen almost 16 or more for those years, I see that they deserve to be considered great as well. This is probably all meaningless to anyone but myself, but I wanted to admit that I was wrong. 1930 through 1959 are incredible; it doesn't just start at '36. I'm sure some of the later years of the 20s are incredible as well. Hence the golden age designation.

In other 30s news, I've seen HOLIDAY, and I loved it. It reminded me a bit of MY MAN GODFREY (one of my favorites). It definitely feels like one of the great rom-com/screwball comedies from the era. It's delightful, funny, and boasts a strong message about individuality and the pursuit of well-being over the pursuit of wealth. I think we'd all much rather be at Katherine Hepburn's party upstairs where people are free to be themselves and have their own dreams then the one with all the stuffed-shirts down in the ballroom.

I've got LIBELED LADY coming in the mail tomorrow, and I'm excited about it. I can get down with Powell and Loy any day.

Also, not exactly 30s talk, but close. THE SAINT TAKES OVER (1940) was one of the more enjoyable films I've seen at BCF in a while (excluding SEVEN SAMURAI, of course). It's kind of a THIN MAN rip-off in a way, but I don't care; I like old comedy-mystery films. It's nice to see the debonair George Sanders in a role that isn't a villain or just a bit-part. He brings charm and coolness to the picture. Honestly, how did the author of the novel ever question if George Sanders had the insouciance to play the Saint? The man radiates nothing but insouciance in every role he plays. Is that not his trademark?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cult Following

I don't have a lot to say about Chris Nolan's FOLLOWING, so I'll make it brief. I hadn't seen it in a long time, so it was good to watch it again. I can't even remember how I reacted the first time I saw it. It might have been 10 years ago. Yikes.

I understand the "clever" dig at Nolan. I actually don't even know how to respond to it. Part of me thinks it's extremely perceptive and an apt criticism while another part of me thinks it sounds nitpicky. I guess I'd have to think about it more. He definitely does try to do "clever" in a way that will impress his audience and leave them feeling like they've seen some ingenious spectacle (THE PRESTIGE being a very explicit example of this). I'm not sure how egregious this is. I guess it depends on how impressive the spectacle is. When you work with sleight-of-hand, the more disguised the trick, the more impressive it is. MEMENTO to me is a good trick for remaining so mysterious; INCEPTION, on the other hand, (though impressive at times) gives itself up to0 easily.

Anyway, enough about later Nolan, let's talk FOLLOWING. This baby came out in 1998, and watching it again, I definitely get the sense that it was a good first film to make because it's the sort of thing that gets you noticed. I'm assuming a lot of the conspicuous "cleverness" you found in FOLLOWING is mostly in the form of its nonlinear structure. Post-PULP FICTION, wasn't this all the craze for indie filmmakers in the 90s? I'm sure Nolan toyed around with the structure because really it's the best way to add a more attention-grabbing dimension to what is just a straightforward neo-noir story. To us, now, this non-linear structure seems like serious old news, but back then it was probably the only way to get anyone talking. Not necessarily defending its use, just trying to reflect on why it's there.

My primary interest in FOLLOWING isn't its structure, but in it's mix of 80s Brian De Palma neo-noir and actual 40s noir. It's loaded with old noir tropes and classic genre set-ups. I suspect that its non-structural cleverness (in terms of its final "gotcha" twist) is just a product of its noir adherence. Film noir and neo-noir is brimming with double crosses, backstabbings, and the sort of twists and turns that FOLLOWING revels in. To say that Nolan is trying to be uniquely clever with his twists would be to overlook the fact that he is working very closely within a genre here and exploiting its patterns. This is more quintessential noir than it is quintessential Nolan.

Anyway, I like FOLLOWING well enough, though I'm not a huge fan. It's serviceable and efficient, but it doesn't quite carry the knock-out punch it might think it does. It's ultimately more neat than astonishing. It's a nice warm-up card trick before a big show.


Good to have you back Brandon! Glad Cleveland was a success. We missed you Saturday night for Alex's birthday, but I'm sure you were getting wild in your own right.

I love talking about old movies you with. It helps me to think about them in a way I likely never would have. Let's keep it up as long as we can even if it's just us.

