friday classic film blogging

Enter the Dragon. (1973). Dir. Robert Clouse. Written by Michael Allin. Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Kien Shih, Ahna Capri, Angela Mao, and Jim Kelly.


Ten recent views (unedited - don't read if you don't like it long)

Diary of the Dead -
Romero's latest is a fine film indeed. Less ambitious than Land of the Dead and perhaps more successful as a consequence, since it hits its targets more fully. Then again, an explanation of the organizational principles of communism via a zombie film has to be a harder thing to put across than a satire on modern mass media. But compare to Redacted (which I liked, don't get me wrong) shows only that it's not so easy to do after all, and both Romero and DePalma have taken a semi-post-modern approach, deconstructing their topic while reveling in it (and Romero taking it a step further to even self-criticize, rather than a broad, blandly liberal condemnation).

Johnny Guitar -
Let me get this straight - a Western from the 50's where women are the primary power holders and movers of all the action? Wow. Color me impressed. And a minimal amount of the requisite gunplay - again mostly attributed to the women involved. Great story, great acting, very progressive film, as deeply feminist as any of Sirk's 50's classics. Crawford's character transcends the male-dominted society around her McCambridge's is bound to their power structure and vilified by both Crawford and the film. Gender studies film classes ought to have this in regular rotation.

Touch the Sound -
Documentary about Evelyn Glennie with Fred Frith often performing in tow (gotta pick up that record they're making throughout the film). Interesting look at her life and her philosophies of music-making. I like seeing how she works her way into other people's music and makes it work, as when she's not totally in synch with the Japanese performers at first but finds a way into their music. It's cool to see (and hear), but I'd still rather hear her music, see her live, etc. The doc on Goldsworthy is more valuable because I can't buy records of his works that do any justice to the deal thing. But this one's still fun.

Charulata -
Satyajit Ray marketed as Bollywood, which ridiculous (the menu screen offers songs as a choice (there's only 1 in the film)) but at least it's getting his films available in the west, so who cares? And this one's a good - maybe great - one in which a man who's been inattentive to his wife in favor of his work senses that he's losing her and makes the dual tragic mistakes of first inviting a (charming and younger) distant cousin to come visit and then asking another friend to take over his business so he can devote time to her. Anyone who's seen the Apu trilogy knows that Ray's work with interpersonal relationships is unparalleled in most of cinema and this is no exception.

Hi, Mom! -
Early Brian DePalma, back when he was known as a filmmaker with radical impulses, and if you've ever doubted it here's where you can learn that people who talk about the underlying subversive tensions of his later films (like me) aren't feeding you a line of bullshit. Bascially, Robert DeNiro plays an amateur filmmaker who thinks he can create a film of some merit based on viewing people's windows and behaviors out of his Greenwich Village apartment and seeks financing from an adult filmmaker. When he fails to produce the right level of prurient interest in his films, he begins working with a radical black arts group staging a play called "Be Black Baby" that aims to expose a middle class white audience to "the experience of being black." Trust me, the idea is taken about as far as you can push it on screen and weaves itself tightly into the themes of watching and voyeurism that pervade DePalma's work. It's almost like this plus Night of the Living Dead form a discussion between DePalma and Romero about race in America (with each offering up other ideas), and Redacted and Diary of the Dead offer up a dialogue about modern media overload. You think dePalma just does Hitchcock ripoffs and bad gangster films? You got a lot to learn, baby.

Melvin and Howard -
Charming Jonathan Demme trifle tells the story of Melvin Dummar, who gives a lift to an injured (and sick?) Howard Hughes and is later remembered in his will to the tune of 156 million dollars. It's nice the way Demme gets inside the actuality of lower-middle class life without seeming like he's slumming and the way Dummar is portrayed (presumably based on Demme's interaction with the real man, who appears in a walk-on). Lemat nails the red-blooded numbskull type perfectly, Robards is a great eccentric Hughes, Mary Steenbergen is great as Dummar's frequently-leaving wife. Overall, a nice little picture, of the kind that gave indie cinema a good name because it had a strange little story it wanted to tell, not because it thought it was so much smarter than mainstream cinema like too much of indie cinema today (and yes, I know Universal released it, but take a guess at what its budget probably was compared to major releases on 1980).

