Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How to Throw an Outdoor Movie Party

Farewell, summer! If you're living somewhere that refuses to cool down and get ready for fall (ahem, southern California), there's still time to squeeze in a movie party with your nearest and dearest! This year we held our third annual Summer Outdoor Movie Pool Party and it was a blast. Here are some ways to make yours memorable.

You Will Need:
*A projector and a sheet/screen (you can rent a projector or splurge and buy your own!)

*Comfy seating (blankets, pillows, and lawn chairs work great!)

*Snacks! We like to tie them into our theme...we've actually managed to work a watermelon into our snack table presentation every year. Can you guess the movies?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Watching David Lynch

David Lynch is in the air. Though it’s been nearly a decade since his last film, thanks to the new Twin Peaks box and the upcoming Criterion of Eraserhead, the cinematic zeitgeist seems to be abuzz with all things Lynch. Like many cinema-lovers out there, I took this as an opportunity to re-immerse myself in David Lynch’s filmography, cherry-picking a few favorites here and there. But what began as an exercise in nostalgia, ended up yielding some interesting insights into Lynch’s filmography as a whole.

While watching the glorious new bluray transfer of Fire Walk With Me, I was struck by the scene where poor Laura Palmer is having an emotional experience listening to Julee Cruise in a roadhouse. It felt like déjà vu. Where had I seen this before? The music, the lighting, even the people on screen were all so damn familiar. And then it came to me...

Having recently re-watched a majority of Twin Peaks the series after the box-set was announced a few months back, my mind instantly leapt to an important night in the life of Laura’s cousin Maddy Ferguson which was also accompanied by a Julee Cruise performance. I’m sure Lynch was merely trying to play up the parallels between the two girls, but having also recently re-watched Blue Velvet at a cemetery screening, I couldn't help but also think of the various moments in that film where a character is observing another singing. And of course who can forget Mulholland Drive’s club Silencio and Rebekah Del Rio’s heart-wrenching rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”? Even as far back as Eraserhead there’s the Woman in the Radiator singing about how, “In heaven everything is fine.”

When films are viewed years apart, parallels often go unnoticed. But when viewed in relatively rapid succession, they are hard to miss. Five instances of something in a director’s work has to constitute a recurring theme, right? But what does it mean?

The cryptic liner notes of the Mulholland Drive ask, “What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?” Though I have seen the film more than a handful of times, I couldn't really tell you. It’s something I can’t even put into words. It’s something abstract, something you just have to feel. Like going to an opera when you don’t speak Italian, the emotions are just so intense that you can’t help but be moved. We can assume that Betty and Rita don’t speak Spanish, yet they are able to understand and find relevance to their own lives and situations. And isn't that cinema in a nutshell?

Lynch himself described it perfectly in his book, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity
People sometimes say that they have trouble understanding a film, but I think they understand much more than they realize. Because we’re all blessed with intuition – we really have the gift of intuiting things…Someone might say, I don’t understand music; but most people experience music emotionally and would agree that music is an abstraction. You don’t need to put music into words right away – you just listen…Cinema is a lot like music. It can be very abstract, but people have a yearning to make intellectual sense of it, to put it right into words. And when they can’t do that, it feels frustrating. But they can come up with an explanation from within, if they just allow it. (Pg. 15 – 19) 
What is any David Lynch film about? That depends on you. Like the scarecrow's brain, the tinman's heart and the cowardly lion's courage - the answer was there inside of us all along. In film after film David Lynch is figuratively singing his heart out to us, yearning for connection. He is Julee, Dorothy and Rebekah. We are the audience. Lynch desperately wants us to understand and to feel - but we have to meet him half way. It's up to us to take the key and open the box. But are we ready to deal with what we have inside ourselves?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Scorsese on Celluloid

We have many names for what we do – cinema, movies, motion pictures. And…film. We’re called directors, but more often we’re called filmmakers. Filmmakers. I’m not suggesting that we ignore the obvious: HD isn’t coming, it’s here. The advantages are numerous: the cameras are lighter, it’s much easier to shoot at night, we have many more means at our disposal for altering and perfecting our images. And, the cameras are more affordable: films really can be made now for very little money. Even those of us still shooting on film finish in HD, and our movies are projected in HD. So, we could easily agree that the future is here, that film is cumbersome and imperfect and difficult to transport and prone to wear and decay, and that it’s time to forget the past and say goodbye – really, that could be easily done. Too easily.