I love movies too much to ever stop blogging now. And I'm grateful to have met friends who love them just as much as me. I'll vow to keep it going as long as I possibly can.

I don't mind HOSTEL PART II's filthiness. It had better be immoral and depraved with such a premise. However, I do mind its overall airheadedness. It just felt wickedly idiotic independent of all its trashiness, and I didn't even watch the whole thing. It completely drowns in its formula instead of even remotely transcending it–something that comes across even more conspicuously than in its predecessor. Unlike the HOSTEL films, I'd say that CABIN FEVER dabbles with formula, but it ultimately feels refreshing–like a nice, cool glass of lemonade :). I don't doubt that Roth has talent as a horror director, I just wish he would use it more.

I understand your iffiness on Faulkner. I know more people who hate him than even tolerate him. To me, as someone who is interested in writing, he's a genius. He's the best wordsmith in the English language since Shakespeare, and the greatest sentence writer in the history of the written word. Again, that's just me, so no one get too upset. And, apart from his technique which is astonishing, the dude could traverse the human soul like no other. His poetry rattles me to the core. I haven't met too many Faulkner fans (certainly haven't met someone who loves him like I do), and I'm glad of it. Most of them are probably pricks. I too lament the shallow assembly line tastes for art in college kids. I think that's why I hated college so much. You either have kids who just came off the TOSH.O assembly line or kids that just came of the Michel Foucault one. NOTHING IN BETWEEN!

I don't think I've had a dream like ANDREI RUBLEV either. But I've had some weird ones like MIRROR. I think that is the more apt "dream" movie. haha I think I mostly have actual BOY MEETS WORLD dreams. Just me and Shawn hanging out at Chubbies.

The pre-'36 years are great too. I don't want to give the impression that they are somehow wildly inferior. I just really, really love from 36' onward.

"I think I prefer my realism to be diluted with a little dash of sensationalism." Me too!

"I think I can safely say, without any hyperbole, that GAME OF THRONES is the greatest thing in the history of time" - John Owen's impression of what I said about GOT.

What I actually said was that it is my FAVORITE thing on TV at the moment. Doesn't mean it's the greatest or better than anything else. I just would rather watch it than anything else, except maybe DOUG.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Brandon's leaving for the weekend, so things are going to be even slower than they have been around here, I suppose. Are the blogs on the way out my friends? I hope not. They are better record keepers for our ideas and conversations than Facebook. Perhaps we just need some new movies to come out so we actually have something to talk about. Old movie talk can only go so far as high-fiving or minor quibbling, and the compulsory viewing picks seem to be losing steam with every new film that is chosen. Are we due for a huge, fractious AVENGERS debate? Maybe. I was interested in seeing it until it came out. Once it dawns on me that I actually have to pay for something, I start to lose all passion for it. That movie doesn't need any more money anyway. But if everyone else around here goes and sees it then I probably will. Capitalistic peer pressure.

I'll probably never see DAMSELS IN DISTRESS. Sorry. The "Johntrarian" in me wants to rebel against all the hype. :)

I wish I had something interesting to add to your horror theory, Jason, but I don't. I like a good horror movie, slasher or any other type. Horror intrigues me. It gets my blood pumping, and I like the anticipation it builds. I was watching THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME from 1932 last night, and for some reason was cutting back-and-forth to HOSTEL PART II because it was on IFC and I never saw it. They both have similar premises, but I obviously preferred the older film. THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME at least has Joel McCrea, while HOSTEL PART II is just fucking stupid. It can't escape its own boneheaded adherence to formula. Even when it's trying to be shocking, it's tired at best. This has nothing to do with the horror theory talk; it was just on my mind. haha.

I never got a chance to get back to you, Brandon, about some of the 1962 things you wrote. Here's some belated responses and a great Faulkner anecdote I have that everyone should read even if they don't care about the rest of this 60s talk:

I absolutely do remember Jesse calling Faulkner the "c" word. haha. In fact, by most accounts, he often was. The best Faulkner story I ever heard was relayed to me by a professor who taught a class on the man. I'll try my best to do it justice:

One night at the Faulkner residence, Faulkner's daughter has some girlfriends over late. His daughter and her friends are chatting in the living room area near the kitchen when Faulkner comes down from the upstairs, completely drunk and completely butt-naked. So, Faulkner starts rummaging in the kitchen, in full view of the girls, until his daughter approaches him to express her embarrassment and ask him to leave. And Faulkner, drunk and naked, looks right at her and says, "No one remembers Shakespeare's daughter."

