Monday, June 24, 2013

Quizard of Oz

1. Name your five favorite actors and actresses of all time.


James Cagney
Jimmy Stewart
(copying Brandon) Humphrey Bogart/Jean Gabin
Robert Mitchum
William Powell or Cary Grant

I could have easily found room for Max von Sydow, Joseph Cotten, Joel McCrea, Toshiro Mifune, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Charles Laughton, Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, or Dustin Hoffman.  Obviously, that list goes on and on.


Carole Lombard
Veronica Lake
Ginger Rogers
Greta Garbo
Myrna Loy or Arletty

Could have also made room for Gene Tierney, Joan Bennett, Maureen O'Hara, and Joan Fontaine.
My more modern affections are split between Laura Linney and Cate Blanchett.

2. Can you remember the first foreign-language film you saw that made an impact on you?  If so, what was it?

I can remember seeing RUN, LOLA, RUN as an early teen and it having a fairly substantial impact on me.  It fit right into the sort of "cool cinema" that appealed to me at the time – films that emphasized aesthetics and editing tricks like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and TRAINSPOTTING.  I think it also helped open the floodgates in terms of seeking out new foreign films to see.

As far as foreign art-house classics go, I think 8 1/2 and SEVEN SAMURAI were among the first I saw, and I thought they were both mindblowing.  They were like reading Faulkner for the first time – just completely changed my perspective on art and what "cinema" meant to me.

3. Favorite moment in a horror film?  Least favorite?

First, I should say that probably my favorite horror sequence takes place near the end of THE SHINING when Wendy is running through the hotel and sees a series of increasingly bizarre imagery from a bear suit sex tryst to a cocktail party of corpses.  My mom happened to catch the ending once, and when the blood started pouring from the elevator she turned to me and said "whoever made this is completely sick."  And I thought, "well done Stanley."

My favorite scene, however (off the top of my head), is divided between the night stalk scene in CAT PEOPLE and the seance scene in THE CHANGELING.  The night stalk scene has one of the best jump scares of all time and also builds tension better than just about any film ever made.  The seance scene just creeped the living daylights out of me.  I have a hard time even thinking about it without getting a chill.

Now that I think of it, I'm also quite partial to the crucifix masturbation scene in THE EXORCIST – if only for how truly outrageous and shocking it still is to this day.

There are probably many horror film moments that have rubbed me the wrong way.  The first that comes to mind is actually two moments in HOSTEL when we find the Japanese girl getting her eyeball drilled out and then her consequently jumping in front of a train.  It was just the bitter icing on one truly unpleasant cake, and even the prospect of revenge against these torturers couldn't redeem my sadness.

4. Pick a film for each member of film club that you’d really like for her/him to see.

Adrienne - YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (maybe she's seen this already...)

Ben - AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (I feel like pushing Bresson on Ben for some reason)

Brandon - BLUE/WHITE/RED (or THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE or THE DECALOGUE.  Just want him to see some Kieslowski).

Chris - LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (Been tellin' him to see it for a while now...)

Gentile - THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY (my favorite Bunuel)

Graham - PLAYTIME (feel like he might appreciate this being a Monty Python fan)

Jason - THE LEOPARD MAN (classic horror that still holds up)

John -  THE SON (Brandon's on board with it, now I just need Bing to join him)

Lisa - STARDUST MEMORIES (Not sure if she has seen this one or not, but it's great)

5. Is there a film(s) that you once loved (and maybe even purchased) that now makes you question what you ever saw in it?

Oh god...too many.  But I'm really not too ashamed of having bought shit like the THE BOONDOCK SAINTS when I was 13 because I didn't know any better then.  I was just a stupid little kid.  I think one of the slightly more recent films I always thought I loved until I watched it again a year or so ago is DARK CITY.  I bought that back in the mid-2000s and used to really dig it, but now I think it's pretty damn dull and that Kiefer Sutherland's overacting annoys the shit out of me.  I apologize to the memory of Roger Ebert, but I think DARK CITY is wack.

6. IFC has started releasing films on demand the same day they hit theaters.  Would you like more studios to do this or are you afraid it may strike the death knell for movie theaters?

