Sunday, March 18, 2018

plato's cave fifty seven (being a film journal)

James Ivory - The White Countess - 2005
First time seeing this film. Was very happy Mr. Ivory won for Call Me by Your Name at the Oscars. Beautiful film by him, as was this The White Countess staring the lovely Natasha Richardson who died quite tragically, and Ralph Fiennes.

Arthur Hiller - The In-Laws - 1979
Second time seeing this. Not surprised Criterion put it out, a really great film. Completely absurd, Falk and Arkin are a great comedy duo. James Hong and David Paymer really stand out. Headspinning nonsense.

David Mackenzie - Starred-Up - 2013
Second time seeing this. Great fucking film! Ben Mendelsohn as always pushes it to 11, as does Jack O'Connell. One of the best prison films, just unrelenting.

Stephen Frears - Prick Up Your Ears - 1987
Second time seeing this. Alfred Molino is just one hell of an actor. Compare this roll to Boogie Nights! As is Mr. Oldman. Some fantastic stuff in this film, from talking about buggering The Beatles to the final scene. Worth repeat viewings.

Ryan Coogler - Creed - 2015
I really liked this film but I think the end fight scene was lacking. Too much abridgement rather than giving the match some space.  Grew up loving Rocky and seeing Stallone doing his thing was really rewarding, even though he has not been in many A list films, he is quite a subtle actor. Didn't recognize Tessa Thompson from Annihilation until my wife pointed it out, quite a different role for her. Enthusiastic about Ritchie Coster, a character actor that always commands your attention. One of those guys.

Sean Penn - Into the Wild - 2007
Didn't dig this film. I think the main actor and his character did not appeal to me. Sean Penn is practically god as actor though, I want to watch The Pledge again soon as it is a proper directorial effort by Mr. Penn.

Whit Stillman - Barcelona - 1994
Gave this a try even though I have not liked Mr. Stillman's films. Hard to comprehend what he is going after for this viewer, reminds me a bit of Hal Hartley films, but lacks the subtleties and idiosyncratic direction that Mr. Harley achieves. Not my rhythm.

Jonathan Kaplan - The Accused - 1988
Third time seeing this, once around the time it came out (in high school) and then a year or so after. Besides the rotten music which plagues many films from this time period, it has some pretty shocking scenes. Was very surprised the rape scene was as intense as it was, if it was in a film now it would stand out. Made me want to watch Demme's The Silence of Lambs (for the billionth time), on the new Criterion version. Also other Demme films from that time period which PT Anderson brought up in his Fresh Air conversation. Jodie Foster is outstanding in the film.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu - The Revenant - 2015
Third time seeing this. Breathtaking photography by Emmanuel Lubezki, every damn frame is so lush. The soundtrack by Alva Noto, Bryce Dessner, and Ryuichi Sakamoto is perfect. Also features Messiaen's Oraison in the post sleeping in a dead horse walk. Long virtuosic shots remind the viewer very much of Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men. Nearly perfect film.

Bruce Beresford - Tender Mercies - 1983
Second viewing, love this film. Tender Mercies fits in with the early nineteen eighties nihilism and anti-romanticism described in an earlier post.  Similar to 70s films but in a much plainer style, with an economy of means. Mentioned earlier, something magic about these films before the Hughes pack stunk up the joint. Watching it, I couldn't put my finger on where I saw Tess Harper, until I looked her up and saw her as Jesse's mother in Breaking Bad, Loretta Bell from No Country for Old Men, and an episode of True Detective. Always a pleasure to see Wilford Brimley, also has a small role with one of the less fortunate characters from the second season of Twin Peaks, Lenny von Dohlen. Photographed by Russell Boyd, who shot Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, Gallipoli, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Also, the only thing better than a Robert Duvall film is a Robert Duvall film where he plays country music.

Mark Robson - The Harder They Fall - 1956
Last Bogart film, third time seeing this. Great story, kind of an interesting contrast to In A Lonely Place where he has such high standards, here he is a sort of good guy just content to make some money as he just doesn't give a shit and wants to not struggle (until his consciousness has a reawakening). Both are such good Bogart films. I forgot which film it was from until it happened, and literally nearly had a heart attach from laughter, but I love the lady yelling "you yellow dog!" over and over after the main boxing match. Such crazy nonsense, really beautiful stuff! One thing many contemporary films lack is this "business" that can be so damn powerful. Great looking film with lots of extreme darks, shot by Burnett Guffey who also shot From Here to Eternity, Bonnie and Clyde, Birdman of Alcatraz, In a Lonely Place, Nightfall and many others. Also features Val Avery, the great character actor from films such as Minnie and Moskowitz, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Hud, Faces, and The Long, Hot Summer.