I think you are right in adding a moral substance to Kubrick's LOLITA. It does do a great job of putting you in the position of Humbert's desires (the book does this even better, which makes it an uncomfortable read). But, it by no means valorizes or champions Humbert's perversions and manipulations. Lolita is degraded by him, but he also degrades himself in the process and is left a broken and despicable wretch. I don't think anyone could come away from LOLITA and think it would be great to have a nymphet obsession (well, I guess except for the people who already have them). It's a repulsive and ill-fated obsession from the beginning.

I was paraphrasing what Bergman said about Tarkovsky, which is maybe why it isn't as clear. It is a nice-sounding sentiment, but what I think he meant was that Tarkovsky had a way of inhabiting a dreamspace like no other. I think IVAN'S CHILDHOOD was the film he was referring to in saying that Tarkovsky really knows how to depict dreams, and I think he's right. Tarkovsky captures dreams the way David Lynch captures nightmares (yep, John I just invoked my boy David Lynch in the same sentence as your boy Tarkovsky).

YOJIMBO and SANJURO are sequels indeed.

You're quite right about TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD then. I haven't seen it since HS, so I'm not sure how I feel about it now. I liked it back then.

Quick '38 responses:

Wait, just to clear up my confusion, what is this in response to: "As for the misunderstood stride comment I have to watch more early 30s films to either agree or disagree with you" What did I say? haha. I really like what you wrote after that, but I'm trying to figure out what I said that sparked it.

I'm no expert on "Poetic Realism." I don't understand it 100% fully either. My impression of it is that it brings together a gritty or more realistic portrayal of working-class life (or just life on the outskirts of society, à la literary realism) and an unabashedly cinematic or sensationalist portrayal of romance and doom. Basically, its name implies what it tries to meld together; the naturalism of realistic depiction and the poetry of contrived depiction. PORT OF SHADOWS fits this perfectly as it looks and unfolds very cinematically, but it also tries to illuminate sea-side life on the lower-rung of the social ladder. Is that even remotely clear? haha How can I write "Poetic Realism for Dummies" when I am a dummy myself?


Anyway, the last thing I want to mention is how much I love GAME OF THRONES. It's my favorite thing on TV. I'd choose to watch it any night over anything else, and that includes my previous favorite MAD MEN. There is something astonishing about the spell this show casts. It's merciless and methodical, and it doesn't waste a single second dillydallying. It's almost purely plot, but it hits emotional and dramatic heights so effectively that it almost continuously leaves you stunned. It might be a little too good. haha.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


1948 is one of the hardest years I’ve ever had to rank. It might just be the greatest year in film history (at the very least, one of the top three). The sheer quality of the films in the honorable mention slots are enough to rank very high on any other 40s list and the top of any modern list. I’m embarrassed to leave some of these great pictures off my list. All I can say is that the ranking of these films is purely arbitrary, and I encourage y’all to see all of these films at some point. The honorable mentions are very honorable, indeed.

Okay, I’m going to try something different this year and muse on a theme in some way for each film. This year’s theme will be redemption, as its been on my mind heavily since watching MOONRISE and writing about JEZEBEL. This will probably fail instantly. Here goes:

While I feel that this list is mostly arbitrary, I definitely know what deserves to be number one. How could it not be THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE? One of the first classics I ever saw and fell in love with, and something I’ve continued to love unconditionally since. It’s a masterpiece about greed, self-interest, and the corruption of the human soul. No film, perhaps, has remained so timely as this, with avarice and the manipulation of others only seeming to grow more prevalent in our current global economic free-for-all. It’s a moral tale graced with great characters and writing and an ironic finale that represents one of the best and most edifying things about classic film. The irony is there to bring about a sense of acceptance and resignation from our remaining characters. The boisterous laugh they share as they are humbled and brought to their knees perhaps points the way towards moral growth or healing. There is a hope for redemption that comes with their resignation and ironic failure.

