Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Film: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (61/250)
Critics Poll: 183rd 
Directors Poll: 546th 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Oof. I didn't love this one. I had seen parts of it before on programs like "Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments" (does anybody remember that??) and had long avoided it. I thought it would be too scary or disturbing; I can't stomach gore and with a title like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," can you blame me for thinking it would be bloody? But the problem with the film wasn't the gore. The problem was that it's silly and boring. The characters are so obnoxious that I WANTED them to die, especially the brother. There were definitely parts that worked, like the interior of the bone and feather filled house. It laid the groundwork for something truly terrifying, but then it just got ridiculous. The dinner scene? What was that? I was really disappointed, not just because I felt like I'd wasted my time, but because there are so many better horror films that didn't make the list. Ah well. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Visualize This!

I'm really conflicted about "video essays". Part of me sees them as a lazy substitute for sitting down and writing a substantial piece on a given subject. Many of them feel like glorified clip reels that coast on the emotions we feel for films that are absolutely capable of yielding numerous insights on their own. But another part of me sees great potential in dissecting a visual medium via a visual medium. Why tell? When you can show! Brilliant video artists like : : kogonada are able to unearth genuine insights about a film as complex as La Dolce Vita, while simultaneously generating a piece of art that is aesthetically appealing on its own. And aren't all of Tarantino and Godard's films pretty much criticism masquerading as narrative?

What I find most interesting, are the occasional and infrequent "adaptations" of film writing into a feature length film. The earliest example of this phenomenon that I can think of is Rob Epstein and Jerry Friedman's wonderful documentary of Vito Russo's legendary lecture series/book The Celluloid Closet. More recently, there was Mark Cousins' mini-series adaptation of his own book The Story of Film and coming soon we will have critic Kent Jones' film about François Truffaut's book length interview with Alfred Hitchcock. I wonder if there have been any lazy Film Studies majors out there who opted to "watch the movie" rather than read the book? When are we going to get the film version of Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape? All kidding aside, I would die to see that film!

In the end, I guess it's really a matter of who is making the, "video essay" in question. While Marshall McLuhan was very correct in proclaiming that "the medium is the message", the medium should not be held responsible for the ineptness of the author. Some people have a way with words. Others are "visual learners". And in the middle sits the rest of us. I'm well aware that compared to J. Hoberman and Manohla Dargis, my blog posts are akin to a supercut of Arnold Schwarzenegger catchphrases. So who am I to judge anyone else's means of expression? If you want to sing out, sing out! But it does help if you have something interesting to say.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Quote: Best in Show

"Doctor, question that's always bothered me and a lot of people: Mayflower, combined with Philadelphia - a no-brainer, right? Cause this is where the Mayflower landed. Not so. It turns out Columbus actually set foot somewhere down in the West Indies. Little known fact."

Best in Show (2000)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sight & Sound Challenge: La Jetée (1962)

Film: La Jetée (60/250) 
Critics Poll: 50th 
Directors Poll: 174th 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

I must've been half asleep the first time I watched this, because I didn't remember much. I was definitely paying attention this time, because I was able to see it for the masterpiece it is. And at only 28 minutes, that's quite an accomplishment. It is a story of a world destroyed, a love lost, of time travel, of memory, of terror. Its intrigue is only heightened by the fact that it's told almost entirely through still images and voiceover narration. Though it would later go to on inspire films like 12 Monkeys and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind among others, this short original film is perfectly realized and fully told in its compact form. It's incredibly beautiful and moving, and reminds me why I like short films so much. A film doesn't have to be hours long to make you feel like you've lived someone else's life for a while. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sight & Sound Challenge: Psycho (1960)

Film: Psycho (59/250) 
Critics Poll: 34th 
Directors Poll: 48th 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

