Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Quote: Suffragette

And reason, said to her, "Silence. What do you hear?" And she said, "I hear the sound of feet. A thousand times, ten thousands of thousands of thousands and they beat this way." They are the feet of those that shall follow you. Lead on.

Suffragette (2015) 
(quoting Olive Schreiner's "Three Dreams in a Desert")

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Silence (2016)


Though he is easily the filmmaker most identified with Catholicism, in recent years Martin Scorsese has publicly self-identified as a “lapsed Catholic”. So why make this film? He’s famously been trying to make it happen for the better part of thirty years. If he were still a man of Faith one might understand the single-minded pursuit of bringing this story to the screen. Absent that, what could possibly have carried him through all the years, accidents and lawsuits? What else could engender that much devotion in a man? While I cannot say for certain, I feel that it was Scorsese’s passion for the art of cinema that kept this project alive for him over the decades.

For a while it seemed as though Scorsese had joined his peers in apostatizing celluloid by shooting multiple features digitally, and theatrical exhibition by working in television. He even directed a promo for a movie themed resort in Macau. Yet in spite of such seemingly heretical gestures, here comes Silence. At 161 minutes it is certainly not a YouTube video and the 35mm photography by Rodrigo Prieto is as gorgeous you might expect. It seems as though Padre Scorsese has not lost the faith after all. Like Catholicism, cinephilia is something that simply cannot just be given up. Despite many outward signs, it’s always there, just under the surface.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Film: Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (180/250)
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

This was maddening to sit through, but perhaps that was the point. This film shows us three days in the life of a woman completely dependent on her routines. We watch her wash dishes, polish shoes, make dinner, sit around, have conversations with her son, and have sex with random men. When he routine is disrupted, she snaps. It's an interesting experiment of a film, but damn is it work to get through! At least I can say I did it. I did enjoy how every shot was framed; meticulous, confined, it really got you into her headspace. Each room felt like a character. I'd be interested in seeing more of director Chantal Akerman's work, maybe her short films? I don't know if I have another 3 and a half hour movie in me!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Godfather: Part II (1974)

Film: The Godfather: Part II (179/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

Has there ever been a better sequel? I might even say that it's a smidge stronger than its predecessor, with the story of Vito Corleone's childhood perfectly complementing his son Michael's continued rise to power. Scratch that, it's impossible for me to choose between the two. We rewatched the first two Godfather films a day apart, and I love watching them like that. Even more preferable is to watch one right after the other, if only to admire how incredibly these two work together. It's a complete story (we don't really need to talk about Part 3, do we?). By the end of this film, we really feel like we know these characters. Seeing their origins makes us sympathize with them, even as they do atrocious things. We look at Michael, Fredo, and Sonny, and see three little boys whose father loved them very much and wanted them to have a good life. We see in Fredo a scared and weak man who wants to be taken seriously like his brothers, and realizes at the end that he can't fight who he really is anymore. These characters accept their fates, and having watched all their stories, we accept it too. With gorgeous cinematography, top-notch acting (seriously, everyone in this absolutely nails it), and a story that keeps pulling you back in (whoops, last mention of Part 3!), this is a film that needs to be revisited and admired often. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Anomalisa (2015)


I love the way that Charlie Kaufman is able to craft endings. They aren't particularly showy and don't really rely on twists or reveals, but they really stick with you. Of course credit is due to the various directors who have helped him to realize these works, but it's no fluke that he is the unifying element there. While he might not like to talk about what his films "mean" the fact that we remember those endings serves as proof that there was something he wanted us to take from them. There was something he simply had to express. While certainly less image based than his work with Jonze and Gondry, Anomalisa is no different. It's a great Rorschach Test for how cynical of a person you are.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Quote: Stage Door Canteen

"He knows what he's fighting for. He's fighting for the kind of world in which you and he can live together in happiness and peace and love. Don't ever think about quitting. Don't ever stop for a minute... working, fighting,praying until we've got that kind of a world. For you, for him, for your children... for the whole human race. Days without end. Amen."
Stage Door Canteen (1943)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

La La Land (2016)


I was sort of dreading this film. While I admire the craft of Whiplash, I found the overall message to be rather abhorrent. It was a self-justifying ode to being a dick. Knowing in advance that one of this film's main characters was a militant jazz evangelist, I was prepared for more of the same "ends justify the means" BS that college boys take way too to heart. Thankfully, this film allows its central dick to suffer (not a whole lot of suffering though because in the end this is just light entertainment) but at least a little suffering. Rather than ending on the triumph of Whiplash, La La Land hangs around to see what comes after the success and does not shy away from the regret that follows. Was it really all worth it? Hopefully that's enough to prevent an army of militant jazz evangelists from springing up in this film's wake. It really is Emma Stone's movie anyway.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Godfather (1972)

Film: The Godfather (178/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch (duh!)

What can one say about one of the most celebrated, respected, analyzed, referenced, quoted, and loved films of all time? There's little that hasn't been said already. We know all the famous lines, we know that it's bad news if there are oranges in your scene, and we know what to leave and what to take between a gun and cannoli. This film is the very definition of iconic. I've revisited it many times over the years, and while every single performance is exceptional, I'm always drawn to John Cazale's performance as Fredo. Fredo the Failure, Fredo the Weak. He doesn't get any huge scenes in this film, but his character reveals another side of this world; what this tough hard world with its high expectations does to people like Fredo. You see his resentment simmering under the surface, the tough-guy posturing, and it perfectly ties parts 1 and 2 together. It's a tragedy that John Cazale left us so soon...he was only in five movies, but every single one was nominated for Best Picture, no doubt helped by his strong performances. Cazale's Fredo is just another layer to this complex and riveting story, which people will undoubtedly love until this old world stops spinning. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

Film: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (177/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

This oh-so-British film about war, friendship, love, aging, and self-reflection was a pleasant surprise for me. I was a little put off by the runtime and had avoided watching it sooner. And while it did take a little while for me to get into it (and it could stand to be a smidge shorter), I ended up really enjoying it. First of all, I was really blown away by probably the best old-age makeup I've ever seen. The effect is a combination of excellent acting by Roger Livesey and makeup, but it's really unbelievable that it's the same actor throughout. Compare the above with this: 
I no longer accept bad old age makeup in films! There is no excuse! And no digital effects either!

I greatly enjoyed Livesey's performance as Clive Candy, but Deborah Kerr's performance as three different characters gives him a run for his money! The subtle changes she makes in how she speaks and carries herself makes these three physically identical characters distinct from each other...and she never looked lovelier. With beautiful photography and sparkling writing, this film was a real treat.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Train to Busan (2016)


There's just something inherently cinematic about trains. From the Lumière Brothers' film of a one arriving, to Edwin S. Porter's Great Train Robbery, to the Cinerama splendors of How the West was Won and beyond, trains and moving pictures have been inextricably linked. It makes sense. If you're making a movie, you want things to move. Also, the continuous forward motion mirrors the driving narrative of a well-told story. Yet often forgotten is the fact that trains make stops.

Sure this train is headed to Busan, but there are plenty of stops to make along the way to give the viewer some variety. And not just variety of location and action either. This "horror" film makes protracted stops at the "family drama" station, the "teen romance" station and the "slapstick comedy" station on the way to its conclusion. At one point it even becomes an extremely current allegory for the plight of refugees. This movie gets that the journey is just as important as the destination.