I couldn’t stop thinking about LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN after I saw it. It’s just so beautiful and tragic–it sort of burrows into your conscience and makes you reflect on how thoroughly your actions impact others. Max Ophüls’ stunning camera work and visuals aside for the moment–the content of this film is complex, truly emotional, and humbling. I think it’s his greatest film. At the end, Stefan Brand’s insouciance has resulted in the destruction of a young woman’s life. He deserves to be punished for his negligence–something we are left believing he has finally realized. Instead of backing away from the duel that will likely kill him, he has decided to embrace it, redeeming himself in the process. He may not be making up for his actions in embracing his punishment, but he has learned to take responsibility for them. A glimmer of honor and dignity are returned to his soul.

RED RIVER is one of my all-time favorite westerns. It’s a great one because it teaches you a lesson about family. Dunson and Matt are two head-strong people, brought together as surrogate father and son by a stroke of fate. There is a real unspoken connection and admiration between them, but they are both too stubborn to give in to these feelings–perhaps seeing them as a sign of weakness. The two are driven apart violently, but their relationship is ultimately (through the help of a typically strong Hawksian woman) restored after truly seeing the error of their contentious ways. The redemption of a familial relationship gone asunder is what drives the heart of his film and shows the path towards reconcillation.

I love ROPE. It’s mercilessly efficient and a breeze to watch. It also contains genius and tense scenes reflecting on Nietzschean misreadings and the nature of hubris. I don’t know how much redemption there is in ROPE, but I think Jimmy Stewart’s final rant against the boys hints at the redemption that one can always find before going over the edge. Berating the two for perverting his teaches and thinking they are untouchable is both his way of redeeming himself from their attempt to drag him into the abyss and taking them to task for refusing to see the light. If that’s a stretch, I apologize.

UNFAITHFULLY YOURS is wickedly funny, and intensely creative. As funny and dark as it is, even it has themes about revealing our follies and redeeming us from the awful and vindictive places our minds are oft to go. The fact that Alfred’s attempt to carry out his schemes are completely foiled by his own blunders teaches him how silly his rage is. When he finds out his wife has been faithful all the time, his embarrassment is consummate. The fact that his wife forgives his madness is hopefully enough of lesson to Alfred not to sink down so low again. A lesson of redemption from jealously through love and forgiveness.

MOONRISE, a gorgeous, poetic, sensitive, and emotional noir is really what started this whole redemption theme in the first place. I apologize for having it so low on the list, but I’ll need to see it more or reflect on it more before I let it rise the way it probably will. The Self-Styled Siren has a nice little write-up for this film about how jarring it’s opening images are and how unusually humanistic it is for a noir (two things that stood out to me as well). It’s basically the opposite of something like CRISS CROSS or ANGEL FACE. It is actually actively seeking redemption and healing for itself. The final moments of the film are so beauitful that I couldn’t help but tear up. A broken piece of flesh is literally learning to become a human being again. He greets his fate, accepts his punishment, but takes both with a newfound dignity that has eluded him his whole life. His embrace of the dog he previously kicked pulled at my heart. His final promenade with the woman who has always believed in him made the tears grow. If the sort of redemption in JEZEBEL is rare nowadays, then the sort of redemption in this film is just nonexistent. Beautiful, beautiful movie.

PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, a beautiful and ethereal mystery, I think fits our theme quite nicely. All credit to Ed Gonzalez’s great review of the film for enlightening me about much of the film’s spiritual and artistic odyssey. Here we have a man who finds modern redemption through the help of a young girl’s wandering spirit. In re-creating the past, he learns to find spiritual fulfillment and artistic pleasure in the present. There is something very strong and poetic here about learning to redeem yourself through love and the acceptance of the past. A lovely film.

