Sunday, September 30, 2012

September Recap

 I'm changing my rating system from five stars to four.  It's just easier that way.

September was a solid film watching month.  I didn't watch as many as I have in previous months, which I found to be good thing.  Didn't feel too overloaded.  I enjoyed all the films I watched (V/H/S aside) and tried to see more from eras outside of the 30s-50s.  Also, tried to re-watch some more old favorites.  I'll try to do a round-up post soon going into more detail about some of the better films I've seen recently.

Europa ’51 (1951) ***
Love Affair (1939) ***
Murder, My Sweet (1944) ***
3 Godfathers (1948) *** 1/2
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) ****
The Devil, Probably (1977) ****
The Hurricane (1937) *** 1/2
La Collectionneuse (1967) *** 1/2
Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) ****
Pauline at the Beach (1983) ****
House by the River (1950) *** 1/2
Le Bonheur (1965) ****
It’s a Wonderful World (1939) ***
The Sea Wolf (1941) *** 1/2
The Big Combo (1955) ****
The Black Swan (1942) ***
Queen Christina (1933) ***
Close-up (1990) ****
Playtime (1967) ****
Nightfall (1957) *** 1/2
Story of Women (1988) ****
Les Bonnes Femmes (1960) *** 1/2
Naked (1993) ***
V/H/S (2012) * 1/2
The Master (2012) ****


Barry Lyndon (1975) ****
It Happened One Night (1934) ****
Ninotchka (1939) ****
Ugetsu (1953) ****
Stage Door (1937) ****
The Curse of the Cat People (1944) ****

Apart from the first episode of BOARDWALK EMPIRE Season 3, I haven't watched any new TV this month.  DEXTER premiers tonight, and I'm looking forward to it, even if the show has long lost its spark.  BOARDWALK is good, but not great so far.  I'm afraid the best years of that show are already behind it, but I'll still keep watching.

Still looking forward to LOOPER.  Hoping to see it soon.  Also, excited for FRANKENWEENIE.  Can I convince anyone to go see that with me?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wandering From the Proper Path

Great MASTER posts Adrienne, Brandon, and John.  Nice to see each of your unique takes on it.  I'm stoked that we all either love or respect it, but I'm not surprised.  It's too tantalizing and expertly crafted to outright dismiss, even if one isn't completely over the moon for it.  I had actually read the Zacharech piece Brandon posted on FB the other day.  Surprisingly, there wasn't any steam coming out of my ears, even if I vehemently disagreed with her.  I know I said, "Let the nay-sayers be damned" (and I basically feel this way), but I've made my peace with others not liking THE MASTER.  It's not for everyone, which I appreciate.  I'm kinda glad it's polarizing–something that weird and ambitious is bound to be.  I don't know how much I like her argument that we shouldn't feel compelled to take THE MASTER seriously, though.  We should take PTA seriously; we should take Malick seriously; we should take Kubrick seriously; and we should take Godard seriously.  If we care about film and the auteurs that have developed it and continue to move it forward, then we absolutely should.  It's okay to take PREMIUM RUSH seriously too.  Nothing wrong with that (even if that trailer made it look awful).  I'm not trying to be a snob, but if you are a lover of the medium, then it shouldn't be hard for you to take film and its auteurs seriously.  Zacharech knows this.

Anyway, on to my fellow film clubbers:

John, lovely and thoughtful post, as always.  You clearly read films in very personal way, so I love reading your thoughts on them because they are typically things I would have never thought of or know nothing about.  I like that you say that THE MASTER is "the filmic equivalent of a string of parables and proverbs, dark sayings of old."  For one, I think this captures the looseness of the film's structure quite well, and for another, it suggests much greater weight to each moment in the film, as if every odd gesture were ample and eternal.  I'm also really glad you brought up "the kingdom of water," in which both Freddie and Dodd feel the need to be adrift in.  This is an idea I was working on when planning my review but ended up scraping, mostly due to not knowing where it fit in.  But I'm fascinated by the motif of water in the film.  It opens and closes all that we've seen; it is where Freddie and Dodd first get lost in each other; it is where (during the war) Freddie dreams about Doris; and in the end, what physically separates Freddie and Dodd, one roving around aimlessly in America, the other moving in only one direction in England.  Water is a mobile metaphor here, but most significantly it serves as an expansive shelter to disappear into.  I like that idea.

Adrienne, lovely and thoughtful review, as well.  And very well written, as always.  Your reviews are always a pleasure to read.  Brandon beat me to mentioning how insightful your catch of Freddie mimicking Clark is.  I remember feeling like that was a sweet moment when I saw it, but it had been lost among so many other dominant scenes when I tried to reflect on the film afterwards.  I'm glad you brought it up because it really is just a great human moment.  You describe it beautifully.

As for Freddie, (to quote Seinfeld) he's definitely a loathsome, offensive brute...yet I couldn't look away.  Like you mentioned, as horrible as he is, you really don't want him to leave Dodd or to fail.  Not that you want him to be brainwashed, but you definitely want him to find whatever he's missing or just a sense of peace, albeit even in small.  He's basically a wild animal, but he's also repressing some serious emotional trauma.  As Brandon mentioned, that first processing scene should be enough to prove to anyone why Freddie is the way he is (and also give us a window into caring about him more).  I'm glad you were so shaken by the film.  I was too.  I think I still am.

Brandon, your post was lovely and thoughtful, too, even if you think it wasn't.  You always write with a passion for the medium, which makes everything you say invariably worth reading and appreciating.  I love how you described the processing scene–how it moves from an ingenious exercise in tension building towards this highly emotional overflow of memory.  It's such a stunning scene with serious depth to it.

