Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: Love Streams (1984)

Film: Love Streams (192/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

I have barely begun to dip my toes into the work of director John Cassavetes, but he has largely impressed me so far. But the one who really impresses me is Gena Rowlands, who is less an actress and more a force of nature. She and Cassavetes play siblings (which must have been weird considering they were married!) who are reunited during particularly tumultuous times in their lives. I feel like Rowlands always plays mentally unstable characters, but she's SO damn good at it. Her performance is visceral and desperate. If I had to nitpick, it's that the movie is working so hard at putting us in her headspace without trusting in the sheer strength of her stand-alone performance. It's full of wait-did-that-actually-happen? moments, although some of them work pretty well (the pool scene is amazing). While I could take or leave the story having to do with Cassavetes' character, I never miss an opportunity to take in a tour de force performance from this incredible woman. Her honorary Oscar couldn't be more deserved.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sight and Sound Challenge: I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)

Film: I Know Where I'm Going! (191/250)
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

This film started out promising enough. I really loved Roger Livesey in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Wendy Hiller cracked me up in Pygmalion. The opening sequence was full of wit and it seemed to be off to a good start, but the momentum died pretty quickly for me. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't very engaged, and as much as I liked the leads individually, they didn't excite me much together. I had similar feelings about another Powell/Pressburger film, A Cantebury Tale: it was inoffensive enough, but gentle and pleasant to the point of becoming inert. With both films, about halfway through, I had the thought "Oh. I guess this is it." And I don't feel this way about all of their films; The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, and The Tales of Hoffman are some of the most visually gorgeous and rich films I've ever seen. Maybe I just need Technicolor and a heavy dose of drama. And maybe I'll feel differently about this film after a rewatch, but for now it was just okay.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Queen of Katwe (2016)

I'm not sure if it's due to the popularity TV where there are A, B, C and D plot-lines, but modern films tend to have way too much going on. This is how we end up with Superhero films that run nearly three hours. It's also how we get a cascade of different endings that have to be resolved after the big bad guy has been dispatched. Though Queen of Katwe is far from a straightforward story that is over and done with in 90 minutes, it does take the novel approach of resolving all of its lesser plot-lines before concluding the main one. This way, when the movie is over, it is over. I desperately hope that screenwriting courses will start teaching this as a way to more delicately handle all of that cinematic bloat.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday Quote: Pride and Prejudice

"Oh, if you want to be really refined, you have to be dead. There's no one as dignified as a mummy."
Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hidden Figures (2016)

I really think this movie benefited from being seen in a theater. Not because of any sort of visual or aural grandeur. In fact, both those aspects of this film are pretty rote. What this film benefits from, is following a slew of awful trailers. I always dread seeing PG-rated films because all the trailers have to be family friendly as well. It's just this unending stream of platitudes and fart jokes. So the fact that Hidden Figures is actually good feels like a small miracle. Sure there are still scenes where smart people explain things to other smart people that they should already know, but oh well. The charisma of those three leads could get me through most anything. And they did it all without dirty words. No wonder my parents loved it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: Imitation of Life (1959)

Film: Imitation of Life (190/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

UGH, this movie was a knife in the heart. I'm glad I watched it alone, if only to fully sob my eyes out without getting sideway glances from whoever might see me. Lana Turner plays model/actress Lora Meredith who hires Annie (Juanita Moore) to be her live-in housekeeper. Annie is black, and her daughter Sarah Jane (played as an adult by Susan Kohner) is mixed and can pass for white. Her daughter is resentful of her mixed heritage and wants to live her life like any other white person. The relationship between Annie and Sarah Jane carries the film. Lora and her daughter Susie (Sandra Dee) have their own drama and there's a douchey love interest, but that part of the film didn't captivate me nearly as much as the anguish between Sarah Jane and her mother. It's truly heartbreaking from beginning to end. I couldn't bring myself to judge either of these characters, no matter what they might put each other through. Of course being a Douglas Sirk film, it looked absolutely beautiful as well. I'm so happy I finally got to watch this (thanks TCM!) and I'm interested in rewatching some of Sirk's other films. It's been too long.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Film: Barry Lyndon (189/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch 

Ohhh I love this movie. This story of the rise and fall of Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal) is iconic and epic, and yet has a precision that I don't see in other films like this. Maybe it's the symmetry of the story, or the use of music (Handel's "Sarabande" and Schubert's "Piano Trio in E-Flat, Opus 100, 2nd movement" are featured prominently and both have very measured rhythms, like the ticking of a clock), but this meticulously crafted film stands alone as one of a kind. Or rather, one of a specific kind: the work of master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. It's got his fingerprints all over it. From the tracking shots to the beautiful light to the symmetry of the shots and the story, it's undoubtedly his. Every frame looks like a painting. The costumes are beautiful. The plot is engrossing. There's just so much to get out of this film, and I couldn't be happier to have an excuse to revisit it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ornette: Made in America (1984)

While certainly flawed, this film comes closer than any other I've seen to an accurate cinematic representation of jazz. Shirley Clarke's editing has a great sense of rhythm that perfectly marries sound and vision. But she also understands the importance of solos. Sometimes the music gets to be front and center. Sometimes the visuals are allowed to take the lead. It's a delicate tapestry of new and old media that is filled to the brim with recurrent themes that are both aural and visual. Even the incorporation of video games seems to suggest the ways in which jazz assimilates new styles and techniques. As far as I know Shirley Clark didn't play an instrument, but through this film she pulls of a remarkable duet with one of American Music's most original voices ever.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Quote: Gaslight

"If I were not mad, I could have helped you. Whatever you had done, I could have pitied and protected you. But because I am mad, I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. And because I'm mad, I'm rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart!"

Gaslight (1944)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Black Girl (1966)

Straight and to the point. This is European colonialism in a microcosm. If the ending takes you by surprise, you weren't paying attention. It's not overt racism that does the real damage to someone's self-worth. It's indifference and self-interest that hold an entire People back from their true potential. Racial slurs and physical violence are certainly abhorrent and hurtful, but a lifetime filled with people taking advantage of you simply because of your situation, combined with others who are either indifferent to that situation or who do only the bare minimum is what can really destroy a soul.