GERMANY YEAR ZERO may not fit our theme so well, but only because it purposefully wants to teach us something by NOT finding redemption. I appreciate this because I think it is necessary to reflect on permanent destruction, especially in the wake of war. GYZ is a brave film. Humanizing German civilians and depicting their squalor only a few years after WWII is bold indeed. The film doesn’t sentimentalize their devastation nor does it make excuses for what brought them to it. It’s more objective in its docu-realist look at how families can be destroyed and youth corrupted by war. I don’t know if the film’s ending provides us with redemption. I know that it’s supposed to shake us in its presentation of a young life ruined sooner than it should have been (a la IVAN’S CHILDHOOD). It might be a stretch, but their could be redemption through death. A sort of eternal respite that saves the the troubled soul from wasting away piecemeal. I don’t know. Perhaps, GYZ is one of those films, like Bresson’s MOUCHETTE, that asks us to find solace in death and the hint of comfort in the end of suffering.

There isn’t a whole lot to redeem in FOUR FACES WEST, if only because everyone is already so decent to begin with. I wrote about this before and John is a huge admirer. A western without any bullets fired, without any violence, and without any central antagonist. It’s refreshing and pleasant to say the least. A really good-natured film that I think is easy to love. The film isn’t so much a call towards redemption as it is a plea for understanding and setting things right. We all have our motivations for our actions, and we are not wholly one aspect or another. This film understands that very well.

I apologize for having ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN so low, Brandon. I believe that you are a much bigger A&C fan than I. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t love them; I could watch Lou Costello’s shtick all day. Talk about the perfect blend between horror and comedy; this is like the original AVENGERS for fans of both genres. Does my redemption theme fit this film? Probably not. This may be where I run dry. Regardless, this film is a blast.

I don’t think I have the energy to write about the honorable mentions. I think they are all really good (the first seven I’d say are actually quite great) in their own respective ways. Worth seeing and expounded over, but for another day, I suppose. Anyway, here’s the list:

1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Huston)
2. Letter From an Unknown Woman (Ophüls)
3. Red River (Hawks)
4. Rope (Hitchcock)
5. Unfaithfully Yours (Sturges)
6. Moonrise (Borzage)
7. Portrait of Jennie (Dieterle)
8. Germany Year Zero (Rossellini)
9. Four Faces West (Green)
10. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Barton)

HM: The Red Shoes (Powell, Pressburger), La Terra Trema (Visconti), Bicycle Thieves (De Sica), Key Largo (Huston), The Fallen Idol (Reed), Force of Evil (Polonsky), Oliver Twist (Lean), Call Northside 777 (Hathaway), Fort Apache (Ford), Hamlet (Olivier)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1938 response

Jason M. Poole (right) in an early starring role in Eisenstein's ALEXANDER NEVSKY.

I'm so stoked that you're doing these 30s lists, Brandon, as it gives me a chance to talk about a lot of the movies I've been seeing over the last year. The 30s are a lot of fun, and I think the films from this era have a real distinctive feel that I like revisiting. As I've been trying to fill in all my 40s and 50s gaps (which has been a cinematic blessing), I've still been trying to sneak in as many 30s movies merely out of the simplest enjoyment I get from them. I truly believe that from 1936 on, filmmaking hit at least a 25 year period of pure artistic genius that will never be repeated and is worth cherishing. Not that the years leading up to 1936 are any slouches (as there are many, many great films in there) but I think that that is the first year where the stars of sound filmmaking started to immaculately align and everything seemed to be working like magic. The 30s are more than worth digging through.

1938 is a great for film. I'm really happy to see your list finally, and I definitely dig the hell out of it. Great job! Let's talk a little bit, homie.

Wow, now I'm REALLY excited to see HOLIDAY. I originally intended to watch it on TCM back in August, but that was back when the power went off in my house for a week and I completely missed it. I've got it finally arriving in the mail later this week though, so I'll definitely give you some better thoughts on it then. I'm sure I'll love it. Cukor's got some real gems in that vast filmography of his. No doubt.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is definitive childhood glee that only grows more beloved in your estimation as an adult. It's an essential adventure film, and you're absolutely right, a perfect Hollywood adaptation. I think you know you've done an amazing job adapting source material when your film is as canonical as the very legend itself.