I definitely never found the ending cynical.  I don't think the last line undercuts anything–I was just putting the idea out there.  I do love the way you described the ending here: "The final scene finds him enjoying the company of a woman; a vice he loves almost as much as glugging, but his aim is truer and kinder. After politely asking her to “put it back in” Anderson cuts to him on the beach, where we first got to know him, being truer and kinder to a sand goddess, her face perhaps resembling Doris."  Very nice.  I do agree with you and Adrienne that the ending for Freddie is a small step towards potential healing.  Some have read it as being a little sinister, but I found it tender.  I think after Freddie finds out that Doris has gotten older and married, something changes within him.  Maybe he was finally hit with a sense of time at that moment, and it was enough for him to desire a stronger sense of love and connection with someone.  Moving away from Dodd may have only made that desire stronger.  Anyway, I love the ending.

haha Thanks for the nice comments on the review, dude. I don't know if I have the patience to routinely write reviews like that.  I was lucky enough to have all day to work on that one, so I forced myself to finish it.  I don't know how you write so many legit reviews the way you do.  Usually after one sentence I've about had enough.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Spoiling the fun


(I'm starting to like all the spoiler caveats.  It's just a great way to rub the fact that you've seen the film in the face of anyone who hasn't and guilt them into seeing it.)

I'll write a proper response to you tomorrow, John.  I spent too much time on the original post.  I feel fried for the day.  But, still, I'm intrigued by your talk of the film's ending, and want to bring up my own conflicting/restless views on it.

In my review, I suggested that the end was a regression, but reading your comments and also those of the fellow at Time's have made me think that it is certainly more hopeful than it seems.  Not that I ever found it cynical.  I assumed he had just gone back to his niche and was content being wild within it (even if I'm sure there's a sadness over losing Dodd, and of course, Doris–an important figure I forgot to bring up in my review).  But there really may be something in his position, as you suggest, of him more passively accepting pleasure.  He tries to play the processing game with the woman, as a way of flirtation but also as a way of reaching her.  He connected with Dodd in the processing scene when things got emotionally real for him.  Perhaps he's trying to connect with the woman here, which is why he insists she play the game correctly.  It's definitely not a mistake that he tries to process her; it's also definitely not a mistake that he's lying down.  The last line is a real dozy and I wonder whether it undermines everything.  I'm not sure.  I'm still going to have to wrestle with it all.  It's worth discussing more.

As mentioned in the Time article, Quell doesn't aggressively hump or finger the sand woman at the end but cuddles next to her.  It's a more poetic, and profound image then him merely simulating sex with her.  Has he found out that he needs love?  Maybe so.  You may be right about the hopefulness of the ending, John.  I'm curious to hear what others think.  I still need to think about it.  Either way, it tantalizes but doesn't frustrate me.

"As I wrote in the last post, I believe that the physical positioning of Quell in the frame is important."  Yes! I wish I had a copy of the film so I could break down every shot, as I feel there are more riches in the positioning and framing than I can even recall.  I certainly have been thinking a lot about what we mentioned in the pizza joint about how that shot near the end has this disruptive piece of breast hovering near its edges.  As I was saying then, there are numerous shots where images blur or colors disrupt the edge of the frame.  I wonder if they are there to entice us along, to lead us like Dodd's red shirt draws in Freddie?  Or to unsettle us?  When I woke up in the middle of Saturday night, I got on my computer and jotted down a few rambling notes.  One of them referred to these obstructions.  It's hilariously opaque:

"the film’s loose structure and frame with tiny piece in it, enticing us, like an animal, moving our attention span, showing what allures freddie, what distracts us, something obscure, an obstruction to the frame, obstructed narrative, restless wayward movement of the eye”

haha.  I have no idea where that's going, but it's not bad for 3 a.m.

I'm excited to talk more about this movie.  We need to convince you to love it, John.  Time for some processing.

The Master

(CAVEAT: loaded with SPOILERS, so read on at your own risk).

Purling white waves lapping over an impossibly bright blue sea.  So begins THE MASTER, Paul Thomas Anderson’s hypnotizing and physically imposing masterpiece about yearning love and the struggle between carnality and spirituality that thwarts it.  No other film this year or the next will feel as singular and strange; few other films in recent memory have felt so commanding and confounding, beautiful and ferocious.  This is easily the film of the year, and to echo Glenn Kenny, quite possibly the film of the still nascent decade.  Not since Anderson’s last film THERE WILL BE BLOOD have I felt such an equal mixture of astonishment and befuddlement; befuddlement not at the obscurity of the vision, but befuddlement at the mastery and richness of its telling.  Paul Thomas Anderson is the most arresting and fascinating filmmaker working today.  He has come in command so thoroughly of his own uniquely strange and symbolic voice that the only artistic landscapes I can compare his to extend outside of cinema to the theater of Edward Albee or the fiction of Flannery O’Connor.  Certainly, Anderson still wears his Altman badge proudly, but his cinema has become so chiefly his that there is nothing that looks or feels like it.  He is incontrovertibly in a class of his own.  This is a complete master-class in directing, cinematography, acting, and brilliant writing.  Let the nay-sayers be damned.

THE MASTER’s gorgeous opening shot of lulling waves immediately draws us under its spell and introduces a motif of freedom and expanse that will reoccur throughout the film.  From the waves, we immediately cut to an extreme close-up of the burgeoning head of Freddie Quell, his helmet bobbing up and down nervously, presumably from a foxhole, like an animal tentatively emerging from hibernation.  Freddie, we discover shortly, has a penchant for consuming unfathomable concoctions and absurd quantities of alcohol.  We also find, almost immediately, that he thinks about fucking, a lot.  As envisioned by Anderson and played by Joaquin Phoenix (in easily one of the best and most immersive performances these eyes have ever seen), Freddie is the quintessence of uncouth, feral animalia–a creature that man might be if he were not interpellated by history or culture.  He lurks, mumbles, and sneers, moving indiscriminately between environments, often lashing out like a beast of raw id.  We see him aggressively fingering a woman made of sand, hilariously attacking a man he is trying to photograph, and finally killing an old man with his toxic potion before drunkenly stumbling upon the Aletheia and its skipper, the charismatic Lancaster Dodd. 