Alan Parker - Mississippi Burning - 1988
Third viewing. Very interesting music by Trevor Jones, sort of post-kraut.... intense stuff, possibly overly used but gives a specific mood to the film. Watching this now one wonders if this country has progressed much since these practically medieval days? A good film to remind one of the continual presence of fascist swines in government : They Live. Watching just aesthetically: the cast really is strong - Gene Hackman and Willem Defoe, both at their best. Frances McDormand in a really wonderful early role. Brad Dourif, Michael Rooker, Pruitt Taylor Vince and R. Lee Ermey as some dirty cowardly mellon farmers. Great film!

Stephen Frears - Philomena - 2013
Second viewing. Very nice film. Another one to get you angry about the poverty of integrity in this world.

Gus Van Sant - Good Will Hunting - 1997
Fourth or fifth time with this film. Remember not liking it when it came out but gave it another chance a few years or so after it came out and have watched it quite a few times since then. Just one of those great 90s films with some really elegant acting : Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgård,  George Plimpton, Casey Affleck and of course Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Those songs by Elliott Smith are such gems. Photography by Jean-Yves Escoffier who shot Rounders right after this. Over the years have enjoyed many films by Mr. Van Sant including his Béla Tarr, and partially Alan Clarke inspired trilogy (Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days), My Own Private Idaho, and To Die For.

Michael Mann - Heat - 1995
Probably one of my favorite films from the 90s, saw this in the theater with my father and have been religiously devoted to it ever since, have watched close to fifteen times, maybe more. De Niro really stands out in this, one of his best roles. I really can't say I like Val Kilmer much as an actor (probably after seeing The Doors) but he is so subtle and powerful in this role, as are Tom Sizemore, Ted "Put the fucking lotion in the basket" Levine, Wes Studi, Ashley Judd, Tom Noonan, Danny Trejo, Hank Azaria, William Fichtner, Dennis Haysbert (in Far From Heaven), and quite a few others. Guitar driven soundtrack really exemplifies the style of Mann (in the John Carpenter tradition?), with music by the heaviest of ECM guitarists Terje Rypdal, and also Moby (Joy Division cover New Dawn Fades and God moving over the face of the waters). Had in my mind that Moby was not of interest without listening to his music, but I really loved his contribution to the recent Twin Peaks and his work in this film. Also songs by Lisa Gerrard, Michael Brook, Brian Eno, Elliot Goldenthal, and Kronos Quartet and Einstürzende Neubauten (The song Armenia). Heat was shot by the great Dante Spinotti, photographer of Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans, L.A. Confidential, The Insider, Wonder Boys, and a few others. The final shootout scene is so masterly constructed and a perfect example of how photography, editing, sound design, music, acting and direction can sometimes come together so perfectly. Starting with Brian Eno's song Force Marker keeping rhythm, basically a loop during the robbery and exit, the tension builds to a near breaking point. As soon as gun fire erupts the music stops dead and the volume of the firing just becomes defining. Still one of the most virtuosic and visceral action scenes ever in a film, after quite a few viewings I still look so forward to it, the power is like what I imagine a junky feels when shooting up..... reminds one of coitus as well.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

plato's cave fifty six (being a film journal)

Russell Mulcahy - Highlander - 1986
One strange film. First time watching. Found it to be an atypical 80s film. Sean Connery and his echoed voice from the bathroom opening the film is very nice. Also Clancy Brown, guy is a serious actor. NYC in the 80s, what a place.

Sergio Leone - The Good the Bad and the Ugly - 1967
Watched this over and over as a young man. The lines enter the brain before the ear hears them. Never gets old. Fucking Morricone too, from semi-kitsch to avant'garde, great score.

Arthur Penn - Night Moves - 1975
Reminded me that I don't watch film for plot and that that is acceptable.  Plots tend to be secondary for this viewer. Think of Raymond Chandler and The Big Sleep. Night Moves' plot is a bit of a headscratcher... the details... doesn't matter, actually adds to the enjoyment of the film. If ever unsure of Gene Hackman as one of the greats, this film will convince you.  Melanie Griffith's raison d'être in her early films must have been être nu.

John Huston - Fat City - 1972
Third time watching. One great film. Boxing films have a special place in this viewers world. Has some really great boxing scenes, not virtuosic like Raging Bull, much more subtle and contemplative. Stacy Keach is a heavy actor, he even gets in there deeper than Jeff Bridges. That cleft lip really sets him apart as well. Nothing like the scene early on of Keach shadow boxing. Conrad L. Hall photographed this film, works from him include Cool Hand Luke, In Cold Blood, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Day of the Locust, Marathon Man, and Tequila Sunrise.

Mike Hodges - Get Carter - 1971
Nearly perfect film with Michael Caine. Caine, a London gangster, goes home to the North of England to avenge his brothers death and is warned not to. Reminded me of Red Riding trilogy where they say we do what we want in the North. Such a great ending.

Jerzy Skolimowski - The Shout - 1978
Second time seeing this strange film. John Hurt works as a musician recording and even just making strange avant'garde sound with his mic and equipment. Alan Bates performs Merzbow or Masonna out of his mouth and kills. Very unusual film editing by Barrie Vince, extreme but quite subtle.

