Monday, April 27, 2015

Roar (1981)

Going by plot alone, this is a bad movie. I'm pretty sure the entire script could be written on a cocktail napkin. But as far as I'm concerned this is not a fiction film. This is a documentary about a bunch of well-meaning folks who decided to shoot a movie starring themselves and dozens of un-trained wild animals! Viewed under that specific lens, this trifle of a film miraculously turns into one of the most hilariously harrowing films you will ever see. Be sure to get all your friends to watch it with you because otherwise they'll never believe such a film exists. Moreso than most films, context is key. God bless Tim League and the folks at Drafthouse Films for crafting an ad campaign that allows audiences to finally see this film for what it is - absolute insanity! Oh what I would give to watch this film with Werner Herzog. Perhaps someone will take Kevin Rakestraw's suggestion and get him to do commentary for the home video release! At the least they could get Paul F. Tompkins to do his Herzog impression.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Actress (2014)

Thanks to Netflix, everyone is consuming documentaries en masse. All sorts of films that would never draw a big enough audience to justify a theatrical release, are suddenly getting a fair shake in the digital world. Think of a subject and there is a doc about it. Yet, despite all this diversity in subject, I haven't really seen that much variety in form. If a film is about an issue, it's a bunch of talking heads and graphics. If it's about a person it's an unending train of incidents with no shape. And of course there's the over-reliance on chyrons and talking heads. You will not find any of that in Actress. With its choice of subject and stylized photography, this movie comes out feeling like it could be a spiritual sibling to the David Lynch films Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. Who would have thought that a film about a bit player from The Wire would yield so many interesting thoughts about femininity, relationships, the entertainment industry and the American Dream? A documentary can be anything you want. You just have to let it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Furious 7 (2015)

I know this might lose me a lot of credibility when it comes to the snobbier cineastes out there, but I really enjoyed this movie. It is absolutely and without a doubt as dumb as they come, but it knows this and embraces it. It is a giant cartoon that knows what we want and delivers it over and over again. It gives us those moments that only cinema can provide. We are never going to get to see parachuting cars or have a chance to soar between skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, but this movie allows us to leave reality behind for a little while and just embrace that part of our lizard brain that loves explosions.

Having said all of this, Furious 7 is not going to win the Oscar that Vin Diesel has predicted. Unlike the 5th and 6th films in the series that benefited from the honestly touching relationship between Sung Kang and Gal Gadot, this film unfortunately remains in emotional neutral. Though it tries really hard to be poignant, all of the emotion in this film comes from the fact that we know Paul Walker is no longer with us. None of it is really earned. Fortunately none of this gets in the way of the bombast we really came for.

To those of you not willing to take this ride I leave you with a quote from The Simpsons: "Look at those poor saps back on land with their "laws" and "ethics". They'll never know the simple joys of a monkey knife fight."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Quote: An Ideal Husband

"It is a great nuisance. I can't find anyone else to talk to. I'm so full of interesting information, I feel like the latest edition of something or other. Well, after some consideration... so much to do, there's only one thing to be done. There comes a time in every son's life when he must, indeed, follow his father's advice: I shall go to bed at once."

An Ideal Husband (1999)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2015)

One of the greatest things about film is its ability to generate empathy. By watching a film we gain the ability to see the world from the perspective of another. Most often this occurs whilst watching foreign films. Suddenly you are able to see something of yourself in someone who lives a world away that you share little in common with. Cinema also allows us to empathize with the insane. The hack way to do this is by swinging the camera around, playing with film stocks and obvious music. The more subtle way to do this is simply by placing the camera somewhere unconventional. Move the camera a little to the right or to the left and what was once common and mundane can suddenly become something weird and alien. All of a sudden you can maybe understand how someone can watch a movie and believe that they can find the treasure that was buried on screen. It's kind of like how someone can watch a movie and suddenly decide that they have it in them to make one. We all have our own little delusions.

