Friday, September 19, 2014

Listening To: The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

In this film about two women living mirrored, distant-yet-connected lives, music was a key ingredient. Both women have a passion for music, and it plays a vital role in their lives and their fates. Composer Zbigniew Preisner created a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack to this unusual and unforgettable film, perfectly setting the tone for unease and wonder. Being a practically lifelong pianist, I tend to focus on the music when watching a film for the first time, and the first thing I did after watching this was track down sheet music to this gorgeous score. I couldn't get enough. The soundtrack is hard to find, but you can listen to individual tracks on YouTube (desktop only, unfortunately). It's well worth looking up if you're looking for something melancholy and lovely to kick off your weekend.

Friday Quote: Anatomy of a Murder

"Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind - unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries."

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wonder Boys (2000)

Writing is hard. In film school, my screenwriting professors would assign a certain number of pages to be due the next week. Dear Lord did I sweat those pages! Each sentence was hard fought because each sentence had to be perfect before I could go on. Each word had to be weighed against the words that came before and after. The same goes for writing about film. You don't want to know how long it took me to write a piece this small. Lord knows how long it would take me to write a book!

And my indecisiveness is not limited to my work either. Just ask 'Becca'lise! I cannot make a decision to save my life. I have to weigh all the positives and negatives - and then weigh them again! I will put off making an important decision until there is simply no time left. Many of my most important life decisions have been made while under extreme duress. And you know what? The world is still spinning! Come to think of it, my life is often much more pleasant after the fact. At some point you just have to stop fussing, pull the trigger and live. Otherwise you're not really living, are you?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rent This: M (1931)

I had the pleasure of revisiting Fritz Lang's M (1931) for the first time in quite a few years. I first saw it when I was in high school, and it kicked off both a fascination for moody German expressionist films (such as Metropolis (1927), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), and Nosferatu (1922)) and a great appreciation for actor Peter Lorre. Here Lorre plays a child murderer, who stalks his victims and lures them away with sweets and balloons, all while whistling "In The Hall Of The Mountain King," a strange and memorable little melody. He plays the part as an unsettling man-child of sorts, his big eyes simultaneously drawing sympathy from the audience and utterly repulsing us. Lorre is pitch-perfect here, and the film is ideal for his abilities to intrigue and horrify. The movie is full of shadows, of paranoia, and frequently switches from sound to complete silence. The result is an eerie claustrophobic feeling that pervades the film; it works especially well when Lorre's character is closer and closer to capture, the crowds closing in on him. It's a chilling masterpiece of suspense, and black and white cinematography never looked better. Do yourself a favor and check this one won't soon forget it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Red River (1948)

By all accounts John Wayne and Montgomery Clift did not get along well on set of Red River. Though allegedly this had to do with their differing political views (likely stemming from the fact that the House Un-American Activities Committee was in full swing by this point), it doesn't take too much digging to find another “dramatic” contrast between these men.

While Wayne had no formal training and had gradually worked his way up from bit player to star, Clift had studied “The Method” as member of The Actor’s Studio and had cut his teeth on the stage. Wayne epitomized the classic, “Show up on time, know your lines, and don’t bump into the furniture” school of acting. Clift (who predated Marlon Brando and James Dean on the screen) was something radically new in the world of film acting. He wanted to understand and feel every moment his character went through. He wanted it to be real.

Viewed in this context, is it too great of a leap to think that perhaps just as “Old West” Dunson was threatened by Matt’s “New West” in the film, “Old Hollywood” Wayne was threatened by “New Hollywood” Clift on the set? When you throw in the fact that this film was released into a world which had only recently started using terms like “teenager” and “juvenile delinquent” to describe its children, things get even more interesting. In a subtle way, this film is the opening salvo in a battle which would eventually be won by the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate and Easy Rider.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Quote: Girl, Interrupted

"Crazy isn't being broken, or swallowing a dark secret. It's you, or me, amplified. If you ever told a lie, and enjoyed it. If you ever wished you could be a child, forever. They were not perfect, but they were my friends."

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Top-5: Surprise Musicals

If you were to buy a David Lynch film on DVD in the early 2000's, odds are pretty good that it wouldn't include chapter stops. Though he has since come to embrace them, Lynch opposed them on the grounds that movies should be experienced as a whole rather than in parts. While I agree with him on that front, sometimes (after you've already seen the film through a first time) you just need a little cinema fix. Sometimes you just need that shock to the system that only moving pictures can provide. 

If you're a longtime reader of this blog, you know that my favorite types of films are the ones that provide a variety of experience. Unlike the people in charge of Warner Brothers' DC Comics movies, I don't want JUST funny or JUST serious. The best films are the ones that can mix it up. One of the best ways to mix things up is by throwing in a musical number when you aren't expecting one. There's really nothing like watching a performer, "do their thing" and do it well. It's a great way to add humor or pathos when things have been too, "one note". Here are five personal favorites for your consideration.

"Cry Me a River" from The Girl Can't Help It

"Put the Blame on Mame" from Gilda

"Let My Baby Ride"from Holy Motors

"Prelude in C-Sharp Minor" from A Day at the Races

"Seems Like Old Times" from Annie Hall

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Rent This: The Crucible (1996)

The Salem witch trials of 1692 have long interested me. How could people completely abandon logic and turn on each other like that? I first saw The Crucible many years ago, and I enjoy revisiting it every now and's a well-made and intriguing film about paranoia, hysteria, and mob mentality.  It's chilling how much total chaos was able to reign in this time and place.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as John Proctor, a morally tormented but ultimately good man, and he acts his butt off as always. Winona Ryder is Abigail Williams, the ringleader of the accusers. She doesn't quite pull off the style of speaking as her co-stars, but nonetheless plays the villain so well you just want to slap her. She has this one speech that's so creepy and well-delivered..."I can make you wish you never saw the sun go down." The entire film does a great job of recreating this world of darkness and suspicion. It feels like a nightmare that could never actually happen, and yet it did. Based on the play by Arthur Miller, this film is faithful to the story and it's like watching a little slice of history. Let's hope we never repeat it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Though it was certainly not the best movie of the summer, I am over the moon that Guardians of the Galaxy is the number one earner at the domestic box office for the year. Sure I had some quibbles with structure and the way some of the action was shot, but all of that is trumped by one simple fact - it was so all so wonderfully weird.

When defending the Googie architecture that dominated the mid-century Southern California landscape against some of it's harshest critics, Douglas Haskell astutely pointed out that Googie helps to prepare people for the, "sensible strangeness to come." As someone who grew up in 1980's/1990's So Cal, I could not agree more. Starbursts, sloped roofs, cinder blocks and concrete were everywhere. Perhaps this is why I am now able to appreciate the work of architects like John Lautner, Richard Neutra and Pierre Koenig?

Pop art is the perfect delivery system for weirdness. Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, a whole generation is being exposed to absurdist humor, the work of illustrator Chris Foss and the music of David Bowie. The inclusion of Bowie is doubly apt in that from the 70's onward, his particular brand of pop music has also served as a Trojan Horse for the weirdness of Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and electronica.

Judging by the fact that an old friend's son has seen this film three times in a theater and that another friend's daughter can be seen on Instagram grooving to the hit soundtrack, I feel pretty confident that the future is going to be a cool and weird place.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Quote: Picnic at Hanging Rock

"Everything begins and ends at the exactly right time and place."

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)