Thursday, June 30, 2016

Life Itself (2014)


If you know me at all you know that I'm extremely hard on documentaries. Paint by numbers does not work for me. Bio docs are often the worst offenders. If I wanted a list of incidents I would just read the person's Wikipedia page. While Life Itself certainly does make a point of checking off all the key moments in Roger Ebert's life, it stands out by choosing to mirror the structure of the biography on which it was based.

Rather than telling a strict chronological narrative, Ebert's book is structured much more like a series of essays where each covers a different aspect of his life. There's the one about journalism, the one about alcoholism, the one about Scorsese, the one about Chaz, etc. Instead of a simple list of accomplishments, you get to take in all the numerous and diverse aspects of Roger's life. He wasn't just a film critic. He wasn't just a recovering alcoholic. He wasn't just a TV personality. He was all those things and many more. This is a film about all the different elements that make up a person. This is a film about Life Itself.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Brief Encounter (1945)

Film: Brief Encounter (122/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

SWOON.

Oh man, I absolutely loved this one. The incredibly romantic and sad story of two strangers sharing a, well, "brief encounter" is one that will stay with me. Laura (Celia Johnson) and Alec (Trevor Howard) have a chemistry that smolders, and so much lies in the unsaid and the undone. From the classical score to the narration and the repeated first and final scene, it all works. It's streamlined but packed with emotion. My heart ached for these characters and I can't wait to revisit this one again and again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Rules of the Game (1939)

Film: The Rules of the Game (121/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

Man loves woman. Woman is married to another man. Woman's husband has mistress. Woman's maid has jealous husband. Woman's friend loves woman. Maid has affair with another man. Everyone's flirting with each other. I can hardly keep it straight! This French film about high society's self-absorbed affairs can be confusing, certainly, but it's also witty, sophisticated, and emotionally broad, going from flighty and funny to soberingly tragic. This is a world before the war, and you can feel the characters on the brink of change, wrapping themselves in their drama and their glamour, burying their heads in the sand and carrying on drinking and laughing into the night...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Brazil (1985)

Early in their friendship, Peter Bogdanovich confided to Orson Welles that he wasn't too fond of the legendary auteur's adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial. Years later, Orson informed Peter that he had intended the film to be a comedy. Viewed in this light, Bogdanovich was much better able to appreciate the pitch black comedy at the heart of Welles' bureaucratic nightmare. No added context is needed in order to appreciate Brazil. The comedy is right there at the surface. How can you not find humor in all the paperwork and Rube Goldberg technology? It's all so wild and whimsical that the horror is able to really creep up on you. True evil doesn't come at you with a bunch of gloom and doom. True evil comes at you with a smile that looks as jolly and well-meaning as Michael Palin's.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Quote: The Right Stuff

"Lord, guard and guide the men who fly through the great spaces in the sky. Be with them always in the air, in darkened storm or sunlight glare. O, hear us when we lift our prayer, for those in peril in the air. Amen."

The Right Stuff (1983)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)


While it might seem weird to say in the era of everyone having a camera on them at all times, but this film really reinforces the importance of documenting your scene. If you aren't doing it, who is? The Germs only have one full-length album and frontman Darby Crash was already dead by the time this film was released. Yet thanks to Penelope Spheeris' camera, he can live on for forever. I know we are all supposed to put our phones down and actually experience life, but if you really think something is awesome and worth sharing, please record it and share it. The world needs more awesome things. Don't be so selfish. Spread the wealth. You might be preserving something which would have otherwise been forgotten.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: The General (1926)

Film: The General (120/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

I've long been a fan of Buster Keaton. While this film isn't my favorite of his (I prefer Sherlock Jr., The Cameraman, and Steamboat Bill Jr.), I definitely admire his ambition. The scale of the project (that train!) is worth applauding and Keaton performs his stone-faced stunts with his usual ease. I love the scene where Keaton is clinging to the front of the train, scrambling to get the pieces of wood off the tracks. Then of course there is the famous shot of Keaton looking forlorn, sitting momentarily on the drive-rod of the train and it begins to move him up and down while he barely notices. It's a classic of the silent era and a must-see for anyone looking to increase their silent movie street cred. And if you find that you enjoy Buster's antics, there are a number of his short films on Hulu for you to devour. It's a goldmine of comedy!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Film: The Grapes of Wrath (119/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

I live a pretty cushy life. I have a home I can call my own, a steady paycheck, and I never have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. It's easy to take all that for granted. Revisiting The Grapes of Wrath for this challenge made me deeply aware of how easy I have it. The film paints a harrowing time in our country's history, when countless were jobless and hungry, forced out of their homes. Henry Ford's Tom Joad is an everyman who lets the audience see through his eyes the suffering of the unfortunate. The scene where they encounter a man who lost his family through chasing empty promises is especially haunting. It's an impeccable film by the always impeccable John Ford and its depiction of this period of time is one that should be shown in history classes, if only to make high schoolers appreciate everything they have.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Manhunter (1986)


Back in the early 30's, Universal was riding high on the backs of horror films like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. While none of these films were set in a specific time period, it clearly wasn't the 1930's. These were stories set in exotic locales or in "the old world" where the same creepy castle set could be used over and over again. And then Edgar G. Ulmer adapted Edgar Alan Poe's The Black Cat and decided to transport it to an extremely modern, art deco mansion. By setting a story of Satanic mutilation in such an orderly and sterile setting, the horror was amplified rather than diminished. This is exactly what Michael Mann does with Manhunter. Say what you will about the awful, faux-deco that was so popular in the 1980's, but the red of human blood really stands out on all those white walls and duvets.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Quote: Can't Hardly Wait

"You see the salt on this pretzel? Look at the stars. Some people, they say the stars are billions and billions of tons of hot gas. But I think maybe, maybe it's just God's salt. And God's just waiting to eat us."
Can't Hardly Wait (1998)