Lawrence Kasdan - Body Heat - 1981
This film fits in a bit with the previous post on the strange period in film around 1980-84. 3rd time viewing, love the film. William Hurt is such a wonderful actor, especially in this role. Others would include Altered States, Eyewitness, Gorky Park, Kiss of the Spider Woman (still have not watched all the way through), Broadcast News, Alice, Smoke, and A History of Violence..

John Milius - Red Dawn - 1984
Confirms my views on many examples of 80s cinema. Some of the worst acting ever put to celluloid, except for the brief appearance of Harry Dean Stanton. Saw this as a kid but didn't have a memory of it. 
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Kathryn Bigelow & Monty Montgomery - The Loveless - 1981
First feature role for Willem Dafoe (he had small part in Heaven's Gate), and first feature of Kathryn Bigelow.  Monty Montgomery is the strange cowboy in Mulholland Drive "A man's attitude... a man's attitude goes some ways. The way his life will be. Is that somethin' you agree with?" Pretty good film, had not seen it before. Defoe is really great in it. They surely watched some Kenneth Anger films, he has a strong presence in the film.

Michael Cimino - Desperate Hours - 1990
First time seeing. I love Cimino's Deerhunter and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Have not taken to his other films. Good performances by some of my favorite actors - Elias Koteas, Anthony Hopkins and Mickey Rourke. Dean Norris pops up in it as well.

Taylor Sheridan - Wind River - 2017
Second time seeing this. Very fine film.

Jim Jarmusch - Stranger Than Paradise - 1984
A film I use to watch often in my 20s. Had been 15+ years since last viewing. Lurie and Edson seemed like old dudes to me when I was in my 20s, now a couple of hip kids. Funny. Great film now as the first time I saw it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

plato's cave fifty five (being a film journal)

Kogonada - Columbus - 2017
Enjoyed this film. Big enthusiast of the architectural work of Eliel Saarinen and slightly of Eero Saarinen, the way the film dealt with that work was visually impressive. The main character evolving into a talented young women from a more than interesting girl makes for a good story. Had a slight problem with the style of the film which had good intentions (a strong familiarity with Ozu, Bresson and similar filmmakers) but didn't get past those influences in a way that was completely satisfying. The actors were top notch but one was always aware that they were acting and acting in a movie. This style could be a dialogue with the mechanics of cinema, the camera in relationship to the world, to buildings, to people, but it never got to that level. Despite the crit, it was a good watch and emotional.

Jerzy Skolimowski - Moonlighting - 1982
See previous post.

Steven Soderbergh - Logan Lucky - 2017
Second viewing. Saw initially in theater. Better half wanted to see so a second viewing.  Good business with Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig and Hilary Swank. Funny film and enjoyable.

S. Craig Zahler - Bone Tomahawk - 2015
Reading John Williams' Butcher's Crossing (perfect book!), so decided to have a night of westerns. The first one was Bone Tomahawk, from the director of Brawl in Cell Block 99, no fucking around with this film. Heavy.  Good cast, Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins were top notch (Jenkins really funny), as was Patrick Wilson. Tearing out the voice box deal not easy to watch but easier than watching Wilson stick the bloody thing in his mouth. The tendency to violence by Zahler not dissimilar to Michael Mann's except more gory.

James Mangold - 3:10 to Yuma - 2007
Had seen the original which is a real serious film, but not the remake. Assumed it would be not great, but was quite a bit better than I expected. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in top form, Peter Fonda quite good too, good cast in general.

William Wyler - The Westerner - 1940
Second or third time watching this. For any fan of Walter Brennan, this is one of those films that is just so so perfect because of his performance. Brennan as a film heavy is one of those things this film viewer lives for, another example would be My Darling Clementine (my boys....). Brennan was born in Lynn Massachusetts, I used to live near there and people would say Lynn Lynn the city of Sin. He is one sinner son of a bitch in these two films. A slight drawback I didn't remember is some of the domesticated scenes. A friend recently said he had trouble with pre 1970s films because all the actors were like this *, it is actually somewhat true with many actors from the early days, in this film Brennan is totally contemporary to me... subtle and sinister, yet Doris Davenport was pretty much exactly like the ham from In Living Color. I edited her out in my mind and enjoyed the shit out of this film.

Steven Soderbergh - Ocean's Eleven - 2001
Great cast. Very entertaining film, had only seen bits here and there on cable. Soderbergh is often times capable of making a really tight film.

Glow series, first couple few episodes.
Tried watching this because I like Marc Maron but it didn't arrive to my head properly.  Funny how these shows have such gratuitous nudity. The best uncalled for nudity example is in True Detective season one with the Vashti Bunyan music. I feel bad for these actress having to do nonsense like this so some old bugger will not change the channel.
Sam Wood - The Pride of the Yankees - 1942
Second time seeing this. Good solid film. Forgot Walter Brennan was in it, good viewing this after The Westerner a few nights before with both Cooper and Brennan. They are a good match. Teresa Wright too! Underrated actress.