Dana Stevens, in a lovely piece about re-watching the film, mentions how Freddie is like a stray dog, finding a master and companion in Dodd.  The parallels in their relationship to pet/master or father/son are numerous and have been made elsewhere by a host of people so I won’t go into that idea further.  What interests me most about the Freddie/Dodd relationship is, intellectually the philosophical debate it symbolizes and, emotionally, the strangely loving bond it creates.

If Freddie is the embodiment of man as unfettered animal, then Dodd is surely the essence of animal rendered human by history and culture.  Dodd (played masterfully by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in a performance as equally astounding as Phoenix’s) is interested in many intellectual things, mainly his own science of psychology.  He thinks he has discovered the key to what separates man from other creatures and his environment.  Man, he says, is an everlasting spirit that transcends time and space, a once perfect being that has fallen from its own ideal but can still reclaim itself (yes, this is essentially dianetics).  Dodd is the most elevated of animals, a creature trying very hard to assert its superiority.  But he’s not unique in this way; man is very much a thinking animal that desires a sense of greatness and transcendence, often manifested through belief in an eternal spirit.  One could argue that man believes he is an everlasting spirit because the idea has been handed down to him by a higher power or is innate within him; or one could argue that man has merely invented this idea of the spirit as a defense against the knowledge of his own physical mortality (I remain a devoted atheist, but whether man truly is an eternal spirit that lives on after corporeal death or not, no one in this world will ever know).  Dodd certainly posits a belief in the former while Freddie suggests the existence of the latter. The way these two figures clash creates a sort of ideological battle in the film over man’s essence as either a spirit trapped in an animal body or as a mostly hairless ape that has learned to think too much.  I can’t really say which way Anderson comes down, though the ending perhaps may suggest that man is ultimately the animal he is, as we return to that images that started the film.  Honestly though, it may not matter which way the film comes down on this debate because Anderson isn’t interested in making these two expressions of man’s nature clash the way you would expect (á la THERE WILL BE BLOOD). 

(Through all of this, I wouldn’t want to give the impression that THE MASTER is a pure intellectual exercise.  It’s also savagely funny and oddly endearing.  As much as it is a battling of ideas, it is still at its core a love story with uncomfortable moments of bizarre behavior and hilarious crassness.  Anderson is no overly-serious snob; his entire career has shown an unusual predilection for offbeat humor and operatic riskiness.  Here he proudly retains both, making the film an unpredictable and mesmerizing experience.  I honestly never knew how a scene would unfold, what would happen next, or how it would all end–but I was completely absorbed).

I’ve seen some negative reviewers state that they felt like the film was bubbling towards a breaking point but it never began to really boil.  I don’t think I ever got that sensation.  Dodd and Freddie clash, but they are not two qualified forces battering each other, waiting to explode in hatred and violence.  This is not Plainview versus Sunday.  There is a genuine love between Dodd and Freddie that keeps this battle in check, even as the battle itself hinders their love.  Dodd certainly manipulates Freddie.  There’s a sense of brutal training he puts him under in order to tame him, but it’s never purely exploitative or wholly nefarious in its pursuit.  There’s a real admission of love and camaraderie to their relationship, right from the moment they meet.  They both share a love for the most devastating alcohol, but they also feel strangely removed from everyone else around them, as two singular beings.  Dodd is surrounded by fawning admirers (and, back on land, even more skeptics), but he sees himself as shepherd, not one of the flock.  And Freddie, as we’ve seen, is so unpredictable and consumed by his own whims that he can’t fit in anywhere or with anyone.  So, they meet as two drifters, sequestered from the “normal” crowd and bond over booze.  Dodd convinces Freddie to sail out with them with the promise of losing himself for a while.  Dodd truly doesn’t how how lost Freddie already is, but he surely recognizes something of himself in him.  He thinks he is the proper subject to test his theories on, but there is also an animal recognition between them.  In perhaps the most intense and astonishing scene in the film (shot in extreme close-up, like most of the film– Anderson understands, like Ford, that there’s no greater terrain to map than that of the human face), we see Dodd process Freddie for the first time.  To Dodd, it is conditioning; to Freddie, it is a game he’s trying to win.  The scene gets increasingly fierce and emotional, but it is bookended by the two downing Freddie’s ridiculous potion.  This is work, but also revelry.  It cements the bond between them.