THE LADY VANISHES is one of Hitch's very best films. I think you're right that a lot of what draws us to it is this immediate sense of friendship and adventure between the two leads. I think the relationship between them is as charming as most any great rom-com pairing. Michael Redgrave deserves a lot credit here for being so suave and fearless. And I've said it many times before, but one of my favorite things about the film is its offbeat sense of humor. It works completely as a thriller, but it also has those laugh-out-loud dry moments like the final shootout that add a welcome air of levity to an otherwise sinister situation. There's brooding on the horizon in this picture, but also enough spirit to give you real hope–maybe like Europe itself at the time.

PORT OF SHADOWS is very beautiful and heartbreaking, indeed. I'm glad it cracked your top 5, as I was really hoping you'd be drawn to it in a similar way that I was. I was floored by it the first time I saw it. For some reason, I really respond to that noir trope of the down-and-out drifter trying to find a sanctuary, looking for love and meaning in such a crazy world. Not I can 100% relate to that, I just find it beautiful and poetic in a way that really nourishes my imagination. Jean Gabin (a serious contender for the coolest man who ever lived title), all alone, finds companionship with a dog and a love that is worth giving himself over to. It's an inescapably doomed love, but somehow it seems just about more real than anything else one could put his faith in. Maybe it's because our (anti-)hero has nothing left to lose, and he just gives everything he has to this one final act of spiritual/emotional redemption that we feel comforted despite our sadness. It's almost the film reminding us: A lot shit goes down in life and it may all end bad, but there are some things that make the craziness all worthwhile.

The film is maybe the definitive work of the poetic realism genre. It definitely fits into the sense of fear that was growing in Europe at the time, as you pointed it. It's a mix between escapist romanticism and a sense of pervading doom. To me, poetic realism is one of the best and most timely subgenres in the history of film, and this little gem is about as good as it gets. I love everything about it. Also, can we just sit back and admire for a second how absolutely astonishing this film looks? All sea-drenched in fog and haze, it's a real beauty.

I don't know how VIVACIOUS LADY completely flew under my radar. I gotta see it now, asap, especially after what you wrote. I would give up everything I owned to have Ginger Rogers shoot off wise-cracks at me all day.

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, like with the similar-themed DEAD END, goes a long way towards deconstructing the male gangster anti-hero that had risen in the 30s. At the end, Rocky Sullivan's legacy is reduced to the ultimate shame of cowardice, all for the sake of saving these at-risk kids from the gutter. It's the most necessary case of the the fallen idol. The second great film Curtiz made this year. Plus, it's James fucking Cagney. He made everything he touched great, or at the very least, worth gluing your eyes to.

LA BETE HUMAINE is easily the darkest picture Jean Renoir ever made. It's a grim world he depicts here. Not that it isn't without its little touches of sympathy and humanism, but it just feels caught within a matrix of inveterate cruelty, unlike anything else he ever did. This is a big time dark early noir, from one of cinema's foremost visionaries. A man, who in my opinion, was one of the first to help films reach the heights of great literature. I stand by that shit.

I don't think I'll ever understand YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU's detractors. It's a lot of fun, and to me, it does have important things to say about family and personal happiness over wealth and soulless conformity. Even if it's outlook is too rose-colored, it's always good to cheer yourself up with. I dig it.

I really should watch JEZEBEL again. I watched it late at night maybe back in July, and I was really sleepy. It definitely has its cringe-worthy moments, but I think you're right–ultimately, it provides redemption and a moment of real moral growth for a previously spoiled and selfish rich girl (eat shit GIRLS). That attempt to even salvage the soul from the abyss is definitely rare nowadays. The Dardenne's THE SON (will someone else watch that already!) is one of those rare cases–just had to plug it again.

BRINGING UP BABY is such dizzy pandemonium, for sure. Hawks' rapid-fire screwball comedies are a treasure and a staple within the genre. I was actually watching some of this the other day on TCM. Still a lot of fun.

PYGMALION is the best film adaptation of G.B. Shaw's great play about modern dehumanization, male chauvinism, and class deconstructionism. Shaw wrote the script, which is why it's so good, and I think Asquith and Howard do a wonderful job giving the work a visual language that can only be captured on film. It's a good one, though maybe it didn't crack the top 10 just because I like the play a little better.

