Thursday, November 20, 2014

Interstellar (2014)

While the ending did get a little bit too M. Night Shyamalan for my tastes...overall I dug this movie. I dug what it has to say about humanity and our innate desire to explore and push further. I liked what it had to say about the importance of science and of education. I also liked what it had to say on a sub-textual level about the fight to save celluloid from oblivion and the sorrow Christopher Nolan must feel every time he leaves his kids behind to go on a shoot that runs over schedule. I like that it allowed Nolan to continue to experiment with time in a way that only cinema can do. Getting to see this in 70mm IMAX was also something marvelous to behold. Oh and did I mention the score yet? Organs! There is a lot to like here. You can quibble about a lot of little things, but they're just that: little things. I'm not saying this film is any sort of masterpiece, but if the best you can do is nitpick a film, it can't be truly bad.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cinephile Shopping!

Not sure if you heard, but it is once again time for the twice-annual 50% off Criterion sale at Barnes & Noble! In fact we are already one week in! But don't worry, things are set to run until December 1st so there is still plenty of time to load up on holiday gifts for that special cinephile in your life without breaking the bank. You can even buy for yourself! We won't tell...

Back in 2012 we put together lists from several of our contributors recommending titles that are worth picking up during the sale. While we still highly recommend all of these titles, countless new ones have been released in the intervening two years. That's why Craig has seen fit to put together a list of some newer titles worth checking out on this go around (along with a few classics peppered in)!

He's separated things into three categories with five titles in each. All links will take you to the film's Criterion page so you can get a plot summary and overview of the bonus features before hitting up Barnes & Noble. We'd love to see what you guys pick up. Don't be afraid to post a picture of your haul on Instagram and tag us in it. If you don't already follow us we are @thiscinematiclife.

New Titles
  1. The Innocents
  2. Picnic at Hanging Rock
  3. Eraserhead
  4. Y Tu Mamá También
  5. A Hard Day's Night
Box Sets

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lonesome (1928)

Though there are a few scenes with spoken dialogue, this is still very much a silent film. And like most silent films this is an extremely simple story. It's a story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and it's all over in a brisk 69 minutes. None of this is a meant as a negative. In fact, it's a great asset because what makes this film really special is director Paul Fejos' hyperbolic style with all its rapid cutting, color tinting, swinging cameras and superimpositions. Had this film been any more narratively complex, the style would simply have been all too much to take. Thankfully instead, this wild style works as a joyous and palpable expression of the simple and pure love story at the heart of this wonderful film. God bless the wonderful people at Criterion and George Eastman House for saving this film and bringing it to my and everyone else's attention.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Louise Brooks: My Gateway to the Movies

Silent film actress Louise Brooks was born on this day in 1906. The actress and dancer is probably best known today for her work in G.W. Pabst's films Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. She was feisty, rebellious, stubborn, beautiful, and unforgettable.  To many, she is merely a ghost of a long-gone era of filmmaking, a starlet who didn't quite survive the leap into talkies. To me, she is my classic film gateway drug.

I wish I could remember the exact moment I first saw her face: those dark eyes, straight eyebrows, smirking lips, and that helmet of shiny black bobbed hair.  I know it was sometime during my sophomore year of high school, and I was in the middle of my goth phase (ugh). I saw her somewhere, and I had to know everything about her. I bought and read Louise Brooks by Barry Paris, and her memoir Lulu in Hollywood. I bought books about old Hollywood in used bookstores, and I learned not only about Louise's life and career but some of her contemporaries as well. I started watching Turner Classic Movies, and saw my first silent movie (The Unknown starring Lon Chaney). I printed out the TCM programming schedule and taped it to my bedroom wall, highlighting the films I wanted to see that week, taking special care to never miss their Silent Sunday Nights. I started taping movies religiously, the stacks of VHS cassettes piling up in my room. When I finally got a chance to see my beloved Louise in one of her silent films, it was magic.

When I started my junior year, my school binder was decorated with a collage of pictures of Louise, Lillian Gish, Colleen Moore, Mary Pickford, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Anna May Wong, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Billy Haines, Harold Lloyd, Myrna Loy. I had fallen in love with the movies and there was no turning back. I guess I have Louise to thank for that. There's something so special about finding something that speaks to you in those awkward teenage years. I'm sure if I never saw her face I would have found my love for film in some other way, but I'm happy it happened the way it happened. What started out as a fascination with an actress and a vague appreciation for a few old movies that I'd watched as a kid turned into a lifelong love affair. I had found something that was mine. 