I love how often Anderson, establishing this bond, mirrors Dodd and Freddie’s actions together.  At heart, they seem to be both animals who enjoy frolicking with each other, but they are meeting at opposite ends of their evolution.  Dodd has asserted himself as “master” over mankind while Freddie has reverted back to a state of near neanderthal level instinctual drive (quite possibly due to trauma from the war, which is faintly implied but never explicitly stated).  But they still lash out together or act freely together like unfettered animals.  As I mentioned, they love to drink–a lot.  And in one sequence with naked women dancing all around him and his wife aggressively, er, handling him afterwards, we are basically told that Dodd is as much a pussy hound as Freddie (we don’t know whether the vision of the women is Freddie’s or Dodd’s or even Peggy’s).  In one scene we see Dodd lash out and call a man attacking him “pig-fuck,” then see Freddie throw food at the man and later attack him in his home.  In another scene we see Dodd scream in anger at an overly inquisitive follower, right after we’ve seen Freddie attack a man for criticizing Dodd’s newest book.  Dodd is more composed than Freddie (he’s tamed himself better), but we still see how alike they are as irascible and ferociously defensive creatures.  And in two of my favorite mirror scenes, we see Dodd and Freddie berate each other in prison (quickly regressing into a sparring match of “fuck yous” like two angry brothers), and later when they reunite after prison, we see them playfully wrestle like a dog and owner greeting each other after a separation.  Dodd is the more controlled animal of the two, but there is still an animal in him that enjoys Freddie’s waywardness and instinctual freedom.  At the end of the film, there is a sense that maybe their bond is more than physical (through the dream phone call and the talk of meeting in other lives).  But the truth of the situation becomes that they just aren’t right for each other anymore.  Freddie will destroy all Dodd has tried to build for himself, so they must depart.  If they are to meet again, Freddie will be Dodd’s enemy because his wildness undermines all Dodd has tried to struggle against in himself and in his beliefs about mankind.  Their final scene together is a painful goodbye, punctured by song and tears, as they both go their opposite ways.  I love how here we see that the film, instead of being an expose on scientology or an attack on the idea of religion, becomes this doomed tale of a non-sexual final fling between two men who are wild at heart.

In the film’s last few moments, as Dodd continues his path towards dominance of the self, we are left with Freddie, the man/animal who cannot be tamed.  We see that he merely takes Dodd’s processing as a game or a trick he has learned and can show to charm the woman he’s fucking.  Right at the very end of the film, we see the opening shot of sloshing waves and then we see Freddie fall down beside his woman made of sand.  Here we have a thinking creature left to his own pleasure in instinctual pursuit (I don’t know whether it matters to Freddy if the woman is made of flesh or sand), as he falls down, masterless, into a bed of uncultured, ahistorical oblivion.  Whether Freddie represents the true essence of mankind at the end, or if he is merely just a very damaged and uniquely feral soul, it’s hard to say.  All I can say is that, as the credits began to roll and I spotted the name Paul Thomas Anderson, I bowed my arms in reverence.  The gesture was done in jest, but the sentiment behind it was earnest.  I know who my master is.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Autumn of the Patriarch

Thought it would be good to write a response to John's recent post, and also catch up on some of the film's I've watched lately.


THE LADY KILLERS and YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER probably deserve four stars at least. I certainly don't get any pleasure out of this more ruthless rating system when it comes to old movies. I want to give them all four or five stars. So, you can take solace in that if need be. Those are both fine films.

I remember you saying at Brandon's that you had bought an X-FILES season. I think I used that as the impetus to finally start watching the show because I'd been flirting with the idea for a while. "Solid, just not great" is a perfect description for what I've seen from it so far. It's mostly enjoyable. Maybe after we both finish the first season we can interact on it a little more.

Despite it not being as funny as some of the seasons that would follow, I still really like season 1 of THE SIMPSONS. Would gladly watch it any day over every season post 9.

I started THE BIG COMBO, as well. Really impressed so far myself.


I found John Ford's 3 GODFATHERS (1948) to be just the tonic I needed after V/H/S. I couldn't tell you how much I appreciated the patience and simple beauty of its camerawork after sitting through two hours of found footage shaky cam. Some have called the film overly sentimental, but I found it endearing. There's an innocence to it that you just find so rarely in films nowadays.

I also watched Ford's THE HURRICANE (1937) recently. Exciting film with a tremendous final set piece that bears a striking resemblance to MOONRISE KINGDOM. John, I think you'd really like this one.

Call me a sap if you want, but I was very moved by Elia Kazan's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945). The direction is exquisite, as well as the performances. And there are some intimate and emotive scenes between the family in it that are very affecting. It's a warm and compassionate film.

Fritz Lang's HOUSE BY THE RIVER (1950) is a really solid gothic crime drama. In addition to having some striking visuals and a macabre tone, it evocatively uses its setting as a metaphor and mirror for moral degradation and its consequences. Pure filmmaking.

Thanks to John, I've finally been able to see Robert Bresson's THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (1977). It's definitely a great, great film, but a smoldering one that I'm sure would turn off many people. In this article, the legendary Richard Hell calls it "the most punk film of all time." Hell is a much better authority on punk than I am, but it's still easy to see why he takes this stance. It's a disillusioned and angry film, with a palpable disgust for institutions, mores, and industrialization. It also ruminates very heavily on nihilism. It's a brutal and oftentimes meandering film shot in Bresson's typically austere style. Decidedly, it's not for everyone, but it only further solidified Bresson's genius to me. Looking forward to A GENTLE WOMAN next, and hopefully FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER soon.

In addition to my usual film watching, I'm also making a concerted effort to experience more female directors, so I've started with the films of Agnes Varda. CLÉO FROM 5 TO 7 (1962) is a smart and devastating film about confronting death, with frequent reminders about the anxiety of one's own body image to increase its sense of self-examination. It's a highly probing work. Glad to join its fan club with Brandon, John, and Chris. LE BONHEUR (1965) looks completely gorgeous, and on the surface, it seems oddly detached from its subject matter, but it is really quite condemnatory and wryly satirical the more you reflect on it. The main character lives a halcyon life with his loving wife and two adorable kids but selfishly pursues a mistress to double his sense of happiness. An unexpected event happens towards the end of the film that leads to the films deliberately apathetic denoument. I won't say what it is, but the fact that we don't see it speaks volumes about the film's underlying censure. The whole film is about the main character's (male/patriarch) perspective. It's about how he tries to double his sense of happiness and pleasure without considering how it would affect the happiness of his wife or anyone else he is near. The lack of perspective from the wife serves as a silent, off-screen critique of male chauvinism and solipsism. The final image, as Amy Taubin points out in her great criterion essay, is a very subtle further dig at these ideas. Brandon's right, Malick has to be a huge fan of this one. It's one of the few films I've seen before his to contemplate nature in relation to humans so deeply.