Monday, April 13, 2015

While We're Young (2015)

On the Criterion bluray of Blow Out there is an extended video conversation between Brian De Palma and Noah Baumbach. When this was first announced, I remember thinking the pairing to be rather odd. But the more I think about it, it makes sense. Just because Baumbach makes movies that look a certain way, doesn't mean that he only watches films that look like his own. As the child of a film critic I'm sure he grew up watching all kinds of movies and they're all there within him. Though the trailer wouldn't give you any indication of such, While We're Young has supplied Baumbach with ample opportunity to let some of his more genre oriented impulses out...and I couldn't be more pleased. It's not a case of a filmmaker pretending to be something he is not. Instead this is a wider embrace of who he really is as a person. Just as Frances Ha was his French New Wave film, this is his 70's Political Thriller. Of course it's still as cutting and hilarious as what we've come to expect from Baumbach, but that little bit of thriller goes a long way towards making this one of the strongest works in an already strong filmography. And oh what a charismatic "villain"! So far this is easily my favorite film of the year. See it while you're young.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Quote: Adam's Rib

"For years, women have been ridiculed, pampered, chucked under the chin. I ask you, on behalf of us all, be fair to the fair sex."

Adam's Rib (1949)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sans Soleil (1983)

I really don't know how to accurately describe Sans Soleil. It isn't entirely a documentary since it has scripted narration that is from the perspective of one fictional person to another. But it is also very much not a narrative film. It exists somewhere in between the two styles and creates something that could only have come from the mind of the elusive Chris Marker. The images are so beautiful and the ideas so insightful that either could easily exist without the other. But it is the ways in which they merge and play off one another that makes this film so truly wonderful. What could have been an above average TV travel special or NPR segment, instead becomes a fascinating examination of memory and one of the most unique cinematic experiences you will ever have. When you or I go on vacation, we come back with a few photos and maybe one interesting story. Chris Marker comes back with a masterpiece.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Belle (2013)

Belle is the story of a young woman named Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of Royal Navy Captain who grew up being raised by her aristocratic relatives. She is bright, wealthy, and beautiful, and by all rights should have the whole world open to her. The catch? She's illegitimate, and her mother is black. She finds herself caught between two worlds, facing prejudice from the ignorant world outside her door, and trying to follow her instincts to her ultimate happiness. 

Can we talk about how lovely Gugu Mbatha-Raw is for a second? I can't think of anyone else who would be better in this role. She has a spark that can't be denied. The rest of the cast is great too; familiar faces include Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Draco Malfoy I MEAN Tom Felton (playing a racist a-hole, of course), Penelope Wilton, Miranda Richardson, and Matthew Goode. In addition to being a Jane Austen-esque love story (you know, stolen glances, verbal sparring that means they're obviously in love, all that stuff I can't get enough of), it's about social issues too, notably the Zong massacre of 1781. It's an interesting touch to what is otherwise a pleasant if unexceptional film. I really loved this movie and after watching it alone one night I watched it again the next day with my sister, and I kinda want to watch it again...

It's currently streaming on HBO, and if you're a fan of period films or love stories (or both!), I definitely recommend it. If nothing else, give props to Miss Mbatha Raw for her mirror scene. So moving, so powerful. I've definitely got my eye on her. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Podcast Recommendation: The Canon

A podcast I've gotten really into lately is Wolfpop's "The Canon," featuring film critics Devin Faraci of Badass Digest and Amy Nicholson of LA Weekly arguing over which films belong in the canon of great films. They each present their opinions (often fiercely disagreeing), and then they leave it up to the listeners to vote online. The most recent episode was about Rocky Horror Picture Show (obviously deserves to be in the canon, at least according to Amy). Sometimes they make it particularly brutal and have a "VS" episode, where listeners have to pick between two very worthy options. Some of their showdowns have included Star Wars vs Empire Strikes Back, ET the Extra Terrestrial vs Close Encounters of the Third Kind (how can you choose??), and Alien vs Aliens (Alien is the clear winner). Next week is Annie Hall vs Manhattan, can't wait!

You'll find yourself totally siding with one of the critics in one episode, and then by next week you've completely turned against them. That's all part of the fun! While they deal some low blows, you know they're still pals at the end of the day and that's why we love (to hate) them. It's crazy and a lot of fun, and it feels like when you argue with your fellow cinephile pals after watching something particularly discussion-worthy. Give it a listen HERE!