One, Two, Three -
Billy Wilder's strange little 1961 Cold War comedy in which Jimmy Cagney's Coca-Cola man in West Berlin is making inroads into East Berlin and the potential Communist market for his potential promotion to head of European operations. This is of course put into jeopardy by the company man's outrageous 17-year old daughter, a stalwart party member she connects with, and his own marital troubles (such as his ongoing language lessons with his bombshell secretary). A weird mix of patriotic display and cutting comments on consumer society that's kept moving at a quick clip by the kind of writing that makes Hollywood's Golden Age so golden (though this falls outside that era). Basically, it's a perfect little capsule of a moment that keep tongue firmly planted in cheek, doesn't really take sides even when it seem to, and doesn't mind making fun of itself, its stars, or anything else that crosses it (in 1961, jokes about missiles in Cuba were probably funny). Anyway, highly recommended.

Battle Royale -
Talked up so much to me that it was inevitably a disappointment. Onscreen violence ranked high, but as an idea, this didn't hold as much weight as it could - or should - have, which made the psychic violence - the ideas fucking with my head more than the gore I saw - pretty low overall. Tough to get a handle quickly on 42 kids and who you cared about. And even as it moved toward the ending which I felt in my gut was inevitable but thought in my head wouldn't happen (psychic violence woulda been higher if the game had played out as it was supposed to), I found that I didn't really know them or care much who lived or died since it was clearly presented as an outrageous fantasy that neither gave you much cause to side with the adults who made the hideous decision to make these games, or the youth who had to endure them. It's an interesting premise let down by ambition. And I guess if it had been delivered with fewer kids, or more readily focused on fewer of them, or even put across with a bit more flair, I would've liked it more. Or maybe I just didn't get past the hype.

Elephant -
Possibly Van Sant's best film. I wish I'd watched this and then Battle Royale - that film would've made much more sense after viewing this one, which hit me really hard and was what made me come up with the corny "psychic violence" idea because this one would rate about a 10 on that scale and really made me think of how much more a film hits you when it's got something of an ideology behind it rather than just a premise. I don't think it brings much to the discussion of Coumbine-styled violence except Van Sant's own theories about youth, but he's clearly in sympathy with all the kids portrayed here, not just some heroes who helped people, or the killers who gunned down their cruel tormentors. He's pretty in tune with what youth are like, due in large part, probably, to hiring a lot of non-professional actors and letting them improvise along his basic plot. A real heavy one and the best I've seen from him since Drugstore Cowboy.

The Dark Wind -
Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris goes for the very interesting subject of a murder committed on land that used to be jointly shared between the navajo and Hopi people, but is now split, and the case keeps taking Officer Jim Chee (played by Lou Diamond Phillips) back and forth between his own Navajo people, the Hopi, and white FBI agents (and others) who have some part to play in the case, which gets exponentially more complicated as it progresses. Maybe too complicated for a first-time narrative director who's a master of visual form in his own style which allows him a much greater structural control over how a story is told than a dense narrative like this that needs a certain amount of telling onscreen. The problems of this interesting but flawed film might also have something to do with Morris's decision to leave the film due to artistic differences with producer Robert Redford. Or maybe it was that boom mike hanging way down in the frame in a crucial scene late in the film? Anyway, I watched it, I liked a lot of it, but it's got issues.


Joaquin's take on the 80th Academy Awards

Hooray for the Oscars! It’s that time of year where truly landmark film goes completely unrecognized and the good ones that manage to squeeze onto the nominee list are typically overshadowed by their commercially successful counterparts. This year’s Oscars were no exception.