I really can't get enough Rohmer. I've been enthralled by every one of his films that I've seen so far. LA COLLECTIONNEUSE completes the Moral Tales for me, and it's a great way to go out. I look forward to watching it and the rest of the tales over and over again through the years so that I can bask in their richness and absorb something new each time. They are a brilliant film cycle. I thank John for introducing me to them, and to Rohmer. He's easily one of the most underrated filmmakers of all time, even amongst cinephiles. He's already my favorite French New Waver. Ben will be pleased to hear that I watched PAULINE AT THE BEACH in addition to LC recently. It's a typically great film from Rohmer. Also, typical of a Rohmer film, it's very difficult to write about because too much is said in the film to just limit it to a few sentences or a paragraph. I will say that it reminded me most of CLAIRE'S KNEE (still my favorite of his) just for the mix of adult folly with youthful precociousness. Still, a bountiful film in its own right.
John, do you own any other Rohmer films you could share with me? At this point, I'd gladly see 'em all.

I finally got to watch IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT again. I forgot how sharp it is (could easily be a Sturges film) and just how damn funny the hitch-hiking scene is. I laughed out loud. What a great film.

I guess that just about does it for now. In one week – THE MASTER. A three year wait becomes a reality. Have I mentioned I'm excited for it?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I'm really behind on posting these top 10 lists. All my lists are done and just sitting on our Golden Age Lists website, but I still want to get them on the blog, as well. Anyway, here's my favorite films list from 1949. After this, all that's left to post is all the even years from the 50s.

1. Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu)
2. The Third Man (Carol Reed)
3. White Heat (Raoul Walsh)
4. Colorado Territory (Raoul Walsh)
5. They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray)
6. Stray Dog (Akira Kurosawa)
7. A Letter to Three Wives (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
8. The Set-Up (Robert Wise)
9. Whirlpool (Otto Preminger)
10. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford)

Honorable Mention: Criss Cross (Robert Siodmak), Passport to Pimlico (Henry Cornelius), On the Town (Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen), Reign of Terror (Anthony Mann), Orpheus (Jean Cocteau), Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer), Adam's Rib (George Cukor), Under Capricorn (Alfred Hitchcock), The Reckless Moment (Max Ophüls), Caught (Max Ophüls), All the King's Men (Robert Rossen)

Still need to see: Whiskey Galore! (which I have from John, but haven't watched yet), I Was a Male War Bride, Battleground, Border Incident, The Heiress, and more.

LATE SPRING is a masterpiece without question and an easy film to love. It might be Ozu's most moving film, along with THERE WAS A FATHER. It's a tender, poetic, and universal meditation on family, the movement into adulthood, and the passage of time.

THE THIRD MAN is a film bustling with energy, details, and Carol Reed's typically gorgeous chiaroscuro visual style. I'm sure it has been said before, but Welles himself would have been proud to make this one.

WHITE HEAT is a searing film with Cagney at his most diabolical and electric. A film that takes the anger and psychosis of THE PUBLIC ENEMY and makes it operatic.

This was a great year for Walsh. COLORADO TERRITORY is a western remake of his earlier noir film, the wonderful HIGH SIERRA. Both are masterpieces.

Nicholas Ray was a director teeming with poetry and that cup overflows into his first feature film, THEY LIVE BY NIGHT. Among the softest and most humane noir films.

STRAY DOG is a sweltering noir film from the great Kurosawa. Easily one of the hottest looking films ever made. You can sweat just thinking about it.

Joseph Mankiewicz was a tremendous writer. He had one of the best ears for dialogue in all of Hollywood. A LETTER TO THREE WIVES is a very witty comedy, featuring a script that is only matched by some stand-out performances from Kirk Douglas and Linda Darnell. A real pleasure to watch.

I don't think I've ever properly expressed my appreciation for Robert Ryan on here, so I'll do it now. Ryan (who was a pacifist, civil rights activist, and one of the biggest political leftists in Hollywood) was usually stuck playing loathsome heels and racist stock villains in films, and he was always convincing in these roles. But it is truly great too see him play more sympathetic characters as in THE SET-UP because he really was an underrated actor and, by all accounts, a wonderful guy in real life. THE SET-UP features a strong Ryan performance and long, super gritty boxing scenes. It's a highly efficient piece of narrative fatalism.

I've enjoyed every Preminger film I've seen. WHIRLPOOL is more melodrama than noir, but it is an exciting picture that serves as a more critical send-up of psychoanalysis than another Ben Hecht scripted film, Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND (though not as good). Still, a fun one.

SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON is the first and most beautiful of John Ford's Cavalry Trilogy. It's got one of the best fistfights in film history, which Brandon can certainly corroborate.

I'm a fan of all the honorable mentions listed, and would recommend seeing all of them. I wish THE RECKLESS MOMENT and CAUGHT had more of an Ophüls stamp on them, but they are still worth seeing. Hitchcock's UNDER CAPRICORN is a weak melodrama and is in desperate need of a restoration, but it deserves special mention for having some gorgeous cinematography and a few highly elaborate long takes that are simply stunning. ON THE TOWN is probably my favorite of the honorable mentions listed though. It's a vibrant musical about the joys of getting laid.

1950 should be up in the next few days.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


This morning I stumbled across a message board thread on Mubi featuring pictures of great directors hanging out together. A few of you may have already seen a lot of these photos, but some of them were new to me so I thought I'd post them. They're really cool.

Probably my favorite one:

(Seated from L-R: Jean Renoir, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and André Malraux. Standing from L-R: Jacques Tati, Jacques Becker, Robert Bresson, G. Masso, Alexandre Astruc, and Noël-Noë).