It seems like we’re always being reminded that film is, after all, a business. But film is also an art form, and young people who are driven to make films should have access to the tools and materials that were the building blocks of that art form. Would anyone dream of telling young artists to throw away their paints and canvases because iPads are so much easier to carry? Of course not. In the history of motion pictures, only a minuscule percentage of the works comprising our art form was not shot on film. Everything we do in HD is an effort to recreate the look of film. Film, even now, offers a richer visual palette than HD. And, we have to remember that film is still the best and only time-proven way to preserve movies. We have no assurance that digital informaton will last, but we know that film will, if properly stored and cared for.

Our industry – our filmmakers – rallied behind Kodak because we knew that we couldn’t afford to lose them, the way we’ve lost so many other film stocks. This news is a positive step towards preserving film, the art form we love.

Martin Scorsese, 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

It's Intermission Time, Folks!

Hey there kids,

If you haven't guessed already by the title of this post and the graphic, we're gonna take a little vacation. Now don't worry, we'll be back. Just need a little time to recharge our batteries so that we can make sure that this site is the best site it can possibly be. Not exactly sure when we'll return but when we do, you will certainly be the first to know. And even though we won't be actively posting, you can still follow us on Twitter and Instagram for all sorts of fun movie news and random thoughts. We are also both part of the awesome film loving social network known as Letterboxd! Become a member and follow what we are watching in our downtime. You can find Craig's profile here and 'Becca'lise's profile here.

Well I guess that's about all for now. Don't forget us while we're gone. We never forget you guys!

See ya at the movies!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

As America can surely attest, it’s a lot easier to start a war than to end one. Pull a trigger, press a button and you are off to the races. Stopping a war is a much more complicated process. Signing a treaty does not bring the dead back to life. It also doesn’t change the fact that war has become a way of life for all of those involved. If the war has gone on long enough, it might be all that young people know. They haven’t been able to experience the wonderful and awkward moments of adolescence. It’s hard to worry about something as seemingly insignificant as acne or dating when the more pressing issue of survival is hanging overhead. And then the war stops. Suddenly you can take the time to enjoy the company of a nice young lady. You can flirt and make love. But just below the surface all the awful muck of the past lies in waiting. And when you’ve become accustomed to taking orders, it is hard to stop. Though World War II ended nearly seventy years ago, we are still dealing with its fallout today. There are no clean breaks.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Boyhood (2014)

On a film set, a lot of time, money and effort goes into making sure that one shot matches the next. Cinematographers tinker endlessly with the lights so that you can’t tell that the sun has moved in the sky, hair and makeup crews make little adjustments and the script supervisor is there to remind an actor which hand was holding their coffee cup in the last take. But as Jean-Luc Godard accurately proclaimed, “Every edit is a lie.” When assembling a scene in the editing room, filmmakers are literally making a collage or mosaic of time. Each take on set is documenting a specific moment in time that will never happen again. And that is precisely what Boyhood sets out to capture.

Shooting one week a year over the course of twelve years, Richard Linklater was able to create a film where the fact that time has passed from one cut to the next is actually part of the narrative. What might have been distracting in another film, just sails right by in this one. And though it is also a story of the last twelve years in Texas, it is first and foremost a universal story about adolescence. Technology, fashion and politics can change, but the experience of being young and trying to find yourself is a constant. Audiences young and old will be able to find truth and beauty in this film for generations to come. And that is why it is a masterpiece.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Big Chill (1983)

Though I only recently saw this film for the first time, I became aware of it years ago via a rather scathing piece in Vice titled, The Big Douche Chill. The piece (and the entire issue that contained it) mocks the film principally for self-seriousness. It ridicules the way in which Baby Boomers perpetuate the myth of their own greatness and importance. It also addresses the way in which this has given the younger generation a reverence and nostalgia for an era they had no part in. Why do certain songs continually get airplay? Is it because they are truly good songs? Or is it because Baby Boomers have shoved them down our throats? They control the media, they control the conversation. While all of these are valid statements about the post-War generation, that doesn't change the fact that this is a pretty good movie.