Coen Brothers - Inside Llewyn Davis - 2013
Second time seeing this. Saw in theater initially and did not care for. A bit more liking for it this second time, the Oscar Issac character is just so unlikable but understanding him as someone that will just die without reaching his goal of being famous is easy to relate to. I found more to like in the film with that concept. Not everybody is Bob F. Dylan, some people are just losers, and losers are ok in my book.

Alex Garland - Annihilation - 2018
Ex Machina writer and director Alex Garland, plus composers Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury and cinematographer Rob Hardy, all from Ex Machina (Hardy also shot Red Riding: The Year of Our Lord 1974). My favorite parts of the film were Natalie Portman in a Ramboesque shot with her partially in slow motion shooting a machine gun. Visceral! Also, much of the music/sound design was top notch, like when Jennifer Jason Leigh turns to light, the music/drone was truly beautiful and intense. And the Jóhann Jóhannsson like melody inside the lighthouse as Portman meets her clone, had the melody in my head for a while. The cinematography of the film was quite strange.... pastel-like colors, not much contrast or richness in color, not really my taste but it had its moments and gave the film a unique quality. Some of the early photography inside the lab (and before) looked overly video in quality and it was hard to say if that visual style gave much to the film, except for an extreme coldness in aesthetics. I bought the blu-ray of Stalker, and have yet to really watch it all the way through. As a young man about town, Stalker was one of the films that most inspired me.... I like the relationship of Annihilation to Stalker.

plato's cave fifty four (being a film journal) : early nineteen eighties nihilism and anti-romanticism

Recently posted some criticism of the currently popular trend of paying hommage and/or to pastiche 1980s films and aesthetics. Many positive comments were received from people who have similar feelings about this and I decided to finally start an analysis of a side chapter in film history that occurred in the early 1980s and came to an end after about four years with the introduction of works by John Hughes, the brat pack, and the like of right proper bastards. This dreadful business came in and pretty much destroyed an even trajectory of film history that really culminated in the 1970s and a few years into the 1980s.

Notes on a personal history with the cinema of the 1980s : This viewer was born in '74, and was a latchkey kid who had cable and later a VHS player. Starting in the late 70s, I started watching a ton of film, mostly on TV and often times at the theater with my mother.  My father would invite me to sit in on a lot of films he would get on VHS a little later on. I started with watching 70s films and inevitably moved into 80s films through my teens. By the time my late teens hit, a pretty strong dislike for the majority of 1980s cinema was in full swing, with the exception of works like They Live and Repo Man, which presented a clear criticism of the decade. Through my twenties, the 80s represented a decade in film to stay the hell away from and it was not until my thirties that I started to see hints of nihilism, darkness, dystopianism, and anti-romanticism in some slightly obscure works of the early 1980s. One of the first film that comes to mind is Jerzy Skolimowski's Moonlighting from 1982, and the first one that will be analyzed at a certain level. The question remains after years of watching these... what are the qualities that make these films so distinct? Why are these films so obscure now even with youngsters that live and breath the 80s (and now 90s) culture? These early 80s films actually seem more relevant to contemporary film and the world in general. The world of Hughes is like some kind of escape, why does a highly sophisticated culture of young people, in terms of political awareness, choose escapism in film? Now in my 40s, I can't completely deny the pull of the typical 80s film, I have rewatched many over the last few years, but in all honestly, the majority of them just leave me feeling nothing, whereas a film like Moonlighting is just so alive and relevant.

To give a little more context, some other classic films of interest in this early 80s would include Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way from 1981, Sidney J. Furie's The Entity from 1982, Ken Russell's Altered States from 1980, Andrzej Żuławski's Possession from 1981, Alan Clarke's Made in Britain from 1982, Barry Levinson's Diner from 1982, Carroll Ballard's Never Cry Wolf from 1983, Robert Bresson's L'Argent from 1983 (The fucking master!), James Cameron's The Terminator from 1984, John Carpenter's The Thing from 1982, and many more.

Some notes on style and structure in Moonlighting :

The film starts with unsettling electronic music by Hans Zimmer played over credits followed by some distorted speaking from a Polish airline announcer (pictured above). Immediately the viewer feels unbalanced. A slow audio dissolve follows to an electronic pulsing heard over a close up of Jeremy Irons (pulsing light out of focus in the distance, image above). All very strange with brilliant sound design, cinematography and editing. The story begins with Irons (Nowak) and his Walserian dialogue which becomes the dominant element in the film. His inner voice stumbles between mumbling, indistinct nonsense, worries and caper-like planning.  Nowak is our anti-hero, an outsider in the Colin Wilson sense. There are not too many films that can pull off 2 hours of picture and sound with a story that you can describe in less than 20 seconds and that really has almost nothing of interest to the quotidian viewer. Perhaps similar to the stories of Beckett... like Molloy and his sucking-stones, moving the stones from pocket to pocket.

