Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Quote: Iris

"You're not pretty, and you'll never be pretty. But it doesn't matter. You have something much better: you have STYLE."

Iris (2014)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Housemaid (1960)

After the release of Oldboy and Memories of Murder in 2003, South Korean cinema was everywhere. Suddenly cinephiles all over the globe were talking about the genius of Kim Jee-Woon, Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook. But this cinema didn't just spring up overnight. We in the West can be so egocentric some times. If we haven't seen it, it doesn't exist, right? Korea's domestic film industry dates back to the start of the last century. By the time Kim Ki-young's The Housemaid came along in 1960, the industry was more than half a century old.

It's interesting to compare and contrast this film with American films of the same time. Many of the concerns are the same (wealth, reputation, etc.) but this film addresses those issues in a way that Hollywood would have really soft-peddled. In fact, they probably would have considered this trashy, exploitative and low-class. Yet, thirty years later, facsimiles of this film (Fatal Attraction, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, etc.) were filling American multiplexes. I hope that fact prompted some Koreans to giggle. The Americans finally caught up.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Red Shoes (1948)

Film: The Red Shoes (6/250)
Critics Poll: 117th
Directors Poll: 322nd
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

It's hard for me to write about this film using just words. I could do it with emojis...just picture lots of jaw-dropped and heart-eyed little faces. This film is GORGEOUS. The colors are unreal, and the "Ballet of the Red Shoes" sequence looks like it came straight out of a dream. You can see the influence from that one scene in films ranging from Singin' in the Rain all the way up to Black Swan. Can I just say that more movies should have one stand-out dream-like scene? I think just about any movie could benefit from one. Take The Avengers. Wouldn't it be great to have a scene where they're all floating through the sky, on mountains, by the sea, with a beautiful piece of music accompanying this pointless but pretty diversion? No? Okay, that would be ridiculous. Maybe not EVERY movie needs one. But The Red Shoes does it so well, making this one of the most visually stunning films I've ever seen. It would be such a treat to see on the big screen, but in the meantime the restored Blu-ray does the job pretty well. Oh, to be a dancer...!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sight & Sound Challenge: L'Avventura (1960)

Film: L'Avventura (5/250)
Critics Poll: 21st
Directors Poll: 30th
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

This has been on my watch list for ages. It was one of those titles that you know you're supposed to see, you know that it's supposed to be a great movie, or at least an important one. This film is also one of the main reasons I went with the Sight & Sound top 250 instead of some of my other movie challenge contenders, like the AFI Top 100. I wanted to make sure I was seeing plenty of new-to-me foreign films as well.

For me, this film is less about the plot and more about the style and the mood. I'm biased towards Italian films from the 60s; everything just looks so cool. All the people lounging on the yacht, on the rocks, not a care in the world, until one of them disappears. Then life carries on...

Monica Vitti has a great face, one that carries this film. There's a handsomeness to it, a strength and a vulnerability. I could watch a whole movie of her gazing out at the ocean. I really enjoyed relaxing and sinking into this one. It's great for a lazy afternoon and I'm really glad I finally got around to watching it.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

This Cinematic Show - Mad Men

I know that this is a cinema blog, but I wanted to take this opportunity to mark the passing of what I personally feel is the most cinematic television program of all time - Mad Men.

As more and more established filmmakers are making the move to serialized television, lots of think pieces are being written about the shrinking gulf between movies and TV. Most of these pieces cite either the effects and battle scenes from Game of Thrones or that stedicam shot from True Detective. But as far as I am concerned, that's just technology. Remember when bullet-time showed up in a Gap ad shortly after debuting in The Matrix? Was that a sign of commercials merging with the world of cinema?

What distinguishes Mad Men from the rest of the pack (for me) is the ways in which it abandons narrative in favor of mood and theme. What happens in any given episode is irrelevant, it's about how it happens. Episodes don't end on cliffhangers. Often the next episode will take place months later and it's up to us to fill in the gaps from little scraps here and there. Rather than following the rigid structure you are taught in film school, episodes and seasons function on the dreamlike logic of cinema where small actions create waves and have echoes that are felt throughout the series.