I would love for more independent studios to do this.  I think it's a phenomenal idea.  As Brandon was saying, it brings availability for smaller market areas such as ours to see foreign films or other art house stuff that would never come near us.  I think it would certainly help these films and studios in the long run too because it provides a wide release at an essentially minimal cost.  I'm definitely not worried about an On Demand system like this taking over movie theaters.  Again to echo Brandon, the major studio systems and their overpriced, overblown blockbusters need a serious shake up.  I never want to see movie theaters become obsolete, but I have no problem trimming the budgets, exorbitant actor salaries, and unnecessary spectacle of the hundreds and hundreds of movies the studios shit out each year.  Most "big" movies are getting too expensive and too long and there needs to be some breaking point for this trend.  Also, if the wave of the future for movie theaters is digital, 3D, 48 fps projectors then count me the fuck out.

7. Favorite movie(s) set during the summertime?

I actually had three movies in mind when formulating this question:  SUMMERTIME, REAR WINDOW, and of course, DO THE RIGHT THING.  SUMMERTIME, as the name implies, fantastically represents the idyllic beauty of how we'd all dream a summertime retreat in Venice to be (and also the potential loneliness behind the facade).  REAR WINDOW and DO THE RIGHT THING are two of the best movies at making the feel of summer truly come to life on screen.  And honestly (apart from STRAY DOG), I don't think there's ever been a hotter movie to watch then DO THE RIGHT THING.  You can feel the sweat pour off ya just imagining it.  It's one of the finest examples of using a season as a setting to enhance and comment on the conflicts inherent in the storyline being portrayed.  Probably the quintessential summertime movie.

8. Which director working today do you think would make a great western if given the chance (assuming he/she hasn’t already made one)?  Or if you don’t like westerns, which director working today do you think would make a great sci-fi flick (also assuming he/she hasn’t made one yet)?

Given the right script, I do think David Fincher could make a great western.  I think he's a talented enough director that he could probably master any genre, even one so complicated as the modern western.  Nicholas Winding Refn could probably make a pretty spectacular, stylish, and violent western.  I also think Jeff Nichols could make the greatest western of the bunch.  Hell, he could even pull a Raoul Walsh and remake SHOTGUN STORIES but just set it in the old west and he'd have one awesome western right there.

9. Describe a perfect moment in a movie (courtesy of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule).

I think the restaurant scene in BEFORE SUNRISE where Jessie and Celine give fake phone calls to their friends (revealing their feelings for one another) is one of the great romantic moments in film history.  It perfectly encapsulates the transparency, emotional candor, and impossible dreaminess of their serendipitous relationship.  It's also one of the best moments at capturing the exhilarating and ineffable feeling of a burgeoning love.  It makes you feel the excitement of the lived moment and also the quiet melancholy of its transience.  Perfect movie moment.

10. Here’s a decent list of movies that came out in 1990:
Can you name your top five favorites from the year?

Hate to be the hipster contrarian here (who am I kidding? I love it), but:

1. Close-up
2. Goodfellas
3. Metropolitan
4. Edward Scissorhands
5. Miller’s Crossing

I actually chose 1990 so as to encourage y'all to see CLOSE-UP and METROPOLITAN.  Great, great movies.

Younger version of me probably would have had these on the list:  DUCKTALES THE MOVIE, ERNEST GOES TO JAIL, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (agree that it's still great), THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, and TREMORS.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

New Quiz

1. Name your five favorite actors and actresses of all time.

2. Can you remember the first foreign-language film you saw that made an impact on you?  If so, what was it?

3. Favorite moment in a horror film?  Least favorite?

4. Pick a film for each member of film club that you’d really like for her/him to see.

5. Is there a film(s) that you once loved (and maybe even purchased) that now makes you question what you ever saw in it?

6. IFC has started releasing films on demand the same day they hit theaters.  Would you like more studios to do this or are you afraid it may strike the death knell for movie theaters?

7. Favorite movie(s) set during the summertime?

8. Which director working today do you think would make a great western if given the chance (assuming he/she hasn’t already made one)?  Or if you don’t like westerns, which director working today do you think would make a great sci-fi flick (also assuming he/she hasn’t made one yet)?