The story in this film is so wonderfully absurd: Polish men under the leadership of Nowak, smuggle tools and money into London to work on a rich Pole's flat. They have a time line and budget, and have trouble meeting both. They run out of money and Nowak must resort to thieving, using some truly headscratching methods that are actually quite brilliant. Luck has much to do with his success.

The film was shot by Tony Pierce-Roberts, who photographed Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TV Mini-Series), A Room with a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day.

The sound design (by David Stephenson) is so lush in this film. One early scene when the Poles enter the dwelling begins with a doorbell ringing and slowly disintegrated to footsteps, distant drones and vague electronic sounds, followed by pigeon wings flapping with slight reverb.

Part of what makes these films so uniquely strange is that they have the rawness of 70s cinema, but through the magic of cinema (sound design, editing, cinematography) this rawness is brought to a surreal-like level. The more well-known films of the 80s seem to be a bastardization of this magic. Post Star Wars bullshit, films that push your buttons and make attempts to take away your ability to be an intelligent viewer, these facile experiences are what Duchamp called "retinal pleasure." Early 80s films have a hyper-realism related more to Kafka and Walser than the rotgut of typical 80s film.

Humor, absurdity and isolationism. The world seen through the eyes of the outsider.

Thanks to TW and TM for discussions on this early 80s strangeness. Any readers know of writings on this subject, I would be interested.

Friday, February 16, 2018

plato's cave fifty three (being a film journal)

Alejandro G. Iñárritu - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - 2014
Second time seeing this masterpiece. Really one hell of a film; Raymond Carver... rendered by an almost likeable has-been, Naomi Watts and an arrogant impotent drunkard... photographed by the master Emmanuel Lubezki (Malick's The New World and The Tree of Life, Children of Men, and The Revenant). Didn't know Bill Camp (The Night of, Midnight Special, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, 12 Years a Slave) as an actor when first seeing this, and it was very excited to see him doing some crazed bugger in the street Shakespeare. Also from the recent Twin Peaks; Clark Middleton has a brief appearance. The many levels of reality and unreality make for an engaging picture, as the picture is made by a serious man. Wanted to do a double feature of recent Iñárritu film The Revenant, but was too tired. Soon I hope.

Stephen Daldry - The Hours - 2002
Had seen this film previously and couldn't remember it. Didn't find it very engaging despite the cast being top notch.

Makino Takashi - Films 2002-2017 Excerpt - 2002-17
Partner in crime pointed out this guy's work. Jesus it is amazing.... only have seen this vimeo excerpt, will have to track down the DVDs. Soundtracks by Jim O'Rourke and many other heavies. Goes way beyond the contemporary music video.

Walter Hill - The Warriors - 1979
Near perfect film. Second time seeing this, projected which gave a lot of impact. Living now in New York, the film makes a lot more sense, understanding the geography. What a place New York was in the 1970s - a pipe bomb. Recently watched 48 Hours and David Patrick Kelly shows up in The Warriors as well as there, one of my favorites (introduced to him in Twin Peaks back in the day, then Abel Ferrara's The Funeral). Some great character actors like Michael Beck, James Remar and Paul Greco (funny looking gangster in Broadway Danny Rose) star in this work.  Through the years trains have played a prominent role in this blog, this is one of THE great train films. Abstracted footage of films moving through dark dirty stations, empty train interiors with Dubuffet like textures. Grit and grime. Barry De Vorzon's score is intense and adds many levels of dread unlike the lame scores of recent 80s pastiche works.

S. Craig Zahler - Brawl in Cell Block 99 - 2017
Not normally a fan of Vince Vaughn but this was a pretty good film. A tad gruesome but mild enough for a slightly sensitive viewer. Was not familiar with the director, he does a good job here. Solid photography by Benji Bakshi, film has a bit of a retro feel/look but assumed it took place in modern times. Part of the trend these days, sometimes works, sometimes doesn't.

Paul Schrader - Light Sleeper - 1992
This was one of those films I knew I had seen but could not remember, but remembered instantly as it started. Has an interesting ambiance to it, even though it is not a "great" film, there is something about it that works very well, and the gritty look and feel of NYC adds much to this. Not unlike The Warriors mentioned above, the city could add quite a bit of character to films in those days. Paul Schrader has done some really great work besides Taxi Driver, his Hardcore and Affliction are films this viewer has watched many times and thoroughly enjoyed.  Of course... Willem Dafoe is a big reason one would watch this film. Such a strong strong screen presence, he is a formidable actor. The photography was by the great Edward Lachman who shot Todd Haynes' Carol, Far from Heaven, and Mildred Pierce. Many other heavy works including The Limey.