We all know (and if you don’t, get a clue) There Will Be Blood was the most unique film up for Best Picture this year. It is the story of a turn of the 20th century oil man who forges the path to America’s corrupt, big business morale, a film that sets out to depict the politics of a watershed in our country’s history. The story of Daniel Plainview (Daniel-Day Lewis) has been represented far less in film history than the undemanding cat and mouse crime drama of the other heavyweight Oscar contender, No Country for Old Men. Yet No Country wins Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. Oh, the injustice.

No Country for Old Men is to There Will Be Blood as Crash is to Brokeback Mountain, an undeserving Best Picture winner that pails in comparison to its fellow nominee of more groundbreaking content. The Academy has a long history of choosing the diverting, more easily digested film for the public. Like the producer moguls the Academy serves, they too have a reputation of success entirely reliant upon the average moviegoer. The “WINNER OF 5 ACADEMY AWARDS INCLUDING BEST PICTURE!” banner across the top of a DVD box means a lot to a Blockbuster customer. They need to be told what to watch, and the American movie industry will be damned if they’re recommending gay cowboy movies and bleak character studies about undesirable people who shape our country.

Although the Academy usually awards the deserving Best Picture nominees in other categories, it continues to reserve the “highest honor” for the safer film. The Best Picture accolade has gradually become the most farcical of the Academy Awards, a sticker given to an uncontroversial film the American public can easily enjoy and will take for well-deserving artistic cinema. No Country for Old Men will start to make everyone’s “Best Films of All Time” lists while There Will Be Blood will fade from the social conscience, only to be remembered 50 years from now for the masterpiece it is, in what I hope will someday be a sublime retrospective of Paul Thomas Anderson’s many decades of exceptional work.

In my opinion, the most deserving Oscar went to Robert Elswit for his cinematography in Blood. He frames an atypical American landscape that is ugly, inhospitable and roaring with the forlornness of our current state of affairs at the mercy of a black ocean under our feet. This is the stuff nightmares are made of.


friday classic film blogging

Nothing But a Man. Directed by Michael Roemer. Written by Michael Roemer & Robert M. Young. Starring Ivan Dixon, Abbey Lincoln & Julius Harris. 1964.

Special 35mm screening ONE NIGHT ONLY on Wednesday February 27th @ 7PM at the Starz FilmCenter.


friday classic film blogging

Touch of Evil. (1958). Dir. Orson Welles. Screenplay by Welles, Whit Masterson, Paul Monash, Franklin Coen. Starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Orson Welles.


Bottle Rocket, a review, or how to besmirch Wes Anderson (and his fans)

"The principle that the more we produce the better is in itself a value judgment."
-Erich Fromm

This is my first posting ever on a blog. I may offend your taste in film, judge you and others silently, and even at times find myself in a passive aggressive mood when writing my reviews. This very well may be my first and last posting on this blog.

I've just recently came to realize that Wes Anderson films are like Pringles, "once you pop you can't stop", and Gen-X&Y'ers are eating his films up like 2 Girls with 1 Cup. Did I just say you enjoy eating shit? Well yes, and no, and strictly in a cinematic sense. Today's climate for independent cinema, with the advent of Netflix, has turned the entire nation into "film lovers", true appreciators and purveyors of cinema, but half of them have never read a theorist like Benjamin or had the pleasure of licking 16mm film to tell the difference between base and emulsion side. It's true we're all critics, but are we all experts as well?

Today, I'll be discussing Mr. Anderson's Bottle Rocket and other stuff about his films and his fans. Quite profound, huh? I don't think so either.