Happy Birthday LB.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nightcrawler (2014)

After World War I, Germany was so economically devastated that the entire country ended up allowing a genocidal madman to become its leader. Needless to say, desperation can lead to some pretty poor decisions. Desperation can lead an enterprising sociopath to become a freelance cameraman documenting grizzly crimes with absolutely no moral or ethical hangups. Desperation can also lead a ratings starved news director to indulge and encourage said sociopath. I believe the official term for this is, "codependency". Each side bringing out the worst in the other and allowing things to escalate so rapidly that even if one wanted to put a stop to it all, they couldn't. It's a slipery slope towards oblivion. The world depicted in this film is absolutely frightening. All the more so because it's the world we are living in.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

31 Films, 31 Years

It's my birthday! 'Becca'lise suggested I post a list of my 31 favorite films to commemorate my 31 years on this planet. Man I wish I was older. Once I started listing films, it was really hard to stop. Perhaps if I do this again next year I'll go for a completely different list of 32. That might be fun. Hope you dig my list. I will be spending today checking out Interstellar in 70mm IMAX and on Saturday will be checking out the Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920's exhibit at LACMA. This isn't all for show people. I bleed at 24fps. And now for my vaguely ordered list..
  1. Pulp Fiction
  2. Ed Wood
  3. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
  4. Taxi Driver
  5. L.A. Confidential
  6. Y Tu Mamá También
  7. Buffalo '66
  8. The Godfather: Part II
  9. Annie Hall
  10. Boogie Nights
  11. Chasing Amy
  12. The Blues Brothers
  13. Vertigo
  14. Singin' in the Rain
  15. Ghostbusters
  16. The Graduate
  17. Blue Velvet
  18. The Third Man
  19. Nashville
  20. Rushmore
  21. JFK
  22. The Big Lebowski
  23. Being John Malkovich
  24. High and Low
  25. Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution
  26. Some Like It Hot
  27. Talk to Her
  28. Harold and Maude
  29. Female Trouble
  30. A Night at the Opera

Monday, November 10, 2014

Hugo (2011)

I love it when a master filmmaker takes on a maligned genre. And what genre is more maligned than that of the "family film" with its well-worn conventions and sappy sentimentality? Thankfully we have Martin Scorsese steering this ship and any time things begin to approach conventionality, Marty is there to take us in a different direction. Like a great Pixar film this has something for the young and something for the old. For the young there's mystery, adventure and funny animals. For the adults there's the story of an old man who has lost his spark and finds it again. It's a continuous back and forth that keeps things interesting for both audiences. But most importantly this film serves as a means by which to unite both the young and the old in a shared love of early cinema and the importance of preserving it. It uses the latest technologies to make new audiences feel the same excitement for cinema that audiences felt at the medium's inception. This is the perfect film for a cinephile parent to raise their child on.  I wouldn't be surprised if this film is one day credited as having launching numerous careers.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Trash & Art: Redux

In her legendary piece Trash, Art, and the Movies, Pauline Kael makes the argument that most films are not "art" and that the mere presence of something unique/interesting isn't enough to elevate a program/genre picture above the level of "trash". While I have the utmost respect for the late Ms. Kael and her writing on filmmakers such as Robert Altman and Bernardo Bertolucci, I really must disagree with her on this matter because it starts us down a rather slippery slope from which there is literally no return.

As someone who believes that any form of creative expression should be defined as "art", this sort of thinking stinks of elitism. Sure we can quibble about how successful something is at being achieving what it set out to do, but isn't that why we invented the five-star rating system and its countless variations? Even the crudest exploitation picture will tell you something about the people who made it and the culture that produced those people. Some films can even serve an anthropological purpose.

For example: Even though Richfield Tower and Bunker Hill no longer exist in present day Los Angeles, we still have films like the box office flop Zabriskie Point and best-seller based detective film Kiss Me Deadly to show these vanished landmarks in all their glory. There are some that will argue that even porn films can be studied for these films often feature the most accurate depictions of middle-class furnishings from the time they were made. Are these films "art" or "trash"?

During the first half of the last century, a majority of the world's silent film output was not considered to be "art" and was therefore either melted down for its silver content or turned into lady's shoe heels. Simply by making an arbitrary distinction between "art" and "trash", all of that valid creation, expression and cultural history was effectively deleted from existence. We will never be able to get it back. That's why it is important to recognize that all art is valid. So what if a particular film doesn't quite tickle your fancy? That's no reason to wipe it from the face of existence. And who knows? It could become important later...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chef (2014)

Many critics have written this film off as a cute but predictable treat where the character quirks are enough “seasoning” to keep things interesting. While I will agree that it isn't particularly significant or profound, I do think there is a little more to it than just a feel-good father/son story. Like 8 ½ and Nymphomaniac, this is a film about its own creation. This isn't a situation where Jon Favreau got his groove back on a different film and made this film to tell us about how he got his groove back. This film is literally watching that happen. When he wrote it he had no guarantee that he would be successful. This film could have been just as lifeless as Iron Man 2 or Cowboys & Aliens. But just like Chef Carl in the film, once unencumbered by a stifling studio/owner, Favreau was able to flourish. He was also able to indulge some of the impulses that studio filmmaking tends to drive out. On a studio film he couldn't have had all the swearing around the kid, budgeting would have surely ruled out shooting in so many diverse locals and even the start and stop structuring would have been jettisoned in favor of something more streamline. Hopefully he’s at least able to bring some of this energy to his next film because when the studio is Disney and the property at play is The Jungle Book, you know they’re gonna want to secure their investment by making things as generic as possible. Let’s pray that his payday will be big enough to fund a small, personal film afterwards.

Friday, October 31, 2014