The American version:

(From L-R: Howard, Spielberg, Scorsese, De Palma, Lucas, Zemeckis, Coppola)

New Wave:

(L-R: Claude Lelouch, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, Roman Polanski)


(Standing from L-R: Robert Mulligan, William Wyler, George Cukor, Robert Wise, Jean-Claude Carriere, Serge Silverman. Seated from L-R: Billy Wilder, George Stevens, Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock, Rouben Mamoulian).

German royalty:

(From L-R: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders).

American royalty:

(John Ford and Howard Hawks [and Michele Carey]).


(Tarkovsky and Antonioni)

(Kurosawa and Tarkovsky)

And, of course, a classic:

(Tarkovsky and Bresson)

I know John has posted some great pics like these on facebook. Are there any others out there we're missing?

Saturday, September 8, 2012


(This girl ain't evil, just misunderstood).

It was a good time at the Musa homestead the other night despite the general awfulness of V/H/S. We, at least, had a solid crew watching to commiserate with when things got really dreadful (I'm looking at you, McQuaid!). I don't have a lot to say about the movie other than that I must echo the sentiments of John and Brandon and admit my profound disappointment. There are some decent segments (was generally on board with the succubus one, the last one, and, of course, Ti West's), but I'd say largely things are pretty cheap, uninteresting, and surprisingly tame in the scare department. I told Chris beforehand that I didn't think the film would be scary because I didn't really think it was possible to build tension or set the mood with found footage (a la PARANORMAL ACTIVITY). Sadly I was proven 100% true. And that's the main problem with V/H/S. Like with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, we are forced to watch largely irredeemable characters we hate while we wait for something awful to happen to them. If what happens to them isn't scary or entertaining then the film is a complete failure. It has to live and die by its scares. It certainly offers nothing else to latch onto. There's no craft, it looks fairly ugly, the characters are terrible, the dialogue is trite, and tits and gore are used as fall-back positions when the filmmakers run out of ideas. There's an interesting interview with Ti West below where he basically expounds upon all the reasons I find found footage so banal and ironically why I thought it made V/H/S so horribly tawdry. I find West to be a cool guy, and the interview with him actually makes me appreciate his short even more. His at least has some sense of craft, and grounds itself in reality. Still, it would have been so much better without the shaky cam.

I'll do like John and briefly comment on each of the segments. Like he and Brandon both said, this thing is a mixed bag.

Tape 56/wraparound - Utterly pointless. It might not have helped that we were talking throughout most of these scenes, but honestly, from what I could tell, we didn't miss much. This arc is totally underdeveloped, idiotic, and lifeless.

Amateur Night - Ironically, this is NOT the title of Glenn McQuaid's film, but of one of the better shorts of the bunch. It's certainly the creepiest, but like John, I too wished it were scarier. I also agree with what Brandon says here: "It actually seemed to have a purpose, the dudes from THE HANGOVER meeting an appropriate end via their unchecked misogyny." Damn straight.

Second Honeymoon - I'll be a proud Ti West apologist with Brandon here. I mostly liked his short and remain a big fan of his. It absolutely could have been scarier, but it has his signature all over it and I appreciate this. He genuinely cares about trying to build suspense and spending time with characters before the blood stars flowing. I like what John said: "it felt like Rod Serling trying to turn an episode of the Twilight Zone into a snuff film. Wait. I guess that doesn't sound all that bad after all." haha. Indeed.

Tuesday the 17th - Best of the bunch, hands down. Ah, Glenn McQuaid, you incompetent bastard. This one got the most derision on the night and deservedly so. It's terribly constructed on every conceivable level. The only good that came out of it was that it spawned the phrase "nice going, McQuaid," which hopefully will last for years to come.

The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger - As Alex mentioned, this one was a little better in retrospect than it was in actually sitting through. I had to have John explain part of the twist to me, which made it a little more interesting. I still think that it's largely laughable (it did get the biggest unintentional guffaw of the night), but can appreciate what John liked about it.

10/31/98 - I'm very much in agreement on this one with Brandon and John (and hell, everyone else that watched). Probably the best of the bunch, though it still could have been scarier. Very impressive visual effects and a solid sense of fun. Definitely a weak ending though. Almost ruined it for me.

Credits - Had a cool song that was better than a majority of the film.

When the movie was over - As Jesse said, this was surely the best part.

Overall, despite its suckiness, it was fun to see V/H/S with such great company. And I think we all learned some valuable lessons from it. Like: if you are a raging douche-bag you will die a horrible death, or you will make a horror short called "Tuesday the 17th." But I think the most valuable lesson we all learned is that we should have just listened to Tara and Becca from the beginning. :)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Eat your heart out Sight and Sound

So, I loved and am loving these top 10 lists from everyone. As Brandon has been mentioning, they are a fascinating look into the interests and thoughts of others. For me, film has essentially been my life, so to share in it with friends (like this club), and to see the passion others have for it is amazing. I wouldn't begrudge the picks of any other person we've seen so far. It's just great to see what they love. And trust me, film club is all about love, even when there is intense bickering. We should all bask in the singular glory and communalism of film enjoyment. It's a beautiful thing.

I'll try to comment briefly on every list we've seen so far. Apologies if I miss some. There have been a lot, and more to come. I'll just steal Chris's format here and choose my favorite pick from each list so far. This doesn't mean it's my favorite film from your list, just the choice I liked the most for whatever reason.

Chris – Love the list, of course. It could easily be my own. For my favorite of your picks I'm going with THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... because it is a very shrewd choice and I'm glad it had such an impact on you. (Honorable mention: 2001. We saw it together for the first time. We knew it was an unbelievable masterpiece even may back when.) Also, EMPIRE is definitely the best of the series, even if JEDI seemed the best when we were kids. Why no love for ATTACK OF THE CLONES though?