I've lost count of how many times I've watched this film. Every time I see this, I'm in awe of how incredibly GOOD it is. I'm in awe every single time. The music alone is iconic, and I get goosebumps from the first few seconds, hearing that Bernard Hermann score over those Saul Bass-designed opening credits. Add in the impeccable writing, that performance from Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates (how he wasn't Oscar nominated I'll never know), and all the familiar-but-still-amazing twists and turns of the plot, and you've got yourself a classic that holds up to countless viewings year after year. This time I got to watch it as part of a double feature with The Birds at a cemetery in Long Beach. Needless to say it was an unforgettable experience, despite a gaggle of girls sitting behind us running their mouths, not watching the movie. I wanted to turn around and say "Shut up! Don't you know what you have the honor of viewing right now? This is cinema at its finest!" But I kept my mouth shut, and instead focused on Norman Bates quietly panicking on the screen, leaning over the guestbook of the Bates Motel, chewing his gum, his jaws clenching, desperately trying to remain calm...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Broadcast News (1987)

This film is a mess. It wants to be a cute romance while also being brutally honest about how our heart will often lead us down a path our brain knows to be wrong. It also wants to be an indictment of the ethics in TV journalism, but it stops short of having a real villain. At more than two hours it is far longer than any comedy should ever be. It also wants to be both witty and broad at the same time. It wants to be everything. And somehow it sort of succeeds.

Most films this ambitious end up missing every single target. While never managing a real bulls-eye, this film somehow manages to at least graze every target it was aiming for. It might not be a masterpiece, but it is certainly a joy to watch. 99% of that is due to the phenomenal cast. Just like in network news, likability goes a long way.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Quote: Addams Family Values

"You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, you will play golf, and enjoy hot hors d'oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, 'Do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller.'"

Addams Family Values (1993)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Defending Your Life (1991)

I really should hate this movie. It's a high concept comedy, shot in an unremarkable style, designed as a showcase for one man's comedic sensibilities, that turns poignant at the end. I just described every single Adam Sandler or Kevin James film. But this is an Albert Brooks film. Rather than using a mere 3% of its brain, this film uses the whole damn thing. It's funny, it's thoughtful and it's also rather romantic. While no explanation is needed for why Albert Brooks falls for Meryl Streep, we really shouldn't buy how quickly Streep falls for Brooks. But thanks to their performances and the writing and the filmmaking, we get it. We are in love too. This film shouldn't work, but it does! It leaves me with all sorts of warm, optimistic, hopeful feelings. It makes the fear go away.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sight & Sound Challenge: Nosferatu (1922)

Film: Nosferatu (58/250) 
Critics Poll: 117th 
Directors Poll: 322nd 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch 

Unpopular opinion alert! I think this film is a teensy bit overrated. The image of the vampire Count Orlok is definitely striking, with his rat-like face and clawed hands, and there are a few shots that are absolutely chilling: Orlok's shadow reaching with impossibly long fingers, the vampire rising from his coffin, Orlok suddenly appearing in a black doorway. But between these images, there's a whole lot of nothing. The pace is glacial, and the supporting performances aren't too memorable. There was a moment when I was revisiting this that I thought to myself "Wow, is this the last time I'm ever going to watch this?" The answer is probably yes. This should probably be viewed at least once by the well-rounded cinephile to appreciate its role as one of the first vampire movies. But you know what? This film is one of the most highly-regarded films in the horror genre, so what do I know? Watch it and form your own opinion. Me, I'll stick to Lugosi. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Exterminating Angel (1962)

Film: The Exterminating Angel (57/250) 
Critics Poll: 202nd 
Directors Poll: 132nd
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

I had heard about this film and its crazy premise (a group of people attend a dinner party and find themselves unable to leave) but I had no idea how that could be made into a feature-length film. A short film, sure, but how could something that unusual be sustained over a whole film? Let  me tell you: it absolutely works. It somehow doesn't feel gimmicky, you believe these characters despite the fantastic circumstances, and although you're screaming at them to just leave the room, you're riveted, wondering what will happen next. Nothing is explained, nothing makes sense, but it's still a completely captivating film. It's fascinating watching glamour and decadence dissolve into weary desperation. I can't explain why it all works, it just does. More Buñuel please! More! More!