Where do I begin? With his first film, one would say, but it's not even in the Criterion collection! That's a hell of a start, based on that mere fact alone, and also that some of Mr. Anderson's fans still think his first film is Rushmore. Perhaps not, thanks to the internet, but it is likely that most will claim Bottle Rocket as their least favorite film. It must also be noted, that I will never purchase a film from the Criterion collection. Hell, I own less than ten films, half of which are on VHS, and the other two are films my friends produced. Does the size of my collection, or lack thereof reflect so deeply on my comprehension and love of film? I think not. In fact, I sold all of the films I owned when I graduated from film school, and my television and VCR too. I probably couldn't even tell you the cinematographer of my favorite film, so I guess you should stop reading this right now and put back on that episode of Heroes your watching online.

Another blog was so bold to call Mr. Anderson polarizing. Is he our generation's Woody Allen? Maybe, though not quite as brilliant as Woody in my opinion, and his films indeed do divide his fans from non-fans on
quantifiable socio-cultural levels of "hipster" proportions in regards to one's taste in film. Let me count the ways.

Mr. Anderson admits when speaking with Charlie Rose that his films are probably viewed most by misfits and "outsiders." That lunatic fringe who are so detached that they're probably the only ones who'll get his work. It seems he's trying desperately to identify with his fans, but is that so Mr. Anderson? Then why would you be so solicitous as to appear in an AMEX ad? I know Scorcese did it, but how many misfits and "outsiders" do you know that have an AMEX? I'll tell you. Not fucking many! Define that paradox for yourself, and you might stand a chance of swallowing down the rest of this piece. I'm not truly without pathos in regards to this matter, as one of my favorite directors (Kevin Smith) whored himself out to Samsung several years ago, but at least Smith admits he's a a publicity whore. He released a two disc set on his college speaking tours for crap's sake. There's no shame in that, at least not when you admit you're a press whore, so kudos to you Mr. Smith. Filmmakers, though often commercialized based on the success of their films in the box office, should refrain from such banality, and keep some semblance of integrity by saving their whoreish solicitation to their DVD commentaries. Unless you're Kevin Smith that is.

Back to Mr. Anderson. You either "get" his films, or you don't. It's just that simple. I'm sure he would agree. There is no middle ground, and in essence they're all the same film. Hell, he even welcomes it, and might I say on a highly pretentious note. Wes, you can't think of any directors who are capable of having their characters traverse into other films they have directed. Really? Let me help you with that one. Woody Allen, Kevin Smith, David Cronenberg, and John Hughes are just a few directors you could start with.

Yet, his fans continue to be smitten with his work, but I guess they don't mind or perhaps see the plasticity of it all if there's some brilliant dolly or crane shot with at least one of the Wilson brothers in it.
The fandom that follows is quite sickening. These Fanderson's, as I'll call them from here on out, pretentiously flaunt their bogus trendy fashions on the web, and lay claim to having a cine-savvy mind capable of dissecting and truly appreciating his films from a perspective of artistic sensibility you obviously don't have. Save me the retort. I must continue. Relying heavily upon a contentious and mainstream mind to debate, they will question your taste in film, and will probably bring up Amelie, Broken Flowers, and films by PT Anderson to bring home their point. So be warned of their felonious rhetoric, feel no shame in not "getting or liking Wes Anderson films, and try not to indulge your desire to twist their heads from their necks like a dandelion in summer. They're misfits after all, and will be expecting this type of behavior.

As for my review of Bottle Rocket, I'll be brief in my summation, and will try and be eloquent. This is by far the film I most identify with, and is the first film that sensationalizes characters and story lines. Dignan's 75-year plan, his sophmoric criminal mind, and Anthony's love interest with the hispanic motel maid is only just the beginning. Anderson fans had no idea they'd soon be meeting a misguided savant teen, Max is based heavily on Wes's youth, a family of geniuses in his next film, and a quirky oceanographer in his fourth film. I've yet to see The Darjeeling Limited, and still am hesitant in doing so. Regardless, Bottle Rocket is poetically cinematic, many of the scenes are constituted with long master shots that grind that narratives pace to a crawl. The film does not rely heavily upon dolly, crane or jib shots to move the plot line like his other films, and I miss that in his later films. If only we could keep Wes from big budgets and fancy equipment, we might have had another Jarmusch on our hands, but then Jarmusch is much better are breathing life into stereotypical archetypes. Watch Night on Earth or Down by Law, and you might begin to see where I'm coming from.