Ben - Love the list. I'm a fan of everything on it (that I've seen). My favorite of your picks is BAND OF OUTSIDERS. For one, because I didn't know you were a fan, and two because I'm a big fan myself. Glad to see A.I. on the list as well.

Lisa - We miss you! Great to see your list though. Love it. For your pick I'm going to go with REAR WINDOW because I'm really high on it right now and am seriously considering it might be my favorite Hitch (it's really close on SHADOW OF A DOUBT's heals is all I'll say). I'm a big fan of everything on your list.

Adrienne - Love the list. Glad to see 2001 at number 1. I've never seen THE THIN BLUE LINE, I haven't seen STAND BY ME in a long time and I can't really remember TROPIC THUNDER but I love everything else on your list. My favorite of your picks is DOWN BY LAW because I worship Tom Waits.

Gentile - First, welcome to film club! Love having you with us and can't wait to have some back and forths with ya. I'm still a fan of SCREAM myself. I haven't seen ELECTION in years, but I remember liking it. Still have a soft spot in my heart for 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (featuring BOTH Robin and the Joker). My favorite teen movie of all time is PRETTY IN PINK.

As for your top 10 list, loved it. All those picks are great. As I mentioned on FB though, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS is my favorite of your picks. That movie doesn't get enough love, and I'm glad you love it as much as me!

Arthur and Amy - Love your lists. For Arthur, I could go with MULHOLLAND DRIVE considering how much I love it, but for your favorite pick I'm going with FANNY AND ALEXANDER. Love the Bergman shout-out and love that film. For your wife, my favorite pick is MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. I was just watching this the other day. I hadn't seen it since I was very little at a friends house (and had almost forgotten I had ever seen it). It's a great one.

John and Abby - Love both lists. John, I'm really happy to see THERE WILL BE BLOOD so high up on your list. But my favorite pick of yours is TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN. We need to shame Brandon more for not having it on his top 10 of 1958 list. ;). And for Abby (stoked to see TREE OF LIFE and MR. AND MRS. SMITH on there), I'm going to go with IVAN'S CHILDHOOD because it's one of my absolute favorite Tarkovsky films and war films period.

Jason, wife, and son - Love all the lists. Jason, stoked to see EMPIRE at number one. Also love seeing THE MISSION and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE on there. For your pick, I gotta go with THE HOLY GRAIL though because I've seen it a hundred times yet as soon as I saw it on your list I felt like watching it again. For your wife, I'm really glad to see another TREE OF LIFE mention and to see MOONRISE so high up already. I gotta go with SCROOGE though here because Alastair Sim is probably the definitive incarnation of the character and I love Christmas movies. For your son (awesome list by the way! Much better than what mine would have been at 14), love the BILLY MADISON and HIDDEN FORTRESS mentions, but of course, you gotta go with MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW. So cool of him to pick that.

Brandon and Tara - Love both lists. Brandon, like Chris, your list could have been my own (perhaps minus RIO RITA, which I still think is great). My favorite of your picks is GRAND ILLUSION because we both had it on our list and I'm glad we have our unconditional love for that film in common. For Tara, no need to worry about getting picked on. I think your list is great. Glad to see BIG FISH, ETERNAL SUNSHINE, and, of course, DUMB AND DUMBER on there. My favorite of your picks is THE TWO TOWERS though because it's also my favorite of the trilogy. The battle of Helm's deep!

The rest of Brandon's clan:

Poppa Musa - Great list as expected from this seasoned cinephile veteran. My favorite of his picks is THE QUIET MAN. God, I love that film. Among my very favorite of Ford's.

Mamma Musa - What an awesome list! ROMAN HOLIDAY obviously rules, but my favorite pick of hers is BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. A delightful film that I saw for the first time while I was home sick from middle school one day. Randomly starting watching it on tv and had a blast.

Alex Craver (AKA my father) - I should just mention that I've known Alex ever since 7th grade when we played soccer together and became fast friends. That entire season is one of the best times of my life. In 9th grade I joined Alex (and Graham)'s band Abandonship as their lead singer. I left the band in 11th grade to become a professional hermit (from which I haven't yet escaped). They continued into a new band, The Trip Wilsons, and eventually met up with Mr. Fire When Ready himself, Brandon Musa. If it weren't for Alex, I would have never met Brandon and wouldn't be in this club today. He's one of my favorite people ever. Anyway, I love his list and my favorite pick of his is DAZED AND CONFUSED because it's been his favorite movie ever since we were young.

Brother Justin - What a fantastic list. So stoked that THE BIG SLEEP is on there and that we have that overlap. My favorite pick of his though is SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS. I'm really smitten with that one right now. It's genius.

Brother Colin - I'm glad to say that I have met him once (very nice guy). He's got a great list too. My pick for him is THE DEFIANT ONES. It's such an enjoyable film.

Brother Darius - We have not met, but you can't go wrong with FRIDAY!

Uncle Jessie - Amazing list, as expected. Love all of his picks. It's tempting to go with CITY LIGHTS, but I'm so glad he picked THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. That's gotta be in my top 20.

Aunt Becky - We have met several times (very nice gal!). What a great list, as well. I'm stoked to see THE FOUNTAIN on that list, but gotta go with BAMBI for my pick because hunting sucks and that movie rules.

Great-Uncle Peter - I've actually known Pete since the days of Abandonship. He was in another band called A Call to Arms at the time and we played a couple shows together. He's a great (and hilarious) guy. Love his List. Awesome to see JOSEY WALES and TWBB on there (and Mo Betta Blues!). I gotta go with DRIVE though. Partly to stick it to Ben, but mostly because I love it and am glad he does too.

