Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday Quote: Lost in Translation

"Can you keep a secret? I'm trying to organize a prison break. I'm looking for, like, an accomplice. We have to first get out of this bar, then the hotel, then the city, and then the country. Are you in or you out?"

Lost in Translation (2003)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Calvary (2014)

While perusing some of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes for this film, I noticed that pretty much all of the negative reviews cited the perceived "cleverness" of this film's dialogue. A few of the positive reviews also cited this as a shortcoming as well. I get that stylization can be distancing and prevent us from embracing a film as the real world, but what about films that aren't going for realism?

Just like the awful evangelical films that surprise everyone by topping the box office over a slow weekend, this film is a deliberate construct. All of the characters are "types". They were created and juxtapozed with each other for a specific narrative purpose. In the case of the evangelical film, the purpose is to reinforce the worldview of people who already believe by showing them exactly what they want to see no matter how unrealistic it might be. In Calvary, these "types" are employed to provoke.

For the blindly faithful, this film might prompt some serious soul searching. But it might also do the same for a non-believer. Unlike the evangelical film, there are no easy answers to be found here. You won't walk away feeling better about yourself and your decisions in life. This is a film intended to inspire reflection as we head towards the inevitable death that awaits us all. What one takes away from this film depends on the person and how honest they're willing to be with themselves. Amen to that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Film: Sweet Smell of Success (82/250) 
Critics Poll: 171st 
Directors Poll: 322nd 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Hmmm. This one was a little difficult for me to get terribly invested in, plotwise. Some films can take a simple problem or situation and elevate it, giving you enough to chew on to overlook the simplicity of the plot. In this case, I kept thinking how upset everybody was over nothing. All that plotting and scheming and violence over "I don't want that guy dating my sister"? Hard for me to get excited about. What I will give this film, however, is the photography, the music, and Burt Lancaster. Lancaster owns this film. I've only seen him in a few movies, but he has such presence. His diction, his posture, and the way the shadows play with his face made him appear so menacing. Add the great-looking city shots and that wailing jazz score, and this line sums it up: "I love this dirty town." My initial take of it was that it was just okay, but I keep thinking about it. Guess this one gets in there and stays in there. Or maybe I just took a big bite of the cookie full of arsenic. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: In a Lonely Place (1950)

Film: In A Lonely Place (81/250) 
Critics Poll: 154th 
Directors Poll: 546th 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

In most of the Humphrey Bogart films I've seen, he plays characters that are hardboiled and tough, but has morals and a heart underneath that hard exterior. In this film, Bogey starts off kind of a pain in the ass, yet charming. No way did he kill that girl that was last seen leaving his apartment. Or did he? This is a film about suspicion and jealousy, and what that can do to a man. It can turn a good man into a monster, or force him to reveal the monster that was there all along. Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame have great chemistry and tension together, and the nature of their relationship make for an unconventional "noir" film. In fact, the whole film feels very different from other films in the genre. It doesn't feel like it's just ticking off the boxes to qualify it as a noir film. It's unpredictable and riveting. And that famous line..."I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me." Can you beat that?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Alfred Hitchcock on MacGuffins: It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, "What's that package up there in the baggage rack?" And the other answers, "Oh, that's a MacGuffin". The first one asks, "What's a MacGuffin?" "Well," the other man says, "it's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands." The first man says, "But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands," and the other one answers, "Well then, that's no MacGuffin!" So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.
In the case of the new Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar! the MacGuffin is the kidnapping of film star Baird Whitlock. It’s there in all of the advertising materials. The poster is little more than an illustration of an unconscious Roman Centurion being carried over the shoulder of a figure in a suit and hat with a tagline that reads, “Lights. Camera. Abduction.” Yet in true Coen fashion, the questions of “Who done it?” and “Why?” are revealed roughly halfway through the film. These questions are not important. The kidnapping plot is just a delivery system for silly gags and an excuse to stage some lavishly retro production numbers. It’s what holds our attention as we switch rather abruptly between showbiz buffoonery and musical numbers. Of course there’s a touch of politics and religion sprinkled in for good measure, but don’t strain yourself trying to find too much meaning in it all. Is Mannix "The Christ" taking the weight of the world/studio onto his shoulders? Maybe? Don't worry about it. Enjoy the show! Nobody does bread and circuses quite like Joel and Ethan. Hail, Coens!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Quote: The Hateful Eight

"What charms this bitch got, to make a man brave a blizzard and kill in cold blood? I'm sure I don't know."

