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.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Favorite Disney Animated Sequences

This will come as a surprise to no one, but I'm a little bit obsessed with classic animated Disney movies. Regular readers of this blog know how much I love writing Disney-themed lists, from drunkstarts, and cute couples to dapper dressers, villain sidekicks and awesomely inappropriate songs. For this one, I thought I'd take a look at some of my favorite animated sequences, with no criteria other than being absolutely stunning to look at. Yeah it's a top 9. Oh well.

Fantasia (1940) - The Winter Fairies

This movie is full of gorgeous animation, but my personal favorite part is the winter fairies during Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. The winter fairies glide along the ice, leaving a trail of frost behind them. It's beautiful.




Monday, July 7, 2014

Kurt and Allison Love To Rock


Few filmmakers merge music and film as well as Allison Anders and Kurt Voss. While other filmmakers have dabbled with the occasional rockumentary here or there, Allison and Kurt have made a careers out of it with films like Grace of My Heart and Down and Out with the Dolls. They make films about musicians, starring musicians and scored by musicians. Together and separately they have worked with everyone from Burt Bacharach and Sonic Youth to Lemmy Kilmister and Ice-T. They just can't help it. Film and music are simply essential parts of their souls.

Which is why (when they're not busy making films) they're busy watching them. Here are two "Top-5 Movies That Rock" lists created by Allison and Kurt exclusively for This Cinematic Life!

Allison Anders



Kurt Voss



And now that you've seen their credentials, come on out to beautiful downtown Santa Ana this Saturday, July 12th to see their most recent collaboration, Strutter at The Frida Cinema! Allison and Kurt will be there in person to answer your questions!

Get Tickets HERE!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday Quote: The Sandlot


There was only one night game a year. On the 4th of July, the whole sky would brighten up with fireworks, giving us just enough light for a game. We played our best then because, I guess, we all felt like the big leaguers under the lights of some great stadium. Benny felt like that all the time. We all knew he was gonna go on to bigger and better games, because every time we stopped to watch the sky on those nights like regular kids, he was there to call us back. You see, for us, baseball was a game. But for Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, baseball was life.

The Sandlot (1993)

Happy 4th from Craig and 'Becca'lise

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

MAKE IT STOP! When Movies Get Too Popular


I work as a preschool teacher, and that means I'm surrounded by all things Frozen. It's insanely popular right now, and as much as I liked the movie, I'm started to wish the kids would take a liking to something else. The Lion King, maybe? Toy Story? Tangled? Anything! It's everywhere! I started wondering how much the ubiquity of a film affects my opinion of it. 

When I first saw Napoleon Dynamite, it was still in limited release, nobody had heard of it, and I saw it in an almost empty theatre. I thought the film was hilarious, and I told all my friends about it. As time went on, the movie blew up. Napoleon Dynamite merchandise was everywhere (thanks Hot Topic!), and everyone was constantly doing Napoleon impressions. I remember it getting on my nerves, and saying things like "GOD, it wasn't THAT great! Everybody needs to CALM DOWN." I took a long long break from the movie, a movie that seemed less great now that it was everywhere. The same thing happened with Borat. I never wanted to hear "Very nice!" in that Borat voice ever again. But when I think about the films by themselves, stripped of the impressions and pop culture impact, I still like them. I just need a long break to see the movie again with fresh eyes.

Do you have a similar experience with a particular film? Are you able to enjoy a film the same after it gains a lot of popularity? Does a film suffer when Hot Topic gets its hands on it? Are we all just snobs and hipsters?