Sidney Lumet - Serpico - 1973
First saw Serpico in early high school and quickly became an addict to the film's jouissance.  One of the films that started a lifelong interest in sitting and enjoying the light hitting my eyes. Have seen the film numerous times in my life, but the last viewing was some years ago. What does one say about this film except that it is a classic that demands numerous viewings. So many moments that leave deep impressions, also classic lines both serious and comic. For some reason the line spoken by James Tolkan always stood out :
Hold it, Serpico.
What were you two doing?

- What?
- In the shithouse in the dark!
Were you goin' down on him?

-What are you talking about?
-You gonna tell me you were peeping?
You were sucking his cock

Yorgos Lanthimos - Alps - 2011
Wanted to see this film after The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Lanthimos makes some strange works, not quite surreal, more like Walserian (to this viewer). Comical for sure. Sex-ridden... absurd... all good business. Had a little trouble following what the hell was happening but the confusion was indeed nice.

Ric Roman Waugh - Shot Caller - 2017
Second prison film in this list. Both films fit very nicely in the history of prison films. Le Trou and Escape from Alcatraz are films I watched often as a youngster, especially the Eastwood film when I was in middle school. Couldn't get enough of the idea of folks breaking out of a prison and all the steps involved, not unlike a procedural or a caper film.  Other classics would be Cool Hand Luke, Brute Force, A Man Escaped. More contemporary classics that are heavy are The Shawshank Redemption, Hunger, Paddington 2 (I am told, have yet to see), Starred Up. Many more not coming to mind at the moment.

James Gray - Lost City of Z - 2016/17
Having watched Sons of Anarchy a few years ago, it was really gratifying to see that Charlie Hunnam was an actor not without talent. Not that he was bad in that show, but it wasn't really a serious performance (I actually liked the show in a way, despite all its problems). He did a really top notch job in this, as did Robert Pattinson, whom was almost unrecognizable. Pattinson is one hell of an actor!

Craig Gillespie - I, Tonya - 2017
This was a film that I hesitated to see but ended up enjoying for the most part. The ice skating scenes, from a technical point of view (film, not ice skating) are quite impressive and poetic. Compared to sports photography which completely lacks poetry, getting right in there and having the camera move around got the blood up. I am sure it is an hommage, but the similarities of some shots and the general feeling of the film was surely in the Goodfellas tradition. In film school I would watch Goodfellas over and over, mainly because I liked the way the light from the film entered my eyes, but it was also a good crash course on how to read a film, understanding a film from a structural point of view. In I, Tonya we find one shot specifically (but many others similar) where a camera moves slowly toward a character, we hear the characters inner voice (or their idiolect), and not until the camera comes close to the character and he makes eye contact with said camera, does the voice actually come from the lips. Watching this film got me thinking about understanding the language of cinema. A static camera versus a moving camera. Where a camera is in an interior and in relation to the subject(s), what lens is used, understanding the purpose of the sound as being either realistic or purposely artificial (or both). A hard cut versus a dissolve. A viewer that has no comprehension of any of this business has a truly limited understanding of the work. Some of this goes a little beyond the film in a way, it is not nearly as sophisticated as a film like Goodfellas, but it has moments of this kind of gravity. Also, I spent the entire film wondering how the hell the actor was skating like this.... did a professional skater act in this (I could not recall the actresses face), or did she learn it? Someone after the screening said they must have achieved it digitally but that did not seem right. Turns out she learn to skate and they did some of it digitally (the triple axel), someone please correct me if I am wrong.

Jonathan Entwistle & Lucy Tcherniak - The End of the F***ing World - 2017
British throat cutting comedy. Stars Jessica Barden from The Lobster and Alex Lawther.  Not without interest, enjoyed it.

Trey Edward Shults - Krisha - 2015
There is some fancy foot work here in this film with the camera, sound and editing. The film did not really hit me much though, but not without interest for many.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

plato's cave fifty two (being a film journal)

Safdie Brothers - Good Time - 2017
Second time seeing this. These directors are probably some of the hottest potatoes in town right now, the film surely has a great look (shot on 35mm by Sean Price Williams), and Robert Pattinson is quite riveting... it is hard to take ones eyes off him throughout the film. There are some novel moments but for the most part it seems to go with the flow of 2 recent trends (one of which is often times a good one) of paying homage to frenetic 70s cinema, and the trend (which is hard to tolerate) of paying homage to the culture of the 80s. The 80s thing is for the most part unbearable... Stranger Things is the best example of this current craze. It is obvious that the majority of tv and film viewers have no criticism of this, but the writer of this website does in fact. The problem with this 80s homage is most clearly present in the score of this film, which to this listeners ears sounds like a pastiche of Tangerine Dream. Hearing the music makes this viewer uncomfortable, but for reasons beyond its unlistenability, more the concept of it; it is not interesting, it is a synthesis of 80s sounds.... it takes but gives nothing back except cheap thrills. In addition to the conceptual problem of the music (and partly the image), the editing of the music is either lazy or done for a reason that just is lost on this viewer....  it is unrelenting in a non-intellectual manner, one just wants it to mellow the fuck out for one second so the image and performance can have some breath.... A great filmmaker knows when to hold back and when to "unleash", this technique is not present in this film. It would be interesting to have a copy of this film with no sound and actually edit in a TD soundtrack as a replacement, have it there at the right moments... and not there when the film needs to breath. I think of some music by King Crimson, they know when to hold back and when to let the devil in (The Devil's Triangle).

