Monday, October 24, 2016

Chasing Amy (1997)

To many, liking the work of Kevin Smith is grounds for having your cinephile card revoked. Even I will concede that his most recent work (Tusk, Yoga Hosers, etc.) is near impossible to defend. But doesn't anyone remember those early years? Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Chasing Amy. Smith's tale of a hetero man who is unable to accept his girlfriend's fluid sexuality was more than a decade ahead of it's time. Long before terms like "pansexuality" were able to enter the broader pop cultural lexicon via celebrities like Miley Cyrus or shows like Broad City, there was Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa Jones delivering impassioned monologues about refusing to conform to what heteronormative society thinks is proper and insisting on loving whomever the hell she wants to love. Sure this message would have been more authentic and nuanced coming from a Queer filmmaker rather than from Smith, but because it came from him, it was able to reach a whole lot of immature boys who just wanted to hear dick and fart jokes. I know this because that's how I found my way to this film. I like to think that in some small way, Chasing Amy helped to move me towards becoming the ally that I try to be. And that's why I paid money to see Cop Out in a theater.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Quote: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

"I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne. 'Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky...'"
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Intolerance (1916)

Film: Intolerance (154/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

Oh, Intolerance. You're so VERY long. Although, honestly, I'm just glad I didn't have to watch Birth of a Nation to meet my Griffith quota for the Sight & Sound challenge. And this is actually my second viewing of this epically long beast of a movie; I got really into silent film when I was in high school and had read about this movie as being Very Important. TCM showed it on their Silent Sunday Nights program, and that was what I assumed would be my one and only viewing of this. Not so! This film isn't entirely unwatchable, don't get me wrong. It just doesn't work as one movie for me. It's essentially four films in one, and it jumps around between know what? I'll let the movie explain itself: 

Yeah I guess there are common themes. Okay we have ancient Babylon, the life of Jesus Christ, the French renaissance bit, and the modern story. While the Babylon sets are incredibly impressive, and the Jesus and French scenes are competently shot, the most interesting story for me by far was the modern story. It was the most fully realized, and when the story would switch again, I'd find myself sighing. It's an ambitious effort but I'd enjoy a feature-length version of that story alone. Ah well! The mother rocking the crib between scenes was an interesting touch, though. Life goes on. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

Film: Sansho the Bailiff (153/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

This film was a punch to the gut. First of all, I don't know why it's called Sansho the Bailiff as Sansho is a side character and it ultimately isn't his story at all. It should be called The Most Depressing Movie of All Time or How To Cry Forever. It's devastating, but beautiful. It's a story of two siblings whose father is exiled, and they are separated from their mother and sold into slavery. And that's just the first 25 minutes. Really! I like this quote from The New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane: "I have seen Sansho only once, a decade ago, emerging from the cinema a broken man but calm in my conviction that I had never seen anything better; I have not dared watch it again, reluctant to ruin the spell, but also because the human heart was not designed to weather such an ordeal." That just about sums it up. A tragic tale of love and loss, of hopelessness and perseverance, of courage and defeat. My human heart definitely can't handle it. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (2009)

It wasn't until this most recent viewing (my third) that I really made the connection between architectural photography and film criticism. How did I miss it? Those are my two greatest passions! And it's all right there! At their most basic, both are creative endeavors that rely on someone else's creativity for a starting point. They're both about finding what is unique in a work and bringing attention to it in the most artful way possible. Both professions allow the artist to advocate for new talent as well as the old masters. Is it merely coincidence that a common term for having a particular "take" on a film, is to say that you have "an angle" on it? Julius Shulman was an amazing advocate for modernism and was able to transform that advocacy into masterful works that are able stand on  their own. We should all strive to be that good at what we do.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Quote: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

"The humans... the humans have forgotten the gods, destroyed the earth, and for what? Parking lots? Shopping malls? Greed has burned a hole in their hearts that will never be filled! They will never have enough!"
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

13th (2016)

There is no room for ambiguity in this documentary. Ava DuVernay has a message to impart and she wants to make damn sure that you get it. While she never resorts to Michael Moore narration or Errol Morris recreations, the bravura editing by Spencer Averick (obviously under DuVernay's direction) makes damn sure that nothing is lost on anyone. A single cut can bridge 150 years and help us to better understand how we got into this mess in the first place. Sure it's unsubtle, that's deliberate. DuVernay knows how important it is to pick the right tool for the job. If you want to carve the statue of David, you use a chisel. If you want to tear down the Prison Industrial Complex, you use a sledge hammer. I'm glad that this film is on Netflix so that it can be seen by as many people as possible because this is a documentary for right now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Red Desert (1964)

Film: Red Desert (152/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

After being pretty disappointed by L'Eclisse, I wasn't looking forward to this one. The plot synopsis read like more of the same. I approached it wish a "let's get this over with" attitude. And I couldn't have been more wrong. This film had more of a plot for me to get absorbed in, and I was blown away by Monica Vitti's performance. I've always appreciated her face and her presence, but this was the first time I really got to see her sink her teeth into a role. Also great was Richard Harris (who I embarrassingly enough couldn't place for half the movie...I know him as Dumbledore, okay?)...just the way he looked at Vitti's Giuliana was everything. But ultimately it wasn't about him, although his character might want it to be. Giuliana reminded me of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence...a fragile woman overwhelmed and confused by a loud world. She frustrates those around her, she frustrates herself, she doesn't know how to exist. In her words, "There's something terrible about reality and I don't know what it is. No one will tell me." It's a compelling performance in a beautifully made film. Okay, Antonioni, I guess I'll give you a second chance. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sight & Sound Challenge: Cries and Whispers (1972)

Film: Cries and Whispers (151/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: Rewatch

For whatever reason, I didn't think too highly of this film the first time I saw it. I liked how it looked but thought it was too slow. I can only assume that I was only half-watching and fell asleep halfway through as I am wont to do. Yes, this film can be called slow, but it's rich with detail. The relationship between the sisters, their relationships with the men in their lives, the guardian angel like presence of the maid...the story invites you in, and you go willingly, even knowing that it will be challenging and painful. And the visuals are perfectly married to the story. The blood red walls and furniture indicate the sickness and death that permeates this house. The sisters and maids in white, like nurses or angels. It's twisted, it's harrowing, it's solemn. The image of the maid comforting the dying woman at her bosom looks like a Renaissance painting. Visually, it's just about perfect. While some films are dream-like in their gauzy beauty,  this film is like a fever dream, the kind you wake from shaking in a cold sweat. And still, despite its cruelty and pain, so so beautiful. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Witness (2016)

How much of a news story do you have to read to be outraged? How much of a news story do you have to read before you click that "share" button on Facebook? While I'm sure plenty of you share responsibly. I know for a fact that plenty also share stories based entirely on the headline. I do it myself. And that's how false information spreads. This film is not a click-bait headline. This film is a "long read". This film goes deep and goes wide. You think you know the story of Kitty Genovese, but even her own family didn't know her whole story. Can anyone really know the whole story? Does the quest ever end?