Ahh, the great thing about you posting these lists is that I can return the favor and re-post mine. He's the most recent incarnation of my 30s list. HOLIDAY will likely shake things up soon, but for now:

1. Port of Shadows (Carné)
2. The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock)
3. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz)
4. La Bête humaine (Renoir)
5. Angels With Dirty Faces (Curtiz)
6. Hotel Du Nord (Carné)
7. You Can’t Take it With You (Capra)
8. Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein)
9. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
10. Jezebel (Wyler)

Pygmalion (Asquaith, Howard), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (Litvak), Carefree (Sandrich), Boy Meets Girl (Bacon), Room Service (Seiter), A Christmas Carol (Marin)

I was impressed enough by ALEXANDER NEVSKY's awesome ice-battles to make it crack the list and I'm still keeping it in there for now. It's not a great or even good narrative to follow, but its visuals are really weird and cool.

HOTEL DU NORD, I love because of how great Carné is at representing locations and communities. The playful scenes around the hotel with all its denizens are just really joyful. And its doomed and romantic love story really speaks to me, as I mentioned above.

Just a heads up, Frank Borzage's THREE COMRADES from 1938 is on TCM at the end of May. It'll be worth checking out I'm sure. Scorsese, in his monthly column on TCM, says this about TCM's Borzage night:

"FRANK BORZAGE (May 25, 8:00pm)--TCM is running three Frank Borzage pictures this month, all made during the same period. Three Comrades, adapted from Erich Maria Remarque's novel, The Mortal Storm and the mystical Strange Cargo. I like to draw attention to Borzage's pictures. I started looking at them in the '90s, and the more closely I studied them the more powerful they became. The studio era is known for its romances, but Borzage really believed in the communion of two souls, and the romantic bonds between the couples in his pictures have an intensity that you just don't find in other people's movies. James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Mortal Storm are one of the most moving couples in his entire body of work, which began in 1913 and ended in 1959. If you don't know Borzage's work, this trio of pictures is an excellent place to start."

I'm just getting into Borzage (just watched MOONRISE–more on that later), so I'm following Scorsese's advice and starting with the rest of these.

Anyway, dude–awesome list! Thanks for doing it. There needs to be more 30s love around here. I look forward to more of it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

1962 response

1962 was definitely an exceptional year for film (it was also a sad year for literature as we lost William Faulkner–all those drinks finally caught up with him). Looking at the top 17 you have, it's almost hard to believe that all those films were released in a single year. Astonishing really. I can't cringe too much at your ranking, as I could do no more justice to those films than you. No easy task to rank so many titanic films. Great job!

To get them out of the way, I haven't seen THE ELUSIVE CORPORAL (last time I looked, I couldn't find it on youtube or anywhere else), HATARI!, CLEO FROM 9 TO 5, LE DOULOS, or THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

I've seen the rest of your top 17, but don't have anything interesting or original to say about them. Can I just respond to you with images as well? THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE at number one. Happy face picture. LOLITA at number 15. Sad face picture.

Actually, I really don't care that LOLITA is so far back on your list. Different tastes for different people. I would probably put it at number one on mine because I love Kubrick unconditionally and would put every one of his films from LOLITA on at number one for whatever yearly list I was doing. I wouldn't even say that LOLITA is the absolute best film of 1962, it's just my favorite. It's an uncomfortable and disturbed picture, but also an artistic marriage between two geniuses. It's more Kubrick's than it is Nabokov's, but that's to be expected from one of cinema's most singular auteurs.

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is definitely worthy of the top spot. Elegy is a great word for what this film is, as it mourns the passing of several things. Like TOUCH OF EVIL, one of the great transitional genre films in cinema history. Who better to make it than John Ford?

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is probably THE epic (along with GONE WITH THE WIND). It's enormous and beautiful in a way that only David Lean could manage to do. In recent years I've noticed countless directors mentioning the desire to go bigger, louder, and more expansive. Usually this results in something exquisite to look at but clunky to follow and depleted to connect to. Lean deserves the highest praise as large-scale visionary because he was someone who could go bigger or grander and not compromise on pure storytelling craftsmanship. It's not easy to do unless you are already a master filmmaker, which he was.