I've just grown tired of Owen and Wes creating the same formulaic film, the cartoonish characters no longer speak to me, and I can only imagine the three-ring-circus that will be his movie adaptation of Roald Dahl's "The Fantastic Mr. Fox."


Long Weekend (1978)


Due to cinema’s ongoing compulsion to cast nature as humankind's enemy, audiences have been bombarded in the last 50 years with a slew of environmental disaster films. Most of these films, which range from Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal The Birds to Roland Emmerich’s forgettable The Day after Tomorrow, fall like volcanic rock into the suspense genre. A scant few films, such as Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert, approach a philosophical genre that challenges humankind’s indifference to ecology. These films primarily concern themselves with ontological definitions of the “natural order” and send your average Joe running for the next twister picture. Colin Eggleston’s 1978 film Long Weekend, however, takes the unusual risk of dabbling in both genres. Unfortunately, it fails like a prayer against an Indonesian mudslide.

Set primarily in a thicket of woods near an Australian beach, Long Weekend tells the story of a bickering metropolitan couple who undergo the agony of camping. Surrounded by malicious woodland creatures, the couple fights for their lives, sanity, and -- ostensibly -- the sheer fun of it. As a suspense film, Long Weekend has it all wrong. It relies on sound effects that are no more chilling than a Halloween audiocassette. The creatures may be unusually malicious, but they are never more intimidating than (gasp!) a possum, a grass snake, a Jack Russell Terrier, and a sea cow. Eggleston anthropomorphizes to such a ridiculous degree that even the campfire wants our protagonists dead (yes, really). Even if the suspense weren’t cut by this idiocy, Jack Russell Terriers are not spooky, not even when they show their cute widdle teef.

But why do the creatures and the very elements themselves hate this couple so much? Because they had an abortion. “Their crime was against nature… and nature found them guilty!” the tagline reads. It could be argued that nature is pissed that the couple leaves a trail of brushfires, liquor bottles, and dead kangaroos in their wake, but at the heart of Long Weekend beats an abortion. The woman interprets a dying manatee’s cries in the night as the cries of her aborted child. In a rage, she smashes an eagle egg against a tree (symbolism!), and the man -- who has already killed a kangaroo, a manatee, and a chicken -- asks in his incongruous way, “Why in the name of God did you do that? It’s a living thing!” My problem with this rhetoric is not so much that it offends my personal convictions; my problem is that it’s ham-fisted and contradictory. Long Weekend clearly rejects the notion that all of nature falls underneath man’s dominion. The greatest threat to the ecological balance is humankind’s exponential population growth, so why should an abortion inspire such contempt amongst the birds and the bees? Don’t kid yourself. If animals had any concept of human abortion, they would root for it.

Long Weekend contradicts itself in one other significant way. Despite the fact that Eggleston critiques humankind’s inharmonious relationship with nature, he seems to suggest only that man and nature go their separate ways. Most of the protagonists’ problems could have been avoided if they had just stopped fucking with it -- it being the Jack Russell Terrier, the sea cow, the unborn child. In no way does Eggleston suggest a symbiotic method -- even a gesture -- that would help to realign the ecological balance. This is dangerous. Separation is the problem, not the solution. Until we accept the fact that we are indeed a part of nature, not its neighbor, we will continue to be haunted by possums and grass snakes for a long time to come.

If you’re curious about 1970s Australian film, you’d be much better off watching Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout or Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. Those films incidentally explore themes that say much more about humankind’s relationship with the landscape, and they express their ideas with a subtlety that Long Weekend sadly lacks.