Aki Kaurismäki - Ariel - 1988
Driving a convertible around in the winter, only in a Kaurismaki film. Watched half of this mainly as a palate cleanser for previous. Need to watch the second half. Hell of a film.

Jean-Marc Vallée - Dallas Buyers Club - 2013
Second time seeing this. Not a fantastic film but good for the performances, mainly Mr. McConaughey.

Jeff Nichols - Midnight Special - 2016
Second time with this film. Initially went over my head somewhat, partly was too captivated by the performances and the look of the film I had trouble following the story. Still pretty much the same on second viewing. This guy has made a couple of good films.

Billy Wilder - The Apartment - 1960
Time to watch a serious classic. One of the films a young person watches to learn (and learn to appreciate) the language of cinema. Had been a long time since watching this, and had only seen on a television, it was great to see it projected on a somewhat large screen. The blacks and high contrast in this film are very inspiring to see, in the world of grey we live in. Wilder and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle had some serious balls to push the blacks.

Dan Trachtenberg - 10 Cloverfield Lane - 2016
Second time watching this. Enjoyable film. I liked the ending the most when Mary Elizabeth Winstead leaves the shelter to the craziness of the outside world. Shame the first film Cloverfield is not in line with this quality-wise.
John Landis - Trading Places - 1983 
Good general aesthetic in this film, gritty look (photography by Robert Paynter) and sleazy characters (Don Ameche & Ralph Bellamy), a bit of senseless nudity via Jamie Lee Curtis and some good classic business by Denholm Elliott.

Paul King - Paddington - 2014 
I had a Paddington Bear as a young boy. Very entertaining film. Sally Hawkins is great, as is Nicole Kidman as a sadist. Jim Broadbent with German accent, very nice!

Azazel Jacobs - The Lovers - 2017
My wife and I mainly watched to see more of  Tracy Letts. He is great in the film. Not something I would watch again, didn't hold up and story not engaging enough.

Josh Mond - James White - 2015
Second time watching. Didn't like it much the first time, but more so the second. The rawness and uncomfortability of it make it a good film experience. Christopher Abbott is quite good in the film. Nowhere near perfect but a decent film with many compelling moments for the viewer.

Jim Jarmusch - Paterson - 2016
Second time watching this, review previously here.

Damien Chazelle - Whiplash - 2014
Second time watching this. I would love if this film followed the musical world of Anthony Braxton rather than Wynton Marsalis. A main complaint.  To this viewer's ears the music has no place in the world that we live in. But the kid can drum like a motherfucker. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons do an outstanding job in this film, and the general visual darkness adds such moodiness and atmosphere that is very rewarding to a sensitive viewer (photography by Sharone Meir). I had forgotten that it was written and directed by Mr. La La Land, that film had some musical problems as well. Perhaps these films are trying to appeal to the masses that really don't have a feeling for music. If they pushed a little harder they would be pretty good films. Trying to think of Chazelle as some kind of genius really makes no sense to me, I wonder what the justifications are for that, here he made a decent film. I think the photography and editing add a lot to the general quality of the work. Without Simmons the film would not exist.

Safdie Brothers - Heaven Knows What - 2014
Again... very bad choice of music from these guys. Lack of sensitivity to what makes a film watchable and what gives a film impact. How is this film different from Jerry Schatzberg's Panic at Needle Park? An updated version with pastiche 1980s music perhaps and millennial editing and washed out photography that adds nothing but a watered down sensibility. Why the hell is it so washed out visually and who likes this sort of thing? Perhaps taking cues from popular art photography from 10 years ago?

Johnnie To - The Mission - 1999
First time seeing this. Great film, needed to cleanse the palate after Heaven film.... Can't wait to see other films by To, his work is superb. Very strange use of music here, a combo of almost kitsch with shoegaze bass lines, like Ride playing a wedding or something. Very interesting!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

plato's cave fifty one (being a film journal) : the owl and the tanager said

David Lowery - A Ghost Story - 2017
“I wanted to engage with the archetypes and iconography of ghost films and haunted house movies, without ever crossing over into actually being a horror film,” quoting writer-director David Lowery. Not positive the film has an intriguing enough dialogue with the horror genre or the archetypes and iconography of them, nor if it distances itself from the genre in a way that works, but this viewer did enjoy the performances and had a heavy bit of depression happen whilst considering the entity's time away from the loved one, and further the interactions with strangers; like getting an ear full from Will Oldham, then to nothingness. Not without interest.