I wrote this about RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY back when you were away on tour. It'd be very high on my list too:

"I love the teaming of Randolph Scott (terrific in a generally more comedic role) and Joel McCrea (always great) as honorable old hands proving they still have what it takes and fighting against a wild and uncouth batch of brothers. The film has nothing but reverence for these aging heroes, as they ride taller in the saddle than anyone else and carry the moral weight of the film. Things really get interesting (and emotional) when a betrayal happens near the climax of the film. The ending is lovely, profound, and tragic (there's a two-shot of Scott and McCrea marching towards the final showdown that is sublime). Beautiful scenery and a host of raucous fistfights only add to what is a truly GREAT film about change and old age, honor and fraternity, violence and heroism."

IVAN'S CHILDHOOD is a stark and crippling look at war featuring some of the most beautiful and expressive black-and-white photography one could ever see. Bergman was right about Tarkovsky–nobody punctures so effortlessly into the world of dreams like he does.

I haven't seen JULES ET JIM in many years. I'm sure it's even better than I can recall. Truffaut dealt in the realms of love.

Did we talk about LONELY ARE THE BRAVE yet?

I'm glad you whittled down my AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON review cause that puppy is long and winded. If anyone is interested in reading it (and so the time I spent on it doesn't go completely to naught), here it is. I'm trying to get a job at Slant with this one:

"Watching AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON, Yasujiro Ozu’s final film, is like sliding back into one extended, serene dream. It’s surfaces are calm, its air wistful, its feelings tender and benevolent–filling you with hope and kindness. Warm summer days along riversides are rarely this relaxing. It’s a testament to Ozu’s genius that the film is so evocative when it seemingly does so little visually and narratively. The plot itself follows along the same lines as most Ozu films–a father decides to marry off his daughter before she becomes too old to marry, even as he is dependent on her to take care of him. Yet Ozu, who was always interested in this familial coming-of-age motif and the ultimate passage of time, seems more focused on the twilight of life than ever before. Here, we have the aging Hirayama and his companions, the already aged “Gourd” and his spinster daughter, and this general sense of old age looking back at youth, trying to foster and preserve it. The film’s title itself implies rapid change and movement towards coldness and darkness (the end of life) but also the rhapsody of the present lived-moment. Autumn and twilight are moribund but beautiful things, and AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON is anything but purely woebegone in its depiction of aging and time passing. It feels a sadness for change but it humbly accepts its inevitability and finds importance in it. While the film is filled with typical Ozuian moments of humanity and pathos about this sense of change, it is at the film’s finale that we are left with the great director's last and perhaps most indelible moment on the subject: A drunken Hirayama, now alone and with a heavy-heart, singing a patriotic song from his youth as we feel the emptiness of his house and his body slowly skimming into the shadows. It’s the perfect depiction of Ozuian duality: at once a gentle reflection on the halcyon days of youth and a dirge for the transience of all things."

I haven't watched SANJURO in a while either, but I loved it the last time I watched it. Watching that and YOJIMBO in close succession really solidified my love for Kurosawa as a young man.

Not trying to get aggressive at all here, just slightly confused: How is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD misunderstood? Didn't Obama just set aside a national day for it to be shown at the White House and broadcasted on national TV in honor of its 50th Anniversary? That's pretty prestigious. Do you mean misunderstood amongst cinephiles?

I love THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL and would put it high on my list if I made one. Bunuel certainly was one of the cinema's preeminent punks and here he is once again going after his two favorite targets for ridicule: the church and the bourgeoisie. A hilarious and wonderfully snide finale.

I'm pretty certain WINTER LIGHT is a 1963 film. IMDB has its Swedish release date listed as February 11, 1963. Either way, it's great film about spiritual crisis, deep emotional pain, and terror at the modern world. Just your typical light-hearted Bergman excursion into the soul's abyss.

Anyway, great list! I commend you for even trying to rank these films. I I know I'm having a tough time ranking 1948 and 1952, two other years with too many amazing films to count. This list shit isn't easy, and it's often embarrassing. You've got nothing to be ashamed of here though.

(By the way, I thought about doing a 60s marathon soon, but I can't get into it. I'd much rather keep digging through the 30s-50s for more great films. I don't blame you for having more fun watching 30s movies than 60s movies. I feel the same way. 30s > 60s.)