Thursday, December 8, 2016

Viva (2007)

With its leisurely pace, it's impossible to miss how much work went into this film. To match the specific look Anna Biller and her collaborators were going for, all these period props and costumes had to be found or made. The same goes for the sets and locations. The result is gorgeous to look at and filled with bare flesh, but thanks to the presentational acting and blatant sloganeering, it's much closer to Jean-Luc Godard than Russ Meyer. Biller wants us to take something away from this film. Like Guy Maddin she's using the form of vintage media to deconstruct the artificiality of both the past and the present. You become hyper-aware of the sexism and hypocrisy that was just underneath the surface of the "free love" movement and America in general. With a Trump presidency looming, a film like Viva provides as an uneasy reminder of the "good times" red hats want to get back to.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Film: Bicycle Thieves (168/250)
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

It's a rare treat to find a child actor whose performance feels authentic. I've always admired young Enzo Staiola's performance as Bruno, the son of our protagonist Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani). Through his eyes we see the effects of this post-war economy, the men and women desperate for work, for hope, for any chance of happiness or prosperity. He looks to his father with admiration, with frustration, and with genuine love. There's a scene where the two of them eat in a restaurant and for a moment they can forget their troubles and stuff their faces, until the reality of their situation settles on them like a black cloud. It's a simple and moving film with great performances all around, and one that every cinephile worth their salt should see. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Last Laugh (1924)

Film: The Last Laugh (167/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Hmm, I don't know. I think I'd heard so much about this film that I felt like I'd already seen it, and it didn't really offer any new surprises. The story is simple: an old man who works as a doorman at a fancy hotel is demoted and he loses his livelihood. So simple, in fact, that there are virtually no title cards. It sounds interesting in theory, but the reality for me is that I had a really hard time staying awake. There were definitely some interesting visuals, not unlike the ones from director F.W. Murnau's later films Faust (1926) and Sunrise (1927), but I definitely prefer those other films. There was nothing inherently wrong with The Last Laugh, it was charming in its own way, but I think it would have worked better as a short film. At an hour and a half, this film felt like it crawled. This film has been incredibly well-reviewed over the years, so it seems I'm in the minority, but see it and decide for yourself. At any rate, it was fun getting lost in the whimsical ending. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

The American Friend (1977)

This is an interesting one. It feels the most autobiographical of the Wim Wenders films I've seen. The cameos by Sam Fuller and Nicholas Ray, the dedication to Henri Langlois and the inclusion of early optical toys clearly indicate that Wenders wants us to be thinking about cinema itself. Viewed in this context, the forgery subplot seems like a knowing nod towards his early career where Wenders himself acknowledges that his directing "style" consisted of little more than approximating Hitchcock and Cassavetes. Even the Zimmerman character agreeing to serve as a hired gun seems to pre-sage the difficulties Wim would later encounter trying to work for Francis Ford Coppola. Yet by placing all of this within the context of a "crime picture", Wenders is able to sidestep the indulgence of making a "stuggling artist picture". It's not an entirely perfect marriage, but it sure makes for some interesting images, ideas and an amazing train sequence.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Quote: Possessed

"'I love you' is such an inadequate way of saying I love you. It doesn't quite describe how much it hurts sometimes."
Possessed (1947)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Paddington (2014)

Wow! That was extremely pleasant. I'd been hearing people sing this film's praises for years, I just didn't believe them. I kept thinking back to that trailer which is just the entire "facilities" scene. Who chose that scene to lead with? It's not really that representative of the film as a whole. Were they just hoping to appeal to the lowest common denominator? Probably. It's a shame though. By taking the easy route, you miss out on audience members who might appreciate how sweet the film is. Or miss out on people who prefer more nuanced or absurdist humor. Or people who aren't six-years-olds. Hopefully the sequel doesn't drop the ball. I promise not to judge it by its trailer. I'll trust you guys this time!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Film: Once Upon a Time in the West (166/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Wow. Wow wow wow. This film completely blew me away. I came into it thinking I'd find it full of testosterone and not particularly memorable but reasonably entertaining (my general view on most non-John Ford westerns). But from that opening scene, I was completely hooked. Three men wait. Who are they waiting for? I had no idea, but I found myself holding my breath anyway. And with that amazing harmonica theme (seriously, a character plays his own theme song and it's AWESOME), the film pulled me in and didn't let me go. With memorable performances by Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Henry Fonda (eeevil!), and Claudia Cardinale, this is a film that will stay with me for a long long time. I think this is my new favorite western.  And the music?! It's incredible. Incredible music, incredible cinematography, incredible storytelling... I absolutely loved this. 

But let me quickly address something here, and that is the treatment of Claudia Cardinale's character. To quote the film: "You know what? If I was you, I'd go down there and give those boys a drink. Can't imagine how happy it makes a man to see a woman like you, just to look at her. And if one of them should, uh, pat your behind, just make believe it's nothing. They earned it." Sigh. Women have been told shit like that since the beginning of time. But I don't really expect morality and the civil treatment of women in a film where men go around shooting each other. And it's a minor nitpick in what is otherwise a great film. I can't recommend this enough. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Late Spring (1949)

Film: Late Spring (165/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

I've seen a pitifully small number of films by legendary Japanese director Yasujir┼Ź Ozu, which is a shame because I really love this and I'm sure I'd love his other work. The story is the seasons, these stories return and return. In this case, Late Spring could refer to the heroine of the story, who is late bloomer twenty-seven-year-old Noriko (Setsuko Hara). She is unmarried and lives and cares for her widower father. The two are devoted to each other, but the time comes that she must make some important decisions about her future. This film is really lovely, beautifully paced and shot, with some very memorable but subtle performances (I'm especially fond of the meddling but lovable Aunt Masa played by Haruko Sugimura). Revisiting this film made me so eager to catch up on Ozu's work...Tokyo Story next perhaps? If it's half as good as this, I'm sure I'm in for a treat.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Time Bandits (1981)

As much as I've enjoyed a number of Terry Gilliam's films for grown-ups, this rewatch of Time Bandits has be convinced that his true calling is making imaginative films for children. The slapstick comedy, manic pacing, and Fellini-esque visuals are perfect for getting and keeping a child's attention. This film in particular is also just dangerous enough to entertain adults while simultaneously fooling kids into thinking that they're getting away with something. Even Gilliam's messages, which are a bit too simplistic to be taken seriously by intellectuals, are just deep enough to be considered profound by your son or daughter. Of course they also tend to be a touch overlong, but that's just a tiny quibble compared to the large-scale pleasures at play. It's a shame that J.K. Rowling wasn't able to get him to direct one of the Potter films like she wanted.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday Quote: Parenthood

"You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it."
Parenthood (1989)