Pete's gal Alex - We haven't met, but her list is really terrific. Love seeing MANHATTAN and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE on there. My favorite pick of hers is BLUE VELVET though because I was just watching it the other night. It's quintessential Lynch.

Steve - My fellow skinny! Another great list. I'm a fan of all those movies on there, but my favorite pick of his is KILLER'S KISS. Gotta love that early Kubrick shout-out. What a bold and interesting choice.

Justin Mann - I don't know him as well as I should. I've been often told that he and I are very similar and would get along very well. I was thankful enough to be at his surprise birthday bash this year though and got to talk to him a little bit more. He's a great guy and he loves collecting books just like me. He's got a wonderful list. I'm really stoked to see THE AFRICAN QUEEN on it, so that's my favorite pick of his. I recently acquired this baby on VHS from a library book sale, and boy does it look glorious. Fuck blu-ray.

All right, I think that does it for now. I'll have to comment on the rest of the lists that come out too.

Also, I've decided to join in the fun and ask my family and friends to provide their own lists. Excited to see what everyone picks. Already got a list from my pal Eric that puts mine to shame. Should have all those up soon!

Monday, September 3, 2012

July & August Recaps

I have fallen horribly behind on these recaps. I'll try to mention all the films I've seen in the last two months, but I'm sure to miss several. I didn't keep track of what I watched from mid-July onward, which was a bad idea. The last month and a half have been a bit of a blur. Hopefully, posting this will get me back into a rhythm of posting semi-regularly. Last month was my lowest output since I joined the club. Simply not good enough.

Anyway, here's some of the movies I saw in the past two months:

Goldfinger (1964) ***
Dr. No (1962) ***
Shock Corridor (1963) ***
The Naked Kiss (1964) ***
Outward Bound (1930) ***
Westfront 1918 (1930) ***
The Easiest Way (1931) ***
The Front Page (1931) **
Fearless (1993) ****
A Farewell to Arms (1932) ***
The Old Dark House (1932) ***
Of Human Bondage (1934) ***
The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) ***
Alice Adams (1935) *** 1/2
Isle of the Dead (1945) ***
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) ***
Crime Wave (1954) *****
The Ladykillers (1955) ***
Autumn Leaves (1956) ***
Party Girl (1958) *** 1/2
Le Beau Serge (1958) ***
Fires on the Plain (1959) ***
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) ***
China Seas (1935) ***
Brave (2012) ****
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) ****
21 Jump Street (2012) **
Lady Killer (1933) *** 1/2
Soy Cuba (1964) *****
Vivacious Lady (1938) ****
Son of Frankenstein (1939) ***
You Were Never Lovelier (1942) ***
The Ghost Ship (1943) ***
Tall in the Saddle (1944) ****
The Body Snatcher (1945) ***
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) ***
Isle of the Dead (1945) ***
The Fortune Cookie (1966) *** 1/2
The Killers (1946) ***
D.O.A (1950) ***
The Prowler (1951) ****
Sabrina (1954) ***
Another Earth (2011) ** 1/2
The Turin Horse (2011) *****
Bed and Board (1970) ****
The Last Days of Disco (1999) ****
Damsels in Distress (2011) ****
Metropolitan (1990) **** 1/2
Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) ****


Batman Begins (2005) ***
Sunset Boulevard (1950) **** 1/2
Sergeant York (1941) ***
3:10 to Yuma (1957) **** 1/2
Don't Look Now (1973) *****

Caught a few of the Connery Bond movies back in July. Had never seen them before. Decent enough entertainment.

Everything Brandon said about SOY CUBA is true. It's a visual wonder.

ANOTHER EARTH is almost saved by its terrific concept, but it's unfortunately ruined by its utterly banal storytelling and direction. I was quite disappointed in it, mostly because of the praise it had received from Ben and John. There's really nothing noteworthy about it. Sorry my friends.

Andre de Toth's CRIME WAVE is essential noir. A great, gritty film. Joseph Losey's THE PROWLER is also fantastic, ballsy, and disturbed.

Really enjoyed TALL IN THE SADDLE.

The original (and definitive) 3:10 TO YUMA is even better than I remember. An emotional film with distinctive style and a great performance from Glenn Ford. A real treasure of the genre.

MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (which I watched just for you, John) is really wonderful. It's at times charming, at others offputting, incredibly strange, but always honest (not unlike PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE). It's got such a warm ending that my day actually felt brightened by it. And, of course, Gena Rowlands again proves she's one the greatest actresses to ever live.

Maybe the best film introduction I've had these past two months is to the work of Whit Stillman (again, I'll use film club's newest motto – "I should have just listened to John from the beginning"). His aesthetic is undoubtedly right up my alley. I think METROPOLITAN is my favorite of the three Stillman film's I've seen thus far (loved DISCO and DAMSELS though, to be sure). It's as funny and ridiculously deadpan as the other films but also the warmest and perhaps most vulnerable. It's also set around Christmas time, which only helps its cause. Anyway, Stillman rules. Glad to be on the band wagon.


Breaking Bad Season 5
The X-Files Season 1
The Newsroom Season 1
The Bob Newhart Show

Bob Newhart's the greatest.

BREAKING BAD continues to be astounding. Sad to see it go, but extremely thankful for it's brilliance.

THE X-FILES terrified me as a kid. Apart from catching a few stray episodes with my dad when they aired, I’ve never actually seen the series. I’m about 12 episodes into season 1. I’m enjoying it very much so far. I don’t know if I’ll watch the entire series, but for now, I’m content to see how far my interest in the show takes me.


THE MASTER is less than three weeks away. If no NYC trip happens before it, I will be at Cinemopolis opening night for that one. Who else is down?