9. Describe a perfect moment in a movie (courtesy of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule).

10. Here’s a decent list of movies that came out in 1990:
Can you name your top five favorites from the year?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pigs and Apocalypses

UPSTREAM COLOR left a strange, glacial feeling inside me.  It just kind of sat there like a hulking slab of lead. Its chilly impact may have been enhanced by some unrelated and untoward anxiety I was experiencing while watching it (this is probably the case). But leaving my own personal problems aside for the moment, purely as a film to be consumed, it left me feeling a bit cold and lifeless inside.  It's a mostly impressive film, from a technical standpoint, and it successfully elicits the kind of melancholia it portrays while also piquing our curiosity through its abstractions and diffuse narrative structure.  It also does feel like it sways somewhere between the transient beauty of THE TREE OF LIFE and the fear and loathing of ERASERHEAD (both pluses).  But it gets bogged down by its overly abstracted aloofness and some serious, eye-rolling indie cliches.  As smart and impressive as a lot of the filmmaking is here, I can't help but feel that Carruth overburdens himself in a gargantuan effort to appear deeply poetic and solemn.  He adheres too much to so many self-consciously indie images and tropes (isn't every fucking indie movie about joyless people trying to rebuild their ruined lives or does it just feel that way? And doesn't every self-serious indie movie create an image like two people cuddling in a bathtub that essentially occurs no where outside of indie movies?).  I'm not consciously trying to be too hard on Carruth.  I just think that for as talented as he is, he has a few cliched hangups to get over, and for as smart as he is, he still makes some glaringly contrived missteps.  I'm still not entirely sold on him as a filmmaker, even as I applaud him for essentially doing everything to get this movie made and released.

To Carruth's credit, he has created a film that is much better than his last effort and infinitely more successful than the similarly-themed sci-fi indie flick ANOTHER EARTH (which I really disliked).  He has an ephemeral editing style that remains intact throughout and doesn't make us pine for scenes to drag out longer than they should.  We know the rhythms of the film right from the opening, and that's a positive.  He also generates some thought-provoking and genuinely cool ideas, like the suggestion that these mealworms can create a connective fabric between two of their carriers (sharing memories or feelings) and sort of lifeline between two species (loved the last shots with the pigs).  And decidedly, there's a lot to unpack in the narrative because it is so enigmatic and equivocal.  I thought Brandon did an admirable job breaking down a lot of what was happening in the film, and I don't really have much more to add.  I think it's entirely possible to figure out much of this film after one viewing, as long as you are connecting the dots and following along diligently.  So, in that way, it's not so abstract that its indecipherable.  Anyone who thinks this is simple obscurantism is wrong.

I'd say overall I was impressed by UPSTREAM COLOR, though I'm hardly in awe of it.  It's perhaps too elusive and somehow stunted for me to fully connect to.  I greatly prefer the complexities of LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE to it (and, yes, for the record, John, it is indeed as complex as I described - probably more so :) ).  Still, I can see why it has its many stalwart advocates.

I have a pretty strong affinity for THIS IS THE END already.  It's easily my favorite film of the year so far (beating out the only other two I've seen in UPSTREAM COLOR and STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS).  It's frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious and, at the very least, pervasively amusing throughout.  It's definitely up there with best genre/comedy mash-ups of recent times.  It's also the spiritual twin of PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and it delivers the same amount of hysterical banter, self-deprecating meta-awareness, and endearing male bonding that made PINEAPPLE so much fun.  Honestly, if you enjoyed PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and SUPERBAD, then you'll love this.  If you didn't like either of those or can't stand the guys involved, then just skip it entirely.  It doesn't tread radically new ground for Rogen and Co. but continues in a lot of the same patterns they've been developing for years.  Yet, for lovers of this pattern, it's terrifically executed. It's definitively hilarious and probably one of the best times you could have at the theaters this summer.  I've got nothing else to really say about it, other than to encourage those interested to see it with some friends and cut loose.


In other film news, I'm worried about MAN OF STEEL.  I'm still going to see it soon, but all the negative reviews (especially those suggesting it falls into generic blockbuster and run-of-the-mill superhero territory all too easily) have really cooled my excitement.  We shall see.

I'm infinitely more excited for BEFORE MIDNIGHT.  Next weekend, y'all?

Brandon asked me to do another film quiz.  I've been slacking on coming up with questions, but I'll have one up soon hopefully.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beyond the Hills Into Darkness

Brandon, great post on BEYOND THE HILLS.  I'm glad you found it as rich, complex, and engrossing as I did.  I deserve that little dig for giving a caveat over the film's length and deliberate pacing haha.  It doesn't move any more leisurely than your average art film, and truly there isn't a lot of dead space where nothing's happening to warrant such a warning.  It remains intense and searingly complex through just about every scene.  I was just worried its length and pacing might turn some people off of it.  I'm glad that wasn't the case for you.

