Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Quote: A Hard Day's Night

Reporter: Are you a mod or a rocker?
Ringo: Um, no. I'm a mocker.

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Alien (1979)

I don’t know if it's the bluray transfer or what, but while revisiting Alien for “Alien Day” I found myself continually in awe of what a visually beautiful film it is. I’ve seen it numerous times on VHS and DVD, yet here on bluray I came away thinking that it might possibly be one of the most visually perfect films of all time. Perhaps even moreso than the much more famously designed Blade Runner. Everything just feels so much of a piece with everything else. The Giger designs, the sunless lighting and the robotically clinical camera moves all work so well together. It’s the aesthetic equivalent of the xenomorph itself, and apparently I am Ash.
Ash: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Notorious (1946)

Film: Notorious (104/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

Unpopular opinion time! This isn't my favorite Hitchcock film, and I think that's mainly due to the romance between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, neither of whom I find terribly appealing as romantic leads. Having said that, there is still plenty to admire in this film. The tension of Alicia (Bergman) trying to infiltrate an organization of Nazis by marrying one of her father's friends (Claude Rains) really hooks you in, and it's neither boring nor predictable. But that's Hitchcock for you. His masterful way of creating suspense will always add a level of interest to his films, even if I don't buy the "romance" bit of it for a second. There is also some pretty stellar camera work, including a shot that pans over a group of party-goers, and slowly zooms into Alicia's hand gripping a key. These little things heighten what could be a standard suspense film into something really artful. Hitch has five films on the list, and there's a reason for that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: I Was Born, But... (1932)

Film: I Was Born, But... (103/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

I love 'slice of life' films. Films that transport you to another time and place, and let you live in another person's shoes for a while.  In this case, the audience gets to inhabit the world of two Japanese brothers in 1930s Japan, trying to adjust to a new town, fit in with the local boys, and understand their father. I loved how natural all the young actors were, and how it perfectly captured that feeling of childhood, when being included feels like the most important thing in the world, and the adult world is confusing. For boys, their father can be their greatest hero, and anything that knocks him off that pedestal can shake their world quite a bit. It's a film about that special relationship. And in this case, it's a look at Japan in a world before World War II. I don't know what happened to all of these boys, but they are forever preserved in celluloid; young, innocent, and crying after being bullied. We have cinema to thank for that. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Barcelona (1994)

So many filmmakers fall on their faces when making their second film. Emboldened by the success of their debut, most budding auteurs decide it is time to swing for the fences. As many of these filmmakers have already said all they have to say with their first outing, these films are usually savaged by both critics and audiences. Whit Stillman's Barcelona should be studied in film schools as a model second feature. It's much more ambitious than its predecessor, but not embarrassingly so. It looks a lot like the last film, but is different enough to not be considered a retread. A second film is not a destination, it is just the next step in a journey. You don't have to do it all at once. It's OK to take baby steps and hold on to some things for later. Your sophomore film should be a detailed portrait of who you are at that precise moment in time. It isn't about where you think you should be. Perhaps you'll be able to do those ideas more justice when you're in your forties...or even your eighties!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Quote: On the Town

New York, New York, a wonderful town / The Bronx is up and the Battery down / The people ride in a hole in the ground / New York, New York, it's a wonderful town!

On the Town (1949)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

One Day Since Yesterday: Peter Bogdanovich and the Lost American Film (2014)

As a pretty serious movie nut I have seen quite a lot of documentaries about film. Docs about specific films, docs about specific filmmakers, docs about movements, docs about techniques - I’ve seen them all. As edifying as most of these are, few of them actually rate as good cinema. Most of these docs come from a place of fanaticism and therefore the impulse is to include anything and everything that you can find related to your subject. This results in a long ramble that merely ends because there is no more material. What makes Bill Teck’s One Day Since Yesterday so unique is that it actually has a shape to it. Rather than just being a big love letter to They All Laughed, Teck is able to place that film within the context of Peter Bogdanovich’s greater life and filmography. There’s a real arc to this film. You begin by learning about Bogdanovich before he met Dorothy Stratten, then you get to spend a long time on their relationship and learn about the lovely film they made together, and then you are there with Peter through his loss of Dorothy, and lastly you get to see the various ways in which that loss is still shaping his life and career. As the end credits will attest, there was a lot more material that could have been used in the body of the film, but wisely Teck chose to place his narrative and emotion first. The result is a satisfying and heartbreaking whole that all cinephiles should seek out as soon as possible. It's on Netflix!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Modern Times (1936)

Film: Modern Times (102/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

Charlie Chaplin is all over Sight and Sound's top 250. Four of his films made the list, and while none of them were first viewings for me, it had been a number of years since I'd watched some of them and I was eager to revisit. I remembered a few key scenes from Modern Times: the trip through the twirling funhouse of gears, the Tramp rollerskating blindfolded by the edge of a huge hole in the floor, the feeding machine (my favorite part, I was crying from laughing so hard), and of course that ending. I had forgotten about the little Tramp accidentally leading a communist demonstration, his accidental "heroism" in stopping a prison break, and his tender interactions with Paulette Goddard's "gamin" character. This was Chaplin's first political film and it's a fitting precursor to his later film The Great Dictator (my personal favorite of Chaplin's). It manages to make a strong statement about the impact of industrial society while simultaneously being timeless and hilarious. And that ending, still so full of hope as we watch the Little Tramp and the Gamin walk down that road for the last time, while "Smile" plays...

For your enjoyment, here's my favorite scene:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Conformist (1970)

Film: The Conformist (101/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

What would you be willing to do to feel "normal"? To fit in with everyone else? You wouldn't, oh I don't know, join the Fascist secret police, would you? Marcello Clerici would.
This is the story of a man with a troubled past and a troubled mind. He wants to live a "normal" life and if that includes lying, murder, infidelity, betrayal, and bottling up everything he can't handle, then so be it. What really drew me in was the visuals. Gorgeous 30s costumes, rich colors, beautiful deco interiors, I ate it all up. Even if the story wasn't intriguing enough (which it is), there was plenty to appreciate in that cinematography. I read that Francis Ford Coppola was inspired by certain shots when making The Godfather, Part II (1974) and you can definitely feel its influence. Worth a watch just to experience what amounts to a masterclass in period filmmaking. 

And I hate to sound typical, but those 30s hairstyles! Swoon!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Zazie dans le métro (1960)

Browse any account of the French New Wave's beginnings and you're sure to encounter some variation on the idea that these filmmakers were reacting against "a certain tendency of French Cinema" which inordinately favored prestigious literary adaptations commonly referred to as "The Cinema of Quality". They counteracted this "tendency" towards "quality" by making highly personal cinema which flouted all of the accepted rules of both filmmaking and screenwriting.

At roughly the same time, Raymond Queneau was in the process of flouting all of French Literature's established conventions via his colloquially written novel, Zazie dans le métro. The confluence of these two contrarian movements was inevitable. Regardless of whether or not you consider Louis Malle to be an official member of the Nouvelle Vague, the sheer energy of the Zazie film is undeniably New Wave. From start to finish, Malle was able to expertly match all of Queneau's clever verbal wit, with equally inventive visual wit. Moreso than even the cartoonish satires of Frank Tashlin and The Marx Brothers, this film was absolute cinematic anarchy. Zazie was punk before there was a word for it. Vive Zazie!