I'm glad that I didn't see this film before right now. Had I seen it as a child I might have fallen prey to the "Forrest Gump Effect" of end up loving it because I'm supposed to and I grew up with it. Had I seen it in my 20's I might have ridiculed it for being about a bunch of whimpering old fogies. Having just entered my thirties I am right now at the perfect age to take this film in. From this vantage point I am able to see parts of myself and my friends in the various characters populating this little pressure cooker. Perhaps in my 40's I'll look at this as a bunch of whining young brats who didn't know how good they had it. Who knows? What I do know is that right now, in this exact moment, I like this movie. And the soundtrack ain't too bad either.

Fun Fact: This film was #1 at the box office during the week I was born!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Strutter (2012)

As much as I dig Border Radio and Sugar Town, I feel like Strutter might be the crown jewel of Kurt Voss and Allison Anders' LA Rock Trilogy. Liberated by crowd funding and energized by the endless possibilities of cost-effective digital technology, this film has a spark that you simply can't force. It has the formal experimentation of a student/first film, but executed with the sure hands of filmmakers who've been around the bases a few times. Scenes aping other film styles/genres are able to effortlessly coexist alongside more traditional ones thanks to the absolutely singular voice of these two collaborators, united in vision. Everything here is unified by a palpable sense of understanding and compassion that reaches out of the screen and hugs you. Though some characters may make us laugh, it is because we've also been there. We might not all be rock stars, but we've all been fans and we've all been in love. This film doesn't have a cynical bone in its body. It sees the future as absolutely bright and filled with Sunday brunches. I really hope it eventually gets a formal release of some sort. I could absolutely see a cult growing up around this film...and it's awesome soundtrack!

Since it's likely to be a while before this film makes the rounds, here's a clip to give you a taste as well as the audio of an interview I moderated with the filmmakers following a recent screening.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Quote: La jetée

"This time, she is near him. He says something. She doesn't mind if she answers. They have no memories, no plans. Time builds itself painlessly around them. As landmarks they have the very taste of this moment they live....the scribbling on the walls."

La jetée (1962)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Snowpiercer (2014)

Picking an angle for a piece on Snowpiercer is extremely difficult. You can focus on the train angle and make parallels between the plot and the momentum of the titular choo-choo. Or you can go the video game route and discuss how each car is like a different level. There’s also the political angle, the “tightly balanced, ecological system” angle and the battle over final cut angle. All of these are perfectly fertile topics for discussion that I would love to eventually read in-depth pieces on, but what caught my attention the most was how in the era of Michael Bay, Bong Joon-Ho opted to hew closer to the aesthetics of a very different era of blockbuster.

Though I have not seen Transformers: Age of Extinction, the overwhelming critical consensus seems to be that the action sequences are long, loud special effects orgies where it is difficult to distinguish one character from another. So of course this translated into a bajillion dollars at the box office. But things weren't always this way. Back in 1972, Francis Ford Coppola was able to break box office records with a leisurely paced and sumptuously photographed crime drama called The Godfather.

Now while I’m sure that there is a healthy number of people out there that appreciate The Godfather for what it has to say about America, the immigrant experience and capitalism, I’d be lying to myself if I didn't cop to the fact that most people saw this film for the sensationalistic stuff like the horse’s head and Moe Green’s eye. That’s just the nature of the beast. But what is it that makes these violent moments different? Why are these kills able to wedge themselves so deeply in our minds while stuff like Transformers, The Lone Ranger and World War Z simply go in one ear and come out the other?

On the audio commentary tracks to The Godfather Part I and II, Coppola discusses the unique way in which he approached the film’s violent scenes:
“The trick with violence in a film like this is that you have to try to make every moment be in some way eccentric or have some unusual, memorable aspect so it’s not just a bludgeoning or just violence but there’s some kind of context that singles it out…We’re always trying to figure out how to make these violent scenes memorable or interesting or to just give it a detail that is a little different that somehow makes what it’s really about (which is somebody murdering somebody) just a little more poetic I guess, or memorable in some way.”
I’m not certain if Bong Joon-Ho has ever listened to either of these commentary tracks, but having now experienced the action set-pieces in Snowpiercer, I am absolutely certain that this sort of cinematic thinking is thoroughly ingrained in his DNA.  Each battle is completely unique, memorable and able to stand apart from the ones before and after. When I think back on my experience watching this film, a lot comes to mind, but the bits that stick out the most are little things like fish, eggs, a subtly placed Al Bowlly cue and of course the most unexpected New Year's celebration ever. These weird little touches are what fuel the, “sacred engine” and give this film life. This is the stuff that makes me certain Snowpiercer will be able to live on beyond the standard summer movie season. This is a train that can't be stopped.