Your analysis of the film's content is basically spot-on, at least in terms of how I similarly read what was happening.  We seemed to attack it from a homogenous angle.  Obviously, our biggest initial disagreement was over the nature of Mungiu's "condemnation" of the institutions he portrays (or lack thereof).  When I first finished watching it, I didn't get the sense that he was really condemning anyone or anything.  I just felt his frustration and maybe his despair over the muck he finds pervading our modern societal disposition.  But then as I've thought more about this, by the very fact that he suggests that we are all in "muck," there would have to be some condemnation.  The final shot (which is certainly deliberate, and brilliant, in my opinion) is a sort of definitive visual condemnation; it's also intensely, painfully aware.  I think he's saying that we are in a hell of a quagmire concerning the incompatibility of our institutions, and there's no apparent way of escaping it.  The problem is not just this orthodox religion that seems antiquated and backwards within modernity, but the modern society that can hardly accept it.  Medical institutions don't come across any better than the religion here.  Neither shows any real capacity to handle the problem of Alina.  You are completely right and succinct when you say here: "Both parties struggle to THINK up rational resolutions in the suffocating blur of emotion clouding each character’s judgment until tragedy finally strikes."  Well said.  I was gearing myself up for a solid discussion with you about how the film is not condemnatory, but I see now that you were right all along.  There's no invective here; Mungiu is by no means preaching or trying to proselytize; he's just upset and frustrated, and he expresses it through a general outcry against the various guilty parties involved.

I think it's truly fascinating that at the heart of BEYOND THE HILLS we have a thwarted love story between two women.  The religion, the hospital, the cops, the entire world surrounding the orthodox compound – they are all caught by Alina and Voichita's central, incommunicable predicament.
The religion and the nuns involved in it aren't evil; they just doesn't understand Alina's problem nor do they understand how to deal with her.  The hospital isn't any different.  You're right in saying that much of their irrationality towards her stems from their fear of her.  They are much too powerless to have a reasonable or helpful solution for her.  And Alina's reaction towards them is just as much irrational.  She is also guilty of not understanding or for not willing to be.

So, yeah, there's definitely condemnation here.  There is also a distance from the material in the way much the film is shot and framed, as if a "laying things bare and leaving you to ponder their consequences" type thing were happening.  Mungiu's clearly frustrated by what has taken place in the film, and I read that last shot as him basically throwing up his hands in bewilderment, asking us all, "what the hell do we do?"  I think he's an immensely talented and intelligent filmmaker, and that BEYOND THE HILLS is even better than 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS.  I too am glad that he shows so much bravado in choosing provocative and controversial subject matter for his films.  He's definitely not shy, and he's incredibly confidant based of the sheer artistry and audacity involved in his first two films.  I already can't wait for his next one.

In other recent film news, I thought STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS was a solid continuation of the first film.  It's silly and contains many outlandish set pieces and narrative contrivances, but it's mostly thrilling throughout and, very importantly, it recreates much of the first film's sense of insouciance and playfulness between characters.  I wasn't looking for much else from it other than to avoid boredom, and it didn't disappoint in this regard.  Good, weightless fun.

THIS IS FORTY was largely disappointing, but to be honest, I wasn't expecting all that much from it.  I'm still a huge fan of KNOCKED UP, but I'm about ready to give up on Apatow as a director after FUNNY PEOPLE and now this mess of a film.  THIS IS FORTY is just as bloated and cloying as the worst parts of FUNNY PEOPLE, but it was somehow less funny and more aimless.  It has no real sense of narrative cohesion or direction, and hardly anything compelling to say that isn't already obvious from observing most families.  Also, as Brandon mentioned, it suffers irreparably from being nearly impossible to connect to unless you are incredibly wealthy.  Apatow has written so much of his privileged status into his films lately that he's lost sight of what makes a story compelling.
There is, however, a single profound shot in the movie with one of the daughters playing with her keyboard while her parents are arguing in the next room, and apart from a few decent Paul Rudd jokes, it is easily the strongest moment of this otherwise dull, futile film.  Apatow needs to step out of the coziness of his mansion and mingle with the people again real soon.

I don't really have a lot to write about LIFE OF PI.  I enjoyed most of it, and there are even a few moments that I found in it to be quite beautiful and moving.  It looks sharp, and it's a decent adventure story.  That's really all I've got to say about it haha.