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Wayne's World (1992)

Often, comedy direction is undervalued. A film is either funny or it is not, but it can be hard to put a finger on why. Usually the actors or script get the credit/blame. A director usually has to do something way over-the-top to get people's attention in a comedy. The best comedy direction is so subtle as to go unnoticed. In spite of all the 4th wall breaking and pop culture references, subtlety is what Penelope Spheeris really brought to Wayne's World.

In that early scene of driving the Mirth Mobile around Aurora while Bohemian Rhapsody plays, I was struck by how matter of factly all of the local businesses were being depicted. I'm pretty sure all of those were actual local establishments. No art directing with silly/ridiculous business names. And with that music playing underneath, you get the strong sense of romanticization. This is how Wayne sees his hometown. Wayne loves his hometown. This would have been an ideal place to insert a few extra cheap jokes, but Spheeris opted to hold back. Had the film opted to demonized/mock suburbia here, the whole film would have really suffered.

Putting jokes there would have been the cinematic equivalent of mocking the yokels just like Rob Lowe's Ben does. By instead showing restraint and choosing not to condescend, we get to be 100% on Wayne and Garth's side. We get to laugh with them. Excellent!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Goodfellas (1990)

Film: Goodfellas (80/250) 
Critics Poll: 171st 
Directors Poll: 48th 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

I don't go in much for gangster movies. Many of them don't have much going for them beyond testosterone and violence. And while Goodfellas has that in spades, it has something else: STYLE. Along with the Godfather films (okay, the first two), this film transcends its genre and becomes a great film across the board. Martin Scorsese knows what he's doing and rarely disappoints. His use of visuals, of music (Layla Piano Exit, come on!) and the excellent voiceover (matched only by Sunset Boulevard, in my opinion) create a film with richness and depth. And I LOVE that they gave Karen Hill a voiceover too. Too many films like this completely bypass a female perspective. Goodfellas gives you a sense of their world, of a pride and sense of belonging beyond the violence. It may glamorize it a bit, but there's nothing glamorous about a bullet to the head or ending up frozen in a meat truck. Unless it's set to Derek and the Dominos, of course.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Film: The Shop Around the Corner (79/250) 
Critics Poll: 202nd 
Director's Poll: 322nd 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

As if I needed an incentive to revisit this one! I happily watch this film every year around Christmastime. It has all the hallmarks of a great Ernst Lubitsch film: sparkling dialogue, wit, and a really well-rounded cast. I do have to point out that the female lead, Margaret Sullavan, is wholly unlikeable from beginning to end. BUT! The supporting cast, including Frank Morgan as the blustering shop owner Mr. Matuschek, Felix Bressart as the sweet Pirovitch, Joseph Schildkraut as the insufferably punchable Vadas, and William Tracy as the cheeky errand boy Pepi, all do an amazing job of creating this believable world inside this little shop in Budapest on Christmas. And Jimmy Stewart. Sweet, perfect Jimmy Stewart. He stars as Alfred Kralik, the store clerk who is fighting with his new coworker Klara (Sullavan), not realizing the two of them are falling in love through anonymous letters. They might not have the best chemistry, but he's so electric by himself that it doesn't even matter and I can't imagine anyone else in the role. I'm so pleased that it made Sight & Sound's top 250! If nothing else, it's a break from the Salos and the Texas Chainsaw Massacres on the list!

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

This movie really surprised me. Let me state up front that I'm not a Guy Ritchie fan. I didn't care for Lock Stock, Snatch is one of the only DVDs I've ever returned after watching, I was tortured by Swept Away and I fell asleep during the first Sherlock. Having said all that, I really liked this movie. For a guy like Guy, it was very subdued. He is (for the most part) sitting back and letting the photography, props, set and costumes do all the heavy lifting in the style department. At one point this film was supposed to be directed by Steven Soderbergh, was he trying to direct it as though he were Soderbergh? You can certainly see traces of the Ocean's Trilogy in there. Was there some producer keeping him in check like Illya so that he didn't go about smashing heads willy-nilly? Or perhaps he's finally mellowing with age? Whatever the reason is, I am glad for it. There's not enough fun stylishness in the increasingly grim and gritty world of studio filmmaking these days. Too bad it didn't make enough money to start a trend.