UPDATE, 2/27/08: Dex sez I invited Andrew to check out 'Long Weekend' for our inagural blog posts, so I mostly disagree with the Big A's review. In fact, I wrote a piece last semester for credit on the film. While I mess around with the template and try to figure out how to fold up long posts (suggestions welcome in the comments, yo), interested parties may check out my own take on the film and why it's totally awesome forever here and here.


Hey Juno...UP YOURS!

I hate Juno. I take that back. I don’t hate Juno, but I hate the critical acclaim it’s received unanimously from the Nation’s critics. I hate that it’s received four Oscar Nominations. And I hate that it’s being called “This Year’s Little Miss Sunshine.” I hate how every comedy from here on out that’s kinda quirky and features a cast of delinquent characters will always be referred to as that year’s “Little Miss Sunshine.” Juno’s the first, and I hate that.

I hate that Juno’s showing up on Top Ten Movies of 2007 lists from the Nation’s critics down to the blogger next door. Number 1 movie of the year, Roger Ebert?! Really?!! (I know you don’t believe in numbering your lists, but secretly you know and I know that this was your favorite movie of the year). I hate that this movie’s being embraced by everyone from all walks of life. From Hipsters to Pro-Lifers Everybody’s falling for Juno! (Hmmm….that would make a good tag-line for the Theater Lobby One-Sheet).

I hate how Ellen Page who plays Juno is being called the next big thing. The Nation’s critics unanimously rave about her star-making performance. She overacts. Can’t they see that?! She overacts in her debut movie Hard Candy, and she overacts here in Juno. I hate that she oversells her lines like she’s performing Community Theater. The critics don’t see it, but I do. I feel like Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s They Live, and instead of seeing aliens when I put on the special sunglasses, I only see really bad acting. I can’t be all alone on this one. Where’s Keith David when you need him?

I like Diablo Cody, even though I hate her flamboyantly pretentious name. It makes her sound like a Dime-Store novelist or a member of G.L.O.W. But really, can you hate a sexy Ex-Stripper turned overnight Screenwriting sensation with a multi-picture, multi-million dollar deal topped off by an Oscar Nomination? I do hate the character she’s written in Juno, though. Every teenager is a smartass, but Juno carpet-bombs every conversation with her insensitive quips and flippant comments. Who would want to be her friend? Even worse who would want to knock this girl up?! Is a screenplay of one line zingers worthy of a Best Original Screenplay Nomination? Seriously. But I have to admit, the line about the guy’s Hoo-Ha tasting like Blueberry Pie is a classic.

I like Jason Reitman and Jennifer Garner. Reitman previously directed Thank You for Smoking, one of the best movie satires in recent years and far more worthy of a Best Picture nod than Juno. I saw him at a Q&A after a Juno screening. He was genuinely charming and very quick-witted. When asked what his next project would be, he said, “Well, I’ve tackled Tobacco and Teen Pregnancy. I’ve got a really funny screenplay about AIDS lined up next.” Garner on the other hand, has had my heart from the moment she walked on the small screen in disguise as Agent Sydney Bristow. Her performance in Juno really is the movie’s heart and soul. Her’s should be the one recognized with a nomination at the very least. It didn’t happen, and I hate that.

I hate that Juno’s nearly reached the 80-million dollar mark domestically. I hate that that number will only continue to climb shortly before and after the Oscars. I hate that the media coverage of the film leading up to the Oscars will tout this as the “Little movie that could.” Kinda like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. What I DO take comfort in is this movie will have a short shelf-life. This isn’t a Big Lebowski or Airplane or Something About Mary. By this time next year those same people tripping over themselves about the prego, smart-aleked Bitch named Juno will hardly remember her name. And I like that.


friday classic film blogging

The Lady Eve. (1941) Written and directed by Preston Sturges. Based on a story by Monckton Hoffe. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Palette & William Demarest.