School is all done in a week or so.  I don't leave for Philadelphia until late August, and I won't be working for the time in between.  That should give me plenty of time to get more blogging in.  Hopefully you'll see more from me on here.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Quiz answerz

[Sorry these quiz answers are going to suck.  As I mentioned on Facebook, I had lengthy answers for most of these questions, and then I lost them all when my computer died.  I'm extremely fucking upset about it and don't feel like writing the same shit again.  Again, sorry to Brando for the brevity here].

1. What film hit you at the right place and right time, pertaining to and illuminating things that were happening in your life the moment you saw it?

A SINGLE MAN.  I had a lot written on why it hit me so hard at that particularly time, but don't feel like going into it all over again.

2. What would be your top 5 ranked Pixar films?

3. UP

3. To reiterate Cheddar’s question…. What movie/movies had the biggest negative effect on you?

I may have mentioned this before but FALLEN.  That demon-possession film with Denzel Washington where the evil spirit is passed to a person merely by touching them.  I watched it when I was a kid and still believed in God and the Devil at that point.  It had an even more negative impact on me than JAWS because instead of not wanting to swim, I was terrified of touching anyone for the longest time.

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM definitely bummed me out, but I think it ultimately had a positive impact on me because I saw it when I was 13 or so and still a movie novice.  It was instrumental in helping me see film as an artistic medium at the time.

4. What seasons seem to inspire you to see and write about films the most and least?

December and January are usually when I see the most Oscar hopefuls and try to catch up on the foreign films from earlier in the year so that I can make my year-end top 10 list.  Probably when I feel most inspired to watch and write, though I think I watch the most films during the summer due to having so much more free time to do so.

5. What are five movies that you love that you feel comfortable never seeing again?

I'm surprised no one else caught this, but you had this question on the last quiz too.  I said AUDITION, MARTYRS, ANTICHRIST, and IRREVERSIBLE last time, so I'll stick with them again.

6. What anticipated 2012 film/films are you feeling the most uneasy about expectation wise?

ONLY GOD FORGIVES and TO THE WONDER are great examples here.  MAN OF STEEL for me too.

 7. Likewise, what former favorite actors are trudging down dangerous territory for you, also what actors have already strayed down the path to the point in which their name now means nothing? I’m realizing now that this is a mean sounding question.

I understand the Gosling trepidation.  I'm hoping he gets back into immersive acting roles like HALF NELSON and BLUE VALENTINE soon and stops repeating the laconic tough guy role for every other film.  He's too great an actor to limit himself in such a way.

Johnny Depp is just a straight-up mercenary at this point, no?  He'd probably admit it to you bluntly too, if you asked him.

I remember loving Edward Norton as a teen, but can't think of anything of note (apart from MOONRISE KINGDOM) that he's done in over ten years.

To reiterate something John mentioned via twitter – why is Ethan Hawke in every other shitty horror film these days? $$$, I'm sure (though, hey, as long as he continues to pump out BEFORE films every 9 years, I honestly don't care what else he does).

8. What is your take on a screenwriter’s impact on a film’s success, in other words how much of an auteurist are you?

Ugh.  I had a lot written here.  I'll try to briefly summarize through my frustration:  a great director is responsible for providing the visual language that is filled with meaning and amplifies what a screenplay is only a blueprint for.  This is the most important part of the filmmaking process for me because film is primarily a visual medium.  I take nothing away from the Charlie Kaufman's, Ben Hecht's, and Waldo Salt's of the world though, and I love and appreciate many unbelievably well-written screenplays from screenwriters who are not director.  They are still an integral part in the process.

9. What types of “provocative” cinematic trends/ideas still feel fresh, which seem to be losing their oomph in the modern age of self awareness?

The sort of docu-realism miserablist films post-KIDS have lost whatever steam they had.  Fuck that entire lazy way of making films.

Von Trier still seems fresh and provocative to me, however.  It's probably because he's got a great sense of humor and is borderline insane.

I think the most provocative modern films are the ones that are so unabashedly a product of their director's vision with little to no concern over mass marketability (e.g. THE MASTER, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, THE TREE OF LIFE, THE TURIN HORSE, INLAND EMPIRE, etc.)

10. What’s your favorite horror film of the 1990s (that isn’t SCREAM Cheddar!)?

I'll proudly add to the SLEEPY HOLLOW pile.  Easily my favorite of the 90s.

I used to really love JACOB'S LADDER at one point in time.  Haven't seen it in forever though.

I still love the gaudy decadence of BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA.

SEVEN isn't really a horror film per se, but it's the best near-horror film of the 90s.