Despite the fact that much of 80's and 90's TV apparently takes place within the mind of an autistic boy (ie: The Tommy Westphall Universe), the medium as a whole hasn't trafficked much in this type of abstract/dreamlike narrative structure you would find each week on Mad Men. The only other example that really springs to mind is Twin Peaks and there you are still relying on conventional genre elements and cliffhangers. The closest true relative that I can find to what Mad Men has been able to accomplish over the course of seven whole seasons is in the cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master and Inherent Vice), The Coen Brothers (A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis) and of course Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

A lot of shows have tried to piggyback on the whole mid-century thing (Pan AmThe Playboy Club, etc.) but that's just surface. It will be a long while before we see another show truly of this ilk. Only Masters of Sex has come anywhere close to truly repeating that Matthew Weiner Magic with episodes like "Fight" which mirrors Mad Men's legendary episode "The Suitcase" so rigidly that it also prominently features a televised boxing match.

So raise a glass to our fallen comrade. And if you ever find yourself getting too lonely, check out my personal Top-5 favorite episodes listed below. They're all on Netflix and each is perfectly capable of standing on its own as a true and distinct work of art.

"The Wheel" season 1, episode 13

"The Suitcase" season 4, episode 7

"Mystery Date" season 5, episode 4

"Far Away Places" season 5, episode 6

"The Crash" season 6, episode 8

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Quote: The Prestige

"The audience knows the truth: the world is simple. It's miserable, solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you... then you got to see something really special."

The Prestige (2006)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

The first time I watched this movie, I remember thinking that the stakes were insanely low for an indictment of an individual as extremely powerful as Walter Winchel. I wanted him to be torn apart and laid to waste in the eyes of the public. But upon this re-watch, the brilliance of the decision to handle things in a more subtle way, finally dawned on me. When you have the power to make or break presidents, who in the world could possibly have enough power to hold you accountable for your misdeeds? The only people that have power over us are the ones that we grant power to. In the case of J.J. Hunsecker, the person with that much power over him is his sister Susan. It doesn't matter how many press agents, jazz musicians and fellow columnists hate you. As long as you have the love of family you are secure and immortal. This would make an interesting double-bill with Scarface.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sight & Sound Challenge: Three Colours: Blue (1993)

Film: Three Colours: Blue (4/250)
Critics Poll: 127th
Directors Poll: 224th
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

I was eager to watch this one after recently falling under the spell of Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique (also in the top 250). I was hoping for an emotionally complex and thought-provoking film with a haunting score, and that's exactly what I got. Juliette Binoche is stunning as the tortured Julie, trying desperately and in vain to detach herself from life and relationships. I really respond to visuals (especially color) in film, and music, and this gave me a LOT to chew on. This film is part of a trilogy, each representing a color of the French flag. Blue represents liberty, and the color is used beautifully here. It's poetry. The last film (Red) is also in the top 250 and I'm looking forward to that one as well. Just beautiful. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sight & Sound Challenge: Star Wars (1977)

Film: Star Wars (3/250)
Critics Poll: 171st
Directors Poll: 224th
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch (obviously!)

I revisited this on May the 4th, of course, wearing Craig's "Star Wars" shirt and anticipating every line the way you do with a movie you've seen countless times. I've been aware of this film for as long as I can remember. My older brother was a big fan of the franchise, and while I teased him about it the way any self-respecting pest of a little sister would, I couldn't help but soak some of it in. While I didn't actually sit and watch the original trilogy in its entirety until I was probably 11 or so, I definitely knew who Han, Luke, Leia, C3PO, R2D2, Darth Vader, Jabba the Hutt, and Yoda were. And I DEFINITELY knew about Ewoks. I've come to appreciate it more and more with each viewing. While this film has been tampered with more than any other film I can think of, it's the original version that gets watched at our house. If it ain't broke, George Lucas, don't fix it. Every classic line, Luke gazing at the two suns, the two droids bickering, Han Solo swooping in to save the day ("YEAH HOOOO!"), that gorgeous and perfect score by John Williams...I just can't love this film any more. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tootsie (1982)

I really wish that I could say that this film is horribly dated. I REALLY wish I could say that. But sadly, the only thing dated here is the decor, costumes and that silly "Tootsie" song. Everything this film has to say about feminism, sexism, consent, Hollywood, gender, sexuality and identity are all still extremely relevant. In fact, this movie almost feels like it was designed for right now. This should be showing on TV as regularly as Road House or whatever the current flavor of the month on cable is. Perhaps the fact that it's a comedy is keeping people from taking it seriously? But then try imagining this film without comedy. That might just be too depressing to handle. Dorothy Michaels for President!