Steven Spielberg - Munich - 2005
Have watched this film many times since it came out. After watching the trailer for the forthcoming The Terror AMC show, I felt like watching a bunch of Ciarán Hinds films. Started with this one. He is such a wonderful actor, I first saw him in Persuasion from 1995, in which he plays Captain Frederick Wentworth alongside the wonderful Amanda Root. Munich is for this viewer possibly the best Spielberg film, it has such a tight rhythm and a beautiful visual pallet, great performances, and not too much hokum appears, the main exception being the love making scene. Spielberg has a tendency to hokum, when he doesn't the films and his abilities to put a picture together are quite rewarding (Duel, The Sugarland Express, Jaws).  Director of photography is the great Janusz Kaminski.

Christopher McQuarrie - Jack Reacher - 2012
Tom Cruise action film. The most watchable of the Cruise recent action films is Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow from 2014, with Emily Blunt, and a screenplay co-written by Christopher McQuarrie. Great film, a sort of Groundhog Day science fiction action film, this viewer has watched it a near half dozen times. Reacher not quite as (re)watchable, but a fine film indeed. It is interesting that instead of going to college, McQuarrie spend 5 years working at a detective agency before starting a career in film. Director of photography is the exceedingly talented Caleb Deschanel.

Paul Brickman - Risky Business -  1983
Didn't have fond memories of this film, last saw in the mid-eighties. On the Tom Cruise trip, so gave it a go. The best part of the film is the train fucking scene with Tangerine Dream, so well crafted visually and the music gives it such a jouissance. Photographed by the great Bruce Surtees (Dirty Harry, Don Siegel, Clint Eastwood films) and Reynaldo Villalobos.

Doug Liman - Edge of Tomorrow - 2014
Discussed above under Jack Reacher. This is a really wonderful film. Besides Blunt and Cruise, you have some great performances by Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, and Noah Taylor. The movie just moves too, like so few do. The connections between familiarity, memory, humor and the absurd mixed with what would be horror (if something like this happened), give it a feel many films these days lack. Some of these contemporary Alien films are so interesting, like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Monsters, where the alien is almost peripheral.

Steven Spielberg - Raiders of the Lost Arc - 1981
Had not seen this since I was a little fellow, mid eighties. Being a huge Lord of the Rings fan, it was great to see John Rhys-Davies, he is a most underrated actor. Also nice to see Denholm Elliott, one of the heavy British actors (A Room with a View), as is Alfred Mollino who is quite absurd in the film. Can't say I am a big fan of the film, a little dated and silly, but hard not to enjoy the pure entertainment of it. Lately I have been trying to re-watch acknowledged classics that never hit me, often times the original assessment was no-where.

Derek Cianfrance - Blue Valentine - 2010
I saw this when it came out, I was single and said to myself this is a film that makes one not want to be in a relationship. It is insanely depressing in that way. Ryan Gosling does a very fine job in this, does some real nice singing. I prefer Mr. Cianfrance's other film The Place Beyond the Pines much more, his last film The Light Between Oceans was nearly unwatchable. Cianfrance's films always look really good. Cinematography by Andrij Parekh.

Lone Scherfig - An Education - 2009
Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard. Alfred Mollina film. Missed when this film came out, it is a very good film if you are a Carey Mulligan fan. She is really breathtaking in it, an extremely watchable film due to her performance and general screen presence. My wife (and film viewing partner) had the idea that  Michelle Williams was slightly overrated, to which I agreed, but said she is good in Drive and Shame. I get the two actresses confused for some reason though, these are Carey Mulligan films. Her performance in these two films are why we watch film, and her singing in Shame (one insanely fucking great film) makes your heart stop.

Spike Lee - 25th Hour - 2002
Felt like watching a film with the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Luca Guadagnino - Call me by your Name - 2017
This is easily the best film of the year, a completely overwhelming and transcendent filmic experience, from the acting to the cinematography to the music.  Being an obsessive lover of Merchant Ivory films, James Ivory's presence greatly enriched this work : "Nearly a decade in the making - much of that time spent with Ivory attached to the film in various positions, from producer to co-director to screenwriter", the film was adapted by André Aciman's novel from 2007, it is a beautiful story. There are moments so strong, they leave you in a state you rarely arrive at with film these days : Elio sitting outside in near dark to a Sufjan Stevens tune as the film flares for quite a while. The film was shot on 35mm using only one lens - a single Cooke S4 35mm lens filming on a Kodak 500 vision 3 film. Photography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, so lovely. There were a couple other flares in the work, when the hell do you see this kind of film-presence these days. So many other mysterious and strong moments; as the two ascent to the waterfall Oliver looks back; it gave me goosebumps, the moment when Oliver rubs Elio's back. The two dancing scenes to The Psychedelic Furs' Love My Way. The final scene as Elio cries by the fire. Also Michael Stuhlbarg's talk with his son on the mysteries of love. Great film!