Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Quote: Free Willy

"Ever look into Willy's eyes? Those eyes discovered the stars long before man was a whisper on Mother Earth. They can look into a man's soul, if they want."

Free Willy (1993)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Real Life (1979)

I think this film would make a great double-bill with David Bryne's True Stories as both films are actively focused on exposing just how surreal "reality" can actually be. When viewed through the right lens, anything can be abnormal or weird. To Charles Grodin's Dr. Yeager, surgery on a horse is par for the course (of course) but to us it is an inspired bit of comic absurdism. By placing this faux-documentary construct on the film we are able to appreciate just how oblivious people can be of their own situations. Just look at how the fictionalized, "neutral" Albert Brooks character is incapable of stepping outside of himself enough to see just how weird it is to begin this grand experiment with a musical number and orchestra. And so, even though the "experiment" is a "failure", it's actually a success. This is how people behave. This is Real Life.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Film: The Battle of Algiers (128/250)
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Did you see them
Going off to fight?
Children of the barricade
Who didn't last the night?
Did you see them
Lying where they died?
Someone used to cradle them
And kiss them when they cried.
Did you see them
Lying side by side?

Who will wake them?
No one ever will.
No one ever told them
That a summer day can kill.
They were schoolboys
Never held a gun
Fighting for a new world
That would rise up like the sun
Where's that new world
Now the fighting's done?

Nothing changes, nothing ever will
Every year another brat, another mouth to fill.
Same old story, what's the use of tears?
What's the use of praying if there's nobody who hears?
Turning, turning, turning, turning, turning
Through the years.

These lyrics are from Les Miserables but I couldn't help thinking of this song while watching this film. This one was hard for me to watch. Not because it wasn't engaging or it was poorly made, but because I often look to film to escape this world. This film was a sad reminder that there is always conflict, always unrest, always violence, and there always will be until humans no longer roam this planet. This film was impressive in its realism; I felt at times that I was watching stock footage. It puts you right there in the minds of these characters, in the hideout spaces in the walls. It's a dangerous reality for so many people in this world, still. Cinema can remind us of that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Russian Ark (2002)

Film: Russian Ark (127/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

This film blew me away. Taking place entirely in the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg and filmed in one continuous Steadicam shot (ONE. SHOT.) it's a miracle that this film even exists. It's exquisite and dreamlike. An unnamed narrator wanders through the rooms with his companion "The European" as people drift in and out, like the most gorgeous and surreal time machine ever. It's a nonlinear journey through Russian history, and the narrator floats along unseen. I can't wrap my head around how they pulled this off. The costumes are stunning, the Winter Palace makes for an absolutely beautiful backdrop, and it was filmed with such precision that the mind reels. I'll definitely be revisiting this one in the future (and as of this writing it's streaming on Netflix so you should watch it too)!

Monday, July 18, 2016

O.J.: Made In America (2016)

Back in 2000 there was a TV movie about the OJ case titled American Tragedy. I remember at the time thinking that the title was quite an overstatement for a film about an ex-athlete's murder trial. It's not like Simpson was a politician or something. Someday I'll check that movie out, but having now consumed over seven hours of expertly crafted documentary filmmaking on the subject, I completely agree with that title.

It's twenty years later and all of the issues at play during the first trial are still problems today. Rather than showing us how far we have come in two decades, this film makes us acutely aware that nothing has changed. In fact, things have gotten worse. This is not a nostalgia piece. This film is relevant to the here and now. Orenthal James Simpson might have fallen from a great height, but it's nothing compared to how far American Culture has fallen. If Spike Lee had made this film, it would have ended or began with someone yelling, "WAKE UP!"

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Quote: Almost Famous

"I always tell the girls, never take it seriously. If you never take it seriously, you never get hurt. You never get hurt, you always have fun. And if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends."
Almost Famous (2000)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Prior to World War II, America was A world power. After World War II, we were THE world power. Unlike Japan and all the various countries of Europe, there was no rebuilding necessary. It was much easier for us to get back to (more or less) business as usual. Suddenly we were top dog. So of course we suddenly became very preoccupied with maintaining this new status. Some might even call it paranoia. But can you really blame us? The Great Depression was still very prominent in our National Rearview. People could remember what it was like to be hungry. Trauma like that sticks with you. You might not be aware of it, but it's there. It's in the back of your mind waiting to be triggered. And so, practically overnight, New Deal Democrats like Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston and a significant portion of America were primed to be activated by the Republican Party's message of blatant self-interest. So what if two Kennedys and a King had to die? They sure as hell were not going to go hungry again.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Ordet (1955)

Film: Ordet (126/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Damn, Dreyer, you did it again! This is the 4th film of his that I've watching during this challenge (the others being Vampyr, Day of Wrath, and The Passion of Joan of Arc) and my high expectations were not disappointed. The minimalism (though not as much as his previous films), the gorgeous black and white photography....there was a scene (pictured above) where I was just marveling at how gorgeous the tall grass looked. The film looked gorgeous and the themes of religion were thought-provoking and unsettling. A family has three sons: one in love with a girl of a different faith, one who is an atheist and is happy in his marriage to his devout wife, and another who, after a mental breakdown, believes himself to be Jesus Christ. The film explores different conversations about faith in all its forms, and I'm honestly not sure what to make about the resolution. It's unsettling and ambiguous, and I don't mind a bit. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Film: Only Angels Have Wings (125/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Cary Grant. Jean Arthur. Planes. A piano. Young super gorgeous Rita Hayworth. What more do you need? Okay, I know I've gone on record as saying Cary Grant doesn't quite work for me as a romantic lead, but this movie has more going for it than a flimsy romance. The setting is great, and there's a great lived-in feels like a real place with real inhabitants. This is especially evident in the scene of Jean Arthur's character Bonnie leading everyone in song. There's a camaraderie between the patrons, a real sense of joy. The plot is inconsequential, full of past and present and potentially future romances, although seeing Rita Hayworth looking more stunning than ever was a treat...she's just....*sigh*

Having said all that, I kept waiting for this movie to really impress me, and while I enjoyed it, it didn't particularly blow me away. I think another viewing will be in order someday, when I can sit back and enjoy it without worrying about particulars of the plot. Just to be temporarily transported to another place and time is nice enough. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Love & Friendship (2016)

If I had to sum up acting and directing in a single word, that word would be "nuance." Words on a page can be delivered in so many different ways. This is why high school kids hate Shakespeare. Read alone for homework, Romeo and Juliet can be pretty dry stuff. With the right actors and directors it can become a laugh riot. The same goes for the work of Jane Austen. Throughout Love & Friendship I found myself imagining a David Mamet version of this same story, but with actors merely reciting the script and giving zero inflection. Thankfully, Whit Stillman and his actors chose to wring every possible drop of comedy out of this material. I predict this film will fast become a favorite for substitute teachers to show to English classes.